Thursday, November 17, 2016

"I'll Give You a Million"

Original Airdate: October 7, 1984

Directed by John Harrison.

Teleplay by Mark Durand and David Spiel, Story by John Harrison.

Starring Keenan Wynn (Duncan Williams), George Petrie (Jack Blaine), Michael Freeman (Richards), Bradley Fisher (The Devil).

SYNOPSIS: Duncan Williams and Jack Blaine are two filthy rich silver foxes who delight in inflicting as much misery as possible on their fellow man. Seeing an interesting direction to take their usual betting habits, Duncan proposes to offer a cool million for his partner's eternal soul. Blaine at first sees it as a simple jest, but after signing the dotted line he begins to feel uneasy about the sale. As well he should, because Blaine is not long for this world...

CRITIQUE: So nice to see a familiar face popping up in the Darkside. Keenan Wynn, unforgettable to fans of genre TV for his turns as Captain Joe 'Mad Dog' Siska from Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the memorable growl of the Winter Warlock from Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970), is here essaying the part of the Monopoly guy Duncan Williams, and his usual bursts of explosive fury--save for one moment where he answers the phone with the greeting of "HELLO?"--are traded in for a more subdued performance where he's allowed to show a quieter form of evil.

My favorite exchange is when Petrie, literally at the end of his rope after receiving news of assured death by liver failure from his doctor, beseeches Wynn to keep the money and relinquish his contract, telling Wynn that he can enjoy the million more than Petrie can now. Wynn just smiles at him from under the brim of his dandy gardening hat and whispers "I'm enjoying this immensely."

"I'll Give You a Million" further perpetuates the notion TFTD established with "Trick or Treat" that the absolute worst kinds of people are old, rich white men. We're first introduced to the duo during an afternoon limo drive as they regale each other with anecdotes of their heartlessness. They casually talk of business and riches they've acquired with the help of "sex, bribery, and homicide" and refer to their exhibitions of humiliating and terminating underlings as "public executions." They have become emotionally numb by their vast wealth; the only way they can really get anything out of life that they haven't already is instigating suffering in others and wagering thousands of dollars on shots during a pool game.

When Duncan wheedles Jack about the staged suicide of a competitor that he was involved in, Jack seems mildly ashamed and looks to brush over the subject. But it's clear from the get-go that these are both equally devious men, and even the casual viewer will already sense that these two characters are being set up at the end of the lane in preparation for the cosmic bowling ball that's heading their way.

The episode seems like something of a "gentleman's club" tale, a sordid account narrated over a snifter of whiskey next to a roaring fire as the fellows of the group listen in with morbid interest to that dreadful business of ol' Blaine and Williams. "But what happened to them?" one of the younger, fresh-faced aristocrats might ask. "Well," the narrator would hesistate. "No one can be entirely sure. The common assumption is that..." And here he might laugh to repress a shudder.  "Well, it really is the damnedest thing."

The narrator wouldn't be too far off, as damnation is surely what awaits the bastards. Because the episode goes from its previously subdued path straight into comic book territory at the climax by way of "The Monkey's Paw." Williams is alone in his huge, dark house as a thunderstorm rages outside, the news that Petrie has indeed died placing a grim weight upon his heart. What exactly does that entail for Williams, the official owner of his late friend's ever-lasting soul?

He finds out soon enough, for right at the front door is Blaine, or what remains of him. The ashy corpse (which looks from its appearance that the death was from a fall into an industrial size cheese grater) holds its neon-bright spirit in a glass case, offering it to Williams so that "He" might not come in time to take it away first.

This is a nice high point for the episode, recalling the similarily garish horrors that were on display in "Trick or Treat." There's a little bit of recall to Creepshow in there too, as William's sweaty mania and shooting of the green-hued revenant reminds one of Leslie Nielsen's useless fight against the waterlogged zombies in "Something to Tide You Over."

Random Observation: At one point Duncan muses during the stormy night "Next thing you know the lights will go off" only for the lights to flicker ominously. I was honestly hoping that after that Wynn would look around and then mutter under his breath "Next thing you'll know I'll be in a Bangkok harem."

Williams had chastised his friend earlier for "reminiscing about Sunday school," so it's too bad that he doesn't get to see the mysterious "He" that Blaine was warning him about before he collapses dead straight from a heart attack. For it is here that Dave Vanian of The Damned the dark angel Satan himself enters, looking all decked out for a night at the local brimstone cabaret. It's another nice touch, the goopy cadaver one-upped by the vision of Lucifer in tails. He coos in a multi-layered vocal track ala Linda Blair before claiming both of the dead men's souls to take back with him to the goth night club down below.

And with a final flair of fireworks straight from the mind of Al Feldstein, Satan sears the words "PAID IN FULL" into Duncan's chest. Because like our two unfortunate businessmen, the Devil has to get his kicks from more unorthodox methods.

"Never listen to quacks, Jack!"


RATING: 3 Lizzies


COMING UP: Farley Granger offers bitter medicine in "Pain Killer."

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