Sunday, March 4, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?" - a toupological analysis.

"Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?" is a fifth season episode of the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This installment, broadcast in April 1960, is Bill Shatner's second appearance in the series, the first being the classic third season episode "The Glass Eye" in 1957.

Star Trek alumni Herschel Daugherty directs with William Shatner starring as John Crane, privileged mamma's boy. Our story begins with Crane attending a coroner's inquest, apparently the subject of a murder investigation.

Cue flashback: John's mother Claire (Jessie Royce Landis) is off to visit her daughter Alice to tend to sick grandchildren, while John is heading off to Vermont to indulge his photography hobby (his mother says she will join him there later).

Mother and son are evidently very close. Claire has even adapted part of the family home to create a separate apartment for her pampered son.

Up in Vermont, John meets an attractive young lady while buying film for his camera.

The pair then take a walk to a nice nearby waterfall and strike up a bond over their mutual experiences of loss. John suffered polio as a child and, as a result, walks with a limp. Lottie (Gia Scala) is an orphan from Germany and carries vivid childhood memories of WWII. "When my father died, he left us fairly well off" remarks John on his present-day sense of security. He then tells Lottie that his mother is coming to Vermont and that she will soon get to meet her.

But then John abruptly leaves: his mother always calls at 9pm!

In spite of Claire's ubiquitous presence in John's life, romance soon blossoms.

And it isn't long before marriage is on the cards.

But what will John's mother make of Lottie? And can John really fully tear away from his mother and devote his attentions to his future wife?

Claire (her son often refers to his mother by her first name) finally arrives in Vermont...

...and John, sure that his mother will love her future daughter-in-law, arranges for the three of them to have afternoon tea.

But Claire and Lotte have a chance meeting (unaware of each others' real respective identities) before this fateful event - and it doesn't go very well at all as Claire acts rather snobbishly toward the foreigner she sees before her in the store...

Oh, that was you! Oops! The formal introduction is ruined as the pair recognize each other. Lottie excuses herself.

Lottie and Claire are evidently not going to become fast friends. But can they ever learn to co-exist? Or should the happy couple simply wait for Claire to die before they can live in peace in the home John will inherit?

Or is there perhaps another, darker solution?

And that's where we'll leave it...

So what to make of all this?

Of course there's a major twist in this episode, which we won't reveal here. And the story is really set up with that as the climactic payoff. Judging from the 9.5 (out of 10) rating "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?" received at, this is quite a popular episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. We don't disagree that it is good, but at only around twenty-five minutes long, it all feels more like an hors d'oeuvre than a main course. Kind of like a Columbo episode comprised of only the first act (the murder) or imagine Psycho ending after the shower scene!

What does it all mean? What are the implications and the emotional consequences of all that unfolds before us? A story under the Alfred Hitchcock banner about a voluptuous blonde and a man who has an unusual relationship with his mother. So much raw material there...

It's all good and fun to watch, with solid performances and fair direction. But the truncated length and the way the story is geared towards that one wow payoff doesn't really allow for a more developed and richer tale to be presented. Bill Shatner's other effort in this series, "The Glass Eye", had a twist too, but it also made better overall use of its brief running time to present an atmospheric, unsettling and ultimately far more rewarding drama than "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?", which never quite seems to escape the weight of presenting necessary exposition in order to instead make a forceful emotional or stylistic case to the viewer.

1957's "The Glass Eye" - a more effectively presented story.

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

As with other early 1960s Bill Shatner performances like "Nick of Time", there is a definite spring in the actor's step evident as the resplendence of the "fresh out of its wrapper" "Jim Kirk lace" is subtly shown off from every conceivable angle. The young actor happily tilts his head towards the camera in a manner that not long ago - struggling with sprays and combing techniques to conceal his thinning locks - was becoming increasingly impossible.

One can only imagine how Bill Shatner must have felt after saying "yes" (“It’s easy to say no...saying yes carries more danger to it. Saying yes is risky business — but how much richer my life has been because of it.” source) to this new toupee and, after having it fitted, realizing that a whole new chapter was opening up in his life...

As for toupological moments, there's really only one very subtle one: an interesting close-up of the rear of the toupee showing some carefully trimmed neck hair:

But the toupological import of these early sixties performances are far less about individual moments of toupologcal interest than they are about a wider symbolism. A new decade. A new, youthful toupee. And in America a new youthful president was about to be elected. Was JFK's Inaugural Address inspired by Bill Shatner's toupee-wearing?

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to hair and scalp alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of toupees—designed in this century, tempered by lace, disciplined by the hard and bitter pieces worn by others, proud of a since withering heritage of real hair—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of that follicular plenty to which this scalp has, until recently, always been privy, and to which I am re-committing today both at home and in public. Let every person know, whether they wish me well or ill, that I shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of my new toupee."

A toupee that would symbolize the spirit of the New Frontier...

We should also note that the Master of Suspense served as a presenter of each segment of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. And in a very subtle manner, the famous director also appears to pay tribute to Bill Shatner's new toupee, leaning down in the episode's prologue to expose his bare scalp (we suspect that a toup-less Bill Shatner today would strongly resemble Alfred Hitchcock)...

In the closing segment, Hitchcock tosses away an artificial device covering his head (an umbrella).

Is this too a subtle message? "The toupee is all very well when you're young, but if you're still wearing it when you reach my age, it may be time to lose it..."

Bill Shatner may have failed to heed the apparent advice of his mentor, but in a way he has paid the late director an even greater tribute. By wearing the toupee for so long; by denying its existence save for a few very clever teases; by undertaking all manner of stunts over his career that unnerved the viewer as to the stability and resilience of the toupees he wore, the actor has both honored Hitchcock's stylistic legacy and himself laid claim to being known as the true Master of Suspense.

"Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?" is available to purchase as part of the newly-released fifth season Alfred Hitchcock Presents box-set. A good episode in the series, but perhaps not a classic...

We should also note that a couple of times, including in our previous post, we alluded to what we thought was a (toup-less) behind-the-scenes photo from the making of this episode. Thanks to our eagle-eyed readers, it turns out that the picture in question is actually from a TV show called Tactic and features William Shatner (apparently in a very late-era toup-less performance), Alfred Hitchcock and actress Diana Van der Vlis. There's really nothing out there on the web about this specific episode that we could find, and we wonder whether footage from it even survives. The prospect of seeing Bill Shatner act with Alfred Hitchcock in a 1959 toup-less performance is certainly a very tantalizing one! Double the suspense!!


  1. It's not a JKL, it is a full quiff!

  2. Great review as usual and the comparison of the early JK lace and JFK is very apt. I can certainly see how the JK lace symbolized hope for the future.

  3. A fascinating read, as always. A side-by-side comparison of the photos of toupless Shatner of today and Hitchcock would be priceless (alas, that is likely never to be). A great director vs. a director of ST:V. Well, maybe it's the toup that got in the way of greatness.

    Are there any plans for the WSSTS to take a closer look at the latest incarnation of what is on Shatner's head? Seems like a step back to the TJ Curly era with a coloring of the JK Lace. Also, the artificial material that Katz uses for his toups looks like it belongs more on a fishing rod than on a person's head.

  4. It might've made for a stranger episode if it was revealed that Shatner's character wore a toupee so that he didn't make the mother feel that he was outgrowing their relationship and he was still the boyishly handsome son.

  5. Ratty Lost Years PieceMarch 6, 2012 at 6:51 PM


  6. shats own real syrupMarch 8, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    Its quite easy to see, that this is a toup. The episode could be renamed ' mother may i go out and wear my toupee.' the front and back, are too bulky and smooth, to be his real hair, he have may just about, had a full frontal hairline, but his crown, was too wispy at this point, combovers and sprays, may have barely covered, what was going on at the back, but any gust of wind, or any distrubance, no a toup, was the only answer. For a young man, who was thinking of stardom, to be bald was a no-no. Please. Can we have a deeper look, at the six million dollar man, episode with shat, and the worst toup ever. Having said that lee majors wears a toup! was he wearing one then. Mine you when that episode was made he was only 34.

  7. stats own real syrup, I don't think Lee Majors had a toup in the Six Million Dollar Man days. I wasn't officially licensed to do so, but I wrote up my own topological analysis of that episode, complete with plenty of close-ups of the hideous toup Shatner wore, which I think is the worst toup he ever used. You can read it here:

  8. shats own real syrupMarch 9, 2012 at 3:28 AM

    Stallion cornell thanks for your hard work. I find it funny, that some people still, think that shatner, has a full head of hair. He had quite a sizeable bald patch in 1956, and due to this, i believe his hair started to thin, around 1953, you cannot get a crown baldness, like he had, in 1956, all in the same year! and yes what a bad toup, he has in that six million dollar man episode. I think he was very nearly bald, when star trek started. Maybe a few hairs at the front, with miles of skin on his head. I may be wrong, about the timing of bills baldness, but i'am baseing this on my own rate of baldness, that set in even earlier then bills, i was only 16-17 when baldness set in, i was bald age 24.

  9. Ratty Lost Years PieceMarch 10, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    @Stallion: great work. With his "black spaghetti" toupee, Big Bill looks more like the Six Dollar Man.

  10. maybe the only people who have true knowledge of shatner's hair is the various stylists that has worked with him