Monday, November 17, 2014

"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

Morgan Jones and Barney Phillips ponder the stranger in their midst
"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
Season Two, Episode 64
Original Air Date: May 26, 1961

Trooper Dan Perry: Morgan Jones
Trooper Bill Padgett: John Archer
Ross: John Hoyt
Haley: Barney Phillips
Avery: Jack Elam
Olmstead: Bill Kendis
Ethel McConnell: Jean Willes
Peter Kramer: Bill Erwin
Rose Kramer: Gertrude Flynn
George Prince: Ron Kipling
Connie Prince: Jill Ellis

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Director: 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
Makeup: William Tuttle

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"It's been said that singularly the most difficult feat of all mankind is to find a needle in a haystack. On the Twilight Zone next time, we do it one better. We pose a problem of finding a Martian in a snow bank. It all adds up to a kind of extraterrestrial who's who with a couple of laughs and more than a couple of tangents. We recommend this to the space buffs and the jigsaw puzzle addicts. Next time on the Twilight Zone, our story is called "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Wintry February night, the present. Order of events: a phone call from a frightened woman notating the arrival of an unidentified flying object. And the check-out you've just witnessed with two State Troopers verifying the event but with nothing more enlightening to add beyond evidence of some tracks leading across the highway to a diner. You've heard of trying to find a needle in a haystack? Well, stay with us now and you'll be part of an investigating team whose mission is not to find that proverbial needle. No, their task is even harder. They've got to find a Martian in a diner. And in just a moment you'll search with them because you've just landed in the Twilight Zone."

            On a snowy February night, two state troopers respond to a call to check out an unidentified flying object which has taken off the tops of some trees and landed in Tracy's pond at Hook's Landing. The troopers find evidence that something did indeed land in the pond and, unbelievable as it seems, tracks in the snow appear to indicate that something crawled out of the pond and walked across the highway to a secluded diner. After getting a radio warning about a nearby bridge being too dangerous to pass upon, the troopers follow the tracks in the snow to the diner.
            The troopers find nine people within the diner, seven passengers on a bus line, the bus driver, and the counterman running the diner. After telling the bus driver about the impassable bridge, to the particular disdain of one of the passengers, a grouchy businessman named Ross, the troopers question the bus driver about how many passengers were on the bus. Though the driver does not have any information on the individual passengers, he is certain that there were six passengers on the bus. There are, however, seven passengers within the diner.
            The troopers explain the situation to the people in the diner and set in motion a situation in which each person attempts to exonerate themselves from suspicion of being the outsider. The group of passengers includes an old couple, a young couple, a pretty young woman, the grouchy businessman, and an energetic old coot. The passengers admit that with all the snowfall it is possible that an extra person could have slipped into the diner with the others as they unloaded the bus. None of the passengers are certain about who else was on the bus. 
            Strange phenomena begin to occur in the diner, including the overhead lights blinking on and off and the jukebox playing on its own before even more violent action occurs as the glass sugar containers burst open upon each table. The tension slowly rises as everyone waits for the bridge to open so the bus can go on its way. When the call finally comes that the bridge is now passable, the troopers have no choice but to allow all the passengers onto the bus, as they have no real cause to prevent anybody from leaving.
            Some minutes later Ross, the grumpy businessman, returns to the diner. When Haley, the counterman, asks him what happened, Ross replies that the bridge wasn't passable and that the bus and the state trooper car both went down into the river. No one survived. No one, that is, except Ross. And he isn't even wet. When Haley points this out, Ross is ignorant of the term "wet" and suddenly reveals a third arm from beneath his coat and explains that he is a Martian scout sent ahead to clear the Earth for invasion. Haley seems unperturbed. He nods and agrees that Earth is indeed a great place for an alien settlement but that it won't be coming from Mars. Haley is revealed to be from Venus and informs Ross that his alien friends have been overtaken by Venusians. Haley removes his cap to reveal a third eye.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Incident on a small island, to be believed or disbelieved. However, if a sour-faced dandy named Ross or a big, good-natured counterman who handles a spatula as if he'd been born with one in his mouth, if either of these two entities walks onto your premises, you'd better hold their hands, all three of them, or check the color of their eyes, all three of them. The gentlemen in question might try to pull you into the Twilight Zone."

            "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" is certainly one of the most clich├ęd, predictable, ludicrous, derivative, and outlandish episodes of the Twilight Zone's first two seasons. That said, it is also certainly one of the most purely enjoyable episodes in the show's entire run. It effectively functions as the cumulative success of all Rod Serling's previous efforts to combine humor, fantasy, and suspense into a workable mix for the show, bettering the substantial failures of previous episodes "The Mighty Casey," "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," and "The Mind and the Matter." Though Serling borrowed from previous sources, including one of his own first season scripts, he produced a fun, fast paced thriller that is fondly remembered as one of the most recognizable and enjoyable episodes of the show.
            Nearly three years prior to the airing of the episode, on October 12, 1958, Serling wrote a story treatment while the show was still in development. The treatment was titled "The Night of the Big Rain," the basics components of which would eventually become "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" For the filmed episode, Serling's switched the heavy rainfall which strands the group inside the diner to snowfall instead, a wise choice as the snowfall adds a distinct atmosphere to the episode. Also in his original treatment, Serling had the alien being revealed as the cafe owner's new pet dog. This ending proved too absurd and unworkable even for an episode with the premise of "find the alien in the diner." Serling wisely chose to change the ending and also the title, first to "Nobody Here But Us Martians," the title used during the filming of the episode, and finally to "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?," a play on the catchphrase of the television game show To Tell the Truth, which began airing on CBS in 1956.
            The sources for the episode outside of Serling's initial treatment are not terribly difficult to discern. The first is certainly Agatha Christie's 1939 million copy bestseller And Then There Were None. In Christie's novel, a group of people are coerced into visiting a secluded island only to be killed off one by one. The killer is eventually revealed to be one among the company. This work virtually created the modern "a killer among us" fictional template. The second literary source is probably science fiction writer and editor of Astounding (later Analog) John W. Campbell's 1938 short story "Who Goes There?" Campbell wrote the story under the name Don A. Stuart. It concerns a group of scientists in Antarctica who inadvertently release an alien being that can change its form and image into almost anything, including members of the group. The story was famously filmed as The Thing From Another World in 1951 by director Christian Nyby (at the helm for a pair of Zone episodes) and producer Howard Hawks. It has since been filmed two additional times, once in 1982 by John Carpenter, as The Thing, and again in 2011 as a prequel to the Carpenter film, also titled The Thing. The idea of an isolated group of people against an alien menace was surely an appealing concept to writers working in the science fiction field in the wake of Campbell's story and Hawks’s popular film version.
            Serling also has the character Avery, the eccentric old man, make a reference to Ray Bradbury. Though no Bradbury work directly correlates to the plot of "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (the closest may be Bradbury’s 1947 short story, “Zero Hour”), Serling was illustrating the level of reverence and respect he held for Bradbury's work. According to an introduction to John Collier's story collection Fancies and Goodnights (New York Review Books, 2003), Serling came to Bradbury's California home in the late 1950's to seek the writer's advice on how best to develop The Twilight Zone. This makes it all the more unfortunate that Bradbury was only able to contribute a single episode to the show, the third season's "I Sing the Body Electric." Bradbury was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to provide scripts which reasonably met budgetary restraints for the show. Combined with a bit of communication error, Bradbury took the subsequent rejection of his work by Serling as a personal slight, doing much to sour the relationship, both personal and professional, between the two men. Marc Scott Zicree, author of the The Twilight Zone Companion (Bantam, 1982; second revised ed. 1989), tells the story of the relationship between the two men and their work on The Twilight Zone here.
            "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" is ultimately informed mostly by Serling's own work, as it directly parallels his grim Cold War masterpiece, "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street," even including an absurd but somehow thematically perfect ending. With its cast of excellent character actors portraying recognizable American stereotypes in an episode heavy on dialogue, it also resembles a number of Serling's other episodes, including "The Shelter" and "It's a Good Life," the latter taken from the Jerome Bixby short story. The difference here is that Serling is obviously having fun with "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and this difference is what makes the episode an unqualified success. To adopt the same grim approach used on "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" or "The Shelter" would have doomed the episode laughable for the wrong reasons, much like that suffered by the deadly serious episodes "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" or "A Thing About Machines."
            The production wisely used the three most talented character actors in the three prime roles on the show, that of the grouchy businessman Ross, the counterman Haley, and the red herring Avery, played perfectly by John Holt, Barney Phillips, and Jack Elam, respectively. As it played out, these three characters were the only ones that could have possibly been the alien as Serling's script virtually eliminated the remainder of the cast characters. The couples were eliminated because of their pairing of two in a situation where the outsider is a single being. The bus driver was eliminated because, obviously, he was driving the bus. The young woman was eliminated because she was the only person the bus driver noticed. Then you have the two state troopers and the short order cook. What remains is that Ross and Avery are the only possible suspects. One is an obvious red herring in that he behaves in an exaggerated way which draws attention to his eccentricity and tendency for instigation. Ross is left as the grumpy businessman who is the most eager to leave the situation even when doing so requires driving an old bus on a shaky bridge in the middle of a snowstorm. Figuring out which of the people in the diner was the alien is not difficult nor is it really the point of Serling's script. Serling wanted to examine how each of us has little eccentric aspects of our personality which can, when perceived the wrong way, make us an attractive scapegoat in a paranoid situation. We are also, Serling points out, terribly unreliable as observers of the world around us.
            The two special effects in the episode were achieved cheaply and efficiently. Jack Hoyt, as Ross, is to have three arms. This was achieved by having a second person, whose right arm was clothed in the same manner as Hoyt's costume, reach around Hoyt and interact with Hoyt's own two arms. A coat was draped over the actor's shoulders to finish the effect and a bit of rehearsal was required to manage a believable fluidity of motion between the three arms. William Tuttle applied the third eye to the forehead of actor Barney Phillips. Tuttle ran a thin wire from the eye (which could cause the eye to roll) through Phillips's hair to be manipulated by a technician situated behind Phillips. The initial idea for the third eye was to use double exposure photography, but this looked even less convincing that the kitschy fake eye applied to Phillips's forehead. However unconvincing the effect was then or now, it remains one of the more memorable images from the show.
            There are a few other interesting aspects of the episode. The first is that the bus, when seen in the exterior of the diner, is labeled on the side as Cayuga Bus Lines. Cayuga is, of course, the name of Rod Serling's production company which produced The Twilight Zone. It is also interesting to note how Serling slyly hints at Ross being the alien. At one point in the episode, in the midst of strange occurrences within the diner (lights dimming, jukebox playing on its own, etc.), Ross looks at the telephone on the wall two seconds before it starts ringing, in an attempt to make the viewer believe Ross caused the phone to ring when in fact an actual call was coming through for the state troopers. After the bridge is ruled passable and the diners are paying for their tickets, Ross is charged for drinking fourteen cups of coffee. Now, that's an excessive amount of coffee by any standard. It also reminds one of The Outer Limits episode "Controlled Experiment" in which a pair of Martians (Barry More and Carroll O'Connor) are very fond of coffee. There is also a constant, shameless plug for cigarettes in the episode, with the brand finally revealed to be Oasis cigarettes during the final encounter between Ross and Haley. Ross even utters that the cigarettes "taste wonderful" as though he were actually performing in a cigarette commercial. That line was not in Serling's script but added last minute. The constant product placement, according to Martin Grams, Jr.'s book, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008), was planned from the beginning.
            "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" is a highly enjoyable and entertaining episode that has a surprisingly high re-watch value. It comes highly recommended as it might be the most successfully episode of the show that also includes a broad amount of comedy. It is successful because, unlike in previous comedic episodes of the show, Serling spices the script with enough suspense and atmosphere to render a sort of fun, spook house sort of an episode. With its quick pace and fun makeup effects, it is an especially effective episode to introduce younger viewers to the series. 

Grade: B

Illustrations by Kim Zimmerman from the Feb, 1986 issue of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, which presented Serling's teleplay for "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" :

-Montgomery Pittman also directed the third season episodes "Two," "The Grave," "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank," and "Dead Man's Shoes."
-Barney Phillips is also in the first season episode "The Purple Testament," the second season episode "A Thing About Machines," and the exceptional fourth season episode "Miniature."
-John Hoyt was previously in the second season episode "The Lateness of the Hour."
-"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama, starring Richard Kind.
-Bill Erwin also appeared in the Twilight Zone Radio Drama episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering."