The Ray Bradbury Theater 1.4 – The Town Where No One Got Off

Well, the debut episode of this show was a little unpromising, but we soldiered on and I enjoyed the fourth installment very much. The kid thought it was very strange and creepy, and he was absolutely right. In “The Town Where No One Got Off,” Jeff Goldblum’s character gets argued off a train by a loudmouth played by Cec Linder, who says that if bleeding heart small town apologists like him think that rural life is so bucolic, why not get off the train and see what happens. Goldblum has nothing better to do for a couple of days, conveniently, so he does just that, and steps off into the least friendly town in Canada.

I just thought this was really interesting. There might have been a Little Town With a Big Secret trope at play here, but we never learn what that Big Secret is; everybody is just an unbelievably hostile jerk. The installment was filmed on location in the small village of Alton. About eight years earlier, the producers of The New Avengers had semi-successfully turned the town of Vaughn into looking like a mountain range full of stereotypes separated it from Toronto. Alton is admittedly a good deal further out than Vaughn, and I’m sure that thirty-five years ago it was even more isolated, but this feels so far out that I’m reminded of those counties in Oregon so far east of Portlandia that they want to secede and join Idaho because they’re sick of them big city lib’ruls.

This town – and remembering that it’s not meant to really be Alton, but rather a place called – wait for it – Erewhon – is almost totally abandoned, and the producers did a good job shooing the actual residents out of sight so that six actors could take turns snarling at Goldblum. One old guy finally starts talking to Goldblum, who’s grown a mighty eighties mullet since we last saw him in Buckaroo Banzai, made the year before. Then things really ratchet up, and honestly only an actor as unpredictable as Goldblum could make the resolution work. I won’t pretend it’s entirely satisfying, but it certainly was fun to watch.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

I’ve always said that there are two likely reactions when you get to the end of Buckaroo Banzai: you either thank God it’s over, or you curse the heavens that they never made Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League. Unsurprisingly, but maddeningly, Marie is in the first camp, and I am definitely in the second. That’s despite this movie being so remarkably prickly that it probably shouldn’t appeal to me, but I love its moxie. This plays like the fourth or fifth Buckaroo Banzai film; it did all its character work several stories before.

In the wake of Avengers: Endgame, there were a raft of whiny complaints from “critics” who acted like they hadn’t noticed every previous Marvel movie and thought they were clever asking why Endgame didn’t try harder to appeal to newbies, but that’s exactly what Buckaroo Banzai does, and very successfully. Perhaps it’s a shame we were never introduced to Rawhide, Perfect Tommy, Casper, and Scooter, but we didn’t need to be, did we?

But maybe we needed to learn just a little more about Buckaroo himself: neurosurgeon, physicist, rock star, widower. He’s such a blank slate that even by the end of the movie we know so little about him that if somebody ever did make Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League and wrote the hero totally differently, who could complain? Talking of moxie, I love how he’s introduced. Some guy growls “Where is he,” and since he’s waiting for a man to drive an experimental car, we shouldn’t conclude that the fellow in surgeon scrubs of all things is that man. Peter Weller was never a big enough star for most viewers to recognize his voice or eyes, and first we see him in an operating theater. Jeff Goldblum many people did come to know, very well, later, so we can guess that maybe he’s talking to the hero, and then in his very next scene, the hero is still masked and climbing into a jet car. This is a movie that makes a lot more sense the second time around.

But trust our kid to find a third reaction. “I don’t know what to think of that,” he said. I gave him a little introduction last night that this would be our second example of an eighties cult film that failed in its first run but found a larger audience later on, and that John Lithgow would be overacting unbelievably, and that he would never really learn who the characters were. He liked some of it but was utterly baffled by most of it.

It’s a bizarre film, yet it’s still pretty conventional. The bad guys need a couple of henchmen, and they’re played by perennial Hollywood henchmen Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya. Christopher Lloyd, who is hilariously concerned about the pronunciation of his Earthling name, is their boss, and the Griffith Park Tunnel is here as well, making two obvious connections to Roger Rabbit. And no, of course the kid didn’t recognize Lloyd despite seeing him just seven days ago in Clue. It follows a pretty straightforward action-adventure plotline, although the climax is really low-key and simple. It’s downright refreshing after watching how much bigger and bloated the finales of movies like this have become.

It’s a movie that leaves me wanting more. I want to read the Buckaroo Banzai comics in that universe, not ours, I want to know the Hong Kong Cavaliers’ discography, and I want to see them in a small club like the one they play here. I want to know how to subscribe to the Blue Blaze newsletter and become an Irregular. Maybe the kid will want to know more one day as well; he just needs to see it a second time and think about it. Give him a few years and he’ll also curse the heavens that they never made Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League.