|by Ranjit Sandhu
After the final dinner late Saturday night in the hotel's banquet room, a few diehards remained until nearly 4:00 a.m. chatting about this and that. As much as we all love him, we could not talk about Buster Keaton all night long. So the conversation drifted to Laurel and Hardy (who were friends of Buster's), sports in Muskegon (where Buster used to play baseball), the Beatles (whose films were directed by Richard Lester, one of Buster's greatest fans and his director in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), and finally to The X-files. Why The X-files, you ask? Because we Damfinos apparently have a friend on the writing staff.
David Macleod mentioned to us that his sister recently approached him and asked, "David, who was Clyde Bruckman?" David, astonished that his sister would even know the name, told what he knew and then asked how and why she had brought the subject up. It turned out that she had just seen an episode of The X-files entitled "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose. Though not a fan of old movies, David's sister had caught on to at least a few of the allusions and grew curious.
When I got back home I asked around and eventually found a colleague who had taped the episode. I borrowed it, watched it, and actually got a couple of laughs out of it. For those of you Damfinos who might not be in the know, I'll first give a little bit of history.
Clyde Bruckman was one of Buster's gag writers, along with Jean Havez and Eddie Cline, among others. Bruckman and Havez also worked with Harold Lloyd, and Bruckman and Cline later worked with W. C. Fields. It was Bruckman who suggested the idea for The General after reading William Pittenger's first-hand account of the actual Civil War raid, Daring and Suffering.
After The General, Bruckman worked with Laurel and Hardy, and notably directed that wonderful duo and 4,000 pies in The Battle of the Century, which all who were involved hoped would be the pie movie to end all pie movies, the pie movie to put a finish, once and for all, to the entire genre of pie movies.
Havez died of a heart attack in February 1925, before the release of Seven Chances (which he co-wrote and in which he had a brief walk-on) and just as the preproduction of Go West was getting underway. Bruckman's death came a few decades later. He had been unemployed for about a year and was destitute.
Around Christmas 1954 he told Buster that he planned to drive to Montana and asked if he could borrow a .45 for protection. Buster obliged. On the fourth of January 1955, Bruckman ate a meal at a restaurant, went to the restroom, and shot himself in the head. His typed suicide note was addressed partly to his wife, to whom he explained that he chose a restaurant as he did not wish to dirty their house; and partly to whom it may concern, to whom he explained that he had no money for a funeral.
In this X-files episode, homicide detectives Cline and Havez are on the trail of a serial killer who is in the habit of murdering fortune tellers. Peter Boyle plays an insurance salesman named Clyde Bruckman, who is troubled by his almost uncanny ability to foresee people's deaths. His psychic abilities induce FBI agents Mulder and Scully to bring him into the case. A few days later a new murder victim is one of Bruckman's recent insurance customers, a fellow named Claude Dukenfield (W. C. Fields's birth name was William Claude Dukenfield). Bruckman checks in at Le Damfino Hotel (I trust I don't have to explain that reference) and prophesies that Agent Mulder will accidentally step into a coconut-cream pie --- or will it be a lemon-meringue pie? No, it will be a banana-cream pie! It is while staying at Le Damfino that Bruckman meets the murderer, who works there as a bellhop. (Actually, he had bumped into the murderer earlier in the same way that Snitz Edwards bumped into Jean Havez in Seven Chances.) Toward the end of the episode, after wrongly prophesying that he would die before Havez, Bruckman commits suicide. The mystery solved and the murderer eliminated, Agent Scully returns home to watch Laurel and Hardy in The Bullfighters on TV. Fans regard The Bullfighters as one of the worst movies the wonderful duo were ever forced to appear in --- but it was reluctantly directed by Mal St. Clair, who had once been another member of Buster's team back in happier days.
Of course, all of the above could just be coincidences.
The author of this curious episode is Darin Morgan. I could not discern from watching the show whether he actually enjoys writing for The X-files or whether he regards his job as just a job. However, an X-files fan I know assures me that he loves his job. What was obvious to me, though, was that he certainly gets a kick out of inserting little in-jokes about the things he seems to love the best --- among which are also Buddy Holly and the Crickets, a topic that is entirely out of my field. This is the only X-files episode I have seen, and so I don't know if it is at all representative of the series.
The most striking irony about the teleplay, though, is its approach; for Buster grew up with Harry Houdini as his godfather, and surely learned from him the tricks of the psychics. You see, Houdini was the archenemy of all who pretended to supernatural abilities, and was a disbeliever in all forms of spookery. Judging by Buster's films, he took his godfather's insights to heart. The X-files, of course, has quite a different take on things that supposedly go bump in the night. My question to all Damfinos is: Who is Darin Morgan and why don't we know more about him?