Main cast: Kirk Douglas (General Kalthrob), Eric Douglas (Lt Martin Kalthrob), Lance Henriksen (Sergeant Ripper), Dan Aykroyd (Captain Milligan), and John Kassir (The Crypt Keeper)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Yellow is an excellent episode, and so different from the rest of the series so far that it is not exactly surprising to learn that it was originally meant to be part of a spin-off series of a less horror bent. It does retain the macabre sense of irony and justice that often embodies the episodes of Tales from the Crypt, however. Only, it packs a wallop of an emotional punch like none of the episodes so far ever could.
Set in somewhere in France during the tail end of World War 1, this episode concerns two Kalthrobs. General Kalthrob is a decorated military officer well respected for his courage, but his son Martin… well, that guy clearly has no stomach for the war. The other men under his command know this, but they do not say anything out of respect to that man’s father. This leads to some tragic consequences that ends up pitting the father against the son in a powerful climactic moment indeed.
I won’t say anymore as it will spoil the episode, so let me say instead that this is an unexpectedly powerful episode that brings on the feels as well as the chills. While it is easy to see Martin’s flaws, he remains an understandable character. Not that he is misunderstood – it is easy to see why poor Sergeant Ripper is furious when Martin’s men die while he is cowering in a corner getting drunk. However, he is not entirely wrong in his beliefs and some of his actions. It is easier to see General Kalthrob as the villain for his rigid views and his tyrannical insistence on forcing Martin to try to conform to his vision of the perfect son (that is to say, a younger version of himself), but he is not entirely wrong in pointing out that he cannot be seen by others as giving his own son preferential treatment. Martin is a Lieutenant, and hence, the man needs to carrying out the responsibilities of one.
In many ways, this episode can be considered a spiritual successor or, if you are feeling unkind, a condensed remake of Kirk Douglas’s Paths of Glory. There are some differences, though, despite some similarities in the premise: General Kalthrob is a far less one-dimensional villain compared to his counterpart in that movie, while Martin is far less saintly. In many ways, the television show is actually less morally clear cut than the movie, which is impressive. Not to mention, while Kirk Douglas and Dan Aykroyd may be present here, it is the late Eric Douglas that steals the show with his performance as the desperate man who is driven to ignoble deeds and yet is cowardly enough to avoid taking responsibilities for his actions. No matter how low Martin sinks into this episode, he remains a tragic, understandable character thanks to the younger Mr Douglas’s performance. The last few minutes of the episode is both heartrending and edge-of-seat gripping as it is up in question until the very last second what the fate of Martin is going to be.
Even the music is fantastic, fitting as well as improving the overall tension and suspense of the episode considerably.
Folks looking for a more typical Tales from the Crypt episode may find Yellow befuddling, but those who are just looking for an excellent, well-acted, well-scripted episode that delivers just about everything that is good, this episode may just be it.