Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Dead Man's Shoes"

Warren Stevens as Nate Bledsoe
"Dead Man's Shoes"
Season Three, Episode 83
Original Air Date: January 19, 1962

Cast:
Nate Bledsoe: Warren Stevens
Dagget: Richard Devon
Wilma: Joan Marshall
Chips: Ben Wright
Sam: Harry Swoger
Ben: Ron Hagerthy
Dagget's Woman: Florence Marly
Jimmy: Joe Mell
Maitre d': Eugene Borden

Crew:
Writers: Charles Beaumont and OCee Ritch
Director: Montgomery Pittman
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: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week, through the good offices of Mr. Charles Beaumont, we take a walk in some 'Dead Man's Shoes.' It's the story of a hobo who takes some shoes off a recently deceased hoodlum and then discovers that if the shoe fits you have to wear it. And, in this case, you have to do as the shoes do, go where they tell you to, and then perform some services above and beyond the norm. I hope we see you next week for 'Dead Man's Shoes.'"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:

"Nathan Edward Bledsoe of the Bowery Bledsoes. A man once, a specter now, one of those myriad modern-day ghosts that haunt the reeking nights of the city in search of a flop, a handout, a glass of forgetfulness. Nate doesn't know it but his search is about to end. Because those shiny new shoes are going to carry him right into the capital of The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            In the early night hours, a dark sedan pulls into an alleyway and dumps a dead body beneath a tenement staircase. The sound of the car awakens Nate Bledsoe, a homeless man sleeping on a bed of newspapers. Nate spies the dead body and proceeds to turn out the pockets of the corpse. Then he sees the nice pair of shoes on the corpse and switches them for his own worn-out shoes. Walking down the street, he is accosted by two fellow homeless men who inquire as to where Nate came upon the nice shoes. But Nate seems confused and much gruffer than his usual meek self. Nate shrugs off the two men and heads to an apartment building on the nicer side of town.
            There he walks in on Wilma, a beautiful woman alone in a top floor apartment. She demands to know who he is. When she sees the shoes on Nate’s feet she recognizes them as belonging to her boyfriend Dane, now a shoeless corpse in an alley across town. Dane may be dead but he’s still pretty lively when Nate’s wearing his shoes.
            Nate comes back to himself when he takes off Dane’s shoes. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. Wilma points a gun at him and demands that Nate leave the apartment. When Nate puts the shoes back on, Dane resumes control and easily takes the gun away from Wilma. He kisses her furiously like Dane used to kiss her. Wilma goes into hysterics and Dane slaps her across the face. He’s got business to attend to and Wilma better be there when he gets back.
            Nate/Dane makes his way to a nightclub where he sits close to a table of gangsters and orders tequila with a lump of sugar. Dane’s signature drink. That gets their attention. They don’t recognize Nate so they call him over to the table and ask him who he is and what he’s up to. Nate/Dane tells them that he’s a messenger and he has a private message for Dagget, the leader of the little group.
            Alone in Dagget’s office, Nate/Dane openly talks of Dane’s murder at the hands of Dagget and his goons. Nate/Dane pulls out a hidden gun. One of Dagget’s men springs from a hidden panel in the wall but Nate/Dane gets the drop on him. “You didn’t think that would work twice, did you?” Dane asks. Another of Dagget’s men shoots Nate/Dane though a space in bookcase that conceals another hidden panel.
            “I’ll be back,” Dane warns as he lies dying on the floor of Dagget’s office for the second time that night. “I’ll be back again and again until I get you.”
            Dagget and his men dump Nate’s body in an alley. One of Nate’s fellow homeless friends takes the shoes from Nate’s body and puts them on.      

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"There's an old saying that goes: 'If the shoe fits, wear it.' But be careful. If you happen to find a pair of size nine black and grey loafers, made to order in the old country, be very careful. You might walk right into The Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
            “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a breezy, entertaining, but ultimately undistinguished offering from the otherwise exceptional duo of writer Charles Beaumont and director Montgomery Pittman. It is largely derivative in style and subject matter, bearing a strong resemblance to the plot and structure of the earlier, and superior, episode “The Four of Us Are Dying,” along with a number of other film noir offerings on the series. Like “The Four of Us Are Dying,” it also features a jazzy, interpretive musical structure more suited to a crime drama than a fantasy series. 
Charles Beaumont had a great deal of help in scripting the episode from his friend and frequent collaborator OCee Ritch, who does not receive credit on the episode and was last a contributor to the series as the source (via unpublished story) for Beaumont’s excellent second season offering “Static.” In fact, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a clear reversal of the process that created “Static,” the latter of which concerned OCee Ritch’s idea adapted by Beaumont whereas “Dead Man’s Shoes” concerns Beaumont’s idea adapted by Ritch. Beaumont likely had little hand in the writing process at all outside of the principle idea, which, according to multiple sources, was initially imagined to concern a cowboy hat instead of a pair of shoes. This approach leaned heavily toward comedy but Ritch managed to combine the lighter material inherent in Beaumont’s original idea with an urban fantasy populated by relatively standard, underworld-type characters. This approach was similar to the method by which Rod Serling adapted Lewis Padgett’s (the joint pseudonym of Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore) science fiction short story “What You Need” for the noir-esque first season episode which bears that title.
Beaumont had yet to display the symptoms of the terrible degenerative disease that would claim his life just five years later but he remained a freelance writer unable, or unwilling, to turn down an assignment. As such, Beaumont was constantly overworked and under pressure of deadlines. He’d long assumed the occasional practice of farming out his ideas for his writer friends to flesh out in television assignments to which he was contractually obligated. This practice became more frequent as Beaumont began to succumb to the disease (generally believed to be early-onset Alzheimer’s) that would ultimately take his life at the tragically young age of 38.
            OCee Ritch and Charles Beaumont initially bonded over their shared loved of automobiles and automotive racing. Ritch authored several manuals on motorcycle repair for the Chilton series of publications in the 1960's, and also contributed to a volume of sports racing material compiled and edited by Beaumont and fellow friend William F. Nolan (The Omnibus of Speed: An Introduction to the World of Motor Sport, G.P. Putnam's, 1958; "The Golden Days of Gilmore"). Beaumont and Ritch soon discovered a mutual love of nostalgia and collaborated (under Beaumont's name alone) on nostalgic essays for Playboy and other magazines ("The Bloody Pulps," "The Golden Age of Slapstick Comedy," "Don't Miss the Next Thrilling Chapter!"). Ritch's talent for dramatic writing was also apparent to Beaumont and, besides their two episodes on The Twilight Zone, the two writers produced collaborative efforts (under Beaumont's byline) for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ("The Long Silence," with William D. Gordon and based on "Composition for Four Hands" by Hilda Lawrence), Boris Karloff's Thriller ("Guillotine," based on a story by Cornell Woolrich), and Channing ("Gate to Nowhere"). Ritch also appeared in director Roger Corman’s 1962 adaptation of Charles Beaumont’s 1959 novel The Intruder (along with appearances by Beaumont’s other friends George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, and by Beaumont himself). Ritch wrote an article, "The Intruder," on the making of the film which appeared in the December, 1961 issue of Rogue magazine. 
            Director Montgomery Pittman graced the series for a brief time from the end of the second season through the middle of the third season and brought with him both a distinguished style and the distinguishing characteristic of being a director that often wrote the episodes he directed. Pittman wrote three of the five episodes he directed (the exceptions being Rod Serling’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Dead Man’s Shoes”) and, like many of the series directors, was adept at infusing an episode with a distinctive film noir aesthetic.
            Two areas in which the series does not receive its due course of credit is in its commitment to versatility and to its outstanding stable of directors. The series was certainly the most varied and stylish show of its type and time. Much like the varieties of writing styles, series creator Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton encouraged individual directors to work against any type of “house” style to present unique, idiosyncratic visions for the series. This practice was greatly helped by the presence of versatile and hugely talented cinematographer George T. Clemens, a man adroit at adapting to the individual styles of the show’s many directors.
            The Twilight Zone is often seen as a science fiction series primarily concerned with the recognizable tropes of the science fiction genre. Though the series did attempt several recognizable forms of science fiction, from time travel to robots to dystopian politics to interplanetary travel to alternate dimensions, the show took great efforts to attempt virtually every form of popular storytelling. Beyond the experimental episodes (including a couple of virtually silent episodes and one in which the faces of the principle cast remain hidden) the series attempted everything from romance to ghost stories to westerns to tales of war to screwball comedy. Yet, the one genre most often approached by the series was that of noir, a genre distinguished by chiaroscuro lighting and camera effects to illustrate tales of criminals and the underworld.
            It should come as no surprise that the series would approach such subject matter considering the unique type of urban fantasy the creators returned to time and again, evident in such offerings as “What You Need,” “The Four of Us Are Dying,” “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” “The Prime Mover,” “A Nice Place to Visit,” and some half dozen more. It is even less surprising when one surmises the talented directors Serling and company brought to the show, several of whom made their reputations in the film noir genre or in the earlier, formative mode of expressionism, including Ida Lupino (also notable for both acting and directing on the series as well as being the only female director to helm an episode), Jacques Tourneur, Robert Florey, and John Brahm.
            Montgomery Pittman can be placed in that company as well if one looks to his small but varied output and recognizes the noir-influence style which he brings to tales as diverse as “Two,” “The Grave,” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.”
            “Dead Man’s Shoes,” however, is also part of a smaller subgenre occasionally seen on the series which changes the tonal dynamic of the episode. It is a “magic item” episode and, like its counterparts “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “A Piano in the House,” and “A Kind of Stopwatch,” there is a liberal sprinkling of levity into the episode’s graver moments (the notable exception being the earlier mentioned and uniformly grim episode “What You Need”). One of the more amusing moments in the episode is also the best scene, that in which Nate/Dane (Warren Stevens) returns to Dane’s apartment and is confronted by Wilma (Joan Marshall), Dane’s girlfriend. The moment in which Nate alternately removes the dead man’s shoes and puts them on again is very amusing and played relatively silent. Pittman chooses instead to focus on the facial expressions of the two principle actors with effective medium shots. One method by which Ritch and Pittman tamper the comedic impulse of the story is in the high level of abrupt violence which ends the second and third acts. Most shocking is the level of domestic abuse which Wilma certainly suffered under Dane as Nate/Dane both threatens to break her arm and strikes her across the face in the space of a few minutes.
            The deadpan performance of prolific actor Warren Stevens perfectly illuminates the gallows humor characteristic of the material. Stevens saw Broadway early in his acting career before moving into film and television, the latter medium providing him with more than 150 credits, including plenty of genre material. Stevens had a memorable role (and death) in the classic 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet. On the small screen Stevens appeared in episodes of Inner Sanctum, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Science Fiction Theatre, One Step Beyond, Star Trek, and a long-running association with legendary genre producer/director Irwin Allen, appearing in such Allen productions as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and The Return of Captain Nemo (alternately known as The Amazing Captain Nemo).
            Joan Marshall, who portrays Wilma and shares the best scene of the episode with Stevens, has provided even more unique contributions to genre film and television. Marshall used the stage name Jean Arless to portray the dual characters which are climatically revealed to be singular in William Castle’s 1961 film  Homicidal, which was largely an imitation of and attempt to cash in on the success of Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho (1960). As was Castle’s style, the budget was lowered and the shocks were ramped up to create a movie that got a surprising amount of positive buzz at the time of release but is largely considered inferior material by posterity. Homicidal does continue William Castle’s tradition of mounting a novelty marketing campaign in a memorable way. The film was given a 45-second “Fright Break” before the climax, allowing those viewers not brave enough to finish to film to be released from the theater to sit in a “Coward’s Corner” in the lobby.
Marshall is also remembered by genre fans as the first matriarch of The Munsters. In the original, unaired, color-filmed pilot episode, “My Fair Munster,” Marshall portrayed Phoebe Munster, a character replaced by Lily Munster portrayed by Yvonne De Carlo. It has been suggested that the character of Phoebe was too similar to the character of Morticia Addams as portrayed by Carolyn Jones on the ABC series The Addams Family. Another Munsters character that was altered along with Marshall’s Phoebe was the character of Eddie Munster, originally played in a comedic, ferocious style by Happy Derman in the unaired pilot before being reimagined and replaced by Butch Patrick for the series proper.
            “Dead Man’s Shoes” was reimagined in a rather effective episode of the first Twilight Zone revival series under the title “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode concerns a timid thrift store worker (Helen Mirren) who puts on a pair of donated high heeled shoes which allow the spirit of a murdered woman to assume control of her body in an effort to exact revenge on her husband (Jeffrey Tambor). The episode was adapted by writer Lynn Baker and directed by Peter Medak and is a very close adaptation which mirrors several key scenes from the original in interesting ways for the viewer that follows closely. “Dead Woman’s Shoes” largely shies away from the violence of the original episode (with the notable exception of a scene in which a woman is slapped across the face) and exchanges the dark, urban landscape of the original for a bright, Beverly Hills setting which does not detract from the effectiveness of the versatile story. Mirren is particularly good in the episode and it features a truly unsettling scene in which the dead woman telephones the husband to announce her return. One other interesting aspect of the adaptation is that a mirror is used in a number of quick edited shots to reflect how the dead woman looked in life. You will notice in the original episode that the character of Nate, after he puts on the dead man’s shoes, looks into a mirror situated on top of a scale but the opportunistic moment is wasted. The new Twilight Zone episode comes recommended for those curious to see an effective updating of the material. "Dead Man's Shoes" was also, at least nominally, the inspiration for an episode of the second revival Twilight Zone series titled "Dead Man's Eyes," in which a window discovers that her deceased husband's eyeglasses reveal the final moments of his life, including his murderer.
            Ultimately, however, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an average effort with some interesting connections to other aspects of the series and the series creators. The setting is generic, the characters cliché, the story predictable (which the seemingly requisite twist ending), and the performances vary from memorable to forgettable. “Dead Man’s Shoes” is the best of a bad streak of episodes (which runs from episodes 82-85, “One More Pallbearer” to “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”) but fails to ignite any of the imaginative power of the third season’s strongest offerings.     

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement is made to The Work of Charles Beaumont: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide by William F. Nolan (2nd edition, Borgo Press, 1990)

Notes:
-Montgomery Pittman directed four additional episodes of the series, of which he also wrote three. Use the “Montgomery Pittman” label on the sidebar to access the episodes he wrote/directed.
-Warren Stevens also appeared in the first Twilight Zone revival series episode "A Day in Beaumont," which originally aired April 11, 1986.
-Ben Wright also appeared in the first season episode “Judgment Night” and the third season episode “Deaths-head Revisited.”
-OCee Ritch also wrote the story upon which the second season episode “Static” was based. “Static” was scripted by Charles Beaumont.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was remade for the first Twilight Zone revival series as “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode starred Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor, was adapted by Lynn Baker, and directed by Peter Medak. It originally aired on November 22, 1985.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama, starring Bill Smitrovitch.


-Jordan Prejean

4 comments:

  1. I pretty much agree with the review, though I might rate the episode a tad higher for its production values and the acting, especially that of Warren Stevens, a first class talent who never crashed through into the big leagues as star or character actor. One can see in this episode that he had the chops. Interesting comment on Twilight Zone's fondness for urban tales, which continued right into the final season with such entries as In Praise Of Pip and The Masks.

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    1. Yeah, I was on the fence about rating this one higher but ultimately decided that though it is a well done episode it lacks that special quality of the best episodes that causes them to stick in the viewer's mind. Hardly anyone I talk to remembers this episode much less recalls specifics from it. Nevertheless, they did feel the need to remake this one later so maybe it's just my feelings about it. I agree with you about Stevens. He and Joan Marshall did some very interesting genre work.

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  2. It looks as if you're on a 55 year cycle, too! We just watched this episode, review to post tomorrow at www.galacticjourney.org

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    1. That's excellent! Looking forward to reading your take on this weird supernatural noir.

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