Sunday, December 4, 2016

"One More Pallbearer"

The great Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), shortly before his demise.

“One More Pallbearer”
Season Three, Episode 82
Original Air Date: January 12, 1962

Cast:
Paul Radin: Joseph Wiseman
Mrs. Langford: Katherine Squire
Reverend Hughes: Gage Clark
Colonel Hawthorne: Trevor Bardette
Speaking Electrician: Josep Elic
Silent Electrician: Robert Snyder
Policeman: Ray Galvin

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: George R. Nelson
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next on the Twilight Zone we let you in on an extravagant practical joke: a man who wants to convey an illusion that the world is coming to an end. Now there are jokes and there are jokes, but this one stands all by itself as an exercise in the very different, and the very bizarre. Our play is called ‘One More Pallbearer’ and we commend it to you as something quite special.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric, and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive. How eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            Eccentric millionaire Paul Radin is making the final preparations for the most important night of his adult life. Sound technicians are placing audio equipment in the underground bomb shelter several hundred feet beneath a New York City skyscraper which bears Radin’s name. Once they are finished Radin bids them goodbye. And waits.
           Later in the evening his three guests arrive, each completely unaware of why they have been summoned to this place. It is revealed that each of them has been the cause of profound mental anguish for their host at various points in his life. Mrs. Langford was Radin’s grade school teacher and once embarrassed him in front of the class after he was caught trying to frame another student for cheating. Colonel Hawthorne was Radin’s commanding officer in the Army and had the young soldier court martialed after his cowardice cost the lives of dozens of men. Reverend Hughes once publicly slandered Radin after he drove a woman he was in a relationship with to suicide.
            Radin reveals to his guests that they are about to witness the end of the world. Nuclear war is imminent and the bunker is their only salvation. He will allow them to seek refuge here if they agree to apologize for the years of emotional anguish they have caused him. He plays a phony government emergency announcement to give his claim authenticity. To his dismay they all choose to leave and risk death rather than stay with him. They shuffle into the elevator and are gone.
            Devastated that his revenge has been ruined after a lifetime of resentment, Radin launches into a fit of rage, smashing things around him, as the sound of thundering explosions fill the tiny bunker. After the explosions stop Radin goes to the surface. To his horror New York City is in ruins. His building demolished. Was it real or had he made it up? He could no longer remember. Alone and broken, Radin crumbles to the ground, sobbing.
           A New York City police officer spots Radin weeping into a water fountain outside of his Manhattan high rise, pedestrians going about their business around him, the city totally unharmed by Radin’s imaginary nuclear attack. The officer attempts to engage him in conversation but his effort is wasted. Paul Radin has abandoned this world for the cold familiarity…of the Twilight Zone.


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Paul Radin. A dealer in fantasy, who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on Earth, doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin. Pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            “One More Pallbearer” is one of only a handful of blemishes on an otherwise remarkable season. It is an episode marred by a clumsy plot, over-the-top performances, recycled themes, and a noticeable surplus of unnecessary dialogue. These inconsistencies, however, do not occur independently of one another and all stem from the fact that the premise of this episode simply wasn’t strong enough to support a fully realized dramatic interpretation.  
            The threat of nuclear annihilation in the wake of World War II was a very real fear for much of the world during the middle of the twentieth century. The uneasy relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two world powers at the time, left both nations, and numerous others, in a state of perpetual anxiety. The United States had already demonstrated its nuclear capabilities in 1945, dropping wide-range explosives on two densely-populated Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands and effectively soliciting Japan’s surrender. The Soviet Union, bitter at being kept in the dark about these weapons during the war, began manufacturing its own nuclear weapons once the war was over. The panic that arose in the following years was real and pervaded virtually every aspect of American culture for decades.
            In the years after the war the science fiction and fantasy genres experienced a massive hike in popularity in almost every medium. As the world began to heal from unprecedented devastation writers of every genre sought social commentary through their work. Some wrote epic nightmares warning of dystopian futures ruled by fascists and communists while others exploited social paranoia to warn against things like McCarthyism and prejudice. By the early 1960’s, however, many of the themes and tropes common in post-war science fiction, including and especially stories about the end of the world via nuclear fallout, were stale and laughable and often exploited merely as plot devices. Within a few short years this trend would become altogether extinct as America moved into a Vietnam-war era mentality. Serling had already touched on the threat of nuclear war on a more serious note earlier in the season in “The Shelter” and also several times during the previous seasons. So it is fair to assume that by this time he had grown as tired of the idea as his audience had.
            The plot of this episode is problematic from the very beginning. In the opening scene Serling reveals what would normally be the twist ending, that the nuclear attack is simply a hoax orchestrated by Radin. This shifts the viewer’s attention from the impending attack to Radin and his three victims. The audience believes what Radin presumably believes: that they are about to witness an intimate moment as each of Radin’s victims struggles to choose between their loved ones and their instinct for preservation. Instead, none of them show the slightest hesitation in their thought process and immediately abandon the safety of the bomb shelter for a few extra moments with their loved ones, leaving Radin emotionally blindsided and the audience wondering whether that awkward plot twist was intentional. Serling answers this twist with another in which the audience is briefly lead to believe that the nuclear attack actually occurred—even though rational thought quickly reminds them that it did not—and that the three victims, along with the rest of New York City, are now dead. But before they can began to analyze the dozens of possible interpretations this scene has to offer they are derailed once again when Serling reveals that the bomb was a hoax after all and that the previous scene, featuring a totally demolished New York City, was simply a glimpse into Radin’s deteriorating mind which is now completely disconnected from reality.
This episode can be interpreted a number of ways, none of which make it any more enjoyable. Repeat viewings suggest that Serling likely meant this as a character study of an unlikable person and that the continuous plot twists are intended to give the audience the same sense of shock that Radin is experiencing. The episode begins with the audience believing that Radin will be at least marginally successful. By the final scene, however, they should have abandoned what little faith, and compassion, they may have held for him. His intended objective, or so it would seem, is the importance of distinguishing fantasy from reality and the dangers of obsession.
This is a reasonable premise but it proves unsuccessful for a number of reasons. First, the rapid succession of twists are a bit disorienting, at least upon the initial viewing, mainly because several of the twists conflict with one another instead of each naturally building upon the last. The result is an awkward ending which feels as though it is comprised of the endings to several different episodes all rolled into one.
Radin’s mental collapse during the final scenes is also handled poorly. Serling touched on mental health issues quite often in his writing and usually approached the subject from a thoughtful point of view. He most likely intended for the audience to believe that Radin’s mind has simply snapped after such a monumental disappointment. He may also be suggesting that Radin has simply escaped back into his fantasy world where he is the eternal victim. Given his closing narration, however, the former explanation makes more sense. Either way, the sequence simply does not work. It happens far too abruptly and the contrasting visualization between the real New York and Radin’s fantasy world is too severe to be believable. It feels lazy and inappropriate. Wiseman’s absurd over-acting here doesn’t help this scene any and suggests that if he isn’t taking any of this seriously then neither should we.
            Another problem is that the audience isn’t really given a chance to know the characters. It is obvious from the start that Radin is the villain here and that our sympathies are supposed to lie with his three victims. However, none of them seem like redeemable people either. Our impression of them is based solely on their words and actions while they are on screen. Within this short time frame we see a school teacher who publicly humiliates a child instead of addressing the actual problem and a Christian minister who also exploits his public platform in order to slander Radin, an act that seems contrary to the beliefs of his religion. The only punishment that seems appropriate is Radin’s discharge from the Army as a result of his cowardice. However, the colonel’s remark about having him shot, while not totally unwarranted, immediately removes any empathy the audience may hold for him. And the three continue to degrade and insult Radin, Mrs. Langford in particular, even after it becomes clear that he is emotionally disturbed. Likewise, the audience never witnesses Radin doing or saying anything onscreen that is particularly unforgivable. All he wants from his victims is an apology. Just two words. The audience is supposed to form an opinion of him based on the testimonies of the other characters but their cold, unlikable personalities render them unreliable judges of character.
            Finally, Serling’s dialogue is out of control in this episode. As we have stated numerous times, one of Serling’s strongest attributes as a writer was his gift for dialogue. His words had a unique crackle about them, full of emotion and swift consonant sounds that had a mesmerizing quality. His dialogue was very intense and very specific to his personality as a writer. In suitable doses, and in the appropriate context, his words were magic. However, if a script seemed weak, as this one likely did, Serling would flood it with dialogue which often gave it the balance it needed. Unfortunately, it does not seem to help this episode any and the verbose dialogue gives it a bloated quality.
            Lamont Johnson, the stalwart of the third season, delivers the fourth of his eight total episodes—only one of which, season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne,” appears in a season other than this one. His direction here is quieter than in a lot of his episodes but still effective. A former theatre director, he is adept at using minimalism to his advantage. The majority of the episode takes place in a single room which Johnson chooses to leave open, letting high contrast lighting frame most of his shots. Serling’s on-screen appearance deserves a mention as well. Johnson pans the length of an elevator door until it chimes and the door opens revealing our host, complete with Chesterfield.
            While certain aspects of this episode are interesting, “One More Pallbearer” is a weird, clumsy story which leaves its audience slightly confused and highly dissatisfied. It was probably not destined to be a masterpiece but could have possibly been more effective had Serling the time to flesh out the plot. A demanding writing schedule due to contractual commitments is likely the demise of this particular script. This one, unfortunately, does not come recommended.



Grade: D


Notes:
--Lamont Johnson directed a total of eight episodes of the show including the George Clayton Johnson episodes “Nothing in the Dark,” which aired the previous week, and “Kick the Can.”
--Katherine Squire also appeared in season four’s “In His Image.”
--Josip Elic also appeared in the season two finale “The Obsolete Man.”
--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross.




--Brian Durant

Monday, November 21, 2016

Entering the Twilight Zone on Public Radio's Selected Shorts


Robert Sean Leonard
             The Twilight Zone recently made an appearance on Selected Shorts, the public radio program which features live readings of short fiction presented by well-known performers. The program is part of Public Radio International and comes recommended due to the high quality of the performances and the unique aspect that accompanies a live audience. The program is, with some exceptions, recorded live on Broadway at Symphony Space in New York City and later broadcast on public radio stations on Friday evenings.

            The Twilight Zone program was hosted by actor Robert Sean Leonard with three short stories that formed the basis of three episodes of the series. This was presumably done in an effort to offer something outré during the Halloween season. The selections were eclectic and unusual. The three stories featured were “Four O’clock” by Price Day, “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont, and “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” by Henry Slesar. Though Selected Shorts typically devotes an entire one-hour episode to a single short story, the program decided to select very short stories from The Twilight Zone in order to fit more than one story into an episode. Oddly enough, Rod Serling is only directly connected to one of the stories, other than as creator of the series, of course, as he adapted Price Day’s “Four O’clock” for the series. It would have been nice to see the program devote an entire episode to one of Rod Serling’s many story adaptations from one of the three Bantam paperbacks he wrote in the early 1960s, and perhaps the program will do so in the future. Alas, the Serling stories proved too long for current consideration and Selected Shorts opted instead for shorter material connected with the show.

            The three Twilight Zone stories were spread out over two programs. The original broadcasts were as follows: On Friday, October 28, Selected Shorts featured “Four O’clock” by Price Day, read by Zachary Quinto, “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont, read by Zach Grenier, and “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl, read by Sam Underwood. On Friday, November 18, Selected Shorts featured “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” by Henry Slesar, read by Robert Sean Leonard, “Head Over Knees” by Eric Schlich, read by Robert Sean Leonard, and “Dornicka and the St. Martin’s Day Goose” by Helen Oyeyemi, read by Colby Minifie. These episodes can currently be downloaded free on iTunes or another podcatcher but those interested should hurry as Selected Shorts only features the last dozen or so episodes available for download at any given time. The October 28 episode can be found under the title “Entering the Twilight Zone” and the November 18 episode under the title “Fateful Encounters.”

            The readings offered an opportunity to revisit the source material in comparison to the finished product on the series. Zachary Quinto’s reading of Price Day’s “Four O’clock” is serviceable. The actor, best known for his role as Spock in the current Star Trek films, chooses to read the very short story in a subdued, almost monotone, fashion. Though this method produces an overly long build-up, it works well when delivering the story’s memorable final line. “Four O’clock” was originally published in the April, 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Incidentally, we will soon see that this Selected Shorts program had as much to do with Alfred Hitchcock as it did with The Twilight Zone, beginning with Price Day’s story, illustrating the vast common ground shared by Hitchcock's and Serling's programs as well as the permanence of Hitchcock on literary culture then and now.  

              “Four O’clock” was adapted by Rod Serling and directed by Lamont Johnson for the third season of The Twilight Zone. The story is very short and it is interesting to see how much Serling added when crafting his adaptation. A lot of what he added was necessary as Serling painted the main character, Oliver Crangle, as a much viler person than in Day’s story. In the story, Day only hints at Crangle’s true nature in an effort to keep the shock ending unexpected, although a reader is left wondering if Crangle truly deserved his awful fate. Serling leaves no doubt of this by clearly displaying Crangle’s warped sense of justice.

               The standout reading of the program is Zach Grenier’s performance of Charles Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream,” which received raucous applause from the audience once the devastating final line of the story was delivered. The manic story of a sleep deprived man’s attempt to explain his plight to a sympathetic psychologist is perfect for an energetic reading and that is exactly what Grenier delivers. One forgets how terrifying a story it is, especially the scenes in which Phillip Hall, the afflicted man, is the victim of a recurring nightmare in which he steadily climbs a high wooden roller coaster. “Perchance to Dream” was first published in the October, 1958 issue of Playboy, the magazine to which Beaumont would contribute a large amount of his published work. The story was the first Beaumont’s first contribution to The Twilight Zone, produced for the first season from Beaumont’s own adaptation under the direction of Robert Florey. Beaumont changes little in his adaptation, allowing Florey free reign to display his excellent, German expressionist-inspired, directing style. “Perchance to Dream” remains one of the most nightmarish and frightening episodes of the entire series. Florey was an accomplished French director who is primarily remembered by horror fans for developing an adaptation of Frankenstein in 1930 for Universal Studios with Bela Lugosi in the role of the Monster before the project was scrapped by the studio. Universal quickly hired director James Whale to develop the project instead. Whale “discovered” Boris Karloff for the role of the Monster and the resultant film is a classic. The compensation prize for Florey and Lugosi was the 1932 shocker Murders in the Rue Morgue.


            The first program also featured an inspired reading of Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady” by Sam Underwood. The reading was recorded at a comedy club and Underwood relishes and heightens the humorous aspects of Dahl’s story to a great degree. “The Landlady” was adapted for the sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and boast one of the finest pedigrees of any episode of that series, as it was adapted from the Dahl story by Robert Bloch and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Dahl later presented the story for the first season of his 1970s era television series Tales of the Unexpected. 
           Robert Sean Leonard, host of the program, reads the final Twilight Zone story, Henry Slesar’s “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.” Leonard’s reading is fine and even, not given to the broad melodrama presented in Jerry McNeely’s adaptation of the story for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. Revisiting the Slesar story greatly illustrated the failings of the adaptation. In the original story, Salvadore Ross is a pitiable figure nowhere near the selfish villain of the adaptation, which makes the surprise ending that much more shocking. In the adaptation, Ross is presented as a cruel bully of a man and his relationship with Leah is borderline abusive. This turns the story into a one-dimensional twist ending tale which unfortunately became very common by the fifth season of the series. Slesar’s story was first published in the May, 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Slesar was a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so much so that in 1989 appeared a volume dedicated solely to Slesar’s contributions to Hitchcock’s show titled Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar’s Alfred Hitchcock Stories.


                In all, it was a delight to see Selected Shorts feature Twilight Zone stories on their program. It stands as proof of the high literary quality of the series. Here’s hoping the program continues to feature not only material from The Twilight Zone but other crowd-pleasing genre material from that Golden Age of the 1950s-1970s.

-Jordan P.     

                                                    Selected Shorts from PRI

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Nothing in the Dark"

Gladys Cooper as Wanda Dunn, a woman hiding from Mr. Death
“Nothing in the Dark”
Season Three, Episode 81
Original Air Date: January 5, 1962

Cast:
Wanda Dunn: Gladys Cooper
Harold Beldon: Robert Redford
Building Contractor: R.G. Armstrong

Crew:
Writer: George Clayton Johnson (original teleplay)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace, H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week an excursion into the shadowland of the hereafter. Ms. Gladys Cooper and Mr. Robert Redford combine sizable talents to bring a script by George Clayton Johnson entitled ‘Nothing in the Dark.’ The dark in this case being the little nooks, crannies, and closets of those regions presided over by Mr. Death. I hope you’ll be with us next week for ‘Nothing in the Dark.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“An old woman living in a nightmare. An old woman who has fought a thousand battles with death and always won. Now she’s faced with a grim decision. Whether or not to open a door. And in some strange and frightening way she knows that this seemingly ordinary door leads to the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            On a cold winter day, Wanda Dunn, a very old woman, is awakened from an afternoon nap within her dilapidated apartment. She sees movement through a space in a boarded window. A police officer is on the street outside the window. Suddenly, he sounds a whistle and a gunshot is heard. Alarmed, Wanda moves to her front door and peers though a small opening, careful to leave the chain lock fastened.

            The police officer is injured and lying feebly in the snow near her doorway. The young man tells her that his name is Harold Beldon and he needs help lest he should die. The old woman is reluctant to help because she believes the injured man is not who he says he is. “I know who you are,” she tells him. “I know what you are.”
            Confused and in pain, the man continues to beg for help until Wanda cannot bear his pleading any longer. She unlocks the door and moves slowly toward the injured man. She touches him tentatively. “I’m still alive,” she says, clearly astonished. She pulls the injured man inside her apartment.
            The old woman situates the policeman in a comfortable space and serves him tea. When the injured man reiterates his need of a doctor, the old woman explains that calling a doctor isn’t possible. She has no telephone and couldn’t risk letting a doctor into her home even if she had. When she sees the look of confusion on the young man’s face, she explains her plight.
            For many years she has remained within this apartment, never venturing out or letting anyone in for fear of coming into contact with Mr. Death. Years ago, she saw a young man touch an old woman’s hand. When this old woman died shortly afterwards, it became clear that the young man who touched her was Mr. Death. Wanda has been hiding from Mr. Death ever since.
            Again, there is movement from without the apartment followed by an urgent knocking at the door. The policeman encourages Wanda to answer the door. She reluctantly opens the door. On the other side is a contractor who has scheduled Wanda’s apartment building to be torn down and whose job it is to ensure the old woman vacates the premises. Wanda resists, terrified at the prospect of leaving her apartment. The man forces his way into the apartment and knocks the old woman unconscious upon the floor.
            When Wanda awakens, she is lying upon her bed and the contractor is leaning over her with an expression of relief. He is holding her hand. Again, the old woman is amazed to still be alive after being touch by this stranger. She has mistaken him for Mr. Death.

The building contractor explains that he isn’t trying to be cruel but that the building is clearly unfit to live in. The city has condemned the dwelling and charged him with tearing it down. Wanda stands and pleads with the young policeman to help her explain to the contractor why she can’t leave the apartment. The contractor doesn’t seem to notice the policeman and gives Wanda an ultimatum to gather her possessions and vacate the premises.
After the man leaves it dawns on Wanda that the contractor couldn’t see the young policeman. The policeman is Mr. Death and has tricked Wanda into bringing him into her home. Wanda is terrified at this revelation but Mr. Death convinces her that he isn’t going to cause her pain and that death is not an end but a beginning. He implores her to take his hand and make the journey to the afterlife. She does so reluctantly. Together they walk from the apartment.  


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“There was an old woman who lived in a room, and like all of us was frightened of the dark. But who discovered in a minute, last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on. Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us, in or out of the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark” is a haunting and evocative fantasy with individual characters of clear delineation and a refreshingly optimistic view of a fundamentally bleak subject. It stands in the absolute first rank of the series. The simplicity of both concept and execution works entirely in its favor. The Twilight Zone often presented character-based fantasies that focused on story and performance and thus required little in the way of setting or design (at least in the way these things are noticed by the average viewer), presenting the viewer with essentially a filmed stage play, harkening back to the earlier days of the medium and the Golden Age of live television drama, an area in which many of the major creators on the show got their starts. “Nothing in the Dark” could serve as a model of this type of production as it utilizes a single setting to evoke a feeling of dilapidation, claustrophobia, and imprisonment without sacrificing the Emmy Award-winning cinematography for which the series is renowned.
            “Nothing in the Dark” was initially intended to be the closing episode of the second season and was filmed during the second season production schedule, a fact uncovered by author Martin Grams (The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008)) via CBS interoffice memorandum, though there was the curious nature of the method by which the credits were displayed on the episode, as it followed the method used during the second season in which all credits, including the title, were displayed following the episode. For the third season, the title and primary credits were displayed at the beginning of the episode after Rod Serling’s opening narration with the remainder of the credits to follow at the end. “Nothing in the Dark” retains its second season formatting to this day.
            This meant that “Nothing in the Dark” was the debut episode of director Lamont Johnson. As it happened, two of Johnson’s other episodes filmed for the third season (“The Shelter” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”) arrived in front of viewers before “Nothing in the Dark,” which was pushed back to the middle of the third season.
            After the departure of director Douglas Heyes from the series, Lamont Johnson stepped in as a director who could lend a distinctive stylistic touch to his episodes and one who fundamentally understood the versatility inherent in the advances in television cinematography. Johnson’s directing style is smooth and accomplished, with one fluid camera motion connecting to another via effective low-angle framing shots. Of course, accomplished cinematographer George T. Clemens is equally responsible for much of this excellent camera work but Clemens was a photographer that tended to adapt to the style of the director with which he was working. If the director had a very staid style, Clemens’s camera likewise content to simply cut from one framing shot to the next. The camerawork here is marred only once by a fairly obvious jump cut to achieve the effect of Mr. Death’s lack of a reflection in the mirror on the wall.
            A more interesting aspect of Johnson’s direction is the heavy use of symbolism in the episode. There is the obvious symbol of Wanda Dunn’s dilapidated dwelling as a physical representation of her own paranoid existence. There is also the obvious symbolism in the character of the building contractor, brought to life by a fine performance from veteran character actor R.G. Armstrong, whose occupation (the razing and construction of buildings) is a parallel to the life/death process in the natural world. A more interesting use of symbolism is that of imprisoning bars as a symbol of the nature and effects of Wanda’s psychosis. We first view Gladys Cooper’s sleeping form through the latticework of a chair back. She pushes this away as though opening a door when she is awakened by noise in the street. Later, when she awakens from the fall caused by the building contractor, Lamont Johnson chooses to film Gladys Cooper clutching the iron bars of a bed frame, giving the distinct impression of an imprisoned person (see photo in summary section above).  
            Johnson’s choice of filming the exit of Wanda and Mr. Death is also interesting. He chooses to follow the two completely out of the apartment, up the tenement steps and along the street until they disappear from the frame. Johnson’s camera never leaves the interior the apartment and the two characters stop briefly in the street for a final framing shot, reinforcing the optimistic tone of the episode. It would have been interesting to film the two characters leaving the apartment and never reveal them on the outside, defying the viewer’s expectation of seeing them through the partially boarded window.
            After working in radio, director Lamont Johnson began his directing career on the New York stage before moving into television drama. He specifically desired Gladys Cooper for the role of Wanda Dunn based on her long and varied career on the stage. Cooper was a beauty of the London stage and silent films since before the start of the First World War. She began appearing on Broadway by the 1930s and moved gracefully into middle and late age in a variety of film and television roles, amassing three Academy Award nominations along the way for performances in Now, Voyager (1942), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and My Fair Lady (1964). Cooper would appear twice more on the series and was always exceptional in her performances. Cooper also had the fortune to work with the three principle writers of the show not named Serling. She worked with George Clayton Johnson here on “Nothing in the Dark,” with Charles Beaumont on the fourth season episode “Passage on the Lady Anne,” and with Richard Matheson on the excellent fifth season episode “Night Call.”
In “Nothing in the Dark,” she elicits pathos in her performance in a manner that is perhaps unmatched by any other performer on the series. There was, however, some reluctance when Cooper, a highly refined British actress, was cast in the role, many believing the actress would struggle to bring herself low enough to achieve verisimilitude in the performance. Though Cooper had to work with Lamont Johnson during preproduction in order to achieve the most effective accent and manner, she eventually hit upon a flawless method of bringing Wanda Dunn to life as a once highly refined and beautiful woman brought low by old age and an incapacitating fear of death. The moment in which Wanda remembers the beauty of her youth and passes her aged hand in a band of sunlight upon the floor remains one of the more poignant moments from the series.
            Lamont Johnson was also involved in the selection of Robert Redford as the young policeman Harold Beldon. Redford has, of course, gone on to a highly successful career as both an actor and director but was still working his way up the acting ranks via character work at the time of filming this episode. He had, however, a previous connection to Rod Serling in that Redford performed the role of a Nazi soldier in Serling’s Playhouse 90 episode “In the Presence of Mine Enemies,” which originally aired on May 18, 1960. That final regular episode of Playhouse 90 was one of Serling’s more effective plays and featured an outstanding cast including Charles Laughton, Sam Jaffe, Arthur Kennedy, and George Macready. Redford’s performance in “Nothing in the Dark” has been lamented in some critical circles as leaden and unfeeling but this seems to have missed the point of both the character and the performance. Redford is essentially performing as the human form of an elemental being and can hardly be expected to turn in a highly charged or emotional performance. This would be highly out of character, especially for so melancholy a character as Death. Redford presents Death as a calm, rational, inevitable force, much like Death’s other two appearances on the series, in the first season episodes “One for the Angels” and “The Hitch-Hiker.” Though Redford was primarily cast for his appearance, his performance is an effective foil to Cooper’s highly emotional turn.
            An often undiscussed aspect of this episode is its strong resemblance to a Ray Bradbury story published about a year before production began on the episode. Bradbury was clearly the spiritual father of The Twilight Zone and a writer whose work was far more than simply inspiration for the writers of the series. His work was often liberally borrowed from in order to create a variance on a theme. It’s all the more astounding and frustrating that Bradbury was only able to place a single workable script with the series, the later third season episode “I Sing the Body Electric.”
            Writer George Clayton Johnson, like his Twilight Zone co-writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, was mentored by Bradbury while in the early stages of his professional career. Johnson clearly idolized Bradbury, going so far as to tell author Matthew R. Bradley in an interview that through Bradbury’s work he (Johnson) was shown that perfection in writing could be achieved. Johnson would point to “Nothing in the Dark” as his own stake to the claim of perfection, an irony considering its close association with the Bradbury story titled “Death and the Maiden.”
            The similarities between the stories are unmistakable and it would be naïve to assume coincidence when the two writers in question were close friends and enjoyed at the very least a marginal mentor/protégé relationship. One can assume that Johnson was an avid follower of Bradbury’s fiction as it was published and likely came upon “Death and the Maiden” in its initial publication in the March, 1960 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is fair to note here that although Johnson all but certainly took the germ of “Nothing in the Dark” from Bradbury’s “Death and the Maiden,” he subsequently crafted an emotionally effective and, frankly, better story from that initial inspiration and included enough of a variation of the theme to make the story his own.

            Bradbury’s story concerns a woman who lives far out in the country and is known in the nearest town by the name Old Mam. Like Wanda Dunn in “Nothing in the Dark,” Old Mam has shut herself away for many years in her home for fear of Death, which has tried many times to lure her out and seal her fate. It is here that the two stories diverge somewhat. “Nothing in the Dark” is about facing the fear of the unknown and the inevitability of death. “Death and the Maiden,” though also approaching these themes, concerns itself more with the idea that one is not truly alive if all the effort of life is spent avoiding death, though Johnson does include a major theme in the Bradbury story: the mournful remembrance of a youth long gone.
In Bradbury’s story, Old Mam is confronted by a young man carrying a vial of bright green liquid. She immediately recognizes the young man as Death and the young man soon acknowledges this as well, claiming that the green liquid contained in the vial is the essence of Old Mam's life at eighteen years old. Death appeals to the vanity of her younger self, when she was a beautiful, energetic woman using her real name, Clarinda. Death offers her a glimpse of her lost youth. He tempts her to taste of the green liquid and promises her twenty-four hours as herself at eighteen years old in exchange for an eternity in the afterlife. Like Wanda Dunn, Old Mam agrees to take the frightening journey hand-in-hand with Death. “Death and the Maiden” was first published in book form in Bradbury’s 1964 collection The Machineries of Joy.
            Bradbury previously approached similar material in a far more ghoulish manner with his story “There Was an Old Woman” from the July, 1944 issue of Weird Tales. This darkly comedic and highly entertaining story concerns a woman who is unwilling to proceed to the afterlife after dying. She is tricked by an ever-patient Death and must doggedly pursue her physical remains before an autopsy is performed. After hounding the mortician, the old woman interrupts her own autopsy and is allowed to reenter her physical body. The story ends with her proudly displaying her autopsy scars. “Not bad sewing, for a man,” she intones. The story is far different in tone from either of the later tales as it was written at the height of that wonderful 1940s period in which Bradbury was firmly committed to crafting his unique style of weird tale, a style of story that would be highly influential to William M. Gaines and Albert Feldstein, the primary architects of the EC line of horror comics Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. Feldstein adapted “There was an Old Woman” for Tales from the Crypt #34 (Feb/March, 1953) and the story was illustrated by the supreme master of horror art “Ghastly” Graham Ingels. The Feldstein/Ingels adaptation was included in the 1965 Ballantine paperback The Autumn People, which collected the best of the EC adaptations of Bradbury’s weird tales. The story was first published in book form in Bradbury’s first book, Dark Carnival, from Arkham House publishers in 1947, as well as in Bradbury’s famous collection of weird tales The October Country from 1955. 

            “Nothing in the Dark” remains an episode that ascends far above the novelty of its surprise ending and contains enough thematic and symbolic material to appease even the most demanding viewer of the show. It also showcases the debuts of Lamont Johnson, one of the three or four finest directors for the series, and Glayds Cooper, who must be counted in the absolute front rank of performers on the series. It is a justifiably famous episode that manages to perfectly capture that unique blend of melancholy and optimistic that distinguished the series from similar television material.

Grade: A+

Notes:
-Lamont Johnson directed seven additional episodes for the series, including the exceptional season three episodes “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” and “Kick the Can.”
-Gladys Cooper appeared in two additional episodes, “Passage on the Lady Anne” from season four and “Night Call” from season five.
-“Nothing in the Dark” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Marshall Allman.

-Jordan Prejean        
           

            

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

Spend Veterans Day in the Twilight Zone and honor all of the brave men and women that have served our country in times of conflict. Here are links to all of the war episodes we have covered so far here in the Vortex, in order of original air date.
-JP

A passenger on an ocean liner during World War II gets the uneasy feeling that the ship is doomed in Rod Serling's eerie thriller, "Judgment Night"





A WWI pilot who fled a chance at heroism is given an opportunity for redemption in Richard Matheson's time travel fantasy "The Last Flight."





A war-weary lieutenant is given the terrible gift of foresight in Rod Serling's melancholy fantasy "The Purple Testament."





A WWII pilot is transported into a nightmare in Rod Serling's unnerving episode, "King Nine Will Not Return."





Two survivors from opposing sides of a world-ending war try and find hope among the ashes in Montgomery Pittman's tense and touching episode "Two."








Two survivors of the Civil War meet at an eerie crossroads in Rod Serling's haunting and dream-like episode "The Passersby."







The sadistic commander of a concentration camp during WWII gets his comeuppance in Rod Serling's frightening revenge tale "Deaths-head Revisited."







Confederate soldiers receive a lesson in war and witchcraft in Rod Serling's adaptation of Manly Wade Wellman's "Still Valley."








A brash young lieutenant is made to understand the value of human life in Rod Serling's affecting WWII fantasy "A Quality of Mercy."






Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"A Quality of Mercy"

Albert Salmi and Dean Stockwell
“A Quality of Mercy”
Season Three, Episode 80
Original Air Date: December 29, 1961

Cast:
Lt. Katell/Lt. Yamuri: Dean Stockwell
Sgt. Causarano: Albert Salmi
Watkins: Rayford Barnes
Hanachek: Ralph Voltrian
Hansen: Leonard Nimoy
Sgt. Yamazaki: Dale Ishimoto
Japanese Captain: J.H. Fujikawa

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (based on an idea by Sam Rolfe)
Director: Buzz Kulik
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week Mr. Dean Stockwell makes his journey into the Twilight Zone, playing the role of a platoon lieutenant on Corregidor during the last few hours of World War Two. What happens to him provides the basis of a weird and yet we think haunting excursion into the shadowland of imagination. On the Twilight Zone next week Mr. Dean Stockwell stars in ‘The Quality of Mercy.’” *
*In his preview narration Rod Serling clearly states the title of the episode as “The Quality of Mercy” rather than “A Quality of Mercy,” the latter of which is the title of the play as displayed during its broadcast. The Shakespeare quote from which Serling borrows the title begins “The quality of mercy. .  .”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“It’s August, 1945, the last grimy pages of a dirty, torn book of war. The place is the Philippine Islands. The men are what’s left of a platoon of American infantry, whose dulled and tired eyes set deep in dulled and tired faces can now look toward a miracle; that moment when the nightmare appears to be coming to an end. But they’ve got one more battle to fight and in a moment we’ll observe that battle. August, 1945, Philippine Islands. But in reality it’s high noon in the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            It is August 6, 1945, and on the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay a group of war-weary American infantrymen are positioned on a ridge overlooking a cave in which some two dozen sick and wounded Japanese soldiers are holed-up. The American infantry is observing for a mortar company that is attempting to force the Japanese soldiers into surrender by use of explosives. It is not going well. The war is all but decided in favor of the Allied Forces and still this group of Japanese soldiers refuses to give up. The infantrymen fervently hope they will not be called upon to storm the cave on foot and risk senseless bloodshed.

            Lieutenant Katell soon arrives to take control of the situation. Katell is young, clearly inexperienced, and overly eager to prove his worth as a commanding officer through the unnecessary killing of the Japanese soldiers trapped in the cave. Katell is unsympathetic to the weariness of the other American soldiers and quickly puts together a plan to storm the cave and kill the Japanese soldiers despite the protestations from the infantrymen. His bloodthirst and foolish eagerness borders on lunacy at this point in the conflict, and Sargent Causarano informs Katell that they could easily bypass any conflict with the Japanese soldiers in the cave without it affecting the outcome of the war in the least way. Katell does not care to hear about avoiding conflict with the Japanese. He is going to treat this day as though it were the first day of the war.
            Katell drops his binoculars. A subtle change is felt and he stoops to retrieve them. Katell discovers that it is now daytime and he is surrounded by Japanese soldiers. What Katell cannot see is that he too is a Japanese soldier by all appearances. He panics and takes off running toward an open area near the mouth of a cave. Gunfire halts his progress and he hides behind a rock. He sees an American firing at him from the entrance of the cave.
            Katell is told that he is Lieutenant Yamuri and that it is May 4, 1942. The Japanese are preparing to storm the cave and overtake the group of wounded Americans that have taken refuge there. The commanding officer believes
Katell/Yamuri has lost his nerve when the young lieutenant attempts to dissuade the captain from attacking the weakened Americans trapped in the cave. The captain tells Katell/Yamuri the same thing Katell told the American soldiers. There will be no mercy.
          Again, Katell/Yamuri drops his binoculars and finds himself back in 1945 with the American company. The company receives word that the Americans have dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. There is now no need to attack the Japanese soldiers in the cave, much to Katell’s relief in light of his newfound perspective.        

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’ Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice. But applicable to any moment in time, any group of soldiery, to any nation on the face of the Earth. Or, as in this case, to the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

            It is obvious to regular viewers of the series that Rod Serling found the theme of war well suited to exploring the particular type of moral allegory he found appealing as a writer. Stories of war were a constant and integral part of the series and the theme was explored in a wide range of efforts from the Civil War (“Still Valley,” “The Passersby”) to tales of futuristic warfare (“Two”). Though other writers for the series dabbled in war themes (Richard Matheson’s “The Last Flight” and Montgomery Pittman’s “Two”), the vast majority of war episodes were penned by Serling. The Second World War in particular was the conflict of most concern, being fresh in the minds of both the viewing audience and the show’s creators, many of whom found themselves thrust into military service at the time of the conflict.
            “A Quality of Mercy” is the second Rod Serling episode to explore the Pacific Theater of the Second World War and, more specifically, to examine the emotional and physical toll war takes from a soldier. The first season episode “The Purple Testament” was another Serling offering with a similar setting and theme which was boosted by a haunting performance from William Reynolds as a lieutenant that can foresee the deaths of other soldiers by way of a ghostly light which illuminates their faces shortly before death.  With “A Quality of Mercy,” Serling is exploring much of the same ground in a new and interesting way, one which connects his efforts in this mode all the way back to his 1958 play “The Time Element.”  
            “A Quality of Mercy” is boosted by an excellent cast, especially in the form of Albert Salmi as the war-weary Sargent Causarano who desires nothing more than to see the end of the conflict, and Dean Stockwell as the brash young lieutenant. Salmi is the avatar for Serling himself in the episode. Serling was a strong supporter of the war effort while still in high school and immediately enlisted upon graduating, going against the advice of one of his teachers. It would quickly become apparent to his commanding officers that Serling was too sensitive a person to be considered a “good” soldier (i.e. a soldier that could put his emotions away long enough to kill without thought of the action).
            Serling spent three years in the 11th Airborne Division of the Army, from 1943 until his discharge in 1946. Serling took up the hobby of boxing while training in Georgia as part of the 511th Parachute Infantry. His company headed to the Pacific Theater aboard the U.S.S. Pike in 1944. Serling saw combat in November of that year not as a paratrooper but as a member of light infantry. Serling was transferred to the demolition platoon of the 511th due in part to his commanding officer’s belief that Serling’s temperament was unfit to make a good soldier. It was while serving in this capacity that Serling experienced the horrifying accidental death of a close friend when a supply crate fell upon the unaware soldier. It was an incident which clearly illustrated to Serling the absurd and senseless nature of a death in war.  
            Despite the image of Serling as an unsuitable soldier, he was twice wounded before deploying to Tagaytay Ridge in 1945 to march on Manila. After a month, the Americans reclaimed the city and began a celebration with local inhabitants. It was during one such celebration that the celebrants came under fire from Japanese artillery which Serling braved in order to save a performer. Serling’s cumulative actions while serving would yield him the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Philippine Liberation Medal by the time of his discharge in 1946.  
            Serling clearly related to both the William Reynolds character from “The Purple Testament” and the Albert Slami character in “A Quality of Mercy” in that both characters are emotional and weary soldiers that paint a completely opposite image from the largely propaganda-based image of a trigger happy, cigar chewing American soldier of the time. Serling’s soldiers are sensitive, intelligent, and possess individual personalities. An air of doom surrounds all of Serling’s war episodes, undoubtedly influenced by Serling’s own harrowing experiences during the war.
            Albert Salmi, here portraying Sargent Causarano, has become a recognizable face from the series, having previously appeared as a murderous cowboy in Rod Serling’s adaptation of George Clayton Johnson’s “Execution” from the first season. Salmi would also have a meaty role as a ruthless and jaded business tycoon in the fourth season episode “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville,” Rod Serling’s adaptation of Malcolm Jameson’s short story “Blind Alley.” Salmi began acting on stage, making it to Broadway by the mid-50s, and would establish himself as one of the more prolific character actors of his generation. Salmi suffered from alcoholism and clinical depression and tragically killed his estranged wife before turning the gun on himself in 1990 at the age of 62.
            Of course, the star of the episode is Dean Stockwell, well-known to science fiction fans as Al Calavicci from Quantum Leap (1989-1993), an engaging time-travel series which owes much to The Twilight Zone in general and episodes such as “A Quality of Mercy” in particular. A Hollywood native, Stockwell has been acting since he was a child on contract to MGM. For many years he retained a youthful appearance which leant itself to his portrayals of inexperienced characters which find themselves in over their heads. Earlier in 1961, Stockwell starred as just such a character in one of the finer offerings of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the sixth season episode “The Landlady,” scripted by Robert Bloch from the story by Roald Dahl and directed by Hitchcock himself.
            Ironically, Stockwell was initially considered for the lead role in “The Purple Testament” and was forced to bow out due to a scheduling conflict. Producer Buck Houghton and Serling thought highly enough of Stockwell to bring him back for “A Quality of Mercy,” an episode very similar in tone and content. In the latter episode, however, Stockwell would be required to play an entirely different type of character from William Reynold’s emotionally weary lieutenant. Stockwell brought an effective verisimilitude to his portrayal of the inexperienced, brash young lieutenant eager to prove his worth by inflicting pain and death. The story is almost too big for the constricted time frame of the episode and both Salmi and Stockwell are forced to established believable characterizations in a very short amount of time.
            A greater challenge to Stockwell was to portray a Japanese soldier, which he accomplishes with surprising sensitivity due in part to the subtle yet effective makeup which completes his transformation. Stockwell’s character goes back in time through a non-mechanized mode of time travel (similar to that seen previously in the Civil War-era episode “Back There”) to May 4, 1942, the day before the Battle of Corregidor, a battle which allowed the Japanese to take control of the island in order to have access to the harbor at Manila Bay. The purpose of Stockwell’s trip is, of course, to allow the bigoted American lieutenant to experience a situation not only from the other side of the conflict but one which elicits an emotional response within him. By displaying passion to save American lives he learns the lesson that all life, even in war, is of value. Serling was never one to shy away from a controversial topic and this episode much have struck a chord with audiences of the time.
            Having learned his lesson, the lieutenant is brought back to August 6, 1945 and news that the Americans have dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, effectively ending any need of further engagement with Japanese soldiers. America would drop another atomic bomb, this time on the city of Nagasaki, on August 9. The Japanese surrendered six days later. It is interesting that Serling chose to have the decision of whether or not to attack the helpless Japanese soldiers taken out of the lieutenant’s hands. Though it is clear he has a newfound outlook on life after his time travel experience, it would perhaps have been more impactful for the lieutenant to call off the attack rather than be saved by the deus ex machina ending Serling chose to cap the episode. The unusual choice doesn’t spoil the effectiveness of the episode, however.
            One aspect of the episode that is highly effective is the setting, a lush jungle that is convincingly vast in scope. According to multiple sources, the jungle set on “A Quality of Mercy” was filmed at the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California. The studio was torn down just a couple years after the filming of the episode. Roach was a producer from New York who moved to Hollywood in 1912 and used an inheritance to begin a film production company during the silent era. Roach became famous as the producer of the Laurel and Hardy and The Little Rascals series of films.
            Sam Rolfe, who provided Rod Serling with the idea for “A Quality of Mercy,” was an accomplished screenwriter beginning in the early 1950s who soon moved into television, co-creating the long running western Have Gun-Will Travel (1957-1963) and contributing both conceptually and in actual script production for the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).
            It has been suggested in some writings that “A Quality of Mercy” was the basis for “Time Out,” the first segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. The segment was directed by John Landis and concerns a racist (Vic Morrow) who is sent back in time to experience the plight of the oppressed in areas such as Nazi Germany, the American South, and Vietnam. Although the two segments contain similarities, there is no evidence that Landis, who scripted “Time Out,” was directly influenced by “A Quality of Mercy.” No credit to Rolfe is given in the film and it is the only segment of the film which is not a direct remake of an episode of the original series. As is well documented, Vic Morrow, along with two child actors, was killed while filming “Time Out.” The scene was to show the racist character save two Vietnamese children and thus redeem himself. An explosive special effect ignited a close-flying helicopter which then spun out of control and crashed down into the water on top of Morrow and the children, killing all three. The accident resulted in a prolonged trial which eventually exonerated John Landis from any wrongdoing. Landis used a more downbeat ending from existing footage which changes the tone of the segment.
            In all, “A Quality of Mercy” may be the finest war episode produced on the series, with its sensitive script, strong cast, and excellent sets, it remains a reminder that the show still had some gas left in the tank when it came to producing original and engaging content. It would be remiss to not mention Leonard Nimoy’s part in the episode. Nimoy is seen here in an early role as Hansen, the radio operator, who is given a single line of dialogue. Nimoy will forever be famous for his portrayal of science officer Spock on the original series of Star Trek (1966-1969).

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement is made to Military.com for information on Rod Serling's military career. 

Thanks also to authors Marc Scott Zicree and Martin Grams, Jr. for the information on the connection to Hal Roach Studios. 

Notes:

-“A Quality of Mercy” was directed by Buzz Kulik, who also helmed 8 additional episodes, including standout episodes “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” and “A Game of Pool.”

-Albert Salmi also appeared in the first season episode “Execution” and in the fourth season episode “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville.”

-J.H. Fujikawa also appeared in the third season episode “To Serve Man.”

-“A Quality of Mercy” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Robert Knepper.

-The title is taken from William Shakespeare's 1599 play The Merchant of Venice. The quote can be found beginning on line 184 of Act IV, scene i. The dialogue is delivered by the heroine of the play, Portia. 

--Jordan Prejean