Friday, April 30, 2010

TZ News Flash: Talky Tina Bobble Head Wins Coveted Rondo Award!

Bif Bang Pow!'s Talky Tina Bobble Head has been honored with a Rondo Hattan Classic Horror Award. Click here for more info. Congratulations, guys!

For your viewing pleasure, here's a whole gaggle of Rondos:

Who wouldn't want one of these on display in their office? Way cooler than an Oscar or an Emmy....

TZ News Flash: Color Bobbleheads Available for Pre-Order!

So far my friends at Bif Bang Pow! have released three beautiful Twilight Zone bobbleheads, all three of which have been reviewed right here in this blog: The Invader, The Mystic Seer, and Talky Tina. All three were done in a tasteful black and white color scheme, which I find perfectly appropriate (and preferable). However, we live in a color world. We also live a world of rare variants of collectibles. To suit everyone, Bif Bang Pow! is releasing color versions of all three as San Diego Comic Con exclusives, available for pre-order over at Entertainment Earth.

$14.99, limited to 504 pieces. Pre-order limit: 2.

$14.99, limited to 1000 pieces. Pre-order limit: 2.

$19.99, limited to 504 pieces. Pre-order limit: 2. Yes, she costs more. She talks, for Rod's sake!

There's no way in hell I can make it to San Diego in July. We're also in the process of moving, and all of our money is tied up right now, so I won't be able to pre-order these right away. And damn, those are some seriously limited numbers. I may actually get left out in the cold on these.... not to mention any other SDCC exclusives that may not have been announced yet (do I have inside information? Yes. Am I at liberty to reveal anything? No.).

TZ News Flash: Season 1 blu-ray (all but) confirmed for Fall 2010! has the scoop.

And here's an ongoing discussion over at the Home Theater Forum.  My contribution, brief and to the point, is post #30.

Not much information yet, but it appears that the original pilot for the series, "The Time Element," WILL be included, and will feature an audio commentary by Marc Scott Zicree (author of The Twilight Zone Companion).  This episode was aired about 20 years ago on Nick at Nite, and has never been released on home video (well, not in the US, anyway).  I have a fuzzy, blurry bootleg, and it's wretched.  The inclusion of this ultra-rare episode (in high definition, no less!) is cause for celebration.

More to come as information becomes available.  As a blu-ray enthusiast and a Twilight Zone fanatic, this is amazing news.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

TZ Promo: "Nightmare as a Child" (4/29/1960)

Helen Foley arrives home after a typical day of teaching school and finds a solemn little girl named Markie on her doorstep.  She invites the child in for a cup of hot chocolate (wow, how times have changed!).  As they talk, two things become clear:  Markie is no ordinary child, and her appearance at Ms. Foley's home is no coincidence.

"Nightmare as a Child," written by Rod Serling and directed by Alvin Ganzer, is a neat psychological thriller that, for its time, was probably quite innovative (and has subsequently been copied ad infinitum over the ensuing years).  Ms. Foley is clearly a very disturbed woman, and is well played by Janice Rule (Bell Book and Candle, The Swimmer, Missing).  I won't give anything away, but it's safe to say that Markie isn't who we think she is.  For that matter, neither is this creepy guy who shows up at her door:

Whenever I see this episode, I usually yell the following at the TV:  "Don't trust him!  Run!!!"  You'll see why.  The original score by Jerry Goldsmith maintains a constant mood of dread and, ultimately, terror.

Interesting historical note:  Rod Serling's favorite teacher was named Helen Foley.  Also of note:  actress Janice Rule was once engaged to actor Farley Granger (Rope, Strangers on a Train), who came out of the closet in 2007.  Guess she dodged a sham-marriage bullet there.  But (sigh) just look at her.  What a beauty.

Speaking of beauty, the other little girl who appears at the end of the episode was played by Suzanne Cupito, who would go on to appear in two more Twilight Zone episodes (season four's "Valley of the Shadow" and season five's "Caesar and Me," not to mention the two-part Outer Limits classic "The Inheritors").  We know her today as the gorgeous Morgan Brittany (Dallas).


Next week:  Gart Williams is at the end of his rope, both professionally and personally.  His only salvation lies on a train, of all places.  More to the point:  a certain stop.  The stop is Willoughby, and it's a true Zone classic.  Get your ticket punched and tune in.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

TZ Promo: "A Nice Place to Visit" (4/15/1960)

The man lying prostrate surrounded by garbage cans is a two-bit thief named Rocky Valentine, who's just been shot to death by a policeman during a jewel heist gone wrong. In a traditional story, this might be the ending. But we're in The Twilight Zone. This is only the prologue.

Valentine awakens in the care of Pip, a jolly sort who acts as Valentine's guide through his new post-life surroundings. Valentine finds himself the new owner of a swanky bachelor pad, zippy new threads, and women at his beck and call. Despite a life of petty crime, it seems Valentine has made it to heaven.

Sebastian Cabot is spot-on as the enigmatic Pip, who Valentine can summon with a simple phone call. The number? P-I-P. Cabot's hair, which was normally black, was bleached shock-white for this performance. Interesting side-note: I work with a guy who's (almost) a dead ringer for the white-haired Cabot. Mike Lewis, if you're reading this, consider this your official shout out.

Writer Charles Beaumont crafts a diabolical tale of cosmic justice, but in reality it comes off a bit like a half-hour one-liner. It's hardly a surprise when Valentine's true eternal disposition is revealed, and Larry Blyden's over-the-top performance as Valentine doesn't help much either. Having said all that, the episode is technically well done, effectively directed by John Brahm. The highlight comes late in act two, when Pip and Valentine visit the Hall of Records.

We last saw this enormous stairway in "Time Enough at Last" (as part of the destroyed library), but it was first seen in The Time Machine. Shooting at MGM clearly had its perks. This single scene (coupled with Cabot's performance) elevates the episode considerably. However, when you line it up against the embarrassment of riches that comprise this first season of The Twilight Zone... well, it comes up short. Had it been produced in the show's (vastly inferior) fifth season, it would probably be considered a masterpiece.

Next week: Well, nothing. An episode of Playhouse 90 aired the week of 4/22/1960 instead of The Twilight Zone. But on 4/29, the show returns with a story of a school teacher and an annoying little girl. It's not as bad as it sounds. Pour yourself a cup of cocoa and tune in.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Big Tall Wish" (4/08/1960)

Before he was a television writer, Rod Serling was a soldier in the U.S. Army, and while he was a soldier, he did some boxing (a total of 17 fights, the first and last of which resulted in his nose being broken). His experiences in the ring undoubtedly informed his teleplay Requiem for a Heavyweight, a 1956 episode of Playhouse 90 (performed and televised live).  Serling's Peabody-winning tale concerned Harlan "Mountain" McClintock, an over-the-hill boxer facing life after the ring. McClintock is a lumbering, inarticulate lug who never quite made it to the top.

The Requiem cast, from left: Keenan Wynn, Jack Palance, and Ed Wynn.

For The Twilight Zone, Serling reimagined McClintock as Bolie Jackson, an African-American boxer past his prime. Jackson is introspective, articulate. He knows his wad is basically shot, just like McClintock before him, but the difference here is that Jackson is a denizen of The Twilight Zone.  Things --- magic things --- tend to happen here.

Henry is a kid who lives with his single mother in the same tenement building as Jackson. Henry is Jackson’s biggest fan, and he plans on making a special kind of wish --- the big, tall kind --- to ensure that Jackson wins in the ring. Trouble is…. Jackson has to believe in the magic for the wish to come true, and he’s had too many hard knocks to invest in such nonsense.

But again, this is The Twilight Zone. Things tend to happen here.

Henry makes the big, tall wish.

“The Big Tall Wish” was first aired 50 years ago tonight.  It's the first and (regrettably) only TZ episode with a predominantly African-American cast, and this cast shines. Ivan Dixon commands the screen as Jackson, his eyes and mannerisms speaking volumes beyond the words Serling puts in his mouth. Steven Perry is excellent as Henry, a little kid with a somber, ethereal wisdom beyond his years. The scene in which Henry pleads with Jackson to believe in his magic wish is at once uplifting and heartbreaking. On the strength of the casting for this episode, The Twilight Zone was awarded the Unity Award for Outstanding Contributions to Better Race Relations in 1961.

The episode is well-directed by Ron Winston. One effective touch is the use of extreme close-ups of the eager crowd during the boxing match. We see hands being wrung, palms being punched, popcorn boxes being clutched…. and the reluctant eyes of a female patron, peeking out from behind her hands in between blows.

One other item of note regarding this episode: the original score by Jerry Goldsmith is beautiful and haunting, and is the reason I first became interested in film and TV music twenty years ago. I can’t explain why this particular piece of music appeals to me so greatly, especially since it employs the harmonica of all things (which for me would usually be a deal-breaker), but I can’t deny that “The Big Tall Wish” is my single favorite Twilight Zone score.  Goldsmith’s 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 2 (on both vinyl and cassette, later released on CD in Japan only). The score later appeared on The Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection from Silva (which compiled all the music from all five Varese Sarabande LPs, plus some additional TZ music).

Regarding those Japan-only CDs… Volume 2 was the first one I got (‘round 1994, I think it was). I paid $50.00 plus shipping to import it from a German soundtrack dealer, which sounds crazy now in the days of digital downloading and rampant music piracy, but I had to have the damn thing. Why? Because it had “The Big Tall Wish” on it, and my cassette would inevitably wear out.  I've never once regretted the cost.


Next week: A two-bit thief gets iced in a robbery gone bad and wakes up in heaven. He’s got flashy threads, a swanky pad, girls galore, a casino where he wins every game, all the money he can spend… well, it's just gotta be heaven... right?  Roll the dice and tune in.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

TZ Promo: "Execution" (4/01/1960)

Fifty years ago tonight, a low-down murdering son of a bitch was hung from a tree in one century and woke up in another.

Rod Serling’s “Execution,” based on an unpublished story by George Clayton Johnson and directed by David Orrick McDearmon, stars Albert Salmi as Joseph Caswell, an outlaw in 1880 who happens to be the guest of honor at a “commonplace, if somewhat grim, unsocial event known as a necktie party.” It seems our Mr. Caswell shot a man in the back, and is due to receive justice in the form of a noose around his neck. At the pivotal moment, however, instead of his neck snapping as planned, he vanishes into thin air.

He awakens in 1960 in a darkened laboratory, his neck appropriately rope-burned, confused as hell. Professor Manion (played by Russell Johnson, more famous for playing another professor on TV’s Gilligan’s Island) has apparently plucked him from the past at random using his time machine. Manion smells trouble almost immediately, and his instincts are proven correct… violently so.

Cosmic justice is a hallmark of The Twilight Zone, and tonight’s installment is a great example. While the ending may be a bit too convenient (dues ex machina, anyone?), it’s still an enjoyable episode, definitely bolstered by Salmi’s marvelous performance as Caswell. Watch his mannerisms and movements. Mean and soulless and not sorry about it, he successfully portrays a simple, savage man from a simpler, more savage time. He’d just as soon shoot you as look at you. It's all method, baby. He's riveting to watch.

Albert Salmi, wild in the streets.

Cool set alert: check out Professor Manion’s awesome laboratory, cloaked in shadow, conveniently located in a downtown office building in New York City. That time machine (the hexagon-shaped thing to the left) is freakin’ AMAZING. And that big transparent globe over to the right? Yep, you guessed it.... it's from Forbidden Planet (we saw it previously in "Third from the Sun").

The ultimate bachelor pad.. Dark shadows, gadgets galore, and an honest-to-Rod time machine!

"This may look like some kooky greenhouse; actually it happens to be a conveyance, a mode of travel... TIME travel..."

Next week: Bolie Jackson is a boxer who never quite made the big time. He still might, though, thanks to a little boy with a talent for making wishes… the big, tall kind. Get in the ring and tune in.