Man from the South

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"Man from the South" is a short story by Roald Dahl originally published in Collier's Magazine in 1948. It has been adapted several times for television and film, including a 1960 version starring Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre.

Plot synopsis[edit]

This story is being narrated by an old Englishman, who tells of an elderly man named Carlos. And Carlos offers a boastful American young man his green Cadillac if the boy can strike his lighter ten times in a row. The catch is that if the lighter does not light ten times in a row, Carlos will cut off the American's left little finger. After the eighth striking of the lighter, a woman comes in the room and throws Carlos to the bed, claiming that he is mentally disturbed. He has taken forty-seven fingers from various people and has lost eleven cars--and they had to leave their country because they threatened to put Carlos away for life for this behavior. She had won everything Carlos owned long ago, including the car, and as she reaches for the car keys, the narrator sees her hand has only one finger and a thumb.

Television and radio adaptations[edit]

This short story was filmed as a memorable 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents starring Steve McQueen as the reluctant young gambler, Peter Lorre as Carlos, the man who bets his car, and Neile Adams (McQueen's wife) as a woman McQueen's character meets. It takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada. The car itself is merely described as a convertible.

1960 cast

In this adaptation, as part of the dramatic denouement after the woman appears and effectively aborts the bet, the gambler (McQueen) tries to relieve the stress of the young woman (Adams) by lighting her cigarette. The lighter fails to start when flicked for this however, a sly indicator of how narrowly the gambler avoided losing the bet.

The episode was remade in 1979 as the first episode of Dahl's television anthology series Tales of the Unexpected.

1979 cast

The episode was remade again for the 1985 series Alfred Hitchcock Presents with Steven Bauer in McQueen's role, John Huston as Carlos, and Melanie Griffith (Bauer's wife at the time), Kim Novak, and Tippi Hedren (Griffith's mother). In this version, the car was a Jaguar. At the end, the wife was missing her pinkie and ring finger.

1985 cast

In this adaptation, the lighter successfully lights ten times. But when the wife comes in, the tenth flame is blown out, Carlos is startled and drops the cleaver, nearly cutting off the young man's finger. After it's all over, he attempts to light himself a cigarette--and the lighter fails. And the wife has only her index finger left.

In 2009, it was dramatized on BBC Radio Four with Andrew Sachs playing the sinister old man.

In 1949, the Dahl story was adapted by June Thomson for an episode of Radio City Playhouse. The adaptation, titled "Collector's Item", split the 30 minute run time with an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury story, titled "The Lake". Shortly after meeting in the bar, Carlos offers the gambler his green 1948 Cadillac parked outside. Due to the tastes of the time, some of the more grisly details were omitted from the presentation. The independent observer (the "referee") character realizes the female is a victim of the gambler, but we do not learn the exact details of the gambler's previous bets.[1]

The scene is also parodied in an episode of American Dad, "Stan's Night Out". Stan Smith wagers his life and the lives of three men against starting a lawn mower ten times, believing he would be able to do it as he had seen a television show which instructed him how to start a lawn mower "the first time, every time". Despite this, he fails on his first go.

Film adaptations[edit]

Dahl's story was adapted for a scene from the 1980 Tamil movie Ninaithale Inikkum, which involved a wager by a millionaire that a young man could not flick a cigarette into his lips ten times in a row without dropping it. The millionaire had put up his Toyota car against the young man's little finger. The young man managed it nine times in a row, but chickened out and refused a tenth attempt, thereby defaulting on the wager. The cigarette flick, in fact, was a signature move by iconic Tamil actor Rajinikanth.

The story was also the basis for "The Man From Hollywood", the Quentin Tarantino-directed segment of the 1995 film Four Rooms. The characters in this segment actually incorrectly refer to the 1960 Hitchcock episode as "The Man from Rio".

1995 cast (as part of Four Rooms)

"Cut", a segment of the 2004 film Three...Extremes (directed by Chanwook Park), was also inspired by the story.


  1. ^ "Radio City Playhouse". Radio Days. Retrieved 2014-07-27. 

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