Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Ring Around the Redhead"

"Ring Around the Redhead" was originally published in the November 1948 issue of Startling Stories. One of the best and most enjoyable of MacDonald's science fiction work, it was good enough to be included in an early s-f anthology (Science-Fiction Adventures in Dimension, 1953) and in 1967's Science Fiction Yearbook. It was included as well in MacDonald's own anthology, Other Times, Other Worlds. Ultimately, it was adapted for television as an episode of George Romero's Tales From the Darkside in 1985.

"Ring" takes place in a single setting, a courtroom where amateur inventor Bill Maloney is on trial for the murder of his next door neighbor. While no corpse has been found, the discovery of bits of hair and brain matter, as well as the testimony of a busybody neighbor from across the street are enough for the district attorney to bring charges. We learn through her testimony that Bill has been living with a beautiful young woman who was first seen wearing a strange, metallic garment, and who appeared to be deaf. We also learn that she witnessed Bill and his missing neighbor arguing soon after the girl appeared. The busybody, Miss Anita Hempflet, did some asking around and determined that the girl didn't come to town on a plane, bus or taxi. "I figure that any woman who'd live openly with a man like Maloney must of hitchhiked into town. She didn't come any other way." We also learn that there was a recent mishap with an atomic bomb an a nearby military base.

Maloney eventually takes the stand to testify in his own defense. He testifies that the bomb explosion opened a strange, futuristic room in his basement and in there he discovered a large, metallic ring. After some tinkering he discovers the ring to be a portal to another world or, perhaps another dimension. He is able to reach in a pull out objects, such as uncut rubies and other strange artifacts, and he makes the mistake of telling his next door neighbor about it. Ultimately Bill pulls out Rejapachalandakeena, a beautiful young woman from this other place, who is naturally scared and confused and, they discover, unable to return to her world through the ring. Bill calls her Keena for short, and begins teaching her English. He learns she has come from an advanced civilization where war and disease are things of the past, and where the people have honed their mental abilities to the point where they can materialize objects and read each others' thoughts. She warns Bill that her people will come looking for her.

Bill and Keena fall in love, the next door neighbor steals the ring and... read the rest for yourself. I won't spoil it.

The story is delightfully written and a joy to read. MacDonald's plot is masterfully constructed, with revelations of the happenings in Bill's house told piecemeal through court testimony. His descriptive abilities are, after only two years of story writing, sharp and succinct. He describes Anita Hempflet as "fiftyish, big-boned, and of the same general consistency as the dried beef recommended for Canadian canoe trips." The judge is "a puffy old citizen with signs of many good years at the brandy bottle, the hundreds of gallons of which surprisingly had done nothing to dim the keenness of eye or brain." The story's climax is exciting, satisfying, and ends on a very humorous note.

All of which is
missing in the television adaptation. Probably due to budget restraints, the setting is changed from a courtroom to a prison cell, where Bill has already been convicted and is awaiting execution. A female reporter visits him and the story is told to her in flashback. John Heard credibly plays Bill, but Penelope Ann Miller's Keena is portrayed as more of a ditz than a superior being from another world (this was, perhaps forgivably, her first screen appearance). The one attempt at humor is pretty lame and is nowhere to be found in the original story. The episode is poorly staged, the special effects (if you can call them that) are something out of a dinner theater production of Little Shop of Horrors, and the entire episode has the cheap look of an Ed Wood film. The poor job Paramount did in transferring the shows to DVD doesn't help either.

All of the character interplay that made the original story so engaging is gone, and the finale is almost embarrassingly mishandled. The show is available on DVD for purchase or rental -- I rented the episode from Netflix. Worth checking out for the JDM completist, but once again, a wonderful opportunity to adapt a great MacDonald story is muffed.

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