Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"The Mind and the Matter"

Mr. Archibald Beechcraft (Shelly Berman) in his natural habitat
“The Mind and the Matter”
Season Two, Episode 63
Original Airdate:  May 12, 1961

Archibald Beechcroft: Shelley Berman
Henry: Jack Grinnage
Mr. Rogers: Chet Stratton
Landlady: Jeane Wood

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Buzz Kulick
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

 And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week, the very considerable talents of Mr. Shelley Berman are utilized to bring you another in our weekly excursions into the never-never-land of the wild, the wooly, and the wondrous. He plays the part of a little man who yearns for the serenity of a world without people and as it happens he gets his wish: to walk an uninhabited Earth and face the consequences. Our story is called the Mind and the Matter. I hope we see you then.
            “Now this isn’t just a word from the sponsor it’s simply a very good suggestion. It stands for real refreshment. Before we meet again, try Oasis for the softest taste of all.”

 Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
            “A brief if frenetic introduction to Mr. Archibald Beechcraft, a child of the nineteenth century, a product of the population explosion, and one of the inheritors of the legacy of progress.[…] Mr. Beechcraft again. This time act two of his daily battle for survival. And in just a moment, our hero will begin his personal one-man rebellion against the mechanics of his age, and to do so he will enlist certain aids available only in the Twilight Zone.”

            Archibald Beechcraft is a middle-aged curmudgeon who has lost all need for the company of others. He spends his days in a state of perpetual irritation with the people around him. After accidentally spilling coffee on Beechcraft one morning, Beechcraft’s young coworker Henry gives him a book on witchcraft as an apology. He says that he has seen people manipulate the world around them simply through mental concentration. Beechcraft takes the book home and skims through it. He decides that he will rid himself of the daily irritation of others by making every one in the world disappear.
             The next day Beechcraft steps out into a world void of people. His plan has worked. Through simple concentration he has removed everyone else in the world. But later on in his office he finds that now that has solitude he is incredibly bored and he actually misses interaction with other people. He decides to bring everyone back but only this time he makes them in his likeness. He wishes for a world full of people just like himself. But he soon realizes that a world full of Archibald Beechcrafts is even worse than a world full of normal people. So he decides to put everything back the way it was.
            The next day when he arrives at work he is greeted by a bustling, chaotic office full of various types of people. Right on schedule, his young coworker, Henry, spills a cup coffee all over him. Henry asks Beechcraft if he read the book that he gave him. Beechcraft admits that he read it but says that he regards it as nothing more than foolish nonsense. Henry shrugs this off and goes back to his day as Beechcraft grins to himself.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration”
“Mr. Archibald Beechcraft: a child of the twentieth century, who has found out through trial and error—and mostly error—that with all its faults it may well be that this is the best of all possible worlds—people not withstanding…it has too much to offer. Tonight’s case in point…in the Twilight Zone.”

Before we give an episode a grade of a D or an F we take into consideration every element that goes into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Story, dialogue, performances, direction, photography, music, art direction, etc. Episodes that exhibit strong amounts of all of these elements get an A. Episodes that have none get an F. Everything else falls somewhere in between. Before I say anything about “The Mind and the Matter” I will disclose that this episode gets the dreaded F, meaning that I cannot recommend it to anyone, for any reason. It is only the second F that we have handed out. The first went to Season One’s “The Mighty Casey.” I can’t say if “The Mind and the Matter” is any better or worse than “The Mighty Casey” but I can say that this was only the second time that I have seen this episode and I hope that there is not a third.
Like “The Mighty Casey,” “The Mind and the Matter” is a comedy and was written by Serling. It feels very much like a last minute script. A notion of an idea with a story wrapped loosely around it. It is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale in the tradition of W. W. Jacobs’s famous story “The Monkey’s Paw.” But it feels like Serling didn’t have enough time to construct a proper plot structure for his idea flourish in. What initially distracts me about this episode is that the fantasy element is absurdly weak. Many episodes of the program, especially those dealing with time travel, have no explanation for the fantastical things that happen to or around their characters. They just happen. In “Walking Distance” Gig Young simply revisits his old hometown and finds that he has traveled back in time to when he was a small child. No explanation given. In “A World of Difference” Howard Duff walks into work one morning and finds that his life is actually a film set. Again, no explanation given. The fantasy here though, that Beechcraft can make everyone disappear just by thinking about it, seems to violate some kind of literary fantasy-reality boundary. So if he can make people disappear just by thinking about it then why hasn’t this ever happened before? He hates everyone so surely at one point he must have wished for the world to himself.
Serling wrote this episode specifically for Shelly Berman. Berman started as a straight actor who transitioned to comedy when he landed a spot in the Chicago comedy troupe Compass Players which later became Second City. His performance here isn’t notably bad and even has bursts of clever awkwardness but is ultimately forgetful.
But the biggest blunder of this episode lies in the work of makeup artist William Tuttle. The normally failsafe artist was brought in to mold masks of Shelly Berman’s face to be worn by extras after Beechcraft has made the world in his image. Instead of looking like a lot of Archibald Beechcrafts the extras look like a crowd of leatherfaces.
The only memorable aspect of this episode is the directorial innovations of Buzz Kulick in the scenes where Beechcraft’s argues with his conscience. But ultimately this episode comes off as a poorly written attempt at comedic fantasy and, again, I cannot recommend it for any reason.

Grade: F

--This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Hal Sparks.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Shadow Play"

Dennis Weaver as Adam Grant in the midst of a recurring nightmare.
"Shadow Play"
Season Two, Episode 62
Original Air Date: May 5, 1961
Adam Grant: Dennis Weaver
Henry Ritchie: Harry Townes
Paul Carson: Wright King
Carol Ritchie: Anne Barton
Jiggs: William Edmondson
Coley: Bernie Hamilton
Phillips: Tommy Nello
Judge: Gene Roth
Priest: Mack Williams
Attorney: Jack Hyde
Jury Foreman: Howard Culver
Guard: John Close
Writer: Charles Beaumont (based on his short story "Traumerei")
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock
And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week on the Twilight Zone you'll sit in this courtroom and you'll watch what is apparently the standard, everyday turning of the wheels of justice. But because this is the Twilight Zone don't be fooled by the readily apparent. When the judge enters, the jury rises, the bailiff calls out the case, all of this is the opening salvo to one of our wildest journeys yet. Our program is called 'Shadow Play' and it's written by Mr. Charles Beaumont. It comes well recommended."
Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Adam Grant, a nondescript kind of man found guilty of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. Like every other animal caught in the wheels of justice he's scared, right down to the marrow of his bones. But it isn't prison that scares him, the long, silent nights of waiting, the slow walk to the little room, or even death itself. It's something else that holds Adam Grant in the hot, sweaty grip of fear, something worse than any punishment this world has to offer, something found only in the Twilight Zone."
            Found guilty of murder in the first degree, Adam Grant is sentenced to die in the electric chair. His reaction to the sentence is hysterical laughter followed by outrage and screaming, "Not again! I won't die again!" Grant's story is that everything in the world, the places, the people, everything, is a recurring dream he experiences night after night. He tries to plead his case with the other prisoners by pointing out the inconsistencies in this reality, such as a prisoner on death row being allowed to wear a watch and the fact that Grant was tried and sentenced in only a single day.
Harry Townes and Wright King as Ritchie and Carson
            The only person who believes that Grant may be telling the truth is Carson, a journalist for the local newspaper. He pleads with his friend Ritchie, the District Attorney, to go and see Grant. Ritchie does this and is surprised that Grant seems to know the words that he, Ritchie, speaks before they leave his mouth. Grant tells Ritchie that the DA always comes to visit at the same time in the dream, night after night, but it is not always the same person playing the role of the DA in the dream. Grant explains that the dream has its own logic and reality and that dying, even in a dream, is terrifying because it feels so real. When Grant explains that an element of the dream can be changed (in this case, a meal that Ritchie's wife is preparing at home) Ritchie rushes home to see that the meal has indeed changed. This wins him over to Grant's way of thinking.
            Ritchie rushes to the telephone and calls the governor. He manages to get a stay of execution in Grant's case but it is already too late. Grant has been executed only a moment sooner. As Grant dies, Ritchie and Carson stand in Ritchie's living room. First the objects in the room disappear and then Ritchie and Carson disappear as well.
            Grant is on trial again and it is exactly as it was before except for one piece. The players in the dream have all switched roles. He is again found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death in the electric chair. The dream has begun again.
Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"We know that a dream can be real but who ever thought that reality can be a dream? We exist, of course, but how, in what way? As we believe, as flesh and blood human beings, or are we simply part of someone's feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it, and then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead in the Twilight Zone?"
            "Shadow Play" is perhaps the most existential episode of the Twilight Zone and falls neatly into a category of episodes which lie outside of Rod Serling's social conscious episodes ("The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," "The Shelter," "A Stop at Willoughby") or the episodes built around a traditional thriller construct ("The Dummy," "Living Doll," "It's a Good Life," "The Invaders"). These were the episodes which examined unreality through a lens of fantasy and include such episodes as Richard Matheson's "A World of Difference," Serling's "The After Hours" and "Mirror Image," Charles Beaumont's other exploration of the nightmare, "Perchance to Dream," along with many of the episodes dealing with time travel. These type episodes are rarely fable-like in quality or reliant upon a twist ending, much like the majority of the Twilight Zone output. In essence, these episodes are designed to challenge the viewer's conceptions about the nature of reality by examining the possibility of a living unreality. This is essentially what the Twilight Zone, as an idea, embodies, the intrusion of a fantastic element at the expense of a perceived reality. "Shadow Play" benefits from a very fine Charles Beaumont script, another outstanding directing job by veteran John Brahm, and an enviable cast to produce one of the show's most underrated, hidden gems of existential terror.
            Charles Beaumont placed a story titled "Traumerei" (which translates from the German as "daydream" or "reverie") in the February, 1956 issue of Infinity Science Fiction, edited at the time by Larry Shaw. Though it has been missed by other chroniclers of the show's history, this early Beaumont story is clearly the seed for his script of "Shadow Play" as it includes passages taken whole and unchanged for the later script. In "Traumerei," a slight four page story, Beaumont utilizes the scene which, in the episode, is played out at Ritchie's, the District Attorney's, house while the character of Adam Grant awaits execution. The short story, almost entirely, is comprised of the discussion between Carson, the journalist, and Ritchie about the possibility of whether or not the prisoner, who does not have a role in the short story outside of this context, is telling the truth about the whole world being a dream which will end when the prisoner is put to death. The story ends with a brief passage describing the prisoner being walked to the electric chair and the insinuation that the world is beginning to fade away. "Traumerei" was later reprinted in Beaumont's second short story collection, Yonder: Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Bantam Books, April, 1958).
            The short story leaves a lot to be desired and it is easy to understand why it has slipped through the cracks when it comes to Beaumont's short story output. It has not seen a reprint beyond its inclusion in Beaumont's second story collection. It reads more like the treatment of an idea which, though written five years before, it essentially becomes when Beaumont decided to use it for a script on the show. To expand the short story to a half hour teleplay, Beaumont gave the prisoner a name, first Adam Trask and later changed, presumably by Serling, to Adam Grant, a distinct personality, and a central role in the action. In the hands of actor Dennis Weaver, it makes for a very manic but convincing performance. It is a testament to the actors, including Harry Townes and Wright King as the District Attorney and local newspaper writer, respectively, that they were able to bring off such a conceptually wild story in under a half hour. Beaumont's dialogue is brisk and moves the episode along quickly to an expected but still highly effective climax.
            John Brahm utilizes his past experience in German Expressionism, directing moody Fox thrillers "The Lodger" and Hangover Square," and, especially, his work on Alfred Hitchcock Presents to bring off Adam Grant's slightly askew dream world subtlety and effectively. The courtroom and jail scenes look slightly superficial (the result of filming entirely on the MGM backlot) which lends credence to the unreality of Grant's dream world, as it reflects the world of Grant's imagination and perception rather than a logical correlation to reality. Brahm even injects bits of Hitchcockian humor (a sizzling steak in an oven after a discussion of electrocution) and uses an effective split-screen camera technique in the episode.
            Dennis Weaver was best known at the time for his role in Gunsmoke as Chester Goode. Weaver's connection with the Twilight Zone would extend beyond the show when he starred in the television film Duel (1971), giving a bravura performance in what is essentially a one man show. The screenplay for Duel was written by Richard Matheson adapted from his short story of the same name published shortly prior in the April, 1971 issue of Playboy. Duel was directed by Steven Spielberg and was the director's first feature length film assignment. Two years prior, Spielberg was given his first professional assignment directing a segment of the pilot for a new anthology television show called Night Gallery, a Rod Serling created show which was, essentially, a successor to the Twilight Zone but was ultimately hampered by the fact that Serling had little creative control and that producer Jack Laird unwisely injected broad comedy into the show. Of the Rod Serling scripted pilot episode, Spielberg directed "Eyes," starring Joan Crawford as a cruel blind woman given the chance to see for one night. It was a highly effective script and showcased some of Serling's best writing since the early seasons of the Twilight Zone.
            Harry Townes was an extraordinarily busy television during the golden age of the medium and appeared on virtually every major series of the time. He appeared in excellent episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including the unforgettable episode, "The Creeper"), One Step Beyond, The Outer Limits, and Thriller (the two very fine episodes "The Cheaters" and "Dark Legacy"). Townes's other genre credits include the Planet of the Apes television series, Star Trek, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Townes also had a role in the Playhouse 90 episode "The Rank and File," which was written by Rod Serling and aired on May 28, 1959.
            Wright King was a close personal friend of Dennis Weaver at the time of filming "Shadow Play" and had also worked previously with Harry Townes, which explains the remarkable chemistry the lead actors have in the episode. He came from a stage tradition and worked frequently in live television drama during the early days of the medium. In 1951, he landed a role in Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire. King would work heavily in the western television shows of the 1960s. His genre credits include episodes of Suspense and the Logan's Run television series, as well as the role of Dr. Galen in Planet of the Apes (1968).
            "Shadow Play" remains an intriguing and suspenseful episode that perfectly embodies the otherworldly nature of the Twilight Zone in a way that few other episodes were able to match. It showcases Charles Beaumont's excellent writing and obsessions with dreams, nightmares, and unreality which perfectly suited the format of the show. It is an underrated episode which deserves wider attention.
Grade: A
-Harry Townes appeared earlier in the season one episode, "The Four of Us Are Dying."
-Wright King also appears in the fourth season episode, "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville."
-"Shadow Play" was used as the title of a collection of Charles Beaumont short stories brought out by British publisher Panther Books in 1964. The book was a partial reprint of the author's 1957 collection, The Hunger and Other Stories.
-"Shadow Play" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Ernie Hudson.
-The title refers to a type of stage puppetry which uses flat characters, a light source, and a translucent screen to create images and effects.
--Jordan Prejean

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"The Silence"

Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone) being chastised by his
friend (Jonathon Harris)

“The Silence”
Season Two, Episode 61
Original Airdate: April 28, 1961

Archie Taylor: Franchot Tone
Jamie Tennyson: Liam Sullivan
George Alfred: Jonathon Harris
Franklin, the Butler: Cyril Delevanti
Man #1: Everett Glass
Man #2: Felix Locher
Man #3: John Holland

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Boris Sagal
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“There are all kinds of wagers and all kinds of odds, from the spin of a roulette wheel to a two-dollar across the board at a race track. But next week, on the Twilight Zone, with the aid of Mr. Franchot Tone, we tell the story of possibly the strangest bet ever to occur in the annals of chance. Our program is called ‘The Silence.’ I hope we’ll see you then.
            “Here’s something that doesn’t require any imagination. It’s Oasis. If you just took this puff, you’d agree. It’s the softest taste of all. Before we meet again, try Oasis for the softest taste of all.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Monologue:
            “The note that this man is carrying across a club room is in the form of a proposed wager, but it’s the kind of wager that comes with a precedent. It stands alone in the annals of bet-making as the strangest game of chance ever afforded by one man to another. In just a moment, we’ll see the terms of the wager and what young Mr. Tennyson does about it. And in the process, we’ll witness all parties spin a wheel of chance in a very bizarre casino called…the Twilight Zone.”

Jamie Tennyson is a verbose young man who will stop at nothing to steal the ear of anyone willing to listen. Archie Taylor is an aging, irritable curmudgeon with an unrelenting distaste for young Mr. Tennyson. Both men are members of a prestigious men’s club.  One evening, as Tennyson tries unsuccessfully to gain the admiration and attention of his fellow club members, Taylor has the butler bring a note over to him. After reading it, Tennyson confronts Taylor at once. Taylor makes public the information contained in his note. He has grown tired of Tennyson’s constant chattering and his perpetual attempt to sucker club members into granting him a “loan.” He proposes a bet. He bets that Tennyson cannot keep silent for an entire year. He says that Tennyson is to stay in an enclosed living room made of glass so he can be observed by Taylor or any other club member at any time, with microphones monitoring his every movement. He asks the club members for permission to use the basement as part of his wager. If he can do this Taylor will pay him $500,000. Tennyson accepts the bet and leaves the club white with humiliation.
Over the course of the year that Tennyson is held captive Taylor makes many trips to the glass prison. He attempts to persuade young Tennyson to give up the fight and leave the prison at once. If Tennyson is willing to give up early Taylor will give him a severance prize of $5,000 for his effort.  Tennyson doesn’t budge.  Later, Taylor resorts to feeding Tennyson adulterous lies about his wife. Heartbroken but determined to win the bet Tennyson stays in the prison. And he never says a word.
A year to the day that Jamie Tennyson voluntarily shut himself off from the world, Archie Taylor stands in a room surrounded by his fellow club members, sick with anxiety. As the clock strikes ten young Tennyson emerges from the basement. He makes his way across the crowded lobby to Taylor and holds out his hand in demand of his payment for a challenge fulfilled. It is here that Taylor admits that he cannot fulfill his end of the bargain. When he made the bet he never expected the young man to actually go through with it.  He simply meant to embarrass him. He admits that he lost his inheritance many years ago.  He is now penniless and cannot pay even a fraction of Tennyson’s reward. Shamefully, he informs the club members that he will resign and never show his face there again. Tennyson grabs a notepad begins to scribble something down. Urged by the club members to use his voice, he instead hands the notepad to Taylor.  Taylor reads it aloud: I KNEW I COULD NOT FULFILL MY END OF THE BARGAIN. SO ONE YEAR AGO I HAD THE NERVES TO MY VOCAL CORDS SEVERED. Tennyson then removes a scarf from around his neck revealing the scar from his surgery. 

Rod Serling’s Closing Monologue:
            “Mr. Jamie Tennyson, who almost won a bet, but who discovered somewhat belatedly that gambling can be a most unproductive pursuit, even with loaded dice, marked cards, or as in his case, some severed vocal cords. For somewhere beyond him a wheel was severed and his number came up black thirteen. If you don’t believe it, ask the croupier, the very special one who handles roulette…in the Twilight Zone.”

            “The Silence” is an atypical Twilight Zone episode in that it is completely void of any sort of fantasy element. It is perhaps the only episode in which this can be said. There are other episodes of the show which cannot be appropriately labeled “fantasy,” such as the pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” and Season Two’s “King Nine Will Not Return.” But there is at least a hint of implied fantasy in those episodes even if the twist in both reveals that the fantasy is only in the minds of the protagonists. But “The Silence” is an episode that at no time suggests that there may possibly be a fantastical element at work. Instead is a simple crime tale that would be more comfortable in an issue of E.C. Comics or an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
            “The Silence” has become a controversial episode among both fans and critics of the show due to its alleged source material. Although this episode is credited solely to Serling it has been compared by several researchers to Anton Chekov’s 1889 short story “The Bet,” although it has never been confirmed that Serling based his story on Chekov’s. “The Bet” tells the story of an aging banker who bets a feisty young attorney two million dollars that he cannot remain in solitary confinement for fifteen years. The attorney takes the bet. While there is no clause about remaining silent the same general setup is applied here. The attorney is to remain in a secured cell in a lodge on the banker’s property. He is not allowed to leave the cell but unlike Serling’s story he is not allowed to see other human beings. To request books, musical instruments, wine, tobacco or food he is to submit a hand written request through a tiny window made specifically for that purpose. While he is incarcerated the attorney begins a quest to read as many books as he can get his hands on. History, religion, linguistics, political manifestos, literature, etc. His hair and beard grow long and unkempt. He appears at times to be enduring emotional torture for crying can often be heard coming from his cell. During the attorney’s time in prison the banker suffers numerous financial setbacks. He squanders his money on bad investments and at the end of the fifteen years he is substantially poorer than when he first proposed to the attorney the absurd wager. If he pays the attorney the two million it will ruin him. He decides instead to murder the attorney and spare himself from poverty. He sneaks into the attorney’s cell and finds the emaciated prisoner asleep. He also finds a handwritten note and he decides to read it. The attorney states that he no longer needs the two million dollars. He believes himself to be far wiser than when he when he accepted the bet. He rejects the value that society places on material goods. To prove his point he later leaves his cell mere minutes before his fifteen year sentence is over, sparing the banker his millions.
            Whether or not this story is at all based on the Chekov story is debatable and ultimately will never be known. If it is then Serling’s ending takes the story in a very different direction and changes it from one of psychological and social didacticism to one of psychological horror. Serling did comment on the similarities of the two stories years later in a lecture at Ithaca College stating that he was not familiar with the Chekov story when he wrote “The Silence” but stated that there are many different directions that one could have taken a protagonist with this setup. Regardless, his double twist denouement here is effectively horrifying.          
            Franchot Tone (1905 – 1968) was a veteran star of stage and screen. He is remembered today most notably for his role in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Other notable films include Dancing Lady (1935), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Phantom Lady (1945), The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) and Advise and Consent (1962). Tone, mirroring his personal life, was often cast as an urbane socialite similar to his role here. In interviewing the cast and crew of this episode Marc Scot Zicree uncovered an interesting dilemma on the set involving Tone. Director Boris Sagal shot the scenes in the lobby of the men’s club on the first day of the production. On the second day, however, when they were to begin shooting the scenes that take place in the game room where Tennyson’s cell is located, Tone didn’t show up to the set on time. After waiting several hours for him the producers finally got in touch with his agent. When Tone eventually made it to the set the left side of his face was badly scarred. There are several versions as to why his faced looked so terrible. One is that Tone simply fell down a steep hill smashing his face on rocks. There is another story, however, that has Tone being beaten after he made a pass at another man’s girlfriend. Whatever the story, Sagal was pressed to figure out a way to shoot Tone so that his scars would not be seen. His solution was to shoot Tone either in profile or simply shoot close-ups of only half of his face with a steal beam (part of Tennyson’s cell) covering up the left side. The effect worked and actually adds a lot to the scene and to Tone’s character.

Grade: B

--Boris Segal also directed the Season Three episode “The Arrival.” He also directed the 1971 film The Omega Man, an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend.
--Liam Sullivan also appears in the Season Three episode “The Changing of the Guard.”
--Jonathon Harris also appears in the Season Two episode “Twenty-Two.”
--This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chris McDonald.

--Brian Durant

Monday, August 11, 2014

"The Rip Van Winkle Caper"

From left: Oscar Beregi (as Farwell), Simon Oakland (as DeCruz) and Lew Gallo (as Brooks)
"The Rip Van Winkle Caper"
Season Two, Episode 60
Original Air Date: April 21, 1961

Farwell: Oscar Beregi
DeCruz: Simon Oakland
Brooks: Lew Gallo
Erbie: John Mitchum
Man on Road: Wallace Rooney
Woman on Road: Shirley O'Hara

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Justus Addiss
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"We've told some oddball stories on the Twilight Zone but none of them any more weird then next week's tale. Four men plan a heist the likes of which have never before been entered into the annals of crime. At which point, according to plan, they take a brief vacation from reality and they spend it in the Twilight Zone. Next week on the Twilight Zone, 'The Rip Van Winkle Caper.' I hope you will be among the bystanders."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Introducing four experts in the questionable art of crime. Mr. Farwell, expert on noxious gases. Former professor with a doctorate in both chemistry and physics. Mr. Erbie, expert on mechanical engineering. Mr. Brooks, expert in the use of firearms and other weaponry. And Mr. DeCruz, expert in demolition and various forms of destruction. The time is now. And the place is a mountain cave in Death Valley, U.S.A. In just a moment, these four men will utilize the service of a truck placed in cosmoline, loaded with a hot heist cooled off by a century of sleep, and then take a drive into the Twilight Zone."

                Four thieves (Farwell, DeCruz, Brooks, and Erbie) escape to a hidden cave in the desert in a truck loaded with gold. The company is led by Farwell, an expert on noxious gases. We learn that Farwell has used this expertise to put to sleep the entire company of a train hauling the gold, allowing to thieves to simply drive away with the loot. Now, at the hideout, Farwell reveals the remainder of his plan. Within the cave are four objects which resemble glass coffins. It is within these containers that the four thieves will be put to sleep by one of Farwell's gases. The plan is to sleep undisturbed, and physically unchanged, for a century. When they wake up they will be free to spend the gold as they please, knowing that anyone that would still be searching for them will be long dead.
                The only member of the company that seems wary of this plan is highly-strung DeCruz, who is eventually outnumbered and bullied by Brooks into going along with the plan. The four men get into the containers and, following Farwell's systematic instructions, put themselves to sleep.
                Upon waking, the men believe that the plan did not work and that they have not slept long at all. It is only upon the discovery of the corpse of Erbie, now only a skeleton whose flesh has long since rotted away, do the men realize that the plan has worked. They have awakened into the next century.
                The tense confrontations between DeCruz and Brooks finally escalates to the point of murder when DeCruz uses the truck to run Brooks over and then further proceeds to send their only means of transportation off the side of a steep cliff. The only choice for DeCruz and Farwell is to pack the gold in backpacks and to walk across the desert in search of civilization.
                The men soon find a road to follow but see no signs of a population. The going is tough on Farwell who is out of shape and has accidentally left his water canteen behind. He begs DeCruz for some water to which DeCruz charges Farwell a gold bar for each drink. As the going gets rougher and Farwell needs more water, he realizes that DeCruz will eventually charge him the entirety of his share of gold and decides to ensure his own survival by bludgeoning DeCruz to death with a gold bar.
                When Farwell finally finds another person along the road, he is all but dead, lying baked and blistered. With his dying words he offers the man who has found him gold in exchange for a ride into town. Farwell dies before the man can reply. The man, dressed in unconventional clothes, returns to his futuristic vehicle alongside the road where a woman passenger asks him what has happened. The man explains that Farwell offered him gold as though it were valuable. The woman finds that odd and says so. Gold hasn't been valuable for years, ever since they discovered a method of manufacturing it.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"The last of four Rip Van Winkles who all died precisely the way they lived, chasing an idol across the sand to wind up bleached dry in the hot sun as so much desert flotsam, worthless as the gold bullion they built a shrine to. Tonight's lesson in the Twilight Zone."

Shirley O'Hara in the car from Forbidden Planet (1956)
                "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" is most favorably viewed as an actor's showcase which displays the considerable talents of two veteran character actors, Oscar Beregi, Jr. (billed only as Oscar Beregi) and Simon Oakland. The deficiencies of the episode result from a hurried shooting and the reuse of the location of the previous episode, "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim."Some thematic problems arise from the uneven nature of Rod Serling's script, which creates two great characters but sends them on an illogical and derivative course of action and resolution.
                The episode was filmed on location in the desert outside Lone Pine, California immediately following the filming of the previous episode. The desert outside of Lone Pine was also utilized on the second season opener, "King Nine Will Not Return." Although Cayuga Productions incurred some additional costs with the episode (constructing the fake cave wall and the glass sleep chambers) some cost cutting measures are apparent in two areas. The thieves' truck, complete with the same decals, was previously used in "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" (it is the truck which passes Cliff Robertson and lets him know he has wandered into the twentieth century). A prop futuristic vehicle (which is not seen in motion in the episode) from MGM's 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet is also reused in the episode’s finale. Cayuga Productions often utilized available MGM props and footage while shooting on the MGM backlot and often looked to Forbidden Planet for inspiration in the prop and footage department.
                Though the script is excellently paced and provides a great, dual character showcase, the major problem is the absurd and illogical nature of the twist. Though the show is fondly remembered for some of the twist endings ("Time Enough at Last" and "To Serve Man" come to mind) it is unfortunate that Serling and company felt compelled to fit every episode with the requisite twist as it created some very unusual and often unsuccessful endings. The maddening irony of the script for "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" is that the characters actually discuss what would have been a better ending when Farwell and DeCruz discuss awakening in a hundred years only to find a world destroyed by atomic war. Had this in fact been the twist, the greedy men having killed each other after awakening in a world where atomic war has rendered gold useless, it would have been much more devastating than the camp science fiction ending with the silly and whimsical accompanying musical flourish. Not to mention that this alternate ending would have been right in line with Serling's usual method of confronting social issues (in this case atomic war at the height of the Cold War) in his scripts.
                What we are presented with instead is basically a variation on author B. Traven's Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a 1927 novel that was famously filmed in 1948 by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, with a science fictional twist. Where the script excels, and where lies all of Serling's best writing, is in the characters. In the hands of a talented actor or actress, a Rod Serling character walks onto the screen fully formed. Serling was an actor's writer and his dialogue alone could elevate a performance. For “The Rip Van Winkle Caper,” Serling’s script was gifted with two talented actors.
Oscar Beregi (1918-1976), as Farwell, made a career out of playing the villain and characters stereotyped as German or Russian (psychologists, Nazis, etc.). Beregi, of Hungarian descent, was the son of Oscar Beregi, Sr., an actor who appeared frequently on the German stage at the turn of the 20th century and moved into German silent cinema in 1919, eventually appearing in Fritz Lang’s 1933 film Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse. In the episode, Beregi manages to illicit sympathy for Farwell despite the illegal nature of the plot because Beregi plays Farwell as intellectual and much less savage than the other three men, who are written as brutes. Beregi is fondly remembered for his three appearances on The Twilight Zone, especially his unforgettable turn as a vicious ex-Nazi in Rod Serling’s excellent third season episode "Deaths-Head Revisited." He appeared a third time on the show in one of the handful of successful hour long episodes from the fourth season, "Mute," by Richard Matheson. Beregi also appeared on episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Mission: Impossible, and The Wild, Wild West among many other appearances on the small screen.
                Brooklyn born former concert violinist and Broadway character player Simon Oakland (1915-1983), here playing Hispanic DeCruz, is best remembered for his many “tough guy” roles, including the most disliked portion of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), this being the expository epilogue where Oakland plays a psychologist who explains Norman Bates' mental state. Though the scene is almost universally disliked, Oakland plays it well, faultlessly delivering a sizable chunk of dialogue. The character of DeCruz is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Norman Bates’ shrink, however, and it can seem abrupt upon repeat viewings how quickly DeCruz changes from wary and worrisome to savage and homicidal, as though by killing Brooks he has taken over an aspect of that man's personality. Oakland would appear again on the show in the forgettable fourth season episode, "The Thirty Fathom Grave."
                "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" does have some nice touches. The pace is frantic, the mood suspenseful, and the episode doesn't drag one bit, probably lending to its constant rotation in syndication. It is certainly one of the most viewed of the non-classic episodes. The location shooting is well done, the heat of the setting palpable, and little touches, such as the makeup department progressively applying blister makeup on Oscar Beregi, including upon the actor’s lips, also add to the verisimilitude of the Death Valley desert setting. Of course, the most macabre touch in the episode is the discovery that Erbie’s sleep chamber has suffered a crack from a falling rock, leaving only a decayed skeleton after so many years asleep. Rod Serling would place a similar scene into the screenplay of 20th Century Fox’s classic 1968 science fiction film Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, the latter of whom had an ironic role in the first season episode of The Twilight Zone, "People Are Alike All Over."
                Martin Grams, Jr., in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR Publishing, 2008), uncovers some interesting trivia that I'll share here. The first is that Rod Serling originally composed an alternate opening narration that was absurdly long and was wisely trimmed down by three quarters length by Serling. Grams presents the entire monologue in his book. The show continued its frequent practice of recycling the music of first season contributor Bernard Herrmann, as the prolific composer provides the majority of the music for this episode. Portions of the stock music were taken from Herrmann's composition for the July 26, 1946 broadcast of CBS radio's Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air episode titled "The Moat Farm Murder," starring Orson Welles.
                "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" ultimately survives despite its cliché nature because of the superb characterizations created by Serling, Beregi, and Oakland. The ending scores more for absurdity than originality but the episode still shines with the care given to the episodes of the show's first three seasons before the production wheels generally fell off. If it is one thing it is memorable and, along with the performances of the two main characters, it certainly warrants a viewing or two.

Grade: C

-Justus Addiss also directed the second season's "The Odyssey of Flight 33" and the fourth season's "No Time Like the Past."
-Oscar Beregi also appeared in the third season's "Deaths-Head Revisited" and the fourth season's "Mute."
-Simon Oakland also appeared in the fourth season's "The Thirty Fathom Grave."
-Two stuntmen were utilized for the episode: Robert L. McCord III doubled for the character of Brooks and Dave Armstrong doubled for the character of DeCruz. McCord also portrayed the character of the Sheriff in the episode immediately preceding, "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim."
-“The Rip Van Winkle Caper” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama and starred Tim Kazurinsky.
-Rod Serling adapted “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” into prose form for his book New Stories From the Twilight Zone, first published in May, 1962 by Bantam Books.

--Jordan Prejean