Category Archives: twilight zone

The Twilight Zone 2.29 – The Obsolete Man

I knew going in that “The Obsolete Man” was probably going to be a little over our six year-old’s head. I also knew the blasted kid would fail to recognize Burgess Meredith yet again, and I was right. Rod Serling’s story is a warning about a totalitarian state which, having proved that God does not exist and books are unnecessary, has begun a long purge of citizens who do not contribute to society. Librarians like Meredith’s character are in line to be “liquidated,” leading to a war of nerves between Meredith’s character and a State chancellor played by Fritz Weaver.

The concept was a bit heady for him, although drawing a comparison to the original film of Logan’s Run, which, honestly by chance, he rewatched just a couple of days ago, helped him understand that this is one of those stark and awful futures where the government decides who lives and dies and the people just go along with it. He was still a little thrown by the visuals, though. The librarian’s apartment is handled simply enough, but the State office is a minimalist nightmare with a towering podium. It is designed and lit like something from German expressionist cinema; the citizens who pass judgement on their fellows’ obsolescence move like dancers hired for an experimental theater production. It’s very exciting to see something that looks so thunderously strange and written with such anger and passion shown on a major network.

I was very pleased to hear him quizzing his mommy about what he’d seen. They had a good discussion about the value of people. This was a very worthwhile half-hour.

That’s all from the second season of The Twilight Zone, but stay tuned! We’ll be looking at some highlights from season three in March.

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The Twilight Zone 2.28 – Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

There are a couple of more obvious visuals that one might provide to illustrate the famous and delightful Rod Serling story “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?,” but I didn’t want to be obvious. Even though one photo of Barney Phillips is so iconic that it’s used as his main biography picture at IMDB, I think there may yet be one or two people in the world who don’t know where this episode goes. They even use the photo as the illustration in the DVD booklet! Life is full enough of spoilers, and the ending is so amusing that it should have been kept a little more secretive.

I had hoped that our son might play along and try to guess which of seven bus passengers stranded in a rural diner called the Hi-Way Cafe might be a space alien, but he didn’t. He was more concerned about why the Martian landed his ship in a pond. It just goes to show you, sometimes there’s a deeper mystery to consider than the one that the program makers wish for you to ponder.

Anyway, other than Phillips, this episode features a small cast of notable actors, including John Hoyt and Jack Elam, who’s aggravatingly blocking a funny little sign promising buttermilk hot cakes for 60 cents in the picture above. You could add ham or bacon for fifteen cents more. Coffee is a dime a cup, and they charge for refills. Does anybody remember paying a buck forty for fourteen cups of coffee? Sometimes the past isn’t just another country, it’s another planet. Mars, probably.

Elam also namechecks Ray Bradbury when the state troopers foolishly let everybody know that they’re looking for a space alien. Bradbury would contribute a teleplay to The Twilight Zone‘s next season, which of course we plan to watch. Look for that in the spring. And, in a funny but still disagreeable moment, those Oasis cigarettes that we talked about last time make an in-story appearance, where one of the characters comments on their pleasant taste. Maxwell House should have sponsored that dime-a-cup coffee, so somebody could note that it’s good to the last drop.

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The Twilight Zone 2.24 – The Rip Van Winkle Caper

Overall, I have been much, much happier with the season two episodes that I selected for us to sample, but I had to hit a loser eventually. In Rod Serling’s “The Rip Van Winkle Caper,” Oscar Beregi Jr. and Simon Oakland are among a group of four criminals who heist a train and go into suspended animation for a century to avoid detection. Weirdly, Serling didn’t do anything with the resulting situation that even required suspended animation and de facto time travel, just the desperation of criminals in the desert. There are some good performances – Oakland’s character is remarkably vicious – but I was left wanting them to get on with it and check out the world of the 2060s already.

By far the most interesting thing about the presentation was seeing Rod Serling endorse Oasis cigarettes after a preview of next week’s installment. Evidently, Oasis offered “the softest taste of all.” It doesn’t quite have the “I can’t believe I just saw that” cache of the Flinstones hawking Winston cigarettes, but it was an oddball little surprise. Since so many of these sponsorship ads from the period were trimmed from the films for rebroadcast, it was nice to see this in such splendid quality! Although clearly Oasis should have enlisted the services of the Flinstones because they still make Winstons, unfortunately, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Oasis before this evening.

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The Twilight Zone 2.23 – A Hundred Yards Over the Rim

And then there was that time that Batman’s enemies Shame and the Riddler teamed up and got lost in Arizona.

How funny! I picked some of these episodes because of the guest stars, and as you may know, I have a fondness for the actors who would later play Batvillains on ABC. I didn’t expect to run into two of them together! Cliff Robertson, on the right above, has the lead role in this time travel tale by Rod Serling, but John Astin, who played the replacement Riddler in season two when Frank Gorshin wasn’t willing to return, also has a small part in this story. Familiar sixties teevee faces John Crawford and Ed Platt also appear.

Stories that are set in the past are a stumbling block for our son. I think this is because the reality of modern television means that kids have 24/7 TV intended for them, and made within the past decade, and set in a contemporary or futuristic world. If you remember when we were kids, there was only a small window of children’s programming each afternoon, and a chunk of that was probably an hour of Tom & Jerry and Woody Woodpecker shorts made for audiences in the 1930s and 1940s that were set all throughout history.

If we were watching TV outside that window, we’d see things like The Rifleman or The Big Valley or Bonanza because there were a thousand episodes of westerns available, cheaply, to small TV stations, and kids could follow these simple and straightforward stories. Sure, we’d rather be watching Star Blazers or The Space Giants in the afternoon, but in the seventies, there was a whole lot less programming available. So if any of us, then, were to tune into this Twilight Zone, we’d have enough background to understand what this wagon train was doing in the desert.

Our son had absolutely no idea. He interrupted very early – before Rod Serling’s introduction in fact – to say “Wait. I don’t understand what’s happening.” I stopped and gave him a quick history lesson about the dangers of crossing the desert in the pre-railroad days, so he got that this took months and was incredibly risky. He really enjoyed this episode, in large part because Cliff Robertson is completely excellent and convincing as a stranger in a strange land. It still blew our son’s mind to imagine a world before power lines, but he learned a little bit. It’s always nice when TV’s actually good for something. Idiot box, my eye!

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The Twilight Zone 2.22 – Long Distance Call

Well, here’s a good, old-fashioned ghost story. This one was written by Charles Beaumont and William Idelson. We haven’t looked at any of Beaumont’s Zone stories so far. He wrote or co-wrote 22 episodes of the series and was just a decade into what should have been a long and amazing career before he died at the stupidly young age of 38 in 1967.

This is just an excellent little story. Young Bill Mumy, whom we’ll see in a couple more memorable Zone episodes, might be the main attraction, but I was really impressed by the actors playing his parents. Philip Abbott, who would star in The FBI for a decade, is actually hard to watch as he carries his grief so well. And when it seems like the impossible has happened and his son is talking to the much-missed grandma across the lines of a toy telephone… they do a great job selling the supernatural.

I did have half a mind that this might be too heavy an episode for our son, but he handled it really well. He does clarify that this was not scary, but “very, VERY creepy.” And he’s right. Pleasant dreams!

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The Twilight Zone 2.19 – Mr. Dingle, the Strong

This blasted son of mine watched the Batman story “Fine Finny Fiends” literally three days ago and he still didn’t recognize Burgess Meredith, who made his second Twilight Zone appearance in this delightful little comedy. I figured he was due something light after the last two super-creepy episodes of the show, and since rain killed our hiking plans this afternoon, it’s a good day to sit around and watch a little classic TV.

While Meredith and Don Rickles are the most recognizable faces in this cast, there’s a deep bench of character actor talent in this story. James Milhollin, Michael Fox, and Eddie Ryder are also in this story, although sadly it was the final part for Douglas Spencer, who died before the episode was first broadcast. That’s Spencer above as the Martian’s left head and arm, turning a ray on the incompetent vacuum cleaner salesman Mr. Dingle, giving him the strength of three hundred men. Dingle is another of Rod Serling’s quiet and well-read everymen. We learn little about Dingle beyond his poor salesmanship and his appreciation of Abner Doubleday. A similar production today would probably have the Dingle character more familiar with a tawdry reality show than the alleged origins of baseball.

The sight gags are really quite funny in this episode, with some clever special effects and cute ideas for how Dingle will demonstrate his new Samson-like powers. Naturally, he wastes this gift, but there’s a cute little twist in the end and he gets a fabulous vocabulary. If you enjoyed Meredith’s command of seventy-five cent words as the Penguin, the audiences of 1961 got a sneak preview of it at the end of this story!

We were also amused by the very, very end of this story. Most of the episodes on the “Complete Definitive Collection” DVD contain the original sponsor tags and quick reminders to check out other CBS programming “on most of these stations,” often advertising CBS’s flop sitcom My Sister Eileen. This one, though, contains a blurb for The Andy Griffith Show, which debuted that season (1960-61). I told our son that the little boy in the boat is Ron Howard, the man who directed the next Star Wars movie, and he just fell over.

Huh. We’ve got seven movies to watch before Solo is released. Probably better get started on those.

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The Twilight Zone 2.17 – Twenty Two

“Twenty Two” is another of the videotaped episodes of The Twilight Zone, and it’s in remarkably poor condition, with interference lines all through the episode. That hasn’t stopped it from becoming very well remembered. The actress Arlene Martel, a familiar face in sixties television, has a small role as a nurse in a nightmare who encourages a dreaming dancer to join her in the morgue because there’s “Room for one more, honey.” It’s frankly unforgettable.

That’s Martel’s only line, but the narrative is actually driven by Barbara Nichols, playing the dancer, and Jonathan Harris, as her doctor. They’re playing a tale as old as the hills, and the credits indicate that Rod Serling’s teleplay is adapted from a short ghost story by Bennett Cerf. Cerf got the credit, but The Twilight Zone Wiki notes an earlier published version, a 1906 story by E.F. Benson.

Naturally, I saw where this was going very early on, but it was a treat to experience it alongside our son, who didn’t know where this was going. I was also extremely impressed with a really neat visual effect at the end. Remembering that this was on videotape and that in the sixties, actually editing the tape was very rare and expensive, I figured they would cut from the studio set to stock footage of an explosion and return with a cut to a reaction shot from another camera, but darned if they didn’t pull it off live in the studio in front of the actors. Honestly, the director deserves a round of applause more than Serling did for the adaptation!

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The Twilight Zone 2.15 – The Invaders

How good is this? It’s so good that when one of the invaders puts that knife out so that Agnes Moorehead grabs the blade, I jumped out of my skin. This should not have been a surprise. I guess I’ve seen maybe forty or so episodes of The Twilight Zone over the years, enough to claim two favorite installments – this is one – and seen some of those forty, like this one, many, many times. Richard Matheson’s story hasn’t lost any of its power to frighten and startle. Our son stayed under a blanket for minutes at a time, babbling quietly to reassure himself. It’s just a perfect half-hour of TV.

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