“A Death in the Family”
On Sept. 22, 1971, NBC aired the second episode of Night Gallery’s second season. It was a strong hour for the series, anchored by two very effective tales scripted by Rod Serling: “A Death in the Family” with E.G. Marshall, and “Class of ’99” with Vincent Price.
Each deserves its own blog post, so I’ll use this one to highlight a particular aspect of the Marshall segment. If you haven’t watched it before, try the link below. And if you want to avoid spoilers, stop here, and then come back when you’re done.
Marshall plays an unusual undertaker named Jared Soames. Like many of us, he pities the cast-off members of society who come through his door for a charity funeral. But unlike many of us, he goes a macabre step further. He adopts those who have no family into his “family” — of corpses. Lovingly preserved, they populate a specially kept room in his basement.
It’s a tribute to Marshall’s acting, and Serling’s writing, that the character of Soames comes off not like some wild-eyed ghoul, but as a sympathetic and gentle individual who genuinely cares for the members of his “family.”
When a desperate fugitive hiding out in the funeral home discovers Soames’ secret, he naturally looks astonished. “They’re dead!” he says when Soames invites him to stay. Soames’ response is worth quoting in full:
Dead? Why? Because they don’t struggle like the living? Because they don’t compete? Because they don’t hate? Because they know nothing of greed, intolerance, prejudice? Out there is the graveyard! Out there — the slaughterhouse where they kill and bury dreams! A whole world full of lonely pallbearers! But down here, in this room, my son, is a family.
There aren’t many horror series that would give us that much food for thought. But then again, there aren’t many horror series that had Rod Serling writing for them.
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