Ask The A.V. Club: January 25, 2008
There is a kind of chase scene I always associate with Scooby-Doo, but I've seen it elsewhere, too (recently, often in parody, such as in the Doctor Who episode "Love & Monsters"). That's where there's a shot down a hallway with many doors on the side, and a pursuer is chasing the protagonists across the hall, from one side to another, through one set of doors, then another. Often, the order of the pursuer and pursued changes, or the order is otherwise mixed up. Where did this kind of scene originate? I'd suspect slapstick comedians like Chaplin, Keaton, or Laurel & Hardy, but I don't know enough about their work to really know; nor do I know if this even starts with film. Can you help?David Partridge
Who's behind that door? Why, it's Noel Murray!
David, this is often referred to as "The Freleng Door Gag," named for legendary Looney Tunes director Friz Freleng. Unlike his peer Tex Avery, who was known for wildly surreal exaggeration, and Chuck Jones, who mastered facial expression and character nuance, Freleng made brilliant use of static frames, letting characters run in and out of the picture in order to build a joke. (My favorite example is "High Wire Hare," in which Freleng holds on the ladder of a high-diving board and lets the audience imagine what indignities Yosemite Sam is suffering up top before he inevitably falls back down into a water tank.) For the door gag, Freleng toyed with the audience's expectations by having characters run in and out a set of doors, often emerging in impossible ways.
Pixar's Monsters Inc. climaxes with a terrific homage to Freleng: a midair, mega-door-gag in which the good guys and bad guys chase each other across a factory floor packed with dimensional doorways strapped to conveyer belts. After Monsters Inc., no one need attempt another door gag again—or at least not on so grand a scale.
Still A Fairly Dangerous Game
Hello! I hope you can help me out with a literary mystery I've been trying to solve for a while now. In 1996, I was in sixth grade and my homeroom teacher read a story to my class that fascinated me because it was kind of an intense novel to read to 12-year-old kids. I was sick on the day she finished the novel, and ever since then I've been curious about how it ends.
The novel was about a young man who witnesses a rich, elderly man commit some sort of crime. I think it had to do with poaching or perhaps accidentally killing someone on a hunting trip. The young man goes to a nearby town to inform authorities, and it turns out that the elderly man is a high-ranking official in the town. Of course, for his meddling, the young man has to be punished, so the older man takes him out into the desert and gives him a day's head start before the older man starts to hunt the younger man. I remember two details about the chase very clearly: the young man has to cook birds he kills on hot stones, and he has to bury himself in the sand with a straw for a breathing tube.
In retrospect, it seems that the novel wasn't written contemporaneously to 1996. It definitely isn't the short story "The Most Dangerous Game," but there are certainly similarities. Finally, the other novels that teacher read our class were quite clearly young-adult fiction, but I got the impression that this novel wasn't written for an audience of young adults. Maybe you can help? Thanks!
Tasha Robinson is also not for an audience of young adults:
You're a bit off on some of the details, Erin, particularly that last one—the book you're thinking of is actually a young-adult novel, though 12-year-olds are arguably still too young to be "young adults." (Amazon rates it for grades 7 through 12, so apparently your teacher had high hopes for your class' maturity level.) But you remembered most of it pretty clearly. The book is 1972's Deathwatch, by Robb White. It's an award-winner (New York Times Book Of The Year, Edgar Award for the year's best juvenile mystery, American Library Association "best of the best," etc.) and is often considered a moderate classic in kid lit.
In the book, the younger man, Ben, is acting as a guide for the rich older man, Madec, who's been granted a rare permit to shoot a bighorn sheep. Instead, he shoots a prospector, then tries to talk Ben into covering up the situation instead of reporting it. When Ben refuses, Madec forces him into the desert at gunpoint, sans clothes, water, or food, then follows him around, waiting for him to die of exposure. I haven't read the book since I was a young adult myself, but I remember the story as being fairly gripping, and worthy of periodic re-reads.
There was a TV adaptation of the story in 1974, starring Andy Griffith as Madec, though the character's name was changed. A young Sam Bottoms played Ben. Unfortunately, it's pretty thoroughly unavailable. But the book's still in print, and it's pretty easy to find. Most of White's other books aren't, unfortunately, but it's easy to see his work in film: He and horror-film gimmick-meister William Castle made a series of films together, including 13 Ghosts, House On Haunted Hill, and the infamous The Tingler.
From The Enchantingly Slanted Dept.
I heard a song once, and I am 90 percent sure it was a song by Pavement which was released on a single. The chorus was something about gangsters and LSD. It has haunted me for the past 12 years. Please tell me I have not been imagining this song. I have not found it on any Pavement LP or EP I have. I have all of the Pavement LPs and Watery Domestic and the B-sides from the re-release of Slanted & Enchanted. I know that is not much to go on, but I am hoping The A.V. Club has a Pavement fan who would instantly recognize the song from the meager clues.
The A.V. Club has a Pavement fan in Josh Modell:
The song you seek is "Gangsters & Pranksters," which was originally released on the limited-edition Pacific Trim EP, and later re-released as part of the two-disc Wowee Zowee Sordid Sentinels set. The lyrics, as grabbed from the Interweb, are below. It used to be tough to track down all that Pavement, but the band is making it easier with each deluxe two-disc reissue.
Donnybrook between two gangsters
And a bunch of merry pranksters
Two against a .22,
Well who d'ya think is gonna win
That fight fight?
Ten ta one it's the gangsters,
Those pranksters they can't even fight!
Gangsters like their knuckles bloody
Pranksters spike the drinks of their buddies
Gangsters treat their ladies right
And pranksters curse their chickless plight
(Aw man, there's no dames)
I'VE GOT ALL THIS HARVARD LSD
WHY WON'T ANYONE FUCK ME?!?
As a child, I saw two things on television that terrified me. I only recall moments of each, but you might be able to help me figure out what they're from so that I may better understand these bizarre memories. I saw them both somewhere between '80 and '83.
1) I'm guessing it was either a Night Gallery or Ray Bradbury Presents that had this episode. I think it's about an evil vacuum cleaner that sucks a person to death by putting its nozzle over his or her nose and mouth. The scene that plays in my head is where there are two children huddled in a closet trying to be quiet while the machine kills their mom.
2) This one I'm even more vague on specifics. I think it might be British. The plot involves a milkman who poisons people's milk. I believe he puts the poison on the glass bottles' green foil tops. There's one shot where you see an entire family slumped dead over their breakfast. The whole concept of a cheerful humming man delivering these killer bottles freaked me out and made me realize that there are horrible people in the world.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Hopefully you can at least give me a better idea of the actual plots versus what my young mind might have concocted.
Tasha Robinson again:
I'm not sure you need help with the plots, Rebecca—you're doing pretty good on your own. You just need a little help with the sourcing. Item #1 up above isn't from Night Gallery or Ray Bradbury Presents, it's from season four of Tales From The Darkside. The name of the episode is "Hush," and it's closely based on a sublimely creepy short story of the same name by Zenna Henderson, a largely (and unjustly) out-of-print science-fiction author who was most active in the '60s. You can find it in her (out of print, but generally easy to find) anthology The Anything Box, a book I highly recommend. Tales From The Darkside, alas, isn't available on DVD, so it'll be harder to actually re-watch the episode. It was on YouTube recently enough to show up on Google searches, but it's since been pulled—unlike many other Tales episodes. Maybe it'll turn up again eventually.
The second one is a bit harder to track. While there was a Tales From The Darkside episode about a weird wish-granting killer milkman ("The Milkman Cometh," from season three), I watched that on YouTube, and it doesn't have anything like the image you remember, though it does have a younger-but-still-craggy Robert Forster to recommend it. It seems more likely that one of the many Twilight Zone-derived twist-story series of the '80s partially adapted Stephen King's "Morning Deliveries" from his anthology Skeleton Crew. It's a vignette pulled from a scrapped novel, about a cheerfully whistling milkman making his rounds, dropping off cream at one home, poison gas and tarantulas in milk bottles at the next. It sounds very similar to what you're describing. Unfortunately, the IMDB doesn't list any such adaptation, and Google searches came to nothing. Anyone out there know whether "Morning Deliveries" perhaps made it across the pond and turned up on TV there, or whether Rebecca is remembering something else entirely?
Next week: A sacrificial company and some reasons we aren't pimps. Send your questions to email@example.com.