Monday, November 26, 2012

''The Man in the Bottle''

Luther Adler, Vivi Janiss and Joseph Ruskin
“The Man in the Bottle”
Season Two, Episode 38
Original airdate: October 6, 1960

Cast:
Arthur Castle: Luther Adler
Edna Castle: Vivi Janiss
Genie: Joseph Ruskin
Mrs. Gumley: Lisa Golm
IRS Agent: Olan Soule

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Don Medford
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Ethel Winant
Editor: Leon Barsha 
Sound: Franklin Milton and Charles Scheid
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Inside this curio shop, next week, from amidst this old school rococo and some fuzzy moth-eaten antiquary, will emerge a bottle—this one.  And from it will step a genie to give Mr. Luther Adler four wishes.  But he’ll discover, as will all of you, that there’s an economics to magic, a high cost of living.  Next week, a most intriguing tale, ‘The Man in the Bottle.’ Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, gentle and infinitely patient people, whose lives have been a hope chest with a rusty lock and a lost set of keys.  But in just a moment that hope chest will be opened, and an improbable phantom will try to bedeck the drabness of these two people’s failure-laden lives…with the gold and precious stones of fulfillment.  Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, standing on the outskirts and about to enter the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
Arthur Castle and his loving wife Edna are the owners and sole operators of their very own ramshackle antique store which has been one step away from bankruptcy nearly since its inception.  While attempting to balance this month’s bills a customer enters the store and approaches the counter where Mr. Castle sits brooding over his expenses.  She sheepishly takes what looks like a wine bottle from her purse and places it on the counter.  Mrs. Gumley, the customer, then proceeds to tell Castle that it’s a valuable heirloom that has been in here family for generations.  Castle recognizes the bottle as an ordinary wine bottle and realizes immediately that she is lying.  But he feels sorry for the poor woman who is forced to beg for money.  He gives her a dollar for it and she thanks him and leaves.  His wife enters the room and reminds him that he barely has enough money for himself and that he cannot lend it out to people just because he feels sorry for them.
                In the midst of their argument the bottle falls to the floor and breaks.  From the broken pieces a thick smoke emerges and within minutes a strange man is standing before them.  He claims to be a magic genie who will grant them four wishes.  Not convinced, Arthur tells him to fix the broken glass in his display case to test the genie’s supposed abilities.  Right before his eyes the glass mends itself.  Convinced of the genie’s power Arthur then wishes for one million dollars.  Sure enough, an abundance of American dollar bills begin to fall from the ceiling and accumulate on the floor.  Feeling generous they decide to share their good fortune with the people of the neighborhood by giving away some of the money.  Later in the evening they are visited by a representative from the Internal Revenue Service who tells them that they must pay a tax on their recently acquired one million dollars.  After taxes they realize that all they will be left with is five dollars.  Trying to outsmart the genie this time Arthur wishes for something that he thinks is foolproof.  He tells the genie that he wants to be the ruler of a contemporary foreign country who cannot be voted out of office.  The genie grants his wish and Arthur finds himself in an underground bunker in Germany at the end of World War Two.  The genie has turned him into Adolf Hitler, who is now facing either suicide or his inevitable capture and death by execution.  He then wishes for everything to be just as it was before he met the genie.  Miraculously he is transported back to his shop with his wife who has no memory of the genie or the wishes.  The bottle lies broken at his feet.  Suddenly, his life doesn’t seem so bleak.  He then throws the remnants of the broken bottle into the trash.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“A word to the wise now to the garbage collectors of the world, to the curio seekers, to the antique buffs, to everyone who would try to coax out a miracle from unlikely places.  Check that bottle you’re taking back for a two-cent deposit.  The genie you save might be you own.  Case in point:  Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, fresh from the briefest of trips…into the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

Arthur Castle gets his wish

The second episode of The Twilight Zone’s sophomore season unfortunately comes off as stiff and predictable and is one of the few sore spots in an otherwise wildly impressive run.  It’s Serling’s take on the avarice of the talisman, of trying to alter preordained fate with empty wishing.  This theme is one made famous by W. W. Jacobs’ short story “The Monkey’s Paw.”  Since its original publication in 1901 “The Monkey’s Paw” has been anthologized hundreds of times and is possibly the single most imitated story in the history of the horror genre.  Jacobs based his story in part on the Asian folk tale “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” found in Arabian Nights in which an impoverished youth is granted wishes from a mysterious genie who resides in an oil lamp.  “The Man in the Bottle” is basically a hybrid of both of these tales although it relies on a good deal more on Jacobs’ story and follows its structure almost exactly.  In fact, the only change Serling made to the setup is that this genie offers a generous four wishes instead of the usual three.  Why Serling chose to make this change is uncertain for it does nothing to enhance either setup or outcome.  Serling makes no misgivings about the fact that this story is a retelling of Jacob’s story for, as I mentioned, “The Monkey’s Paw” is a story that has been adapted or retold so many times that it hardly seems necessary to credit it as source material.  However, because Serling is retelling a story that the audience already knows and changing it only enough to call it his own (and watering it down a bit for television) the episode comes off as drab and uninspired.  What I do find interesting about this episode is Joseph Ruskin’s take on the genie.  His flamboyant dress and playful personality make the genie a more approachable character which for my money makes him a substantially more frightening villain. This episode also showcases some clever direction from Twilight Zone veteran Don Medford.  The majority of the episode is shot entirely inside the tiny antique store and features several dolly shots and crane angles that could only have been created by a seasoned director.   There are also several innovative special effects sequences found throughout the episode (the reverse shot of the bottle coming back together at the end is particularly impressive.).
                But even with its redeeming qualities, at the end of the day this episode’s lack of enthusiasm and originality leaves the viewer with very little desire for a second viewing.

Grade: D

Notes:
--Joseph Ruskin is also the voice the Kanamit in the Season Three episode “To Serve Man.” He appeared in Rod Serling's "The Messiah on Mott Street" for Night Gallery. 
--Vivi Janiss also appears in Season One’s “The Fever.”
--"The Man in the Bottle" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Ed Begley, Jr.  
-- It was also adapted into a short story by Walter B. Gibson for Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Revisited (Grosset & Dunlap, 1964).

--Brian Durant 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you on this one--a real bore. It's one I barely remember seeing many years ago.

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