Tired of caring for his bedridden wife Elizabeth, Arnold Bourdon is pleased when she hires a pretty, young nurse named Miss Grecco to care for her and to keep her company. In time, Arnold and Miss Grecco fall in love and plan to murder Elizabeth slowly by giving her small overdoses of her evening sedative. One night, Elizabeth catches her husband and her nurse in an embrace and fires the woman. Realizing that her husband cannot be trusted around another young nurse, Elizabeth hires a dowdy, older woman. What she does not realize is that the new nurse is Arnold's mother and that she is fully engaged in the plan to carry out the murder of her son's wife.
"A Woman's Help" was broadcast on NBC on Tuesday, March 28, 1961, during the sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The onscreen credit states that the teleplay is by Henry Slesar, based on his story. However, the story--if an actual story preceded the teleplay--was not published until 1962, when it was included in the collection, A Crime for Mothers and Others. The copyright notice in that paperback states that the story is one of four in the collection that has not been previously published.
Starring as Elizabeth is Geraldine Fitzgerald, an actress whose star quality overshadows the part she is given to play. Elizabeth is supposed to be unlikeable and we should be rooting for Arnold to succeed in his plan to eliminate her. In the short story, Slesar describes her as having "graying hair and yellow skin" and she is said to be "barely presentable." In contrast to this description, however, Fitzgerald is an attractive woman of 47 years (at the time of filming), who looks rather hale and hearty for someone supposed to be confined to bed. Hers is easily the standout performance of the episode.
Scott McKay plays Arnold, and his performance is so lifeless that it helps to sink the episode.
It seems clear that Hiller should have taken a more exaggerated and ironic approach to the material. Instead, he has the cast play it straight, as if it is serious drama. In Slesar's story, the tone is one of light humor, and he seems to recognize that this situation has been played out many times before and thus cannot be taken seriously. For instance, midway through the story and show there is a scene in Arnold's kitchen at midnight when he and Miss Grecco first profess their love for each other and then share a kiss. In the short story, it seems so ridiculous that it can only be played for laughs, yet onscreen it is in earnest and just seems cliched. The only humor in the TV show is found in the very first scene, when a sense of suspense is built only to have it revealed to be about cooking a three-minute egg.
The title, "A Woman's Help," has multiple meanings for Arnold, who has spent his entire life supported by women. He is tied to Elizabeth by her money, a fact he points out to Miss Grecco when they first discuss marriage. Even at the end of the show, when his mother appears out of nowhere as the new maid, he is still dependent on a woman to advance his aims. It is ironic that his mother is willing to help him kill his wife, and one wonders if Miss Grecco will still be in the picture after the murder is accomplished!
|Scott McKay and Lillian O'Malley, as Arnold's mother|
Scott McKay (1915-1987) was born Carl Gose and had a long career on Broadway. He also appeared in movies starting in 1944 and on TV starting in 1950. He was on the Hitchcock series twice and was briefly married to actress Ann Sheridan, one of his four wives.
Antoniette Bower (1932- ) had just started her career on TV the year before this episode was filmed. She would go on to appear in movies and on TV into the early 1990s, including two roles on the Hitchcock series, as well as appearances on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Star Trek, and many other shows. She still lives in Los Angeles and has appeared at conventions, where she greets fans of classic TV.
Arthur Hiller (1923- ) directed television shows from 1954 to 1977 and movies from 1957 to 2007. He directed 17 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; the last one reviewed here was "One Grave Too Many."
Surprisingly, even though "A Woman's Help" is not a memorable episode, it was remade in 1981 for the series Tales of the Unexpected, starring Tony Franciosa. Bert Salzman wrote the teleplay. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents version is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. The Tales of the Unexpected version is may be viewed for free online here. The series is available on DVD but it is expensive and it is hard to pin down which DVD set includes this episode.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.