Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: I'll Give You a Million

Remember that episode of The Simpsons in which Bart sells his soul to Millhouse for $5 and then comes to regret it? "I'll Give You a Million" is sort of a more serious version of that story.

Crooked millionaires Duncan Williams (Keenan Wynn) and Jack Blaine (George Petrie) are a pair of sporting businessmen when Duncan makes Blaine an interesting offer: $1 million for Jack's soul. Jack is something of an atheist and doesn't believe in things like souls, so after a bit of haggling and back-and-forth, they agree, and the contract is signed. Some time later, Jack discovers he's dying, and shaken up by the diagnosis, he goes to his old friend to trade back for his soul, but Duncan declines, enjoying the fact his friend is now squirming.

"I'll Give You a Million" was directed by John Harrison, who did the music of Day of the Dead and Creepshow. He also played the zombie in Dawn of the Dead that gets a screwdriver in the ear. Like other Romero associates, Harrison directed a number of Tales from the Darkside episodes and would use the experience to springboard into a more full-time directing career, including the TV miniseries of Dune in 2000 as well as Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Harrison does, all things considered, a pretty good job here, but he's constrained by a predictable script that draws a little too much from a certain passage from Creepshow.

Harrison gets fun performances out of Wynn and Petrie. There's fun watching them try to outsmart, intimidate, and bluff each other, all through the veneer of jovial, old friendship. The problem is the narrative pretty much writes itself. We know, once the details of the contract are announced, that Jack will get cold feet and try to get out of it, Duncan will decline and only relent once it's too late, and then the big twist will happen.

Once Jack shuffles of the mortal coil, Duncan, alone in his mansion, hears sounds of an intruder, and he goes downstairs to investigate, where he finds the ghostly, rotting specter of his dead friend, who  has brought him his soul, a green mist-like substance in a jar (this is unexpected). This sequence is too close to the segment in Creepshow in which Leslie Neilson confronted by the water-logged corpse of Ted Danson and his lover, right down to the fact he's an evil rich guy in a bathrobe, carrying a gun, and he locks himself in a room, only to turn around and see the ghost standing right there.

Then, the Devil shows up, this time presented as an impeccably dressed young man with a rose, and he claims both their souls when Duncan dies of a heart attack before he can accept Jack's soul. The end. Still, as predictable and one-note "I'll Give You a Million" is, it's still pretty fun and engaging. There is a certain morbid humor in seeing these two rich guys discovering there's someone else who knows how to leverage and a manipulate a contract.

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