Saturday, August 13, 2011

Critical Judgement

Do you sometimes read a TV or film review and wonder whether the critic has been watching the same thing as you?

I had this (familiar) thought when I recently read a contemporary review of the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock Hour production of Bradbury's "The Jar". The review was written by critic Derek Malcolm in The Guardian (13 March 1964).

Malcolm is generally dismissive of the series as a whole, saying "by the end of the show one generally feels a little cheated".

Of "The Jar" in particular, he writes

The story, which may have been a good one as written by Ray Bradbury, collapsed in a sea of cliches about half way through and drowned without trace long before the end. It revolved around a simpleton who buys a mysterious bottle from a carnival sideshow [...] The jar, reckoned to hold the secret of life and death, is wrecked by his baby-doll wife, so he ups and puts her in another one to regale the natives even further. Mock not that ye be not mocked appeared to be the moral of the piece. But it needed better handling than it got to drive the point home past the numbing tedium which spread like glue across the screen.

[...] Even old stagers like Slim Pickens and Jane Darwell were unable to retrieve the situation for more than a couple of seconds. However, one has seen better Hitchcock Hours than this. But even the best look like Hitchcock at his most glib and facile, so there seems little point in connecting him with such goggle-box ephemera at all. Maybe he needs the money.

While the Hitchcock Hours were generally not as good as the half-hour format used in Alfred Hitchcock Presents - and while I would tend to agree with Malcolm that any artistic correlation between Alfred Hitchcock, film director, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was somewhat tenuous - I can't help thinking that he has almost entirely missed the point of "The Jar". First, the show hinges on the visceral and visual fascination of the jar's mysterious contents, which drives people to do strange things. Second, the direction of the episode by Norman Lloyd is deliberately contrived to mirror the way people sit around the TV, entranced by its vague and flickering movements.

Perhaps Malcolm, being best known as a film critic, was unable to appreciate this as a particularly televisual production. Or perhaps this is a reading of the show which is more evident today than it would have been in 1964.

My own review of "The Jar" can be found here. I also have reviews of the Ray Bradbury Theatre version, and the weak 1980s Alfred Hitchcock Presents version.

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