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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 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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Batman 3.22 – The Great Train Robbery

Daniel pretended to sour on this episode despite hooting and laughing all the way through the two fight scenes, both of which are pretty awesome. Interestingly, the second one, deliberately echoing such one-on-one showdowns as High Noon, is just a two-hander, with Adam West and Cliff Robertson, and their stuntmen, going at each other in a deserted street. But the earlier one is the usual big mob of people, and it includes a great big urn that Barry Dennen gets dunked in, which was probably the funniest thing my son’s seen in days.

Shame’s egomania and rank stupidity make him one of the show’s most entertaining villains, but you can see why they never used him, or anybody like him, in the comics, despite the rights issues. The comic book Batman is far too competent and intelligent to face any kind of challenge from this guy, which makes all the build-up about what an unbelievably dangerous arch-foe he is even more hilarious. And Robertson is so incredibly funny, with his double-takes, slow burns, and body language. I don’t think that he had very many comedic roles in his long career, but he certainly should have.

That said, Adam West gets the brilliant payoff line with one gag. Shame’s gang is waiting to open fire on Batman when they get within twenty feet of each other, but Batgirl and Robin spoil that plan behind Shame’s back. When Shame realizes they’ve crossed that twenty feet frontier, he starts twitching and looking over his shoulder, just brilliant physical comedy, because somebody needs to start shooting before Batman beats him senseless. He almost sheepishly asks Batman, “Say, uhhhh, about how far apart are we?”

“Eighteen feet and six inches,” Batman deadpans. Daniel didn’t quite get the joke, but his parents roared with laughter.

Also this week, Arnold Stang gets a small role. Hooray for Arnold Stang! He wasn’t actually in everything in the sixties, but he certainly should have been.

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Batman 3.21 – The Great Escape

I love the way Daniel reacts when Shame shows up. He’ll occasionally have his little growls or kid-melodramatic cries of “Oh, no! Catwoman!” or so, but he found this completely hilarious low grumble for this villain, and every time he or his henchmen do anything mean, he’ll go “Shaaaaaaaame!”

Speaking of henchmen, Cliff Robertson has a pair of hilarious ones in this story. Barry Dennen, who has had small roles in just about everything, plays Fred, an upper-class British man who wears a Mexican bandit disguise in order to fit into Shame’s gang, and Victor Lundin, who we saw back in season one as a scene-stealing member of one of Penguin’s gangs, is Chief Standing Pat, who communicates only with cigar smoke signals that only Shame’s girlfriend, Calamity Jan, can translate.

The quality certainly plunged in season three, but this story is just really funny. Robertson and his then-wife Dina Merrill, as Jan, are having so much fun and it really comes across well. Hermione Baddeley plays Jan’s mother, who doesn’t want any smooching until the wedding’s arranged, and Robertson has a blast with the underplayed mother-in-law jokes that Jan never notices.

Oh, I suppose there are superheroes in this one as well, but with baddies this entertaining, who noticed?

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Batman 2.26 – It’s How You Play the Game

One of the weirdest cameos during a Batclimb happens this week. A few episodes back, we saw how the show found room to give a little gentle synergy to a pair of other 20th Century Fox productions on ABC: The Green Hornet and Felony Squad. This week, however, Werner Klemperer, in character as Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes, sticks his head out the window.

I find this very odd, because not only was Hogan’s Heroes produced somewhere else, the show was airing on CBS. That network’s Friday night lineup of The Wild Wild West and Hogan’s was kicking the tar out of ABC’s Green Hornet and The Time Tunnel, both of which would be canceled. I just find it very strange that ABC would allow them to promote a rival program that was trouncing their own programming!

The highlight of this episode comes in a scene where Shame gets some bad news and goes nuts. But this isn’t a frightening loss of temper and control like we saw with the Riddler or the Bookworm in season one, where the actors were letting us know their characters were dangerously unhinged. Cliff Robertson plays Shame like a petulant child having a tantrum. It really works for his character: he’s a dimwit who takes himself far, far too seriously.

It’s a very funny episode, and it’s also another one that really goes overboard on Batman’s hopelessly square good guy-ism. There’s this little kid who’s been wandering through the proceedings whining “Come back, Shame, come back,” because Shame has stolen his transistor radio. The kid finally whines and cajoles his way into Commissioner Gordon’s office to get his radio, and Batman gives him this hopelessly hammy speech about being a good citizen. Shame just cannot believe that he’s been bested by a square turkey like this and, unable to hear any more of Batman’s po-faced homilies, ends the episode with a weary “Good grief!”

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Batman 2.25 – Come Back, Shame

One reason I’m enjoying watching Batman so much is that while there’s a formula to the show that often gets dull, the villains themselves are often so very different. Many of them, of course, are portrayed as highly intelligent, such as Egghead, who was also created by the writer of this episode, Stanley Ralph Ross. Almost as entertaining are the downright dumb criminals: King Tut, and this dimwit, Shame.

Cliff Robertson, at the time arguably best known for starring as John F. Kennedy in the film PT 109, was cast as a villain, but without a part for him to play. He suggested a cowboy, and a stupid one at that. So he has the very unlikely scheme of building a truck with a super-engine, its pistons and carburetor and other parts heisted from various hot rods and race cars, which will outrun the Batmobile. This doesn’t seem like a likely plan, but in this universe, who knows? It might work.

Actually, as dumb as Shame is, his henchmen are even dumber. Shame boasts that his new engine will reach speeds of “Three hunnerd miles per,” and one of them asks “…day?”

Daniel was pretty bored with this talky episode, but he came to life during the fight. Naturally, Shame and his gang have found a hideout in an old western town, part of an abandoned movie studio. I don’t think anybody making this show was paying very close attention to continuity, but it would be funny if it turned out to be the same one that False Face hid out in during season one! So there’s a long fight in a saloon, with beer bottles to the head, and a great bit where Shame gets punched over the bar. Sure, something like that happens in lots of westerns, but I mean vertically over the bar. Round of applause for that stuntman, please. And, of course, he gets slid down the length of the bar, as baddies do.

So, yes, Daniel loved that fight, as well he should, because it was a great one. Shame’s crew only gets the upper hand because the dame of the week, Joan Staley, shoots the chandelier above the Dynamic Duo and brings it crashing onto them. This is especially amusing because Shame had earlier dismissed his girlfriend’s usefulness in a fight. Staley is the second former Playmate to appear in Batman; she had been Miss November 1958. But Daniel was very alarmed by the cliffhanger. Shame has the heroes staked out on the dirt street of the western town and sends a herd of cattle stampeding. We’d seen stock footage of Big Ben used as the location of a previous cliffhanger, but this is the first time that stock footage has directly threatened our heroes! My son was a little more worried than usual, and hid his face in his security blanket.

Appearing in an unbilled cameo this week, it’s Jack Carter, who was omnipresent on television in the sixties, and was still racking up a heck of a lot of screen appearances and voiceovers very late in life, until he passed away in June of this year at the age of 93. He’s best remembered in this house for being one of the gang of troublemakers on Match Game in the 1973 season. (1970s episodes of Match Game, you must understand, are the greatest thing ever.) Anyway, he doesn’t get a Batclimb cameo; he plays a disc jockey called Hot Rod Harry, and he does a good job with the motormouth patter required by the script.

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