Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Twenty Two"

Barbara Nichols as the tormented Liz Powell
“Twenty Two”
Season Two, Episode 53
Original Air Date: February 10, 1961

Liz Powell: Barbara Nichols
Doctor: Jonathon Harris
Barney: Fredd Wayne
Nurse/Stewardess: Arline Sax
Night Duty Nurse: Norma Connolly
Day Duty Nurse: Mary Adams

Writer: Rod Serling (teleplay based on an anecdote in Famous Ghost Stories, edited by Bennett Cerf. ("The Bus-Conductor by E.F. Benson))
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Buck Houghton
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling
“This is room 22 and on the other side of its doors lies an adventure that is as fascinating as it is inexplicable.  It’s a story that comes to us from Mr. Bennett Cerf, who describes it as an age-old horror tale whose origin is unknown.  We have dressed it up in some hospital wrappings and enlisted the performances of Miss Barbara Nichols.  Next on the Twilight Zone, ‘Twenty Two.’  Be prepared to be spooked.  It’s that kind of story.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“This is Miss Liz Powell.  She’s a professional dancer and she’s in the hospital as a result of overwork and nervous fatigue.  And at this moment we have just finished walking with her in a nightmare.  In a moment she’ll wake up and we’ll remain at her side.  The problem here is that both Miss Powell and you will reach a point where it might be difficult to decide which is reality and which is nightmare.  A problem uncommon perhaps…but rather peculiar…to the Twilight Zone.”

Middle of the night.  Liz Powell, a dancer, lies awake in a hospital room, her nerves preventing any sort of sleep.  She reaches over towards the nightstand next to her bed for a glass of water but it slips from her trembling hand, shattering on the floor.  She gets out of bed, walks down the hallway and into the elevator.  When she reaches the basement, she steps off.  Slowly, she walks down the hallway and stops in front of a double door marked MORGUE.  Above the door is the number 22.  Suddenly, the door is thrown open and a woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform appears and says: “Room for one more, honey.”
Powell screams and races back down the hallway to the elevator. 
                The next day Powell is visited by her agent, Barney.  After a conversation about why Barney hasn’t called or come to visit her until now Powell’s doctor enters the room.  Powell insists that her experiences walking down to the basement are real.  The doctor, however, believes that Powell is simply having an elaborate dream.  To prove it to her he brings in the night nurse for the basement floor.  Powell takes one look at her and admits that it is not the woman that she seen in room 22 every night.  To help her break the repetitive dream cycle the doctor suggests to Powell that she change part of the dream.  He suggests that she not reach for the glass of water this time.
                That night as she lies awake in her bed listening to the clock tick, instead of reaching for the glass of water she lights a cigarette but she drops her lighter on the floor.  She reaches down to pick it up, bracing herself on the nightstand and ends up knocking the glass of water to the floor anyway.  The rest of the dream plays out the same way it has every night, with the woman in room 22 telling her that there is “room for one more.”  Back in her room, Powell has to be sedated.
                The next day Powell is being released from the hospital.  The doctor meets her on her way out and insists once more that her experiences were simply elaborate dreams that felt real.  She thanks him and leaves.  In the airport, Powell begins to get the same feeling that she did when she was having her “dreams.”  She learns that she is scheduled for flight 22.  She buys her ticket and begins to board the plane, feeling in her bones that something is wrong.  Slowly, she walks to the plane as it is beginning to board up for takeoff.  When she gets there the stewardess greets her.  It’s the same woman from her dreams.  “Room for one more, honey,” she says.  Powell screams and runs back inside the airport terminal.  She watches from window as Flight 22 begins to ascend from the runway.  As it begins to take off the plane bursts into flames.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Miss Elizabeth Powell, professional dancer. Hospital diagnosis: acute anxiety brought on by overwork and fatigue.  Prognosis: with rest and care she’ll probably recover.  But the cure to some nightmares is not to be found in known medical journals.  You look for it under potions for bad dreams…to be found in the Twilight Zone.”

     “Twenty Two” is an episode that seems, accordingly to most internet message boards and rating systems, to have strongly resonated with viewers over the years as it is usually rated very high (the episode currently has an impressive 8.0 rating on the Internet Movie Database). This is undoubtedly because the episode is based on English ghost story writer E.F. Benson’s famous 1906 story “The Bus-Conductor,” first published in the December 1906 issue of Pall Mall Magazine and reprinted in Benson’s famous collection of supernatural tales The Room in the Tower and Other Stories in 1912. It has since that time been reprinted dozens of time, even in uncredited form, in numerous anthologies and studies of the supernatural story. Benson’s story concerns a man in hospital that dreams of seeing an undertaker inviting him for a ride in a hearse with the uninviting invective, “Room for one more.” Upon leaving the hospital, the man encounters a bus on the street corner where the bus conductor says to him, “Room for one more.” The man, remembering his dream with dawning horror, decides against boarding the bus and watches as the bus crashes soon after its departure, killing all on board.
            Benson’s story is a tale that has been told and retold so often and in so many variations that it has virtually entered the cultural consciousness as a piece of folklore rather than a story sprung from the imagination of one writer. Another story it shares this similarity with is W.W. Jacob’s “The Monkey’s Paw.” These two writers, both English turn of the century writers, are similar in more than one way since both were known, in their time, for their humorous fictions and are now remembered as authors of the some of the most startling supernatural fiction of the early 20th century, especially Benson who wrote several famous stories of the horror, including “The Room in the Tower,” “Ms. Amsworth,” “Caterpillars,” and “The Horror-Horn.” His fiction is highly recommended and is available in a collected edition.
It is safe to say that the average viewer of “Twenty Two” or “The Man in the Bottle,” the Twilight Zone’s version of Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” would be unable to attribute the source of the fiction but the stories are instantly recognizable to almost every adult in the English speaking world. The allure of adapting “The Bus-Conductor” is its simplicity, as it reads like a fable and, because of its simplicity, lends itself to aging well as it can be reformatted to fit nearly any time period with slight variation. This is the quality which undoubtedly drew in Rod Serling to add it to his showcase for the uncanny. The most famous adaptation of the story outside of this episode of The Twilight Zone is as the first segment of the exceptional 1945 Ealing Studios anthology film Dead of Night, a film unusual in that it was a British produced horror film during a time when that country disdained all horror films and banned many from America outright. It remains a fondly remembered film greatly upon the strength of the final segment based on Gerald Kersh’s “The Horrible Dummy” about a malevolent ventriloquist dummy. Many children were introduced to the story by folklorist Alvin Schwarz, who included it in his 1981 collection Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Schwarz attributes the story to a folkloric tradition far older than the Benson story but it remains that Benson was the first writer that penned the fiction in a popular outlet.
The episode itself is an enjoyable, streamlined effort from Serling and company but it hardly feels like an enduring episode for reasons other than its gimmick which, to those well read in supernatural literature, was passé even by the time The Twilight Zone put its inimitable stamp upon it. The story, which runs seven pages in the collected edition of Benson’s supernatural stories, hardly seems full enough for base a twenty five plus minute episode of the show upon. Still, the production crew does a relatively admirable job considering the constraints of the videotape format and the brief material they had to work with. The pleasure of the episode lies in the production design. The hospital, even during the daylight hours when it should be a busy, milling place, seems somehow vacant and off-putting, giving the episode that indescribable Twilight Zone feel. The production shines in the dream sequences and in the design of the lower level of the hospital. The design is heavily industrial and quite frightening and the effect of the endless corridor beyond the swinging doors to the morgue was a masterstroke. It reminds the viewer of later horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser. The failure of the design and of the videotape format is when the setting moves outdoors. Here the backlot set is unconvincing and even more appalling is the acoustics which ring out hollowly in the enclosed environment, betraying the set.
The casting in the episode is fine. Though Serling’s script does not demand much of the actors all perform admirably.  The most inspired bit of casting, of course, is for the night nurse at the morgue in the dream sequences. This was played by actress Arlene Martel (billed as Arlene Sax) and her unique face is unforgettable and lends the episode much of its creepiness.
            Barbara Nichols is probably best remembered for this episode of The Twilight Zone but is also remembered for a number of small roles, mostly on television, essentially playing the same character, the Brooklyn-voiced blonde bombshell. Nichols began her career on stage in the early ‘50s, became a favorite pin-up girl for GIs, and had her best year in film in 1957 with roles in Pal Joey, Sweet Smell of Success, and The Pajama Game. She landed a regular role in a situation comedy the following year with Love that Jill but the show lasted only 13 episodes. In the late ‘50s and into the ‘60s she found herself taking guest roles on television and in B-grade movies. Her last crowning achievement was on Broadway in Let it Ride in 1961. Complications from two car accidents resulted in liver disease and she passed away on October 5, 1976 at the young age of 47.
Jonathan Harris is deservedly famous for his role as Dr. Zachary Smith on Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space but managed to amass dozens of credits, mostly in television, from the early ‘50s until the early 2000s just before his death in 2002. He has several genre credits including episodes of Lights Out, Land of the Giants, Bewitched, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Space Academy, and Battlestar Galactica. Beginning in the 1980s, Harris became an accomplished voice actor with work in numerous children’s programming. He also featured in a supporting role in the second season episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Silence.”
Fredd Wayne was also a fixture on television going back to the early ‘50s. He featured in the third season episode of The Twilight Zone “The Arrival” and has genre credits in episodes of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, and Wonder Woman but his forte was certainly in comedy and light drama. He is probably best remembered for his turns as Benjamin Franklin on talk shows and in his one man show Benjamin Franklin, Citizen. Wayne, still alive but no longer active in the entertainment industry, was born on October 17, 1924.
            “Twenty Two” is a slight, if memorable, accomplishment for the show and, like most of the videotaped episodes, suffered from the formatting of the episode. It is a simple and unoriginal episode but one which sticks in the mind and has a suitably creepy atmosphere enhanced by some spooky production design. If anything, it signaled the near-end of the abysmal videotaped episodes to be featured on the show, with only two remaining: “Static” and “Long Distance Call.” 

Grade: C

-- Jonathan Harris also appeared later in the Season Two episode, "The Silence."
-- Fred Wayne also appeared later in the Season Two episode, "The Arrival."
-- "Twenty Two" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Andrea Evans (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

-- Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant

Monday, February 17, 2014

"A Penny for Your Thoughts"

Dick York as Hector B. Poole

"A Penny for Your Thoughts"
Season Two, Episode Fifty-two
Original Air Date: February 3, 1961

Hector B. Poole: Dick York
Miss Turner: June Dayton
Mr. E.M. Bagby: Dan Tobin
Mr. Smithers: Cyril Delevanti
Mr. Sykes: Hayden Rorke
Mr. Brand: James Nolan
Driver: Frank London
Newsboy: Anthony Ray

Writer: George Clayton Johnson (original teleplay)
Director: James Sheldon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

Rod Serling's Promo:
"Next week on this very spot there commences a very kooky chain of occurrences. The story has to do with a young bank clerk who, for some unexplained and most uncanny reason, finds himself able to read other people's minds. And then finds that the power can get him into a peck of trouble and a bushel of travail. Our show is called 'A Penny for Your Thoughts' and it'll be here waiting for you next week on the Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Mr. Hector B. Poole, resident of the Twilight Zone. Flip a coin and keep flipping it. What are the odds? Half the time it will come up heads, half the time tails. But in one freakish chance in a million it'll land on its edge. Mr. Hector B. Poole, a bright human coin, on his way to the bank."

            While buying a morning newspaper from a street vendor, Hector B. Poole tosses his coin into the vendor's pay box only to watch the coin land perfectly on its thin edge. A moment later, after almost being hit by a car while crossing the street, Poole realizes that he can hear people talking without seeing their mouths move. He quickly learns that he is reading people's thoughts.
            At the bank at which he is employed, Poole attempts to explain to the bank manager, Mr. Bagby, why he, Poole, was late arriving only to find Bagby irritated and excited about something. Overhearing Bagby's thoughts, Poole learns that his boss is having an extramarital affair. He stumbles awkwardly out of the office with his newfound knowledge.
            Poole spends the remainder of the day using his new power to discover an assortment of interesting and alarming things about his coworkers and customers of the bank. He learns that his coworker Miss Turner has a crush on him and that another coworker is a blatant misogynist. More alarming still is one of the bank's customers, a man in for a loan named Sykes. Poole reads Sykes's mind and discovers that he is planning to use the bank loan to gamble in an attempt to repay losses that occurred when Sykes embezzled from his own company. When Poole inadvertently confronts Sykes about it, Sykes goes haywire and the deal for the loan is lost, to the irritation of Mr. Bagby.
Hayden Rorke, Dan Tobin, and Dick York
            The final straw is when Poole overhears Mr. Smithers, the bank's oldest and most trusted employee, thinking about his method of robbing the bank. After alerting Mr. Bagby to this possibility, Bagby and the bank guard confront Smithers as the old man exits the bank vault. They search him to no avail. There is no money being stolen. Mr. Bagby has had enough of Poole and fires him. As Poole apologizes to Mr. Smithers, the old man, astonished that Poole even had an inkling of his intentions, explains that his thoughts of robbing the bank are nothing more than a daydream.
Cyril Delevanti and Dick York
            As Hector is cleaning out his desk, Bagby learns that Mr. Sykes was arrested for gambling with company funds and that Hector had saved the bank such embarrassment had the loan gone through. Bagby offers Poole his old job back but, with Miss Turner's encouragement, Poole demands a promotion and uses the leverage he has on Bagby, about Bagby's affair, to get it, along with a round trip ticket to Bermuda for Mr. Smithers at the bank's expense. Bagby has no choice but to agree with Poole's terms.
            Satisfied, Poole walks Miss Turner home and stops to buy an afternoon paper. As he throws his coin in the vendor's box he knocks down his earlier coin which the vendor had managed to keep standing on edge all day. His mind reading powers disappear but Poole walks on contentedly with Miss Turner.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"One time in a million, a coin will land on its edge. But all it takes to knock it over is a vagrant breeze, a vibration, or a slight blow. Hector B. Poole, a human coin on edge for a brief time, in the Twilight Zone."

            By late 1960, writer George Clayton Johnson had sold two stories to Rod Serling's show, "All of Us Are Dying" and "Execution." Serling himself adapted the teleplay for the stories and both aired in the first season, the former under the title “The Four of Us Are Dying.” By the time production was ready for the second season, George Clayton Johnson began to seriously consider not only selling stories to Serling's show but also producing his own teleplays. Johnson was good friends with Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, the show's two leading writers besides Serling, and was heavily encouraged by Beaumont to start producing his own teleplays if he ever wanted to start building a serious body of work. Johnson would use his story "A Penny for Your Thoughts" as an opportunity to do just that.
            Johnson's first move was to sell the story as usual to the show's producer Buck Houghton. Rod Serling approved the story and Houghton was prepared to pay Johnson for it when Johnson breeched the idea of writing the first draft teleplay himself. Houghton was initially against the idea for two reasons. The first was that Serling was prepared to write the teleplay himself and their previous dealings with Johnson had gone smoothly just the way they operated and Houghton was apprehensive to deviate from the method. Secondly, Johnson was, in a way, holding Houghton hostage because if Johnson wasn't allowed to write the first draft teleplay he wouldn't allow the show to use his story and Houghton would have to scrap the entire episode and go on the search for new material. Houghton left Johnson waiting for an answer for two weeks before the show's lawyer called Johnson down to his Los Angeles office and gave him a check. It was payment for a teleplay, in an amount much more than Johnson had received for his stories, and it came with the condition that a teleplay would be in producer Houghton's hands in two weeks.
            Johnson was elated and had to learn quickly the routine of regular writing work. With some unspecified assistance from story editor and associate producer Del Reisman, who came on board during the show’s second season, Johnson got the teleplay written and the show was produced as normal. Though Johnson would never be as prolific as Beaumont or Matheson, he would only produce three additional teleplays ("Kick the Can," "Nothing in the Dark," "A Game of Pool") and sell two additional stories ("The Prime Mover" and "Ninety Years Without Slumbering"), the high quality of his contributions certainly put him in the front ranks of the show’s writers. Johnson's originality of concepts and innovative ideas were a refreshing addition to a show which had found its unique, if off-beat, identity among a very small core of principle creators.
            Rod Serling and Buck Houghton never regretted the idea of allowing Johnson into that core group. Johnson visited the set whilst the production team was filming "A Penny for Your Thoughts" and was greeted warmly by the production team and by Serling in particular. Johnson relates the story of how he and his wife, Lola, were standing off to the side and watching it all happen on the set when Rod Serling came by with a group of studio people he was touring around the production. When this group arrived in front of Johnson and his wife, Serling proudly informed the people that Johnson was the writer whose idea and teleplay was making it all happen. Being treated as an important element in the production did wonders for Johnson's confidence going forward.
            Since principle production on the show was achieved at MGM studios and the writers for the show all lived around the Los Angeles area, it allowed the show to become somewhat inclusive and lend a feeling of cohesion to a show which was irregular in nature. Despite the show's wide range, in both subject and style, there is no mistaking an episode of The Twilight Zone for something else. This was achieved principally because writers were treated not only with respect but as the core creative foundation upon which all else rested. Writers visited the sets, discussed the story with actors and directors and photographers and make-up artists, and were generally a part of production in a manner which was unusual in television. It made the show strong on story and is the main reason certain episodes are fondly remembered fifty years later.
            As originally written, Hector B. Poole's mind reading power was to have originated from being hit by a car. Though the episode still featured Poole being hit by a car shortly after his coin landing on its edge, the production team felt that staging a realistic car accident would be too difficult and decided on the coin effect instead when a special effects technician demonstrated to Serling how the effect could be achieved with a coin on a string. This seemed to be the better choice since the car accident that is featured in the episode is not very convincing and required an obvious quick cut and edit to achieve the effect.
            While visiting the set, George Clayton Johnson spoke with actor Dan Tobin, who played the role of Mr. Bagby. Tobin felt that the idea for the episode was very clever and suggested to Johnson that it would make a good ongoing series in which different people encountered the coin and were possessed of its uncanny power for a short time each. Johnson took Tobin seriously enough to write up a series treatment which featured as one potential character a poker player that used his mind reading ability to destroy the competition until he is paired with a high stakes player that just happens to be Asian and whose thoughts aren't in English. The series never panned out as it would be hard to sustain a series on such a simple premise for any length of time without some very creative writing.
            Since the episode required light comedy, the casting was very important if this was going to work. Dick York (Sept. 4, 1928-Feb. 20, 1992) was so perfectly cast in the role of Hector B. Poole that it is difficult to imagine another actor in the role at this point. In this pre-Bewitched role, York is honing his light comedy skills and doing it well. The show had earlier used in him in a much more serious role in the downbeat war episode "The Purple Testament" as a rugged infantry leader. This role didn't seem suited for someone with York's skill set. The show got it right the second time around. Though best known as the first Darrin Stephens opposite Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha on Bewitched (1964-69), York had been featured on film and television since the late '40s and worked up until the mid '80s when he was permanently laid up with a degenerative spine injury which he first sustained while filming They Came to Cordura in 1959. A longtime smoker, York developed emphysema and died from the disease in 1992 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His additional genre credits include an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller, six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
            Actor Dan Tobin (Mr. Bagby) had a long career in first films and later television as a comic relief sort who always played the type of character he portrays in this episode of Twilight Zone. Tobin crossed paths again with York on Bewitched. He died in Santa Monica in 1982.
            English born actor Cyril Delevanti was the son of an Anglo-Italian music professor and in his long acting career, stretching from the early '30s to the early '70s, he managed to amass over 150 credits. He was also a highly regarded drama coach. Delevanti always appeared older than his years and frequently played characters older than his actual age. He was a specialist in cockney accented English characters. His substantial genre roles, often uncredited, include: Night Monster, Son of Dracula, Phantom of the Opera (1943), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, The Lodger (1944), The Invisible Man's Revenge, Phantom Lady, Ministry of Fear, The House of Fear, 4 episodes of Science Fiction Theatre, and episode of The Adventures of Superman, I Bury the Living, 3 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and episode of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, and episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He died in Hollywood on Dec. 1, 1975.
            A final thought about this episode: it always struck me as strange that the world which is presented to the viewer in "A Penny for Your Thoughts" seems very innocuous and meek. In other words, it's not a world the viewer feels like something really bad would happen and yet there is certainly an uncomfortable darkness underlying everything in the episode. Here you have a character reading people's thoughts only to discover infidelity, embezzlement, misogyny, and daydreams of grand larceny. It is a strange contrast to play the very light comedy over the very dark impulses running through the minds of the principle characters. Though I realize this broad sort of writing was done to illustrate the main idea behind the episode, that being people often say things they think otherwise and think things they have no intention of doing, it still strikes me odd as a viewer, especially how coolly Poole reacts to his boss's cheating and how easily he slips into the role of blackmailer. Just another example of how the show was always working on more than one level. All in all, a good start to George Clayton Johnson's contributions as a writer of original teleplays and a fondly remembered show which has found its way as one of the most repeatedly aired in syndication.

Grade: B

-Dick York also appeared in the first season episode, "The Purple Testament."
-Cyril Delevanti appeared in three additional episodes of the show, "The Silence" (season two), "A Piano in the House" (season three), and "Passage on the Lady Anne" (season four).

--Jordan Prejean

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The Invaders"

Agnes Moorehead meets the Invaders

“The Invaders”
Season Two, Episode Fifty-one
Original airdate: January 27, 1961

Woman: Agnes Moorehead
Astronaut Voice: Douglas Heyes (uncredited)

Writer: Richard Matheson (original teleplay)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Rod Serling’s Promo:
“Next week we bring you a show called ‘The Invaders’ written by Mr. Richard Matheson and in this room you’ll watch Ms. Agnes Moorehead in a tension-riddled attempt at escape…from a pair of very improbable housebreakers.  This one we recommend to science fiction buffs, fantasy lovers, or to anyone to grip the edge of his seat and take a twenty-four minute trip into the realm of terror.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Monologue:
“This is one of the out-of-the-way places.  The unvisited places.  Bleak.  Wasted.  Dying.  This is a farmhouse, handmade, crude.  A house without electricity or gas.  A house untouched by progress. This is the woman who lives in the house, a woman who’s been alone for many years.  A strong, simple woman whose only problem up until this moment has been that of acquiring enough food to eat.  A woman about to face terror which is even now coming at her from… the Twilight Zone.”

There is an old woman who lives in a house.  A tiny house.  An old house.  A house that hasn’t felt the warmth of another person in many years.  In this house, the old woman scrimps by, living out her days simply and quietly, not concerning herself with anything or anyone else besides herself and her tiny, old house.
While washing the dishes one evening, she hears a loud, piercing noise followed immediately by a crash somewhere above her.  After a few moments she decides to climb up to the attic to investigate.  Upon entering the attic she discovers that a small air vessel of some kind has crashed through her roof.  The vessel is round and thin with a diameter of about three feet.  The woman approaches the vessel with caution.  As she does so a small drop-door begins to descend from underneath the ship and a tiny figure dressed in a space suit emerges.  Frightened, the woman flees to the attic door and waits for the figure to approach.   She kicks the figure as it approaches through the attic opening down into the bottom interior of the house and swiftly shuts the door back.  Then she notices a second figure standing on the opposite side of the room.  The figure immediately aims his arm at the woman and fires a laser of some kind.  She is apparently too big for the tiny weapon to do any permanent harm but nevertheless its effects are immensely painful and she fleas back to the kitchen.
After she dresses her wounds she begins to look for figure number one.  She notices that one of her kitchen knives is missing.  She searches the house in extreme caution.  One of the figures emerges from under a floorboard and plunges the knife into her foot.   She screams in pain.  She runs to the kitchen and grabs a hatchet, determined to destroy her home invaders.  After having her hand sliced open while grabbing the makeshift door handle on her bedroom door she enters into her bedroom and finds one of the tiny figures hiding under a blanket.  She approaches the blanket slowly and grabs the moving mass underneath.  The figure attempts to stab her with the knife once more but is not successful.  As she does this she is confronted by the second figure shooting at her from the ledge of a nearby window.  She shoves the figure off of the window ledge onto the ground below.  She then wraps the other figure up in the blanket and slams it down on a table repeatedly as if she were trying to bust the table open with a sledgehammer.  She stops once the figure stops struggling. 
She hears noise above her.  She climbs back up the attic ladder in search of the other invader.  She approaches the ship, her fingers gripped around the handle of the hatchet.  She hears a voice inside.
“Gresham is dead,” the voice says.  “Incredible race of giants here.  No counter attack, too powerful!  Stay away!  Gresham and I are…finished.”
The woman begins to smash the ship in a violent frenzy until she collapses from exhaustion.  Afterwards, we pan over the only part of the ship left intake.  Printed in English in large block letters are the words: U.S. Air Force: Space Probe No. 1. 

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration”
“These are the invaders: the tiny beings from the tiny place called Earth, who would take the giant step across the sky to the question marks that sparkle and beckon from the vastness of the universe only to be imagined.  The invaders, who found out that a one-way ticket to the stars beyond has the ultimate price tag.  And we have just seen it entered into a ledger that covers all the transactions of the universe, a bill stamped ‘paid in full,’ and to be found on file…in the Twilight Zone.”

Never a program to shy away from a challenge, the second season of The Twilight Zone had already given audiences Rod Serling’s “Eye of the Beholder,” an episode in which none of the characters’ faces can be seen until the end of the story.  Now the show offered viewers a story with only one performer who doesn’t utter a single line of dialogue for the entire twenty-three minutes that she is on screen.  Her thoughts and emotions are conveyed through facial expressions and the use of pantomime, making it one of the most memorable episodes in the entire Twilight Zone canon.
For an episode that has scant dialogue and is shot in real time, “The Invaders” always feels surprisingly fast-paced, with tension instilling itself during the first moments of the episode and not letting up until its denouement.  This is one of only a handful of episodes that breaks the formula of the opening sequence which usually consisted of a teaser followed by Serling’s appearance on screen.  Here, the audience is given no information before Serling’s introductory monologue.  Instead, Matheson and Serling grab the viewer’s attention as soon as the title sequence is over with Serling launching into what may be the single most effective opening line in the show’s five year run:
“This is one of the out-of-the-way places.  The unvisited places.  Bleak.  Wasted.  Dying.”

The rest of the monologue continues in a similar manner with Serling describing both the woman and the house in an unflattering fashion.  When Matheson first began writing for the show he didn’t attach an introductory or closing monologue to any of his scripts believing that Serling preferred to write the monologues himself.  But he found out later that this was not the case and began to write them himself.  It can be assumed that by this point Matheson had begun scripting his own monologues for this one in particular resembles his prose style even though it was written specifically to be spoken by Serling.  Its effectiveness lies in not only what is being described but the way the words are strung together.  Its terse delivery and harsh language immediately grab the viewer’s attention and lunge them into the world of this strange woman.
            Matheson had explored the theme of role reversal between human beings and extraterrestrial life a decade earlier in his short story “Third from the Sun” which was later adapted by Serling during Season One.  Here the audience believes they are watching a family escape from Earth on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse only to find out at the end of the story that it is an alien family traveling to Earth.  Matheson later recycled the basic idea and plot structure of this episode in his short story “Prey” which he published in the April, 1969 issue of Playboy.  “Prey” tells the story of a young woman alone in her apartment with a Zuni doll that she has just purchased for her boyfriend.  The Zuni doll comes to life after only the first few paragraphs and begins to stalk the woman around her tiny apartment for the rest of the story.  Matheson has said that his original pitch for “The Invaders” was much closer to the latter plot but Houghton and Serling thought it was a bit too grim and suggested that he set it on another planet and try to tone it down somehow.  “Prey” was later made into a segment for a made-for-television anthology film called Trilogy of Terror (ABC, 1975).  The film was meant as a pilot episode for a possible anthology series.  It was directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis based on three short stories written by Matheson.  All three segments feature Karen Black in the lead role.  The first two were written by William F. Nolan but the “Prey” segment, entitled “Amelia” in the film, was written by Matheson.  Curtis directed a sequel to the film, Trilogy of Terror II, in 1996 which includes a sequel to the “Amelia” segment from the first film, picking up right where the first segment ends.  Nolan wrote the screenplay for this segment.
            Calling the shots on “The Invaders” was director Douglas Heyes who was becoming the show's saving grace when it came to technically demanding pieces such as this one.  Unfortunately, this would be the last episode directed by Heyes.  The Twilight Zone never employed any regular staff directors, writers, or actors.  Everything was freelance, with the producers purchasing the stories they felt were right for the show and hiring the directors, performers and composers they felt were right for that particular story.  Heyes was simply brought in to direct the episodes that the producers thought were a right fit for him.  It is unclear why Heyes did not return to the show after this episode.  But he left the program at the height of its popularity and his daring, avant-garde style had a lasting influence on it.

In an interview with Marc Scott Zicree Heyes said that once he read the script he knew that the set design had to be as simple as possible to fool the audience into thinking that this story was set on Earth.  Nothing specific to Earth, or anything overtly foreign, could be used as a set piece.  This is why the woman’s house looks as primitive as it does.  All of the set pieces seen inside the house are the basic tools one would need for survival.  Heyes also revealed that the “invaders” were simply puppets that were manually operated by various crew members.  Heyes and the crew members wore black, long sleeve t-shirts and were able to maneuver the puppets by placing their hand through an opening on the back side of the puppet and moving the legs with their fingers.  This is why the spacemen move with such slow, wooden gestures.  Over the years, many fans have criticized and even scoffed at the rather simplistic portrayal of the spacemen, and in the age of digital effects they do appear extremely crude.  However, the story is so good and Moorehead’s performance so captivating that this is quickly forgotten.  Heyes said he based the spacemen on the Michelin Tire Man.  Heyes also revealed that the voice of the astronaut at the end of the episode was actually his voice.
            One of the most memorable features of this episode is the panic-laden score composed by Twilight Zone veteran Jerry Goldsmith.  No doubt taking a cue from Bernard Hermann’s famous score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released the year before, Goldsmith uses mostly harsh strings and occasional piano arrangements which greatly add to the unsettling atmosphere in this episode.
            And finally, although Matheson gives us a solid script here and both Heyes and Goldsmith help breathe life into it, this episode more or less belongs to veteran actress Agnes Moorehead.  A veteran character actress of stage and screen, Moorehead was a well-known name by the time this episode aired.  She started out as a radio performer.  In the 1930’s she became friends with Orson Welles and eventually joined his Mercury Theatre Company.  In 1938 she took part in Welles’s famous radio adaptation of H. G. Welles’s War of the Worlds.  After Welles moved to Hollywood she appeared in several of his films including Citizen Cane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).  She went on to have a wildly successful film career appearing alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, and Vincent Price to name just a few.  But it was her role as Endora on Bewitched that would immortalize her forever (much to her irritation as she was reportedly not a fan of the show).
Heyes recruited Moorehead for this episode specifically based on her performance in a one-woman radio adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s “Sorry, Wrong Number” (1948) for the show Suspense.  He was impressed by her ability to sustain terror for the entire half hour episode and figured that she would be a good fit for “The Invaders.”  The challenge here of course is that she had no dialogue to help her move the plot along or develop her character.  As there is little dialogue in this episode most of the story is told through the actions, mannerisms, and facial expressions of Moorehead’s character.  Years earlier she studied under renowned pantomime artist Marcel Marceau and her performance here is one of the best the show ever offered.  It is at times crude and even embarrassing but she still manages to be completely compelling.  Her mannerisms are almost primitive and there is one scene where the woman, exhausted, is seen drooling uncontrollably.  It is as genuinely authentic as any performance that one is likely to see on television from this or any other era. 
Although “The Invaders” has come to be a fan favorite and one of the more recognizable episodes of the show it should be noted that Richard Matheson was not a fan of it.  He was irritated at how the tiny invaders look on screen.  He always praised Moorehead’s performance but thought the episode moved far too slow compared to his original script.  Even so the idea was unique enough to cement this story in the cosmos of popular culture.

Grade: A

--Brian Durant 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dynamite Entertainment Launches Twilight Zone comic!

The fourth incarnation of The Twilight Zone in comic book form has arrived. Produced by Dynamite Entertainment, who already had success with their Dark Shadows comic as well as The Six Million Dollar Man, Red Sonja, Vampirella, Tarzan, Army of Darkness, Lone Ranger, and more, has teamed up writer J. Michael Straczynski (writer of Thor, Spider-man, and Superman, creator of Babylon 5) with interior artist Guiu Vilanova (Dark Shadows: Year One, A-Team) and amazing cover artist Francesco Francavilla (Detective Comics, Dark Shadows, Afterlife With Archie) to bring The Twilight Zone back to comics with an opening story that will span several issues and tackle some classic Zone themes including loss of identity and strange transformations. Buy issues directly from Dynamite or get it from your local comic shop or book store. Happy reading! In the meantime, check out more of Francesco Francavilla's covers below and catch up with our coverage of previous Twilight Zone comics.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"The Whole Truth"

Loring Smith as "Honest" Luther Grimbley & Jack Carson as Harvey Hunnicut
"The Whole Truth"
Season Two, Episode 51
Original Air Date: January 20, 1961

Harvey Hunnicut: Jack Carson
Luther Grimbley: Loring Smith
Irv: Arte Johnson
Old Man: George Chandler
Young Man: Jack Ging
Young Woman: Nan Peterson
Nikita Khrushchev: Lee Sabinson
Khrushchev's Aide: Patrick Westwood

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: James Sheldon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Music: Stock

Rod Serling's Preview Narration:
"This, in the parlance of the Twentieth Century, is a used car lot. A graveyard of active ghosts who by dint and virtue of some exceptional salesmanship and an Indian rubber stretching of the truth remain as commodities in a world that by rights they should have left generations ago. Mr. Jack Carson plays the role of a larceny-loaded con-man suddenly prevented from telling a falsehood. Next week on the Twilight Zone a most bizarre tale that we call, "The Whole Truth."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"This, as the banner already has proclaimed, is Mr. Harvey Hunnicut, an expert on commerce and con jobs, a brash, bright, and larceny-loaded wheeler and dealer who, when the good Lord passed out a conscience, must have gone for a beer and missed out. And these are a couple of other characters in our story, a little old man and a Model A car, but not just any old man and not just any Model A. There's something very special about the both of them. As a matter of fact, in just a few moments they'll give Harvey Hunnicut something that he's never experienced before. Through the good offices of a little magic they will unload on Mr. Hunnicut the absolute necessity to tell the truth. Exactly where they come from is conjecture but as to where they're heading for, this we know, because all of them, and you, are on the threshold of the Twilight Zone."

            Harvey Hunnicut is a fast talking used car salesman who owns a lot full of lemons and junk heaps but manages to sweet talk his unfortunate customers into buying his product at egregious prices. When an old man pulls into the lot driving an old Model A car, Hunnicut fast talks the old man into selling the car cheaply at which offer the old man, barely able to get a word in, easily agrees. After the paperwork is signed and ownership of the car belongs to Hunnicut, the old man offers up the information that the car is haunted.
            Hunnicut scoffs at the idea of a haunted car but soon discovers the car's power when he tries to con a young couple into buying a junk roadster but instead tells them the truth about the condition of the car and recommends they go to a reputable lot and buy a reliable car. Later, when Hunnicut calls his girlfriend to tell her he will be running late because of monthly inventory, he inexplicably also tells her that this is a lie and he will actually be late because he is playing poker that night. That's when Hunnicut realizes the power of the car. As long as he is the owner of the Model A, he cannot tell a lie, rendering him useless in his line of business.
            An opportunity arises to sell the car to a local politician named "Honest" Luther Grimbley who is, of course, a habitual liar. Though Grimbley is close to buying the car, Hunnicut is forced to tell the truth about it and this puts Grimbley off the sale. The two joke, while looking a newspaper headline, that a car like this would be interesting if it were in the hands of "that guy."
            That guy ends up being Russian Premier Nikita Krushchev, who just happens to be in the United States and makes a stop by Hunnicut's car lot. Amazingly, Hunnicut manages to sell the Model A to Krushchev through the Premier's Aide, who tells Hunnicut that they intend to use it as a demonstration of the average American's automobile. Hunnicut knows that Krushchev will be in for a nasty surprise they next time he steps up to offer lies and propoganda.

            Rod Serling wrote a very specific type of teleplay for many of his script contributions for Twilight Zone, centered on the drama inherent when a broad character type is put into a perilous or unusual situation. These episodes were thin on plot and strong on coincidence and would either sink or swim depending, almost solely, on the resonance of its theme. Consequently, there was very little middle ground success for this type of episode. Serling was most successful with this type of episode when he treated his subject matter, or character, in a serious manner, as in "One For the Angels," "The Lonely," or "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." When Serling found it necessary to inject humor or whimsy into the formula, the results were usually, but not always, unsatisfactory, as in "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," "The Mind and the Matter," or "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby." To be fair, the reverse was true in a few circumstances. "Time Enough at Last" would fall into the whimsical type episode, at least until its heartbreaking denouement, but remains an engaging and fondly remembered episode. Likewise, "A Thing about Machines" is a serious minded fantasy that is derivative, lacking any clear theme, and which fails to elicit any response from the viewer besides boredom.
            "The Whole Truth" is another whimsical type episode and is, unfortunately, one of the worst episodes of the second season and certainly the worst of the videotaped episodes. As a result of the videotape format, Hunnicut's used car lot is easily exposed as a soundstage and this lends an appropriate air of cheapness to an episode about a cheapskate. In terms of structure, "The Whole Truth" goes against every element which comprised the spoke that turned the show's thematic wheel. A fantasy element is usually introduced into a Twilight Zone episode to allow a character(s) to gather self perspective or for others to gather perspective about a character(s). This is not the case in "The Whole Truth.” The viewer is left with no reason to believe Hunnicut will do otherwise than revert back to the way he was at the beginning of the show once he’s managed to sell off the haunted car. It isn't an episode about an immoral man learning his own nature and being ashamed of it; it is an episode about a man learning of his own immoral nature and mourning the loss of it. Even when wrapped in a humorous, and quite ludicrous, construct, it greatly lessens any dramatic appeal or impact the episode might have. Besides, the episode hinges on one gag which wasn’t funny, or original, the first time.
            The second major disaster of "The Whole Truth" is the unbelievably convenient ending. Though Twilight Zone has earned a reputation, somewhat unfairly, as a show which lived and died by the O. Henry-type twist ending, there is a not-so-fine difference between the ironic and the ridiculous. "The Whole Truth" wallows in the latter. Even at twenty six minutes the episode feels padded because of the simplicity of the conflict and the absurd nature of the ending, which no length of bridging material between conflict and resolution could have properly resolved.
            I like to think that the episode germinated as a way for Serling and Houghton to express an anti-communist stance in the midst of the Cold War. Though this heavy-handed approach displays the broad political prejudices of the day, it would at least give "The Whole Truth" some validity since it is hard to believe that this episode actually made it through the production process. It feels completely forced and out of place in a very strong second season that was producing now-classic episodes with nearly every new episode broadcast.  
            Martin Grams, Jr., who combed the Cayuga Productions archives to compile his information filled book, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to A Television Classic, reveals some interesting production background about the episode. Serling's unproduced "Mr. Bevis" television series (intended to be a continuation of the first season Twilight Zone episode of the same title) included an episode synopsis about Mr. Bevis being “blessed” by an angel with the ability to tell only the truth and another episode in which Bevis is a used car salesman. More interesting is a scene cut from an earlier draft of Serling's teleplay in which Nikita Krushchev, after buying the Model A from Hunnicut, faces reporters at a press conference in which Krushchev involuntarily champions the American standard of living in comparison to that of the Soviet Union because he cannot tell a lie. This seemed a wise cut on Serling's part as an already hammy episode would have come across as extremely heavy handed, especially in retrospect.
            Jack Carson, who portrays Harvey Hunnicut in "The Whole Truth," was a versatile character actor who toiled in small parts upon his arrival at RKO in 1937. He found better roles and did most of his remembered work at Warner's in the forties, including work alongside Joan Crawford in Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce (1945). The decade would also see Carson team up with Dennis Morgan for a series of successful comedy films and also find his voice as a comedian on radio. Carson was at the forefront of television’s early years, performing hosting stints on All Star Revue and Colgate Comedy Hour in the fifties. Carson finished his career by appearing in high profile movies such as A Star is Born (1954), alongside Judy Garland, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. Carson died of stomach cancer at the age of 52 on January 2, 1963.

Grade: F

-The lack of quality in "The Whole Truth" is not indicative of director James Sheldon as he also helmed some very fine episodes in the series, including "A Penny For Your Thoughts" from the second season and "It's a Good Life" from the third season. Sheldon also directed two additional third season episodes, "Still Valley" and Ray Bradbury's sole teleplay for the series, "I Sing the Body Electric."

Jordan Prejean