Thursday, February 16, 2012

TZ Promo: “A Piano in the House” (2/16/1962)

Season 3, Episode 22 (#87 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4825

“Of course, I’ve always believed that we have two faces: one that we wear, and the other we keep hidden. The problem has always been to find some method to make people reveal their hidden faces. I suppose it helps if you know what particular hidden face you’re looking for.”

That’s Fitzgerald Fortune, theater critic and asshole extraordinaire. He’s just given his wife a most unusual birthday gift: a player piano. And since this is The Twilight Zone, well... it’s no ordinary player piano.

The titular object in Earl Hamner, Jr.’s “A Piano in the House,” when played, causes people to reveal the side of themselves that they normally keep hidden. It’s a marvelous catalyst for unfettered honesty that has unfortunately found its way into the hands of an absolute sadist: upon discovering the piano’s power, Fortune immediately sets out to use it as a tool to humiliate everyone around him.

Fortune is well-played by Barry Morse in his sole TZ appearance. Several shots find him looking almost satanic… whether it’s his performance or the (fake?) beard he’s wearing is up for debate. Morse is best-known for his four-year stint as Lt. Philip Gerard on TV’s The Fugitive (another favorite classic series of mine).

The sight of Cyril Delevanti (who appeared in “A Penny for Your Thoughts” and “The Silence,” both from season two, and who will return in season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne”) whooping it up with near-delirious joy under the piano’s spell is worth the price of admission alone. The best performance, however, comes with Muriel Landers’ portrayal of the Rubenesque Marge Moore, who frequently jokes about her own weight as an obvious self-defense mechanism. The piano brings out a delicate, beautiful side of her that is touching and poignant. Just watch the devastation that overtakes her face when the music stops and she comes to her senses.

Special mention must be made of the spectacular curio shop in which Fortune discovers the player piano. It’s filled with some of weirdest, coolest stuff ever assembled. Seriously, if I walked into a place like this, I’d go bust buying almost everything in sight. Just look!

All in all, “A Piano in the House” is decent. The story may be a bit weak, but the performances are uniformly great.

Next week: Country boy dies, then wakes up during his own funeral. And dad gum it, he’s mighty hungry!

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