The day of the door-to-door salesman has virtually, all but vanished as a profession. A once viable occupation for someone who had either charismatic looks, or the gift of gab, has been replaced by computers and telephones. I can, however, see a day in a few short years, where telephones also become an obsolete selling tool. More and more people, I speak to, are adding their names to ‘do not call lists.’ In spite of being on the ‘do not call list,’ I do get a number of calls from companies trying to sell me things, however, the majority of the calls I receive, where I don’t recognize a number, or a person’s name that has already been programmed into my phone doesn’t come up on the screen, turn out to be political robo-calls. The sort of heartwarming messages, that espouse why voting for or against a particular Democrat or Republican, to represent the state of Florida, where I live, could spell certain doom for life as I know it. In the interest of full disclosure, I do, however, occasionally, get calls from companies I already do business with, using scripted pitches, trying to sell me additional or upgraded features, products or services. The caller usually advises me that this is a limited time offer that I must take advantage of immediately.
When I was in middle school and high school, I didn’t pay attention to when shows that I watched on television had their season premieres, nor did I get all worked up over their season finales. What I cared about, as I moved from my ‘tween years’ into my teenage years, was that a new episode of a show I liked was going to be on that evening. These days, I certainly do pay attention to that sort of information, but the shows I like on television, just like any given number of movies, past and present, have become, in the intervening years, a passion of mine. Had I known that the “Tales From the Crypt” episode “Death of Some Salesman,” which premiered on October 2, 1993, was the catalyst that started off season five of the series, I would have waxed poetic about how entertaining I thought it was, to my friends at school the next day.
The episode was directed by Gilbert Adler (Bordello of Blood), and co-written by Adler along with A. L. Katz (The Outer Limits). The twenty-five minute show centers around Judd Campbell, a con-man portrayed by Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, Ed Begley Jr. (St. Elsewhere). He is the type of individual who passes himself off as a salesman with a heart of gold, even though the antithesis is true. The episode opens with Campbell in bed with his latest conquest, Stella, a local yokel (Kathe Weeks), who he promised the evening before to take away from the one horse town she lives in. Like most of what comes out of Judd’s mouth, it is, of course, a deal he never intended to honor.
After he leaves, his first trip is to visit a Mrs. Jones. Campbell got her name while searching the newspaper’s obituaries, earlier that morning. Mrs. Jones, played by Yvonne De Carlo, of “The Munsters” fame, is neither expecting Judd Campbell, nor the news of the cemetery plot, or the ten thousand dollar death benefits payout, which Mr. Jones had apparently begun to arrange for him and his wife the week before his passing. Begley informs Mrs. Jones that because the fees owed his company were not paid in full, the company cannot honor the contract, and informs her that his office will offer her a refund of the two hundred and fifty dollars that Mr. Jones had already paid his company. Mrs. Jones is distraught, as her husband left her with virtually nothing. The fact that had he lived long enough to pay the remaining two hundred and fifty dollars, the policy, would have not only covered the funeral expenses, but would have provided her a check, in the amount of ten thousand dollars. She asks Campbell if he is willing to bend the law. At first, acting as if he must uphold the law, and do what is morally right, even though he feels bad for the widow, (yeah right) Judd acts very reluctant to even entertain such a suggestion. Without his having to say a word, it is Mrs. Jones who comes up with the idea, that perhaps, her husband had already put the money in the mail to Mr. Campbell. Still hesitant, but knowing he has hooked his victim, Judd tells Mrs. Jones he would be willing to go along with the farce, if she gave him the remaining two-hundred and fifty dollars that was owed on the policy, right then and there, in cash. She does so. Once inside his car, he places the cash inside an envelope that contains money from other vulnerable people he has taken advantage of.
The odd ball Bracket family, consists of three members: Ma, Pa, and their daughter Winona. All three characters are played by the talented, Emmy winner Tim Curry (Clue), who showcases his versatility by completely immersing himself into the parts. For me, it was Curry’s excellent portrayal of all three characters that made this episode so unusual and memorable. Judd, makes the unfortunate error of arriving at their home, which shares a similar address with where he had originally intended to go. After learning of his error, he begins to leave, until Ma Bracket opens the front door to the house, to inquire if he is a salesman. Even though, she cannot see his facial expression, at the question having been posed to him, we as viewers, can tell that he is pleased at the prospect of perhaps earning even more money that day. (As an aside: Eddie Murphy was first approached about playing the roles of the Brackets, but he turned down the parts).
Once inside the Bracket’s home, Campbell goes into his usual sales pitch. This time, however, he’s not dealing with an emotionally distraught widow. Instead, he has to convince, the cantankerous, Pa Bracket, that purchasing, plots at the fictitious cemetery, as well as the generous death benefits package, is worth five hundred dollars. Unlike most of the easy prey, whose recent losses effect clear minded thinking, which Campbell takes advantage of, Pa Bracket, is not about to pay any amount of money without seeing what he’s buying first. Of course, Judd can’t allow that to happen. Quickly thinking about a way to exit the situation, Judd actually sweetens the deal for the Brackets. Instead of just a check issued for $10,000, if they agree to pay $750 dollars cash, he will make sure that the amount of the check will come to $20,000. The deal is one that even the guarded, Pa Bracket can’t seem to pass up.
Pa leaves to go downstairs to the basement where, he nonchalantly lets Judd know, is where he keeps his money. While waiting for his return, Ma Bracket asks Judd if he would like a cup of coffee, to which he replies, yes. After she leaves the room, and he takes a few sips, the coffee is way too cold for his liking, so he walks over to the microwave to warm it up, however, there is just one problem with that. Inside of the microwave, is a man’s, head. A horrified Judd, who begins to scream and stumble, next comes across another man on the floor, who has the suction end of a vacuum cleaner shoved into his mouth. While attempting, unsuccessfully, to flee the house, Pa Bracket, knocks Campbell unconscious.
Upon waking up, he finds himself tied up, and also in handcuffs. Pa and Ma Bracket, at that point, express their intense dislike for sales people, who, as it turns out, are the only sort of individuals who come to their residence anymore. Pa Bracket takes things a step further, and briefly talks about the salesman that sold him a color television that didn’t work at all until he fixed it. For dramatic effect, he pulls back the doors covering the screen, to reveal the body of the salesmen stuffed inside the television.
All hope seems to be lost for Judd Campbell and his conniving ways, until Ma Bracket suggests something. She puts forth an idea regarding her daughter, Winona, which Pa Bracket quickly dismisses. In the end, however, he acquiesces. If Winona wants to keep Judd Campbell as her companion, and the feeling is mutual, he will be allowed to live. Not an easy task, even for a skilled con-artist such as Campbell. Winona is a snorting, un-hygienic, extraordinarily unattractive woman, for whom he needs to, in a very short amount of time, prove his love, not only with the spoken word, which he excels at, but physically as well.
Will Judd Campbell be able to convince Winona that he loves her? Even if he does, will he be able to persuade Pa Bracket to spare his life? If Judd successfully convinces both that his intentions are genuine, will he be able to think up a plan, to make his escape from the house of horrors that he currently finds himself imprisoned in? Will he dare stop off in the basement and search for all of the money the Bracket’s have stolen from the previous salesmen? Will he do the smart thing and allow his greed not to get in the way for a change, and just leave? All of those questions will be answered at the conclusion of the competently acted, well paced, episode that features excellent makeup work and an interesting story to ponder long after the final credits role.