Night Gallery – The Little Black Bag (S1E2)

Great job, Rod.  You had 13 months after the pilot aired and you came up with bupkis (as Mr. Bauman would say) in the first episode; then adapted someone else’s story for your first contribution.  I’ll say this for Ray Bradbury Theater — it might not be very good, but Ray’s name was on the marquis, so he showed up to work.

On the plus side Serling chose good source material.  The Little Black Bag is a fun read and considered a classic in the genre.  I’m all about results, so I went in with high hopes.

Future techno-clerk Gillings reports that a medical bag has been accidentally sent from the current year of 2098 back to then-current 1971.  The episode actually aired in 1970, so they were covered through the rerun and maybe did not expect this series to last long enough for syndication.  Disgraced doctor turned Hobo-American Dr. Fall (Burgess Meredith) and his new pal Hepplewhite (Chill Wills) find the bag.

Dr. Fall’s immediate inclination is to hock this baby for a couple of bucks.   The pawn shop is not interested, but he does attract the attention of a woman who begs him to come look at her sister.  He goes with her and sees a young girl in pain.  Using the instruments in the bag, he realizes that they are not just objects, but are actually leading him through procedures and performing procedures miraculous in the current day.

ngblackbag07He heals the girl, and then a man at the flop-house where he lives.  Back in his room, he imagines giving a speech to the medical community.  His brilliant idea of a demonstration is slicing his neck open with a scalpel from the future.  The scalpel slips through the skin like water with the incision closing up behind it.  It also knows to avoid muscle and important organs.

Hepplewhite fears that the doc is going to cut him out of sharing the wealth from the bag.  He demands a 50% cut.  Dr. Fall, quite the potty mouth, calls him a garbage headed termite.  Chill Wills gives one of the most bizarre performances I’ve ever seen as he threatens Dr. Fall.  He stands almost exactly in this position for 4 minutes.  Early on, he let a few words slip between his lips.  Then for a while, he just stares at the ceiling with his mouth gaping wide for no reason . . . on and on and on.

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Seriously, this goes on for almost 4 minutes.  Even more amazing, NBC LOVED this performance.

Dr. Fall is getting his medical jones back and is more altruistic, wanting to use the bag to better humanity.  Hepplewhite then kills Dr. Fall, although how he did it with the future scalpel is not shown.

In the next scene, Hepplewhite is clean-shaven, in a suit and introduced to a room of doctors as William Fall.  Darn the luck, the future techno-clerk gets a warning that the bag has been used for nefarious purposes.  He deactivates the bag and Hepplewhite slices his own throat.  Again, sadly off-camera.

The broad framework of the episode is true to the short story, but there is a major departure in the characters.  Doc Fall’s pal in the episode, Hepplewhite, is not in the short story.  However, his “partnership” with Fall, his greed, the falling out, and the denouement are all assumed by an 18 year old blonde who is the sick girl’s sister.  Gotta say, I would have preferred the blonde babe to the gaping maw of Hepplewhite.

Pointless changes: The clerk of the future is name Gillings on TV, but Gillis in the short story.  The doctor is named Fall on TV, but Full in the short story.  The bag is from 2098 on TV, but 2450 in the short story.  Actually, that last one might make sense.  In 1970, 20 years after the story was published, these instruments probably didn’t seem quite so crazy.

Also, in the story, the doctor takes a blue pill that “hits him like a thunderbolt.”  Combined with the 18 year old blonde sidekick, that could have been a verrrry different episode.

Overall, a good episode.  I don’t see that the changes helped, but it they didn’t wreck the story either.

Post-Post:

  • Twilight Zone Legacy: Burgess Meredith was one of the kings with 4 appearances in starring roles.  Jason Wingreen was in 3 episodes.  William Challee was in 2 episodes.  C. Lindsay Workman was in one episode.  Tragically, Brit Marling was in zero, having not been born.
  • A third story in this episode was a trifle called The Nature of the Enemy, Serling’s first original contribution since the Pilot.  It is just crap, and evidence that Rod Serling might have been a great writer, but picking up a paycheck was his priority.
  • From the short story:

Dogged biometricians had pointed out with irrefutable logic that mental sub-normals were outbreeding the mental normals and super-normals, and that the process was occurring on an exponential curve. 

Amen, brother.

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