Ray Bradbury Theater: Banshee
Episode 6 (Series 2, Episode 3)
First aired 22 February 1986
The short story first appeared in Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine for September/October 1984.
Its first book appearance was in The Toynbee Convector (1988).
It can also be found in Bradbury Stories (2003).
It was also incorporated into the novel Green Shadows, White Whale (1992).
Directed by Douglas Jackson
John Hampton- Peter
A taxi arrives at
a manor house in Ireland, carrying Douglas Rogers, a writer who is about
to start work with film director John Hampton. Rogers clutches a folder
to his chest, smooths down his hair and reaches for the door knocker -
but the door opens to reveal Hampton. Hampton does all the talking. As
he is about to close the door there is a faint howling sound. The two
look around at the grounds of the house, but there is nothing to be seen.
"Do you know what that is?" asks Hampton.
Inside the house, Hampton walks around the room reading Rogers' screenplay. As he finishes each page he lets it fall to the floor. Rogers bemusedly follows him. When Hampton reaches the final page he looks up and says "It's good... It needs some cutting, of course." Hampton starts picking up the pages, and Rogers joins in.
"One day you must teach me to write" says Hampton. "One day, John, you must teach me to direct" replies Rogers.
Hampton turns his head to one side and says that the banshee is back. Rogers is puzzled. Hampton explains that banshees are spirits of women who roam the woods the night someone is to die. "Maybe it means...us" he says. Hampton explains further, turning to a book to back him up. The writer looks on skeptically.
Hampton turns the conversation to the screenplay, entitled "The Beast", once more. He asks if it ever occurred to Rogers how much the Beast was like Hampton. He tells of how many women he has had.
He picks up a copy of the London Times and claims it has a review of Rogers' new book. Doug leans forward to look, but Hampton backs away and doesn't let him see it. He reads it aloud and makes Rogers sit down. It is a negative review. Rogers reaches up to grab the paper, but Hampton throws it on the fire.
Rogers now confronts Hampton and asks, "What's wrong with you?" He has had enough of Hampton's taunting mind games. Hampton now claims that the review was really positive, and that he merely added some scathing lines to "get his goat". Hampton now begins praising Rogers. "You're the finest living author in the world and I love you heart soul and mind." It is not long, however, before Hampton draws attention to the banshee sound once again. Rogers dismisses it, but Hampton suggests that the banshee may want company; why doesn't Rogers go out and keep it company? He bullies Rogers into putting on a coat and going outside. Then, just as he steps over the threshold, Hampton decides that he has changed his mind.
Rogers says that he thinks it's all a setup, with the caretaker hiding somewhere in the bushes. He puts on the coat, and steps outside. Behind him, Hampton locks the door and closes the blinds, crying out "Don't be yellow, kid!"
Rogers walks in the grounds, talking to himself. Completely unconcerned with any threat from banshees, he mutters that he should think up some story to tell Hampton. After a while of wandering, he mumbles, "Banshee, where are you?" A loud sound answers him, giving him a start - but it is only a crow. Walking further into the grounds, Rogers sees a ghostly female figure. She slowly approaches him. She speaks to Rogers: "Is he in there now? The great animal that walks on two legs? He stays. All others go...Girls are his napkins, women his midnight feast."
"Not bad," replies Rogers. "Improvised, or did he write it?" The "banshee" says that she still loves "him". Who? "Will. Willy." Rogers says that she has the wrong house. The woman says that the name has changed, but Hampton is "him."
Rogers by now is engaged with the "banshee". If that is her William in the house, what if he came out? What would she do with him? She says she would lie with him...and never get up again. He would be kept like a stone in a cold stream. She pleas with Rogers to ask Hampton to come out. "Tell him he's needed".
Rogers goes back to the house. Hampton says he will read the book review again. He now claims that he, Hampton, wrote it himself. Rogers doesn't believe him.
The banshee noise comes again, drawing Rogers to the window. Hampton says that the banshee was just a joke. But Rogers is convinced it's real. He tells Hampton what the banshee has said to him. He suggests Hampton should go outside and have a chat. Hampton takes up the challenge.
At the last minute, Rogers fears for Hampton, and urges him not to go. "Kid, you're almost as good as me. What an actor, what an act!"
Hampton goes outside, and closes the door. Within a minute, the banshee howls "William!" and there is a frantic hammering at the locked door. Rogers backs up against a wall, as we hear Hampton's voice echoing "The banshee knows..."
Publicity still: Charles Martin Smith, Peter O'Toole.
Publicity still: Peter O'Toole.
This episode is something of a departure for Ray Bradbury Theatre, as instead of drawing on long established classics it adapts a new story, first published less than two years earlier.
When the story first appeared, it was clear to many readers that this was a fictionalised account of Bradbury's real life encounter with film director John Huston. In the 1950s, Bradbury had joined Huston in Ireland to work on the screenplay for Moby Dick. By all accounts, Bradbury's characterisation of Huston/Hampton in "Banshee" is accurate.
The central event depicted is also based on reality. Bradbury said, "When the wind blew, Huston would say, 'Hear that? It's dead people mourning on the road. It's banshees.'" However, where Huston's banshees were imagined, Hampton's turns out to be very real.
This episode is blessed with a strong cast. Oscar-winner Peter O'Toole is in fine form as the controlling, manipulative, bullying Hampton. He doesn't play the part as John Huston, and this is probably a good thing, as the two are very different physically and in manner. Instead, O'Toole offers a mixture of cool and charm. Hampton's use of "kid" to refer to Rogers sounds like a Huston use of language, but doesn't seem quite right coming from O'Toole's very English Hampton.
Charles Martin Smith is strong as Rogers. His match to Bradbury is perhaps a little closer than O'Toole's match to Huston, but again the performance is strong enough that it doesn't matter whether there is or is not any physical resemblance.
Director Douglas Jackson has a long history in Canadian cinema and television, much of it in the thriller genre. His handling of the confined and confining house is very strong. Where much of Bradbury's original story takes place around a hearth (in what one might imagine to be a huge mansion house), this dramatisation roams around the house, allowing Hampton to literally lead Rogers along a wayward path.
Bradbury said that he had no problems adapting this story for the screen: "It's a longer story and had much more dialogue so I didn't have to fatten that one up at all. It's a terrific situation with that story, everyone knows it's John Huston. I bumped into him at a restaurant the other day for the first time in thirty years - and we had a chat. I think he'll like it."
There are some nice visual touches in the adaptation: Hampton casually dropping the script pages as he wanders around the house; crushing a script page unde foot; using Rogers' coat as a bullfighter's cape. All serving to reinforce the control Hampton seeks to have over Rogers.
Central to both the story and the dramatisation is the dialogue exchange to the effect that Rogers could teach Hampton to write, and Hampton could teach rogers to direct - and this is exactly what happens. Hampton controls almost every move - and emotion - of Rogers, even sends him "on set" to act with the banshee; Rogers decides to concoct a tale about what he encounters. It just so happens that, much to his surprise, he really does encounter a banshee.
A slight weakness with the adaptation is the ending. It just feels a little too abrupt. Bradbury's short story manages to cram a little more in at the end, to help the reader share in Rogers' fear. The short story also has the benefit, being told from Rogers' point of view, of taking us inside Rogers' thoughts.
The bottom line is that this story needs to scare the reader/viewer, and the adaptation is a little too timid. Still, it's good fun, and a smart end to the second batch of Ray Bradbury Theater episodes.
Goldberg, L. (1986) "This is...the Ray Bradbury Theater", Starlog 104, March 1986.