Alfred Hitchcock Presents s03e03 Episode Script

The Perfect Crime

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and Doctor Watson, wherever you are.
Tonight's case is Tonight's case is called, "The Perfect Crime.
" I'm not sure who it was who said, "A perfect crime is exactly the same as a perfect marriage.
"Their being perfect depends on your not being caught.
" Tonight we plan This is exactly why I never take my pipe to bed.
If you fall asleep, you could be bubbled to death.
And now join me, if you will, while we contemplate the perfect crime.
Good evening, Mr.
I know it's late to be calling uninvited, but I just returned from abroad, the ship was late docking, and I just saw the newspapers.
Haven't I seen you somewhere before? I'm John Gregory.
Oh, yes, of course.
Do come in.
Thank you.
My man is off this evening, so, if you don't mind, I'll just put your coat here.
All right.
Won't you come in and sit down? Thank you.
I was just sitting here enjoying the solution of my last case, and, of course, some brandy.
Would you join me? Thank you.
You know, I've seen you on at least four separate occasions in the courtroom, defending Let me see, there were the State of New York versus your client Richards, and then you represented Braverman, and then, if I recall, Flanagan, and finally Kowtowski.
No, it was Kowtowski, then Flanagan.
Flanagan was the last one, just before I went abroad.
Then you weren't here when he was executed? No.
I tried to be out of the state when all four of them were killed.
Executed, my friend, by due process of the law and the inevitable grinding of the mills of the Almighty.
Now there is Exhibit A for the prosecution in the matter of your last client, Flanagan.
Do you like Brahms, Mr.
Gregory? Ordinarily, but not when it turns out to be a death march.
I see you keep souvenirs of your success as a detective.
I know only three great detectives.
One is now in London.
The second in Paris, and the third is The third, or should I say the first, is here in this room right now.
No point in false modesty, now, is there? Some sportsmen decorate their walls with the head of a lion they once shot in Tanganyika, or some poor unfortunate rhino caught sunbathing in the Congo.
These, Mr.
Gregory, are my trophies, perfect memories of so very many imperfect crimes.
Believe me, they are not monuments to my brilliance, but tombstones to the stupidity of criminals.
What's the empty space for, there in the center? For the perfect crime.
For 15 years I've kept this space in the hopes that I might come to grips with a killer who had plotted a perfect murder.
As you can see, it's still empty.
Well, if it were perfect, how would you know the criminal? What souvenir could you place there? The trouble's more basic than that.
I simply can't find a real challenge.
Murder never seems to evoke the best efforts of the best minds.
And yet, murder it must be.
Oh, would you care for some more brandy? Yes, thank you.
Oh, but tell me, why must the perfect crime necessarily be a murder? Well, is it not the most reprehensible? Human life is what we prize most, what we do our best to protect.
To take a life with a skill that eludes detection is unquestionably the ideal criminal action.
Now, you make it sound pleasant.
Well, surgeons talk of beautiful cases, don't they? Well, that's precisely my attitude.
Now, if it's to be murder, then it must be the purest kind.
Rule out the crime passionnel.
Hot blood begets innumerable blunders.
No, the perfect crime must be a work of art, like the ceramics I make here in my own workshop, done for art's sake alone, not for gain.
There is only one kind of murder that I consider pure.
That's the murder of elimination, the murder in which the sole object is to remove the victim from the world.
For instance, take that case which I mentioned when you came in.
Oh, what case would that be? The Harrington case.
He really should have tried to get rid of West's body.
The absence of a corpus delicti is curiously troublesome to the police.
Although, even if he had tried to dispose of it, I should have caught up with him nonetheless.
He was much too careless.
It was Harrington I came to talk to you about.
But he's not one of your clients.
I was away or I might have taken the case.
But I know him quite well.
And West, and Mrs.
West even better.
Lovely woman, I understand.
Yes, she and West are separated.
She's been living in Europe.
Yeah, I know.
I'd like to hear how you tracked down Harrington.
Simplicity itself.
I chose this small revolver to recall the various aspects of the case.
Of course, I could have selected a tire with a blister, but I fear it would have been rather troublesome fitting it in there.
Or I could have exhibited the thread ends from a tweed suit.
Now, you knew Ernest West, so you know he was a millionaire, Wall Street.
He had a lodge near Smithtown on the island and he used it as a base for duck hunting.
During the season, he used to go down there almost every weekend.
West kept only one servant at the lodge, a housekeeper who had grown old in his service, but the one woman absolutely devoted to him.
He'd let her off the previous evening to spend the night with her daughter in Jamaica.
She came back early to prepare his breakfast and found West shot through the heart.
It was as if he'd been relaxing when death took him suddenly.
There was no sign of a struggle.
I was called in by Homicide at once.
West was an important man, you know, and the Department wanted immediate action.
Inside the house I found only one item I thought useful.
In analyzing the dust in the gunroom, I came across several tiny thread ends that had obviously come from a tweed suit.
These threads could not be matched in West's wardrobe.
Outside there was more to go on.
The ground had been damp the previous night and two sets of footprints were visible, a man's and a woman's.
Excluding the police's, of course.
A woman's? Yes, the housekeeper's.
I see.
The prints were difficult to identify.
The man had walked up and down the lane outside of the house and had trampled every one of the woman's prints.
Well, doesn't that seem odd? Not at all.
You see, he couldn't decide whether to run or stay, even though he had a car waiting for him at the end of the lane.
So he paced back and forth, calming his nerves and collecting his thoughts.
You say he had a car waiting for him? Yes, a heavy touring car.
The tracks were perfectly plain.
But there was one unique feature about these tracks.
A large, hard blister on one of the treads.
It made a perfectly defined indentation in the mud every time it came around.
You still haven't told me how you got on to Harrington.
With all the evidence, all that remained was to relate the clues to one suspect.
Such times I let my mind wander.
I set it free.
It occurred to me that I might find my answer in Wall Street.
And sure enough, I discovered that in the three weeks prior to West's death, a certain common stock had risen 57 points.
Two days after he was shot, it dropped back 63 points, so I searched further.
I found that a man named Harrington had, on the day that West was murdered, been short 132,000 shares of that particular stock.
He had been selling short all the way up, and West had been buying all that was offered.
So he simply eliminated West.
It was murder for millions.
Now the rest was routine.
In a loft in the garage of Harrington's country place, the police discovered three perfect tires and a fourth with a large, hard blister.
The thread ends matched one of Harrington's suits.
And in his wall safe we found this.
West had been killed by a single shot from this gun.
So Harrington, of course, confessed at once.
And the press The press, I fear, made far too much over my part in the affair.
Courtney, I haven't held that gun, have I? I don't follow you.
Since I've been here tonight, I haven't seen the gun except for the barrel.
Isn't that correct? I mean, I haven't seen the handle.
No, don't, don't.
Keep it covered.
But tell me, is the handle slightly chipped on the right side and does a crack run all the way up on the left side? Yes, it does, but how did you know? Harrington did not kill West.
You caught the wrong person.
The wrong man died in the electric chair.
Harrington was innocent.
How can you How can you say such a thing? I not only can say it, Mr.
Courtney, I can prove it.
Do you realize what you're telling me? I do.
Careful of it.
It's still loaded.
The four of us were target shooting at Davos in Switzerland.
Alice dropped this on a rock.
Alice West? Mmm.
That's how it got chipped.
Well, what do you mean, the four of you? Alice, West, Harrington, and myself.
We were all stopping at the same hotel in Switzerland.
When was this? My first trip over, four years ago.
And this was Alice's gun.
Why, then she gave it to Harrington.
No, I doubt it.
As much as she loved him, I doubt it.
He probably took it away from her, but too late.
Now you're talking in riddles.
What do you mean? Simply that this little weapon helped to execute an innocent man.
Now look here, Gregory, you of all people should know how precise, how painstaking, how objective I am about evidence.
You can't pop in here in the middle of the night and drop a bombshell like this.
Four years ago in Switzerland, Harrington fell in love with Alice West, and she with him.
West played dog in the manger, refused to give her a divorce.
Of course, she left him, but that didn't help her towards marrying Harrington.
I was in on the affair from the first.
I tell you, he even behaved very badly.
Well, under the circumstances, why shouldn't he? He hadn't loved Alice for a long time.
And he simply made up his mind that no other man was going to have her, legally at least.
Then she began to drink.
I'm afraid she's become a hopeless alcoholic.
This last trip, I saw her in Monte Carlo at her hotel.
We'd been talking about her husband's murder.
I'd been speculating as to who could have done it.
You hadn't yet arrested Harrington.
I asked her if she and Harrington weren't going to be married soon.
What distressed me most was her listless attitude, as though some terrible thing had possessed her mind.
She went to her purse and gave me something to read.
A letter.
The last letter her husband had sent her.
It was cruel, sadistic.
It told her how he intended to keep her tied up until she died a bitter old woman, alone and unloved, that he would come and laugh over her as she lay in her coffin.
There was a lot more, but it made me sick.
I didn't want to finish it.
She said, "What would you do to a man like that?" I found myself answering, "Kill him.
Kill him!" And then, all at once, she screamed the words back at me until I got her to stop.
Then, as calmly as I could, I pointed out that someone had already done just that.
I'll never forget the way she looked at me or the change that came over her face.
"It's funny," she said.
"You can shoot the heads off all the innocent bottles you like.
"No one says a word.
" "But if you kill a human snake, " she said, "they'd burn you for it.
" "And I don't want to burn, thank you very much.
" Do you follow me, Mr.
Courtney? There was no reason for Harrington to borrow Alice's gun to kill West, now was there? Borrow it? He had access to it.
You said so yourself.
He simply took it.
Why? He had quite a little arsenal of his own, hadn't he? Well, yes.
We did find a couple of service revolvers and a heavy automatic.
He would never have used a toy to kill West, not in a 1000 years.
That he would or would not have used a.
25 caliber is merely an assumption on your part.
It's certainly non-conclusive.
Why, he might have used a pointed stick or a boomerang, for all anybody could have Granted.
But he never would've committed murder.
He's far too level-headed.
Three years ago, I tracked down a fine, upstanding young CPA and brought him back here to face a jury of his peers.
His defense attorney made the same argument.
"My client is much too level-headed to have killed his wife.
"He's not the type.
"Why, he had never made a mistake in his life, "even in long division when he was back in school.
"He was secretary of this and chairman of that and president of everything.
"Calm, cool and collected was this young man.
" Well, you can imagine what the district attorney made of that phase of the defense? Yes, I know.
District attorneys are not noted for their understanding or their charity.
May I ask you a question, Mr.
Courtney? Was Alice West in Europe when her husband was killed? Don't you suppose we checked? Of course, she was.
I'm afraid your check wasn't very thorough.
Alice West was in Montreal the month her husband was killed.
And Montreal isn't too far from Long Island.
She told me so herself.
She registered at the Ritz Hotel in Montreal.
The French police verified the fact that she was in Europe.
We have the cables.
Oh, she was in Europe, all right, before the murder and just after.
But did you check her passport, her entry dates through customs? Well, we assumed, what with the cables from the French authorities, that Well, what I mean was it never occurred to us.
Before I tell you, let me say something, Mr.
Something about you.
Me? Yes.
For some inexplicable reason, maybe because I can't really understand men like you, I've always wanted to learn about you.
But it's impossible.
Just below that surface of studied courtesy, Mr.
Courtney, lies a cover.
And the real Charles Courtney lives beneath that cover, impervious, untouched and unmoved.
You're being ridiculous.
You live in a quiet little place all of your own, don't you? Shut off from the rest of the world like some lost tribe of aborigines in a forgotten quarter of the globe.
Are you quite done? No, not quite.
I'm going to tell you what really happened at West's hunting lodge the night he was killed.
Alice West and Harrington went down to see West together, to see if they couldn't get him to change his mind after all.
They only succeeded in amusing him.
But Alice had come prepared, Mr.
She held that tiny gun on West just long enough to find the heart.
You can imagine Harrington's utter shock at this catastrophe.
If only he could have breathed life back into West, he certainly would have done so, no matter what the price to himself.
But now there was nothing left but to help Alice, and this he did.
You were right about Harrington's walking back and forth, but not out of nervousness, not to calm his nerves.
He deliberately trampled out every one of Alice's footprints, so all you could find were those made by him and by the housekeeper when she returned that next morning.
Then he drove away with Alice.
As soon as they got back to New York, she left him alone to face the consequences.
It was like him to do what he did.
If ever a man loved a woman, he loved Alice West.
And, I daresay, she loved him, too, in her own fashion.
But she loved her own precious white skin even more.
Harrington, poor devil, wanted to save the woman.
Even though she wasn't worth saving, to him she was.
You have no proof.
Proof? The record of customs of her visit to Canada.
The hotel register in Montreal.
The fact it was her gun.
Her accuracy with it.
I've seen her shoot the tops off dozens of bottles.
The letter that West sent her, her hatred of him.
I wanted you to know, Mr.
I wanted you to have something to live with through the nights, through the long, long nights.
The taste of defeat that we've known, you will now know.
But it has no bitter taste, does it? It has no taste, no taste at all.
But it has something else.
A weight.
It has a pressure all of its own, and you can feel it pulling down on you.
You think I made a mistake? I know you did.
That won't bring Harrington back.
I don't make mistakes.
This time you did.
My reputation does not permit mistakes.
Then your reputation will have to change.
Nobody must hear of this.
Do you understand? Look, I don't intend to advertise this, but if you ever try to slip the noose around the neck of one of my clients, that's something else.
And with that slight exception, your reputation will be safe with me, don't worry.
Providing our paths don't cross, you mean? I think we understand each other.
This has been a terrible shock.
But please, before you go, have a nightcap with me.
And excuse me a moment.
I'll be right back.
I think that's got it, Mr.
Oh, Mr.
Courtney, you were gone almost two years.
Is there any truth to the rumor that you plan to retire, to give up crime detection? I shall never retire, sir.
All I needed was a long vacation.
Which monument on your tour impressed you the most? I know you expect me to say the Taj Mahal, but actually, it was Angkor Wat in Cambodia that I shall never forget.
Courtney, there was another rumor.
Oh? The reason you left New York and were gone so long.
That was? That you were searching for the master criminal, someone who could outsmart you.
Well, now, there no need for modesty, is there, gentlemen? That man hasn't been born.
Come along, and I'll show you where I do my ceramics.
I'd like to take a shot in there if it's okay with you, Mr.
You know, it's sort of a hobby room where you go to let off steam.
That's very apt of you, I must say, that reference to steam.
You know, the secret of good ceramics is in the baking process.
You must have a super hot oven.
The one I have in there is a most efficient instrument, believe me, most efficient.
Courtney, is this a souvenir of some crime? I see there's nothing on the label.
That? Oh, no, not exactly.
As a matter of fact, this particular vase was more or less of an experiment.
I used a rather special kind of clay.
I regret to inform you that Courtney did not retain his last trophy very long.
He was caught.
A charwoman knocked over the precious vase breaking it into pieces, a few of them identifiable as bits of Mr.
You see, the gold fillings in his teeth had resisted the heat of the kiln.
But all the good doctors and all the good police couldn't put Mr.
Gregory together again.
As for the charwoman, she became the pride of the press.
Here is where the real historical significance of the case lies.
Ever since, cleaning women the world over have been knocking over vases trying to emulate her success.
That's all until next time when we shall be back with another, though imperfect, crime.
Good night.

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