Monday, December 30, 2013

SyFy New Year’s Marathon 2013

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, kids, and you know what that means.... yet another TZ marathon on the SyFy Channel. Here's the lineup:

Dec 31, 2013

8:00 AM  One For The Angels
8:30 AM  The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine
9:00 AM  Escape Clause
9:30 AM  Perchance To Dream
10:00 AM  And When The Sky Was Opened
10:30 AM  What You Need
11:00 AM  I Shot An Arrow Into The Air
11:30 AM  The Fever
12:00 PM  Long Live Walter Jameson
12:30 PM  A World Of His Own
1:00 PM  Mr. Denton On Doomsday
1:30 PM  Third From The Sun
2:00 PM  People Are Alike All Over
2:30 PM  A Nice Place To Visit
3:00 PM  King Nine Will Not Return
3:30 PM  Nick Of Time
4:00 PM  A Most Unusual Camera
4:30 PM  The Night Of The Meek
5:00 PM  A Penny For Your Thoughts
5:30 PM  The Odyssey Of Flight 33
6:00 PM  A Hundred Yards Over The Rim
6:30 PM  The Shelter
7:00 PM  Where Is Everybody?
7:30 PM  Time Enough At Last
8:00 PM  The Hitch-hiker
8:30 PM  The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
9:00 PM  A Stop At Willoughby
9:30 PM  The Howling Man
10:00 PM  Eye Of The Beholder
10:30 PM  The Invaders
11:00 PM  Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?
11:30 PM  The Obsolete Man

Jan 1, 2014

12:00 AM  The Midnight Sun
12:30 AM  Walking Distance
1:00 AM  The Lonely
1:30 AM  Judgment Night
2:00 AM  The Four Of Us Are Dying
2:30 AM  The Last Flight
3:00 AM  The Purple Testament
3:30 AM  Nightmare As A Child
4:00 AM  Mr. Bevis
4:30 AM  The After Hours

(paid programming)

8:00 AM  A Thing About Machines
8:30 AM  The Prime Mover
9:00 AM  The Silence
9:30 AM  The Arrival
10:00 AM  Deaths-Head Revisited
10:30 AM  A Piano In The House
11:00 AM  The Last Rights Of Jeff Myrtlebank
11:30 AM  Hocus-Pocus And Frisby
12:00 PM  In Praise Of Pip
12:30 PM  Uncle Simon
1:00 PM  It's A Good Life
1:30 PM  Five Characters In Search Of An Exit
2:00 PM  The Hunt
2:30 PM  Little Girl Lost
3:00 PM  The Little People
3:30 PM  A Kind Of a Stopwatch
4:00 PM  Probe 7 Over And Out
4:30 PM  The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms
5:00 PM  Number Twelve Looks Just Like You
5:30 PM  Black Leather Jackets
6:00 PM  What's In The Box
6:30 PM  Caesar And Me
7:00 PM  A Game Of Pool
7:30 PM  Dead Man's Shoes
8:00 PM  Kick The Can
8:30 PM  To Serve Man
9:00 PM  The Dummy
9:30 PM  I Sing The Body Electric
10:00 PM  Nightmare At 20,000 Feet
10:30 PM  Living Doll
11:00 PM  The Masks
11:30 PM  The Bewitchin' Pool
12:00 PM  I Am The Night - Color Me Black
12:30 AM  Mr. Dingle, The Strong
1:00 AM  Long Distance Call
1:30 AM  The Rip Van Winkle Caper
2:00 AM  Two
2:30 AM  The Grave
3:00 AM  The Old Man In The Cave
3:30 AM  Night Call
4:00 AM  Ring-a-ding Girl
4:30 AM  Stopover In A Quiet Town
8:00 AM  A Quality Of Mercy
8:30 AM  Nothing In The Dark

Friday, December 27, 2013

Episode Spotlight: "Ring-a-Ding Girl" (12/27/1963)

Season 5, Episode 13 (133 overall)
Originally aired 12/27/1963
Cayuga Production # 2623

Fifty years ago, a self-absorbed movie star redeemed herself through the offices of One Step Be---- oops, I mean The Twilight Zone.

Bunny Blake, Hollywood’s “Ring-a-Ding Girl” (whatever that means), is about to depart for a movie shoot in Rome when her personal assistant hands her a package. Bunny, who is very clearly a spoiled celebrity, tears it open immediately. It’s a ring from her fan club, located in her hometown of Howardville (I almost typed “Indiana,” but they never say what state it’s in). Bunny, who is shallow and is easily captivated by shiny objects, places the ring on her finger, and is immediately confronted with images of her friends and family, urgently imploring her to come home.

Bunny arrives unannounced in Howardville to her sister and nephew’s delight, but things take an odd turn when she insists on inviting the entire town to forgo their annual Founder’s Day picnic and watch her perform a one-woman show in the high school auditorium instead. At this point we’re on the same page as the disgusted high school superintendent, said page reading “Wow, what a conceited bitch!” As it turns out, however, Bunny knows something the rest of them don’t, and has a rather altruistic plan in mind to save them (or as many of them as possible) from an imminent catastrophe.

“Ring-a-Ding Girl” was written by Earl Hamner Jr. (“Jess-Belle”), and I can’t help but wonder if he originally wrote this for Alcoa Presents One Step Beyond, discovered that the show was cancelled two years earlier, and submitted it here instead. It’s practically dripping with that show’s unique ethos, right down to the astral projection/doppelgänger theme and the eerie Theramin riffs punctuating Bunny’s periodic gazes into her magical ring (which sound like Harry Lubin composed them; they’re actually by Rene Garriguenc). It’s not the first time TZ has stepped on John Newland’s toes (see season two’s “Twenty Two”).

I have a couple of issues with “Ring-a-Ding Girl.” First and foremost, Bunny Blake is annoying as hell, and not just because of her lame “ring-a-ding!” catchphrase (I can’t decide if it’s the character or the actress that I object to; perhaps it’s both). We don’t see much of Howardville, but its “golly gee whiz small town USA” character still comes through loud and clear (thanks particularly to the Budd character). Both the characters and the locations are clichéd caricatures.

And the ring itself is maddeningly enigmatic. Is it some kind of interspatial conduit, through which people are communicating with Bunny? Are they calling to Bunny from an alternate timeline and beyond the grave, attempting to save their other selves? Is the ring some kind of focusing element for Bunny’s body and/or soul, which appears to be stretched across two different realities?  Hildy sent the ring to Bunny, so is she aware of its apparent powers? And, perhaps more importantly, is she also aware of the tragedy soon to unfold, and is attempting to intervene (her shocked reaction at the end would indicate not)? I know, I know: this is The Twilight Zone. Why the hell am I asking so many questions?

Despite my misgivings, there are a few things I like about the episode.  Bunny’s grating antics stop dead every time she looks at her ring and, for those few seconds, she’s suddenly a real, troubled person.  And I like the optical effect used for the ring shots too (see above).  And Bunny’s final exit, in which she steps outside into the pouring rain and vanishes, is well-executed and hauntingly effective. The episode certainly ends on a better note than it begins. But is it enough to redeem the whole thing? I dunno.


While the actors in the lead roles aren't repeat TZ visitors, almost the entire supporting cast has repeatedly intersected the fifth dimension.

Bing Russell plays Ben Braden, the local TV personality who facilitates Bunny’s on-air invitation to her one-woman show. Russell crossed over into The Twilight Zone previously in season three’s “The Arrival.”  He was well-known here in my neck of the woods as the owner of minor league baseball’s Portland Mavericks (1973-1977). Oh, and genre fans are undoubtedly familiar with his son Kurt (Escape from New York, The Thing, Stargate), who played on his dad’s team in ‘73 and ‘77 (the team’s first and last years in existence, interestingly enough).

Hank Patterson is sufficiently gruff as the crotchety high school superintendent Mr. Gentry.  He last appeared on TZ as Mr. Freitag, one of the Sunnyvale Rest Home residents, in season three’s “Kick the Can”; we’ll see him again later this season in “Come Wander with Me.”

The State Trooper who telephones Hildy with news of the plane crash (and Bunny’s death) is played by none other than Vic Perrin, the famed Control Voice on ABC’s The Outer Limits.  Here in The Twilight Zone, Perrin played a Martian in season one’s “People Are Alike All Over” and, more recently, provided the voice of the robot in “Uncle Simon.”

George Mitchell (Dr. Floyd) turns in his fourth and final TZ appearance: he played the cranky gas station proprietor in “The Hitch-hiker” and the bitter father at Joe Caswell’s hanging in “Execution” (both in season one); more recently he played Elly Glover’s father in season four’s “Jess-belle.”

Bill Hickman plays the briefly-glimpsed pilot of Bunny Blake’s ill-fated airplane in his only TZ appearance. He also popped up as a guard in the Outer Limits episode “The Mice.”

Before my recent viewing, I hadn't seen “Ring-a-Ding Girl” in well over twenty-five years. I can honestly say that, having seen it through older eyes, I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I thought I did, but I can’t say that I necessarily love it either. Like many season five offerings, there’s some potential in the core idea but the execution is somewhat lacking. In his Twilight Zone Companion, Zicree breezes past it with a single line: “(It’s) much like the stone in the ring Bunny Blake receives: interesting, but no gem.” I get no pleasure out of agreeing with Zicree, but… yeah, he totally nailed it here.

Next week:
You know what's worse than a backseat driver? No driver at all.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Episode Spotlight: "Ninety Years Without Slumbering" (12/20/1963)

Season 5, Episode 12 (132 overall)
Originally aired 12/20/1963
Cayuga Production # 2615

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
And was always his treasure and pride
But it stopped short, never to go again
When the old man died
Ninety years without slumbering
His life seconds numbering
It stopped short, never to go again
When the old man died

“My Grandfather’s Clock”
(Henry Clay Work; abbreviated)

76 year-old Sam Forstmann lives with his pregnant granddaughter Marnie and her husband Doug. He shares his room with a grandfather clock, which he’s owned all his life and obsessively maintains. It’s his steadfast belief that, should the clock stop ticking, he will die. Marnie is increasingly worried about him so, to placate her, he agrees to sell the clock to a neighbor (on the condition that he be allowed to continue maintaining it).

The new owners of the clock take an unexpected trip and, without Sam’s daily upkeep, the clock begins to slow down. Sam’s attempts to break into the house are stopped by police intervention. Dejected, he returns home and goes to bed, certain that he will die that night.

The clock stops. Sam’s spirit appears to separate from his body, and the two engage in a lively debate about the merits of his long-held belief that the clock is intrinsic to his existence. Sam essentially talks himself out of this belief and, the next morning, surprises Marnie with his new outlook on life.

Wait, what?

Yeah, you heard me. We just spent twenty-five minutes feeling sorry for this old man because of his clock obsession, which is really just a fear of dying, which we can certainly all understand and sympathize with, and then ---- at the crucial moment ---- he simply changes his mind. Sucker punch!

I get where the title of the episode comes from, but it’s confusing because Sam is 76, not 90. They could’ve made him 90, but then they’d lose the “Spirit of ‘76” joke that pops up in Sam’s conversation with his own spirit (which seems kinda dumb anyway; it wouldn't have been a big loss). We last saw Ed Wynn five years ago (in season one’s “One for the Angels”), and he seems to have aged quite a bit. I’d buy him as 90.

The rooms in Doug and Marnie's place seem abnormally large. Look at the size of Sam's bedroom!

The teleplay was written by Richard de Roy, adapted from “Tick of Time,” a teleplay by George Clayton Johnson. Johnson was unhappy with de Roy’s changes and chose to be credited under his pseudonym Johnson Smith. I'm not sure which of them to thank, but the script features one of my favorite lines in the whole series. It’s in Serling’s closing narration, and was featured prominently in Arlen Schumer’s Visions from The Twilight Zone.


“Ninety Years without Slumbering” features an original score by Bernard Herrmann, his seventh and final for the series.  His work here interpolates the melody from “My Grandfather’s Clock,” an old British standard written in 1876 by Henry Clay Work (which has been recorded by several acts over the decades, most notably Johnny Cash in 1959 and, more recently, R&B’s Boyz II Men in 2004; never thought you’d see a Boyz II Men reference here, didja?). As such, the melodic score sounds nothing like his typical TZ output (which consist largely of dramatic and moody, often ethereal cues).  An exception is the music underlying the scene in which Sam is confronted by his own spirit (titled, simply, “Ninety Years without Slumbering XI”; this particular score uses only numbers as cue titles): vibraphone and harp dance atop and around brooding bass clarinet chords, evoking Herrmann’s earlier work in “The Lonely” and “Eye of the Beholder” (as well as his “Outer Space Suite,” a CBS Music Library work used in many TZ episodes). The original Herrmann recordings have never been officially released; however, they can be obtained via the isolated music tracks present on both the DVD and blu-ray sets of season five (from Image Entertainment).

Additionally, Joel McNeely recorded all seven of Herrmann’s TZ scores (along with his various title themes) in 1999 for a 2-CD set released by Varese Sarabande Records (discussed recently when we covered “Living Doll”). I do have some reservations about McNeely’s interpretations but, given the relative simplicity of “Ninety Years without Slumbering,” his take on it sounds fine (though, purist that I am, I’ll never place it above Herrmann’s original recording).


Ed Wynn (Sam Forstmann) first crossed paths with Rod Serling in 1956’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight” on Playhouse 90, and then again in the aforementioned “One for the Angels” in 1959. It should be noted that he’s the father of Keenan Wynn, who starred in season one’s “A World of His Own” and co-starred with his dad in the aforementioned “Requiem for a Heavyweight.”

From left: Keenan Wynn, Jack Palance, Ed Wynn

Mamie Kirk, Sam’s pregnant granddaughter, is played with familial sweetness by Carolyn Kearney, who also appeared in the TZ proto-pilot “The Time Element” on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in 1958 (as the newlywed Mrs. Janoski). I called her a TZ babe then, but I feel less inclined to lust after her here (probably because her character is quite pregnant and, believe it or not, I’m not a total cad).

Fortunately, my lust needs are covered here by Carol Byron, playing the tasty dish next door (also named Carol). She’s kinda adorable, which assists me in looking past her overeager housewife-in-a-commercial acting (just listen to her exclaim “George doesn’t think I’m a bargain hunter; wait’ll he hears about this!”).

William Sargent (the psychiatrist, Dr. Mel Avery) previously passed through The Twilight Zone as the Project Manager in season four’s “The Parallel.” He also appeared on a variety of other genre TV series, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Star Trek, and The Invaders.

Dick Wilson (Mover #1) appeared in season one’s “Escape Clause” as an exasperated insurance adjuster, but I’m sure he’s much better remembered for his role (as opposed to roll, har har) as Mr. Whipple in 25 years’ worth of Charmin commercials. Mover # 2, meanwhile, is played by stuntman Chuck Hicks, last seen as The Maynard Flash in “Steel” a couple of months back. He has another (very tenuous) Serling connection: he played a boxer in a 1963 episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis titled, punnily enough, “Requiem for an Underweight Heavyweight.”

I wrote and directed a teleplay back in 1995 or so called “Nothing to Fear,” in which a time-obsessed man uses a pocket watch to keep himself organized and alert in an attempt to stave off a murderous creature whom he believes will strike if he lets down his guard. The resultant half-hour film (shot on 8mm video), which starred a couple of friends (Donovan Littlejohn and Jason Ulven; ‘sup fellas?), went on to repeated airings on the Tualatin Valley Public Access channel here in Portland (which was probably happy to air something other than local Freedom of Speech champion Jim Spagg’s naked rantings and ravings; if you've never heard of Jim Spagg, Google him for some, um, eye-opening fun). 

In retrospect, “Nothing to Fear” was a half-baked idea to begin with, and the creature’s existence was never really adequately explained, but I suppose worse things have shown up on TV (about half of Tales from the Darkside’s four-year run, for example). Oh, in addition to writing and directing the piece, I shot it, edited it, composed and performed its electronic music score, and appeared in a cameo role. Sextuple threat!

Damn, I had a lot of hair back then.

The acting is uniformly good in “Ninety Years without Slumbering,” but unfortunately the strong thespianism on display is largely wasted on a disappointing, pedestrian script. The fascinating concept of time obsession is merely name-dropped instead of being examined and explored. Throw in the implausible last-minute reversal to create a happy ending and you end up with precious time wasted.

Next week: Ring-a-ding-a-ling-a-ding-dong!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Episode Promo: "A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain" (12/13/2013)

Season 5, Episode 11 (131 overall)
Originally aired 12/13/1963
Cayuga Production # 2614

Fifty years ago tonight, a desperate man submitted himself to a dangerous experiment.  And no, he didn’t have a pet mouse named Algernon.

Rod Serling’s “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” concerns one Harmon Gordon and his wanton wife Flora. It’s your classic May-December conundrum: Harmon is slowing down as he enters his twilight years, while Flora is vibrant, young and perpetually craving excitement.

Harmon is at the end of his rope trying to keep up with Flora. His scientist brother Raymond is working on a youth serum that’s shown some promise in lab animals, a serum which Harmon asks to be injected with. Raymond flat out refuses, but relents when Harmon twists his arm by threatening suicide.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the serum actually does work. Harmon is a strapping young man in short order, much to Flora’s delight. However, the serum doesn’t stop working, and by the next morning Harmon has been reduced to an infant. Like Barbara in “Uncle Simon,” Flora is now trapped. She’ll have to provide constant care for the li’l guy or, as Raymond observes, she’ll be out on her ass (my own paraphrasing).

Gotta love how Raymond places all the responsibility on Flora, threatening to “take it out of her skin” should Harmon be damaged or killed by the injection that he administers. Yes, we can at least partly blame her for Harmon’s state of mind, but she had no part in Harmon’s request for the injection, or Dr. Raymond’s decision to honor said request. Raymond clearly despises Flora with a passion, so it makes sense for him to relish somewhat in her fate; however, if she’s really as selfish and irresponsible as he believes, how can she be trusted to take care of the newly-infantile Harmon?  In looking at all three characters with a critical eye, I’m inclined to blame Flora the least for what transpires. Harmon is a whiny self-loathing schmuck who clearly lacks the balls necessary to demand better treatment from his wife (I’m reminded of Henry Bemis, who elicited a similar disgusted reaction in me). Raymond, while ostensibly looking out for his brother, actually dooms him with both eyes wide open, and isn’t man enough to acknowledge his culpability (that’s putting it lightly).  And Flora… well…

DAMN. Check out the way Ruta Lee (Flora) lustily licks her luscious lips (say that fast three times) and flashes those bedroom eyes at Harmon while they’re dancing in the prologue. This is probably the single hottest moment in the entire series’ run (yeah, even hotter than Maya the Cat Girl’s dance in “Perchance to Dream,” though not by much), and Lee reaches the highest tier of TZ Babedom with ease. 

Flora very much evokes the classic femme fatale villain present in most film noirs: acid-tongued, money-grubbing and ladder-climbing, she employs her beauty as a tool and her body as a weapon. You just know that, somewhere in the back of her head, she’s been planning to off poor Harmon in some Double Indemnity-type scheme all along.

The episode is fun (albeit by-the-numbers and pretty predictable); however, the real fun is thinking ahead to what might happen after the episode ends. Once Flora’s initial shock wears off, I imagine she’ll realize that Raymond really has nothing on her. She could dump the baby at a local shelter (or on somebody’s doorstep) and report her husband as missing. Harmon will eventually be declared dead, and she’ll get all his money. Raymond almost certainly won’t go public with the truth, since doing so would destroy his career and very probably land him in prison (even if Harmon had signed a release, which he didn't do). Speaking of film noir…!

Minor technical gripe: at the top of act one, there’s an abrupt cut to a medium shot of Flora directly after the episode credits are shown. Usually act one’s opening shot will extend beyond said credits, providing a smooth flow into the action. This awkward cut makes me wonder if the episode ran a bit long, so they excised something. It reminds me of the syndication trims I used to see when I first discovered the series on local channel KPTV-12 in the early 80’s (they’d keep the episode titles but then chop a minute or two out immediately after, which almost invariably resulted in a jarring, sloppy splice).


Harmon Gordon is played by Patrick O 'Neal in his only TZ appearance; however, he crossed paths with Rod Serling again in a 1971 episode of Night Gallery (“A Fear of Spiders”). He also starred in the “Wolf 359” episode of The Outer Limits in 1964.

Walter Brooke (Dr. Raymond Gordon) previously passed through The Twilight Zone in season three’s “The Jungle.” Genre fans may also recall his recurring role on TV’s The Incredible Hulk as Mark Foster, determined reporter Jack McGee’s boss. Also on the sci-fi fantasy front, Brooke played the unnamed U.S. President in the “Testimony of a Traitor” episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in 1981.

“A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” is the second of five episodes that comprise “The Lost Five,” a group of episodes that weren't syndicated with the rest of the series for various reasons. In this episode’s case, a plagiarism suit was filed against Cayuga Productions after it was aired (Serling based the teleplay on an unpublished story by Louis Holz; another writer claimed that Serling had stolen his idea). The ensuing litigation kept the episode out of circulation until 1984 when it (along with last season’s “Miniature” and “Sounds and Silences,” the fiftieth anniversary of which is coming up in April) reemerged as part of the syndicated Twilight Zone Silver Anniversary Special, which was hosted by none other than Patrick O’Neal, who by then looked old enough to play the role of Harmon without makeup (if memory serves, he made a crack to that effect when he introduced this episode).

Interestingly, “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” is the only “Lost Five” episode to have been added to the syndication package since its 1984 reappearance. The other four are available on DVD, blu-ray and Hulu (as of this writing), but as far as I know, they still aren't being aired along with the rest of the series.

It’s certainly not top-tier Zone, but “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” is pretty decent (if a bit claustrophobic, since the entire episode takes place in the Gordons’ high rise apartment). It’s not particularly interesting visually, except when Ruta Lee is in the scene, and then… *sigh*

Next week:
Ed Wynn whips out his big ol’ clock for all to see.