Thursday, October 7, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Man in the Bottle" (10/07/1960)

"The Man in the Bottle"
Season Two, Episode #2 (overall #38)
Cayuga Production # 173-3638

Fifty years ago tonight, a couple in need received a very special gift... and completely squandered it. This is their story.

Serling's "The Man in the Bottle," directed by Don Medford, is something of a variation on the classic short story "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs (which you can read here). Through supernatural means (in the story, the eponymous monkey's paw talisman; here, a genie in a bottle), a couple is granted a number of wishes, but at the end of their wishing, they've gained absolutely nothing. "The Monkey's Paw" is a horror story whose moral is made clear from the outset with the following anonymous quote: "Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it." "The Man in the Bottle," meanwhile, ends up encouraging the viewer to count his or her blessings. Not a bad message, but unfortunately the episode generally falls flat... until a spectacular moment occurs late in Act 2 that almost makes the whole thing worthwhile. Almost.

The genie (played by Joseph Ruskin) is certainly not your typical genie. This guy (or entity, or spirit, or whatever) has clearly never seen the inside of a brass lamp. He looks like he just came from having tea at the country club. He does possess a certain malevolent charm, but his toothy grin is a bit too much at times. Ruskin would return in season three to provide the voice of the Kanamit in "To Serve Man." As a proud Kanamit fan, this makes Ruskin A-OK in my book.

The couple in question is Arthur and Edna Castle (played by Luther Adler and Vivi Janiss, respectively; Janiss played another long-suffering wife in season one's "The Fever"), the owners of a pawn shop who exist on the edge of perpetual financial oblivion. Castle takes pity on an old woman and buys what appears to be a worthless bottle from her. The above-described genie appears in a puff of smoke and grants them four wishes. I won't go into detail about the first two wishes, but I will point out that they're exactly what you'd expect, and neither of them quite works out. I usually try to avoid spoilers, but I'll make an exception here, since the third wish is the only thing that recommends this episode. Castle comes up with what he believes is a fool-proof wish: he'll be the ruler of a foreign country in the 20th century, one who can't be voted out of office. Wow, what a weird wish. It's a fairly clunky narrative device injected solely to set up the shock that follows... but boy, what a shock.

Yup, he's Hitler. Zing! Worse, it's the end of World War II, on the day that Hitler reportedly committed suicide. His fourth and final wish? To undo the disastrous third one, of course. And there you go.

The Hitler reveal is very effective. It's too bad it didn't appear in a better episode. Other than this one short scene, the episode is pedestrian, predictable, forgettable. Come on, a genie in a bottle story? Really? Worse yet, the series will do it again in season four ("I Dream of Genie"). What a hoary, overused gimmick. It's almost as bad as a guardian angel story.... oh wait, The Twilight Zone did that one too. Twice. Hoo boy.

Interesting bit of trivia, courtesy of Wikipedia: Actor Luther Adler played Hitler in two different movies in 1951: The Magic Face and The Desert Fox. Another interesting note: Nathan Van Cleave's original musical score from season one's "What You Need" is featured prominently among this episode's stock cues.

Next week: He's a nervous man in a four-dollar room, and he.... hey, wait, that would make a great episode title....

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