Thursday, January 26, 2012

TZ Promo: “The Hunt” (1/26/1962)

Season 3, Episode 19 (#84 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4810

50 years ago tonight, a kindly hillbilly took his dog out hunting… and never returned.

“The Hunt” is writer Earl Hamner Jr.’s first Twilight Zone script (he would ultimately write eight episodes), but he’s best known as the creator of TV’s The Waltons. In fact, “The Hunt” exists squarely in that Waltons universe… hillbillies, hicks, log cabins, 'coon huntin'... the whole nine acres. Not exactly my jug o' moonshine, but whatever. It’s a downright homey tale of one man’s transition from life to death, infused with gentle humor and backwoods charm (you’ve gotta love those literal “gateways” to heaven and hell). It’ll never make my favorites list in a million years, but there’s really nothing to complain about here: “The Hunt” is a cute excursion into Hicksville.

Gangly ol’ hayseed Arthur Hunnicut stars as Hyder Simpson, and the play-actin’ he does is jus’ tolerable. He’d go on to play a farmer-turned-catatonic-zombie in the “Cry of Silence” episode of TV's The Outer Limits two years later, but his biggest claim to fame is probably his portrayal of Uncle Jesse in 1975’s Moonrunners, which spawned TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard. Oh, and speaking of The Outer Limits… well, stay tuned.

Jeanette Nolan, meanwhile, is plum delightful as Simpson’s wife Rachel, but she’ll achieve greatness as the (literally) bewitching Granny Hart in season four’s wonderful “Jess-Belle.”

“The Hunt” features an original musical score by Robert Drasnin, whom we discussed a few months back. The score predictably utilizes guitar and harmonica (what, no Jew's harp?), and... well, it's a long way from his wonderful exotica output, that's for sure. The score has never been included in the myriad Twilight Zone soundtracks that have been released over the years, but it’s available as an isolated audio track on Image Entertainment’s blu-ray edition of season three.

In his Twilight Zone Companion, Marc Scott Zicree calls “The Hunt” “naive, badly directed, (and) only tolerably acted.” Sheesh, what a grouch.

Extra cheese, please.

Funny Zicree story… when I was about 13, I’d just discovered The Twilight Zone and I was well on my way to wearing out my first copy of Zicree’s book. I had a question about something he’d written (I don’t recall the specifics at this late date), so I called information and got his (apparently published) Hollywood number. I dialed the number and, upon hearing Zicree himself answer, lost my nerve and promptly hung up. So hey Marc, if you remember getting what seemed like a crank call 29 years ago... well, it was me. But you know what? I’m not sorry.

Directly after the end credits but before the network ownership stamp (or whatever the hell it is), CBS usually aired a quick (we're talking 5 seconds or so) promo for other CBS series (Gunsmoke, Make Room for Daddy, etc), but every now and then they’d show a public service ad (The Red Cross, etc). After “The Hunt,” viewers were treated to a suggestion by the Ad Council that they attend church and “worship together.” Was this strategically placed to match up with this particular episode’s fundamentalist vibe? We may never know for sure. Say your prayers just in case, kiddies.

Next week: Western + comedy = aw shit, Rod’s trying to be funny again.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

TZ Promo: “Dead Man’s Shoes” (1/19/1962)

Season 3, Episode 18 (#83 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4824

50 years ago tonight, a murdered gangster attempted to get his revenge the tried and true, old-fashioned way: by transferring his soul into a pair of shoes and taking possession of whoever wears them.

Wait, what?

“Dead Man’s Shoes,” written by Charles Beaumont (or maybe it was Ocee Ritch; accounts differ) and directed by Montgomery Pittman, opens with a body being dumped in an alley. The body belongs to a slick cat named Dane, who got himself iced when his business partner decided to go solo. Nate Bledsoe, a local hobo, stumbles across the body while foraging for second-hand food. He finds two things of interest on the body: an apartment key and a pair of rather unique shoes. He pockets the key and slips on the shoes, at which point he is abruptly taken over by Dane’s vengeful spirit… and the fun, as they say, begins.

“Dead Man’s Shoes” exists squarely in the world of film noir, much to my delight. All the hallmarks are there: the city at night, a mob killing, a beautiful moll with a gun in her hand, tough talking goons, a mob-controlled nightclub… it’s all there, baby. A beautiful moment comes when Bledsoe, under Dane’s control, ditches his hobo brethren and walks slowly down the night street. For a brief moment, it feels like season one again. All we need is a distant trumpet and floating neon signs and we’d be right back in “The Four of Us Are Dying”… which, incidentally, this episode strongly evokes, the Virgil Sterig sequence in particular (in which a murdered gangster apparently returns from the dead to get revenge).

Pittman’s direction is adequate but not spectacular. I’m a huge noir fan, so in an episode like this, I wanna see skewed angles and chiaroscuro lighting… but overall things here look pretty flat (except the moment described above). And damn it, I want some menace! Dagget never really comes across as a truly bad guy (I would’ve loved to see Richard Conte in the role; he was great as the heavy in the noir classic The Big Combo), and his sidekick is more crabby teenager than formidable henchman. The climax at the nightclub never achieves much of a confrontational vibe, and it's over much too quickly (I guess this is more a script issue than a directorial misstep).

Warren Stevens (who is still kicking at 92!) is good in the lead: he’s tentative and nervous as Bledsoe and, alternately, disarmingly dangerous as Dane, and his transitions from one to the other are subtle but effective. And hey, Forbidden Planet alert! Stevens played Lt. ‘Doc’ Ostrow, M.D., in that wonderful sci-fi classic.

Stevens, with Leslie Nielsen.

Genre fans will also remember Stevens' appearance in the (unintentionally) hilarious "Keeper of the Purple Twilight" episode of TV's The Outer Limits. And speaking of The Outer Limits.... well, stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Joan Marshall’s Wilma (there’s no way to tell, but I’m betting/hoping she’s got red hair) is a tasty morsel, an easy addition to the pantheon of TZ babes. That resigned sigh she emits as she crumbles beneath Bledsoe/Dane’s kiss is damn hot.


During the episode’s prologue, as Bledsoe is pilfering Dane’s corpse, he slips his hand inside Dane’s back pocket, presumably looking for a wallet. This is an innocent act, purely out of necessity. However, he follows with what amounts to a gratuitous act of grab-ass (I won’t even touch the necrophilia ramifications therein). You’ll miss it if you blink, but thanks to the wonders of technology, the moment can be isolated and studied in high definition.

Yep, there’s no mistaking it. Wow, he’s really clutching that butt cheek there. But wait, there’s more: later, when Bledsoe (possessed by Dane) crashes Dagget’s club, the bartender advises him to stop staring at Dagget’s female companion. The response? “It’s not the woman I’m staring at.” And let’s get right down to brass tacks: those eponymous dead man’s shoes? Girlfriend, those kicks are fierce!


The episode was remade as “Dead Woman’s Shoes” for the 80’s Twilight Zone revival series. Remember it? Nope, me neither.

“Dead Man’s Shoes” is a nice jazzy throwback to the gangster outings from the show’s first season, but it’s ultimately a bit too familiar. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: season three is when The Twilight Zone started borrowing from itself on a regular basis. This isn’t fatal in the case of “Dead Man’s Shoes,” but it certainly doesn’t help (a more aggressive noir atmosphere would’ve made a world of difference, but alas). File this one under “O” for “okay.”

Next week: Hillbilly + moonshine + shotgun = Earl Hamner Jr.’s first foray into The Twilight Zone.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

TZ Promo: “One More Pallbearer” (1/12/1962)

Season 3, Episode 17 (#82 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4823

Ah, the ol’ practical joke: hand buzzer, disappearing ink, fake vomit…. It’s all cute, quick and effective, but admittedly a bit juvenile. Adult practical jokes, meanwhile, demand more forethought, more complexity, more… finesse. For example, if you really want to pull one over on your friends (or enemies), you might just stage a fake nuclear holocaust to scare the hell out of them. 50 years ago tonight on The Twilight Zone, somebody did just that.

“One More Pallbearer,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Lamont Johnson (sheesh, did any other directors work on the show this season?), stars Joseph Wiseman as Paul Radin, a multi-millionaire playboy who has constructed an impenetrable bomb shelter, three hundred feet beneath his own building in downtown New York City. Utilizing sound effects and video footage, he plans to play the above-described practical joke. On who, you ask? Well, his three worst enemies, of course! A former teacher, a reverend, and an army colonel, three figures from his past who wronged him in various ways, and he’s gonna make them beg for his forgiveness as an artificial Armageddon looms.

A dick move? Yeah, definitely, especially since it’s clear that Radin managed to achieve great wealth and success despite the perceived wrongs done to him. However, the three “victims” come off so harsh and cruel that it’s really hard to feel sorry for them. Wiseman injects Radin with such nuance and pathos that we end up identifying with him, which makes this more a tragedy than the comeuppance tale it tries to be. Or I dunno, maybe this was intentional on Serling’s part. Radin’s fate (which I won’t spoil here) seems somewhat undeserved, despite the mindfuck he attempts to inflict upon his guests. It feels a bit muddy, morally vague, as if Serling isn’t really sure which message he’s sending.


Despite the aforementioned muddiness of the episode's themes, the set design is one thing that shines with crystal clarity. This is by far the swankest bomb shelter ever built. My God, just look it at!

Rows of martini and highball glasses!

Highly cool retro furniture!

(okay, I guess it wasn’t retro 50 years ago)

A flat screen TV, several decades before they were invented!

Whatever that big hanging mobile thing is, I totally want one.

And those rocky walls in the outer hallway are a nice touch too, conveying the fact that we are deep, deep underground.

Man oh man, I wanna live in there. You have no idea. Truth be told, I do have a pretty swanky setup at home....

Submitted for your approval.... the den.

No, the Dalis aren't originals.

The TV (37" Panasonic plasma, 3D, 1080p).

IKEA should be thanking me for the free advertising.

I call this part of the den The Vinyl Lounge...

Records + liquor = Pure bliss.

And across from The Vinyl Lounge is my desk, where the blogging happens...

I'm not in this picture because I'm taking the picture. Wrap your head around that.

It probably looks like I'm showing off a bit. I guess I am. Hey, I've wanted a room like this my entire life.


Radin’s former teacher demands special mention because she’s, well, a mean bitch. She’ll get her comeuppance in a way, when she (well, the actress playing her, Katherine Squire) meets the business end of a subway train in season four’s “In His Image.” Karma, man.

All in all, “One More Pallbearer” is a fine enough episode. Nothing transcendent, just… really good. Wiseman’s performance, along with that beautiful set, elevates it above the mundane. There is a bit of that “been there, done that” vibe (which will continue to plague the show until it dies a pitiful death at the end of its fifth season), probably due to the ending, which harkens back to “Time Enough at Last” (see for yourself; I’m not spoiling!). It should be mentioned that there’s really no supernatural element here, which should probably count against the episode. But Serling’s script does have some choice lines in it…. Okay, yeah, I’m kinda flip-flopping here. I like the episode quite a bit, but I don’t love it. There, good enough?

Next week: Hey, remember on Lost, when Jack was trying to get back to the island, and he needed his dead father’s shoes to do it? Um… okay, that has nothing whatsoever to do with next week’s episode, except it’s called “Dead Man’s Shoes.” Man, I’m fucking loopy this week.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

TZ Promo: “Nothing in the Dark” (1/05/1962)

Season 3, Episode 16 (#81 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3662

Her name is Wanda Dunn. She’s an old woman who lives alone in a shabby tenement, afraid to go outside. She’s convinced that Death himself is out there, just waiting to come in and claim her.

The thing is…. well, she’s right.

“Nothing in the Dark” is a moving study of humanity’s fear of its own mortality, and Gladys Cooper’s portrayal of the frightened old woman is one of the greatest performances ever captured on The Twilight Zone. Cooper will (happily) return for appearances in season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne” and season five’s “Night Call.” She’s fine in both, but “Nothing in the Dark” is where she truly shines.

Unfortunately, young Robert Redford... well, sucks as the wounded cop who finally convinces her to open the door and help him. Oh, sure, he’s pretty to look at, but he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag at this early point in his career (I’m not entirely convinced that he ever became that great of an actor, truth be told). As great as “Nothing in the Dark” is, Redford’s embarrassingly bad performance is a serious blemish. I imagine this is why the episode doesn’t appear in my Top 20 Favorites list (it did make my Top 40 list two years ago, however).


This is Death’s third (and final... I think) appearance in the series. We’ve encountered him twice before, in “One for the Angels” and “The Hitch-hiker” (both from season one) and, once again, he proves less frightening when his quarry stops struggling and acquiesces, a pleasant alternative to the skull-and-scythe depiction we’ve all seen countless times. Here’s hoping the real Death is a nice guy...

Another connection to “The Hitch-hiker” can be found in the stock music used in the episode. During Death’s surprise (well, not really) reveal near the end, the underscore features cues from Bernard Herrmann’s music for the radio production of “The Hitch-hiker” (which was subsequently used in the TZ adaptation). A nice touch for attentive ears.

Lamont Johnson directs a George Clayton Johnson script (no relation, as far as I know). We just saw Johnson’s directorial chops two weeks ago in “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” but, interestingly enough, he directed “Nothing in the Dark” earlier. Like, way earlier. The production number (173-3662) indicates that this episode was actually produced during the show’s second season, but held back until the third (the same is true of “The Grave,” which we looked at back in October). The opening shot of act one does not feature the usual season three title cards (episode title, writer, director)… we simply open on a shot of Wanda slowly unlocking and opening her front door. The title shot above is from the episode’s end credits (the only place the episode title was ever seen during season two).

In his The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (which you need on your shelf; seriously, go NOW and get a copy), Martin Grams Jr. reports that “Nothing in the Dark” was originally scheduled to close the second season, but was replaced by “The Obsolete Man” and held back until midway through season three. This strikes me as odd…. If the episode was ready to go in mid-June, why was it held in limbo for six months? Was Serling and Company as dismayed by Redford's performance as me? In any case, as much as I love “The Obsolete Man,” I think “Nothing in the Dark,” with its elegiac and meditative qualities, would have been more effective as a season finale. But hey, what do I know?

In 1992, a local theater company called Hellfire Productions presented Tales from The Twilight Zone, which included stage adaptations of three TZ episodes: “The Obsolete Man,” “A Game of Pool,” and yes, “Nothing in the Dark.” It’s been almost 20 years, and my memory ain’t what it used to be, but I recall being quite impressed with their efforts.

"Am I really so bad?" Um... yeah, Bobby, you kinda are.

“Nothing in the Dark” is ultimately an exercise in frustration for me. It possesses all the elements of a truly great episode, but Redford’s awkward mannequin routine hurts it enough to cripple its chances at true legend status. As it stands, it’s a Mona Lisa with a crayon mustache. Too bad.

Next week: The world gets nuked yet again… or does it?