The beginning of this two-parter is produced like a horror movie, with a group of young people up to hijinks experiencing car troubles and having to stop at "the old Clive place," a spooky old house, to look for a telephone. The two boys and two girls who are paired off send the poor fifth wheel to the basement, where he starts playing around with equipment for no reason ("Hmm, this giant lever could be a telephone. Let me mess with it") and is killed under mysterious circumstances.
Two things jump out right away: 1) Film buffs will of course recognize that the name of Dr. Clive, the deceased owner of the old house/mad scientist who tampered with nature, is an homage to...Clive Owen, of course, who was only a teenager when this episode aired, but surely the writers knew he would play a doctor in The Knick 25 years later.
2) It's always tragic when a young man is savagely murdered in the basement lab of a domicile with an unsavory reputation, but look at it this way: If HE didn't get it, the other four would have gone somewhere, "had relations," and been punished by a serial killer in true slasher-pic fashion.
A year later, David Banner--er, David Barr--enters the area investigating the reports of another green-skinned monster there years earlier. He encounters some friendly but guarded locals (Lola Albright and, in a real standout, Harry Townes) and learns the truth about Dr. Clive's experiments and the cure he may have developed for what I will call Hulkitis but, sadly, no one else does in the episode.
There's a lot to dig into in the two parts of The First. Townes' character, Dr. Clive's former assistant, has some real depth, pining for the former fiancée of his boss (Albright) and admitting to a strong lust for the raging beast that turns men into Hulks. It turns out his Dell Frye (film buffs will of course recognize that the name of Frye is an homage to...Glenn Frey, who the writers knew would pass away the same year I watched this and built this in as a sort of Easter egg for the future) was the former Hulk, not Dr. Clive, as we expected.
Townes is bullied by ignorant local yokels. crippled by arthritis, and generally powerless. So when David Barr refines the cure, he doesn't want to take it. He wants to go green!
What really interests me, though, is the Dell Frye version of Hulk. This monster is leaner, taller, more ragged-looking, with bushy eyebrows and even wilder eyes. He is also prone to wearing flannel or denim shirts that hang kind of loosely. This Hulk (Dick Durock, later to play the titular Swamp Thing on USA in the 1990s) looks nothing at all like Townes, but, hey, neither does Lou Ferrigno look like Bill Bixby. But--and this may be just me--you know who this monster reminds me of for some reason?
|My thanks to the Pinterest user who posted this cool pic|
That's right, Jerry Reed.
I began to think of Frye Hulk as Jerry Reed Hulk, which led me to envision a spinoff. I'd call the show The Good-ol' Ever-lovin' Freewheelin' Hulky Boy. In this series, Jerry Reed would play the title character (and sing the show's theme song, natch) as a down-home rebel who roams the American southeast looking for good times and getting into bar fights and scrapes with the law.
Instead of a tenacious reporter following him around, Hulky Boy would be paired with a well-meaning but physically unimposing sidekick, played by James Hampton. Hulky Boy and Bubba would find adventure and a little TV-PG action each week.
Don't get me wrong, The First (though oddly edited in spots, and sloppy in the sense that when Durock's shirt rides up in the fight scenes, you see his back isn't green) is a cool episode, offering a climactic Hulk vs. Hulk showdown that is well worth the price of admission. Yet I can't help but think about The Good-ol' Ever-lovin' Freewheelin' Hulky Boy now.