A tyrannical big-game hunter forces his son to make a “clean kill” or lose his substantial inheritance in “Clean Kills and Other Trophies” reviewed here.
“Clean Kills and Other Trophies” ***
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Walter Doniger
Raymond Massey as Colonel Archie Dittman
Tom Troupe as Pierce
Barry Brown as Archie Jr.
Herb Jefferson Jr. as Tom Mboya
Colonel Archie Dittman (Raymond Massey) explains to his dinner guest, family attorney Jeffrey Pierce (Tom Troupe) that his butler Tom (Herb Jefferson, Jr.) is “quite a specimen” and “a pagan savage” because he still carries amulets and “fervently believes in black magic.” Tom is one of many things, and the only living thing, the Colonel has brought back from Africa. The walls of his study are filled with the stuffed and mounted heads the game he his killed, his “trophies.”
Pierce is there to discuss Dittman’s son’s inheritance. Archie Junior has just graduated college and does not share his father’s passion for hunting. The Colonel wants to modify the legal documents so that his son must kill an animal, by himself and with a gun, within fifteen days or he will receive no inheritance.
The Colonel clearly despises his son whom he views as an unmanly coward. “A dish of jelly consommé,” as he refers to him. Apparently no one calls Archie Dittman, Jr. jelly consommé because this latest in a long monologue of insults delivered by his father spurs the son to grab a loaded rifle and point it at his father, only to have Tom knock the barrel away.
Pierce takes Archie Jr. aside and tells him he could sue his father for this highly unusual legal document modification and probably win. But the son actually has a bit of admiration for this father as a kind of prototypical twentieth century man. “He’s a whole lot closer to the norm than I’ll ever be,” Archie Jr. says wistfully and grudgingly agrees to go on a deer hunt the next morning.
Pierce wonders why Tom has remained with the sadistic Colonel for so many years and Tom explains he has stayed for the son. The Colonel “wants to give him his manhood, but he will strip him of that if he gives him a gun and makes him use it,” Tom has concluded. Tom explains to Pierce that growing up in Africa he killed “for food, to live, never for pleasure.” That night, Tom prays to his gods for “the hunter to know what it is like to be the victim.”
In the woods the next morning, the Colonel spots a deer in a clearing. He explains to his son how to shoot the rifle and where to aim and when Archie Jr. is slower than the Colonel would like as far as pulling the trigger, the elder Dittman loses his patience, shouts “Shoot! What are you waiting for?” and hits/bumps/pushes him as he fires, causing the shot to hit the deer in the lung, not a clean kill, which will require them to track the deer for hours before finally finishing it off.
Back home, the Colonel is apoplectic, despite the fact that he bumped his son when it was time to shoot, causing the misfire. In the study with Tom, the Colonel’s head begins to get warm, then hot. He asks Tom to open a window.
Tom leaves the study and finds Pierce, who is looking for the Colonel. Tom warns Pierce not to enter the study, but Pierce doesn’t heed the warning and leaves the study as quickly as he entered it, looking shocked. “There are gods, Mr. Pierce. Gods of the bush, of the Congo, of the rain forests. And with them, vengeance is an art.”
As Pierce and Archie Jr. leave, we re-enter the study and the camera cranes up to reveal the latest trophy mounted on the wall: the head of Colonel Archie Dittman.
This is a strong, if heavy-handed Serling script, solidly directed by Walter Doniger. Raymond Massey is perhaps a bit long in the tooth for the role of the Colonel, but what he may lack in terms of a physical intimidation factor, he makes up for by projecting a mean, disdainful, dismissive, cruel man.
The role of Archie Jr. is not acted as successfully, however, and that is to the detriment of the episode. Barry Brown is not given many lines, which may have helped, but in the opening scene where Massey dresses the kid down as basically being a callow wimp, that’s basically how he seems. One can sympathize with this twist being added to his ability to inherit his father’s fortune, but Brown is not able to make us empathize. Still, a fine episode, with a macabre ending.