A brilliant and multi-layered tale of psychological suspense, the story begins at a police inquest following the death on February 4th of Valerie Anderson, the 28-year-old wife of ad executive "Andy" Anderson. The woman fell down the cellar stairs of her home in the dark and her demise is ruled "accidental death" by the coroner.
The bulk of the novel takes place during the four days from February 25th to February 28th, as Anderson returns to work and is slowly driven mad by a series of events. The actions and concerns of his daily life as an ad man are occasionally interrupted by inexplicable oddities, such as his desk calendar that is set to February 4th, the date of his wife's death. Called on to mentor a newly-hired young man named Greatorex, Andy is given the task of developing an ad campaign for a lotion that removes the need for men to shave every day. As the novel unfolds, Andy is portrayed as a man with a "double nature"; he is both a sharp ad man at work and an irresponsible private citizen outside of it. His youth was mundane and he only began to taste success when he found himself working in advertising, where falsehoods and masks are the norm.
Interspersed with the satirical portrait of the advertising industry and Anderson's less than impressive behavior in the evening hours are hints of suspicion about his wife's death. Returning home on the evening of February 25th, Anderson is confronted by his neighbor, Fletchley, who tells him that a police inspector visited that day and asked many questions. Anderson keeps a small notebook hidden in his home, and while he writes that "I can't see why I didn't push her down the stairs long ago," he also notes that, after Valerie's death, he feels an "extraordinary sense of loss." Did Andy kill his wife, or was it merely an unfortunate accident? These questions are of great interest to Inspector Cresse, who pays a call on Andy that night, having received two letters casting suspicion of murder on the widower. Cresse cannot understand why a box of matches was found by the side of Valerie's body and he and Andy banter about the possibility of guilt and the lack of evidence.
|1958 paperback edition|
On his third day back at work, Wednesday the 27th, one of Andy's colleagues decides to call the face lotion "Hey Presto!" Like magic, it is a quick and easy solution to one of the daily annoyances of life, yet is it, like stage magic, merely an illusion? Andy's boss remarks that "there's nobody more easily sold on a simple nostrum for all human ills than a good advertising man . . . because we make such a mess of our own lives." The pressure of the work environment and the small oddities that have made him think someone suspects him of murder begin to wear on Andy, who loses his temper at lunch. He then visits a brothel, where he is a regular customer, and learns that they have assigned to him the code "MM51," which stands for "mild masochism." As he leaves the establishment, he catches a glimpse of Inspector Cresse and realizes that the policeman is keeping an eye on him.
|David Wayne as Anderson|
|William Conrad as Cresse|
|Andy has gone mad|
The final section of the novel takes place six weeks later, on the 14th of April. Cresse visits a mental hospital with another policeman, and it is revealed that the younger policeman was the young ad man whom Andy was assigned to mentor when he returned to work. The young policeman was responsible for changing Andy's desk calendar and giving him the forged letter from Valerie and he is now uncomfortable about having been made to play a part in driving Anderson to madness. Cresse defends his unorthodox methods but, when he visits Andy and sees that the man's mind is completely gone, he realizes that he must resign from the police force. Andy's guilt remains unproven.
|Elizabeth Allen as Molly|
Julian Symons (1912-1994) was one of the most important figures in crime fiction in the twentieth century, both as a prolific novelist and short story writer and as an indefatigable critic. Born in London, he left school at age 14 and founded a poetry magazine in 1937. Though he tried to avoid service in the war as a conscientious objector, he ended up serving in WWII before working as an ad copywriter and eventually turning to fiction. He published dozens of crime novels and short story collections from 1945 to 1994, as well as a considerable amount of non-fiction and criticism. He won two Edgar Awards and was named an MWA Grand Master in 1982. Not much of his fiction was adapted for film or television, and this was his only book to be adapted for the Hitchcock series.
|Bob Crane as Lessing|
Richard Matheson wrote the teleplay and the show was broadcast on CBS on Friday, January 4, 1963. Matheson later said that he liked the novel but did not "like what they did to the script," so he asked that his name be removed from the credits and replaced with his pseudonym, Logan Swanson. Without a copy of Matheson's original script to compare with the filmed version, it is not possible to tell if wholesale changes were made, but the speed with which these shows were produced makes it unlikely that the director, Alf Kjellin, made significant alterations. Perhaps Matheson was also unhappy with himself for being unable to convey the depth, intensity and humor of the novel within the limited confines of an hour-long television show.
|Kathleen O'Malley as Valerie|
Part one continues at the office of Vincent Industrial Design, the office that replaces the Vincent Advertising agency of the novel. In a sponsored show such as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Hitchcock could get away with verbal jabs at the advertisers but Matheson could not present an ad agency with anything approaching the vicious satire that Symons uses in his novel. Instead of coming up with ad copy, Anderson designs containers; he is assigned to come up with an exciting, modern package for "Whisker Off," the product that was called "Hey Presto" in the book. Matheson has moved the story's setting from London in 1950 to New York City in 1962, and all of the British references are gone.
The first part includes Anderson's discovery of the date of February 4th on his desk calendar and ends as he returns home in the evening to find Cresse waiting at his house. The sergeant brings up matches again, pointing out that no burnt match was found on the cellar floor near Valerie's body. The first part ends as Anderson asks if he is being accused of murder.
|Valerie's broken body|
This part demonstrates how Matheson's script is like a shorthand version of the novel. Anderson's hidden notebook is replaced by a verbal rant to Molly and (of course) they do not spend the night in bed together; she puts him to bed in a chaste, motherly fashion. Unfortunately, the action is so compressed that some of Andy's actions seem to lack motivation; he is quick to think that someone is out to get him, he blurts out confidential information to Molly, he hallucinates and tries to strangle her. In streamlining the narrative of Symons's novel, Matheson is forced to sacrifice much of the depth that makes it work.
|The mannequin Andy thinks is his wife|
Matheson has deleted much of what happens in this section of the novel. There is no visit to the brothel, the uncomfortable birthday party at the boss's home is removed, and the party where Andy gets drunk and punches Fletchley is nowhere to be found. In fact, the character of Fletchley is entirely absent from the TV show; his role as the man who first sets the police investigation in motion is deleted. The short running time of the TV show makes Matheson focus on hitting all of the key plot points but results in removing much of the novel's character development and psychological nuance.
|Andy confuses Molly's face with Valerie's|
The conclusion of the show tracks that of the novel, with a matchbook falling through a hole in Cresse's coat pocket onto the floor, leading him to realize that there may have been an innocent explanation for the matchbook found on the cellar floor. A close up of Cresse's face ends the show, as he wonders if he has driven an innocent man to madness.
"The Thirty-First of February" is an attempt to adapt a brilliant novel into a fifty-minute television show and, by necessity, much of the book's richness is gone. The acting is fine, though David Wayne, as Anderson, is asked to make so many swift changes in personality that it sometimes strains believability. The direction by Alf Kjellin is unremarkable, for the most part, though there are a few highlights: the trips down to the cellar at the start and end of the show are atmospheric, the trick shot when Molly's face is replaced by Valerie's works reasonably well, and Anderson's final scene in the mental hospital is effective.
|Cresse realizes what he has done|
Born Wayne McMeekan in Michigan, David Wayne (1914-1995) served in the Army in WWII, appeared on Broadway, and was a member of the Actor's Studio. His film and television career stretched from 1944 to 1987. He made many appearances on episodic TV, including twice on the Hitchcock show. He was on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery and he played the Mad Hatter on Batman. He is fondly remembered for his role as Inspector Queen, Ellery's father, in the short-lived Ellery Queen TV series (1975-1976).
William Conrad (1920-1994), who plays Sergeant Cresse, possessed one of the great voices in American radio and television, playing Marshall Dillon on the radio series Gunsmoke from 1952 to 1962 and narrating The Fugitive on TV from 1963 to 1967. He starred in Cannon (1971-1976), Nero Wolfe (1981), and Jake and the Fatman (1987-1992). Born in Kentucky, he may not always have been as corpulent as he was by the time he became a TV star, since he was a fighter pilot in WWII. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series.
Receiving third billing in the credits is Elizabeth Allen (1929-2006), who plays Molly. She was born Elizabeth Gillease in New Jersey and her career on screen lasted from 1952 to 1995. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but she was also seen on The Twilight Zone and in two of the best episodes of Thriller: "The Hungry Glass" and "The Grim Reaper."
|Robert Carson as the coroner|
Other familiar faces in this episode include Robert Carson (1909-1979), who plays the coroner.
"The Thirty-First of February" is not yet available on DVD, nor is it available for viewing online.
Bradley, Matthew R. Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.
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Richard Matheson on Alfred Hitchcock Presents: An Overview and Episode Guide
Richard Matheson only wrote two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and none for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. "Ride the Nightmare" was an adaptation of his own novel and "The Thirty-First of February" was an adaptation of a novel by Julian Symons. Both teleplays suffer from trying to compress novel-length stories into fifty-minute time slots, and neither represents anything more than an average to below-average episode of the hour-long series. It's too bad that Matheson was not tapped to write any of the half-hour shows, because--as he showed with his scripts for The Twilight Zone--he excelled in that format.