‘The Sleep of Reason’ — “Petrocelli”

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A stu­dent has a vio­lent argu­ment with his pro­fes­sor, storms out of class, then returns sev­er­al min­utes lat­er, bran­dish­ing a gun and shoots the pro­fes­sor before the entire class. Its a clas­sic open and shut case, except the stu­dent does­n’t remem­ber any­thing of the inci­dent. That’s what gets Petro­cel­li’s attention.


“Petro­cel­li” was a short lived lawyer series, set in the Amer­i­can South­west. Antho­ny Petro­cel­li (Bar­ry New­man) left the faced-paced big city to take up a legal prac­tice in the myth­i­cal city of San Remo, with the aid of his wife Mag­gie (Susan Howard) and the assis­tance of pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor Pete Rit­ter (Albert Sal­mi).

Descrip­tion: This episode (#13 of the first sea­son) starts with the scene described above: Petro­cel­li is called in to the case, inter­view­ing the stu­dent, Willie, and hear­ing that he does­n’t remem­ber any­thing of the inci­dent. Actu­al­ly, any­thing after he called anoth­er pro­fes­sor for help. Fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion con­firms the rest of the case, how he was dis­cov­ered in the pro­fes­sor’s office, steal­ing his gun, after mak­ing the call to deter­mine if the pro­fes­sor was there or not. Its a tough case to take, but Petro­cel­li is will­ing to take it as long as Willie is will­ing to try to remember.

But its the dis­cov­ery that the rest of bul­lets in the gun were blanks that real­ly cap­tured Petro­cel­li’s atten­tion. The gun was a clip-fed auto­mat­ic dou­ble-action pis­tol, mean­ing that it car­ried sev­er­al bul­lets in the clip but could also have one loaded in the cham­ber, ready to fire, which was the case. Its obvi­ous that some­one unfa­mil­iar with guns did not known to remove the bul­let from the cham­ber if the intent was to replace all of the bul­lets in the gun with blanks.

Noth­ing about the case seems to fit, how­ev­er, until Petro­cel­li, Susan, Pete and Pete’s girl­friend take the evening to see the love­ly stage hyp­no­tist Anabelle Tracey (Francine York.) After try­ing to get Petro­cel­li up on stage, they get Pete up instead. The stat­uesque hyp­no­tist imme­di­ate­ly has Pete flus­tered, a state that she will take full advan­tage of in per­form­ing her induction.

Annabelle: “Thank you, thank you. And now, I’d like to ask for anoth­er vol­un­teer from the audi­ence. Anoth­er man â€¦”

(close­up) “… because I like men.”

Annabelle: “I promise I don’t bite. (laughs) Not much.”

Pete gets up on stage and stands before the hyp­no­tist, star­ing at the floor.

Annabelle: “Tell me some­thing Mr. Rit­ter: may I call you Pete?”

Pete: “Well, that’s my name, ma’am.”

Annabelle: “Tell me some­thing Pete, have you ever been hypnotized?”

Pete: “Well, no, I don’t believe so â€¦”

Petro­cel­li: “No, but’s he’s been in a fog for the last ten years!”

Annabelle: “Do you like my eyes Pete?”

Pete: “Well, I’ve got noth­ing against them.”

Annabelle: “Well, um, would you look at me, hmm?”

Pete final­ly looks up at Annabelle’s face as she smiles charm­ing­ly towards him. Her voice and man­ner­isms have become more and more inti­mate and per­son­al; her voice has become soft­er and her atten­tion is now total­ly direct­ed to Pete.

Pete stares at Annabelle for a long moment. Out in the audi­ence Mag­gie remarks to Tony “He’s scared to death.”

Pete: “Am I … hyp­no­tized yet?”

Annabelle: “No, not yet. You like my eyes, don’t you Pete?”

Pete grins. “Well, I sure have seen worse.” He’s quite fas­ci­nat­ed by her now.

Annabelle: “Now, Pete, I’m going to count from five back­wards and I want you to lis­ten to me very care­ful­ly in case I make any mis­takes. Are you ready? … Are you ready?”

Pete: “Yep.”

Annabelle counts “Five … four … three … two … one …” as the cam­era switch­es between close­ups of Pete and Annabelle as she says each num­ber, until the last num­ber, show­ing Annabelle snap­ping her fin­gers beside Pete’s head, and he falls imme­di­ate­ly into a trance. His eyes close and his head drops forward.

Annabelle: “Can you hear me Pete? … can you hear me?”

Pete: “Eee-yep.”

Annabelle: “Now we’ll just see how asleep he is.” She lifts his arm and lets it go: it imme­di­ate­ly drops to his side. “Woo, he is sleep­ing. Now those friends of Pete’s — tell me some­thing about Pete, some­thing that he’s fond of.”

Tony: “Women!”

Mag­gie: “Beer!”

Annabelle: “Beer — that’s fine. Now Pete, I’m going to bring you out of it, but before I do we’re going to have to agree on some­thing, all right?”

Pete: “All right â€¦”

Annabelle: “What we’re going to have to agree on, Pete, is that beer tastes like tur­pen­tine, okay?”

Pete: “Okay â€¦”

Annabelle: “Now I’m going to give you a word; a post-hyp­not­ic word. After I wake you up, you won’t remem­ber any­thing that we’ve said while you were sleep­ing. But as soon as I say the post-hyp­not­ic word you will imme­di­ate­ly remem­ber and believe that beer tastes like tur­pen­tine … do you understand?”

Pete: “Right …”

Annabelle: “Now, the post-hyp­not­ic word is … uh … mar­bles. Have you got it?”

Pete: “Yes â€¦”

Annabelle: “Now Pete I’m going to bring you out of it, and as soon as you come out I want you to ask for a beer. Now here we go: Five … four … three … two … one … and” more and more com­mand­ing­ly and snaps her fin­gers. Pete wakes up to a round of applause.

Pete: “Mind if I have a beer?”

Annabelle laughs; Tony in the audi­ence is sud­den­ly think­ing over the implications.

Annabelle says “A nice cold glass of beer” as the beer arrives. Pete holds it in his hand and starts to take a drink.

Pete: “You want to get on with that hypnotizin’?”

Annabelle: “You like the beer?”

Pete: “Tastes great.”

Annabelle: “You’re sure: have anoth­er taste.”

Pete: “Now if you’re try­ing to get me drunk you picked the right liq­uid because I love beer.”

Annabelle: “That’s just fine, Pete: now, Pete, I think you ought to have one more sip. Oh, by the way, Pete, when you were a boy, did you ever play with marbles?”

Pete gri­maces in disgust.

Annabelle: “What’s the mat­ter Pete?”

Pete: “This isn’t beer: this is turpentine!”

Tony: “That’s it: that’s got to be it.”

Upon ques­tion­ing by Petro­cel­li, Pro­fes­sor Logan states that Joan and Willie are two of his best stu­dents, two of his teach­ing assis­tants. He also admits that the two have car­ried their mutu­al explo­ration of hyp­no­sis far beyond his expec­ta­tions. Inves­ti­ga­tion also reveals that Joan bought the blanks, and she admit­ted replac­ing them and set­ting up the whole bit of the­ater to prove her point about the pow­er of hyp­no­sis and to prove the pro­fes­sor wrong. She just did­n’t want any­one to get killed, but was too afraid to come for­ward until con­front­ed by Petrocelli.

That’s when Petro­cel­li does what no defense attor­ney does: put his client on the wit­ness stand. As Willie is on the stand, Petro­cel­li plays the record­ing of Pro­fes­sor Logan’s record­ing machine, which is the post-hyp­not­ic trig­ger to put him into a trance. He remains in trance until Petro­cel­li fires a blank from the pis­tol, the release trig­ger. It may have been the­atri­cal, but the court found it con­vinc­ing enough to free Willie. Joan, how­ev­er, will be charged with manslughter, a case Petro­cel­li is will­ing to take.

And, at the end, every­thing it back to nor­mal, except for Pete, that is, who’s drink­ing root beer because he still thinks beer tastes like turpentine.

Com­men­tary: Its the clas­sic dilem­ma: can you use hyp­no­sis to make some­one do some­thing they would­n’t nor­mal­ly do, in this case, com­mit mur­der? Its a ques­tion that’s been debat­ed even before George Estabrooks announced “I can hyp­no­tize a man — with­out his knowl­edge or con­sent — into com­mit­ting trea­son against the Unit­ed States.” Mil­ton Erick­son answered in the neg­a­tive but the con­tro­ver­sy still con­tin­ues, and has become the basis for a num­ber of sto­ries, includ­ing the most famous exam­ple, “The Manchuri­an Can­di­date”.

Expert opin­ion tends to strong­ly favor Erick­son here, but how­ev­er, in this sit­u­a­tion, the argu­ment starts get­ting unclear. For one thing, there is the rela­tion­ship between Joan, the hyp­no­tist, and Willie, the sub­ject in this sit­u­a­tion. Their pro­fes­sor indi­cates they have tak­en their explo­ration of the sub­ject to depths beyond any of this oth­er stu­dents. That implies a tremen­dous lev­el of trust and famil­iar­i­ty between the two, which can be cap­i­tal­ized upon here.

Then there is the very real antag­o­nism between Willie and his pro­fes­sor. “And his half-wit the­o­ries on hyp­not­ic induc­tion … It start­ed when he began quot­ing William James on hyp­no­sis. You might as well start quot­ing Calvin Cooledge on wom­en’s lib!” Willie says. He is hon­est­ly angry at the pro­fes­sor, a reac­tion the whole post-hyp­not­ic trance is designed to take advan­tage of.

Added to the mix was the image of the pro­fes­sor hold­ing a shot­gun instead of the point­er he wield­ed, part of the flash­back scene that Willie is reliv­ing. See­ing the class in imme­di­ate dan­ger from the pro­fes­sor might just have been the final piece that drove him to final­ly pull the trig­ger, as he does hes­i­tate to fire until the pro­fes­sor turned to him.

How­ev­er, it is pos­si­ble that on some lev­el Willie was aware of what he was doing, trust­ing that Joan had some­how arranged for the safe­ty of every­one involved. He could even have checked the clip him­self and dis­cov­ered the bul­lets were blank, not know­ing, like Joan, that there was a live bul­let in the cham­ber. But once the deed was done, instead of being the result of a deep trance, he is suf­fer­ing from the trau­ma of killing some­one that he has post-trau­ma amnesia.

Rec­om­men­da­tion: High­ly rec­om­mend­ed, not only for the extend­ed stage hyp­no­sis scene but also for the way the sto­ry makes the case that mur­der under hyp­no­sis can be pos­si­ble under the most demand­ing of cir­cum­stances. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, how­ev­er, it is extreme­ly hard to find. The series has not been released on DVD and prob­a­bly only exists in video­tape col­lec­tions. It was shown on the TVLand cable chan­nel many years ago (which is where I got my copy.) I have not been able to find any clips on YouTube, either.


  • “Petro­cel­li” was nom­i­nat­ed for two Gold­en Globe Awards (one each for New­man and Howard) and three Emmy Awards, win­ning one for Best Film Edit­ing of an Indi­vid­ual Episode, with the oth­er two nom­i­na­tions going again to New­man and Howard.
  • Anoth­er episode ‘The Mark of Cain’ was nom­i­nat­ed for a Edgar Award from the Mys­tery Writ­ers of America.


1 comment to ‘The Sleep of Reason’ — “Petrocelli”

  • Kenneth Keith

    I remem­ber see­ing this episode years ago when the pro­gram was on prime-time. It made quite an impres­sion on me, but I was­n’t able to recall the name of the show.