Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Four O'Clock"

Theodore Bikel as Oliver Crangle, counting down to four o'clock

“Four O’Clock”
Season Three, Episode 94
Original Air Date: April 6, 1962

Cast:
Oliver Crangle: Theodore Bikel
Mrs. Lucas: Phyllis Love
Agent Hall: Linden Chiles
Mrs. Chloe Williams: Moyna MacGill

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (based on the story by Price Day)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Robert Walker
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock
Optical Effects: Pacific Title
Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at M.G.M. Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week an exceptionally fine actor named Theodore Bikel portrays a misguided kook who fancies himself some kind of guardian of law and order. He decides that it’s his mission in life to eradicate evil the world over. Now, this one is told very far-out but considering the nature of the times it happens to be very close-in. Next week an exercise in insanity. It’s called ‘Four O’Clock.’ Set your watches and come on in.


“This cigarette, Chesterfield King, gives all the advantages of extra length and much more. The great taste of twenty-one vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, and blended mild. No wonder they satisfy so completely.” 

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“That’s Oliver Crangle, a dealer in petulance and poison. He’s rather arbitrarily chosen four o’clock as his personal Götterdämmerung, and we are about to watch the metamorphosis of a twisted fanatic, poisoned by the gangrene of prejudice, to the status of an avenging angel, upright and omniscient, dedicated and fearsome. Whatever your clocks say, it’s four o’clock, and wherever you are, it happens to be The Twilight Zone.” 

Summary:

            Oliver Crangle has one mission in life: to expose all the evil people of the world. His view of evil, however, is fluid and morally ambiguous. His personal judgment of his fellow man is corrupted by deep-seeded prejudices and a profound lack of empathy. From within his cramped apartment, Crangle compiles documents on his fellow citizens and spends his days making phone calls to employers and law enforcement offices to cry warnings about those citizens he deems subversive.
            Crangle is visited by Mrs. Lucas, the wife of a doctor whom Crangle has vigorously attempted to ruin. The doctor in question failed to save the life of a grievously injured woman and Crangle therefore considers him an evil person. Mrs. Lucas offers a prophetic warning, that Crangle is truly evil, that his judgments are unfair and his attempts to ruin lives are cruel. Crangle arrogantly dismisses the woman.
            Crangle fastens upon an idea. At four o’clock, this very day, he will mark all the evil people of the world in a way that will uniquely identify their terrible inner natures. After abandoning a number of unfeasible ideas, Crangle decides that he will make every evil person in the world one third their size, or roughly two feet in height. He calls an F.B.I. agent to his apartment to tell him that at four o’clock law enforcement had better be prepared to arrest all the diminutive people. Hall, the F.B.I. agent, questions Crangle’s sanity before dismissing his crank idea and leaving.
            Undeterred, Crangle gazes out of the window, counting down the minutes until four o’clock. When the moment arrives he rejoices the in exaltation of his efforts. He turns again to the window and the terrible realization that he is only two feet tall.     

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“At four o’clock an evil man made his bed and lay in it, a pot called a kettle black, a stone-thrower broke the windows of his glass house. You look for this one under ‘F’ for Fanatic and ‘J’ for Justice in The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            “Four O’Clock,” the short story by Price Day, originally appeared in the April, 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It appeared in book form the following year as part of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: My Favorites in Suspense, a Random House book ghost-edited by Robert Arthur, a prolific short story writer, creator of The Three Investigators series of children’s mysteries (to which Hitchcock lent his name for a time), and the co-creator of The Mysterious Traveler radio program. Arthur compiled several Hitchcock anthologies for both adults and young readers in the late 1950s and 1960s before his untimely death in 1969. He is underrated as an editor and his anthologies come recommended. “Four O’Clock” appeared in paperback in 1960 in Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 14 of My Favorites in Suspense from Dell. It is included in The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories, edited by Richard Matheson, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh for Avon Books in 1985.

            A brief aside. An additional connection exists between Alfred Hitchcock and “Four O’Clock,” at least as far as the title goes. Hitchcock filmed a now well-regarded segment titled “Four O’Clock” for the anthology program Suspicion in 1957. It concerns a man (E.G. Marshall) who, believing his wife is unfaithful, plants a bomb in his home to kill his wife and her lover. The bomb is set to detonate at exactly four o’clock. Not only is the man mistaken about his wife’s infidelity, he is attacked by burglars in his home and tied up in the basement, forced to sweat out the minutes counting down to four o’clock and the detonation of the bomb. This segment was remade in 1986 for the revival Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. The basis of both segments is Cornell Woolrich’s 1938 story, “Three O’Clock.” The title change appears to have been a perfunctory move on the part of the production.
            Price Day, author of the short story, is best-known as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He tried his hand at poetry and fiction early in his career before turning to journalism. He placed poetry with The New Yorker in 1931 and, though “Four O’Clock” is by far Day’s most famous work of fiction, he wrote several short stories for Collier’s Weekly in the late 1930s and early 1940s, many in collaboration with Charles Bradshaw, though none approach the subject or tone of “Four O’Clock.”
Day was born in Plainview, Texas in 1907 and attended Princeton University. He began his journalistic career as a cartoonist and occasional freelance contributor to newspapers in New York and Florida. Day was a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Times in 1942 and moved to the Baltimore Evening Sun that same year before becoming a reporter for the Baltimore Sun in 1943. Day was a war correspondent for the Sun and as such was one of the first civilians to witness and report upon the conditions of the liberated Nazi death camps. Day was the only reporter from an individual newspaper to witness the German surrender at Reims. In 1949, Day received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his feature in the Sun, “Experiment in Freedom – India and Its First Year of Independence.” He served as Editor-in-Chief of the Sun from 1960-1975. Some of his Sun columns were collected as The Spillway: Columns from the Baltimore Sun, 1956-1960 (Baltimore Sun Press, 1997). Day’s sole film credit is for one of his stories with Charles Bradshaw, which was adapted by other writers into the 1939 film The Lady and the Mob, a film which featured a young Ida Lupino, star of “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” and director of “The Masks.” Price Day died in 1978.
Though Rod Serling remained remarkably faithful to Day’s story, the brevity of the original story require Serling to pad out the tale in order to bring it up to running time. As such, the episode comes across as dialogue heavy, particularly since the setting is so constrictive. It doesn’t help that “Four O’Clock” is a story which exists only to serve a twist ending. It is a memorable twist ending (it just cracked our Top 20 best of the series) but episodes which live and die by the twist ending often have little besides which to recommended them.  
Serling’s attraction to the material should appear obvious as the story confronts the idiocy and intolerance of modern American society, a fight against which Serling built his entire creative career. Although The Twilight Zone is frequently portrayed as the series Serling had to create so he could say the confrontational things being muffled on the more prestigious anthology programs, the series never really attempted to convincingly camouflage these type of confrontational efforts. Any viewer of “The Shelter,” "The Mirror," or “The Obsolete Man” who does not see beyond the trappings of the thriller or the science fiction story is an unsophisticated viewer indeed. In a rare instance of calling direct attention to the show’s attempt to confront these issues, Serling speaks of “considering the nature of the times” in his preview narration.
The internal time of the short story consists of thirteen minutes, as it begins at 3:47. Price Day provides the bulk of exposition in flashback. Serling could not utilize this method and instead pushed the time back to the morning in order to develop the narrative over the course of the day. As such, Serling needed to create characters for Oliver Crangle to interact with. The short story contains only the single character, Crangle, unless one considers Pet, the parrot. Serling’s creative mastery was in character development and he effectively creates three foils to Crangle’s madness, the simple-minded and long-suffering landlady, the desperate spouse of one whom Crangle has attempted to ruin, and, perhaps most important, the F.B.I. agent, who represents a rational enforcer of the law and the only character to directly question Crangle’s sanity.
Some additional interesting symbolic representations are present in the episode, particularly in the construction of Crangle’s apartment, which manages to be both obsessively organized and chaotically cramped at the same time, a useful symbol for the mental workings of Crangle himself. The series excelled in the story told in a single or highly constrained environment. This was likely due to budgetary limitations but the production crew, particularly the art directors and set decorators, rose to the challenge again and again to create interesting and engaging set design which often mirrored the theme of the tale. There is also the use of the parrot as a pet for Crangle, which is obvious in its symbolic representation as a communicative animal that can only repeat back what is spoken to it. The short story uses the parrot in a more interesting way than the episode, as well. Throughout the story, Crangle is repeatedly feeding the bird nuts and only realizes he has shrunk down to two feet when he tries to feed the bird a nut and his hand comes up short. In the episode, a shot is utilized to show Crangle unable to reach the bowl of nuts. Serling, in an unusual touch, presents a moment in which Crangle consults Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for moral support. It is an expert illustration of the dangerous way in which the morally reprehensible can favorably twist the meanings of dogmatic writings to suit their purposes.

The logical problems of the story are presented to the viewer in the form of complete ambiguity. The result is that some natural questions arise in the mind of the viewer. From whence does Crangle derive his information? His power? His income? Where does this story take place? Leaving such questions unanswered is undoubtedly an attempt to give the story the feeling of a moral allegory but it can be frustrating for one who requires a base line of logic even in tales of fantasy. The short story offers a marginal bit of explanation about Crangle’s power and seems to suggest it is a divine gift. Day writes: “. . . since that morning three weeks ago when, as he sat on a bench in a park, looking at the pictures in the clouds across the lake, it came to him that he had the power to do this thing, that upon him at that moment had been bestowed the gift of putting a mark on all the bad people on earth, so that they should be known.”

            There is also the issue of the mental state of Crangle as portrayed by actor Theodore Bikel. Near the end of the episode the true severity of Crangle’s delusion is revealed in language making reference to gallows and electric chairs. Crangle strikes the viewer as suffering from both a psychotic disorder as well as a severe social anxiety disorder, one characterized by obsessive and repetitive behavior, unusual mannerisms and use of language, and an inability to engage in normal social behavior. Bikel’s performance is frequently dismissed as over-the-top and manic but it is a far more nuanced performance than it is given credit for.
            Theodore Bikel was born in Vienna in 1924 and studied acting with both an Israeli company and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London before moving to the United States in 1954. He is likely best-known for his stage role as Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. Bikel is also known for his role in the film My Fair Lady (1964), his long career as a folk music singer, and for his political activism. Despite the fact that Bikel was frequently cast as a shady or outright villainous German or Russian character, he was capable of great versatility, illustrated in one instance with his role as a Southern sheriff who pursues Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in the 1958 film The Defiant Ones. That film was made at the height of the Blacklist era, co-written by a blacklisted writer (Ned Young) whose script won the Academy Award, and whose story and theme perfectly shadowed in film what Rod Serling was continuously doing in television. There is little doubt that a politically active humanitarian like Bikel relished the opportunity to play the bigot Crangle in “Four O’Clock.” Bikel did little additional genre work but was memorable in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of Thomas Burke’s Jack-the-Ripper inspired story, “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole,” from the second season of that series. In an interesting, and not altogether successful, choice, Bikel was selected to narrate Serling’s short story “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” for Harper Audio Books in 1993 as part of a series featuring actors/actresses from the original series reading Serling’s short story adaptations for the audio book market. I highly recommend Tom Elliot's podcast episode on those audio books, which can be found here.  Bikel died in Los Angeles in 2015.
            As the above commentary indicates, “Four O’Clock” is a fascinating episode layered with symbol and interpretive meaning. The story cannot, however, sustain itself under the weight of the immense amount of circular dialogue leading to a rather predictable twist ending. Bikel’s performance is a rewarding one but it is the only element of the story which repays repeat viewings. Perhaps the story feels too familiar. After all, the series traded in “bully gets comeuppance” quite often and would continue to do so well into the fifth and final season. One need only look to “The Last Night of a Jockey” to see this point illustrated in a particularly relative way. All in all, “Four O’Clock” is par for the course.
            One final note. “Four O’Clock” was selected to be read on the NPR program Selected Shorts when that program featured a Twilight Zone special in October, 2016. “Four O’Clock” was read by actor Zachary Quinto in a crowd pleasing performance. You can read our review of it here.      

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement to:

-The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org)
-The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com)
-Unz.org publication database
-Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners by Elizabeth A. Brennan and Elizabeth C. Clarage (Greenwood Publishing, 1998)

Notes:
-“Four O’Clock” by Price Day originally appeared in the April, 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
-Theodore Bikel narrated Rod Serling’s short story adaptation of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” for Harper Audio Books in 1993.
-Director Lamont Johnson was at the helm for some of the most memorable episodes of the series, including “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” “Nothing in the Dark,” “Kick the Can,” and “Passage on the Lady Anne.”
-“Four O’Clock” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stan Freberg.

-JP

4 comments:

  1. If when you watch this episode, the landlady reminds you of someone ...

    ... it's Moyna MacGill, in real life the mother of Angela Lansbury.

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    1. A familiar face indeed. I would have sworn she appeared in an additional episode but apparently it was just the one, although the character type is all over the series.

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  2. I listened to the NPR reading of the story last year and enjoyed it. I also enjoyed your article. I always get this mixed up with the Woolrich story!

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    1. Thanks, Jack. I enjoyed the Selected Shorts program as well. No idea why change the original title of the Woolrich story but it can be confusing, especially considering the Price Day story appeared in Hitchcock's magazine and would have fit his show well, even with the fantasy element.

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