The final segment from Night Gallery’s epic Season 2, the rather heavy-handed anti-military tale “Little Girl Lost,” is reviewed here.
“Little Girl Lost” **1/2
Teleplay by Stanford Whitmore • Story by E. C. Tubb
Directed by Timothy Galfas
Ed Nelson as Tom Burke
William Windom as Professor Putman
Ivor Francis as Dr. Charles Cottrell
John Lasell as Colonel Hawes
Sandy Ward as the Irate Man
Nelson Cuevas as the Waiter
We begin with a middle-aged man alone in an observation room, seated on a chair and performing a sort of pantomime on a non-existent girl, brushing her hair and playing patty-cake with her. The man is Professor Putman (William Windom), a brilliant physicist employed by the military who is now nearly catatonic over the recent death of his young daughter, Ginny, by a hit and run driver.
Observing him are a military colonel, a psychologist, Dr. Charles Cottrell (Ivor Francis) and, as their guest, Tom Burke (Ed Nelson), a military test pilot recently injured in a crash. Burke is unsure why he is there. The colonel and doctor explain that it’s for a highly sensitive mission: to bond with the professor in such a way that his delusion of his late daughter’s existence continues, at least long enough for him to complete his top-secret work, after which point, they don’t care if he goes completely insane; in fact they wouldn’t mind that at all as he would not pose a security risk.
Burke begins to spend time with Putman and “Ginny,” pretending to go to a carnival and the beach with her, tuck her in to bed (where he begins to tear up while telling the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and remembering the carnival rides) and generally trying to gain the professor’s trust. When the “three” are out at dinner, a man wants to take the empty seat that Ginny is purportedly sitting in and it seems to have an effect on Putman, breaking him out of his “reality” that she exists.
He bitterly tells Burke that the final set of equations will be complete that night. “Bigger and better bombs at a fraction of the cost. The demented fools!” He then storms out without stopping to bring “Ginny” along.
Driving home, Putman seems to become completely suicidal as he drives recklessly and nearly kills them. Burke exclaims “you could have killed both of us!” And with that statement of exclusion, he signals to Putman that like the boorish customer at the restaurant, he doesn’t believe in Ginny’s existence either.
Burke explains to Cottrell what happened the next day and Cottrell is terrified at the thought that Putman understands that his daughter is dead. “That is the man who worked out the means to create fission with nonradioactive materials.”
Burke realizes what Cottrell is thinking: that Putman gave the military the wrong formula – a formula for a sort of “doomsday” device and that perhaps he wishes to use it to punish the military and to be with his daughter with one horrible step. Then a mushroom cloud followed by a blinding white light proves them right.
It took me a bit of time to work out what was going on here, so it may read better than it actually plays, or at least how it played for me. There’s too much time spent with Burke and Putman pretending Ginny exists and too little getting to the military’s plans and once we understand what they are, this becomes a heavy-handed exercise indeed.
Also, William Windom, good as he is, is miscast here, at least for those of us who remember his fantastic performance in the previous season’s “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” and that is because he looks and seems too much the same as that character, so this one seems a pale comparison.