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.





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