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The Twilight Zone 5.29 – The Jeopardy Room

We watched a pretty entertaining little slice of Cold War paranoia written by Rod Serling this afternoon. I picked this one because Martin Landau is in it. He plays a Soviet defector who’s been tracked down by a dandy of an assassin played by John Van Dreelen. Landau’s trapped in a shabby hotel room with a bomb somewhere in it, and a sniper across the alley ready to gun him down if he tries to flee. This is a fun little game of psychology and desperation, and our son really enjoyed wondering along with Landau where the bomb could be.

We paused early on to give him a little more to understand, since we picked up on the context of the accents and the wardrobe and the character names. We did get one bit quite wrong, though. I thought Landau was playing a spy; the defection angle hadn’t actually occurred to me before the adversaries actually meet face to face!

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The Twilight Zone 5.26 – I am the Night – Color Me Black

From a heavier-than-usual episode of Young Indy to a heavier-than-usual episode of Zone, once again we had a little more cause to talk about the world with our son. Rod Serling’s “I am the Night – Color Me Black” features a stellar cast, including Michael Constantine, Ivan Dixon, and Paul Fix, in a story about a town so full of hate and rage that on the morning of an execution, the sun literally doesn’t come up.

It’s a village seething with racial resentment. The murder victim is said to have been a “cross-burning psychopath,” but also the only one in the town willing to be open about his bigotry. His killer has been railroaded; the town’s high and mighty squashed evidence and perjured themselves on the stand to ensure that there wouldn’t be any chance of acquittal. It’s not an execution; it’s retribution.

So yeah, this was a very heavy half-hour, and one we paused twice to ensure our son could follow the narrative. At least he got his questions about the mechanics of hanging answered a couple of weeks ago so he could focus on this, and we could agree that the only way to dispel the creeping, terrible darkness that threatens towns like this is through love and kindness. Fortunately, things will be a little lighter tomorrow night.

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The Twilight Zone 5.25 – The Masks

Sometimes, it’s fair to say that Rod Serling’s prose could get very purple. In “The Masks,” he never uses two words when ten would do. Almost all of the story’s weight is placed on the shoulders of the family patriarch, played by Robert Keith in his final screen role. He died almost three years after this first aired in March of 1964. The story is structured so that almost all of the exchanges are variations on Keith telling his awful family “You’re all terrible people,” and the ungrateful kin politely replying “Please don’t say such awful things.” They have to be polite. They’re in this for his money.

So I was pleased that our son was able to follow along no matter how florid the language became, and he laughed at the insults. It helped that the rotten children and grandchildren were so obviously rotten, drawn in absurdly broad strokes to make the twist work. I think this one could have benefited from being made in the previous season as an hour-long episode. With more time available, the characterization could have been more subtle and the twist more delicious. At least these jerks deserved their fate, which isn’t always the case in this show. As with many other stories we’ve watched, this one got a pronouncement of “creepy!” I think our kid enjoyed it more than he has many others.

I was interested to see that “The Masks” was directed by Ida Lupino, who had starred in the memorable Zone installment “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” back in season one. She was doing lots of television directing in the mid-sixties, on shows as disparate as The Fugitive, Gilligan’s Island, and Honey West, when she wasn’t acting.

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The Twilight Zone 5.7 – The Old Man in the Cave

Speaking of MacGyver, here’s the actor who played his grandfather, John Anderson, along with James Coburn and John Marley, in a 1963 Twilight Zone written by Rod Serling from a story by Henry Slesar. It’s an agreeably bleak look at the grim, post-apocalyptic future of 1974, but the twist is so remarkably dated that this is the sort of story that can only have been told in old books and television. It’s fair to say that I didn’t see it coming; it’s difficult to remember how frightened people used to be of ordinary technology that Anderson’s character would want to keep it locked away from the rubes. Our son was absolutely baffled, and left only with a dislike of Coburn’s very “mean” character.

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The Twilight Zone 5.1 – In Praise of Pip

Back to The Twilight Zone for eleven selections from its final season. To start with, I picked “In Praise of Pip,” which was written by Rod Serling. It’s Bill Mumy’s third appearance in the program, but it’s really worth watching for Jack Klugman’s amazing performance. Life kind of got in the way tonight and so I don’t have much to share, but I did want to make sure I praised Klugman as Pip’s dad, because he was just so good in this. That and our son was very confused by the jump in time before the final scene. Several weeks pass, but, especially since the scene takes place in the same location as the one before it, it looked to him like it was the following morning.

Also, remember those cigarette companies that used to sponsor this show? Well, they must have found some other kind of sponsor in season five, because Klugman smokes Morley in this one!

Morley King Size! The 555 of Cigarettes!

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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 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 3.24 – To Serve Man

You might ask yourself, wasn’t our son a little young to start watching The Twilight Zone? And honestly, there have been times that the cultural divide of nearly sixty years has seemed awfully vast for such a small boy, but I wanted to get started when he was six because the twist of “To Serve Man” is one of those that just about everybody learns before they actually see the story.

I’m genuinely curious, readers. If you’re in your forties or younger, did you ever get to see this unspoiled? It’s like the end of Citizen Kane. If you didn’t see this in the sixties, you heard the twist before you could see it.

And so I thought I was able to sneak this under the bar and apparently I failed. Our son exclaimed “I knew it! I knew it!” And this is not how he responds to the devilish twists of The Twilight Zone. He insisted that he knew where this one was going as soon as he heard the title. So this morning, I was looking over a gargantuan list of movies and TV shows that have referenced the Kanamits’ cookbook. It’s in Madagascar. Madafreakinggascar! My wife was hurrying to finish making her lunch and get out the door. “Has he seen Madagascar in afterschool care?!” I grumbled. “That would explain it,” she said. “He did seen very sincere last night.”

And to think I gave that dumb movie a pass for the wonderful gag about flinging poo at Tom Wolfe!

Anyway, the surprisingly large cast of “To Serve Man” includes Lloyd Bochner and Susan Cummings, with Richard Kiel as the main Kanamit and Joseph Ruskin, uncredited, as the alien’s voice. The screenplay was written by Rod Serling from a story by Damon Knight. Some of the special effects were repurposed from Ray Harryhausen’s 1956 movie Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, which is a much better movie than you’d expect from one with a name that silly. It’s a pretty good episode.

You know, I’ve held off showing him Planet of the Apes because the gorillas are so amazingly cruel. I’ll try to accept the probability that some fool cartoon with breakdancing pigs or linedancing antelopes has referenced the end of that one as well.

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