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.

No comments: