Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writers: Jim Thomas, John Thomas, A L Katz, and Gilbert Adler
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Eric Douglas, Lance Henriksen, Dan Aykroyd, John Kassir, Dominick Morra, Steve Boyum, Charles Picerni Jr., Anthony Gallo, and R. David Smith
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Air Date: 8/28/1991
In this Emmy-nominated episode, an army lieutenant named Martin Kalthrob (Eric Douglas) requests a discharge from his father, General Kalthrob (Kirk Douglas). Never a man to show preferential treatment, the general refuses his son’s request but promises to transfer him upon completing a special mission. After Martin deserts his comrades during battle, however, his father holds a court martial and subsequently condemns the lieutenant to death via firing squad.
A backdoor pilot for the unproduced Two-Fisted Tales spin-off, “Yellow” emphasizes the grisly horrors associated with real-life combat in lieu of clichéd scares. Robert Zemeckis should be commended for his authentic World War I battle sequences, while those who admire the acting of Kirk Douglas will appreciate his nuanced performance as an otherwise stereotypical army general.
Though not quite as subtle as his father, Eric Douglas portrayed his character such that Martin’s sympathetic qualities gradually surface over time. When Martin abandons his subordinates at a crucial moment, audiences may initially despise the lieutenant for his reprehensible actions. However, after Martin reveals that his decision to pursue a military career was influenced by the general’s domineering tendencies, the younger Kalthrob progresses from despicable coward to conflicted son living in his father’s ever-present shadow.
In contrast, General Kalthrob comes across as a hardened soldier torn between army duty and paternal obligation. Thanks to Kirk Douglas’ dramatic gravitas, Kalthrob avoids looking like a generic Patton clone, instead showing love and familial loyalty at various times despite his ardent dedication to military causes.
On a technical level, “Yellow” succeeds in capturing all the elements typically associated with an epic war film. That being said, many viewers will note the obvious parallels between this episode and Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, also featuring Kirk Douglas.
Whereas the majority of Tales from the Crypt installments rely upon vampires, mad scientists, zombies, or other ghoulish tropes in order to induce cheap thrills, “Yellow” instead implements a more disturbing take on the horror genre. By focusing on genuine reactions to realistic scenarios, this episode will force viewers to empathize with its main characters and develop a complex understanding of the human condition as a result. Overall, this approach offers a welcome deviation from the often black-and-white storytelling devices employed throughout this series.
Its predictable ending aside, “Yellow” stands out as a phenomenal effort. While horror enthusiasts might prefer a more traditional Tales from the Crypt episode, war movie buffs will nonetheless admire the grittiness of Zemeckis’ direction.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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