Ray Bradbury Theater: The Jar
Episode 45 (Series 4, Episode 3)
First aired 17 January 1992
The short story first appeared in Weird Tales in November 1944.
Its first book appearance was in Dark Carnival (1947).
by Randy Bradshaw
- Paul LeMat
With Billy Morton
Tom Carmody drives up to the Hill's farm. Thedy Hill is inside, alone. He calls her "Bluebird" because of the small tattoo on her neck. They make love.
Meanwhile, Charlie Hill is at a carnival. He is drawn to a jar containing some strange object; something like a preserved foetus, but not quite. He asks if it's for sale. The carnival salesman carefully talks up the asking price, until he reaches the maximum figure Charlie can afford - $40. Charlie takes the jar, telling the salesman that it will make him popular in town.
Arriving back in town, Charlie tells the townfol that he has a strange thing in a jar. They are all keen to see it.
Back home, Charlie shows the jar to Thedy. She says the thing inside looks like him. He is dejected; even more so when she goes out for the evening. With Tom Carmody.
Some of the townsfolk drop by for a further look at the jar. They sit around the table and stare at it for hours. Each person sees a different thing in the jar. Juke is reminded of a kitten he once drowned. Charlie suggests it could be a person in the jar. Mrs Tridden is reminded of her dead son, Foley.
Tom and Thedy make love in his car. He asks Thedy why she doesn't leave Charlie. She replies that she needs her freedom.
Later, Thedy arrrives home, claiming to have spoken to the carnival salesman. She knows what is in the jar. Charlie covers his ears, not wanting to hear. She tells him it's bit of rubber, papier mache, a metal frame. She threatens to empty the jar.
Charlie is angered. He is more attached to his jar than he is to Thedy.
He gets an idea, prompted by his recollection of Juke's story about the kitten. He approaches Thedy, calling, "Here, kitty kitty..."
When the townsfolk gather for another viewing of the jar, they sense a subtle difference in the jar's contents. Tom arrives and spots something new in the jar. A bluebird tattoo.
"The Jar" was also adapted for:
This is a perfectly workable dramatisation of the original story, although it doesn't generate the atmosphere nor the sense of place that we find in the short story. The episode doesn't specify where the action takes place, so the Louisana bayou feel of the short story is here replaced by generic small-town America.
The episode also suffers in comparison to the first television version, the 1964 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It's not that there are any substantial differences in plotting, but that earlier production has the edge in three areas.
First is pace: the Hitchcock episode was deliberately slow, really giving a sense of nothing-much-happens-in-this-town, and a sense of the dedicated scrutiny the townsfolk were willing to give to the mysterious jar.
Second is characterisation, particularly with Jahdoo, Gramps and Juke, all of whom had distinctive ways of engaging with the jar in the Hitchcock episode. In this version, only Juke is distinctive. It must be said, though, that this reduced depth of character is probably related to the reduced running time - the Ray Bradbury Theater episode has about half the running time of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour version.
Third is the staging. The Hitchcock version contrived to have the townsfolk stare straight into the camera. The audience was made to feel that it was being watched. This increases the level of discomfort we feel when we watch. The RBT version, on the other hand, just has the people sitting around a table.
None of this should be taken as criticism of the episode in hand, as it is still an effective and amusing piece. We just happen to be fortunate enough to have seen a strong previous attempt at telling the same story.
The episode makes two small but potentially significant changes to the original story. The first of these is the character of Jahdoo. In the original story (and the Hitchcock version), Jahdoo is black, and the character is arguably portrayed in a form that might be unacceptable today. It's not outright racist, but the character borders on a stereotype. In the episode, Jahdoo is not referred to by name; he is played by a white actor; and his voodoo-like interpretation of the jar's contents is downplayed.
The second change is more significant, but subtle, and it is to do with Thedy's reasons for being with Charlie, a man who clearly does not satisfy her.
In the short story, Thedy needs Charlie's income to support her gallivanting. This is plausible.
In the episode, though, she says she stays with Charlie because she needs her freedom. And she says this to her lover, Tom. In other words, she is choosing not to commit to Tom any more than she is emotionally committed to Charlie.
So when Thedy ends up in the jar, this is not just Charlie finding a way to possess an uncomplaining Thedy forever - it's a way for him to punish Thedy for himself AND FOR Tom.
Randy Bradbshaw's staging of the final scene seems to recognise this in the glances that are exchanged between Charlie and Tom.
So while this isn't a classic of television like the Hitchcock version, it works; and it does re-illuminate some character relationships from the original story.
Incidentally, Jennifer Dale (Thedy) also appeared in the title role of "Banshee".