Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Twilight Zone: Classic Moments resin dioramas announced!

Our friends over at Bif Bang Pow! have just announced an exciting new line of Twilight Zone collectibles, the first of which will be available in July as a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive.  Ladies and gentlemen... Classic Moments dioramas.  Each diorama will immortalize an iconic TZ moment in glorious black and white, and will retail for $24.99.  First up?  See for yourselves....

I've gotta say, this is a GREAT choice for the inaugural entry in what promises to be a brilliant series.  "The Invaders" is chock full o' iconic imagery, and it's all captured in this one piece:  Agnes Moorehead coming up through the trap door.  The Invader in all his metallic rotund glory.  The flying saucer, which is (of course) the leftover United Planets C-57D Space Cruiser from Forbidden Planet.  It's all here!

The Invaders diorama is available NOW for pre-order over at Entertainment Earth.  Click here to order one (or two, or three).  You can also click here if you desire.  Click here if you like, but it'll take you someplace else entirely.

My mind is racing with possibilities concerning future dioramas.  Far too many to list.  As always, I'll let you know as soon as I know... which, incidentally, is usually several hours after everyone already knows.

Friday, April 27, 2012

TZ Promo: “The Gift” (4/27/1962)

Season 3, Episode 32 (97 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4830

“I’ve often wondered why it is that men fear the unknown. Like children, they’re afraid of the dark.  The only person I’ve met who isn’t afraid of the dark is a child.”

That’s the mysterious Mr. Williams, who stumbles into a cantina in a small Mexican town late one night.  He’s been shot by anxious police officers tracking whoever--- or whatever--- stumbled out of a crashed spaceship on the outskirts of town.  It’s a safe bet Mr. Williams isn’t an American tourist.

Rod Serling’s “The Gift,” turning 50 tonight, is actually a resurrected idea from his pre-TZ writing days.  It’s not a bad idea, though we’ve already seen a Serling script with similar story seeds (season two’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”), so it seems a bit familiar (which is turning into a weekly phenomenon as we wind our way through the latter half of the show’s third season).  However, familiarity is by no means the biggest sin on display here.  “The Gift,” in its final TZ form, should’ve never made it out of Serling’s filing cabinet.

We could talk about the terrible portrayal of Mexican peasants (they’re a bunch of simple-minded, skittish, demon-fearing Speedy Gonzales-impersonators).  We could talk about the terrible acting on the part of every single person on screen (the exception being Nico Minardos as the town doctor, who seems a bit too urbane for his surroundings; oh, and Vladimir Sokoloff is fine in his forty-three seconds of screen time as the village blind guy); Edmund Vargas, playing the lonely child Pedro, is particularly awful.  We could talk about the heavy-handed Christ metaphor being shoved into our faces (ethereal visitor is persecuted and ultimately killed despite his innocence and, as it turns out, ultimate value to mankind).  We could talk about the (unintentionally) hysterical pitchforks-and-torches mob scene late in act two (¡El Frankensteino!).  We could talk about the complete lack of a spaceship (it’s described as saucer-shaped; maybe the Forbidden Planet mockup was already spoken for that week?).

But we won’t.  This episode is thoroughly shitty, and doesn’t merit examination or analysis.  The core idea is fine, and might’ve worked with a different approach (and perhaps a bit of respect for the Mexican population), but three years of constant writing, narrating and executive-producing (not to mention promoting the series and clashing with the network over budget issues) had clearly reduced Serling to a fatigued mess.

Always candid, Serling himself said as much at the end of season three:  “At the moment, my perspective is shot. I think this is evident at times in the lack of quality in some of the Twilight Zone scripts.”  Gee, ya think?

The one and only thing of quality to be found in “The Gift” is Brazilian legend Laurindo Almeida’s atmospheric and haunting acoustic guitar score.  Almeida is partly responsible for one of my all-time favorite bossa nova albums: 1966’s Stan Getz with Guest Artist Laurindo Almeida, on Verve Records.  I only own it in mp3 form, but I’ve been slowly amassing a respectable jazz collection on vinyl, and it’s on my short list of titles to acquire.

“The Gift” stands as uncomfortable proof that the glory days of The Twilight Zone are behind it.  With almost 40% of the series’ entirety still to come, this relatively early decline is troubling indeed.

Next week, Cliff Robertson comes unglued as a ventriloquist battling wits with a dummy who’s outgrown him.  It’s basically a metaphor for parenthood.

Friday, April 20, 2012

TZ Promo: “The Trade-Ins” (4/20/1962)

Season 3, Episode 31 (96 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4831

For a series whose stock in trade is suspense and fantasy, The Twilight Zone features a surprising number of stories steeped in sentimentality. Nostalgia and longing are recurrent themes, featured every bit as prominently as time travel, identity crises and alien invasions. A subdivision within said “nostalgia and longing” is the fear of growing old, of death itself. We witnessed a moving exploration of this theme earlier this season with George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark,” in which death is depicted as something to be embraced rather than feared. 50 years ago tonight, Rod Serling presented us with an enticing alternative.

“The Trade-Ins” introduces us to the New Life Corporation, a company in the not-too-distant future that can transfer the minds of the sick and/or old into new, youthful, semi-indestructible bodies. Their latest potential customers are John and Marie Holt, an elderly couple clearly nearing the end of their journey. John is crippled by pain; Marie dreamily imagines starting their lifelong courtship anew. They appear to be perfect clients for New Life; unfortunately, they only have half the money needed to undergo the transformation together.

In his promo for this episode (aired at the end of last week’s “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby”), Serling said the following: “It’s my personal feeling that of the various story areas we’ve tackled in The Twilight Zone, this has the most import, and carries with it the most poignance.” Thankfully Rod was putting his money where his mouth was: “The Trade-Ins” is a wonderfully sweet and moving entry, easily on par with the best from the show’s first (and best) season. You can’t help but love the Holts, particularly their evident and undying devotion to one another. The sacrifice that Marie is willing to make to save John from any further pain is heartbreakingly life-affirming, and the subsequent sacrifice that he makes for her is both devastating and beautiful.

Joseph Schildkraut, who stole the show earlier this season in “Death’s-head Revisited” as a spectral concentration camp custodian, is a revelation here. The age makeup is a bit obvious (particularly in high-definition; see the captures herein), but his interpretation of Holt is remarkable. Watch him as he speaks through pained sobs before the gangster who’s about to clean him out in a poker game, and contrast that with the warm, almost playful tenderness he displays when he strokes Marie’s cheek in the New Life showroom. This is expansive, nuanced work, pretty damned impressive for a three-day quickie stint on a TV show. Schildkraut’s wife died in the middle of production, and it’s a testament to his professionalism that he insisted on completing his scenes (it also makes watching his work here more than a little heartbreaking).

Elliot Silverstein directed “The Trade-Ins” and, for a brief moment, he appears to be giving us a sequel to season two’s “The Obsolete Man,” which he also directed:

Look at that huge dark room. Is there a chancellor on a perch somewhere just off camera…? Nope, it’s the New Life showroom, which houses several inert artificial humanoid bodies, on display.

The entire cast, save for Alma Platt (an endearing Marie Holt), is made up of TZ veterans. Edson Stroll, who played the hideous (by alien pig-people standards) Walter Smith in season two’s “The Eye of the Beholder,” is on hand here as the new-and-improved John Holt. He’s fine and all, but why doesn’t he sound like Holt? Even with new vocal cords, he should still possess Holt’s European accent… right?

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention those stylin’ short shorts; there’s some manly eye candy if that’s your thing (we’ll see Robert Lansing in similarly-minimal trunks in season five’s “The Long Morrow”).

Theodore Marcuse is great as the card shark/frustrated musician Farraday. We last saw him twirling a pencil as Gregori, the Russian ambassador in “To Serve Man.”

Mr. Vance, the New Life rep, is nicely played by Noah Keen, who popped up in “The Arrival” as Bengston, the airline executive who deftly (okay, impossibly) figures out that the entire mystery is nothing more than a guilt-fueled hallucination. Here he's surprisingly effective as a sympathetic salesman.

“The Trade-Ins” is just plain lovely, hitting all the right notes without crossing the saccharine line. Highly recommended.

Next week, “The Gift” tries to tell a sensitive tale of a young Mexican boy and his newfound alien friend. It sounds like E.T. in a sombrero, but it’s actually a stale tortilla. ¡Ay, caramba!


Well, this is a bit embarrassing. If you haven't noticed, I customize the logo/masthead every week with a shot from the episode turning 50, and it appears I forgot to change it last week for "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby" (which means the dreadful "Four O'clock" got two weeks of exposure, dammit!). In the interest of fairness, I present it here.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog entry.

Friday, April 13, 2012

TZ Promo: "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” (4/13/1962)

Season 3, Episode 30 (95 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4833

50 years ago tonight, a notorious teller of tall tales learnt his lesson about fabricatin’ fibs in a most unexpected way. That’s right, naïve aliens kidnap him, believing every bit of bullshit he’s ever espoused about himself. He’s clearly a prime specimen of humanity (he said so himself!), and they’ve got an intergalactic zoo that he’ll fit right into.

The success of “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” hinges on whether or not you can stand Andy Devine and his nails-on-a-chalkboard voice. I find him (and his voice) grating to the point of headache, so I guess that means I don’t find this episode successful. Your mileage may vary, of course.

One thing I do appreciate is the design of Frisby’s extraterrestrial abductors. At first they are simply human-looking stiffs, but as Frisby discovers when he takes a poke at one, their true faces are hidden beneath full-head masks (a nice reversal on the usual “guy in a rubber monster mask” approach). An effective approach by makeup maestro William Tuttle.

In their natural state, they look like nothing else ever presented on The Twilight Zone, with their nightmarish immobile faces and their swinging sixties blazer-and-turtleneck duds. They remind me a bit of the arachnid-faced alien from The Outer Limits’ “The Children of Spider County.” Something about well-dressed aliens just works for me, I guess.

The Frisby alien is another lucky TZ character to be granted plastic immortality by Bif Bang Pow!. The action figure, due out in August, can be preordered (in a two-pack with the nurse from "Eye of the Beholder") over at Entertainment Earth.

Forbidden Planet alert! The alien spacecraft is --- yep, you guessed it --- the United Planets C-57D Space Cruiser, this time playing a much smaller craft but with its enormous three-dimensional transparent navigation ball prominently featured. “Movie prop, ain’t it? Yeah, that’s what it is, ain’t it? One of them Hollywood things, advertising a flying saucer picture or something. Yeah, that’s it, ain’t it?” asks Frisby in a deliciously meta moment as he examines the navigation ball. Act two opens with a wonderful shot of Frisby filmed through the nav-ball.

Ugh. I dunno, folks. It’s by no means the extreme bummer that “Four O’clock” was last week, but Andy Devine is damned tough to listen to (not to mention look at) for half an hour. But we do get those cool aliens, not to mention the most Forbidden Planet eye candy per minute than any episode so far in the series. So it’s kind of a draw, I guess.

Next: “The Trade-Ins” takes us into the near future, where the elderly can swap their weak bodies for fresh, new ones… at a price, of course.

Friday, April 6, 2012

TZ Promo: “Four O’clock” (4/06/1962)

Season 3, Episode 29 (94 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4832

"I don't threaten people, I compile them. I compile them, and I investigate them. I analyze them, then I categorize them, and I judge them. If they're impure and evil, then they must be punished. If, on the other hand, they are simply misled or naive (or unsophisticated), then I point out to them the right way."

Ugh. I’ve been dreading this one. I’ve only seen it once, probably 25 years ago, and I hated it. It’s probably not quite as terrible as “Mr. Bevis,” but my memory tells me it’s damned pretty close. I’m just gonna rush through this one as fast as I can. And heads up: I don’t care if I spoil the ending or not.

“Four O’clock,” written by Rod Serling from a short story by Price Day, turns 50 tonight. It stars the esteemed Theodore Bikel (who certainly deserved something better than this dreck in his sole TZ appearance) as Oliver Crangle (jeez, what a name). Crangle is a pious, self-righteous judgmental right wing nutjob whose apparent sole purpose in life is to ferret out and malign anyone who violates his strict moral code (liberals, in other words). Know anybody like that? I’m imagining Rush Limbaugh in this role, and that jackwad is nailing it, boys and girls.

One afternoon, Crangle decrees in his maniacal, delusional glee that, at precisely 4:00 that day, every evil person in the world will shrink to a mere two feet tall (you know, to make them easy for the authorities to apprehend and whatnot). How does he plan on accomplishing this? He doesn’t appear to have any magical powers. There’s no genie in a bottle granting wishes for him. Although it’s not explicitly stated, I’m guessing he’s counting on God himself to make the shrinkage happen. He is, after all, doing the Big Guy’s work, right?

Serling goes completely overboard convincing us that Crangle is both thoroughly repellant and batshit loony. At one point, he is shown marking out the line “all men are created equal” from a framed copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. As if his over-the-top behavior isn’t enough, we’ve got his pet parrot Pete (hey, say that fast three times) cackling the word “nut” several times, as if we need a periodic reminder that Crangle is in fact as dry roasted as they come.

Because Crangle is so utterly detestable, we can’t help but detest him. And because we detest him, we can’t help but rejoice when he receives his comeuppance in the end. The whole thing is a bit too paint-by-the-numbers in that respect. We aren’t shocked in the least when, at precisely 4:00, Crangle himself shrinks to two feet tall. When Pete the (suddenly) enormous parrot looms menacingly over him, we hope like hell that it’ll swoop down and eat the (newly) little bastard. I like to think that it does exactly that, right after the end credits.

What’s the point of all this? Judge not, lest thou be judged? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Some other hippy-dippy greeting card platitude? I dunno. I suppose the case could be made that Crangle is mentally ill and therefore not responsible for his actions, and further, that Serling is a bully for punishing him in light of this. But you know what? I can’t make myself care enough to go there. “Four O’clock” is 25 minutes of sheer unpleasantness either way, and it’s the low point of the entire season.

Next week, “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” introduces us to a highly annoying bigmouth and then asks us to give a shit when he’s abducted by aliens. *Sigh*

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

TZ Complete Series blu-ray set announced!

This was inevitable, I suppose. Image Entertainment has announced The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series blu-ray boxed set for release on June 5. It's basically the same five season sets that came out last year, minus the foil-embossed slipcovers, plus an admittedly-cool outer box.

It's available for pre-order at for the hefty price of $359.99. Thing is... Amazon also offers a bundle of all five seasons for $233.99, which means that outer box is gonna cost you a whopping $120.00. In the alternative, you can pick up all five seasons individually (also through Amazon) for around $45.00 each, or $220.00 total, an even better deal.

Worth it? Obviously not, but I'm sure it'll come down in price eventually. There's nothing new in the way of actual content, so early purchasers (like me) aren't missing out by skipping this. My advice? Buy either the individual seasons or the bundle linked above. Who knows? Maybe Image will make the outer box available to those of us who dropped A LOT OF MONEY to buy each season last year as they were released. Hey, a man can dream.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Jeopardy Zone...

I've been watching Jeopardy since I was a teenager in the 80's and, to my unending delight, they periodically include a question (or is it answer?) about The Twilight Zone. It's happened a few times since I started this blog, and I've always meant to mention it (but never have, usually because I don't have any photographic evidence). Tonight's episode included a TZ question, and I had the good sense to pause the TV and whip out my iPhone.

What is "a cookbook," Alex?