“Come Into My Cellar” begins on a beautiful Saturday morning, as suburban dad Hugh Fortnum awakens to hear his neighbor, Mrs. Goodbody, call herself “the first line of defense concerning flying saucers.” A special delivery package arrives for his son, Tom, containing mushrooms to grow in the cellar “for-Big-Profit.” Around noon, Hugh sees friend Roger Willis, who is suddenly “afraid for everybody” and warns Hugh to “watch everything for a few days.” At twilight, Hugh and his wife Cynthia sit together on the porch. Tom proudly shows off his mushroom crop, growing fast after only seven hours.
After midnight, Hugh lays awake, sorting things out in his mind. He asks Cynthia if she thinks an invasion from outer space is possible, concocting a theory about alien spores reaching Earth, growing as mushrooms and taking over. Hugh goes to the kitchen for a glass of milk and finds a dish of fresh-cut mushrooms in the refrigerator. He realizes that the invasion could succeed if the mushrooms were eaten by humans, allowing the aliens to take over from within. He calls down to Tom, still in the cellar well after midnight. The boy admits to having eaten mushrooms on a sandwich and to having put them in the refrigerator for his parents to eat. A tense conversation ends as Hugh affects a “jaunty air” and heads down to the basement.
|Steve Dunne as Bill|
|Peter Lazer as Tom|
The casting is perfect, especially Steve Dunne as Bill (not Hugh), the father, and Peter Lazer as Tom, the son. The scenes that take place outdoors use late 1950s TV sitcom scenery and camera setups to establish that Hartford, Connecticut (identified in the show but not the story as the tale’s location), is an ideal suburb. Early on, one scene that is expanded features Roger telling Bill that he has a sense that something is wrong. He remarks that people have been vanishing and foreshadows a future Bradbury novel by quoting MacBeth: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”
|Joe looking at the camera|
Bradbury’s script has nice touches of 1950s optimism, such as this exchange between father and son: “Haven’t you heard? The world’s ending,” says Bill, the father, to which his son Tom replies, “Nope! The way I see it, everybody looks forward.” Unfortunately, the future that “Special Delivery” anticipates is one where humans with emotions and feelings are replaced by “Martians.”
|Beatrice Straight as Cynthia|
“Special Delivery” was directed by Norman Lloyd, who was also the show’s associate producer. Lloyd had appeared the year before in a dual role in the previous Bradbury episode, “Design for Loving.” His work behind the camera in this episode is outstanding. Handsome Steve Dunne (1918-1977) played Bill, the father. He had a long career without any significant roles, appearing five times on the Hitchcock series. I remember him best from a minor role as a TV newscaster in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Beatrice Straight (1914-2001) played his wife, Cynthia. She won an Oscar for her brief role in Network (1976) and also appeared in “The Cuckoo Clock” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Peter Lazer (1946-2008) played Tom, the son. His career began at age ten and was over by age 21. He also appeared in another classic episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled “Don’t Interrupt.” Finally, Frank Maxwell (1916-2004) played Roger, Bill’s friend. He had an instantly recognizable face and appeared in many TV episodes, including six on the Hitchcock series.
|Frank Maxwell as Roger|
The story was remade in 1989 as an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater, with a new script by Bradbury. The remake is painful to watch. Starring Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti), it suffers from unimaginative direction and an intrusive and overbearing score. There are occasional, brief flashes of the original story, as in the scene where Roger confesses his fears to Hugh (Dad is back to his original name), but for the most part the show demonstrates the poor quality of much episodic television of the 1980s, with bad color, weak attempts at humor, and a lack of subtlety. The suburban idyll of the 1950s has become something to satirize and treat as ironic, rather than as an ideal that is being compromised from outside. The remake can be viewed online here and it is also available on DVD.
Aggelis, Steven Louis, "Conversations with Ray Bradbury" (2003). Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. Paper 1. <http://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/etd/1.>
Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/>.
"Special Delivery." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 29 Nov. 1959. Television.