Submitted for your approval....


I'm Craig, and I'm a longtime
Twilight Zone addict. The primary purpose of this blog is to spotlight each of the series' 156 episodes on the 50th anniversary of its original broadcast. I'll stop along the way to gaze lovingly at Twilight Zone merchandise and collectibles, and post random thoughts and musings about how the show has impacted my life. I thrive on feedback, so comment freely!



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Caesar and Me" (4/10/1964)





Season 5, Episode 28 (148 overall)
Originally aired 4/10/1964
Cayuga Production # 2636


Fifty years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone brought us yet another pint-sized anthropomorphized terrorist.


Jonathan West is an Irish immigrant trying to make a living as a ventriloquist and failing miserably. Susan, his landlady’s niece, torments him relentlessly. His dummy, Caesar, is inexplicably alive (and sounds like a bad Humphrey Bogart impersonator) and convinces him that he’ll have to stoop to petty theft in order to stay afloat. 



West successfully robs a local delicatessen and gets his rent caught up, much to Susan’s chagrin. With a full belly and a few belts of (presumably Irish) whiskey for courage, he cracks the safe of a local club. The night watchman spots him, but he’s able to charm his way out with Caesar’s help.


Susan is delighted to discover West’s guilt (she’s an expert eavesdropper) and promptly reports him to the authorities. He’s hauled away, leaving Caesar to start making plans with the scheming Susan…. he knows where West hid the loot, after all.


Dos Dummies: Willie (left) and Caesar. Are they the same exact dummy? They look awfully similar....




























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“Caesar and Me” is of course a second-rate copy of season three’s “The Dummy,” a Rod Serling effort that is superior in every respect. In that episode we witnessed an alcoholic ventriloquist on the verge of a nervous breakdown, locked in mortal combat with a dummy that would ultimately take over his life (and transform him into a wooden dummy in the process). Here we have a dummy that is alive for no apparent reason other than to ruin its puppeteer and take up with an evil little girl. When Caesar convinces the kid to murder her aunt and run away with him, it’s painfully clear that the series has completely given up doling out cosmic justice. The lunatics have taken over the asylum, and all bets are off.

“Caesar and Me” was written by Adele T. Strassfield who was series producer William Froug’s secretary (I could speculate about what she probably had to do in 1964 to get her “cute little script” produced… but I won’t), the sale of which launched an extremely brief career in which she sold a total of three television scripts. And yeah, this one sure as hell ain't great… but to put things in perspective, it’s quite a bit better than last week’s “Sounds and Silences,” which was a Serling script.


In the director’s chair is Robert Butler (who will also direct May’s “The Encounter”), who would go on to a few notable genre gigs: he directed three episodes of The Invaders (“Panic,” “The Enemy,” and “The Trial”) and the original Star Trek pilot (“The Cage,” most of which would be recycled as flashback footage in the two-part “The Menagerie”). I was especially tickled to learn that he directed the pilot episode of TV’s Moonlighting, which was my favorite TV show in the late 80’s.



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THE MUSIC


The only positive aspect of “Caesar and Me” is the original score by Richard Shores, who is probably best remembered for his extensive compositional contributions to TV’s Perry Mason (though he isn’t responsible for that show’s famous theme; we have Fred Steiner, another TZ composer, to thank for that). His work here features some very effective dramatic and mysterious cues, and it’s a real shame that it’s never been released on any of the series’ myriad soundtracks. The DVD and Blu-ray sets include many isolated music tracks, which has historically been a great resource for obsessive TZ music collectors (like yours truly); however, as with several other season five episodes, “Caesar and Me” lacks this feature.

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Top o' the morning to ya laddie! Jackie Cooper is sufficiently morose as the Danny Boy-stereotype Jonathan West. Genre fans might recognize him as the Daily Planet editor Perry White in all four Christopher Reeve Superman films (1978-1987).


Susanne Cupito is quite convincing as the vile little snot Susan. Cupito also appeared in season one’s “Nightmare as a Child” and season four’s “Valley of the Shadow”; she also popped up on The Outer Limits (“The Inheritors, Part 2”). She grew up to be breathtakingly beautiful and, when she turned 18, she changed her professional name to Morgan Brittany.



Stafford Repp (left) plays the unnamed pawnbroker in the prologue (we've seen him twice before: he was the auto mechanic in season two’s “Nick of Time,” and Ira Broadly in season three’s “The Grave”; below left). Mr. Smiles, the clerk at the unemployment office, is played by Olan Soule (right), who played the IRS agent in season two’s “The Man in the Bottle" (below, right).




The unnamed man watching West’s pathetic audition in act one is played by Robert McCord, who can be seen in over a third of the series’ 156 episodes, usually as an easy-to-miss extra (see my recent spotlight on “What’s in the Box” for more).











Ugh. I don’t hate “Caesar and Me,” but I sure as hell don’t like it much. Been there, done that, that's it, that's all there is.




Next up:
Martin Landau searches The Jeopardy Room, but can’t find Alex Trebek anywhere.





Thursday, April 3, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Sounds and Silences" (4/03/1964)





Season 5, Episode 27 (147 overall)
Originally aired 4/03/1964
Cayuga Production # 2631


Fifty years ago, a man found himself the victim to an aural nightmare. Besieged by unknown forces, he…. oh, screw it. I can’t polish this turd, nor am I inclined to try.


Roswell G. Flemington is obsessed with all things nautical, particularly recordings of actual naval battles, which he regularly blares at full volume. After twenty years of wedded misery, his wife finally leaves him, after which his hearing becomes inexplicably sensitive: quiet sounds like dripping water become deafening roars to him. He sees a doctor, who refers him a psychiatrist, who makes the staggeringly clinical diagnosis that it's all in his head; moreover, he can choose to exercise control over it.



Bolstered, Flemington goes home, where he finds his estranged wife, there to pick up the last of her things. He uses “mind over matter” to reduce her voice to a whisper. Smugly satisfied, he goes to play one of his beloved naval battle records, which he finds he can’t hear at all. He then comes to the horrifying realization that he can’t hear anything at all.




Well folks, here it is: the single worst episode of season five. I’m not quite prepared to place it below “Mr. Bevis” or “Four O’clock,” but I’ll definitely rank it in the bottom five of the entire series. First and foremost, there’s almost no story at all. Loud guy suddenly develops super-sensitive hearing, and then abruptly (and presumably) loses his hearing entirely. That's it. It’s essentially a depiction of a man losing a vital sensory function. How is that a Twilight Zone? Is causing an asshole to become disabled really Cosmic Justice?

I could almost find it in myself to sympathize with the ol' guy a bit. Almost. Not quite.

It doesn’t help matters that Flemington is such a complete and utter tool, or that there’s a ridiculous amount of overacting on John McGiver’s part, particularly every time he (over)reacts to the exaggerated sounds around him (it’s almost as if he’s using his facial expressions to compete with them). Seriously, how flagrantly obnoxious can one character be? Flemington makes previous Obnoxiometer™ placers like Roger Shackleforth and George P. Hanley seem positively likable by comparison. In fact.... I can't believe I'm about to do this, but.... 



That's right.... he's worse than James B.W. Bevis. That's quite a feat, Mr. Flemington.

“Sounds and Silences” is yet another episode that, once aired, resulted in somebody crying plagiarism and suing Cayuga Productions. Since litigation was still pending, the episode wasn’t included in the syndication package, and remained buried for 20 years. When the series turned 25 in 1984, it was resurrected along with vault-mates “Miniature” and “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” for a syndicated special. The episode is now easily viewed via Hulu and Netflix, and can be acquired in the various DVD and Blu-ray iterations of the series.



Rod Serling had to have known his teleplay was an utter piece of shit; however, he clearly didn’t care anymore at this late point in the series. There’s a whiff of season two’s “The Mind and the Matter” as Flemington utilizes what he calls “mind over matter” to minimize the sound of his wife’s voice. Serling wrote that one too; I guess it’s the closest to an antecedent we’ll find for “Sounds and Silences.” In the director’s chair this week is Richard Donner, who also helmed “From Agnes - With Love” (‘nuff said).


THE MUSIC


“Sounds and Silences” is notable (I guess) for having no actual underscore; aside from the copious sound effects herein, there are only a few brief snatches of nautical source cues played on Flemington’s hi-fi.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

I despise Roswell G. Flemington; however, I do like John McGiver quite a bit. We last saw him in season four’s “The Bard" but, to me, he’ll always be the noble democrat Senator Thomas Jordan in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate.





Mrs. Flemington (no first name, apparently) is played by Penny Singleton, probably best known as Blondie Bumstead in the long-running Blondie film series (1938-1950). If she sounds more familiar than she looks, it’s because you've undoubtedly heard her as the voice of Jane Jetson on TV’s The Jetsons.




Michael Fox plays the unnamed psychiatrist (I love how the nameplate on his door reads, simply, “Psychiatrist”). This is his third sojourn into The Twilight Zone: he played the doctor in season one’s “Nightmare as a Child,” and was one half of the two-head Martian in season two’s “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” He also popped up on the 80’s Twilight Zone revival in “A Message from Charity."


Francis de Sales plays the unnamed doctor (give these people some names, for Rod’s sake!). Genre fans may have spotted him in the Outer Limits episode “The Mice,” which also turned 50 recently.





“Sounds and Silences,” like its protagonist, is all bluster and no substance; there’s honestly nothing of value here. The completest in me is relieved that it’s available along with its Lost Five kin, but its relative rarity doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the worst offerings in the entire series. I’m filing it under “S” for “sucks” and turning a deaf ear to it for the rest of my days. 




Next week:
Season three's "The Dummy" gets a late-in-the-game surprise repeat airing, and---- wait, what? It's not a repeat? It's a new episode? We're doing another dummy story?  Really....?





Thursday, March 27, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "I Am the Night - Color Me Black" (3/27/1964)





Season 5, Episode 26 (146 overall)
Originally aired 3/27/1964
Cayuga Production # 2630



“The man I killed was the white knight.  He did what his other pals in this town wanted to but didn’t have the guts. He was the cross burner, the bomb thrower. He handled the whipping of some poor, scared colored guy.”

That’s Jagger, the town iconoclast, on the morning he is to be hanged. Sheriff Koch, Deputy Pierce, and Colbey (the editor of the local paper) ruminate about Jagger’s precarious conviction, and how all three of them may have skewed the facts to secure it. Odd meteorological detail: the sun hasn’t come up yet in their little town, even though it’s daylight everywhere else.



At 9:00, the townspeople gather at the gallows, and it’s still dark. Folks are starting to get concerned.




Jagger is finally brought to the gallows. Offered the opportunity to speak his last words, he vehemently refuses to apologize, incensing the crowd to demand that the hanging commence. Reverend Anderson, the only African American in sight, thanks Jagger for “sticking up for me and mine,” but does have a question: did he enjoy the killing? Jagger acknowledges that he did, satisfying Anderson’s lingering doubts of his guilt. Jagger is hung, at which point the darkness becomes thicker and more impenetrable. Anderson attributes it to the outpouring of hatred he’s witnessed in the Jagger case.

Back at the station, Colbey turns on the radio. The announcer reports that similar pockets of darkness have appeared all over the world: the Berlin Wall, North Vietnam, Dealey Plaza in Dallas… the list goes on and on.


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Rod Serling’s script is one of the more obvious examples of his tendency to overwrite dialogue. The characters do express a number of interesting insights, but they’re less impressive when they’re buried under unrealistic verbiage. Still, there are enough powerful moments to carry the piece. It’s an interesting combination of themes addressed previously in season one’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (the dangers of mob mentality) and season two’s “Dust” (the questionable morality of the death penalty), both of which were Serling efforts, but “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” never feels like a rehash. In the director’s chair is Abner Biberman, back for his fourth and final TZ stint (he previously directed “The Dummy,” “The Incredible World of Horace Ford” and, more recently, “Number 12 Looks Just like You.” He also directed “The Human Factor” over on ABC’s The Outer Limits as well as four episodes of NBC’s The Fugitive.


This of course isn’t The Twilight Zone’s first hanging. Season one’s “Execution” found an Old West outlaw being strung up, only to vanish in the nick to time (courtesy of a time-tampering scientist from the future). Season two’s “Dust” found a convicted murderer granted an unexpected reprieve when his rope snapped in the nick of time (thanks to a sprinkling of magic dust). But here the hanging occurs without supernatural intervention… it’s as if the third time, as the saying goes, was the charm.*

The crane shot late in act one as the townspeople gather around the gallows, the clock tower clanging in the distance, is effectively eerie. As they wonder aloud about the inexplicable darkness, it suddenly feels a lot like the aforementioned “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which featured a similar scene of neighbors discussing their sudden lack of electricity.




My favorite moment in the episode comes when Jagger, having incited the crowd to near-riot levels, turns and looks up the gallows. Everything goes completely and immediately silent. His face is framed in the noose, and the reality of the moment is suddenly very evident on his face.


. THE MUSIC



“I Am the Night – Color Me Black” is stock scored, almost exclusively with cues from earlier works by Bernard Herrmann



The first piece we hear, right at the beginning of the prologue, is Herrmann’s “The Cellar,” which sounds like a selection from his Outer Space Suite, but actually comes from his score for Collector’s Item, an unsold pilot from 1958. The Collector’s Item score was first released on vinyl in 1985 as part of Cerberus Records’ Bernard Herrmann: Music for Radio and Television album, the contents of which were released on CD in 2003 on Prometheus Records’ Bernard Herrmann at CBS, Volume 2: American Gothic



Next we hear a brief snippet from Herrmann’s radio score for “The Hitch-hiker," which was first released on vinyl in 1983 as part of Cerberus Records’ Bernard Herrmann: The Outer Space Suite album. The suite later appeared on CD in 1999 as part of Silva Screen’s 4-disc Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection.


The bulk of the episode is scored with cuts from Herrmann’s score for “Where Is Everybody?” from season one, a score that has seen three distinct releases. First, it appeared on the second volume of TZ scores from Varese Sarabande (an album which was released on both vinyl and cassette in 1983, then on CD in 1992--- in Japan only). It also appeared on Varese Sarabande’s The Best of The Twilight Zone CD in 1990 and, finally,  the aforementioned 4-disc Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection in 1999.

One non-Herrmann cue is heard a few times: “Now We Move” by Nathan Van Cleave, from his score for the “Alice” episode of Have Gun, Will Travel. This score has never been released to my knowledge, and since “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” doesn’t have an isolated music track on the Season 5 DVD and Blu-ray sets, this particular cue is unattainable…. or so a less dedicated blogger might have you believe. If you’re aching to possess Van Cleave’s “Now We Move” cue, it can be found on the isolated music track for “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” on both the Definitive DVD and Blu-ray releases of Season 4. The cue is heard three different times, so you can’t miss it. So if your heart is set on assembling a complete soundtrack for this episode…. well, now you can. You’re welcome.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Sheriff Charlie Koch is played by Michael Constantine in his only TZ appearance. He'd cross paths with Rod Serling again in the Night Gallery episode "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes"  but, before that, he popped up on the "Counterweight" episode of The Outer Limits.


Rev. Anderson is played with appropriate gravitas by Ivan Dixon, whom we know better as boxer Bolie Jackson from season one's "The Big Tall Wish." Dixon also appeared twice on The Outer Limits ("The Human Factor" and the two-part "The Inheritors"... so maybe we should call that three appearances). He also directed six episodes of The Greatest American Hero, which was my favorite show when I was in the 6th grade (incidentally, I’m strongly considering doing a blog about it at some point).



Colbey, the newspaper editor, is played by Paul Fix, who is probably best remembered by genre fans as Dr. Piper in the "Where No Man Has Gone Before" episode of Star Trek, which is the only regular series episode of the series in which Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy does not appear.





If Terry Becker (Jagger) looks familiar to you, it may be that you enjoyed him as Chief Francis Ethelbert Sharkey) on TV's Voyage to the Bottom of the SeaElla Koch (the sheriff's wife) is played by Eve McVeagh, who previously appeared in season three's "Kick the Can." She did four stints on Alfred Hitchcock Presents "Coyote Moon," "The Gloating Place," "The Test" and "What Frightened You, Fred?" as well as two Alfred Hitchcock Hours ("Last Seen Wearing Blue Jeans" and "The Second Wife"). George Lindsey (Deputy Pierce) appeared in the memorably disturbing Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode "The Jar" (which co-starred TZ alum Collin Wilcox and was scored by Bernard Herrmann), but let's be honest: he'll always be Goober Pyle (of The Andy Griffith Show fame).




"I Am the Night - Color Me Black" is Serling's final leftist political rant of the series. I'm not knocking leftist politics (I'm pretty liberal myself), but when you get preachy... well, pointing at a racist and yelling "racist!" isn't going to open his/her mind. I totally agree with the sentiment, but.....

Ahem. It's still pretty decent, thanks mostly to powerful performances by Terry Becker and Ivan Dixon. And as you can see from the screen captures, the episode is beautifully dark and noirish. And speaking of going dark.... we now have ten episodes left.




Next week:
You might want to turn a deaf ear to next week's offering. No, seriously.







*Of course we also saw a successful hanging just a few weeks ago in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but I’m not counting it since it’s technically not a Twilight Zone episode.