Monday, March 29, 2021

"In Praise of Pip"

Jack Klugman as Max Phillips and Bill Mumy as Young Pip

“In Praise of Pip”
Season Five, Episode 121
Original Air Date: September 27, 1963

Cast:
Max Phillips: Jack Klugman
Mrs. Feeny: Connie Gilchrist
Pvt. Pip: Robert Diamond
Young Pip: Bill Mumy
Moran: S. John Launer 
George Reynold: Russell Horton
Gunman: Kreg Martin
Doctor: Ross Elliott 
Lieutenant: Gerald Gordon 
Surgeon: Stuart Nisbet

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling 
Director: Joseph M. Newman
Producer: Bert Granet
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Art Direction: George W. Davis & Walter Holscher 
Film Editor: Thomas W. Scott
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Robert R. Benton
Assistant Director: Charles Bonniwell, Jr. 
Casting: Patricia Rose
Music: René Garriguenc (composer), Lud Gluskin (conductor)
Sound: Franklin Milton & Philip N. Mitchell 
Mr. Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“Submitted for your approval, one Max Phillips, a slightly-the-worse-for-wear maker of book, whose life has been as drab and undistinguished as a bundle of dirty clothes. And, though it’s very late in his day, he has an errant wish that the rest of his life might be sent out to a laundry to come back shiny and clean, this to be a gift of love to a son named Pip. Mr. Max Phillips, Homo sapiens, who is soon to discover that man is not as wise as he thinks – said lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

            Vietnam. A wounded young soldier is carried in on a stretcher. He needs to be moved to a better facility if he hopes to survive his injuries. The soldier’s identification tag reads: Phillips, Pip.

            Thousands of miles away, Max Phillips awakens with a scream. He is in a cheap, one-room apartment. He smiles ruefully at the man in the mirror and takes a drink from a bottle of bourbon kept concealed in a drawer. Max’s landlady, Mrs. Feeny, enters to tidy up the room. She scolds Max on his habits, especially his drinking. Max inquires if a letter arrived in the mail. Mrs. Freeny tells him that nothing arrived that day.

            Max receives a visitor. It is a young man named George, who placed a losing bet on a horserace using money stolen from his place of employment. Max is a bookie and George has come to beg off paying up in fear he will be jailed if he doesn’t return the money.

            Later that night, Max pays a visit to Moran, who employs Max. Moran mentions that Max has been avoiding him, and that Max failed to collect three-hundred dollars from George. Now, Moran tells him, someone will have to go out and bring George back. Max drops an envelope of money on the table and lights a cigarette. Moran’s gunman brings in George, who has been beaten up.

            Max takes a phone call from Mrs. Feeny. She informs him that a telegram arrived from the Army stating that his son, Pip, is seriously wounded and dying in Vietnam. Max is stunned. He walks to the window and looks out onto an amusement park where he used to take Pip. Max is filled with regret for a lifetime of drinking and conning and hustling, when he should have spent more time with his son. It appears as though they’ll never have time together again, and Max will never have the chance to make-up for all the times he left Pip waiting.

            Regret turns to rage. Max picks up the envelope of money and tosses it to George. Max tells George to get out of there, return the money, and keep his nose clean from now on. Moran’s gunman won’t allow George to leave. Max pulls out a knife. The gunman takes a shot and wounds Max, but Max charges and drives the knife into the gunman’s belly. Then Max turns and knocks down Moran. Max and George rush out.

            Max stumbles, wounded, to the gates of the amusement park. The park is closed for the night, dark and deserted. He begs God to let him see Pip one last time. Max slips through the gates and into the amusement park.

            Max sees a boy in the distance. It looks like Pip as a young boy. Max can’t believe his eyes. He follows the boy around the corner. Miraculously, incredibly, it really is Pip, as he was at ten years old. Max hugs and kisses his son but doesn’t understand how Pip could be there or how Pip could be ten years old again. It doesn’t matter, Pip tells him, they have time together and they have the park to themselves. They should make the best of it.

            The amusement park lights up. The rides lumber into motion. Cotton candy and popcorn appear at the concession stands. Max has forgotten about the wound in his side. He and Pip dash off to ride the rides, eat the food, play the games, and enjoy one another’s company.

            An hour passes when, suddenly, Pip runs away. Max, confused and upset, follows Pip into the House of Mirrors. Max chases the boy but cannot catch him in the maze. Max’s wound flares up again and he collapses, exhausted.

            Pip appears in the mirror. Max pours his heart out and tells Pip all the things he regrets about their relationship. Max promises to change his ways, to be a better father, to give up the drinking and the bookmaking so they can spend time together. Pip tells him that their time is almost up. Pip has to leave because he is dying.

            Pip rushes from the House of Mirrors and disappears. Max follows, the wound in his side draining him of life. The amusement park is dark and silent again. Max leans against a post and offers up a bargain to God. Max will gladly give up his life if it means that Pip can live. Max stumbles forward and collapses to the ground, dead.

            On a sunny afternoon sometime later, Pip arrives at the amusement park in the company of Mrs. Feeny and her granddaughter. Pip is limping and using a cane but looks to be on the road to a full recovery. Pip wanders around the crowded park and remembers the good times he had with his father.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“Very little comment here, save for this small aside: that the ties of flesh are deep and strong, that the capacity to love is a vital, rich, and all-consuming function of the human animal, and that you can find nobility and sacrifice and love wherever you may seek it out; down the block, in the heart, or in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

            “In Praise of Pip” begins the fifth and final season of Twilight Zone on a particularly high note. It features some of Rod Serling’s strongest writing on the series and reunites viewers with two of the show’s most recognizable and enjoyable performers.

 At this late point in the series, writing was often a struggle for Serling, not because he had lost any of his considerable ability, but because the responsibility of producing a high quantity of high quality material took a creative toll on his output. This was a pressure consistently placed on Serling since the first season, when he was contractually obligated to produce eighty percent of the scripts for the series. Although this production arrangement did not extend beyond the first season, Serling continued to produce the vast majority of material for the series. Serling wrote sixteen of the thirty-five scripts for the fifth season.* As comparison, the second-most productive writer of the fifth season, Earl Hamner, Jr., contributed five scripts.

By his own admission, Serling felt creatively and physically exhausted, and it affected the quality of his scripts as well as his ability to distinguish good work from bad. Serling composed his scripts via dictation, not only in an effort to capture the natural cadences of conversation, but also to speed up production. The results, apparent in several episodes of the fifth season, were scripts heavily weighed down by dialogue and largely devoid of substantial dramatic action. In some instances, Serling was able to circumvent this recurring characteristic and produce engaging drama, such as “The Masks” or “The Jeopardy Room.” Other times, the results were less successful, as in “Uncle Simon” or “The Fear.”

            How, then, did Serling create one of his finest scripts, and perhaps the finest episode of the fifth season? The simplest answer is that, creatively exhausted or not, Serling was still a hugely talented writer capable of producing high quality material. If we dig a little deeper, however, we can see the method by which Serling went back to a creative well that produced material earlier in his career, as well as earlier in the series.

            On April 8, 1953, Kraft Television Theatre presented “Next of Kin” by Rod Serling. The contemporary drama concerned the conflict of the Korean War and explored the effect of three missing soldiers on their families and friends back home. The story of a missing soldier named Tommy Phillips is told through the perspective of his father, Max, an alcoholic bookie who recites an oft-repeated promise to his landlady, Mrs. Feeny. Max promises to clean up, to stop drinking, and to leave bookmaking behind in order to spend time with his son once Tommy returns from the war. Max tells Mrs. Feeny that he plans to meet Tommy at the boat. His love for his son pushes Max to spare a young man who cannot pay up on a bet. This lands Max in trouble with Moran, the local crime boss, who is less forgiving of such transgressions. It is while visiting Moran that Max receives a telephone call from Mrs. Feeny. A telegram arrived from the Army reporting Tommy missing in action. Max is stunned. He looks out of the window onto a carnival where he used to take Tommy. Facing the possibility of never seeing his son again, Max is filled with regret for not being a better father.

            If this sounds familiar to viewers of “In Praise of Pip,” it is because Serling recycled this dramatic act, almost verbatim, from his earlier script. It also explains why the fantasy element in “In Praise of Pip” does not appear until halfway through the episode. As it is, the fantasy element is so subtle, and achieved with such a minimum of effects, that one could plausibly suggest that Max is already dead at the time he enters the deserted amusement park. The park then serves as a sort of purgatory in which Max must wrestle with his own mortality, and the mortality of his neglected son, in order to make the necessary sacrifice that will grant him redemption and save Pip. The telltale clue to this possibility is the waxing and waning of the effect of Max’s gunshot wound.

            Serling did not recycle an earlier script simply to take a shortcut or to speed up production. He recognized the dramatic power in the earlier work and decided to take another shot at it a decade later on Twilight Zone. From this earlier springboard, Serling added a second act and a requisite element of fantasy.

            The second act also calls back to earlier Serling scripts, although in a more indirect manner. “In Praise of Pip” contains a number of thematic and symbolic echoes from earlier episodes of Twilight Zone. In some ways, the episode plays out like the inverse of Serling’s early masterpiece, “Walking Distance.” In that first season episode, a man magically returns to a moment in his childhood and receives a new perspective on his unhappy life, largely through the wisdom of a father who, though deceased in the reality of the present, is young and alive in this fantasy past. For purposes of comparison, "Walking Distance" can roughly be summarized as concerning a father who encounters an adult version of his son from the future, whereas "In Praise of Pip" concerns a father encountering a child version of his son from the past. "In Praise of Pip" also contains, albeit briefly, a sequence with a carousel, which may remind viewers of "Walking Distance."

            “In Praise of Pip” also features an ambiguous deal with God. In many of his scripts, Serling writes about God, Death, or the afterlife as someone or something with which one can directly communicate and bargain. This was established as early as the first season episode, “One for the Angels,” in which an old man gives his life for a young girl hovering, much like Pip, between life and death. Jack Klugman’s first appearance on Twilight Zone was in “A Passage for Trumpet,” which concerns a man, guided by an angel, who must contend with his own personal worth as he walks a purgatorial path between life and death. Bill Mumy, young Pip in “In Praise of Pip,” made his first appearance on the series in an episode concerned with much of the same material. “Long Distance Call,” written by Charles Beaumont and William Idelson, sees a father directly call out to the other side in order to save his young son, played by Mumy, from a tragic early death.

            There are also recurring symbols tenuously connecting “In Praise of Pip” to earlier episodes of the series. The mirror as a symbol for interior self-reflection was a key component in two earlier Serling scripts, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” and “The Mirror.” It was also used as a simple vehicle for suspense in “The Hitch-Hiker” and “Mirror Image.” Serling also recreated the memorable scene of a character crashing into a mirror from the pilot episode, “Where Is Everybody?”

            “In Praise of Pip” feels akin to several film noir-influenced offerings on the series, as well, many of which date from the first season. The grimy, hopeless, and doom-laden atmosphere of the first act is heightened in the second act by the atmospheric setting of the deserted amusement park and by Max’s bleak, but ultimately redemptive, death. These elements are greatly enhanced by George Clemens’s wonderfully expressionistic photography and, especially, by the melancholy, jazz-inflected score from René Garriguenc. Director Joseph M. Newman was no stranger to film noir and related crime dramas. Although he is perhaps best remembered as the director of the science fiction classic, This Island Earth (1955), he also directed such films as 711 Ocean Drive (1950), Lucky Nick Cain (1951), Dangerous Crossing (1953), and The Human Jungle (1954). Newman brought his talent for crime and suspense subjects to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour at roughly the same time he arrived on the fifth season of Twilight Zone.

            None of the preceding is to suggest that “In Praise of Pip” is simply a patchwork quilt of earlier material, but Serling was at his strongest as a dramatist when retracing a narrative path over certain themes and symbols that clearly held personal, rather than artificial, importance to his work.

            The most recognizable aspects from earlier episodes of Twilight Zone are the two central performers in “In Praise of Pip,” Jack Klugman and Bill Mumy. The role of Max Phillips was originally offered to Art Carney, star of the second season episode, “The Night of the Meek.” Carney was unable to accept the role so it went instead to Jack Klugman, a familiar face on Twilight Zone and one of only two actors, the other being Burgess Meredith, to headline four episodes. Both Carney and Klugman date their creative relationships with Rod Serling to the Playhouse 90 drama “The Velvet Alley” (1959). Serling enjoyed working with these actors due to their ability to take Serling’s poetic, expressive dialogue and ground it in the gritty realism of the drama. Klugman, in particular, possessed an almost uncanny ability to elicit genuine pathos from dialogue and situations that, in the hands of a lesser performer, might play as unrealistic, if not ludicrous. The most obvious example in “In Praise of Pip” is the final sequence in which Max strikes a bargain with God to give his life in order to spare Pip. As a contemporary Variety review opined, in an otherwise unfavorable view, Klugman made the material better than it deserved to be. This may be too strong of a take, since it is excellent writing from Serling, but the point remains that Klugman possessed a unique ability to elevate or ground the drama as necessary.

            Klugman also brought a streetwise toughness to the role. Klugman, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, grew up in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood and his formative experiences likely played a role in his ability to portray a rough, violent character like Max Phillips. The scene in which Max violently confronts Moran and his gunman is completely believable and serves as a stark transition point for the character and the episode. Before this scene, Max virtually sleepwalked through the drama, lazing about on his bed or the sofa in Moran’s hotel room, seemingly indifferent to what went on around him. From the moment he gets the call informing him that Pip is dying, he becomes an open wound of emotion, and Klugman perfectly steers Max’s progression from rage to joy to regret and finally to the raw anguish of death. It is altogether a masterful performance, and perhaps Klugman’s finest moment on the series.

            The anchoring presence opposite Jack Klugman is Bill Mumy as Young Pip. Mumy is also a memorable repeat performer from the series, primarily remembered for his role as the God-like child Anthony Fremont in the brilliant and disturbing third season episode, “It’s a Good Life.” Here, Mumy assumes a role more in line with his first appearance on the series in the second season episode, “Long Distance Call.” In both episodes, Mumy expertly embodies the vulnerable innocence of youth confronted with the reality of death. Mumy worked exceptionally well with Jack Klugman, allowing Klugman to pick him up, spin him around, and kiss and hug on him, all in a highly naturalistic manner that made the father/son relationship immediately believable. Mumy tells a sweet and touching story in interviews relating that Klugman came up to Mumy and his parents before filming began in order to prepare them for the highly affectionate way in which Klugman prepared to perform the scene with Mumy. 

           The standout performance from the supporting cast in “In Praise of Pip” is that of veteran character actress Connie Gilchrist as Mrs. Feeny, Max’s empathetic landlady who provides a refreshing, motherly aspect to the heavily male drama, and further magnifies the absence of any mention of Pip's mother. The Brooklyn-born Gilchrist (1895-1985) was a versatile performer whose career on screen dates back to 1940. Of particular interest to Vortex readers are Gilchrist’s appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Gilchrist appeared in the Charles Beaumont-scripted first season episode, “The Long Silence,” based on the novel Composition for Four Hands by Hilda Lawrence, as well as in the unforgettable second season opener, “A Home Away from Home,” scripted by Robert Bloch and based on his short story from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Gilchrist earlier appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the seventh season episode, “The Door without a Key.”           

            Interiors for “In Praise of Pip” were constructed at MGM and seamlessly blended with the results of external location filming at Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, California. Production secured access for filming at Pacific Ocean Park for two consecutive nights after closing hours. Pacific Ocean Park, an amusement park along the Santa Monica Pier, replaced the earlier attractions of Ocean Park Pier and was designed as a direct competitor to Disneyland in nearby Anaheim. POP opened in July of 1958 and closed in October of 1967, left to fall into disrepair for years afterwards. 

            The House of Mirrors is one of the more memorable and impressive sets created for the series. Bill Mumy recalled the method by which the actors were able to navigate through the mirror maze. Tape was placed on the floor, marking the correct turnings to quickly get through the maze. The viewer can see Mumy glance down to the floor as Young Pip rushes out of the House of Mirrors to disappear into the night. 

            Bill Mumy also recalled the eeriness of filming in the deserted park after hours. Mumy, who resided nearby at the time, was a frequent visitor to the park and found the juxtaposition of the normally crowded park with the dark, deserted atmosphere to be strange and unnerving. This jarring juxtaposition is perfectly captured in the episode in the transition from Max’s nighttime death, lying on the pavement with refuse blowing across his body, to the bright sunshine and the afternoon crowds on a following day. 

            Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the episode’s approach to the military conflict in Vietnam. “In Praise of Pip” is very likely the first depiction of American military casualties in Vietnam on a network television broadcast of a dramatic series. As such, it is an important part of the show’s cultural legacy of confronting contemporary social and political issues, as well as a continued example of Rod Serling’s use of military conflicts to explore broader concerns of the human condition. Thematically related episodes such as “The Purple Testament,” “The Passersby,” and “A Quality of Mercy” retain much of their dramatic power due to their universal theme of human suffering.

Rod Serling, a WWII veteran, became a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War as the United States grew deeply entrenched in that conflict and the war became a mass media event. However, Vietnam was not the location Serling originally chose for the military sequences in “In Praise of Pip.” Originally, Serling chose Laos and wrote the teleplay as such. When Serling submitted the teleplay to script readers at de Forest Research to check against errors and inaccuracies, it was reported back that the International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos, signed in Geneva in 1962, precluded the presence of the United States military in Laos outside of their station at the American Embassy. In other words, it would be highly inaccurate to suggest a contemporary military conflict in Laos. It was recommended Serling change the setting to South Vietnam, where U.S. forces were fighting in an advisory capacity. Serling made the necessary change.

            Although Serling later became an outspoken critic of America’s involvement in Vietnam, “In Praise of Pip” is not a direct comment on that conflict in the way, for example, that “The Mirror” is a direct comment on the Cuban Revolution. Serling simply needed a believable military situation in order to place Pip in peril. Regardless, it serves as an eerily prophetic work, as U.S. involvement in the region grew into a seemingly endless military engagement that costs thousands of American lives, a price primarily paid by young men like Pip.

              “In Praise of Pip” signaled a remarkably strong beginning to the fifth and final season, setting a standard which, despite occasional peaks of excellence, the increasingly tottering series could not maintain. The episode serves as a reminder that Rod Serling at the pinnacle of his talents was capable of producing work leagues beyond most network television drama, if not much of what was shown in movie theaters. At his best, and he’s near his best with “In Praise of Pip,” Serling could say in twenty-four minutes what many films struggled to say in ninety, and most of the time Serling said it better. Throughout Serling’s career, there were lightning strikes of brilliance, works that perfectly illuminated the vagaries of human experience through flashes of robust drama spoken in Serling’s terse, poetic voice. “In Praise of Pip” earns its place in this long line of triumphs.

In many ways, “In Praise of Pip” is also a refreshing callback to the vintage Serling episodes that established the high standard and unique qualities of the series. It is a wonderful showcase for the talents of two of the most consistently brilliant performers on the series, Jack Klugman and Bill Mumy. Klugman, in particular, has never been better on the series. In “In Praise of Pip,” he carries the weight of the drama on his shoulders, and his performance is a testament to the endurance of the series and its continued ability to fascinate and entrance viewers sixty years later.

Although he produced other excellent material for the final season, nothing to emerge from Serling’s Dictaphone again reached the heights of “In Praise of Pip.” Consider it a final, brilliant, and lasting gift from the creator of the series.

Grade: A

*The thirty-sixth episode, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” is a 1961 (released in 1962) Academy Award-winning French short film, broadcast on Twilight Zone as both a showcase for the film and as a cost-saving measure.

Grateful acknowledgement to:

-The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (2nd ed., Silman-James, 1989)

-Commentary by Marc Scott Zicree and Neil Gaiman (The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension (DVD Box Set), Image Entertainment, 2014)

-Commentary by Bill Mumy (The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension (DVD Box Set), Image Entertainment, 2014)

-Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination by Nicholas Parisi (University Press of Mississippi, 2018)

-The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR, 2008)

-The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com)

Notes:

-Jack Klugman also appeared in “A Passage for Trumpet,” “A Game of Pool,” and “Death Ship.”

-Bill Mumy also appeared in “Long Distance Call” and “It’s a Good Life.” Mumy later appeared in a cameo role in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), and in “It’s Still a Good Life” on the second revival Twilight Zone series.

-S. John Launer also appeared in “And When the Sky Was Opened” and “The Purple Testament.” His voice can be heard in “Third from the Sun.”

-Russell Horton also appeared in “The Changing of the Guard.”

-Ross Elliott also appeared in “Death Ship.”

-Joseph M. Newman directed three additional episodes of the fifth season, “The Last Night of a Jockey,” “Black Leather Jackets,” and the final broadcast episode, “The Bewitchin’ Pool.”

-“In Praise of Pip” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Fred Willard.

-Rod Serling’s teleplay for “In Praise of Pip” was printed in the October, 1982 issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. The printed script contains Serling's original setting of Laos instead of Vietnam. 

 -JP

 

2 comments:

  1. Fascinating! Thanks for this great review. What strikes me most is that I wouldn't think Jack Klugman was old enough to have an adult child, but I guess he was, just barely.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Jack! Looks like Klugman (and thus Max) was 41 when this was filmed. Assuming Pip was 19 or so, that would put Max in his early twenties at Pip's birth. I did find it interesting that, unless I missed it, no mention is made whatsoever of Pip's mother.

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