Thursday, December 16, 2010

TZ Promo: “A Most Unusual Camera” (12/16/1960)

“A Most Unusual Camera”
Season Two, Episode 10 (#46 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3606

I have a simple rating system when it comes to The Twilight Zone: good-to-excellent, mediocre, or lousy. Fifty years ago tonight, an episode of the third, least-desirable variety premiered.

Written by Rod Serling and directed by John Rich, “A Most Unusual Camera” starts off with a pretty cool concept: an instant camera whose pictures depict events five minutes in the future. A trio of quarrelsome thieves comes into possession of the camera as part of their latest heist and, once they discover its unique properties, they form a plan to use it for their own financial gain. Well, of course they do. That’s not really the problem. The problem is that there’s never really any tension, particularly when the thieves become greedy (okay, greedier) and start turning on one another (a similar group-disintegration will occur later this season, much more effectively, in “The Rip Van Winkle Caper”).

The cast is comprised of the three thieves and a nosy hotel employee, and all four of them are gratingly unpleasant, particularly Jean Carson in the female lead. Again, the whole thing is just lousy. It’s not “Mr. Bevis” lousy, but it’s… just damned lame. Worse, the whole thing is played as a comedy, and like so many other Serling attempts at comedy, it just ain’t funny.

Ugh. What else can I say? There’s nothing redeeming to be found here. The idea of a camera that captures images from the future is immediate and promising, and it’s completely squandered. I can only wonder what Jack Finney would’ve done with such an idea.

On the subject of Finney: many of his short stories from the 50’s and 60’s (collected in The Third Level and I Love Galesburg in the Springtime, both out of print and well worth tracking down; I have worn copies of both and cherish them) would’ve made ideal The Twilight Zone episodes; however, none of them were ever adapted for the series. Much attention has been paid over the years to the fact that only one script by science fiction luminary Ray Bradbury was produced on the series but, for my money, The Finney Shutout (as I’ve come to call it) is even more shocking. “Of Missing Persons,” “Where the Cluetts Are,” “The Coin Collector,” “Lunch Hour Magic”... that’s four, right off the top of my head, and there are many more. It’s a damned, depressing shame that Finney and The Twilight Zone never crossed paths.

Next week: Just in time for Christmas! Art Carney stars as the original Bad Santa. A holiday perennial, and a great one at that. Don your stocking cap and mittens and tune in.


Anonymous said...

Different strokes...This is actually one of my favorite TZ episodes! I especially like the TZ episodes with "magic" gadgets, plus the comedic acting by all was great.

Matt Vandermast said...

Caption for Rod's "The Night of the Meek" teaser:

"Next week, we'll visit a future society that is gradually banning indoor smoking."

ishkanei said...

Sometimes an opinion opposite to mine will cause me to consider if my opinion isn't just 'received wisdom', but in this instance, my initial opinion still holds. I used to look a little askance at this episode too, until it occurred to me to look at it not as a drama with comedic touches but as just a humorous episode rather broadly played, and voila! An entertaining episode. Not one of their best, but I wouldn't call it lame either -fwiw.