I’ve never really been a fan of Ray Bradbury’s fiction. His science fiction novels are generally pretty devoid of science, and his fantasy novels are rather tedious in my opinion. But he could dish up a pretty good horror short story now and then. And many of them served as source material for television scripts.
Back when we lived on the farm, so this would have been in ’55 or ’56, I remember seeing a show that involved a merry-go-round that could be turned to a high speed that accelerated the aging process and turned a boy into an old man in seconds. A few years later I realized it must have been based on a Bradbury story, and recently I tracked it down to a program called Sneak Preview, an episode entitled “Merry-Go-Round” that aired on July 10, 1956, according to imdb. Would love to see that again, though I doubt it would have the same effect on me that it had when I was seven years old.
It can be found in Bradbury’s story collection The October Country.
It’s a very short story, less than ten pages, but very atmospheric and evocative.
Charlie becomes fascinated by a jar he sees at a carnival sideshow because he can’t quite figure out what it contains. He buys the jar from the carny-boss, who figures out that Charlies has 12 dollars in his pocket and charges him accordingly.
When Charlie gets home, his wife Thedy Sue is repulsed by the jar and its contents, but Charlie soon becomes the most popular man in town as everyone comes to view the jar, and they each seem to see something different in it. Is it a he or a she or an it? Are the eyes blue or green or …? Meanwhile, Thedy Sue disappears during these long viewing sessions with her not-so-secret lover Tom Carmody.
Finally, Thedy Sue can’t take it anymore, so she and Tom Carmody visit the carnival and talk to the carny-boss to find out just what’s inside that jar, and when she returns, she taunts Charlie.
“It’s just junk, Charlie! Rubber, papier-mache, silk, cotton, boric-acid! That’s all! Got a metal frame inside! That’s all it is, Charlie. That’s all!” she shrilled.
Charlie is furious to have his illusions shattered and he takes a step towards Thedy Sue…
The townspeople are gathered in Charlie’s living room once again to view the jar, but Thedy Sue hasn’t been seen in a week. She’s been off to visit her folks, says Charlie. You know Thedy.
The eyes in the jar don’t look the same. They argue over the color. They used to be blue. No, they used to be brown. Tom Carmody is looking sick, his face pale as chalk. And they keep wondering is it a he—or a she—or a plain old it…?
In the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “The Jar” received a remarkably faithful adaptation. Most of the dialog from the story was used, and the only changes that were made were those needed to expand it to an hour and to make the ending a bit more explicit by adding a ribbon with poor Thedy Sue’s name embroidered on it. Fans of Bradbury’s story were probably quite pleased.
And in a change from its usual practice, instead of recycling some music from an earlier episode or just farming it out to a house composer, the underscoring music was written by Hitchcock favorite Bernard Herrmann.
Herrmann picked up on the carnival motif and orchestrated most of his musical cues to sound like a carnival calliope, but in keeping with the macabre nature of the piece, he made heavy use of the Dies Irae theme.
Here’s the music that Herrmann wrote for when Charlie first shows the Jar to Thedy Sue:
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