Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"The Arrival"

The mysterious Flight 107
“The Arrival”
Season Three, Episode 67
Original Air Date: September 22, 1961

Cast:
Grant Sheckly: Harold J. Stone
Bengston: Noah Keen
Paul Malloy: Fredd Wayne
George Cousins: Bing Russell
Robbins: Robert Karnes
Dispatcher: Jim Boles

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Boris Sagal
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Jason Bernie
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
          "Literature is studded with stories of ghost ships and skeleton galleons, and next week on The Twilight Zone we take the old tale of the Flying Dutchman and give it a coat of fresh paint. This time the haunted ship is an aircraft. It lands in a typical busy airport and rolls up to the ramp, and it’s at this point that you find yourselves on a passenger manifest of a flight that leads only to The Twilight Zone. It’s called 'The Arrival.'"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
          "This object, should any of you have lived underground for the better parts of your lives and never had occasion to look toward the sky, is an airplane, its official designation a DC-3. We offer this rather obvious comment because this particular airplane, the one you're looking at, is a freak. Now, most airplanes take off and land as per scheduled. On rare occasions they crash. But all airplanes can be count on doing one or the other. Now, yesterday morning this particular airplane ceased to be just a commercial carrier. As of its arrival it became an enigma, a seven-ton puzzle made out of aluminum, steel, wire, and a few thousand other component parts, none of which add up to the right thing. In just a moment we're going to show you the tail end of its history. We're going to give you ninety percent of the jigsaw pieces and you and Mr. Sheckly here of the Federal Aviation Agency will assume the problem of putting them together along with finding the missing pieces. This we offer as an evening's hobby, a little extracurricular diversion which is really the national pastime in The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            Passenger Flight 107 from Buffalo arrives at an airport and makes a perfect landing. Upon inspection it is discovered that, despite the perfect landing, no one was piloting the airplane. Furthermore, there are no signs of other crew or any passengers. Grant Sheckly, an investigator with the Federal Aviation Agency, is sent in. Sheckly is assisted by the local airport staff, including Vice President of Operations Bengston, Public Relations Officer Malloy, a mechanic named Robbins, and a ramp attendant named Cousins. 
            The men are unable to solve the mystery of the empty aircraft until Robbins remarks upon the color of the passenger seats as being blue, which contradicts Sheckly's perception of the seats being brown. Bengston perceives the color of the seats as red. Sheckly follows this train of observation by reading aloud the registration numbers on the tail of the aircraft. Each man sees a different set of numbers. Sheckly comes to the conclusion that the men are seeing conflicting aspects of the aircraft because the aircraft is not there at all. It is merely a figment of their imagination, a sort of mass hallucination. 
               To prove his theory, Sheckly instructs Robbins to turn on the engine. Sheckly then places his hand directly in the path of the airplane's whirling propeller. The result is that Sheckly is unharmed and the plane suddenly disappears. As Sheckly triumphantly turns to the other men, each man also disappears in turn.
               Startled and calling for the other men, Sheckly stumbles into the Operations Building of the airport. It is there that he again encounters Bengston and Malloy. Only this time the other men have no idea who Sheckly is or why he is there. Bengston, when pressed, reports that Flight 107 from Buffalo arrived without incident. A moment later, Bengston understands what is happening. He recognizes the name Sheckly and recalls the incident of the missing Flight 107 from Buffalo to which Sheckly continues to refer. But, Bengston informs him, that was some 17 or 18 years ago.
                  The truth is revealed that Sheckly was the lead investigator on that incident all those years ago and has since remained tortured by the unsolved mystery, constructing elaborate hallucinations in order to cope with the illogical aspects of the disappearance. He is left alone on the airport runway with the phantom sounds of aircraft engines rising above him.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
           "Picture of a man with an Achilles' heel, a mystery that landed in his life and then turned into a heavy weight, dragged across the years to ultimately take the form of an illusion. Now, that's the clinical answer that they put on the tag as they take him away. But if you choose to think that the explanation has to do with an airborne Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship on a fog-enshrouded night on a flight that never ends, then you're doing your business in an old stand in The Twilight Zone." 

Commentary: 
Noah Keen, Fredd Wayne, Harold J. Stone
           The September 27, 1961 issue of Variety and the October 28, 1961 issue of TV Guide, each upon reviewing “The Arrival,” observed that The Twilight Zone was beginning to reuse and recycle story elements, “feeding on itself” as the Variety review put it. Though the TV Guide review was, despite the implication, somewhat positive, finding comfort in the fact that the series was not attempting to bloat its concepts or its time frame (the latter sentiment is ironic considering the series would move to an hour-long format after the third season), the Variety review was not as kind to the show, the implication there being that the show had run dry of original content. It is shortsighted on Variety’s part that a publication which did much to celebrate the series through the first two seasons of production would only now begin to recognize the reuse of story elements in certain third season episodes. They simply were not watching closely enough as the series was “feeding on itself” almost from its inception, and, unlike with “The Arrival,” not always to the detriment of the series.
Though there is no denying that “The Arrival” is a particularly blatant example of story recycling (Serling previously produced two episodes, "King Nine Will Not Return" and "The Odyssey of Flight 33" on the same narrow thematic ground), it was hardly a sign that the series was struggling to come up with new material. This estimation was not true when it was proposed at the beginning of a very strong third season and it would not really be true until the departure of the third producer for the series, Bert Granet, in the middle of the fifth and final season. This was the point from which the show would truly be unable to recover the consistent quality of earlier material.
When discussing the derivative aspects of the series it is important to remember two things. The first is that the show was largely created by a group of only five writers: Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Earl Hamner, thus cultivating the sometimes narrow story focus. Second is that series creator Rod Serling was contractually obligated to write a majority of the show’s content, eighty percent alone in the first season and not much less through season three. It stands to reason that when Serling was passionate about a subject, or felt that a previous episode was successful, he would approach the subject again from a different angle. It is a testament to Serling’s talent that he was able to craft as many memorable and successful episodes as he did while under obligation to produce as much as he was. As stated earlier, recycling story elements did not always work against the series.
Take an example from the first season. Serling wrote four episodes, “The Hitch-Hiker,” “Mirror Image,” “Nightmare as a Child,” and “The After Hours,” that are essentially the same story construct, a solitary young woman’s seemingly normal existence is intruded upon by a supernatural (or psychological, often interchangeable concepts on the series) element. One character is stalked by a ghost, another by a double, and two others by a memory. Of the four, only one can be said to be an unsuccessful treatment of the theme, and two of the episodes are outright classics. Also in the first season are strongly related episodes such as "Walking Distance" and "A Stop at Willoughby," both fan favorite episodes. Immediately after “The Arrival” would be “The Shelter,” Serling’s reworking of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” We would see this same essential story again in the fifth season’s “I Am the Night-Color Me Black.” Again, one treatment is of high quality and the other was not successful. 
Serling was not the only writer on the series to recycle story content. Charles Beaumont's obsession with dreams and the dreaming state produced related episodes such as "Perchance to Dream" and "Shadow Play." Richard Matheson wrote his episodes focused on marriage and the domestic condition and would even produce a later third season episode, “Little Girl Lost,” that would mirror certain aspects of “The Arrival," albeit more successfully. Series writers sometimes even echoed each other, as Beaumont’s third season episode, “Person or Persons Unknown” strikes the same chord as Matheson’s first season effort, “A World of Difference.” For the third season, George Clayton Johnson would produce one of the show's most celebrated efforts, "Kick the Can," which is essentially a reworking of Charles Beaumont's and OCee Ritch's second season episode, "Static." In many cases, this sort of familiarity in story content lent the show its idiosyncratic characteristics and ensured a loyal viewership. 
  “The Arrival” is the culmination of a number of story concepts borrowed from earlier episodes, from the strange appearance/disappearance to the focus on aircraft to the ending that reveals the psychological reasoning behind the prior events. This is likely the reason the episode remains unremarked upon or outright rejected among viewers of the show. Familiarity breeds contempt and by the third go-around with this story Rod Serling was unsuccessfully trying to spin straw into gold.
Exteriors (the landing strip and hangar) were filmed at the Santa Monica airport and the interior was filmed on an MGM stage. In front of the camera was an accomplished group of character actors and behind the camera was Ukranian-born Boris Sagal. Sagal (1923-1981) was a successful television and film director best remembered for the Rich Man, Poor Man miniseries (1976). Sagal also directed episodes of 'Way Out (an excellent macabre anthology show contemporary of and similar to The Twilight Zone and hosted by Roald Dahl), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery (“The Cemetery” segment of the full-length pilot movie written by Rod Serling and starring Roddy McDowell and Ossie Davis). Sagal also directed the 1971 film The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and (very) loosely based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. The director met with a tragic end (ironically tragic considering the climatic scene of "The Arrival") in 1981 when he accidentally walked into the rear rotor blades of a helicopter while exiting the aircraft on the set of the miniseries World War III.
Producer Buck Houghton had the show running as smoothly as it would ever run at the beginning of the third season. It is interesting to contemplate whether Houghton chose to use Montgomery Pittman’s poignant episode “Two” as the third season opener instead of Serling’s “The Arrival” because “The Arrival” too closely echoed earlier episodes and was of lower quality. The series opened the second season with “King Nine Will Not Return,” a virtual remake of the series pilot, “Where is Everybody?” Perhaps production did not want to open the third season in a similar manner. “Where is Everybody?” and “King Nine Will Not Return” are the two episodes “The Arrival” closely resembles.
          Rod Serling’s older brother, Robert Serling, was a nationally renowned writer on the aviation industry. This and the contemporary American obsession with air and space travel inspired the younger Serling to set many of his scripts around aircraft. These stories invariably concerned a strange appearance or disappearance and range from the existential horror of “And When the Sky Was Opened” (nominally based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Disappearing Act”), to the psychological thriller “King Nine Will Not Return,” to science fiction fare like “The Odyssey of Flight 33.” Serling again approached the subject in “The Arrival,” which could nearly work as a sequel to “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” if the viewer imagines that Sheckly, the investigative character in “The Arrival,” is tortured by the disappearance of the time lost Flight 33.
          It is notable as well that many of the episodes in the series associate mass travel in one form or another with a metaphysical event. In some episodes, “The Hitch-Hiker,” “Judgment Night,” or “Death Ship,” the connection to travel is readily apparent. In others, “Mirror Image” or “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (both episodes which deal with bus transit), the connection is secondary.
          As stated before, “The Arrival” also resembles a later episode in the third season, Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost,” based on Matheson’s previously published short story. Both episodes present mysteries in a quantifiable manner and focus on a systematic investigation. In both episodes, the nature of the mystery is revealed upon the outstretched hand of the investigator. Unlike Serling’s treatment in “The Arrival,” Matheson wisely avoids the let-down ending in “Little Girl Lost” by maintaining the conviction of the metaphysical event.
          Rod Serling was inspired by folklore (or short stories retold so often they are mistaken for folklore) when writing many of his scripts. “The Hitch-Hiker,” “The Man in the Bottle,” and “Twenty-Two” are a few of the episodes that fit within this category. He was likewise inspired by true-life mysteries. Though Serling alludes to The Flying Dutchman in his preview narration, “The Arrival” was most likely inspired by the story of the Mary Celeste, an American merchant ship found deserted and adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872. If the viewer recalls, Serling was likewise inspired by the 1943 disappearance of the B-24 bomber the Lady Be Good when composing the related episode, “King Nine Will Not Return."
          For all the knocks against it, “The Arrival” does have some nice touches. One is the methodical build-up of the mystery and the way in which the men logically attack it. The idea that the men all see a different form of the aircraft is an interesting moment, cluing them in, as well as the viewer, on the fact that something even further out of the ordinary is at work. Upon re-watching the episode, the viewer can easily follow the slow awakening to what is happening in Sheckly’s mind. Another effective moment is the very tense scene in which Sheckly prepares to place his hand into a whirling propeller in an attempt to prove his theory that the aircraft is not really there. It is one of the show’s most suggestively grisly moments. It is the strength in this setup which makes the ending of the episode a disappointment. By the beginning of the third season, viewers were simply not willing to buy the “it’s all in the character’s head” ending, especially one which required such an elaborate setup.
A couple of other factors are also at work in weakening the effectiveness of the ending. The first is that there are introductory scenes which do not include Sheckly at all. It seems rather ludicrous that Sheckly’s hallucination, however all-encompassing, would go so far as to include scenes he had no part in. The supposition, of course, is that Sheckly is recreating the entire investigation from 17 or 18 years ago, built whole cloth out of the investigative report he has read and obsessed over in the time between. A more debilitating reason why the ending is a letdown may be that the stress factor upon the character’s mind is not convincing enough. For the two episodes “The Arrival” most closely resembles, both in construction and ending, “Where is Everybody?” and “King Nine Will Not Return,” one character is isolated for an extreme period of time in a solitary chamber and another is unconscious in a hospital bed, respectively. Whatever the level of the authenticity of these two scenarios, they are certainly more believable than a man’s mind completely fracturing from obsession over an unsolved mystery nearly two decades before, one in which he played only a secondary role.
          Harold J. Stone (1913-2005) portrayed the investigator Sheckly in the episode. Stone was born Howard Hochstein into a family of Jewish actors. He appeared in six productions on Broadway and made his film debut in the 1946 film noir The Blue Dahlia, alongside Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, and William Bendix (star of Rod Serling’s unofficial Twilight Zone pilot film, "The Time Element"). Stone occasionally appeared in other genre fare, such as Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), The Invisible Boy (1957), and Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963). Stone was busy on television throughout his career and appeared on Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including the famous episode, “Lamb to the Slaughter”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Stone found his niche playing domineering characters in television crime dramas from 1960's to the 1980's.
          Noah Keen (1920- ), playing Bengston, began appearing on television in 1959 and amassed nearly one hundred credits over the next forty plus years. He did not often turn up in science fiction or fantasy programs outside of his two appearances on The Twilight Zone.
          Fredd Wayne (1924- ) appears as the public relations man Paul Malloy. Wayne is best known for his one man show, Benjamin Franklin, Citizen. Wayne has appeared as Franklin on the Today and Tonight shows as well as in a two-part episode of Bewitched. He has amassed over one hundred acting credits and began first appearing on television in the 1940's. Wayne also appeared in an episode of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond.
          Bing Russell (1926-2003) played George Cousins in the episode. He is the father of actor Kurt Russell, and played Vernon Presley to Kurt’s Elvis in the 1979 television movie, Elvis. Bing is best remembered for his role as Deputy Foster on Bonanza, and was featured in a number of television westerns during that genre’s golden age on the small screen. Russell also appeared in episodes of Science Fiction Theatre and The Munsters, as well as in the cult film Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966).
          Robert Karnes (1917-1979), here playing Robbins, was a familiar face on television, amassing nearly 200 acting credits on the small screen. Born in Kentucky, Karnes may be best known for the NBC series The Lawless Years, a Prohibition-era crime drama which preceded the similar series The Untouchables but never attained the latter show’s popularity. Karnes also enjoyed a long run on Have Gun, Will Travel. Karnes was featured in episodes of Rocket Squad, Men into Space, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and 8 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock’s programs, five times for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and another three for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
          “The Arrival” does not have a great deal to recommend it to the average viewer of the show since it is far too similar to more successful episodes. For the long-time viewer of the show, however, it offers an interesting capsule study of where the show was at the beginning of the third season and how the show consistently re-approached earlier material in an effort to keep pace with production and also to examine an intriguing story concept from a different angle. All in all, it’s par for the course at the beginning of a third season that would see many of the most popular and enduring episodes of the series, beginning with the following episode, “The Shelter,” an underrated gem of suburban paranoia which marks the debut of director Lamont Johnson on the series.

Grade: C

Notes:
-Boris Sagal also directed the second season episode, “The Silence,” and "The Cemetery" segment of the pilot film for Rod Serling's Night Gallery.
-Noah Keen also appears in the third season episode, “The Trade-Ins.”
-Fredd Wayne also appears in the second season episode, “Twenty-Two.”
-Bing Russell also appears in the fifth season episode, “Ring-a-Ding Girl.”
-Robert Karnes also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Midnight Never Ends."
-Jim Boles also appears in two episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "Lindemann's Catch" and "Death on a Barge."
-“The Arrival” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Blair Underwood.

-Jordan Prejean                

2 comments:

  1. I barely remember this episode but your review was interesting, as always. I heard an interview with Katy Segal (sp?) awhile back on NPR's Fresh Air and she talked a little about her father and his career.

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  2. This episode, like the mysterious plane it is centered around, has a way of disappearing from the viewer's memory. I think this is because it's been done to death on the series by this point and it's not Serling's strongest script. It was interesting to research Boris Sagal as I knew little about his career and only just discovered the cause of his tragic death. I plan on going back and watching The Omega Man as it's been a while since I've seen it and I want to see how Sagal handles himself on that production. "The Arrival" doesn't give him much with which to show off his directing skills.

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