Thursday, October 28, 2010

TZ Promo: "A Thing About Machines" (10/28/1960)

"A Thing About Machines"
Season Two, Episode #4 (overall #40)
Cayuga Production # 173-3645

50 years ago tonight, a man declared war on machines. No, his name wasn’t John Connor, and the machines weren’t played by California’s current governor.

“A Thing About Machines,” written by Rod Serling and directed by David Orrick McDearmon, stars Richard Haydn as Bartlett Finchley (Christ, what a name), a terminally unlikable man (a food critic, of all things; he might feel right at home on one of the Food Network’s endless parade of cook-and-be-judged offerings) whose hatred of All Things Mechanical leads to a battle of wills between himself and the various machines (TV, typewriter, electric razor --- yes, electric razor) in his house. Predictably, he doesn’t stand a chance.

The ages-old struggle between Man and That Which Man Creates is a great concept to build on, but unfortunately the episode never really does anything meaningful with it. We get a very simple tale in which a guy mistreats his appliances, which in turn rise up and fight back. Finchley sneers, he rages, he berates and belittles everyone he comes into contact with… seriously, the guy is a complete and utter tool. He’s so thoroughly loathsome that we end up cheering for the machines, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t the intent.

And then there’s the matter of the denouement. Finchley flees his house to escape the marauding appliances, and finds his car waiting for him…. with murder in its eyes (headlights?). The car chases him around the property for a while, and then backs him into the swimming pool.

Cut to the next morning, where Finchley’s body has been pulled from the pool. The coroner observes that the body wasn’t floating… it was found at the bottom of the pool. Are we to believe that the car jumped into the pool, pinned Finchley until he drowned, and then jumped back out? Silly, yes… but how else do you explain the water dripping from the bumper…?

Happily not every aspect of this episode sucks. Barney Phillips (who will return later this season with a third eye) is a bright spot as the bemused TV repairman. And Serling’s opening commentary, which he delivers from inside Finchley’s TV, is admittedly clever (in that picture-within-a-picture-within-a-picture sort of way):

And I can’t deny, the sight of Finchley’s electric razor coming down the stairs of its own volition (not to mention unplugged!) is delightful. These singular bits, however, aren’t enough to raise the episode above mediocrity.

And it’s too bad, because I should REALLY be able to identify with the themes of this episode. You see, I’ve had trouble with machines and electronics my whole life. Every car I’ve ever owned --- new or used --- has been plagued with issues. In the last year alone, I’ve suffered the death of a cell phone, a computer monitor, my beloved 60 gb iPod, a scanner, a LightScribe DVD-RW drive… not to mention the hundreds of dollars I've shelled out in car repairs. I have terrible luck with machines, plain and simple. Maybe I should be thankful these things simply die, versus hunting me down with murderous intent.

Interesting musical note: we hear Marius Constant’s "Milieu #2," which is a variant of his "Milieu #1" (which, along with his "Etrange #3," comprises the Twilight Zone theme used in seasons 2-5), played during the episode (rather than during the end credits, where it is normally heard). You can't miss it (it happens near the end of act one, when Finchley's typewriter repeatedly types the phrase "Get Out of Here, Finchley!").

Sigh. Overall, "A Thing About Machines" is sorta blah at best. Fortunately, the next five episodes range from pretty damned good to shockingly brilliant. Stay tuned.

Next week: Abbeys and monks and howling men, oh my!


Anonymous said...

The shaver scene still haunts me!

Anonymous said...

This was not one of my favorite episodes but I'm betting that there is more to this Finchley character than meets the eye as he resembles a real life Robert Benchley that had a similar problem with inanimate objects wrote a series of short stories about these adventures and published in 1960.

My real interest though is to answer the question; What is the make of that car?

Anonymous said...

I don't know the exact model, but I believe it's a Bugatti.