Sunday, June 27, 2010

TZ News Flash: More Blu-ray Details!

More details have surfaced about the upcoming blu-ray release of the first season of The Twilight Zone:

  • Extremely rare, never-before-released unofficial Twilight Zone pilot, "The Time Element," written by Rod Serling and hosted by Desi Arnaz - presented in glorious high definition!
  • 19 New Audio Commentaries, featuring The Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree, author and film historian Gary Gerani (Fantastic Television), author and music historian Steven C. Smith (A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann), music historians John Morgan and William T. Stromberg, writer/producer David Simkins (Lois & Clark, Dark Angel), writer Mark Fergus (Children of Men, Iron Man), actor William Reynolds and director Ted Post.
  • Interviews with actors Dana Dillaway, Suzanne Lloyd, Beverly Garland and Ron Masak.
  • Tales of Tomorrow episode "What You Need."
  • Vintage audio interview with Director of Photography George T. Clemens.
  • 1977 syndication promos for "A Stop at Willoughby" and "The After Hours."
  • 18 Radio Dramas
  • 34 Isolated Music Scores featuring the legendary Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and others!

Read the full press release here. Needless to say, I'm in heaven.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

TZ Repeat: "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" (6/24/1960)

Tonight we celebrate something of a milestone in Twilight Zone history. Exactly fifty years ago, the show aired its first repeat. What, not blog-worthy? I respectfully disagree.

Serling and company chose “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” as the first encored episode. It premiered October 16, 1959, which makes it the third episode ever seen. I’ll state for the record that, in my humble opinion, it’s the first truly great TZ episode.

The pilot episode, “Where Is Everybody?” is quite good, but for me it never reaches its full potential, likely because the story doesn’t feature the trademarked wrinkle in reality that would characterize the best episodes. In other words: it could really happen. It’s basically a guy having a really detailed dream. When Serling later adapted the story script into short story form, he added a critical detail that strongly suggests that more has happened. The episode, however, presents it as an isolation-inspired hallucination, nothing more. Interestingly, "Where Is Everybody?" wouldn't be seen again until June 1961, after the show's second season was finished.

The second episode, “One for the Angels,” is competent but ultimately misses the mark. I mean, we’re talking about a life hanging in the balance, and there’s never really any suspense. The “pitch for the angels” that Ed Wynn delivers is hardly compelling. So I dunno, maybe his performance is the problem…? Serling reportedly was unhappy with Wynn's work, but that didn't prevent the episode from being repeated (however, like its predecessor, it wouldn't be seen again until the following year, in August 1961).

Which leaves “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” to take the honors of first Twilight Zone repeat ever, and the episode is just terrific. The acting is top notch: Dan Duryea, a bad guy in so many noir films of the 40’s and 50’s, is remarkable as Al Denton, once a respected gunfighter, now the town drunk. Martin Landau absolutely nails it as the gleefully sadistic town bully who taunts him. It's a western, but not your typical western. Somber, sad, but ultimately optimistic. Plus, it's the first televised example of a Twilight Zone mainstay: the O. Henry-esque surprise "flip" at the end. I won't ruin it for you. Irony is best when left unspoiled.

Here's my original entry on the episode. I hadn't quite figured out my promos yet, so it's pretty sparse.

Next week: Season one wraps up with a Richard Matheson comedy about a writer with a very special gift (and a very powerful tape recorder). Press PLAY and tune in.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

TZ Promo: "The Mighty Casey" (6/17/1960)

His name is Mouth McGarry. He's the manager for the Hoboken Zephyrs, a pathetic gang of bumbling incompetents masquerading as a baseball team. Out of desperation, he gives an unlikely player a shot on the pitcher's mound.

That pitcher is Casey, who throws a ball so fast it sets the catcher's mitt on fire. He's an instant sensation and, much to everyone's surprise, the team starts winning games and captures the eye of the nation. However, disaster strikes when Casey gets beaned... and his secret gets out. Without giving too much away, it's safe to say that Casey isn't entirely human.

"The Mighty Casey," which first aired 50 years ago tonight, was written by Rod Serling and directed by both Alvin Ganzer AND Robert Parrish. Wait, why two directors? And for that matter, why does the episode have TWO production numbers (3617 and 3687)? The answer is both fascinating and tragic.

Originally actor Paul Douglas was cast in the lead role of Mouth McGarry. Douglas appeared in several noir films in the mid-40s (including Panic in the Streets and Fourteen Hours), but was probably best known for his role in the original Angels in the Outfield in 1951 before moving into steady work in various anthology series on TV. After principal photography on "The Mighty Casey" was completed, Douglas sadly died of heart failure. The episode was supposed to air around Christmas 1959, but was postponed while Serling and Cayuga Productions figured out what to do. The solution was unique: out of respect for Douglas' memory, the entire episode was essentially reshot, with Jack Warden (previously seen in "The Lonely" earlier this season) taking over the Mouth McGarry role. It should be noted that CBS refused to foot the bill (which exceeded $20,000.00), so Serling stepped in and, through Cayuga, absorbed the cost. What a guy.

Unfortunately, the finished episode isn't particularly engaging, which makes one wonder if Serling's altruistic solution was ultimately worth it. It's intended as a light comedy, but many of the jokes fall flat. The problem lies with Serling's script (would he have ponied up the twenty grand if it'd been a Matheson or Beaumont script?). It's not a total loss, but it's pretty pale next to the rest of season one. It's a mild diversion at best and, if nothing else, at least it isn't abrasively awful like "Mr. Bevis" is.

Next week: The Twilight Zone airs it's very first repeat, and it's a good one. Saddle up and tune in, cowboy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

TZ Promo: "The After Hours" (6/10/1960)

Her name is Marsha White. She's at a shopping mall, looking for a gift for her mother. She encounters a rather abrupt elevator attendent and a rude saleswoman, and things go from mildly uncomfortable to downright nightmarish.

Fifty years ago tonight, "The After Hours" aired for the first time, and even when held up against the embarrassment of riches that comprise the first season of The Twilight Zone, the episode stands out as a true masterpiece. Bizarre and terrifying, we watch as Marsha's entire world --- her perception of reality --- disintegrates before her eyes. A flawless script by Rod Serling and innovative direction by Douglas Heyes support a nuanced and intense performance by the beautiful Anne Francis (who would turn in another brilliant performance a few years later in season four's "Jess-Belle"). It's one of the series' most blatant excursions into the surreal.

In reviewing my top 40 all-time favorite episodes, I was shocked to discover that this episode ... well, isn't on it. An egregious oversight on my part. "The After Hours" is one of the show's finest episodes. It may be time to update that list....

"The After Hours" was remade in 1986 on the 80's revival Twilight Zone series. Predictably, it can't hold a candle to the original. It starred Terry Farrell, better known as Jadzia Dax from TV's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She's a beauty in her own right, but she's got nothing on Anne Francis. I should also mention that the luminous Ms. Francis lit up the screen alongside Robby the Robot in 1956's Forbidden Planet, a film with many Twilight Zone connections.

Next week: As we near the end of the first season, the quality is something akin to a roller coaster. Great episodes are checker-boarded with... well, not so great ones. Next week's is unfortunately in the latter category. It's certainly nowhere near as awful as last week's "Mr. Bevis," though, and if you like baseball, you might just enjoy it. Batter up and tune in.

Friday, June 4, 2010

TZ News Flash: Twilight Zone: Season 1 blu-ray Officially Announced!

Image Entertainment has officially announced that The Twilight Zone: Season 1 will be released on blu-ray on September 14. The disc will be comprised of 5 discs and will include all the supplements from the Definitive Edition DVDs, plus "much newly-created material" (per The Digital Bits). Suggested Retail Price is $99.98, but it can pre-ordered through for $74.99.

Here's the cover. I'm not sure I like it yet.

It looks too.... I dunno... blue. Arctic, almost. It kinda reminds me of a slow globe. I vastly prefer the Definitive Edition DVD cover:

Cosmetics aside, what's really important here is that the entire first season (the other four will presumably follow at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later) will be available in full 1080p high definition. I'll be the first to say that the existing Definitive DVDs look amazing, but they'll look markedly better in HD. Needless to say, I'm all over it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

TZ Promo: "Mr. Bevis" (6/03/1960)

Okay, here's the deal: I hate this episode. I really, really do. Tonight is this turd's 50th anniversary, so I have to at least acknowledge it. God, I wish I could just skip it and move on to next week's brilliant "The After Hours." I must admit, in all honesty, that I haven't actually seen, thing in several years. So, in a deviation from my usual routine, I'm going to wait on actually commenting further on the episode until I watch it tonight. I'll post the usual screen captures now, however...

Post-viewing thoughts...

Yep, I was right. It's an utter piece of shit. It thinks it's a comedy, but it's not funny. AT ALL. I'm not even going to bother with the usual plot teasers. Rod Serling wrote it, William Asher directed it, and Orson Bean plays the titular Mr. Bevis. Henry Jones co-stars as Bevis' guardian angel. All four shoulda been smacked upside their collective heads for birthing this stupid, ugly beast.

"Mr. Bevis" was never repeated. They knew, as I know, that this thing should be buried and never spoke of again. I've poked fun in these pages at other TZ duds ("Mr. Dingle, the Strong" comes to mind), but this, my friends, is the absolute bottom of the barrel. It doesn't get any worse than this. Happy 50th anniversary, "Mr. Bevis." Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. I'll probably never watch you again. EVER.

Next week: The show bounces back in a huge way. The impossibly gorgeous Anne Francis is shopping at the mall, and things are just.... kinda.... askew. Are those mannequins looking at her...?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Alternate Season One Opening Sequence (aka the "Eye" intro) (1960)

A few weeks ago I spotlighted the opening sequence for this first season of The Twilight Zone. History reports that, as the first season was approaching its end, an entirely different intro was created. It would be simpler, shorter, more direct, and would feature an alternate version of the theme music by Bernard Herrmann (with a prominent bass drum). An entirely different introductory narration would be heard from Rod Serling. This new opening sequence (commonly referred to as the "eye" opening; a joint creation by MGM and Pacific Title) would ultimately be used for a scant five weeks:

"Mr. Bevis" (6/03/1960)
"The After Hours" (6/10/1960)
"The Mighty Casey" (6/17/1960)
"Mr. Denton on Doomsday" (repeat) (6/24/1960)
"A World of His Own" (7/01/1960)

For "Mr. Denton on Doomsday," the standard opening sequence was replaced (on the original negative, as I understand it) with this new alternate opening.

It was determined that altering the remaining 32 season one episodes would be too costly; therefore, the "eye" opening was never used again after "A World of His Own." The intro would fade into further obscurity when three of the episodes in question ("The After Hours," "The Mighty Casey," and "A World of His Own") were altered to include the season two opening sequence when they were reran in 1961. "Mr. Bevis" was never repeated (which is a good thing; we'll get to it later this week), so it and "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" represent something of a mystery. I believe (perhaps falsely) that both were ultimately altered to include the standard intro (from either seasons 1 or 2) when the series was prepped for syndication for uniformity's sake. I base this on the simple fact that I have no recollection of ever seeing the "eye" opening throughout years of watching the show in reruns (and videotaping every syndicated episode). In fact, I never saw it at all until the series was released on DVD.

Without further ado, here it is.

You are about to enter another dimension.

A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.

A journey into a wondrous land of imagination.

Next stop...

...The Twilight Zone.

I love this intro. It's brief, to the point, and that eyeball is absolutely mesmerizing. Seriously, just stare at it for a few minutes and see where your mind wanders. It hangs there in midair for no good reason, inviting questions, offering no answers. It evokes, among other things, a production painting Salvador Dali did in preparation for the dream sequence he designed for Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound. We've actually shown this painting before, as part of our Arlen Schumer spotlight from March:

And of course, a much more famous eyeball will show up later in the intro for seasons four and five:

I vastly prefer the season 1 eye. The "eye" opening deserved an entire season, but sadly it wasn't to be. Here's a somewhat-illuminating discussion on this very topic over at the Twilight Zone Cafe.

Oh, and here's this thing of beauty (unfortunately severely downrezzed by Blogger) in full motion:

Addendum (6/03/2010):

HOLD THE PRESSES!!!! A bit of back 'n forth with Dan Hollis over at the Twilight Zone Cafe earlier today (see here) found him staunchly insisting that the "eye" intro was actually first seen when "A Passage for Trumpet" premiered, the episode before "Mr. Bevis." It got me thinking.... well, what if he's right? What if the Definitive Edition DVDs are wrong? What if Martin Grams (author of the wonderfully detailed The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic) was wrong? And (horrors!) what if my own memory is wrong?

There was only one thing to do: dig deep into the recesses of my garage, dig out my box of home video recordings from the mid-80's, hook up a VCR, and see for myself. The results, as they say, were quite illuminating. Hell, they were downright shocking. See for yourself:

It's the "eye" intro all right, which I had no memory of EVER seeing prior to the series coming out on DVD in the late-90's, but more surprisingly, the episode it's attached to is... "A Passage for Trumpet." Dear God.

I have serious doubts that the "eye" intro would have been tacked onto "A Passage for Trumpet" after its initial airing (which was done for "Mr. Denton on Doomsday," as noted above); in fact, it's far more likely that the season 2 intro would have been added (since it was reran in the middle of season 2), a likelihood given even more credence by the fact that the episode's first appearance on DVD (pre-Definitive Edition) had the season 2 intro on it. If the Definitive Edition DVDs are transferred from the original camera negatives as Image Entertainment claims, then... well, how the hell did this happen? I suppose we'll never know for sure.

One thing IS for sure: I'm clearly obsessive when it comes to The Twilight Zone!

So in checking my old worn-out VHS recordings, I checked all five (okay, six) episodes in question. "The After Hours," "The Mighty Casey," and "A World of His Own" all had the season 2 intros on them (which made sense, since they were all repeated during season 2). "Mr. Bevis" also had the "eye" intro (a pleasant surprise; the only pleasant thing about that monstrosity). Finally, I had a look at "Mr. Denton on Doomsday," which did not have the "eye" intro... rather, it had the standard season 1 opening. Have a look:

Seriously, what the hell???? How did this episode start out with the standard season 1 intro, then get changed (on the original negative, no less) to the "eye" intro, and then BACK AGAIN for syndication? The mind reels. I just don't get it.