Friday, February 26, 2010

TZ Promo: "Mirror Image" (2/26/1960)

She's an ordinary girl, waiting impatiently for a bus on a rainy night. Sounds normal enough... but it's not. Something's askew. Something indefinable, something suspicious, something.... frightening.

Vera Miles (Janet Leigh's concerned sister in Hitchcock's Psycho) is brilliant as Milicent Barnes, who is at the center of what amounts to nothing short of an existential nightmare, in Serling's "Mirror Image." Martin Milner, probably best known from TV's Adam 12, co-stars. The direction by John Brahm is simple yet well-staged The bus terminal feels confined, uncomfortable, which heightens the mood considerably.

"Mirror Image" is one my top 40 favorite episodes of all time, so I'm quite excited about watching it tonight on its 50th anniversary.

Some years back I acquired a really nice glossy 8x10 of Vera Miles, a publicity still from this episode. It's not currently in my possession, but not because I lost it.... it was mailed to Ms. Miles two weeks ago, with a letter requesting that she autograph it. If and when I get it back (fingers crossed), you can bet I'll be posting a special entry spotlighting it.

On the subjects of autographed 8x10s, I received something utterly spectacular in the mail today. I'll elaborate in a day or two....

Next week: They're your neighbors, your friends. Or are they? What if someone close to you isn't who they claim to be? What if they aren't even from this world...? Who can you trust? Watch your back... and stay tuned.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

TZ News Flash: Kanamit bobblehead available for pre-order!

Bif Bang Pow! continues their marvelous line of Twilight Zone bobbleheads with The Kanamit (from "To Serve Man"), my favorite alien in the entire series. He won't be available until June, but he can be pre-ordered now from Entertainment Earth.

This makes a total of five bobbleheads so far. Jason Labowitz from Bif Bang Pow! assures me that there are more bobbleheads to come. God, I love these things. What an amazing year to be a Twilight Zone collector...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

TZ News Flash: First 4 TZ Action Figures Unveiled!

I'm a bit late with this news, but Bif Bang Pow! (my favorite toy company in the world these days) has released the specifics of the first four TZ action figures, due in August. They're being offered in pairs, and are available for pre-order NOW through Entertainment Earth.

Series 1 includes my beloved Kanamit, from season three's "To Serve Man." The Kanamit is being paired with The Devil, better known as "The Howling Man," from season two.

Series 2 features that rascally furball known as The Gremlin, who terrorizes William Shatner in season five's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." The Gremlin is joined by a fairly obscure (but no less awesome) Zone character: Jason Foster (complete with death mask) from season five's "The Masks."

All four look AMAZING. Christ, look at that attention to detail. Honestly, they've surpassed my expectations. Any lingering doubts I had about the Mego/retro approach have evaporated. Oh, and speaking of surpassed expectations: I previously reported that an initial six Twilight Zone figures would be released. Jason Labowitz, my inside guy at Bif Bang Pow!, has personally informed me that a total of TEN figures will be released in 2010. TEN!!! Two of them will be Comic-Con exclusives, and the remaining four (aka Series 3 and 4) will presumably surface later in the year. I have a tentative list of the remaining six, but of course I'm not at liberty to reveal them (yet). I will say this, however: they all sound incredible. Some undeniable classic characters, a few surprises, and every one of them a must-have.

I never imagined Twilight Zone action figures would ever become a reality. Just like Pip Phillips, I'm ten years old again (name that episode!*). My mind positively reels as I imagine what 2011 might hold...!

*Give up? It's season five's "In Praise of Pip."

Friday, February 19, 2010

TZ Promo: "Elegy" (2/19/1960)


With their rocket quickly running out of fuel, three astronauts touch down on an asteroid... and are astonished to discover that they're back on earth.  Okay, they aren't really back on earth, but it sure as hell looks like it... barns, houses, people --- except that nothing moves.  Everyone and everything appears to be frozen in time.  It's a mystery, and our intrepid voyagers will find the answer... but the cost will prove rather high.

Charles Beaumont wrote the teleplay, based on his own short story, and as much as I love his work, I've never been particularly fond of this episode for three reasons.  First, the "frozen in time" people DO move, because director Douglas Heyes opted to use live actors instead of mannequins or still photography.  Consequently, the viewer will spot many instances of movement on the part of the various actors.  It's damned distracting, and essentially kills the suspension of disbelief.  Second, the script attempts to inject humor into the proceedings for no apparent reason (a recurring gag is an inability to pronounce a certain name correctly, ha ha).  And third we have the ending which, while sufficiently shocking, seems to come from nowhere (shock endings are part and parcel of the Twilight Zone experience, of course, but they should make sense within the context of the preceding story).  All in all, it's the first Twilight Zone episode that (for me) is a complete failure.  I've gone on at length about my dislike of "Time Enough at Last," but I at least respect that episode from a technical standpoint (the direction and cinematography are frankly amazing).  But "Elegy" is an episode that I hate on every level.  The actors are unappealing, the direction is lacking... even the original music score by Van Cleave (whose work on the series I usually love) is grating.

But hey, this is just one guy's opinion.  You might love it.  Who knows?

Addendum:  Okay, so after watching the episode (as you may or not have guessed, I write these promo entries BEFORE I sit down to watch the episode; oftentimes it's been several years since my last viewing), I don't hate it quite as much as I thought I did.... but I still don't like it much either.  It's not a stinker on the level of, say, "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" or "Mr. Bevis," but it's definitely lower-tier Zone.  As I watched it, I got a really strong Martian Chronicles vibe (specifically, "The Third Expedition," originally published in Planet Stories Magazine as "Mars Is Heaven" in 1948) which, given Beaumont's documented friendship with Ray Bradbury, makes some amount of sense.  Nothing direct in the way of plagiarism, you understand.... just a vague similarity.

Next week:  Things get back on track in a big way with a truly excellent TZ classic.  It's one of my Top 40 favorites, and it stars Vera Miles as a nervous woman in a bus station who is seeing double... quite literally, as it turns out.   Come in from the rain and have a look.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

TZ Spotlight: Twilight Zone postage stamp (2009)

Released on August 11, 2009, The TV Early Memories stamp set commemorated twenty classic TV shows, including... yeah, The Twilight Zone.  Fans have been lobbying the post office for years to release a Rod Serling stamp, to no avail.  The Twilight Zone stamp doesn't actually have Serling's name on it, but his face is front and center.  This may be the closest we ever get to a bona fide Rod Serling stamp.... but wow, it's beautiful.  In fact, the whole set is really quite nice.

The release of the Twilight Zone stamp was the focus of a media event in Binghamton, New York on 8/11/09.  More on this here and here.  Interesting note:  both scans above have a face value of 42 cents per stamp but, when the stamps were actually released, the price had gone up to 44 cents.  I wonder how many sheets the post office printed before they decided to raise the price...

When new postage stamps are released, stamp collectors will often send themselves envelopes with the new stamp affixed, with the intent of having the postmark match the release date (at least I think that's how it works; stamp collectors feel free to correct me here).  The resultant envelope is called a "cover," or a "pictorial cancel."  A gentleman named Martin Tillett takes it a step further: he customizes subject-specific envelopes, matches them up with the appropriate stamp, has them postmarked, then offers them up for sale on eBay.  He did a total of four distinct Twilight Zone-specific envelopes, each with a different pictorial graphic.  The first was postmarked on 8/11/09, when the stamp was first released...

The other three were done on 10/03/09, to commemorate the series' 50th anniversary (he missed it by one day, actually, since the magic date was 10/02/09).  I was able to acquire two of them...

Since these are essentially one-of-a-kind items, there's really no way I can ever hope to acquire the elusive third Serling cover (Mr. Tillett has assured me that they're all sold).  I did, however, manage to find a picture of it from one of Mr. Tillett's completed auctions.  Unfortunately, it has a polar bear stamp instead of the TZ stamp, but it at least shows the unique Serling illustration...

It just kills me that I'll never have the complete set.. but I guess three out of four ain't bad.  In any case, they'll look great in my Twilight Zone scrapbook.  If you're interested in seeing some of Mr. Tillett's non-Twilight Zone covers currently available on eBay, have a look here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

TZ Promo: “The Purple Testament” (2/12/1960)

It looks innocent enough: a soft, glowing light that appears on select faces. A halo, perhaps? Some celestial marking? No, not here. It's The Philippines in WWII, and war is hell. That light is the mark of death, and only one man can see it. He's Lieutenant William "Fitz" Fitzgerald, played with sufficient intensity by William Reynolds, and foreseeing death is a talent he'd rather not have. Hell, can you blame him? The role was originally assigned to Dean Stockwell, who ended up being unavailable (he'd later appear in season three's "A Quality of Mercy," another WWII story set in… The Philippines).

The episode co-stars Dick York (best remembered as the endlessly harried husband on Bewitched) as Captain Phil Riker, Fitzgerald's sympathetic friend and superior officer. 

Serling's experiences in WWII are well documented, and inform a number of his teleplays (both in and out of The Twilight Zone), including this one. Richard L. Bare directs. Lucien Moraweck provides an original music score.  "The Purple Testament" is a fairly by-the-numbers affair, but one scene is quite effective: word has spread throughout the camp that Fitz can see who's going to die next. As the soldiers line up, ready for combat, Fitz silently looks upon each of them, examining their expectant, fearful faces. It's chilling.

A bit of hilarity amidst all this seriousness:  in one scene near the end of act one, Fitz and Smitty, a wounded soldier, talk about a fellow soldier nicknamed "Porky," who received a war souvenir in the form of a shrapnel wound in his finger.  In Serling's promo for next week's episode, he's sporting a Band-Aid on his finger!  Coincidence?  The answer lies somewhere... in The Twilight Zone.

Mr. Serling, wounded.

"The Purple Testament" was parodied as "The Ned Zone" in the "Treehouse of Horror XV" anthology episode of The Simpsons (11/07/04), in which Ned Flanders foresees the deaths of those he touches after a blow to the head caused by…you guessed it, Homer Simpson. Most significantly, he foresees himself killing….you guessed it, Homer Simpson.

The Simpsons has parodied many Twilight Zone episodes over the years. I could probably start a whole new sub-blog about it….

Next week: Three weary astronauts land on earth, much to their delight (and confusion, since they're millions of miles out in space). Well, it certainly looks like earth (hint: it's not). Take off your helmet and tune in.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Milestone: 1000 hits!

Okay, it's not technically a Twilight Zone milestone at all.... but it's a milestone for yours truly Today, February 9, 2010, my tiny little blog scored its 1,000th hit!

Yeah, I know... it's only peanuts in the vast world wide web. But in all honesty, I'm writing this blog solely for myself, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. The fact that it's been viewed 1,000 times by others is just icing on the cake, and the feedback I've received has been most encouraging.

* Addendum: Heh, looks like I snagged that screen-grab just in time. After I published this entry, the hit count had changed to 1,002! At this rate, we'll hit 2,000 in no time....

Friday, February 5, 2010

TZ Promo: “The Last Flight” (2/05/1960)

Tonight's installment isn't sci-fi/horror icon Richard Matheson's first story used on The Twilight Zone, but it's the first one actually written by him from the ground up, from conception to script (versus an existing short story being adapted by Serling). Interestingly, the episode was the seventh to be produced for the series' first season, but eighteenth in line to be aired. It's no reflection on the quality of the episode, however (as opposed to, say, "The Mighty Casey," but we'll get to that one in a few months): "The Last Flight" is quite good, not necessarily one of my favorites, but certainly engaging.

British actor Kenneth Haigh is marvelous as William "Terry" Decker, a cowardly WWI RAF pilot who flees an aerial battle by flying into a strange cloud and lands… at an Air Force base in modern-day France. It's your basic trip-through-time-to-put-right-what-once-went-wrong affair, which by now has been done to death in films and TV (Quantum Leap is the most obvious example), but in 1960 was probably quite an intriguing concept (okay, it kinda still is, I must admit… I'm a sucker for time travel stories). Directed by William Claxton, the bulk of the episode is essentially a talking-head piece with an extended dialogue between Decker and two Army officers, but it never gets boring. The bookend scenes (the initial landing, then the escape) are brilliantly staged.

On the music front, much of the stock score pulls from Bernard Herrmann's composition for the series' pilot, "Where Is Everybody?".  Cues from this particular score will pop up again and again throughout the series' run.

Coming up: War is hell. Okay, that's a given, but what if you could see death on the faces of your fellow soldiers? That's a whole new kind of hell, and we'll explore it next week.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TZ News Flash: Twilight Zone action figure update from Bif Bang Pow!

Remember those promised Twilight Zone action figures? Bif Bang Pow! has released some exciting news... in a nutshell, the figures will be 8 inches in height with cloth outfits, similar to Mego's Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and super hero (both DC and Marvel) figures from the 70's (I have vivid memories of owning Dr. McCoy, Spider Man, and The Lizard.... okay, maybe "vaguely hazy memories" is more accurate). This particular action figure format is sort of an action figure/doll hybrid, with lots of articulation. While I personally prefer somewhat smaller all-plastic action figures, I'll still be first in line to score these. Two of each, dammit.

Here's a look at a few of Mego's classic Star Trek figures (complete with that glorious plastic bridge playset!), just to give you an idea:

It doesn't stop there, folks. Here's some exclusive news, sent to ME directly, straight from the man himself, Jason Labowitz from Bif Bang Pow!

"...because you've been so great to us, I'm going to give you a SCOOP that you can post. There will be two different characters in series 1 and two different characters in series 2 - scheduled to be released in August 2010. Also look for two more characters to be released as San Diego Comic-Con 2010 exclusives."

Yeah, that's right... I just scored my first news scoop. I've been legitimized, by god!

Okay... if I'm reading it right, that's a total of SIX unique Twilight Zone action figures. And since Comic-Con happens in July, the two exclusives will actually be the first released, followed by the other four in August. But which characters will they be? Nothing official has surfaced as of yet, but I direct your attention to a post from the Mego Museum forum, from none other than the aforementioned Jason Labowitz. I'm not going to repost the, um, post (my presumptuousness has its limits), so click it. It's... well, enlightening to say the least. Man, I'm just giddy right now.

Bif Bang Pow! is also making Lost bobble heads, and will be releasing Lost action figures in the same 8-inch Mego-esque format. Just thought I'd mention it, since that series' season premiere is tonight...!