Saturday, October 30, 2021

Alfred Hitchcock Presents - "The Ikon of Elijah" (1960)

"The Ikon of Elijah" was originally broadcast on 10 January 1960 as part of the fifth season (ep. 16) of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The episode is based on the 1956 short story contained in the collection The Investigations of Avram Davidson. Davidson is best known for his work in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, but his 200+ published short stories included many mysteries. This volume collects thirteen of his best, most of which appeared in the pages of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine between 1956-86. Two of his crime fiction stories, “The Ikon of Elijah” (in which an antique dealer goes to extreme lengths to obtain a valuable antique) and “Thou Still Unravished Bride” (in which a woman goes missing on her wedding day) were adapted for episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. "The Ikon of Elijah" had also previously been the source of a 1958 episode of the CBC-TV anthology The Unforeseen.

In the summer of 1952, Avram Davidson visited Cyprus when he traveled by ship from Israel to Europe. Cyprus made such a deep impression on him that he used the island as the setting for one of his earliest and eeriest mystery stories, "The Ikon of Elijah". You can read what he says of his visit to Cyprus in the article "Caphtor and Other Places".  
Avram Davidson was a Jew, but he shows a very good understanding of Cypriot history, culture and religion in which this story revolves. Pre-partition Nicosia is drawn in vivid detail. He must have spent some time in an Orthodox monastery in order to capture the spirit and piety upon which this story is based. The ending is a nice horrifying surprise that is very Twilight Zonesque and Edgar Allan Poeish. Hitchcock summarizes his story nicely, but the original short story is a must read.

Full Summary (with spoilers):
"The Ikon of Elijah" takes place in Cyprus, where a greedy antiquarian named Carpius vies for possession of a priceless ikon held at the schismatic Old Calendar Greek Orthodox Monastary of Saints Barnabas and Basil. Carpius obtains a copy of the valuable ikon, that of the Prophet Elijah, the most revered ikon of Cyprus dating to the 10th century, and wished to switch it with the original. He goes to the monastery where it is kept feigning a desire to repent of his sins and tries to steal it. He is discovered by a monk whom he then kills. Other monks hear the commotion and capture Carpius. Carpius pleads for forgiveness. The archimandrite tell him that forgiveness is only possible through unceasing prayer. Carpius gets down on his knees and begins to pray before the original ikon of the Prophet Elijah. Behind him the monks lock the door. They want him to pray there for the rest of his life, where he will be provided with food and other necessities by the monks like God through the raven provided for the Prophet Elijah.