Friday 16 September 2016

Alfred Hitchcock Presents - And So Died Riabouchinska (1956)

And So Died Riabouchinska was broadcast in 1956 as the twentieth episode of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It’s based on a Ray Bradbury story and boasts an interesting cast headlined by Claude Rains and a young Charles Bronson.

I’m particularly fond of horror and mystery stories featuring ventriloquists’ dummies -they always make for lots of creepiness.

Claude Rains plays Fabian, a vaudeville performer at a time when vaudeville was not exactly booming. A man is found murdered in the theatre where he is appearing. The man had apparently been trying to get to see Fabian, for some important but unknown purpose.  Detective Krovitch (Charles Bronson) is the investigating officer and he finds that interviewing Fabian is a slightly odd process since Fabian’s doll Riabouchinska insists on being part of the conversation. Krovitch is doubtful as to whether Fabian is being entirely truthful but he suspects that the doll is telling the truth.

The doll was modeled after a real woman, a young and very beautiful woman with whom Fabian was acquainted. Possible quite well acquainted although this was more than twenty years earlier so what connection could it have with the murder of the stranger in the theatre?

Mel Dinelli adapted Bradbury’s story for the small screen. Dinelli was not a prolific screen writer but he did have a few rather impressive credits including the suspense classic The Spiral Staircase. As for Bradbury I’ve always had mixed feelings about him as a writer although I do admit that at his best he could be very atmospheric and very subtle. 

And So Died Riabouchinska is the kind of story that Bradbury did very well and the television adaptation works pretty effectively. It’s typical Bradbury in that it suggests something supernatural but it remains only a suggestion.

Claude Rains gives a very fine performance, managing to be quite disturbing without being too excessive about it. Charles Bronson hadn’t yet found his feet as an actor although there are signs of his later minimalist acting style. In this TV play he’s at his best when he tones his performance right down.

There are better television and movie ventriloquists’ dummy stories but And So Died Riabouchinska is still a worthy example of an odd little sub-genre. It’s certainly worth seeing for the terrific and surprisingly restrained performance by Claude Rains. Highly recommended.

The first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents is of course easily obtainable on DVD in all markets.

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