Monday, April 22, 2013

"The Lateness of the Hour"

John Hoyt as Dr. Loren and Inger Stevens as his daughter Jana
"The Lateness of the Hour"
Season Two, Episode 44
Original Air Date: December 2, 1960

Jana: Inger Stevens
Dr. Loren: John Hoyt
Mrs. Loren: Irene Tedrow
Nelda: Mary Gregory
Robert: Tom Palmer
Gretchen: Doris Karnes
Suzanne: Valley Keane
Jensen: Jason Johnson

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Art Direction: Craig Smith
Set Decoration: Arthur Jeph Parker
Technical Director: Jim Brady
Assoc. Director: James Clark
Casting: Ethel Winant
Music: stock

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"The residence of Dr. William Loren, which is in reality a menagerie for machines. We're about to discover that sometimes the product of a man's talent and genius can walk amongst us untouched by the normal ravages of time. These are Dr. Loren's robots, built to functional as well as artistic perfection. But in a moment Dr. Loren, wife, and daughter will discover that perfection is relative, that even robots have to be paid for, and very shortly will be shown exactly what is the bill."

            Dr. Loren, a genius inventor, and his wife live in comfort and complete solitude in a large, secluded manor along with their thirty-something daughter, Jana, and a household of programmed servants in the form of intelligent robots, all designed and imbued with artificial intelligence by Dr. Loren. While Dr. Loren and his wife enjoy the peace that comes with having all their needs tended to by the skilled automatons that comprise the household staff, Jana feels trapped in the house and unnerved by her parents’ reliance upon the robots. Jana longs for the world outside and refuses to be shut off in the large house any longer. She threatens to leave and go out into the world if her father does not destroy all of his robots. After pleading with Jana not to make him destroy his life's work, Dr. Loren reluctantly relents and agrees to destroy the robots if Jana will stay with them. Delighted, Jana begins speaking of her dream to live a normal life, to meet a man and settle down and have children. At the mention of children, the look on her parents’ faces tells Jana all she needs to know about her own existence. There are no pictures of Jana as a little girl in the family album because she is, in fact, one of her father's creations. The Lorens could not have children naturally and so Dr. Loren built a daughter for them. Horrified by the idea that she was manufactured by the man she thought was her natural father, Jana lashes out and tells the Lorens that she cannot be their daughter anymore. Despite their pleading with Jana, the Lorens realize that Jana is forever changed by this revelation. The shocking solution to the problem of keeping Jana at home is that Dr. Loren reprograms her as the maid, Nelda.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Let this be the postscript: should you be worn out by the rigors of competing in a very competitive world, if you're distraught from having to share you existence with the noises and neuroses of the twentieth century, if you crave serenity but want it full time and with no strings attached, get yourself  a workroom in a basement and then drop a note to Dr. and Mrs. William Loren. They're a childless couple who made comfort a life's work, and maybe there are a few do-it-yourself pamphlets still available. . . in the Twilight Zone."

            "The Lateness of the Hour" has the dubious distinction of being the first of six videotaped Twilight Zone episodes to see broadcast. Turning to videotape was an attempt on the part of the network (CBS) to implement cost cutting measures on the production of the show. The cost for filming an episode crept up toward $65,000 apiece and the network hit the panic button. Videotape was less expensive than film and required virtually no editing since the editing process could be performed on the spot. The limitations of videotape, however, were many. No exterior locations could be used because of the primitive nature of the videotape process at the time. With all work needing to be done on a soundstage, it greatly limited the type of story Rod Serling and company could tell on the videotaped episodes. "The Lateness of the Hour" is a good example of how Serling, never a fan of the use of videotape on Twilight Zone, compromised with the new process, setting his story in a very enclosed environment and requiring virtually no more movement of the scene than would a stage play. It is no coincidence that producer Buck Houghton sought out directors with experience in the live television format since videotape was used in that arena. Director Jack Smight knew well the limitations of videotape and concentrated instead on developing atmosphere in the episode and achieved this to fine effect. What is sorely missed in the episode is the Emmy Award-winning work of photographer George T. Clemens. No director of photography was needed on the videotaped episodes since a technical director operated the switches from a standard four camera setup at the behest of the episode's director.

          "The Lateness of the Hour" is ultimately a fable-like episode already limited by a threadbare, predictable plot and further limited by the videotape method. Serling's script comes off as overly melodramatic and the actors, especially Inger Stevens as Jana, have no choice but to play to the material as presented and therefore play it over the top. Director Smight does a fine job of establishing the atmosphere of dread beneath the serene surface leading up to the confrontational climax and final revelation. The ending is another in a long line of obligatory twist endings for the show and, unfortunately, can be seen coming from a long way away by most sophisticated viewers. It is more unfortunate that the entire episode hinges on the final revelation. It is Inger Stevens’s performance that ultimately comes across as too over-dramatic, especially when placed against the muted performances of the other two leads. It is surprising that Stevens would be the weak link in the acting chain for "The Lateness of the Hour" as she certainly gives a strong performance as the lead in the classic first season episode, "The Hitch-Hiker."  See our post on the earlier episode for more information about the actress's career and tragic brief life.
            Veteran character actors John Hoyt and Irene Tedrow brought a veteran presence to their roles and would both work for The Twilight Zone on more than one occasion. Hoyt turned in a coldly menacing performance as the Martian invader in the classic second season episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" , shown the following May after the initial broadcast of "The Lateness of the Hour." Irene Tedrow starred previously in the equally esteemed first season episode "Walking Distance" as the main character's, Martin Sloan's, mother.
            In terms of quality, "The Lateness of the Hour" lands right in the middle of one of the most often tread themes of the show, that of the robot and its relation to its human counterpart. The show treated the theme very well ("The Lonely," "In His Image") and poorly ("Uncle Simon," "The Mighty Casey") but the episode with which "The Lateness of the Hour" shares the most thematic ground is Ray Bradbury's single contribution to the show, "I Sing the Body Electric," broadcast during the third season. The two episodes, when taken together, nicely display the light and dark sides of the theme of the automated domestic servant and its effect on the household.
            In all, "The Lateness of the Hour" is an episode hampered by a thin script, occasional over-acting, and a videotape method which hindered the entire production on a basic level. That said, the nice atmosphere, quick pacing, presence of veteran character actors, and predictable yet enjoyable twist in the tale mark the episode par for the course as the second season kept rolling on. However, following in line behind episodes the caliber of "The Howling Man," "Eye of the Beholder," and "Nick of Time," "The Lateness of the Hour" simply pales in comparison.

Grade: C

--Inger Stevens also appears in the first season episode "The Hitch-Hiker"
--John Hoyt also appears in the second season episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
--Irene Tedrow also appears in the first season episode "Walking Distance"
--Mary Gregory appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Different Ones." 
--Director Jack Smight also helmed the first season episode "The Lonely," also about a robot, and two additional videotaped episodes from the second season, "Night of the Meek" and "Twenty Two."
--"The Lateness of the Hour" was produced as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Jane Seymour and James Keach.

--Jordan Prejean

Up Next: We take a trip back to the past with Booth Templeton (Brian Aherne), an aging actor who gets an unnerving second look at the old days for which he longs. That’s next time with “The Trouble with Templeton” on The Twilight Zone Vortex.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Nick of Time"

Patricia Breslin and William Shatner test their fate with
the Mystic Seer.
“Nick of Time”
Season Two, Episode 43
November 18, 1960

Don Carter: William Shatner
Pat Carter: Patricia Breslin
Counterman: Guy Wilkerson
Mechanic: Stafford Repp
Desperate Man: Walter Reed
Desperate Woman: Lee Carroll

Writer: Richard Matheson (original teleplay)
Director: Richard L. Bare
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson and Sidney Van Keuran
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Philip Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Ethel Winant
Editor: Leon Barsha
Sound: Franklin Milton and Charles Scheid
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“You’ve probably run across these penny machines that tell your fortune.  You put a penny in and out comes a card.  Only this particular machine, which you’ll see next week, is a little bit unique in that the fortunes that it tells happen to come true.  A most intriguing tale called ‘The Nick of Time’ by Mr. Richard Matheson.  And you’re invited to partake of it.  Thank you and good night.”

 Rod Serlin’s Opening Narration:

“The hand belongs to Mr. Don S. Carter, male member of a honeymoon team en route across the Ohio countryside to New York City.  In one moment they will be subjected to a gift most humans never receive in a lifetime.  For one penny they’ll be able to look into the future.  The time is now, the place is a little diner in Ridgeview, Ohio.  And what this young couple doesn’t realize is that this town happens to lie on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.”

Don and Pat Carter are newlyweds on a road trip across the Midwest en route to New York City for a Manhattan honeymoon.  While tooling through a small town called Ridgeview, Ohio they come into car trouble.  They have the car towed to a local mechanic who tells them it will be four hours before it’s ready.  Hungry, fatigued and with little to do in such a long stretch of time they decide to grab a bite to eat at the Busy Bee Café.  They walk in, sit down, order, and then turn their attention to a quirky-looking novelty toy placed on the table.  It’s nothing more than a box-shaped, medal napkin holder with a lever and a winking, plastic devil’s head protruding from the top of it.  Written on it are the words “The Mystic Seer.”  It’s a fortune-telling machine.  For just a penny a willing patron may ask it anything he or she wishes as long as it requires no more than a yes or no answer.  Feeling adventurous they decide to give it a try. 
               Searching for a question, Don drops a penny into the coin slot, pulls the lever and says, “Does anything exciting ever happen around here?”
                “It is quite possible,” the Seer replies.
                They forget about the machine for a few moments while they order their food but then Don decides he wants to ask it another question.  This time he asks it about a big job promotion he is line for.
                “It has been decided in your favor,” says the Seer.
                Don decides that this is enough reason to phone his office again to ask for an update on the status of his promotion.  Pat protests, explaining to him that his constant calling may be an annoyance to his bosses.  Don shrugs her off and decides to call anyway.  After he hangs up the phone he cheerfully announces to his wife that he got the job.
                Feeling as though the machine foretold his future in a way, Don decides to ask it another question.  “Will it really be four hours before we get out of here?” he says.
                “You may never know,” the Seer replies.
                Finding the answer curious, Don then asks it if something will happen to prevent them from leaving.  “If you move soon,” the Seer says.
                Finding this to be more than just a curious answer but a somewhat disturbing one, Don begins to ask questions at an increasingly faster pace as his wife watches nervously.  Finally, he asks “Should we stay in here until three o’clock?”
            “There’s no question about it,” the Seer responds.
             “If we don’t stay in here until three o’clock, something bad will happen to us?”
“Do you dare risk finding out?"
Finding the ordeal quite unsettling, Pat suggests that they leave the café and explore the town.  Don protests, saying that he has not finished his food, but really he is afraid to leave the café before three o’clock.  But Pat is persistent and eventually he decides that he cannot stay in there any longer without admitting to her that he is afraid to leave.  They pay their check and walk outside.
             Pat inquires to Don as to why he wanted to stay in the café so badly.  He claims that the Mystic Seer was specific about every answer it gave and that it was right about his promotion.  That every answer seemed to fit the question asked.  Then he admits that he is prone to superstition and carries rabbits’ feet and four leaf clovers wherever he goes.  Pat kisses him gently on the cheek and beckons him forward.  But she notices Don nervously looking all around them for some sign of malice.  Moments later, while crossing the street, they are almost run over by a speeding car.  The camera pans up to a clock which reads three o’clock. 
            After consoling his new wife, Don suggests that they go back to the café to relax.  Reluctantly, she agrees.  When they enter the café they notice that two elderly women are sitting their table.  Even though there are Mystic Seers located on every table Don doesn’t drop a penny into any of them.  Pat tells him that he could get the same kind of answers from any one of these machines.  That the machine did not say not to leave until three, he did.  But Don waits until the two elderly women leave and then makes his way back to their original table.  He begins to ask questions at a rapid fire pace. 
            “Did you know about the car almost hitting us?” “Will we reach New York alright now?” “Will it still take four hours before the car is ready?”
Out of nowhere the mechanic walks into the café to tell them that their car is ready to go.
Don asks his wife if she still thinks that it is a coincidence.  He suggests that she ask some questions.  She does but quickly gets frustrated and stands up to leave.  Don continues to ask questions.  Pat begs him to stop but he cannot.  “This machine is predicting our future,” he says.  “Do you think I can just walk away from it?”  She convinces him that if he doesn’t let the machine go then it will end up running his life.  She tells him that she doesn’t want to know what is going to happen in their lives, she wants to make it happen.  Don realizes the ridiculousness of his behavior and he stands and puts his arms around her.  He tells her that they should leave.  They can go anywhere they want and do anything they want.  They walk out of the café arms in arm with a new outlook on life.
               Immediately after they leave another couple walks in.  They appear ragged, tired, beaten, worn, desperate.  They walk over to the same table that was, until moments ago, occupied by Don and Pat Carter.  They sit down and drop a penny into the Mystic Seer.  “May we ask some more questions now?” the man says.  “Can we leave Ridgeview today?  Is there any way out?  Any way at all?”
 Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Counter balance in the little town of Ridgeview, Ohio.  Two people permanently enslaved by the tyranny of fear of and superstition, facing the future with a kind of helpless dread.  Two others facing the future with confidence, having escaped one of the darker places of the Twilight Zone.”

Rounding out the unprecedented three episode run on The Twilight Zone is the subtle Richard Matheson-penned masterpiece “Nick of Time.”  The focus on the past three episodes, “The Howling Man,” “Eye of the Beholder” and “Nick of Time,” as being such an extraordinary creative arc is because each of these episodes are considered by both fans and critics to be among the best efforts that the show has to offer and among the best offerings from each of their respective writers (the three primary writers on the show), Charles Beaumont, Rod Serling and Richard Matheson
                Unlike the visually aesthetic episodes of Beaumont and Serling, “Nick of Time,” in true Matheson form, is meticulously subtle.  Even the twist at the end of the episode is left up to the audience’s interpretation.  But the ending is more important than just artistic trickery.  It actually helps to drive Matheson’s point home; that people control their own destiny.  After leading the audience to believe that the Mystic Seer is only a hallucinated manifestation of Don’s fear and paranoia Matheson then tells us that maybe it is real.  But it doesn’t matter either way because its purpose hasn’t changed.  It is still a representation of paranoia and apprehension and all of the trappings of modern psychology.  One has to face his fears if he wants to free himself from them, the message here being that Don has finally learned that he is the only one that controls his destiny.  True, Matheson could have said all of this without the twist ending but, as suggested by the title of the episode, the ending basically implies that if a person doesn’t learn to face his fears then he will be consumed by them forever.  Don learns this lesson, but his less fortunate counterpart does not.
                The idea for “Nick of Time” came to Matheson while having dinner with his wife at a café where he saw a fortune telling machine much like the one that ends up in the episode.  Characteristic of many of his stories the title here holds a double meaning.  According to Matheson “Nick of Time” refers not only to the fact that Don and Pat escape in the nick of time but also to how a person can become a slave to time, how it cuts into our lives.  The devil’s head was not in the original script and was added later by the art department.  Though it seems like only a prop this episode would not work as well without it because it gives the Seer a face and thus a personality, which is what the story revolves around.
                As meticulously crafted as the script for “Nick of Time” is it would completely fall apart without the right actors.  In the entirety of the Twilight Zone catalog I don’t believe that there is another actor more suited to his role than William Shatner is in both of his performances on this program.  Shatner also stars in the Season Five episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which is probably the single most recognizable episode of the show (also written by Matheson).  When “Nick of Time” first aired in 1960 Shatner had just begun appearing on television.   Though widely regarded as sort of a ham-a fairly accurate description-Shatner is actually a theatrically trained Shakespearean actor who appeared in dozens of highly acclaimed plays in his twenties before coming to Hollywood.  Through roles on various projects and because of his association with the science fiction community Shatner eventually became friends with Matheson and fellow Twilight Zone scribes Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson and Jerry Sohl and several other members of the Southern California School of Writers (the Group).  He and Serling had already worked together in 1958 when Shatner appeared in Serling’s Playhouse 90 play, A Town Has Turned to Dust.  In 1962 Shatner accompanied Beaumont, Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan and director Roger Corman to Missouri to play the lead in the film adaptation of Beaumont’s novel, The Intruder, which Beaumont adapted himself.  Beaumont, Nolan and Clayton Johnson all have roles in the film.  That same year he appeared in two episodes of Thriller, both of which were written by Matheson’s close friend and mentor Robert Bloch.  Over the next few years he did the rounds on the anthology circuit appearing in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond and The Outer Limits.  In 1966 he took the role of USS Enterprise Captain James. T. Kirk in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek and was forever immortalized in modern popular culture, becoming the key figure in one of the most successful television franchises of all time.  Matheson, Bloch, Clayton Johnson and Sohl all contributed stories to the series.
                Although Shatner is often accused of overacting, his dramatic enthusiasm is what makes his characters so memorable.  There are many other things working for Star Trek but put simply I don’t think the show would still be around today if it were not for William Shatner.  It’s interesting to compare his two performances on The Twilight Zone because they are so much alike.  He is almost playing the same character at two different stages of life.  When the audience first meets Don Carter he is a newly married, intelligent young man with nothing but potential in front of him.  But his tragic flaw is that his paranoia and insecurity are beginning to blind him from the rest of the world.  If we were to fast forward ten years from this point we would most likely see a different Don Carter, one more like Bob Wilson.
                But it is the relationship between Shatner and Patricia Breslin that really holds this episode together.  The dominant theme in much of Matheson’s work is American domesticity.  Whereas Serling’s work focused on personal compassion and social issues and Beaumont’s stories often focused on ideas and atmosphere, Matheson’s episodes were often about the common interactions between husband and wife.  The way Shatner and Breslin react to one another on the screen is both convincing and totally accessible to the audience.  They appear to be like any young married couple.  So their arguments come off as genuine and are easily relatable to the viewer. 
                Breslin was a popular television performer in the 1950’s, appearing in many of the live dramas and daytime soap operas, but she appears to have abandoned her acting career in the mid-60’s.  Her credits include AHP & AHH, Thriller, Perry Mason, and Bonanza. 
             “Nick of Time” was directed by Twilight Zone regular Richard L Bare whose other episodes include “Third from the Sun” and “To Serve Man.”  Everything about this episode depends on subtlety and Bare chose to keep his camerawork minimal and let the actors and Matheson’s script work on their own, and the result was an undeniable landmark of the series.

Grade: A+

--As mentioned, William Shatner also stars in the Season Five classic, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
--Patricia Breslin also appears in the Season Four Episode, “No Time Like the Past.”
--“Nick of Time” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Marshall Allman (2002, Falcon Picture Group).

--Brian Durant

Up Next: Come back next time for a story about family and robots when we review Rod Serling's "The Lateness of the Hour" right here on The Twilight Zone Vortex.