Story by Harlan Ellison
Teleplay by Alan Brennert
|Directed by Don Carlos Dunaway|
|Original Airdate - December 6, 1985|
Gus Rosenthal, a best-selling author, was angry. One of his toy metal soldiers, cherished since his childhood, had broken. As the soldiers lay in pieces, he suddenly knew he had to go back to the Ohio town he grew up in. He used to bury the soldiers in the yard, and then dig them up later. It was like finding buried treasure.
The house he was raised in is still standing, and Gus arrives at night. He looks around the yard by the tree, trying to remember where he might have buried the soldiers. Clouds pass over the moon, and whether he's dreaming or it actually happened, he's back in the late 40's, but as a grown man. Gus drops the flashlight he's holding, in shock, and stares at the house. Lights have come on, and he sees his parents and himself, as a child, in the windows. He hears his parents yelling at him over a comic book he's stolen, one of many. Then, as the adult Gus stands outside the window, Gus' father beats the young Gus with his belt.
The next day, Gus is on his way to school, and the bullies that have been beating him up attack. However, the adult Gus steps in their way, and they run off. He follows his younger self into the drug store, where Gus is contemplating stealing one of the toy soldiers they have for sale. The older Gus comes in and stares at him, then leaves. Gus puts the soldier back on the shelf. At school, the older Gus once again saves his younger self from the bullies, and they become friends.
Over the next few days Gus begins to look up to his older self, and the adult Gus stands up to his father, though it makes no difference in the father's feelings about his son. He still considers him a troublemaker and a bad kid. Gus' father has a fight with the adult Gus, after asking him to leave his son alone; he already has a father. The adult Gus agrees to leave.
He tells his young self the next day, and Gus runs away, madder than ever. The adult Gus stands by the tree in his yard, remembering now that there was a Mr. Rosenthal who showed up in his childhood, making him angrier than ever when he left. The scene fades back to night, and it's the present again. Gus digs a hole and puts the broken soldier in it, then covers it up. The cab that had been waiting for him is still there, and he gets in. The cabbie is one of the bullies from his childhood, and Gus realizes he has made something of himself, despite what he views as a bad upbringing. He's a famous, well-to-do author, and this guy that tyrannized him is just a cab driver. He's finished agonizing about the past.
Harlan Ellison has been Hollywood's angry young writer for years, and this piece has to be semi-autobiographical, at least to some extent. It's got the feel of a child's idea of what his parents thought of him. I'd like to know if it was based on Ellison's childhood.
Peter Reigert is fairly wooden as the older Gus. He seems to be walking around in a daze though most of the story, but I suppose this might be intentional since I think it's supposed to be a flashback or a dream. The major glitch in the episode is this dream mechanism. The viewer isn't at all sure of just what is going on, and it's a major point of contention. It gives the show an awkward feel.
Chris Hebert plays the younger Gus; I hate to be hard on a child actor, but he really has no apparent talent, judging by his performance on this episode. He evokes no feeling of pity from me, or even sympathy. If he were more adept at showing how angry he was becoming from the beatings he was taking, the show would have been much more effective. Instead, he just walks about with a vacant look on his face, till his last scene, where he yells. A better actor would have brought the part to life.
Jack Kehoe fares better as Gus' father. He shows emotion, and is the best thing about the story. His voice also shows his feelings; he's tough on his son, but you get the feeling it's the only way he knows to discipline. He's not educated, and has only his own convictions to raise his child.
It's possible the director, Don Carlos Dunaway, is to blame for the poor performances. This was his only directing job, as far as I know, and it may have been inexperience.
This is a middle-of-the-road episode; it's well written, and the settings are adequate, but the acting kills it. I had no desire to watch it again, and the only reason I did was to do the review. I have only received one or two emails asking about it, so I would not rate it very high on the favorite's list.
Last revised: Saturday, June 21, 2003