Thinking himself the only survivor, Kalthrob retreats and paints a false portrait of heroism to the General, who happily agrees to transfer him. But then a dying Ripper staggers back in and spills his guts, both literally and figuratively. So Kalthrob is court martialed, and scheduled for death by firing squad right before the troop moves out. The General pays Kalthrob a visit in the stockade and they have it out. It’s the big money scene, where each one lays out their respective grievances and disappointments with one another, and it would be damn good if Eric Douglas had found the a tone other than whiny petulance. As is, I kind of ended up on the General’s side, and I’m a big annoying pacifist lefty. Anyway, the General comes up with a scheme. He’ll load the rifles with blanks, and once the troops leave, Kalthrob can escape and start a new life, away from the War. And all he wants in return is for Kalthrob to face (fake) death like a man.
The resolution here isn’t much in doubt, this being Tales from the Crypt, but Zemeckis and the cast, even Eric, do a nice job of staging it anyway. There’s a good deal of tension over where the General’s loyalties lie, with his son or his adherence to military code. And of course, the answer is the code. Once Kalthrob delivers a brave, Shakespeare-quoting speech about duty, the guns fire, and his chest blows out, a victim of both rigid dogma and his own cowardice. It’s the right ending, simple, almost Hemingway-esque, although again, it’s a bit undercut by our lack of empathy for Kalthrob.
It’s a good episode, really. Zemeckis really has a knack for staging his scenes, and I think he might surprise people if that Denzel Washington project ever coalesces. It’s not all on Eric Douglas though. The script is all right, but it isn’t deep, and I think this story, in this format, would have been better served if it wasn’t quite so delicately neutral. Pulp isn’t always served by ambiguity (OK, a better Kalthrob might have helped that too, but I’ve piled on poor Eric Douglas enough). On the other hand, everything this episode wants to accomplish is done ten times better in that scene from Saving Private Ryan with Jeremy Davies on the staircase. Is it unfair to compare a Crypt episode to the best scene from one of the most acclaimed films of one of our greatest directors? Yep, but there it is.
DOES IT HATE WOMEN?
ALSO WORTH NOTING:
*I mentioned this isn’t quite the right format, and that’s likely because Yellow was intended as an entry in a spin-off show, Two-Fisted Tales. Based on another EC comic series, it was to be a dark action show, dealing with manly pulp adventure tales rather than horror, hosted not by the Crypt Keeper, but rather William Sadler as a spectral gunslinger. It wasn’t picked up for series, and the three produced episodes (this, and two notables from Season Four) were turned into Crypt entries. This show would of course have been awesome, and it’s a damn shame it never happened. I would especially like to see the Sadler bits.
*The final Firing Squad sequence would probably have played with a lot more suspense on that show too.
*This is the longest episode of Crypt, at almost forty minutes. It doesn’t feel long or anything, but it probably could have been thirty no problem.
WORST CRYPT KEEPER JOKE:
“I guess Martin finally learned his lesson: No guts, no gory!”
I always look most forward to episodes directed by the big three (that is, exectuive producers Richard Donner, Walter Hill and Robert Zemeckis) and this one is no exception. The show ended up being unexpectedly successful thanks to the character of the Crypt Keeper (though it seems kind of baffling, looking back now) but you get the feeling that the real reason this show exists is for these seminal directors to make pulpy short films with big stars, and what director could resist an homage to some of the greatest war movies of all time? Yellow‘s a little slower than it deserves, it doesn’t fit neatly into even the loosest idea of what Tales from the Crypt is and, as much I wish otherwise, Eric Douglas is not a good actor. That being said, I kind of love this episode. I saw the twist coming from a mile away, but I think it’s one of the most wicked in the series (so I guess it does fit SOME kind of Crypt mold, in some way). Directed differently, this could have been a story about a disappointed father trying to give his son one last shot at dignity. But with a subtle twist (Martin sees his father wince, and thus realizes his fate before it’s too late) and some expert acting by Kirk Douglas, the result is a lot darker and more cynical than that. All told, I think it’s a hell of a season finale.