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 Salon.com:  “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.


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.


  • First published in Weird Tales, 1946.