The image is of an American city surrounded by walls with gates and signs that read ZÖNA RESTRIK—ENTRE FERBATEN. It’s peopled by foreign agents in the last stages of instruction before going to America infected with septicemic plague, unbeknownst to themselves. The movie theater has posters for Irving Rapper’s The Brave One and a Tim Holt Western, but is closed. That’s where the plague is grown.
The town is called Willow Grove, Ill. Cf. Waggner’s Red Nightmare.
of the Infernal Machine
The Wild Wild West
Judge McGuigan has not risen to the highest court because, as a slightly tipsy colleague tells him on vacation, President Grant thinks the judge simply doesn’t have it “up here”. This is damnable snobbism, in McGuigan’s view, and exactly why he’s hosting the Seventh Annual Convention of All Federal Judges, so he can kill them all.
That is what is known as a level playing field, he is so much a leveler that he regards “The New Colossus” as “the finest work of art since the Tower of Babel” and orders a cake in its likeness for the banquet. His mistress Vashti rehearses a tap dance through the banquet hall, across tabletops, onto the bar to kick a little dust and up a ladder to a balcony covered with bunting, whence she’ll swing across the room back and forth (like Stoppard’s Jumpers), sparkler in hand, to light the charge of dynamite in Liberty’s torch. A swift exit on the opposite balcony, accompanied by three girls as The Spirit of ’76.
Judge Vickerman dies first of an exploding billiard ball. “They stole that idea from me,” says Gordon. Vickerman had a particularly hard view of anarchists, whereas McGuigan positively lives by the credo, “An ounce of charity is worth a thousand pounds of law.” Vickerman dies playing McGuigan’s game, pool, which West describes as “billiards with working clothes on.”
No, the judge is not a snob, unlike the rail-splitters, ditch-diggers, heirs and bank-robbers he is amongst at the Hotel Denver in “a roomful of judges infinitely more capable than he,” as West says.
Gordon is the pastry chef at odds with the cook, who oddly enough is in love with Vashti as well.
West takes a ride on the swing with a seltzer bottle, and gives McGuigan a face full of cake, to Gordon’s alarm. Cefalu the cook promises vengeance for his idol’s wrongs, she cakes his face.
Baroda, an anarchist bomber pardoned by McGuigan, is investigated as a suspect. West enters the man’s rustic clock-shop and says, “I beg your pardon.” Baroda never looks up from his work but replies with weary admonition, “Never beg, while you’re still man enough to steal.”
Shimon Wincelberg’s extremely fine script plays this suspect up as far as possible, saving the judge for last (West’s ploy is to ask for a clock-bomb against the man who has seduced his wife, Baroda identifies at sight the antique clock he has brought in, gives it a valuation and says he smells a policeman). Baroda’s target is the judge himself, he blows up the wrong (empty) room with a wind-up toy bear (cp. “The Night of the Whirring Death”) and presents himself to the police chief for arrest.
McGuigan, fearful, is hidden by the chief at the agents’ private railroad car, until Vashti breezes in a moment later, “everyone knows” the judge is there. She will conceal him at the banquet, the two depart with their alibi.
There, he is about to present the Cesare Lambroso Award in Criminology, “but first, a tribute to the Lady with the Golden Lamp.”
Ed Begley is McGuigan, Elaine Dunn as Vashti shows the secret of tap-dancing is a modulation of wit, Vito Scotti (Cefalu) gives the rage of a man so piqued by Gordon’s ripostes he wraps himself up in sausages and has to cut his way out with a knife, Jon Lormer wields a cue as doomed Judge Vickerman.
Baroda is Will Kuluva, who clucks his tongue at jealousy. “Legalized serfdom, abuse of police power, judicial corruption,” these are “better reasons”.
Vashti’s dream is Carmen at the National Theater in Washington, D.C., McGuigan dreams of the power to put her there. Gordon in the kitchen has received a letter-bomb, Vashti tells West, the unconscious figure on the floor is McGuigan, West and Gordon are locked inside the pantry, whence they emerge to quell Vashti’s oscillations and stop the judge in flight.