Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Genre Guide to The Twilight Zone

         
"Third From the Sun"
  Excuse this brief interlude as we prepare to dive back into our Season Three episode guide shortly with Earl Hamner's "The Hunt," but it seems an opportune time to explore the role of genre in the series as the show had reached full maturity by this point in the third season and would thereafter work within the established story types developed and explored during the first three seasons. 

We take a decidedly literary approach to our subject here in the Vortex due to the fact that not only did we arrive at the series through literary channels (as avid readers, we encountered the printed works of Serling, Matheson, Beaumont, Bradbury, et al. from an early age) but also because, like many of the early genre television anthologies, The Twilight Zone is situated upon a firm literary foundation with deep roots to explore and wide ranging branches to discover. More than 40 of the show’s 156 episodes were directly based (credited or not) upon a published or unpublished story or work of folklore. We recognize that storytelling was of overriding importance to the series and that series creator Rod Serling took particular care to recruit the finest genre writers to the series and to ensure that the vision these writers put forth was fully and capably realized during the filming process. The principle writers for the series uniformly remember their time working on The Twilight Zone (especially during the first three seasons under producer Buck Houghton) as some of their most satisfying experiences in the often brutal industry of television. Story was not only the all-important factor in the creation of the series but it remains the principle quality of the show remembered by those that have fondly viewed the series throughout its nearly sixty years of existence.

This recognition accounts not only for our occasional lack of initiative when delving into television and film information for our commentaries (we admit to having little to no interest in listing and exploring the endless television and film credits of the actors on the series unless pertinent to their appearance and/or performance in an episode; there are many quality print guides and blogs that accomplish this aim) but also for our attempts to extrapolate the various literary genres and influences within which the show's writers continued to work and explore. With this in mind, we created the following genre guide to the series output. We think it offers a unique perspective on how versatile and ambitious was The Twilight Zone for a series too often dismissed as a science fiction program and too seldom given proper credit for the frequently astounding quality of its writing. Not only did the show range widely over theme, setting, and form, but also approached nearly every story type found in the traditional genre forms of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery, often presenting ambitious and interesting variations on the theme. A wonderful quality of an anthology series is that it need not be viewed in any sort of order and thus this genre guide is perhaps useful to both newcomers and veteran fans of the series who desire the perspective accorded an exploration of the show through a thematic lens rather than the traditional manner of viewing the episodes in order of original air date.

-JP

A Genre Guide to The Twilight Zone

Note: The following list is not an attempt to definitively delineate the story types found in the series but rather to offer a starting point for conversation exploring the role that genre and story types integral to genre play in the storytelling process displayed by the series. In truth, the series output could potentially be organized in as little as three categories or as many as a hundred; and episodes do not always lend themselves to easy categorizations. The persistent aspect of the series (and one which, frankly, too often overshadows the other qualities of the series) is the use of irony in the form of the unexpected or twist ending* to subvert the expectations of the viewer and thus provoke shock and surprise. In some cases, the series accomplished this so well that many episodes are remembered solely for their twist endings rather than their cumulative effects, often masking inefficiencies or diverting from additional qualities+.

Category titles are self-explanatory and are merely our own idiosyncratic choices. Several episodes fit neatly into more than a single category. For example: "A Nice Place to Visit" concerns both "Death and the Afterlife" and "The Devil." So too does "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" concern both "Magical Abilities" and "Alien Encounters." "Long Distance Call" is both a "Ghosts" story and a story about an "Enchanted Object," etc. Some categories, such as "Death and the Afterlife," "Ghosts," and "Vengeance from Beyond" have inherent potential for crossover. Also, some categories can well be thought of as sub-categories, as the items under question in "Dolls, Dummies, and Effigies" are certainly a form of "Enchanted Objects." We have placed each episode under the heading with which we believe the episode is primarily concerned and noted each episode we believe could comfortably fit into another category. Overarching characteristics of theme and setting (War, Old West, Outer Space, The Future, etc.) are not considered.

*There is in fact a difference between an unexpected ending and a twist ending. Though the effects of both can be similar, an unexpected ending can be logically traced back through the story (making the unexpected ending easier to guess) whereas a twist ending defies logic to achieve its effects (thus making it more difficult to guess). For example, the ending of “The Hitch-Hiker” is an unexpected ending. The ending of “Third from the Sun” is a twist ending.

+Many viewers of the show seem to be lamentably reliant upon the endings of the episodes in order to pass critical judgment. One of the more regrettable responses I receive to my personal favorite episodes is that because the viewer can reasonably guess the ending (as in “The Howling Man” or “The Masks”) the episode is somehow less attractive than episodes with memorable yet completely illogical (and often cruel) endings (as in “Time Enough At Last” or “Stopover in a Quiet Town”).

Alien Encounters:
"The Invaders" (S2, E51)
"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" (S2, E64)
"To Serve Man" (S3, E89)
"The Fugitive" (S3, E90)
"The Little People" (S3, E93)
"The Invaders"
"Hocus Pocus and Frisby" (S3, E95)
"The Gift" (S3, E97)
"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (S5, E123)
"Black Leather Jackets" (S5, E138)
"Stopover In a Quiet Town" (S5, E150) (Cruel Fates)
"The Fear" (S5, E155)

Angels:
"A Passage for Trumpet" (S1, E32) (Death and the Afterlife)
"Mr. Bevis" (S1, E33)
"Cavender is Coming" (S3, E101)

Cruel Fates:
"I Shot an Arrow Into the Air" (S1, E15)
"Elegy" (S1, E20) (Alien Encounters)
"People Are Alike All Over" (S1, E25) (Alien Encounters)
"The Rip Van Winkle Caper" (S2, E60)
"The Silence" (S2, E61) (Deadly Encounters)
"The Grave" (S3, E72) (Deadly Encounters)
"Four O'Clock" (S3, E94) (Magical Abilities)
"On Thursday We Leave for Home" (S4, E118) (Doomsday and Paranoia)
"The Last Night of a Jockey" (S5, E125)
"The Self Improvement of Salvadore Ross" (S5, E136) (Magical Abilities)
"People are Alike All Over"
"Spur of the Moment" (S5, E141) (Timeslips, Time Machines, and Passages Beyond)
"Sounds and Silences" (S5, E147)
"Come Wander With Me" (S5, E154)

Deadly Encounters:
"The Jeopardy Room" (S5, E149)
"The Encounter" (S5, E151)

Death and the Afterlife:
"One for the Angels" (S1, E2)
"The Hitch-Hiker" (S1, E16) (Ghosts)
"A Nice Place to Visit" (S1, E28) (The Devil)
"The Passersby" (S3, E69) (Ghosts)
"Nothing in the Dark" (S3, E81)
"The Hunt" (S3, E84)
"One for the Angels"
"The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank" (S3, E88)
"Death Ship" (S4, E108)
"In Praise of Pip" (S5, E121)
"Ninety Years Without Slumbering" (S5, E132) (Enchanted Objects)
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (S5, E142)

The Devil:
"Escape Clause" (S1, E6)
"The Howling Man" (S2, E41)
"Printer's Devil" (S4, E111)

Dolls, Dummies, and Effigies:
"The After Hours" (S1, E34) (Existential Crises)
"The Dummy" (S3, E98)
"Miniature" (S4, E110) (Timeslips, Time Machines, and Passages Beyond)
"The New Exhibit" (S4, E115)
"Living Doll" (S5, E126)
"Caesar and Me" (S5, E148)

Doomsday Paranoia:
"The Monsters are Due on Maple Street (S1, E22)
"The Shelter" (S3, E68)
"The Midnight Sun" (S3, E75)
"One More Pallbearer" (S3, E82) (Cruel Fates)
"I Am the Night-Color Me Black" (S5, E146)
"The Monsters are Due on Maple Street"


Dreams of Terror and Death:
"Perchance to Dream" (S1, E9) (Premonition)
"Shadow Play" (S2, E62)

Dystopian Societies:
"Third from the Sun" (S1, E14)
"Eye of the Beholder" (S2, E42) (Transformations)
"The Obsolete Man" (S2, E65)

Enchanted Objects:
"The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine" (S1, E4) (Timeslips, Time Machines, and Passages Beyond)
"What You Need" (S1, E12)
"The Fever" (S1, E17)
"The Man in the Bottle" (S2, E38)
"Nick of Time" (S2, E43)
"A Most Unusual Camera" (S2, E46)
"The Night of the Meek" (S2, E47)
"Dust" (S2, E48)
"The Whole Truth" (S2, E50)
"Static" (S2, E56) (Timeslips, Time Machines, and Passages Beyond)
"The Mirror" (S3, E71)
"Kick the Can" (S3, E86)
"Nick of Time"
"A Piano in the House" (S3, E87)
"Valley of the Shadow" (S4, E105)
"I Dream of Genie" (S4, E114)
"A Kind of Stopwatch" (S5, E124) (Cruel Fates)
"You Drive" (S5, E134) (Vengeance From Beyond)
"What's In the Box" (S5, E144)
"The Bewitchin' Pool" (S5, E156)

Existential Crises:
"Where Is Everybody?" (S1, E1)
"And When the Sky Was Opened" (S1, E11)
"Mirror Image" (S1, E21)
"A World of Difference" (S1, E23)
"Nightmare as a Child" (S1, E29) (Ghosts)
"Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" (S2, E39)
"The Arrival" (S3, E67) (Ghosts)
"Five Characters in Search of an Exit" (S3, E79) (Dolls, Dummies, and Effigies)
"Person or Persons Unknown" (S3, E92) (Dreams of Terror and Death)

Ghosts:
"Long Distance Call" (S2, E58) (Enchanted Objects)
"A Game of Pool" (S3, E70) (Death and the Afterlife)
"Dead Man's Shoes" (S3, E83) (Enchanted Objects)
"Young Man's Fancy" (S3, E99)
"A Game of Pool"
"The Changing of the Guard" (S3, E102)
"The Thirty Fathom Grave" (S4, E104)
"He's Alive" (S4, E106)
"Night Call" (S5, E139)

Immortality:
"Long Live Walter Jameson" (S1, E24)
"Queen of the Nile" (S5, E143) (Enchanted Objects)

Magical Abilities:
"The Four of Us Are Dying" (S1, E13) (Cruel Fates)
"The Big Tall Wish" (S1, E27)
"A World of His Own" (S1, E36)
"A Penny for Your Thoughts" (S2, E52)
"Mr. Dingle, the Strong" (S2, E55) (Alien Encounters)
"The Prime Mover" (S2, E57)
"The Mind and the Matter" (S2, E63)
"It's a Good Life" (S3, E73)
"Still Valley" (S3, E76) (Deadly Encounters)
"Mute" (S4, E107)
"The Bard" (S4, E120)
"Mr. Garrity and the Graves" (S5, E152)

Magical Potions:
"Mr. Denton on Doomsday" (S1, E3)
"The Chaser" (S1, E31)
"A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain" (S5, E131)

Post Apocalypse:
"Time Enough at Last" (S1, E8) (Cruel Fates)
"Two" (S3, E66)
"The Old Man in the Cave" (S5, E127)

Premonition:
"The Purple Testament" (S1, E19)
"Twenty-Two" (S2, E53) (Dreams of Terror and Death)
"Ring-a-Ding Girl" (S5, E133) (Enchanted Objects)

Robots and Other Machines:
"The Lonely" (S1, E7)
"The Mighty Casey" (S1, E35)
"A Thing About Machines (S2, E40) (Vengeance From Beyond)
"The Lateness of the Hour" (S2, E44) (Existential Crises)
"I Sing the Body Electric" (S3, E100)
"In His Image" (S4, E103) (Existential Crises)
"Steel" (S5, E122)
"Uncle Simon" (S5, E128)
"From Agnes-With Love" (S5, E140)
"The Brain Center at Whipple's" (S5, E153)

Timeslips, Time Machines, and Passages Beyond:
"Walking Distance" (S1, E5)
"The Last Flight" (S1, E18)
"Execution" (S1, E26)
"A Stop at Willoughby" (S1, E30)
"King Nine Will Not Return"
"King Nine Will Not Return" (S2, E37)
"The Trouble with Templeton" (S2, E45)
"Back There" (S2, E49)
"The Odyssey of Flight 33" (S2, E54)
"A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" (S2, E59)
"Once Upon a Time" (S3, E78)
"A Quality of Mercy" (S3, E80)
"Showdown with Rance McGrew" (S3, E85)
"Little Girl Lost" (S3, E91)
"No Time Like the Past" (S4, E112)
"The Parallel" (S4, E113)
"Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" (S4, E116)
"The Incredible World of Horace Ford" (S4, E117)
"Probe 7, Over and Out" (S5, E129)
"The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms" (S5, E130)

Transformations:
"The Trade-Ins" (S3, E96)
"Jess-Belle" (S4, E109)
"The Long Morrow" (S5, E135)
"Number Twelve Looks Just Like You" (S5, E137)
"The Masks" (S5, E145) (Cruel Fates)

Vengeance from Beyond:
"Judgment Night" (S1, E10) (Ghosts)
"Deaths-head Revisited" (S3, E74) (Ghosts)
"The Jungle" (S3, E77)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Syfy Channel's Twilight Zone New Year's Marathon (2017)

It's that time again when the Syfy Channel turns the page on a new year with a Twilight Zone marathon. This year's marathon will be an extra long block of Zone beginning at 5:00 a.m. (CST) on New Year's Eve and running all the way through 6:00 a.m. (CST) on January 3, 2017 with only one brief interruption in the early morning hours on the 3rd for paid programming. Below is the complete listings for the marathon including episode titles. All times are CST so adjust accordingly. We've covered a large number of the episodes here in the Vortex in our ongoing episode guide and those episodes can be accessed using the labels on the sidebar. Each episode we have covered has been noted with an (*) in the listing below.

This year's marathon seems to be all over the place and even includes some episodes being shown twice due to the Syfy Channel's latest gimmick for the marathon which invited fans on Twitter to choose episodes to be shown in prime time on New Year's Day. In the majority of previous years, the format of the marathon remained relatively the same: show fan favorite episodes in prime time on New Year's Eve and throughout the afternoon of New Year's Day with episodes of less quality relegated to the early morning hours. In recent years, the Syfy Channel has tried to offer a gimmick of some sort to shake up the format of the marathon, whether it is running a day of the first Twilight Zone revival series from the 1980s or running the entire original series in order of original air date (in fact, some of this year's marathon retains the format of original air date but without consistency). The result can be somewhat disappointing when high quality episodes such as "The Howling Man" or "Death Ship" are slotted in the early morning hours when few people are likely to be watching.

Anyhow, we hope everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy the marathon and experiences a safe and happy New Year's. We'll see you in 2017.

12/31/2016
5:00 a.m. - Twilight Zone: The Movie
7:00 a.m. - "One for the Angels"*
7:30 a.m. - "Mr. Denton on Doomsday"*
8:00 a.m. - The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine"*
8:30 a.m. - "Escape Clause"*
9:00 a.m. - "Perchance to Dream"*
9:30 a.m. - "Judgment Night"*
10:00 a.m. - "What You Need"*
10:30 a.m. - "The Four of Us Are Dying"*
11:00 a.m. - "Mirror Image"*
11:30 a.m. - "Execution"*
12:00 p.m. - "The Big Tall Wish"*
12:30 p.m. - "A Nice Place to Visit"*
1:00 p.m. - "The Chaser"*
1:30 p.m. - "A Passage for Trumpet"*
2:00 p.m. - "Mr. Bevis"*
2:30 p.m. - "The Mighty Casey"*
3:00 p.m. - "A World of His Own"*
3:30 p.m. - "King Nine Will Not Return"*
4:00 p.m. - "The Obsolete Man"*
4:30 p.m.- "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
5:00 p.m. - "Night Call"
5:30 p.m. - "The Encounter"
6:00 p.m. - "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"*
6:30 p.m. - "A Game of Pool"*
7:00 p.m. - "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You"
7:30 p.m. - "Where Is Everybody?"*
8:00 p.m. - "The Hitch-Hiker"*
8:30 p.m. - "The After Hours"*
9:00 p.m. - "Long Distance Call"*
9:30 p.m. - "A Penny for Your Thoughts"*
10:00 p.m. - "A World of Difference"*
10:30 p.m. - "Little Girl Lost"
11:00 p.m. - "The Mirror"*
11:30 p.m. - "And When the Sky Was Opened"*

1/1/2017
12:00 a.m. - "The Man in the Bottle"*
12:30 a.m. - "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room"*
1:00 a.m. - "A Thing About Machines"*
1:30 a.m. - "The Howling Man"*
2:00 a.m. - "Mute"
3:00 a.m. - "Jess-Belle"
4:00 a.m. - "Death Ship"
5:00 a.m. - "The Lateness of the Hour"*
5:30 a.m. - "The Trouble With Templeton"*
6:00 a.m. - "A Most Unusual Camera"*
6:30 a.m. - "Dust"*
7:00 a.m. - "Back There"*
7:30 a.m. - "The Whole Truth"*
8:00 a.m. - "Mr. Dingle, the Strong"*
8:30 a.m. - "Static"*
9:00 a.m. - "The Prime Mover"*
9:30 a.m. - "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim"*
10:00 a.m. - "The Rip Van Winkle Caper"*
10:30 a.m. - "Shadow Play"*
11:00 a.m. - "The Mind and the Matter"*
11:30 a.m. - "Two"*
12:00 p.m. - "The Arrival"*
12:30 p.m. - "The Passersby"*
1:00 p.m. - "The Mirror"*
1:30 p.m. - "The Grave"*
2:00 p.m. - "Deaths-head Revisited"*
2:30 p.m. - "The Midnight Sun"*
3:00 p.m. - "Still Valley"*
3:30 p.m. - "Once Upon a Time"*
4:00 p.m. - "The Old Man in the Cave"
4:30 p.m. - "The Odyssey of Flight 33"*
5:00 p.m. - "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air"*
5:30 p.m. - "Person or Persons Unknown"
6:00 p.m. - "The Bewitchin' Pool"
6:30 p.m. - "The Dummy"
7:00 p.m. - ?
7:30 p.m. - ?
8:00 p.m. - ?
8:30 p.m. - ?
9:00 p.m. - ?
9:30 p.m. - ?
10:00 p.m. - "Nick of Time"*
10:30 p.m. - "Nothing in the Dark"*
11:00 p.m. - "A Stop at Willoughby"*
11:30 p.m. - "The Shelter"*

1/2/2017
12:00 a.m. - "Miniature"
1:00 a.m. - "The Jungle"*
1:30 a.m. - "A Quality of Mercy"*
2:00 a.m. - "Valley of the Shadow"
3:00 a.m. - "He's Alive"
4:00 a.m. - "Printer's Devil"
5:00 a.m. - "One More Pallbearer"*
5:30 a.m. - "Dead Man's Shoes"*
6:00 a.m. - "The Hunt"
6:30 a.m. - "Showdown with Rance McGrew"
7:00 a.m. - "Kick the Can"
7:30 a.m. - "A Piano in the House"
8:00 a.m. - "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank"
8:30 a.m. - "The Fugitive"
9:00 a.m. - "The Gift"
9:30 a.m. - "The Little People"
10:00 a.m. - "Four O'Clock"
10:30 a.m. - "The Trade-Ins"
11:00 a.m. - "I Sing the Body Electric"
11:30 a.m. - "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross"
12:00 p.m. - "Black Leather Jackets"
12:30 p.m. - "From Agnes With Love"
1:00 p.m. - "Spur of the Moment"
1:30 p.m. - "Stopover in a Quiet Town"
2:00 p.m. - "Queen of the Nile"
2:30 p.m. - "What's in the Box?"
3:00 p.m. - I Am the Night, Color Me Black"
3:30 p.m. - "Sounds and Silences"
4:00 p.m. - "Caesar and Me"
4:30 p.m. - "The Jeopardy Room"
5:00 p.m. - "Nightmare as a Child"*
5:30 p.m. - "Ring-a-Ding Girl"
6:00 p.m. - "Third from the Sun"*
6:30 p.m. - "The Silence"*
7:00 p.m. - "The Lonely"*
7:30 p.m. - "Time Enough at Last"*
8:00 p.m. - "Perchance to Dream"*
8:30 p.m. - "Judgment Night"*
9:00 p.m. - "And When the Sky Was Opened"*
9:30 p.m. - "What You Need"*
10:00 p.m. - "The Lonely"*
10:30 p.m. - "People Are Alike All Over"*
11:00 p.m. - "The Fever"*
11:30 p.m. - "In Praise of Pip"

1/3/2017
12:00 a.m. - "The Thirty-Fathom Grave"
1:00 a.m. - "Mr. Garrity and the Graves"
1:30 a.m. - "The Brain Center at Whipples"
2:00 a.m. - "Come Wander With Me"
2:30 a.m. - "The Fear"
3:00 a.m. - ----
4:00 a.m. - ----
5:00 a.m. - "The Parallel"
6:00 a.m. -"Where Is Everybody?"*

Note: Of related interest is an X-Files marathon running throughout New Year's Day on the Syfy Channel sister station Chiller Channel.

-JP

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Viewer’s Guide to a Twilight Zone Christmas

Essential episodes of The Twilight Zone for the winter season, in order of original air date.

1.) “A Passage for Trumpet,” season one, episode 32 (5/20/60)

          -This episode marks the first of four appearances by veteran actor Jack Klugman on the series and is essentially Rod Serling’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic Christmas fantasy film from 1946. Though “A Passage for Trumpet” is essentially a retelling of Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift,” which formed the basis of It’s a Wonderful Life. In that story, a man contemplating suicide is shown what life without him would be like and decides to backtrack on his attempt to take his own life (life being the greatest gift of the title). Joey Crown, from “A Passage for Trumpet,” likewise is shown the ugly side of the afterlife after a suicide attempt and decides to remain in the land of the living. Despite its derivative nature, the episode is an uplifting fable (featuring a classic example of Serling’s “lovable loser”-type character) and features strong performances from Zone regulars Klugman and John Anderson (Anderson assumes the role of guardian angel Gabriel, the horn-playing herald who shows Joey Crown the error of his ways).

Read our commentary on “A Passage for Trumpet.” 

2.) “The After Hours,” season one, episode 34 (6/10/160)

          -Nothing says Christmas like the rush of department store shopping, and Rod Serling puts a truly unique spin on the tradition in this exceptionally creepy episode starring Anne Francis. Francis portrays a young woman seeking the perfect gift who instead discovers a shocking secret about the nature of department store mannequins. The journey to a secret level of the store is a particularly disturbing highlight. Francis gives an underrated performance and the unsettling atmosphere in the episode is second to none on the series. It comes highly recommended.

Read our thoughts on “The After Hours.” 

3.) “The Night of the Meek,” season two, episode 47 (12/23/60)

          -This most overtly Christmas episode of the series certainly has its flaws but remains one of the more uplifting episodes of the series due to a strong performance by Art Carney as another of Rod Serling’s “lovable losers.” This time the loser is an alcoholic department store Santa Claus that gets a chance at redemption when he discovers Santa’s magical bag of toys and uses it to spread Christmas cheer throughout the city. “Night of the Meek” is essential Christmas viewing for Zone fans and remains a fan favorite, despite the hideous videotape appearance of the episode.

Read all about “The Night of the Meek.” 

4.) “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” season two, episode 64 (5/26/61)

          -Two state policemen and a group of bus passengers face off against harsh winter weather and a hidden adversary at a roadside cafe in this highly entertaining episode. Another atmospheric gem from Rod Serling heralds the arrival of director Montgomery Pittman to showcase perhaps the finest group of Serling characters created for the series, especially in the form of John Hoyt as a grouchy businessman and Jack Elam as a boisterous eccentric. The twisting narrative and whacky makeup effects make this one a sure-fire crowd-pleaser certain to delight those in search of macabre fun.

Find out more on “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” 

5.) “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” season three, episode 79 (12/15/61)

          -Another Christmas tradition is the ringing of donation bells and Rod Serling again delivers an imaginative twist on the tradition. Jumpstarted by a story idea from journalist Marvin Petal, Serling draws on his exceptional skill at characterization to craft one of the more unusual and haunting offerings from the series. The playful title clues the viewer in on the existential nature of the play and fine performances enhance the strange fantasy. The final twist is perhaps overly-familiar now but remains one of the more memorable created for the series. Highly recommended.

Explore the secrets of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” 

6.) “Nothing in the Dark,” season three, episode 81 (1/5/62)

          -Bundle up for this frosty bit of dark fantasy. This episode is arguably the finest work from three of the most talented creators on the series, writer George Clayton Johnson, director Lamont Johnson, and actress Gladys Cooper. Cooper gives an outstanding performance as a woman who has shut herself away from the world in fear of meeting “Mr. Death.” The fable-like story has a strong winter atmosphere and features some of the finest camera work of the series. It comes highly recommended.

Here's our review of “Nothing in the Dark.” 

7.) “The Changing of the Guard,” season three, episode 102 (6/1/62)

          -Veteran actor Donald Pleasance gives an emotionally powerful performance in this Christmas episode. It is simultaneously a melancholy and uplifting episode in which an aging professor forced into retirement is confronted by Christmas spirits in order to remind him of his value as an instructor to generations of young men. This one has a uniquely haunting quality and again approaches the subject of depression and suicide during the Christmas season, a time of reflection and contemplation. It remains a strongly affecting episode from Rod Serling. 

8.)  “Living Doll,” season five, episode 126 (11/1/63)

         -What says Christmas more than children and their toys? When little Christie brings home Talky Tina, mean ole Stepdaddy will pay the price. Telly Savalas is excellent in this creepy classic as a temperamental stepfather who meets his match in an indestructible killer doll. This episode served as the basis of or inspiration for numerous subsequent tales of killer dolls and remains an all-time classic from the series. Highly recommended.

Here's our thoughts on “Living Doll.” 

-JP

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Dead Man's Shoes"

Warren Stevens as Nate Bledsoe
"Dead Man's Shoes"
Season Three, Episode 83
Original Air Date: January 19, 1962

Cast:
Nate Bledsoe: Warren Stevens
Dagget: Richard Devon
Wilma: Joan Marshall
Chips: Ben Wright
Sam: Harry Swoger
Ben: Ron Hagerthy
Dagget's Woman: Florence Marly
Jimmy: Joe Mell
Maitre d': Eugene Borden

Crew:
Writers: Charles Beaumont (and OCee Ritch)
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week, through the good offices of Mr. Charles Beaumont, we take a walk in some 'Dead Man's Shoes.' It's the story of a hobo who takes some shoes off a recently deceased hoodlum and then discovers that if the shoe fits you have to wear it. And, in this case, you have to do as the shoes do, go where they tell you to, and then perform some services above and beyond the norm. I hope we see you next week for 'Dead Man's Shoes.'"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:

"Nathan Edward Bledsoe of the Bowery Bledsoes. A man once, a specter now, one of those myriad modern-day ghosts that haunt the reeking nights of the city in search of a flop, a handout, a glass of forgetfulness. Nate doesn't know it but his search is about to end. Because those shiny new shoes are going to carry him right into the capital of The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            In the early night hours, a dark sedan pulls into an alleyway and dumps a dead body beneath a tenement staircase. The sound of the car awakens Nate Bledsoe, a homeless man sleeping on a bed of newspapers. Nate spies the dead body and proceeds to turn out the pockets of the corpse. Then he sees the nice pair of shoes on the corpse and switches them for his own worn-out shoes. Walking down the street, he is accosted by two fellow homeless men who inquire as to where Nate came upon the nice shoes. But Nate seems confused and much gruffer than his usual meek self. Nate shrugs off the two men and heads to an apartment building on the nicer side of town.
            There he walks in on Wilma, a beautiful woman alone in a top floor apartment. She demands to know who he is. When she sees the shoes on Nate’s feet she recognizes them as belonging to her boyfriend Dane, now a shoeless corpse in an alley across town. Dane may be dead but he’s still pretty lively when Nate’s wearing his shoes.
            Nate comes back to himself when he takes off Dane’s shoes. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. Wilma points a gun at him and demands that Nate leave the apartment. When Nate puts the shoes back on, Dane resumes control and easily takes the gun away from Wilma. He kisses her furiously like Dane used to kiss her. Wilma goes into hysterics and Dane slaps her across the face. He’s got business to attend to and Wilma better be there when he gets back.
            Nate/Dane makes his way to a nightclub where he sits close to a table of gangsters and orders tequila with a lump of sugar. Dane’s signature drink. That gets their attention. They don’t recognize Nate so they call him over to the table and ask him who he is and what he’s up to. Nate/Dane tells them that he’s a messenger and he has a private message for Dagget, the leader of the little group.
            Alone in Dagget’s office, Nate/Dane openly talks of Dane’s murder at the hands of Dagget and his goons. Nate/Dane pulls out a hidden gun. One of Dagget’s men springs from a hidden panel in the wall but Nate/Dane gets the drop on him. “You didn’t think that would work twice, did you?” Dane asks. Another of Dagget’s men shoots Nate/Dane though a space in bookcase that conceals another hidden panel.
            “I’ll be back,” Dane warns as he lies dying on the floor of Dagget’s office for the second time that night. “I’ll be back again and again until I get you.”
            Dagget and his men dump Nate’s body in an alley. One of Nate’s fellow homeless friends takes the shoes from Nate’s body and puts them on.      

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"There's an old saying that goes: 'If the shoe fits, wear it.' But be careful. If you happen to find a pair of size nine black and grey loafers, made to order in the old country, be very careful. You might walk right into The Twilight Zone."

Commentary:

            “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a breezy, entertaining, but ultimately undistinguished offering from the otherwise exceptional duo of writer Charles Beaumont and director Montgomery Pittman. It is largely derivative in style and subject matter, bearing a strong resemblance to the plot and structure of the earlier, and superior, episode “The Four of Us Are Dying,” along with a number of other film noir-esque offerings on the series. Like “The Four of Us Are Dying,” it also features a jazzy, interpretive musical structure more suited to a crime drama than a fantasy series.
Charles Beaumont had a great deal of help in scripting the episode from his friend OCee Ritch, who does not receive credit on the episode and was last a contributor to the series as the source (via unpublished story) of the idea for Beaumont’s excellent second season offering “Static.” In fact, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a clear reversal of the process that created “Static,” the latter of which concerned OCee Ritch’s idea adapted by Beaumont whereas “Dead Man’s Shoes” concerns Beaumont’s idea adapted by Ritch. Beaumont likely had little hand in the writing process at all outside of the principle idea, which, according to multiple sources, was initially imagined to concern a cowboy hat instead of a pair of shoes. This approach leaned heavily toward comedy but Ritch managed to combine the lighter material inherent in Beaumont’s original idea with an urban fantasy populated by standard, underworld type characters. This approach was similar to the method by which Rod Serling adapted Lewis Padgett’s (the joint pseudonym of Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore) science fiction short story “What You Need” for the noir influenced first season episode which bears that title.
Beaumont had yet to display the symptoms of the terrible degenerative disease that would claim his life just five years later but he remained a freelance writer unable, or unwilling, to turn down an assignment. As such, Beaumont was constantly overworked and under pressure of deadlines. He’d long assumed the occasional practice of farming out his ideas to his writer friends to flesh out in television assignments to which he was contractually obligated. This practice became more frequent as Beaumont began to succumb to the disease (generally believed to be early onset Alzheimer’s) that would take his life.
            OCee Ritch and Charles Beaumont became friends due to their shared loved of automobiles and automotive racing. Ritch contributed to the two volumes of sports racing material compiled and edited by Beaumont and fellow friend William F. Nolan (The Omnibus of Speed and When Engines Roar) as well as authoring a number of repair and maintenance manuals for both automobiles and motorcycles. Ritch also appeared in director Roger Corman’s 1962 adaptation of Charles Beaumont’s 1959 novel The Intruder (along with appearances by Beaumont’s friends George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, and Beaumont himself).*
            Director Montgomery Pittman graced the series for a brief time from the end of the second season through the middle of the third season and brought with him both a distinguished style and the distinguishing characteristic of being a director that often wrote the episodes he directed. Pittman wrote three of the five episodes he directed (the exceptions being Rod Serling’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Dead Man’s Shoes”) and, like many of the series directors, was adept at infusing an episode with a distinctive film noir aesthetic.
            Two areas in which the series does not receive its due course of credit is in its commitment to versatility and to its outstanding stable of directors. The series was certainly the most varied and stylish show of its type and time. Much like the varieties of writing styles, series creator Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton encouraged individual directors to work against any type of “house” style to present unique, idiosyncratic visions for the series. This practice was greatly helped by the presence of versatile and hugely talented cinematographer George T. Clemens, a man adroit at adapting to the individual styles of the show’s many directors.
            The Twilight Zone is often seen as a science fiction series primarily concerned with the recognizable tropes of the science fiction genre. Though the series did attempt several recognizable forms of science fiction, from time travel to robots to dystopian politics to interplanetary travel to alternate dimensions, the show took great efforts to attempt virtually every form of popular storytelling. Beyond the experimental episodes (including a couple of virtually silent episodes and one in which the faces of the principle cast remain hidden) the series attempted everything from romance to ghost stories to westerns to tales of war to screwball comedy. Yet, the one genre most often approached by the series was that of noir, a genre distinguished by chiaroscuro lighting and camera effects to illustrate tales of criminals and the underworld.
            It should come as no surprise that the series would approach such subject matter considering the unique type of urban fantasy the creators returned to time and again, evident in such offerings as “What You Need,” “The Four of Us Are Dying,” “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” “The Prime Mover,” “A Nice Place to Visit,” and some half dozen more. It is even less surprising when one surmises the talented directors Serling and company brought to the show, several of whom made their reputations in the film noir genre or in the earlier, formative mode of expressionism, including Ida Lupino (also notable for both acting and directing on the series as well as being the only female director to helm an episode), Jacques Tourneur, Robert Florey, and John Brahm.
            Montgomery Pittman can be placed in that company as well if one looks to his small but varied output and recognizes the noir-influence style which he brings to tales as diverse as “Two,” “The Grave,” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.”
            “Dead Man’s Shoes,” however, is also part of a smaller subgenre occasionally seen on the series which changes the tonal dynamic of the episode. It is a “magic item” episode and, like its counterparts “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “A Piano in the House,” and “A Kind of Stopwatch,” there is a liberal sprinkling of levity into the episode’s graver moments (the notable exception being the earlier mentioned and uniformly grim episode “What You Need”). One of the more amusing moments in the episode is also the best scene, that in which Nate/Dane (Warren Stevens) returns to Dane’s apartment and is confronted by Wilma (Joan Marshall), Dane’s girlfriend. The moment in which Nate alternately removes the dead man’s shoes and puts them on again is very amusing and played relatively silent. Pittman chooses instead to focus on the facial expressions of the two principle actors with effective medium shots. One method by which Ritch and Pittman tamper the comedic impulse of the story is in the high level of abrupt violence which ends the second and third acts. Most shocking is the level of domestic abuse which Wilma certainly suffered under Dane as Nate/Dane both threatens to break her arm and strikes her across the face in the space of a few minutes.
            The deadpan performance of prolific actor Warren Stevens perfectly illuminates the gallows humor characteristic of the material. Stevens saw Broadway early in his acting career before moving into film and television, the latter medium providing him with more than 150 credits, including plenty of genre material. Stevens had a memorable role (and death) in the classic 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet. On the small screen Stevens appeared in episodes of Inner Sanctum, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Science Fiction Theatre, One Step Beyond, Star Trek, and a long-running association with legendary genre producer/director Irwin Allen, appearing in such Allen productions as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and The Return of Captain Nemo (alternately known as The Amazing Captain Nemo).
            Joan Marshall, who portrays Wilma and shares the best scene of the episode with Stevens, has provided even more unique contributions to genre film and television. Marshall used the stage name Jean Arless to portray the dual characters which are climatically revealed to be singular in William Castle’s 1961 film  Homicidal, which was largely an imitation of and attempt to cash in on the success of Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho (1960). As was Castle’s style, the budget was lowered and the shocks were ramped up to create a movie that got a surprising amount of positive buzz at the time of release but is largely considered inferior material by posterity. Homicidal does continue William Castle’s tradition of mounting a novelty marketing campaign in a memorable way. The film was given a 45-second “Fright Break” before the climax, allowing those viewers not brave enough to finish to film to be released from the theater to sit in a “Coward’s Corner” in the lobby.
Marshall is also remembered by genre fans as the first matriarch of The Munsters. In the original, unaired, color-filmed pilot episode, “My Fair Munster,” Marshall portrayed Phoebe Munster, a character replaced by Lily Munster portrayed by Yvonne De Carlo. It has been suggested that the character of Phoebe was too similar to the character of Morticia Addams as portrayed by Carolyn Jones on the ABC series The Addams Family. Another Munsters character that was altered along with Marshall’s Phoebe was the character of Eddie Munster, originally played in a comedic, ferocious style by Happy Derman in the unaired pilot before being reimagined and replaced by Butch Patrick for the series proper.
            “Dead Man’s Shoes” was reimagined in a rather good episode of the first Twilight Zone revival series under the title “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode concerns a timid thrift store worker (Helen Mirren) who puts on a pair of donated high heeled shoes which allow the spirit of a murdered woman to assume control of her body in an effort to exact revenge on her husband (Jeffrey Tambor). The episode was adapted by writer Lynn Baker and directed by Peter Medak and is a very close adaptation which mirrors several key scenes from the original in interesting ways for the viewer that follows closely. “Dead Woman’s Shoes” largely shies away from the violence of the original episode (with the notable exception of a scene in which a woman is slapped across the face) and exchanges the dark, urban landscape of the original for a bright, Beverly Hills setting which does not detract from the effectiveness of the versatile story. Mirren is particularly good in the episode and it features a truly unsettling scene in which the dead woman telephones the husband to announce her return. One other interesting aspect of the adaptation is that a mirror is used in a number of quick edited shots to reflect how the dead woman looked in life. You will notice in the original episode that the character of Nate, after he puts on the dead man’s shoes, looks into a mirror situated on top of a scale but the opportunistic moment is wasted. The new Twilight Zone episode comes recommended for those curious to see an effective updating of the material.
            Ultimately, however, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an average effort with some interesting connections to other aspects of the series and the series creators. The setting is generic, the characters cliché, the story predictable (which the seemingly requisite twist ending), and the performances vary from memorable to forgettable. “Dead Man’s Shoes” is the best of a bad streak of episodes (which runs from episodes 82-85, “One More Pallbearer” to “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”) but fails to ignite any of the imaginative power of the third season’s strongest offerings.     

Grade: C

*More information about the relationship between Charles Beaumont and OCee Ritch can be found in Christopher Conlon's essay "Southern California Sorcerers"

Notes:
-Montgomery Pittman directed four additional episodes of the series, of which he also wrote three. Use the “Montgomery Pittman” label on the sidebar to access the episodes he wrote/directed.
-Warren Stevens also appeared in the first Twilight Zone revival series episode "A Day in Beaumont," which originally aired April 11, 1986.
-Ben Wright also appeared in the first season episode “Judgment Night” and the third season episode “Deaths-head Revisited.”
-OCee Ritch also wrote the story upon which the second season episode “Static” was based. “Static” was also scripted by Charles Beaumont.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was remade for the first Twilight Zone revival series as “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode starred Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor, was adapted by Lynn Baker, and directed by Peter Medak. It originally aired on November 22, 1985.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama, starring Bill Smitrovitch.


-Jordan Prejean