Tales of Tomorrow – The Little Black Bag (05/30/52)

ttlittleblackbag1Tonight’s episode is once again sponsored by Masland Carpet Mills, makers of fine fishing- and smoking- wear.  The announcer pitches the company as special because it closes the mills for one day each year so the employees can go fishing.

Dr. Fulbright walks in the door from a tough day of doctoring perhaps even engaged in the archaic practice of house-calls.  Unfortunately, his call to his own house is met by his shrewish wife Angie. She immediately pumps him for how much money he earned today.  Actually, it turns out that he hasn’t been doing much doctoring lately.  He made a mistake and it destroyed his confidence.  His wife assure him, “You’re still a doctor — you’re still supposed to earn a living!”  Yeah, and the healing stuff too.

He slinks out vowing to get some money for his bitchy wife.  He ends up at a pawn shop to hock his medical bag.  The pawnbroker with a heart of gold (a real one, in addition to the ones in the jewelry display) doesn’t want to take the doctor’s bag, but he gives him $25.  He then offers to make it $20 and throw in an old medical bag that he had laying around.  Fulbright looks inside and finds some unusual instruments.

ttlittleblackbag3Fulbright goes home and hands his wife the $20.  She is about as appreciative as you would expect and asks him if he robbed a bank.  A neighbor frantically knocks at the door carrying her child.  Within seconds he diagnoses the girl with hemorrhagic encephalitis.  Having no alternative, Fulbright opens the new bag.  He sees now that there is a warning label that the instruments must be used ethically or the violator will be subject to the full penalty of the law.  Checking a handy enclosed symptom matrix, he finds a new-fangled syringe pre-loaded with an elixir for the girl.

He injects the girl and she is cured instantly.  Fulbright sees his new black bag as an opportunity to cure the afflicted.  His old white bag sees it as an opportunity to make a “million bucks.”  Using a magnifying glass, Fulbright sees the patent was applied for on ttlittleblackbag407/18/50 — that’s 2450! [1] 

Two years later, Fulbright is a successful practicing doctor.  He is giving the girl he cured a routine check-up. The fact that the 10 year old girl hasn’t grown an inch or changed her pig-tail hairstyle in in 2 years doesn’t seem to bother him. However, it bothers Angie that they still can’t afford to pay him.  She pushes Fulbright to make as much money as he can as fast as he can, but he feels bound ethically, and by the warning on the bag, to do good.

A woman comes in with a paralyzed arm and Fulbright is able to restore movement.  He tells his wife to bill the woman $50, but she thinks that is absurdly cheap.  Fulbright tells her that after much consideration, he wants to reveal his little black bag to the world. Angie threatens to tell the police how he had once killed a patient by showing up drunk to operate.

When he says that he mailed a letter the day before, she stabs him in the back with a scalpel.  Her plan to take the bag and make the millions herself is foiled when the warning on the label is carried out.  She sees that the bag is now full of straw.  We get a great close-up of her as people bang on the door.

ttlittleblackbag8Post-Post:

  • [1] When Fulbright speaks the date, he mistakenly gives the day as the 15th.
  • Based on the same short story as the Night Gallery segment by the same name.
  • The neighbor went on to be the Duke Brothers’ maid in Trading Places 32 years later.
  • From the short story: Dogged biometricians had pointed out with irrefutable logic that mental sub-normals were outbreeding the mental normals and super-normals, and that the process was occurring on an exponential curve. 

Amen, brother.

Ray Bradbury Theater – Mars is Heaven (S4E1)

rbtmarsisheaven01Hal Linden (Barney Miller), or is it Barney Miller (Hal Linden)? No, it’s Hal Linden (Barney Miller), is the captain of a ship heading to Mars.

Linden, playing Captain Black, disembarks along with crew-members Henley and Larson to explore Mars.  After a few seconds, they determine that the atmosphere is “thin for breathing, but there’s enough oxygen.”  Showing the same scientific acumen as the crew of Prometheus, they take off their helmets.

Mars isn’t quite what they expect.  Their landing area is the expected barren red landscape, but then they hear a rooster crowing.  They hear birds.  After a short walk, they see trees, grass, tennis courts.  They’re in Club Red; except without the red.

rbtmarsisheaven02One of the men suggests they somehow landed back on earth.  Captain Black assures him, “we traveled 300 million miles, tracked by telemetry every inch of the way.”  As usual, no one could be troubled to pick up an almanac when this story was filmed.  When Mars is on the other side of the sun, it is still never 300 million miles away.  Even the original short story didn’t use this stat.

One man finds his old tennis racket, one sees his grandfather.  Black sees his younger brother and goes with him back to his parent’s house.  He is reunited with his dead mother and dead father.  It is revealed that the house he has come back to actually burned to the ground years ago, killing his brother.

In the short story, one woman — whatever the Martian equivalent of a blonde is, maybe a redhead — almost gives away the game when she threatens to have her husband come outside and “beat them with all his fists.”  Although, really, she could have meant all two of them.

That night, Linden finally begins to question what they have found on Mars.  He wonders if maybe the Martians knew they were coming.  That they may have used their minds to create this world for the humans.  To put them off-guard, to separate them so they could be picked off by people they trusted.

rbtmarsisheaven03

For some reason, the astronauts wear ASA patches instead of NASA.

As Black leaves the room, an alien hand clasps his shoulder.  We then cut to caskets resting on the barren red Martian soil, 3 helmets atop them.

The idea of finding a replica on earth is old hat now, also having appeared on The Twilight Zone.  When it was published 1948, maybe it was new hat.  I guess the title Mars is Heaven isn’t really a spoiler since it is revealed to not be heaven.

In the story, the Martians inexplicably retain their human form even after the astronauts are dead, and give them a proper burial.  Equally inexplicably, in the episode, we see the coffins but they fade from the shot and disappear completely.

Post-Post:

  • Pointless Duplication:  In the story, Black’s brother died 26 years ago.  He is now 26 years old.  The townspeople say the year is 1926.
  • The short story Mars is Heaven was included in The Martian Chronicles as The Third Expedition.
  • Coincidentally, director John Laing is also credited on an episode of The Hitchhiker which I just watched.  The first disk of that series was so awful, I couldn’t bring myself to write about it.  His episode was probably one of the better ones, though.
  • For some reason, Bradbury alone among sci-fi writers is given license to have breathable air on Mars and other basic scientific inaccuracies.

Night Gallery – The Little Black Bag (S1E2)

Great job, Rod.  You had 13 months after the pilot aired and you came up with bupkis (as Mr. Bauman would say) in the first episode; then adapted someone else’s story for your first contribution.  I’ll say this for Ray Bradbury Theater — it might not be very good, but Ray’s name was on the marquis, so he showed up to work.

On the plus side Serling chose good source material.  The Little Black Bag is a fun read and considered a classic in the genre.  I’m all about results, so I went in with high hopes.

Future techno-clerk Gillings reports that a medical bag has been accidentally sent from the current year of 2098 back to then-current 1971.  The episode actually aired in 1970, so they were covered through the rerun and maybe did not expect this series to last long enough for syndication.  Disgraced doctor turned Hobo-American Dr. Fall (Burgess Meredith) and his new pal Hepplewhite (Chill Wills) find the bag.

Dr. Fall’s immediate inclination is to hock this baby for a couple of bucks.   The pawn shop is not interested, but he does attract the attention of a woman who begs him to come look at her sister.  He goes with her and sees a young girl in pain.  Using the instruments in the bag, he realizes that they are not just objects, but are actually leading him through procedures and performing procedures miraculous in the current day.

ngblackbag07He heals the girl, and then a man at the flop-house where he lives.  Back in his room, he imagines giving a speech to the medical community.  His brilliant idea of a demonstration is slicing his neck open with a scalpel from the future.  The scalpel slips through the skin like water with the incision closing up behind it.  It also knows to avoid muscle and important organs.

Hepplewhite fears that the doc is going to cut him out of sharing the wealth from the bag.  He demands a 50% cut.  Dr. Fall, quite the potty mouth, calls him a garbage headed termite.  Chill Wills gives one of the most bizarre performances I’ve ever seen as he threatens Dr. Fall.  He stands almost exactly in this position for 4 minutes.  Early on, he let a few words slip between his lips.  Then for a while, he just stares at the ceiling with his mouth gaping wide for no reason . . . on and on and on.

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Seriously, this goes on for almost 4 minutes.  Even more amazing, NBC LOVED this performance.

Dr. Fall is getting his medical jones back and is more altruistic, wanting to use the bag to better humanity.  Hepplewhite then kills Dr. Fall, although how he did it with the future scalpel is not shown.

In the next scene, Hepplewhite is clean-shaven, in a suit and introduced to a room of doctors as William Fall.  Darn the luck, the future techno-clerk gets a warning that the bag has been used for nefarious purposes.  He deactivates the bag and Hepplewhite slices his own throat.  Again, sadly off-camera.

The broad framework of the episode is true to the short story, but there is a major departure in the characters.  Doc Fall’s pal in the episode, Hepplewhite, is not in the short story.  However, his “partnership” with Fall, his greed, the falling out, and the denouement are all assumed by an 18 year old blonde who is the sick girl’s sister.  Gotta say, I would have preferred the blonde babe to the gaping maw of Hepplewhite.

Pointless changes: The clerk of the future is name Gillings on TV, but Gillis in the short story.  The doctor is named Fall on TV, but Full in the short story.  The bag is from 2098 on TV, but 2450 in the short story.  Actually, that last one might make sense.  In 1970, 20 years after the story was published, these instruments probably didn’t seem quite so crazy.

Also, in the story, the doctor takes a blue pill that “hits him like a thunderbolt.”  Combined with the 18 year old blonde sidekick, that could have been a verrrry different episode.

Overall, a good episode.  I don’t see that the changes helped, but it they didn’t wreck the story either.

Post-Post:

  • Twilight Zone Legacy: Burgess Meredith was one of the kings with 4 appearances in starring roles.  Jason Wingreen was in 3 episodes.  William Challee was in 2 episodes.  C. Lindsay Workman was in one episode.  Tragically, Brit Marling was in zero, having not been born.
  • A third story in this episode was a trifle called The Nature of the Enemy, Serling’s first original contribution since the Pilot.  It is just crap, and evidence that Rod Serling might have been a great writer, but picking up a paycheck was his priority.
  • From the short story:

Dogged biometricians had pointed out with irrefutable logic that mental sub-normals were outbreeding the mental normals and super-normals, and that the process was occurring on an exponential curve. 

Amen, brother.