Category Archives: twilight zone

The Twilight Zone 4.17 – Passage on the Lady Anne

Another oddball coincidence: a few days ago, when we watched “Printer’s Devil,” I told our son to be on the lookout for an actor he’d seen before, hoping that he’d identify Burgess Meredith. So with his brow furrowed and his aim to please, he asked, when the actor Charles Thompson came on screen, “Is that Batman’s butler, Alfred?” No, but he just had to wait a few days. I told him this evening that Alan Napier was in this episode instead. And then, wouldn’t you know it, the story’s about a ship completely booked with men and women in their seventies. Every new old-timer the young couple met, our son asked, “Is that Alfred?” Napier doesn’t show up until the final scene.

I’m afraid this one didn’t go over too well. I was intrigued by the strange goings-on aboard the Lady Anne, and why all the old codgers want this unhappy young couple, trying to save their marriage by way of two weeks on a ship without any of the man’s distractions, aboard. But our son was bored out of his skull, despite a great little halfway mark “cliffhanger” to lead into the commercial break. And Marie cannot bear to watch unhappy couples. I knew all the way through this one was like nails on a chalkboard for her. The opening scene, in which the unhappy couple (Joyce Van Patten and Lee Phillips) consult the most condescending travel agent in America, was particularly painful!

On the other hand, Marie often smiles patiently as I grumble good-naturedly about our son not quite recognizing actors, because, as she always reminds me, she never recognizes actors, either. But as soon as Wilfrid Hyde-White showed up, right after our son asked “Is that Alfred?” she asked “Is he Colonel Pickering from My Fair Lady?”

I had to check to make sure. I’ve never actually seen My Fair Lady. Sacrilege, I know.

That’s all from The Twilight Zone for now, but we’ll return with a look at season five in June. Stay tuned!

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The Twilight Zone 4.14 – Of Late I Think of Cliffordville

Strange little coincidences with this morning’s episode of The Twilight Zone, which Rod Serling scripted from a short story called Blind Alley by Malcolm Jameson. As regular readers may recall, I picked most of the new-to-me episodes for our viewing based on whether I knew the actors, and I always enjoy seeing the people who would later play villains on Batman in these roles. So the other day, we watched an episode with Burgess Meredith as the devil, and this morning, we watched Julie Newmar as the devil. I genuinely didn’t know when I picked these what the plots of these tales were!

The other nice surprise was that title. As we started watching this show, I quickly became bored of Rod Serling’s use of the good old days trope of old men’s nostalgia for simpler times. I don’t think even Julie Newmar could save yet another one of these tales of men looking starry-eyed at old town squares. But that’s not what this is about at all, mercifully! Albert Salmi plays a downright sadistic robber baron who, having made his final, ultimate, screw-turning “deal,” has thirty million in the bank and is bored. The devil, here in the guise of a travel agent named Miss Devlin, offers him the chance to go back to 1910 and do it all again, only this time with all the memories of his past and about $1400 in his pocket. But memories are fragile, imperfect things.

Once again, our son really didn’t enjoy this story. Salmi’s character is just too darn mean. Even when we pointed out that this is a story about a mean guy getting his comeuppance, he wouldn’t budge. But he did understand even the talkiest bits. The story opens with Salmi twisting the knife into a very old rival and letting him know his only way out is bankruptcy, and we paused it to clarify what went on, but he recapped it very well for us. On the other hand, none of us spotted that the very old rival was played by gravel-voiced John Anderson, who we’ve seen twice as MacGyver’s grandfather Harry, so pobody’s nerfect.

Actually, I’ll tell you who really wasn’t perfect, and that’s the makeup artist for this story. Sure, they had a chore making Salmi, Anderson, and Wright King all look fifty years older for the stuff set in the present so they could appear as their normal ages in 1910’s Cliffordville, but you’d have to have been watching with a bent antenna in a snowstorm on a very small TV set in 1963 to ignore Salmi’s unbelievably phony bald cap!

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The Twilight Zone 4.9 – Printer’s Devil

Wow, our son didn’t like tonight’s episode of The Twilight Zone at all. Not a bit. I think he was most aggravated by this season’s version of the devil, played by Burgess Meredith, driving a car very, very fast down an old two-lane to bring his passenger to a grisly end. He shouted “He needs to slow down,” which I thought was a charming bit of concern. He does get invested in teevee enough to worry about the protagonists, and at the same time, he doesn’t like worrying.

I thought Charles Beaumont’s story was wickedly funny in places. Robert Sterling plays the beleaguered editor of a dying small-town newspaper and asks Meredith’s “Mr. Smith” whether he’s a creditor. Almost under his breath, the devil hastily replies “Not yet, anyhow.” I wasn’t thrilled with the ending. There’s a sense that this particular kind of evil just can’t be allowed to win when the mortal isn’t actually wicked, just desperate, and so it comes to a cute, but not really satisfying conclusion. That’s a shame, because in between the black comedy and a downright electric scene between Sterling and Meredith debating whether to sign over the human’s soul, this really did please me, but in the end, there wasn’t a twist, just a good winning over evil wrapup when the story was calling for something a shade more malevolent.

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The Twilight Zone 4.7 – Jess-Belle

Did it just not occur to this girl’s parents that naming her Jess-Belle was asking for trouble?

A couple of nights ago, our son got intrigued by the preview for tonight’s story, which was written by Earl Hamner Jr., because it mentioned witches and showed a big jungle cat. I was interested because the jezebel in question is played by Anne Francis. If it’s 1963 and Anne Francis wants to buy a love spell and bewitch me, then I’m totally fine with her turning into a big jungle cat from midnight until dawn.

Hamner is best remembered as the creator of The Waltons and Apple’s Way, and he worked on the cartoon adaptation of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. He seemed to enjoy telling stories of folklore from the Appalachians and the Ozarks, or much farther away and and just set in an electricity-free Blue Ridge Mountains. These are God-fearing people, and they practice a faith that I believe is rarely seen on contemporary television, and as such, they are not likely to be very sympathetic to witchcraft. That said, it might seem a little odd that everybody simultaneously knows all about Jeanette Nolan’s character’s spells and potions and yet gets very concerned about the right way to kill witches. That’s the way in northeast Georgia. People will drive to church and buy salves from the wart witch in the gravel lot after the sermon. It’s only when people actually turn into leopards that there’s a problem.

James Best is fairly awesome as the fellow who’s been bewitched, and I really enjoyed seeing this story unfold and, like the last one we saw, stretch out and breathe and not follow the strict Zone formula, but our son felt a little bit betrayed. There was a whole lot less of people shooting at wild animals than he hoped, and a whole lot more smooching. The embraces, the kisses, the talking of marriage, the dancing… we’re lucky he sat as still as he did!

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The Twilight Zone 4.6 – Death Ship

And so back to The Twilight Zone for its peculiar fourth season. I’ve picked just five installments from this year, which was held back as a midseason replacement and given instructions to expand from thirty minutes to an hour. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any of the stories from this season. It may not have been in the syndicated package that we got in Atlanta in the early eighties, unless some wiseguy decided to break them into two-parters.

Richard Matheson’s “Death Ship” is really good, although amusingly dated in design. It’s set in the far-flung future of 1997, with humanity looking for colony planets. Oddly enough, I was thinking about how television in the sixties kept using the image of flying saucers as what Earth ships would look like, such as the Jupiter 2 in Lost in Space, which would begin production a couple of years after this story, and looked it up. Would you believe that show was also set in 1997? Did people then really think we’d be colonizing other worlds in flying saucers in just thirty years?

The crew, played by Jack Klugman, Ross Martin, and Fred Beir, find a crashed saucer on a distant planet, and learn to their horror that it is their own ship, and their dead bodies are in the control cabin. I think the hour-long format worked really well for this premise. I was thinking ahead of how they’d resolve this problem in time travel, fitting everything that I could into the expected Twilight Zone boxes, and was pleasantly surprised by new complications as they emerged, including a wild moment where Ross Martin’s character not only hallucinates that he’s back home with his wife, played by Mary Webster, but his body completely vanishes from the flying saucer.

We enjoyed talking with our son about the plot complications. He’s savvy enough with science fiction to have understood the problem probably better than some of the teevee audience in 1963, and we thought we had some good ideas for the characters to avoid their grisly fates. Then the script went and messed with our solutions, almost as though Richard Matheson wanted to make certain nobody was going to second-guess him!

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The Twilight Zone 3.34 – Young Man’s Fancy and 3.35 – I Sing the Body Electric

When we watched the last episode of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling invited us back for an episode set in a “battleground” and our son insisted on watching it. We tried to dissuade him, knowing that he meant an emotional battleground, and assured him that it wouldn’t have any explosions, but he wouldn’t back down. So we watched “Young Man’s Fancy,” in which Richard Matheson weaves a tale, as if there weren’t enough in this show already, of a tedious, emotionally stunted manchild lost in nostalgia, and everybody hated it. Most of the grownups’ loathing was directed at the dummy who refuses to grow up and move on, but I had to spare a mean thought for the idiot woman who waited thirteen years for him to marry her. If we’re meant to believe this clown ever gave this sad, desperate woman any reason whatever to fall in love with him, the episode didn’t show it. It was an awful story, one of the very worst we’ve sat through.

Ray Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” on the other hand, was magical. A really good actress named Josephine Hutchinson plays the robot Grandma in this fantasy set in a world where a company called Facsimile Ltd. can bring love and guidance to people in need. David White and Veronica Cartwright also star.

Cartwright, by the way, is also completely excellent in this. She plays the sibling who rejects the grandmother, using her heartbreak over her mother’s death to justify closing her heart to anyone else. It’s powerful stuff, and I was riveted watching these two play what could have been a mawkish scene about everyone leaving the young girl. But it’s not all deep and serious. We get a twinkling of whimsy at the strange offices of Facsimile Ltd., and a kite-flying scene is absolutely charming. It’s a great, great little half-hour.

Bradbury himself was really dissatisfied with the production. The Twilight Zone Vortex went deep, deep into the reasons why in a post a few months ago. I was sorry to learn that Bradbury was so unhappy with it. A scene that he considered critical was removed, in which the grandmother and David White’s character, the children’s father, discuss the differences between humanity and her electronic approximation of it. It led to the end of Bradbury’s friendship and working relationship with Rod Serling. The writer turned his teleplay into a short story in 1969, and it later became a short TV movie for NBC in 1982.

But with all respect, I thought the story was magical and sweet and very well made. It led to a fun discussion about whether we might build some older or younger siblings for our son, and it didn’t require three pauses to explain the emotional battleground of the first story that we watched!

That’s all from The Twilight Zone for this run, but stick around! We’ll be watching a short selection from season four in May. Stay tuned!

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The Twilight Zone 3.33 – The Dummy

Cliff Robertson, who we saw in a second season Twilight Zone a few months ago, came back for a really bleak and scary turn in the third season. Some of this story was over our son’s head, as it concerns a nightclub entertainer who’s having a long breakdown and an even longer argument with his manager. The psychological story is a little more adult than what he’s used to.

Robertson is amazing in this, and the direction is just wild. When Robertson’s character starts hearing the shrieking voice of his puppet, the angle of the camera changes with almost every different shot. The Twilight Zone was often visually interesting, but this was very, very ahead of its time. It climaxes with one of the all-time great Zone payoffs, one which, wonderfully, I didn’t actually see coming at all. The kid didn’t like it very much, but I certainly did.

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The Twilight Zone 3.26 – Little Girl Lost

Thumbs down from our son this morning, as Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost” dumps a six year-old girl named Tina into a portal in her bedroom wall, and only her disembodied voice can be heard. Robert Sampson and Sarah Marshall play her terrified parents, and Charles Aidman is either a family friend or an uncle, a physicist who theorizes that Tina is trapped in the fourth or the fifth dimension.

I had the feeling this might hit a little close to home, but a safe fright here and there is what television’s for at this age. But this was “too crazy” and he wasn’t happy with the story at all. Just as well I’m not planning to show him Poltergeist anytime soon. But I cautioned him to not fall into any walls as he went to get dressed, and his mother chided me for trying to make him afraid of things that aren’t there.

Some other things of interest this morning: Tina’s parents share a bed, which you didn’t see on television all that often in 1962. And speaking of beds, not only is Tina’s bed insanely high off the floor – all the better for the cameras to capture Sampson and Marshall looking under it – but despite having enough room under there to store a wagon, a two-story dollhouse, a clothes trunk, a basketball, and every plush animal that’s ever been stuffed, there’s nothing under this bed at all. I know television in the classic days was almost always likely to present us with spotlessly clean homes, otherwise the judgmental jerks in the 1960s audience would sneer at the housewife tasked with keeping them uncluttered, but I’ve chosen to believe that the portal ate all the toys that Tina kept under her bed. When the portal made its way to a “Treehouse of Horror” on The Simpsons about thirty years later, Homer was probably tripping over Tina’s long-lost shoes.

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