Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"The Mind and the Matter"

Mr. Archibald Beechcroft (Shelly Berman) in his natural habitat
“The Mind and the Matter”
Season Two, Episode 63
Original Airdate:  May 12, 1961

Archibald Beechcroft: Shelley Berman
Henry: Jack Grinnage
Mr. Rogers: Chet Stratton
Landlady: Jeane Wood
Man in Elevator: Robert McCord

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Buzz Kulick
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, the very considerable talents of Mr. Shelley Berman are utilized to bring you another in our weekly excursions into the never-never-land of the wild, the wooly, and the wondrous. He plays the part of a little man who yearns for the serenity of a world without people and as it happens he gets his wish: to walk an uninhabited Earth and face the consequences. Our story is called the Mind and the Matter. I hope we see you then.
            “Now this isn’t just a word from the sponsor it’s simply a very good suggestion. It stands for real refreshment. Before we meet again, try Oasis for the softest taste of all.”

 Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
            “A brief if frenetic introduction to Mr. Archibald Beechcraft, a child of the nineteenth century, a product of the population explosion, and one of the inheritors of the legacy of progress.[…] Mr. Beechcraft again. This time act two of his daily battle for survival. And in just a moment, our hero will begin his personal one-man rebellion against the mechanics of his age, and to do so he will enlist certain aids available only in the Twilight Zone.”

            Archibald Beechcroft is a middle-aged curmudgeon who has lost all need for the company of others. He spends his days in a state of perpetual irritation with the people around him. After accidentally spilling coffee on Beechcroft one morning, Beechcroft’s young coworker Henry gives him a book on witchcraft as an apology. He says that he has seen people manipulate the world around them simply through mental concentration. Beechcraft takes the book home and skims through it. He decides that he will rid himself of the daily irritation of others by making every one in the world disappear.
             The next day Beechcroft steps out into a world void of people. His plan has worked. Through simple concentration he has removed everyone else in the world. But later on in his office he finds that now that has solitude he is incredibly bored and he actually misses interaction with other people. He decides to bring everyone back but only this time he makes them in his likeness. He wishes for a world full of people just like himself. But he soon realizes that a world full of Archibald Beechcrafts is even worse than a world full of normal people. So he decides to put everything back the way it was.
            The next day when he arrives at work he is greeted by a bustling, chaotic office full of various types of people. Right on schedule, his young coworker, Henry, spills a cup coffee all over him. Henry asks Beechcroft if he read the book that he gave him. Beechcraft admits that he read it but says that he regards it as nothing more than foolish nonsense. Henry shrugs this off and goes back to his day as Beechcroft grins to himself.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration”
“Mr. Archibald Beechcroft: a child of the twentieth century, who has found out through trial and error—and mostly error—that with all its faults it may well be that this is the best of all possible worlds—people not withstanding…it has too much to offer. Tonight’s case in point…in the Twilight Zone.”

Before we give an episode a grade of a D or an F we take into consideration every element that goes into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Story, dialogue, performances, direction, photography, music, art direction, etc. Episodes that exhibit strong amounts of all of these elements get an A. Episodes that have none get an F. Everything else falls somewhere in between. Before I say anything about “The Mind and the Matter” I will disclose that this episode gets an F, meaning that I cannot recommend it to anyone, for any reason. It is only the second F that we have handed out. The first went to Season One’s “The Mighty Casey.” I can’t say if “The Mind and the Matter” is any better or worse than “The Mighty Casey” but I can say that this was only the second time that I have seen this episode and it did not inspire me to plan an eventual third viewing.
Like “The Mighty Casey,” “The Mind and the Matter” is a comedy and was written by Serling. It feels very much like a last minute script. A notion of an idea with a story wrapped loosely around it. It is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale in the tradition of W. W. Jacobs’s famous story “The Monkey’s Paw.” But it feels like Serling didn’t have enough time to construct a proper plot structure for his idea flourish in. What initially distracts me about this episode is that the fantasy element is absurdly weak. Many episodes of the program, especially those dealing with time travel, have no explanation for the fantastical things that happen to or around their characters. They just happen. In “Walking Distance” Gig Young simply revisits his old hometown and finds that he has traveled back in time to when he was a small child. No explanation given. In “A World of Difference” Howard Duff walks into work one morning and finds that his life is actually a film set. Again, no explanation given. The fantasy here though, that Beechcraft can make everyone disappear just by thinking about it, seems to violate some kind of literary fantasy-reality boundary. So if he can make people disappear just by thinking about it then why hasn’t this ever happened before? He hates everyone so surely at one point he must have wished for the world to himself.
Serling wrote this episode specifically for Shelly Berman. Berman started as a straight actor who transitioned to comedy when he landed a spot in the Chicago comedy troupe Compass Players which later became Second City. His performance here isn’t notably bad and even has bursts of clever awkwardness but is ultimately forgetful.
But the biggest blunder of this episode lies in the work of makeup artist William Tuttle. The normally failsafe artist was brought in to mold masks of Shelly Berman’s face to be worn by extras after Beechcraft has made the world in his image. Instead of looking like a lot of Archibald Beechcrafts the extras look like a crowd of leatherfaces.
The only memorable aspect of this episode is the directorial innovations of Buzz Kulick in the scenes where Beechcraft’s argues with his conscience. But ultimately this episode comes off as a poorly written attempt at comedic fantasy and, again, I cannot recommend it for any reason.

Grade: F

--This episode was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Hal Sparks.
--Shelley Berman also appeared in three Twilight Zone Radio Drama episodes, "Hocus Pocus and Frisby," "Kick the Can," and "The Hunt."

--Brian Durant