The Twilight Zone 3.35 – I Sing the Body Electric (take two)

It’s Ray Bradbury Month here at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be showing our kid some teleplays and adaptations from the pen of the greatest sci-fi writer in history, and Marie will be reading him some Bradbury with his goodnight routines. I suggested The Halloween Tree, but I think she’s going with From the Dust Returned. And isn’t it amazing that he’s ten and still wants Mom to read to him before bed? How amazing is that?

Anyway, speaking of dust, to kick things off, I dusted off our Twilight Zone DVDs and we rewatched the wonderful “I Sing the Body Electric.” He didn’t remember much about it (good grief, has it really been three years since we watched it the first time??) but he gave it his complete attention and really enjoyed it. When the two less jaded kids start choosing their new grandmother’s eyes and hair, he was enthralled. It’s such a simple scene, not done with any real pizzazz or special effects or anything, but the joy those kids were expressing was really contagious.

“I Sing the Body Electric” was very controversial with the writer. He didn’t like the rewrites and it took him many years to get a television adaptation done that met his approval. But I think Bradbury was letting his pride get in the way. The production for Twilight Zone was done very sympathetically and the whimsy and the fun of the story never overpowers the message of the fable: you may not have to have a heart to love. Your actions define you, not where you were built. It’s a very good little half hour.

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!

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.