Friday, June 15, 2012

"A Passage for Trumpet"

Jack Klugman as Joey Crown
“A Passage for Trumpet
Season  One, Episode 32
Original airdate: May 20, 1960
Cast:
Joey Crown: Jack Klugman
Gabriel: John Anderson
Baron: Frank Wolf
Truck Driver: James Flavin
Nate, the Pawnshop Owner: Ned Glass
Nan: Mary Webster
Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Don Medford
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Lyn Murray
And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week you’ll stand in this alley at the shoulder of Jack Klugman, who plays the role of a trumpet player who has run out of music and run out of dreams.  Poignant, is the best word for Mr. Klugman’s performance.  Next week on The Twilight Zone, ‘A Passage for Trumpet.’  I think they’re unusual notes indeed and we hope you’ll be listening to them.  Thank you and goodnight.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Joey Crown: musician with an odd, intense face, whose life is a quest for impossible things, like flowers in concrete, or like trying to pluck a note of music out of the air and put it under a glass to treasure.  Joey Crown: musician with an odd intense face, who in a moment will try to leave the Earth and discover the middle ground, the place we call, the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
Joey Crown, former jazz player with a golden horn, finds solace now only at the bottom of a bottle.  He stands alone in a sad, rain-slicked alleyway behind his favorite jazz joint, trumpet in hand, wearing apprehension like a dirty suit.  Inside horns scream furiously to the sound of a cheering audience as a band finishes up its set.  Patrons begin to spill out into the alleyway.  A man in a tuxedo, presumably the owner, walks outside and lights a cigarette and Crown walks sheepishly over to him, trumpet still clutched in his hands.  Baron, the man, seems genuinely happy to see him.  Crown wants to know if maybe Baron has a spot open for him on stage tonight.  Reluctantly, Baron tells him no.  Crown keeps at it and, remaining respectful but wanting to get his point across, Baron tells him that the last time they played together he had to share Crown with a bottle.  Crown tells him that he has been sober for eight months.  Moments later he reaches for his trumpet case and when he picks it up a bottle topples out and shatters to pieces on the ground.  Embarrassed and defeated, he stares at the ground in silence, unable to look Baron in the eye.  Baron takes out a wad of money and slips it into Crown’s coat pocket.  He asks the woeful trumpet player why come he gave up everything to live in misery.  In a monologue of self-deprecation Crown tells him that he drinks because he doesn’t understand the world.  And when he drinks he doesn’t have to know that he is alone.  With this, he bids Baron a silent farewell and walks solemnly off into the night. 
                The next morning a suicidal Joey Crown walks into a pawn shop to hawk his trumpet for enough money to buy a drink.  Judging from the tone of the shop owner this is a reoccurring event.  Crown does not get as much for it as he had anticipated.  He walks out of the pawnshop in a trance-like state of despondence.  He decides to end it all by jumping in front of a delivery truck and, in doing so, is knocked unconscious.
                He wakes up at night.  Confused, he slowly pulls himself up off the ground.  Curiously, there is no crowd gathered around him.  In fact, no one seems to have even noticed him lying unconscious in the middle of the street.  He spots a patrolman writing a ticket a few feet away and, out of habit, thinks he is issuing a citation for public intoxication.  Crown walks over to him to profess his innocence but the officer doesn’t respond and eventually walks away.  Crown continues to walk around apprehensively and eventually makes his way to a movie theatre.  With a cigarette in hand, he asks the girl at the box office for a light.  She doesn’t seem to hear him.  He asks a stranger passing by the same question, but the man walks right past him.  Finally, Crown notices a full length mirror on the wall.  He sees reflected in the mirror all of the things surrounding him (movie posters, the box office, the girl, lights) but he notices that something is missing: Joey Crown.  He realizes that he must be dead and is now a ghost.
                Continuing his destinationless stroll, Crown ends up back at the jazz hall.  He spots a man playing a trumpet in the alleyway and decides to watch him play.  To his astonishment the man hears every word he says.  Crown soon realizes that this man is sort of a divine representative for the afterlife.  He tells Crown that he has a choice.  He can stay here in this world, which is a kind of purgatory, or he can go back.  Crown says that he simply forgot about all the good things in life.  He wants to go back.  As the stranger bids Joey Crown farewell and begins to make his exit, Crown stops him and asks for his name.  His name is Gabe, he says.  Short for Gabriel. 
                Crown wakes up in the middle of the street surrounded by a group of onlookers.  The truck driver seems adamantly concerned for Crown’s health and swears that he didn’t see him.  Not wanting to be involved in any kind of lawsuit he hands Crown a fistful of cash and asks him to be a nice guy.  Crown walks back into the pawnshop and reclaims his trumpet.
Mary Webster and Jack Klugman on a rooftop.
                Night.  Joey Crown stands on a rooftop blowing his trumpet into the wind, unaware that he has an audience.  He finishes playing and notices a woman standing behind him.  She introduces herself as Nan.  She tells Crown that he plays beautifully.  He tells her that earlier in the day he wanted to give it up, but was glad he didn’t.  She tells him that she is new to New York City and she asks in a roundabout fashion if maybe he could show her around.  Crown says that that would be lovely and together they stroll casually off into the night.


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Joey Crown, who makes music and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen.  Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
Beautifully illustrated by an overtly noirish atmosphere, “A Passage for Trumpet” is, in a number of ways, Rod Serling’s version of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).  The Serling-penned Season Three episode “The Changing of the Guard” is also reminiscent of Capra’s classic holiday film and his influence can be seen throughout Serling’s work.  As I have mentioned in previous posts Serling seemed to idealize the early twentieth century image of America that was ushered into the public conscience by people like Capra and Norman Rockwell.  Fueled by a growing sense of national pride following WWI and WWII, these artists painted America as the land of eternal promise.  They also provided an idyllic alternative to the stark reality of soaring gang violence in the 1920’s, complete economic collapse in 1930’s, the threat of invasion in the 1940’s and the fear of Communism and the McCarthyist witch hunts during the 1950’s.  This seemed to be the vision of America that Serling longed for but ultimately gave up on, for there is another side of his work which is quite cynical of it.  Stories like Patterns, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “The Gift” have far more in common with Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce than with Capra or Rockwell.
              But “A Passage for Trumpet” finds its identity with the lighter fare of Zone episodes and it is an example of why Serling’s sentimentalism is far more substantial than many of the maudlin, feel-good melodramas that are often found on network television.  The protagonist here, Joey Crown, is the archetypal Serling character, what Marc Scott Zicree refers to in The Twilight Zone Companion as the “urban loser.”  Serling seems to have been perpetually cheering for the underdog.  Many of his most memorable characters come from nothing and are headed nowhere.  His roster of heroes includes sidewalk salesmen, aging beauty queens, washed up fighters, bank clerks, librarians and scores of despondent alcoholics from every corner of life.  These types of characters are what give his stories a distinct quality and while “Passage” may lose points for originality Serling makes up for this by creating a universally sympathetic character. 
But what elevates Joey Crown from being simply a likable character to an extraordinary one is the astounding performance of Mr. Jack Klugman, who is, for my money, probably the finest actor that this program ever employed (although Bill Shatner and Fritz Weaver are tied for a very close second).  Joey Crown is a tricky character for an actor because the line between pathos and pathetic is a thin one.  Crown spends a great deal of this episode walking around in a despondent haze feeling sorry for himself.  And although Serling’s dialogue is superb here it requires an actor of Klugman’s caliber to portray this character in a sympathetic light.  His performance is especially important because the story revolves exclusively around his character, and if the audience decides they don’t like him then the entire episode crumbles.  Fortunately, Klugman brings a spectacular performance with seemingly little effort, never losing the pace of the story and hitting all the right marks.  To give his character an added degree of realism Klugman trained with a classical trumpet player for two weeks before shooting this episode in order to have the finger positions down correctly even though in the final cut he was not actually playing.
Jack Klugman has enjoyed a rare kind of success as an actor and his career in television spans back to beginning of the medium.  When “A Passage for Trumpet” first aired in 1960 Klugman was already becoming a highly sought-after performer in film, television and on the stage.  In 1957 Sidney Lumet cast him as Juror #5 in Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men and in 1962 he appeared with Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses. He was a regular fixture on anthology programs and in the live dramas of the 1950’s including a critically praised 1955 televised adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s play The Petrified Forest for Producer’s Showcase where he starred alongside Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall and Jack Warden.  He put in four appearances on The United States Steel Hour and Studio One in Hollywood and five appearances on Kraft Theatre where he also directed an episode.  His other television credits during this time include appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Inner Sanctum, Gunsmoke, Suspicion, The Untouchables, Naked City, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Fugitive and The Defenders to name just a few.  From 1964-65 Klugman was given a shot at his own show when he starred as Alan Harris in the NBC half-hour comedy Harris Against the World.  Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after only thirteen episodes.  From 1970-1975, however, he achieved pop culture immortality as Tony Randall’s unrefined roommate in the television adaptation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.  Klugman had already played the role of Oscar Madison in 1965 when he replaced original cast member Walter Matthau in the Broadway production.  At the end of the show’s run in 1975 Klugman stepped from one iconic television program into another when he took the role of crime-solving medical examiner Dr. R. Quincy in Quincy, M.E.  The show ran from 1976–1983.  After Quincy Klugman continued to appear regularly on television and on the stage and even at the age of 90 he still occasionally takes roles.  In 1989 Klugman, a lifelong smoker, had to have part of his larynx removed as a result of throat cancer.  This left him with a raspy, harsh voice but despite this setback he continued to act regularly.  Klugman and Serling first worked together in 1957 when Klugman was cast as Art Carney’s literary agent in Serling’s semi-autobiographical Playhouse 90 production of The Velvet Alley.  Klugman played the lead in a total of four Zone episodes, a record he shares with Burgess Meredith.
John Anderson and Jack Klugman
                As exquisite as Klugman’s performance here is it should not overshadow Anderson’s terrific performance as Gabriel.  Tall, with long, sharp facial features and a soft, baritone voice, Anderson always had a unique presence on the screen.  For one thing he bore a very obvious resemblance to Abraham Lincoln and according to Wikipedia he played the 16th United States president three different times.  Today he is probably best known for his role as California Charlie, the car salesman in Psycho (1960).  Earlier in his career Anderson saw many jobs as an actor in westerns including Have Gun-Will Travel, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Gunsmoke, Lawman, Cheyenne, Tales of West Fargo, Laramie and eleven appearances on The Rifleman.  He also made the rounds on all of the major anthology programs including the famous Outer Limits episode “Nightmare,” episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents / The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (including Richard Matheson's "Ride the Nightmare") and Thriller.  Anderson died in 1992 at the age of 69.
                The only flaw in this episode is in its length.  According to director of photography George T. Clemens Serling’s original script was substantially longer than the final cut.  But apparently it was not until they were in the middle of production that the crew realized the final cut would run longer than their allotted time slot.  Serling and Houghton made a pitch to the network for a one time only one hour episode or possible two part episode but CBS turned down both proposals.  The ending result was that they had to make significant cuts to the film.  For the most part this hardly affects the episode which flows along quite coherently.  The only time it seems noticeable is when Crown, who only moments before wanted to off himself by jumping in front of a speeding delivery truck, suddenly decides that maybe life isn’t so bad after all.  But because the scene between Klugman and Anderson is written and shot so well and the performances are so great, this inconsistency is quickly forgotten.
                There is an interesting story about the scene in which Crown looks into the mirror at the theatre and does not see his reflection.  This was accomplished by making a duplicate of the set on the other side of the mirror.  So instead of a mirror Klugman is actually looking through a piece of clear glass at an exact replica of the set, although at one point his reflection in the glass can be seen quite clearly.  As far as the girls in the ticket booths they are supposedly identical twins.  Despite its setbacks it is still a clever trick.  The idea came from the genius of director Don Medford.  Medford was already a veteran behind the camera in the field of television having put his mark on numerous programs throughout the 1950’s.  In total he would go on to direct five episodes of The Twilight Zone including another Klugman episode, Season Four’s “Death Ship.”
                Effortlessly blending the bleak world of mid-twentieth century urban noir and the hopeful vision of Frank Capra “A Passage for Trumpet” stands out as one of the defining episodes of the first season.  Ultimately the thing that leaves a lasting resonation with the audience is the distinct atmosphere that pervades this episode.  It could not feel more like a Twilight Zone story.  Despite its few insignificant flaws this episode still manages to leave me felling optimistic every time I watch it which, as far as I am concerned, makes it truly as timeless as infinity.

Grade: B
Notes:
--Jack Klugman also appears in the Season Three classic “A Game of Pool,” the Season Four masterpiece “Death Ship” and another terrific Serling episode, Season Five’s “In Praise of Pip.”
--John Anderson also appears in Season Two’s “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” Season Four’s “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” and Season Five’s “The Old Man in the Cave.”
--Don Medford also directed Season Two’s “The Man in the Bottle,” Season Three’s “The Mirror” and “Deaths-Head Revisited” and Season Four’s “Death Ship.”
--This episode was also adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Mike Starr (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

--Brian Durant

6 comments:

  1. I completely agree with your assessment of this episode and Klugman's performance. I did not really appreciate his skill as an actor until I was an adult. He makes it all look so easy. Thanks for this great series on a great show!

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  2. Hey thanks, Jack. I have to say that while I think Klugman is great in the Odd Couple, I'm not really a fan of the show. But his dramatic work in the 50's and 60's is right on the money. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. This is one of my favourite TZ episodes (I have the DVD). I have a question that I hope you can answer: in the scene where Joey Crown (Klugman) leans on the jukebox and recalls 'nice guy Charly' for putting one of his recordings on the jukebox, a haunting music plays in the background. I thought it was Tommy Dorsey (as Joey mentions that he played with Dorsey), but I am not sure. I have tried various sources, but no luck. Can you help - it really is a beautiful and quite haunting snippet of music. Thank you.

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    1. Good question. Not exactly sure about this one. I don't think it is Tommy Dorsey because he does not receive any on screen credit and none of the reference books that I skimmed through mention purchasing his music for this episode. According to Martin Grams, Jr. in his book, THE TWILIGHT ZONE: UNLOCKING THE DOOR TO A TELEVISION CLASSIC (OTR Publishing, 2008) there are several tracks credited to the composer Jeff Alexander (who also scored the episodes "Come Wander with Me" and "The Trouble with Templeton"). Hope this helps and thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Thank you Brian . . . I also tried Soundhound and Shazam, the two competing 'music identifiers' android apps, but no luck. Though Soundhound did direct me to an interesting TZ inspired CD: http://precipitaterecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-twilight-zone-ep

    I note that Lyn Murray is the credited music director; likely, if it was an original piece written specifically for the episode, it is unavailable. Initially the piece sounded a gread deal like Harry James . . . I have been trying to find this piece for a few years now (on and off), and still searching.

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  5. I also wanted to add that I agree with your assessment - quite scholarly actually; and, also, agree on Anderson's portrayal of Gabriel - understated and masterful.

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