I know with absolute certainty what the opening topic of discussion was in Mrs. Spitler’s Latin II class on February 16, 1965.
I’ve mentioned previously how Mrs. Spitler would sometimes let us rant or discuss something that was on our minds for the first few minutes of class, and I know what was on our minds on that Tuesday. Well, on many of our minds.
Those of us who had watched The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on the previous evening had seen the episode entitled “An Unlocked Window” and we were still, well, let’s say we had been talking about it among ourselves and we were not yet talked out. And Mrs. Spitler was a sympathetic listener.
But perhaps I better back up a bit.
The network had heavily promoted that episode and built up the suspense, so lots of folks who might not ordinarily have tuned in to that program were watching.
And having seen it, it’s one of the two episodes of that series that has stuck with me all these years (the other being “The Jar”, which I’ve written about previously).
Expanding Alfred Hitchcock’s half hour anthology series to a full hour did not do it any favors; what had been short stories with neat twist endings were now padded into a length that most of them couldn’t sustain. “An Unlocked Window” is one of the few that maintains its suspense for its entire duration, and while there are a few parts of its storytelling that are dated now, for the most part, it holds up reasonably well.
Loosely based on a story by Ethel Lina White, the teleplay begins as a serial killer is targeting nurses, and in a brief prolog we see him stalk and strangle a nurse as she leaves the house of her patient. Then the scene shifts to a country house on a stormy night where two nurses (Dana Wynter and T.C. Jones) are tending to an invalid patient (John Kerr) along with a housekeeper and her husband. Word comes to them that there’s been another nurse killed just a few miles away and the killer is believed to be in the area. They hastily try to make sure all the doors and windows are secured, but nurse Stella (Wynter) is distracted and forgets to lock one of the basement windows.
It’s the 17th episode of season 3 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and I will say this. If you plan to watch it, don’t peek at its imdb page until after you’ve seen it. The reviews are chock full of folks who claim it scared the bejeezus out of them when they first saw it, and while I don’t expect it will have quite the same effect on a modern audience, it still manages to maintain a very creepy atmosphere. Helped by a Bernard Herrmann score, and expert direction by Joseph Newman, the suspense keeps building until… Well, I’ll just say that back in 1965 we were genuinely shaken by the story. Hence our need to keep chatting about it the following day.
To experience its maximum effect, I recommend watching it late at night—alone—during a howling thunderstorm. [Cue maniacal laughter]
(I have it on blu-ray so it’s on my Plex server, but it’s currently available via the Peacock streaming service.)