Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Perchance To Dream"

Edward Hall (Richard Conte) and his nightmare girl Maya (Suzanne Lloyd)

“Perchance to Dream”
Season One, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 27, 1959
Cast:
Edward Hall: Richard Conte
Dr. Eliot Rathmann: John Larch
Maya the Catgirl/Miss Thomas: Suzanne Lloyd
Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (adapted from his short story, first published in Playboy, October, 1958)
Director: Robert Florey
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 Philip Mitchell
Music:  Nathan Van Cleve  
And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week we enlisted the considerable literary talents of Mr. Charles Beaumont and invite you to join us in a strange and shocking dream. Our story is called 'Perchance to Dream' and stars Richard Conte. I hope you'll be able to join next week's excursion into the Twilight Zone. Thank you and good night."
Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Twelve O'Clock noon. An ordinary scene, an ordinary city. Lunch time for thousands of ordinary people. To most of them, this hour will be a rest, a pleasant break in the day's routine. To most, but not all. To Edward Hall time is an enemy, and the hour to come is a matter of life and death."
Summary:

                Edward Hall has been keeping himself awake for four days and four nights. Diagnosed at a young age with a degenerative heart condition, he is afraid to fall asleep for fear that the climax of a nightmare, which has manifested itself sequentially over the course of two nights, will provide a shock enough to stop his heart and kill him. He seeks the help of a psychiatrist, Dr. Eliot Rathmann, to whom he tells his story. Walking into Rathmann's office, Hall nearly collapses on his feet. Dr. Rathmann urges Hall to lie down but, after a moment on the psychiatrist's couch, Hall jumps up, needing to pace the room to stay awake. 
                Hall opens a window and, fearing his patient may be suicidal, Rathmann moves Hall away and closes the window. This strikes Hall as funny because, as he tells the doctor, he wishes to live and that is his problem. Hall explains that he is prone to fits of over active imagination, able to convince himself of things that he knows, intellectually, are not true but still feeling the repercussions of his imaginative exploits. His imagination dwells on dark and morbid subjects. Reading of a woman victimized by a man hiding in the backseat of her car, Hall, while driving, imagines such a murderer hiding in the back of his car, causing him to wreck out on Laurel Canyon. Luckily, considering his heart condition, he made it out alive that time. 
                Hall continues by documenting his recurring nightmare. It involves finding himself in a frighteningly off kilter amusement park where he is drawn to a deadly and alluring stage performer named Maya the Catgirl. In his dream, Hall runs from the stage as Maya performs her seductive dance only to find, moments later, that Maya has followed him, determined to hang onto Hall's arm and have him take her around the amusement park. 
                Pulling Hall into a twistedly terrifying funhouse, Maya seems to take sadistic pleausure in Hall's rising panic and, though Hall is fully aware that he is dreaming,  he explains again and again that his heart cannot take shock or high excitement, even if he is actually sleeping in his bed at home. 
                Compelled by Maya against his better judgment to board a roller coaster, Hall panics as the ride careens higher and faster. He screams that he can't take it anymore and must get out. Maya, laughing, urges Hall to jump from the roller coaster to certain death. This is where Hall awakens from the second night of the nightmare. 
                In Rathmann's office, he tells the doctor that were he to sleep again he would find himself back on that roller coaster, sure that Maya would push him from the ride as it rose to its highest point. On the other hand, were he to stay awake much longer, the strain would be too much to bear on his heart and that would kill him. As Hall states it: "Heads you win, tails I lose." 
                His story told, Hall decides that Dr. Rathmann can do nothing more for him and, against the doctor's advice, leaves the office. In the waiting area he sees Dr. Rathmann's receptionist, her countenance that of Maya the Catgirl! Shocked and stunned, Hall retreats back into the doctor's office. After telling the doctor that his receptionist is Hall's would-be murderer, Hall runs across the room and leaps through a window to plummet several stories down to his death. 
                We then see Hall lying peacefully on the psycharatrist's couch, eyes closed. Dr. Rathmann takes  Hall's wrist in his hand to feel for his pulse and gets nothing. He calls his receptionist, Miss Thomas, into the office and she is, in fact, the very image of Maya.  Rathmann tells her that Hall came in, laid down and, in two seconds, was asleep, only to let out one final scream and die from a probable heart attack.  As the doctor ironically says to end the story: "At least he died peacefully"!
Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"They say a dream takes only a second or so and yet in that second a man can live a lifetime. He can suffer and die and who's to say which is the greater reality,the one we know or the one in dreams, between heaven, the sky, the earth, in the Twilight Zone."
Commentary:

                 Charles Beaumont is credited with more episodes (22) of The Twilight Zone than any other writer except Rod Serling (92). Almost every episode he wrote was of first-class quality and a few are outright classics. His first offering is also one of his best. It is an adaptation of his own short story published the previous year and it is maybe the first truly great episode in the show's history. As Rod Serling was writting scripts tackling varied subjects and attempting to find a niche for the first season, not to mention finding his way within his own maiden voyages into fantasy fiction, Beaumont came on a fully formed professional writer with a penchant for dark fantasy subjects, a distinctive style, and specific thematic concerns. For Beaumont, the idea of dreams and nightmares, the functionality and repercussions of illusion and imagination, were of utmost importance to his fictional output. Although he had previous television writing credits to his name, Beaumont was encouraged by Rod Serling, the story editor and creative heart of the show, to adapt the previously published short story exactly, not to change or cater to the perceived confines of the television medium. Beaumont supplied a tightly written, thematically rich script, car crashes, roller coasters, and all.  
                "Perchance to Dream" also had the good fortune of being one production blessed with all the right people in all the right places. Complementing Beaumont's tersely written psychological horror story were a group of dramatists perfectly suited to bringing the writer's vision to life on the small screen. The small cast included three excellent performers, with Richard Conte giving an especially nerve racking performance as the doomed Edward Hall. Director Robert Florey was no stranger to the tropes of surrealistic horror, having co-scripted Universal Studio's 1931 production of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, as well as having adapted and directed Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue with Bela Lugosi the following year.  Florey is also known for directing the 1946 film The Beast With Five Fingers in which Peter Lorre is terrorized by a disembodied hand. The film was based on a short story by W.H. Harvey. Florey does a marvelous job on "Perchance to Dream," lending the episode's hallucinatory set design and dream-like action and imagery a verisimilitude that manages to keep the viewer's attention hooked along the line of the episode's breakneck pacing. Florey's other exceptional foray into television terror came on February 26, 1962 when he helmed a second season episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller titled "The Incredible Doktor Markesan," which featured Karloff and is arguably the finest episode of that series.
                The hero of the episode may be George T. Clemens, the remarkably talented cinematographer for the episode as well as the majority of the episodes in the show's entire run. "Perchance to Dream" must have offered its own particular challenges as the episode takes place mostly within a dream context and had to be conveyed, by camera, as a frighteningly unstable environment. The dream sequences at the amusement park are, quite simply, some of the finest filmed sequences among episodes of the series.
                It's interesting to see the show begin to find its footing and its artistic identity at this point in the first season. "Perchance to Dream" marked the beginning of Charles Beaumont's contributions to the show and was soon followed by the debut of two other highly important writers to the show, Richard Matheson with "Third from the Sun" and "And When the Sky Was Opened" (the latter liberally adapted by Serling from Matheson's story "Disappearing Act"), and George Clayton Johnson with "The Four of Us Are Dying" (Also adapted by Serling from Johnson's story "All of Us Are Dying"). 
                "Perchance to Dream" is an episode, like the best episodes of the show, that bears re-watching every so often for it has a unique ability to refresh itself with each new viewing and frequently lends itself to new insights and new interpretations. Highly recommended.
                High points of the episode include the roller coaster sequence, a dizzying and terror-filled moment highlighted by Maya's frantic laugh track, the clashing juxtaposition of the roller coaster to the surrealist background, and Van Cleve's jarring music, which paints the entire scene in a hallucinatory hue which thoroughly disorients the viewer. When viewing the episode again, notice that when Hall first enters Rathmann's office and Rathmann helps him to lie down, the camera focuses in close on Hall's face; his eyes are closed. The lighting gradually diminishes and the music filters out to a fading quiet until all is nearly darkness and silence. Then, suddenly, the music swells and the lighting blooms brightly and Hall jumps up from the couch. Knowing the ending of the episode, one must surmise that the moment the lights and music go down and almost-fadeout on Hall's seemingly sleeping face, that's the moment he has truly died. And it is that moment that we come back to at the end. Really well done. Florey certainly managed to add a lot of sub-textual shading and symbolism to the episode.

Grade: B
Notes:
-The source material, Beaumont's orignal short story, can be found in the November 1958 issue of Playboy magazine, in the author's collections Night Ride and Other Journeys (Bantam, 1960) and The Magic Man (Fawcett, 1965), as well as in the retrospective volume Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories (Dark Harvest, 1988) (aka The Howling Man (Tor, 1992)) and  Twilight Zone: the Original Stories (Greenberg, Matheson, Waugh, eds. Mif, 1985).
-John Larch, playing the role of Dr. Eliot Rathmann, would be featured in two more episodes of the show, season two's "Dust" and season three's "It's a Good Life".
-The astute viewer will notice that the line "We've been expecting you, Mr. Hall" is spoken by Miss Thomas, Dr. Rathmann's receptionist, at the beginning of the episode and is also later spoken by Maya within Hall's dream while they are going through the funhouse at the amusement park, cluing us in on her dual role in the episode.
-Director of "Perchance to Dream," Robert Florey, also directed season one's "The Fever" and season five's "The Long Morrow."
-Writer of the episode, Charles Beaumont, noted, in an editoral for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the episode's likeness, mostly in set design and construction, to German Expressionist cinema, especially that of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, another film greatly concerned with the contrast between dreaming and waking states.
-Writer William F. Nolan, a close friend of Charles Beaumont, has related the story of Beaumont's innate fear of amusement parks and, in particular, roller coasters. The story goes that the duo, on a whim, entered an amusement park funhouse one afternoon. Once inside the dark and disorienting structure, Beaumont began to convince Nolan that the ticket taker, a rough-looking young man in a leather jacket, had followed them in with the intention of killing them both with a switchblade knife Beaumont claims to have seen the young man brandishing at the ticket booth. Working themselves into an imaginative frenzy, the duo rushed through the funhouse only to discover that the young ticket taker had not moved from where they had last seen him. These experiences were not, according to Nolan, uncommon for Beaumont or those in his company, for the writer often allowed his imagination to get carried away, much like Edward Hall in "Perchance to Dream."
-"Perchance to Dream" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Beaumont protege Dennis Etchison, starring Fred Willard. 
--Jordan Prejean

2 comments:

  1. I thought you once gave this an "A"? This episode, along with "Shadow Play," represents for me Beaumont's "TZ" output at its finest.

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    1. I don't recall downgrading this one but it's possible. Very occasionally we will change a grade if we feel it warrants a change after further viewings. I really enjoy this episode but I think an A would have been a bit generous (as it would have placed it in some truly elite company) and that B (very good) is about right. However, I agree this is in the top rank of Beaumont's episodes. It bears a strong thematic resemblance to "Shadow Play" and the season three episode "Person or Persons Unknown." I think of these episodes as Beaumont's Dream Trilogy, and they all sit around the A or B quality level, as did most of Beaumont's work on the series. I'd place "The Howling Man" and "Miniature" up there at the top of Beaumont's offerings as well. It's always nice to hear from a fellow fan of Beaumont's work on the series as I sometimes feel like he never produced that singularly memorable episode (with the possible exception of "The Howling Man") which is recognized by all viewers of the series, the way Serling has "Eye of the Beholder" or Matheson has "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," and, as such, he is a bit forgotten in relation to his enormous contribution to the series.

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