The same short story served as the basis for this episode of Ray Bradbury Theater in 1988 and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1956. Good omens: it was still considered viable 30 years after AHP, and 40 years after it appeared as a radio drama on Suspense. Bad omen: it is not in the 100 Celebrated Stories collection (but then, neither is The Sound of Thunder or The Veldt).
No matter the pedigree, this is another turd. Maybe I was biased by watching the far superior American AHP version first.
Detective Krovitch is called to investigate the murder of Mr. Ockham. The prime suspects are ventriloquist John Fabian, his wife Alyce, and his manager Douglas. Fabian taunts Krovitch by speaking through his puppet Riabouchinska.
Alyce says she married Fabian for love, but the best part of him was only realized through Riabouchinska. She makes no secret of the fact that she was driven to an affair with Douglas.
The detective theorizes that Ockham knew of their affair and blackmailed them, resulting in his murder. Alyce says that is crazy because Fabian knew of their affair So yet again after Three’s a Crowd and The Dead Man, we have a man who seems OK with his wife having an affair.
Krovitch later seems to think he has discovered something incriminating by producing a poster of Fabian with a different puppet, and another poster of a ballerina named Illyana that resembles Riabouchinska.
Fabian admits that he one time saw Illyana dance and fell in love with her. They were lovers, traveled the world. After a quarrel, she ran away and disappeared. To get her back, he created a doll in her image. Well, not to get her back, but to replace her. Literally.
From inside her box, Riabouchinska says they began receiving letters from Ockham blackmailing Fabian, threatening to expose Fabian. The puppet completely rats him out and makes a fool of him. Wow, she is just like a real woman!
During their quarrel, she helpfully says, he actually struck Illyana and killed her. In a jarring edit, Illyana is splayed out dead on the steps in the past. When Fabian rushes to her and picks her up, it is Riabouchinska that he cradles in his arms in the present.
Disgusted that he killed Ockham, Riabouchinska devolves silently into just another still wooden puppet. Heartbroken at losing her twice, he goes with the detective.
This is nearly unwatchable, especially when compared to the AHP version. Hitchcock’s version was superior in both story and performances. Charles Bronson played Krovitch and Claude Rains played Fabian. Rains especially was excellent, truly selling the idea that he was a ventriloquist. His motions creating the puppet and the very slight movements of his lips as he spoke through her seemed very authentic and kept the episode from drifting off into TZ territory.
Maybe this European RBT cast is beloved over there, but I found them dull and their accents were often indecipherable. And at the risk of being cruel, Alice in the RBT version has a very distracting mole. I mean really very distracting.
Even the puppet was far better in the original. AHP’s version had delicate features and actually somewhat resembled the ballerina it was modeled after. Maybe AHP had an advantage filming in B&W, but the RBT version really just looked like a tarted up whore. To the ballerina’s credit, it did not even look like her.
Surprisingly, the 1950’s story is edgier. In the AHP version, Riabouchinska says Fabian did not kill Illyana. He did, however, still murder Ockham to keep him from telling the world of Fabian’s man-on-puppet sexual fetish with Riabouchinska: The love that dare not speak its name without moving its lips. Kind of extreme for the 50’s, if the audience ever thought it through.
But Hitchcock is the guy who would introduce the country to an incestuous transvestite serial killer in 4 years, so par for the course.
- AHP Deathwatch: No survivors.
- In the AHP version, the voice of Riabouchinska is Virgina Gregg who also provided the voice for another stiff, Norma Bates.
- In both versions, Fabian’s puppet before Riabouchinska was named “Sweet William.” Think what you will, haters.
- Riabouchinska is such an unusual name, I have to think Bradbury borrowed the name of the Russian ballerina Tatiana Riabouchinska. If I never have to type that name again, it will be too soon.
- Sadly, I was unable to work in an Ockham’s razor reference.