A few months ago I picked up the entire series of Ray Bradbury Theater on DVD for under 10 bucks. The price should have been warning enough, but I did have dim memories of enjoying a few of them way back when. Last year, I bailed after the first season, but have decided to soldier on to see if I was too hasty.
As luck would have it, the first episode I watched is based on a short story that appears in Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales, which I recently downloaded to my Kindle. So finally, I can brush off my mad compare & contrast skillz from freshman English.
No, seriously . . .
And I got an A every quarter . . .
Do I have to get my transcripts?
No one is going to watch this episode and recommend the series to their friends. The synthy 80’s score is off-putting, and the whole thing looks like it was filmed through gauze of the same thread-count they use to film Barbara Walters (although that could just be the lousy DVD transfer of this dirt-cheap set). However, in the context of an anthology series, and given when it was made, it interested me enough to at least try another episode.
The first surprise was Michael Ironside. He has made a nice career out of playing tough guys, always in control. This is the first time I remember seeing him in panic mode, sweating profusely, and always a step behind. He completely pulls it off, having an anxiety attack that lasts most of the whole episode. He is assisted by some good make-up, costuming, and fish-eye shots, but major kudos to him for playing so believably against type.
His adversary is Robert Vaughn, who I don’t see much anymore. I can only assume Superman III killed his career. Geez, Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Margot Kidder — and people think Poltergeist was cursed. Jackie Cooper is gone too, but at 88, he had a pretty good run.
Vaughn is a publisher who has rejected Ironside’s work. He is, however, very accepting of Ironside’s girlfriend Mary. Through a series of flashbacks that make LOST look like a linear narrative, we follow Ironside as he attempts to remove his fingerprints after killing Vaughn.
As he descends into madness, the fingerprints begin appearing everywhere, taunting him like a visual Tell-Tale Heart. As he frantically cleans his fingerprints, both real and imagined, he realizes that Vaughn had been leading him on, luring him into touching object after object from a cocktail glass to pre-Columbian art.
Finally, after a night of frantic cleaning that would give Felix Unger the willies, that would sent the CSI crew to the nut-hut, that would have him polish more knobs than Jenna Jameson, the police arrive. They lead him out in handcuffs which, come to think of it, would not have been possible for him at the end of Total Recall.
I’m not sure I follow the ending. A neighbor, who is also Vaughn’s doctor, who happens to be at the crime scene, who conveniently forgets about doctor-patient confidentiality, spills the garbanzos that Vaughn only had less than a month to live due to cancer. In fact, he says Ironside probably did Vaughn a favor.
OK, so Vaughn goaded Ironside into killing him and also made sure that plenty of evidence was left to incriminate him. But to what end? No mention is made of insurance. And how does the mere presence of fingerprints incriminate Ironside? And why set him up anyway?
The short story is a little different. Very minor point, the girlfriend’s name is Lily, which is a better name than Mary (sorry, Mom). And there is no mention of any terminal disease. If the cancer twist had been worked into the show more elegantly, it might have worked. As is, the short story was probably better off without it.
I saw Jenna Jameson on an episode of Family Guy this morning, so she was fresh in my mind.
Yeah, that’s where I know her from.