Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Hitchcock Project-William Link and Richard Levinson Part Five: Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale [9.6] and Wrapup


by Jack Seabrook

Imagine Rear Window set in Mayberry and you'll have a general idea of the events and tone of "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale," an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with a teleplay by William Link and Richard Levinson that aired on CBS on Friday, November 8, 1963.

The show was adapted from a short story by Robert Twohy, titled "Out of This Nettle," that was published first in the January 1962 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. In the story, Police Chief Brandon of Lindenville receives a telephone call from Mrs. Grant, who asks him to come to her house because she suspects that something may have happened to her neighbor. When Brandon arrives at the house she is renting, he is surprised to find her a rather attractive, middle-aged woman, not the elderly spinster he imagined from her call.

Mrs. Grant leads him upstairs to her bedroom and shows him the view from her window of her neighbor, George Colfax, a man in his mid-fifties who sits in his yard, unkempt and drinking whiskey. She remarks that his wife has been gone for two weeks, along with her dog, and that last night, around eleven o'clock, Colfax began digging in his flowerbed. Chief Brandon explains that nothing ever happens in the quiet town of Lindenville, but he promises to investigate. He then looks into the disappearance of Mrs. Colfax and confirms that she has not been seen in two weeks. Mr. Colfax tells the chief that his wife is on vacation but he does not know how to reach her.

Gary Merrill as Harry Jarvis

That night, Chief Brandon and two policeman watch out of Mrs. Grant's bedroom window until they witness Colfax start digging in his flowerbed around eleven-thirty. The police enter his yard and begin to dig as Brandon questions Colfax. They uncover the corpse of his wife's dog, which Colfax admits to having killed in order to hurt his spouse. He tells Chief Brandon that he did not kill his wife, but he confesses that she did not go on vacation; she left him after thirty years of marriage.

The policemen find nothing else in the flowerbed and give up; the chief tells Mrs. Grant that he plans to let the matter drop. After Brandon and his men leave, Mrs. Grant meets Mr. Colfax in her back yard, where they uncover his wife's corpse. They bury it in his flowerbed and embrace passionately, relieved that their two-week ordeal is over.

Phyllis Thaxter as Mrs. Logan

For most of its length, "Out of This Nettle" seems like a suburban retelling of Rear Window, until its climax, which takes an unpredictable turn. The author comes close to cheating when he explains Mrs. Grant's state of mind and writes that she felt relieved after calling the police: "whatever the outcome, she had done what she felt was the right thing to do." The writer seems to give the reader insight into her thoughts, but it is misleading; her real reason for calling the police is to deflect their attention from what really happened. The character of Chief Brandon is well-drawn, and the quiet town of Lindenville is evocatively described as a place where a murder of the sort that Mrs. Grant suspects just doesn't happen. The story's title is explained in the final paragraphs:

    She gave a thin smile. "Out of this nettle, danger... what's the rest of it?"
    "Something about plucking this flower, safety."
    "That's what we've done," she said...

The source of the quotation is Shakespeare's history play, Henry IV, Part One. In Act Two, scene three, Hotspur explains that what seems like a dangerous situation will lead in the end to safety:

    "Out of this nettle, danger,
    we pluck this flower, safety."

"Out of This Nettle"
was first published here
A nettle is a plant that stings on contact and the title of the short story means that Mrs. Grant and Mr. Colfax have voluntarily put themselves in danger by involving the police, but that their plan will in the end lead to their being suspected of no wrongdoing.

The short story's author, Robert Twohy, wrote about 75 short stories that were published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine between 1957 and 1994. "Out of This Nettle" was his second published story, and it is his only work to be adapted for the screen. It has been collected in such volumes as To Be Read Before Midnight (1962), Best Detective Stories of the Year, 20th Annual Collection (1965), and 13 Ways to Dispose of a Body (1966).

Link and Levinson adapted the story for television and chose to adopt a semi-humorous tone; the small-town setting and the overall lighthearted approach to a dead body may recall Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry, and the original score for this episode by Bernard Herrmann has been compared to his score for that film, but the plot resembles that of Hitchcock's Rear Window even more and aspects of the setting and characters resemble those of The Andy Griffith Show, which had been running on CBS since 1960.

Fess Parker as Sheriff Wister

Unlike their scripts for "Captive Audience" and "Day of Reckoning," where Link and Levinson took full-length novels and compressed them to fit the hour-long TV show format, "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale" required them to find ways to expand Twohy's short story, which runs ten pages in the original digest. They accomplish this by increasing the participation of the neighbor, renamed Harry Jarvis, by adding new characters, and by adding numerous scenes not found in the short story.

The first scene establishes Jarvis as a disheveled, lazy crank, who is rude to a boy who enters his yard looking for a lost cat. Mrs. Logan (as Mrs. Grant has been renamed) watches from her window and calls the police, but instead of Chief Brandon (rechristened Sheriff Ben Wister) answering the phone, it is picked up by his deputy, Charlie, who is asleep with his feet on the desk when the phone rings. Crime is so rare in Linvale (Lindenville in the short story) that he can't even find a pencil to write down the caller's "urgent" message.

George Furth as Deputy Charlie

Meanwhile, the sheriff is at the barbershop, admiring himself in a mirror, when Charlie bursts in to tell him about the phone call. Both the sheriff and the barber have Southern accents, making the scene a reflection of many on The Andy Griffith Show between Sheriff Andy Taylor and Floyd the barber. The sheriff proceeds to Mrs. Logan's house and the same boy who had been in Jarvis's yard asks the sheriff to find his lost cat; this shows the magnitude of problem that Sheriff Wister is used to facing.

Unlike the story, where the neighbor's wife has been gone for two weeks, Mrs. Jarvis has been missing for only three days, according to Mrs. Logan. Bernard Herrmann's score plays noticeably when she tells the sheriff that she thinks her neighbor wanted to kill his wife; the music underscores the importance of the dialogue and guides the viewer's thoughts. The sheriff begins investigating and there are bits of comedy business with Deputy Charlie, who resembles Deputy Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, yet who is more intelligent and lacks a Southern accent.

Robert P. Lieb as Dr. Wyatt

The show expands the investigation into the wife's disappearance as the sheriff goes to the hospital to speak with Jarvis's friend, Dr. Wyatt, who confirms that Harry has been worried for a few days but who surprises the sheriff with the news that Mrs. Jarvis is expected at the doctor's office that evening for a checkup. Hours later, at the doctor's office, Dr. Wyatt's pretty receptionist explains that Harry called to cancel his wife's appointment. The investigation continues as Sheriff Wister visits the home of Mrs. Bergen, a middle-aged woman who has not seen Mrs. Jarvis in days but who takes the opportunity to try to play matchmaker between the bachelor sheriff and a new schoolteacher.

Burt Mustin as Bell

Back at the station, Charlie reports on his canvass of the neighborhood and says that no one has seen the missing woman. The sheriff calls Mrs. Logan, who tells him that Jarvis was digging in his garden last night, and that evening the sheriff is back in her bedroom, looking out the window at a large hole in Jarvis's flowerbed. Mrs. Logan suggests that Jarvis is digging a grave to bury his wife and, as if on cue, the neighbor comes out and resumes shoveling dirt. Ominous woodwind music rises on the soundtrack to underscore Mrs. Logan's concern. Jarvis sees her looking at him through the window and comes to her front door to confront her as the sheriff listens in secret from an adjoining room. After Jarvis leaves, Sheriff Wister continues to insist to Mrs. Logan that there is no evidence of a murder having been committed.

Jan Arvan as Al

The sheriff goes next door, where Jarvis claims his wife took off to parts unknown with the dog. However, when Sheriff Wister goes out to the sidewalk, the boy tells him that he saw the dog in the window earlier that day. At the station, Mrs. Bergen tells the sheriff that she took it upon herself to participate in the investigation and tried to deliver a freshly-baked cake to Mrs. Jarvis, only to be rebuffed at the front door by her husband, who said that his wife was ill. Meanwhile, Charlie follows Jarvis to the local hardware store; after Jarvis leaves, the sheriff questions old man Bell, who reports that Harry bought grass seed and rat poison. The sheriff's doubts that anything strange is happening are shaken by this odd series of events, so he, Charlie, and another deputy named Al watch from Mrs. Logan's bedroom window that evening as Harry emerges from his house with a shovel. The policemen enter his yard and take over digging, at which point they uncover the corpse of Harry's dog.

Cathie Merchant as the receptionist

Inside his home, Jarvis tells Sheriff Wister that he killed the dog because it was sick and his wife was gone. Harry is astonished that the sheriff suspected him of murder; he admits that she left him. The sheriff, satisfied with this explanation, tells Mrs. Logan that he believes Harry and will drop the matter. She protests, prolonging her elaborate charade, but the sheriff and his deputies leave. Harry watches them go, then exits his house through the back door, climbs over the fence that separates his yard from that of Mrs. Logan and, carrying a shovel, sneaks into her home through the back door after peering through her first-floor window in a reversal of roles.

Sam Reese as Henry the barber

Jarvis approaches Mrs. Logan from behind, gripping the shovel, and it looks like he means to do her harm, but instead she stands up and they embrace. The moment is a complete surprise to the viewer, since Link and Levinson have taken the story's climax one step further by adding an element of menace to Harry's approach. He tells her that they have work to do and they go outside, where he digs up his wife's corpse from Mrs. Logan's flowerbed. The body is wrapped in canvas tied tightly with rope; suddenly, a seemingly farcical situation turns serious, and this scene is the most gruesome in the show as the duo drag the corpse across the yard and toss it over the fence.

Mrs. Logan, still in her dress and heels, gamely grabs the shovel to fill in the hole in her own yard, while Harry drags the body across his own yard and deposits it in the hole dug by the deputies. At this point, the TV show has gone beyond the story's conclusion, but there is one final twist to come. Harry is filling the hole when he hears his doorbell ring; the sheriff is back with Charlie, telling Harry that they have come for the dog, since there is a city ordinance against burying animals on residential property. They head out to the back yard to dig up the animal and Mrs. Logan, unaware of their arrival, calls from behind the fence: "'Darling! Here--you'll need this.'" She tosses the shovel over the fence and Harry looks shocked. The policemen's faces register surprise and the last thing we see is Mrs. Logan, looking over the fence, looking horrified as she realizes that their plan has come undone.

Robert Roter

With this addition to the end of the story, Link and Levinson turn the show from one where the murderers get away with their crime into one where they are caught unexpectedly--out of the nettle of danger they have found their way further into dangerous weeds. "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale" benefits from a solid script, strong acting, evocative music, and firm direction; it is an enjoyable hour of mystery that is lighthearted for most of its length, turns briefly grim, and then ends in a surprising moment of discovery. The couple's elaborate farce depends on their keeping up the deception in private for the benefit of the viewer; never, even when they are alone, do Harry and Mrs. Logan let down their guard, so there is no reason to suspect their true motivations.

The idea of a person looking out of a window and suspecting their neighbor of murder goes back to Cornell Woolrich's 1942 short story, "It Had to Be Murder." Hitchcock adapted the tale brilliantly for the 1954 film, Rear Window, which has been remade and parodied many times in the ensuing decades. The 2018 bestseller by A.J. Finn, The Woman in the Window, is a recent example of a mystery writer taking this idea in a new direction. "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale" seems to assume that the TV viewer is familiar with the general idea of Rear Window and plays with our expectations, subverting them at the climax.

Martine Bartlett
as Mrs. Bergen

The show is directed by Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), a prolific TV director from 1952 to 1975 who also directed a couple of movies. He directed 27 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in all, including "The Blessington Method," and he directed 16 episodes of Thriller. Perhaps the director had a hand in selecting some of the cast members for this episode, because four of the supporting players also appeared in "The Star Juror," another episode directed by Daugherty that took place in an even-more Southern setting.

Harry Jarvis is played by Gary Merrill (1915-1990), who was on film from 1943 to 1977 and on TV from 1953 to 1980, appearing in Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends and the classic, All About Eve, both in 1950. He was on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale" was one of seven episodes of the Hitchcock TV show in which he was featured.

Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012), who co-stars as Mrs. Logan, was born in Maine and acted on Broadway before making her film debut in 1944. She began acting on TV in 1953, appearing in six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Long Silence," She also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. Later in her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978), and she continued to appear on TV until 1992.

Towering over the rest of the case as Sheriff Wister is Fess Parker (1924-2010), who stood 6'6" and who served in the Marines in WWII before going to college on the G.I. Bill to study drama. His appearances in 1954 and 1955 on The Magical World of Disney as Davy Crockett made the character a cultural phenomenon and he followed this up with six seasons on TV starring as Daniel Boone (1964-1970). When "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale" aired, he had just finished a single season starring in a TV series called Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1962-1963) and his film and TV career overall spanned the years from 1950 to 1974. In later years, he ran a winery in California. This was the only episode of the Hitchcock TV show in which he appeared.

Born George Schweinfurth and trained at the Actors Studio, George Furth (1932-2008) adds sharp comedic timing as Deputy Charlie. On screen from 1962 to 1998, Furth appeared in three TV series: Broadside (1964-1965), Tammy (1965-1966), and The Dumplings (1976) and was a guest on such series as Batman, Night Gallery, and The Odd Couple. He had a role in Blazing Saddles (1974) and also made a mark as a writer of Broadway plays and musicals. He appeared in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Beast in View."

In smaller roles:
  • Robert P. Lieb (1914-2002) as Dr. Wyatt; on screen from 1946 to 1999, he was in three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour but is most familiar as Officer Flaherty in the Twilight Zone episode, "Night of the Meek."
  • Burt Mustin (1884-1977) as Bell, the hardware store owner; he was a businessman and amateur actor whose screen career started late in life; he was on TV and film from 1951 to 1976. Mustin also appeared in "The Landlady" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in "The Star Juror" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; he was a familiar face over the years in such shows as The Twilight Zone (including "Night of the Meek," with Robert P. Lieb), Thriller, The Outer Limits, and Batman.
  • Jan Arvan as Al, the second deputy who helps Charlie dig up the grave and find the dog; born Jan Arvanitas, he was on screen from 1949 to 1979 and also appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Case of Mr. Pelham." He played scores of bit parts in film and on TV, appeared on Batman, and also was featured on Old Time Radio from 1948 to 1955.
  • Cathie Merchant (1945-2013) as Dr. Wyatt's receptionist; born Catherine Beacom, she was only 17 years old when this episode aired. In her short screen career, which lasted from 1961 to 1965, she appeared in four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Star Juror," where she plays the young woman in the bathing suit who is murdered in the park.
  • Sam Reese (1930-1985) as Henry, the barber who cuts the sheriff's hair; he was on screen from 1959 to 1970, appeared on The Outer Limits, and had parts in three episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, all of which were set in small, Southern towns: "The Star Juror," "The Jar," and "Return of Verge Likens."
  • Robert Roter as the boy with the missing cat; he had a brief TV career from 1962 to 1966 and his older sister, Diane Roter, was a regular on The Virginian in the 1965-66 season.
  • Martine Bartlett (1925-2006) as Mrs. Bergen; she attended the Actors Studio, was on screen from 1951 to 1983, and appeared on The Twilight Zone and--you guessed it--"The Star Juror."
Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story! Watch "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale" here.


DeMary, Tom. "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Introduction." The Bernard Herrmann Society, 1997, 


Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred HITCHCOCK Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 


"Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 9, episode 6, CBS, 8 Nov. 1963. 

Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central, 

Twohy, Robert. "Out of This Nettle." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Jan. 1962, pp. 121–130. 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Feb. 2021, 

*  *  *  *  *

William Link and Richard Levinson on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: An Overview and Episode Guide

William Link and Richard Levinson contributed two teleplays to Alfred Hitchcock Presents in its final season, adapting two of their own short stories into the episodes titled "Services Rendered" and "Profit-Sharing Plan." Both teleplays improved on the short stories that were their sources. Link and Levinson then wrote or co-wrote (with James Bridges) five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In "Captive Audience," they reimagined a complex novel and made major changes to its structure. "Day of Reckoning" was a more straightforward adaptation of another novel, where they streamlined the events and followed the plot closely, but changed the ending.

"Dear Uncle George" is credited to the duo and James Bridges and I have not found any published story that served as its source; it is possible that Link and Levinson wrote a teleplay and then Bridges revised it. The result is an entertaining hour of television. The duo expanded another writer's short story for "Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale," changing the tone and the ending yet again. Finally, they are credited with James Bridges for the strong episode called "Murder Case;" this episode also features major revisions to the short story from which it was adapted.

Link and Levinson began writing for TV in 1959 and their involvement with the Hitchcock show came in the years from 1962 to 1964; it was toward the start of their long career but it demonstrated promise that would be fulfilled in their many teleplays for Columbo and other mystery shows.


Episode title-"Services Rendered" [7.10]

Broadcast date-12 December 1961
Teleplay by-William Link and Richard Levinson
Based on "No Name, Address, Identity" by William Link and Richard Levinson
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July 1961
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Profit-Sharing Plan" [7.23]
Broadcast date-16 March 1962
Teleplay by-William Link and Richard Levinson
Based on "The End of an Era" by William Link and Richard Levinson
First print appearance-Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 1962
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Captive Audience" [8.5]
Broadcast date-18 October 1962
Teleplay by-William Link and Richard Levinson
Based on Murder Off the Record by John Bingham
First print appearance-published in 1957 in the U.K. as Marion
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Day of Reckoning" [8.10]
Broadcast date-22 November 1962
Teleplay by-William Link and Richard Levinson
Based on Day of Reckoning by John Garden
First print appearance-published in 1957 in the U.K. as Murder Isn't Private
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Dear Uncle George" [8.30]
Broadcast date-10 May 1963
Teleplay by-William Link, Richard Levinson, and James Bridges
Based on an unpublished story by William Link and Richard Levinson
First print appearance-none
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Nothing Ever Happens in Linvale" [9.6]
Broadcast date-8 November 1963
Teleplay by-William Link and Richard Levinson
Based on "Out of This Nettle" by Robert Twohy
First print appearance-Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 1962
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

Episode title-"Murder Case" [9.19]
Broadcast date-6 March 1964
Teleplay by-James Bridges, William Link, and Richard Levinson
Based on "Murder Case" by Max Marquis
First print appearance-London Mystery Magazine, September 1955
Watch episode-here
Available on DVD?-no

In two weeks: Our coverage of Joel Murcott begins with "Number Twenty-Two," starring Russell Collins and Rip Torn!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Legacy" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Cheap is Cheap" here!


Grant said...

I don't know this one all that well, but it's easy to notice several things about it.

George Furth was just the right choice for the role of Charlie. He was such an expert at playing comical nervous characters that he didn't need to copy Don Knotts a bit when it came to playing a nervous deputy.

And even though it's sort of a backhanded compliment, Gary Merrill's appearance made him very convincing as a morose character who sits in his yard drinking and glaring at his next-door neighbor!

Another thing is that Levinson and Link reworked the ending of this story for the COLUMBO episode "Blueprint For Murder." At least, the general idea of the ending.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant! I don't think Furth was copying Don Knotts, but the town sure seemed like a sendup of Mayberry and Fess Parker had to have been thinking of Sheriff Taylor. Gary Merrill was perfect for the role. The more I see of him the better I like him. I did not know about that Columbo episode.