Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"People Are Alike All Over"

Roddy McDowall as astronaut Sam Conrad and Susan Oliver as Martian temptress Teenya
 
“People Are Alike All Over”
Season One, Episode 25
Original airdate: March 25, 1960
                                                        
Cast:
Samuel Conrad: Roddy McDowall
Warren Marcusson: Paul Comi
Teenya: Susan Oliver
Martian #1: Byron Morrow
Martian #2: Vic Perrin
Martian #3: Vernon Gray

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (teleplay based on the short story, “Brothers Beyond the Void,” by
Paul W. Fairman).
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week an excursion to Mars with Roddy McDowell and Paul Comi, two men trying to prove a point—a simple proposition that men are alike all over.  And on Mars they discover that this is just whistling in the dark.  People are not alike and next week on the Twilight Zone you’ll see why.  I hope you’ll be with us.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“You’re looking at a species of flimsy little two-legged animals with extremely small heads whose name is ‘man.’  Warren Marcusson, age thirty-five.  Samuel A. Conrad, age thirty-one.  They’re taking a highway into space, man unshackling himself and sending his tiny, groping fingers into the unknown.  Their destination is Mars, and in just a moment we’ll land there with them.”

Summary:
McDowall & Paul Comi as Conrad & Marcusson
Samuel Conrad and Warren Marcusson stand outside the gates of a cement lot that houses the most advanced spacecraft ever assembled.  In less than three hours it will become their home.  The two men have been chosen to pilot mankind’s maiden voyage to the planet Mars.  Looking up at the towering space vessel, Conrad confesses his apprehensions to Marcusson.  He is afraid of what they might encounter on Mars.  Marcusson reassures him that even on Mars there is bound to be creatures who feel sympathy and compassion because the laws of nature suggest that creatures are alike everywhere.  Marcusson’s optimistic outlook seems to cheer him up.
                Some time later.  After a mechanical malfunction, Conrad and Marcusson crash-land on the surface of Mars.  Conrad appears to be uninjured but Marcusson has a broken leg.  Nevertheless, he suggests they open the door of their ship and take a look around.  Conrad tells Marcusson that he is hurt too badly to go exploring and that he should rest.  Marcusson calls his bluff and Conrad confesses that he is too frightened to go outside.  Marcusson pleads with him to open the door and let him out but before Conrad gets a chance to do so Marcusson dies of internal injuries.  With no alternative Conrad opens the door and steps outside, a pistol clutched in his hand.
                To his amazement he sees a crowd of people, human beings, gathered around the ship.  What amazes him even more is that they speak his language and invite him to their city.  He follows them into their city where they have constructed an exact replica of what a home on Earth would look like.  Conrad decides that he likes the Martians, especially a female named Teenya who has been particularly kind to him.  The Martians tell him to make himself at home and they will be back soon to check on him.
                A few hours later Conrad is mixing himself a drink when he notices that there are no windows anywhere in the house.  He tries all of the doors but discovers, to his horror, that they are locked.  He is trapped.  He begins pounding on the walls with his fists, demanding to know why he has been locked in.  Suddenly, one of the walls begins to lift slowly from the ground, revealing a row of steel bars on the other side.  There is a crowd of people gathered around his house, staring at him.  He notices a sign on the other side of the bars that reads:  EARTH CREATURE IN HIS NATURAL HABITAT. 

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Species of animal brought back alive.  Interesting similarity physical characteristics to human beings in head, trunk, arms, legs, hands, feet.  Very tiny undeveloped brain. Comes from primitive planet named Earth.  Calls himself Samuel Conrad.  And he will remain here in the cage with the running water and the electricity and the central heat, as long as he lives.  Samuel Conrad has found the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
                “People Are Alike All Over” is Serling’s adaptation of Paul W. Fairman’s short story, “Brothers Beyond the Void.”  This episode has become a recognizable one among fans of the show due mainly to the memorable twist at the end of it.  It’s an enjoyable episode but one that does not merit many additional viewings simply because it functions almost exclusively for the surprise at the end.  However, Serling must have been fully aware of the dramatic shock value of this story because according to Martin Grams in his book, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, he purchased Fairman’s story for $2500, making it the most expensive story purchased during the first season and one of the most expensive of the entire series.  It’s no surprise that the cynicism of this story would have appealed to Serling.  It shares a temperament with “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and many of his other stories in that it paints a fairly optimistic image of society and then juxtaposes it with one that is incredibly harsh and unappealing.  The basic tone and premise of the episode was already present in Fairman’s version and Serling remains relatively faithful in his adaptation.  The only major difference is that Fairman’s version sees only one man (Marcuson) sent to Mars while his friend (Conrad) remains on Earth.
                This episode marks Fairman’s only contribution to The Twilight Zone.  He was apparently quite prolific during his career and for a brief period enjoyed some notoriety as an editor.  Early in his career Fariman befriended mystery and fantasy author Howard Browne.  At the time Browne was editor of Mammoth Mystery, Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Stories, all owned by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company.  Browne published many of Fairman’s early stories including “Brothers Beyond the Void” which first appeared in the March, 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures.  That same month, Fairman was hired by James L. Quinn to be the first editor of Quinn’s science fiction magazine If, but he was fired after only four issues due to disappointing sales figures (it should be noted that while he was at If, Fairman published Charles Beaumont’s story “The Beautiful Peoplewhich Beaumont and John Tomerlin would later adapt into the Season Five episode “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You”).  After Browne left Ziff-Davis in 1956, Fairman took over his position as editor of Amazing Stories and its sister publication, Fantastic (sort of a digest version of Fantastic Adventures, which ended in 1953).  While at these publications his regular contributors included Harlon Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Robert Bloch, Henry Slesar and many others who were or would become giants of speculative fiction.  He held this dual position until the end of 1958 when he left Ziff-Davis to become an editor at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  After leaving EQMM in 1963, he continued to write full time, publishing under his own name and often under the name Ivar Jorgensen.  He ghost-wrote novels for Lester Del Rey and Ellery Queen and saw his stories, “Deadly City” and “The Cosmic Flame,” turned into the cult film classics (I use the word “classics” with the utmost caution), Target Earth (1954) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), respectively.  Among his many novels are Copper Town (1954), Rest in Agony (1961), Ten From Infinity (1963) and I, the Machine (1968).
                In many ways “People Are Alike All Over” holds a significant place in popular culture because it can be considered a precursor to Planet of the Apes (1968).  In addition to the fact that it stars Roddy McDowall, who would play various roles throughout the Planet of the Apes saga, this episode mirrors the classic sci-fi film in both theme and structure.  Both stories see man, who is often thought of as the universally supreme being, in a reverse role of being a caged animal instead of its keeper.  It’s quite likely that Serling had this episode, as well as the earlier Season One episode “I Shot An Arrow Into the Air,” in mind when he wrote the initial screenplay for Planet of the Apes.

Roddy McDowall in full Ape apparel
Planet of the Apes, 1968
Along with Ed Wynn, Jack Klugman and Vera Miles, Roddy McDowall was one of the biggest names that the first season had to offer and at the time many viewers would have tuned into to this episode specifically for him.  He had a knack for playing socially awkward characters and his performance here as the likeable but incredibly naive Sam Conrad is quite enjoyable.  McDowall made a name for himself in the early 1940’s as a child actor in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941) and the family classics My Friend Flicka (1943) and Lassie Come Home (1943).  Over the next decade or so he managed to make the rare transition from child star to successful adult actor and enjoyed a prominent career in film, television and Broadway, appearing in both the stage and film versions of Orson Welles’s Macbeth (1948), opposite Boris Karloff in the Playhouse 90 adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1958) and in the acclaimed Broadway productions of No Time for Sergeants (1955) and Camelot (1960).  In the same year that he appeared in The Twilight Zone he won a Tony Award for his performance in The Fighting Cock and an Emmy for the Sunday Showcase drama “Not Without Honor.”  In 1968 he undertook the role of Cornelius in the first Planet of the Apes film and would be associated with the franchise for the rest of his career, appearing in four of the five Apes films and also in the short lived 1974 television spinoff which aired on CBS.  In addition to Planet of the Apes and The Twilight Zone, McDowell worked with Serling again in the pilot episode of Night Gallery.  His other notable film appearances include The Longest Day (1962), Cleopatra (1963, for which he was rumored to have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor but was disqualified due to an error on the part of Twentieth Century Fox), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Richard Matheson’s The Legend of Hell House (1973), and Fright Night (1985).  He died of lung cancer in 1998 at the age of seventy. 
While I admit that "People Are Alike All Over" is not one of my favorite offerings from Season One, I wouldn't go so far as to call it a terrible episode.  I would suggest to those who have never seen it that it at least deserves at least a viewing or two if for no other reason than to appreciate its place in the lexicon of speculative fiction.

Grade: C

Notes:
March, 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures
--Paul W. Fairman’s story “Brothers Beyond the Void” first appeared in the March, 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures.  It was also published in August Derleth’s anthology Worlds of Tomorrow (1953).  And you can find it in Twilight Zone: the Original Stories (Avon, 1985; MJF, 1997).
--“People Are Alike All Over” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Blair Underwood (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).
--Director Mitchell Leisen’s career in Hollywood stretches back to the era of silent films, beginning as an art director in many of Cecile B. DeMille early productions.  He began directing his own films in 1933 and throughout the 1930’s and 40’s was a highly sought-after presence in the motion picture industry.  Among his numerous credits are the films Midnight (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and The Mating Season (1951).  He also directed Season One’s “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” and “Escape Clause.”
--Paul Comi also appeared in Season Two’s “The Odyssey of Flight Thirty-three” and Season Four’s “The Parallel.”

--Brian Durant

6 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite episodes. Thanks for the excellent commentary, especially in regard to the background on Paul Fairman. I find myself quoting the title every so often in conversations, and thinking it to myself at least twice as often as that!

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  2. Thanks for the kind words, Jack. And I find myself thinking the same thing.

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  3. Did anyone notice the No Smoking Beyond this Fence sign was the same as earlier episode Third from the Sun?

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  4. Hey good eye Jacob. I hadn't noticed it. With its limited budget the show often recycled sets, props, wardrobe, etc. You should check out Martin Grams' series retrospective The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR Publishing, 2008). He is always good at pointing out stuff like this. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. You guys have picked up that Roddenberry reworked this script (and Fairman's story if he had actually read it) for his original pilot to Star Trek ("The Cage"). Even casting Susan Oliver in the same role. Couple the script to the fact that Star Trek was "Forbidden Planet" the TV show, occasionally even using the same sets from MGM Culver (note any set that had the trapezoidal doors). ST would borrow other script ideas from TZ and SciFi anthology books of the 50s & 60s.

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  6. Great comment, S. Tho. The Susan Oliver connection is very interesting and, of course, Roddenberry liberally borrowed from other writers. There are similarities between the two episodes for sure. From what I remember about that pilot episode, Roddenberry changed enough to suit his space voyage concept whereas Serling was always concerned with social commentary. Forbidden Planet and its influence seems to have permeated every science fiction program that came in its wake. Though I am not a Star Trek fan per se it always annoyed me that Roddenberry gathered such a great group of writers (Sturgeon, Matheson, Bloch, Clayton Johnson, Sohl, etc.) and then tampered with their scripts to make the show creatively uniform. Seems pointless to do that. You'd be hard pressed to identify a writer's work on Trek without the foreknowledge whereas on the Zone you can almost immediately identify a Serling or Beaumont script, etc. Twilight Zone was definitely more of a writer friendly show. Thanks for dropping in with the added info!

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