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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Season 2 Opening Sequence (1960-1961)

After an incredible first season, a few changes were made for The Twilight Zone's second round, most notably the music. Season 1 utilized two distinct versions of Bernard Herrmann's ominous theme but, starting with Season 2 (and continuing throughout the remainder of the series), Herrmann's theme was jettisoned for something altogether different...

Two unrelated pieces of library music ("Etrange No. 3" and "Milieu No. 1") by French avant-garde composer Marius Constant were spliced together to create one of the most recognizable TV themes in history. On 9/30/1960, American audiences heard this new theme for the first time, and it went on to personify the series every bit as much as Rod Serling's unmistakable clenched-teeth narrative voice. Every one of us, at some point in our lives, has undoubtedly hummed, whistled, or otherwise mouthed that classic melody ("Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo") when faced with a bizarre or uncomfortable situation. You know, those Twilight Zone moments. As much as I love the work of Bernard Herrmann, I can't deny the power of Constant's theme. It's effect is immediate. You know what you're in for as soon as you hear it.

Along with new theme music came new visuals. The season 2 intro is actually a melding of season 1's openings, smashed together and compressed for time. The wispy, honeycomb-like tendrils of fog that opened the standard season 1 opening are here, as is the black-line horizon with the setting sun from the alternate season 1 opening. In fact, these two elements are pretty much all we see, except for the new way the Twilight Zone logo appears at the climax: it springs up out of nowhere, as if on an invisible hinge, and flies straight toward us, smashing to bits at the last possible second, as if we've driven right through it. The Twilight Zone title logo, incidentally, is identical to the one used in the standard season 1 opening (with regards to the font; it's also the same version of the TZ logo I use in the interchangeable photo collages featured at the top of this blog). The final three seasons will use different title logos, but we'll get to those in time.

Compared to the elaborate visuals of the standard season 1 intro, the new opening is pretty basic. But is it effective? Absolutely. It's snappier, propulsive, and it gets us to the story faster.

Here's the breakdown:

You're traveling through 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!

(pan down to opening scene)

Here it is in full-motion glory, sadly down-rezzed by Blogger...

Season 2 also brought a MAJOR visual change that would last throughout the remainder of the series. We'll discuss that in tomorrow's entry, as we spotlight the season 2 premiere, "King Nine Will Not Return," on the 50th anniversary of its first broadcast. I'll give you a hint: It involves the relative visibility of a certain creator/executive producer/narrator....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Special Announcement!!!

Mark your calenders, loyal readers (all 3.5 of you)... We're about to celebrate our friends at Bif Bang Pow! in a big way. Throughout the week of October 18-22, we'll be spotlighting all their latest Twilight Zone collectibles (action figures, bobbleheads, and San Diego ComicCon exclusives), not to mention gazing into the future to see what goodies await us later in the year... and beyond. This unprecedented celebration will be capped by an exclusive Q&A session with Bif Bang Pow!'s Jason Lenzi and Jason Labowitz, who were kind enough to sit down with me (in a virtual sense) and answer my fanboy questions.

File this one under "not to be missed"... in The Twilight Zone.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

TZ Spotlight: Gremlin bobblehead (Bif Bang Pow!)

Summer's funny. The kids are out of school, routines are disrupted... and one's attention span gets compromised by sunlight and warmth. Consequently, things go undone. Not much of an excuse, but it's the only one I can think of to explain my negligence in posting the fifth --- and final (for now) --- spotlight on Bif Bang Pow!'s amazing Twilight Zone bobbleheads. This poor guy has been sitting on a shelf with its four siblings for well over two months, waiting for its moment in the spotlight. My head is hung in shame (which makes it kinda hard to type, truth be told, but I digress). Ladies and gentlemen, your attention is (belatedly) drawn to.... The Gremlin.

Let me say up front that The Gremlin is not a character that I'm particularly fond of. The episode that features this particular furball, season five's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," isn't bad at all (especially for season five, which misses more times than it hits). Not one of my favorites, but I can't deny that Richard Matheson's teleplay (and seminal short story) are quite effective. We all know the story, so I won't recount it in detail.... basically, nervous guy (played to the hilt by William Shatner) on airplane sees creature outside on the wing, but nobody believes him. Creature starts tampering with the engines, and things get progressively tense. Great story. Unfortunately, in its translation to a visual medium, all tension gets shot to hell by the ridiculous character design of The Gremlin. It hurts --- but doesn't necessarily ruin --- an otherwise good episode.

Here's looking at you, Kirk.

The above comments are intended to illustrate the fact that any disdain I might have for the character does NOT transfer over to this amazing bobblehead. In fact, it may be Bif Bang Pow's best sculpt to date. The fur texture is very well done, and happily extends to the backside of the creature as well. No corners cut here!

And that face... wow. Well, see for yourself.

The Gremlin is perched atop a plane's wing, prying up a cowling plate to access (and damage) the engine. If you haven't already noticed, this particular bobblehead has a clever extra feature: a window looking into the cabin.

And if you turn the bobblehead sideways, you get a fully-decorated mockup of Shatner's window seat looking out!

If you lean in close and look through the window (which is an actual hole carved into the piece), you can see The Gremlin... well, kinda. Okay, barely. The Gremlin is WAY too close to the window, and it's set too far back (well, to the left) to get a good look at it through the tiny opening. However, I can't imagine that the sculptor actually intended to achieve a Shatner-eye view of The Gremlin through this window. It's just a cute touch, and it works brilliantly. It's evident that a lot of thought went into this sculpt. Y'now, if Bif Bang Pow! ends up doing a companion Bob Wilson (Shatner's character) bobblehead, it would be ultra-cool to use a similar (albeit opposite) approach, with a forced-perspective tiny Gremlin viewable through the window. Just a thought.

This bobblehead is BY FAR the heaviest of the bunch. In the months that have elapsed between my reviews of the other four bobbleheads and now, I somehow acquired a postal scale, so I was able to compare all five. They weigh in as follows: The Mystic Seer and The Kanamit tie for the lightest at 12.5 ounces each. Talking Talky Tina lands in the middle at 14.5 ounces. The Invader, which is a formidable chunk of spaceman, is 19 ounces. The Gremlin trounces them all at a staggering 22 ounces. No wonder it costs a few bucks more than its lighter peers.

The Gremlin is further differentiated from the others by the fact that both Twilight Zone and Bif Bang Pow! logos are nowhere to be seen, either on the front or the back of the piece. Fear not. You'll find both logos coexisting harmoniously on the bottom of the base.

Verdict? Another excellent effort. Given my ambivalence for the character itself, my hopes weren't terribly high this time around. Not only has Bif Bang Pow! pulled off yet another resounding success, they've actually made me like The Gremlin... well, almost.

As I write this, all five are still available through Entertainment Earth. If you don't already own The Gremlin (or the other four bobbleheads), what the hell are you waiting for?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rod Serling's Final Resting Place...

...can be found at Lake View Cemetery in Interlaken, a small village in upstate New York (lot G, Plot 1044). Serling died on June 28, 1975, at the age of 50. This past Saturday, my good friend (and fellow Twilight Zone fanatic) Bill Huelbig had the opportunity to visit his grave. It goes without saying that Serling is an idol of mine, so... well, jealousy abounds.

Bill reports:

"On Saturday we were scheduled to stay overnight at Days Inn, Tonawanda NY. When we got there late that evening, it turns out they'd somehow given our rooms away. Expedia relocated us to an even better hotel a few miles away, Homewood * Suites by Hilton. Did Mr. Serling have anything to do with this?"

Bill at Serling's grave. I'd be kneeling too!

I'm a bit dismayed at the plaintive, rather small marker. Seems like Carol Serling (Rod's widow) could've shelled out for something a bit bigger.... you know, grander. He certainly deserved it.

* Homewood, New York is Gig Young's fictional home town in "Walking Distance."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

RIP Kevin McCarthy (2/15/1914 - 9/11/2010)

I'm deeply saddened to report that Kevin McCarthy, star of my all-time favorite Twilight Zone episode "Long Live Walter Jameson," passed away yesterday at the age of 94. Here's the NW Times article. Mr. McCarthy is best known for his starring role in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

I was very fortunate, some years back, to acquire a personalized autograph from Mr. McCarthy through my good friend Bill Huelbig, who met Mr. McCarthy in person and thought of me.

Rest in peace, good sir.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Early Reviews for Season 1 on Blu-ray Are In!

Check these out:

Blu-news review

High Def Disc News review

Sounds like the blu-rays are everything I hoped for, and more... well, except for an isolated music track for Leith Stevens' score for "Time Enough at Last." Small complaint. Check out those screen captures! The naysayers over at The Twilight Zone Cafe (you know who you are) have clearly been proven wrong. Looks like a slim 5-disc case (like A&E's recent blu-ray release of The Prisoner: The Complete Series) in a foil-reflective slipcover.

Pre-orders are being taken at for $69.99. My order has been placed, and should arrive on the release date (9/14/10.... next week!).

I Give Up!

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) have undoubtedly noticed that I've fallen behind in my weekly coverage of the summer repeats. I've missed the last two weeks, and I'll almost certainly miss this week's too. Therefore, I'm giving up. I'm going to simply post the remainder of the summer repeat schedule below, with links to the original blog entries/episode promos.

08/26/60 The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (rerun)
09/02/60 The Four of Us Are Dying (rerun)
09/09/60 A Nice Place to Visit (rerun)
09/16/60 The Lonely (rerun)
09/23/60 Execution (rerun)

Season two begins on 9/30 with the 50th anniversary of "King Nine Will Not Return." It's another Death Valley episode, so have a cold beverage handy.