Monday, April 11, 2011

"The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine"

Ida Lupino as aging movie star Barbara Jean Trenton
“The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”
Season One, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 23, 1959

Cast:
Barbara Jean Trenton: Ida Lupino
Danny Weiss: Martin Balsam
Marty Sall: Ted de Corsia
Jerry Hearndan: Jerome Cowan
Sally: Alice Frost

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Editor: Bill Mosher
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Set Designer: Rudy Butler, Henry Grace
Art Directors: George W. Davis, William Ferrari
Music: Franz Waxman

And now, Mr. Serling:
“This motion picture projector and this film provide a background to next week’s story when a most distinguished actress takes a journey into The Twilight Zone. Miss Ida Lupino stars in “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine,” a haunting story of a haunted woman that I think you’ll find interesting and perhaps shocking. We hope you’ll join us then. Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Picture of a woman looking at a picture, movie great of another time, once brilliant star in a firmament no longer part of the sky, eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit and run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.”

Summary:
     Barbara Jean Trenton, an aging, reclusive actress, spends nearly all of her time in the darkened screening room of her Beverly Hills mansion, drinking heavily and attempting to recapture the glory days of her youth by endlessly screening the old movies in which she starred. She fantasizes about the leading men that shared the screen with her two decades or more ago. One actor in particular, Jerry Hearndan, has always held a special place in her heart and she watches the movies they made together over and over.
     Barbara Jean’s maid, Sally, and her agent, Danny, become increasingly concerned about her unhealthy fixation on the past and the amount of time she spends in the dark watching old movies. Danny, in an attempt to break Barbara Jean out of her unhealthy habits, arranges for an audition with a large movie studio. Barbara Jean excitedly agrees to read for the part, despite the fact that it is for a movie producer she has never liked, Marty Sall. Barbara Jean dreams of a romantic leading role, like the ones she’s had in the past, in a love story or a musical.
     When she arrives at Marty Sall’s office, she quickly realizes that the part the producer has lined up for her is a small role that makes her advanced age glaringly apparent. Barbara Jean erupts in anger and refuses to even read the script. Sall gets angry, too. The producer harshly tells the aging actress that she is living in the past and she doesn’t have the clout in the movie industry that she once had. Barbara Jean storms out of his office and Danny, the ever-loyal agent, verbally puts Sall in his place before returning with Barbara Jean to her home.
     For Barbara Jean, the horrible encounter with the producer is the breaking point. She has decided to fully live in the past, to allow her fixation to totally consume her. She believes that if she wishes for it hard enough, she can will herself to return to the past she is desperately obsessed with. She tells Danny that she wants to throw a party and invite all of her friends from years ago. Danny, knowing that this regression is not healthy, attempts to convince her to give up the past, to move on, that the other actors from years ago have since moved on or died. Barbara Jean will hear nothing of it. Danny leaves and she resigns herself to the dark screening room.
     When Danny returns the next day he is greeted by a very distraught Sally, who tells him that, when she enters the screening room, she swears that Barbara Jean isn’t in the room at all, that she is only up on the screen. Danny brushes this aside. He is excited with good news and he rushes to the screening room to tell Barbara Jean about it. Reluctant to let him in, she finally caves when he mentions that he has asked Jerry Hearndan, her leading man of years past, to visit her home that same afternoon. Excited as a young girl, Barbara Jean rushes off to prepare for his visit.
     When she emerges she is faced with a harsh truth in the physical form of Jerry Hearndan. Now aged twenty five years, Heardan is a bald, bespectacled old man that has given up acting to run a chain of supermarkets outside of Chicago. Barbara Jean, in her twisted mental state, refuses to believe this, insisting that the old man is not really Jerry Hearndan but an aged imposter. She turns her back on him and Jerry leaves. Danny, distraught at the disaster of Hearndan’s visit, leaves as well. Barbara Jean is alone and she once again retreats to her screening room where she can see Jerry Hearndan as he was when he was young and handsome. She talks to the screen, willfully wishes it to be real once again. Later, the maid enters the screening room and is greeted with a shocking sight. Screaming, she drops a serving tray with a crash on the floor and runs out.
     Danny arrives at the house and, at the behest of Sally, enters the screening room. Sally has turned off the projector and becomes anxious when Danny decides to turn it back on. They both watch the screen. There, on the screen, is a film of Barbara Jean’s home, the very home they now sit in. From the front doors enter a costumed array of young people, all actors from twenty five years ago, all actors from Barbara Jean’s movies, even those actors that have since died. Then Barbara Jean enters the film and greets all of her guest, inviting them to continue the party at the poolside. As she is walking away on the arm of the young Jerry Hearndan, Danny calls out to the screen, calling for Barbara Jean to come back. As though she hears him, Barbara Jean turns and looks. Then, with a goodbye wave, she tosses her scarf across the threshold of the stairway and retreats off screen. The film ends, the screen goes black.
     Danny walks out of the room, stunned. In the hallway, on the floor, he finds Barbara Jean’s scarf. He picks it up and holds it near, smiling, knowing that Barbara Jean has indeed wished herself back into the past, forever.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own. To Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank tomb of a projection screen into a private world. It can happen, in The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
Danny (Martin Balsam) confronts Barbara Jean about her obsessions.
     “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” is an underrated episode, not vastly so, but underrated just the same. I don't feel it deserves more attention because of the plot (predictable and plodding), or the script (littered with stilted dialogue and lapsing into mood killing sentiment), or even the characters (wooden and stereotypical), but because of the performances. It is the actors and their performances that draw me back to this episode again and lend it re-watch value. With the help of capable directing, the episode builds to a pitch perfect mood of sinister atmosphere that brings to mind all of the darkness, the mystery, and the downright bizarre that characterizes old Hollywood. The episode is greatly concerned with the deadly allure of the past but it is also concerned with death, and, specifically, the death of old Hollywood. The films of this era had the simplicity, and the casual brutality, of fairy tales. The structure of the episode is much like a fable. This may explain why Serling felt the need to tack on an ending that represented hope and sentiment where it was not only uncalled for but completely illogical. This ending, by the way, completely ruins all the mood and tension that the episode spent the previous time building. For me, it’s a killer (not in a good way) and I always want to shut the episode off before Martin Balsam picks up that scarf by the staircase and smiles and says, “To wishes, Barbie.” It’s a complete one hundred eighty degree turn and I don’t buy it. I like the creepiness of it, the madness of it, the weird Poe-meets-Hollywood feel of it, and this ending squashes all of that.
     This being said, the episode is well worth a viewing and maybe even a few additional viewings to fully appreciate what it has to offer. Ida Lupino is perfect. There is never a moment when you don’t believe that character, enough said. Martin Balsam, a personal favorite of mine, is always stellar and is the type of character actor one comes to appreciate not so much for his range but for the sheer cool delivery that seems to be as natural as breathing for the man. Balsam was a bit player in two exceptional thrillers from the sixties (Psycho and Cape Fear), starred as the psychologist trying to help a doomed time traveler in "The Time Element," and did his best to carry the not-so-remarkable season four episode “The New Exhibit.”
     My favorite part of this episode is when Danny views that final footage of Barbara Jean walking off into the fantasy netherworld with all those dead or long gone actors from the past. I can’t help thinking that she’s walking off with ghosts, but ghosts of substance and dimension, which makes them a hell of a lot scarier. And when she walks off and that projector screen goes black, it’s like she’s walked right off the face of the earth. Gives me the creeps every time.
     It's worth noting that for this episode Rod Serling was undoubtedly influenced by director Billy Wilder's 1950 pseudo-film noir Sunset Boulevard, starring Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a washed up and reclusive film starlet from the silent era who still lives thirty years in the past while secluded in her decaying mansion. Norma also, like Barbara Jean Trenton in this episode, spends much of her time watching prints of her old movies, yearing to be her younger self again. By chance, Desmond meets a handsome aspiring screenwriter named Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, and works to keep him as her "pet" writer while he produces a screenplay that will bring her back into the limelight. It all ends, of course, in tragedy with Gillis's death at the hands of Desmond in a desperate act of lover's rage. By the time Serling came to produce "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine," Sunset Boulevard already held a reputation as being an exceptionally executed film and a near perfect view of the twisted world that Hollywood had become.

Grade: C

Notes:

-Rod Serling went on record several times as saying he held no love for this episode and considered it an all-around failure.
-Ida Lupino also directed the exceptional season five episode “The Masks.”
-Martin Balsam also starred in the unofficial pilot for The Twilight Zone, "The Time Element," and the hour-long season four episode “The New Exhibit.”
-Alice Frost played the part of Aunt Amy in the season three episode “It’s a Good Life.”

--Jordan Prejean

"Mr. Denton On Doomsday"

Dan Duryea as gunfighter turned town drunk Al Denton
“Mr. Denton on Doomsday”
Season One, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 16, 1959

Cast:
Al Denton: Dan Duryea
Henry J. Fate: Malcolm Atterbury
Dan Hotaling: Martin Landau
Liz: Jeanne Cooper
Pete Grant: Doug McClure
Charlie: Ken Lynch

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Allen Reisner
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Editor: Bill Mosher
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Set Designers: Rudy Butler, Henry Grace
Music: Stock
 
And now, Mr. Serling
:
“Next week we invite you to take a walk down a western frontier street at the elbow of a doomed gunman, whose salvation lies in nothing less than a magic potion and a colt .45. Mr. Dan Duryea stars in ‘Mr. Denton on Doomsday’ next week on The Twilight Zone. We hope you’ll be able to be with us. Thank you, and good night.”
 
Rod Serling’s Opening Narration
:
“Portrait of a town drunk named Al Denton. This is a man who’s begun his dying early, a long agonizing route through a maze of bottles. Al Denton, who would probably give an arm or a leg or a part of his soul to have another chance, to be able to rise up and shake the dirt from his body and the bad dreams that infest his consciousness. In the parlance of the time: this is a peddler, a rather fanciful-looking little man in a black frock coat. And this is the third principal character of our story. Its function? Perhaps to give Mr. Al Denton his second chance.”

Summary:
     The place is a desert town in the Old West, the last vestige of the dried gulch that is the American frontier. In a town where dreams have died and turned to hopeless prayers, Al Denton may be the last dreamer in this forgotten place. Once a legendary gunslinger, a quick-draw specialist whose reputation was challenged daily by young men with guns on their hips, each one eager to test Denton’s skill and claim the prize of a killer’s reputation, Denton is merely a shadow of his former self: weak, broken, pitiful, and enslaved by the bottle. He draws the attention of Hotaling, a gunfighter that takes sadistic pleasure in ridiculing Denton for the price of a drink in the local saloon. Denton draws the pity of a concerned woman and a sympathetic bartender but it’s not enough for him to rise above the sad hole he’s fallen into.
    Then comes a day when a traveling salesman rides into town with the name of Henry J. Fate painted across his covered wagon. This peddler of wares makes his first order of business to place a six-shooter in the hand of the downtrodden Denton. With gun in hand, Denton is unwittingly backed into a showdown with Hotaling. By the guiding glances of Henry J. Fate, which have an almost telepathic effect, Denton pulls off two impossible shots and disarms the sadistic bully. Word travels quickly and Denton knows that soon more young gunfighters will be riding into town to challenge his reputation. Denton tells the sympathetic woman the story of why he’d put gun fighting behind him in the first place. Once upon a time, he took the life of a sixteen year old boy in a duel, a boy who’d rode into town with the intention to kill him simply because Denton was known as the best. Now, Denton fears, the vicious cycle that brought him to that point will begin again.
     After Denton is visited by a couple of tough cowboys informing him of the impending visit of one Pete Grant, a sure-handed gunfighter eager to do away with Denton and make a reputation as the fastest gun around, Henry J. Fate’s covered wagon draws Denton’s attention. Fate tells Denton that he, Fate, stocks a potion that, when a gunfighter drinks it, will make that man unbeatable, the fastest and truest shot anybody’s ever seen. The catch being that the potion is only effective for ten seconds after it is ingested. After giving Denton a demonstration of what the potion can do, Fate passes on a second dose free of charge but with a little advice. Denton’s already made a date to meet Pete Grant later on in the local saloon. Fate advises Denton to drink the potion the second Grant comes through the doors.
     The showdown comes when Pete Grant rides in and makes his way to the saloon where he calls out Denton. Grant is barely more than a kid with his curly blonde hair and cherubic face, but Denton knows that Grant isn’t leaving until the two of them draw down on each other. Without a choice, and doubting his ability to be as good with a gun as he once was, Denton drinks the potion Fate gave him only to look across the saloon and see Pete Grant doing the exact same thing!
     A moment later, the two men draw on each other. Each is as fast as the other, with both men landing a wounding shot to the other’s gun hand, ending their gun fighting days for good. Denton tells young Pete Grant that this is a blessing, that the young man has been saved from the hard life that Denton has endured.
The episode fades out on Henry J. Fate riding his covered wagon out of town.
 
Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“Mr. Henry Fate, dealer in utensils and pots and pans, liniments and potions; a fanciful little man in a black frock coat who can help a man climbing out of a pit, or another man falling into one. Because, you see, fate can work that way, in The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
Henry J. Fate
      Rod Serling had such a distinctive writing style and worldview, which he put into every one of his scripts for the show, that, for the constant viewer, Serling’s style is immediately recognizable.
     “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is one of what I consider Serling’s “loser” episodes. These are the episodes where the main character is way far down on his luck, struggling daily, and dangling at the end of his rope. Then something “magic” comes along, something unbelievable that intrudes upon the “loser” character’s sad reality, the effect of which changes his life, and his outlook upon it, forever. “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” exemplifies this theme. Serling’s scripts of this type establish the theme by presenting a main character possessed of a singular flaw that is the root cause of all his misery. Some of the most commonly used character flaws are alcoholism, seen in subsequent episodes such as "A Passage for Trumpet," and of which the character Al Denton is a central example, the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, seen in episodes like "King Nine Will Not Return" and "The Arrival," or an inherent cowardice or other self destructive tendancy, as in "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" and "Last Night of a Jocket."
      The problem is that this thematic treatment required Serling to rely on stereotypes too often and, because of the amount of scripts he was contractually required to provide for the first season (80%), Serling found it all too easy to fall back on this type of story and the first season is littered with them, from "Where is Everybody?" and "The Lonely" on through "Time Enough at Last" and "Mr. Bevis." Though there are some very good episodes that deal with this theme, there are just as many that are hackneyed rehashing that feel tired and familiar. “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is too much like the episode that immediately preceded it, “One For the Angels,“ and also recalls other Serling episodes that mirror it many ways, most notably “The Big Tall Wish,” “Night of the Meek,” “In Praise of Pip,” and “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” Incidentally, one of the aforementioned episodes, "Night of the Meek," deals strongly with alcoholism.
     “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” finds its identity, in almost everything from structure to character to setting, in its relationship to the tall tales of the American frontier. Like the tall tales it emulates, its simplistic nature is the very thing that betrays its flaws upon anything more than a cursory examination. Unlike the best of The Twilight Zone episodes, “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” doesn’t provide much that draws the viewer back for the further exposure of repeated viewings. The simplistic nature of the storyline itself cannot support the complexity, the layered structuring of theme and character, that are the hallmarks of the great segments of The Twilight Zone. Though capably directed, the episode lacks the craftsmanship (in nearly all areas except for acting) required to stand up to the scrutiny of the best that the show has to offer.
     “Mr. Denton on Doomsday,” like a handful of other early episodes in the first season, doesn’t have that nearly indescribable ambiance that is found in the best episodes of the original series. If anything, this feeling can be described as the sense of something wrong amid the normalcy of an established setting, be it a department store, All-American neighborhood, or alien planet. Indeed, The Twilight Zone has come to epitomize that feeling within the consciousness of cultural society. Amid the triumph of “The Lonely,” “Walking Distance," and “The After Hours,” “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” feels a bit like filler. Perhaps, from Serling’s perspective, it was. The majority of the first season is very uneven in quality and theme partly because, at least initially, Serling didn’t quite know what he wanted the show to be. In preparation of having to churn out so many scripts, he’d poured over countless anthologies and magazines of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories and attempted to produce a treatment of nearly every type of generic story found within these genres. It is interesting to point out that Serling reportedly created The Twilight Zone so that he could make statements of political and social commentary without suffering the wrath of the network censors, but that few, if any, of the early episodes attempted this at all. Serling appeared preoccupied with establishing an identity for the show before delving into the multitude of issues that he fervently addressed in later episodes.
     Along with the aforementioned high quality episodes written by Serling in the early portion of the first season, the entrance of writers Richard Matheson, with “The Last Flight,” and Charles Beaumont, with “Perchance to Dream,” greatly helped the show establish an identity for itself, and propelled Serling toward realizing his own strengths when writing fantasy. By the second season, all three of these principal writers for the show had recognizable, albeit varying, identifying characteristics in their styles and subject matter. This gave the show a great variety and also thematically bridged the episodes. There was no mistaking an episode of The Twilight Zone for that of another show.
     The most positive aspects of “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” are the moments that elevate the episode to a high emotional pitch, the quality in which Serling's talent was most heavily focused. Nearly every episode Serling wrote has at least a short moment of this emotional pitch; the best of his episodes carry it all the way through. Though “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” does not quite carry the emotional weight of Serling’s best efforts, it does bear a good deal of weight, and the majority of the credit for the emotional intensity of the episode goes to Dan Duryea’s believably sad and weary performance as Al Denton.
     What works against “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” are the moments when the tension is killed by hammy dialogue or cartoonish action. I found it unbelievable, for instance, that both gunfighters’ hands are injured so badly that they will never be able to shoot a gun again and yet they appear to be all but unharmed, needing no real medical attention, just a bandage wrapped around an unclean wound. I also strongly disliked the attempt to be clever and name the agent of magic in the story Fate. It’s all too gimmicky and, though I’m not opposed to humor in The Twilight Zone, it’s a fine line to walk and the show often stumbled in this regard. Most of the time it simply takes me out of the story. And though I realize that Serling was trying for the feeling of a tall tale, it's simply a bad fit for the show. The wonderful quality of The Twilight Zone, however, perhaps its most wonderful quality, is that no two viewers come away from an episode having enjoyed it at the same level, or having been as effected by it. I will say that originality in concept and execution, and an attention to small detail, are trademarks of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” doesn’t quite make it there.
     Whatever faults I find in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday,” it is a still an enjoyable episode and I don’t want to discourage the viewer away from it. There are far less enjoyable episodes than this one. I did enjoy the Old West setting and, despite the fact that it’s a somewhat overly sentimental episode, it works well as a quick-punching, two-act morality play. The acting is fine and, if not anything else, the episode manages to pull the viewer very quickly into an immediately recognizable dramatic situation.

Grade: C

Notes:
--Rod Serling originally pitched the idea for this episode on the promotional footage that accompanied the screening of “Where Is Everybody?” held for potential sponsors. At that time the episode was titled “Death, Destry, and Mr. Dingle.” Serling scrapped Mr. Dingle for Mr. Denton but later used the former character name for a second season episode in which Burgess Meredith played “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” Mr. Dingle, in his original incarnation, was scripted to be a schoolteacher that daydreams of gun fighting and adventure only to be falsely rumored as a deadly gunslinger (he is, in truth, terrified of violence). Serling also previously used the character name Denton, the real life name of a childhood acquaintance, for the role of a sheriff in the Playhouse 90 production of “A Town Has Turned to Dust.”
--Radio and television towers can be seen in the background as Henry J. Fate first rides into town on his covered wagon.
--"Mr. Denton on Doomsday" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Adam Baldwin.
--Martin Landau also appears in the fifth season episode "The Jeopardy Room."

--Jordan Prejean

"One for the Angels"

Ed Wynn as Lew Bookman
“One for the Angels”
Season One, Episode 2
Original air date: October 9, 1959

Cast: 
Lew Bookman: Ed Wynn 
Mr. Death: Murray Hamilton 
Maggie: Dana Dillaway 
Truck Driver: Merrit Bohn 
Doctor: Jay Overholts 
Little Boy: Mickey Maga

Crew: 
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay) 
Director: Robert Parrish 
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens 
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling: 
“Next week I’ll have a reunion with a unique talent and a valued friend.  Our first since ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight.’  Next week on The Twilight Zone, Mr. Ed Wynn stars in ‘One for the Angels,’ playing an old pitchman who sells mechanical toys like this, but whose competition is Mr. Death.  We hope you’ll join us then.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 
“Street scene, summer, the present.  Man on a sidewalk named Lew Bookman—aged sixtyish, occupation—pitchman.  Lew Bookman: a fixture of the summer.  A rather minor component to a hot July.  A nondescript, commonplace little man whose life is a treadmill built out of sidewalks.  In just a moment Lew Bookman will have to concern himself with survival.  Because as of three o’clock this hot July afternoon he’ll be stalked by Mr. Death.”

Summary:
Against the backdrop of a bustling urban walkway, Mr. Lew Bookman makes his living selling oddities and knick knacks to busy patrons of the city on their way from one place to another.  Mr. Lew Bookman: a warmhearted, elderly fellow with a gentle disposition, who wants nothing more in life than to put a smile on the faces of all he meets.  Mr. Bookman is wrapping things up for the day and will momentarily close down his traveling thrift shop and make his way back to the modest apartment space that he calls home.  Unbeknownst to him, this is to be the last day of his life, for Mr. Death is about to make himself known to the elderly man.
          When he gets to his apartment building, Bookman is greeted by a horde of adoring neighborhood children that have been eagerly awaiting his arrival.  His gentle demeanor and quirky stage antics appear to be the highlight of their day.  Upon entering his apartment, however, Bookman is greeted by an abrasive Mr. Death who appears immune to the old man’s charm.  Death launches into his task with the subtlety of a freight train.  He informs the salesman that he is to die at midnight and has until then to get his affairs in order.  Bookman laments to Death that he has always desired to make that one big sales pitch, a pitch grand enough “for the angels.”  He says that to die before doing so would leave him with a sense of failure.  Mr. Death is touched by the man’s plea and agrees to let him live until he makes such a pitch.  Bookman is overcome with joy that he doesn’t have to die, at least not until he makes that big pitch which, as he points out to Mr. Death, could take an indefinite amount of time, possibly even years, to accomplish.  Death, realizing he has been swindled, informs Bookman that he will have to take a replacement instead.  Minutes later a neighborhood girl is hit by a truck in the middle of the street.  Death informs Bookman that the girl is to die at midnight.  As midnight approaches Bookman attempts to divert Death away from his appointment by engaging him in the grandest sales pitch he has ever delivered, a pitch “for the angels.”  The tactic works and Death is unable to claim the little girl.  The salesman is now ready to face the afterlife with an accepting smile as he and Mr. Death stroll casually off into the night.



Rod Serling’s closing narration:
Lewis J. Bookman.  Age, sixtyish.  Occupation: pitchman.  Formerly a fixture o the summer.  Formerly a rather minor component to a hot July.  But throughout his life a man beloved by the children, and therefore...a most important man.  Couldn’t happen, you say?  Probably not in most places.  But it did happen...in the Twilight Zone.

Commentary:
"One for the Angels” is the first example on The Twilight Zone of what had already become an emblematic theme of Rod Serling’s work; an essentially decent human being, etching out a simple existence, struggling with an obstacle much greater than himself.  In this case we have a quirky, aging salesman who feels that he’s done nothing substantial with his life, attempting to outfox Death itself.  “In Praise of Pip,” “The Night of the Meek,” “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” and “A Stop at Willoughby” are all episodes that reflect a premise similar to this one.  The lowly protagonist would become one of several reoccurring motifs in Serling’s episodes.  This was Serling’s greatest strength as a writer.  Although his villains and supporting characters were often crude and one dimensional, his efficiency to tap into the aspirations and frailties of the common man were what made his protagonists so accessible to an audience.  This is what made his dramatic work in the decade before The Twilight Zone so compelling.
           Fantasy, however, especially fantasy formulated to fit a half-hour television show, is quite different; it revolves primarily around the plot instead of the characters.  This is where Serling often came up short as a writer.  “One for the Angels” is no exception.  In the story, Death is unable to claim the life of eight year old Maggie because Bookman distracts him with his magnificent sales pitch and Death never makes it into her apartment to do so.  The significance of Death having to actually be in her apartment to take her seems oddly convenient in terms of plot, especially considering that earlier in the day he was able to orchestrate the poor girl getting hit by a truck when he wasn’t even outside to witness it.
           There is another motif at work in this story that was common to many scripts Serling wrote for The Twilight Zone: the idea that fate is the omniscient universal force and that those who interfere with it do so at a high cost.  When Bookman requests that he be granted an additional stay on Earth he is merely attempting to cheat Death into granting him immortality.  What he doesn’t realize until later is that cheating fate can have dier consequences (although he ends up cheating Death a second time and doesn’t suffer the same fate).  “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs is the most famous example of this sort of story, where a character is granted a wish that comes true at an enormous price.  This is a popular theme is the field of dark fantasy and it is one that Serling would unfortunately rely on as a crutch, given his contractual obligation to write the majority of the series.  “Escape Clause,” “Time Enough at Last,” “A Kind of Stopwatch,” “The Last Night of a Jockey,” and “The Man in the Bottle” (a direct imitation of "The Monkey’s Paw") are all examples of this same theme.
Ed Wynn and Buster Keaton on The Ed Wynn Show (1950)
           Stepping into the role as the lovable Lew Bookman is the equally lovable Ed Wynn.  Known for his slapstick brand of humor and his gentle demeanor, Wynn is remembered today as one the most beloved icons of Hollywood during the 1950's and 60's.  Wynn's career as an entertainer actually stretches back to the turn of the twentieth century when he started as a vaudeville comedian in the famous Ziegfield Follies stage productions, often co-starring with W.C. Fields.  When his vaudeville days began to dry up Wynn turned his talents to radio starring in the popular show The Fire Chief during the early 1930's.  The show spawned two film adaptations, Follow the Leader (1930) and The Chief (1933), with Wynn starring in both.  From 1949 to 1950 Wynn hosted two different variety shows, The Ed Wynn Show on NBC and The Camel Comedy Caravan on CBS.  Several years later Wynn's son (and fellow Twilight Zone alumni)Keenan Wynn encouraged him to take up acting.  In 1956 Wynn, then in his mid-sixties, suprised everyone when he delivered an incredibly moving dramatic performance in the Playhouse 90 production of Rod Serling's Requiem For a Heavyweight.  During the last decade or so of his life Wynn experienced the most successful chapter of his career and proved himself as an actor that could easily switch back and forth between comedy and drama.  His notable films roles include The Great Man (1956), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959; he was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his performance as Albert Dussell), a live action comedy version of Cinderella (1960) starring Jerry Lewis, and the George Stevens epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).  He also found a home at The Walt Disney Company during this time and many of his best known performances are as Disney characters.  He was the voice of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (1956), as the Toymaker in Babes in Toyland (1961), as the Fire Chief in The Absentminded Professor (1961) and as Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins (1964).  Wynn passed away in 1966 at the age of 79.
            Murray Hamilton also turns in a good performance here as Mr. Death.  Hamilton was a prominent stage and screen actor during his career which spanned over four decades.  He is best remembered today for his role as the mayor in Jaws and Jaws 2.  He also appeared in such landmark films as No Time For Sergeants (1958), The Hustler (1961), The Graduate (1967) and The Way We Were (1975).  He died in 1986 at the age of 63.
           All in all, “One for the Angels” may not be a particularly memorable episode within the scope of The Twilight Zone catalog, but I wouldn’t discourage people away from it.  It’s an easy-to-view episode with a warmhearted charm, and Ed Wynn’s performance as Lew Bookman is immensely enjoyable.

Grade: C

Notes:
--Serling had actually written a script called “One for the Angels” several years before for the CBS Television anthology series Danger, in which a second-rate pitchman delivers a pitch so grand that he is able to keep a crowd of onlookers gathered around his apartment in order for his little brother to escape a band of angry mobsters (he ends up being shot and killed anyway.)  He reused the title and the lead character but rewrote the entire script to incorporate a fantasy element.  He supposedly wrote the lead character especially for Ed Wynn after the two had worked together in “Requiem for a Heavyweight.”
--"One For the Angels" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Ed Begley, Jr. (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).
--Ed Wynn also starred in the fifth season episode, “Ninety Years without Slumbering.”
--Robert Parrish also directed two other Season One episodes, "The Mighty Casey" and "A Stop at Willoughby."

--Brian Durant

"Where is Everybody?"

Earl Holliman as Mike Ferris
“Where is Everybody”
Season One, Episode 1
Original air date: October 2, 1959

Cast:
Mike Ferris: Earl Holliman 
Air Force General: James Gregory 
Doctor: Paul Langton 
Crew: 
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay) 
Director: Robert Stevens 
Producer: William Self
Director of photography: Joseph La Shelle 
Music: Bernard Hermann

And now, Mr. Serling (recorded in 1961 for a re-run of the episode): 
“I’m about to show you a picture of something that isn’t what it looks like.  Pleasant little town?  It isn’t this at all.  It’s a nightmare.  It’s a chilling, frightening, journey of one man into a mystifying unknown.  You’re invited to join that man in a most unique experience.  Next week, Earl Holliman asks, and you’ll ask with him, ‘Where is Everybody?
          “Here’s an item we forgot.  A moment for the people who pay the tab.  It’s often said that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’  Case in point.  Before we meet again try Oasis.  You’ll know what I mean.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
The place is here, the time is now, and the journey into the shadows that we’re about to watch could be our journey.”

Summary:
Mike Ferris is traveling on foot down a desolate, rural highway when he wanders into a quant little town not unlike something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. A seemingly quiet, idyllic place to live, complete with a welcoming town square, drugstore, diner, and local movie theatre.  It will become his nightmare. He has no memory of who he is and no destination.  The town he has found himself in shows all the normal indications of a functioning community except for the fact that there are no people to be found anywhere in it. Ferris wanders into a café where a jukebox plays to an empty room. A smoking cigar lies unattended in an ashtray in the middle of the local police station. A phone rings inside a phone booth though no one on the other end has placed a call.  As he wanders from place to place Ferris grows suspicious that he is being watched.  As night falls on the town, his paranoia and loneliness finally eat away at what is left of his rationality. With desperation clinging to him, he collapses against a stoplight, frantically pushing the ‘walk’ button and pleading for someone to come help him.
            Cut to a different place entirely. Mike Ferris is being observed on a monitor by a group of military officials. The ‘walk’ button he believes himself to be pressing is actually the panic button inside of the isolation chamber that he has been strapped into for the past 400 some-odd hours.  Ferris is an Air Force astronaut aboard a simulated flight to the moon. Upon witnessing his fragile condition, the Air Force general in charge of the project decides to have Ferris removed from the chamber.  After a few moments he begins to regain his grasp on reality and inquires to the staff doctor as to why he believed he was in an imaginary town with no people in it. The doctor explains to Ferris that man has an instinctive necessity for companionship and without it his mind will begin to make up scenarios in order to fight the loneliness. As he is being taken away by medical personnel he realizes that when the time comes for him to go on a real flight to the moon there will be no panic button to push and no one to come and rescue him from his own mind. 

Rod Serling’s closing narration: 
“Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation.  It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting…in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
As the premiere episode of The Twilight Zone, “Where is Everybody?” certainly works to set the format of the series.  The episode begins as Mike Ferries discovers a mysterious town with signs of life in every direction but no inhabitants.  In the second segment the conflict escalates to a suspenseful climax as Ferris’s paranoia mounts and his reasoning begins to deteriorate.  In the final scene, we see that he isn’t in a town at all, but in an experimental isolation chamber.  Thus, all the pieces of the puzzle finally come together.  This would become the formula used throughout the series and the show’s success is due largely to this very simple format.  It grabbed the audience’s attention within the first few minutes and held it all the way to the finale where there would usually be some sort of twist or a logical explanation of events.  Many of the hour long episodes in the fourth season seam to suffer mostly because they do not fit this format.
             In terms of its approach to fantasy, however, “Where is Everybody?” is an A-typical episode in that it is almost entirely devoid of any fantasy elements. For the pilot episode Serling wasn’t attempting to write a science fiction masterpiece, he was simply trying to sell his show to CBS, who had already shot down his pitch for a fantasy program several times before.  In order to sell the show he deliberately toned down the fantasy aspect.  This compliments the first half of the episode rather nicely in that there is only a whispering suggestion that anything supernatural is occurring, which helps to cloak this part of the story in mystery.  However, once the curtain is drawn and it’s revealed that all of the events we are witnessing are taking place in Ferris’s mind then the lack of the supernatural seems to take the audience in a direction it was not anticipating.  It takes them completely out of the story that they have devoted roughly twenty minutes watching and into an entirely new story with new characters, a new setting, and a protagonist with completely different sensibilities.  Serling would use this device in several other episodes.  “King Nine Will Not Return” is an episode with a premise nearly identical to this one in which the pilot of a World War Two bomber awakens after a crash to find that his crew has mysteriously vanished.  At the end of the story it’s revealed that the entire event has taken place in his mind.  “King Nine” might prove to be a superior episode given that the main character is struggling not only with the burden of loneliness but with the guilt of abandoning his crew which makes the ending slightly more believable.
Loneliness is the primary theme at work in "Where is Everybody?".  The show would return to this theme many times throughout its five season run in episodes like “The Lonely,” “A Stop at Willoughby,” “Nothing in the Dark,” “Two,” “Miniature,” and “Probe 7 – Over and Out.”  The main element of this story that makes it not believable for me is the fact that Ferris knows he is in an isolation chamber.  He is aware that he is being monitored by people who are right there with him in the same room, and he also knows that the panic button is his get-out-of-jail-free-card which he can press it at any time and his claustrophobic nightmare will be over.  It seems doubtful that under such fail-safe circumstances that his mind would construct such an elaborate hallucination.  It’s also amazing how fast he recovers from a complete mental collapse and is able to regain his senses enough to rationally answer the doctor’s questions, although this is can overlooked simply as a limitation of time.
“Where is Everybody?” is an episode that depends, almost entirely, on the performance of its leading actor and Earl Holliman is totally believably as the frantically lost Mike Ferris.  His role is not an easy one considering that his character is alone for the majority of the episode and speaks mostly to himself.  But there is never a moment when he loses the audience’s attention.  Holliman was born in Louisiana in 1928 and studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse and UCLA.  In 1956 he won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for his roles as Jim Curry in the film The Rainmaker starring Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn.  His other notable film appearances include Forbidden Planet (1956), Giant (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) with John Wayne and Dean Martin.  In the 1960’s he began a long and versatile television career.  On the same night that “Where is Everybody?” was first broadcast (October 2, 1959) Holliman also appeared in the starring role of the first episode of the short-lived CBS western series Hotel de Paree which also featured Strother Martin and Jeanette Nolan.  From 1974 to 1978 he starred as Lieutenant Bill Cowley in the CBS series Police Woman with Angie Dickinson.  In 1983 he was featured in the critically acclaimed mini-series The Thorn Birds. 
This episode also owes a great deal to director Robert Stevens whose fluid camera movements bring Serling’s script to full mass.  In what is one of the more memorable shots from the first season, Stevens shoots Earl Holliman as he races down the stairs at the theatre and runs strait into and shatters a full length mirror; it’s only here that the audience realizes that Stevens was not actually shooting Holliman but was shooting Holliman’s reflection in the mirror and it makes for a very interesting effect.  In the early 1950’s Stevens made a name for himself as director, writer and producer on the live CBS series Suspense.  Today he is best remembered for his impeccable work on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour where he directed nearly fifty episodes between the two shows.
Despite its flaws “Where is Everybody?” remains an enjoyable episode, one which holds a distinctive place in the lexicon of popular culture as the beginning of one of the most celebrated series in the history of American television.
Grade: B

Notes:
--The original opening sequence to the pilot episode was different in several ways.  The biggest difference was that Serling was not the narrator.  Serling and producer William Self cast veteran voice-over actor Westbrook Von Voorhis to be the voice of the show.  After CBS bought the pilot, however, everyone agreed that a new narrator was needed to avoid sounding like every clichéd science fiction movie of that era.  Also, the original opening features images of galaxies and stars with Von Voorhis stating that "there is a sixth dimension." This was later replaced with the animated sequence that was used for most of the episodes in the first season. Serling also rewrote the opening narration to say “There is a fifth dimension…” after he was informed that there were, in fact, only four.



--This episode was shot in the famous Courthouse Square on the Universal Studios Backlot where To Kill a Mockingbird and Back to the Future would later be filmed.
--Serling later wrote that he got this idea from walking around a movie backlot one day and was struck with how frightening it would be to walk into a city with no inhabitants.  Also, the scene where Holliman gets stuck in the phone booth supposedly comes from a real incident where Serling believed he had locked himself in a London phone booth.
--"Where is Everybody?" was adapted into a short story by Rod Serling in Stories From the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1960).  It was also made into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring John Schneider (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).
--James Gregory also stars in season three episode, “The Passerby.”
--Paul Langton also stars in the season four episode, “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”

--Brian Durant

Season 1


Entering the fifth dimension:
     For all intended purposes, The Twilight Zone seemed an odd creation for a writer like Rod Serling. Serling emerged out of the era of live television and was known primarily as a dramatist, writing numerous scripts for Playhouse 90 and other anthology programs.  By the time The Twilight Zone went on the air he had been writing television scripts for nearly a decade and had already received three Emmy Awards for his work.  It is curious that a writer at the top of his field as a dramatist would want to risk his reputation by turning his efforts toward fantasy and science fiction, fields that are generally not highly regarded by mainstream critics of any era, especially those of the 1950’s.
     In the world of dramatic television, Serling had gained a reputation as a writer vehemently opposed to censorship.  After witnessing several of his more controversial scripts for Playhouse 90 being ripped apart, gutted, and sewn back together again to appease the concerns of wary sponsers, he began to contemplate creating a fantasy program in an effort to alleviate such restrictions. With fantasy, Serling felt he could get away with Martians and robots saying controversial things whereas ordinary characters could not. He essentially wanted to create a program where the writer was in control of the script. In response, he created his own production company, Cayuga Productions, which would oversee the production of The Twilight Zone.
     He wrote several pilots and pitched them to CBS, unsuccessfully.  Finally, he wrote a script titled “The Time Element.”  Instead of pitching it to CBS as a pilot episode he sold it to The Westinghouse-Desilu Playhouse.  “The Time Element” is a simple time travel story starring William Bendix and Martin Balsam and, overall, is no great miracle of creative television.  However, its popularity among viewers gained the attention of CBS and Serling finally got the green light to write a pilot episode for a fantasy program.  He sat down and wrote a story titled “Where is Everybody?” about a young amnesiac who wanders into a town with no residents.  After the episode finished shooting, Serling brought it to New York and screened it for network executives at CBS. They bought the series immediately.  The rest, as they say, is history, and can be found filed away somewhere in the archives…of the Twilight Zone.
    
Notes:



- The opening title for episodes in the first season alternated between two different animated sequences, each with a score by Bernard Hermann. The primary opening is a dreamlike sequence with the following narration by Rod Serling:

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

The other opening, used in only a handful of episodes, is darker in tone and opens with a strange image of a woman’s eye which fades into a picture of a setting sun. Serling’s dialogue here is a briefer:

“You are about to enter another dimension.  A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.  A journey into a wondrous land of imagination.  Next stop, the Twilight Zone.”



It was not until the second season that Serling and producers decided to replace Hermann’s scores with Marius Constant’s famous opening theme.

- Once the series was picked up by CBS, William Self, who produced the pilot episode, left the show for an executive position at the network. On Self’s recommendation, Serling asked Buck Houghton, who had been Serling’s script editor on Playhouse 90, to take over as producer.

- Serling did not appear on screen during an episode until the second season.  During the first season he appeared on screen only in the trailers of the episodes.  The memorable exception is the season one finale, “A World of His Own,” where Serling appears on screen at the end of the episode as one of Gregory West’s imaginary creations. His opening narration is also noticebly different in the first season, particularly the first dozen or so episodes. Not sure of the exact tone the show should take, he recites his monologues with almost a whisper, and many do not end with the famous "in the Twilight Zone" catch phrase.

--Brian Durant