Thursday, February 10, 2011

TZ Promo: “Twenty Two” (2/10/1961)

“Twenty Two”
Season Two, Episode 17 (#53 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3664

A Twilight Zone episode is usually easy to spot, even if you miss the opening titles. Richard Matheson said it best: “The ideal Twilight Zone started with a really smashing idea that hit you right in the first few seconds, then you played that out, and you had a little flip at the end; that was the structure.” * 50 years ago tonight, an episode premiered which followed this deceptively simple blueprint, but didn’t feel like a Twilight Zone at all.

“Twenty Two” (sans hyphen), written by Rod Serling and directed by Jack Smight, feels like CBS ran an episode of ABC’s One Step Beyond in some bizarre programming glitch. All the hallmarks are there: spooky music, premonitions of disaster (which of course come true), and a hook that isn’t so much supernatural as psycho-spiritual. Having said that, I don’t dislike the episode at all. It’s creepy, damn it. Who hasn’t had a nightmare in which they were invited to their own demise?

“Twenty Two” is one of six season two episodes that were videotaped instead of filmed, and the different (that’s being charitable) look contributes to the non-TZ vibe. It somehow works here, though…. The faux morgue set is impressive on video, but on film it might’ve looked fake. The same can be said of the exploding airplane in the finale.

This week’s damsel-in-psychological-distress is played by Barbara Nichols, who certainly has the, um, assets to play “the best little stripper-dancer that ever came down the pike” (as her agent describes her). In addition to screaming like a banshee and knocking over glasses of water on The Twilight Zone, she also appeared in 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success, a Burt Lancaster-Tony Curtis film noir that just came out on blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. No, I didn’t get paid for that plug (but I’d be happy to accept a free copy, if Criterion feels like sending me one!).

Forbidden Planet alert! Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch. The creepy doctor is played by Jonathan Harris, who we all know from TV’s Lost In Space!, the cast of which included the B-9 Robot, which was designed by Robert Kinoshita, who also designed Robby the Robot (the two 'bots certainly look related). Call it Two Degrees of Forbidden Planet.

Harris with Robby the Robot's cousin, the B-9. Oh, and there's Billy Mumy (a three-episode TZ veteran)!

The “spooky music” referenced above is made up predominantly of reused cues from Van Cleave’s “Elegy” score from season one. It works better here.

Room for one more, honey!

The freaky nurse is played by Arlene Martel (aka Arlene Sax), who is probably best known for her role as T’Pring, Spock's arranged wife-in-waiting, in Star Trek’s “Amok Time.” I know her best from my other favorite TV series of all time, The Outer Limits, where she played opposite Robert Culp in the wonderful “Demon with a Glass Hand." And speaking of The Outer Limits… well, stay tuned.

Two weeks from tonight: The Twilight Zone joins the mile-high club, in a manner of speaking. You won’t see any gremlins on the wing, but you might just see a brontosaurus if you get a window seat. Check in early.

* Matheson quote shamelessly cribbed from Marc Scott Zicree's The Twilight Zone Companion.

1 comment:

Elliot James said...

It's the video tape that makes this episode extra frightening, adding a kind of hyper-realistic look.