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.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bill, That's a REAL Good Thing You Did....

Check out the birthday card (I'm turning 40 tomorrow) that arrived in the mail today from my good friend Bill Huelbig. It's one of those awesome musical customizable cards available from Hallmark (previously spotlighted here).

The front:


The back:

Gotta love the "Perchance to Dream" reference, not to mention the "It's a Good Life" vibe running throughout. Bill is every bit as obsessed with The Twilight Zone as I am, and that's a good thing... that's a REAL good thing. Thanks Bill!

The Blu Zone

The following information is a rumor, and should be taken as such. However, it comes from the venerable, so it carries a bit more weight than, say, some random post on some random web forum.

"Here's a little holiday treat for our readers in the US, and a special Thursday surprise for everyone else; one of our trusted sources has let us know that Image Entertainment has begun prepping The Twilight Zone for release on Blu-ray later in 2010. Those following the releases of the series may recall the "Definitive Edition" releases back in 2004/2005 were restored, and HD transfers were created. This release would mark the oldest series to receive the Blu-ray treatment, and serves as a reminder that it's not just new shows that can look great in HD.

While we haven't received any confirmation from the studio, we're fairly certain the information from our source is correct. Image Entertainment is giving classic TV fans a lot to be thankful for in 2010, first with the release of Thriller starring Boris Karloff, and now the rumored release of The Twilight Zone on Blu-ray."

The existing Definitive Edition DVDs are glorious, with pristine transfers and clear sound (not to mention copious extras). But I will ABSOLUTELY upgrade to blu-ray. Fingers and toes are duly crossed that this is more than a rumor....


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, TZ-style

My wife's favorite television show of all time is Friends. A few years back, I bought her the entire 9 (or is it 10?) season complete deluxe fancy-schmancy DVD boxed set. Guess how many times she's cracked it open. ZERO. She'd simply rather watch the show on TV, where it airs several times a day in perpetual reruns, which frankly dumbfounds me. I haven't watched The Twilight Zone on TV in…. Christ, it must be twenty years or so now. I won't recount the history of the various formats upon which I've owned the series (you can find that here), but in any case, I haven't needed to or, more importantly, wanted to watch the show on TV. There are commercials. Lots and lots of commercials. Worse yet, the episodes are shortened, often by several minutes, to make room for said commercials. It's butchery! It's tantamount to the defacing of art, and I'll have none of it. If I'm browsing through the channel guide and I see that The Twilight Zone is on, I'll switch over to it, only for a second, to see how quickly I can name the episode (and yes, before you ask, I'm always right). I never leave it on. I'm not supporting syndication cuts, and I've never been tempted to.

It seems KTLA is doing their annual Thanksgiving Day Twilight Zone marathon tomorrow. I don't find the marathon itself very enticing (they're showing "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," for god's sake). But dear god, look at this promo video!

Hmmm.... Blogger compresses it pretty heavily. For a much higher quality version, go here.

Wow, that video is a thing of jaw-dropping beauty. I've watched it probably 30 times in the last few days. You know that ugly montage of clips created for the Columbia House VHS tapes, and (unfortunately) later used on the Definitive Edition DVDs? This thing has it beat by a mile. There are also several shorter, episode-specific promos (as of this writing, only one of them has been uploaded to You Tube ("Nick of Time," see it here)… hopefully they'll all get uploaded for those of us who don't get KTLA. The guy who created these clips (I know him only as "Goonie") is a genius. I fancy myself a bit of a video-montage magician, but there's no way in hell I can match this guy's artistry. Oh, and incidentally, the guy doing the Serling voice is the same guy who voiced the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at Disneyland.

Here's the list of episodes KTLA is showing this year:

9:00 a.m.
- "Time Enough At Last
9:30 a.m. - "A Kind of Stopwatch"
10:00 a.m. - "A Penny For Your Thoughts"
10:30 a.m. - "Nick of Time"
11:00 a.m. - "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"
11:30 a.m. - "Mr. Dingle, The Strong"
12:00 p.m. - "The Little People"
12:30 p.m. - "The Odyssey of Flight 33"
1:00 p.m. - "In His Image"
2:00 p.m. - "The Mighty Casey"
2:30 p.m. - "I Sing The Body Electric"
3:00 p.m. - "Long Distance Call"
3:30 p.m. - "Little Girl Lost"
4:00 p.m. - "Living Doll"
4:30 p.m. - "The Dummy"
5:00 p.m. - "The Trade-Ins"
5:30 p.m. - "The Eye Of The Beholder"

Several of the offerings are thematic pairs. Both "Time Enough at Last" and "A Kind of Stopwatch" feature… well, watches. "A Penny for Your Thoughts" and "Nick of Time" both feature… well, pennies. "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" both feature… well, Martians. And then it gets arbitrary for a while, but then we're back to thematic pairs at the end. "Living Doll" and the "The Dummy" both feature… well, dolls. "The Trade-Ins" and "The Eye of the Beholder" both feature… well, attempted body modification. I wonder if all this thematic matching was intentional…

I've gotta admit, I'm not entirely thrilled with KTLA's choices. You've got nine hours. Don't waste your viewers' time with "A Kind of Stopwatch," "The Mighty Casey" and (horrors!) "Mr. Dingle, the Strong." Where's "The Obsolete Man," for god's sake? How about "Third from the Sun," or maybe "Death Ship"? I'd be a bit more forgiving if the marathon was longer, but sheesh. Some really questionable choices in there.

But---- oh well. I won't be watching it, unless my cable provider suddenly adds KTLA. And I'd really only be watching it for those cool Goonie promos.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dissecting “Time Enough at Last”

A variety of factors prevented me from watching "Time Enough at Last" Friday night as scheduled…. I didn't get to it till late last night (Sunday). I've had most of the day to mull it over, and I think I'm prepared to tackle this beast head on. As I mentioned previously (in Friday's "promo" post), I can't deny this episode's iconic status. Among the 156 episodes that make up The Twilight Zone, it's among the best remembered, the most beloved. I've remembered it well enough over the years, but I can't bring myself to love it. I have some, shall we say, issues with it. I'm going to assume that anyone reading this has seen the episode, so I won't bother with a synopsis of the plot.

First, the positives. It's well directed (by John Brahm, who would go on to direct a total of 12 episodes, more than any other director). It's well shot (by George T. Clemens, a.s.c.). The sets are undeniably impressive (the smoldering cityscape wreckage, the library ruins). It's certainly a visual treat, and provides many frankly unforgettable images.
So what's my problem? First, the characters. I don't give a damn about any of them. We're supposed to sympathize with the Burgess Meredith character, but for the life of me I can't figure out why. Here's a guy who is so obsessive about reading that he's blind to everything else around him. He hides a copy of David Copperfield on his lap and reads from it while counting out money to a customer (he's a bank teller), short-changes her, then drones on about his book without noticing that she's walked away. Christ, man, snap out of it and do your job! It's hard to get too upset with his boss for chewing him out… I'd be chewing him out too. And okay, we can all agree that the wife is an uber-bitch, so maybe on that front it's impossible not to sympathize with him a bit. But hell, he married her, didn't he? If he's not going to stand up to her, then he gets what he gets.
Meredith's performance doesn't help matters either. I'm usually a fan of his work, but this particular performance bugs me (though not as much as his work in season two's "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," an episode which I liken to a barbed-wire root canal). He doesn't draw me in; quite the opposite: he repels me, and it's not just those coke-bottle glasses either. He's annoying, self-absorbed, and idiosyncratic to a fault, as if he's suffering from some mild form of asperger's syndrome.
A couple of logic problems plague the episode. First, our unfortunate hero finds a pistol in a shattered display case from a sporting goods store. And yeah, it's fucking loaded. I'm pretty sure that even in 1959 the guns didn't come pre-loaded. Second (and much more significant), our hero wanders around for two days in the radioactive ruins of his bomb-blasted city, unaffected. Surely he'd suffer from massive radiation poisoning, but he trots merrily along, seemingly unaffected. It seems the hydrogen bomb in this particular alternate universe merely scorches things and knocks buildings over.
After all that (as if "all that" weren't enough), my single biggest problem with the episode is the cruelty with which the protagonist is ultimately dispatched. He discovers the ruins of the local library, gathers up enough books to last him for years, and then…. his glasses get broken. The tragedy isn't limited to the loss of a lifetime of literary joy. We've already seen how bad his eyesight is without them, thanks to a clever POV shot earlier. He's not going to make it off those library steps without falling and cracking his skull and, even if he does, he'll never find his way back to the food supply he's squirreled away. The breaking of his glasses is quite literally a death sentence. And for what? Some vague commentary on the evils of nuclear arms? Jesus, give the guy radiation poisoning if that's your angle. No, this is something else altogether: it constitutes a writer's contempt for his or her protagonist on a quantum level. As annoying as I find him, he doesn't deserve this fate. If it's intended to be some sort of tragedy… well, good tragedy has a point. This…. well, this doesn't. So I guess I do sympathize with him after all, not because of the other characters, or the horrendous fate that befalls him. I sympathize with him because his creator, the writer, clearly hates him and seeks to torment him from start to finish.
It's not Serling's fault either. He didn't come up with this; he merely adapted an existing short story. Lynn A. Venable, the original author, is the one to blame. My God, what a toxic, pointless exercise.
One final note: I'm apparently not the only one to react this way to the episode. As recounted in The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (by Martin Grams, Jr.), Serling responded to an offended viewer's letter with the following: "We were attempting irony and in the view of many of the audience, we created only sadism."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Profile in Plastic, Part 2

Shockingly enough, it appears that people are actually reading this blog. As I write this, my counter stands at 320. Nothing impressive, but it seems the right people are reading it. Case in point: my post from last week, in which I mooned like a love-smitten teenage girl over the Twilight Zone bobble-heads and forthcoming action figures from Bif Bang Pow!, was read by none other than Jason Lab (which may or may not be a pseudonym for Jason Lenzi, the company's founder and CEO) from… you guessed it, Bif Bang Pow! Further, he responded to basically every point and question I brought up in that post, in a series of Twitter, um… Tweets, I guess they're called, all dated 11/20/2009:

* Great post Craig. Answers to follow... http://mylifeintheshadowoft...

* The Twilight Zone Mystic Seer and Invader bobbleheads were released on time at Comic-Con 2009, but quickly sold out.

* Re-orders of Mystic Seer and Invader arrived yesterday, and are now in stock and shipping at

* Talky Tina had a slight delay, but is now finished and is on a boat from China to Los Angeles. Updated ETA is the second week of December.

* The next bobble head in the Twilight Zone line is...not ready to be announced yet, but I love the suggestions at

* Twilight Zone action figures will initially be in black and white. They will not be 12-inch. We can't reveal the actual size just yet.

* Rod Serling Twilight Zone action figures and bobble heads will not be made due to issues out of our control (not due to the sculpts).

* Everyone has their favorite Twilight Zone episodes and characters, including us. Production will be based on a few factors... including popularity, "coolness", top episodes, ability to sell units, the approval process, and a few other factors. We take suggestions!

First of all, I'm stunned and amazed that my post was addressed and responded to in such detail. So… thanks, Jason (sheesh, you linked back to my blog TWICE!). Second, I owe Bif Bang Pow! an apology for falsely assuming that their first two bobble-heads (The Invader and The Mystic Seer) were delayed. I guess I just missed 'em the first time around (I won't miss them again, damn it… I've already ordered two of each from Entertainment Earth). Third…

…I can't deny that I'm devastated that there won't be a Rod Serling bobble-head or action figure. I understand that it's out of their hands, and I'm sure they did everything they could to secure the rights. Why am I sure? Because in a post earlier this year (2/27/09 to be exact), Mr. Lenzi stated that "most exciting of all, for the first time, we'll be bringing the world 3D representations of the man himself, Rod Serling. Serling is one of my personal heroes, and I couldn't be more excited about this property." So it was clearly planned, and those plans fell through. CBS owns the rights to the show, but I assume Carol Serling (Serling's widow) owns his likeness rights and wouldn't grant Bif Bang Pow! permission. His face was used on a postage stamp; Christ, why not this? I dunno, maybe she wanted too much money...? I'm presuming she's the block; Jason, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Fourth, I am DYING to see what the action figure line holds. And yes, I will buy every single Twilight Zone item Bif Bang Pow! releases.

I said before that Twitter is for teenagers, and I'll be 40 in 5 days. But you know what? I need TZ-related information as fast I can possibly get it. I may have to join the masses and start Tweetin'.

Friday, November 20, 2009

TZ Promo: “Time Enough At Last” (11/20/1959)

Time Magazine recently released a Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes list, which can be viewed here. There's really no science or actual polling behind this list; rather, it appears to simply list ten of the most iconic, best-remembered episodes. We can debate the relative merits of such an approach (incidentally, only one of my top 10 favorites, "The Hitch-hiker," appears on Time's list), but what's the point? Most fans love all ten. I certainly do. Well… almost. There's one that I have serious issues with, and that episode is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary tonight.

Generally beloved by fans both casual and hardcore, and certainly well remembered (if for no other reason than it's shocking, ridiculously tragic ending), "Time Enough at Last" stars Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis, a sad, henpecked son of a bitch who just wants to READ. Newspapers, books, poetry, ketchup bottles, whatever. Trouble is, everyone around him seems determined to stop him, relentlessly so. Then, a twist of fate (surprise, surprise) changes the game completely. And then another twist of fate…. well, surely you know how this ends. But if you don't, I'm not spoiling it. At least not until my next entry, in which I'll dissect the hell out of it and see if I hate it as much as I think I do.

Anyway --- the episode was written by Rod Serling (based on a short story by Lynn Venable), directed by John Brahm, and has spawned many media references and parodies over the years (including a very funny bit on The Drew Carey Show; it was also mentioned in Twilight Zone: The Movie, which I should probably do a spotlight on one of these days). The episode features an original musical score by Leith Stevens, who scored hundreds of radio shows, including episodes of Suspense and The Abbot and Costello Show. This was his sole contribution to The Twilight Zone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Profile in Plastic

I'm not a teenager. Therefore, I don't Twitter. I've gotta draw the line somewhere. However, as I was browsing the Bif Bang Pow! blog, trying to find out why the hell their TZ bobbleheads keep getting delayed, I happened to glance at their Twitter posts, where I saw some rather exciting news:

"Got the approval from CBS to start making the next Twilight Zone bobble head. It's in the sculptor's hands now."

More bobbleheads! Hopefully they'll do a Kanamit from "To Serve Man," and/or the doctor from "Eye of the Beholder," and/or Alicia from "The Lonely" (maybe with a removable face), and/or Anthony Fremont from "It's a Good Life" (in all his bug-eyed glory) …. And of course, a Rod Serling bobblehead would be awesome. I'll take 'em all, and any others Bif Bang Pow! wants to make. I'd even buy those goofy aliens from "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," an episode which I thoroughly detest.

But wait! It doesn't stop there, folks:

"Also received approval to begin creating our Twilight Zone action figure line. More details will be revealed after prototypes are approved."

Oh my god. Twilight Zone action figures!!!!!! Hopefully they aren't the 12-inch doll variety (like Sideshow did several years back; I don't own any of them, but I'll do a pseudo-spotlight on them soon). I'm hoping for something in the 5-6" range, and hopefully they'll be painted in a black/white/gray scheme. They really shouldn't be in color (the bobbleheads aren't, after all). But dear God, imagine a Rod Serling action figure standing next to your PC monitor, or on top of your TV. Christ, I think I'd put one in every room of the house….

Check out this rather amazing custom Rod Serling action figure created by James Crawford, with a head sculpt by Andy Bergholtz. Go here for more info.

Anyway, I still haven't found out why the first three bobbleheads (Talky Tina, The Invader, and the Mystic Seer; previously addressed here) keep getting delayed. They were supposed to come out in October, then November, and now I found a listing somewhere advertising a January release. Mercy, what's the holdup? Talky Tina actually TALKS, and I'm dying to hear her. The only TZ item talking to me right now is my Robby the Robot Hallmark ornament…

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rag Status

My Twilight Zone Magazines continue to pour in from my latest eBay acquisition blitz. I got two boxes of 'em in the mail yesterday, and I am now a mere four issues away from having a complete set (all in good-to-excellent condition, mind you). Buying these magazines in lots has resulted in an unforseen side effect: multiple copies! I figured I might see a bit of overlap, but I'm ending up with (literally) stacks of duplicates. So I came up with a brilliant idea: I can build TWO sets: A "preservation" set of fine-to-excellent-condition copies, which will remain undisturbed and protected inside sealed plastic bags, and a "utility" set of lesser-quality copies, suitable for reading and pawing through (and scanning, should I come across an item deserving of a blog spotlight). I haven't done an exact count (I'll do that tonight, time permitting), but I estimate that I'm about halfway done with the "utility" set already. Once the "preservation" set is complete, I'll slow down and take my time finishing the "utility" set. No rush (I imagine my wife is rolling her eyes with disbelief if she's reading this).

UPDATE: I counted 'em. I have a whopping 35 duplicates, which means my secondary "utility" set is only missing 26 issues. And since condition isn't really an issue, I should be able to complete the set on the cheap.

Oddly enough, I somehow managed to acquire triples of a few issues, including the coveted premiere edition, and all three are in really good shape. No kidding, One of them is absolutely pristine, like it just came off the presses yesterday. And then there's the, um, other end of the spectrum… some of the "utility" copies I've acquired are pretty damned ragged. A few have split or separated covers. One has a couple of pictures clipped out of it (honestly, what the hell?). One looks like it spent some time underwater. And a couple have… um… questionable odors about them. I could've sworn I smelled corn dogs last night as I sorted through my latest acquisitions...

The horror! The HORROR!!!

Friday, November 13, 2009

TZ Promo: "The Lonely" (11/13/1959)

“The Lonely” was the first Twilight Zone episode in the series’ regular production cycle (after the pilot “Where is Everybody?” was produced and successfully sold). However, as we discussed last week, episodes were almost never aired in the order they were shot. So while “The Lonely” was the second episode to be born, so to speak, it wasn’t presented until the 7th week into the show’s first season, on 11/13/59 (50 years ago today).

The episode was the first of several to be filmed in Death Valley. Here, the location is convincing as an asteroid far out in space, on which convicted murderer James Corey (well played by Jack Warden) is living out his life sentence. It’s a miserable, lonely existence, only periodically brightened by visits from a supply ship from earth. Allenby, the ship’s captain, believes Corey was wrongfully convicted, and sympathizes with his loneliness. He brings Corey a gift that just might end his loneliness forever. It’s a gift that could only come from… well, you know where.

The show also features the inimitable Ted Knight in a minor role as Allenby’s subordinate Adams, who is every bit as cocky and smart-assed as Ted Baxter, the role that would later make him famous on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Written by Rod Serling and directed by Jack Smight, “The Lonely” features a moody and alien score by Bernard Herrmann, composed especially for this episode. In fact, Herrmann even composed a variation on the show’s theme music using the same instrumentation as the score, which was used in the episode’s original airing… and subsequently changed to the standard opening theme for syndication. The version included on the Definitive Edition DVD restores this original variant theme which, for TZ music nuts like me, is cause for celebration.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Top 5 Favorite Twilight Zone Magazine Covers

Regular followers of this blog (all three of you) are aware of my ongoing attempt to amass the entire 61-issue run of Twilight Zone Magazine, which was published from 1981 to 1989. I've made quite a bit of progress in this endeavor, but the job isn't quite done yet (I'm still 8 issues short). For today's blog entry, I thought I'd spotlight my top five favorite covers from the magazine's 9-year run. I'll count 'em down Casey Kasem-style...


Our countdown begins with #5, the December 1988 issue, painted by Alan Reingold. TZ creator Rod Serling was featured on a scant three covers throughout the magazine's run, which I find appalling. Christ, they featured Stephen King on three covers, and he had nothing whatsoever to do with the show (well, besides writing the script for "Gramma" for the 80's revival series)! Sheesh, every flippin' issue of the Gold Key TZ comic book (previously discussed here) had a photo of Serling on the cover. Grrrrr. Anyway, all three Serling covers are quite nice, and two of them are among my top five favorites. This one came near the end of the magazine's run (only three issues would follow it).


In the #4 spot is July 1982's cover, painted by David White. That floating face (might be a porcelain mask, might be a goddess, might be an android, who knows?), along with the blank space in the bottom fourth of the canvas, makes for a compelling visual. Subtract all the text and this would make an excellent wall painting. I guess the same could be said of all these covers.


At #3 we find another Serling cover, this time gracing the April 1985 issue, painted by Luke Ryan. I'm a sucker for infinite-mirror visuals, so naturally I dig this one since it features my idol. I've always wondered if the artist actually painted multiple (increasingly smaller) versions of the main picture, or if it was done by overlapping color copies (this was done pre-Photoshop, after all).


I've always loved this next cover (April 1982), which is perched comfortably at #2 on my list, painted by Kevin Larson. I'm not quite sure what it's supposed to be... is it a woman frozen in a wall of ice? Is it an ice creature, feared and misunderstood but ultimately benevolent? Whatever it is... it's gorgeous. Side note: this image was re-used the following year as the back cover of the 1983 annual issue, with almost no text to distract from its beauty.


And now we arrive at the top. My all-time favorite TZ Magazine cover is.... April 1989, painted by Marvin Mattelson. This one came very late in the magazine's run (the issue that followed it would be the last). Throughout most of the magazine's run, the covers were often overloaded with text, but here... well, there's almost nothing, just that poor guy staring out at you from his underwater prison. Just awesome. The walls of my home office are blue, and my wife is an artist. I already dropped a hint that I'd love to see a similar guy painted directly on the wall. Time will tell if she got the hint....

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Afterthoughts ("Escape Clause")

A fine episode, but a bit obvious. I mean, come on... selling your soul to the devil NEVER works out. Oh wait.... season four's "Printer's Devil" might be the exception to the rule. Unfortunately for our (anti) hero here, there's no magical Linotype machine around to help undo the deal.

The Definitive Edition DVD sets are the preferred way to watch the show (versus the earlier DVD or VHS editions, or worse yet, the time-edited versions shown in syndication). Aside from the marvelous image and sound quality, one is also treated to a variety of extras, including commercial bumpers and Serling's comments about the following week's episode. Also, right after the end credits (but before the final CBS logo), there's usually a vintage promo for another CBS show (The Danny Thomas show, Wanted: Dead or Alive, etc), or maybe a plug for the American Red Cross. However, in the case of "Escape Clause," the viewer saw something else entirely after the credits rolled:

Evidently The Advertising Council felt it necessary to counteract Mr. Cadwallader's trickery with a healthy reminder for temptation-endangered viewers to get their heathen asses to church. I laughed out loud when I saw this.

Interestingly, "Escape Clause" was the third episode produced, but the seventh aired. The second episode produced, "The Lonely," was the eighth episode aired (therefore, we'll be spotlighting it next week). Television shows, especially anthologies, are frequently produced in one order but broadcast in another. Another example: "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine," which was the third episode aired, was the TENTH episode in the season one production cycle.

Friday, November 6, 2009

TZ Promo: "Escape Clause" (11/06/1959)

Tonight: "Escape Clause" celebrates its 50th anniversary. This episode is The Twilight Zone's first attempt at comedy, and it succeeds brilliantly (later attempts, such as "Mr. Bevis" and "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," would fall flat on their respective faces; we'll get to those in time). Written by Rod Serling, directed by Mitchell Leisen and starring David Wayne, it's the sharp little tale of a hypochondriac who wants to live forever. He gets his wish... sort of.

"Escape Clause" marks the first appearance of a certain individual who will appear several times throughout the series.... what shall we call him? Satan? The Devil? The Prince of Darkness? He calls himself "Mr. Cadwallader" here because, in his own words, "it has a nice feeling on the tongue."

David Wayne signs away his immortal soul.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TZ Spotlight: Hallmark's 2009 'Robby the Robot' Ornament

We've already covered Hallmark’s excellent 2009 Twilight Zone ornament (here). Your attention is now directed toward another 2009 ornament, this time (indirectly) commemorating one of the less human denizens of the Zone.

Robby the Robot first appeared in 1956 in MGM’s sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (he even received billing along with the actors!), and went on to appear in several other films and shows, most notably TV’s Lost In Space (which featured several Zone alumni, including Billy Mumy and Jonathan Harris). The estimable automaton was also featured in two Twilight Zone episodes, both during the show’s fifth season (“Uncle Simon” and “The Brain Center at Whipple’s”), which qualifies him (it?) as an official part of Zone history.* So even though the ornament is clearly intended to commemorate Forbidden Planet, it works equally well as an unofficial Twilight Zone ornament (it’s the same damned robot, after all).
The ornament is quite well constructed. It feels nice and sturdy (as opposed to the chintzy Robby toy that accompanied the deluxe Forbidden Planet DVD set a few years back; see below for a comparison). It features two distinct set of lights (blue and yellow), and it utters several lines from the film (which is cool; however, I’d much rather hear him flinging disparaging lines at Uncle Simon’s niece Barbara instead). The entire head section is removable (via one tiny screw) to insert the batteries (included). The sculpt is very detailed (the box credits one Mr. Nello Williams with the design; hey, nice work, sir!). All in all, this ornament is worth every penny of the $18.50 Hallmark is charging.
Robby looks stellar next to Hallmark's “official” TZ ornament…

Robby with Rod Serling. Note the alternate face on Robby, used in the episode "Uncle Simon."

*A toy version of Robby also appears in season one’s “One For the Angels,” as one of the items pitchman Lew Bookman is selling at the beginning of the episode.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Top 40 Favorite Episodes

I've been a Twilight Zone fan since the early 80's... over 25 years now. I've seen every episode many times (except maybe "Ring-A-Ding Girl," which I barely remember) and, naturally, I have my favorites. A few months back, I compiled a list of my top 40 all-time favorites. This list is not set in stone; in fact, as I endeavor to re-watch the entire series over the next five years (viewing each episode on its 50th anniversary), my preferences will almost certainly change. But as of this writing, today, right now... the list is accurate. The episodes are arranged chronologically and separated by season; they are NOT listed in order of preference. My top ten favorites are in all caps.

Season 1

Walking Distance
The Lonely
The Four of Us Are Dying
Third From the Sun
Mirror Image
A World of Difference
A Passage for Trumpet

Season 2

King Nine Will Not Return
Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room
The Howling Man
The Eye of the Beholder
The Night of the Meek
The Rip Van Winkle Caper
The Obsolete Man

Season 3

Nothing in the Dark
The Grave
It's a Good Life
Death's Head Revisited
Five Characters in Search of an Exit
To Serve Man
The Dummy

Season 4

Printer's Devil
The Incredible World of Horace Ford
On Thursday We Leave for Home

Season 5

Living Doll
Number Twelve Looks Just Like You
Night Call
The Masks
The Jeopardy Room

A few observations:

All four episodes featuring Jack Klugman ("A Passage for Trumpet," "A Game of Pool," "Death Ship," and "In Praise of Pip") made the list, and three of them made the top ten. It's not just because I'm a big Klugman fan either: the fact is, all four are excellent episodes.
I've love to say every Burgess Meredith episode is great too, but the wretched "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" makes it impossible (not even Don Rickles could save it). And speaking of Burgess Meredith: Yes, I'm aware that "Time Enough At Last" isn't on the list. Yes, I'm aware that it's an iconic Zone episode, beloved by millions. And yes, it's quite good on a technical level, but... well.... hey, it's coming up in a few weeks (11/20/09), so I'll address my issues with it then.

Wow, none of my top ten favorites have happy endings. Wait, I guess "In His Image" ends well. But that's only one out of ten. Hmmm....

Monday, November 2, 2009

TZ Spotlight: Hallmark Greeting Card (with sound!)

Back in 1984, I stumbled upon a very cool Twilight Zone greeting card from Hallmark. Glossy full-color front, blank inside, highly cool. I made a point of keeping it with my other Twilight Zone stuff throughout the years, but (wouldn’t you know it) I can’t find it now. Twilight Zone Magazine had a blurb about it in the August 1984 issue, which I’ve scanned for your perusal:

I’d love to get my hands on this card. I wonder where greeting cards go to die…?

Flash forward 25 years. The big thing in greeting cards nowadays is sound. Micro-electronics have advanced to the point where a small computer chip and a miniature flat speaker can be hidden inside a greeting card, with only a tiny lump to give them away. Short samples of songs are typically what one finds in these cards, but there are sometimes voice recordings too (the prolific and hysterical Hoops and YoYo offerings are one example), plus some cards even allow you to record your own message. It’s neat technology, I must admit.

Your attention is directed to one such sound card from Hallmark (who else?), which I received two years from my kids, on my 38th birthday:

It’s black and white on matte paper (no fingerprints!). It plays the standard Marius Constant theme used for seasons 2-5 in its entirety. In fact, it’s the exact same recording used in Hallmark’s holiday ornament (minus the static effect), released last month and detailed here. The sound chip in the card, however, is significantly louder than the one in the ornament (unless the ornament’s plastic housing is muffling it). Trust me, it is LOUD. You’ve been warned. My card is two years old, and it still works (I wonder how long the battery will last, and if its possible to replace it).

I’m not sure when the card was first released, but the copyright date on the back is 2005. It’s still available, too: I picked up a spare a couple of weeks ago at my local Hallmark store, so I could have a “clean” specimen for my TZ collection. Cooler yet, you can customize the TZ card on the Hallmark website:

Twilight Zone customizable card

You can change the text on the front and inside, plus you can add a photo (!) and additional text on the back. I did one recently for my good friend Bill Huelbig (he turns 55 tomorrow!), and it turned out great (damn, I should’ve scanned it before I mailed it to him). I’m, um, kinda hoping somebody out there customizes one for MY birthday (November 27, hint hint)…..

Anyway ---- it’s a neat card, worthy of your TZ collection. Putting a Rod Serling stamp on the envelope will complete the effect.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Afterthoughts ("Walking Distance")

I watched "Walking Distance" Friday night as scheduled. It was my hope that perhaps this time around (I haven't watched the episode in at least ten years, probably more) I'd absolutely fall in love with it. While I've always admired the episode, it's never quite grabbed me enough to achieve a place among my all-time favorites. It's widely considered one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) episode of the entire series, so I've always felt a bit self-conscious about my apparent ambivalence toward it, as if perhaps the problem is with me and not with the episode. The theme of the episode is nostalgia, a longing for the past so intense that one's appreciation of the present is compromised. It certainly sounds like something I'd identify with, especially since my 40th birthday is looming ever closer (25 days now), and I find myself increasingly discontented with my life. The time certainly seems right for a revelatory rush of appreciation for this episode. Perhaps now, with Friday's viewing, I'd finally get it, so to speak.

Well, I didn't. That's not to say I don't still appreciate the episode on many levels. It's well written. It's technically well put-together. The performances are fine. I just don't.... Christ, I don't know. It should touch me. My eyes should well up with tears. I should ride the emotional roller coaster and break down when Martin Sloan achieves the devastating realization that the past is off limits to him, that he must focus on the present (and future). It's certainly a valuable lesson, one I'd be wise to learn, and yet I remain relatively unmoved. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I dead inside?

One thing about the episode that DOES move me is the musical score. Using strings only, composer Bernard Herrmann manages to capture the floating, bittersweet spirit of nostalgic longing perfectly. I can listen to the music in a darkened room and cry, so no, I'm not dead inside. But in the context of the episode, the music is somehow less powerful. it certainly elevates things, but overall "Walking Distance" is somehow less than the sum of its parts (for me). I hate that I feel this way. There are certainly other Twilight Zones that touch me ("In Praise of Pip" comes to mind, the very thought of which causes a lump in my throat), but I reamin somehow detached in this case. I honestly don't know why.

Regarding Herrmann's score: the original recording has been released a number of times, first in the 80's by Varese Sarabande on The Twilight Zone: The Original Television Scores, Volume One (on both vinyl and cassette; later on CD in Japan only). The score later appeared on CD here in the states on The Best of The Twilight Zone, Volume 1 (also from Varese Sarabande), and later appeared on the Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection from Silva (which compiled all the music from the five Varese Sarabande LPs, plus additional Zone music).

Additionally, the "Walking Distance" score has been re-recorded twice, first by Joel McNeely on his Bernard Herrmann: The Twilight Zone album, and more recently by John Morgan and William Stromberg (as a bonus on their recording of Herrmann's Fahrenheit 451 score). Of the two, the Morgan & Stromberg version is superior (McNeely has recorded many Herrmann scores over the past twenty years, and unfortunately many of them are inferior to Herrmann's originals; his Twilight Zone recordings are particularly problematic). However, the preferred version (for me, anyway) is Herrmann's original. I'll be spotlighting the various Twilight Zone soundtracks in the weeks to come.

Here are a couple of links regarding Herrmann's "Walking Distance" score:

Next up: "Escape Clause" on 11/06/09. Guy wants to live forever. Guy makes a deal with the devil. Guy finds out the hard way that the devil never plays fair.