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.

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