Category Archives: twilight zone

The Twilight Zone 2.11 – The Night of the Meek

How appropriate that we should watch this famous Christmas installment of The Twilight Zone now, during this season of mall Santas. “The Night of the Meek” was written by Rod Serling and stars Art Carney – heavens! another future Batvillain – as Henry Corwin, a bum who dresses as Santa, badly, for a department store every December.

How lousy a Santa is Corwin? A few years ago, I was doing some social media stuff for the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, where we’d hired a Santa for our members’ holiday bash. I asked him to wink for the camera for a sweet little picture and he couldn’t do it without opening his other eye and his mouth like some deranged alcoholic pirate bellowing about doubloons. We didn’t use the photos. Henry Corwin is about that bad. He looks dirty and drunk because he is dirty and drunk. It’s startling that the store allowed him in the building, never mind built their holiday expectations around him.

Our son was a little skeptical and I made sure to clarify that this is not Santa Claus, but a man named Corwin. But the line between the two begins to blur and he was incredibly pleased with what happens next. He loved it when Corwin’s grouchy manager, played by John Fielder, gets a hilariously specific gift from Santa’s bag, and the charming, inevitable, climax certainly thrilled him. Not a bad little Christmas episode, really.

Interestingly, the producers tried to save money this season by videotaping six of the 29 episodes instead of filming them. This is one of three that I plan for us to watch, and I found it completely fascinating. It’s a little cramped and hard to believe – whenever anybody tries recreating a busy street in a studio, it’s not going to completely work – but I was so impressed by how the director kept the world they were building fluid and moving. I would have loved to have been in the studio when they taped this.


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The Twilight Zone 2.7 – Nick of Time

We’re stepping back into The Twilight Zone for a little while. I’ve picked eleven stories from the program’s second season that sound promising. There are a couple that we’re going to watch that I remember fondly. Others I don’t know, but they have memorable actors in them. I picked Richard Matheson’s “Nick of Time” because William Shatner is in it. I never saw this one before, but publicity photos from the production, thanks, perhaps, to Shatner’s later celebrity, are among the most common Zone pictures out there.

Shatner and Patricia Breslin play newlyweds whose car breaks down in a small Ohio city. While waiting for a part to come in from Dayton, they kill time in the local Busy Bee Cafe, trying to enjoy some lousy sandwiches and iced coffee. Shatner’s character is deeply superstitious, and he quickly becomes obsessed with a penny-per-question fortune teller on their table. It’s part of the napkin-holder, a cute and clever way for restaurants to make an extra buck or two a day.

You could imagine a later production doing the same sort of script with a Magic 8-ball. The fortune telling machine could be viewed as stunningly accurate, leading to one very surprising moment and one very funny one involving Stafford Repp, who plays the town mechanic… or are they just coincidences? Shatner coughs up twenty-odd cents, stunned by its power. Breslin urges him to leave it alone and write his own fortune.

Our son really enjoyed this one, more than most Zone stories, and so did I. It’s a simple and uncomplicated episode with an ethical question at its core that viewers of any age can grasp. I liked the straightforward script and the performances. Breslin is very good and Shatner is even better. The Twilight Zone Wiki noted that Matheson had hoped that Breslin would have been available to play Shatner’s character’s wife in the even more famous fifth season story “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but she wasn’t, and Christine White played that role instead. What a missed opportunity!

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The Twilight Zone 1.34 – The After Hours

Great day in the morning, was THAT ever entertaining! Sure, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” is the most important of the fourteen episodes that we watched, but Rod Serling’s “The After Hours” is downright fun.

Sure, grownups will probably figure out the twist as Anne Francis gets locked in a department store after closing time and starts hearing the mannequins whispering her name, but it’s such a delicious twist that it would be churlish to complain. The direction by Douglas Heyes is completely wonderful, with lots of little things to catch. I love how he puts a telephone front and center in one shot, but doesn’t have the character rush to it for help just yet.

Of course I asked our son, who said this was “SO CREEPY” and watched most of the weirdness with his security blanket balled in front of his mouth, whether he was reminded of the Autons in Doctor Who and of course he was. It’s a terrific, safe little horror movie for younger viewers, and I think that the success of this installment foreshadows future avenues that Zone would take in its next series. It’s very obviously an antecedent of “The Invaders,” which we’ll certainly be watching before too much longer…

That’s all from The Twilight Zone for now, readers, but stay tuned! We’ll begin looking at a selection of second season episodes in December!

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The Twilight Zone 1.33 – Mr. Bevis

On the off chance that I’ve infuriated any hardcore Zone fans with some of my frustrated commentary, I’m happy to say that “Mr. Bevis,” the pilot for a lighthearted show that never got off the ground, was much more entertaining. It stars Orson Bean as an eccentric oddball who meets his guardian angel at the end of a horrible day of the world forcing him to conform to its mediocrity. The angel is played by veteran Henry Jones – we saw him as Steve Austin’s arch-enemy Dr. Dolenz in a trio of Six Million Dollar Man stories – although I understand that Bean wouldn’t have been available for the proposed series and it was offered to Burgess Meredith before it was shelved.

The strangest thing about this episode from today’s perspective is how normal Mr. Bevis appears to modern eyes, and how stilted, boring, and downright Victorian the world of 1960 appears. Granted, leaving a cup and saucer on the sofa on the way to work is a little absent-minded, but Mr. Bevis’s desk, cluttered by enough knick-knacks to enrage his dull boss, looks like the desks at pretty much every job I’ve worked in the last twenty years. Well, the pop-eyed minstrel clock wouldn’t get on anybody’s desk any more, thank God, but you know what I mean. He dresses kind of flamboyantly for the period – not unlike Jimmy Olsen in the fifties and sixties, now that I think about it – and drives a forty year-old car, but he makes everybody except his boss and his landlady happy.

Overall, this is a cute half-hour that doesn’t have the malice or the misogyny of other episodes that we’ve sampled. It’s also got small parts for William Schallert and Vito Scotti, and our son said that he liked it more than other Zone installments as well. I don’t know that I’d want something this whimsical every week, but I’m glad to have made Mr. Bevis’s acquaintance. He’s welcome to come by after dinner for a few games of Munchkin and Gloom whenever he’s free, and I wouldn’t say that about most of the occupants of the Twilight Zone that we’ve met.

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The Twilight Zone 1.30 – A Stop at Willoughby

We asked our son, who looked a little confused after this one, whether it made sense. “NOTHING made sense,” he shouted.

“A Stop at Willoughby” seems to have a reputation as one of the great episodes of The Twilight Zone, but I’m with the kid. I didn’t care for it, either. It’s the bad luck of my picks that this is the third of twelve episodes that I picked that center around a character longing for a fantasy life, and I’m tired of it.

Worse, and this certainly isn’t the show’s problem but my own, I’ve had a pretty intense hatred for “the good old days”-fueled nostalgia for quite a long time. The murder rate’s lower than it’s been in decades, people can leave godawful marriages like the one depicted in this episode without scandal, we’re certainly closer to equality than they were in 1960, and I’ve got about seven thousand songs on my phone. I may love sixties and seventies television and fifties clothing, but you can stuff that longing for small town nineteenth century life, grandpa.

To put a few things in the plus column, while James Daly has the thankless and impossible task of making me sympathize with his character, he has a pretty good breakdown scene. The great character actor Howard Smith is well-cast as the blustery boss, and it’s nice to see Patricia Donahue, who was hopping back and forth to appear in both American shows and ITC productions like The Saint, Danger Man, and Thriller, even if her role is just plain awful.

Another thing I’m sick of in season one of Zone – and again, we’ve only seen twelve of thirty – is deeply unhappy marriages. Maybe Rod Serling was projecting a little, because James Daly’s character is not the first literate, gentle, and thoughtful protagonist we’ve seen to be trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman who is depicted as a one-dimensional beast. Richard Matheson’s “A World of Difference” is guilty of it as well. Mercifully, that horrible marriage has ended, but again, the woman is a nasty and unsympathetic piece of work.

It’s a weird, weird blog when I went into sodding Space Academy prepared for the worst only to enjoy it a good bit, and the allegedly classic Twilight Zone is just awful about half the time we watch it.

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The Twilight Zone 1.25 – People are Alike All Over

I’d never seen this episode of The Twilight Zone before, but its twist ending has been ripped off and parodied so many times that I sort of knew where it was going. So will anybody older than, say, our kid’s six, so I’ll “spoil” it for you: this is the one where the first Earthman on Mars, played, of course, by Roddy McDowall, ends up in an alien zoo. Rod Serling wrote the teleplay from a short story by Paul Fairman, “Brothers Beyond The Void,” which first appeared in a 1952 issue of Fantastic Adventures.

Our kid was, on the other hand, absolutely walloped by the ending. He was at a loss for words. “That was just… strange,” he said, not even able to commit to whether he thought it was happy or sad that our hero met such a fate. It’s been a while since I was that thunderstruck. Odd feeling.

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The Twilight Zone 1.23 – A World of Difference

An odd little coincidence here: Marie drew a connection between this episode and one that we watched in August, “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine.” Both concern actors that escape into the unreality of a film, although the two stories are very different. In “A World of Difference,” written by Richard Matheson, the fictional character of a movie doesn’t understand why his life doesn’t seem to actually exist, why everybody keeps insisting he’s actually a Hollywood actor, and why a very unpleasant woman claims to be his ex-wife.

The coincidence is that the protagonists are played by Ida Lupino in “Shrine” and Howard Duff in this episode. The actors were married in real life, and would appear together onscreen about eight years later as the Batvillains Dr. Cassandra and Cabala. Lupino would return to direct a celebrated episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Masks,” in the fifth season.

Anyway, we were pleased that our son enjoyed this episode, because the last couple weren’t among his favorites. I enjoyed seeing Eileen Ryan and David White in supporting roles, although White would later get so identified as Larry Tate on Bewitched that I couldn’t remember the actor’s name! The very best part of the episode, though, features an eerie synthesizer piece while Duff’s character races back to the studio in a stolen car. It’s absolutely terrific POV camerawork from the car’s hood, showing off the wide, wide avenues of the Los Angeles suburbs and dozens of beautiful old fifties cars.

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The Twilight Zone 1.22 – The Monsters are Due on Maple Street

“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” a Rod Serling teleplay that stars Claude Akins as a man trying to use logic and reason to calm an increasingly hostile mob, isn’t entertaining. Some of it is dated, particularly in the performances, but that’s not what makes it an awkward and uncomfortable experience. It’s unsettling and awful, and watching it should be a mandatory experience.

We’ve never liked to discuss prejudice and bigotry in this country; as a society, we’re getting more and more squeamish about it with every passing presidential administration, while at the same time becoming more and more entrenched in the language of fear and hatred. Don’t like being reminded that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings in this country are the handiwork of white men? Bring up “Chicago violence,” and four or five people will nod sagely, knowing what you really mean.

Literally yesterday (Oct. 14), the Associated Press reported that the Biloxi MS school system has removed To Kill a Mockingbird from the eighth grade curriculum, because it was making people uncomfortable. It’s meant to.

I read the screenplay for “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” in my seventh grade textbook. It’s stayed with me ever since. We may not ever win against uncontrolled fear, hysteria, and prejudice, but any victory that we can manage will only come with kindness and compassion. Just be kind. Now that I think about it, that’s what we’re trying to teach our son.

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