Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Shadow Play"

Adam Grant (Dennis Weaver) imprisoned in a recurring nightmare
"Shadow Play"
Season Two, Episode 62
Original Air Date: May 5, 1961

Adam Grant: Dennis Weaver
Henry Ritchie: Harry Townes
Paul Carson: Wright King
Carol Ritchie: Anne Barton
Jiggs: William Edmondson
Coley: Bernie Hamilton
Phillips: Tommy Nello
Judge: Gene Roth
Priest: Mack Williams
Attorney: Jack Hyde
Jury Foreman: Howard Culver
Guard: John Close

Writer: Charles Beaumont (based on his short story "Traumerei")
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Jason Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week on the Twilight Zone you'll sit in this courtroom and you'll watch what is apparently the standard, everyday turning of the wheels of justice. But because this is The Twilight Zone don't be fooled by the readily apparent. When the judge enters, the jury rises, the bailiff calls out the case, all of this is the opening salvo to one of our wildest journeys yet. Our program is called 'Shadow Play' and it's written by Mr. Charles Beaumont. It comes well recommended."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Adam Grant, a nondescript kind of man found guilty of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. Like every other animal caught in the wheels of justice he's scared, right down to the marrow of his bones. But it isn't prison that scares him, the long, silent nights of waiting, the slow walk to the little room, or even death itself. It's something else that holds Adam Grant in the hot, sweaty grip of fear, something worse than any punishment this world has to offer, something found only in The Twilight Zone."

Harry Townes and Wright King
            Found guilty of murder, Adam Grant is sentenced to die in the electric chair. His reaction to the sentencing is hysterical laughter followed by outrage and screaming, "Not again! I won't die again!" Grant's story is that everything in the world, the places, the people, everything, is a recurring nightmare he experiences night after night. He tries to plead his case with other prisoners by pointing out inconsistencies in this reality, such as a prisoner on death row being allowed to wear a watch and the fact that Grant was tried and sentenced in only a single day.
            The only person who believes that Grant may be telling the truth is Carson, a local journalist. He pleads with Ritchie, the District Attorney, to go and see Grant. Ritchie does and is surprised that Grant seems to know the words that he, Ritchie, speaks before they leave his mouth. Grant tells Ritchie that the DA always comes to visit at the same time, night after night, but is not always the same person playing the role in the dream. Grant explains that the dream has its own logic and that dying, even in a dream, is terrifying because it feels so real. When Grant explains that an element of the dream can be changed, such as a meal that Ritchie's wife is preparing at home, Ritchie rushes home to see that the meal has indeed changed. This wins him over to Grant's way of thinking.
            Ritchie rushes to the telephone and calls the governor. He manages to get a stay of execution but is too late. Grant has been executed only a moment sooner. As Grant dies, Ritchie and Carson stand in Ritchie's living room. First the objects in the room disappear and then Ritchie and Carson disappear as well.
            Grant is on trial again and it is exactly as it was before except the players in the dream have all switched roles. He is again found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. 

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"We know that a dream can be real but who ever thought that reality can be a dream? We exist, of course, but how, in what way? As we believe, as flesh and blood human beings, or are we simply part of someone's feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it, and then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead in The Twilight Zone?"

            "Shadow Play" is one of the most unusual episodes of The Twilight Zone and falls into a category of stories which lie outside Rod Serling's socially conscious episodes or episodes built around a traditional thriller construct. These episodes of existential crisis examine reality through a lens of fantasy and include such episodes as Richard Matheson's "A World of Difference," Serling's "The After Hours" and "Mirror Image," Charles Beaumont's "Perchance to Dream," and several of the episodes dealing with time travel. These episodes are rarely fable-like or reliant upon a twist ending. They are designed to challenge the viewer's conceptions about the nature of reality by examining the possibility of a living unreality. This is essentially what the Twilight Zone, as an idea, embodies. It questions what happens when an element of the fantastic intrudes upon a perceived reality. "Shadow Play" benefits from a fine Charles Beaumont script, another outstanding directing job by veteran John Brahm, and an enviable cast to produce one of the show's most underrated, hidden gems of existential terror.
            Charles Beaumont placed a story with editor Larry Shaw titled "Traumerei" (which roughly translates from the German as "daydream" or "reverie") in the February, 1956 issue of Infinity Science Fiction. Though it seems to have been largely overlooked, this early Beaumont story is clearly the seed for his script of "Shadow Play." It includes passages presented wholly and unchanged in the later script. In "Traumerei," a slight four page story, Beaumont utilizes the scene which, in the episode, is played out at the District Attorney's house while the character of Adam Grant awaits execution. The short story is almost entirely comprised of the discussion between Carson, the journalist, and Ritchie, the District Attorney, about the possibility of whether or not the prisoner, who does not have a role in the short story outside of this context, is telling the truth about the whole world being a dream which will end when the prisoner is put to death. The story ends with a brief passage describing the prisoner being walked to the electric chair and the insinuation that the world is beginning to fade away. "Traumerei" was later collected in Beaumont's Yonder: Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Bantam Books, 1958).
            The short story leaves a lot to be desired and it is easy to understand why it has slipped through the cracks. It has not seen a reprint beyond its inclusion in Beaumont's second story collection (update: the story is included in Beaumont's 2015 collection from Penguin Classics, Perchance to Dream). It reads more like the treatment of an idea which, though written five years before, it essentially becomes when Beaumont decided to use it for a script on the show. To expand the short story to a half hour teleplay, Beaumont gave the prisoner a name, first Adam Trask and later changed to Adam Grant, a distinct personality, and a central role in the action. In the hands of actor Dennis Weaver, it makes for a manic but very convincing performance. It is a testament to the actors, including Harry Townes and Wright King as the District Attorney and local journalist, respectively, that they were able to bring off such a conceptually wild story in under half an hour. Beaumont's dialogue is brisk and moves the episode along quickly to an expected but still highly effective climax.
            The German-born John Brahm translated his strong German Expressionist influences to American thrillers for Fox such as The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945) and on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The distinctive Expressionist look of The Twilight Zone is largely Brahm's doing. Adam Grant's slightly askew dream world is filmed with little subtlety to heighten the effectiveness. The courtroom and jail scenes look slightly superficial (thanks to the MGM back lot) which lends credence to the unreality of Grant's dream, reflecting the world of Grant's imagination rather than a logical correlation to reality. Brahm even injects bits of Hitchcockian humor (a sizzling steak in an oven after a discussion of electrocution) and uses an effective split-screen camera technique in the episode.
            Dennis Weaver (1924-2006) was best known at the time for his role in Gunsmoke as Chester Goode. Weaver's connection with the Twilight Zone would extend beyond the show when he starred in the television film Duel (1971), giving a bravura performance in what is essentially a one man show. The screenplay for Duel was written by Richard Matheson from his short story from the April, 1971 issue of Playboy. Duel was directed by Steven Spielberg and was the director's first feature length film assignment. Two years prior, Spielberg was given his first professional assignment directing a segment of the pilot for a new anthology television show called Night Gallery, a Rod Serling created show which was a successor to the Twilight Zone but was ultimately hampered by the fact that Serling had little creative control. Spielberg directed "Eyes," starring Joan Crawford as a cruel blind woman given the chance to see for one night. It was a highly effective script and showcased some of Rod Serling's best writing since The Twilight Zone.
            Harry Townes (1914-2001) was a busy television actor who appeared on virtually every major series of the time. He appeared in excellent episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including "The Creeper"), One Step Beyond, The Outer Limits, and Thriller (two fine episodes, "The Cheaters" and "Dark Legacy"). Townes' other genre credits include the Planet of the Apes television series, Star Trek, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Townes also had a role in the Playhouse 90 episode "The Rank and File," written by Rod Serling and broadcast on May 28, 1959.
            Wright King (1923-2018) was a close personal friend of Dennis Weaver and had also previously worked with Harry Townes, which explains the remarkable chemistry the actors have in the episode. He came from a stage tradition and worked frequently in live television drama during the early days of the medium. In 1951, he landed a role in Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire. King would work heavily in the western television series of the 1960s. His genre credits include episodes of Suspense and the Logan's Run television series, as well as the role of Dr. Galen in Planet of the Apes (1968).
            A faithful yet less effective remake of the episode appeared on the first Twilight Zone revival series. It aired April 4, 1986 as part of the first season and starred Peter Coyote as Adam Grant. The remake was directed by Paul Lynch and writer James Crocker updated Charles Beaumont's original teleplay.
            "Shadow Play" remains an intriguing and suspenseful episode that perfectly embodies the otherworldly nature of the Twilight Zone in a way few other episodes are able to match. It showcases Charles Beaumont's excellent writing and obsessions with dreams, nightmares, and unreality which perfectly suited the show and made him what many consider to be the ultimate Twilight Zone writer. It is an underrated episode which deserves wider attention.

Grade: A

-Harry Townes appeared earlier in the season one episode, "The Four of Us Are Dying." He also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "Lindemann's Catch," scripted by Serling. 
-Wright King also appears in the fourth season episode, "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville."
-"Shadow Play" was used as the title of a collection of Charles Beaumont short stories brought out by British publisher Panther Books in 1964. The book was an abridged reprint of the author's 1957 collection, The Hunger and Other Stories.
-"Shadow Play" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Ernie Hudson.
-The title refers to a type of stage puppetry which uses flat characters, a light source, and a translucent screen to create images and effects.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"The Silence"

Archie Taylor (Franchot Tone) being chastised by his
friend (Jonathan Harris)

“The Silence”
Season Two, Episode 61
Original Air Date: April 28, 1961

Archie Taylor: Franchot Tone
Jamie Tennyson: Liam Sullivan
George Alfred: Jonathan Harris
Franklin, the Butler: Cyril Delevanti
Man #1: Everett Glass
Man #2: Felix Locher
Man #3: John Holland

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Boris Sagal
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Leon Barsha
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“There are all kinds of wagers and all kinds of odds, from the spin of a roulette wheel to a two-dollar across the board at a race track. But next week, on the Twilight Zone, with the aid of Mr. Franchot Tone, we tell the story of possibly the strangest bet ever to occur in the annals of chance. Our program is called ‘The Silence.’ I hope we’ll see you then.
            “Here’s something that doesn’t require any imagination. It’s Oasis. If you just took this puff, you’d agree. It’s the softest taste of all. Before we meet again, try Oasis for the softest taste of all.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Monologue:
            “The note that this man is carrying across a club room is in the form of a proposed wager, but it’s the kind of wager that comes with a precedent. It stands alone in the annals of bet-making as the strangest game of chance ever afforded by one man to another. In just a moment, we’ll see the terms of the wager and what young Mr. Tennyson does about it. And in the process, we’ll witness all parties spin a wheel of chance in a very bizarre casino called…the Twilight Zone.”

Jamie Tennyson is a verbose young man who will stop at nothing to steal the ear of anyone willing to listen. Archie Taylor is an aging, irritable curmudgeon with an unrelenting distaste for young Mr. Tennyson. Both men are members of a prestigious men’s club.  One evening, as Tennyson tries unsuccessfully to gain the admiration and attention of his fellow club members, Taylor has the butler bring a note over to him. After reading it, Tennyson confronts Taylor at once. Taylor makes public the information contained in his note. He has grown tired of Tennyson’s constant chattering and his perpetual attempt to sucker club members into granting him a “loan.” He proposes a bet. He bets that Tennyson cannot keep silent for an entire year. He says that Tennyson is to stay in an enclosed living room made of glass so he can be observed by Taylor or any other club member at any time, with microphones monitoring his every movement. He asks the club members for permission to use the basement as part of his wager. If he can do this Taylor will pay him $500,000. Tennyson accepts the bet and leaves the club white with humiliation.
Over the course of the year that Tennyson is held captive Taylor makes many trips to the glass prison. He attempts to persuade young Tennyson to give up the fight and leave the prison at once. If Tennyson is willing to give up early Taylor will give him a severance prize of $5,000 for his effort.  Tennyson doesn’t budge.  Later, Taylor resorts to feeding Tennyson adulterous lies about his wife. Heartbroken but determined to win the bet Tennyson stays in the prison. And he never says a word.
A year to the day that Jamie Tennyson voluntarily shut himself off from the world, Archie Taylor stands in a room surrounded by his fellow club members, sick with anxiety. As the clock strikes ten young Tennyson emerges from the basement. He makes his way across the crowded lobby to Taylor and holds out his hand in demand of his payment for a challenge fulfilled. It is here that Taylor admits that he cannot fulfill his end of the bargain. When he made the bet he never expected the young man to actually go through with it.  He simply meant to embarrass him. He admits that he lost his inheritance many years ago.  He is now penniless and cannot pay even a fraction of Tennyson’s reward. Shamefully, he informs the club members that he will resign and never show his face there again. Tennyson grabs a notepad begins to scribble something down. Urged by the club members to use his voice, he instead hands the notepad to Taylor.  Taylor reads it aloud: I KNEW I COULD NOT FULFILL MY END OF THE BARGAIN. SO ONE YEAR AGO I HAD THE NERVES TO MY VOCAL CORDS SEVERED. Tennyson then removes a scarf from around his neck revealing the scar from his surgery. 

Rod Serling’s Closing Monologue:
            “Mr. Jamie Tennyson, who almost won a bet, but who discovered somewhat belatedly that gambling can be a most unproductive pursuit, even with loaded dice, marked cards, or as in his case, some severed vocal cords. For somewhere beyond him a wheel was severed and his number came up black thirteen. If you don’t believe it, ask the croupier, the very special one who handles roulette…in the Twilight Zone.”

            “The Silence” is an atypical Twilight Zone episode in that it is completely void of any sort of fantasy element. It is perhaps the only episode in which this can be said. There are other episodes of the show which cannot be appropriately labeled “fantasy,” such as the pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” and Season Two’s “King Nine Will Not Return.” But there is at least a hint of implied fantasy in those episodes even if the twist in both reveals that the fantasy is only in the minds of the protagonists. But “The Silence” is an episode that at no time suggests that there may possibly be a fantastical element at work. Instead is a simple crime tale that would be more comfortable in an issue of E.C. Comics or an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
            “The Silence” has become a controversial episode among both fans and critics of the show due to its alleged source material. Although this episode is credited solely to Serling it has been compared by several researchers to Anton Chekov’s 1889 short story “The Bet,” although it has never been confirmed that Serling based his story on Chekov’s. “The Bet” tells the story of an aging banker who bets a feisty young attorney two million dollars that he cannot remain in solitary confinement for fifteen years. The attorney takes the bet. While there is no clause about remaining silent the same general setup is applied here. The attorney is to remain in a secured cell in a lodge on the banker’s property. He is not allowed to leave the cell but unlike Serling’s story he is not allowed to see other human beings. To request books, musical instruments, wine, tobacco or food he is to submit a hand written request through a tiny window made specifically for that purpose. While he is incarcerated the attorney begins a quest to read as many books as he can get his hands on. History, religion, linguistics, political manifestos, literature, etc. His hair and beard grow long and unkempt. He appears at times to be enduring emotional torture for crying can often be heard coming from his cell. During the attorney’s time in prison the banker suffers numerous financial setbacks. He squanders his money on bad investments and at the end of the fifteen years he is substantially poorer than when he first proposed to the attorney the absurd wager. If he pays the attorney the two million it will ruin him. He decides instead to murder the attorney and spare himself from poverty. He sneaks into the attorney’s cell and finds the emaciated prisoner asleep. He also finds a handwritten note and he decides to read it. The attorney states that he no longer needs the two million dollars. He believes himself to be far wiser than when he when he accepted the bet. He rejects the value that society places on material goods. To prove his point he later leaves his cell mere minutes before his fifteen year sentence is over, sparing the banker his millions.
            Whether or not this story is at all based on the Chekov story is debatable and ultimately will never be known. If it is then Serling’s ending takes the story in a very different direction and changes it from one of psychological and social didacticism to one of psychological horror. Serling did comment on the similarities of the two stories years later in a lecture at Ithaca College stating that he was not familiar with the Chekov story when he wrote “The Silence” but stated that there are many different directions that one could have taken a protagonist with this setup. Regardless, his double twist denouement here is effectively horrifying.          
            Franchot Tone (1905 – 1968) was a veteran star of stage and screen. He is remembered today most notably for his role in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Other notable films include Dancing Lady (1935), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Phantom Lady (1945), The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) and Advise and Consent (1962). Tone, mirroring his personal life, was often cast as an urbane socialite similar to his role here. In interviewing the cast and crew of this episode Marc Scot Zicree uncovered an interesting dilemma on the set involving Tone. Director Boris Sagal shot the scenes in the lobby of the men’s club on the first day of the production. On the second day, however, when they were to begin shooting the scenes that take place in the game room where Tennyson’s cell is located, Tone didn’t show up to the set on time. After waiting several hours for him the producers finally got in touch with his agent. When Tone eventually made it to the set the left side of his face was badly scarred. There are several versions as to why his faced looked so terrible. One is that Tone simply fell down a steep hill smashing his face on rocks. There is another story, however, that has Tone being beaten after he made a pass at another man’s girlfriend. Whatever the story, Sagal was pressed to figure out a way to shoot Tone so that his scars would not be seen. His solution was to shoot Tone either in profile or simply shoot close-ups of only half of his face with a steal beam (part of Tennyson’s cell) covering up the left side. The effect worked and actually adds a lot to the scene and to Tone’s character.

Grade: B

--Boris Segal also directed the Season Three episode “The Arrival,” as well as the segment titled "The Cemetery" from the pilot film of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He also directed the 1971 film The Omega Man, an adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend.
--Liam Sullivan also appears in the Season Three episode “The Changing of the Guard.”
--Jonathan Harris also appears in the Season Two episode “Twenty-Two,” as well as in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay."
--Cyril Delevanti appears in three additional episodes, "A Penny for Your Thoughts," from season two, "A Piano in the House," from season three, and "Passage on the Lady Anne," from season four. Delevanti also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Sins of the Father."
--This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chris McDonald.

--Brian Durant