As we get to the two surviving episodes from the second season of Adam Adamant Lives!, I’m afraid the quality of the picture and the sound has fallen completely off a cliff. Worse, there’s one character who speaks in a rasping whisper, and we could make out maybe every fifteenth word: adamant, trap, pleasure, possibly empire. After we’d ejected the DVD, my wife mentioned there may be a subtitles option. There is; we watched it again. The word was indeed empire.
And it’s a real shame that this print is in such sore shape, because it’s amazing! This time, the Ministry Twit of the Week are a pair of bankers played by the wonderful Donald Eccles and Peter Bathurst, who I’m sure was also wonderful, but I only know him as that awful blowhard Chinn in “The Claws of Axos,” poor guy. They want Adam to confirm the identity of somebody claiming to be a Romanov, a Grand Duchess from Saint Petersburg who Adam knew in 1901 as a young lady and who is now 87 years old.
From time to time, people have suggested the BBC should remake Adam Adamant Lives!. I’m totally in favor of such a thing in principle, but tonight’s story is one that they couldn’t do in 2019. Back in ’66, there would have been a few people around the age of 87 who knew Adam from his past. Come to think of it, it’s kind of odd they didn’t hit on such a plot before now.
Now, I’d argue that there are a couple of magnificent twists in this story, but Marie figured one of them out instantly. The Grand Duchess is played by the excellent actress Gladys Cooper – I reminded our son of her knockout good episodes of The Twilight Zone – and her granddaughter by Judy Parfitt. They’re hiding a secret in the cellar so horrifying that it turned a deliveryman’s hair white. So there’s a lot going on in this adventure, and with a brilliant fight scene and one hell of a payoff at the end, it’s worth struggling through the muddy sound to appreciate.
(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 4 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)
Photo credit: https://excusesandhalftruths.com
And so back to The Twilight Zone for six more stories, and boy, did I ever pick a great one. I hadn’t heard of Richard Matheson’s “Night Call” before, but since we’d seen Gladys Cooper in a couple of other Zone stories, I figured we might as well enjoy the hat trick.
“Night Call” is amazing. It probably started a flaming epidemic of kids making prank calls and quietly saying “…hell….oh…?” at two in the morning back in ’63, because it’s that darn good and that creepy. It shouldn’t be this way; it just sounds like pure hokum, an old lady getting increasingly panicked by a disembodied voice on her phone at all hours, but Cooper really sells both the panic and the character’s loneliness. Nora Marlowe plays the old lady’s home health nurse, and while long-suffering isn’t quite the right term, you’d think that her charge would listen to her very sensible advice to just hang up and leave the receiver off the hook.
Our son thought it was so creepy that he was grumbling and hiding before the commercial break. And he’s right. It’s just delicious. The twist was a terrific punch in the gut… and then Cooper decides to pick up the receiver and start talking to her caller. I about died. Mom had to lie down in bed with our son for a few minutes and cuddle him. If any of the next few we’re going to watch are half this good, I’ll be satisfied.
Related: You have seen The Phone, right?
I confess I blinked a couple of times when I sat down and looked at IMDB a few years ago and decided which Twilight Zones I wanted to watch. Robert Redford! You catch a lot of rising stars watching television from the early sixties, but it’s always a treat to find somebody of Redford’s caliber doing a very low budget half hour with two other speaking parts and one set.
And then what’s really funny is that Redford’s character is introduced on his back and upside down to us. He plays a policeman in George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark” who has been shot and fallen down to the basement apartment of an old tenement, and we meet him in this unflattering angle from the POV of the woman who lives in the apartment. Since I made my list of episodes years ago and stopped thinking about who we might meet when we got around to watching them, I completely forgot that Redford was in this one. Since he was upside down and so darn young, I actually thought he was Van Johnson for a minute.
But this is just like a man, yammering about the famous guest star when the episode is owned by Gladys Cooper and Redford just sits back and lets her dominate the story. She is amazing in this, an old lady who has become convinced that Death is a real person stalking her, and has consequently spent years in hiding, avoiding anybody who might be Death in disguise. When she pours out her soul to the wounded policeman, our sympathy is naturally with her because she’s given herself a horrible, hardscrabble existence to fuel a delusion… but then again, this is The Twilight Zone and she might be right.
This was the first of three Zone appearances for Cooper, who lived and worked in the US from about 1960 to 1966. Before and after that, she acted regularly in the UK, where her very long career began in short subjects prior to World War One! In fact, we’ll see one of her British television performances in something I’ve selected for next year. Her final role was as the Grand Duchess Ozerov in a wonderful episode of The Persuaders! in 1972.