Thursday, February 23, 2012

"A World of Difference"

Arthur Curtis (Howard Duff) steps into the turbulent world of Gerry Raigan
“A World of Difference”
Season One, Episode 23
Original airdate: March 11, 1960

Cast:
Arthur Curtis/Gerald Raigan: Howard Duff
Nora: Eileen Ryan
Brinkley: David White
Marty Fisher: Frank Maxwell
Sally: Gail Kobe
Sam: Peter Walker
Kelly: William Idelson
Marion Curtis: Susan Dorn

Crew:
Writer: Richard Matheson (original teleplay)
Director: Ted Post
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: Harkness Smith
Music: Van Cleave

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week, Mr. Richard Matheson lends us his fine writing talents when we bring you a unique and most arresting story of a movie actor who finds himself on that thin line between what is real and what is a dream.  Mr. Howard Duff stars in ‘A World of Difference,’ which I think you’ll think is a television play of difference, too.  That’s next week, a journey into the Twilight Zone.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“You’re looking at a tableau of reality…things of substance, of physical material: a desk, a window, a light.  These things exist and have dimension.  Now this is Arthur Curtis, age thirty-six, who also is real.  He has flesh and blood, muscle and mind.  But in just a moment we will see how thin a line separates that which we assume to be real with that manufactured inside of a mind.”

Summary:
Arthur Curtis is having, what he considers to be, a good morning.  He arrives to work on time and is greeted warmly by his secretary as he makes his way to his office to finish up some last minute paperwork before jetting off to San Francisco with his family for a week-long vacation.  He sits at his desk to make a call but to his dismay the phone doesn’t seem to be working.  He gets up to inquire to his secretary about the situation when a voice behind him yells, “Cut!”  Arthur turns around but instead of seeing the four walls of his office he is staring straight into the eyes of an angry film crew.  And his office is no longer an office but a movie set.  A man walks over to Arthur claiming to be a movie director.  Arthur has never seen this man before but the man acts as if he knows him.  Soon another man approaches Arthur and advises him to “wise up.”  Arthur looks outside at what only moments ago was his office window and sees a man standing there and it is quite clear to him that the skyline in the distance isn’t a skyline at all, but a photographed backdrop.   The director, Marty, and the other man, Sam, keep referring to Arthur as “Gerry.”  Sensing something is wrong Marty tells the crew to go to lunch.  Arthur asks to use the phone and calls his house but is told by the operator that the number isn’t listed.
            Trying to escape his panic, Arthur runs off of the set and out into the street where he is nearly run over by young woman in a convertible.  The woman also seems to think his name is Gerry and she begins to scream at him about alimony payments.  Marty confides in the woman that he thinks Gerry/Arthur is having a nervous breakdown.  She does not believe him and she gets back into her car where Arthur is already at the wheel and they drive away.  Marty goes back inside and tells Sam to call Brinkley to tell him that Gerry Raigan believes he is Arthur Curtis, the character he is playing in the movie.  The young woman claims that she is Arthur’s ex-wife.  Arthur tells her that his name is not Gerry and he is not an actor and has no idea who she is.  He drives to where he thinks his house should be but when he gets there it’s not his house. He sees a little girl playing in the yard and, mistaking her for his daughter, he tries to talk to her.  She screams and runs inside.  Arthur quickly leaves.
            Arthur and the young woman drive to Gerry/Arthur’s house where they meet a man named Brinkley who, apparently, is Arthur’s agent.  The woman, whose name is Nora, storms into the house frantically looking for Gerry/Arthur’s checkbook, which she eventually finds.  Brinkley tells Arthur that he needs to get a grip on himself.  Brinkley and Nora continue to bombard him with questions and accusations until Arthur reaches a point of exhaustion. 
            We next see Arthur lying on a bed trying to make sense of what has happened to him.  Brinkley is sitting nearby.  He tells Gerry/Arthur that he doesn’t need to worry about showing up for work the next day because the studio has shut down production.  The film will not be made.  Arthur realizes that if there is no movie than there is no Arthur Curtis.  He rushes back to the set where the set decorators are in the middle of tearing it down.  He sits down in his chair in front of his desk in his semi-demolished office room and begs the mysterious omniscient force that brought him into this world not to leave him there.
            He opens his eyes.
            He is surrounded by four walls and a phone that works.  His wife calls for him from the doorway.  He rushes to her and throws his arms around her.  Somewhere in the distance he hears the sounds of set decorators.  His secretary hands him the plane tickets for San Francisco and he grabs his wife and rushes out the door.
            Back on the set Brinkley is frantically searching for Gerry/Arthur.  He asks around and everyone says they saw him there only a moment ago but no one saw him leave.  With no sign of Gerry/Arthur anywhere, Brinkley gives up wondering where he could be as the camera closes in on a copy of a script called: The Private World of Arthur Curtis.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The modus operandi for the departure from life is usually a pine box of such and such dimensions, and this the ultimate in reality.  But there are other ways for a man to exit from life.  Take the case of Arthur Curtis, age thirty-six.  His departure was along a highway with an exit sign that reads, ‘This Way to Escape.’  Arthur Curtis, en route...to the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
“A World of Difference” marks the second original teleplay from Richard Matheson and it more or less sums up the thematic thread that runs through much of his fiction and throughout much of The Twilight Zone.  This episode finds its identity with other highly atmospheric episodes like Serling’s “Mirror Image” or Beaumont’s “Person or Persons Unknown” where the main character is inexplicably placed into a situation that is beyond their comprehension and is one they cannot share with anyone else.  While Matheson is actually an extremely versatile writer who has written many different types of stories in virtually all genres of popular fiction he is probably most associated with stories in which the main character is somehow isolated from the rest of the characters whether its physically isolated like Robert Neville in I am Legend or just emotionally alienated like Arthur Curtis in “A World of Difference.”  What is gripping about Matheson’s stories is that he is an expert at exploiting a character’s emotions.  He knows precisely the right type of character to place in the right situation.  Here he takes a well-to-do family man who lives a routine but happy existence and then he pulls his world out from underneath him.  His simple life is replaced by one full of turmoil in which he is a washed up alcoholic actor with an angry ex-wife.  Matheson has taken everything that seems to be important to Arthur and replaced it with Arthur’s idea of a nightmare.  Matheson also seems to enjoy stories that blur the line between what is real and what is not real.  Every time I show this episode to someone who hasn’t seen it it’s always followed by a debate on what exactly it was that they just saw.  Is Arthur real or is he just a fictional character?  I have always been of the opinion that Matheson structured this episode so as to not reveal which one of the two worlds is authentic.  The rational explanation would lead the viewer to believe that Gerry Raigan is simply suffering a nervous breakdown and believes that he is Arthur Curtis, the character from his latest film.  But since this is the Twilight Zone and the rational answer is not always the right answer, Arthur Curtis could be a flesh and blood human being who has been inexplicably transported to an imaginary world that doesn’t really exist.  Or one could see the two worlds as parallel dimensions that coexist beside one another where Arthur and Gerry are both real people and Arthur has simply crossed over into Gerry’s world, which only has room for one of them.  By telling the story from Author’s point of view Matheson leaves this highly important plot element in the mind of the viewer, which makes this an episode that demands a second viewing before one can form a rational opinion about it.
            A round of applause goes to director Ted Post for this episode.  The scene at the beginning when Arthur first steps into Gerry’s world is one of the most memorable scenes in the entire Twilight Zone canon.  It’s basically a series of very simple but very effective shots that work to give this alternate world a fantastically frightening atmosphere.  The first shot begins when Arthur first steps into his office.  It’s a single uninterrupted shot in which the audience is shown the entire expanse of Arthur’s office but then the camera closes in on Arthur at his desk trying to make the phone call.  He gets up and heads towards the door as the camera follows him and when he hears the director yell “Cut!” the camera abruptly cuts to the film crew staring hatefully at him, standing where only moments before we saw a wall.  To accomplish this the wall had to be removed from the set while the camera is focused on Arthur at his desk.  Another notable shot is of Arthur using the stage phone as a crowd of irate crew members pass slowly around him, glaring intensely at him.  The shock value in these shots immediately places the viewer in Arthur’s shoes and helps to make this world seem increasingly hostile and threatening to our rather docile and unthreatening protagonist.   A nod also goes to Nathan Van Cleave for a fantastically ominous original score, one that would be reused in several later episodes including Season Two’s “Shadow Play,” an episode with an atmosphere similar to this one. 
            After the fireworks of the original scene Post ceases with the atmospheric set tricks and slows the pace of the episode in order to further along the plot of the story.  The episode is now primarily in the hands of Howard Duff and it seems to lose some of its momentum at this point.  I should admit that Duff is not my favorite part of this episode.  His straight-laced persona seems out of place once he crosses over into the alternate reality and a far more erratic performance seems more appropriate.  It should be noted, however, that Richard Matheson was very happy with his performance and Duff’s wife, actress/director/ fellow Twilight Zone alumni Ida Lupino, was so moved by her husband’s performance that she bought a sixteen-millimeter print from MGM for her personal library, so perhaps I am alone in my opinion.  Duff was actually a highly sought-after star during his career which spanned over forty years.  He began in radio with a regular gig as Sam Spade in The Adventures of Sam Spade and then moved into Television with appearances in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Kung Fu and his own series, Felony Squad.  Today he is probably best known for his role as attorney John Shaunessy in the 1979 film, Kramer vs. Kramer.  Eileen Ryan turns in a great performance as Nora, Gerry Raigan’s highly attractive but immensely frightening ex-wife.  After a rather sporadic career in television, in recent years she has enjoyed an active film career with roles in Anywhere But Here, Magnolia and The Assassination of Richard Nixon.  But she is probably best known today as the mother of Sean, Chris and Michael Penn.  The most recognizable face here, however, is probably that of David White in the role of Brinkley.  A few years later he would become a household name for playing Mr. Tate, Dick York’s irritable boss, on Bewitched.  This episode also features a bit part played by William Idelson, a friend of both Matheson and Charles Beaumont who would later co-write the Season Two episode, “Long Distance Call,” with Beaumont.  He would go on to have quite a successful career as a scriptwriter for television.
            Even though it has some minor flaws, “A World of Difference” is still an immensely enjoyable episode and one that is often undeservedly overlooked.  It comes recommended.

Grade: B

Notes:
--This is the first of four episodes for Ted Post who would also direct “Probe 7, Over and Out,” “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” and “The Fear,” all of which are from Season Five.  Post was already a veteran television director by this time, having been a prolific force during the live dramas of the 1950’s.  In addition to The Twilight Zone, he was a regular fixture on several television landmarks including Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Thriller, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Combat! and Perry Mason.  His film career includes the classics Magnum Force, Hang ‘Em High and Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
--This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Luke Perry (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).


--Brian Durant

5 comments:

  1. I agree with your comments about Ted Post's work on this episode. I also thought Howard Duff was a bit dull. This is not among my favorite TZs, but, like any season one episode, it is enjoyable.

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  2. You’re absolutely right, Jack. Season One doesn’t offer many dull episodes. I think Season Two is my personal favorite though. It’s too bad that Ted Post doesn’t make another appearance until the end of Season Five. By that time I don’t think the show had as much to offer.

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  3. A characteristically excellent analysis, Brian. And I'm proud to see that my fellow Marvel University faculty member, Professor Seabrook, beat me to the punch in commenting! Unlike Jack, I would rank this among my favorite episodes, despite also not being a big Duff fan. Brian, it might interest you to know that Matheson liked the fifth season the best.

    I once had an interesting discussion with him regarding the issue you raised, i.e. (as I put it in RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN), "has a flesh-and-blood Arthur Curtis been wrenched into a new reality, or has an actor named Gerald Raigan fled from an unhappy marriage by slipping completely into his role as Curtis?" Richard obviously felt that it should ideally be ambiguous, and so it should, but my impression was that if pressed, he would say it was the former. I, on the other hand, always had the impression that it was the latter, and that the episode was of a thematic piece with Matheson's next--and similarly titled--episode, "A World of His Own," namely that "both feature protagonists who create their own reality in order to escape from shrewish wives."

    I especially leaned toward this theory because in the introduction to his COLLECTED STORIES, Richard explained that starting in his youth, he found escape in fantasy. Following this line of thought, I felt that "what Gerry literally did, creating a world of his own to escape a threatening life, Matheson metaphorically did, to ease the pressures of his." But that's just me being an armchair psychologist. :-)

    As a final trivia note, Post's work also includes the 1970 TV-movie NIGHT SLAVES, based on the novel by Matheson's friend and colleague, the late Jerry Sohl. Jerry was with Matheson the day JFK was assassinated, and together they endured the real-life incident that later inspired DUEL.

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  4. Thanks, Matthew! And I agree with your analysis of the Arthur Curtis/Gerry Raigan scenario and have always seen Gerry as being the more authentic of the two characters, although I do admire the fact that Matheson chose to leave the choice up to the viewer. As far as the fifth season goes, I have always thought of it as sort of a mixed bag, albeit an interesting one. It offers many of my favorite episodes of the series and many of my least favorite. Matheson’s four episodes are among his best and there are several other highlights including Serling’s “The Masks” and the fantastic Charles Beaumont/Jerry Sohl penned episode “The Living Doll” as well as the Beaumont/John Tomerlin script “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You.” However, I must admit that I don’t care for many of the new writers that began to appear toward the end of Season Five. But maybe I’m just being biased toward Serling, Matheson, Johnson and Beaumont. Oh, and I haven't seen NIGHT SLAVES but I’m certainly anxious to check it out. Thanks for the feedback!

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  5. And I suppose Matheson meant it was his favorite season more in terms of how his own scripts were realized, which is an entirely different question.

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