Ray Bradbury Theater: Marionettes, Inc
Episode 1 (Series 1, Episode 1)
First aired 25 May 1985
The short story first appeared in Startling Stories in March 1949.
Its first book appearance was in The Illustrated Man (1951).
by Paul Lynch
Braling - James Coco
With Pixie Bigelow, Rex Hagon, Michael Fletcher,Laura Henry, TomChristopher
We begin with a montage of kitchen appliances - toaster, kettle, etc. Long-suffering John Raleigh Braling (James Coco) is being fussed over by his wife, Marjorie. She over-mothers him as she supplies him with toast, coffee, and endless tips and advice for the day ahead.
He takes Aspirin.
When he gets to work, Braling opens his briefcase which has his laptop inside. He uses it to look at sales charts, but "Marionettes Inc" suddenly appears on the screen with the motto We Shadow Forth. The screen then shows endless amount of personal data: Mr John R Braling, date of birth March 21 1930, height 5ft 10˝ inches, weight 215lbs, eyes hazel brown…
He switches on his desk computer and it also shows the logo, and his printer, unprompted, prints it.
Later, he buys a newspaper, and there is a Marionettes Inc business card attached to it; at a restaurant, his bill also has a business card attached. He naturally wonders who is doing all this.
Braling goes to a bar where he meets Crane, who suggests Braling goes to talk to Marionettes Inc.
Inside the company building, he finds empty corridors and a dark office. After many shouts of "Hello?", a Mr Fantoccini appears.
"We're helping you" says Fantoccini.
"Are you the government?" asks Braling.
"I suppose you could call me a social worker of sorts. Tell me, Mr Braling, are you happpy with your life?... You can live again, Mr Braling - live!"
Fantoccini leads him to a room where we see a replica of Braling. Putting his ear to the robot's chest, Braling hears a kind of mechanical grinding. Fantoccini shows him a room full of robots, and proposes that Braling buy the robot to leave at ome with his wife - while he gets out and lives again.
To buy Braling Two will cost exactly the entire contents of Braling's bank account - $25,952.50. Fantoccini will accept a $5000 down-payment. Braling declares this to be madness, but Fantoccini keeps telling him to think about it.
Back at the bar, Braling meets Crane again. He tells Crane there is a Santa Claus. They look through his house window - to see Braling Two with Marjorie.
"Every man should have one," he tells Crane, and gives Crane the contact details. Braling plans to go to Rio for a month, leaving his wife with Braling Two. Crane decides he will empty his savings account to buy a replica for himself.
Arriving home, Crane looks in on his wife, asleep, then goes to his bankbook - only to discover that the balance on hte account is zero. Having at first looked lovingly at his wife, Crane now thinks something is wrong with her. He listens to her chest: a kind of mechanical grinding.
Meanwhile, Braling Two is complaining about being kept in a box in the cellar, and never getting to go to Rio himself. Braling Two is in love with Marjorie. Braling is jealous of Braling Two's intimacy with Marjorie. They argue, and Braling Two manages to put Braling in the robot storage box and locks him in...then goes off to be intimate with Marjorie once more...
Publicity still: Leslie Nielsen and James Coco.
This production includes a substantial amount of new material, and some significant changes in characterisation from the short story.
Virtually everything up to Braling and Crane arriving at Braling's house to look through the window is new in this version. What Bradbury has done is fill in the back story, making a drama out of the mystery of Marionettes, Inc. This technique proves to be a standard method of making some of the shorter stories fit into the twenty-five minute running time of Ray Bradbury Theater.
Although it has worked on this occasion, there is a sense in which the smartness of the original story is diluted. The young Bradbury knew very well the impact of the Edgar Allan Poe approach to short story writing: begin the story with the plot already well underway, approaching crisis point.
The new material now makes Mrs Crane a proper character, and what a character! There is no doubt as to Braling's unhappiness in this version, and his motivation is absolutely plain to see - and rather more wholesome than in the short story, where it is strongly implied that Braling had been forced to marry his wife because she was going to falsely accuse him of assault.
Braling Two is also something more of a character. Coco's efforts in making the two versions of himself distinguishable have brought us a much more sensitive Braling Two, and in turn given us the impression that Braling One does actually love his wife (hence his jealousy), helping to explain why he has put up with her all these years.
There is also evidence here of Bradbury's ideas spilling over from one story to another. His Fantoccini company, originated in "Marionettes, Inc" (1949), would be revisited in "I Sing the Body Electric" (1962), where the slogan "We shadow forth" is introduced. That same slogan is carried forward into this Ray Bradbury Theater production.
Finally, this episode should be a lesson for those who claim Bradbury can't write realistic dialogue. James Coco seems to have no trouble bringing his lines to life - in two characters. Maybe, just maybe, the apparent problem of realistic dialogue in productions such as Something Wicked This Way Comes is more a problem of acting or directing talent...