Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Lewis Davidson Part Two: Misadventure [10.8]

by Jack Seabrook

"Misadventure" begins with a stylized shot, as a beautiful housewife named Eva Martin is shown in her kitchen, her image reflected on the shiny side of a toaster! This domestic scene will soon be turned upside down by the arrival of a man who is not what he seems.

Eva is preparing breakfast for her husband, George, when the telephone rings and she rushes to answer it; the voice on the other end is that of a man, and the look on Eva's face during their brief exchange suggests that she is speaking to her lover, who tells her that he will "'be over in about half an hour.'" George enters as Eva hangs up the phone. Bespectacled and balding, dressed in a suit and ready to go to work at his office, he polishes the silverware in front of him and waxes rhapsodically about the provenance of his fork, knife, and spoon, musing about how these "'little gravediggers'" must have gone in and out of his father's mouth thousands of times. In the midst of his inane commentary, George remarks that he will be coming home for lunch today, news that clearly comes as an unpleasant surprise to his wife. Thinking quickly, Eva tells George that she will be out shopping, and he at first replies that he can eat lunch at the coffee shop, but then changes his mind after he laments having to spend money on lunch when they have good food at home.

The initial scene begins to outline the characters' personalities and their marriage; Eva is a beauty who is starting to show age lines around her eyes; she is stunning in a flimsy robe and either tanned or heavily made up. George is clueless as to his wife's apparent other life, unaware of her infidelity and concerned with saving money in everything he does. On the surface, their marriage appears happy, yet there is distortion underneath, much like the reflected image of Eva on the side of the toaster.

As George kisses Eva goodbye, the camera pans over to a window and we see a man peering in at the Martins. George leaves for work, but not before stopping and turning to Eva. He takes out his wallet and pulls out two dollars, hesitates, and then pulls out a third, giving her the money to buy herself lunch while she is out shopping. That momentary pause between dollars two and three tells us all we need to know about George's attitude toward cash.

The man who had been peering in the widow hides behind a bush until George leaves. Inside, Eva hurries into her bedroom, presumably to get herself ready for her lover's arrival. The man outside knocks on the kitchen door and Eva opens it; he identifies himself as the gas man, and his uniform, hat, and toolbox fit the bill. Eva directs him through a door and down the stairs, where he is supposed to read the meter, but instead he takes a wrench, unscrews a nut, and turns on the gas, letting it begin to flood the basement. Returning to the kitchen, the man accuses Eva of having fooled with the meter and takes out a cigarette as she begins to smell the odor of gas. Eva opens the door to the basement and both smells and hears the rush of gas escaping, but the meter man pretends to smell nothing. He is rude and unhelpful, so she goes down to the meter herself and shuts off the valve. Eva shows spunk when she slaps a cigarette and lighter out of the man's hand; she will need this spunk very soon.

Barry Nelson as Colin
Back in the kitchen, Eva calls the man incompetent and takes out the telephone book to look up the number of the gas company so she can report him. He claims to have an attack of fever and begs her not to report him, afraid that he will be fired. The gas man even pulls out his wallet and shows Eva a photograph of a woman and three young children, presumably his family; she is sympathetic to his entreaties and hangs up the phone, but when he kneels before her in thanks, she has no time for him and tells him to fix the meter. Eva is clearly watching the clock, anticipating the imminent arrival of her lover and anxious to dispense with this unwanted visitor.

The man's continuing protestations of illness lead Eva to offer to make him a cup of coffee. When she puts a jacket around his shoulders to keep him warm, he tells her: "'I've always considered you a very kind and sensitive person.'" Eva questions how he would know and he quickly explains that he has seen her before when he came to read the meter. Yet we suspect there is something more going on here, and our suspicions will soon be proved correct. The man continues to try to portray himself as worthy of sympathy, referring to his "'old wounds'" that he sustained while fighting in the South Pacific, claiming to have been tortured in a POW camp. He accidentally knocks his toolbox to the floor and, among the items that fall out, we see a revolver, which he quickly replaces before Eva can see it. Finally, the man collapses on the floor but, when Eva suggests calling a doctor, he asks if he can take a hot bath or a shower, insisting that he will be fine in ten minutes. A quick cut to the clock shows that it's 8:30--15 minutes have passed since Eva's lover called and said he would be there in half an hour.

Eva is distracted by another telephone call, and the gas man heads through her bedroom and into her bathroom, where he turns on the water in the shower. Wandering back into the bedroom, he unzips and removes his gas company jumpsuit, revealing that, underneath, he is dressed in a suit and tie! Eva rushes her friend, Marge, off the phone, saying that she has a cake in the oven (and failing to mention the gas man in her shower!); she enters the bedroom and the camera shows things from her point of view, panning back and forth across the seemingly empty room. 

Lola Albright as Eva

She pulls back the bedcovers to find the man laid out on the bed, his feet at the head, clad only in his boxer shorts! He is so still that she fears he is dead, but when he says, "'I think I'm going to be all right,'" she is relieved. Eva tries to get him to leave but, when the doorbell rings, she pushes him back down onto the bed and tells him to stay put. She tells him that if he makes a sound, she'll kill him, but they both realize the absurdity of the statement. Eva closes the bedroom door and hurries to the front door to let in her lover, who immediately begins to kiss her passionately. She pushes him off and lies that her husband is on his way home; the handsome, young man makes a hasty exit. Eva begs him to call her tomorrow and he says, "'If I got the time.'" Poor Eva! For such a lovely woman, she is in quite a predicament.

Back in the bedroom, the gas man (or is he?) has put on George's robe, but he quickly removes it and returns to the bed, still wearing only his boxer shorts. Suddenly he holds the upper hand. When Eva threatens to call the police, the man responds by telling her that he would love to tell her husband about her boyfriend and his mid-morning visits--or, in the alternative, she can tell her husband that there is a strange man in her bed and he will not leave.

Suddenly, the man admits that his presence is no accident: he has been watching her, and he produces photographs of her boyfriend visiting three times the week before. (Eva remarks that her boyfriend is a "'landscape artist'" who came two months ago to install a fishpond--for such a stunning woman, she certainly seems desperate for male attention!) Eva seems to warm up to the intruder, sitting down and smoking a cigarette as she complains about her husband, a tightwad who gives her little money. The stranger claims to have only seen George once in his life, a comment that will turn out to be untrue.

The man denies that he is a blackmailer and tells Eva that she is very beautiful and he is not after her money. He takes her cigarette and stubs it out; there is then a dissolve to the next scene, where Eva sits, smoking another cigarette, the implication being that the two strangers have had sex in the interim. The man sits at Eva's makeup table in tears, but she tells him that if anyone has something to cry about, it's her! She calls him a "'most unusual gas man,'" and he admits what we have suspected from the moment he disconnected the valve: he is not a gas man at all! He says that he has been watching her and that he bought a gun. When he observed her boyfriend make regular visits, he was consumed by jealousy, wanting to kill both her lover and her husband.

The man explains his plan to disconnect the gas and rig the basement door so that her husband would be trapped downstairs. Instead of being horrified, Eva is intrigued. The man says that George's demise would be ruled "'accidental death, by misadventure,'" thus providing the title for this episode. The man claims to be madly in love with Eva and once again shifts his identity, telling Eva that he is a private detective who is there to get evidence for the divorce that her husband is planning. Gas man, stalker, private eye--which is his true identity? Eva believes his story each time, despite seeming to think that she is savvy. The stranger's comment that she "'just invested a year of your life for nothing'" goes right over her head--how does the man know that she has been married to George for a year? He must be a detective! In one of the many humorous moments so far in this episode, Eva becomes angry at her husband for suspecting her of being unfaithful, even though such a suspicion would be correct! She takes the china out of the kitchen cabinet and begins to smash it on the floor! Even funnier is the stranger's description of the life she could share with him: "'It's true I'm not rich. Well, I'm in debt up to my ears. But I've got a little apartment. Just a couple of rooms, you know, over a butcher shop, but we can fix it up and it'll be real nice.'" Whether or not this is true or just another part of his scheme, it is obvious that Eva would not last one minute in the setting he describes.

"'Being a widow is the only way you'd get anything out of him now,'" the man points out, and Eva walks over to the basement door and begins to test its opening and closing. "'It was your idea,'" she tells him, and he says, "'Oh no! Not murder!'" Eva is suddenly seductive, calling the man "'Darling,'" and he tells her that his name is Henry. She explains that she can' t live over a butcher shop and tells Henry that she wants him to have nice things, too--Eva is certainly a calculating woman who is used to being successful in using her beauty to bend men to her will. She tells Henry to fix the door before George comes home. She will change her clothes, turn on the gas, and hide in the garden shed!

George Kennedy as George

George arrives home for lunch and is immediately upset to see his father's best bone china smashed on the kitchen floor. The gas man/Henry appears, dressed once again in a suit and tie and, to our surprise, George knows him, addressing him as Colin! They discuss the fact that it's been five years since Colin was last in the house and George appears less than happy to see his brother. He asks if Colin has met his wife and Colin admits that they did meet and got "'on quite intimate terms... during the short time'" they spent together. Colin shows George the photo of his wife and children and tells George that his son Michael died last week. Colin's old car broke down and he could not get his son to the hospital in time to save his life after an attack of appendicitis. Colin reminds George that he refused to give him money for a replacement car two years ago. Colin says it was a case of "'death by misadventure,'" using the episode's title once again. Is he telling the truth about the boy's death? There is no way to know since he lies about so much else, but George does remark that he thought Colin had four children, not the three pictured in the photo.

Colin claims to have broken the china and George accuses him of doing it due to his jealousy of George's mother, whom Colin describes as "'a pleasant hobby my father took up in middle age to occupy and amuse himself with after my mother died'"--the two men, who look nothing alike, are stepbrothers. Colin takes the revolver out of the toolbox and tells George that he came here to kill him but changed his mind. Colin demands his share of the inheritance. When George refuses, Colin gets up to leave and tells George that he has killed Eva and her body is in the basement. George rushes downstairs, coughing due to the gas that is still escaping from the valve, but when he comes back to the top of the stairs the doorknob falls off, leaving him trapped. Colin's plan works perfectly as George succumbs to the gas and we hear his body collapse and fall down the stairs.

Once the coast is clear, Eva re-enters the kitchen, dressed in an expensive suit, her hair coiffed. Colin, whose lies have become so facile that Eva believes every one, tells her that he had to hit George to get him into the basement. Eva tells Colin that "'you practically put us in the gas chamber with your stupidity,'" making her seem like the reincarnation of Cora from The Postman Always Rings Twice. Still claiming to be a detective, Colin tells Eva that he "'wiped up the blood,'" but she calls him a fool and he slaps her, telling her to pull herself together. She tries to call the police, but he convinces her that they would accuse her of her husband's murder. She goes forward with the plan they had previously conceived, first calling her husband's office and then the police, pretending that she is downtown shopping and asking them to check her house, where she fears her husband is injured.

Just as they are about to leave, Colin tells Eva that he can't find the blackmail pictures that he took of her and her boyfriend. He tells her that the pictures must have fallen out when he was in the basement. He says he can't bear to see George, so she calls him a coward and heads downstairs herself. As she calls up from the basement, unable to find the photos, he calls the police, identifying himself as George, and tells them that all is well and they don't need to come. Colin walks to the basement door, where he hears Eva coughing on the stairs, and we see the doorknob fall out once again, trapping her with her husband in the gas-filled basement, her death inevitable. Colin picks up his things and whistles as he exits. The camera fades out on the doorknob that has fallen to the kitchen floor.

"Misadventure" is an elaborately plotted episode that starts out as if it were a comedy but ends up with a double murder. The dialogue is outstanding and the twists and turns that occur in the story make the viewer's head spin. As Colin, Barry Nelson is both engaging and chilling, able to convince Eva of a series of tall tales that don't always seem to be consistent with each other. Lola Albright gives a superb performance as Eva, convincing as a bored housewife, a cheating woman, a seductress, and a conspirator to murder. She believes herself to have the upper hand right up to the end, when she suddenly discovers that Colin has re-used his plot to kill George in order to kill her as well. Underneath her sleek veneer, she is a brash, conniving woman, able to turn on the charm when it suits her.

In a somewhat smaller, less complicated role, George Kennedy plays George as a whining, spoiled, middle-aged man. Like Colin and Eva, he turns out to be something of a monster, as he took all of his inheritance and shared nothing with his stepbrother, who says he blames George for the death of his son. Colin seems willing to give George a chance almost to the end, telling him that he needs only a few thousand dollars, but when George refuses even this his stepbrother goes ahead with his murderous plan. All three characters are motivated by money. George inherited it and won't give it up to his needy stepbrother; he is also a tightwad when it comes to his wife, who complains to Colin that her husband gives her only what she needs to run the house. Eva wants more than her husband has been giving her and turns to other men for attention, sex, and cash. Her plot with Colin is essentially one that she thinks will result in her getting her husband's money. Colin has needed money from his stepbrother for at least two years and claims to blame the man for his son's death; one may wonder if, in the subsequent weeks and months, after George and Eva have been found dead in the basement, Colin will inherit his stepbrother's money? He tells George at one point that, as his only living relative (after he claims to have killed Eva), he will, but is this accurate? If not, was his ultimate motivation money, or was it revenge? And, if so, why the need to kill Eva? Perhaps she had to be done away with because she knew too much about Colin's role in her husband's murder. Colin also gets another sort of satisfaction by seducing his stepbrother's wife, something he alludes to in conversation with George but does not explicitly mention. In any case, one hopes that if Colin is not apprehended, he will turn his obvious talent for manipulation into something profitable.

In many ways, Lewis Davidson's original teleplay for "Misadventure" recalls his teleplay for "See the Monkey Dance," which had aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour just four weeks before. Both episodes have small casts and use few sets, so both may have been intended as money-saving shows. The plots also have much in common. In both episodes, there is a love triangle involving two men and a woman. There is a stranger with a gun who takes advantage of another character and pretends to be someone he is not. "See the Monkey Dance" ends with one character killed and another arrested, while "Misadventure" ends with two characters killed and the third escaping scot-free. In both shows, the puppet-master gets exactly what he wants and faces no consequences.

"Misadventure" features an original score by Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), who scored seven films for Hitchcock from 1955 to 1964 and who wrote original scores for 17 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour's last two seasons. (More information about Herrmann may be found here). The score is subtle and unobtrusive, mainly using woodwinds but with occasional strings; the music helps build suspense and a sense of unease.

Joseph Newman (1909-2006), who directed "See the Monkey Dance," directs another of Davidson's scripts with "Misadventure." Newman started out as an assistant director in the Golden Age of Hollywood, from 1933 to 1942, before becoming a director of short subjects from 1938 to 1947, and finally of features, starting in 1942. His most memorable film is probably This Island Earth (1955), a science fiction classic. He worked in television from 1960 to 1965 and directed ten episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Second Wife". Newman also directed four episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Receiving top billing as Colin is Barry Nelson (1917-2007), a busy actor on the large and small screens from 1938 to 1990. He appeared on the Hitchcock show three times, including "Anyone for Murder?" and was also seen on The Twilight Zone and in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). As Colin, Nelson is both funny and menacing, and he succeeds in bringing a complicated character to life.

The ultimate noir housewife, Eva is played perfectly by Lola Albright (1924-2017); her career began in movies in 1947 and she added TV in 1951. She was a regular on Peter Gunn from 1958 to 1961 and she was in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Black Curtain."

Michael Bregan

George Kennedy (1925-2016) is cast against type as George, the penny-pinching, doomed husband. He served in the Army in WWII and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and his long career on screen spanned the years from 1956 to 2014. Kennedy was on Thriller and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role in Cool Hand Luke (1967). He starred in a series called Sarge (1971-1972), another series called The Blue Knight (1975-1976), and he was a regular on Dallas for three years, from 1988 to 1991. Kennedy appeared in Airport (1970) and its sequels, as well as The Naked Gun and its sequels. He wrote an autobiography called Trust Me (2011) and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Finally, appearing briefly as Eva's boyfriend is Michael Bregan, who had five TV credits between 1964 and 1965.

"Misadventure" aired on NBC on Monday, December 7, 1964, and can be viewed here.


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


"Misadventure." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 8, CBS, 7 December 1964.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our coverage of Lewis Davidson concludes with "The World's Oldest Motive," starring Henry Jones!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "Wet Saturday here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "The Canary Sedan" here!


Grant said...

I don't know them all, but it seems to me that Colin is about the ultimate "badass" character on the show, getting Eva in bed along with getting rid of both her and George. Like an anti-hero character who can get away with anything (before those were very popular).

That's why I think it might work even better if he didn't have that tragic motive for the murder, since that would would make him "just plain" bad. So when you mentioned the possibility that he might have MADE UP the son, I couldn't help hoping so.

Jack Seabrook said...

Yes, it occurred to me that he was probably lying about that, just as he was lying about everything else. Nelson and Albright gave great performances in this episode!