Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"The Lonely"


“The Lonely”
Season One, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 13, 1959

Cast:
James A. Corry: Jack Warden
Alicia: Jean Marsh
Captain Allenby: John Dehner
Adams: Ted Knight
Carstairs: James Turley

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Rudy Butler and Henry Grace
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Joseph Gluck
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Bernard Herrmann

And now, Mr. Serling:
“One of next week’s stars is alongside me now.  She’ll appear in a tale called ‘The Lonely.’  It is a story that takes place on [Woman’s Voice] an asteroid and it’s a most intriguing premise.  [Serling] It sounds it.  Next week on the Twilight Zone, Jack Warden, John Dehner and Jean Marsh appear in a bizarre tale of a man and ... a woman?  I don’t understand it either.  Thank you and goodnight.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Witness if you will a dungeon, made out of mountains, salt flats and sand that stretch to infinity.  The dungeon has an inmate: James A. Corry.  And this is his residence: a metal shack.  An old touring car that squats in the sun and goes nowhere, for there is nowhere to go.  For the record, let it be known that James A. Corry is a convicted criminal placed in solitary confinement.  Confinement in this stretches as far as the eye can see, because this particular dungeon is on an asteroid nine million miles from the Earth.  Now witness if you will a man’s mind and body shriveling in the sun...a man dying of loneliness.”

Summary:
         Many years in the future, in the middle of a stark, unforgiving desert on an asteroid millions of miles away from Earth, convicted felon James A. Corry is serving a fifty year sentence for murdering a fellow human being.  His accommodations here consist of a one-room metal shack that slumps under a blazing desert sun.  He has few material possessions: an old car that doesn’t run, a journal to keep track of his time, some books to help fight his boredom.  He has no companionship here of any kind.  His punishment is loneliness.  His only contact with others is with a group of astronauts that stop once every three months to drop off supplies.  Captain Allenby and his men are a reminder to Corry that he isn’t completely alone and he looks forward to their visits like a child waiting for Christmas. Allenby is sympathetic to Corry’s situation.  He believes Corry’s claim that he killed in self defense and not in cold blood.  He considers it a difficult task to have to witness a man’s misery.  The two men in Allenby’s crew don’t share his compassion, particularly a man named Adams, who takes every opportunity he can find to berate the convicted criminal.
Corry awakens one morning to the sound of Allenby’s ship landing on the asteroid.  Overcome with excitement, he jumps immediately out of bed and begins to prepare for company.  Allenby tells Corry that they have a layover of only fifteen minutes and they don’t have time to visit.  Desperate for social interaction, Corry begs them to stay longer.  Allenby tells Corry that, in addition to the normal supplies, he has brought with him a gift to Corry, a token of his sympathy for the man.  He asks only that Corry not open it until after he and his men have left.  Touched by the kind gesture, Corry thanks Allenby and the men leave.  As asked, Corry waits until the space crew is gone and then opens his gift. 
Inside the box is what appears to be a woman.  It looks, speaks, feels, and moves just like a woman would.  Only it’s not a woman, it’s an android; a machine.  The android, whose name is Alicia, explains to Corry that she functions just as a real person would.  She is capable of all physical and emotional sensations susceptible to humans.  Hurt, and probably disturbed by this all too genuine imitation of human life, Corry rejects his gift and goes on about his business.  But he can’t ignore the loneliness that eats away at him like a cancer.  He eventually finds his salvation in Alicia and inevitably falls in love her.
Some time later, Allenby and his men return with good news: Corry has been granted a pardon and is free to return to Earth.  He is to leave with Allenby and his men immediately.  Due to weight limitations, Allenby’s ship only has room for Corry.  Corry tells the men that he isn’t leaving without Alicia.  The captain has forgotten all about the android and now realizes that he has made a terrible mistake by bringing it here.  With no other choice, he destroys the machine in front of Corry by shooting it in the face and then the men board the ship to go back home.

Rod Serlings Closing Narration:
“On a microscopic piece of sand that floats through space is a fragment of a man’s life.  Left to rust is the place he lived in and the machines he used.  Without use, they will disintegrate from the wind and the sand and the years that act upon them; all of Mr. Corry’s machines—including the one made in his image, kept alive by love, but now obsolete...in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

"'Banishment' is what they called his punishment. Banishment. Half a lifetime on an asteroid, visited four times a year by a supply ship which stayed, on the average, twelve minutes between landing and taking off. The arrival of the spaceship was like a breath of sanity, a recharging of the mind so that it could function during the next three months."
                               -"The Lonely," More Stories from the Twilight Zone

           I find that I like this episode more and more with time.  I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites, but I enjoy it.  It’s not so much the actors that do it for me, although they all turn in convincing performances, or the direction of Jack Smight, who also does an adequate job, but it’s Serling’s script that is probably the best thing about this episode.  It’s a good, solid script that holds from beginning to end, and it leaves the audience to form their own opinion rather then forcing an opinion upon them, as Serling is sometimes guilty of doing.  This was the first episode of the show to be produced after the initial pilot, and chances are that it was written around the same time as the idea here is quite similar.  As I’ve said already, Serling would return to the theme of isolation numerous times throughout the show’s run, as well as in his other work.
Unlike “Where is Everybody?” this episode focuses more on the individual than the fantastic.  It’s a portrait of one man’s struggle with isolation.  Because Corry has a voiceover where he reads excerpts from his journal it allowed Serling to tell the audience things in the voice of the main character rather than having to illustrate them using dialogue or plot.  This approach can sometimes be a tricky one, but Serling doesn’t overdo it and it actually works quite nicely.  I think it’s because of this that the point of this story doesn’t feel as overbearing as it does in the pilot episode.  There is no scene in “The Lonely” where any of the characters have to explain why isolation is bad; it’s just assumed. 

Jack Warden and Jean Marsh
Serling’s intention here, I think, is a study of individual willpower.  Corry survives because he allows his mind to believe certain things in order to do so.  He has crossed the point of simply having to tell himself to hang on to his sanity and now has to let his mind drift into the realm of delusion, if only a temporary delusion.  When he first meets Alicia he rejects her because she isn’t a real person, only an imitation of one, and from Corry’s point of view, a mockery of one.  But later in the story, he allows himself to be consumed by the fantasy, not because he is madly in love with an android, but because he needs something tangible to relate to so that he will not lose his sanity completely (which in itself can be seen as a form of insanity—that’s the great Kafkaesque quality of this episode).  When Allenby shoots Alicia in the face at the end of the episode, revealing nothing more than jumbled nest of short-circuiting wires, Corry is immediately reminded of how close he came to losing his grasp of reality.
           This is the first of two Twilight Zone appearances from prolific character actor Jack Warden.  After years on the stage and a few bit roles in early films Warden began appearing regularly on television, mostly in the live dramas of the time including a highly received adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood's The Petrified Forest for Producer's Showcase in 1955 where he starred alongside Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Jack Klugman and Humprey Bogart (one of Bogie's last performances).  His big break came in 1957 when he was cast as the impatient Juror # 7 in 12 Angry Men.  From 1967 - 69 he starred as Lt. Mike Haines in the ABC police drama N.Y.P.D. Other notable film include All the President's Men (1976), Heaven Can Wait (1978), And Justice for All (1979), Used Cars (1980), Problem Child (1990), Bulletts Over Broadway (1995) and Bulworth (1998).  Warden died in 2006 at the age of 85.
The setting of this episode almost functions as its own character.  It was shot mostly on location in Death Valley National Park, a place that would serve as the landsape for many episodes that take place on a foreign planet.  The empty, lifeless desert provides the viewer with an overwhelming sense of solitude.  It’s an ocean of nothing as far as the eye can see.  Allenby and his men may be a reminder to Corry that there’s still hope, but when they leave all he is left with is an empty desert.  And no matter where he goes forever is staring him in the face from every direction.
The downside of this episode, for me, is simply that it drags too much in the middle.  But this is a minor flaw to an otherwise enjoyable episode, one which comes recommended.

Grade: B

Notes:
--John Dehner also stars in the third season episode “The Jungle” and the fifth season episode “Mr. Garrity and the Graves.”
--Jack Warden also appeared in the unfortunate first season episode "The Mighty Casey." Warden also appeared in Rod Serling's "Noon on Doomsday," a original drama for The United States Steel Hour based on the murder of Emmett Till. It was a script famously changed and censored by the show's sponsor, something Serling sought to escape by creating The Twilight Zone. "Noon on Doomsday" also featured performances from future Zone actors Albert Salmi, Everett Sloane, and Philip Abbott. 
--Jean Marsh recorded a reading of Rod Serling's prose adaptation of "The Lonely" for Harper Audio in 1993. 
--"The Lonely" was adapted into a short story by Serling in More Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1961).  It was also turned into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Mike Starr (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

--Brian Durant

2 comments:

  1. A good episode. It takes patience to watch it, given its small cast and simple story. There's both a whole lot going on (with the main character and his mechanical woman) and very little going on as to other people. The resolution was sad and inevitable, with the story ending on a note of hope, more so than most Zones,

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    1. It's definitely a slow burn. The idea is cool and the desert setting is really effective. Warden gives a brilliant performance here in an atypical type of character for him. The major blemish for me, besides the pacing, is the highly strange performance of Jean Marsh. Even as an android she establishes herself as lifeless and unwelcoming particularly next to Warden who is completely relatable. Thank you, sir!

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