Call Me Stormy

Finding righteous currents in turbulent times

The Jar

Today’s Trillion $ Movie isn’t a movie, per se, but an extended teleplay — arguably the creepiest and most memorable episode from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour series that ran from 1962 to 1965. The series encompassed 93 episodes, each introduced by the master of suspense, employing his inimitable dry wit, and each boasting a surprise final twist to shock and entertain viewers.

The Jar, a Southern Gothic-flavored tale, introduces Charlie Hill, who becomes the toast of Wilder’s Hollow in the Louisiana swamp country after he shells out $12.25 to buy a freak sideshow relic from a carnival barker. The relic, a mysterious jar, contains a deformed, pulpy creature floating in formaldehyde.  Charlie has never gotten much respect in Wilder’s Hollow — least of all from his slutty, two-timing wife Thedy Sue — but his acquisition gives him new status. The townsfolk gather nightly in Charlie’s parlor to gaze at the jar. Everyone takes something different away from the experience, coming to project their long-held fears and traumas.

What makes The Jar so eerie? It holds a powerful, primeval appeal, growing out of “The Thing” in the jar. Ray Bradbury wrote the original 1944 short story upon which the teleplay was based, and he described the creature as  “one of those pale things drifting in alcohol plasma…with its peeled, dead eyes staring out at you and never seeing you.” Bradbury later wrote many more carnival-themed horror stories, collecting this one in his anthologies The October Country and The Dark Carnival, before going on to complete his masterful carnival opus Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Besides its strong narrative arc, the episode also benefits from an exceptional cast, mostly veteran TV performers who got a chance here to show much more dramatic range than we associate with them. Pat Buttram, Mr. Haney on Green Acres, plays Charlie and George Lindsey, Goober on Mayberry RFD, appears as the dumb-bunny Juke. Other players include Slim Pickens, Jane Darwell and Joceyln Brando, Marlon’s sister.

Norman Lloyd, who directed, was one of the original members of the Mercury Theatre with Orson Welles and John Houseman. Lloyd originally came Hollywood at Hitchock’s invitation to handle a small role in Saboteur and remained a lifelong associate, advancing to executive producer for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He obviously had a taste for the macabre, as besides Hitchcock, he counted Christopher Lee as a close friend.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t host The Jar intact, so you’ll have to watch it in four short segments. When the picture freezes at the end of each segment, that’s the signal to move on to the next chapter. Hope you enjoy, and do return next Friday for another Trillion ($) Movie.

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