Friday, May 18, 2012

TZ Promo: “I Sing the Body Electric” (5/18/1962)

Season 3, Episode 35 (100 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4826

50 years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone aired its landmark 100th episode.  Thankfully, Cayuga didn’t pick a dud to mark the occasion (see “The Whole Truth,” which was the 50th episode aired).

“I Sing the Body Electric” was written by sci-fi luminary Ray Bradbury, his only contribution to the series.  We meet a grieving widower (his name is never given, he’s simply referred to as “Father”) who endeavors to purchase a robot to act as a maternal proxy for his children.  It appears that a company called Facsimile Limited has just what he needs… unfortunately, his oldest daughter’s bitterness over losing her mother is a much bigger roadblock than he realizes.

“I Sing the Body Electric” is moderately successful (while fairly soap-operatic), but the scenes inside Facsimile Limited elevate things considerably.  There’s a delightful phantasmagorical quality to its selection of body parts, not to mention a chute in which one’s selections are deposited.  If only we could build our spouses and children in such a way…. maybe the New Life Corporation should partner with Facsimile Limited…?

“Grandma” (similarly unnamed) is well-played by Josephine Hutchinson, warm but never cloying.  Genre fans may remember her as Elsa von Frankenstein in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein (I didn’t, despite the fact that I’ve seen it numerous times and own it on DVD twice over; good thing I have the internet to do my remembering for me!).

“Father” is played by David White (best known as Larry Tate, Darin’s boss on TV’s Bewitched), who last visited The Twilight Zone in season one’s “A World of Difference,” where he played harried agent to Jerry Regan (or was it Arthur Curtis?).

Vaughn Taylor, the Facsimile Limited rep, is a TZ vet.  We first saw him in season one’s “Time Enough at Last” as Henry Bemis’s stick-in-the-mud boss at the bank, then again earlier this season as a grizzled warlock in “Still Valley.”  Here he’s a congenial salesman with just a hint of Willie Wonka about him (Facsimile Limited is a bit magical, after all, not entirely unlike Wonka’s storied chocolate factory).  Quite a diverse trio of roles; happily, Vaughn is quite good in all three.  He appeared in several episodes of TV’s The Fugitive, but he’s probably best remembered as Janet Leigh’s boss in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Veronica Cartwright is quite good as the eldest child Anne, sullen and distrustful of the new addition to the family.  Watch her face light up when she finally gives in and accepts “Grandma.”  Cartwright is something of a fixture in the sci-fi genre: she was most recently seen as the beleaguered human-alien hybrid Cassandra Spender on TV’s The X-files; she also met a gruesome end in Ridley Scott’s original Alien.

Many have lamented the fact that this is Ray Bradbury’s sole contribution to the series.  I’m not going to go into the troubled history between Bradbury and Serling, but I will say that, while I’m a big fan of Bradbury’s work, I think it usually works best on the printed page.  Most all adaptations of his work… well, just don’t work for one reason or another.  And it’s not always because of Bradbury’s unique dialogue either… Serling himself said that Bradbury is “hard to dramatize,” and I completely agree.  Not everything needs a visual translation (I’m talking to you, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  You too, Hunger Games).   Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is one of my all-time favorite novels, and (IMO) the 1966 Francois Truffaut adaptation leaves a lot to be desired (despite featuring my all-time favorite film score, by none other than Bernard Herrmann).  No mechanical hound?  C’mon, seriously?  

Anyway, Bradbury’s prose approaches the poetic, and adapting it for TV or film strips that aspect away.  Sure, the story’s still there, but the Bradbury voice is silenced.  Something huge and wonderful gets lost.

Having said that, I quite like “I Sing the Body Electric.”  It’s not one of the more popular TZ episodes, and it’ll never make my top 20, but I do like it.  It’s funny: Serling was so hot on serializing his lame guardian angel idea (see the god-awful “Mr. Bevis” and next week’s “Cavender in Coming”), but don’tcha think Facsimile Limited would’ve made a much better springboard for an anthology series?  A different electric grandmother each week, a different family…. Ah, the possibilities!

Next:  “Mr. Bevis” --- that wretched creature --- gets a remake.  The horror!  The horror!!!


Bill Huelbig said...

So Fahrenheit 451 is your #1 score too
? I always thought it was Vertigo. I've alternated those two as my #1 favorite several times myself.

Craig Beam said...

Vertigo is a vastly superior film, but I find myself listening to the F451 score MUCH more often. And I have you to thank for sending me that tape of the bootleg CD all those years ago! Shocking that we've still never seen an official release... the Morgan/Stromberg version is wonderful, though.

Courtney said...

I completely agree with you on Bradbury. Have you watched Ray Bradbury Theater? It's fun (I'm a huge Bradbury fan), but most of the dialogue doesn't translate well. It just sounds incredibly unnatural when spoken, no matter how well-acted the show was. I love the poetry of it, but it's much more enjoyable when read.

Bill Huelbig said...

The F451 score acts on me like comfort food. I'll never be able to explain it. The music (and the film) can't be called anything but sad, and yet whenever I hear it, I get the opposite effect from it. It leaves me feeling elated because it's just so beautiful.

Craig Beam said...

Very well put, my friend. I am similarly moved every single time I listen to it.

Craig Beam said...

Courtney, I have trouble with Ray Bradbury Theater, mostly because it's so low-budget that it's embarrassingly bad. I'd much rather enjoy Bradbury's short stories on paper and let my mind do the visualizing.

Joel Benedict Henderson said...

I still say that "The Crowd" which was written in 1950 and done as one of the earliest Ray Bradbury Theaters (back when they still had the Cronnenberg-esque thing going for them) would have made a better TZ than "ISTBE". I can only imagine the subject matter (ghosts that haunt auto accidents) would have been a bit taboo in 1962.

Craig Beam said...

Shatner was in that one, right? Yeah, I kinda remember that one being okay.

Joel Benedict Henderson said...

Shatner was in "The Playground", which was the episode that aired the week before.

Jennifer Schillig said...

Ever seen a 1982 TV movie called The Electric Grandmother? It was another adaptation of this story and featured Maureen Stapleton as Grandma, Edward Herrmann as the dad, and a pre-E.T. Robert McNaughton as the oldest brother. I was introduced to the story by this movie and always preferred it to this episode...for one thing, it kept the story's wonderful ending. For a small fee, the family assures the grandmother will have a special "retirement room" at the factory, where she and the other retired grandmothers share their memories and, as such, grow closer to humanity. But she assures her charges that the day will come when they need her again. Years pass, and the siblings, with their spouses dead and their children grown, have all moved back into the old house--where they summon Grandma, having need of her again. The story ends with the sarcophagus landing on the lawn once more.