Having complained about spoilers dropped by a forgotten reviewer, I'll warn that I'm about to commit the same crime. Anyone who has not read Margaret Millar's Beast in View might want to stop at this point.
This is not about the novel, but the two television adaptations: 1964 and 1986 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The first is worth watching, if only for Joan Hackett's portrayal of Helen Clarvoe.
On the surface, Hackett's casting is curious. She's meant to portray a Plain Jane, but little attempt is made to hide her good looks. Let's remember that this accomplished actress first garnered public attention as teenage model. Like her paper counterpart, television Helen lives in a hotel suite. While there's a slightly glamourous air about her – in the first scene, she looking over fashion drawings – she's otherwise very true to the character Millar created. Knowing what little I do about Ms Hackett, I'm not surprised. Supremely talented, but difficult to work with, she had a reputation as a perfectionist. I'm betting she read Millar's novel – and more than once.
James Bridges, who went on to write and direct The Paper Chase and The China Syndrome, had the task of adapting the novel for cathode ray tubes. The fifty minutes he was allotted cuts most characters, the foremost being Douglas, Evelyn's homosexual ex-husband. No real surprise there. Bridges adds motion in having Helen sabotage the wedding before it ever takes place, thus giving Evelyn – here named Dorothy – motivation for revenge. Clever.
While it claims to be based upon the novel, the 1986 adaptation isn't an adaptation at all. Clocking in at a mere 23 minutes, credits and posthumous Hitchcock intro included, it's mercifully short and can be quickly described:
Privileged pop psychologist Marion McGregor, author of the bestseller Masculine Wants, Male Needs, marries former patient Cliff Potts. Her paradise is rocked by threatening messages left on her answering machine by first husband Gordon. But it can't be! Gordon died four years ago! The next thing you know Marion's dog is killed. We, but not she, see that a Peeping Tom is watching through the leaded glass windows of her luxurious home. The same man shows up at one of Marion's book signings and she flees for home
Cliff arrives to hear his wife struggling with Gordon. Cliff descends the cellar stairs, stumbles around a bit, and discovers Marion with the mummified corpse of her first husband. But is it really his wife? In her own twisted mind, she's become Gordon. As Marion chases Cliff, trying to kill him with a shovel, it becomes clear that she left those answering machine messages. The police arrive in the nick of time. The Peeping Tom turns out to be psychiatrist Dr Kaufman, who we learn has been treating Marion. Phew.
The climax of this Beast in View owes much to Psycho, and as with Psycho, everything is explained in the denouement:
Dr Kaufman: I should have institutionalized her four years ago when she first told me.So, you see, a beast in view... or out of view. He's hidden because, um...
Cliff: Why didn't you?
Dr Kaufman: Why? Oh, professional ethics [emphasis mine], one shrink to another. I thought I could help her. She was making such great progress. Then when I found out she was marrying you, I knew it was happening all over again.
Cliff: What was happening?
Dr Kaufman: Marion was losing control.
Cliff: What about Gordon's body? I mean, why would she...
Dr Kaufman: Keep it? Because she loved him. And that's what you do when you love somebody, and he's a beast. The cellar is the only place to hide.
Oh, forget it.