Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"The Mind and the Matter"


Mr. Archibald Beechcroft (Shelly Berman) in his natural habitat
“The Mind and the Matter”
Season Two, Episode 63
Original Airdate:  May 12, 1961

 Cast:
Archibald Beechcroft: Shelley Berman
Henry: Jack Grinnage
Mr. Rogers: Chet Stratton
Landlady: Jeane Wood

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

 And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week, the very considerable talents of Mr. Shelley Berman are utilized to bring you another in our weekly excursions into the never-never-land of the wild, the wooly, and the wondrous. He plays the part of a little man who yearns for the serenity of a world without people and as it happens he gets his wish: to walk an uninhabited Earth and face the consequences. Our story is called the Mind and the Matter. I hope we see you then.
            “Now this isn’t just a word from the sponsor it’s simply a very good suggestion. It stands for real refreshment. Before we meet again, try Oasis for the softest taste of all.”

 Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
            “A brief if frenetic introduction to Mr. Archibald Beechcraft, a child of the nineteenth century, a product of the population explosion, and one of the inheritors of the legacy of progress.[…] Mr. Beechcraft again. This time act two of his daily battle for survival. And in just a moment, our hero will begin his personal one-man rebellion against the mechanics of his age, and to do so he will enlist certain aids available only in the Twilight Zone.”

 Summary:
            Archibald Beechcroft is a middle-aged curmudgeon who has lost all need for the company of others. He spends his days in a state of perpetual irritation with the people around him. After accidentally spilling coffee on Beechcroft one morning, Beechcroft’s young coworker Henry gives him a book on witchcraft as an apology. He says that he has seen people manipulate the world around them simply through mental concentration. Beechcraft takes the book home and skims through it. He decides that he will rid himself of the daily irritation of others by making every one in the world disappear.
             The next day Beechcroft steps out into a world void of people. His plan has worked. Through simple concentration he has removed everyone else in the world. But later on in his office he finds that now that has solitude he is incredibly bored and he actually misses interaction with other people. He decides to bring everyone back but only this time he makes them in his likeness. He wishes for a world full of people just like himself. But he soon realizes that a world full of Archibald Beechcrafts is even worse than a world full of normal people. So he decides to put everything back the way it was.
            The next day when he arrives at work he is greeted by a bustling, chaotic office full of various types of people. Right on schedule, his young coworker, Henry, spills a cup coffee all over him. Henry asks Beechcroft if he read the book that he gave him. Beechcraft admits that he read it but says that he regards it as nothing more than foolish nonsense. Henry shrugs this off and goes back to his day as Beechcroft grins to himself.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration”
“Mr. Archibald Beechcroft: a child of the twentieth century, who has found out through trial and error—and mostly error—that with all its faults it may well be that this is the best of all possible worlds—people not withstanding…it has too much to offer. Tonight’s case in point…in the Twilight Zone.”

 Commentary:
Before we give an episode a grade of a D or an F we take into consideration every element that goes into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Story, dialogue, performances, direction, photography, music, art direction, etc. Episodes that exhibit strong amounts of all of these elements get an A. Episodes that have none get an F. Everything else falls somewhere in between. Before I say anything about “The Mind and the Matter” I will disclose that this episode gets an F, meaning that I cannot recommend it to anyone, for any reason. It is only the second F that we have handed out. The first went to Season One’s “The Mighty Casey.” I can’t say if “The Mind and the Matter” is any better or worse than “The Mighty Casey” but I can say that this was only the second time that I have seen this episode and it did not inspire me to plan an eventual third viewing.
Like “The Mighty Casey,” “The Mind and the Matter” is a comedy and was written by Serling. It feels very much like a last minute script. A notion of an idea with a story wrapped loosely around it. It is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale in the tradition of W. W. Jacobs’s famous story “The Monkey’s Paw.” But it feels like Serling didn’t have enough time to construct a proper plot structure for his idea flourish in. What initially distracts me about this episode is that the fantasy element is absurdly weak. Many episodes of the program, especially those dealing with time travel, have no explanation for the fantastical things that happen to or around their characters. They just happen. In “Walking Distance” Gig Young simply revisits his old hometown and finds that he has traveled back in time to when he was a small child. No explanation given. In “A World of Difference” Howard Duff walks into work one morning and finds that his life is actually a film set. Again, no explanation given. The fantasy here though, that Beechcraft can make everyone disappear just by thinking about it, seems to violate some kind of literary fantasy-reality boundary. So if he can make people disappear just by thinking about it then why hasn’t this ever happened before? He hates everyone so surely at one point he must have wished for the world to himself.
Serling wrote this episode specifically for Shelly Berman. Berman started as a straight actor who transitioned to comedy when he landed a spot in the Chicago comedy troupe Compass Players which later became Second City. His performance here isn’t notably bad and even has bursts of clever awkwardness but is ultimately forgetful.
But the biggest blunder of this episode lies in the work of makeup artist William Tuttle. The normally failsafe artist was brought in to mold masks of Shelly Berman’s face to be worn by extras after Beechcraft has made the world in his image. Instead of looking like a lot of Archibald Beechcrafts the extras look like a crowd of leatherfaces.
The only memorable aspect of this episode is the directorial innovations of Buzz Kulick in the scenes where Beechcraft’s argues with his conscience. But ultimately this episode comes off as a poorly written attempt at comedic fantasy and, again, I cannot recommend it for any reason.

Grade: F

Notes:
--This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Hal Sparks.
--Shelley Berman also appeared in three Twilight Zone Radio Drama episodes, "Hocus Pocus and Frisby," "Kick the Can," and "The Hunt."

--Brian Durant

8 comments:

  1. Wow! An F? Maybe a D+ or a C- but an F? I don't think I'd give ANY episode of TZ an F. All I recall vividly about this one is the awful masks, but then I think that if I were watching it on first airing, on a black and white TV with spotty reception and late in the evening, those things would have passed by so fast that I would not have noticed them. In any case, thanks for the entertaining writeup, as always!

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  2. What a dreadful waste of the talents of the gifted and original Shelley Berman.

    Sadly, oftentimes, when the TZ got hold of a major first class talent as uest star, especially if the player was known for comedy (Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton, Wally Cox, Orson Bean, Richard Hayden) the results were often sub-par or mediocre at best.

    Mr. Berman deserved better than this, but then so did the others.

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  3. I couldn't agree more, John. I may have been a little too harsh with this one but it feels thrown together very quickly. It was written specifically for Berman which may be why it doesn't work as Serving was concentrating on only one character and not on plot and dialogue. Berman does an adequate job but he simply isn't given much to work with. I feel the same way about episodes like "Hocus Pocus and Frisby," which made scarce use of the immensely talented Andy Devine, or "Mr. Bevis" with Orson Bean. We will review Montgomery Pittman's "The Grave" in a few weeks, an awkward, dissapointing episode that featured an amazing cast whose talents go relatively unnoticed.

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  5. I agree that the use of a device in this script, i.e. the witchcraft book, goes contrary to a core principle of TZ: things just happen. Those things are often, if not always, consistent with the personality of the person they're happening to, which makes explanation even more unnecessary. It's one of the delicious things about TZ. Occasionally, for instance in "A Penny For Your Thoughts," there is a seeming "cause," but it falls far short of an "explanation."
    Your review is thoughtful and informed. I would just say in deciding whether this or that episode is "disappointing" or fails to live up to the best the show had to offer, keep in mind: the people who made TZ made wholly 39 wholly original shows a year, two a week for $35,000 each. That's a breakneck pace and very low budget even by early-sixties standards. So be gentle. Every other half-hour on TV at the time was formulaic, using the same sets and the same actors in every episode. The logistics of getting TZ on film make it a miracle that so many wonderful shows were produced...at all.
    Full disclosure: I was there. Buck Houghton was my father. Not being defensive on his behalf, just providing some (perhaps unneeded) context.

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    1. That is a fast-paced schedule. I will say that of the 100 or so reviews we have written so far this is probably one of the harshest. I guess my problem with this one was in comparison with the normal standard of the show, it falls a bit short, mostly due to its thin plot and the weird Berman masks. I will admit that an F may be a bit harsh. There is definitely some great direction and photography happening in this episode that may go overlooked and Berman's performance is by no means terrible. This one just didn't grab me though. I will say that the production value and creative quality of the show under your father was by far the best the show would ever offer. Although seasons four and five produced some fantastic episodes, after your father left the show was never the same. Thank you for the comment and thanks so much for taking the time to check out the site!

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  6. Couldn't disagree more. The variations on his working day as he adjusted the world around him always had me thinking about all the other possibilities he could have effected.

    Berman was suitably snug, exasperated and humbled...a great performance.

    An "F"? Well,not an "A",but at least a "B." "Uncle Simon" is an "F", most of the fifth season is a "D"...all the maudlin and sentimental episodes (e.g. Carol Burnett) are an "F"

    What are my "A"s? Deathshead Revisited, To Serve Man, On Thursday We Leave For Home, 16 Millimeter Shrine, A Game of Pool.

    This is a great site with interesting points, but you're being a little harsh.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Keith, and we appreciate your divergent opinion on this episode but ultimately we're not going to bend on this one. This is a bad episode. If viewers enjoy the episode, that's fantastic! It's still a bad episode, with obvious creative and production problems. Is it a bad episode of a great series? Of course. Do viewers enjoy poor episode? Seems so. When the show is great, we say so. When it's just average, we say so. When it's bad, we don't shy away from stating its problems due to a love of the series as a whole. Does objective honestly sometimes come off as harsh? Sure. We simply try our best to eschew the sentimentality for the series carried by so many of its viewers in order to take an honest look at each episode. Is every episode going to measure up to the artistry of "Walking Distance" or "Nick of Time" or "The Howling Man" or "A Game of Pool"? Of course not. It's Sturgeon's Law. We assign grades accordingly. This is one of the episodes which struck us as an utter failure in both intent and execution. This is not a general comment on Shelley Berman, nor on Rod Serling or director Buzz Kulick. These guys did great work in their careers. "The Mind and the Matter" isn't among that great work.

      This is in no way intended as an attempt to dissuade those who enjoy the episode from enjoying it. I greatly enjoy "The Bard," for example, but I'll tell you, when it comes time to grade that episode it isn't going to get an A or a B or probably even a C just because I find it funny in places. It's important to remember that the grade we assign each episode reflects our objective critical evaluation and not a personal enjoyment meter. This project we've undertaken would hardly be worthwhile were we simply to grade every episode an A or B because some viewers enjoy watching it. It's the wonderful and yet divisive nature of discussing a beloved television show.

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