Thursday, December 23, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Night of the Meek" (12/23/1960)

"The Night of the Meek"
Season Two, Episode 11 (#47 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3663

The second of season two's six videotaped offerings, "The Night of the Meek" manages to transcend its humble production limitations and offer something truly remarkable. It's transcendent, period. I watch it every year around the holidays, where it stands proudly alongside such venerable classics as It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street. Tonight, this delightful episode turns 50.

There is literally nothing wrong with this episode, which is a bit of a surprise, given that it's a light comedy by Serling (Serling and comedy mix about as well as oil and water). Art Carney is utterly charming, swimming in pathos but eager to please, as Henry Corwin, a drunken bum who, once a year, works as a department store Santa Claus (how he survives the rest of the year is a mystery).

John Fiedler is equally impressive as the prickish department store manager who berates him, fires him, then sics the cops on him. We dislike him, but we never really hate him. C'mon, it's Christmas. We don't hate anyone this time of year. By the end of the episode, we'll actually kinda like him.

1994's The Santa Clause stole its basic premise from this episode, which is my way of telling you how this episode turns out without actually telling you. 2003's Bad Santa, meanwhile, stole the idea of a drunk who works as a department store Santa. However, Henry Corwin is nothing like the slimy criminal that Billy Bob Thornton portrayed. He's a decent guy, terminally sad, usually drunk. He reminds us of Jack Klugman's Joey Crown, from season one's "A Passage for Trumpet."

In a strange way, the blurry videotape look actually works in the episode's favor. There's an immediacy to it, like live TV, and a spontaneous vibe that adds to the magic. The impressive set, which looks about the size of a full city block, is perpetually blanketed in falling snow.

And there are reindeer! REAL LIVE reindeer!

Our friends at Bif Bang Pow! have a Henry Corwin/Santa Claus action figure in the works (a prototype was shown at Comic Con in July; he's in the background above), but we likely won't see it till late 2011.... just in time for the holidays, I imagine.

Next week: Repeat city, folks. Season One's "A Stop at Willoughby" gets its second showing. In two weeks: We're back to film again (man, season two's like a yo-yo!), where we find a young man on the eve of his execution. If you're still glowing with holiday cheer by then, this should take care of that.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

TZ Promo: “A Most Unusual Camera” (12/16/1960)

“A Most Unusual Camera”
Season Two, Episode 10 (#46 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3606

I have a simple rating system when it comes to The Twilight Zone: good-to-excellent, mediocre, or lousy. Fifty years ago tonight, an episode of the third, least-desirable variety premiered.

Written by Rod Serling and directed by John Rich, “A Most Unusual Camera” starts off with a pretty cool concept: an instant camera whose pictures depict events five minutes in the future. A trio of quarrelsome thieves comes into possession of the camera as part of their latest heist and, once they discover its unique properties, they form a plan to use it for their own financial gain. Well, of course they do. That’s not really the problem. The problem is that there’s never really any tension, particularly when the thieves become greedy (okay, greedier) and start turning on one another (a similar group-disintegration will occur later this season, much more effectively, in “The Rip Van Winkle Caper”).

The cast is comprised of the three thieves and a nosy hotel employee, and all four of them are gratingly unpleasant, particularly Jean Carson in the female lead. Again, the whole thing is just lousy. It’s not “Mr. Bevis” lousy, but it’s… just damned lame. Worse, the whole thing is played as a comedy, and like so many other Serling attempts at comedy, it just ain’t funny.

Ugh. What else can I say? There’s nothing redeeming to be found here. The idea of a camera that captures images from the future is immediate and promising, and it’s completely squandered. I can only wonder what Jack Finney would’ve done with such an idea.

On the subject of Finney: many of his short stories from the 50’s and 60’s (collected in The Third Level and I Love Galesburg in the Springtime, both out of print and well worth tracking down; I have worn copies of both and cherish them) would’ve made ideal The Twilight Zone episodes; however, none of them were ever adapted for the series. Much attention has been paid over the years to the fact that only one script by science fiction luminary Ray Bradbury was produced on the series but, for my money, The Finney Shutout (as I’ve come to call it) is even more shocking. “Of Missing Persons,” “Where the Cluetts Are,” “The Coin Collector,” “Lunch Hour Magic”... that’s four, right off the top of my head, and there are many more. It’s a damned, depressing shame that Finney and The Twilight Zone never crossed paths.

Next week: Just in time for Christmas! Art Carney stars as the original Bad Santa. A holiday perennial, and a great one at that. Don your stocking cap and mittens and tune in.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Trouble with Templeton" (12/09/1960)

“The Trouble With Templeton”
Season Two, Episode 9 (#45 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3649

Tonight’s episode, first aired on this date exactly fifty years ago, features a man in a morose state of nostalgia who somehow finds himself transported to his coveted past. No, his name isn’t Martin Sloan.

“The Trouble with Templeton” is a competent production, but in all honesty, I’ve never felt particularly warm toward it. Perhaps my “meh” feeling stems from the fact that, on a thematic level, nothing happens here that we haven’t already seen in previous episodes, most notably season one’s “Walking Distance”… and on every level, this episode is inferior to that gentle masterpiece. Like I said, it’s competent enough on its own, but there’s really nothing transcendent going on here.

Oh, except for one thing. There’s a jaw-droppingly beautiful shot late in the episode: Templeton has sought out his dead wife in a speakeasy, where he hopes for a sweet reunion with his lost love. He’s met instead with a raucous barrage of loud Dixieland jazz and general obnoxious behavior. He objects, gets himself slapped across the face, and flees. The ghosts of his past abruptly drop their drunken merriment act as they watch him go. The music stops, everyone stands still, and the lights go down… except for a single spotlight, which the beautiful Pippa Scott steps into, an incalculable longing in her eyes.

I guess that’s an interesting point, one that perhaps elevates the episode a bit. Templeton aches for the dead past, but it appears that dead past aches even more for him. A sobering thought.

“The Trouble with Templeton” is written by E. Jack Neuman, so at least it’s not Serling pilfering himself this time around (he’ll do enough of that as the series progresses). Buzz Kulik directs. Brian Ahern and the aforementioned Pippa Scott star.

Interesting cast note: the snooty theater director is played by a young Sydney Pollack, who would go on to a rather impressive directing career (he won an Academy Award for 1982’s Out of Africa). Pollack continued to act periodically as well, turning in memorable performances in Tootsie (which he also directed) and Eyes Wide Shut, among many others. He passed away in 2008. Here, he’s an arrogant ass… which is exactly what he’s supposed to be.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the lovely score by Jeff Alexander. It's comprised mostly of fairly generic Dixieland-style jazz, but sprinkled throughout are some very lovely cues. One in particular, "Cerebellum," will reappear in season four's "Death Ship" and season five's "Probe 7 - Over and Out." It's a beautiful little piece of music.

Next week: A band of thieves gets their grubby mitts on a camera that takes pictures of the future. Intriguing concept, right? Don't get your hopes up. Say cheese and tune in.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Lateness of the Hour" (12/02/1960)

“The Lateness of the Hour”
Season Two, Episode 8 (#44 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3652

50 years ago tonight, something quite bizarre happened on The Twilight Zone, and it had nothing to do with the story being presented. The picture looked… well, different somehow. Perhaps viewers didn’t notice, given the low quality of TVs back then, but the filmed program they’d been enjoying every week for a year-and-a-half was suddenly not film at all.

Videotape. Oh god, the dreaded videotape. Six episodes were shot on video during season 2 as a cost-cutting measure. Videotape was a primitive format in 1960; it certainly wasn’t the high definition format of choice that it’s evolved into over the past 50 years. Back then, it looked terrible. It’s like watching the show through a fishbowl smeared with Vaseline. Thankfully, the cost-cutting wasn’t that consequential, so they stopped after six and returned to film. The experiment, unfortunately, yielded six episodes that are permanently and irrevocably inferior to their 35mm siblings; happily, though, most of them are actually fairly decent (and watchable) episodes despite their visual failings. One of them, however, is just plain awful… but we’ll get to that one next month. Another of them, meanwhile, is an absolute treasure that transcends its technical limitations… we’ll be checking it out in three weeks, just in time for Christmas (that’s a hint, folks).

The first of the six to be broadcast, “The Lateness of the Hour,” stars the lovely Inger Stevens (last seen in “The Hitch-hiker”) as Jana, the terminally unhappy daughter of Dr. Loren (John Hoyt), who has staffed their mansion with robot servants and apparently keeps her confined to the house at all times. Jana hates the robots, and demands that her father get rid of them. More unhappiness ensues.

Written by Rod Serling and directed by Jack Smight (who directed three of the six videotaped episodes, plus season 1's "The Lonely"), “The Lateness of the Hour” is infused with a palpable sense of claustrophobia, due in part to Jana’s confinement to the house, and also due to the limitations of shooting on video. The entire episode takes place in two rooms (and a staircase). Since this particular story is light on action and heavy on dialogue (it could easily translate to a stage play), not much is ultimately lost by shooting it on video.

Next week: Speaking of stage plays, we’ll spend some time with one Mr. Booth Templeton, a renowned thespian who yearns to escape to his younger days. Like Martin Sloan before him, he’ll get his chance… but with a catch.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Big 4-1.

Yesterday I turned 41. And in keeping with a new tradition (new as of last year), my lovely wife Teresa made me a Twilight Zone-themed cake. You can see last year's cake here. As cool as it was, it can't touch the amazing cake she made this year.

The whole thing is edible. The various graphics are printed in edible ink on edible fondant. The cake is devils food (my favorite) with a cream cheese chocolate frosting.

And yes, that's ME on the cake, in my "Eye of the Beholder" Halloween costume (spotlighted here).

Check out the authentic season 3 spiral on top!

Finally... a human eats a Kanamit for a change!

My jaw literally dropped when I saw this thing. She's really set the bar pretty high. I can only imagine what next year will hold....

Thanks, baby. I love you!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

KTLA Thanksgiving Marathon 2010

The title says it all. As in years past, KTLA (the venerable Channel 5 in Los Angeles) is doing their annual Thanksgiving Day Twilight Zone marathon (see here for details about last year’s marathon). Here’s this year’s schedule:

9:00 "The Hitchhiker" (a top 10 favorite)
9:30 "Shadow Play" (a top 10 favorite)
10:00 "Kick the Can"
10:30 "Spur of the Moment"
11:00 "The Silence"
11:30 "The Last Night of a Jockey"
12:00 "Perchance to Dream" (a top 10 favorite)
12:30 "Twenty-Two"
1:00 "Walking Distance" (a top 40 favorite)
1:30 "Mirror Image" (a top 40 favorite)
2:00 "A Passage for Trumpet" (a top 40 favorite)
2:30 "Nightmare as a Child"
3:00 "The Prime Mover"
3:30 "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim"
4:00 "Four O'clock"
4:30 "A World of His Own"
5:00 "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
5:30 "The Midnight Sun" (a top 10 favorite)

It’s a good assortment, much better than last year. Last year’s marathon consisted of 17 episodes (16 half-hour episodes and the hour-long “In His Image”), only four of which are among my top 40 favorites, and only ONE of which is in my top 10 (the aforementioned “In His Image”). This year, KTLA is showing 18 half-hour episodes, SEVEN of which are among my top 40 favorites, and FOUR of which are in my top 10. So yeah, good marathon. Trouble is, I don’t get KTLA where I live (Tualatin, Oregon), and even if I did, I wouldn’t be watching it. I’ve been spoiled by DVD (and now blu-ray) when it comes to The Twilight Zone: I won’t watch it trimmed for syndication, and I won’t watch it with commercials. Having said that, I’m glad KTLA continues to do the marathons every year. How else will the series gain new fans?

Heh, KTLA even threw in a real turkey (season three’s “Four O’clock”) because hey, it ain’t Thanksgiving without a turkey. At least it’s not “Mr. Dingle the Strong” or worse, “Mr. Bevis.” Thank heaven for small mercies.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

TZ Promo: "Nick of Time" (11/18/1960)

“Nick of Time”
Season Two, Episode 7 (#43 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3643

Two weeks ago we had a run-in with the Prince of Darkness himself, masquerading as a rather vocal prisoner in a European hermitage. Tonight, we meet him again (so soon!), but this time he’ll appear in a much more innocuous guise… however, as we’ll quickly discover, he’s still pretty dangerous.

“Nick of Time,” written by Richard Matheson and directed by Richard L. Bare, tells the tale of a young married couple (William Shatner and Patricia Breslin) who find themselves stranded in a small town with car trouble. As they wait for their vehicle to be repaired, they head over to a nearby diner for lunch, where they encounter this charming object:

Yep, it’s that old rascal, the Mystic Seer fortune telling napkin dispenser. This object has appeared many times in my blog, thanks largely to Bif Bang Pow!’s rendering of it in bobblehead form (in two flavors, no less: monochrome and full color; both are still available as of this writing from Entertainment Earth. As our hapless hero gets progressively hooked on the vague fortunes the machine spits out at him, his wife becomes increasingly aware (or rather, afraid) that the machine may be determining their future for them.

It’s a pretty mild episode, but it’s well done. It’s not necessarily a favorite of mine, but I have no complaints about it. Well, okay, if I’m being totally honest...

I find Breslin a bit... well, homely. I mean, just look at Shatner. He was a really handsome guy when he was young (he still looks pretty good today, actually), and given those dashing good looks, I think he (okay, his character, Don Carter) would have... well, a hotter wife. Man, that’s pretty shallow of me, isn’t it? After "Eye of the Beholder" last week, you’d think I’d at least try to look beneath the surface. Okay, she’s also a bit of a nag. I guess Carter deserves it, being the superstitious jellyfish that he is, but still.

*Ahem* Anyway, the episode turns 50 tonight. And if any of you wish to reenact your own home version of this episode, Bif Bang Pow! will be releasing a life-size, fully-functioning (!) replica of the Mystic Seer in the spring. I definitely plan on owning one; moreover, I’m planning on making my own custom fortunes to place inside for unsuspecting victims.

Next week: Nothing. The show was pre-empted on 11/25/1960 by "Harvest of Shame," an exposĂ© of sorts by Edward R. Murrow regarding migrant farm workers… which gives me a chance to plug the brilliant Good Night, and Good Luck., George Clooney’s 2005 film about Murrow’s legendary television crusade against Senator Joe “Better Dead Than Red” McCarthy. It’s a black and white film, and it’s a nice companion period piece to The Twilight Zone, what with the CBS connection and all. I highly recommend it.

Two weeks from tonight: Last season, she tried to outrun Death but lost. Now, Inger Stevens returns to The Twilight Zone as another unhappy young lady, this time trying to cope with a life of leisure in a house full of…robots? It sounds like a comedy, but it’s really not. Tune in.

Yes, it looks blurry. There's a reason. I'll explain in two weeks.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TZ Promo: "Eye of the Beholder" (11/11/1960)

“Eye of the Beholder”
Season Two, Episode 6 (#42 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3640

The Twilight Zone is filled with iconic, unforgettable images. A myopic Burgess Meredith sitting on the steps of a demolished library, his glasses ruined. The robot Alicia, lying inert, her face destroyed by a laser blast. The Angel of Death, in the guise of a shabby hitchhiker, looking plaintively at Inger Stevens in her rearview mirror. A grinning plastic devil’s head, bobbling merrily atop a fortune-telling machine as it controls William Shatner’s every move.

Indelible images, frozen in celluloid time, imprinted on the collective memory of a generation (or three) of television viewers. Even if you’re not a fan of The Twilight Zone, you’d probably recognize some of the images it produced. Fifty years ago tonight, Rod Serling and company gave us probably the single most visually arresting, disturbing, and just plain unforgettable image ever. Not just on The Twilight Zone, but in all of television, then and now.

“Eye of the Beholder,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Douglas Heyes, is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Many consider it the single greatest episode in the entire series (it topped a poll taken by Twilight Zone Magazine in 1984). I doubt that there’s a single viewer out there --- diehard TZ fan or otherwise --- that doesn’t hold it in extremely high regard. And while it’s not my personal favorite, I have endless respect for it… as evidenced by my recent Halloween costume.

Much has been written about the episode over the years, and I imagine the shocking climax wouldn’t really shock anybody these days (plus, the various parodies and pop culture references over the years have likely spoiled it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, as with “Time Enough at Last” and “To Serve Man,” along with many other episodes). Nevertheless --- if by chance you’re reading this and you’ve never seen it, SEEK IT OUT. Rent it on DVD, watch it on YouTube, whatever…. But SEE IT. Even if you know how it ends, it’s still worth seeing for the pure artistry, the amazing performances, the moody and ethereal score by Bernard Herrmann, and the simple, powerful message…. God, it’s a thing of shadowy beauty. It’s truly something special, and has undoubtedly helped keep The Twilight Zone legacy alive these past 51 years.

The idiots at UPN actually had the temerity to remake this episode in 2002 during their short-lived Twilight Zone revival series. God damn it, when something is already perfect, what good can possibly come from attempting a remake? It’s like that pointless Psycho remake starring Vince Vaughn… why, why, WHY??? Ugh. The only decent thing that the UPN series produced was a sequel to season three’s “It’s a Good Life”… but we’ll get to that next year.

Next week: The season 2 winning streak continues with… wait, another devil story? What the hell…?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

TZ News Flash: Twilight Zone season 3 blu-ray announced!

As I (and fellow Twilight Zone fanatics) anxiously await the release of season 2 on blu-ray (11/16/10, just 10 days away!), Image Entertainment has officially announced season 3!

Here's the scoop, shamelessly snagged from Image Entertainment's website.

Synopsis: All 37 episodes of the third season of Rod Serling’s classic, groundbreaking series, now presented in pristine high-definition for the first time ever, along with hours of new and exclusive bonus features not available anywhere else!

• 19 New Audio Commentaries, featuring The Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree, author/film historian Gary Gerani (Fantastic Television), authors/historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson (Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour), Twilight Zone writers Earl Hamner, George Clayton Johnson and John Tomerlin, writer William F. Nolan (Logan's Run), author/historian Martin Grams, Jr. (The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic), writer Marv Wolfman (creator of Blade and New Teen Titans), writer Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Coraline), writer/producer Jeff Vlaming (NCIS, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica), writer Mark Fergus (Children of Men, Iron Man) and writer Len Wein (creator of Swamp Thing, Wolverine, New X-Men)
• Interview with actor Edson Stroll
• Original Laugh Track for Cavender Is Coming
• Vintage Audio Interview with director of photography George T. Clemens
• 19 Radio Dramas featuring Don Johnson, Blair Underwood, Ernie Hudson, Morgan Brittany, Adam West, Ed Begley, Jr., Jason Alexander, Shelley Berman, Michael York, Bruno Kirby and more
• Isolated Scores for all 37 episodes featuring the legendary Bernard Herrmann, Van Cleave, Fred Steiner and others

• Audio Commentaries by actors Bill Mumy, Lois Nettleton, William Windom, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Cornthwaite and Cliff Robertson
• Audio Commentary by Jonathan Winters for A Game of Pool, plus Winters reads the Alternate Ending from the original script
• Clip from the 1989 remake of A Game of Pool, featuring George Clayton Johnson’s original ending
• Clip from the 1985 remake of Dead Man’s Shoes, featuring Helen Mirren in Dead Woman’s Shoes
• Vintage Audio Recollections with Buzz Kulik, Buck Houghton, Richard L. Bare, Lamont Johnson and Earl Hamner
• Rare Rod Serling appearances as a guest on The Garry Moore Show and Tell It to Groucho and as host of the popular game show Liar’s Club
• And much more!

It's coming 2/15/2011. At this rate, all 5 seasons will be out by the end of summer 2011.

As you can see, Image went with a green color scheme this time around (after blue for season 1, and red for season 2). What colors will grace seasons 4 and 5, I wonder? Yellow, probably.... but what else? Orange? Purple? Please, not purple. Um.... plaid???

Man, I haven't even posted my review/spotlight of the season 1 set yet... I should probably get on that, eh?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Howling Man" (11/04/1960)

"The Howling Man”
Season Two, Episode #5 (#41 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3642

Fifty years ago tonight, an innocent man got duped by the oldest liar in the world. We’ve seen him on the show before, in season one’s “Escape Clause,” and we’ll see him again repeatedly throughout the series. Each of his appearances are unique, just as I imagine they are in real life (if you believe in that sort of thing, that is). Who am I talking about, you ask? I’m getting pretty soft on my “spoiler free” mentality, so I’ll just come out and say it.

It’s the devil. Yeah, that guy.

“The Howling Man,” written by Charles Beaumont (based on his short story) and directed by Douglas Heyes, is a delightful homage to the Universal horror movies of the 30’s and 40’s. Shadowy European castle, dark and stormy night, Something Evil Afoot, it’s all here.

As our hero (David Ellington, played by H.M. Wynant) wanders deliriously through the castle (okay, it’s actually a hermitage, but it sure looks like castle), we half expect Dr. Frankenstein to come walking around the corner, Ygor in tow. Robert Carradine (as Brother Jerome) perfectly evokes the borderline-crazy doctors and scientists that populate those old films: yes, a bolt of lightning will in fact reanimate a corpse; yes, you can use alchemy to shrink people to kewpie doll proportions; and yes, that loudmouth in the cell downstairs is indeed His Satanic Majesty. They might be crazy, but they also happen to be right.

The music in “The Howling Man” is stock-scored with various cues in the CBS Music Library, but a couple of very recognizable cues from Bernard Herrmann’s score for season one’s “Where Is Everybody?” are prominent.

The Devil, as seen in this episode (played by Robin Hughes), was recently immortalized in plastic by Bif Bang Pow!. See my spotlight on the action figure here.

I’m a big fan of those old horror flicks, and I’m equally a big fan of this episode. It easily ranks in my top 40 favorite episodes of all time.

Next week: Quite possibly the greatest Twilight Zone episode ever produced. ‘Nuff said.