The book is a story of psychological suspense that concerns David Kelsey, a young man with an obsessive love for Annabelle, a beautiful woman with whom he had been in love prior to her marriage to Gerald Delaney. Highsmith writes that “David Kelsey had an invincible conviction that life was going to work out all right for him.” He lives at Mrs. McCartney’s boarding house in Froudsburg, New York, and works at a chemical company, but he spends his weekends at a house he has purchased near Ballard, New York. This is where he lives out a fantasy life as William Neumeister, pretending to share the house with Annabelle.
David‘s closest friend is Wes Carmichael, and they both befriend Effie, a young woman who is attracted to David. David repeatedly writes to Annabelle, who rarely responds. He is shocked to get a letter from her with news that she has had a baby. He goes to her house and confronts her husband. As time goes by, David continues to pester Annabelle with letters and telephone calls, refusing to accept that she is now married and has a child. One day, Gerald shows up at David’s weekend home. They have an altercation and David punches Gerald; Gerald falls and hits his head on the front step. David puts him in his car before realizing he is dead.
|Dean Stockwell as David|
Annabelle soon takes up with a new man named Grant Barber. David still refuses to admit the truth and continues to pursue her. When she tells him that they cannot even be friends and should stop seeing each other he vomits, but eventually he rationalizes the situation to himself. He again goes to Annabelle’s home but this time is thrown out by Grant. His job performance begins to suffer and he soon discovers that Annabelle has married Grant. Wes and Effie visit David in a new house he has bought for himself and Annabelle. The dinner party devolves into disaster—Wes leaves and David begins to hallucinate, mistaking Effie for Annabelle and throwing her to the floor.
Patricia Highsmith, the author of This Sweet Sickness, lived from 1921 to 1995 and has been the subject of at least three biographies and a fair amount of literary criticism. In the 1940s she wrote for comic books, and her first novel, Strangers on a Train, was published in 1950. The film adaptation of that book is considered to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest works. Her 1955 novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, has also been adapted for film twice.
Susan Oliver as Annabel
Linda (not Effie) visits the apartment that David shares with Wes. She is smitten with David, and Wes tells her that his roommate spends weekends visiting his father in the country. David visits Annabel at home and Gerald confronts him; David leaves but does not accept the reality of the situation.
At the office, Linda learns from David’s personnel file that his parents are dead. She waits in her car outside his apartment, follows him to his house in Ballad, peeks in the window and sees Annabel’s clothing laid out on the bed.
David calls Annabel again, frustrating Gerald, who goes to David’s apartment looking for him. Linda provides him with David’s address in Ballard, claiming that it’s his father’s home (though she knows his father is dead). David is at the house, imagining he is dining with Annabel, when Gerald arrives. Gerald barges in, telling David to stay away from Annabel. Gerald pulls a gun. When he tries to take Annabel’s picture from the mantle, David grabs him from behind and throws him to the floor, where he hits his head on the fireplace stones. While Gerald is groggy from the fall, David grabs him and bashes his head into the stones repeatedly.
|Kathleen Nolan as Linda|
David reports the accident to the police, pretending to be Newmaster, then sends a telegram to Annabel, telling her to come to the address in Ballard for some important information about her husband’s accident. She arrives that evening only to encounter David, who takes her inside. She quickly determines that the house belongs to David and that he and Newmaster are the same person. She tells him that she never loved him and he snaps, accusing her of being an impostor and strangling her in the bedroom.
Linda hears of Gerald’s death on the radio and rushes to David’s house. He lets her in and she questions him about Gerald. When he lies to her she confronts him and he admits that he is Newmaster. He tells Linda that he wants her to meet Annabel and takes her into the bedroom, where he has laid Annabel on the bed, her neck obviously broken. David’s calm demeanor and the sight of the corpse horrify Linda, who tries to run. David stops her and starts to strangle her, but he is distracted when he seems to hear Annabel calling him from the next room. He forgets about Linda and joins Annabel in the bedroom, holding her hand and talking to her about their future as police sirens approach.
While Bloch retained many of the details of the novel when he adapted it for television, the change in focus could not be more significant. Highsmith’s novel is a harrowing tale of psychological suspense told in a subtle manner, while Bloch’s teleplay is a simple, linear horror story that ends in a nightmare. Gone is the dichotomy between the warm, supportive family of the boarding house where David lives during the week and the cold, empty house he inhabits on weekends; in its place is a barely sketched out relationship with Wes in an apartment. Instead of the irony of the weekend visits to mother, a clear reference to one of Annabel’s functions in David’s life, he is said to visit his father.
|David murders Annabel|
The character of Effie, so tragic and vulnerable in the novel, is replaced by that of Linda, who quickly shifts from adoring potential girlfriend to betrayer when she gives Gerald the location of David’s house in the country. In the novel, Effie goes out of her way to protect David, even when she suspects he is a liar. In the teleplay, Linda snoops on him and eventually turns him in to the police after seeing Annabel’s dead body.
And what of Annabel herself? The David of the novel would never intentionally harm Annabelle, the love of his life. In fact, the novel ends with David stepping off of a high ledge, nine stories above the street, because he thinks he sees Annabelle in the crowd below, looking up at him. It is truly shocking when David murders Annabel in the teleplay, since this is so utterly in contrast with the thrust of the novel. Bloch took Highsmith’s story and removed the subtlety, replacing it with shock.
The conclusion of the teleplay is very disturbing, as the lyrical theme music plays while Linda accompanies David into his bedroom, where he introduces her to Annabel. While David is living in a fantasy realm at this point, speaking as if Annabel were alive, Linda sees the true crime set out before her, in a horrible medium long shot of Annabel’s disfigured body lying on the bed. Up to this point, the program had been vaguely uncomfortable, mostly due to the odd behavior of David and his violent murder of Gerald. It is the shots of Annabel as a corpse that really jar the viewer and make this a classic of TV horror.
|Henry Brandt as Gerald|
The murder of Gerald is also anything but subtle. In the novel, Gerald’s death is an accident, since he falls and hits his head on a step after David punches him. In the teleplay, a similar accident occurs, but the fall and blow to the head do not kill Gerald—it is David’s act of grabbing his head and bashing it into the stones that finishes off his rival.
Why did Robert Bloch make such significant changes to This Sweet Sickness? Perhaps he was under time pressure to provide a script and had to simplify the complex story for what was essentially a 45 minute TV play. It is surprising that the censors in 1962 allowed the shots of the dead Annabel on the bed, since they are brightly lighted and gruesome. It seems fair to say that “Annabel” is more Robert Bloch than Patricia Highsmith, with the violent deaths of two major characters and, especially, the concluding scenes where a corpse is treated as if it were a living, breathing woman capable of returning love.
“Annabel” was directed by Paul Henried, the actor turned director who directed 28 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and only one episode (this one) of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. His work on “Annabel” is outstanding, drawing a haunting performance from Dean Stockwell (whom he had also directed in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “The Landlady”) and using fluid camerawork and occasional odd angles and high contrast lighting to suggest David’s inner turmoil. Another highlight of this episode is the lyrical score by Lyn Murray, which makes great use of woodwinds, strings and what sounds like a harpsichord to highlight the strange moods of David Kelsey and the weird and troubling events that follow him. The final scene in David’s house features strangely calm music that fits perfectly with David’s inappropriate affect. Murray lived from 1909 to 1989 and scored Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955) as well as 35 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
|Lighting and camera angle express David's inner turmoil|
David is played by Dean Stockwell, who also starred in “The Landlady.” His long career in movies and television has been well documented. Playing Annabel is Susan Oliver, who was arguably one of the most radiant actresses in 1960s television. Oliver was born Charlotte Gercke in 1932, and appeared on episodes of numerous TV shows and in movies from 1956 to 1988. Her appearances on The Twilight Zone (“People Are Alike All Over”), Thriller (“Choose a Victim”), and Star Trek (“The Menagerie”) cemented her place as one of the most beautiful actresses of her day on television.
In The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, Henry Brandt, who played Gerald in the TV program, recalls that this episode was originally filmed with leads other than Stockwell and Oliver and then re-filmed with the actor and actress seen in the televised version. No explanation is given other than that the original stars’ performances were not successful.
Rounding out the cast were Gary Cockrell as Wes and Kathleen Nolan as Linda. Nolan was born in 1933 and has been acting on TV and in movies since the early 1950s.
“Annabel” was broadcast on CBS, where The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was shown at 10 p.m. on Thursdays. The series had returned to CBS after the half-hour Alfred Hitchcock Presents had moved to NBC for the last two seasons of its seven-year run.
YouTube in an excellent print that is much clearer (and five minutes longer) than the version available on DVD online, which has been recorded from a badly edited presentation on the Hallmark Channel.
"Annabel." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 1 Nov. 1962. Television.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
Highsmith, Patricia. This Sweet Sickness. 1960. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://www.wikipedia.org/>.