Thursday, September 30, 2010

TZ Promo: "King Nine Will Not Return" (9/30/1960)

"King Nine Will Not Return"
Season Two, Episode #1 (overall #37)
Cayuga Production # 173-3639

After a short (by today’s standards) summer hiatus, The Twilight Zone returned on 9/30/1960 for its second season. Interestingly, the opening tale of this second season bears some similarities to the opening tale of the first season. “Where Is Everybody?” told the tale of an amnesiac stranded in an empty town, trying to figure out where the town’s inhabitants have disappeared to. In tonight’s tale, we find an another solitary man, this one stranded in the desert next to his wrecked WWII bomber, searching desperately for his missing crew. Both men are Air Force pilots, and both will ultimately find that they’ve suffered elaborate hallucinations, only one of which carries with it that special Twilight Zone twist.

“King Nine Will Not Return,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Buzz Kulik, kicked off season two exactly 50 years ago tonight, almost one year to the day after its thematic antecedent first aired. Robert Cummings shines in an Emmy-worthy --- but not nominated, unfortunately --- performance as James Embry, captain of the eponymous King Nine, a B-25 bomber that has crashed in the African desert. Embry awakens face down in the sand next to the wreckage, completely alone. Throughout the episode, he methodically attempts to solve the mystery of his missing crew, and comes completely unraveled in the process. His mental disintegration is disturbing, perfectly believable, and brilliantly executed by Cummings.

He's come undone.

The episode also finds the production crew back in the desert for a location shoot, only this time it’s not Death Valley…. it’s Owens Valley, near Lone Pine, California. Hundreds of western films were shot in the nearby Alabama Hills area; in fact, Lone Pine is home to the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History, which houses an extensive collection of western film memorabilia. Interesting how, by shooting a film at certain angles, one location can effectively double for a completely different location on the other side of the world (in this case, the African desert!). Our intrepid TZ crew will return to Owens Valley before season 2 is over, however, for a back-to-back shoot (“A Hundred Yards over the Rim” and “The Rip Van Winkle Caper,” both of which we’ll cover when we get their respective 50th anniversaries).

"Enigma buried in the sand, a question mark with broken wings..."

Mention should also be made of Fred Steiner’s original music score. Tense and foreboding, it gradually builds throughout the episode until Embry cracks, at which point the music is positively chilling in its intensity. It's one of the series' more memorable scores, partly due to its reappearance in later episodes (most notably, "Death Ship," where it's equally effective). Steiner’s score was first released on Varese Sarabande’s The Twilight Zone: The Original Television Scores, Volume 4 LP (and CD in Japan), and later appeared on Silva’s The Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection. It’s also presented in isolated form (on an alternate audio track) on Image Entertainment’s The Twilight Zone, Season 2: The Definitive Edition DVD (the forthcoming blu-ray edition of Season 2 will also feature the score in isolated form). Interesting side note: a short cue entitled “Jets” was composed and recorded by Steiner, but wasn’t used in the finished episode. This cue appeared later, however, in season three’s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” and season four’s “Death Ship,” and is therefore easily obtained by obsessive TZ music collectors like myself.

I won’t give away the aforementioned “twist” (I’ve already said too much by revealing that Embry’s experience is in fact imagined). Serling’s earlier “Where Is Everybody?” concluded with a perfectly rational explanation for everything, something that reportedly bothered him. “King Nine Will Not Return” ends with a metaphysical wallop out of left field which, while satisfying Serling’s need for an unexplained shock, makes the whole affair seem perhaps better suited to a series like “One Step Beyond” (specifically, the episode “The Return of Mitchell Campion,” which deals with astral projection). Nevertheless, it’s Cummings’ performance that really makes the episode great…. And lands it a spot in my top 40 favorite episodes of all time.

It should also be noted that “King Nine Will Not Return” marks Serling’s first regular appearance as the series’ on-screen narrator. We heard him all throughout season 1 in voiceover form, and got a rather humorous glimpse of him in that season’s finale (“A World of His Own”), but from here forward, he’ll appear in every single episode to give his opening comments, almost invariably with his trademark cigarette (or, in a few cases, a glass of beer). Some of his appearances are quite clever in their execution, as you’ll see in the weeks and months (and years) to come (I’m planning to include a shot of Serling, as he appears in each episode, as part of the usual screen shots in my episode promos… yeah, you’re welcome).

Now, I should note that Serling DID appear in the “next week” promos at the end of each episode in season 1 (as he does throughout all five seasons), but you’ll only see said promos if you watch the series on DVD or blu-ray. They’ve never been included in the syndication package(s); therefore, I didn’t know they existed at all for many years. Yet another reason to buy the series rather than watch it on TV!

Next week: Pawn shop + Genie in a bottle = A whole lotta trouble. Do check it out.

No comments: