Thursday, December 31, 2009

Numerology in The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone is the FIFTH dimension. Yes, there really are five, just like those FIVE characters in search of an exit (I don't think they'll find it). But let's back up a bit and start with numero uno: Lew Bookman wanted to make ONE big pitch, a pitch for the angels (he succeeded, but not before he spent NINETY years without slumbering.). Across town, there was a nervous man who was staying in a FOUR dollar room, but let's not confuse him with Arch Hammer, who was FOUR different people (turns out all of them were dying). The time of death, incidentally, was around FOUR o'clock. The disposition of his spirit is unknown, but he may have ended up in the 7th Calvary, which is made up of phantoms. Or, in the alternative, he may have joined the crew of the King NINE, which we all know will not return. It can be stated with assurance, in any case, that his corpus spent some time in Room TWENTY-TWO, which always seems to have room for one more. The funeral could've used ONE more pallbearer, but it proceeded nevertheless. The body was dropped into a very deep grave (THIRTY fathoms, to be exact) from a very high place (20,000 feet; thanks to the crew of flight 33 for their services). The plane subsequently landed at a nearby airfield. How near? Oh, a HUNDRED yards or so, just over that rim. The entire event was captured on SIXTEEN-millimeter film for posterity, but the film was sadly lost in a global nuclear catastrophe that wiped out all of humanity, except for TWO survivors. There was actually another survivor, an astronaut piloting a spacecraft called Probe 7, which crash-landed on the THIRD planet from the sun.

Loopy? Yeah, definitely. And I haven't even started my New Year's Eve drinking yet!

Friday, December 25, 2009

TZ Promo: "What You Need" (12/25/1959)

Fifty Christmases ago, the twelfth Twilight Zone episode premiered. It isn't a holiday-themed episode per say, but it does feature an old man who gives out gifts to strangers. Hmmm....

Ernest Truex stars as Pedott, a curious little peddler who has the uncanny ability to give people exactly what they need when they need it, be it a pair of scissors, a bus ticket, or a leaking fountain pen. Steve Cochran co-stars as Fred Renard, a no-account thug who tries to monopolize the old man's gift for his own questionable purposes. It's safe to say that Mr. Renard will be getting a dose of comeuppance for Christmas, expediently delivered... from The Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling adapted the teleplay from a story by Lewis Padgett and, like the earlier "And When the Sky Was Opened" (which was adapted from a Richard Matheson story), the script differs radically from the story. Interestingly, the short story was previously adapted for television (and much more faithfully so) on Tales of Tomorrow in 1952 (this episode can be viewed here), which featured Edgar Stehli (who would later appear in TZ's "Long Live Walter Jameson," which we'll get to in a few months) in the role of the prescient old man, here called Peter Talley (as in the seminal short story).

Alvin Ganzer directs. Nathan Van Cleave provides the music (it should be noted, on this joyous of holidays, that Mr. Van Cleave orchestrated the score for the Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye film White Christmas, which is required viewing in my house every year).

Merry Christmas to my faithful readers... all four of you. And speaking of four.... well, we'll get to that next week.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bif Bang Pow! Reveals Upcoming Twilight Zone bobbleheads!

Here's a sweet Tweet that's extra neat...

"Kanamit and the Gremlin are scheduled to be our next Twilight Zone bobble heads! Pre-order info coming in early '10. Holiday cheers to all!"

I can't imagine a better holiday surprise. Maybe Jason and the Bif Bang Pow! gang got sick of me constantly asking for a Kanamit...? Here he is, as played by Richard Kiel, in season three's "To Serve Man"...

The Gremlin, meanwhile, appeared in season five's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Wow, talk about ugly...

(I mean the Gremlin is ugly, not William Shatner!)

That'll make a total of five TZ bobbleheads. Here's hoping the line continues.... I'd love to see the doctor from "Eye of the Beholder," not to mention Maya the Cat Girl from "Perchance to Dream"....

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TZ Spotlight: Talky Tina talking bobblehead (Bif Bang Pow!)

Just in time for Christmas! Submitted for your approval, number three in a series of excellent Twilight Zone bobbleheads from Bif Bang Pow!, this time bringing to life a notorious doll who won't hesitate to put you in your place…

Talky Tina appeared in the Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll," which originally aired on 11/01/1963 and starred Telly Savalas as a rather unfriendly stepdad locked in mortal combat with…. a wind-up talking doll. Voiced by June Foray (best known as the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel), Tina spouts choice lines like "My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you." My advice? Don't fuck with her.

Talky Tina stands 6.5" tall and, like her older brothers The Mystic Seer and The Invader, is nice and heavy. She's molded in gray resin with black and white paint apps, just like her predecessors. As with The Invader, the Twilight Zone logo is featured front and center, superimposed (as it were) over Tina's base, which represents a staircase (to explain the staircase would give away the episode's climax, but let's just say it's a nice ghoulish touch). The base also houses the sound chip, which is powered by a 3-volt lithium battery (included).

When it comes time to replace the battery, the felt-like material covering the bottom (which displays the Bif Bang Pow! logo) can be peeled back.

A button on the back of the base triggers the sound chip. There are five phrases, all taken directly from the episode (you can hear snippets of Bernard Herrmann's musical score in the background on a few of them):

"My name is Talky Tina, and I don't think I like you."

"My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much."

"My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you."

"My name is Talky Tina, and you'd better be nice to me."

"My name is Talky Tina, and you'll be sorry."

Tina is quite screen-accurate, with one interesting exception: there's a white bracelet sculpted onto Tina's left wrist. No idea why, as it doesn't appear in the episode. Otherwise, the sculpt is quite nice, capturing the innocence of the doll (which is nicely contrasted by the diabolical phrases she utters).

We get a different box this time around --- no clear plastic window showing the actual item inside.

Overall--- yet another winner. A Twitter post on 11/20/09 from Bif Bang Pow! indicates that a fourth Twilight Zone bobblehead is in the works… I'm hoping for a Kanamit, but honestly, I'll take anything. These things ROCK, and belong in the collection of any serious Twilight Zone fan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Second Thoughts…

As the title suggests, I'm having some second thoughts. It concerns a commitment I made a few months ago. I made this commitment with the best of intentions, with a strong and fervent desire to see it through. The thing is, I didn't think it would be this hard. Truth be told, I'm having a helluva time sticking to my guns. I'm seriously considering throwing in the towel and calling it a day.

What the hell am I talking about, you ask?

As The Twilight Zone's 50th anniversary approached, I made the rather ambitious decision to put myself on an "anniversary celebration schedule," in which I would watch all 156 episodes on their respective anniversaries. I would only watch one episode per week, perfectly mimicking the original broadcast schedule (including repeats), for five years. I actually avoided the series entirely for well over a year in anticipation of this undertaking, leaving my glorious Definitive Edition DVD sets to gather dust on the shelf. October 2nd, the glorious 50th anniversary of the series' debut on CBS, couldn't come fast enough and, once it did, I was in heaven… and have continued to be, for half an hour each week, for the past 11 weeks.

Until now. You see, there's no episode to celebrate this week. On 12/18/1959, the show was pre-empted by "Iran: Brittle Ally" with Edward R. Murrow (the show was pre-empted a number of times throughout its run… the next one happened on 4/22/1960).

Perhaps it's no coincidence that I'm questioning my commitment to this viewing schedule in the same week that there's no episode to watch. What's the problem, you (impatiently) ask? Why, I'm Zone-dependent, an anxiety-ridden addict, and this one-episode-per-week thing is leaving me seriously Zone-deprived. I crave more. I need more. The thought of not seeing "Shadow Play" for a year and a half just kills me. Worse, "Death Ship" is over THREE YEARS away!

What to do? Well, perhaps I can have the best of both worlds. I could still watch each episode on its 50th anniversary, but I could also give myself permission to watch as many other episodes as I want from week to week. But... wouldn't that dilute the experience? As I stated in an earlier entry, I committed to this schedule for the express purpose of experiencing the show just as it was originally presented, and hopefully gaining new insight into the show as a result. At first, I enjoyed the resultant anticipation, excitedly counting down the days until the next episode… but lately it's been more frustrating than anything else. Chalk it up to my immediate-gratification-oriented generation, or perhaps my individual lack of patience; either way, the dearth of Zone in my life is starting to drive me crazy. Those beautiful DVD sets just sit there, crying out for attention, and I must turn a perpetually deaf ear to their pleas. And yet, to cave in and give up only 11 weeks in…. well, that would make me pretty weak, wouldn't it?

*Sigh* I dunno. What to do, what to do?

Perhaps a compromise is in order here. Perhaps I could "gift" myself a free episode whenever there's a hole in the schedule (like this week, for example). And since it's almost Christmas, this would allow me to watch "The Night of the Meek," which I usually watch every holiday season (along with A Christmas Story, It's a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, etc) but was planning to skip because of this so-called "anniversary celebration schedule."

Funny… it's feeling less like a celebration and more like a form of masochism. The Twilight Zone is by far my favorite TV series of all time (and frankly, I love it even more than my favorite movie of all time, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo), and maybe this experiment, or endeavor, or whatever the hell it is… well, maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. All this self-denial can't be good for the soul. Bottom line --- if I'm not enjoying it, then there's something seriously wrong.

Hence… second thoughts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Talky Tina Talking Bobblehead in stock at Entertainment Earth!

Apparently the rumored delay was just that: a rumor. Go here and order yours before they sell out. And trust me, they WILL sell out. I ordered two just now (one to display, and one to hoard), and I'm hoping they get here before Christmas....

"My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you...."

Friday, December 11, 2009

TZ Promo: “And When the Sky Was Opened” (12/11/1959)

I've told this story before. Some years back, I was a regular poster on the message board of a marvelous Twilight Zone website called The Fifth Dimension. It was there that I chronicled my first Twilight Zone experience (or, in more prosaic verbiage, the first time I ever saw the show). Sadly, the site disappeared several years ago, and with it, my recounting of said experience. As time has marched forward, my memories have grown progressively hazy of my younger years. I will attempt to (re)recount the tale here, but the details will likely be somewhat inaccurate.

I first discovered The Twilight Zone in the summer of 1982, right before I entered the 7th grade. KPTV-12, a local TV station (which is now Fox 12), started airing the show on Saturday nights. They'd air an hour-long episode at 10:00, then a half-hour episode at 11:00. A I recall, my normal Saturday evening routine was as follows: I had church youth group meetings, from which I'd get home around 9:30, then I'd watch TV until I fell asleep (I was 12 years old and there was no internet; what else was there to do?). It was this routine that led me to The Twilight Zone: one fateful night, as I was flipping through the whopping four channels on the dial (this was before cable or satellite TV, at least in my house), I stopped on KPTV-12 and witnessed something altogether strange and mystical, beautiful yet foreboding.

There was a doorway, suspended in space. An eyeball floated by, its fake eyelid lazily rising. Then a scuba diver swam across the screen, complete with a trail of oxygen bubbles (it would be years before I'd discover that it was actually a mannequin with flowing hair). A mathematic equation, a ticking clock, and then… the words appeared before my quizzical, adolescent eyes:

The Twilight Zone.

I believe the episode was Jess-belle. I recall being entertained, but not monumentally so. The TV Click (The Oregonian's TV Guide knockoff) indicated that another episode would follow at 11:00, this time only half an hour in length. I decided to keep watching, and what I saw next changed my life. That half-hour episode was more than entertaining. It was fascinating. Moody, complex, scary. I'd never seen anything like it before in my life. From that night forward, I was hooked.

That episode celebrates its 50th anniversary tonight.

The teleplay for "And When the Sky Was Opened" was written by Rod Serling, based on the short story "Disappearing Act" by Richard Matheson. The episode and the story have very little in common except for the central story conceit… which I won't reveal here (Matheson's original title should give you a clue). It stars Rod Taylor (best known for his roles in The Birds and The Time Machine; he recently played Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds) and Charles Aidman (who would reappear in season three's "Little Girl Lost" and, in the 80's, provide the narration for the "new" Twilight Zone TV series), and is the first of nine episodes directed by Douglas Heyes (who went on to direct some of the series' most visually arresting episodes, including "The Howling Man," "The Invaders," and "The Eye of the Beholder"). Original music is provided by Leonard Rosenman.

I should also mention that it's one of my top ten favorite episodes of all time, and not just because it was the episode that made me a lifelong fan. It's just damned brilliant.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TZ Spotlight: The Invader bobblehead (Bif Bang Pow!)

After missing this the first time around (the initial run sold out quickly earlier this year), I ordered it (two, actually) as soon as it was restocked. It arrived, serendipitously enough, on my birthday last week. I should also note that, as of this writing, it's still available from Entertainment Earth (however, the Mystic Seer is already sold out AGAIN, and won't be available again until February 2010).

The Invader appeared in the Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders," which originally aired 1/27/1961 and starred Agnes Moorhead in a tour-de-force performance as an unnamed woman menaced by tiny aliens in puffy spacesuits.

The second of Bif Bang Pow!'s initial two Twilight Zone bobbleheads, The Invader stands 6.5" tall and is even heavier than the already-reviewed Mystic Seer by at least 50%. This guy could easily shatter a windshield or, if thrown properly, bring down a seagull.

It's done in a monochromatic paint scheme, which is infinitely preferable since it comes from a black and white TV show. It's molded in gray resin with black and white paint apps and, unlike the matte look of the Mystic Seer, a glossy sheen has been applied to mimic the silvery metallic look of the Invaders seen in the episode. It's a subtle but highly effective touch. The Twilight Zone logo, relegated to the back of the Mystic Seer, appears here at the front of the base, sculpted instead of simply painted:

The Invader holds not one but TWO laser pistol devices (which look like Christmas lightbulbs). They are a part of the sculpt and are not removable. One would have sufficed, especially since The Invader seen in the episode never holds more than one at a time. I can't help wishing they lit up, but at this price point, lights and/or sounds were probably cost-prohibitive (the next scheduled bobblehead is the Talky Tina doll from "Living Doll," and she'll come with a sound chip… and a $5.00 price hike).

The overall sculpt is quite good, and very screen accurate. The head itself doesn't bobble… the split appears at the piece's midsection, so the entire upper half bobbles instead of just the head. The bobbling motion is therefore not as fluid as that of traditional bobbleheads, but in this case it works, enhancing the clunkiness of the design. It was the right choice, especially since the helmet is so small (the only other option would have been an oversized bobbling antenna dish, which would have been admittedly hilarious). The bobble effect is achieved by a metal spring inside the unit.

The company logo appears on the bottom of the piece:

The packaging is classy and elegant, which makes a good argument for buying two (which I did):

The Invader represents another home run for Bif Bang ow! I actually prefer The Invader to the Mystic Seer, but both are stellar pieces.

Next up is Talky Tina, which looks to be every bit as cool as her older brothers. She was slated for release this month but has been apparently delayed until January:

The stairway base is hilariously macabre (a great little episode-specific in-joke). And check out the revised box!

TZ Spotlight: Mystic Seer bobblehead (Bif Bang Pow!)

After missing this the first time around (the initial run sold out quickly earlier this year), I ordered it (two, actually) as soon as it was restocked. It arrived, serendipitously enough, on my birthday last week. I should also note that, as of this writing, it's sold out AGAIN, and won't be available again until February 2010.

The Mystic Seer appeared in (well, dominated) the Twilight Zone episode "Nick of Time," which originally aired on 11/18/1960 and starred William Shatner and Patricia Breslin. It's a napkin dispenser that also dispenses fortune cards when you drop a penny in the front slot.

The Mystic Seer used in the episode makes a perfect candidate for the bobblehead treatment because it is, among other things, an actual bobblehead. That is to say, the head rests on a skinny post and bounces around when touched (Shatner taps it affectionately at one point in the episode):

On to the review. First off --- the bobblehead is much bigger than I thought it would be (about 6.75 inches tall, from base to horn tips). It's also much heavier than it looks (let's put it this way: you could use it as both a paperweight and a blunt object with which to brain somebody). Neither of these constitutes a complaint, however... this thing's got presence.

It's painted in a monochromatic scheme, which it SHOULD be, since it's from a black and white TV show. It's sculpted in gray resin with black and white paint apps. This thing just plain POPS. The head sculpt is screen accurate, sharply detailed, and beautiful to behold. There's actually a tiny little plastic gem in the eye, and it catches light nicely.

The proportions of the overall piece are clearly not accurate (the base unit, which dispenses the fortune cards in the episode, is much too small here), but since it's a bobblehead, accuracy isn't really a concern, is it? The text on the body is sculpted, not just painted... a nice touch. The Twilight Zone logo is elegantly sculpted on the piece's back:

...and the company logo can be found on the bottom:

On the subject of the fortune cards: even though this thing doesn't actually dispense them, Bif Bang Pow! saw fit to include eight fortunes (two strips of four), all of which appeared in the episode:

The packaging is great too, which is a great reason to buy two (I did)...

Overall, I LOVE this piece. If I had to list a single complaint, I guess I'd mention that the paint job is a bit sloppy in spots. However, for a mass-produced toy that retails for less than fifteen bucks, it's a pretty mild gripe. For their first Twilight Zone item, Bif Bang Pow! has hit an absolute home run with the Mystic Seer. Can they keep up the momentum with their next bobblehead (The Invader)? Tune in next time to find out….

Friday, December 4, 2009

TZ Promo: "Judgment Night" (12/04/1959)

You wake up on a boat full of people you don't recognize, sailing through a foggy night, plagued by a premonition of disaster. As midnight grows near, you feel almost suffocated by a certainty that something is out there... and is about to strike. Is it an iceberg? A sea serpent? Perhaps it's simply a dose of cosmic justice, doled out from... The Twilight Zone.

Sorry --- still a bit giddy from the University of Oregon's victory over Oregon State last night, which means The Ducks are officially going to the Rose Bowl.

Anyway. Tonight's episode is "Judgment Night," which first aired 50 years ago today. Directed by John Brahm from a script by Rod Serling, it's a tale that seems perhaps better suited to a show like One Step Beyond... until that patented TZ ending kicks in, of course.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Big 4-0.

Yesterday I turned 40 years old. The day came and went. I drank some, I lamented some. I got a few cool gifts (the first two seasons of Mad Men on blu-ray, for example, not to mention a gift card that I'll be using to purchase The Prisoner: The Complete Series on blu-ray, and a great customized Twilight Zone Hallmark card from my friend Bill, spotlighted here). However, the single coolest thing presented to me (and the thing that ties my birthday to this blog) is my cake:

If getting older means I'll get cakes like this… well, perhaps I'll age gracefully after all.

Naturally I got the best piece:

Check out the plate! Clapboard slates! Man, that wife o' mine thinks of everything... maybe I should keep her around. Here she is, ladies and gentlemen, my beautiful wife Teresa, posing with her idol... the University of Oregon Duck:

The Ducks will undoubtedly stomp all over the Oregon State Beavers Thursday night in the annual Civil War game, which will subsequently propel them to the Rose Bowl. A "Big Tall Wish"? Hardly.

Friday, November 27, 2009

TZ Promo: “Perchance to Dream” (11/27/1959)

Today is my 40th birthday (but we'll get to that in the next post). Exactly 10 years to the day BEFORE I was born, tonight's episode aired for the first time. Richard Conte and John Larch star, along with the beautiful Suzanne Lloyd as Maya the Cat Girl (meeee-ow). The combination of Robert Florey's direction and George C. Clemens' cinematography, filled with odd angles and shadows, is marvelous. Nathan Van Cleave (who would score a total of 11 episodes) contributes his first Twilight Zone score here, and he hits the ground running: augmenting the studio orchestra with the theramin, he creates music that is eerie, dizzying, and terrifying.

Perhaps the single most notable aspect of "Perchance to Dream" is the fact that Rod Serling DIDN'T write it. Credit goes to Charles Beaumont, who adapted his own short story. Beaumont would go on to write many memorable Twilight Zones before being gradually consumed by Alzheimer's Disease (or Pick's Disease; accounts differ). He died in 1967 at the age of 38.
"Perchance to Dream" is not only one of my 40 favorite episodes of all time (see the list here), it's the first so far to crack my top 10. Needless to say, the opportunity to celebrate its 50th birthday on my 40th birthday is a rare gift indeed.

No, this is NOT a shot from Cat People.