Monday, July 7, 2014

Tales from the Darkside: Pain Killer

In the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train, Farley Granger plays a tennis star who is approached by Robert Walker with an offer: Walker will murder Granger's wife, who refuses to agree to a divorce, and in return, Granger will off Walker's overbearing father. Remembering that movie greatly improves the viewing of "Pain Killer" because Granger now plays the Walker role as if Walker had turned his idea into a business and was also the Devil.

Granger plays Dr. Roebuck, and he says there is no physical cause for the back pain afflicting Harvey Turman (Lou Jacobi), a mechanic studying to be a computer programmer at the behest of his nagging wife Nadine (Peggy Cass). As there savings are depleted, Harvey misses more work, and he tries every technique to alleviate the pain, Harvey agrees rather thoughtlessly when Dr. Roebuck suggests they murder the real source of Harvey's pain: Nadine.

Granger is the best thing about the episode. He comes off as both a real doctor as well as a creep. The first time we see him is when Harvey, in complete pain and spending the night on the kitchen floor, looks out the window into the storm and sees a figure he later recognizes as Roebuck when he meets him properly, so we know something is off even when the good doctor is acting normally. The episode's best moment occurs when he tells Harvey it's his time to uphold his end of the bargain.

Unfortunately, the other performances are stuck at the level of a sitcom and aren't particularly convincing; the characters are one-dimensional. Harvey is the hen-pecked husband, and Nadine is a shrill nag, and their interaction is played mostly for laughs, which wears thin quickly. Instead of calling an ambulance when her husband collapses on the floor and can't get up, Nadine chides him and puts a blanket on him but not a good because she doesn't want it on the floor. Harvey, once Nadine has been offed, doesn't seem particularly perturbed by it either way; he doesn't feel guilty, relieved, gleeful, ashamed, angered, or regretful that his spouse has died. To him, it's just something that happened, and hey what do you know, his back pain is gone.

Even the back pain, Harvey's motivation for the entire story, is not really demonstrated. He talks about it lot, lies on the floor, puts on a contraption his physical therapist gave him, and walks around stiffly, but he doesn't really strike me as someone in the severe pain he's supposed to be. I just wasn't buying it.

No comments:

Post a Comment