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!

Battlestar Galactica (1978)

And so, inevitably, there’s Battlestar Galactica. I had wondered whether that original three-hour opening “epic for television” might be available without having to buy the entire show; no look into all the Star Wars cash-ins would be complete without it. We were in luck: what we saw on TV as “Saga of a Star World” had actually already been shown in theaters in several other countries as a stand-alone film, and as an added bonus, it’s twenty minutes shorter.

I’m sure you caught the connotations there: I think Galactica is the most tedious program ever. It doesn’t even have the decency to be downright stupid. It’s just boring.

The weird thing at the time was that nobody in my second grade class was interested in it either. Obviously that wasn’t the case nationwide; Galactica had a legion of young fans who grew up to be a legion of adult fans, and they grew up to write and champion the even more boring 2004 remake. But somehow it didn’t click with the kids at my playground and get that lunchroom buzz that Star Wars had, and that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century would have the following season. Everybody watched “Saga of a Star World,” but people only talked about that in the past tense. I honestly don’t remember even being aware that a weekly show had been on at all. We all talked incessantly about Star Blazers and The Space Giants, but Galactica really seemed, to us, as a one-time thing as I recall it.

Galactica 1980, though, that one everybody did watch. Kids, eh? And in 1981 or 1982, HBO showed a movie made from the two-part episode “The Living Legend” several times, and I sat down to watch it as often as possible, but not when it was originally shown.

Anyway, in late 1977, Universal and producer Glen A. Larson started working on what was planned to be a series of occasional big-budget TV movies, only to have ABC decide to do it as a weekly show instead at just about the last possible minute. So the theatrical cut of the first story – it’s still long at 125 minutes – wasn’t just released ahead of the show, it was released before anybody at Universal even knew there was going to be a show. There are apparently several small narrative differences to the later TV version. In the film, John Colicos’s character, the treacherous Baltar, is actually killed, but in the show, he survived to become the regular antagonist. Colicos was probably a more interesting character than a barely-animated puppet, voiced by Patrick Macnee, would have been.

Our son enjoyed this much more than I ever did, although the endless – okay, maybe five minutes, total – scenes of old men in pajamas debating the next course of action almost put him to sleep. Among the old men: Lorne Greene, Terry Carter, Ray Milland, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and Lew Ayres. The movie sensibly focuses on the younger and much more attractive cast. I like the way Glen A. Larson wrote his two male leads. Richard Hatch is the dream catch for any single moms in the TV audience, the reliable super-boyfriend to a young widow played by Jane Seymour, and Dirk Benedict, with his freewheeling attitude and silver tongue, is the bad boy, caught in an endless love triangle between Maren Jensen and Laurette Spang.

Our favorite six year-old critic is mostly quiet during TV and movies and avoids interjections beyond cheers, whoops, and laughs, but he occasionally can’t help himself and it’s often amusing. Today, when we first see the heroes’ Colonial Viper fighter ships, he immediately said “Hey! Those pods look like X-Wing pods!” “Noticed that, did you?” I asked. Of all the Star Wars cash-ins, Galactica was probably the most egregious, prompting 20th Century Fox to briefly pursue a lawsuit over 37 alleged infringements. Most of these were pretty darn spurious, but lawsuits, like criminal charges, are often shotgun blasts hoping something will stick.

My favorite interjection came during the climax, as Cylon ships are attacking the supposedly defenseless fleet and Maren Jansen shouts “There’s nothing to stop them!” The next shot is all the Vipers leaving the planet’s surface and our son said “Nothing except those!” He really got into the spirit of things. He enjoyed all the space battles, reused footage and all, although he was really confused when the Death Sta – I mean Cylon Base Star – was destroyed. They’d explained the imminent destruction of the planet by way of some lines dropped in, overdubbed atop a laser gun shootout, and of course a six year-old isn’t going to pay attention to the dialogue when our heroes and Cylons are shooting at each other.

As for me, I wasn’t quite as bored as I feared. It’s always nice to watch Ray Milland chew up the scenery with that “I really do hate my agent” look in his eyes. I got a good chuckle when the words “MADE IN USA” showed up on a computer screen when Jensen was trying to diagnose a problem with Benedict’s ship. It’s certainly not bad for what it is, but any life in this movie vanishes when Dirk Benedict isn’t on screen.

I remember always being disappointed that the insect aliens, the Ovions, had so little to do, and this still seems like a missed opportunity. Of course, when I was a kid and had an Ovion action figure to hang out in my Sears Creature Cantina with Walrus Man, Greedo, Hammerhead, and the tall Snaggletooth with the silver boots, I just wanted more four-armed Ovions attacking people, but now I want to know whether they were running a big counterfeit cubit operation in their casino to keep the winnings going. How did they target their advertising to get the high rollers to book vacations without anybody in the rag-tag fugitive fleet, even Ray Milland’s decadent greedheads, ever having heard of them?

I honestly would have preferred more screen time devoted to these incredibly pressing questions than on Jane Seymour’s kid and his new robot dog, but my six year-old liked the robot dog and gave it his “pretty cool” seal of approval, which I doubt he’d have done with an in-depth investigation into Ovion casino marketing. Reckon Glen A. Larson knew what he was doing.

In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Our son is at that hilarious age where hot lava is everywhere. Everywhere. So I’m obliged as a parent to show him a movie or two in which some volcanoes erupt. In Search of the Castaways, another Jules Verne adaptation from Disney, and one of six (!) films that Hayley Mills made for the company in the 1960s, has a terrific volcano eruption. It also has an earthquake, a flood, a giant condor, gun runners, and basically one darn thing after another getting in the way of two kids trying to find their shipwrecked father.

Daniel completely loved it. No sooner did the earthquake scene – a bizarre but wonderful moment in which our heroes slide down a mountain on a whacking big rock – end than he begged us to pause the movie and wind it back so he could see it again. He pouted just a little bit when we declined.

Top-billed in the movie is Maurice Chevalier, playing a kindly, upbeat, and wildly optimistic professor, and he’s well-matched with Wilfrid Hyde-White, a spritely young 59, which is a baby in Wilfrid Hyde-White years, who plays an unbelievably naive, yet cynical lord who owns several ships. One of these went down a few years previously with Captain John Grant at the helm. Captain Grant’s children, played by Mills and Keith Hamshere, and the professor have a damaged message-in-a-bottle from their father and persuade Lord Glenarvan to head for the 37th parallel to find him. But is he in South America, Africa, or Australia?

So this globetrotting drama is downright huge fun for kids and it was a mammoth hit in the sixties. It seems somewhat forgotten these days, but its impact remains big on filmmakers. One of the climactic bits in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seems to take its inspiration from the earthquake scene. It’s nowhere as blatant as the Stagecoach homage in Raiders, but Spielberg clearly knows it.

After some initial squirminess, our son really enjoyed the movie, and I was pleased by the unpredictable one-darn-thing-after-another nature of the search, with a hilarious number of obstacles thrown in our heroes’ way. As with Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this began life as a serialized novel in monthly installments, so naturally the film is going to feel episodic, but the director, Robert Stevenson, really makes it work. It only just occurred to me that Stevenson, who did quite a lot of work for Disney, directed four other films that we’ve watched together for the blog: The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Herbie Rides Again and One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing.

Also appearing in the movie: Roger Delgado has a very, very small part as a sailor, but blink and you’ll miss him; he’s onscreen for not even twenty seconds. Wilfrid Brambell, who either made the first series of Steptoe and Son immediately before or right after this, I’m not sure, gets a meaty bit toward the end as a loony old man. The immortal George Sanders is obviously up to no good as a well-dressed man who may know what has happened to Captain Grant.

I’m not sure why In Search of the Castaways isn’t better remembered. Some of the special effects have dated, but others remain pretty amazing. It’s a great family adventure and we had a ball. Our son even said that he liked it better than 20,000 Leagues. And, once we finished, I was happy to start the film again so that he could watch the earthquake scene one more time.