Monday, November 17, 2014

"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

John Hoyt, Jack Elam, and Bill Kendis trapped in a diner with an alien menace.
"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
Season Two, Episode 64
Original Air Date: May 26, 1961

Cast:
Trooper Dan Perry: Morgan Jones
Trooper Bill Padgett: John Archer
Ross: John Hoyt
Haley: Barney Phillips
Avery: Jack Elam
Olmstead: Bill Kendis
Ethel McConnell: Jean Willes
Peter Kramer: Bill Erwin
Rose Kramer: Gertrude Flynn
George Prince: Ron Kipling
Connie Prince: Jill Ellis

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Photography: George T. Clemens
Makeup: William Tuttle
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"It's been said that singularly the most difficult feat of all mankind is to find a needle in a haystack. On the Twilight Zone next time, we do it one better. We pose a problem of finding a Martian in a snow bank. It all adds up to a kind of extraterrestrial who's who with a couple of laughs and more than a couple of tangents. We recommend this to the space buffs and the jigsaw puzzle addicts. Next time on the Twilight Zone, our story is called "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Wintry February night, the present. Order of events: a phone call from a frightened woman notating the arrival of an unidentified flying object. And the check-out you've just witnessed with two State Troopers verifying the event but with nothing more enlightening to add beyond evidence of some tracks leading across the highway to a diner. You've heard of trying to find a needle in a haystack? Well, stay with us now and you'll be part of an investigating team whose mission is not to find that proverbial needle. No, their task is even harder. They've got to find a Martian in a diner. And in just a moment you'll search with them because you've just landed in the Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            On a snow-heavy February night, two state troopers respond to a call to check out an unidentified flying object which has taken off the tops of some trees and landed in Tracy's pond at Hook's Landing. The troopers find evidence that something did indeed land in the pond and, unbelievable as it seems, tracks in the snow appear to indicate that something crawled out of the pond and walked across the highway to a secluded diner. After getting a radio warning about a nearby bridge being too dangerous to pass upon, the troopers follow the tracks in the snow to the diner.
            The troopers find nine people within the diner, seven passengers on a bus line, the bus driver, and the counterman running the diner. After telling the bus driver about the impassable bridge, to the particular disdain of one of the passengers, a grouchy businessman named Ross, the troopers question the bus driver about how many passengers were on the bus. Though the driver does not have any information on the individual passengers, he is certain that there were six passengers on the bus. There are, however, seven passengers within the diner.
            The troopers explain the situation to the people in the diner and set in motion a situation in which each person attempts to exonerate themselves from suspicion of being the outsider. The group of passengers includes an old couple, a young couple, a pretty young woman, the grouchy businessman, and an energetic old coot. The passengers admit that with all the snowfall it is possible that an extra person could have slipped into the diner with the others as they unloaded the bus. None of the passengers are certain about who else was on the bus. 
            Strange phenomena begin to occur in the diner, including the overhead lights blinking on and off and the jukebox playing on its own before even more violent action occurs as the glass sugar containers burst open upon each table. The tension slowly rises as everyone waits for the bridge to open so the bus can go on its way. When the call finally comes that the bridge is now passable, the troopers have no choice but to allow all the passengers onto the bus, as they have no real cause to prevent anybody from leaving.
            Some minutes later Ross, the grumpy businessman, returns to the diner. When Haley, the counterman, asks him what happened, Ross replies that the bridge wasn't passable and that the bus and the state trooper car both went down into the river. No one survived. No one, that is, except Ross. And he isn't even wet. When Haley points this out, Ross is ignorant of the term "wet" and suddenly reveals a third arm from beneath his coat and explains that he is a Martian scout sent ahead to clear the Earth for invasion. Haley seems unperturbed. He nods and agrees that Earth is indeed a great place for an alien settlement but that it won't be coming from Mars. Haley is revealed to be from Venus and informs Ross that his alien friends have been overtaken by Venusians. Haley removes his cap to reveal a third eye.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Incident on a small island, to be believed or disbelieved. However, if a sour-faced dandy named Ross or a big, good-natured counterman who handles a spatula as if he'd been born with one in his mouth, if either of these two entities walks onto your premises, you'd better hold their hands, all three of them, or check the color of their eyes, all three of them. The gentlemen in question might try to pull you into the Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
            "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" is certainly one of the most cliché-ridden, predictable, ludicrous, derivative, and outlandish episodes of the Twilight Zone's first two seasons. That said, it is also certainly one of the most purely enjoyable episodes in the show's entire run. It effectively functions as the cumulative success of all Rod Serling's previous efforts to combine humor, fantasy, and suspense into a workable mix for the show, bettering the substantial failures of previous episodes such as "The Mighty Casey," "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," and "The Mind and the Matter." Though Serling borrowed from previous sources, including one of his own first season scripts, he produced a fun, fast paced thriller that is fondly remembered as one of the most recognizable and enjoyable episodes of the show.
            Nearly three years prior to the airing of the episode, on October 12, 1958, Serling submitted a story treatment while the show was still in development. The treatment was titled "The Night of the Big Rain" in which the basics of the story that would eventually become "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" were established. Serling made one small change, switching the heavy rainfall which strands the group inside the diner to snowfall instead, and also major one. In his original treatment, Serling had the alien being revealed as the cafe owner's new pet dog. This ending was simply too absurd even for a show with the premise of "find the alien in the cafe." Serling wisely chose to change the ending and also the title, first to "Nobody Here But Us Martians," the title used during the filming of the episode, and then finally to "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?," a play on the catchphrase of the television game show To Tell the Truth, which began airing on CBS in 1956.
            The sources for the episode outside of Serling's initial treatment are not terribly difficult to discern. The first source is certainly Agatha Christie's 1939 million copy bestseller And Then There Were None. In this novel, a group of people are enticed to visit a secluded island only to be killed off one by one. The killer is eventually revealed to be one among the company. This work virtually created the modern "killer/monster among us" fictional template. The second literary source is probably science fiction writer and editor of Astounding (later Analog) John W. Campbell's 1938 short story "Who Goes There?" Campbell wrote the story under the pen name Don A. Stuart. It concerns a group of scientists in Antarctica who inadvertently release an alien being that can change its form and image into almost anything, including members of the group. The story was famously filmed as The Thing From Another World in 1951 by producer Howard Hawks. It has since been filmed two additional times, once in 1982 by John Carpenter, as The Thing, and again in 2011 as a prequel to the Carpenter film, also titled The Thing. The idea of an isolated group of people against an alien menace was surely an appealing concept to writers working in the science fiction field in the wake of Campbell's story and Hawks’ film version.
            Serling also has the character Avery, the eccentric old man, make a reference to Ray Bradbury. Though there is no Bradbury work that directly correlates to the plot of "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (the closest may be Bradbury’s 1947 short story, “Zero Hour”), Serling was iterating that the story had the trappings of Cold War era science fiction, of which Ray Bradbury was arguably the most famous American progenitor. This does much to illustrate the level of reverence and respect Serling had for Bradbury. He reportedly came to Bradbury's California home in the late 1950s to seek the famous writer's advice on developing Twilight Zone. This makes it all the more unfortunate that Bradbury was only able to contribute a single episode to the show, the third season's "I Sing the Body Electric." Reports indicate that Bradbury was unable to provide scripts which reasonably met budgetary restraints for the show and took the subsequent rejection of his work by Serling as a personal slight, doing much to sour the relationship, both personal and professional, between the two men.
            The episode, however, is most informed by Serling's own work, as it directly parallels his grim Cold War masterpiece, "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street," even including an absurd but somehow thematically perfect ending. With its cast of excellent character actors portraying recognizable American stereotypes in a dialogue heavy episode, it also resembles a number of Serling's other episodes, including "The Shelter" and "It's a Good Life," the latter taken from the Jerome Bixby short story. The difference here is that Serling is obviously having fun with "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and this difference is what makes it an unqualified success. To adopt the same grim approach used on "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" or "The Shelter" would have doomed the episode laughable for the wrong reasons, much like that suffered by cartoonish yet deadly serious episodes such as "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" or "A Thing About Machines."
            The production wisely used the three most talented character actors in the three prime roles on the show, that of the grouchy businessman Ross, the counterman Haley, and the red herring Avery, played perfectly by John Holt, Barney Phillips, and Jack Elam, respectively. As it played out, these three characters were the only ones that could have possibly been the alien as Serling virtually eliminated the remainder of the cast simply by their characterizations. The couples were eliminated because of their pairing of two in a situation where the outsider is a single being. The bus driver was eliminated because he was, obviously, driving the bus. The young woman was eliminated because she was the only person the bus driver noticed on the bus. Then you have the two state troopers and the short order cook. What is left are Ross and Avery as the only possible suspects. One is an obvious red herring in that he behaves in an exaggerated way which draws attention to his eccentricity. Ross is left as the grumpy businessman who is the most eager to leave the situation even when doing so requires driving an old bus on a shaky bridge in the middle of a snowstorm. Figuring out which of the people in the diner was the alien is not difficult nor is it really the point of Serling's script. Serling likes to examine how each of us have little eccentric aspects of our personality which can, when perceived the wrong way, make us an attractive scapegoat in a paranoid situation. We are also, Serling points out, terribly unreliable as observers of the world around us.
            The two special effects in the episode were achieved cheaply and efficiently. Jack Hoyt, as Ross, is to have three arms. This was achieved by simply having a second person, whose right arm was clothed in the same manner as Hoyt, reach around Hoyt and interact with Hoyt's own two arms. A coat was draped over the actor's shoulders to finish the effect and a bit of rehearsal was required to manage a believable fluidity of motion between the three arms. William Tuttle applied the third eye to the forehead of actor Barney Phillips. Tuttle ran a thin wire from the eye, which could cause the eye to roll, through Phillip's hair to be manipulated by a technician situated behind Phillips. The initial idea for the third eye, according to producer Buck Houghton, was to use a double exposure but this looked even less convincing that the kitschy fake eye applied to Phillip's forehead. However unconvincing the effect was then or is now, it remains one of the more memorable images from the show.
            There are a few other interesting aspects of the episode. The first is that the bus, when seen in the exterior of the diner, is labeled on the side as Cayuga Bus Lines. Cayuga is, of course, the name of Rod Serling's production company which produced The Twilight Zone. It is also interesting to notice how Serling slyly hints at Ross being the alien. At one point in the episode, in the midst of strange occurrences in the diner, lights dimming, jukebox playing on its own, etc., Ross looks at the telephone on the wall two seconds before it starts ringing, in an attempt to make the viewer believe Ross caused the phone to ring when in fact an actual call was coming through for the state troopers. After the bridge is ruled passable and the diners are paying for their tickets, Ross is charged for drinking fourteen cups of coffee. Now, that's an excessive amount of coffee by any standard. There is also a constant, shameless plug for cigarettes in the episode, with the brand finally revealed to be Oasis cigarettes in the final encounter between Ross and Haley. Ross even utters that the cigarettes "taste wonderful" as though he were actually performing in a cigarette commercial. That line was not in Serling's script but added last minute though the constant product placement, as reported by Martin Grams, Jr. in his book on the show, was planned from the beginning.
            All in all, "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" is a highly enjoyable and entertaining episode that has a surprisingly high re-watch value. It comes highly recommended as it might be the most successfully episode of the show that also includes a broad amount of comedy. It is successful because unlike in previous comedic episodes of the show, Serling tampers the script with enough suspense and atmosphere to render it a sort of fun, spook house of an episode.

Grade: B

Notes:
-Montgomery Pittman also directed the third season episodes "Two," "The Grave," "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," and "Dead Man's Shoes."
-Barney Phillips is also in the first season episode "The Purple Testament," the second season episode "A Thing About Machines," and the exceptional fourth season episode "Miniature."
-Jack Hoyt was previously in the second season episode "The Lateness of the Hour."
-"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama, starring Richard Kind.

--Jordan Prejean 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"The Mind and the Matter"


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

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

 Crew:
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.”

 Summary:
            Archibald Beechcroft 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 Beechcroft one morning, Beechcroft’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 Beechcroft 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 Beechcroft 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 Beechcroft grins to himself.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration”
“Mr. Archibald Beechcroft: 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.”

 Commentary:
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

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

--Brian Durant

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
 
Cast:
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
 
Crew:
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."
 
Summary:
            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?"
 
Commentary:
            "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
 
Notes:
-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

 
Cast:
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

 
Crew:
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.”

 
Summary:
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.”

 
Commentary:
            “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

Notes:
--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