Body in The Barn (1964) Alfred Hitchcock, Lillian Gish, Maggie McNamara
A domineering wife is suspected of murdering her husband when the body of an unrecognizable man is found buried in her barn.
The great Lillian Gish, one of the legends of the silent screen, was a superlative actress throughout her life. This fantastic episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR from 1963 showcases Miss Lillian as good as anything she ever did in the sound film era. Miss Gish stars as a cranky, nosy old gal in ill health who has long feuded with her neighbor and blames her for the death of an elderly man who plummeted off a cliff thanks to a fence the neighbor put up.
Lillian’s niece Maggie McNamara lives with her in her large farmhouse and Maggie tries to make peace with the neighbors, particularly with the woman’s mild mannered hen-pecked husband Peter Lind Hays. Gossip-loving Lil takes in all of Peter’s private confidences to Maggie, that his wife once attempted to murder him and he fears she will try again should he ever leave her. And when Peter shows up missing and the days turn into weeks and months and the woman refuses to give any information about his whereabouts, Lillian is convinced after spying on the woman with binoculars that something fishy is going on at her barn.
This fantastic mystery/suspense has echoes of REAR WINDOW – and HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, although the latter film hadn’t even been made yet – and Miss Gish is simply superb in this film, cast against type as a not always very likable woman. The whole cast is good but this is Lillian’s show. “Body in the Barn” is one of THE ALFRED HITCHOCK HOUR’s finest hours.
The Body In the Barn is a genteel entry of the Hitchcock hour and features, as another reviewer noted, a pitch perfect performance by Lillian Gish as a sick old biddy whose prying ways cause a lot of trouble in her sleepy, woodsy community when the body of a local working man is found in a barn.
The Hitchcock hours tend to fall into different categories. Some have comic undertones. This one doesn’t. Quite a few are either outright horror tales or feature suspense ratcheted up to such a level that they may as well be horrors. Body In the Barn doesn’t have that level of intensity. There are rural episodes and urban ones. And some feature people who possess a measure of refinement and education that allows for easy identification for the sophisticated viewer.
Body definitely falls into that category. Another somewhat looser category is that of the domestic episode about people who know each other quite well, who either lives under the same roof or are close neighbors. This one is of the domestic variety.