Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The Chaser"

Patricia Barry as Leila and George Grizzard as lovesick Roger Shackleforth
"The Chaser"
Season One, Episode 31
Original Air Date: May 13, 1960

Cast:
Roger Shackleforth: George Grizzard
Leila: Patricia Barry
Professor A. Daemon: John McIntire
Homburg: J. Pat O'Malley

Crew:
Writer: Robert Presnell, Jr. (Based on "The Chaser" by John Collier)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Set Design: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
"In this library, a certain professor sells things. Ointments, salves, powders, sovereign remedies, nectars, concoctions, decoctions, and potions, all guaranteed. Next week he'll sell one to a lover boy so that he can slip an affectionate mickey into the champagne of his lady love. It sets up a most bizarre and very unexpected chain of events. On The Twilight Zone next week, 'The Chaser.'

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Mr. Roger Shackleforth. Age: youthful twenties. Occupation: being in love. Not just in love but madly, passionately, illogically, miserably, all-consumingly in love, with a young woman named Leila who has a vague recollection of his face and even less than a passing interest. In a moment you'll see a switch, because Mr. Roger Shackleforth, the young gentleman so much in love, will take a short but meaningful journey into The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            Roger Shackleforth is madly in love with a beautiful woman named Leila, a woman that wants nothing to do with him whatsoever. Roger spends most of his time swooning and attempting to see Leila. When he holds up a line at a public telephone attempting over and over again to successfully get Leila to pick up the phone on the other end, a man waiting to use the phone for an emergency forces Roger out of the booth. The man says that he understands Roger's dilemma perfectly and then gives Roger a business card. The man tells Roger that the namesake belonging to the business card can solve Roger's problem. Though not believing his problem can be solved so easily, Roger heads over to the address on the business card.
George Grizzard and John McIntire
            What Roger finds is a house with a front door that opens itself to visitors and reveals a large entryway leading to an even larger room crammed floor to ceiling with endlessly high shelves crammed to the brim with books and other assorted items. Here Roger finds a grumpy, older man named Professor A. Daemon. The professor's abode is an apothecary where he offers all sorts of potions and elixirs designed for different purposes. He initially attempts to sell Roger glove cleaner, for $1,000, a liquid with no odor, no taste, and no trace, guaranteed to work. Roger, who still doesn't know why he even bothered to come here and doesn't yet understand how the professor can help him, turns down the sale of the glove cleaner and turns to leave. The professor manages to get Roger to admit his own dilemma and, to the professor's great disappointment, it is a simple need for a love potion, what the professor calls "the simple parlor trick" of his profession. The love potion will only cost Roger $1. Though he doesn't believe for an instant that it'll work, Roger is willing to try anything for Leila's love and buys the potion.
            Roger shows up unannounced at Leila's apartment with two glasses and a bottle of champagne. He begs his way into her apartment with the promise to leave her alone if she will just have one drink with him. Leila reluctantly agrees. While Leila is in the other room getting dressed, Roger pulls from his pocket the small bottle of love potion and empties it into Leila's glass of champagne. Leila returns and quickly empties her glass of champagne in order to get Roger out of her place and Roger watches eagerly to see if the potion will work. At first, it appears that it won't work at all as Leila's feelings toward Roger show no transformation. Then, after she reluctantly agrees to give him one last, small kiss to remember her by, she stops Roger at the front door, obviously feeling a change come over her. Then the change comes on full blast and she leaps into Roger's arms.
            Flash forward through six months of marriage and Roger is miserable. The love potion worked only too well and Leila's affections are suffocating Roger. She dotes upon him every waking second, an annoyance which becomes insufferable. Roger reaches the breaking point and manages to pry himself away from Leila's clutching hands to return to Professor Daemon's apothecary. The professor tells Roger that he's been expecting the young man to return and again offers him the "glove cleaner," reiterating that there's no odor, no taste, and no trace, guaranteed to work. Only one thousand dollars. Roger at first plays like the love potion has worked perfectly and his marriage to Leila is a dream come true. But it's obviously a sham and the professor has seen it a thousand times or more. They always come back some time later and want a solution to the problem caused by the love potion. Roger finally breaks down and admits the problem. The solution only cost a thousand dollars and it so happens that Roger already has a check made out in his coat pocket. The professor gives Roger the glove cleaner, snatches the check from his hand, and sends the young man away on his grim errand with only this advice: give Leila the glove cleaner immediately because if he doesn't do it right away, Roger will never have the courage to do it later.
            Roger returns to Leila with two glasses and a bottle of champagne, a mirror situation to when he first applied the love potion. This time, however, he will give Leila a dose of death in the form of a tasteless, odorless, traceless liquid. Roger manages to get Leila out of the room for long enough to dump the deadly liquid into her champagne. When Leila returns, however, she tells Roger that she has great news for him. She then holds up a tiny knitted sock, signifying the coming of a child and Roger, holding both glasses of champagne, drops the glasses, spoiling the chance to administer the "glove cleaner." Roger, in a state of shock, mumbles that he couldn't have done it anyway. Outside, the professor lounges in a patio chair, smoking a cigar. When he blows a puff of smoke, it is in the shape of a heart.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Mr. Roger Shackleforth, who has discovered at this late date that love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a six-alarm fire in a bamboo and canvas tent. Case history of a lover boy who should never have entered The Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
                Though simple in concept and execution, "The Chaser" works as an episode whereas so many other comedic attempts from The Twilight Zone do not greatly because of the excellent performances of the three principal actors, the expert direction from arguably The Twilight Zone's greatest craftsman, Douglas Heyes, the wonderful set design, and the source material, John Collier's slight, yet unforgettable, vignette.
                The episode is fable-like in its simplicity and can seem, when viewed today, to be cliché and rehashed from a thousand other fictions of the good-intentioned wish gone bad. The Twilight Zone itself would delve again into this fictional pool with other light fare, such as season four's "I Dream of Genie," and darker fare as "The Man in the Bottle" from season two. The viewer must remember, however, that the story, and much of Collier’s other work, were the initial seeds for fictional constructs that would be borrowed from and added upon for years to come.
"The Chaser" succeeds because the episode doesn't stray too far one way or the other, too dark or too light, and comes off as a perfectly executed black comedy. The ending is really the only weak part of the episode as it seems anticlimactic to the preceding action yet still works as a darkly humorous closing to the play. It is interesting to note that "The Chaser" is the only episode from the show’s first season that is not scripted by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, or Richard Matheson, three writers that dominated the overall output of scripts for the show. It was filmed from a script by writer Robert Presnell, Jr. and, as a script, dates back nearly a decade before its production for The Twilight Zone. Pesnell's script first aired on February 20, 1951 for Billy Rose's Playbill Theater. For its production on The Twilight Zone, the story rights were bought from John Collier for $2,000. Producer Buck Houghton bought the film script from Presnell but did not hire Presnell to make any further changes to the script for its production on The Twilight Zone. It is almost certain, however, that Rod Serling had a hand in tweaking the script from its initial form as changes were necessary to accommodate the differences in set design and the natural narrative flow dictated by such changes.
John Collier
                Writer John Collier (May 3, 1901-April 6, 1980) was a highly influential British writer of novels, short fiction, poetry, and screenplays. Along with Saki, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, and Arthur Machen, Collier is a chief member of a group of British fantasists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that would influence generations of fiction writers working in the weird mode on both sides of the Atlantic, including H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Michael Chabon, Gerald Kersh, Roald Dahl, and Neil Gaiman. Collier himself was most noticeably influenced by Saki (H.H. Munro) and the two writers separated themselves from the other British fantasists through the vein of irreverent humor coursing through nearly all of their fictions. Collier, like Roald Dahl after him, published most of his off-beat and macabre short fiction in the pages of the American magazine The New Yorker. "The Chaser" was first published in the December, 1940 issue of that magazine and was later collected in Collier’s first collection, Presenting Moonshine (Viking Press, 1941), a book which also contains some of Collier's greatest stories, such as "Green Thoughts," "Evening Primrose," "Thus I Refute Beelzy," "Another American Tragedy," and "Bottle Party." It is difficult to convey the scope of Collier's influence on subsequent writers of fantasy and weird fiction, and to the formation of shows such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as to say that, even though it has gone relatively unnoted and unremarked upon, only perhaps have Poe and Lovecraft had as profound an influence. Whereas the latter two gentlemen worked within a Gothic mode which often seems steeped in antiquarian trappings, Collier worked to bring the macabre and the weird into the realm of the everyday, signifying a thematic trend which would see its culmination in the writings of Americans Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, and Henry Kuttner, as well as British writers such as Roald Dahl and Gerald Kersh. In his introduction to the New York Review Books reprint of Collier's seminal collection Fancies and Goodnights, Ray Bradbury stated that when Rod Serling visited him with the idea to begin a fantasy television program, a program that eventually became The Twilight Zone, Bradbury heaped upon the young Serling books by excellent writers of short fantasy fiction. Upon the top of the pile Bradbury placed John Collier. Bradbury also stated that he eventually sought work on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television program because of the producers' taste for the stories of John Collier. Though "The Chaser" was, unfortunately, the only Collier story adapted for The Twilight Zone, it should be noted that some of the adaptations of Collier's work on Alfred Hitchcock Presents are today considered classics, including "Wet Saturday," starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke, "De Mortuis," and "Back for Christmas," starring Sir John Williams. Among Collier's other noted creations are the famous novel His Monkey Wife, about a man who marries a chimpanzee, and his screenplay accomplishments which include unaccredited work on the script for The African Queen (1951), starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and an unproduced screenplay adaptation of John Milton's Paradise Lost.
                Director Douglas Heyes, who at the time of filming of "The Chaser" had only one previous credit on The Twilight Zone, "Elegy," would go on to direct some of the most memorable episodes of the show, including "The After Hours," "The Howling Man," "The Invaders," and "Eye of the Beholder." Hayes and the production crew, especially photographer George T. Clemens and set designers Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason, do an exceptional job with "The Chaser." Working with only three main sets, their designs nonetheless dictate the brisk pacing of the episode and in the process create an unforgettable and instantly recognizable set in Professor A. Daemon's apothecary. The narrow yet expansively tall set is awe-inspiring and was impressive enough for Serling to use it as the setting for his filmed trailer on the previous episode.
                Other than his subsequent appearance for The Twilight Zone, the excellent season four episode "In His Image," George Grizzard (April 1, 1928-October 2, 2007) also starred in the pilot episode for the underappreciated anthology show Thriller (a.k.a. Boris Karloff's Thriller). Grizzard was a theater trained actor from age 7 who made his initial mark on the Broadway stage in plays such as "The Disenchanted" (1958), "Big Fish, Little Fish" (1961), and Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1962), nabbing a Tony Award nomination and an Outer Circle Critics Award in the process. Grizzard further made his mark on anthology television with roles in episodes of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Playhouse 90, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents besides finding roles in traditional television fare such as Dr. Kildare, Rawhide, Ironside, Marcus Welby, M.D., Hawaii Five-O, The Cosby Show, and Murder, She Wrote. Later in life Grizzard found roles in films such as Wonder Boys (2000), Small Time Crooks (2000), and in his last credited role for Flags of Our Fathers (2006).
                Actor John McIntire (June 27, 1907-Jan 30, 1991) has over 140 credits to his name, usually portraying tough, authoritarian figures such as policemen and judges, in films ranging from The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Far Country (1954), Psycho (1960), and Rooster Cogburn (1975) to family fare such as Lassie: A New Beginning (1978) and voice-over work in Disney's The Rescuers (1977) and The Fox and the Hound (1981). McIntire also made his mark on television throughout his career, most noticeably with his long tenures on Naked City (1958-59) and Wagon Train (for 1959-65). McIntire also starred in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
                Actress Patricia Barry (b. November 16, 1921) should be a recognizable face to fans of The Twilight Zone as she also starred in season four's "I Dream of Genie" and in the Joe Dante directed segment of Twilight Zone: the Movie, the third of four segments, which is a remake of the Jerome Bixby short story "It's a Good Life," co-starring fellow Twilight Zone alum Kevin McCarthy. With over 135 credits to her name, Barry made her mark with appearances on the soap operas Days of Our Lives, All My Children, Guiding Light, Knot's Landing, and Dallas. She made her initial breaks in bit roles as a pretty face in films in the forties before becoming recognizable on the live anthology programs in the late forties and fifties. With intermittent work in film, Barry was mostly a mainstay on the small screen throughout the rest of her career, with some of her credits including Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1962), Rawhide (1960, 1963), Perry Mason (1960, 1963), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1963, 1965), Columbo (1975), and Charlie's Angels (1977).
                "The Chaser" is a quaint episode with not so much complexity but with a great deal of charm, some humorous innuendo, and some great dialogue. It is also the only offering on the show from the works of writer John Collier, a writer whose style seems to have permeated the majority of the show's output. This, in itself, marks it a rare and valuable episode. It also sports an excellent cast and shows director Douglas Heyes beginning to find the creative magic that would lead him on to create the most memorable episodes of the show. All in all, it's a darkly humorous pleasure and almost certainly the show's finest comedy episode of the first season.


Grade: B

Notes:
--As stated above, George Grizzard also appears in the fourth season episode "In His Image," scripted by Charles Beaumont from his own short story and directed by Perry Lafferty.
--Patricia Barry also appears in the fourth season episode "I Dream of Genie" scripted by John Furia, Jr. and directed by Robert Gist.
--A very similar story to "The Chaser" appeared three years after the story's original publication in the famous and influential comic book Tales from the Crypt. In issue #25, cover dated Aug-Sept 1951, the third story offering was titled "Loved to Death!!" Hosted by the Cryptkeeper, plotted by publisher WIlliam M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, and scripted by Al Feldstein with art by Jack Kamen, the story follows the narrative course of the "The Chaser" very directly until culminating in a much grislier end. Not wanting her lover to drink from a dirty glass, the woman, affected by a love potion, accidentally gives the man the glass with the poison that was meant for her, thus killing him. When the man awakens in the afterlife, he is overjoyed at finally being free from her suffocating affections. Until, that is, the woman kills herself and finds him in the afterlife. To the man's increasing horror, she is now a horrifyingly mangled corpse and still very much obsessively in love with him. This story was later adapted for the Tales from the Crypt television program and originally broadcast on HBO on June 15, 1991.

--Jordan Prejean
               

2 comments:

  1. What a terrific writeup of a great episode! I have always wondered about John Collier, and your comments make me want to seek out more of his stories. Doug Heyes was one of the best TZ directors. What really shocks me is that Patricia Barry was 38 when this was filmed. How is that possible? Zowie!

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  2. Thanks, Jack and you should definitely seek Collier out. He reminds me a lot of a British Fred Brown, with that same clever wit and very macabre streak, so I certainly think you'll dig it. Patricia Barry was surely a beauty and could play that babydoll character to perfection. Heyes is probably more responsible than any other TZ director for the indelible images from the show and I can't wait to delve to his truly great episodes, starting soon with "The After Hours." Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

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