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The Twilight Zone (Episode #38): “The Man In the Bottle” (airdate 10/7/60)
The Plot: A down on their luck couple discover a genie in a bottle who offers them four wishes. You just know this won’t end well.
The Goods: Arthur and Edna Castle (Luther Adler and Vivi Janiss) run an antiques shop in the city that is currently having a hard time making a profit. The neighbors are having an equally hard time making ends meet, so when Mrs. Gumley comes in desperate to sell a worthless old wine jug Arthur takes pity on her and buys the glassware. Edna gives him grief over his action and the jug falls to the ground… and begins to emit an odd, smoky essence. That soon forms into a dapper man who identifies himself as a genie.
A genie who offers them four wishes.
“Arthur no… there’s something unholy about this!”
There’s nothing original about this episode’s premise, but it’s what you do with the concept that matters. Hopes would be understandably high that Rod Serling’s script would have some real fun with the idea while still managing to surprise and twist things by the end. Sadly, those hopes are left high and dry as the episode instead becomes a series of weak and uninteresting point to point jumps with no real personality or wit about them.
The couples’ first unbelieving wish goes to repair the broken glass in their display case, but when it magically fixes itself before their eyes they quickly jump forward with a second and far more serious wish… a million dollars in small denominations right there on the floor. So far so good, but a quick cut later and we see the happy couple gleefully handing out cash to friends and neighbors until a wiry little man arrives from the IRS and claims their income tax on the million is $960 thousand. It’s unclear if this 96% tax rate is meant to be a joke or not, but it isn’t really funny and it fails to create a real dramatic turning point. Instead Arthur and Edna begin to squabble again as the genie reminds them they should have been more specific with their wish to avoid taxes… a weak little twist at best. Now armed with the knowledge that they should be far more careful Arthur comes up with a real doozy that Edna inexplicably agrees is a great idea.
And that third wish just gets stupid.
They just don’t learn, and it’s clear from the beginning that they’re a couple of morons. It’s no surprise their business is failing as they’re a couple of idiots. Any good will they earned from viewers by sharing their wealth with others is quickly squandered by how quickly they jump into that third wish. Who thinks being the leader of a country where you can’t be voted out of office is a good idea? Even without the goofy twist the idea is nonsensical especially as he never even mentions his wife in the wish meaning she could have been left out of his new life all together.
Robert Bloch has a short story called “Picture” that tackles this topic in a far more entertaining and witty way. A man enters into a deal with the devil that entitles him to one wish. Wise to Satan’s penchant for messing with people who don’t choose their words carefully, the man makes it clear that he’s covered all his bases. He presents the devil with a picture of a beautiful woman, and says he wants her to be his love. “Just like the picture” he says, and goes on to specify that she can’t be dead, or dying, or disinterested in him, etc. He deconstructs all the possible issues of semantics and wording and smugly and confidently makes his very exact and precise wish. A wish which the devil grants with a smile of his own.
And there, sitting on his bed, smiling and happy and in obvious love with the man is the woman exactly as she appeared in the picture… and she’s two inches tall.
Just two episodes prior to this one the idea of wish fulfillment was explored in a somewhat less traditional way with “A World Of His Own.” That story saw a man capable of turning wishes into reality simply by speaking them into a recorder, and while the premise wasn’t milked in the same way it’s clear there was real thought put into its presentation and purpose. This episode follows the same path as WW Jacobs’ famous story “The Monkey’s Paw” albeit with an unsuccessfully comedic variation and ends with the lowest common denominator of wish fulfillment morals. Be careful what you wish for… you may find yourself trapped behind Hitler’s little mustache.
What do you think of the episode?
The Trivia: Luther Adler also “appeared” in another Twilight Zone episode (“To Serve Man”) two years later. Well, his voice did anyway.
On the Next Episode: “Small time criminal Jackie Rhoades must face both his past and his conscience while waiting for his next assignment.”
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.