Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"What You Need"

Steve Cochran and Ernest Truex

"What You Need"
Season One, Episode 12
Original Air Date: December 25, 1959

Pedott: Ernest Truex
Fred Renard: Steve Cochran
Lefty: Read Morgan
Bartender: William Edmonson
Girl in Bar: Arline Sax
Woman: Doris Karnes
Hotel Clerk: Norman Sturgis
Woman on Street: Judy Ellis
Man on Street: Fred Kruger

Writer: Rod Serling (Teleplay based on the short story of the same name written by Lewis Padgett (psuedonym of husband and wife Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore) originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, October 1945.)
Director: Alvin Ganzer
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Rudy Butler and Henry Grace
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Joseph Gluck
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Nathan Van Cleve

And now, Mr. Serling:
"This is the season of gift giving, big gifts and little gifts, and expensive ones and not so expensive ones. Well, next time, the Twilight Zone gives you its own peculiar, oddball brand of gift giving. Mr. Steve Cochran and Mr. Ernest Truex combine talents to tell a story about a little man who has what you need, our next offering on the Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"You're looking at Mr. Fred Renard, who carries on his shoulder a chip the size of the national debt. This is a sour man, a friendless man, a lonely man, a grasping, compulsive, nervous man. This is a man who has lived thirty-six undistinguished, meaningless, pointless, failure laden years and who at this moment looks for an escape, any escape, any way, anything, anybody to get out of the rut. And this little old man is just what Mr. Renard is waiting for."

                An old man named Pedott pedals his wares, nicknacks lugged around in a portmanteau, on a particular block in an unnamed, perpetually night-fallen, film-noir city. On that block is a neighborhood bar. The old man goes into that bar, bouncing from customer to customer, trying to interest the patrons in something from his collection of odds and ends. When a woman sitting alone wants to buy some matches, Pedott instead gives her a bottle of stain remover, intoning that "this is what you need." It is the credo of the episode, a resonant statement of Pedott's unique ability of insight into what people will need in their near futures. 
                Pedott provides another patron, a washed-up ex-professional baseball player with a lame pitching arm named Lefty, with a one-way bus ticket to Scranton, Pennslyvania. These items are taken from the old man with a certain bit of reluctance but, thinking the old man feeble-minded but essentially harmless, they take the items anyway. Shortly after these items are distributed, Lefty gets a phone call informing him that one of his former team managers has acquired Lefty a much-needed job, coaching a minor league baseball team in Scranton, Pennslyvania. Lefty asks the old man how he knew about Scranton and the bus ticket but the old man just shruggs it off and advises Lefty not to think about it or question it but to simply take advantage of the opportunity afforded him. It's good advice. Lefty complains about a spot on his only good jacket that he needs to get out in order to look professional for his new job and, coincidentally, is overheard by the woman earlier given the stain remover by Pedott. We are left with the notion that perhaps these two people may begin a change for the better, together. Pedott, meanwhile, has slipped out of the bar, not unnoticed by someone else.
                The seemingly simple magic that he has displayed has drawn the notice of a brutish loser at the bar named Fred Renard. Renard is a man always down on his luck. He has turned all the frustration and anger caused by this run of ill luck inward and has, by consequence, become a sulky, violent character, nearly devoid of all conscience and humanity, living only to scrape by and claw at any cure-all chance that presents itself. He sees his ticket out of his misery in the old man Pedott's uncanny ability. 
                Renard follows Pedott out into the street where the old man sets up his wares on a stand to offer them to passersby. Pedott knows, as unfailingly as he knows what people need, that Renard is an ill-meaning man. The confrontation turns violent when Renard grabs the smaller, more feeble man and demands that Pedott provide him with what he needs. Pedott gives Renard a pair of scissors. At first believing the old man to be playing a trick on him, Renard relents and stalks away. Later, while in a hotel elevator, Renard's long scarf is caught within the door of the moving elevator car. Unable to free himself and halfway choking to death, Renard remembers the scissors and cuts the scarf and lives through the harrowing experience. He laughs, almost maniaclly, at his good fortune, good fortune provided by Pedott's special talent. This, Renard sees, is the opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to fix all the mistakes he's made and to live the rest of his life with guaranteed good fortune. 
                 When Pedott returns home later that night, he finds an unpleasant surprise. Renard is waiting for him. The old man spills his items on the floor and Renard ridicules him and bullies him into a patnership, despite Pedott's unwillingness to enter into any kind of pact with the other man. Pedott, surely hoping to be rid of the bullying Renard, gives the younger man a leaky fountain pen which just happens to dip onto a newspaper listing the name of a racehorse. Renard runs off to place his bet on that horse.
                It wins him a couple hundred dollars but it's not enough. Men like Renard, once reaping the benefits of good fortune, resort to a vicious greediness. He accost Pedott once again, this time on the street, on Pedott's usual corner for setting up his items to sell. Pedott tells Renard that this cannot continue between them and that he, Pedott, cannot provide Renard with what the angry younger man truly needs, this being compassion, humor, an ability to laugh at oneself. Unsatisfied, Renard further threatens Pedott until the old man gestures to a pair of shoes that Renard greedily grabs and puts on. Pedott, meanwhile, has used this opportunity to pack up his items and begin to cross the street. Renard, confused as to the pertinence of the shoes, again threatens to hurt Pedott when Pedott informs him that the shoes are, in fact, what Pedott himself needs and not what Renard needs. Anger outweighing his reason, Renard begins to cross the street after Pedott only to slip on the slick ice that has formed on the street. A speeding car comes around the corner and wipes Renard out, killing him. 
                It was a hit and run and, moments later, the street is filled with curious people, an ambulance, and the press. Two sly jokes, one sweet, the other morbid, ends the show. Pedott provides a man roused from sleep and out into the street from the noise with a simple comb, that later proves useful to straighten out his unruly hair when the press decides to take his picture. We are left with the ambulance, sirens off, carrying the body of Fred Renard and the only thing left on the street at the site of his death is a pair of slippery shoes.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration: 
     "Street scene. Night. Traffic Accident. Victim named Fred Renard, gentleman with a sour face to whom contentment came with difficulty. Fred Renard, who took all that was needed. . . in the Twilight Zone."

Illustration by Williams

                Although it is an adaptation of an existing piece of short fiction, this serviceable but unmemorable episode feels more like a Rod Serling original than an adaptation of someone else's work. Much like the previous episode, "And When the Sky Was Opened," Serling used little except the basic concept from the source material. Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's original short story describes a scientist that invents a machine able to predict an individual's future and prescribe what was needed for that individual. Serling scrapped nearly everything and created his standard cast of (mostly) loveable losers, including Pedott (Ernest Truex), the meek old man with the ability to see a person's future and give them what they need to face that future. 
                The entire episode is really just a gimmick plot servicing a twist ending and although Serling attempts to give the script some dimension of character, the paper thin plot is really what makes the episode unremarkable. The concept is not particularly fresh now and wasn't at the time of filming, either. As popular culture historian Martin Grams points out in his book, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (2008, OTR), Kuttner and Moore's short story had already appeared in the authors 1954 collection, Line to Tomorrow, and had previously been broadcast on the television show Tales of Tomorrow on February 8, 1952. 
     It was a nice touch for Serling to scrap the science-fiction trappings of the story and turn it into something of a film-noir meets fantasy episode. Even though we recognize, even this early into the show, Serling's stereotypical characters (the washed up man who once had promise, the lonely woman looking for something but not knowing what, the angry man who's certain all his problems are someone else's fault), the character of Pedott is a nice creation and Ernest Truex gives a memorable performance. The character of Fred Renard is too heavy-handed, however, too over the top, and is the kind of one-dimensional villain you don't normally see in The Twilight Zone. 
            It's unfortunate that this is the only piece from either Kuttner or Moore (or both in tandem, as the couple almost always collaborated once they married) that Serling or producer Buck Houghton optioned for the show, and in greatly truncated form at that. Catherine L. (C.L.) Moore is an influential, and, for the time (1930s), very progressive author of fantasy and science fiction. Before meeting husband Henry Kuttner in 1938, her most influential works consisted of her science-fiction vampire story "Shambleau" from the November 1933 issue of Weird Tales, the Jirel of Joiry stories featuring the first female hero of the fantasy sub-genre commonly known as sword-and-scorcery, and the Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired planetary romance stories starring her character Northwest Smith. Henry Kuttner was mainly known, and is still remembered, for his first published story, the horror classic "The Graveyard Rats" from the March 1936 issue of Weird Tales. The two writers began to achieve their greatest work, however, once they met and later married. From this point on the two wrote nearly everything in tandem under a number of pseudonyms including Lewis Padgett and Laurence O'Donnell. Even the most astute reader will find it difficult to tell where one writer stops and other begins. Together they produced many memorable novels and stories, including "No Woman Born" (1944) and "Vintage Season" (1946) (the latter stroy is included in the Science Fiction Writers Association's The Science Fiction Hall of Fame) and the oft-reprinted novel Fury (1947). 
            Kuttner was particularly important as a literary mentor and influence on two writers from The Twilight Zone who also became great literary fantasists, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. Bradbury selected and introduced a career retrospective of Kuttner's short stories for the Science Fiction Book Club, The Best of Henry Kuttner (1975), and Matheson dedicated his most famous novel, the oft-filmed I Am Legend (1954) to Kuttner. His influence, and the influence of his collaborative work with Moore on subsequent science fiction writers, is profound. 
                 Sadly, what we get with Kuttner and Moore's sole appearance on the show is a rather lackluster and somewhat predictable outing that feels more like a "filler" episode between two really good ones. It is worth seeking out the two writers' work, however, for most fans of the show will find their subject and style appealing.


-Ernest Truex also starred in the exceptional third season episode "Kick the Can."
-Alvin Ganzer's other directing credits for the show include "The Hitch-Hiker," "Nightmare As a Child," and some sequences of "The Mighty Casey," all from the show's first season.
-"What you Need" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Dennis Etchison, starring Bruno Kirby. 
--Jordan Prejean

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Judgment Night"

The S. S. Queen of Glasgow, doomed to roam the night throughout eternity.

“Judgment Night”
Season One, Episode 10
Original air date: December 4, 1959

Carl Lanser: Nehemiah Persoff
Lieutenant Mueller: James Franciscus
Barbara Stanley: Deirdre Owen
Captain Wilbur: Ben Wright
First Officer: Patrick MacNee
Mr. Potter: Hugh Sanders
Major Devereaux: Leslie Bradley
Bartender: Kendrick Huxham
First Steward: Richard Peel
Second Steward: Donald Journeaux
Engineer: Barry Bernard

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

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Once upon a time there was a ship sailing from Liverpool, England to New York. It never got there and one man on board knows why. Next week we tell this man’s story. The distinguished actor Nehemiah Persoff plays the role of Carl Lanser, a haunted man in a haunted story called ‘Judgment Night.’ This ship sails next week and we hope you’ll see it off. Thank you, and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Her name is the S. S. Queen of Glasgow. Her registry: British. Gross tonnage: five thousand. Age: indeterminate. At this moment she’s one day out of Liverpool, her destination: New York. Duly recorded on this ship’s log is the sailing time, course to destination, weather conditions, temperature, longitude and latitude. But what is never recorded in a log is the fear that washes over a deck like fog and ocean spray. Fear like the throbbing strokes of engine pistons, each like a heartbeat, parceling out every hour into breathless minutes of watching, waiting and dreading. For the year is 1942, and this particular ship has lost its convoy. It travels alone like an aged blind thing groping through the unfriendly dark, stalked by unseen periscopes of steel killers. Yes, the Queen of Glasgow is a frightened ship, and she carries with her a premonition of death.”

          In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a fog-blanketed night in 1942, the S. S. Queen of Glasgow is making her way from Liverpool to New York. Onboard is one Carl Lanser. Mr. Lanser is distraught because he seems to have no recollection of how he came to be on the ship. He knows none of the other passengers and remembers very little about himself. But he does know one thing: something terrible is going to happen to the ship at 1:15 am.
Lanser wanders around the ship in a distorted haze and eventually makes his way into the lounge where he joins some of the other passengers and crew members, including the captain, at a table for tea. Still troubled over his situation, his behavior in front of his fellow passengers is noticeably bizarre. Lanser tells everyone that he believes something terrible will happen to the ship at 1:15 am.  He also seems to know a great deal about German U-boats which peaks the captain’s attention. After an uncomfortable conversation Lanser awkwardly excuses himself. Later, the captain has Lanser brought to the bridge where he asks him to provide a copy of his passport. Lanser says that his passport must be in his room so the captain has the steward follow him there to retrieve it. In his room the steward notices a German Navel Commander’s hat and asks Lanser if it’s a war souvenir. Angry for this invasion of his privacy, Lanser grabs the hat away from the steward and notices his name stitched into the inside of it. The hat is issued to him.
          Positive now that something is going to happen to the ship and frustrated at being powerless to stop it, Lanser spends the next few hours in the lounge drinking himself into a state of agitated incoherence. At 1:15 he finds himself drinking alone. The bartender and other passengers have inexplicably vanished.  With paranoia clinging to him, Lanser runs onto the deck and into the spotlight of a German U-boat shining directly in his face. While the U-boast fires upon the Queen of Glasgow Lanser races through the ship, screaming the names of the other passengers, but no one answers. He finds a pair of binoculars and peers through them at the U-boat. He sees himself on the hull on the German submarine. He continues to dart through the halls of the ship and then stumbles upon the rest of the passengers standing motionless in the middle of the hallway, glaring at him. He screams at them to do something but they only stand there. And then, they vanish. Knowing the ship is going to sink, Lanser jumps overboard but is pulled under with the current and drowns.
Later that night in the Captain’s barracks of the German submarine, a young lieutenant comes in to Lanser’s room to express his concerns over firing on a ship carrying women and children. He is afraid that perhaps they are now damned and will have to spend eternity paying for their sins. Lanser casually dismisses the lieutenant’s concerns as those of a religious fool.
Middle of the Atlantic Ocean. 1942. Night.
Carl Lanser is wandering around the deck of the S. S. Queen of Glasgow, mystified as to how he got onboard, doomed to relive a nightmare that he once inflicted upon others, for eternity.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The S. S. Queen of Glasgow, heading for New York, and the time is 1942. For one man, it is always 1942—and this man will ride the ghost of that ship every night for eternity. This is what is meant by paying the fiddler. This is the comeuppance awaiting every man when the ledger of his life is opened and examined, the tally made, and then the reward or the penalty paid. And in the case of Carl Lanser, former Kapitan Leutnant, Navy of the Third Reich, this is the penalty. This is the justice meted out. This is judgment night in the Twilight Zone.”

“Judgment Night” is the first of many World War II episodes written by Rod Serling. As a paratrooper with the United States 11th Airborne Division during the war, Serling saw extensive combat in the Philippines and in Japan. He was wounded several times and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Both the physical and emotional repercussions of his combat experiences would affect him for the rest of his life. In her 2013 memoir As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling author Anne Serling says her father suffered from what is now referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder nearly all of his adult life. When he first arrived home, after two years of combat, Serling found adjusting to civilian life difficult. He initially relied on alcohol to get him through his torment but eventually turned to writing as a therapeutic device. This is likely why his work is so autobiographical and why certain themes and settings, like war, are so prevalent.
The anger and social criticism that became the trademarks of his work were present even at the beginning of his career. In her memoir Anne Serling features a fragment of an unpublished story that Serling wrote while in college titled “First Squad, First Platoon” about the death of one of his closest friends during the war. In his unabashedly bleak dedication to his unborn children Serling writes:

“…human beings don’t like to remember unpleasant things…my children, I don’t want you to be among those who forget...I want you to read my stories and others like them…I want you to feel a semblance of the feeling of a torn limb, a burnt patch of flesh, the crippling, numbing sensation of fear, the hopeless emptiness of fatigue. All these things are complimentary to the province of war and they should be taught in classrooms...In my generation we were to enjoy ‘Peace in our time’…but humans kept polishing their rose-colored glasses when actually they should have taken them off.”

His combat experiences, combined with the shock and grief of his father’s death and his anger over not being granted leave to return home to attend the funeral, gave young Serling a pessimistic view of the world, one that would never fully dissipate, resurfacing in his writing again and again throughout his career. Serling often based his stories on current events like the Emmett Till murder or the Adolph Eichmann trial. He felt that the arts, especially television, had a certain responsibility to discuss topics that politicians and corporations were afraid to discuss publically. He would have made an excellent journalist but he chose the dramatic form as his outlet for social commentary.
Serling, like many writers of this era, would often use Nazi’s and bigots as villains in their fiction. But Serling does something interesting with Carl Lanser in this story. Lanser is, in many ways, the standard Nazi heavy found throughout the popular culture of the 1940’s through the 1960’s. He is predictable and uninspired. But what makes him interesting is that Serling has taken him out of his element. The audience gets to witness the psychology of an archetypal villain as he struggles, unsuccessfully, to prove to himself that he is not losing his mind. He has to question his convictions and behave in a manner that probably seems totally irrational to him. By doing this Serling successfully tricks the audience into feeling sympathy for a character that they know—for he makes obvious within the first five or so minutes of the story—is, or once was, an appalling human being.
Nehemiah Persoff deserves a great deal of the credit for this. He portrays Lanser as a character who is mysterious and rough around the edges but gives him a quality that is immediately sympathetic. An accomplished television and film actor, Persoff had notable roles in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) and George Stevens’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).
           Another effective device in Serling’s script is that he tells the audience within the first few minutes of the episode that something awful is going to happen. The viewer is waiting for 1:15am throughout the entire episode. It’s a countdown to destruction. This adds an element of suspense to what would be a fairly predictable story without it.
“Judgment Night” was Serling’s hybrid variation of the myth of the Flying Dutchman, in which the ghosts of a ship's crew are doomed to roam the seas for all eternity, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which a fisherman kills a sacred albatross and is then damned to wear the creature around its neck as an admission of his sin. The difference here, of course, is that instead of an albatross, Lanser is doomed to continuously relive the nightmare he created for a ship full of innocent people.
The unsung hero of this episode is director John Brahm. Brahm directed 12 episodes of the show, more than any other director, and his contribution to the show is immeasurable. Not as visually daring as directors Douglas Heyes or Lamont Johnson, Brahm often took a subtle approach. His best episodes, such as season two’s “Shadowplay” or season one’s “Mirror Image,” have a dreamlike quality to them. Indeed, “Judgment Night” feels like a nightmare. Brahm uses unusual yet effective techniques such as brief flickers of total darkness whenever someone opens a door or the use of heavy fog and out of focus shots of the outside of the ship to convey Lanser’s muddled apprehension of the situation. Brahm used similar imagery in 1944 to portray the fog-blanketed streets of Victorian London in his re-make of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger. The famous scene near the end of the episode, when Lanser is confronted by the ghosts of the crew and passengers, is also mostly Brahm’s doing. Instead of letting the score do the work for him, Brahm takes the music away entirely so that every noise is amplified, placing the viewer inside the ship with Lanser. The image of the dead crew staring silently into the camera is particularly unsettling.
While it may be somewhat predictable, “Judgement Night” is still a terrific episode with a great script by Serling, a wonderful performance from Nehemiah Persoff, and some of John Brahm’s best work on the show—which is saying quite a bit. This one comes recommended as one the high points of the first season.

Grade: B

--John Brahm (1893 – 1982) directed 12 episodes of the show—more than anyone else—including the classics “Time Enough at Last,” “The Four of Us are Dying,” and “Mirror Image.”
--"Judgment Night" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by author Dennis Etchison starring Chelcie Ross.
-- It was also adapted into a short story by Walter B. Gibson for Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (Grosset and Dunlap, 1963), a young adult collection that featured adaptations of several of Rod Serling's teleplays as well as original stories inspired by the series.

--Brian Durant

--Updated on October 10, 2016.