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….


Troy Thomas said...

Another cool episode. I always liked Simon Oakland as Vincenzo on "Kolchak: the Night Stalker," and I thought he was just as great here. Hell, he was great in every role he had, even playing under a bird mask (minus beak, thank God) in "The Outer Limits'" "Second Chance."

Jeffrey Talbot said...

I strongly consider Rod Serling to be anything but a "blabbermouth" as Mr. Serling was the charismatic kind of personality-intellect that one is openingly receptive and attentive toward.

Craig Beam said...

Troy: Yeah, I love Simon Oakland.

Jeffrey: I wasn't calling Serling a "blabbermouth." Dude, seriously?

Anonymous said...

This episode never worked for me. That gold would not still have significant value as, at least, an industrial metal was not believable.

An example of "Gratuitous Irony," irony for the sake of irony, twist ending for the sake of the twist ending. Bleah.


Anonymous said...

Not to mention that the suspended-animation technology would have been worth all the gold in Fort Knox.