One of the best episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Lamb to the Slaughter" was one of seventeen episodes of the series that was directed by host Alfred Hitchcock. The episode was written by British novelist and short story writer Roald Dahl who is best known as the writer of Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory. Dahl based the teleplay for this episode on his short story of the same name. The episode follows the action of the story quite closely. Although a number of other stories by Roald Dahl were adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, this was the only adaptation that was written by Roald Dahl.
The direction and the writing of the episode is superb. Barbara Bel Geddes plays Mary Malone, a pregnant housewife who is told by her cheating husband that he wants a divorce. When Mary learns this she sneaks up behind her husband and kills him, in an excellently directed sequence, by hitting him on the head with a leg of lamb. The murder is well set up and excellently directed. Mary Malone, then, cooks the leg of lamb and, in one of the best twist(ed?) endings of Alfred Hitchock Presents, feeds it to the policemen who are investigating the case. Barbara Bel Geddes's performance is excellent as are the performances of Harold J. Stone as Lieutenant Jack Noonan and Allan Lane as Mary's husband Patrick Malone.
Dahl's teleplay lends an appropriate atmosphere of tension to the piece. The episode could have seriously misfired if Dahl and Hitchcock painted the detectives as fools, but they do not. The detectives correctly note the clues as to what really took place: the victim was struck from behind with a blunt object, he was wearing his coat, he was drinking straight whiskey instead of his usual whiskey with soda and ice, he was seeing other women, he had a gun on him and did not draw it. Though the detectives conclude that the murder was a crime of passion committed by a woman that took a tense Mr. Malone by surprise, they fail to figure out that he was done in with a frozen leg of lab. Though the detectives notice that the roast was cooking for must too long, they fail to figure out that it wasn't burned because it went into the oven while still frozen.
For their work in this episode Hitchcock and Dahl Emmy nominations for the 1958-1959 television season. In the category of Best Direction of a Single Program of a Dramatic Series (Less Than One Hour), Hitchcock lost to director Jack Smight who won for his work in directing an episode of Alcoa Theatre entitled "Eddie". Roald Dahl, unfortunately, also lost. In the category of Best Writing of a Single Program of a Dramatic Series (Less Than One Hour), Dahl lost out to the writing team of Alfred Brenner and Ken Hughes who won for their work in writing "Eddie" for Alcoa Theatre.
Dahl's story "Lamb to the Slaughter" would later be adapted for an episode of the British television series Tales of the Unexpected which was hosted by Dahl himself.