The Twilight Zone 1.7 – Teacher’s Aide / Paladin of the Lost Hour

“Teacher’s Aide” is… well, I really do try to be positive, so I’ll just say it’s about a teacher who gets possessed by a gargoyle. It wouldn’t have been out of place on Tales from the Darkside.

It’s paired, however, with one of the best known segments of the 1985 Zone, the absolutely beautiful “Paladin of the Lost Hour.” It’s almost entirely a two-hander, written by Harlan Ellison and starring Danny Kaye and Glynn Turman. Kaye plays a lonely old homeless widower with a gigantic secret, and Turman plays a Vietnam veteran with a traumatic case of survivors’ guilt. After Turman’s character saves the old man from a mugging, the sweet old man helps himself into his life, feeding him wonderful beef stew and sharing stories.

The interesting science fiction twist might not have been so overshadowed in Ellison’s original short story, but onscreen, bearing in mind my fascination with actors and their craft, it’s almost an afterthought because Turman and Kaye are just so amazingly good. They could have spent their thirty-odd minutes discussing anything at all and I think it would have been time well spent. But in this subtle, sweet, and life-affirming little tale, they make some real magic.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

The Twilight Zone 1.6 – A Message from Charity

No, I didn’t show my darling, sensitive son the Zone adaptation of “Examination Day” the week he started the gifted program at school. Geez, what kind of monster do you think I am? *grin

But we did watch the other segment in the Zone‘s sixth hour. “A Message from Charity” was one of the few segments from this season that I saw. I was a freshman in high school in 1985. I went to a few football games that season and sometimes started spending the weekends with friends that year and wasn’t often home to see this show. And I fell in love with it. I haven’t seen a frame of it since, but I remembered it quite clearly. Alan Brennert’s script was so moving that when I ran across the writer on Usenet in 1994 or so, I dropped him a line to tell him how much I loved it.

The story concerns two teens separated by 285 years: Charity in 1700 and Peter in 1985, played by Kerry Noonan and by future Star Trek: Voyager castmember Robert Duncan McNeill. They’re supported by James Cromwell and Gerald Hiken, who was always playing a villain in the eighties. Charity and Peter get linked telepathically after they each suffer a high fever. He shows her the wonderful technology of the future and she talks a little too freely about what she’s seen to friends who are obsessed with witchcraft.

The witch angle may suggest that this doesn’t do anything too surprising, but the kids’ resolution to the problem is very novel and the acting is absolutely first-class. Kerry Noonan, who retired from acting a few years after this and went on to become one of the country’s most respected folklorists, is absolutely magical as Charity, and McNeill is incredibly sympathetic as the bookish kid whose only friend died a couple of hundred years ago. It’s a great love story between two characters who never share any screen time, and if the segment’s epilogue doesn’t make you smile, your heart must be two sizes too small. Our son enjoyed it, but he also really bristled at Hiken’s evil squire character.

Also, no, it’s not just you. Like MacGyver, it would appear that the master tapes for this program were stored next to an electromagnet or something. I don’t know what it is about mid-eighties American TV, but these DVDs don’t look any better than a thirty-three year-old VHS copy would look.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

The Twilight Zone 1.1 – Shatterday / A Little Peace and Quiet

We interrupt this blog. We control the horizontal, we control the v– oh, wait, that was the other show.

But we are going to interrupt things just a hair and do something a little different. This is Twilight Zone week at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time, and tonight and for the next six evenings, we’re going to watch seven highlights from the first season of the 1985 revival of the series. This ran at 8 pm Friday nights in the 1985-86 season on CBS, leading more than one person to ask what in creation this show was doing on so early.

They led with their big guns. “Shatterday” stars Bruce Willis, who was on the brink of becoming one of TV’s biggest names, in a script by Alan Brennert based on a short story by Harlan Ellison. It, and the second story that made up the new Zone‘s first hour, was directed by Wes Craven. Willis, Ellison, and Craven: I’d say that’s your 1985 dream team right there. And interestingly, even though this program’s called The Twilight Zone, with its more frequent dips into the supernatural and horror and its presentation of two or three different teleplays within each hour, it sometimes feels more like a revamp of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery than new episodes of Zone.

Marie wasn’t all that taken with either of these first stories, and our son was mostly subdued by the first story, but I thought they were both terrific. “Shatterday” begins with Willis’s very, very 80s PR hack phoning a friend but dialing his own number by mistake. He hears his own voice answer. The person on the other end is him… a calmer, gentler, more thoughtful him. Can there be space in the city for both of them?

Our son enjoyed the second story a lot more. In “A Little Peace and Quiet,” a frantic housewife with four needy kids and an even more needy husband unearths a medallion that can stop time and give her the chance to breathe. In retrospect, I should have seen where this one was going – they telegraphed the heck out of it – but I was so fascinated by the possibilities of where it could go, with the mom gradually using the device more and more, for increasingly selfish reasons, that I missed the writing on the wall. Craven staged a couple of completely amazing set pieces, with crowds of people frozen in time. The first of the two is done for comedy and the second one isn’t. If he’d stuck that second scene in one of his Nightmare on Elm Street movies, people would call it one of that series’ high points.

Today’s feature was a gift from Marie’s brother Karl and we really appreciate it! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

Sapphire & Steel 2.7 and 2.8

Sometimes I spoil some things but not others. Part eight of the second Sapphire & Steel serial features one of television’s all-time great leap-out-of-your-skin moments, when Sapphire opens her eyes to reveal that the Darkness has taken them while speaking through her. Our protagonists have been “shunted” forward in time twelve days, and Steel, despite basically screwing up every single step of this assignment, has an idea to get them back in their correct time zone and convince the Darkness to leave all the dead ghosts alone.

And this idea… that’s what I won’t discuss. I did hint a little that Sapphire and Steel are inhuman, and are tasked to do whatever is necessary to neutralize threats to time, and I did point out the implications of one of their previous jobs, the one on the ship that the characters discussed in the previous story. Marie figured out where this was going earlier in the narrative than I did, but of course our son didn’t. He wasn’t happy.

Knowing how this story ends, there’s a horrible inevitability to episodes seven and eight, as the characters go through the motions working toward a conclusion they can’t escape. And I have to say that David McCallum acts the absolute hell out of the sad climax, trying to be kind, trying to be human, while being alien and terrible underneath. It’s a fantastic ending. Not a happy one at all.

This story completed Sapphire & Steel‘s first order, and first season, of 14 episodes in 1979. The following year, ATV ordered 20 more episodes. These would be shown in three “seasons” between 1981 and 1982. We’ll start looking at these very soon, but first, we’re going to take a detour for a week…

The Great Race (1965)

This blog’s got a few years in it yet, but it’s not going to go on forever. Somebody asked me if I had a conclusion planned. I do, and there will be a couple of clues to readers that we’re almost there. First, we’ll catch up with Doctor Who. Although, if they insist on committing unforced errors like taking an entire year off right when the show becomes a mainstream popular hit again, that might be later than sooner. Another is that we’ll watch one of the last films on the agenda: 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Two years after that classic was released, Blake Edwards directed a mammoth, 160-minute comedy that clearly has a lot of Mad World in its DNA, along with at least two actors. I saw it, or most of it, a million years ago on TV and forgot almost the entire thing, but remembered a few of the great gags. I think it’ll stick with our son a little better. He says it’s the funniest movie he’s ever watched.

The center of The Great Race is the rivalry between the nefarious, black-clad Professor Fate, played by Jack Lemmon and the practically perfect gentleman good guy The Great Leslie, played by Tony Curtis. They are daredevils, escape artists, and showmen, only the Great Leslie is incredibly competent and barely acknowledges Fate. You may know Fate from his later career in Hanna-Barbera cartoons. He’s the inspiration for Dick Dastardly from Wacky Races and later shows, with Peter Falk as the proto-Muttley. Things get off to a clear start in the opening scene, where the Great Leslie puts together a big stunt involving a hot air balloon, and Professor Fate intercedes by wheeling in a massive crossbow with an enormous red bolt. It’s so thunderously cartoonish that it tells the audience that some pretty epic slapstick is on its way.

Professor Fate enters into the greatest automobile race ever conceived, from New York west to Paris via Siberia, in another attempt to steal Leslie’s thunder. Also in the race, suffragette Maggie DuBois, played by Natalie Wood. After browbeating the editor of The New York Sentinel into giving her a job, she has to arrange to report on the race from every step of the way, and be in Paris when the winner crosses the finish line. Along with a cast of great character actors like Marvin Kaplan, Larry Storch, and Keenan Wynn, and with music and a couple of songs by Henry Mancini, there are some ridiculous hijinx between the two cities.

And yes, it’s very, very funny. There’s a scene set in Professor Fate’s castle home which Maggie invades for an interview. It started with a few chuckles over Fate playing an organ with broken thumbs and escalated into pausing the film because we were laughing so hard. Fate’s home would demand pausing your DVD player even if the scene wasn’t a triumph, because it’s one of the most amazing sets ever. Imagine building a set as intricate and detailed as, say, the living room of the Addams Family for all of two minutes of screen time. Later, Larry Storch plays a gunslinger with three compadres, and their entrance into an old west saloon also had me in stitches. Storch and Curtis trade fisticuffs here. Six years later, Storch would play the only American guest star in Curtis and Roger Moore’s wonderful show The Persuaders!.

The Great Race starts to run out of steam in its final third, when the racers get to some Nosuchlandia in southeastern Europe and they get involved in a Prisoner of Zenda situation masterminded by Ross Martin as an evil baron. The only real flaw up to that point was abandoning all the other racers incredibly early on, but the Zenda subplot is long enough to feel like an entirely different film, and while Lemmon is amazingly funny as Fate, he’s far less so as the drunk heir to the throne.

On the other hand, Curtis and Martin enjoy one of the cinema’s all-time great swordfights. The minutes they spend with these two, starting with foils before moving to sabers, are completely amazing. Regular readers have probably caught that I love a great swordfight. This is one of the best. And on the other extreme, the Zenda sequence ends with a food fight involving hundreds of pies that is so over-the-top and so intricately choreographed that it took four days to film and had every member of the cast ready to shove the director in an oven and bake him in a pie.

So The Great Race is like a lot of Blake Edwards’ work: it’s flawed, but very, very funny. I read that in the mid-seventies, Edwards wanted to make one of those later, far-from-funny Pink Panther films into a three-hour calamity like this. I think that could possibly have been much better than the mess that he finished with (The Pink Panther Strikes Again), but then again, The Great Race could have been pruned by twenty minutes and I bet our kid would still say it was the funniest movie he’d ever seen.

Today’s feature was a gift from Matt Ceccato and his wife, writer Nan Monroe, and I invite you all to check out her webpage and buy some of her novels and collections of short stories! If you would like to support this blog, you can buy us a DVD of a movie that we’d like to watch one day. We’ll be happy to give you a shout-out and link to the site of your choice when we write about it. Here’s our wishlist!

Sapphire & Steel 2.5 and 2.6

Part five continues the seance and part six manages its aftereffects and it all happens in real time. This story’s run for about three hours and that’s about as much time that’s elapsed in the railway station. I really love it. It’s so deliciously creepy and slow and malevolent, in part because every single decision that Steel makes in these two episodes is the wrong one. He’s making the situation worse and worse, antagonizing their nameless, shapeless enemy and leaving them in horrible traps at the end of part six. Sapphire’s spirit has joined the other ghosts waiting on the platform, and Steel has apparently merged with the memory of a man killed in World War One and left to rot in a nest of barbed wire.

Our son is attempting to sleep with all the lights on. He had such a good day on a day trip to Atlanta, playing at Legoland, and then I showed him this. Maybe he needs something much lighter for the Sunday morning movie.

Eerie, Indiana 1.9 – The Dead Letter

In the previous episode, we learned that one of Marshall’s friends met a grisly accident when he was run down by a milk truck. And this evening, we learned that wasn’t the first time such a fate befell a young man in Eerie. In 1929, a kid named Tripp was on his way to deliver a love letter to a girl named Mary when he stepped in front of a milk truck. The letter was tucked into a library book which was never again checked out.

Sixty-two years later, the library sent a couple of shelves of books to the World o’ Stuff to raise some money. Marshall runs across the letter and opens it, releasing Tripp’s ghost. Tripp is played by Tobey Maguire. It’s an early role for the future Spider-Man actor, but he doesn’t get to shine as a fish out of water. The script, sadly, doesn’t address the situation of a ghost suddenly in the world of his future, or maybe I’m just thinking about that because we’ve finished watching Adam Adamant Lives! and miss it already.

Adam Adamant Lives! 2.13 – A Sinister Sort of Service

Well, they certainly didn’t go out with their strongest episode. The first sixteen of the episodes we watched were all really good, but Tony Williamson’s “A Sinister Sort of Service” was just kind of dull. The villain is played by T.P. McKenna, and he has an evil supercomputer. I got more of a giggle out of our son suggesting that instead of it being a real computer, there’s a little man inside typing everything out than anything that actually happened in the story! But they can’t all be winners, and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with Adam, Simms, and Miss Jones. It’s a very good little show, and I hope that another one or two of the missing twelve episodes turns up one of these days!

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Sapphire & Steel 2.3 and 2.4

So the second Sapphire & Steel story is the one with the angry, resentful ghosts who are haunting a disused railway station and the old, crumbling hotel connected to it. It’s an expansive eight episodes long, set over the course of a single evening. Our strange protagonists meet an amateur ghost hunter who believes that he is engaged in important “psychical” research by quietly attempting to communicate with one or more restless spirits.

But there’s more than just the five ghosts here. There is also another force, a darkness, that is involved with them in some fashion, and that’s what brings Sapphire and Steel to Earth. Mr. Tully wants to help the ghosts somehow, but all that Sapphire and Steel want to do is convince them to accept their deaths and go.

Eight episodes may seem like a lot for a story with such a small setting and scale, but it’s actually just about perfect. The length of these serials really let the writer, P.J. Hammond, take the characters down different avenues, make mistakes, and proceed from poor assumptions. These aren’t omnipotent or omniscient characters; they may have strange powers and knowledge, but they’re just as confused as the audience as to the real nature of the threat, and that’s why I love watching this unfold. Add in a great performance by Gerald James as the lonely ghost hunter, brilliant set design, and some of the best lighting ever seen in a videotape program like this (take a bow, Jim Boyers, wherever you are), and it all adds up to a simple and very unsettling little masterpiece.

I’d love to see what happens next again right now, but even though these two parts were nowhere as terrifying and scary as the first two, our son definitely deserves a break. We’ll pick back up with this adventure in a few nights.

Sapphire & Steel 2.1 and 2.2

So how scary is the Sapphire & Steel story about the haunted railway station? Our son put it like this: “I’d rather watch the scariest Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen than watch this! It’s scary in a terrible way!” Then he brandished his security blanket and his favorite plush dog, each of which had been squashed about flat in terror. “Bict and Doggie are always good about protecting me from things that are too scary. But not tonight, because Bict and Doggie were too scared!”

The scariest Doctor Who episode that he’s ever seen, by the way, is apparently “The Awakening.”