Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–1962): Season 5, Episode 2 - The Crystal Trench - full transcript

Stella Ballister (Patricia Owens) receives the horrifying news that her husband met with an untimely demise while mountain climbing. Newly married, Stella asks for the retrieval of her husband's body - but the task proves impossible when the corpse accidentally falls into a deep crevasse, where no human eyes or hands can reach him. Mark (James Donald), having feelings for Stella, stays by her side, a close friend and nothing more. Forty years later, still trying to get over the news of the accident, Stella learns that the glacier has moved. Hiring a crew to help prospect her husband out of the ice, they find the body preserved and untouched. Stella views the body of her husband one last time.

Good evening,
ladies and gentlemen.

I thought I would
cut this rope,

since it seems to be
obstructing my path.

I can't seem to
find my partner.

He was here a moment ago,

then let out a cry
and disappeared.

My, my.

I seem to have made a faux pas.

My friend was on the
other end of that rope.

Rotten luck.

He was also
my business partner.

But the show must go on.

Tonight, we are presenting
a chilly little tale entitled,

"The Crystal Trench."

It follows at a
respectful distance.

I had come from London that
Wednesday on my first visit to the Alps.

Strange, after so many years,

I should remember
it was a Wednesday.

A Wednesday in September, 1907.

I came up the valley by train.

Dark canopies of clouds
obscured the Schwarzhorn,

but I could make out the broad,
icy spread of the nearby glacier.

It had a sort of majesty.

At least, I thought so then.

With its solid depths of ice and
its silent, relentless flow

as it crept along
its inevitable course.

Now, 40 years later, I know the
glacier for something else.

Something I had better
never have known.

I was to meet my guides, the
Blauers, at the Bowed House Hotel.

I had climbed easier peaks
in Austria with the Blauers,

preparing myself
for Schwarzhorn.

Oh, hello. How are you?

Welcome, welcome,
welcome. Here.

Please, sign there.
Everything's arranged.

How's your mother? Fine. Fine.

I had scarcely
entered the lobby,

when I discovered both Frederic and
Hans Blauer engaged, as usual,

in an argument
with another man.

Hans! Frederic!

You are just in time
to settle an argument.

It seems to me you were arguing

when I left you
last year in Torino.

Never with each other,
Mr. Cavendidge.

Only with those who
insult our intelligence.

I don't care! I saw what I saw!


They were right at the top.

Maybe you can still see them.

What should I look for?

Two men on top
of the Schwarzhorn.

Now? At 4:00 in the afternoon?

I was looking through
this, you understand?

And suddenly the clouds
seemed to draw apart,

and there it was,
the Schwarzhorn.

Then two men
climbed into my view.

They were near the
very top of the peak.

Which direction
did they come from?

The south.

You see?

That's not possible.

If they came by the south,

they would have had to have
come by the Lerner Ascent.

At least I know which is
north and which is south!

Even a child knows that!

One of the climbers, the one in
front, was moving very slowly.

He seemed weak.

The second man was stronger,

I saw him lift the
rope between them.

It was slack. He shook
the snow off it...

The rope was slack?

And then?

Then the clouds
closed in again,

and I could not
see them anymore.

If what you say is true,
it could be very serious.

That's what we have been
telling him, Mr. Cavendidge.

He can't just go around
inventing stories like that.

I saw it, I tell you!

It's just possible, of course,
just, you understand.

On a fine day, a party
coming by that route

might find themselves
on top of the Schwarzhorn

at 4:00 in the afternoon.

But on a day like this,
no man in his senses

would be on any ridge
of that mountain,

I can only hope
you're mistaken.

Come and help me unpack. Good!

I'll show you some boots
I bought in London.

Mr. Cavendidge?

I have bad news.

There has been an accident.

On the Schwarzhorn?

How could you know?

Ranks has just sent word
from the Vern hut.

Ranks? What has he
got to do with it?

He was with him.
It is terrible!

They were so young... Boys!

Countrymen of yours,
that's why I have come to you.

Now, if you'll tell me
what's happened?

They arrived here last week.

They were not
experienced climbers,

but they had no respect for our
guides or for our mountains.

They would not listen
to what anybody said.

If only Herr Ranks had
not come from Austria.

Do you know him?

No, but the Blauers
told me about him.

They say he'll
climb with anyone.

As soon as he met
these two young men,

he suggested the
Lerner Ascent to them.

They went up to the Vern hut,

slept the night there,

and started up the Schwarzhorn

with provisions for three days.

That was four days ago!

And Ranks has come back alone?

No. One of
the boys is with him.

George Liston.

They're moving him down to
the clinic at Brig, tonight,

hoping to save his hands and feet
which are badly frostbitten.

No, it is the other boy,
Michael Ballister.

He died when he almost
reached the top.

Ranks says that he and Liston

were too exhausted
to bring him down,

so they left him up there.

We'll have to go and fetch him

as soon as the weather clears.

Is that what you wanted
to ask me about?

No, there is something else.

His wife...

Ballister's wife
is here in the hotel.

Someone must tell her.

You expect me to?

Who else is there?

But why me?

Like you, she's English.

And it is better
if she hears it

from one of her own countrymen.

They've only been
married six months.

All day long she has
been trying to hide

that she was anxious about him.

Where is she now?

In the dining room.

We'd better tell her now.

Mrs. Ballister,
I do not believe

you have met Mr. Cavendidge.

He's just come
today from London.

Good evening. Good evening.

If you'll excuse me.

May I?

Oh, of course, please do.

It's so good to hear
English spoken again.

I never quite get used
to all these accents.

This is one of
my favorite tunes.

Do you dance, Mr. Cavendidge?

Well, I...

Funny, in London, it would seem

quite improper
for me to ask you.

But here it seems
all right, doesn't it?

I imagine you're a rather
courageous person.

Oh, why do you say that?

I'm hoping... No,
praying that you are.

What do you mean?

Mrs. Ballister,

I have been nominated a committee
of one to tell you something,

which is something, I'm afraid,
no matter how gently I try,

can only...

Ordinarily, they tell people to
sit down at a time like this.

I think you're a woman who
might prefer to be standing.

I don't know what you're
trying to tell me,

but whatever it is,
please say it.

Mrs. Ballister,
your husband is dead.

His body is up
on the Schwarzhorn.

It's not true.

It can't be true!

How did it happen? Did he fall?

Apparently he died of
exhaustion and exposure.

Isn't there a chance
that... That he's still alive?


We'd hardly begun.

Michael and I, we...

We'd hardly begun.

I'll take a
party up in the morning

and try and bring him down.

But he said he was only
going to the mountain.

He promised me
he'd be all right.

He said I wasn't to worry.

Mrs. Ballister,

the Schwarzhorn is one of the most
dangerous ascents in the world.

Many experienced climbers have
lost their lives up there.

You will find him, won't you?

You will bring him back to me?

I'll do my best.

Oh, please.

I don't know if I can bear it,

not to look at him once more,

not to see him,

to touch him again.

We crossed the mountain
by the eastern ar ête,

descending on the south side...

Found Ballister.

It was then,

the grimmest episode of
that terrible day occurred.

With infinite care,
we began to untie

the frozen ropes
which bound him.

A gust of snow blinded us for
a moment, throwing us back

and in that second, the
body slipped away from us.

We watched hopelessly,

as it gathered speed and
disappeared into a crevasse.

He's fallen into the glacier.

I could not shake off the feeling
that somehow I had betrayed a trust.

I had discovered that
she was an only child

and both her parents were dead.

She seemed so
friendless, so alone.

Thank you.

Could I have
my bill too, please.

Well, there's no need for you to
leave just because I'm leaving.

It's all right. I'm quite
able to take care of myself.

I really don't want
to stay on here.

When must you be in London?

Not for a couple of weeks.

Could you come to Brig with me?


Yes, George Liston's
in the clinic there.

I want to talk to him
and that man, Herr Ranks.

And since you know about mountains
and climbing and things,

I... I thought perhaps
you could come with me.

I want to find out if
he's telling the truth.

The truth? About the accident?

But why shouldn't he?

Michael was strong. He'd never
have just stopped breathing.

Something else
must have happened.

I've got to find out.

Will you come?

Yes. I'll come.

Thank you, Mr. Cavendidge.

In that second I knew I
wanted to hear her call me Mark.

Not Mr. Cavendidge, but Mark.
"Mark, my dear."

"Mark, my darling."

In that second I knew
I had begun to love her.

Hello, Herr Ranks.

And this is Mrs. Ballister.
I'm a friend of hers.

I'm sorry about your husband.

And I'm sorry
that I wasn't there

the day you came to the hotel

and persuaded him
to go with you.

Perhaps, if I had been,
he wouldn't have gone.

I know how you must feel.

You blame me,
and you are right.

I am partly responsible.

What do you mean,
you are responsible?

Well, we left
with too little food

and that was bad
planning on my part.

And I should have considered
the youth of my companions.

You see, young men can
never climb so well.

They don't have the lungs
for it or the legs.

No, I should never
have led them up.

And I should have controlled
your husband more, madam.

He was an
inexperienced climber.

I tried to warn him
not to go so fast,

but, he being young,
believed there was

nothing he could not conquer,
not even the Schwarzhorn.

Finally, he collapsed

His heart gave out.

I swear to you we stayed
with him until he died.

Although the wind was
quite dangerous for us

and he was evidently dying.

We stayed with him
until it was all over.

Why do you make such a point
about staying with him?

Because it was at a
great risk to us.

Liston and myself.

How can I be sure that
you did stay with him?

How can I be sure
that you didn't go off

and leave him to die
alone on the ridge?

Because I have told you so

and Liston will tell
you the same thing.

We were with him until he died.

Up there in the cold and the
darkness, the utter loneliness...

While I waited in the hotel with
a fire and the sound of music!

You left him up there to die!
I know it!

No! Please!

No! You did it! I know!

I have said it is my fault.

What more does she
expect from me?

Forgive me, Mr. Cavendidge.

I'm ashamed
of the way I behaved.

It's all right.

You've gone to so
much trouble for me.

Thank you.

Well, there's no point
in our staying here.

What about George Liston?

Don't you want to talk to him?

What more can
he tell me except...

No, that won't
bring Michael back.

Nothing will bring him back.

Only I.


Michael and I, we had what
very few people have,

a perfect marriage.

This may sound fanciful to you,

but somehow it was ordained,

predestined that
we should meet,

that we should love each other.

Six months...
Such a little time,

but we had more than most people
have in all their lifetime.

Far more!

And that's how I'll
bring Michael back.

By remembering.

By taking each moment
of our time together

and expanding it into a month
or a year of remembering.

Do you understand? That way, if...
If I live to be 80,

I shall never live long enough
to recapture all of it.


It's wrong to live in the past.

No matter how hard we try,

we can't make time stand still

any more than we can preserve
the roses of last summer.

Oh, but you can. Don't you see?

You can!

Particularly if the roses
are packed in ice.

That way they might last forever...
Mightn't they?

I returned
to London with Stella.

In the weeks that followed, I
saw her whenever she'd let me.

Once I took her to a concert,
twice to the theater.

But it was not until Christmas
of that first year,

I had any encouragement
from her.

A note inviting me
to have tea with her

in her house in Mayfair.

On the strength
of this summons,

I stopped that morning
at the jewelers

and picked up the ring
I had ordered weeks before,

a ring I knew
I would never place

on the finger of any
woman other than Stella.

Mark, it's so good to see you.

It's charming, Stella.

But, of course, it would be.


I'm so grateful that you
were able to be free today.

This is a very important day.

I rather thought so, too.

Stella, I...

I never thought the time was
right before, but now...

This says it better than I can.

If I could ever wear
anyone's ring again, Mark,

it would be yours.

I'm sorry.

Stella, please think it over.

I... I love you

and you... You need
someone, someone...

Mark, I can't.

Where I'm taking you
this afternoon

and what we're going to do,

will explain to you
why I can't.

Well, Mrs. Ballister,
I shan't bore you

with the science of these computations.
I imagine you simply...

This doesn't bore me,

I just want to be sure,
that is all.


The question here was,

how far and how fast does
the glacier move each year?

Well, the rate of flow
differs from year to year,

depending on the balance
between the melting line

and the accumulation area at
the upper end of the glacier.

The melting line, of course,
is at the lower end.

The ablation or wastage area.

Now, the flow of the
glacier actually starts

within the ice itself at least
200 feet beneath the surface.

There we get the basal slip
along the bed of the valley,

caused mostly by gravity.

But the ice also moves by crystals
pushing each other out of shape.

Uh, we call this plastic flow.

By measuring the grains and the
direction of the ice crystals,

by readings
on a micro altimeter,

by checking our gravity meter to
tell us what the rock floor is like,

we can calculate the rate
of flow rather precisely.

On the 21st of July,
Mrs. Ballister, in the year 1947,

more likely in the morning, rather
than in the afternoon, I should say,

your husband will come out of the
ice at the foot of the glacier.

You see, Mark?

I shall have Michael
back after all.

I realized then that
Stella had made her choice.

That for the next 40 years she
intended to wait for Michael,

just as I knew
I must wait for Stella.

The years slipped away, each one
faster than the one before.

And now once more
I came up the valley.

It was a cloudy day, just as it had
been that Wednesday 40 years ago.

And again I saw the broad,
icy spread of the glacier.

I knew it now for what it was.

A tombstone.

A vast crystal trench
which had enveloped us,

molded and shaped us,

Stella and me, for this day...

This 21st day of July, 1947.

I think you should
go back to the hotel.

I'll come and get you
when it's time.

But the Professor said,
"More likely in the morning"

"than in the afternoon."

Don't you remember, Mark?

Yes, I remember,
but all the same.

He couldn't be wrong!

No, of course not, but still,

I think you should
wait at the hotel.

No, Mark, I want to stay.

Mr. Cavendidge! Look!

The glacier had used
Michael Ballister tenderly.

The years had taken
no toll of him.

Seeing Stella with him,

I could see what the
years had done to her.

I knew what they
had done to me.

Your locket was still
around his neck, Stella.

The girl who stared out at me

was not Stella,
but someone strange.

A pretty face, but cheap.

It's a...

It's a miniature of you. Not
a very good likeness, but...

Thank you, Mark,

but he had no locket
with a portrait of me.

So much for our version
of The Iceman Cometh.

I shall return for a
final word in a moment.

First, we have come to one of
those treacherous crevices

that riddle the glacier
of television.

I think I should
begin my descent

before I become the
source of a legend

about an abdominal snowman.

Next week, I shall
once again return

with another story, spliced
together by commercials.

Until then, goodnight.