Friday, July 4, 2014

"The Prime Mover"

The hard truth: Ace Larson (Dane Clark) learns a life lesson
at the hands of Big Phil Nolan (Nedson Booth).

“The Prime Mover”
Season Two, Episode 57
Original Air Date: March 24, 1961

Cast:
Ace Larsen: Dane Clark
Jimbo Cobb: Buddy Ebsen
Kitty Cavnaugh: Christine White
Big Phil Nolan: Nedson Booth
Sheila: Jane Burgess
Trucker: Clancy Cooper
Hotel Manager: Robert Riordan
Desk Clerk: William Keene
Croupier: Joe Scott

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (teleplay based on an unpublished story by George Clayton Johnson).
Director: Richard L. Bare
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Darrell Hallenbeck and Sidney Van Keuran
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Philip Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Jack Boyer
Casting: Ethel Winant
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Charles Scheid
Music: Stock

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Portrait of a man who thinks and thereby gets things done.  Mr. Jimbo Cobb might be called a prime mover, a talent which has to be seen to be believed.  In just a moment, he’ll show his friends and you how he keeps both feet on the ground…and his head in the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            Ace Larson is co-owner and co-operator of the Happy Daze Café along with his pal Jimbo Cobb.  Tired of slaving away with nothing to show for it, he longs to strike it rich and then ask Kitty, a waitress in the sleepy little diner, to marry him.
            While closing up one night Ace and Jimbo hear the sounds of a wreck outside on the highway.  They race outside and see that a car has skidded off the road and smashed into a power supply unit.  It lies upside down on live electrical wires.  Not knowing what else to do, Jimbo uses his secret telekinetic ability to flip the car back over on its wheels, safe from the sparking wires.  Ace looks at Jimbo as if he has just walked on water.  Later, in the rented room they share, Ace asks him how he was able to move the car without touching it.  Jimbo reluctantly tells him that he has always been able to move things without actually touching them.  But he says he gave up his special gift when he was a kid after he began experiencing terrible headaches.  Ace insists that he demonstrate, much to Jimbo’s irritation.  Jimbo lifts his bed off the ground almost to the ceiling and then sets it back down exactly in its place, without laying a finger on it.  Dumbfounded, Ace tosses dice onto the bed and tells Jimbo to make him roll a seven.  He does.  Ace can’t believe that his friend has kept this talent a secret all these years while they were stuck working in their miserable diner.  He sees a failsafe opportunity to make a fortune.  He picks up the phone and calls Kitty.
             The next night Ace and Kitty and Jimbo are in Las Vegas at a roulette table.  Ace wagers his money wildly and he gets strikes it rich every time, thanks to Jimbo.  A few hours into their winning streak Jimbo tells Ace that his head is killing him so the trio go up to their hotel room so he can recuperate.  It’s there that Jimbo tells Ace that he does not want to cheat anymore because it is beginning to weigh on his conscience.  Kitty agrees and tells Ace that she wants to go home.  Ace tells them that they only need one more big score and then they can quit.  Kitty tells him that he has already won more money than he could possibly need and that his desire to earn extra cash in order to better himself has turned into a perverted obsession.  She storms out of the hotel. Jimbo urges him to chase after her.
            While chasing her Ace runs into Sheila, a waitress at the casino.  Angry and insecure over the way Kitty has abandoned him, he asks Sheila if she wants to go with him for a night on the town.  She gives him an ecstatic “yes.”
            The next day Ace sets up a dice game in his hotel room with a man named Phil Nolan, a notorious gambler with deep pockets and even deeper ties to the mob.  With Jimbo’s help, Ace wins every hand and Nolan suspects foul play from the get-go and he lets Ace know about it.  After a few hours of playing Ace goes for the big score and bets all of his money on one play.  At this moment Sheila walks into the hotel room and Jimbo, having apparently not known about her until now, looks disappointed with his friend.  He urgently tries to get Ace’s attention but to no avail.  Ace does not want his friend’s advice at the moment.  He only wants to roll an eleven.  And he needs Jimbo to help him do it.  He throws caution to the wind and rolls the dice, confident that he will get an eleven.  But to his astonishment he rolls a three.  Dumbfounded, he stares at the dice while Nolan and his goons take his money and politely let themselves out.  Jimbo tells Ace that he was trying to get his attention to tell him that he “blew a fuse,” that his power no longer worked.
            Back at the café days later, two service men take away the slot machine that sits in the front of the restaurant.  Ace no longer has the desire to gamble.  He and Kitty seem to have made up and all is well. In a spur of the moment act of valor, Ace clumsily asks Kitty to marry him.  She gives him an enthusiastic “yes.”  During Ace’s proposal, Jimbo accidentally drops a broom.  Without making a big deal of it, Jimbo secretly lifts the broom off the floor using only his eyes and a sly grin.  He looks over at the two lovers lost in each other’s eyes and smiles to himself as a finishes sweeping up for the night. 

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Some people possess talent, others are possessed by it.  When that happens the talent becomes a curse.  Jimbo Cobb knew, right from the beginning.  But before Ace Larson learned that simple truth, he had to take a short trip through the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            Like the episode that preceded it, “Static,” which was written by Beaumont based on a story by friend OCee Ritch, “The Prime Mover” is also a Beaumont script based on someone else’s work.  This time the source material came from fellow Twilight Zone contributor George Clayton Johnson.  At this point the only work that Johnson had sold to the show were two unpublished short stories during the first season, “All of Us Are Dying” (changed to “The Four of Us Are Dying” for the show) and “Execution,” both of which were adapted by Serling.  Although his first original teleplay for the show, “A Penny for Your Thoughts” had already aired earlier in the season, Johnson actually sold “The Prime Mover” to Beaumont before that episode was filmed.  As he recounts in an interview on the Season Five DVD set Charles Beaumont was overloaded with work at the time and flat out asked him if he could buy his story “The Prime Mover” and adapt it for the show.  Wanting desperately for his work to make it to the screen in any capacity Johnson agreed immediately.  Beaumont paid him six hundred dollars for the story (the standard five hundred dollar fee that the show paid for source material plus an extra hundred) with the agreement that Johnson would also receive onscreen credit.  When the episode aired, however, it was credited solely to Beaumont.  Houghton insisted that this was a production error and apologized to Johnson, promising that his name would be placed on the episode when it appeared in syndication.
            Secretly attaining help from other writers would unfortunately become a crutch for Beaumont as the show went on and he became increasingly overwhelmed by his obligations to it.  By the end of the fourth season the episodes credited to Beaumont were being scripted almost entirely by friends who were being paid in secret as the ailing writer succumbed to the illness that would eventually take his life.  But for now he appeared simply to have too much on his plate and seemed to enjoy collaborating with friends.  It must be noted here that while he was submitting teleplays to The Twilight Zone Beaumont was also selling scripts to numerous other programs.  He was also scripting screenplays and shelling out short stories and essays to various publications at an astonishing pace, not to mention writing a thoroughly-researched novel which was turned into a film which he wrote and starred in.  So it goes without wonder as to why he called upon the assistance of friends from time to time. 
            Although telekinesis has a long-standing lineage in fantasy fiction, “The Prime Mover” is the only episode of The Twilight Zone that deals with the phenomenon.  While there are other characters in The Twilight Zone that exhibit telekinetic abilities, like the humanoid aliens in Season Five’s “Black Leather Jackets,” Old Ben in Season Three’s “The Fugitive” (another Beaumont script) and the charming Anthony Fremont in Season Three’s “It’s a Good Life,” these characters actually display a wide variety of superhuman abilities, beyond just telekinesis, and the episodes hinge more around the type of people they are rather than their extraordinary powers.
             The performances here are solid particularly that of Dane Clark as the cartoonishly stubborn but likeable Ace Larson.  Although Buddy Epson wasn’t known to the world as Jed Clampett in 1961 he still would have been recognizable to an audience mostly as a star of westerns.  It was less than a year after this episode aired, however, that he was cast in the role that would immortalize him in popular culture.
             It's no surprise that Johnson, who had written the original script for the 1956 Rat Pack film “Ocean’s 11,” would be interested in writing another script about Vegas and gambling.  According to Johnson, Beaumont changed the names of the characters and various other nuances about the story but kept the basic idea and plot structure.  The end result is something that does not register as distinctly Charles Beaumont or George Clayton Johnson but something that could have been written by either of them or even by Rod Serling.  It’s a good, solid script with likeable characters that fits the format of the show perfectly. 

Grade: B

Notes:
--Richard L. Bare also directed the episodes “Third from the Sun,” “The Purple Testament,” “Nick of Time,” “To Serve Man,” “The Fugitive,” and “What’s in the Box?”
--Dane Clark appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Spectre in Tap Shoes."
--Buddy Ebsen appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Waiting Room."
--Christine White also appeared in Season Five’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
--Nedson Booth also appeared in Season One’s “Escape Clause.”
-- This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring David Eigenberg.
--Producer Buck Houghton previously worked with Dane Clark on the television series Wire Service (1956-1957). 

Up Next: Next time we take a trip into the fifth dimension with the parents of a small boy who adores his grandmother and wants to be able to talk to her whenever he feels like it.  Let's just say it'll make you want to screen your phone calls from now on.  Come back next time when we review "Long Distance Call."  Thanks for reading, and good night.
--Brian Durant

3 comments:

  1. Nice writeup! I have just a vague memory of this episode so will have to watch it again. I recall liking it.

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  2. Thanks, Jack. It's a pretty solid episode that has grown on me over the years.

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  3. Dane Clark is fun in this, wish he had done some more time in the Zone.

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