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.

Post-Post:

  • 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.

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