Monday, September 25, 2017

"The Trade-Ins"

Joseph Schildkraut and Alma Platt as Mr. and Mrs. John Holt
“The Trade-Ins”
Season Three, Episode 96
Original Air Date: April 20, 1962

Cast:
John Holt: Joseph Schildkraut
Mr. Vance: Noah Keen
Marie Holt: Alma Platt
Mr. Farraday: Theodore (Ted) Marcuse
Young John Holt: Edson Stroll
Gambler #1: Terrence deMarney
Gambler #2: Billy Vincent
Receptionist: Mary McMahon
Surgeon: David Armstrong

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Elliot Silverstein
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
Special Makeup: William Tuttle
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock
Optical FX: Pacific Title
Rod Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“We have a return visit next week from a most eminent performer, Joseph Schildkraut, and his vehicle is called ‘The Trade-Ins.’ It’s a story of a future society in which new bodies may be traded for old. It’s my own personal feeling that of all the various story areas we’ve tackled on The Twilight Zone, this has the most import and carries with it the most poignance. I hope you’ll be able to be with us next week.


"Here, in one cigarette, a Chesterfield, is all the flavor and taste of twenty-one of the world’s finest tobaccos, aged mild and then blended mild. The end result: tobacco too mild to filter, pleasure too good to miss. Smoke for pleasure. Smoke Chesterfield.” 

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, aging people who slowly and with trembling fingers turn the last pages of a book of life and hope against logic and the preordained that some magic printing press will add to this book another limited edition. But these two senior citizens happen to live in a time of the future where nothing is impossible, even the trading of old bodies for new. Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, in their twilight years, who are about to find that there happens to be a zone with the same name.” 

Summary:
            At an unspecified time in the future, Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, an elderly couple, arrive at the New Life Corporation, which specializes in designing young, state of the art bodies into which one’s consciousness can be placed in order to alleviate illness and extend life. After establishing that the Holts are still very much in love and that John is in near constant pain, they are given the grand tour by Mr. Vance, a salesman with the company, who shows them the many human models which they can inhabit. When the issue of cost comes up, the Holts realize they have a problem. They have only enough money to purchase one New Life body. Restricted by law and unable to extend the Holts any credit, Mr. Vance apologizes profusely but explains that there is no way both of the Holts can receive New Life bodies unless the additional money is presented at the time of purchase. Dejected, the Holts leave.
            John decides to take their life savings and attempt to double it in order to buy New Life bodies. He happens upon a poker game in the back room a bar owned by a prominent criminal, Mr. Farraday. It becomes apparent to Farraday that Holt is desperate for something and coaxes the truth out of the older man. When Farraday realizes that he is about to win the final hand of the game that will clean Holt out of all his money, he folds so that Holt can win the hand and leave with exactly the amount he brought to the game.

            The Holts return to the New Life Corporation having decided that John must go through with the operation to alleviate his terrible pain. He comes out of the operation in the body of a handsome younger man. John is ecstatic with his new body until he realizes that Marie will remain old and will be unable to share in his newfound youth and happiness. John decides to return to his old body and together, hand-in-hand, the Holts leave the New Life Corporation, determined to make the most out of their remaining time together.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“From Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: ‘Love gives naught but itself and takes naught from itself, love possess not nor would it be possessed: For love is sufficient unto love.’ Not a lesson, just a reminder from all the sentimentalists in The Twilight Zone.” 

Commentary:

            It has been said before, most often by author Marc Scott Zicree (in his book, The Twilight Zone Companion), but it bears repeating that the writers on The Twilight Zone, all of whom were in their early to middle thirties at the time of the series, frequently wrote about aging and dying from a sympathetic and often heartbreaking perspective.
It is interesting to consider that these men, all in the prime of life, dwelt so frequently on the subject of aging and dying that each of the core writers for the series approached the material at least once. Here, Rod Serling presents perhaps his finest rumination on the subject, but he also covered similar ground in “One for the Angels” and “The Changing of the Guard.” Charles Beaumont wrote such powerful episodes on the subject as “Long Live Walter Jameson” and “Passage on the Lady Anne.” George Clayton Johnson wrote perhaps the two finest examinations of the theme in “Nothing in the Dark” and “Kick the Can,” along with providing the story for the underrated fifth season episode “Ninety Years Without Slumbering.” Richard Matheson gave us “Night Call” and Earl Hamner, Jr. gave us “The Hunt” along the same lines. As evidenced from the titles listed above, the subject and theme of aging and dying resulted in some of the most haunting, beautiful, and well-regarded episodes of the series.
Perhaps it is the idea that the passage beyond life into the vast unknown is the ultimate embodiment of The Twilight Zone and the writers on the series found pliable material in the theme. Whatever the case, Rod Serling was certainly in the mood to tackle the subject head on at the end of the third season, as “The Trade-Ins” is followed closely by “The Changing of the Guard,” which closes out the season. Serling thought highly of the message behind “The Trade-Ins,” as evidenced in his preview narration, and he was clearly attempting to create the feeling of a fable or fairy tale with the episode, a futuristic story which nevertheless examined the timelessness of love and companionship. He generally succeeded in this regard though the episode comes close to becoming too sentimental at times and the reliance upon a simplistic style of story leaves some logical holes in the plot construction.
“The Trade-Ins” presents an achingly romantic and optimistic view of everything from marriage, the future, and humanity in general. An interesting aspect of Serling’s characterizations is that he wrote two of the supporting characters against type. Noah Keene, here playing the salesman Mr. Vance and last seen in the third season opener “The Arrival,” could easily have been written as an unsympathetic, pushy salesman. Serling opts to write him in a near saintly manner as a man who takes an immediate and personal interest in his clients. Vance’s role in the corporation remains unclear even by the end of the episode as it is difficult to determine if he is only a salesman or if he perhaps owns the company when considering Vance is seen as part of the operating team later in the episode.
Another supporting character who is written strongly against type is Mr. Farraday, played by Theodore Marcuse, last seen in the earlier third season episode “To Serve Man.” Farraday is clearly a criminal but is portrayed as curious, caring, and ultimately willing to make a sacrifice for the interest of the aging John Holt. Everyone in the episode seems to be on the side of the Holts and all character interaction serves to underline the idea that people are generally kind and good. Serling has occasionally been accused to having too bleak a view of humanity in such episodes as “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “The Shelter,” but Serling understood the basic dichotomy of human nature, that the most outwardly sinister of us may in fact be a decent human being, and those seeming kind and warm may hide a darker nature. 
The character of the sick and dying John Holt is brought wonderfully and sympathetically to life by veteran actor Joseph Schildkraut, last seen in an equally powerful performance in the earlier third season episode “Deaths-Head Revisited.” Here, aged by William Tuttle’s makeup, Schildkraut provides the episode with a strikingly believable portrayal of a man not only suffering from immense chronic pain but also one terrified of facing a future without his loving wife. Unfortunately, Schildkraut’s performance was informed by the fact that he lost his wife to illness after the first day of filming “The Trade-Ins.” Schildkraut, a consummate professional from a proud acting family, insisted on finishing the episode before allowing himself to properly grieve. It is clear, however, that Schildkraut’s grief made it into his performance and rendered it that much more powerful.
Schildkraut is matched by his on-screen wife played by Alma Platt, who is largely responsible for the two most emotionally wrenching moments of the episode, the first being her chant of “yes, yes, yes,” urging Schildkraut’s character to commit to the operation in order to alleviate his pain and suffering. The second moment, of course, is when both she and Schildkraut’s character, now inhabiting the young body of actor Edson Stroll, come to the dawning realization that youth and age will forever separate them. Though Platt never appeared in another Twilight Zone she did appear in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery titled “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay,” based on A.E. van Vogt’s 1943 story “The Witch.”
“The Trade-Ins” is directed by Elliot Silverstein and he brings a highly artistic style of the episode. Silverstein directed three additional episodes of the series and always managed to convey a dream-like (or nightmare-like) quality in the episodes he directed. “The Trade-Ins” is visually defined by the stark contrast of light and shadow, as well as by the cavernous set design, particularly in the case of the showroom floor at the New Life Corporation. In this way, the episode resembles Silverstein’s earlier effort, “The Obsolete Man,” especially in the contrast of a large Act One set with a smaller, more intimate Act Two set. In the case of “The Trade-Ins,” Silverstein contrasts the large showroom floor with the close interior setting of Farraday’s poker game. Furthermore, the two sets offer a contrast of a different nature, this being the difference between a clean, futuristic setting and that of a traditional noir design, the latter represented by the back room poker game. This sort of contrast would soon become fashionable, seeing perhaps its most effective merging just a few years later in Godard’s 1965 film Alphaville.
 The shortcomings of the episode are generally two-fold. Continuing on from the future noir look of the episode, the story does not feel as though it is set far enough into the future, considering the type of operation offered by the New Life Corporation. We’ve talked before about how the series, though often considered science fiction, was really a fantasy series which occasionally used familiar concepts from the science fiction genre. Serling is doing this here and wisely leaves any details about how the New Life Corporation achieves its miraculous trading of bodies shrouded in ambiguity and broad dialogue.
The more egregious shortcoming which most viewers will notice is the fundamental flaw of the ending. John is given a New Life body because he is in terrible and constant pain. He needs the body or he will die very soon. It is intimated that his wife, Marie, is not in as desperate a need for a new body. At one point in the episode John suggests to Mr. Vance that he would be young enough to work again and pay for the second New Life body in installments. Why, then, cannot John continue on in his young body until he can work enough to save up the five thousand dollars required to get his wife a New Life body? As it stands, this relatively minor problem with the story hardly detracts from the effectiveness of the episode.
A final mention should be made about the excellent adaptation of “The Trade-Ins” on The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas. In the title roles are H.M. Wynant as John Holt and Peggy Weber as Marie Holt. Wynant is one of the most memorable faces from the original series of The Twilight Zone as he portrayed the stranded traveler, David Ellington, who frees the Devil in the second season episode “The Howling Man.” Peggy Weber did not appear on the original series but did appear in two episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, “I’ll Never Leave You – Ever” and “The Different Ones,” the latter of which was written by Serling. Both Wynant and Weber are excellent in this story which one might believe is best suited to a visual medium, but radio drama has the appealing aspect of allowing the listener to visually build the story in their own minds. This one comes recommended.  
“The Trade-Ins” is Rod Serling’s love letter to love and marriage and to the ultimate optimistic view of fundamental human decency. Though it doesn’t quite strike the high notes of Serling’s finest episodes, it remains a moving, effective, and uplifting episode with memorable direction and outstanding performances.

Grade: B

Notes:
--Elliot Silverstein also directed “The Obsolete Man,” “The Passersby,” and “Spur of the Moment.”
--Joseph Schildkraut also appeared in the season three episode “Deaths-head Revisited.”
--Noah Keen also appeared in the season three episode “The Arrival.”
--Alma Platt also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.”
--Theodore Marcuse also appeared in the season three episode “To Serve Man.”
--Edson Stroll also appeared in the season two episode “Eye of the Beholder.”
--David Armstrong appeared uncredited in the episodes “To Serve Man,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
--“The Trade-Ins” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring H.M. Wynant and Peggy Webber.
--Serling misquotes Gibran in his closing narration. The line should read: “Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.”

-JP

4 comments:

  1. I haven't seen this one in years but I remember it as a good one. I enjoyed your article.

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    1. Thanks, Jack. I enjoy this episode as well but I do find that it's one that doesn't stick in the memory of most viewers for some reason.

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  2. Great write up. You have an encyclopedic knowledge of the TZ. Finding out about the main actor’s own wife’s demise during production was fascinating.

    Even though you didn’t feel it detracted from the effectiveness, I think your question about why John couldn’t work to save up money for Marie is left deliberately unspoken and is easily answered. My from understanding $5000 was equivalent to $40,000 to people in 1963. While still not a fortune, working to save that up could take some time. And as John exclaims in great detail after the initial transfer he’s not going to be satisfied just toiling away. He wants to take their lives to new experiences and heights. Part of the dual realization reflected in their faces is that they’re going to risk growing apart if they’re different ages. Energy levels and attractiveness will play a role. But also Marie’s health may suffer during the time that John would be saving. Basically the time spent together while saving could end up driving them apart.

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    1. Thank you for the comments, Erik. Although I spend much of my time (too much probably) watching and researching the Zone, many writers before I have contributed to our broader understanding of the production of the series as well as the personal lives of the cast and crew involved, among them Marc Zicree, Martin Grams, Christopher Conlon, Roger Anker, Matthew Bradley, Scott Skelton, Jim Benson, and others. See the Vortex Library link at the top of the page for a fuller picture of the enormous amount of written and filmed material related to the show.

      I certainly see the reason in your interpretation, although I don't think the episode is intended to take place in 1963 but rather a near-future society. But to your point the effort of saving for the additional body would have been too much for either of them, physically and mentally. I felt that it didn't detract from the overall effectiveness of the episode is because Serling intended the story to be a moral fable, free from the rigid analysis typically applied to a science fiction story.

      Thanks for reading!

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