Ray Bradbury Theater – Let’s Play Poison (S5E7)

bradbury02A pretty slight episode from a pretty slight 5-page short story.

Moe Mr. Howard (Richard Benjamin) is watching his pupils playing in the schoolyard below his classroom window.  He turns to see a new student has entered his class. Young Michael McDonald, dressed in suit and tie, is at the board presumptuously correcting some math problems by the other students.  Howard likes the cut of his jib and says he thinks they will get along.

On his way to school the next morning, Howard sees Michael on the sidewalk. He explains his lack of books by saying that he did his homework yesterday at recess. Howard tells him that is a sure way to make the other kids hate him.  And they do, having broken all the pencils in his little red tartan plaid pencil bag.  First of all, I am anti-bully, but toting around a little purse of pencils is just asking for trouble; why didn’t he just wear a slutty skirt, too?  Secondly, why is he bringing the broken pencils back to school with him, anyway?

Howard tells him he can’t interfere because it will just make matters worse.  He advises Michael to not be so perfect, muss up his hair, not get all the answers right, maybe not wear a tie to school.

The bullying continues, sometimes in scenes I can’t even figure out.  One morning when he enters the classroom, the entire class says, “Good morning, Mr Howard,” and howls with laughter, pointing at Michael.  All the boys are wearing ties which I see as more a joke on them than on Michael.

rbtplaypoison08One day, after writing some questions on the chalkboard, Howard turns to see all the students with their books up like they’re reading.  One punk says, “We all want to get A’s too” and glances at Michael.  These are the most ineffectual bullies in history.

One day as Michael leaves school, Howard hears the punks taunting him.  They take off running after him.  Despite stopping at the street, he again takes off running and is hit by a car in a stunningly misguided bit of up-close product placement by Oldsmobile.

I fault the bullies, but he really should have looked both ways.  In the short story, on the other hand, he didn’t have much of a chance as the kids threw him out a 3rd floor window.

Mr. Howard retires from teaching until seven years later he is approached to fill in as a substitute.  He comes in like Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket telling the kids what ignorant monsters they are.  He tells them they are not human.  They “are invaders from another dimension and it is my task to reform your uncivilized little minds.”  Sadly he left out the part about tearing off their heads and shitting down their necks, but he made his point.

rbtplaypoison11He continues “that children are as far removed from adults as monkeys are from men.  It is my duty to forge that link.  And that link is, of course, made of iron.  It is called discipline.” How can you not like this guy’s jib?

Well, the kids find a way — they hate him.  He is lured by another tie-sporting student on the sidewalk, Charles Jones.  When they get to the school, his class is standing outside laughing and waving at him like chimps.  I don’t get it.

They begin taunting him at home, throwing rocks, knocking on his door and running away, making prank calls, etc.  He is knocking back a fair amount of alcohol.  When he finally chases them outside, he falls into an excavation which was being jack-hammered the day before. He looks up and sees the kids standing around the hole with shovels.

The principal comes around in a few days to see why he disappeared.  One of the kids warns him not to step in the wet cement outside Howard’s house.

rbtplaypoison10There was some good stuff here, Richard Benjamin’s performance being the stand-out.  Even some of the kids were great in quieter moments.  The louder they were, the less threatening they became.  The last punk at the end with the little girl who left a flower on Howard’s RIP carved in the cement could easily grow up to be one of the psychopaths in Funny Games.

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  • First published in Weird Tales, 1946.

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