Thursday, September 29, 2011

TZ Promo: "The Shelter" (9/29/1961)



Season 3, Episode 3 (#68 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4803


Fifty years ago tonight, a jolly (i.e. alcohol-fueled) birthday party was interrupted by an emergency radio announcement: unidentified objects, presumably enemy missiles, have been spotted heading toward the US. Sheesh, talk about a buzzkill.


“The Shelter,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Lamont Johnson, has all the hallmarks of a classic Serling script: crisis (the possibility of a nuclear attack), moral dilemma (only one family on the block has a bomb shelter), and a preachy indictment of man’s tendency to act badly in the face of adversity (the rest of the neighborhood wants access to the bomb shelter, and isn’t interested in taking no for an answer). What’s missing? Well, there’s virtually zero supernatural or fantasy trappings (in fact, this is the third straight TZ episode that lacks an overt divergence from reality), but that’s not an automatic deal breaker.


What is a deal breaker, however, is the fact that Serling already told this same story, back in season one’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” The unseen menace there was a presumed alien invasion, but the basic story --- in which neighbors turn on one another --- is essentially the same. As with last week’s “The Arrival,” Serling’s idea well seems to have run dry, so he’s pilfering earlier episodes for ideas. It’s a disappointing trend that will continue throughout the rest of the series. Great, even brilliant Serling-penned episodes are still to come, but consistent quality is no longer guaranteed. The glory days of the first two seasons are clearly over.


Having said all of that, “The Shelter” is by no means terrible. It’s just… stale. Predictable. Maybe it was more shocking and relevant in 1961, given the political climate. My mom remembers lying awake at night when she was young, scared half out of her mind that Russia could launch its missiles at any time. Even as late as my own childhood in the 70’s and early 80’s, all-out nuclear war was a real and vivid possibility. Remember that 80’s TV movie The Day After? I was in 7th grade when it aired, and let me tell ya, that thing scared the shit out of me. Fast forward 30 years: how often does the concept of World War III even cross our minds? The world is a different place now. My kids, who are now transitioning into adulthood, have never lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust. The more plausible threat to their way of life? A complete economic collapse, followed by worldwide Chinese rule.


“The Shelter” sports two familiar TZ faces: Sandy Kenyon (who we last saw in season two’s “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” and who we’ll see again in season four’s “Valley of the Shadow”) and Jack Albertson (who will appear --- and reappear --- as the titular genie in season four’s “I Dream of Genie”). Albertson is better known as Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, not to mention “The Man” himself on TV’s Chico and the Man.



THE MUSIC

“The Shelter” does not feature an original musical score; rather, existing cues were selected by the series’ musical director Lud Gluskin from the vast CBS Music Library (this practice is commonly referred to as “stock scoring”). Most stock-scored episodes feature cues by various composers from various sources; however, almost every cue heard in “The Shelter” was composed by Robert Drasnin from a suite called, simply, “Serling.”

Drasnin in 1998.

Drasnin is also responsible for one of my all-time favorite exotica LPs, 1959’s Voodoo: Exotic Music from Polynesia and the Far East (he recorded a follow up in 2007, Voodoo II, which is equally wonderful). Drasnin isn’t typically named among exotica luminaries like Les Baxter and Martin Denny, presumably because of his relatively slim contribution to the genre, but what he did give us is simply marvelous. As of this writing, only the first Voodoo volume is available on iTunes, but both are readily available from Amazon.com. I highly recommend both of 'em. For more information on Mr. Drasnin, go here.



AH, MEMORIES

Flashback to 1983: my 7th grade literature teacher, Mike Nygren, gave us an intriguing assignment: create a radio play based on an existing literary work. Having recently discovered The Twilight Zone, I immediately hit upon the idea of adapting an episode. I hadn’t seen “The Shelter” at that point, but I had read Serling’s short story version in his New Stories from The Twilight Zone paperback. The dialogue-heavy story seemed well suited to radio, so I condensed the story into a ten-minute script. My group for the assignment consisted of myself and my friends Donovan Littlejohn and Ignacio Palacios (both of whom I'm still in touch with). We recorded the script using my old Radio Shack tape recorder, and we even included Marius Constant's classic TZ theme (taped directly from a syndication airing on KPTV-12; I tape recorded many episodes before my parents finally gave in to my impassioned pleas and bought a VCR). We got an A for our efforts, as I recall. Damn, I’d love to hear that recording again. I don’t recall if Mr. Nygren kept it, or if maybe I ended up with it afterwards, but either way, I’m pretty sure that cassette is deep inside a landfill by now. Shame. If by some crazy twist of fate I find it, I'll upload it for your listening pleasure (torture?).


Next week: Scarlet O’Hara meets Nicole Kidman. Don’t worry, it’ll make more sense in context.



Thursday, September 22, 2011

TZ Promo: "The Arrival" (9/22/1961)



Season 3, Episode 2 (#67 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4814

If you see an airplane on The Twilight Zone, something bad --- or at least, something strange --- is probably about to happen. We’ve already seen two planes get lost in time (“The Last Flight” and “The Odyssey of Flight 33”), one crash land in the desert (“King Nine Will Not Return”) and another one explode on takeoff (“Twenty Two”). And goodness, don’t even get me started on spaceships (if you’re on The Twilight Zone, and you take off in one, just know that you’re basically screwed). 50 years ago tonight, the so-called “friendly skies” remained decidedly unfriendly as a commercial airliner landed precisely on schedule… with its crew and passengers conspicuously absent.


“The Arrival,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Boris Sagal, promises to be a great supernatural mystery. Where are the passengers? More importantly, where’s the goddamned crew? And by the way, who the hell landed this thing? Things get even stranger when nobody --- families, friends, what have you --- inquires about the missing passengers. Things get stranger still when the investigators come to realize that something is iffy with the plane itself: each of them is seeing a different serial number on it. They’re all in the same hanger, but they seem to be examining different planes. What the hell is happening here? Mass hypnosis? A warp in the very fabric of space? Overlapping alternate realities? A gradual disintegration of the space-time continuum?


It’s a mystery that seems too inexplicable, too bizarre to properly resolve. And so it is, sadly enough. The resolution… well, doesn’t really resolve anything, unless you find the retrograde hallucination angle satisfactory. For the record, I don’t. This is exactly how “King Nine Will Not Return” explained its unexplainable mystery last season, and I was willing to accept it. Not this time, Rod. This is just lazy, and frankly a bit insulting. “The Arrival” is the exact point --- not even two calendar years after its brilliant debut --- at which The Twilight Zone begins to blatantly cannibalize itself.




Next week: It sounds like a repeat of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”… but it’s not. Another set of neighbors turns unneighborly, but this time the motivating threat is nuclear annihilation instead of invading aliens. If there’s a TV in your bomb shelter, tune in.




Thursday, September 15, 2011

TZ Promo: “Two” (9/15/1961)


Season 3, Episode 1 (#66 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4802

Fifty years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone returned for its third season. In keeping with tradition, the season premiere features a solitary figure wandering around trying to make sense of the environment they find themselves in. This time, however, our solitary figure is a woman. And as she quickly discovers, she’s not so solitary after all.


“Two,” written and directed by Montgomery Pittman, stars the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery (of Bewitched fame) as a nameless military officer of indeterminate rank, exploring the ruins of a bombed-out city, scrounging for food. The script never specifies, but we’re given sufficient clues to deduce that she’s from the invading army, and that said army is Russian. Serling remarks that “the signposts are in English so that we may read them more easily,” but what else would they be? The city is pretty obviously American. The episode premiered in 1961, when the cold war was in full swing, so our fictional enemies are pretty clearly intended to represent the US and the USSR. The intent is made doubly clear when the woman finally speaks, and her language is… you guessed it, Russian.

Speaking English, meanwhile, is another unnamed soldier, this one played by Charles Bronson (of big 70’s mustache fame), and he speaks plenty. He’s a pacifist, he’s weary of all the fighting, and he’s a member of the presumably defeated (American) side. Actually, maybe neither side won. Serling tells us that “it’s been five years since a human being walked these streets,” and that “this is the first day of the sixth year, as man used to measure time.” Sounds like worldwide destruction to me. For all we know, these two are the last two surviving people on the whole planet. Serling confirms this in the “next week on The Twilight Zone” promo that aired (or maybe didn’t, see below) the week before this episode premiered, in which he states that the couple in question are “left alone on an otherwise uninhabited earth.”


Which begs the question: Is this that hoary old Adam and Eve parable, rearing its clichéd head? Well, sure, why not? A clichéd story works if it’s told well. TZ will crack this particular literary chestnut again in season 5, but less effectively (and more obviously). Yes, I’m talking to you, “Probe 7, Over and Out.”

You thinkin' what I'm thinkin', baby? Furlough Romance, indeed.

As it stands, “Two” is a pretty good, but not necessarily great, Twilight Zone offering. There’s really no supernatural or science fiction element to it (except the nuclear war aftermath angle, which is pretty thin, but we’re also witnessing future events, so maybe the two combined is enough to push it past the reality line…? I dunno), but the conflicted tension between the characters is engaging. Oh, and Liz Montgomery is a tasty morsel, even under all that grime. She --- along with the rest of the episode --- looks stunning in high-def. Bronson is fine in his role, but Montgomery walks off with the whole damn episode, and she only has a single word of dialogue. Alternatively childlike and deadly, she's miles away from the perky domestic Bewitch she's remembered best for (coincidentally, we've already seen a similar mime-centric performance in season two's "The Invaders" from Agnes Moorehead, who played Montgomery's mother on Bewitched).

Precrassny. *Sigh*

THE MUSIC

Nathan Van Cleave contributes original music, moody and a bit melodramatic, with effective militaristic touches via the trumpet and tympani. It’s one of my favorite TZ scores, and was first released on Varese Sarabande’s The Twilight Zone: The Original Television Scores, Volume 4 LP (and CD in Japan), and later appeared on Silva’s The Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary 4-CD set. The score is also presented in isolated form (on an alternate audio track) on Image Entertainment’s The Twilight Zone, Season 2: The Definitive Edition DVD, as well as the more recent blu-ray edition, for your listening pleasure.


I keep a CD-R of my favorite TZ scores in the car at all times. I usually revise it a couple of times per year, adding and subtracting stuff depending on my ever-changing musical whims. However, Van Cleave’s “Two” never gets rotated out, along with Bernard Herrmann’s “Walking Distance” and Fred Steiner’s “The Passersby.”


RANDOM HILARITY

Early on in the episode, Montgomery's character explores an abandoned restaurant. She discovers a lone can of "Forever Seal" pre-cooked chicken drumsticks. As she pulls it from the shelf, she spies a painfully fake tarantula on a nearby counter. With minimal reaction, she slams the can down on it. This strikes me as a bit odd... after six years of isolation, I'd probably be keeping that thing as a pet.


Splat!


THAT PROMO SHOULDN’T EXIST, BUT IT DOES…

Each Twilight Zone episode ends with a brief clip in which Rod Serling plugs the following week’s show, just a quick glance at what’s coming up next (I mimic this approach here in my episode spotlights; the Serling shots I use come from said promos). The promos were (presumably) omitted entirely during the summertime, since the episodes were never reran in the same order that they were originally aired (this is also why the promos aren’t included in syndication packages). This omission extended to repeats aired in mid-season; if a repeat was shown, there would typically be no promo for the new episode that would follow it. This included season premieres; however, Image Entertainment’s blu-ray of season three includes a promo for “Two” as a supplemental feature. Since “Two” was the season premiere, and was therefore preceded by a repeat, how can this be?


I can only speculate, but it’s probable that Cayuga had commenced production on season 3 with no clear idea which episode would open it. Therefore, they would’ve shot promos for every episode, “Two” included. The promo’s inclusion on the blu-ray in no way implies that it was ever actually aired, since it was preceded by the repeat of season one’s “A World of His Own”… but who knows? It’s nice to have either way. Thanks to Scott Stevenson for bringing this to my attention in time for this entry!

As long as we’re talking about promos, one (obviously) didn’t exist for the pilot episode “Where Is Everybody?” back in 1959. When it was repeated directly after the season two closer “The Obsolete Man” in 1961, a new promo was shot. To my knowledge, it was the only episode to be graced with a promo after the fact. This promo appears on Image Entertainment’s season two blu-ray.

Another promo tidbit: although not present on Image Entertainment’s blu-ray for season five, a promo for “In Praise of Pip” (that season’s premiere) is discussed at length in Martin Grams Jr,’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (turn to page 606, students), and it sounds like it was definitely aired (with a repeat of season four’s “The Thirty Fathom Grave”). So maybe I’m completely wrong, and promos were in fact shot AND AIRED for season two’s premiere “King Nine Will Not Return,” season four’s premiere “In His Image,” and yes, season three’s “Two.” For all I know, the promos were aired all throughout the repeat seasons too, and everything I said three paragraphs up is completely wrong. Hell, I dunno. Thanks again to Scott Stevenson, for challenging my notions and making my head hurt.



Next week: A commercial airliner lands on schedule, with one big problem: it’s completely empty. Whaaaaaaat?



Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Season 3 Opening Sequence (1961-1962)



The third season of The Twilight Zone premiered on September 15, 1961, and with it came a brand new opening title sequence. The theme music by Marius Constant remained the same (until late into the season, when a decidedly different rendition would appear... but we'll get there in time), and Rod Serling's opening narration was only minimally revised. Season three's opening sequence, designed by Pacific Title (thanks to fellow fan --- and fellow Portland native --- Joel Henderson for this tidbit of info), is the simplest of the entire series. It's literally one single object --- a spinning top of sorts ---spinning away from camera, off into space. And yet, in its simplicity, it manages to evoke a surreal, almost trancelike vibe.

The spinning spiral, by the way, was not new to The Twilight Zone. We saw it way back in season one's "Perchance to Dream," framed by a dreamlike fog. Coincidence? Perhaps.



Okay, let's break it down. Cue the music.

You're traveling through another dimension...

A dimension not only of sight and sound...

...but of mind.

A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.

Your next stop---

The Twilight Zone!



Here it is in full-motion glory, down-rezzed into a fuzzy mess by Blogger...

video


That distinctive spiral appears on the covers both the DVD and blu-ray editions of season three from Image Entertainment.




Monday, September 12, 2011

Blu Bliss

I'm a couple of weeks late on this, but I'm happy to report that, as of August 30, my Twilight Zone blu-ray collection is complete.


Five seasons. 156 episodes. It's all here. And so much more. I never imagined that my favorite series of all time would get such a comprehensive release. Are these sets perfect? Of course not... what is? Are they amazing? Hell, yes.


I'm not reviewing them. I'm not really even spotlighting them. I'm simply... basking. Bask with me, fellow fans.


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: every TZ fan worth his (or her) salt should own these. The series has never looked or sounded better. The clarity of the series in HD is stunning. If you've got an HD display and a blu-ray player, take the plunge. If you don't.... I can't imagine a better reason to upgrade.


Thank you, Image Entertainment.