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.


ishkanei said...

Well, I suppose the latter-day suspension of disbelief is a different standard than when the show premiered. I'm of a generation that more or less grew up with the original episodes (or anyway, the reruns that felt like original runs) so I tend to forgive that kind of thing, though I concede that I do notice it every time.

And, sure, the name bit is a recurring gag, but it's not a head-slap kind of thing, just a kind of quirk to off-set the mood a little, and maybe humanize the characters just that little bit more before the bitter end.

I'm not sure how it is that the ending comes from nowhere; it seems to me entirely of a piece with the story and is explained quite clearly by the remaining character, but perhaps that's my sentimentality for TZ interfering with my critical faculties. (Come to think of it, I hadn't much considered the casting, other than that Cecil Holloway nails his role, while the others do enough of what is required to make the episode work -not a knock, just conceding that, however entertaining it may be to me, this is not A-list material we're talking about. Though I will say that I think they are better cast than the three in "Death Ship", or at least than Jack Klugman -RIP- who seems to me the rarely glaringly miscast actor in an otherwise at least adequate episode. But then there weren't many of those in the 4th season, were there? The hour format was less kind to TZ than even to "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour", formerly "AH Presents".)

Direction and cinematography? I suspect this is the sort of thing that makes a better impression in the context of its time than in terms of how well it has aged (or not) since. By 1980-something it doubtless comes off pretty clunky, but considering the kind of programming it was up against in 1959 (let alone the unknowns to do with space travel and the sciences generally), in my eyes it does pretty well. Low-budget, yes, but at the time, damn near visionary.

And personally, I like the music enough to have it in my iTunes playlist, but if nothing else, that's a matter of taste. fwiw, there are a lot of TZ underscores in my iTunes library.

Another two cents from me.

ishkanei said...

" I tend to forgive that kind of thing, though I concede that I do notice it every time."

-referring to the unwitting movements of the "frozen" characters.

ishkanei said...

And now, I want to put in a good word for the music, which in my experience of it, actually describes the situation the astronauts find themselves in quite well, which is also saying that it is properly programmatic, a thing out of fashion these days, but when considered in context, should come off in good esteem. Not counting the stock scores of the brass band, string trio (quartet?), and beauty pageant (all of which I wish I could also find), there seem to be two components: that of the astronauts and that of Mr. Wickwire, a comical yet also tragical figure in that he must follow through with an option of last resort in light of the presence of humanity.

So: the initial elegaic figure which also contains elements of discord indicating that the astronauts have landed on a cemetary a) outside their understanding and b) not theirs to access.

And the comical figure relating to the affable, yet also dauntingly responsible Mr. Wickwire, there coming to be some overlap between the two musical indicators in the course of events.

So I give Van Cleave some major credit here for couching the proceedings in music appropriate to the action according to the implications of the title, "Elegy". He's actually telegraphing the disposition of the episode without giving the game away. Nice touch.