The Man in the Bottle
Arthur Castle – Luther Adler
Edna Castle – Vivi Janiss
Genie – Joseph Ruskin
Mrs. Gumley – Lisa Golm
IRS Man – Olan Soule
Narrator – Rod Serling
Really, genie stories should just automatically come with a subheading of “Doesn’t matter what you wish for, you’re screwed”.
We’re in what’s usually called a junk shop but this one has some pretty cool stuff. The owner (Arthur) is going through a rather large stack of bills. He grabs the top one and asks his wife, Edna, how far behind the gas and electric is. She says it’s four months behind so they had better pay that one. So they go through bills about how I do.
Arthur murmurs to himself that it’s one they can’t pay and sets it aside. Hey man, you’re lucky they gave you four months. If that were now you’d already be in the dark with no heat.
The bell rings and he looks up hopefully. A little, older lady is sneaking in. Arthur is very studiously working at his bills and tries not to look up. He asks her how she’s doing. She makes some awkward small talk as she’s trying to get up the courage to ask something. She places a wine bottle on the counter and says she’s brought an heirloom today, hand-blown glass and been in the family for years. Arthur tells her it’s a plain old wine bottle and worth nothing. She is upset but says she could let it go for a dollar. Arthur tells her if he had a dollar he’d just give it to her but they’re broke, too.
Arthur hates to see an older lady upset so he goes to the cash register and gives her a dollar. He says he wishes he could make it more and gives it to her. He sounds sincere, not the smarmy “I wish I could give you more and I’m going to sell it for a thousand” voice. She thanks him and blesses him. At the door she stops and says that it’s not really an heirloom, she found it in an ashcan. Will he please forgive her for lying?
He says it’s ok and who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be worth something. He’s very nice. Mrs. Gumley scurries out the door. Edna comes downstairs and Arthur tries to play it casual, leaning on the register to hide the fact that the $1 sign is down. Edna picks up the wine bottle and sarcastically says it’s gorgeous. Edna looks at the ‘No Sale’ sign and then at Arthur. Arthur says that Mrs. Gumley needed to eat, too. And that maybe a man could only scrape the bottom of the barrel for so long without it breaking him. His grandfather owned the shop and it broke his heart, his father owned it and it killed him, too. Personally I think it’s a pretty cool shop and I’d love to go there.
In the middle of saying that the place is making them old by always having to be hand-to-mouth, he picks up a stack of bills and shakes them, knocking over the bottle. The cork pops out but the bottle doesn’t break. Edna and Arthur back away as the bottle starts to steam and smoke.
Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, gentle and infinitely patient people whose lives have been a hope chest with a rusty lock and a lost set of keys. But in just a moment that hope chest will be opened and an improbable phantom will try to bedeck the drabness of these two people’s failure-laden lives with the gold and priceless stones of fulfillment. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, standing on the outskirts and about to enter The Twilight Zone.
The bottle is still pouring out smoke. When the smoke clears a dapper looking gentleman is standing in their store, asking “How do you do?” Arthur and Edna stand there staring at him, stunned. He says he doesn’t want to go into any lengthy explanations but he’s a genie, there to offer them four wishes with a guaranteed performance. Arthur and Edna just look at each other. Edna thinks they’re going crazy. Arthur says that maybe the guy is a hypnotist or something. The Genie says he’s nothing of the sort. He’s there to grant the owner four wishes. Then he goes back inside his bottle for a century and a day until the new owner releases him.
He tells them the Arthur and Edna need to start deciding on their four wishes, keeping in mind that each wish is irrevocable. Once it’s made it is fulfilled and once it’s fulfilled it’s a matter of record and can only be altered by another wish. As he’s speaking he flips their open sign to “Closed” and pulls down the blind. Which is a little creepy. It looks like he’s preparing to murder them. He asks Arthur if that’s clear. Arthur thinks that maybe they’d better call the police. The Genie tells Arthur to wish for them. He can bring Scotland Yard, the FBI or every bobby in the city of London. Is that what they wish for?
For being stuck in a bottle for a century and a day the Genie is awfully anxious for them to get on with the wishing. Although, who knows? Maybe he’s got an awesome life inside the bottle and wants to get back to it. Arthur replies no, they wouldn’t wish for the police. Edna asks if Arthur is crazy, does he actually believe the guy? To which I would reply, “What have you got to lose?”
Arthur says, for the sake of argument, that it is true he would like the broken glass in the display case to be fixed. The Genie looks at it and asks if Arthur would like to make it official. Arthur hesitantly says yes, he wishes the case were fixed. The Genie waves his hand at it and *poof* it’s fixed. Arthur and Edna are amazed. The Genie tells Arthur that he has three wishes left.
Arthur is all excited now but Edna’s freaked out. Arthur asks what she wants and she says she wants nothing. Arthur finally decides on money. He wants a million dollars in cash right here on the floor in $5’s and $10’s. I get the money wish but why fives and tens? The Genie lights a smoke and says, done. A million dollars. Money immediately begins to pour down from the ceiling. Someone is laughing hysterically but it sounds creepy so I’m honestly not sure if it’s the Genie laughing or Arthur.
The next shot shows the neighborhood in to help celebrate their good fortune. Arthur gives one guy a stack of money and tells him to pay off his mortgage so he can start living again. He gives another lady a stack and tells her to take that vacation and bring back a boyfriend. They give a bunch to Mrs. Gumley and the neighborhood Reverend as well. And, to give all of them credit, they don’t act greedy and Arthur and Edna seem genuinely pleased to be able to help. Not doing it in a snobby, lordly way. See, they are truly nice people. Which is almost enough on its own to qualify them for the Twilight Zone. Instead of giving it to charities to qualify them for a tax break, they’re just giving it to people they know it could help and they can see how much it helps.
After everyone leaves there’s only one guy left. And to give Arthur credit he’s ready to hand over a bunch of money to this guy even though he doesn’t even know him. The guy says thank you, but no. He gives Arthur his card. He tells them their taxes, including state, comes to $942,640.00. Which, holy crap, seems like a lot to me. I could be wrong but that seems like almost 90%. Can that be right? And once, just once, can’t people just keep the damn money? Every freaking time in almost every show they never get to keep the money no matter how honestly they got it or worked for it. It’s annoying.
After they count up what the IRS says they owe them they’re left with $5.00. They gave away nearly $60,000.00 to the neighborhood. I’d also like to point out, though, that it never seems to cross their minds to ask for any of it back even though they’re only left with $5.00 and a stack of bills they haven’t paid yet.
The Genie pops up on the stairs to tell Arthur that he warned him to reflect carefully on his wish. Genies are always so damn smug aren’t they? t least it’s not the Djinn from Wishmaster. That’s a plus.
The Genie says if Arthur had made a wish that took into account the taxes involved then it would be quite another thing. Arthur looks like he’s going to do just that but Edna stops him. Why? That seems like a logical wish. Arthur considers the usual wishing for more wishes but the Genie says that’s out. Of course it is. The Genie says that he doesn’t want Arthur to even try for fear of the consequences. Arthur asks what consequences? He starts yelling at Edna, saying she’s no help. She asks, reasonably enough, why he’s yelling. He starts freaking out until she yells his name, sharply. This stops him short and he wonders what’s happening to him. The Genie replies that their emotions seem to follow a typical pattern. Great excitement, great emotionalism (is that even a word?) but only a modicum of happiness. Now, speaking for myself in their situation, I would ask for the bills to be paid and for the shop to be well-known among the city as a good place to shop. Although I’m sure the Genie could screw that up, too.
Arthur asks the Genie what they can wish for “without tricks”. The Genie takes great offense to that and says that there are no “tricks”. Just normal consequences that go with any windfall. The Genie says that whatever they wish for they have to be prepared for the consequences, This gets Arthur thinking of something dead sure and without consequences. Good luck with that one. Arthur decides to wish for power. Wow. That’s original.
The Genie asks what kind of power he’d like? To be the president of a corporation? Edna says he could go bankrupt. Mayor of a city? He could get voted out of office. Arthur says he’s got it. Ruler of a country. Why do I see this not ending well? Arthur says he wants to be head of a whole country and can’t be voted out of office. The Genie, grinning, asks if he’d like to be more specific than that. Arthur wants to be the head of a foreign country that can’t be voted out of office but it must be a contemporary country. Contemporary as in, in this century. The genie agrees. Arthur asks about the consequences. The Genie sidesteps answering directly and says there are consequences to any wish. Edna is suddenly on board. Ok, I can see way more going wrong with this wish than the money one. Arthur tells the Genie to do his thing. The Genie says “as you wish” and starts laughing very creepily. Oh, yeah, I’m sure this will turn out well.
We are taken to a bunker where someone is crying with his head down on a desk and an officer is yelling at him to stop being a baby…it’s just a mass suicide. The guy raises his head and…Arthur is Hitler. A soldier brings in a little bottle of presumably poison. And, since I know my history, it’s probably cyanide. However, I don’t see a gun. And shouldn’t Edna be Eva? Arthur looks like he’s seriously considering taking the poison. Instead he wishes he were back where it all began and throws the bottle down.
It transitions into the wine bottle shattering on the floor of their store. The store is darker and Edna is sitting behind the counter, asking Arthur what’s wrong? He looks funny. Arthur says he had his wish fulfilled, number four. Edna doesn’t seem to remember any of it. Which I guess makes sense if she wasn’t the person who ‘owned’ the wishes. So does this mean their neighbors got their money taken away? That’s a bummer. He says that all of the wishes ended the same way. In a word…sucky. So, I’m curious. With the bottle being broke did the Genie get killed? Or just go on to inhabit another random bottle?
Arthur looks around and says to Edna that the place doesn’t look half bad. Actually, she must remember. She says they came out of it ahead at least. Arthur wants to know what she means. She points to the display case where the crack is still mended. So it’s not a total loss. They giggle together a bit and kiss each other. Then Arthur hits the display case with the end of the broom and it’s cracked again in exactly the same way. They look at each other for a second and Edna cracks up. I’ve been there. It’s either laugh, cry or tear your hair out so I prefer to laugh (after letting out a hearty swear word).
A word to the wise, now, to the garbage collectors of the world, the curio seekers, to the antique buffs – to everyone who would try to coax out a miracle from unlikely places. Check that bottle you’re taking back for a 2-cent deposit. A genie, say might be your own. Case in point, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Castle, fresh from the briefest of trips into The Twilight Zone.
Genie ones always kind of tick me off. Nobody ever gets to keep what they get and nobody ever wishes correctly. I know they’re usually illustrating the whole you can’t get something for nothing and be happy with what you have but still. Having money obviously didn’t turn them into assholes so why not let them keep it. Not to mention the taxes estimate seemed insanely high.
If anyone feels like they recognize Edna she also played in the Twilight Zone episode: The Fever.
Thank you for joining us this week and be sure to come back next week for one of my favorite episodes: Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room.