A nineteenth-century surgical instructor has a no-questions-asked policy regarding the source of the cadavers he demonstrates on in class in the Night Gallery story “Deliveries in the Rear,” reviewed here.
Season 2 Episode 19—aired 2/9/72
“Deliveries in the Rear” ***1/2
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Jeff Corey
Cornel Wilde as Dr. John Fletcher
Rosemary Forsyth as Barbara Bennett
Walter Burke as Jameson
Peter Whitney as the First Grave Robber
Larry D. Mann as Detective Hannify
Kent Smith as Mr. Bennett
Peter Brocco as Dr. Shockman
Ian Wolfe as Dillingham, the Mortician
Marjorie Bennett as Mrs. Charlie Woods
John Maddison as the Second Grave Robber
Gerald McRaney as Tuttle
Our story begins on a chilly, foggy night as a horse-drawn cart pulls up to a back-alley doorway. Two shabby-looking men step out and knock at the door. When answered, they deliver their large, lumpy cargo inside, followed quickly by the man who greeted them, but not before he takes a quick, furtive look left and right to see if anyone has witnessed them.
It is a cadaver they have brought for Dr. John Fletcher (Cornel Wilde) of the Macmillan School of Medicine, to use for demonstrations to his class of medical students. At the lecture he’s currently giving, one student (Gerald McRaney later of Simon and Simon and Major Dad, in his first tv appearance) may not have what it takes as he faints at the sight of the dead body.
After class has ended, Dr. Fletcher examines his newest delivery along with one other that the men have brought. He takes a look at one body and dismisses it due to its severe decomposition—this one has been dead at least three weeks and is of no use to him. But the next one appears to have been dead a mere two hours—an excellent subject.
The two men who delivered the bodies negotiate a price of $50. Dr. Fletcher can’t help but wonder whether or not these men killed the recently deceased. It seems to cause him some concern, but not undue concern.
At the home of his fiancée, Barbara Bennett (Rosemary Forsyth), that evening, her father (Kent Smith) brings up the unpleasant subject with him that rumors have been going around as to the origin of the doctor’s cadavers, saying that grave robbing and even murder have been whispered about as the means.
In an interesting soliloquy about the value of an individual life, Fletcher agrees that it’s possible that some of his cadavers may have been recent murder victims, but he defends it because they are no doubt “scum” and now serve a higher purpose as they will help to teach men (and there were no women at this time in medical school, it would seem) to save the lives of others.
Mr. Bennett basically bawls out Dr. Fletcher for what he views as a completely callous attitude toward the murder victims that he is all too willing to accept as lab aids then later, privately to his daughter, muses “how can a man so dedicated to saving lives be so ignorant of the sanctity of life itself?”
As he climbs the steps to his home, an old woman accosts Dr. Fletcher, saying he has her late husband, and calls him a ghoul. Again, we see a pang of conscience, but no more from Fletcher.
Like Mr. Bennett, Dr. Fletcher’s supervisor at the school, Dr. Shockman (Peter Brocco) has heard the same rumors of unsavory sources for the cadavers, and he confronts Fletcher one day before class. He has heard from the old woman, complaining that her husband has ended up on a lecture hall slab. He suggests that Fletcher use animals rather than humans as his dissection subjects, but Fletcher rejects this as being a poor teaching substitute.
Shockman informs Fletcher that the police will be coming soon, looking for the woman’s husband. Fletcher insists there will be no problem as all of his current cadavers are female—which is not true.
To come up with a female cadaver, Fletcher has to again enlist the aid of the two unsavory grave-robbing, perhaps murdering men. The men find a woman walking alone that night and do their thing, delivering the body that morning before Fletcher’s next demonstration.
Shortly after, a police officer arrives to question Fletcher, convinced that he will soon catch him with a hot cadaver. Looking for the missing man who was reported, he looks under the sheet of the cadaver that Fletcher is about to demonstrate on and seeing it’s a woman, is disappointed, but vows to eventually catch Fletcher. The men demand $100 from the doctor for this corpse, and considering his needs for a female, he pays.
Fletcher then begins his lecture and begins with a lecture similar to what he said to Mr. Bennett, that “no individual life is of any consequence if it means the saving of many lives.” As he prepares to begin his demonstration, he pulls back the sheet from the body and screams in horror as we then see the face of the cadaver: Fletcher’s fiancée, Barbara.
An excellent ending to a very well-written (by Rod Serling) and performed story.