Honored Horror: 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour: The Jar'
First in a special series for Halloween on award-winning and nominated horror and suspense films and television programs:
In 1963, the successful anthology series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" was expanded from 30 minutes to 60. The revamped program, which ran until 1965, enjoyed its share of unsettling episodes, but none so viscerally creepy as "The Jar," which aired Feb. 14, 1964. James Bridges, later an Oscar and WGA nominee for "The China Syndrome," earned the series its seventh Emmy nomination for its script, adapted from a short story by Ray Bradbury; the show would claim three Emmys (for writing, directing and editing) and a Golden Globe for best TV series. Hitchcock himself received three of those nods, including two for direction, but remained the awards bridesmaid, as he did throughout his storied career.
The episode stars Pat Buttram ("Green Acres") as a down-on-his-luck yokel who purchases a jar full of mysterious contents from a carnival. The container attracts scores of visitors, each of whom see something different in its murky water -- and something awful. Buttram's new-minted popularity doesn't sit well with his wife, Thedy (Collin Wilcox, Mayella Ewell in "To Kill a Mockingbird"), who attempts to have the jar destroyed. However, as she soon finds out, not only does the jar not go quietly, her husband is also none too eager to lose his one chance at respectability -- and he's all too ready to go to extremes to preserve it.
A marvelously paced hour of suspense with genuine chills in its final moments, "The Jar" also boasts a terrific roster of character actors, including James Best ("The Dukes of Hazzard,") as Thedy's lover, Slim Pickens, Jane Darwell (Ma Joad from "The Grapes of Wrath"), William Marshall ("Blacula"), Billy Barty, George Lindsay, Jocelyn Brando (sister of Marlon) and George Lindsey, the once and future Goober Pyle.
Here's the complete episode for your edification. For maximum enjoyment, you might want to turn down the lights before viewing. Oh, grab a blanket too -- you're going to feel a chill.
Note: In the essay "Run Fast, Stand Still, or the Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or New Ghosts From Old Minds," Bradbury said that the inspiration for the story came from a visit to a carnival (possibly at Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica) where human and animal embryos were on display in an exhibit. "I was shocked by the look of the unborn dead and the new mysteries of life they caused to rise up in my head that night and all through the years," he wrote. "I never mentioned the jars ... to my parents. I knew I had stumbled on some truths that were better not discussed." Brr.
-- Paul Gaita