Starring: Robert H. Harris, Meg Mundy
Written by: Victor Wolfson & Robert C. Dennis (teleplay), Stanley Ellin (story)
Directed by: James Neilson
First aired April 15, 1956
Episode Grade: A
Very simple. Just Hitch. He addresses the ladies.
“Has your husband recently acquired a far-away look in his eyes? In the event that something unforseen happens to you, do all of your worldly goods go to him? Is he, at this moment, nervously excusing himself from the room? If you have answered ‘Yes’ to all the above questions, you receive a score of 100, a gold star for neatness. And my advice to leave for mother’s immediately.”
Episode Re-Cap & Commentary:
Lawrence Appleby (Robert H. Harris) owns an antique shop. He’s showing a few pieces to a tall, spinstery woman (Meg Mundy) who is supposed to be plain, but she’s also, I think, uniquely attractive. She has high cheekbones, a full mouth, and a gracious manner. She’s wearing a tweed suit. She’s not really interested in anything Mr. Appleby is showing her, and asks about a jewel box on the counter. Appleby snaps at her that it’s NOT FOR SALE! The woman says, “Everything that’s the least bit good seems to be spoken for.” She then picks up what, I guess, is a ceramic camel, and Appleby rudely says that the pieces are fragile and he’d appreciate it if she didn’t handle them.
Appleby is small, bald, stout, expressive, and fond of bowties. He’s also rude and persnickety. He leaves the woman at the counter and greets another man (Michael Ansara!) who’s entered the store. “May I show you something?” Appleby asks him. The tall man picks up a piece and says, “You might tell me where this came from” and Appleby freaks out again. It turns out the man isn’t a customer. He is Mr. Dizar, of Dizar and Son, from whence Appleby acquires a lot of his pieces. Appleby is heavily in debt to Dizar. He owes Dizar $12,000 (which is $104,247 of today’s money). He doesn’t have it. His pieces haven’t sold, and mainly because he can’t bear to part with them. So Appleby is a bald, persnickety man who is in love with antiques and makes no money at all. What a winner.
As Dizar and Appleby talk, the tall woman breaks a piece–the ceramic camel. Appleby is distraught and yells at her. The woman is apologetic and gracious about it, and writes him a check for it. The piece is $1000 (about $8,700 today). We see, on her check, that her name is Martha Sturgis. Appleby calls her “MRS. Sturgis,” and Martha corrects him: “Miss.” After she leaves the store, Dizar tells Appleby that now the debt is $11,000, and it’s due in two weeks.
At Appleby’s home, his wife Lena (Louise Larabee) is on the couch, reading a magazine, eating candy and listening to big band music. There’s a blanket on the couch that’s not folded, and evidently this is supposed to mean that Lena is a terrible slob. Even though the rest of the apartment is spotless. Lena complains that she can’t even have a cat to keep her company. “You know very well that a cat would scratch up the furniture!” he scolds. Wow, Appleby would HATE my house. We have FOUR cats! And right next to me, on the couch, is an unfolded blanket. He makes Adrian Monk seem like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Appleby asks his wife for money from her “endowment” and she won’t sign it over. She screams “You’re not getting it, so forget it!” and storms out. Appleby takes a book off the shelf. It’s entitled: Accident or Murder. He then arranges the rug near the fireplace, making sure it’s real slippy-like, and moves a chair over (did they, like, tell him how to do this, in the book?) and then he sits down, and calls to Lena. He asks her to bring him a glass of water. He bends over to pretend he’s tying his shoe. As she reaches the rug, he pulls it quickly out from under her. She falls, hits her head, and dies. It’s not a very elegant murder. It’s kind of a silly murder. What if she just tripped? I mean, what made him think this would work? Oh but it does work. Appleby picks up the phone and says, “Operator. I want to report an accident.”
And so Appleby gets his money. He has paid Dizar, and tells him he’s looking at more pieces. Dizar insists that they will send him things, but only if Appleby pays on delivery. Appleby objects, saying there is no more money from his wife’s estate, and Dizar suggests he let the nice lady Martha Sturgis buy some things….she must be very rich.
Appleby brings Martha the jewel box she had been looking at previously. She’s flattered and nervous, because it’s such an expensive gift, and she insists on paying him for it. But Appleby says he intends to get to know her very well. Martha might be included in that Lovable Alfred Hitchcock Heroines™ thing I’m going to write after this season is over. Martha is shy and proper, but also warm. After a very short period of time, Appleby suggests they get married. Martha becomes very nervous, but then tells him he must talk to her lawyer, Mr. Gainsborough, who is like a second father to her, and has been looking after her since her own father died.
Mr. Gainsborough tells Appleby that Martha has a lot of money and Appleby acts like, “What? I had no idea” and then “Oh I don’t even care about her money” and Gainsborough tells Appleby to spend the next month showing Martha great devotion. After a month, she may agree to marry him. At one point Gainsborough says “Mr. Appleby, have you ever been married?” and Appleby says, “Yes,” and Gainsborough says, suspiciously, “Divorced?” and Appleby answers with a shocked “NO!” …Yeah, he didn’t divorce his wife, he just murdered her is all.
Martha and Gainsborough insists that Appleby live in Martha’s house. Appleby agrees.
Their marriage seems downright ….well, not just chaste, but cold. That’s Appleby’s fault. He comes home from work late, and complains to Martha that Dizar is threatening to close in on him, and buy all his stock. Martha says it wouldn’t really be a terrible loss, the curios don’t sell, and then he and she can just have a nice leisurely life together. But Appleby is, like, in love with his antiques and is angry that she doesn’t understand. While they’re talking, the phone rings. It’s Mr. Gainsborough. He calls her every night, as he had done since her father’s death. She answers the phone, standing on the rug near the fireplace, and Appleby gets an idea.
One night, Appleby comes home and there is the cutest kitty sitting on the chair. He says, “Martha, what is THIS?!” and Martha picks up the cat and says warmly, “This is Dicky. I bought him to keep me company.” She snuggles with cute fluffy kitty and Appleby is disgusted. She and Dicky go into the kitchen for his dinner, and Appleby sets up the rug by the fireplace again, and moves the chair. He then sits in the chair, and calls for Martha to bring him some water. He bends over, pretending to tie his shoe. She comes in with the water, and he PULLS THE RUG!
And then we hear Martha ask, “Was that how you did it before?”
She says, “Was it ‘accident or murder’?….Yes I found the book. Even then I didn’t believe it…..” She then has a wonderful monologue here, about things Mr. Gainsborough found out about the first Mrs. Appleby. Initially she was going to kick him out, but then she tells him that he must sell his pieces to Dizar, and live the rest of his days with her, to protect other unsuspecting and innocent women. She feels it is her duty to protect the world from Appleby. “There is a letter in Mr. Gainsborough’s safe that is certain to hang you if I were to die, under whatever circumstances. And Mr. Gainsborough will continue to call here every night at this hour to see that I am well, and happy.”
The phone rings, and she tells Appleby to answer it. It’s Gainsborough, asking for Martha. Appleby tests him and says Martha’s busy and can’t come to the phone. Gainsborough is then furious with him, and says he has ten seconds to put Martha on the phone. Martha walks over to take the receiver.
But Martha TRIPS ON THE RUG and FALLS and HITS HER HEAD and DIES!!!!!
And Gainsborough is on the phone going, “Appleby, your time is up!” And the music plays my favorite “Oh no you di’nt” sting. DUN DUUUUN!!!
Please make a note of it:
Robert H. Harris is Lawrence Appleby. We saw him in the episode Shopping for Death. He was a very capable character actor. He is in six more AHP episodes.
The lovely Meg Mundy is Martha Sturgis. She was a model, and a good actress too. She has a very compelling face–she is what they once would have called a “handsome woman.” She does a wonderful job in this. Her voice is soothing and rich. She is in one more AHP episode, in Season 2.
Gage Clark is Gainsborough. He had a consistent career throughout his life, but he died at the age of 64. He is in 3 more AHP episodes, in later seasons.
Dizar was played by Michael Ansara, who was also in Shopping for Death. He was married to Barbara Eden. He is in one more AHP episode, and it’s in this first season!
Louise Larabee is the harsh Lena. She plays another harsh, doomed wife, in one of my favorite AHP episodes, in the second season.