Twilight Zone – The Burning Man (11/15/85)

tzburningman01In 1936, Doug and his Aunt Neva are driving through the country.  An old man in a dirty white suit runs into the road and flags them down.  He climbs into the car without an invitation and tells Neva to drive off because the sun is after them.

He tells her that on days like today, it feels like the sun is going to split you wide open.  He says Lucifer was born on a day like this.

“Ain’t this the year when the 17 year locusts are supposed to come back?” he asks.  “If there can be 17 year locusts then why not 17 year people?”  This piques Doug’s interest for some reason.  The old man continues, “Sure, why not 24 year people or 57 year old people?”

Somehow this leads him to ask, “Who’s to say there ain’t genetic evil in the world?”  The car blows a tire and the man allows the old woman to change the tire herself, answering his own question.  He tells Doug to imagine that on a hot day like this, an ornery 57 [1] year man could be baked right out of the dried mud and arise.  That evening he would crack open like a snap bean and a new young human would emerge.

“I think I’ll eat me some Summer, boy.  Look at them trees, ain’t they a whole dinner?  And that grass down there, by golly there’s a feast.  Them sunflowers, there’s breakfast.  Tar-paper on top of that house, there’s lunch.  And Jehoshaphat, that lake down the road, that’s dinner wine.  Drink it all up til the bottom dries up and splits wide open.”

At this point, I think they need AA more than AAA.  Neva finishes changing the tire and inexplicably doesn’t leave the crazy bastard behind.

tzburningman05Doug says he is thirsty and the old man says, “Thirst don’t describe the state of a man who’s been waiting in the hot mud 50 years [2] and is born but to die in one day.  Not only thirst, but hunger!”  C’mon, you just had some tar-paper!

He yammers on — and by he I mean Bradbury — about eating all the cats in the county. [3]  When he finally, inevitably gets around to talking about eating people, Neva slams on the brakes and orders him out of the car.

Proving that he is not the only long-winded son-of-a-bitch in the car, she rants, “I got a load of bibles in the back, a pistol with silver bullets here under the steering wheel, I got a box of crucifixes under the seat, a wooden stake taped to the axle, and a hammer in the glove-box.  I got holy water in the radiator filled early this morning from three churches on the way.  Now out!”  And by she, I mean Bradbury.

They leave the old man literally in their dust.  Soon they arrive at a lake.  Whether this is their destination or just a chance to cool off, I don’t know.  God forbid we get 5 seconds of exposition between the monologues.  I guess a refreshing minute at the lake was the point of their drive.  Hearing some locusts, Doug gets the willies and asks if there is another road back to town.

tzburningman20They see a little boy in a clean white suit in the road.  Neva offers to drive him home.  After it gets dark, he leans in from the back seat and whispers to Neva, “Have you ever wondered if there is such a thing as genetic evil in the world?”  The car stalls, the lights dim, then nothing. We couldn’t at least get a scream?  I think we deserve that.

This was like a flashback to Ray Bradbury Theater — not much of a story, monologues better-suited to the printed page, set when times were simple and presidential candidates weren’t, and an unsatisfying ending. Unfortunately an average episode of Ray Bradbury Theater equals a disappointment from TZ.

To be fair, Roberts Blossom as the old man delivers Bradbury’s poetic words as well as anyone on RBT.  And Danny Cooksey’s smile at the end is worth the price of admission.  As I seem to say for every segment — it’s OK, just not what I’m looking for from a Twilight Zone reboot.


  • [1] 47 year man in the short story.
  • [2] 30 years in the short story.
  • [3] Country in the short story.
  • The episode closely tracks with the short story, except for the flat tire.  Much of the dialogue is verbatim from the story.
  • TZ Legacy:  Sadly, none.
  • Roberts Blossom will show up in Amazing Stories if I last that long.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Handler (10/27/92)

Ibradbury02‘m in the final stretch of RBT and I feel like Quint waiting in the water to board the rescue ship.  Viewing the series has often been torturous (but never tortuous; also, no tortoises); having the end in sight should be a relief but is causing some anxiety — like I’ll get to the last episode and someone will discover another season of lost episodes in their attic.

This episode does, at least, get off to a promising start as we see the always amusing but criminally under-used Michael J. Pollard.  He is the soul-proprietor [1] of a mortuary and small graveyard.  He is ringing the chapel-bell [2] and turns it up to 13 only to be busted by a kid outside who also has too much time on his hands.

Later that day, he shakes hands with a yokel who says he has a cold hand, must have just embalmed a frigid woman.  So he imagines the man dead.  A clerk in a store hassles him to speak up, so he imagines her dead.  Six minutes in, I’m imagining me dead.

rbthandler02Back at work, he puts on Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and starts talking to his clients. Pollard enjoys punking them before they are buried.  He bakes a gluttonous fat woman into a cake.  He injects black ink into the body of a racist.  He removes the head from a muscular man so he can have his head sewn onto it someday.  It’s not clear if that is intended to be a joke.

One of the stiffs turns out to have been merely pining for the fjords.  Because he heard Pollards confessions, he is killed.  That night — which is dark, as nights are wont to be, and stormy — shadowy figures come for Pollard.

The next morning, one of the yokels discovers blood on a tombstone and asks, “What kind of storm was that last night?”  Spoken without any humor or irony, it is just another example of why Bradbury should have outsourced the screenplays.  Pollard’s name is also scrawled on all of the tombstones in his cemetery.  One of the yokels makes the profoundly stupid statement, “He couldn’t possibly be buried under all these tombstones.”

rbthandler04“Couldn’t he?” says the kid.

I get that Bradbury was great stylist of the prose in a short story, but the man had a George Lucasian grasp of dialogue.  I keep telling myself that he was born in a different time, and wondering if maybe the small town America he grew up in was really accurately reflected in his stories.



Ray Bradbury Theater – Downwind from Gettysburg (10/17/92)

bradbury02We open with a small crew assembling the face and hair to a robot that is revealed to be a likeness of Abraham Lincoln.  This is quite an astounding feat of technology — no wait, it isn’t.  Disney had debuted their anamatronic Lincoln 30 years earlier at the 1964 World’s Fair.

The short story was first published in Playboy in 1969, so this was old technology even by that time.  Frankly, Playboy  would have been better advised devoting their robot stories to someone like Anita from Humans or Ava from Ex Machina.  Or Valerie 23.

Sitting in a huge chair similar to the uncomfortable one in the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln begins reciting the Gettysburg address.  Disney’s earlier model could even stand up, but this marvel of technology just sits there like an animatronic FDR.  Apparently this is to be a huge media rbtdownwind06event in an auditorium, and covered live by the network; or at least the Weekly Shopper.

Chief Engineer Bayes has wisely embargoed any view of Abe.  In reality, this ought to be about as ground-breaking as someone unveiling the creation of  Windows 95 today.

Bayes tells his assistant Phipps that his great-grandfather was actually on the battlefield to hear the speech.  Phipps says, “He must have been a young boy.”  Bayes confirms that the boy was 9 years old.  OK, Bayes is 52, and the speech was given 129 years ago.  That means the average age at which the women in this family gave birth was about 28.  I was hoping for some embarrassing mathematical anomaly.  I guess 28 is slightly high for the times, but not crazy.  But I digress.

rbtdownwind16While the crowd is being seated for this extravaganza, a man rushes in the entrance, asks where the restroom is and heads straight for the head.  He changes into 19th century clothing and affixes a fake mustache, wisely, beneath his nose.

As the lights come up, Robo-Lincoln begins reciting the Gettysburg Address.  In the wings, the mustached man loads a Derringer.  In a repeat of history — as any public school graduate can tell you — Lincoln is once again assassinated during the Gettysburg Address.  He must have had a critical circuit hit as he slumps over and his words whir to a stop.

This time the assassin does not make a dramatic getaway.  Phipps and the security team hustle him back into the empty auditorium as Lincoln lies slumped to the side of his chair, oil dripping from his mouth.  The shooter says his name is Norman Llewellyn Booth, rbtdownwind13although the invitation does not say Booth.  Phipps brings in Booth’s forged invitation, saying that is how he got in.  Well, no, actually he got in be claiming he needed to go to the bathroom, but that wouldn’t look good in the history books.

Why did he do it?  We are given several options:  1) Booth wants the fame that will come from being arrested, 2) the permanence and perfection of machines which he can never achieve infuriates him, and 3) Booth / Lincoln . . . it was just destiny, too good to pass up.  He envisions the news scrolling across Times Square: “Booth Shoots Lincoln . . . again!”  or 20 years later, being posted to  “Tea Partier shoots Robot-American.”

When the police arrive, Bayes refuses to allow Booth the notoriety he craves — he will not press charges.  He tells Booth, “This assassination never happened.  You can tell your rbtdownwind23story, but we will deny it — you were never here.  No shot, no gun, no computer data processor assassination, no mob.”  Well, except for the shot, the gun and the assassination witnessed by the mob in the audience.

Bayes is quite happy at denying Booth his fame and infamy.  He grabs Booth by his snazzy vest and tells him that he ever dares tell anyone what occurred that night (presumably other than the audience, crew, security team and coupon clippers), he will do something to Booth “so terrible that he will wish he had never been born.”  Bayes throws him out a side exit where no one is waiting for him.

The anachronism of the robot sinks the entire production.  No one would care about this event — the robot or the shooting.  Also, the make-up is abysmal, sometimes looking like leftover scraps from Planet of the Apes. The beard — completely wrong.

rbtdownwind25Sadly some good points are lost among the carnage.  Howard Hesseman (Bayes) and Robert Joy (Booth) are both excellent.  This is probably one of the earliest shows to show fame-seeking as a motive.  The idea of throwing him out to an empty street is great, but the speech leading up to it was horribly cliched.

If Bayes wanted to make an effective threat, he should have threatened to break his leg, just as John Wilkes Booth had done.

Rating:  Stay upwind from Downwind from Gettysburg.


  • Robert Joy (Booth) played another feckless assassin in the excellent but largely forgotten historical movie Ragtime.  Harry Thaw was famous only for shooting Stanford White.  White was famous for being shot by Harry Thaw.  OK, both had other accomplishments, but nobody cares now, and that’s not going to change as more time passes.
  • Sady, no references to Hot Rod Lincoln.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Dead Man (09/26/92)

bradbury02As Michael Corleone said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!

I was so happy to be through several episodes on the final fifth disc, and now the Bradbury Industrial Complex has randomly pushed me back to disc 4 for this episode. Sorry.

Miss Weldon (Louise Fletcher) is taking a bus to her new hometown when it almost hits one of the local bumpkins, nearly turning him into a speedbumpkin.  Some time later, the haggard man, Odd Martin, takes off his hat, places it on his chest and slowly lays flat in the gutter in front of the grocery store.

The police try to rouse him.  The sheriff and barber nudge him with their shoes, but he doesn’t move. They get some of the other rubes to lay him out on the sidewalk so, at least, he doesn’t take up a revenue producing metered space.

That night, Miss Weldon sees Odd Martin aimlessly shuffling down the street.  When she encounters him the next day, she tries to engage him in conversation about the kitten he is carrying to be drowned.  He claims to have been drowned once himself.  Yeeeeah, she offers to adopt the kitten.

The next day, the barber tells Miss Weldon the story of how a flood destroyed Martin’s farm 20 years ago.  He was missing for a while too.  Then he came walking out of the waters, claiming to have drowned, insisting that he was dead.  Again that night, she sees him shuffling like the living dead.

The routine continues with the townspeople lifting him out of the gutter the next morning, apparently a daily routine.  Miss Weldon wakes him up to give him some cologne “It helps keep you cool.”  I thought it was to take the stink off.

That night Miss Weldon asks Martin to walk her home.  Along the way she admires a dress in a store window.  Martin asks why she has taken an interest in him.  She says, “Because you are quiet.  And not loud and mean like the men at the barber shop.  I’ve had to fight for a scrap of respect there, but still they look right through me.  I’m like a window with no glass, not even a reflection.  I’m lonely.”rbtdeadman17

She tells Martin he should stop telling everyone he’s dead.  She says he’s “just half dead from the absence of a good woman.  What else could it be?”  You know, I’m not feeling so good myself.

He buys her the dress she admired in the window and brings it to her apartment.  He asks her to marry him.  The next day he strolls into the barbershop for a haircut and a shave.  Says he bought a small place for them just outside of town.

A neighbor boy sees them walking away that night, Odd in his suit and Miss Weldon in her new dress.  They go through a gate, and walk through a graveyard, and into a small mausoleum.  They enter and the crypt door slides shut.

rbtdeadman08Miss Weldon has spent a sheltered life taking care of an old mother who finally died, but casting Louise Fletcher was a mistake.  She plays it well, but she is too attractive to believe she would really have to lower her standards to a guy who sleeps in the gutter.

And even if she was half dead, as Odd was, due to loneliness — didn’t they have each other now?  Why the trip to the crypt which surely signified them both dying.  Were they both giving up just when they had found someone?  And where did he get the money to buy the dress?

Too many things just make no sense- — I rate this DOA.  It is well-performed, and well-directed, it just makes no sense.


  • What small town barber has a woman manicuring all of the men getting haircuts?
  • And isn’t Korean?
  • In the short story, the men all give Odd Martin a bath in the back of the barber shop.  I think this was wisely trimmed from the screenplay.  Although it might explain why Miss Weldon couldn’t find a man in this town — they’re all getting manicures and bathing other men.
  • And why was he going to drown the kitten?  That wasn’t in the short story.
  • Otherwise, it is a pretty faithful adaptation except that Miss Weldon in the short story is not new in town — making it all the more unbelievable one of these dandies hadn’t ever hit on her; even if it were only for a beard — in a barber shop — oh the irony!

Ray Bradbury Theater – By the Numbers (09/11/92)

bradbury02We get a brief prologue of a drill sergeant shouting marching orders.  Well, he’s a drill sergeant that is wearing a t-shirt — maybe that happens, but we also get a glimpse of his white pants, which don’t strike me as standard issue.  And his soldier, which we see only in quick shots of body parts, freckles, and a rippling reflection in a pool is a young boy.  We’re not given enough data to know for sure what’s happening, but we can put the pieces together if we want to.  I initially thought this was a mess, but I’ve reconsidered.

rbtbythenumbers01Flash-forward 10 years.  A man on a train orders 2 martinis and tells the waiter that one is for him and one is for whoever might sit in the empty chair across from him, “It saves time.”

Because nothing entices a stranger, particularly a young lady, more than a pre-mixed, lukewarm drink with a soggy olive offered by a stranger.

The man sees another younger man come in and instinctively neaten a stack of linen napkins on a cart.  This brings memories back to the man who seems to have no name.  Fortuitously, the alcoholic car of the train is nearly full, so the young man takes the seat and is offered the martini.  He tells the young man that they met previously — 10 years ago on a hot summer afternoon in a Malibu hotel, by the swimming pool.

rbtbythenumbers02Back then, the boy had worked for his father managing a pool at a luxury hotel.  The father drills him with military precision, marking every second as he runs from task to task straightening stacks of towels, lining up chairs, collecting stray glasses.  While the father has a white shirt (sleeveless — generally the sign of an idiot) and long white pants, the 10 year old boy is wearing next-to-nothing, just a small blue Speedo.  This lends an air of creepiness to the episode that really is not part of the story.

Finally after all of the chores are completed at exactly 12:00:00:00, the boy runs to unlock the gate for the waiting guests — both of them — maybe it is off-season.  The boy unlocks the gate, is ordered ABOUT FACE and ordered to the edge of the pool where he is commanded to HALT.  The father turns and begins pumping some fairly unimpressive iron.  The man and his friend think it is inhuman that the boy can’t take a dip, but the boy has a smile on his face

rbtbythenumbers03The men tell the father that they think he is acting like an idiot. The father tells them that this is his turf.  He has an agreement with the hotel that their jurisdiction ends at the pool gate. Any dissent, and they will be removed “bodily.  I possess a Black Belt in Judo, Boxing, Rifle Marksmanship Certificates. Shake my hand and I’ll break your wrist, sneeze and I’ll crack your nose, one word and your dental surgeon will need 2 years just to reshape your smile.”  Apparently he has a similar jurisdictional agreement with the local police, attorneys and child protective services.

He’s not a monster, however.  He does give his boy time to frolic in the pool — 40 laps worth.  One of the men swims a few laps along side the boy, but can’t keep up.  After a break to serve a few drinks poolside, he is back in the pool.  Again, this is very creepy. Outside of Thailand, who wants to be served alcoholic drinks by an almost naked 10 year old boy?

rbtbythenumbers04The guy’s friend, mustache-guy (because no one has names in this story) predicts that one day the boy will murder his father. That’s why he invited his friend writer-guy to this luxury hotel — maybe this scenario will relieve his writer’s block; or maybe a little shoulder massage is worth a try, too.

Once the pool closes, the father orders the boy to stand at the edge of the pool for an hour.  The father leaves his watch on a towel and tells the boy to consider that the watch is him standing there.  When he returns, now dark, the boy is still at attention.  When the father picks up the towel and the watch falls in the water, the helpful son dives in without permission to get it.  His father merely says, “Waterproof,” smacks him up side his noggin and gives him demerits.

It finally ends when the father finds a used towel after the boy had cleaned the area.  He irately orders his son to stand at the edge of the pool and not move for an hour.  Then dear old dad trips over the towel and falls in.  Turns out dad can’t swim, and is now screaming for help.  He had tricked the boy before and punished him — see the watch incident, for one — so the boy is waiting for an “AT EASE.” before he dares to move.

rbtbythenumbers06The now-grown boy gets up, and heads back to his room.  He stops and sheds a single tear as he straightens the napkins again. Presumably, writer-guy comforts him by following him back to his berth as the last shot is the classic train going into a tunnel.

Interesting little slice of a weird life episode.  But for god sake, get the kid a real bathing suit next time.  Maybe even a shirt when he is serving the guests.  Does the Health Department not have jurisdiction here, either?


  • Mustache guy was named Sid.
  • Very few deviations from the short story, although framed slightly differently on the train.