"The Man from the South" is the first of short stories by Roald Dahl, the celebrated English writer, to be adapted into the TV series "Tales of the Unexpected". It tells the story of two elder men getting acquainted on the sunny beach of a Jamaican resort. One is British, the other seems native or, at least, from another southern country, as one can infer from the accent. Occasionally, they find themselves chatting with a young American couple sitting on the next table. Cathy and Tommy are their names, and they have recently enrolled in a sailing school nearby.
As the native picks up a cigar, Tommy promptly offers him his lighter. But the man rejects it, saying that it does not work for cigars, especially outdoors in the windy weather. Tommy feels outraged and starts to brag about his American lighter and how it never let him down. Hearing this, the man comes up with a proposal of making a bet on the following terms: if Tommy manages to light the lighter ten times in a row, without missing one, he wins the native's white Jaguar. However, in case he fails, the man from the south may chop off his little finger.
Though as strange as it sounds, Tommy realizes that he indeed has nothing else to put on the bet, but the "useless" pinky finger of his left hand. After mulling over the suggestion the young man wishes to see the car, still lurching between taking the offer and declining it. Eventually, he accepts the bet and the four go upstairs to the native's hotel room. The British gentleman and Cathy unsuccessfully try to dissuade Tommy, by pointing out how this is a stupid and preposterous idea. The man, however, insists that it is a fair bet. Finally, he ties the hand of the young man to the table and holds above it a chopping knife borrowed from the hotel.
Tommy opens the lighter. The whole room is pervaded with fear and tension. Cathy threatens to leave, but Tommy gently asks her to stay. One can easily spot a strange glow in the sadistic eyes of the native. He is certainly enjoying it. When Tommy, all sweaty, has lit the lighter seven times and is about to burst into tears, an old lady unexpectedly explodes into the room and pours cold water on the wager.
Roald Dahl's style emerges from the story line, from beginning to end. Here, the author has dealt with two primary human feelings: greed and temptation. As goes his well-deserved reputation, Dahl had definitely mastered the art of building up a tense situation, with disturbing outcomes and a clever end. If one takes a closer look, the plot calls into question the definition of madness. In this sense, it is hard to separate the behavior of both gamblers, so we could draw a line and label only one of them as insane. Naturally, such mental illness cannot be traced in isolated episodes. On the contrary, it may only be diagnosed from repeated occurrences. Luckily, the wife arrived just in time to stop the wager.
It is a nice story to start the series, although it falls badly behind Hitchcock's adaptation from 1960 - far more glamorous and mysterious, casting the superb Peter Lorre.
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