Ray Bradbury Theater – Marionettes, Inc. (05/21/85)

Annoying preface:  

I started this blog because I spent $9 on a box set of this series, and bailed after one season. Determined to get my money’s worth, I needed something to force me to watch every remaining episode.  I started with the first episode I had not seen, Season 2’s The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl.  With the unexpected deletion of Science Fiction Theatre from You Tube for copyright and presumably humanitarian reasons, I have opted to complete the coverage of RBT. [1]

Annoying commentary:

John Braling (the insufferable James Coco) is trying to eat breakfast, but his pestering wife won’t shut the hell up.  Like one of those Alfred Hitchcock Presents wives, she just goes on and on (i.e. asks for it).  To be fair, all of her yapping is about making him a nice breakfast and getting him out the door dressed warmly for work.  Also like AHP, she tempts fate by asking, “What would you do without me?”

Surely you can’t be serious.

When Braling starts up his computer at work, it seems to have been hijacked by Marionettes, Inc.  Misc personal information scrolls up the screen.  He later picks up a newspaper [2] at the newsstand and there is a Marionettes, Inc business card attached.  At lunch, the waiter brings his bill and there is a Marionettes, Inc. card attached.  He demonstrates a 1985 laptop at a client’s office and the Marionettes Inc. logo comes up again with his personal information.  Most embarrassing: it states his favorite show is Wheel of Fortune.

He goes to a bar where he sees a friend and demonstrates the computer’s strange behavior.  He decides to pay a visit to Marionettes, Inc.  I’m not sure how he found the building since there was no address on the cards.  After wandering down numerous dark hallways, he enters a dark office that is sparsely decorated with only a desk, a couch and Leslie Nielsen.  What?  This is some major star-power compared to the later RBT episodes.

Nielsen asks Braling if he is happy.  He tells Braling he is “a sad man rushing to the edge of the cliff, toward his own destruction.”  He offers Baling a chance to be happy.  In another office, he shows Braling an exact duplicate of himself, amazingly even wearing the same tie.  Neilsen suggests the robot could stay home with Mrs. Braling while he did whatever he wanted to do.  And all this for the low, low price of every penny in his bank account.  Braling calls it madness and leaves.

However, in the next scene, he drags his friend Crane to his house where Braling also appears to be sitting on the couch with his wife.  Braling explains he is ecstatic with his new freedom.  He keeps the Marionette in the basement and switches places with it as needed.  He is having a grand old time “going to movies, bowling, all the things I’ve wanted to do.”

Crane suggests “wine, women and song”.  Braling admits he hadn’t thought about girls.  How exactly would the Marionette help him?  He’s still James Coco; and also now has no money.  Maybe he would have been better off investing in the 1985 Kelly LeBrock Marionette.

Crane is so impressed he decides to get a Marionette of himself.  Crane goes home and grabs his bank book — his balance is $0.00.  He puts his ear to his wife’s chest and hears a clanking robot heart.  When the B-plot is better than the main story, there is a problem.

Still watching through his living room window, Braling sees his Marionette give his wife a gift of some lingerie.  He sneaks into the basement, opens the Marionette’s box, and presses the remote which causes his double to come to the basement.  He asks, “What am I supposed to do now that you’ve got her all riled up?”  The Marionette goes on at length about what an ingrate Braling his.  His wife only wanted to make him happy.  So he stuffs Braling in the Marionette box and goes back upstairs to take Braling’s place.

This story was previously filmed as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. [3]  This episode is light years better than the later seasons of RBT.  It has more than one recognizable face, and shows some skill in the direction.  This is from the first season, before RBT fled the country like a celebrity on November 9th (oh, you’re still here?). It was directed by the ubiquitous Paul Lynch (Prom Night, Ray Bradbury Theater, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits).  Also, yesterday’s TZ.

However, it still is not as good as the AHP version.  Both versions suffer from having too much story for a 30 minute episode.  This version also suffers from having too much James Coco for a 30 minute episode.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I will probably also circle around on Alfred Hitchcock Presents once I’m staring down the barrel of those hour-long episodes.
  • [1] Also, still haven’t gotten my $9 worth.
  • [2] The newspaper also blows the whistle on this being a Canadian production — the headline references the CBC.
  • [3] The character there had an extra I in his name — Brailing.  However, there was a non-I Braling in RBT’s The Coffin.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Tombstone (10/30/92)

Another director with RBT as his only directing credit.  Usually, the episode that follows makes this understandable.  In this case, however, the episode immediately got off to an interesting start.  The dust flying from the chiseling of the titular tombstone, then the car silently going across a bridge.  Mix in some interesting camerawork, and this had potential.

Walter and Leota Bean are in town looking for a hotel room in an unnamed city (presumably not Tombstone).  The first one they try has an inexplicably repulsive guy renting the rooms.  It is a little bizarre as Walter goes to what is clearly just a room at the hotel with the word OFFICE on it.  No front desk, no ledger, just a guy in a stained wife-beater with a Bud in his mitt.  Even at this dump, there is not a room.

When he goes back to the car, he is berated by his wife Leota, who you would expect to be getting by on her personality.  As a funeral procession goes by, Walter says there ought to be at least one room free in the city [1].  I guess this is Hotelville where everyone lives alone in a hotel.

At the next hotel they try, Walter is nearly knocked over by a man running out.  They get the last vacant room, but when they are taken to it, they see a large, black, oddly phallic tombstone in the middle of the room.  It was left by the running man who was disconsolate over misspelling Whyte as White on the stone.  Why the man chose the 2nd floor of a hotel to chisel the 2,000 pound block of marble is not mentioned.

Leota is convinced the room is haunted, but they stay there anyway.  That night, the chiseler comes back to retrieve the tombstone.  As he chats with Walter and Leota, in the background we see the 60 year old clerk take the stone away on a handcart.  Either this ain’t a real tombstone, or this guy possesses the alien technology that enabled the building of the pyramids.

rbttombstone07Turns out that another person has croaked and just happens to have been named White.  As the Beans are checking out, Walter notices that Mr. White had the room below theirs.

The ending is kind of a mess.  So Mr. White had the room downstairs — so what?  The noises the Beans heard which Leota interpreted as haunting were clearly from the living Whites below.  The noises from above might have been questionable, but the Whites were not staying above.

Mrs. White takes possession of the tombstone locally.  Strangely, the hotel clerk is even on-hand, apparently having more jobs than Kirk on The Gilmore Girls.  So why was the local couple staying in a hotel?  And yeah, I watch The Gilmore Girls.

As the Beans get back on the road, Walter swerves to hit a black cat.  Hunh?

rbttombstone09There is a shot of a Maryland license plate clearly intended to trick the audience into thinking this was not another New Zealand production. However, the last shot of the episode has the car going past a big sign for NZ alt-band Bailterspace.

Thus endeth 6 seasons of Ray Bradbury Theater.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Walter Bean, portrayed by Ron White, is not as funny as the other Mr. Bean, but is funnier than the other Ron White.
  • Never considered:  Mrs. White murdered her husband!
  • If nothing else, I learned that epitaph and tombstone are not synonyms.  The epitaph is an inscription written on the tombstone.
  • Did you ever really think about the fact that there is an American city named Tombstone?  Most people have heard of it, but just think about that — weird.  Now it is no longer a thriving community, just a tourist attraction most famous because of the gunfighting.  Like Chicago.

Ray Bradbury Theater – Great Wide World Over There (10/29/92)

rbtgreatwide01Two more to go — I think I can, I think I can.

I guess we’re going to finish up the series in New Zealand as the opening shot bears a strong resemblance to The Shire.  Rolling hills, farms, farmhouses, cows, chickens, a Hobbitt — wait, that’s Tyne Daly as Cora.

Her neighbor is checking her mailbox and is overjoyed to find a letter from her uncle.  The shrew taunts Cora about her empty mailbox, “It’s certainly nice getting mail!”  Further hammering her, she continues, “and reading it!”

Grazing — I mean gazing out over the hills — Cora sees a figure running toward the farm. She is able to identify him as her sister’s son Benjy.  The energetic fellow runs to the farmhouse (maybe all the way from Auckland given his energy), hops the fence, clicks his heels and dances with his aunt.  Something tells me if The Shire doesn’t have a theater, he’s going to build one and put on a show.

rbtgreatwide04She takes Benjy inside and excitedly asks him if he has seen cities, the ocean.  Given that I don’t think you can ever be more that a couple hours from the ocean in New Zealand, she is really trapped on that farm like veal.

OK, my theory falls apart as Benjy starts reeling off American locations he has been to — Chicago, Niagara Falls, Death Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains (just referred to as the Blue Ridge here).  Cora is also impressed that he pulls books out of his backpack.  Her neighbor might have been a bitch, but she was on to something.

Of course!  What was I thinking?  This isn’t supposed to be set in New Zealand (even though filmed there).  If a TV show is going to make its characters look backward and  ignorant, they are going to make them southerners, not Kiwis.  I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t a picture of Reagan hanging on the mud wall.

rbtgreatwide05Cora decides to put Benjy’s edukashun to work writing some letters for her, so she can finally get some mail.  Sadly, when they sit down to commence a-writing, she realizes she doesn’t know anyone. Benjy saves the day by bringing out a magazine with lots of ads where she can write for free samples.  She enlists her husband to build her a mailbox, bigger than her neighbor’s.

When Benjy mentions that the mail is delivered by a postman, Cora realizes that she’s never seen a postman delivering mail to her big-shot neighbor.  Once Cora starts getting mail back, it is a little auckward that the postman never even rings once for her neighbor.

Eventually, Benjy has to move on, leaving Cora to receive mail she can’t read.  There is an obvious ending which would have brought Cora and her neighbor together.  I’m not sure if it is good that the obvious path was not taken, or if that would would have been too trite. Honestly, for this simple tale, lacking any kind of mystery or supernatural element, the obvious ending might have been best.  Have Cora teach her neighbor the trick to receiving mail, and have the neighbor teach Cora how to read the mail she is receiving.

A fine little episode, just not what I was looking for.

Post-Post:

  • The first book Benjy pulls out is an excellent choice — Catch-22.
  • The director was born in Auckland, which I take as confirmation that I was correct calling this a New Zealand episode.  He also went on to act in something called Topless Women Talk about their Lives, which sounds great except for the talking part.
  • And of course, the New Zealand full employment project, Lord of the Rings.

Ray Bradbury Theater – Fee Fie Foe Fum (10/28/92)

rbtfeefifofum03Fee fi fo fum / I smell the blood of an Englishman / Be he live or be he dead / I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

This always pissed me off.

If you’re going to make up nonsense words, why wouldn’t you make one up that actually rhymes with Englishman?  Or, as part of the evil conservative War on Women, you could smell the blood of an Englishmum.  I don’t guess I can blame Ray Bradbury for this since that little ditty is 500 years old.

A man pulls up to Edith Bunker‘s house.  It isn’t clear who he is, but he comes in and gives the much-younger Lucy Lawless — holy crap, Lucy Lawless! — a kiss on the lips. [UPDATE — he is revealed to be her husband, Tom].

He seems very excited that he has brought Lucy and grandma Edith a Mr. Muncher garbage disposal, Mr. Fusion having not yet been invented.  Whoever he is, he’s a better man than me — he is able to install a garbage disposal; and bag Lucy Lawless.  He gets an inordinate amount of joy feeding bones into the disposal.  Edith, however, even all the way upstairs locked in her room is terrified by the machine.

rbtfeefifofum04

Hmmm, how can we here at RBT best feature Lucy’s beautiful blue eyes? Let’s use a blue filter so they blend into the background!

The next morning after after bread-winner Lucy leaves for work and Tom leaves to goof off — this guy is quickly becoming my hero — Edith goes downstairs to inspect this new monster Tom has installed.  Hearing it gurgle, she finds a feather in the drain, and her pet bird is missing from its cage.  She suspects Tom will next feed her bones into the Mr. Muncher next and steal her money.

Edith thinks she hears Tom chopping up her cat and dog and feeding them into the disposal. After he leaves the house, she finds the disposal gurgling again and finds cat fur in the drain.

That night, Edith sneaks down to the kitchen and talks to the disposal.  Then she goes out to the garage where she has hidden her animals.  So the old woman is framing her son-in-law which doesn’t explain why she was so aghast when she thought he had pulverized her pets.

rbtfeefifofum08The next day, she gives Lucy & Tom $500 to go on a vacation.  Tom returns early, having forgotten his fishing lures.  Edith corners him with a hatchet and . . . and  . . . I don’t know what the hell happened.  At first I thought she was going to chop him up the old fashioned way and feed him into the disposal like the bones that brought him such pleasure.  Then there were hellish flashing lights and pictures of the disposal’s grinding teeth, so I thought he was going to somehow be dragged into it whole.

But in the next scene, he and Lucy are loading up the car to move away.  Lucy seems OK, but Tom is pretty twitchy.  Edith is now a big fan of the machine and even invites the mailman in to see it.  In a good show, she would have fed him into the Muncher.  Or something.  Anything.

rbtfeefifofum01Post-Post:

  • Finally a New Zealand episode that makes use of the country’s fabulous natural resources, namely Lucy Lawless.
  • Only 2 more episodes to go.

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.

 

Post-Post: