For some people, their favorite episode of I Spy is “The Warlord.” For many others, it is “Home to Judgment.” This script is certainly Robert Culp’s most personal writing, based as it was on the grandfather he loved so dearly.
Thomas Wolfe’s line “you can’t go home again” may have become a catch-phrase for some, but Robert Culp’s script indicates you can go home again, but when you do, you will not be the same person you were when you get there.
Right from the first lush shots of Kelly and Scotty running through corn fields of rich greens and golden tufts, with Earle Hagen’s ominous chase music ruffling over the brightly lit rural countryside, devoid of humanity except for the two men, who crash to the ground in front of us, haggard, exhausted, manacled, and scarred in both body and mind, you know this is going to be an exceptional episode of I Spy.
It is my favorite.
Everyone I have ever shown “Home To Judgment” to (from back in the 1970s when I had a 16mm print of it to now on DVD) have been moved by it, and many somewhat surprised that this emotionally dark drama was a part of the series.
For many not intimate with the show, the vague collective memory is of the easy camaraderie of Culp and Cosby on screen. I believe it is because the chemistry between the two is so strong that that is the memory that lingers. The dramatic conflict and complex characters, and the themes that the show often took direct aim at, are forgotten.
For those who have never seen the show, they have no idea that a “Home to Judgment” exists.
Some people believe Culp’s script for this directly inspired much of the end of the James Bond movie Skyfall.
Film critics, many of whom have no idea of I Spy, credit its influence to Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. But if there is a correlation, it is closer to “Home to Judgment,” which truly is about defending one’s own home against violent strangers who would invade its sanctity of refuge and safety.
By the way, Robert Culp’s first choice for director was Sam Peckinpah. Sheldon Leonard never okayed Peckinpah to direct any episode of I Spy. I have the impression he may have thought Sam would be way too much trouble.
I could be wrong. But I don’t think so.
Bob stated more than once that is was his and Cos’ personal favorite of all the shows they did.
And as I am not shy about repeating: It is also my favorite I Spy. It showcases the two of them beautifully, in a horrific situation that builds as a four-act play, with a devastating finale.
The chemistry between the two is on display to full advantage.
Many of the themes that Robert Culp loved creatively are examined in “Home to Judgment.”
The two agents are being hunted in the idyllic countryside and seek shelter in a barn that may or may not belong to his Uncle Harry and Aunt Alta. Kelly spent summers there when he was a kid, now, even when he glimpses the old man walking below him, he isn’t sure whether it is his Uncle or not.
The locale and the way of daily life is effective displayed, with an authenticity rare for a television episode that has only a week, maybe a little more, to get it all right, and to get it on camera.
You have to care immensely and stay with the project all the way through.
Scotty seeks work from the man who does turn out to be Kelly’s Uncle, while Aunt Alta feeds the hogs, and the cows munch grass in the background. The family dog lolls in the shade, occasionally watching his domain.
It’s a choreographed routine that has gone unbroken, daily, for years.
Una Merkel and Will Geer are genuinely real in their roles; you believe they have lived in these pastures and in this house and that way of life for decades.
It’s in their body language and in the worn, lined features of their faces, and in their eyes.
Kelly lies in the hayloft, hidden from hunter’s eyes, hidden from family’s eyes, as he reminisces in soft reverence the music and comics that he treasured during the time he spent in this place during his youth.
He speaks with soft fondness, of whispered regret and pain, of where his life has gone since those days of dreams of adventure and innocence.
Kelly’s ankles and wrists are manacled, a scarring of his flesh and physical torment reflective of his state of mind.
He is imprisoned by the life he has chosen, that serving even his own government’s agenda has a cost he could never have realized when he began. He has seen too much. He has done too much. The scars do not wash away easily.
They haunt even the idyllic countryside and sunlight hills.
They are as raw and bloody as his wrists and ankles, and threaten to poison his blood and soul.
There is a beautifully written scene with Aunt Alta as she makes Scotty breakfast, still unaware of Kelly in the hayloft. The dialogue is textured and natural between the two.
A substitute mailman comes to the door as Scotty hides food within his clothes to take to Kelly. He also knows the mailman is one of the hunters seeking him and Kelly, and that having seen him at the breakfast table, the saboteurs stalking them now know where their prey is.
I never thought of the interior of the house as a set. It is so authentic in look and for its time period, I thought it was part of the real place shown in the exterior.
Once when Bob and I were talking about “Home to Judgment” he told me it was all a set, but it was paying attention to detail that made it real. Note the air conditioner on top of the old refrigerator and the old oil lamps atop the cabinet.
Bob knew the reality of the place, and left nothing to chance.
He could tell the set people exactly what was needed, and they had the skill and verve to make it reality.
This photograph of Uncle Harry reading from his regular chair, reminds me of the kind of setup my own Grandfather had when I was a kid.
Bob based Uncle Harry and Aunt Alta on his grandparents. In real life, the Miller farm was located in Boise, Idaho. In film life, Bob ran across an isolated setting near Malibu, not far from where Sam Peckinpah lived at the time.
The following is from Bob’s commentary on the Image sets of I Spy.
“Mr. Geer was using my grandfather’s Winchester 30-30 throughout the show.”
“And Kelly saves the day by killing the last bad guy with my octagonal barrel .22, the one my grandfather gave to me when I was twelve.”
“The story Kelly tells in the living room about the two rifles is a true story.”
“If you look closely at the side table under the lamp besides Uncle Harry’s chair, you’ll see two mounted photos. One is of my grandfather, and the other my grandmother – portraits taken at the time of their wedding in 1899. These photos would have been there, on THAT table, because Alta Miller was my grandmother’s younger sister, just as Uncle Harry was her brother-in-law.”
“I wanted so much to preserve something for my children who were all city kids like me – born and bred – of what I do remember of my grandparents and Mom’s folks, from my childhood in the 1930s.”
“I thought it was permissible to put my grandfather and my grandmother into a fictional setting, as close as I could get it, to that little farm outside of Boise, where the real Harry and Alta lived and where we visited them every summer until 1937 … and it worked! We caught the ambience right on the button. It was magic.”
“My children and grandchildren will always have this little magic carpet to take them back to a better time, the way I remember it.”
Kelly best sums up his disillusion with being a secret agent, with their lives turning to poison for people leading lives without killing and consequence, that even the justification at times for such actions leaves one with the knowledge of being a dispatcher of violent death.
Aunt Alta realizes that Scotty has been smuggling food to someone he is hiding in the barn, and Uncle Harry confronts them, with his rifle aimed and loaded, ready to shoot if he has no choice.
As he marches Kelly and Scotty towards the house, we see they are in the gun site of one of the hunters, one of the killers. Earle Hagen’s music looms ominously. The quiet house is center stage. The fight is clear, not murky with doubt. Your home is under immediate threat. The second act is finished.
We are half way home to judgment.
Uncle Harry keeps them under surveillance, sharp-eyed, suspicious, telling Alta they are going to drive the two captives into the Sheriff’s office in town.
Kelly sits a bedraggled stranger in the home he recalls so fondly.
He scarcely recognizes himself. His Uncle and Aunt have not glimpsed who he had been in their lives.
As they near the seldom used truck, Kelly speaks in soft anguish to Scotty, “You don’t think they’ll do it to the truck, do you?”
As Kelly probes under the hood of the car, Scotty inspects the interior, finds the lethally bound rigged sticks of explosives.
As the search is underway, the chickens make their usual barnyard sounds, as if everything is normal.
For the first time, Aunt Alta’s face takes on a fearful realization, a tremulous voice, a recognition and denial in her eyes.
From Robert Culp’s I Spy telescript:
AUNT ALTA: Who are you? What’s your name?
UNCLE HARRY: She asked you a question, young fella!
(Scotty hands Kelly the dynamite sticks, stares at the means of death forlornly.)
KELLY: It doesn’t matter. You couldn’t possibly know me. If you remember me at all it would be as a child…Who doesn’t exist anymore.
(He holds up the explosives, in despair and warning, as if they represent all that he has become in the intervening years.)
KELLY: This is what I am now. And this is what I’ve brought you.
They are isolated and under siege; the family, the home, the daily routine threatened and defiled.
How ready is one to defend the ones they love, the place that is their sanctuary?
Scotty explains it matter-of-factly, and the point is driven home to the audience.
SCOTTY: When they come…and, uh, they’re going to come…through the door and through the windows and down the chimney like the big bad wolf.
Uncle Harry is defiant when he hears of the impending invaders:
THIS IS MY HOUSE!
Will Geer makes the statement with such conviction and earnestness and outrage, a man who cannot tolerate nor will accept such atrocity.
SCOTTY: Yes, and this is war. And either we kill them, or they are going to kill all of us.
What would any of us know about protecting where we live, protecting our families, saving our kids, when push comes to shove, and the only thing we have to rely on is ourselves.
Kelly speaks in recrimination and reflection, about the weapons he learned of as a kid from this man he has lost as a mentor, as a father figure, long ago.
Kelly speaks of the .22 his Uncle was going to give him, his voice solemn, his eyes weary and torn with too many memories in between golden summers vanished.
KELLY: It was mine. But I couldn’t take it back to the city with me, boarding school, so at the end of summer, I left it here, with you.
UNCLE HARRY: Kelly? Why, it’s Kelly.
KELLY: You promised me that one. You put two nails on the wall in the kitchen. And your 30-30 was on it, for me to take down…when I was tall enough to reach it. And take it down by myself. The next summer. I would have made, too, because I was tall and skinny the next summer, but that winter my Mom died…
(Kelly’s voice cracks, anguished, self-condemning.)
Next summer never came. And now I have…have come, and I wished I hadn’t..
Uncle Harry places his hand on Kelly’s shoulder, and one can imagine the same gesture done decades before. The idea that he can’t stop the destruction of his home and the life he has lived never enters Uncle Harry’s mind.
Kelly is bereft in the knowledge of how terrible the tortures that people can do to one another, not just in theory, but because he has seen them, he has been victim to such lacerations of the flesh and mind.
Preparations are underway.
Kelly framed in a doorway, preparing the long unused rifle.
Testing steel wool wrapped about electrified windows.
Let the window beckon to the invader to a shocking surprise.
How to make homemade bombs. Would a network allow a series to show you all you need to make your do-it-yourself explosives? Or is that an Internet exclusive?
The assault on the home begins.
Everything Scotty has said comes true. The invaders are coming through the windows, doors, from under the cellar and up on the roof. Night time cicadas are drowned out momentarily by thunderous explosions, brief flashes of stark light from streaks of flame and rapid gunfire.
The adversaries are essentially faceless. Dark entities who appear at the windows. Heard in the cellar below, starting a fire under the flooring. Chopping at the shingled roof.
As figures begin to appear that will stake claim to the interior of the house, Kelly tries to make out where they are in the gloom, holding up two fingers in silent communication with his Uncle.
The time has come to see if Kelly’s dire prediction is right, or his Grandfather’s words are true.
Will they survive this horde of invaders, outside forces and lives they have never known, but now threaten their home, their way of life, their loved ones, any sanctity they have ever known.
All of nature seems to be unleashed in the clash, as death and struggle become a furious combination. Even the animals on opposing forces go at each other; the family dog snarling and darting in, teeth bared, at the tracking hound who has followed the trail to the home, and made possible the final judgment of home and hearth.
A beautifully evocative shot of Scotty reacting to his own defensive actions and their concussive results, while the eternal night sky looms above, indifferent to the conflicts of human beings, with shafts of moonlight bathing the brutal home battleground.
Scotty continues his outside resistance to the forces trying to break inside the house, until he is bathed in car lights that expose the conflict in stark glare, the combatants exposed.
Shots so meticulously composed as this, with such framing and ambiance, and this ambitious in attempting, exploding the mechanical means of conveyance that brings unnatural lighting to the shadowy warfare, were scarce indeed in January 18, 1968, when “Home to Judgment” first aired.
Culp’s script is humanistic in its people and circumstance, mythic in its confrontation. Iconic images profoundly illuminate the gloom of death and destruction, depicted so ominously by the sun-glassed, gun-slinging opponent who uses flares the turn the home interior into Hell.
Everyone is entrapped, engulfed in the consuming war.
Kelly struggles to clear his vision in the reddish. blinding glare.
How many fingers? How many did he hold up moments ago to his Uncle, now feeling like an eternity passed? The final judgment at hand.
In the throbbing flare, a stark rendition of light and dark revelation, the survivors and wounded and dead are like still-figures caught in the last moment of combat, as if a hellish image scarred forever into their minds.
Glimpses of carnage gone abruptly, then exposed again.
Many fans of I Spy feel this would have been the appropriate last image of Kelly and Scotty. I can’t disagree with them.
The above image, however, was not the last, and there are at least a few more episodes I feel I should cover in this extensive piece.
No, I am not going to write how Robert Culp ended “Home to Judgment.”
I hope what I have written gives you a hint of what he tried to cover in that script, and how good the people were in it, and who were behind the cameras.
I hope it makes you want to experience the show for yourself.
Copyright © 2014 by Don McGregor
The hardcover edition of Detectives Inc. is still available. Continued sales on the series can help make the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal a reality. The hardcover edition of Detectives Inc. is still available. Continued sales on the series can help make the new Detectives Inc.: A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal a reality. I’m not sure if IDW still has any volumes left of the hardcover, but you can buy it on Amazon.
The newly designed donmcgregor.com is up and running, and Gary and Dawn Guzzo have brought it up to date. I’m talking to Gary recently about having an update Blog right there on that very page where I can post and you can reply. Check us out!