The sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents began on NBC, a new network, and on Tuesday, a new night, with "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat," broadcast on September 27, 1960, and based on the story of the same name by Roald Dahl. The story had been published first in the December 1959 issue of Nugget, a men's magazine competing with Playboy. Dahl's tale begins with an extended lecture by the author about how American divorce laws make slaves of men and how, to comfort themselves, they tell stories such as this one.
Dr. Bixby, a dentist, and his wife live in New York City. Once a month, she claims to take the train to Baltimore to visit her Aunt Maude while actually visiting the wealthy Colonel, with whom she has been having an affair for eight years. One year, just before Christmas, the Colonel's groom presents her with a gift from the Colonel as she boards the train for home. She opens the gift on the train and sees that it is a beautiful mink coat; with it is a brief note from the Colonel telling her that he can't see her anymore. Her disappointment over the end of their relationship is minimal: "What a dreadful shock," she thinks. "She would miss him enormously."
|Mrs. Bixby's delight on first trying on the coat|
|Les Tremayne as Bixby|
Mrs. Bixby stars to leave, planning to confront the pawnbroker, when Dr. Bixby's young assistant returns from lunch, wearing "the beautiful black mink coat that the Colonel had given to Mrs. Bixby."
|Stephen Crane as the Colonel|
"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" was collected in Dahl's collection entitled Kiss Kiss that was published in 1960. The story was purchased for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and adapted for television by Halsted Welles. Alfred Hitchcock directed the episode, which was produced from August 17, 1960, to August 19, 1960. Psycho had been released in June and the director had not yet started working on Marnie.
|From the opening sequence|
The show is characterized by a light, humorous tone from start to finish. When Mrs. Bixby comes to her husband's office to bid him farewell before going to Baltimore, she is welcomed in by his pretty nurse, much to the chagrin of a male patient who has been sitting in the waiting room. "I believe I'm next," he tells the nurse, thinking Mrs. Bixby is a patient who skipped ahead of him in line.
|Hardly the kiss of two who dislike |
each other, or so it seems . . .
|Mrs. Bixby arrives at the Colonel's house|
|Audrey Meadows as Mrs. Bixby|
The plot follows that of the story closely after that, as Mrs. Bixby returns to New York and pawns her coat. Back at home that evening, she and her husband again discuss mundane details of his work, adding to the contrast between the life she lives openly and the one she has been living in secret, her day to day life in reality and her once a month excursion into near-fantasy.
The scene between Mrs. Bixby and her husband, where she produces the pawn ticket and feigns ignorance of what it is, is beautifully payed by Audrey Meadows and Les Tremayne. Earlier in the show, before her duplicity had been revealed, they appeared to be a loving couple. Now, their interactions seem to be those of two people who are pretending; it is evident that the marriage is a sham and that each one realizes it without being aware that the other knows it as well.
|"It's not every woman who has a mink!"|
At the end, the cheater is cheated. Mrs. Bixby thought that her ruse was unknown but she has been outsmarted by her husband. Did he know that she took the coat to the pawnbroker, or did he think that she really just found the ticket in a taxi? Did he give the coat to his nurse knowing he was taking something that his wife had received from her lover? Has he been having an affair with his nurse all along, or is the gift of the mink coat the beginning of a beautiful relationship? After the final shot, will Mrs. Bixby confront her husband? Will he confront her? Dahl, Welles and Hitchcock, along with the cast of the TV show, combine to create characters who have believable pasts and futures, who exist beyond the confines of the half hour window through which we observe their lives. All we know is that the Bixby marriage has changed irrevocably and that Mrs. Bixby got what she deserved.
Halsted Welles (1906-1990), who wrote the teleplay for "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat," wrote for movies and TV starting in 1949. He wrote six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and another six of Night Gallery. He is best known for writing the screenplay for 3:10 to Yuma (1957).
|Mrs. Bixby sees the nurse wearing her coat|
Playing her husband is Les Tremayne (1913-2003), who was born in England and who acted for decades on radio, in movies, and on TV. He was on the Hitchcock series four times, including "Isabel." He had a small part in Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959).
"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" was remade twice for television. The first time was for a BBC series called Thirty-Minute Theatre; Hugh Whitemore wrote the teleplay. This episode was broadcast on November 2, 1965, and has been lost.
The second adaptation was for Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. The teleplay was by Ronald Harwood and the show was broadcast on March 31, 1979. It may be viewed for free online here. Roald Dahl introduces this episode and remarks that the short story took him about five months to write (it was completed in January 1957) because he took so many wrong turns while trying to work out the plot. Julie Harris plays Mrs. Bixby in this version, in which the setting is moved from America to England and Ireland. The episode is dull, marred by inept camerawork and bad music.
The 1960 version of "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" is not available online but is available on DVD.
Dahl, Roald. "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat." 1959. Roald Dahl: Collected Stories. Ed. Jeremy Treglown. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 536-52. Print.