Thursday, May 26, 2011

TZ Promo: “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (5/26/1961)

“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (5/26/1961)
Season Two, Episode 28 (64 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3660

I’ve observed many times that Rod Serling couldn’t write comedy. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but most of the time his attempts at lighter material fell flat. 50 years ago tonight, he gave us one of the exceptions.

“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” is a tongue-in-cheek variation on the classic British mystery story in which a wanted criminal is hiding in plain sight in a room full of innocents. The detective, using the process of elimination and his own power of deductive reasoning, ferrets the culprit out and solves the crime. The detective here is represented by a pair of state troopers. They’re following tracks in the snow that originate at the site of a crashed flying saucer and lead to… a diner.

There are nine people inside this diner. One of them isn’t who they appear. Commence mystery.

The comedy comes mostly from the increasing tension among the suspects, a wacky old man in particular. Serling keeps things light partly by avoiding the obvious questions: why is the alien being hunted at all? Has he (or it) done anything wrong? Why do we always assume the worst of that which we don’t understand? Serling will tackle the theme of xenophobia again, in season three’s “The Gift” and season five’s “The Fear.” His effort here is by far the superior of the three, surprisingly enough.

John Hoyt (last seen in “The Lateness of the Hour”) and Barney Phillips (last seen in “A Thing About Machines”) are delightful as always. Bif Bang Pow! is about to release an action figure based on Phillips’ character. I can’t really show him without risking a spoiler, but… well…. okay, screw it.

Product placement alert! During season 2 of the series, Serling did plugs for Oasis Cigarettes, a product of sponsor Liggett & Myers (these plugs usually appeared right before the end credits, and they are happily preserved on the blu-rays). At the climax, a certain character pulls out a pack of smokes…. which just happen to be Oasis. It seems Martians really dig the cigarette with “the softest taste of all.”

Oh man, there’s another spoiler. Sometimes it really can’t be helped.

Next week: Season two ends on a high note (the best season finale of the series’ five years). Burgess Meredith redeems himself after the awful “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” with one of the greatest performances of his career. He’s a librarian, in a future society where books have been outlawed, and he’s just been found…. ob-so-lete. Not to be missed.

Friday, May 13, 2011

TZ Favorites: A Minor Mutation.

Back on 11/03/2009, I wrote the following: “A few months back, I compiled a list of my top 40 all-time favorites. This list is not set in stone; in fact, as I endeavor to re-watch the entire series over the next five years (viewing each episode on its 50th anniversary), my preferences will almost certainly change.”

The combined experience of re-watching each episode and writing this blog has indeed changed my preferences, though probably not as extremely as I might have thought (with one major exception; see below). Additionally, I’m only two seasons into the project (well, almost), so things will likely change even more over the next three years. However, as of today, the following are my Top 20 favorite episodes. Top 10 favorites are in all caps. Notes and thoughts follow.

Season 1:
Walking Distance
The Lonely
Mirror Image
Long Live Walter Jameson
The After Hours

Season 2:
The Eye of the Beholder

Season 3:
It’s a Good Life
Death’s-Head Revisited

Season 4:
In His Image

Season 5:
In Praise of Pip

First off, let me say that it’s MUCH harder to narrow the list down to 20 (versus 40, which I did last time… I may go back to 40 next time I do this). Harder still was choosing 10 favorites from the final 20. I’m still not 100% comfortable with the list, but close. Let’s say 93% and move on.

The most monumental change concerns “Long Live Walter Jameson.” For years I’ve counted it as my all-time favorite, but for some reason I’m less enamored of it these days. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it (and it’s still in my top 20), but… well, tastes change. I knew going in that this was possible (see above), but for my #1 episode to drop clear out of the top 10? Talk about a fall from grace.

“The After Hours,” which was erroneously omitted entirely from the previous list, now resides in the lower half of the top 20. It’s not quite top 10 material right now, but who knows? I really dug it when I re-watched it recently (on 3/17/11, the 50th anniversary of its original repeat telecast). Who knows what the future holds? A really cool Marsha the Mannequin action figure from Bif Bang Pow! might be all it takes to push it up into the top 10.

Look at how much the list skews toward season 1. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: episode for episode, ounce for ounce, season 1 is BY FAR the best season of the series. Of course every season has its gems, but season 1 is practically uniform in its brilliance. If it weren't for that goddamned "Mr. Bevis"....

Three episodes have asserted themselves sufficiently in my mind (or heart, or both, or whatever makes us compose favorites lists) to achieve top 10 status. They are “Third from the Sun,” “The Obsolete Man,” and “To Serve Man.” Welcome to greatness, you three.

Sadly, this means that three episodes had to drop out of the top 10 to make room. These are “In His Image,” “In Praise of Pip,” and the aforementioned “Long Live Walter Jameson.” All three are still in the top 20, so I clearly still think very highly of them. No tears. And who knows? Again, I have no doubt that this list will change in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

TZ Promo: “The Mind and the Matter” (5/12/1961)

“The Mind and the Matter” (5/12/1961)
Season Two, Episode 27 (63 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3659

Rod Serling will forever be remembered as a dramatist of distinction. His greatest works stand among the best that television has ever offered. The Velvet Alley. Patterns. Requiem for a Heavyweight. “Walking Distance.” “The Eye of the Beholder.” The list goes on. Upon cursory examination, his body of work is staggering in its radiant brilliance. However, the guy was human. He worked himself ragged which, coupled with his relentless chain smoking, killed him at the tender age of 50. He took on way too many commitments and, as a result, sometimes turned in work that was beneath him. When examining his body of work with a more critical eye, it’s impossible to deny that some of his stuff, for lack of a better work, stunk. 50 years ago tonight, one of his lesser literary children debuted.

“The Mind and the Matter,” written by Serling and directed by Buzz Kulik, doesn’t quite descend to the depths of past stillbirths “Mr. Bevis” or “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” but it’s still pretty bad. To sum up: guy hates people. Guy is given a New Age book on mind control, which actually works. Guy makes humanity disappear. Guy gets lonely and repopulates the earth with duplicates of himself. Guy realizes what an ass he really is. Guy puts everything right.

That’s it. Do we care? No. Are we glad when it’s over? Hell YES. Funnyman Shelley Berman tries to make it work, but Serling’s script is just limp. The only interesting sequence -- -when our dubious hero surrounds himself with copies of himself --- is ruined by bad makeup effects (probably the only failure in William Tuttle’s illustrious career… this guy created the makeup for The Time Machine’s Morlocks, fer chrissakes).

Jack Grinnage, playing the sap who spills coffee on our hero and gives him the mystical magical book as an apology of sorts, is shockingly annoying. According to, Grinnage turned down a role in Forbidden Planet (thankfully!). It’s pretty thin, but I’m counting is as a Twilight Zone-Forbidden Planet connection.

Berman, meanwhile, has had quite a career as a comedian and actor. He’s still active today, probably most recognizably from his recurring role as Judge Sanders on the late Boston Legal, which starred… William Shatner. There’s your Shatner connection.

Shelley Berman today.

The Twilight Zone
does have its share of successfully comedies. Unfortunately, they’re usually written by people other than Serling. I wonder what George Clayton Johnson would’ve done with this story…? Serling will give us a much more interesting enchanted book --- Ye Book of Ye Black Art --- in a much funnier outing called “The Bard” near the end of season 4. We’ll get to that one in a couple of years.

Two weeks from tonight: Another Serling comedy. But wait! This one doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s quite good. Count your eyeballs and tune in.

Friday, May 6, 2011

TZ News Flash: William Shatner action figure!!!!!!

Bif Bang Pow! has announced another Comic Con exclusive to flank their already-announced Icons of The Twilight Zone bobblehead, and this one's a doozy.

William Shatner. The Shat. Captain James T. Kirk. T.J. Hooker. Denny Crane. And, for our purposes here, Don Carter from season two's "Nick of Time" and, more famously, Bob Wilson from season five's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Bif Bang Pow! has already given us a bobblehead of the diabolical Mystic Seer fortune-telling machine from "Nick of Time" (and will be bringing us a fully-functioning life-size replica later this year), plus they gave us The Gremlin from "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" in both action figure and bobblehead form. Shatner is the link between these two episodes. And now, the circle will be complete.

Okay, so one action figure, two distinct outfits with accessories (if there was ever a reason to buy two of something, this is it!). Shatner himself approved the head sculpt, so you just know it'll rock (it's hard to judge it without some multiple-angle closeups). And just look at that adorable little Mystic Seer! This gives me hope that maybe we'll get an Agnes Moorhead figure with tiny little Invaders....

LOVE the box! Man.... Bif Bang Pow! is really stepping up the Comic Con exclusives this year....

Wanna pre-order it? Go here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

TZ Promo: “Shadow Play” (5/05/1961)

“Shadow Play” (5/05/1961)
Season Two, Episode 26 (62 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3657

We’ve all been there. Things go horribly awry, and we feel the bottom drop out from beneath our feet, either by our own folly or by external influence. Our tiny human brains throb, perhaps only for a moment, with a fervent hope that what we’re experiencing is simply a dream or, more appropriately, a nightmare. It seems possible enough, especially given that, no matter how bizarre or senseless our dreams are, they seem to make perfect sense while we’re having them. For those slumbering hours, our dreams are the only reality we are conscious of. To confine our worst case scenarios to the dream world is a perfectly reasonable desire, from a self-preservation standpoint.

“Shadow Play,” written by Charles Beaumont and directed by John Brahm, asks the age-old question: which is more real, our day-to-day reality or the life we live in dreams? Beaumont’s own “Perchance to Dream” from season one touched on this concept, but here it’s explored head on and in much more depth. The entire episode, and every one in it, may very well be one long dream.

Dennis Weaver is engaging and intense as Adam Grant, a man sentenced to death by electrocution. We watch the verdict being announced. We hear the sentencing. We meet the key players. Grant steadfastly claims that none of what we’re seeing is actually happening; it’s all simply a recurring nightmare he’s having. And if they fry him… well, he’ll wake up, and everyone in his dream will cease to exist. Sounds crazy… but damn, he seems to really believe it. As the time of his execution draws near (midnight, of course), those around him begin to suspect, for various reasons, that he may in fact be right.

So you’ve got that tried and true race-against-the-clock-call-the-governor-before-they-flip-the-switch plot device propelling things. You’ve got fine performances, particularly from Weaver and Harry Townes as the cranky DA (Townes was a pretty regular face on TV in the 50’s and 60’s, particularly on Gunsmoke and The Fugitive). You’ve got a top notch script from Charles Beaumont, plus great camerawork from George T. Clemens (heavy on the tilted angles and shadowy lighting, particularly in the opening and closing courtroom scenes). John Brahm, who directed more TZ episodes than any other director, holds it all together beautifully. There’s nothing wrong here. This is top notch Zone, and it sits comfortably within my top 10 all-time favorites.

CBS revived The Twilight Zone in 1985 with a one-hour, multiple-story format. The series offered mostly new tales, with occasional remakes of classic TZs. “Shadow Play” was one of the episodes remade. As I recall, it doesn’t deviate much from Beaumont’s script, except for some business about Grant having a sister. It’s probably the single best remake, but that’s really not saying much (the other remakes included “Night of the Meek,” “Dead Man’s Shoes,” and “The After Hours,” and none of them are worthwhile). The TZ revival worked best when they ignored the lofty heights of the original and focused on new stuff (“Profile in Silver,” “Nightcrawlers,” and “The Once and Future King” are just a few examples of the new crew getting it right). You know, I should probably spotlight the ‘80s series at some point….

Peter Coyote in the remake. You, sir, are no Dennis Weaver.

Next week, Shelly Berman visits The Twilight Zone. Rod tries to be funny again. It, um… doesn’t quite work out.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

TZ News Flash: Twilight Zone Season Five Blu-ray Announced!

The fifth and final season of The Twilight Zone has just been announced for release on blu-ray. It's coming August 30. Here's the scoop, shamelessly copied from Image Entertainment's website:

Synopsis: All 36 episodes of the fifth and final season of Rod Serling’s classic, groundbreaking series, now presented in pristine high-definition for the first time ever, along with hours of new and exclusive bonus features not available anywhere else!


• 20 New Audio Commentaries, featuring The Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree, author/film historian Gary Gerani (Fantastic Television), Twilight Zone directors Ted Post, Richard Donner and Robert Butler, writer Earl Hamner, actors George Takei and Peter Mark Richman, author/historian Martin Grams, Jr. (The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic), authors/historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton (Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour), author Bill Warren (Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties), writer Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Coraline), writer/director Michael Nankin (Battlestar Galactica, CSI) and radio host George Noory (Coast to Coast AM).

• Conversations with Rod Serling

• Vintage Audio Interview with director of photography George T. Clemens

• 22 Radio Dramas featuring Louis Gossett, Jr., Adam Baldwin, Peter Mark Richman, Beverly Garland, Adam West, Bill Erwin, Luke Perry, Mariette Hartley, Ed Begley, Jr., Kate Jackson, Mike Starr, Stan Freberg, Jason Alexander, Jane Seymour, James Keach and Karen Black


• Audio Commentaries by Bill Mumy (In Praise of Pip), Mickey Rooney (The Last Night of a Jockey), June Foray (Living Doll), Mariette Hartley (The Long Morrow), Marc Scott Zicree (Number 12 Looks Just Like You), Alan Sues (The Masks) and Martin Landau (The Jeopardy Room)

• Video Interviews with Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, Earl Hamner, Bill Mumy, June Foray, Carolyn Kearney, Michael Forest, Nancy Malone and Terry Becker

• Isolated Music Scores featuring the legendary Bernard Herrmann, Van Cleave and Rene Garriguenc

The Mike Wallace Interview (September 1959)

• Netherlands Sales Pitch

• Excerpt from Rod Serling's Sherwood Oaks Experimental College Lecture

• Alfred Hitchcock Promo

• Rare George Clayton Johnson Home Movies

• Rod Serling Promos for "Next Week's" Show

Twilight Zone Season 5 Billboards

• And much more!

Initial thoughts:

OH MY GOD, they carried over the Mickey Rooney commentary track from the DVD set. If you haven't heard it.... well, you're in for a bizarre and uncomfortable experience.

The blu-ray editions of seasons 1 and 2 feature isolated music tracks for most of the episodes. Seasons 3 and 4, meanwhile, feature isolated music tracks for EVERY episode (in fact, their respective press releases make a point of mentioning this). For season five... well, we don't know, do we? It's pretty vague this time around. The Definitive Edition DVD release of season 5 had a paltry 10 isolated scores (out of 36 episodes), so color me concerned. I'll continue to hope that the scores NOT offered last time (the five originals in particular, which include two by Nathan Van Cleave) won't be MIA.

The Definitive Edition DVD set for season five featured an awesome bonus disc ---- Submitted for Your Approval, the feature-length American Masters documentary on Rod Serling. It isn't mentioned anywhere in the blu-ray press release, so until we're told otherwise, we should probably assume it's NOT included.... which is a real shame. Maybe Image couldn't get their hands on a high-definition master, I dunno. I'd argue that it should still be included regardless, even in standard definition. It's a really great documentary.

The color scheme this time is yellow. Or is it gold? Brown? Sepia? In any case, it's better than season 4's ridiculous purple. I'm a bit disappointed that they went with the door for the graphic icon. I was hoping for the eyeball...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Milestone: 20,000 hits!

In February of last year, I reported that this little blog had reached 1,000 hits. Now, a scant 15 months later, it's passed 20,000.

20,000. Wow.

I was actually keeping a pretty close eye on it over the weekend... I was hoping to get a screen grab when it hit 20,000, but then we took an impromptu trip to the coast on Sunday, so I missed it. And yes, in case you were wondering, I got sunburned.

Anyway ---- not bragging. Just very grateful that people are reading (and presumably enjoying) this blog. This milestone is because of YOU. So... thanks!