Tuesday, October 04, 2016


Young Melodye (Kim Darby) leaves city life behind to start over in the country; she is hired by the people of the small California farming village of Bendo to be their schoolteacher. The inhabitants are not exactly unfriendly but they are standoffish and seem a bit old-fashioned, having largely cut themselves off from popular culture, and she is surprised when she is given carte blanche to teach in the one-room schoolhouse however she sees fit. But the children are a joyless bunch who don't know how to sing and shuffle when they walk. One young man, Francher (Chris Valentine), shows some promise, but Melodye is freaked out when it seems that he can read her mind. When he shows her his ability to levitate, she realizes she's embedded with a strange group of people indeed, but are they well-meaning or sinister?

This TV-movie is based on the concept created by Zenna Henderson, specifically the frame story to her first short story collection, Pilgrimage: The Book of the People. I read that collection when I was a teenager, and I found the overall idea of the People to be more interesting than most of the short stories themselves, which all tended to have the same themes of conformity and prejudice. I won't spoil your discovery of who the People are, but suffice to say that this movie was intended as a pilot for a TV series that wasn't picked up. Considering its limitations as a TV-movie, it comes off quite well. A big chunk of the acting is done by kids, most of whom did not go on to long acting careers, though all of them, especially Valentine, are fine. William Shatner (pictured above) has a surprisingly low-key role as the village doctor, and Diane Varsi and Dan O’Herlihy play the primary adult roles. The whole thing has a Ray Bradbury feel to it, just as the original book seemed inspired structurally by The Martian Chronicles. This is not on DVD; the print I watched on YouTube was unnaturally stretched out from the original full-screen TV format to an inappropriate widescreen format. I was able to adjust for this on my television, but if you can't do that, beware. [YouTube]

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