Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Big 4-2.

As far as I can tell, there are no new Twilight Zone greeting cards floating around. The usual suspects, Hallmark and American Greetings, haven't released anything this year. As my 42nd birthday reared its ugly head this past Sunday... well, leave it to my old pal Bill Huelbig to fill the gap.




My wife, um, didn't make me a special Twilight Zone cake this year (as she's done for the past two years). In fact, there was no TZ to be found anywhere as I hit the big 4-2. Thank you, Bill, for injecting some much-needed Twilight Zone (not to mention humor) into the proceedings. As always, I love ya.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rag Status, Fall 2011 Edition

Longtime readers (all 2 of you) will recall that, early on in the life of this blog, I was endeavoring to recollect all 61 issues of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine (60 regular issues and 1 special annual edition), which was published from 1981 to 1989 (I say recollect because at one time I had a complete set, which I sold off years ago in leaner times, probably the late 90's after my first divorce). I decided to go the extra mile and collect TWO sets (a "master archive" set in pristine or near-pristine condition, and a backup "utility" set for casual reading, as detailed here), but abruptly halted my efforts because of some, ahem, anger issues resulting from several last-minute eBay auction losses. At last count, my master archive set was missing a scant three issues, and my utility set was missing fourteen.

As of a few days ago, I acquired one of the final three issues for my master archive set... on eBay, but using a "Buy It Now" option (no bidding necessary). Ladies and gentlemen.... August 1983!

The coveted final two issues are April 1989 and August 1988:

I can't find a reasonably-priced copy of April 1989 without a subscription label, and August 1988 is just hard to find, period. I have multiple copies of both, but none in good enough condition to make the master archive. Alas, the search continues....

Thursday, November 24, 2011

TZ Promo: “Still Valley” (11/24/1961)

Season 3, Episode 11 (#76 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4808

50 years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone took us back in time 98 years (which I guess would be 148 years ago for our purposes). It’s 1963, the day before the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Confederacy is facing imminent defeat. A Confederate scout, Joseph Paradine, ventures into a small Virginia town to confirm Union occupation, and finds himself smack dab in the middle of…. “Elegy"???

Think Samantha had a copy of this book in her lingerie drawer?

Paradine finds a battalion of Union soldiers, lined up in formation in the middle of town. Trouble is… they’re frozen in place. A toothy old man, a Confederate sympathizer, claims responsibility: “I’m a witch-man, like my pappy before me. He was the seventh son of a seventh son, and I was his seventh son.” He produces a book of witchcraft titled, ridiculously enough, “Witchcraft” (we’ll see other such books throughout the series, and they’ll have better names; “The Bard” will give us the delightful Ye Book of Ye Black Art), and offers it to Paradine. With its power, the South can be victorious.

Cheer up, sourpuss.

Paradine is played by Gary Merrill, whom I know from 1961's Mysterious Island (which just came out on blu-ray in a limited edition from Twilight Time; I’m happy to own one of the 3,000 copies in existence; I’m a sucker for those wonderful Harryhausen films) and The Outer Limits (“The Human Factor”). He’s good enough as the grizzled Reb, made instantly uncomfortable by the prospect of using black magic, what with his God-fearin’ nature and all (funny, though, how an abhorrent practice like slavery seemed to jibe just fine with these secessionist’s Christianity). Playing Teague, the spell-casting old coot, is Vaughn Taylor, last seen in season one’s “Time Enough at Last” as Henry Bemis’ unsympathetic boss. We’ll see him again later this season, selling robotic grandmothers to lonely families, in “I Sing the Body Electric.”

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not Popeye's pappy.

We’ve seen large groups of people frozen in time before, in season one’s “Elegy,” and “Still Valley” suffers from the same inherent technical problem: namely, people absolutely cannot stand perfectly still. When Paradine makes his way through the frozen battalion of Union soldiers, you can see tiny movements everywhere. It’s particularly obvious in high definition, on a big screen. This issue plagued much of “Elegy”; thankfully only one short scene is affected here.

Ultimately, “Still Valley” is overly simplistic and easily forgotten. At best, it’s just mediocre. It’s certainly not on the same bottom-feeding level as “Mr. Bevis” or “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” but there’s nothing good or great to be found either. Watch it once and move on to something better… like next week’s episode.

Freeze right there, mister!


“Still Valley” features an original score by Wilbur Hatch. It does the job, but there’s really nothing particularly memorable about it. Like all other original scores composed and recorded for The Twilight Zone, Hatch’s score was added to the CBS Music Library, for use in both future TZ episodes and other CBS productions. None of Hatch’s ten cues were ever reused on the show. Like most (but maddeningly not all) of the series’ original scores, it can be found in isolated form on both the Definitive DVD and blu-ray editions of season three from Image Entertainment.

A crappy shot of Mr. Hatch, courtesy of Google Images.

Next week: More black magic, this time of the African variety. Hoodoo wanna voodoo?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

KTLA Thanksgiving Marathon 2011

Turkey Day is upon us, and you all know what that means: KTLA (Channel 5, Los Angeles) is doing their annual Twilight Zone Thanksgiving Day Marathon. Starting Thursday morning, they’ll be airing the following episodes:

9:00 "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You"
9:30 "People Are Alike All Over"
10:00 "The Trade-ins"
10:30 "Stopover in a Quiet Town"
11:00 "On Thursday We Leave for Home"
12:00 "The Lonely" (a top 20 favorite)
12:30 "The Invaders"
1:00 "The Odyssey of Flight 33"
1:30 "And When the Sky Was Opened" (a top 10 favorite)
2:00 "Valley of the Shadow"
3:00 "The Fugitive"
3:30 "Third From the Sun" (a top 10 favorite)
4:00 "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"
4:30 "The Long Morrow"
5:00 "To Serve Man" (a top 10 favorite)
5:30 "The Eye of the Beholder” (a top 20 favorite)

KTLA is airing 16 episodes this year: 14 half-hour episodes and 2 hour-long episodes (last year’s schedule consisted of all half-hours). 5 of those 16 are top 20 favorites of mine, and 3 of ‘em are also in my top 10. Last year’s stats were a bit better, but this year’s lineup is no slouch. Happily, there are no turkeys in the bunch! No Dingle, no Bevis, no Harvey Hunnicut, no Oliver Crangle… sublime.

I don’t live in Los Angeles, so I don’t get KTLA, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be watching the marathon (commercials? Syndication cuts? Bah!). However, I still support such endeavors because, well, how else will The Twilight Zone find new fans? That newfangled internet thingamajig? Ha!

It would be nice if we could get some cross-promotion thing going with Bif Bang Pow! I for one would love to see some commercials for their action figures and bobbleheads…. Oh, and speaking of which… well, stay tuned. Got a bit of an announcement coming up…

Thursday, November 17, 2011

TZ Promo: “The Midnight Sun” (11/17/1961)

Season 3, Episode 10 (#75 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4818

50 years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone offered yet another glimpse of the end of the world. It wasn’t a nuclear war, or a worldwide plague, or even a planet-wide uncreation courtesy of Anthony Fremont. No, this was something new.

“The Midnight Sun,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Anton Leader, finds the earth losing its celestial bearings and settling into a collision course with the sun. Predictably, society disintegrates quickly as people prepare for a fiery end. Our story focuses on one woman, an artist named Norma, who opts to wait it out in her high rise apartment.

Ms. Nettleton, sweatin' to the oldies.

Lois Nettleton is fine in the lead; unfortunately, her efforts are undermined by the terrible acting by everyone else. Most offensive is Betty Garde, who is awkward and grating as Norma’s landlady and friend to the end (her death scene is embarrassingly bad). Even the radio announcer, who loses his cool live on the air, is completely unconvincing.

100% pure ham. Pre-cooked for your convenience.

What does work, besides Nettleton’s performance and Serling’s script, is the clever way in which the oppressive heat is depicted. Aside from the usual spray-on sweat and drenched clothing, special effects are employed to drive the point home: a mercury thermometer explodes before our eyes, and Norma’s oil paintings melt right off their canvases.

I'll stop the world and melt with you.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

And that twist ending ---- pure genius. The following picture is as close to a spoiler as you're getting outta me.

I’ve historically counted “The Midnight Sun” in my top ten favorites, but I’m not feeling quite as warmly toward it these days (har har). It’s definitely got a lot to offer, but when truly great episodes like “The Lonely” and “Mirror Image" (not to mention “Eye of the Beholder"!) are rated LOWER on my list…. yeah, it might be time for some further revisions.


“The Midnight Sun” is one of six season three episodes adapted into short story form by Rod Serling in New Stories from The Twilight Zone (the third in a trilogy of such books). As previously recounted, I acquired these paperback gems shortly after discovering the series in the early 80’s, so in several instances I read the after-the-fact story version before I ever saw the actual episode. “The Midnight Sun” is one such case.


Nathan Van Cleave (year unknown).

“The Midnight Sun” is graced with an excellent original score by Nathan Van Cleave. Employing a small five-piece ensemble (bass flute, two organs and two pianos), Van Cleave creates an eerie dread-tinged soundscape that gradually builds to a near-frenzy as the sun finally overtakes the earth (or, at least, appears to). Like many excellent TZ scores, “The Midnight Sun” has never been released on vinyl, tape or CD… but it CAN be acquired, thanks to the isolated music track Image Entertainment included in both the season three Definitive Edition DVD and blu-ray sets. It’s on my iPod, playing as I type this.

Next week: Nothing says Thanksgiving like… black magic?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

TZ Promo: “Deaths-head Revisited” (11/10/1961)

Season 3, Episode 9 (#74 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4804

Two weeks ago, The Twilight Zone gave us a goosebumps-inducing tale involving a vengeful ghost. Tonight, we celebrate the 50th birthday of a different kind of ghost story. However, this time we’ll see more justice than vengeance.

“Deaths-head Revisited,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Don Medford, introduces us to one of the Zone’s most deplorable characters: Captain Gunther Lutze, a former Nazi officer who has the unbelievable gall to visit the ruins of a concentration camp to indulge his nostalgia (does this make him Martin Sloan's evil counterpart?). Playing Lutze is Oscar Beregi (last seen in season two’s “The Rip Van Winkle Caper." He’ll appear again in season four’s “Mute”), and it’s a spot-on performance. He manages to create a vivid portrayal of an arrogant, wicked bastard without even an ounce of scenery chewing.

We are also introduced to one of The Twilight Zone’s most compelling and sympathetic characters: Arnold Becker, a concentration camp ghost, played with convincing frailty (tinged with righteous anger) by Joseph Schildkraut (probably best remembered as Anne Frank’s father in 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank). He'll appear again later this season in another outstanding episode, “The Trade-Ins.”

The two play off one another marvelously. The characters are clearly archetypal, meant to embody larger collectives, but both are nuanced enough that we invest in them as individuals (by contrast, a similar exercise in season five’s “The Encounter” won’t be as successful because those characters are more stereotype than archetype). The whole affair is a bit of a loaded argument, of course: Nazi versus Jew. Who will prevail, especially in a cosmic justice-oriented universe like The Twilight Zone? The episode manages to avoid coming off as a black and white argument for human rights, thanks to the aforementioned performances, plus a great Serling script. Mention should also be made of Medford’s directing… there are several shots that elevate the episode above the standard “talking head” TV approach (the dizzy POV shot with Lutze staring up the somber Dachau ghosts is quite nice). The episode looks particularly glorious on a big screen in high definition (thanks to Samsung and Image Entertainment for making this possible in my living room).

It’s not much of a spoiler to note that Lutze gets exactly what’s coming to him in the end. Watching Becker maneuvering him toward his unfortunate destiny…. well, that’s the fun. Odd using a word like “fun” in reference to such a deadly serious episode, which deals with such deadly serious themes, but there you go. “Deaths-head Revisited” is another one of those episodes in which everything works beautifully, and it’s one of my top 20 favorites.


“Deaths-head Revisited” is another stock-scored episode, which means existing cues from the CBS Music Library were re-purposed (versus commissioning a new, original score). The dominant cue, which appears throughout the episode, is called “Mysterious Storm” by Jerry Goldsmith. This cue, along with lots of other early Goldsmith TV work, can be found on Jerry Goldsmith: The Early Years from Prometheus Records.

Of course, "Mysterious Storm" (along with the rest of the music used in the episode) can also be accessed in isolated form on both the Definitive Edition DVD and more recent blu-ray release of season three from Image Entertainment. Folks, I'm gonna keep plugging these blu-rays till every last one of you caves in and buys 'em.

Next week: Damn, is it hot in here, or what? Hoo-boy!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bill, That's a REAL Good Thing You Did... (2011 Edition)

My good friend Bill Huelbig celebrated his 57th birthday three days ago. I, um, completely spaced it this year. Yeah, I'm a pretty lame friend. To make matters worse, Bill sent ME an early birthday gift.

An attached note reads: "Happy (early) Birthday! This will inspire you when making next year's costume." Trust me, Bill.... it definitely has.

Richard Kiel, who played the various Kanamits in "To Serve Man," is probably best known as the metal-toothed villain Jaws from the James Bond films. More recently, he appeared in Happy Gilmore as Adam Sandler's ex-boss (and nemesis of golf pro Shooter McGavin). Bill met Kiel last month at the Chiller Theater Toy, Model & Film Expo. Hilarity ensued:

As reported earlier, Bill acquired Kevin McCarthy's autograph for me several years back. Bill's generosity has reared its beautiful head multiple times throughout our friendship, and I doubt I'll ever be able to repay him for all the cool things he's sent my way. But more importantly, he's a kind soul, a genuine sweetheart, and a real mensch.

Bill and I met through the Talking Herrmann forum at the Bernard Herrmann Web Pages (now known as the Society for the Appreciation of the Music of Bernard Herrmann). My Herrmann obsession was in its early stages, but Bill was a fan from way back. He sent me several compilation tapes of Herrmann's work, both well-known and esoteric, and focused my interest into a lifelong passion.

Bill, who lives across the county in New Jersey, came to Oregon for a visit.... in 2000, I think it was. I took him to Powell's Books, where he bought me a copy of Stephen C. Smith's excellent biography of Herrmann (A Heart at Fire's Center). That's the only time I've ever seen him in person, and it kills me to report that we didn't get a single picture together. He was in Seattle a few weeks back, a mere 185 miles away, and I wasn't able to meet up with him due to family commitments. I'm hoping to make it back east sometime in the next couple of years. Mark my words, when it finally happens, I WILL get a picture of the two of us.

Happy late birthday, Bill. I love you, my friend.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

TZ Promo: "It's a Good Life" (11/03/1961)

Season 3, Episode 8 (#73 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4801

Fifty years ago tonight, the entire world disappeared, save for one little town in Ohio. How? Why? Well, if we must assign blame, we must gaze down at a six year-old boy, who might just wish us away into a cornfield for bothering him.

“It’s a Good Life,” adapted by Rod Serling from a short story by Jerome Bixby, is one of the best offerings in the series’ five-year run (it’s in my top 20 favorites). Anthony Freemont, well played by Billy Mumy (in the second of his three TZ appearances, before he gained fame as Lost in Space’s Will Robinson), appears to be a normal kid. Well, guess what? He’s ANYTHING but normal. He has mental abilities that border on the godlike. As Serling tells us, he wished away the entire world, except for his hometown of Peaksville, Ohio. He can create hideous creatures (a three-headed gopher, for example) or transform people into…. well, other things. He can also read minds, so you’re never really safe.

The performances, particularly those of John Larch (the psychiatrist in season one’s “Perchance to Dream”) and Don Keefer as the unfortunate Dan Hollis, are uniformly excellent. This is a collective of people who live moment-to-moment in a prolonged state of teeth-clenching fear. At any moment, they might say or do (or think) the wrong thing, thereby incurring Anthony’s devastating wrath. It’s like the denizens of Orwell’s 1984, trying not to commit thoughtcrime, teetering ever closer to the bleeding edge. These folks are borderline hysterical, every waking moment. We can only assume Anthony can’t read their dreams, or perhaps they’ve trained themselves to dream only happy, safe dreams.

I like the suspended-terror aspect of this episode. Nothing really changes or gets resolved… we merely spend 25 minutes in this horrific world. There’s no comeuppance for Anthony, and no relief for his victims. There are no character arcs to speak of (unless you count Dan Hollis’s drunken standoff with Anthony, which we presume has been building for years)… funny, I complained about this sort of static storytelling approach with regards to last season’s “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” but here I’m not complaining at all. The only event that could really shake things up would be for one of the adults to, in the words of Dan Hollis, “lay something heavy across (Anthony’s) skull.” But then you’ve got a child getting bludgeoned to death on national TV (in 1961!), so I can kinda see why they didn’t go that route.

But don’t get the wrong idea ---- this episode certainly isn’t soft or sanitized, particularly when you start thinking about bigger-picture issues. Anthony doesn’t just separate the townsfolk from the rest of society… he basically uncreates THE ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD. Real life is precarious enough (random acts of violence, catastrophic so-called acts of God, etc) but here we have a planet with billions of inhabitants suddenly blasted into nonexistence with a simple thought from a child’s mind? Every evolutionary leap forward, every advance in technology… gone in a microsecond. It kinda renders everything --- and I mean EVERYTHING --- pretty moot, doesn’t it? This is either chaos theory on steroids or a universe ruled by a malevolent deity. Along those lines…. could Anthony Fremont be from the Q Continuum? Wait, wrong show.


During Dan Hollis's ill-fated confrontation with Anthony, a very noticeable tendril of drool escapes from his mouth. This is either great acting or an embarrassing mistake. Either way, slobber on, Big Dan!


Jeremy Licht (whoever that is) as 1983's Anthony. Yeah, whatever.

“It’s a Good Life,” along with three other TZ episodes, was remade as part of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie. It, well… wasn’t pretty (only season five’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” was treated well in that particular enterprise). Don’t get me wrong… the film isn’t as bad as, say, the 2002-2003 UPN series… it’s just misguided. The sensibilities are off somehow. It feels more like a feature-length episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories than The Twilight Zone that we know and love. Oh, and speaking of the UPN series….

A sequel (“It’s Still a Good Life”) was produced in 2003 for the UPN series, starring Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman reprising their roles from the 1961 original. It’s actually not a bad effort, and it’s nice to drop in on these poor unfortunate souls once again. Anthony is a middle-aged adult, and he’s raising a daughter (guess he wished his wife away at some point… you know, speaking of that, I kinda wish ---- wait, honey, put down that frying pan!). Minor spoiler alert: this new story isn’t static at all. Things change dramatically for all concerned. It makes a nice bookend to the original. Watch 'em back to back.... I will be, as I view the original tonight, on it's 50th anniversary.

Calvin & Hobbes fans will likely enjoy the following gem, which draws a pretty convincing parallel between Anthony and the rambunctious Calvin. It's not an actual C&H work by strip creator Bill Watterson, but it's great nevertheless. Click on it to see it full size:

And of course, who can forget the nod to "It's a Good Life" on The Simpsons? The parody was part of the third season's Treehouse of Horror II episode. Bart Simpson as Anthony? Yeah, I can kinda see it.


The music in “It's a Good Life” is sourced from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the CBS Radio Workshop’s 1956 adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” This score (like much of Herrmann’s radio work) was subsequently added to the CBS Music Library, and its various cues found their way into several TZ episodes. The score was released on vinyl in the early 80s by Cerberus Records (Bernard Herrmann: Music for Radio and Television), and on CD in 2003 by Prometheus (Bernard Herrmann: The CBS Years Volume 2: American Gothic).

Next week: What did the Jew say to the Nazi? “Payback’s a bitch.” Okay, bad joke… but GREAT episode. Don’t miss it.