Thursday, July 31, 2014

"A Hundred Yards Over the Rim"

Christian Horn (Cliff Robertson) on his first trip
in the Twilight Zone


“A Hundred Yard Over the Rim”
Season Two, Episode 59
Original Air Date: April 7, 1961

Cast:
Christian Horn: Cliff Robertson
Joe: John Crawford
Mary Lou: Evans Evans
The Doctor: Ed Platt
Charlie: John Astin
Martha Horn: Miranda Jones
Woman: Jennifer Bunker
Man: Ken Drake

 Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Buzz Kulik
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Philip Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Leon Barsha
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Fred Steiner

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week you’ll ride up front in this wagon on a trek west.  Your itinerary is across the Great Plains, over the Rockies, to a point in New Mexico.  And you’ll ride alongside Mr. Cliff Robertson in a strange tale of a handful of American pioneers who made a detour in time and found themselves one afternoon on the fringe of the future.  Our story is called ‘A Hundred Yards Over the Rim’ and believe me, it’s quite a view.  I hope we’ll see you there.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“The year is 1847.  The place is the territory of New Mexico.  The people are a tiny handful of men and women with a dream.  Eleven months ago they started out from Ohio and headed west.  Someone told them about a place called California.  About a warm sun and a blue sky.  About rich land and fresh air.  And at this moment, almost a year later, they have seen nothing but cold, heat, exhaustion, hunger, and sickness.  This man’s name is Christian Horn.  He has a dying eight year-old son and a heartsick wife.  And he’s the only one remaining who has even a fragment of the dream left.  Mr. Chris Horn…who’s going over the top of a rim to look for water and sustenance.  And in a moment will move into…the Twilight Zone.”

 Summary:
1847. A band of tired, hungry travelers stop to rest somewhere in New Mexico in the middle of a desert that asks for no sympathy and gives none.  This group of dirty but otherwise decent, civilized nomads is fronted by a man named Christian Horn.  Horn and his group set out from Ohio eleven months previous and still have not reached their final destination of California.  They haven’t eaten in days and are short on water.  Horn brings with him his wife, Martha, and an eight year-old son who has grown deathly ill.
Once they are stopped several of the travelers approach Chris.  They tell him that they are hungry and desperate and scared.  They have decided that they want to go back.  Chris tells them that they will surely die if they turn back now.  They say they will die if they spend one more day in this desert.  Chris promises them that he will find water and sets out to look for it.  He wanders over a hill and is startled at what he finds on the other side.  He looks back to his wagons and his friends but they are gone.  He looks forward and sees a sight unknown to him: power lines and a paved highway. 
He wanders into the road as an eighteen-wheeler comes blasting around the corner of a mountain.  Chris jumps out of the way and lands face down in a ditch on top of his rifle causing it to fire a shot that grazes his wrist.  He gets up and continues down the road and comes to a café.  Outside of the café is a man who introduces himself as “Joe.”  He owns the café with his wife, Mary Lou.  Joe initially thinks the man is dressed up as part of a gag or a costume party but realizes after speaking with him that perhaps he is not well.  He takes Chris inside and asks his wife to look at the wound on Chris’s hand.  She bandages it and gives him penicillin to prevent infection.  After some conversation as to who he is and what brought him here Chris sees a Calendar and realizes that he is in the year 1961. 
Later, Joe calls a doctor to come over and examine Chris.  The doctor examines Chris in a backroom of the diner and then comes out to speak with Joe and Mary Lou.  He tells them that although Chris’s story is certainly impossible aside from this Chris seems like a perfectly rational, harmless individual.  But he still decides that Chris should be taken into custody and looked at by a psychiatrist and phones the sheriff.  Chris emerges from the back room holding an encyclopedia in his hands.  He has discovered that his son will one day become a famous doctor who will save many people’s lives.  He thanks everyone for their kindness but says that he needs to get back to where he came from.  The doctor attempts to stop him but fails.  Chris races back up the hill from which he came as a police cruiser trails closely behind him.  While running he drops his rifle on the ground.  He reaches the top of the hill and is relieved to see his friends resting peacefully on the other side.  He looks back but sees only desert, no signs of power lines or highways anywhere.  He walks up to his wife and hands her the bottle of penicillin tablets and tells her to give them to their son.  He remembers that Joe mentioned a water spring close by.
Back in 1961 Joe has discovered Chris’s rifle but only now it looks old and rusted, as if it has been lying in the desert for a hundred years.
In 1847 Chris tells his people that there is water nearby.  He looks lovingly at his wife and promises her that everything is going to be fine from now on.  He takes the reins of his wagon and they start off again.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Christian Horn.  One of the hardy breed of men who headed west during a time when there were no concrete highways or the solace of civilization.  Mr. Christian Horn and family and party, heading west after a brief detour…through the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            With “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” The Twilight Zone ventured back into the realm of time travel which it would do again many times before the end of its five season run.  As with the majority of the time travel episodes there is no machinery involved here in escorting Christian Horn through time.  He simply discovers, through contrasting imagery, that he has crossed over into another time. “Walking Distance,” “The Last Flight,” and “Back There”—to name but of few of the myriad time travel episodes—all use this same formula.  On The Twilight Zone the attention was always focused on the psychological transformation of the characters and not so much on the transformation of the world around them.  For instance, almost all of the time travel episodes on the show deal within a time frame that the audience can recognize.  Either the characters travel from the then present 1960’s into the past or vice versa.  They rarely travel into the future which would distract the viewer visually from the characters.  Thus, time travel was used not as a device for scientific exploration but simply as a way to explore the human condition like any other genre of fiction.  It’s interesting to note that the majority of the time travel episodes on the series featured likeable protagonists, ones that the audience would root for.  And it’s usually at a time when their lives are in some sort of turmoil as Chris’s is here. 
            Returning to direct his fourth episode of the show is Buzz Kulik.  Kulik had an acute sensibility for directing episodes with an ethereal quality to them.  His credits so far on the show were “King Nine Will Not Return,”” The Trouble with Templeton,” and “Static,” all from Season Two.  I should point out that these episodes all deal with time travel in some way.  He would go on to direct nine episodes in all including the haunting Season Three classic “A Game of Pool.”  His camera work is minimal.  He instead relies on atmosphere to be the predominant influence in his episodes.  Here he lets the desert play second fiddle to Cliff Robertson.  Although Robertson’s trip from 1847 to 1961 is both instantaneous and unexplainable, both to himself and the viewer, Kulik subliminally attributes the time warp to the desert and all its mysticism.  His work outside the Zone includes a debut stint in the live play productions of the 1950’s and 60’s, episodes of Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Climax!, Rawhide, and Have Gun—Will Travel, and a lengthy career as a director of high quality made for television films, most notably 1971’s Brian’s Song starring James Cann and Billy Dee Williams.
            It’s interesting to note that this episode was filmed back to back with The Rip Van Winkle Caper which aired the week after.  The episodes were both shot not in New Mexico or Death Valley as the scripts would lead you to believe but outside of Lone Pine, California.  Many of the same set pieces were used in both episodes including the truck which nearly runs Cliff Robertson down (thanks to Martin Grams, Jr.’s book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic for this info).
             Although Cliff Robertson only appears in two episodes of The Twilight Zone he would forever be associated with the program because his performances are so strong.  Here he portrays a tired and desperate Christian Horn, a man haunted by fatigue, hunger, responsibility, and a diminishing hope for the future.  When he shows up at Joe’s Airflite Café in 1961 he has to struggle not only with the fact that he is in a completely foreign place and time but also with the fact that his rescuers believe he is insane.  In Season Three’s “The Dummy” he has to prove his sanity to others once again as a ventriloquist who believes that his puppet is alive.  It’s one of the most memorable performances in the show’s history.  Robertson was a very intense individual and was known as a method actor who would often bring his character’s troubles with him offstage.  The top hat that he sports in this episode was his idea even though Buzz Kulick is said to have hated it.  Today he is best remembered for his performance as a young John F. Kennedy (he was reportedly Kennedy’s preferred choice for this role) in the 1963 film P.T. 109 and as a developmentally challenged young man in Charly (1968), Ralph Nelson and Stirling Silliphant’s screen adaptation of Daniel Keyes’s 1959 novel Flowers for Algernon. Robertson won an Academy Award for this performance.  He also enjoyed a reoccurring role as the villain Shame on ABC’s live action Batman series from 1966 to 1968.  During the last ten years or so of his life Robertson enjoyed a renewed celebrity for his role as Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films.  He died in 2011.   
This episode also featured a young John Astin in a bit role several years before he was cast as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family series. 
“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” is a simple story but one with a lot of heart and a great performance from its leading star.  It’s an atmospheric episode and one that might take a while to grow on people as it did with me.  But I can recommend it as a good example of what this show did best: taking an ordinary individual and placing them in an extraordinary situation.  The outcome of a person’s trip into the Twilight Zone depended entirely on the person.  If they were a kind, decent individual then their trip would go well and if they weren’t then it would not.  Fortunately for Christian he is a genuinely decent character who the audience can relate to and sympathize with so he makes it through his trip unscathed and with a renewed outlook on life.

 Grade: B

 Notes:
-Cliff Robertson also appears in Season Three’s “The Dummy.” In 1992, Robertson recorded a reading of Rod Serling's prose adaptation of "Walking Distance" for Harper Audio.
-Buzz Kulik also directed Season Two’s “King Nine Will Not Return,” “The Trouble with Templeton,” “Static,” and “The Mind and the Matter.”  He directed the Season Three episodes “A Game of Pool” and “A Quality of Mercy.”  He directed Season Four’s “Jess-Belle” and “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”
-John Astin appeared in two episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "Pamela's Voice" and "Hell's Bells," and directed three segments, "The House," "A Fear of Spiders," and "The Dark Boy."
-“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Jim Caviezel.
-"A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" was adapted into a short story (as "Beyond the Rim") by Walter B. Gibson for Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Revisited (Grosset & Dunlap, 1964). 

 Come back next time as we go on a gold heist with four would-be criminals as they take a prolonged siesta into the future.  This one’s called “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.”  Thanks for reading!

 --Brian Durant



2 comments:

  1. Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful episode! For some reason, I seem to recall very good music. Am I thinking of the right one? Is this a Goldsmith score?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fred Steiner did the music for this one. I'm not really familiar with his work but he only did a handful of original scores for the show. But the score here seems to fit the episode well.

    ReplyDelete