No Bail for the Judge

That Alfred Hitchcock's Lost Masterpiece

If there is a single unproduced project which stands out as a great loss in the Hitchcock canon, it is No Bail for the Judge. To follow the great North by Northwest, Hitchcock planned a return to his native London, to make a film full of wit, excitement and danger. For his leading lady, Hitchcock turned away from his penchant for cool blondes, and instead chose a cool brunette -- Audrey Hepburn. Much of what has been written about No Bail for the Judge is misleading and inaccurate. Here I hope to set the record straight on a few of those points, and shed some light upon this missing link, which I consider Hitchcock’s “lost” Masterpiece.

Judge and author Henry Cecil LeonThe Novel

In the 1950s and 1960s Henry Cecil (pseudonym of Henry Cecil Leon) authored a series of novels which centered on the British legal system. Cecil had been a barrister and during the period when most of his novels were published, a judge. In one way or another, Cecil's work leaned toward comedy, but his stories were varied in that some were pure comedy, some were detective stories, and some were mysteries. In his best work, Cecil's characters manipulated and exploited loopholes in the British legal system, often allowing the author to disguise keen social observations in the form of legal humor. Distinctively British and often "Hitchcockian", it is no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock desired to bring Cecil's No Bail for the Judge to the screen. (Hitchcock later directed an adaptation of Cecil's Independent Witness for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.)

The novel concerns Sir Edwin Prout, a High Court Justice and widower who lives with his only daughter, Elizabeth. While walking home one night, the judge leaps to save a small child in the path of an oncoming car. Shaken by the incident, the judge is taken in by a prostitute named Flossie French, who gives him a bed for the night. The following morning, the judge is still not feeling himself, but is determined not to miss any time on the bench and worry his daughter. The judge arranges to remain at Flossie's flat until fully recovered, and has Flossie put him in a taxi each day and send him off to court. After a few days, the judge lets himself into Flossie's flat and discovers her murdered with a knife in her heart. While leaning over her, the judge collapses and awakens some time later to find his hand on the knife. Although the judge has no recollection of what happened, it appears to himself and to the police that he must have killed Flossie, and so he is charged with her murder and remanded to the hospital ward at Brixton Prison where he will await trial while recuperating.

While awaiting her father's trial, Elizabeth meets Ambrose Low, a gentleman-thief who prides himself on carrying out successful burglaries by making elaborate arrangements which involve preparing for the possibility of being caught. It is while attempting to steal the judge's prized stamp collection that Low meets Elizabeth. Impressed by the extensive preparations undertaken by Low to steal her father's stamp collection, Elizabeth enlists Low's aid to smoke out Flossie's killer and exonerate her father. Low begins his investigation by renting a flat and engaging a staff of retired military officers to seek out prostitutes who may have known Flossie. One of the ex-officers, Colonel Brain, a confused, but good-natured chap, brings a prostitute named Cora Morrison to the flat to be interviewed by Low. From Cora, Low learns it is likely that Flossie was controlled by her landlord. Low's investigation is halted when the flat is raided by the police and Low is charged with living off the earnings of prostitution. Elizabeth offers to give evidence on Low's behalf, but he turns her down saying it would ruin any chances of clearing her father if their plan became public knowledge.

Believing Low is trying to cut in on their business by starting a prostitution ring of his own, the Migoli brothers seek to insure Low's conviction by getting Cora and two other prostitutes to give damaging evidence at Low's trial. But the brothers' plan backfires when the prostitutes get their testimony confused, and the charges against Low are dismissed. Free to resume his investigation, Low proceeds to uncover the identity of Flossie's landlord, Sydney Trumper. Low accumulates evidence that Trumper was in the same business as the Migoli brothers. Having established that Trumper had been Flossie's pimp, Low puts into effect a plan to snare Flossie's murderer by anonymously telephoning Trumper and asking "Why did you kill Flossie French?" Low then subjects Trumper to a combination of persistent anonymous phone calls and an exasperating meeting with Colonel Brain which sets him into a panic.

Although the trial of Sir Edwin had begun, Low arranges with Elizabeth's help to put the second phase of his plan into effect. Low and Elizabeth present Sir Malcolm Morley, the judge's barrister, with statements from three witness which would throw suspicion of Flossie's murder on Sydney Trumper. Low, of course, does not confide that the witness statements are false and that his hope is that Trumper will give himself away in panic. The evidence causes a sensation when presented at the judge's trial, and Trumper sends an anonymous note to the police turning in Sam Sprigg, the man he engaged to murder Flossie. This is exactly what Low had hoped for. When Sam Sprigg is interviewed by the police, he turns on Trumper and gives evidence against him in court.

To Elizabeth's delight, Sir Edwin is quickly acquitted and a warrant is issued for Sydney Trumper's arrest. Seeking revenge, Trumper visits Sam Sprigg and shoots him before turning the gun on himself. Elizabeth and Low finally get together and it seems a romance between them will blossom.

Hitchcock becomes interested

Hitchcock first became interested in the screen potential of No Bail for the Judge in the summer of 1954 while filming To Catch a Thief. At this time, Hitchcock was in the middle of his successful collaboration with the writer John Michael Hayes. Hayes helped to lift Hitchcock out of a commercial and critical slump with his successful adaptations of Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Just as the writer and director had begun work on their third feature, The Trouble with Harry, based on a British novel of the same name, Hitchcock asked Hayes to read No Bail for the Judge, in order to get his opinion of the material.

Hayes thought the book would make a wonderful Hitchcock picture and hoped he would get the job of writing the script for the director. But the Production Code Administration's reaction to No Bail for the Judge put the project off for sometime. In the interim, Hitchcock filmed a remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo for Paramount, The Wrong Man for Warner Brothers, and he was in the middle of pre-production on North by Northwest for MGM when he again took up interest in No Bail for the Judge.

It may have been the failure of The Wrong Man and the lukewarm reception of Vertigo that lead Hitchcock to seek out less "heavy-handed" story material. Having just scripted one of the directors greatest comic-thrillers, North by Northwest, Hitchcock believed Ernest Lehman would be up to the task of adapting Cecil's comic novel, and offered the writer an amazingly generous contract wherein he would receive a salary of $100,000 plus five percent of the producer’s profits.

According to Hitchcock biographers John Russell Taylor and Donald Spoto, Lehman began to have doubts about his suitability for the project, and told the director he would have to turn down the assignment. Annoyed at Lehman's rejection of such a generous contract, Hitchcock refused to speak with the writer for four days, even though they were in the middle of production on North by Northwest. Hitchcock was disappointed by Lehman's departure, but determined to see the project through.

Although Vertigo was not performing at the box-office as Hitchcock had hoped and expected, his collaboration with Samuel Taylor had been a happy one. Within days of canceling the contract with Lehman, a similar contract was drawn for Taylor to write the screenplay for No Bail for the Judge — the only difference being that Taylor would not receive any percentage of the film’s receipts. Taylor reported to Hitchcock's office at Paramount on November 11, 1958 to begin work on Story Fund 89120, No Bail for the Judge.

Shaping the Screen Story (Added 8/10/1999)

Hitchcock’s usual method of adapting previously published material was to take the basic idea, and build a scenario from there. However, in adapting No Bail for the Judge, the director was not only interested in taking elements of the novel’s plot which suited his film, but hoped to capture the essence of the author’s style. When Samuel Taylor reported to Paramount Pictures to begin work on the screenplay he was given no less than a dozen of Henry Cecil’s books as research material.

While Taylor dove into the world of Henry Cecil, noting bits of dialogue and interesting characters, Hitchcock had begun making general notes which would guide the writer in his work while the director and his wife, Alma, took their Christmas holiday abroad. One of Hitchcock’s notes indicates his decision to depart from the novel by creating a whole new villain who is behind one of London’s leading prostitution rings. Hitchcock writes:

THE HEAVY

MAKE HER A WOMAN

Let us make her one of those women one finds in every great city: wealthy, smart, fashionable, hard, witty, yet not really known; one does not know who her husband was, where her money came from, what her background it; one merely knows that she is there, knows everyone, goes everywhere, is seen with very smart people, gives very smart parties. She either has a lovely house in Mayfair, or perhaps she lives in Albany, in Byron's chambers. She has a good domestic staff, mostly male, and we note particularly the butler and the chauffeur. It is the butler who collects money for her,- not from the girls themselves, but from a hired collector, who knows only the butler, does not know he is a butler, does not know of the woman or the connection. So that there are no leads.

THINK HARD ABOUT THE ALBANY.

MIGHT BE A VERY GOOD PLACE FOR A CHASE. PERHAPS UP THE STAIRS TO THE ROOF, AND WHAT IS THE ROOF OF ALBANY LIKE? LOOKS OUT ON PICCADILLY, IN OTHER DIRECTION TO WEST END CENTRAL POLICE STATION, PERHAPS TO THE ROYAL ACADEMY.

WOULD IT BE TRITE OF IT TURNED OUT THAT THE BUTLER IS HER HUSBAND?

Early on Hitchcock knew that he would have to beef up the part of Elizabeth, who is rather insignificant in the novel. An early note suggests that she could be a “young power in politics”, so that at a crucial moment in the picture she would have to make a speech. Another suggestion was that she could be a famous economist, and that “in (a) love scene, he asks her about investments.” Whatever Elizabeth’s profession, Hitchcock dictated she would be a “cool, clear-thinking, no-nonsense type, who knows she is a match for any man,” adding:

THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT THIS SURENESS OF HERS SHOULD CARRY THROUGH THE FIRST PART OF THE STORY TO GIVE US THE CONFLICT. IT IS WHEN SHE BECOMES INVOLVED, HERSELF, AND BEGINS TO FEEL THE STIRRINGS OF SEX THAT SHE BEGINS TO FALTER, TO BECOME UNSURE, AND THEN TO BECOME INCREASINGLY DEPENDENT. LOVE HAS TO STRIP HER OF HER POSE AND HER ATTITUDES, IN ORDER TO HUMANIZE HER AND WOMANIZE HER.

Finally, and logically, Hitchcock and Taylor agreed to make Elizabeth a barrister.

Hitchcock’s Cool Brunette

At the same time that Hitchcock was trying to steer No Bail for the Judge past the censors in 1955, Audrey Hepburn conveyed to Herbert Coleman, Hitchcock’s associate producer, her desire to work with the director. Coleman had worked with Hepburn on William Wyler's Roman Holiday, and was scouting locations in London for The Man Who Knew Too Much when he informed Hitchcock:

March 12, 1955

Dear Hitch,

... I talked to Audrey Hepburn on the telephone Wednesday, and she wanted to know when you would be willing to do a picture with her. She is really most anxious to work for you. There is some sort of deal going on over here for her to do "House of Mist", but she won't do it until she gets a director she wants. Knowing you and Willie Wyler are not available, she is trying to have them get Howard Hawks ...

Doc joins me in sending love to you, Alma and the rest.

Herbie

No Bail for the Judge seemed a perfect vehicle to bring Hitchcock and Hepburn together, and it would appease Hitchcock's desire to make a movie with a cool brunette, instead of his usual cool blonde.

Much of what has been written about Hepburn’s association with No Bail for the Judge is inaccurate at best. While it is true that the leading lady’s departure from the project ultimately led to its cancellation, the circumstances surrounding Hepburn’s withdrawal from the production are a little more complex than has been previously reported. Several accounts have stated that Hepburn objected to the addition of a scene in which her character would be dragged into Hyde Park and raped — one account further embellished the story by reporting that it was in the “second draft” of the screenplay that Hitchcock had included the objectionable scene. It is interesting to note, that Samuel Taylor only drafted one treatment and one first draft script for No Bail for the Judge. And more importantly, that “additional” scene was in the treatment as well as the script.

In an attempt to create further controversy, one Hepburn biographer indicated that the actress didn't even like watching Hitchcock's films, and quoted a source who stated that she "had no recollection at all of any joint project" with Alfred Hitchcock. This is pure nonsense, as born out by Audrey Hepburn's own words in Diana Maychick's biography of the actress (not to mention Herb Coleman‘s letter to Hitchcock), where she not only revealed her fondness for Hitchcock, but a very clear recollection of the plot.

"I adored the script that Mr. Hitchcock sent over," Hepburn told Maychick. "I'll never forget the story. I was to play a barrister in London. My father, a judge at the Old Bailey, is wrongly accused of murdering a prostitute and I was supposed to defend him. I hire a crook to help gather evidence, and the crook was to be played by Laurence Harvey. I was so excited, I told Mr. Hitchcock to send over the contracts."

In any case, you can judge for yourself ... CLICK HERE to read the Hyde Park “Rape” scene from both Sam Taylor’s treatment and screenplay of No Bail for the Judge.

Copyright 1999-2010 Steven DeRosa

 

 

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Copyright © 2010 Steven DeRosa