Director: Don Melford
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Luther Adler, Vivi Janiss, Joseph Ruskin, Olan Soulé, and Lisa Golm
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 10/7/1960
Production Code: 173-3638
Shop owner Arthur Castle (Luther Adler) spends his last dollar on a wine bottle which, unbeknownst to him at the time, contains a powerful genie capable of granting four wishes. Despite the reluctance of his wife Edna (Vivi Janiss), Arthur decides to take full advantage of the djinn’s offer; however, unforeseen “consequences” quickly ensue.
Those who enjoy The Twilight Zone’s lighthearted episodes are advised to view “The Man in the Bottle” for its comedic material. That being said, Rod Serling’s approach to the “genie in the bottle” trope results in a disappointingly predictable outcome.
A magnificent character actor, Joseph Ruskin embodied the subtle but malevolent condescension that one would expect of an unscrupulous genie. Contrasting the sly, deceitful manner exemplified by Ruskin, Arthur and Edna Castle come across as two humble yet hopelessly naïve individuals who cannot help but fall prey to the obvious trickery of their ostensible servant. Especially worth commending are those sequences wherein Arthur meticulously ponders what his next wish will be, at which point Edna’s sensible reservations are ultimately overshadowed by the genie’s compelling arguments to the contrary.
Though somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the concept of an IRS employee collecting a tax on “wish money” borders on the absurd. Also unrealistic are the exorbitant fees imposed on Mr. and Mrs. Castle, which could be legitimized only under a socialist government (perhaps such is a deliberate, albeit hyperbolic, commentary on why a “tax the rich” policy would have the unintended consequence of harming small-business owners).
“The Man in the Bottle” relies upon a clichéd narrative device (i.e. be careful what you wish for) for the purpose of teaching an important, if overly simplified, lesson on being grateful for one’s circumstances, whether meager or not. (On a side note, Rod Serling could have conveyed his message without employing subject matter of a disturbing nature; specifically, Arthur proves himself to be a kindly old man willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for the benefit of others and therefore does not deserve to endure the unpleasant situations, e.g. losing all his money and assuming the role of Hitler, that Ruskin’s genie happens to conceive.)
Mean-spirited humor notwithstanding, “The Man in the Bottle” contains a number of cute, wholesome, and amusing moments to compensate for an otherwise generic premise. Notably, the benevolent characteristics of Arthur serve to counterbalance his remarkably foolish behavior and set a positive example as a result.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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