Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Perchance To Dream"

Richard Conte as Edward Hall, a man whose dreams can kill.
“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 of the same name)
Director: Robert Florey
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
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, circa early 1960s
                 Series writer 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. Allowing Beaumont to adapt his own short story (he had previous television credits to his name), he was encouraged by Rod Serling, the story editor and creative controller 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, pseudo-Poe psychological horror story were a group of dramatists perfectly suited to bringing the writer's vision to 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 Bela Lugosi in Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue the following year. He did a marvelous job on "Perchance to Dream," lending the episode's hallucinatory set design and deam-like action and imagery a versimiltude that manages to keep the viewer's attention hooked along the line of the episode's breakneck pacing. 
                The hero of the episode may be George T. Clemens, the ever faithful and 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 most finely filmed scenes in any of the show's episodes. 
                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.
                My favorite part of the episode is actually two-fold. The roller coaster sequence is, of course, a dizzying and terror-filled moment. It is simply phenomenal; Maya's frantic laugh track, the clashing juxtaposition of the roller coaster to the surrealist background, and Van Cleve's jarring music paint the whole scene hallucinatory and thoroughly disorient the viewer. It's perfect. When watching the episode again, notice that when Hall first enters Rathmann's office and Rathmann helps him lie down, the camera focuses in on Hall's face, his eyes closed. The lighting gradually diminishes and the music pilters 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 think that the moment the lights and music go down in 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 subtextual shading and symbolism to the episode.
Grade: A
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 omnibus 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 the dreaming and waking states.
-Writer William F. Nolan, a close friend of Charles Beaumont, has often related the story of Beaumont's innate fear of amusement parks and, in particular, roller coasters. One 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 Beaumontor those in his company, for the writer often allowed his imagination to get carried away, much like Edward Hall in "Perchance to Dream."
--Jordan Prejean

"Time Enough At Last"


Burgess Meredith as the unfortunate bookworm Henry Bemis
“Time Enough At Last”
Season One, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 20, 1959
Cast:
Henry Bemis: Burgess Meredith
Helen Bemis: Jaqueline deWit
Mr. Carsville: Vaughn Taylor
Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (Based on the short story by Lynn Venable published in If: Worlds of Science Fiction, January 1953)
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Leith Stevens
And now, Mr. Serling: 
                "Next week a distinguished actor lends us his talents as Mr. Burgess Meredith stars in 'Time Enough At Last,' the story of man who seeks salvation in the rubble of a ruined world. We hope you'll share this very strange experience with us. Thank you and good night."
Rod Serling's Opening Narration: 
                "Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers, a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself, without anyone."
Summary: 
                Bank teller Henry Bemis is a bespeckled, bookish, little middle-aged man that can never find time during his day to do what he so loves to: read. He attempts to read at his job and winds up neglecting customers and making mistakes, bringing his reading habit to the unwanted attention of the bank manager. At home, his wife refuses to give him a moment of peace for reading or, frankly, anything else she doesn't deem fit for her husband to do. She is a sadistic, over-bearing woman who resorts to finding the books that Bemis has hidden in their home and proceeding to gratuitously mark over the text in black ink on each page. She then places them back where Bemis last left them in order to gloat when her husband comes along and finds the nasty surprise. 
                At work, Bemis has devised a curious habit that allows him some time to read in the middle of his day. On his lunch break, he takes his bagged lunch down into the bank vault where he closes himself inside to sit, eat, and read his book in the solitude and quiet. 
                One day, when Bemis is in the vault, reading, he sees the glass on his watch face break and then feels the ground and walls shake terribly, knocking his glasses from his face. "The Bomb" has been dropped. Emerging from the bank vault, shaken, Bemis, at first, cannot see anything, for he is blind without his glasses. Find them and putting them on, he finds the world around him in shambles. 
                Stumbling through this wasteland, Bemis finds a newspaper prophesizing the event and realizes what has happened. He panics, terrified of being the last man on Earth, and runs through the rubble of what was his hometown calling out for somebody, anybody. But there is nobody there. Bemis is, as far as he can tell, the last man alive. Time goes by and, though he knows he won't starve, Bemis contemplates suicide as an escape from the unbearable lonliness of his situation.
Rod Serling's Middle Narration:
                "Seconds, minutes, hours. They crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world: A telephone connected to nothingness; a neighborhood bar, a movie, a baseball diamond, a hardware store, the mailbox at what was once his house and is now rubbl. They lie at his feet as battered monuments to what was but is no more. Mr. Henry Bemis on an eight hour tour of a graveyard."  
                Then Bemis sees it, the public library. It is in ruins and the books, mountains of books, have spilled out into the street. Joy overcomes him and he fights his way to the steps of the library, relishing the books. He takes the time to organize the books by the months of the calendar. Suicide has left his mind, for he has the companionship of all his favorite authors and all their greatest works with him now. He has all the time in the world to read and nothing to stop him, no job at the bank and no cruel wife, either. Bemis reaches down for a book lying near his feet on the stone steps. His glasses slide off his face and come down on the stone steps, breaking the glass out of the frames. Blind without his glasses and unable to read, Bemis hold up the usesless frames and cries out in a moment of terrible pathos. "But there was time now. It's not fair!" He is now to be thrown back in the darkness of his lonliness.
Rod Serling's Closing Narration: 
The last man on Earth contemplates time.
                "The best laid plans of mice and men, and Henry Bemis, the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis. . . in the Twilight Zone."
Commentary:
                I'll begin by saying that this episode is, undoubtedly, one the most fondly remembered episodes in the show's history. I wouldn't say it is the most fondly remembered, however. I would say that award goes to season five's "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet." But it's a toss up. Now, that being said, I don't feel that "Time Enough At Last" is an episode among the best that the show has to offer. By this I mean that the episode, and the short story it's based upon, don't offer much in the way of subtext or complexity as to warrant its being discussed among the most finely crafted episodes of the show. I know some of you will say that it's the very lack of these things that give the show its charm, its fable-like endurance. That may very well be and I'm not denying that it's inherenent quality is its simplicity. The show is a nice bit of tragedy with moments of real pathos but I suppose that I feel like there are episodes that twist at the end and episodes that hinge on the twist at the end. These latter types build only toward that final moment in the tale. "Time Enough At Last" is of this stripe. 
                I'll tell you what I do like about the show. I like Burgess Meredith. This is probably the great actor's most well known role from the show. He appeared a total of four times on the show though I would argue that "Time Enough At Last" isn't his best (I would say that is season two's "The Obsolete Man"). He is wonderful and memorable as the unfortunate Henry Bemis, whom the Gods did not love, and he plays roles of this type extraordinarily well. As for the other actors, Jaqueline de Wit hams it up a bit too much for me, plays it a little too over the top, but Vaughn Taylor is a solid character actor and he is fine in his role. 
                "Time Enough At Last" is really like a fable or a modern, moralistic fairy tale where the viewer, or reader, really shouldn't question the logic of the events too much for the foundation of the story would fall right out. I don't, however, quite see the moral in the fate of a character like Henry Bemis. And maybe that's always been why I can't really enjoy this famous episode like I can some of the others. You look at great tragical figures, Oedipus, Hamlet, King Lear, and you feel for those characters but you can trace back an action, or an inaction, committed by the character that directly, or indirectly, resulted in the tragical ending brought upon them. No such thing with Henry Bemis. The man did nothing but was served his fate just the same. Oh well. 
                I will say before leaving that what I really love about this episode is the set design. The "after the bomb" look was very appealing to me when I first viewed this episode as a young child and I still love the artistry of it. However unlikely a set it is for a realistic depiction of the fallout from an atomic bomb, it is very devastating in its bleakness.  Those stunning visuals were brought to you, the viewer, courtesy of Art Directors George W. Davis and William Ferrari, and Set Decorators Henry Grace and Rudy Butler.
                I would like to say that I hope I've haven't been too discouraging in my review because "Time Enough at Last" is an iconic episode. I think it is a seminal episode in the show's history and is especially important for the show's endurance in the cultural landscape. It is an immently watchable episode and one of the shining points in the first season.
January 1953 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction
Grade: B
Notes:
-Actor Burgess Meredith is also featured in the second season episodes "The Obsolete Man" and "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," as well as the fourth season episode "Printer's Devil."
-Actor Vaughn Taylor also appears in the third season episodes"Still Valley" and "I Sing the Body Electric" as well as the fourth season episode "The Incredible World of Horace Ford" and the fifth season episode "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross."
-Director John Brahm was, along with Douglas Heyes, a talented and frequent contributor to the series. It would be impratical to attempt to list every episode he directed, suffice to say he was at the helm of many of the best and will be listed accordingly in the credits of those singular episode guides.
--Jordan Prejean

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"The Lonely"

A robot stand-in for actress Jean Marsh
“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
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Bernard Hermann

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:
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 exceptional Season Three episode “The Jungle” and the season five episode “Mr. Garrity and the Graves.”
--Jack Warden also appeared in the unfortunate Season One episode "The Mighty Casey."
--"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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Escape Clause"

David Wayne as the bedeviled hypochondriac Walter Bedeker
“Escape Clause”
Season One, Episode 6
Original Air Date: November 6, 1959
Cast:
Walter Bedeker: David Wayne
Mr. Cadwallader: Thomas Gomez
Ethel Bedeker: Virginia Christine
Doctor: Raymond Bailey
Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock
Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
                "You're about to meet a hypochondriac. Witness Mr. Walter Bedeker, age forty-four, afraid of the following: death, disease, other people, germs, drafts, and everything else. He has one interest in life and that's Walter Bedeke; one preoccupation, the life and well being of Walter Bedeker; one abiding concern about society, that if Walter Bedeker should die, how will it survive without him?"
Summary:
                Walter Bedeker is an extreme hypochondriac who refuses to leave the comfort of his bed for fear of aggravating or contracting any number of imagined illnesses. His rude manner and the impossibility of satisfying Bedeker displeases his doctor and over-burdens his over-accomadating wife. When Bedeker muses aloud his displeasure at having to suffer sickly through such a short life as a mortal human is allowed, a man appears in his bedroom. The man is fat and dapper, introducing himself as a man of many names but suggesting that Bedeker call him Mr. Cadwallader. He is, in short, the Devil. 
                Cadwallader offers Bedeker a life of immortality free of sickness. All Bedeker need do is sign the contract that has appeared in Cadwallader's hand and Bedeker can live forever with nothing able to physically harm him. At first apprehensive about having to give up the ususal price for such dealings with the devil, his soul, Bedeker reasons that living forever means he beats the devil, for he must die if Cadwallder is to get his soul. Bedeker signs the contract and Cadwallder, before parting, informs him of an escape clause in the contract. Should Bedeker ever grow tired of living forever, all he need do is call upon Cadwallder and Bedeker will be freed from his contractual obligation of immortality. Contract signed, sealed, and delivered, Cadwallader departs and Bedeker begins his life immortal. 
                It is not long after, however, that Bedeker grows tired of his newfound invulnerability. He finds no thrill in life if nothing can harm him. He jumps in front of a bus and drinks poison to no ill effects. Finally, resorting to extremes, Bedeker decides to jump off the roof of his apartment building. His wife, in attempting to stop him, falls to her death. Though he didn't truly kill her, Bedeker sees this as an opportunity to try the electric chair, something that he believes might just be the thrill he's been looking for. He confesses to his wife's murder and is easily found guilty at his trial. The twist in the tale, however, is that Bedeker is not sentenced to death but rather to life imprisonment. For an immortal man, this means an eternity behind bars. 
                Cadwallader appears, offering Bedeker that escape clause in the contract. Bedeker reluctantly agrees and is taken away.
Rod Serling Closing Narration:
            "There is a saying, 'Every man is put on Earth condemned to die, time and method of execution unknown.' Perhaps this is as it should be. Case in point Walter Bedeker, lately deceased, a little man with such a yen to live. Beaten by the devil, by his own boredom, and the by the scheme of things in this, the Twilight Zone."
Commentary: 
                I must admit, this episode doesn't have much to recommend it. I know that's a bad way to start off this commentary but it's because I sat down to say something about this episode only to realize that I don't have much to say about it at all. "Deal with the devil" stories had already been done to death by the time of this production and Serling almost certainly hoped to capitalize on the public's taste for tales of this type. Though I also like tales of this type, this episode simply doesn't satisfy. The one redeeming aspect of it, I suppose, is Thomas Gomez in the role of Mr. Cadwallader. I thought he was a unique casting choice for the role and I thought he was quite creepy in his own way.
                Sad to say, and I've said this before, the episodes written by Serling often hinge on the quality of his script and this script was simply a cast off attempt that he'd lifted from a number of sources. Martin Grams, author of the book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, notes that Serling most likely took the idea from an episode of the horror radio show Inner Sanctum Mystery. Serling's story closely resembles an episode aired on February 12, 1946, titled "Elixir Number Four." Serling was pushing to provide his contractually required eighty percent of first season episodes and "Escape Clause" was most likely a quicky filler script to give him time to shape his more resonant first season scripts, such as "Walking Distance" and "The Lonely." All in all, "Escape Clause" isn't a difficult episode to watch as the first season generally had an even high level of production value that was evidentally lacking from the worst episodes of seasons four and five (some of those episodes are certainly unwatchable). As a half hour entertainment it's not bad but it lacks a unique concept or even a unique spin on an established concept and therefore feels a little empty.
Grade: D
Notes:
-Director Mitchell Leisen also directed two additional first season episodes, "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" and "People Are Alike All Over."
-Look for the signature of Mr. Cadwallader on a plague in basement portion of the Walt Disney World ride Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
--Jordan Prejean

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Walking Distance"

Gig Young as time traveler Martin Sloan
“Walking Distance”
Season One, Episode 5
Original air date: October 30, 1959

Cast:
Martin Sloan: Gig Young
Robert Sloan: Frank Overton
Mrs. Sloan: Irene Tedrow
Young Martin Sloan: Michael Montgomery
The Wilcox Boy: Ronnie Howard


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

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week we’ll invite you to take a strange journey back in time with Mr. Gig Young, who tries to make the exodus of all men, in their desperate attempt to relive the past.  We offer a most bizarre story called ‘Walking Distance.’  And we hope you’ll be around to share it with us.  Thank you, and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Martin Sloan, age thirty-six.  Occupation: vice-president, ad agency, in charge of media.  This is not just a Sunday drive for Martin Sloan.  He perhaps doesn’t know it at the time, but it’s an exodus.  Somewhere up the road, he’s looking for sanity.  And somewhere up the road, he’ll find something else.”

Summary:
A frazzled, anxious, New York City advertising executive named Martin Sloan is out for an afternoon drive when he pulls into a roadside service station.  While the attendant sees to his car, Sloan realizes that he is within walking distance of the town where he grew up, Homewood.  He leaves the station on foot and sets out to revisit the town and the memories of childhood.
Sloan is tired.  He’s looking for something to break the strain, to fill a void left by the constant attrition of one’s well-being that comes with money and success.  And although he may not realize it as he sets off down the path to Homewood, he is looking for a part of himself, a fraction of the spirit of his youth to remind him that the wonderful things about life can be found anywhere, all one has to do is look. 
Sloan wanders around town and is amazed to see that it hasn’t aged a day since the last time he saw it.  He walks into an ice cream parlor that still sells ice cream cones at the same price he paid as a kid.  The houses are still glistening with fresh paint and green shrubbery. 
He stumbles upon a young boy carving his name into a tree and realizes, without question, that he is looking at himself as a child (the boy is carving the name: Marty Sloan).  Sloan follows the boy back to his home and encounters his parents as they looked when he was eleven years old.  He has gone back in time.  He tries desperately to prove to them that he is their son, but they tell him to leave.  After this, he wanders around town, confused.  Later in the evening, he goes back to his old house in another attempt to prove to his parents, and himself, that he is not insane.  Again, they tell him to leave. 
                                                                                                                                                   Rod Serling’s Middle Narration:
"A man can think a lot of thoughts and walk a lot of pavements between afternoon and night.  And to a man like Martin Sloan, to whom memory has suddenly become a reality, a resolve can become just as clearly and inexorably as stars in a summer night.  Martin Sloan is now back in time.  And his resolve is to put in a claim to the past.”


            Sloan wanders into a summer carnival and finds his young self on a carousel and tries to talk to him, to tell him that this is a wonderful time of life for him.  But the boy is frightened and falls off the carousel, injuring his leg, leaving his older incarnation with a limp.  Young Martin is taken away and Sloan is confronted by his father, who has gone through Sloan’s wallet, which Sloan dropped at his parent’s house earlier, and now believes that this man is from the future.  He tells Sloan that he has to leave Homewood; he doesn’t belong there.  He asks his son why he’s running. What is so troublesome about the world he comes from?  Sloan tells his father that he simply grew tired of the kind of life he is living, that he had to get away from it and revisit a time in his life in which he felt happy and free of worry.  His father tells him that if he looked in the right places he might find carnivals and easy summers days where he lives.  Instead of looking to the past to escape the present, maybe he should look to the future.
Sloan walks back into the ice cream parlor, which now has 1950’s rock n’ roll blasting from the jukebox.  He is back in the present.  He waxes philosophically for a moment about the extraordinary episode that he has just experienced and then makes his way back to the service station to pick up his car.


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Martin Sloan, age thirty-six.  Vice president in charge of media.  Successful in most things – but not in the one effort that all men try at one time in their lives – trying to go home again.  And also like all men perhaps there’ll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope – and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and places of his past.  And perhaps across his mind there will flit a little errant wish: that a man might smile then, too, because he’ll know it is just an errant wish.  Some wisp of memory not important, really.  Some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind, that are part of, the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
           If The Twilight Zone can be encapsulated into one conclusive, philosophical theory, it is this: the Twilight Zone is a place, or a state of mind, where man must come to terms with the world around him and, most importantly, with himself.  Many of the show’s episodes follow a very simple premise wherein a single individual is placed into an extraordinary situation which, based on the type of person they are, will either enlighten them about themselves and the world, or will utterly consume them.  A person who is essentially warmhearted and morally conscientious will not only survive the situation, but will walk away from it with a renewed perspective about mankind and the world he lives in.  A person who is morally bankrupt and cares only for himself will usually not walk away at all.  “Walking Distance” is an episode of the former type.  Martin Sloan carries with him all the anxieties and worries of the common man of that time or any other.  His desire to go back to a time when his life was substantially less complicated is a form of nostalgia that resonates on a universal scale. 
           This episode would set the standard for most of the time travel stories on The Twilight Zone.  Martin Sloan doesn't travel back in time via a time machine.  There is no electronic gadgetry or any kind of physical time portal that can be seen by the audience.  He simply travels from one place to another and when he gets there it is miraculously a different time period.  This would prove to be the best approach for this type of show as is evident in episodes like "The Trouble with Templeton," "Back There," and "A Hundred Yards over the Rim" to name just a few.  The producers of the show knew their limitations in terms of budget and that's why many episodes that could look quite dated instead look timeless.
Serling apparently had an unbridled preoccupation with his childhood.  This can be seen in the childlike, Tom Sawyer-ish themes that run through episodes like "A Stop at Willoughby," "The Night of the Meek" and "The Big Tall Wish."  This episode parallels his life almost exactly at the time: a man for whom middle age is rapidly approaching that earns a living in a stressful, fast paced environment, such as advertising or television, who wants desperately to break away to a safer, more familiar environment, like childhood.  One can assume that Homewood is only a thinly veiled facsimile of Binghamton, New York, where Serling grew up.  He said that the idea for this episode came to him while walking through a backlot at MGM and being struck with how similar it was to his hometown.  
Gig Young in They Shoot Horses, Don't They (1969)
It is because this is such a personal, honest story that the episode succeeds the way it does.  But Serling's script isn't the only reason this is a memorable episode.  Gig Young turns in a fantastic performance as Martin Sloan.  He's honest without seeming overly sentimental which isn't easy given the nature of the story.  Young's career began in the early 1940's.  An affable, immensely likable actor, he was usually cast in supporting roles and could fluctuate easily between comedy and drama.  After gaining recognition for bit roles in films like Air Force (1943) and The Three Musketeers (1948) he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role opposite James Cagney in Come Fill the Cup (1951). He was nominated again for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the comedy Teacher's Pet (1958) with Clark Gable and Doris Day. In 1969 he earned his only Oscar for his role as Rocky the Emcee in Sydney Pollack's classic film adaptation of Horace McCoy's novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They? He also enjoyed a successful career in television for a brief time appearing in many of the live playhouse productions of the 1950's and 60's and in regular roles in two short lived but highly acclaimed series, The Rogues (1964 - 1965) and Gibbsville (1976 - 1977).  His other notable film appearances include Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfred Garcia (1974) and the Bruce Lee film Game of Death (1978).  In his later years Young's life was often marred by personal turmoil.  He was married five times (including a seven-year stint to fellow Twilight Zone alumni Elizabeth Montgomery) and his increasing alcoholism led to a sharp decline in his career.  In 1978 64 year-old Young married 21 year-old German actress Kim Schmidt.  Several weeks later the couple was found dead in their Manhattan apartment due to an apparent murder-suicide on the part of Young. 
          Theatrically trained actor Frank Overton was a prolific force in the early days of television. He was known for his serious demeanor and was often cast as sheriffs, mayors or other forms of authority.  After an impressive tour of the live studio dramas he transitioned into the ever-changing world of television in the 1960's.  One Step Beyond, Thriller, Naked City, Way Out, Perry Mason, Route 66, Dr. Kildare, The Defenders, and The Virginian are just a few of his television credits.  He also had a starring role as Major Harvey Stovall in the WWII series 12 O'Clock High (1964 - 1967).  He also enjoyed a moderately successful film career and is probably best remembered today as Sheriff Heck Tate in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).  One of his last roles was as colony leader Elias Sandoval in the famous Star Trek episode "This Side of Paradise" in 1967.  He died of a heart attack only a month or so later at the age of 49.
          While this episode is considered one of the show's best, Serling admitted years later that “Walking Distance” was not one of his favorite episodes.  The problem with it, he said, was in the continuity of its plot.  He believed that Sloan meets his parents too early in the episode.  After his initial encounter with his parents and his younger self, Serling said, Sloan’s rationale should be thrown completely out of proportion.  Instead, he continues to walk around town and meet people (attempting to come to terms with what’s happening to him, no doubt, but far too calm for a man who has just stared into the faces of his dead parents).  He compared this episode to the later Season One episode "A Stop at Willoughby" which has a very similar premise and which he felt was far superior.  I am inclined to disagree with Serling here as I feel that the former episode is substantially better than its Season One counterpart.  “Walking Distance” is, without question, Serling’s best episode from season one, and one of the finest of the entire series.

Grade: A



Notes:
--"Walking Distance" was adapted into a short story by Serling in Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1960).  It was also made into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).  And it was adapted into a graphic novel by Mark Kneece with art by Rich Ellis as part of a series developed by the Savannah College of Art and Design entitled Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (Walker Publishing Company, 2008).
--Frank Overton also appeared in the Season Four episode “Mute.”
--Robert Stevens also directed the pilot episode "Where is Everybody?"

--Brian Durant