This episode was
scripted by Larry Wilson and Michael McDowell, based on Bradbury's November
1944 Weird Tales short story (collected in Dark
Carnival and The
Prologue: in the
Second World War, a woman is pursued by a Nazi. Cornering her in a building,
he suddenly gives up the chase when he sets eyes on a jar containing
some mysterious object. Apparently hypnotised, he walks away - and she
shoots him in the back.
Present day: Artist
Knoll is suffering through another unsuccessful exhibition of his work.
His wife is blatantly having an affair with another man. His life is
a mess. He goes to a scrapyard and buys a 1938 car - last seen being
driven by the Nazi in the prologue. Knoll break opens the engine, and
is surprised to see a magical jar inside. (This despite the scrapyard
owner saying that the car has just been in a ten-car wreck on the freeway.)
Knoll decides to
incorporate the mysterious jar in his exhibition. It becomes enormously
attractive, and turns around the fortunes of his show. Every piece in
the exhibition (save the jar, which is NOT for sale) now sells. Knoll
is a success.
the curator/art agent Periwinkle attempts suicide. When Knoll asks why
she did it, she blames it on the jar.
Knoll's wife breaks
up with her lover, over an argument about the jar. She determines to
empty the jar, but accidentally knocks it over. The contents spill.
Knoll comes in and retrieves the object that was in the jar - from under
the sofa where it landed. Knoll and wife physically fight over and with
the object, pulling it apart and splattering it around the room. His
wife attempts to stab the object with a knife. Knoll spies the knife
on the floor, and eyes up his wife.
Cut to: Knoll's
latest show. A triumph. As its centrepiece: a homage to the ex-wife
who has deserted him. A sculpture incorporating the jar. Which contains
an uncanny likeness of his wife's head...
Wilson and McDowell
probably believed they HAD to do something different with this story,
since the original episode of The Alfred
Hitchcock Hour was a beloved and well remembered classic. So
they have shifted the arena of the story to the art world. In itself,
it's a neat idea. After all, in the gallery each viewer will see what
they want in an abstract piece.
But there's a flaw
here. The engaging thing about the original story (and the 1964 Hitchcock
Hour adaptation by James Bridges) is that the jar is viscerally
appealing. People don't know why they are drawn to it, but they are.
In this new version, though, it is only the intellectual elite who get
to see the jar. It is difficult to see what they - sophisticated viewers
all - would see in the jar. Unless the story is played as a satire on
the art world...which doesn't seem to be the case. The satire is without
edge or bite.
In fact, there's
more than just a flawed concept. The plotting is weak in the extreme.
The Nazi backstory is arbitrary. Why couldn't the jar have come from
somewhere else? (The answer is: it could easily have done so. The writers
haven't tied their plot elements together into a theme.)
The adaptation also
thoroughly overlooks or ignores the psychological truth of the original
story. At least two of the characters in this story are not just drawn
to the jar - and drawn to speculate about it - they are driven to action
by the jar. It's no longer a story about what the mind can do when confronted
with a mystery object. It's now a story about a jar with magical powers.
A much weaker story.
Even then, the characters
are not properly motivated. Not Periwinkle, who shows no sign of suicidal
thoughts. Not Knoll, who for no reason goes to a junkyard; for no reason
buys a 1938 car; and for no reason prizes open the engine. Sure, he
could have good reason for doing all of these things, but no reasons
are shown or implied.
There are a couple
of good things about the episode. One is Paul Bartel as the magnificent
slimy art critic. Another is the jar itself. Like the original TV jar,
it is shown with clarity, and yet the object within remains elusive.
Tim Burton, directing
this quite early in his Hollywood career (at this point he was known
for Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and not much else) makes the most
of the weird artworks in the episode, and stages the slapstick fight
over the contents of the jar quite well. But there's not enough here
to make the episode anything other than a pale homage to the source