Saturday, April 30, 2011

...The Bacon Zone.

Meet Mr. Bacon. I found him in my stocking this past Christmas, after which I spirited him off to my work cubicle, where he’s been my loyal friend ever since. At first he just stood there, watching my every move. Lately, however, he’s been keeping himself busy by… well, taking on other personalities.

Watch your back, Mr. Peanut.

I'm singin' in the Rain....

Hey kids, it's the Easter Bunny!

About a week ago, Mr. Bacon stepped into the shoes of my idol, Rod Serling. That’s right, folks. You’ve just crossed over into… The Bacon Zone.

I've gotta talk to him about the smoking. I mean, he's Mr. Bacon. Isn't he already smoky enough?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TZ Promo: "The Silence" (4/28/1961)

“The Silence” (4/28/1961)
Season Two, Episode 25 (61 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3658

Fifty years ago tonight, a most unusual challenge was thrown down… with devastating results for both men involved.

“The Silence,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Boris Sagal, concerns a rather simple (albeit highly unusual) wager that boils down to the following: if you shut up for a year, you’ll get half a million dollars.

Archie Taylor, an esteemed member of an exclusive gentleman's club (which looks a lot like the one Russell Johnson belonged to in “Back There”), is fed up with fellow member Jamie Tennyson’s constant yammering. Yammering doesn’t quite cover it. As we see in the episode’s prologue, Tennyson is an obnoxious bore of the worst kind. Worse, he has nothing of substance to say. Sound like anybody you know? (A pin drops somewhere nearby, while crickets chirp softly in the distance)

Tennyson is in financial straits, so he accepts Taylor’s wager. To keep Tennyson honest, Taylor has a glass enclosure built in the club’s basement, which will serve as Tennyson’s living quarters during his year of silence. And so we go from there.

It’s a pretty riveting story; however, it’s pretty atypical for The Twilight Zone. There’s no fantasy or science fiction element here and, while the ending is a bit horrific (no, I won’t reveal it), it’s completely within the realm of possibility. In short, this stuff could really happen. As such, “The Silence” feels more grounded than most episodes (the same can also be said of season three’s “The Shelter” and season five’s “The Jeopardy Room”). Perhaps this is why Marius Constant’s “Mileu #2” is played during the episode (in addition to its usual appearance during the closing credits)… you know, to remind people that they’re watching The Twilight Zone and not Alfred Hitchcock Presents (this was only done one other time in the entire series, in “A Thing About Machines”).

As Tennyson’s year of quiet isolation drags on, we are treated to the old cinema trick of showing timekeeping objects to indicate the passage of time (this approach was brilliantly parodied in the 1982 film Top Secret!, in which pages fly violently from a calendar, the result of a gust of wind coming in through an open window and not time rushing forward). The device is unfortunately overused here. We see ticking clocks. We see a calendar. We also see the names of months superimposed over the action (sheesh, hit us over the head, why don’tcha?). I should also note that the “honeycomb fog” effect used in the opening title sequences from the first two seasons is incorporated into these time-passing bits. Why? I dunno, maybe to remind us (again) which show we’re watching.

Franchot Tone is fine as Taylor, whom we initially sympathize with… but grow to hate as the story progresses and his capacity for cruelty unfolds. Liam Sullivan is appropriately repellant as Tennyson (he looks a bit like Cary Grant in a few shots; it’s probably the ascot). Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith from TV’s Lost in Space) makes his second TZ appearance as Tennyson’s lawyer and advisor, serving as the story’s de facto conscience.

All in all, “The Silence” is a worthwhile episode (it’s not in my Top 40, but it’s still quite good). And, like every other episode (except for the videotaped six), it looks absolutely stunning in high definition. If you haven’t started upgrading your collection to blu-ray, you’re really missing out (and no, I don’t work for Image Entertainment). The screen captures I use for this blog are pulled from the earlier Definitive Edition DVDs. I do have a blu-ray drive in my laptop, but so far I haven’t figured out how to do screen captures with it. Hopefully by the time season three starts up in September, I’ll be wowing you weekly with true high-def images.

Next week: “You’re bound to think it’s a dream; if not, you think it’s a nightmare.” One of my Top 10 favorite episodes of all time celebrates the big 5-0. Not to be missed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


This blog has changed since I started it. Or maybe I’ve changed. I dunno. When I first launched it, I published a couple of Twilight Zone-specific journal entries (or essays, or whatever) that I’d already written (in 2006 and early 2009, respectively). I anticipated writing quite a bit about the show, since it had been my favorite TV series for over 25 years and its 50th anniversary was looming large on my horizon. The intent of the blog was basically to create a single place to file said writings, and publishing them in blog form somehow endowed them with more weight than simply filing them away in a file folder on my computer. Or maybe it just looked nicer, I dunno. In any case, I started the blog for myself. If somebody else read it… well, okay.

It really was a blog in the beginning, an electronic version of a journal. The things I wrote about were personal and meaningful: the drama that unfolded as I tried to collect two sets of the entire run of The Twilight Zone Magazine. My excitement over the 50th anniversary of the show --- and the sobering realization that I had nobody to really share it with. The agony I felt waiting an entire week between each episode, as I undertook a five-year celebration of each episode’s 50th anniversary.

Things have a way of mutating. Maybe it’s just the nature of things, if the internet can be viewed as something that exists within nature.

I found myself reposting --- sometimes word for word --- official announcements about upcoming Twilight Zone merchandise. Who was I announcing this stuff to? I’d then post detailed reviews of the items I picked up, usually with copious amounts of pictures. I quickly realized that I wasn’t really journaling anymore. Things became very regimented: weekly episode spotlights, interspersed with product spotlights. I gradually stopped writing about my emotional connection with the series and focused instead on the cosmetic aspects of the blog. The heart was gone. Paradoxically, as the blog became less personal, more and more people started reading it. I started making connections with inside people. The damned thing has undeniably paid off… except it hasn’t cost me anything to produce, and I honestly wasn’t seeking any gain from it.

God knows I’m not complaining. But I can’t deny that I’d lost something in the transition to something less than a blip on the web and a counter that’s now about to pass 20,000 hits. I’ve stopped actually writing about my love of the show, and really examining the episodes (at least the important ones) on more than a cursory level. Maintaining the blog has become a chore, rather than something I look forward to working on. I think it really hit me recently when I had an idea for an entry, but abandoned it when I realized that I wouldn’t have any photos to pretty it up with.

The blog has become an episode guide-slash-product catalogue (complete with purchase links!). These things already exist, many times over. What void am I actually filling here?

It’s time for a change. It’s time to get back to my core mission. I’m in this for the long haul either way, but I’d prefer to enjoy this five-year ride I’ve put myself on. The weekly episode promos will continue (of course), but hopefully I’ll do more after-viewing reviews. The product spotlights/reviews will continue (of course). But I’ll attempt to augment the skeleton with muscle in the form of more personal entries. The title of the blog is, after all, MY LIFE In the Shadow of The Twilight Zone.

And by the way…. We’ve gone from 1,000 hits in February of last year to almost 20,000. That’s just wild. I want to thank those of you who obsessively devour every word, those of you check in regularly, and even those who only throw an occasional glance my way. I appreciate your time, and it really does mean a great deal to me that we share this love for The Twilight Zone. Keep reading, and keep commenting!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

TZ News Flash: Icons of The Twilight Zone bobblehead announced!

Here's something outta left field. I mean, like way out. But it's brilliant.

Bif Bang Pow! has unveiled an upcoming TZ bobblehead. It's not a recognizable person. It's not an alien, or a monster. It's not a doll, or even a supernatural object. It is indeed a bobblehead, but it doesn't really have a head at all.

Have a look at Bif Bang Pow!'s Icons of The Twilight Zone bobblehead.

This one celebrates the opening titles sequences used throughout the series' five-year run, particularly the most recognizable one used in seasons four and five. The doorway, the eyeball, the clock, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity are all here. Season three's spiral also makes an appearance. A flying saucer, which was never seen in an opening sequence but nevertheless appeared in many episodes, rounds out the elements. I should also note that three of the elements (okay, "icons") bobble!

This'll be a Comic Con exclusive, but those not attending can also pre-order it through Entertainment Earth.

Gotta have this. It's beautiful!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TZ Promo: “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” (4/21/1961)

“The Rip Van Winkle Caper” (4/21/1961)
Season Two, Episode 24 (60 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3655

Earlier in season two (“A Most Unusual Camera”), a band of thieves fell victim to greed and turned on one another, with deadly results. Despite its potential, it was one of the lamest episodes of the entire series. 50 years ago tonight, another band of thieves was similarly torn apart by greed, but this time Serling and company got it right. It’s one of my Top 40 favorites.

“The Rip Van Winkle Caper,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Justus Addiss, tells the tale of four master criminals whose combined talents result in the successful heist of a fortune in gold bullion. They hole up in a cave in the desert, where they’ll lie in wait until the case goes cold and they can emerge free… and very, very rich.

How long, you ask? About one hundred years. But how, you ask? Why, suspended animation, of course. Check out those cool glass coffins… um, I mean chambers. A similar device will appear in season five’s “The Long Morrow” (hell, it might be the same prop for all I know). We’ll get to it in… oh, about three years.

Anyway, our villains seal themselves up in the coffins (chambers, damn it!), which fill with an eerie chemical fog, and then… well, watch it. I’m not spoiling it. I will say that, in a way, it’s a nice thematic bookend to season one’s “I Shot an Arrow into the Air,” and not just because of the similar Death Valley locations. Speaking of which, spotlighting this episode gives me a chance to promote Twilight Zone: On Location 2010 again. It’s a great short film by Paul Giammarco, in which he tracks down the locations where “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” and other desert-set episodes were shot. Do check it out.

Oscar Beregi and Simon Oakland star, both of whom we’ll see again later in the series. Beregi comes back as a Nazi in season three’s brilliant “Death’s Head Revisited” and again as a German professor in season four’s “Mute.” Oakland, meanwhile, will pop up as a Navy captain in season four’s “The Thirty-Fathom Grave,” but genre fans will probably remember him best as the psychologist who matter-of-factly explains Norman Bates’ rather shocking condition at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Forbidden Planet alert! The futuristic car seen at the episode’s end is a leftover prop from MGM’s classic film, modified a bit but still recognizable. It’s amazing how often the show used Forbidden Planet props… I for one never get tired of seeing them. After a lifetime of relative indifference, it's slowly but surely become one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time.

“The Rip Van Winkle Caper” is one of eighteen episodes adapted into short story form by Serling for a trilogy of TZ paperbacks between 1960 and 1962 (Stories from The Twilight Zone, More Stories from The Twilight Zone, and New Stories from The Twilight Zone). I discovered all three of them one fateful afternoon at a drugstore in Canby, Oregon, during the summer of 1982, shortly after I first discovered the series in syndication. They were $1.95 each, and I bought all three. I hadn’t seen many episodes at that point, so most of the stories were new to me. “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” was one such story and, as I recall, it was one of my favorites. When I finally saw the episode some time later, I was similarly impressed. The books have been reprinted several times over the decades. I don't have my original copies of the books anymore... I have earlier vintage editions, similar to those pictured above (I couldn't even find pictures of my first copies on Google Images!). One of these days I'll spotlight each volume by itself.

Next week: Hush up, blabbermouth. Seriously, you’re driving us all crazy. Zip it, why don’tcha? No? Okay fine, I’ve got a little wager for you….

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oh, the shame.

I screwed up. Yeah, I know. Hard to believe, isn't it?

As my good friend (and reader of this blog) Bill Huelbig pointed out to me the other day, I incorrectly reported that Bill Mumy appeared in a total of two Twilight Zone episodes. It seems I'd completely forgotten about his appearance in season five's "In Praise of Pip." Given that this is one of my top 10 favorite episodes of all time, I'm feeling pretty sheepish.

So... I stand corrected. And humbled. The offending blog entry has been fixed.

Bill got Mr. Mumy's autograph a few years back:

Y'now, I would've kept my original pre-Definitive Edition TZ DVDs if mine had cool autographs on 'em...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

TZ Promo: “A Hundred Yards over the Rim” (4/07/1961)

“A Hundred Yards over the Rim” (4/07/1961)
Season Two, Episode 23 (59 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3654

His name is Christian Horn. He’s the leader of a ragged group of settlers on their way to a new life in the west. They’re out of water, Horn’s son rages with fever, and spirits are at an all-time low. Horn sets off on foot, rifle in hand, to explore what lies beyond a sand-covered hill nearby (“just over that rim there, about a hundred yards”). The year is 1847. When Horn comes down the other side, however, it’s 1961.

“A Hundred Yards over the Rim,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Buzz Kulik, first aired 50 years ago tonight. Generally regarded as one of the series’ finer offerings, it’s a simple story of a desperate man who, by processes unknown, finds himself in a future that makes almost no sense to him. The present-day folks he encounters are in a similar quandary: who is this guy, covered in sweat and dust and wearing a stovepipe hat in the desert? And why is his dental work so old fashioned….?

Cliff Robertson nails it as Christian Horn. He behaves and moves like a wounded animal, confused and utterly lost, an artifact displaced from everything he knows. He reminds us of Albert Salmi’s Joe Caswell from season one’s “Execution,” but with less menace. It’s a truly great performance, one of the best in the entire series.

The on-location shooting near Olancha, California (roughly 20 miles south of Lone Pine, where “King Nine will Not Return” was shot earlier this season) provides some absolutely breathtaking imagery. Check out the scene in which Horn encounters a highway, something completely alien to him. It’s just him and the road, and an endless desert all around. The sight of Horn, juxtaposed against modern pavement (Route 190, in this case), is one of the series’ indelible iconic images. And that scene in which a police cruiser chases Horn back up the rim (pictured right)? The wide open scenery just plain breathes. You really get an effective (and authentic) visual representation of those “wide open vistas” the old west promised newcomers. The production value achieved by the location shooting elevates an already-good episode to greatness.

The outskirts of Olancha are featured in a 2010 video montage showcasing various locations in and around Death Valley where select TZ episodes were filmed. Created by fellow fan (and fellow TZ music enthusiast) Paul Giammarco, Twilight Zone: Death Valley (linked above) is absolutely wonderful (and would’ve made a great bonus feature on the blu-ray). Incidentally, I scored (pun intended) copies of cue sheets for all 156 TZ episodes from Paul several years back. I thanked him then, and I’m thanking him again here.

A highlight of the episode is Fred Steiner’s exciting musical score. Employing a diverse collection of percussive instruments (including vibraphone, glockenspiel, tympani, and chimes) alongside piano and harp (and, fittingly, harmonica), the music propels the action and creates a tense, otherworldly mood. The harmonica keeps things genre-specific (this is, after all, essentially a western), but the rest of the diverse ensemble provides a nice off-kilter counterbalance.

Steiner in 2007.

Steiner’s first TZ score was “King Nine Will Not Return” earlier this season, and he’ll be back to score season three’s “The Passersby” (which, incidentally, is the best thing about that one; we’ll get to it in October). Steiner composed a total of 7 original scores for the series, but he isn’t typically mentioned alongside luminaries like Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith when TZ music is discussed. It’s a shame.

Next week: Season one’s “The Mighty Casey” gets repeated. The week after, another great time travel episode --- also shot near Olancha --- premieres. This one’s about four criminals and a master plan to pull off the ultimate heist…. which goes terribly awry. It’s pure gold, baby.