was scripted by Larry Wilson and Michael McDowell, based on Bradbury's
November 1944 Weird Tales short story (collected in Dark
Carnival and The
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 there plot elements together into a theme.)
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
know 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
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 material.