Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The After Hours"

Anne Francis as Marsha White, a mannequin turned flesh and blood.

"The After Hours"
Season One, Episode 34
Original Air Date: June 10, 1960

Cast:
Marsha White: Anne Francis
Saleswoman: Elizabeth Allen
Elevator Operator: John Conwell
Mr. Armbruster: James Millhollin
Mr. Sloan: Patrick Whyte
Miss Keevers: Nancy Rennick

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Makeup: William Tuttle
Music: Stock

Rod Serling's Promo:
"Next week you'll see our friends here along with Anne Francis and Elizabeth Allen in one of the strangest stories we've yet presented on The Twilight Zone. It's called 'The After Hours' and concerns the shadowy time when normal people go back to their homes and concurrently what happens to those who perhaps are not quite so normal, or perhaps not quite so human. Intriguing? I think you'll find it so, next week on The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Express elevator to the ninth floor of a department store carrying Miss Marsha White on a most prosaic, ordinary, run-of-the-mill errand. (Later) Miss Marsha White on the ninth floor, Specialties Department, looking for a gold thimble. The odds are that she'll find it but there are even better odds that she'll find something else because this isn't just a department store. This happens to be. . . The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            Miss Marsha White is visiting a large, multi-leveled department store. She walks around the first floor looking at display cases but not finding what she wants. Moving to the elevators, Marsha stands with a small cluster of other shoppers waiting for the next available elevator carriage. Suddenly, the door to a service elevator a few feet away opens up and the uniformed elevator operator calls out the availability of the carriage. It seems as though only Marsha notices the available elevator and walks over.
            Inside the elevator, the operator asks Marsha for what specifically is she shopping today. When Marsha tells the man she is searching for a gold thimble for her mother the operator informs her that it can be found on the ninth floor, Specialties Department. After they silently ride upwards in the carriage, Marsha comments on the strangeness of the situation, the situation being that she should be given a private elevator when all those other shoppers were waiting for one. The operator tells Marsha that this elevator is strictly an express elevator to the ninth floor.
            When they arrive at the ninth floor, Marsha quickly exits the elevator only to see that the floor appears to be darkened and sparsely filled with empty display cases. She turns to comment to the elevator operator about this but the man has already closed the elevator doors and left Marsha seemingly alone on the ninth floor.
            Marsha tries in vain to call the elevator back up to get her and soon resigns herself to looking around the area. It seems to be an abandoned and unused floor until a voice speaks out from the darkness and from the shadows emerges a well dressed and attractive saleswoman that offers to help Marsha. Though taken aback by the woman’s sudden appearance, Marsha nevertheless tells the saleswoman what it is she is looking for and the woman says that they have something in stock that may be just what Marsha wants. The saleswoman leads Marsha over to a seemingly empty display case until the woman turns on an interior light and illuminates a single object on display: a gold thimble, just what Marsha is looking for.
            Though Marsha is clearly finding the whole encounter strange she agrees that this gold thimble is exactly what she is looking for and pays cash for the item. As she turns to walk back toward the elevator, Marsha says, "That's odd." To which the saleswoman replies, "What is, Marsha?" Marsha then goes on to explicate on the strangeness of her experience in the store, the solitary elevator ride, the seemingly empty floor devoted to a single item, the only item that Marsha was looking for, etc. Suddenly Marsha stops, realizing that the saleswoman has called her by her first name. She calls attention to this, stating that she has not given the woman her name nor has she seen the woman around the store. Marsha, now unnerved as well as annoyed, rushes to the elevator. The saleswoman calls out to her once more before Marsha reaches the elevator. "Miss White? Are you happy?" asks the saleswoman. Marsha looks back at the saleswoman, incredulous that this woman would ask her that question. To which Marsha finally replies, "It's none of your business." The saleswoman seems to find this response both hilarious and unbelievable. Marsha goes to the elevator which opens at her approach.
            Marsha, obviously relieved at being back in the elevator and going down to more crowded floors, is complaining to the elevator operator when she realizes that the gold thimble she has just purchased is both scratched and dented. The operator lets Marsha off at the third floor, Complaints Department. There, Marsha runs into a problem. When she complains of her encounter on the ninth floor and the purchasing of the gold thimble, both the department manager and the store manager tell Marsha that the store does not have a ninth floor nor does the store carry gold thimbles. Suddenly, Marsha spies the saleswoman that sold her the thimble and she calls out to the lady only to discover that it is a store mannequin with a terrifying and uncanny resemblance to the woman. Marsha has a near panic attack from this bizarre encounter and is allowed to lie down in the manager's office.
            Marsha falls asleep, the store workers forget about her, and she is inadvertently locked up in the department store after closing hours. The vast and empty building has now become a terrifying entity, alive with voices that seem to pursue Marsha as she runs from one end of the store to the other looking for a way out or someone to help her. The voices, she soon realizes, seem to be coming from the store mannequins, which seem to be scattered about on pedestals everywhere. Marsha runs, always to be confronted by another mannequin at every corner of the store. When one mannequin actually reaches out to her, Marsha loses it, panics and, crying, backs into an opening elevator. It is the express elevator to the ninth floor and when the doors open upon the carriage’s destination, the mannequin figure of the saleswoman who sold Marsha the gold thimble stands there, unmoving. Marsha screams and sinks down to the floor of the elevator car. The Saleswoman suddenly moves to Marsha’s side to comfort her and leads Marsha out of the elevator, the whole time telling Marsha that she is overreacting and needs to get a hold of herself.
            As the saleswoman leads Marsha through the ninth floor, the two women pass by several display mannequins who individually come to life and climb down from their pedestals. They encircle Marsha. The saleswoman holds Marsha at arm’s length and implores Marsha to think, to concentrate and try to recollect why she is here in the department store. Recollection eventually dawns on Marsha's face and she remembers everything: she is a mannequin and was given a month to leave the store and live among humans as though herself were made of flesh and blood. Marsha overstayed her vacation and is returning to the store a day late. The saleswoman is the next mannequin scheduled to get a month long vacation out into the world of humans and Marsha has set her back a day. While the other mannequins follow the departing saleswoman to the elevator, all wishing her a wonderful vacation, Marsha and the elevator operator stay behind. The operator asks Marsha if she enjoyed her vacation and Marsha tells him she had so much fun. She had, in fact, completely forgotten who she really was.
            On the following day, the department manager of the store, the man that helped Marsha with her complaint about the damaged gold thimble, is walking through his department, keeping his workers on task when he passes by a mannequin that causes him to pause and give a double take. It is, of course, the mannequin image of Marsha White, on display.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Marsha White, in her normal and natural state, a wooden lady with a painted face who one month out of the year takes on the characteristics of someone as normal and as flesh and blood as you and I. But it makes you wonder, doesn't it? Just how normal are we? Just who are the people we nod our hellos to as we pass on the street? A rather good question to ask, particularly . . . in The Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
            Rod Serling's "The After Hours" stands as a creative high point not only for the first season but for the series entire. Along with a select number of other episodes, "The After Hours" has achieved the status of cultural milestone, the traits and characteristics of its plot and thematic effects recognizable even to those that have never seen the episode. It is, indeed, a mini-masterpiece and shows off the talents of some of The Twilight Zone's greatest creators in a tightly-written, superbly acted, frighteningly claustrophobic exercise in urban terror.
            From the production side of the episode, much of the advantage lies in the use of a single soundstage upon which director Douglas Heyes could set up any number of cameras to achieve the entire spectrum of extreme shots, from a close-up of actress Anne Francis's character Marsha White calling for help from the other side of a frosted, pebbled glass door to the high mounted grand perspective shots expertly utilized to display Marsha's panicked run through the empty department store. The set was inherited by the production staff on The Twilight Zone and converted from a previous set used for a large newspaper office into the department store set used for the episode. The jarring juxtaposition from act one to act two, from a bustlingly busy shopping day during opening hours to the silent darkness of the store after closing hours, displays an unnerving contrast and creates a shuddering effect that makes the episode one of the most genuinely frightening ever produced for the series. Though few, if any, of us viewers have ever been locked inside an enormous department store after closing hours, it isn't very difficult to image the terror that would grip you were you in that situation, alone in the darkness without a way out and without knowing your way around. And, of course, there are those voices calling out and those mannequin faces watching your every move.
            Director Douglas Heyes really comes into his own, creatively speaking, with this episode. His previous two episodes for the show, "And When the Sky Was Opened" and "Elegy," were competent directing jobs but Heyes would, beginning with "The After Hours," begin to stretch his creative muscles and create the most memorable episodes of the entire series. His directing style is characterized by an intense focus on both character and mood. Heyes likes to move the camera around a great deal and he often experiments with angles and lighting effects to achieve a desired mood or effect. At the same time, Heyes knows well when to keep the audience's attention off of the movement of the camera and to focus it upon the actor or actress at a critical junction in the plot. For a full examination of Douglas Heyes's career and contribution to the show, stay on the lookout for the commentary on the season two episode "Eye of the Beholder."
            Heyes also seemed to be the director called upon to work on special effects- or makeup-heavy episodes and in later commentaries we will further explore his ability to highlight these effects with his use of the camera. Luckily, Heyes was surrounded by some of the finest workers in the business with photographer George T. Clemens (a multiple Emmy Award winner for his work on The Twilight Zone) and Academy Award winning makeup artist William Tuttle. Producer Buck Houghton expressed that his principle concern for the episode was the believability of the props, i.e. how much the mannequin doubles resembled their respective actors/actresses. The simple solution for veteran makeup artist William Tuttle and his assistant Charles Schram was to cast facial molds of the actors, Anne Francis, Elizabeth Allen, and John Conwell, in order to create life-sized plaster head models which were then painted with acrylics and mounted upon mannequin bodies. The effect, like most of Tuttle's work for the show, is convincing and frightening. For a full examination of William Tuttle's career, refer to the commentary on the earlier episode, "Long Live Walter Jameson."
            The supporting characters in "The After Hours" are capably handled. Elizabeth Allen is suitably unnerving as the saleswoman and veteran character actor James Millhollin offers some effective comic relief in an otherwise grim episode. His double-take of the mannequin and breaking of the fourth wall (looking directly into the camera) to end the episode is whimsical yet seems an apt fit to the odd nature of the episode and remains a perfectly memorable way to close out the play.
            The true acting triumph of the show belongs to Anne Francis as Marsha White. The success of the episode hinged on her performance and Francis brings it off in stunning fashion, marking one of the finest performances from an actress for the entire series. Though author Marc Scott Zicree, in his The Twilight Zone Companion (revised ed. Silman-James, 1989), states that "As a rule, women in The Twilight Zone come across as drab, colorless, uninteresting," I disagree with this assessment. Some of the finest performances of the entire series belonged to actresses, think Inger Stevens in "The Hitch-Hiker," Vera Miles in "Mirror Image," Gladys Cooper in "Nothing in the Dark," Agnes Moorehead in "The Invaders," or Patricia Breslin in "Nick of Time," to name only a few. Anne Francis is another prime example of what a talented actress can do with a talented crew and a well written script. To be fair, Zicree does go on to commend Anne Francis’s performance for “The After Hours.” Francis takes anything but the usual approach in her portrayal of Marsha White and comes off as fierce, independent, and strong, making the effect of her terrified pursuit and subsequent breakdown all the more shocking and increases the unease of the episode significantly. Director Douglas Heyes felt that Francis was excellent in the role and undoubtedly improved the episode's quality. Miss Francis often told interviewers that despite her, arguably, more famous work on the 1956 film Forbidden Planet or the television series Honey West (1965-66) she was often approached by fans to tell her how much they enjoyed her on "The After Hours" and The Twilight Zone. Francis would go on to star as the antagonist whose namesake is the title of the season four episode, "Jess-Bell."
            Rod Serling's script for "The After Hours" is arguably his best original teleplay for the entire series. I've always felt that Serling was well suited, in the fantasy field, at least, to adapt previously existing work and would often improve upon, or at least present a different take on, the chosen source material. See his work on "It's a Good Life," "To Serve Man," "The Hitch-Hiker," or "Five Characters in Search of an Exit." When it came to crafting the original teleplay Serling often found himself, no doubt because of his contractual obligation to write 80% of the show's output, falling back on genre clich├ęs and often getting himself in trouble with calls of plagiarism from professionals in the field. I can probably count on one hand the number of original teleplays written by Serling that are both excellent and do not, intentionally or unintentionally, closely resemble another writer's work. What episodes immediately come to mind are "Eye of the Beholder," "The Masks," and "The After Hours." Though there were calls of plagiarism concerning Serling's script for "The After Hours," most strongly by a pulp writer named Frank Gruber who had submitted a teleplay titled "The Thirteenth Floor" to producer Buck Houghton and felt that Serling swiped "The After Hours" from this submitted teleplay, the claims are most certainly unfounded in the case of this episode. One of the stories most closely associated with the show is John Collier's seminal, and often anthologized, short story "Evening Primrose." Other than the fact that both take place in a department store and that much of the action takes place after closing hours, the two stories are quite different in plot, mood, and resolution. There is no doubt that Serling was familiar with Collier's work and the idea for "The After Hours" may even have germinated in Serling's reading of Collier's story but Serling took a suitably different approach when crafting his teleplay in order to avoid the plagiarism bug that pursued him throughout his time writing scripts for The Twilight Zone.
            Author Martin Grams documents Serling's feud with writer Frank Gruber over the similarities of Serling's "The After Hours" and Gruber's "The Thirteenth Floor" in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008). Grams also notes in his commentary on "The After Hours" that Serling may have been exposed to the John Collier story from its adaptation on the radio show Escape, broadcast on November 5, 1947. Grams claims that Serling was a frequent listener of the show. Writer Frank Gruber made his name writing western and detective stories for pulp magazines, credited as having written over 300 stories for 40 different pulps under a variety of names besides his own including Stephen Acre, Charles K. Boston, and John K. Vedder. Gruber had a script floating around titled "The Thirteenth Floor" and eventually submitted the script to Rod Serling's Cayuga Productions and it landed in the hands of producer Buck Houghton. Serling claimed to never have read the Gruber script at the time of the writing of "The After Hours" and the only real similarity in the scripts is that of the setting, a department store, and the plot element that a character ends up on a non-existing floor. In Gruber's script it is the thirteenth floor; in Serling's it is, in final draft form, the ninth floor. The likeness of the scripts ends there. Yet, Gruber took it a few steps further, spreading the word that Rod Serling was a plagiarist at social gatherings. Serling, obviously feeling the need to defend himself, went so far as to send Gruber the shooting script for "The After Hours," confident that the writer would see the obvious differences in the treatments. Gruber, however, replied to Serling in a ranting letter that both admitted differences and defended Gruber's claims of plagiarism. After Serling sent one final reply to Gruber the situation seemed to end on its own as Serling heard no more from Gruber. It seems a shame to me that of the many Serling scripts that borrow heavily from unaccredited source material, "Nightmare as a Child," "A Passage for Trumpet," “The Obsolete Man,” or "A Thing About Machines," to name a few, an issue would be publicly made for an episode that is suitably original in treatment and execution. Suffice to say that the science fiction and fantasy community of the 1950s and '60s was a crowded field and full of writers covering the same grounds in terms of theme and plot and that it was inevitable to have similar stories floating around at the same time.
            Nevertheless, "The After Hours" stands as a creative high point for the series and justifiably remains one of the most popular episodes among fans of the show. The only element truly lacking from the show's production was a fine original musical score from one of the show's mainstay composers like Jerry Goldsmith or Bernard Herrmann. Still, this element doesn't take away any of the episode's dramatic effect and it remains a seminal piece of work.

Grade: A

James Millhollin stands between Anne Francis and her mannequin likeness
Notes:
--As stated above, Anne Francis also stars in the fourth season episode, "Jess-Bell."
--Director Douglas Heyes also directed some of the show's most seminal episodes, including "The Howling Man," "The Invaders," and "Eye of the Beholder."
---"The After Hours" was originally broadcast with the rare and unusual opening intro of a woman's open eye slowly closing and the following alternate introduction narrated by Rod Serling: "You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind, a journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone."
--"The After Hours" was adapted as a radio play for The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas and starred Kim Fields.

--Jordan Prejean

2 comments:

  1. This is an excellent article on "The After Hours." The show is not among my favorites and I have always considered it overrated, but that's just my personal opinion. I have never been very fond of Anne Francis, which may be part of it. Still, I really like Douglas Heyes's work. I have been a TZ fan for decades but this is the first I've heard of the plagiarism complaints. Fascinating!

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  2. Once Serling entered the science fiction and fantasy field with the creation of the Twilight Zone, he was occasionally plagued by calls of plagiarism. Some of these calls were from the press, the press being the source of the plagiarism calls comparing "The After Hours" to John Collier's "Evening Primrose," but most were from other professional writers. Besides his feud with Frank Gruber, Serling also had a well known feud with Ray Bradbury, the latter of whom claimed that "Walking Distance" was too much like Bradbury's own fiction.

    Ironically, most of the claims of plagiarism concerned episodes that were suitably original to, in my mind, at least, be free of these claims whereas other episodes, like "Nightmare as a Child" or "A Thing About Machines," both liberally swiped from stories by Truman Capote ("Miriam") and Richard Matheson ("Mad House"), respectively, were all but ignored in this respect.

    The truth of the matter is most certainly that because Serling was obligated to contribute so much original material for the show (80% of all scripts) he found himself unintentionally recycling plots or ideas that he culled from his extensive reading of the current crop of science fiction and fantasy. A similar problem occurred in the comic book industry a few years previous when Ray Bradbury also called out E.C. Comics publisher William M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein for swiping his stories without his consent or without royalty payments. Like Serling, Gaines and Feldstein were also obligated to produce a vast quantity of original material for their publications and found themselves using plots from well known stories quite unintentionally. I don't believe Serling was an intentional plagiarist because that man had a great respect for writers and treated his writers very well on the show but because he was new to the science fiction and fantasy field when he created his show he was apt to borrow heavily from genre cliches which, by this time, had become recognizable works by established writers in the field. As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned.

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