Original image: Patrick Hoesly
Hail and Farewell
Author: Ray Bradbury
Originally aired: 17 February 1956
[This story formed part of a double bill with Season of Disbelief]
Plot synopsis: A twelve-year-old boy is forced to move from town to town every few years, finding new 'parents' each time, because he appears never to age. Based on a short story first published in Today, on 29 March 1953; and later in Ray Bradbury's short-story collection The Golden Apples of the Sun, in 1953.
Favourite line: 'In the mirror on his dresser he saw a face made of June dandelions and July apples and warm summer-morning milk. There, as always, was his look of the angel and the innocent, which might never, in the years of his life, change.'
Review: In The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (published in 1959), a small boy refuses to grow up - in this episode, by contrast, a young boy is simply unable to do so. No explanation is given for why this is - this is fantasy, not science fiction - and it is not entirely clear, in this radio adaptation at least, whether or not the boy literally does not age, does so very slowly, or it is merely his appearance that does not change. Regardless, this is a peculiar, disconcerting tale. The boy himself presents his behaviour, acting as a son to a succession of childless couples, as altruistic - but frankly, it's difficult to see it that way. He knows that after only a few years he will have to leave each new town he settles in, as otherwise people will notice he is not ageing, so is he really benefitting his adoptive parents? Furthermore, there is a very creepy edge to the story, which is brought to the fore when the boy discusses the fact that, in having to live permanently as a child, he has to suppress any adult inclinations. Yes, but for how long will be able to do this? And then what? It's also hard not to wonder about the practicalities of the boy's existence: sure, this isn't meant to be a naturalistic drama, but how exactly does he keep managing to get himself adopted by different parents? Wouldn't their friends and neighbours ask questions? What about the authorities? And wouldn't people wonder what has happened to him after he leaves? Still, the fact that the episode makes the listener consider such questions is what indicates that it is a thought-provoking, if slightly disturbing, one. (It's interesting, too, that in the introduction to the story Bradbury himself provides, he also raises the question of how much of a blessing it would truly be if youth could be preserved for ever, asking 'if beauty could be made to last, would it still be beautiful, or monstrous?')
Rating: * * * *
[Other adaptations: TV - The Ray Bradbury Theater (1989)]
Original script: Arthur Zigouras
Originally aired: 24 March 1957
Plot synopsis: A new recruit to a GI squad in World War II goes on his first combat patrol.
Favourite line: 'When you've gone through combat like he has for nearly three years, you start to worry. You've seen all your buddies get it and you start to think your number's coming up. The next one is for you. And you don't want any part of it. You just want to come out of this thing in one piece.'
Review: My response to this episode was mixed. On the plus side, it deserves credit for striving to be more than just another standard war story, presenting its characters not as straightforward heroes, but as frail and fallible human beings. For example, there is the squad sergeant who starts to unravel after having endured one too many combat operations and witnessed one too many deaths, and the soldiers who freeze when coming face-to-face with the enemy. Yet on the down side, the story itself never amounts to very much, with a not-very-exciting plot and mostly mundane dialogue. Moreover, although at the time it may have been relatively unusual to present such a 'realistic' depiction of US soldiers in combat (though we shouldn't forget that novels like The Naked and the Dead, 1948, had already been challenging traditional, Hollywood-style WWII offerings for some time), today it is much more common in fiction to eschew a simple, jingoistic take on warfare. As such, this episode doesn't really stand out or linger long in the mind. None of this is to say that it is a bad episode, but nor is it a particularly memorable one - there are simply too many other, better, war stories out there.
Rating: * * *
Heaven Is in the Sky
Original script: Jules Menklen
Originally aired: 19 May 1957
Plot synopsis: A documentary examining a mid-air collision between two planes over California air space that scattered debris over Pacoima Junior High School, causing death and destruction.
Favourite line: 'They called, "Coach, I'm hurt!" and I had to put down several boys, and tell them to stay where they were. I judged how seriously they were hurt, and then I went over to the more serious. I couldn't do everything, there were just too many of them. There was no place that was really safe, no matter where they had been.'
Review: I'll give fair warning at the outset: this is a shocking and distressing episode, especially for listeners who have children. Based on interviews with parents, children and others affected by the air crash it examines, the episode pulls few punches in its description of the event's impact. For example, one boy describes what it was like to see a friend who was terribly burned in the incident, and the school's PE instructor discusses how it was impossible to help all of the boys at the scene. Particularly moving are the scenes towards the end that present the testimony of a mother whose son was killed, especially when she talks with other boys who knew him. What is amazing from today's perspective is how stoic she and the children sound, which somehow makes their interviews even more upsetting than if they had been overcome with emotion and broken down in tears. Were people simply more controlled back then - or was it that producers and editors were more selective in the material they chose to broadcast, more respectful of people's grief? As a side note, the school where the air crash occurred is one that rock 'n' roll singer Ritchie Valens was attending at the time, though he was not there the day of the incident - it was this event that, fairly understandably, caused his fear of flying (as detailed in the 1987 film La Bamba). In any case, a powerful and memorable episode.
Rating: * * * *
The Hither and Thither of Danny Dither
Composer: Alex North / Lyrics: Jeremy Gury
Originally aired: 7 September 1956
Plot synopsis: An angel is sent to Earth in the form of a young boy by the Department of Faith, Hope, and Charity, to discover whether or not humanity has forgotten these three virtues. Based on a musical play composed in 1941.
Favourite line: None.
Review: Few listening to this episode today will be aware, I would guess, of the musical play upon which it is based, or the context in which it was written (as I wasn't before doing some research). Its composer, Alex North, is now best remembered as a writer of film scores (including for A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus and Cleopatra), but he also created many other original compositions. In terms of this play specifically, it is useful to be aware that in the 1930s and 1940s North was involved in the radical left-wing politics of the era, which sought to influence not only America's political system, but also its art, literature and music. Consequently, it is possible to detect, however faintly, some of North's left-wing ideals in this play, in its (very gently) satirical depiction of American urban life, its upholding of certain moral virtues, and its condemnation of greed and selfishness. At the same time, none of this is very explicit, and listeners would be forgiven for not noticing any of these elements, but perceiving the story simply to be a fairly innocuous modern fairy tale. Regardless, the question remains, is the episode any good? The play was originally intended for children, but I can't imagine any child today willingly sitting through it; I certainly wouldn't try playing this episode to my own children. The songs are unmemorable - Disney this ain't! - the characters bland (only the 'city brats' have any real life to them) and the plot, with its very simple ideas about goodness and virtue, is far too earnest and worthy for contemporary tastes. So, apart from for historical interest, this isn't an episode to recommend.
Rating: * *