Sunday, May 9, 2021

Ray Bradbury Theater: The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone.

The Horror Genre found itself in a weird place during the 80s.  Another way of putting it is to claim that the species found itself in the middle of an interesting sort of crossroads at the time.  A lot of it had to do with the seemingly natural ups and downs the genre has found itself mired in over the years.  It's very nature as a home for ghosts rattling chains, flesh eating zombies, and the like has meant that its fortunes will probably always be relegated to a strange, popular outsider status.  The public at large tends to view it like a very exotic form of cobra.  It's form, patterns, sometimes even its very appearance can prove alluring.  At the same time, there's this sense that it's probably not all that healthy to hang around this particular specimen for too long.  It's got teeth, and it can bite you with them any time it damn well pleases.  The unspoken assumption seems to be that once you let that kind of poison into your system, you can pretty much kiss your sanity good night at some point down the line.  Will the last functioning brain cell please turn out the lights before your go.  Such is the perennial reputation enjoyed by the gothic format throughout its long history. 

I suppose that means its not too much of a surprise to discover that its precisely a bad rap like this that tends to draw in all those curious enough to see if it really is as dark and twisted as its critics contend.  This is one of the keys to the genre's staying power.  A lot of what keeps it going is the kind of anxieties and social fears that exist just underneath the surface of our daily existence.  Fictional horror exists, it seems, at least in part as an outlet for these psychological misgivings.  It's an idea that tends to hold a great amount of weight with scholars and students of the genre.  Digby Diehl, for instance, in a book-length history and examination of EC's Tales from the Crypt lays what seems to be a convincing enough pictures of the kind of social petri dish out of which the genre tends to spring, and from which it is able to find its most potent inspirations.  "Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Phantom of the Opera had sprung from the nightmare conditions of the early days of the Industrial Revolution.  Horror comics of the 1950s appealed to teens and young adults who were trying to cope with the aftermath of even greater terrors - Nazi death camps and the explosion of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Fifties kids came of age in a booming, button-down America during an era punctuated by outbursts of national paranoia.  School duck-and-cover drills nourished the fear that at any moment a nuclear attack could send us into shelters to live on Ritz crackers for years.  As high school graduates were getting shipped off to Korea, the McCarthy hearings and the Rosenberg spy trial reinforced the idea that America's enemies were everywhere...It was difficult for adolescents to deal with these deep-seated fears for survival, rational or otherwise...Millions of young Americans, who had no frame of reference to judge how far the times were out of joint, were whipsawed by the dichotomy between mortal terror and creature comforts (28)".  It didn't take those same kids long, however, to discover just how disjointed their own world was.  When the year 1963 rolled around, the children of the 50s had been molded and primed into becoming the shapers and makers of the 1960s.  Their looming, unconscious fears had created a sense of threat in need of addressing.

This turned out to be one of several internal triggering mechanisms which allowed more than a few artists to vent these collective social fears into short stories, books, and films that were able to capture those anxieties in a gothic guise, and more or less preserve them forever in the literary and celluloid amber of those decades.  By the time the children of the 50s had becomes the adults and parents of the 80s, this self-understanding of their own fears had matured, at least to a considerable enough extent.  Now they had names and faces to place on the elements (both external and internal) that went bump in the night side of their own minds.  It was this nascent sense of development that seems to have been the key factor in helping the twilight terrors of our imaginations to find an mostly unremarked second life on the small screen during the Reagan years.  John Kenneth Muir gives a neat summation of the mindset that helped launch the second spring of Horror on the small screen as part of his encyclopedic work, Terror Television.  

For Muir, it's important to understand that a lot of the surge in popularity that the genre experienced during the 80s all tended to have its roots a bit back in the 70s.  "It is important to recall that the early 1970s...represented an epoch in which television violence was, by some standards, considered excessive.  Although positions soon changed, and the networks cleaned up their acts...early 1970s programming...somehow escaped drastic censorship and showed much more violence and intensity than previous series had.  The fun, brightly colored, action-packed, and optimistic TV visions of the 1960s, like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68) and Star Trek (1966-69) were (in the first half of the 70s) superseded by violent, dark, grim programming such as Night Gallery and Kolchak.  Many of these new series were actually lensed at night, so they were not merely dark in the philosophical sense, but in the literal sense as well.  The turn toward darkness was a shift in the national mood due, at least in part, to the shocking and graphic news footage coming back from the Vietnam War.  It was as if for the first time Americans were aware of a darker world, and television reflected that shift in perspective.

"Conversely, but not necessarily in contradiction, horror programming of the '70s also provided, as it always has, a catharsis and escape from real life dilemmas.  So, while Vietnam was a morass which inspired moral controversy at home, the "evil" vampires, werewolves, and monsters of these early 1970s shows offered viewer a world very unlike the real one.  On TV, monsters and other supernatural villains could easily be identified and dealt with.  The dark, disturbing reality of life was mirrored in the anti-establishment...philosophies of these shows, but such grim ideas were also subverted and made "acceptable" by their presence on the tube in what amounted to entertainment formats (12)".  I think Muir's take on things is both informative and incomplete by turns.  I'm not for a minute going to doubt that the fallout of Nam caused the great majority of Americans to believe their own government might not always have their best interests in mind.  Nor is Muir incorrect when he says this is reflected in a lot of the Gothic oriented programming of the years following the close of what amounted a misguided national embarrassment.  The real trouble is the lingering sense that the critic has narrowed the focus in just a bit too much.  As a result, the actual big picture is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle.

The real truth of what was happening not just in television at that time, but also cinema, literature, and the arts in general, is really quite obvious when given a bit of thought.  The simple fact was that the student hippies of the Nam years were starting to come of age.  That meant you were seeing a lot of former attendees of Monterey Pop, or Woodstock, slowly begin to invade the hallowed halls of respectability.  The trick to the whole development is this.  Though they may have stashed the tie dye shirts and peace medallions out of sight, their output on the creative front indicates that a lot of the philosophies, the thoughts, ideas, and above all the music and goals that made them turn on, tune in, and drop out were still very much in the forefront of their minds, guiding their actions to produce some of the iconic films and shows of that decade.  In addition, a widening of the lens reveals that the success of films like the original Star Wars, combined with the continuing success of Gene Roddenberry's efforts on the same big screen, all seem to point toward a greater sense of continuity than Muir is willing to credit.  It's a shared cultural ethos that I tend to think unites even those artists who are normally not considered in the same space. 

The 80s incarnation of the Twilight Zone might not be the same thing as John Carpenter's They Live, and that movie is the polar opposite of Spielberg's E.T.  The one thing each separate entity shares in common is the same, continuous, counter-cultural strand of thinking which sought (and perhaps still seeks) to challenge the abuse of authority in all its forms.  It's the one uniting element to be found in just about all of the Horror programming from that decade, and I'm convinced that it helped shape the kind of stories that a lot of the televisual and cinematic artists of the period had to tell.  There's a lot of soul-searching going on, a lot of trying to think forward as well.  The net result of all this combination and coagulation of elements was a TV network field in which the regular walls and boundaries had been knocked out, leaving the playing field a bit more open to experimentation (of the genuine kind) and risk taking.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I'm not sure when the next one will come, if ever.

The curious part in all this is how it allowed one creative voice in particular to have a platform for the kind of stories he had to tell.  I guess what makes it standout so well against the pack is that his was an older voice that nonetheless managed to make the transition across the generation gap.  The main reason for this seems to have been a combination of luck and timing  It was impossible for Ray Bradbury to not be impacted by the events and social upheavals of the decade in the same way as a lot of his younger readers, many of whom were just fresh-faced college kids with a lot to worry about in their future.  The result is that when books like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles hit the drug store racks, these same readers found a voice that spoke to their situation.  Bradbury seemed to share a lot of their concerns about the state of the post-war world at large, and was willing to share his thoughts with others.  In doing so, he seems to have helped a lot of others find their own voices as the times kept a changin'.  The ripple effect from such humble beginnings wound up making Ray into a kind of global icon by the time executives from the fledgling USA network approached him with the offer of manning his very own TV series.  

The result was known as The Ray Bradbury Theater, one of few 80s anthology shows to survive getting dropped by its original network.  Each episode would open with Bradbury taking a somewhat iconic elevator up to his writing room office space.  The camera would follow Bradbury as he slowly leads us into his his inner sanctum.  It's one of those self-made nerd's paradises where all the walls are plastered over with old movie posters, stills of the stars, and various old masks and knickknacks.  The bookshelves, meanwhile, are stuffed to the gills with the sort of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore that would make book-dealers and bibliophiles itch just knowing they're there.  Bradbury would then inform us that this is the place where he gets his ideas.  I'm pretty sure the truth was a bit more complex than that, however it makes for a killer opening.  It's not as high rated as the ones found on the Zone, Outer Limits, or Tales from the Darkside.  However it helps to set just the right tone for the kind of stories Bradbury has to tell.  While he's mostly remembered today as a Science Fiction author, Ray was more like a genre fiction polymath.  He was the sort who was just as much at home in either a haunted house, or somewhere among the stars.  His anthology provides a showcase for this variety.

One episode in particular contains this opening narration.  "I'm surrounded by file after file of ideas, stories, poems, and fragments of novels, put away over some forty years.  I go through them constantly, and whichever story, poem, or play cries the loudest to be born gets written.  But I've often wondered.  If someone said to me, "Your stories or your life", would I save my life, or my stories?  And so, "The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone" was born".

The Story.

I met him just once, to be exact.  No wait, that's not quite right.  It wasn't once, but twice.  That first time happened at the release party for his latest hardback offering.  It had to have been as far back as 1989, come to think of it.  That was the last time anyone ever saw or heard from the man.  More importantly, it was the last time any of us read a single thing by the pen of Mr. Dudley Stone.  What was he like?  Well, I suppose the best description of him is to think of a more personable version of J.D. Salinger.  Or a Thomas Pynchon who was never all that averse to the spot light.  I don't mean to say he had an ego, far from it.  The gentleman I met that day more than lived up to the word used to describe him.  I simply mean that as an author, he was a freak among freaks of nature.  He was one of those critical darlings who also manage to find ways of keeping on good terms with the readers in popular culture.  It was a feat I can't help but liken to trying to have your evening tea while balanced way up on a circus high-wire without a net.  It's not the most enviable place to be by any stretch of the imagination.  Believe me, that is one fact I have come to understand and embrace over the course of this often unforgiving profession.  I didn't always used to believe it, though.  

The first time I met Dudley Stone was during a bad stretch of lean, hungry years, one I often caught reflected back at me whenever I was forced to use a bathroom mirror.  I tried not to catch myself out this way much during that fallow period.  It was too easy to see the way the gears were turning behind the eyes.  I don't think I held all that high an opinion of myself in those days.  That was part of the reason it felt so important to be there at that last public speaking engagement.  I just knew, you see, that it was imperative to meet with Mr. Stone above all else.  I'd followed his career with great interest by that point.  He made his first break in a market that seems all but impossible today.  Got his start penning and selling short stories.  First they were minor college campus affairs with names like Cloverleaf and Criterion.  It was good enough to catch the eye of those important enough to get him a leg in the door of slick publications like Harper's, The New Yorker, even the prestigious Sewanee Review.  A lot of these first signs of promise were eventually compiled and published as a collection with the unpromising title of The Cat's Pajamas.  

Whatever shortcomings Mr. Stone had to suffer in terms of poor marketing strategies, the contents of that book were very much another matter.  It was published back in 1967, a time when the word of the literary grapevine still meant something.  Anyone who could get their byline picked up on that informal circuit board was often considered on the road to becoming a Name.  This early promise was soon fulfilled by the arrival of M, Mr. Stone's first novel.  That one earned him glowing notices in The New York Review of Books, as well as Esquire and Colliers.  You read critics making comparisons between the title character of Stone's novel and that of Updike's Rabbit Angstrom.  It was a facile match-up at best, however it helped to sell copies, and from there it was pretty much off to the races.  Stone ran a good track for the most part, as well.  If his first success made him the critic's darling, then his next book, Contempt of Court, is what gained him his popular audience.  It did good at fluttering the feathers of all the influential Book People, and not without good reason.  On the face of it, the whole things sounds like a parody of Christie's Witness for the Prosecution, and many worried they had a sellout on their hands.

The trouble was the whole damn book was so well written, very good in fact.  It made you think, put all sorts of ideas in your head, and offered some very good insights into not just the legal profession, but life in general.  Even the book's harshest critics had concede the point.  Most audiences were just content to eat it up right off the shelves.  From then on, Stone was one those rare breeds, a bestseller, as well as being a "Serious Novelist".  What happened next is a matter of public record.  The man seemed to be little else except a natural storytelling machine.  His productivity always remained a point of contention among his supporters.  The unspoken sentiment being to wonder if it was such a good idea for an artist to spread his talent all over the place?  Many worried about the danger of spreading oneself too thin.  Stone, meanwhile, seemed unconcerned with such judgments.  Indeed, he acted as if there was no audience in the room, and continued churning out texts as if he believed there was no say in the matter.  

The catalogue of his success is familiar to everyone by now,  Star 44, The Levantine Episode, Hope (the one everybody calls his greatest), Toward Remembrance, and a host of others.  He didn't strike a home run each time at bat.  Some felt his follow-up to M (ironically entitled N, what else?) was an example of the artist on auto-pilot, and that's a sentiment I have to share.  It taught me the great lesson that most often the artist needs to only make a point once, and then be content with letting the story speak for itself.  If it isn't broke, then don't fix it, in other words.  To do otherwise is to spoil the fundamental integrity of the work.  It's a potential pitfall that is best avoided, whether you're a novice or an elder statesman.  Knossos Road turned out to be the one to cause the most consternation among both fans and literati.  In the end, no one could decide whether to be satisfied or offended by the mixture and mingling of the mythic and the mundane.  I seem to be the only one in an ironic yet enviable position to understand it as one of the few times that the author was laying bare not just an outlook, but his actual soul in front of the spotlight, for all to see.  It might very well be the one book that explains Mr. Stone not just as an artist, but also as a human being.  As such, it appears to destined to remain his forever unrecognized masterpiece.

These are all the titles that most people are familiar with whenever they bring up the name of Dudley Stone.  We each have our favorites out of the lot, the one's we fell in love with, or else the novel or short story that acted as a gateway text.  The Dry Orchards is what did it for me.  That was the novel which made me sit up and take notice.  It wasn't just the by now belated recognition that I held the work of a genuine artist in my hands.  The poor soul at the heart of that text forced me to realize that sometimes books can have teeth, or that they can sometimes act like a very dangerous breed of wasp, ready to sting you where you live once you've let your guard down.  Shakespeare is supposed to have said that art is a mirror held up to nature.  Well, if that's true than it can sometimes be a curse, as well as a blessing.  What I saw reflected back in the pages of that one book made me realize who I was, what was happening, and where I was going in my life.  I hated it all.

I've spoken of a fallow period, and it was during that exact time that I picked up my copy of Dry Orchards.  It was a part of my life I'll probably never be able to forget.  I'd realized I wanted to be a writer for some time by that point.  I'd made a few feeble attempts in that direction; a few meager leaves tossed off in quiet desperation.  All I managed to do was turn myself into a living cliche.  I was young, hungry, living alone.  I couldn't afford a garret to starve in, but I was able to snag a topmost corner apartment, if that counts.  Devouring Stone's Orchards taught me that none of it did.  The bastard wasn't just good, he couldn't help pointing out what kind of a person you are.  Closing the final pages was like trying to smother a spotlight trained straight on me.  My whole mind might have been lit up, yet it was the kind of light that burns out the dross if some of us get too near it.  In that instant, the conviction seemed obvious.  I hadn't wasted my life, rather it was that all my creative efforts, all the dreams, aspiration, all of these were, in fact, mere waste.  I had just one man to thank for this realization.

That's what made me to decide I had to seek him out.  It was reading the right book at the wrong time that led to me being at that press release party for Jupiter's Dance, the last we've ever heard from him.  On the whole, if it has to be the final bow, then everyone tends to agree it's a neat, nice, break-even sort of work  It contains a lot of his old themes, and they are presented in a way that count as decent enough.  The one thing that galls everyone, from the highest placed literary columnist to the average reader on a park bench is this.  Why on earth would a talent so immense choose to bring everything to a screeching halt right there?  What is it that makes a great author cease to write?  There are a countless number of reasons to that question, and pundits and fans alike have offered each of them as the answer, in one form or another.  Some say it was a girl, others that it was a family tragedy.  The most popular theory is that he just plain cracked one day.  It's what comes of living with your head in the clouds for too long, these critics like to say.  There's a great deal of prejudice in such a judgment, yet in a way it doesn't even matter.  What counts is the truth, and I'm the one who can tell it.

That press release party was the last time anyone ever saw Dudley Stone before he vanished into thin air.  He was there, and so was I.  I should know, it took long enough standing in that interminable line, waiting for all the autograph seekers as they took their sweet damned time grabbing at their fifteen minutes of fame with the Great Writer.  What a story for the kiddies some day!  At last I was the only one left.  I handed my copy of Jupiter's Dance over to the man who had helped to transcribe it, along with a note.  Mr. Stone took the note, and read it.  The contents of that missive is what led to our next encounter.  You see, there was just one more person after that to see Dudley Stone ever again.  I was that man.  The message I passed along to the writer came in the form of a solemn promise.  To my own surprise, it was a pledge he was wiling to keep.  That's the reason he invited me to his family household the next day.  He even left concise instructions for how to get there.  I can't be sure, yet I'm pretty certain it was an offer he never made to anyone else except for a small circle, including his agent. 

Either way, I kept our little appointment.  I met Mr. Stone there, out on his little slice of beachfront property.  That makes me the last outsider to ever encounter the literary wunderkind.  We have never met again since.  You ask whatever happened to the man who wrote Hope?  What could have become of the writer of The Ravine and The Anthem Sprinters?  Well I can tell you.  I was there, after all.  The answer is quite simple, really.  You see, I am the man who killed Dudley Stone. 

Questions of Pacing, Action, and the Like.

It's best if we get the bells and whistles out of the way first.  These are the aspects of the episode that a lot of viewers are bound to nitpick apart, as if they were examining an old, used, pocket watch, instead of a narrative.  Some of them are bound to ask me how I can even find it possible to find a single thing to praise about an episode from a late 80s TV show?  What about Alan Scarfe, for instance, the actor who plays the would-be assassin of John Saxon's Dud Stone?  I'll admit he's sort of the very first thing about the episode to jump out at you.  As portrayed by Scarfe, the frustrated scribbler turned killer emerges as a strange unity of opposites.  His face almost puts one in mind of an elderly, and haggard version of Tom Hanks.  If I'm being honest, it's kind of like staring into an alternate universe, one where Hanks' fortunes somehow just never worked out for him, and its kind of gone to his head, not in a good way, either.  That's just the impression Scarfe makes on a visual level, or at least that's as far as I can go with it.  It's when he opens his mouth to deliver his lines that sort of helps compound the weirdness factor.

The first person Scarfe's voice almost puts you in mind of is that of Kelsey freaking Grammer, for crying out loud.  This actor's voice seems naturally well spoken, with the heightened diction one expect to here in a gentleman's drawing room.  I suppose most folks wouldn't give it a second thought if he were cast in a show like Downton Abbey, or something in that vein.  However, here's this total stranger with the looks of Forrest Gump and the voice of Fraser Crane.  To top it all off, he's threatening Nancy Thompson's dad with a freaking gun!  Oh, and now they're throwing pieces of paper off a cliff for some reason.  What the hell kind of planet did I just land on, anyway?  Well, for record, some think this is purgatory.  Most of us just call it planet Earth.  What can't be denied is that a lot of this might seem off-putting to some viewers right out of the starting gate.  It could even prove enough of a distraction for some as to take them right out of the whole experience.  Without denying that this is what could happen, I am nonetheless forced to report my own reactions.  The truth is none of this ever really got in the way for me, if I'm being honest.

For some reason it just glided past me like smoke.  I just couldn't seem to be bothered that Fraser Crane was a body snatcher using Captain Sully to kill Sheriff Thompson.  I was concerned with the more simple question of what was going to happen.  I think that's because my mind just seems able to focus in more on what is being written and said, rather than what action is taking place.  I'm not sure at all how that must sound.  Some of you might be asking if this amounts to some kind of learning difficulty?  My answer is simple, if that's what it is, then I've never felt bothered by it.  Indeed, I can't find any way in which this quirk of paying attention to make-believe has ever really acted as any kind of hindrance.  Instead, it seems to have come with a distinct advantage.  I'm able to focus in more on narrative through lines, and pick up on cues and hints in the text, which allow me to get at least a step closer to whatever it is each individual story is trying to tell me.

That's why my initial reaction to the opening moments of the teleplay starts off on a note mild curiosity, followed by a welcome and growing sense of menace.  One of the blessings and curse of network television is the deadline.  It's the Sword of Damocles that's always hovering in the air over every TV production.  That means the cast and crew has to make each shot and take count.  This is what accounts for the curious sense of pacing with this episode.  Much like its main antagonist, The Wonderful Death moves along with a momentum that somehow manages to find its own, strange, happy medium.  It is breakneck, while all the time seeming to act casual and measured.  It's a different kind of standard from the one most Blockbuster audiences are used to.  The Snyder Cut "might" be one instance of a throwback to the more careful and slow-burn oriented form of storytelling.  However, in order to get a real proper sense of the kind of pacing I'm thinking of, you really need to go back and watch old episodes of The Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, or even classic Star Trek in order to get a basic idea of the kind of narrative technique I'm talking about.

This is the sort of wheelhouse Bradbury is piloting his script in, and he does with a sure enough hand, I think.  When we open on a book release party, we are introduced in short order to our two main characters, Saxon's Dudley Stone, and Scarfe's John Oatis Kendall, the writer's assassin.  From there, Scarfe sets the plot in motion just seconds after appearing on screen.  He makes his intentions known, and by doing so gives the action an immediate sense of suspense.  The audience is now waiting to see if the threat of sudden violence is about to erupt.  It's what helps leave a greater impact as we watch Saxon's writer figure take this killer's ultimatum, and deftly turn it on its head.  It's enough of a monkey wrench to throw both us in the audience, and the killer off-balance.  The fact that this bit of desperate gambling actually works just serves to heighten, rather than diminish the suspense.  There has been no explosion, and yet the threat lingers, being kept very much on the table.  

In this opening scene, Bradbury seems to have taken the advice of a master like Alfred Hitchcock to heart.  Hitch once explained the proper use of narrative tension in the following terms.  Imagine two people seated at a table, talking.  All of a sudden a bomb goes off, and they are killed.  That, according to Hitch, is shock.  Now lets reset the scene right back at the beginning, same characters, same setting.  This time, however, the audience is show there is a bomb under the table at which the two leads are talking, and the device is counting down to the zero point.  So there we are, helpless observers forced to look on as the literal seconds of each character's life is ticking away before our eyes.  Hitch knew the audience would be hoping that someone will discover the bomb in time.  That, according to the director of Psycho, is one of the best ways of generating suspense, and it seems to be the approach Ray relies on as he lays out his story's setup.  He starts out with a palpable sense of threat, and then strings his viewers along with a simple question.  Will this threat be realized, or averted?

I think the actors deserve at least some credit here.  They seem to be at least as genre savvy as the screenwriter, and are able to reflect Hitchcock's principles of suspense in both their actions and gestures.  Scarfe is an appropriately worked up bundle of nerves looking for an excuse to provide the human equivalent of a bomb going off.  Saxon, meanwhile, is a pretty good example of courage under pressure. His eyes go wide in sudden panic the moment he realize the threat he's facing.  His initial expression is then shuffled off his face, and replaced with the look of a bright-eyed and desperate fox trying to keep an unstable plate spinning in the air. Saxon really manages to sell a mask of confidence hiding real fear in that instant. 

He plays this opening moment as an amateur student of human psychology banking that what little knowledge he has is enough to avoid keeping what could amount to a roomful of innocent bystanders from getting killed.  It's the kind of setup where, the more you turn it over in your mind, the greater the levels of horrifying weight begins to apply to it.  This is compounded when you think about a lot of current events.  Bradbury lived long enough to see the era of spree shootings, and the like.  The curious part is how he was able to capture both the idea, and its threat years before it ever became as commonplace as it is now.  Bear in mind, this is still just the opening setup, the real story and payoff are still waiting in the wings.

Thoughts on Life and Writing. 

There's an element of half-hearted novelty that comes attached with a story like this, almost like a package deal.  Ray Bradbury has been no stranger to the world of academic criticism and notoriety for more than six decades by now.  The scholarly articles and graduate student thesis on the writer could probably form their own, arcane version of Babylonian commentary by now.  However I'm not real sure The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone, and its TV adaptation, make up all that big a part of it.  Granted, I'd be lying if I said I'd gone through all the critical discourse there is to read out there on Bradbury.  It's just that in what I have examined, this story in particular is nowhere to be found.  It doesn't appear to make much of a blip on the critical radar.  I'm not saying this critique is written in a vacuum, far from it.  The trouble is that the biggest discovery to be made about this exact text boils down to a literal Cliffnotes link.  Even there, what little comment that exists is almost perfunctory, like a bank clerk checking of a minor expense account item.

That leaves me in an interest spot.  I'm not writing in a pure void, or anything like that.  Nor is the novelty all that novel.  It's just interesting when the critic finds out there is a greater deal of freedom on the playing field.  It means the opportunity exists for a bit of mental aesthetic leg-stretching.  Granted, the flip side of the coin is that there are greater opportunities for crashing and burning if you're not careful.  It's a situation that leaves Bradbury's story as something of a relative blank slate, an artifact that remains only half dug up, waiting for someone to come along and give it a good dusting off and display.  It sounds like those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, where you don't know whether to feel euphoric or panicked.  Maybe the truth lies somewhere between those two poles.  It's the kind of opportunity that presents the critic with an interesting form of challenge.  Either way, whatever I say next remains a step into somewhat virgin territory.

It's sort of a perfect irony, because the first thing that strikes me about Bradbury's script is that it's not exactly a new concept.  Rather, let's say that it is just possible that the idea in back of his story was a minor sort of revelation when it was first published in a slick magazine named Charm, way back in 1954.  I don't know how old metafiction is, whether as a term, or a concept.  The idea of a story that comments either on its nature as a work of fiction, or on the writing practice that brings it about might just be older than the Elizabethan Renaissance.  Or at least the tools and techniques that helped created metafiction seem to be a lot older than the modern eras.  What unites all examples of this particular sub-genre is that, at its core, metafiction is any given story that is, at its heart, about stories and storytelling.  It's the type of literary setup that likes to explore its own nature as a work of artifice.  I'm told it's also never been all that popular with audiences.  I think part of the reason for that is because a lot of it can sometimes put the reader in mind of being stuck back in their old English 101 classrooms.  That's usually the kiss of death for even the best written work of literature.

However, if boredom and/or pomposity is the invisible guillotine bade perpetually hanging over the neck of the metafictional story, then all I can do is maintain that none of the examples of the format that I have seen or read convince me that the effort is fundamentally not worth it.  On the contrary, my exposure to the format has left me with a lingering sense of fascination and curiosity.  This could all amount to a minority reaction, however just because such a response doesn't happen often isn't enough to pretend that it has no intrinsic value.  It may be possible for me to say I've liked some examples over others (Stephen King's Dark Tower, for instance, is one long and ambitious project of metafictional commentary weighed down by where its authors strengths and weaknesses begin and end), and yet even the minor efforts in this specific field can sometimes prove enlightening for what they reveal about how fiction is made, and the way it shapes both artist and audience.

Bradbury's outing in this sub-genre doesn't strike me as a wasted opportunity.  If anything, it's interesting to find out the creator of Green Town beat out Stephen King in this by a few good years.  Then again, it's also possible Geoffrey Chaucer and Mark Twain got their ahead of each of them.  The point is that most critics don't tend to associate Bradbury with anything like metafiction.  It is just possible that the writer himself is to blame for this predicament.  He went so far as to title one of his essays "Don't tell me what I'm doing, I don't want to know".  In that work, he pretty much staked his credentials as the kind of literary romantic who is content to let the muse do all the talking.  Judging by the results it gave him, I can't say there's anything much to complain about.  It's just that the usual picture of metafiction is that of the artist in a more self-conscious frame of mind.  In the case of Bradbury's story (and perhaps even most of the works by King) I guess the basic rule of thumb is that the cliche often right most of the time, at least until it isn't.  I see nothing wrong or amiss in the idea that metafiction can be just as much the product of sudden, spontaneous inspiration, rather than mere deliberate invention.  

Bradbury said the whole story came from a what if question.  What would he do if someone gave him an ultimatum, his life for his talent as a writer, and the stories that emerged from it?  The thought process behind the genesis of the Stone story sounds straightforward, however I'm not so sure.  On paper, one could assume that the writer started out with a deliberately asked question, and then tried to answer it in a short story.  However it's just as possible that the question was posed in an idle, passive moment, when the writer's mind wasn't focused, or focusing on anything in general.  It was just an unprompted thought that entered his mind without any sort of coaxing.  It probably happened when Ray was musing over how fortunate he was in having the kind of career and life he loved, and then something in his unconscious posed the question as a kind of automatic response.  I'll leave it at this.  I'm willing to go out of the way and propose that the question itself was the moment of inspiration.  That lying in back of the asking was the story itself, complete with its two dueling main leads.  Granted, this is all just a supposal.  Yet if we're to take Bradbury at his word, then he really isn't the sort to bother himself all that much about grand, novelistic experiments.  He may have admired James Joyce, that does not amount to proof that Ray was trying to copy the old Dubliner.

Just because Bradbury preferred not to glimpse under the hood of Imagination, and see what the manufacturers got up to down in the workshop, that's not the same as saying that he had no thoughts about the art and profession whatsoever.  Sentiments he expressed once about the need to let the characters be whoever they are act as a testament that he had at least some thoughts about it.  It just seems that he decided not to go to near the secrets of the craft, preferring instead to let the stories ask and provide answers for him.  That's the best idea I can offer about what creates a short story like Dudley Stone, anyway.  It's one of the rare occasions when we see Bradbury actually ruminating over what his job is, and what it means.  In doing so, there is a sense in which it can be said that he appears to be trodding a similar pathway to one taken by Stephen King numerous times over the course of the latter's career.  It doesn't seem too out of court to describe it as a somewhat shared fascination for both writers.  That said, it's a curiosity that is a lot more pronounced in King than it is in Bradbury.  The Waukeghan native might have had an unacknowledged interest in metafiction.  King's however was open, pronounced, and had the means of expressing it in spades.  Granted, some efforts in this direction score better than others, though when he hit the target, the reader is often left with some serious food for thought.

That same process seems to be at work in Bradbury's story.  It all comes down to a confrontation between two archetypes, call them the artist and the wannabe.  One is a master of the craft, the other is an inexperienced adept who secretly believes he's a failure.  It's the inability to either find his own voice, or acknowledge his limitations that leads him to holding a gun on an innocent man.  This is all just setup, however.  What really matters depends on what Bradbury is able to do with what could almost be a stock situation in terms of its basic layout.  In response to the challenge given by his premise, Bradbury seems to have discovered the most interesting way of turning the whole narrative on its head.  When Kendall arrives at the artist's house with the full intent of finishing him off, the titular Stone offers him the opportunity to do just that, but with a twist.  He doesn't want Kendall to take his life.  He just wants the guy to end his career.  It goes without saying that neither the assassin or the viewer has any idea just what the hell this old scribbler is talking about.  It's in the explanation Stone offers to both character and audience that we reach the kernel at the heart of the story.

In Dudley Stone, we seem to be getting a partial look at Bradbury himself.  Like his own author, Stone is a well published and vaunted name.  We never get the sense of who or what kind of an artist Stone is as a writer.  All we are ever told is that he is both popular and a critical darling.  There may be a few who are willing to cry foul, and claim that this serves as an effective weakness on the part of the either the story or the author.  The claim might be that in not taking the time to flesh out the character, Bradbury is in danger of leaving the narrative crippled on some level.  For those who demand a complete and strict adherence to the kind of writing that gives the audience a complete psychological profile of the characters, then perhaps this criticism makes sense.  However, I'm not at all sure that is the goal of this story.  We don't need an entire, authentic sounding author bio of Stone in order for the story to achieve its goals.  We're in the land of symbolism with this episode, and that means the title character is meant to serve more as a collective summation of the Artist as a general idea, rather than just one individual in particular.

At this point another criticism appears.  I said at the start of the last paragraph that Stone is a look at the real life writer who created or discovered him.  I then went on to say that the main lead is a general symbol.  So which is it?  Aren't I contradicting myself?  I maintain the answer is no.  My reasons for that all have to do with the inherent psychology of literature.  Yes, there is a lot of Bradbury in the figure of Stone, and yet what the author has done is taken his own situation and turned it into a general symbol of human experience.  He's taken his life and success as an author, and then hit upon a bit of inspiration that helps both him and us to understand it in terms of a grander scheme.  Bradbury's creative excavation has revealed to him the collective traits of both his life and profession.  This grants him a bigger window perspective that allows a greater sense of self-understanding.  The real life artist has gained a greater idea of who he is as a microcosmic reflection of a wider macrocosm.  The microcosm in this case is the artist himself, and the intertwined concepts of art and life itself are the macroverse in which he comes to understand himself in the grand scheme of things.

It all amounts to a lot of big ideas, or concepts, to digest for such a short story.  However, I can't get an angle on any other reading that seems to explain what's happening on-screen.  The point is that Stone is Bradbury coming to a greater understanding of himself as a writer.  It's this character building act, or realization of self-knowledge that enables him to voice his discoveries through the figure of Stone as both character and symbol.  It's also what enables Stone to turn the tables on his situation.  He does this by approaching Kendall as another character in a secondary world.  Right up front, Stone asks his would be slayer "Why you, your motive for murdering me"?  Kendall then reads off an impromptu list of causes.  "You have written too many books," is how he begins, "all of them excellent"!  "How do I hate thee?  Novels!  Not only novels, but poetry!  Not only poetry, but essays.  Not content with that, stage plays.  Now, what more?  Sure, why not?  Screenplays!  Lectures on city planning, transportation, architecture, recordings, tapes.  Is there no end to you?..You shrink us all to to pygmies and piss-fire ants"!

There's a bit of self-reflexive irony going on with that passage.  By the time Bradbury came to pen that line of extended dialogue, he's sort of become guilty of the accusations leveled against him.  He really had become a modern belle letterist.  He'd even been consulted by the likes of Walt Disney on what the architecture and cities of the future would, or could be like.  In that sense, the writer had turned himself into the sort of pop-culture ubiquity that he's long since become.  It's a nice bit of self-insertion as a form of literary target practice.  Bradbury is aware that his reputation precedes him, and he doesn't seem to have enough of an ego to mind getting shot down.  In that sense the episode gains from a nice form of self-aware humor on the author's part.  At the same time, it is also a mere preliminary to more serious concerns.  From that brief introductory tirade, Bradbury then seems to move on to a consideration of what artistic creativity, just as a thing, really is.  Rather, his main concern is asking what it means that some people out there have a talent for tapping into the imagination. 

I don't think there's anything all that revolutionary in the conclusions he's able to reach.  The truth is all that happens is the writer admitting he's just as clueless as any of us in the audience.  He claims to be no better at explaining it all than the next ink-stained wretch.  He's willing to lay the blame at the next convenient explanation you can think of.  "Genes, chromosomes, I was born a pomegranate full of seeds".  If I'm being honest, I kind of fully expect some (maybe not all) in the audience to come away somewhat disappointed in that brief bird splat of an explanation tossed off in the course of things.  It's not what some came in expecting.  They may not have been awaiting some grand literary pronouncement of any kind.  However, they might have been hoping for something a bit more substantial than the writer admitting he's just a clueless slob like one of us.  The trouble is I'm not sure how valid that concern really is.  I don't mean to say that an interest in where stories come from is pointless.  If I believed that, this blog wouldn't even exist.  Instead, it's more that I've seen other authors repeat the exact sentiment Bradbury expresses here to know he's being no more than honest.  What he's saying is that being able to create stories is one of those strange gifts, or flukes of nature.  Some people are born knowing how to put a house together.  His luck of the draw meant he knew how to spin words into an entire series of fables.  It might be more than just the psychological equivalent of a fart.  That still doesn't make him wiser than any of us, however.

It also still doesn't erase the fascination with the process, the craft required to make it work, and the effects it can have on artist and audience.  It's a fascination that remains palpable in the story Bradbury is uncovering, and its what makes the whole thing sound so damn familiar.  In an introduction to one of the stories in his novella collection Four Past Midnight (1990), Stephen King wrote of what appears to be a more or less lifelong fascination with "writers and writing and the strange no man's land which exists between what's real and what's make-believe...A few years ago I published a novel called Misery which tried, at least in part, to illustrate the powerful hold fiction can achieve over the reader.  Last year I published  The Dark Half, where I tried to explore the converse: the powerful hold fiction can achieve over the writer.  While that book was between drafts, I started to think that there might be a way to tell both stories at the same time by approaching some of the plot element of The Dark Half from a totally different angle.  Writing, it seems to me, is a secret act - as secret as dreaming - and that was one aspect of this strange and dangerous craft I had never thought about much (321-2)".

My reason for bringing in this piece of navel gazing doggerel probably has to sound like a detour on the surface of it.  Turns out that's far from my intention.  My reason for bringing King's off-hand musings into the proceedings is because of the very specific use or help they can provide in trying to gain a proper reading of Bradbury's text.  I think King provides us with a very good rubric, paradigm, or vantage point that helps us see just what the older writer is up to.  It seems to me that King and Bradbury share the same fascination with the artistic process.  It's expressed in different ways, and at slightly lowers decibels between them.  However, I think it's not too far out of court to say that what Bradbury establishes with his Stone text is the same kind of story that King would later go on to create and expand upon with novels like Misery or Secret Window.  Both are concerned with what writing is, and what it does to those who participate in the craft.  Because they are using the same conceit, that's not to say that King and Bradbury are telling the same type of story.  Ray has his own concerns to attend to, and he does an admirable enough job of sticking to it.

The way Bradbury gets at his main point is by providing a contrast to the first list of reasons provided by Kendall.  It goes as follows: "All the books I've promised myself to read, but have never read.  All the symphonies yet to be heard.  All the films as yet unseen.  All the spices waiting to be stuffed; beef joints ham hocks waiting to be devoured.  Tapestries yet to be woven.  Sculptures yet to be shaped.  Paintings waiting to be painted".  I think the main reason, however, comes from the final items on that list.  "Sons and daughters to be advised.  Grandchildren to be raised".  He also mentions something about far countries that have never been visited, or something like it.  However, I think the real point was gotten across long before he reached that point.  Stephen King has said he is interested in the fascination that writing can hold over the artist.  That seems to be the same vantage point that Bradbury takes for entering into his own examination of the subject.

Like Secret Window, the tale of Dudley Stone revolves, ultimately, around a writer in relationship to his craft, and the effect it can have on him for good or bad.  King spoke in terms of the "Fascination" of writing, yet I think the real word he was digging for is that of "Obsession", which is something else entirely.  His ultimate concern, then, is what can happen when writing no longer serves its rightful function.  I don't know that Bradbury goes quite so far as King does in his own exploration of the subject.  In fact, you could almost argue that the story only picks the topic up right at the end.  That there is a whole slew of events that were left unrecorded.  I might be able to understand where such a criticism comes from, yet I don't think it's necessary.  All the author needs in a case like this is the short story format to make his point.  Here is where I refuse to say more, because I want to avoid spoilers.  I'll just leave it by saying that while success might not have gone to the head of Bradbury's protagonist, he's smart enough to realize that he may be creeping toward that danger zone where make-believe begins to supplant life.  That's a very dangerous place to be in, as any psychologist could tell you.

In his essay The Importance of Being Bachman, King has this to say on the subject, with regard to his novel The Dark Half.  "It's a novel my wife has always detested, perhaps because, for Thad Beaumont, the dream of being a writer overwhelms the reality of being a man; for Thad, delusive thinking overtakes rationality completely, with horrific consequences (web)".  I'm not sure that Bradbury's scribbler ever quite gets to that level.  It's enough, instead, just to have something bad of a similar nature hanging over his head as a threat of which we as viewers are unaware when the episode starts.  Whether or not Stone, and even his would-be assassin, the troubled Mr. Kendall ever avoid such a threat is just something viewers will have to find out for themselves.  What I can say is this.  It comes as a genuine, albeit pleasant surprise to realize what Bradbury is getting at with the whole story was best summed up by King himself.  "Life isn't a support system for art.  It's the other way around (web)". 

Conclusion: A Story worth Seeking Out.

I started out by saying that Horror fiction was in a weird place on 80s television.  The irony of that statement is that, as of this writing, one could almost be forgiven for believing that history is repeating itself.  I'm not sure it's one-hundred percent accurate to claim that's true with the recent spate of TV programming, the ones that are looking to capitalize on the original John Hughes era in general, and the Horror explosion of the decade in particular.  What I think is going on there is that a lot of the filmmakers behind these shows were kids back when Ray Bradbury Theater and Tales from the Darkside had their original run.  They must have been able to get at least some enjoyment out of it.  Because now shows like Stranger Things are all about trying to recapture the look and feel of films and television series from that time.  This a lot more of a generous response than the ones that met such shows back in the day.  While Romero's Darkside was more or less able to hold its own, a lot of other attempts such as The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the first Twilight Zone reboot were just met with scorn.

I can't say I know just what kind of reception they've got today.  However, based on what I have seen, if I had to hazard a guess, then I'd say there might at least be some kind of allowance on a sizeable number of the audience that is willing to give them the start of a fair hearing.  I'm sort of an interesting outsider case.  I was born the year Orwell made famous.  To say my tastes in entertainment took a while to mature is a bit like saying Niagara Falls runs downhill.  I was too wrapped up in the exploits of Larry, Moe, and Curly to ever be all that much aware of what was going on with anything that wasn't an animated cartoon.  It's made any and all explorations into the overlooked aspects of my own past something like an excavation into an undiscovered country.  What I'm struck by most of all (at least to begin with, not for very long) is just how a lot of the 80s looks after the passage of so much time.  I've got to say, when you turn back to old episodes of Murder She Wrote, or Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I'm stunned by the fact that they are nothing like I remember.  In my memory, they all appear as slick, polished productions, where the clarity of the camera is more or less always complete.  Whereas now they all look faded and washed out, as if someone never did a good job of preserving them all that well.Maybe that's what happened, however I think a lot of it might just have to do with the state of TV tech back in the days when Michael Jackson could do no wrong, and Music Television was just a fledgling network.  I suppose it really must have all just been a trick of the eye back then.  

If there's any truth to these surmises, then perhaps it does say a great deal about the potential treachery of the visual image, at least up to a point.  Anyway, that still leaves one question unanswered.  What think you of all these 80s Horror efforts on TV?  In particular, what about Bradbury's attempt's on the small screen?  I know John Kenneth Muir isn't as much of a fan as he could be.  His basic opinion can be summarized by his belief that whatever promise the show might have had, it was all sunk by budget and locations problems.  That has been all I have ever heard from him on the matter.  I wonder if time has changed his thinking in any way.  What do I think of it?  Well, look, I mean it's not the sort of thing I ever lost sleep over.  I just can't seem to be bothered when it comes to production value.  I grew up watching Old Hollywood as a kid.  Maybe the truth is exposure to that form of filmmaking ruins you when it comes to having the proper eye for visuals, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean.  May your mileage forever vary in that respect.

Besides, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to finding a kind of retro-charm in all the janky era centric sets and cheapness.  At the same time, it's like I can't even bring myself to think of it as cheap in any fundamental way, if that makes any sense.  It probably doesn't for a lot of new kids on the block.  If that's the case, then all I can do is insist your missing out on a real treat.  All of this applies to The Ray Bradbury Theater as well.  In fact, if I'm being honest, I'm not quite sure if Muir has the correct reading about the budget this show operated under.  Some may complain about the quality of the cinematography involved (I do not), however it really does look to me, based on what I've seen from a lot of the other shows surrounding it that Ray must have got really lucky.  

The overall look of the show (if that's what you must insist on) kind of stands out for the level of skill and sophistication that was brought to it.  Compare it, for instance, to the kind of work to be found on Darkside.  George Romero's series is often recalled with fondness, and its easy to see why.  While some of the visual effects may look like a kiddie costume party, what makes it work is the way George and crew were able to imbue it with an atmosphere of menace.  This may be part of why that series has such a loyal following after all these years.  It is not, I maintain, however, the real reason for its success.  It would all be nothing if Romero hadn't brought in a good deal of talent to the show's script department.  Without a good narrative line, there just isn't much for me to talk about when it comes to imagery, I'm afraid.

The same applies to Ray's efforts.  I can make a distinction (of sorts) between the camera work on this latter show in contrast to whatever George had to work with.  The whole thing just comes off as more of a legit movie for television.  Besides, I never worried myself about pictures and casting much.  I sometimes even have trouble recalling the names that go with faces.  Not all the time, I'll never forget the original names playing Kirk and Spock, for instance.  However, I sometimes can't recall who Rob Lowe is, or who was the name of Fred Astaire's dancing partner.  Her name was Ginger something, right?  I'll swear I'm blanking for real here - Ginger Rogers!  Okay, that was it.  I'm not making any of this up.  That just happened.  I honestly couldn't remember the name of a famous celebrity for some reason.  I think most of it denotes not an indifference (I'm staunch preservationist of Old Hollywood films) so much as a lack of focus on the image as a key element in the imaginary.  For me, all of the fancy camerawork Ray had at his disposal doesn't mean anything in itself.  It all remains at the mercy of the tale, along the skill and competency of he who tells it.  In that sense, I'm willing to argue that it's a talent Bradbury has got in spades.

That's a point some are willing to dispute.  Many have trouble adjusting themselves to the definite lyrical, pastoralist style in which Ray always composed his words.  This episode alone contains a use of the word pomegranate which will sound either jarring or fitting, depending on how you look at it.  That must be another way in which I got lucky.  Ray was another childhood fixture for me.  I guess that means I was able to have the sort of early exposure that allowed me to find the right door into his peculiar way with words.  For what it's worth, if this is a flawed method of literary composition, then most pen and inkers out there should be that lucky.  Stephen King says Bradbury likes to stack metaphors on top of one another.  I don't know if that's the right description for it, however I do know the Waughkegan native has gathered his fair share of critical barbs over it.  I'm not one of the stone throwers in this, for whatever reason.  It just helps grant his story's their own unique identity, and its one that never grated on my nerves, at least.  If that means I've acclimated myself towards too much of an inherently bad thing, then the more bad taste, the better, I say.

I have read enough criticisms of Bradbury's writing to have a good idea of what non-fans think of him.  There's a bit of an irony involved, is all I can say.  Bradbury was never the sort of writer to apologize for the content of his work.  Nor was he ever inclined to shape his style of narratives to fit the temper of the passing moment.  Whether or not this results in a dated quality to his writings, therefore, is very much a matter of literary inclination.  I will say this, his TV series does act as a pretty good time capsule of the era it was made in.  I mentioned the popularity of shows like Stranger Things, and various other film projects that are capitalizing on a nostalgia trend for the decade.  The curious part is that some of these same viewers who are eager to see it reflected in their current viewing will then turn right around and complain of the dated quality of the genuine article.  I've heard of having your cake and eating it too.  This sounds more like a mixed series of conflicting emotions about the cake as a whole.  It's strange for me to realize this is a situation that a lot of people find themselves in.  It's just never been that sort of issue with me.  Therefore it seems pointless if one of your complaints about a book or film is that it was written and made in the past.  

The best suggestion I can offer there is that it's probably best to try and rid the mind of chronological snobbery.  It may not sound like much, yet it's the best advice you'll be able to get from me.  I know for a fact that it applies to Ray's show.  This series isn't just a product of the 80s in terms of just setting and mis en scene.  It could be argued that a lot of what made the films and TV of that era so memorable and/or infamous is on full display here too.  One of the things Bradbury proves here is that he's no stranger to those often strange, surreal leaps of narrative logic that can be found in some of the most memorable projects of that time, and here I am thinking of stuff like Labyrinth or Blade Runner, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Buckaroo Banzai.  It's those moments when the artist behind the camera or the keyboard just seem to hit this weird, creative stride and introduced a narrative element that tilts everything into its own crazy, frenetic overdrive.  We're all capable of picking out those moments, and we either love, hate them, or else fall somewhere in between.  I've loved this stuff ever since I was born.  Then again, it kind of makes sense given that I didn't have much say in the matter of what my first viewing choices were.  Whatever that says about my narrative likes and dislikes, what can't be disputed is that Bradbury seems to fall well withing the 80s weirdness wheelhouse with no apologies. You either go along with the artist on this sort of thing, or else you take your ticket and get out. 

I'm lucky in that I'm able to get a kick out of the whole thing, from start to finish.  I won't be able to bat an eyelash if some arrive with the complaint that everyone is acting in such an over-the-top manner in what amounts to a drawing room setting.  If anyone complains of the presence of a theatrical performance in a realistic setting, all I can do is point out that this is how the script was written, and everyone is acting accordingly.  One other thing to notice about the TV episode is that it is an adaptation of a text story published way back in the mid-50s.  I think part of his reason for revisiting it after all these years is precisely because of the passage of time.  The original short story was still the work of a relatively young(ish) man.  At that time, he hadn't achieved half the accomplishments listed off in the teleplay.  

Nor had he gone far enough to gain a greater sense of self-perspective.  The original printed material amounts to an intriguing what-if scenario.  The TV episode is that scenario fleshed out with a combination of innocence and experience.  It's the author being given a chance to look back on where he's been, who he is, and where he's going.  That's one sense in which I feel safe saying that it's the screen version of the story that comes off as more reflective and mature than its original, publication counterpart.  The whole entry is the case of a writer looking back on his life and accomplishments, and seeing that he's done a good job, while also realizing that life itself is the real adventure, if you choose to really live it.  It's for these and a lot of other reasons that makes The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone an easy recommendation for me.  It might not be the most ordinary story in the world, yet that's kind of what makes it such an intriguing narrative.  Some might find it a bit too naval-gazing for its own good.  However I regard it as nothing less than a unique, and warm-hearted 30 minutes of soul searching that is guaranteed to give you a good return for your money.


  1. I've got this entire series on DVD and plan to watch it one of these days -- when I do, I'll come back and give you some thoughts on this episode!