Friday, March 16, 2012

TZ Promo: “Little Girl Lost” (3/16/1962)

Season 3, Episode 26 (#91 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4828

50 years ago tonight, a little girl fell out of her bed, rolled underneath, and… vanished. As a parent, the idea really hits home: any time your kid isn’t where they should be brings on a visceral and immediate sense of dread. “Little Girl Lost” opens with this powerful and promising idea but, unfortunately, things get kinda dicey from there. We discover that she’s passed through an invisible porthole into another dimension. “Probably the fourth,” muses her father’s friend, who is conveniently a physicist who knows exactly what to do in situations like this.

Okay, so what exactly is the fourth dimension? Algebraic geometry gives us the concept of Euclidian space. Physics, meanwhile, combines space and time to give us the Minkowski continuum. The fourth dimension, according to The Twilight Zone, is a topsy-turvy hallucinatory clusterfuck with distorting mirrorballs, twinkly stars and smoke effects. Oh, and things apparently rotate at random in there (we see both Tina and her Dad in various stages of upsidedownery). It appears to be some sort of parallel earth with a different set of physical laws, but there’s no indication that it contains life of any kind (there does seem to be oxygen present, conveniently enough). It’s basically the realm of the bad acid trip. It’s also really stupid looking.

Richard Matheson adapted his own 1953 short story, which was collected in his 1957 anthology The Shores of Space. My worn copy is pictured above (it’s actually the 2nd printing from 1969; sue me).

“Little Girl Lost” is one of the better-remembered (and well-regarded) episodes of The Twilight Zone, but I’ve never really warmed to it, and not just because of the poorly conceptualized (and even more poorly visualized) fourth dimension. My other main complaint pertains to the actress playing the mother. Ruth Miller (as played by Sarah Marshall) is a shrieking, panic-laden mess who contributes nothing positive to the proceedings (but definitely ratchets up the tension quotient considerably, and not in a good way). TZ certainly has its share of men slapping women, which I most certainly do not condone, but I wouldn’t have minded it so much here. Anything to shut her up, dammit.

Oh, and for some ungodly reason the child’s dialogue is overdubbed by an adult impersonating a child. Why? I have nary a clue, but it's completely unconvincing. Hey, at least it ain't June Foray.

That's Charles Aidman in the foreground. Ignore the dunces in the background.

Charles Aidman, however, is pretty great as Bill the physicist. Calm and collected, he carries the entire episode himself in spite of the other, um... actors. Aidman previously appeared in season one’s “And When the Sky Was Opened” (where he was equally excellent, albeit a bit upstaged by the brilliant Rod Taylor), but his TZ affiliation doesn’t end here. He’d go on to play faux-Serling as the offscreen narrator of the 80’s revival of The Twilight Zone (aka The New Twilight Zone) on CBS (it should be noted, however, that the bastards running that show didn’t even give him onscreen credit for his services until the show’s abbreviated second season).

I do have to give props for the cool effect in which Aidman feels the wall behind the child’s bed, looking for the portal to god-knows-where, and watches calmly as his hand passes right through the wall, right before our eyes, with no cuts or postproduction trickery. The family dog runs through the porthole too, but it happens off camera, which is a bit of a cheat.

If there’s one thing that really works about this episode, it’s the frankly spectacular original music score by Bernard Herrmann. Utilizing harps and viola d’amour (played by Virginia Majewski, who also performed on Herrmann’s score for the 1954 noir thriller On Dangerous Ground), the music is positively overflowing with a dizzy, alien eeriness that is somehow beautiful and unsettling at the same time. It almost makes the silly fourth dimension visuals work… almost (Bennie had a real talent for elevating mediocre material with his music). Herrmann’s score has never been properly released (vinyl, cassette, CD or iTunes), but it can be obtained via the isolated music track on both the DVD and blu-rays of season three from Image Entertainment. I should also note that Herrmann received screen credit at the start of act one (along with writer Matheson and director Paul Stewart) instead of during the end credits (as was customary). This is the only time this was done in the entire series, and no other composer was more deserving.

The core plot of “Little Girl Lost” (in which a little girl is pulled into another dimension by forces unknown) was more or less cribbed by Steven Spielberg for his 1984 film Poltergeist. Funny, he kinda cribbed last week’s episode too (“The Fugitive,” which is basically the same story as E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial). Sheesh, wotta hack.

Bottom line: "Little Girl Lost" is way overrated. Does it suck? Not exactly... but it'll never be a favorite of mine. Still better than almost anything on TV these days, I guess. And hey, who knows? Maybe my viewing of it tonight, on its 50th anniversary, will change my mind. At the very least, that uncompressed audio on the blu-ray should make Herrmann's score sound better than ever...

Next week: “Person or Persons Unknown” steals Richard Long’s identity for no apparent reason. It’s like UPN’s Nowhere Man, but way shorter.


Anonymous said...

In all of your self-righteous rage, you completely missed the point, "sir:"
The classic episode was not (or should not be) so much about your rant on inconsistencies,
as it is about the importance.
What was the importance (since you've completely and utterly missed the point in your UNesteemed critique of this classic)?
Well, lets start with the then-amazing facts that the multiverse and multiple dimensions were already so advanced in physics, that Hollywood had already caught on(ala Star Trek) and made it an episode in a show, at all.
When we stop and think about it, even today (2016), although far more refined and more widely accepted, it is still not as commonplace to know, let alone discuss the multiverse among the public--perhaps and most likely due to 2 very important factors: Mass hysteria and the inability of people to accept that there is a One God and the Big Boom (and hence multiverse) possible at the same time (this tems more from the stubborn attitudes and ignorance of people, more than anything else).

Patricia Gonzalez said...

I love this episode. One of my favorites. It opened my mind and entertained at the same time. What you said about the episode being pre-Star Trek makes sense. I still wonder if the writer was working from a personal experience regarding his child, obviously not the dimensional kind.