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Thursday, February 23, 2006

1.56 --- Shadow Play

Directed by : Paul Lynch
Written by : James Crocker (original teleplay by Charles Beaumont)
Starring : Peter Coyote, Guy Boyd, Janet Eilber
First aired : 4th of April, 1986.

Adam Grant (Peter Coyote, Southern Comfort, E.T. the Extraterrestial and a whole bunch more) is in a tight spot. He is found guilty of murder by the jury on his trial, and the judge sentences him to death by hanging. One thing does not fit however - instead of calmly accepting his punishment, Adam insinsts that all of this simply isn't happening. The whole trial, and every person in it is just a part of his recurring dream, or better said, nightmare.

Assigned to his death row cell, the rest of the inmates laugh with him as he still sticks to his theory. In order to convince them that this is no joke and that he is for real, Adam explains to the rest how does it feel to be executed by hanging. His story, full of details which sound wholly authentic, frightens the convicts. Meanwhile, the D.A. on the case, Mark Ritchie (Guy Boyd, Streamers, Flashpoint), is ill at ease at his home. He believes something is wrong, but can't quite pin it. He is soon paid visit by Adam's defense counsel Erin Jacobs (Janet Eilber), who only reinforces his fears. Erin, also thinking Grant might be on to something, points out the facts that there were no big crowds in the courtroom and that there was no press coverage - an unusual thing for a big murder trial.

Spurred on by doubt, Ritchie visits Adam in his cell, who is clearly expecting him. Not only that, but Adam consistently lip-syncs all the words Ritchie says - just like he heard them before ! Furthering his effort to get himselfs saved and thus save all of them, Adam asks Ritchie when was he convicted and which day is it today. As he hears today is Sunday, and that all executions happen on monday 12:01 AM, Adam remarks that no court does business on sundays. Ritchie is still in denial, and when Adam casually explains him how his wife is called Carol and that in real life she is his sister which he hates, and then recites him the lines she used minutes ago verbatim, he loses his cool and storms out of the cell.

Back at his place, Ritchie is torn between pulling the plug on the execution or letting Adam hang. When Erin Jacobs finds out that neither Mark or Carol Ritchie can remember when were they married, for how long were they married or if they were even married in the first place, Mark decides to go for broke and phone the governor after all.

It's in vain though. Adam is already visited by his father, who in this nightmare has the role of a priest. Adam pleads with him to stop this nightmare, wondering whatever did he do for this to happen, but his father/priest just keeps playing his "part". Adam is taken to the execution room and hanged - but when the noose drops, there is no body hanging from it. Just as that happens, things start disappearing at the Ritchie household - the old clock, the phone, then Erin, then Carol, and then finally Mark. Lights dim, and when they are lit again, the setting is one from the beginning - a courtroom with Adam awaiting the verdict. Some actors have switched roles - the black fellow from the death row is now Adam's lawyer - but the story is all the same...and the nigthmare continues.

***

In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more,
As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor,
And with cold streel, odour on their bodies mad a move to connect,

But I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left.

-- Joy Division, Shadowplay

Another old TZ remake, Shadow Play, just like Dead Woman's Shoes did, takes a Charles Beaumont script - and improves on it. The old Shadow Play, with Dennis Weaver as Adam Grant, was pretty effective and thought-provoking. The new Shadow Play, though, is even better. James Crocker, who adapted Beaumont's original teleplay, fleshes out Grant's character a little bit, adding the element of sister/father who he possibly did wrong previously, hinting that this is some sort of comeuppance - an element which I believe wasn't there in the Beaumont script (I will admit it was a while ago since I saw original Shadowplay, so don't take this for granted).

Another slight script tweak is the manner of execution - Beaumont had Adam Grant fried on the electric chair, while Crocker prefers hanging. From the directorial point of view, I would have preferred the chair ; it would set up a neat coda, chair switching on, lights going off, a second to ponder if maybe that call got through, then lights turning back on...and your disappointment / surprise to see all is same. Still, I can't say this bothered me too much, if at all.

Coyote, a former counter-culture activist turned actor, is rather convincing in his role of Adam Grant. Character actor Guy Boyd is providing good support as the doubting D.A., but Janet Eilber's defense lawyer is the weak link - her performance is too nervous for her own good, and suffers from slight overacting.

To conclude, I believe (and again, I might be wrong) that it was Fran├žois Truffaut who said that they shouldn't remake good films, they should remake bad ones until they get 'em right. Normally, I would agree, but Shadow Play takes good material as a source, and makes it even better. And there's no shame in that.

TZ trivia : A pair of TZ veterans appear in this episode. William Schallert, of Mr. Bevis (3rd of June, 1960.), appears as the priest, while George Petrie (In His Image, 3rd of January, 1964.) is there as well. In addition to that, Schallert also appeared in Twilight Zone : The Movie.

Comments on "1.56 --- Shadow Play"

 

Anonymous AK said ... (2:44 PM) : 

'Shadow Play' is another ep I re-watched recently alongside 'Monsters!' where I saw a little 'something' that set of a spark. In the last scene, where Adam Grant is back in the courtroom and the 'players' have switched roles, something interesting happens... As Adam is losing his temper in front of the judge, the Prosecutor, now played by the former jail guard, is shown for 2-3 seconds looking on and smiling maliciously. The former Prosecutor from the beginning did nothing like that. Other than this quick cut, his actions are the same as in the iteration before (i.e. the quick stop staring at the defense attorney).
In the episode, there are references to God being the ultimate judge etc... It seems to me this is Grant's personal hell, and the 'new' Prosecutor is some type of devil figure looking on and hiding and tormenting him.
Again, maybe reading too much into it, but that 2 sec cut of him smiling just gives me the creeps and seems 'intentional' somehow...

 

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