This story and “A Question of Fear” are numbers 1 and 1a as far as the scariest in the Night Gallery. “The Caterpillar” is reviewed here.
Season 2 Episode 22—aired 3/1/72
Teleplay by Rod Serling • Story “Boomerang” by Oscar Cook
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Laurence Harvey as Stephen Macy
Joanna Pettet as Rhona Warwick
John Williams as the Doctor
Tom Helmore as John Warwick
Don Knight as Tommy Robinson
In endlessly rainy early 20th century Borneo, British expatriate Stephen Macy (Laurence Harvey, a real coup to be able to cast the star of such movies as The Manchurian Candidate) has signed on to work for fellow Brit John Warwick (Tom Helmore) and he lives with the 66 year-old Warwick and his much younger 28 year-old wife Rhona (Joanna Pettet).
While the Warwicks seem blissfully happy in their situation, John effusively cheerful and Rhona happily whiling away her time enjoying records and knitting, Macy is angry, resentful and morose at his lot. He left Britain to escape boredom and convention, but in Borneo he hates the rain, the isolation in the jungle and the creature comforts he left behind in England.
He can’t hide his obvious lust for Rhona and when John is briefly away, makes a play for her and is rebuffed, which only seems to fuel his desire.
A man who shares British nationality with the three and little more, Tommy Robinson (Don Knight), known to the Warwicks, drops by uninvited to peddle kindling and is tossed out by them and told not to return. He has a brief word with Macy and we find out the reason he’s in Borneo is that a British court told him it was either go to Borneo or to a British jail, so he came to Borneo and has been there for twenty years.
A clever sort, Robinson detects Macy’s attraction to Rhona and suggests he may know of a way that he can get the two of them together. To further discuss the situation, Robinson and Macy arrange to meet in a seedy bar where Robinson, amidst another heavy downpour, tells Macy of a local insect, a type of caterpillar, the earwig, which, when it crawls into a man’s ear will feed its way inside straight through to the host’s brain and “result: that’s the end of it. The complete end of it.” Don Knight is terrific in this role and in this scene in particular.
The time it takes is two to three weeks. The pain is excruciating, but in the end death will come. Robinson says he has someone who can sneak in through the window to John Warwick’s bedroom and place the insect on his pillow, completely undetected. The end result, it’s hoped, is that the widowed Rhona will then seek the comfort of Macy.
Laurence Harvey is also fantastic in this and in this scene we see the consequences of his morality flash across his face as he contemplates the agonizing death of a man for who he bears no ill will, but his unbridled lust and sense of entitlement win out and he hands Robinson a wad of cash to make the transaction official and the deed will be done that night.
The next morning at breakfast, Macy begins to feel an itching in his ear, puts a napkin to it, sees blood, realizes what has happened, and runs off screaming.
A couple weeks later, in another driving rain, Robinson has learned from a doctor leaving the Warwicks’ home (John Williams) that Macy is very bad off, his arms have been tied to his bedposts to prevent him from scratching his ears endlessly, but that he is near the end.
Robinson climbs up to Macy’s bedroom window to look in on Macy and apologizes for his associate’s error in going into the wrong bedroom that night. We get an incredible scene of Laurence Harvey wordlessly portraying his unceasing agony. With red eyes, parched lips, scratched skin on his face, his arms tied to the bedposts, he is one of the more gruesome figures I have ever seen on film.
Somehow, Macy survives his ordeal and he comes down from his room to the first floor, where the Warwicks and the doctor are waiting. They know about Macy’s plan and that it went awry and Macy assumes they will want to have him arrested, either in Borneo or in London. But they don’t plan to have him arrested. Macy wonders why.
They all look somewhat sheepish and concerned and the doctor explains that he examined the earwig after it exited Macy’s other ear. He found the insect was a female. “And females lay eggs,” the doctor intones and as the thought sinks in of Macy reliving his experience again, over and over, we cut to the outside of the house and again hear a blood-curdling scream from Laurence Harvey.
This is quite simply Night Gallery at its finest. A fantastic adapted script from Rod Serling, excellent acting, especially from Laurence Harvey and Don Knight, and as usual, sterling direction from series veteran Jeannot Szwarc.