Thursday, January 3, 2013

TZ Promo: "In His Image" (1/03/1963)

Season 4, Episode 1 (#103 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4851
Originally aired January 3, 1963

The revamped Twilight Zone launched fifty years ago tonight with Charles Beaumont’s “In His Image.” There’s really no way I can discuss the episode without spoiling it, so… fuck it, I won’t even try.  In fact, I’ll get it over with by very quickly encapsulating the proceedings:

Guy murders a woman in a subway in what appears to be a brief psychotic episode. Guy picks up girlfriend and drives to his hometown.  Lots of details about the town don’t jibe with his memory, and he has a couple more violent episodes as he tries to figure out what the hell is happening.  He eventually tracks down a man who appears to be his identical twin, but is actually his maker.  It turns out our troubled hero is a robot, one with an unfixable flaw that causes him to periodically go crazy.  Creator and creation clash in an epic battle, from which only one of them will emerge.

See, I didn't spoil everything after all (I guess I could just mentioned that Beaumont’s teleplay was based on his own short story “The Man Who Made Himself,” which is a spoiler in itself).

George Grizzard shines as both Alan Talbot (the creation) and Walter Ryder, Jr. (the creator).  The two are completely different personalities (Alan is humored and gregarious, while Walter is bitter and withdrawn), and Grizzard expertly inhabits both.  Hands down, this is one of my favorite performances in the series' five-year run.  Season two’s “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” featured a similar two-sides-of-the-same-coin performance by Joe Mantell, but his excellent work was hampered by less-than-optimal rear projection.  Here, things are technically perfect. If there are split-screen seams, I sure as hell can't see them (not even under Blu-ray’s high-resolution microscope).

Grizzard appeared in many television series throughout the fifties and sixties, and was an accomplished theater performer (he won a Tony in 1996 for his work in the revival of A Delicate Balance (shown at left).  Genre fans may have spotted him on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, on which he appeared three times. More recently, he had a recurring role on TV's Law and Order, and his last appearance on film was in Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers in 2006, shortly before he passed away in 2007).

Alan's girlfriend Jessica is played by the lovely Gail Kobe.  TZ babe alert!  *sigh*  We caught a brief glimpse of her in season one’s “A World of Difference,” and we’ll see her again in season five’s “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.”  She’s equally delicious in two of The Outer Limits’ sillier endeavors (“Specimen: Unknown” and “Keeper of the Purple Twilight;” the latter has to be seen to be believed). 

At least The Outer Limits was kind enough to get her all wet for us.

Katherine Squire, last seen in season three’s “One More Pallbearer,” appears for a brief but memorable role as the crazy Christian lady who badgers Alan in the subway, and good God is she repellent.  This is "witnessing" at its most coarse and obnoxious; thankfully, Alan dispatches her by tossing her in front of an oncoming train.  Sometimes murderous rages can be productive after all.

The onset of Alan’s violent fits are conveyed to us via a cacophony of blips, bloops and buzzes (standard sci-fi gizmos-gone-crazy sound effects; apparently inaudible to others), along with a bright light that comes over his face (apparently invisible to others; it’s reminiscent of the “death light” depicted in season one’s “The Purple Testament”).  It’s all effective enough but, frankly, Grizzard’s tortured reactions would have sufficed, and kept things a bit more subtle.

When Alan arrives at Walter's residence for what will become an epic showdown, we're treated to a nice atmospheric shot of Walter sneaking up behind him in the shadows.  If this shot looks vaguely familiar, it may be because we've already seen Grizzard perform a very similar arrival in season one's "The Chaser."

I'm sure this wasn't done intentionally, but it's a marvelous piece of visual continuity regardless (one that Arlen Schumer apparently missed in his amazing Visions from The Twilight Zone coffee table book, in which he draws several visual parallels between images from various episodes. By the way, every true TZ fan needs to own this book. It's about twenty years out of print, but can easily be tracked down on Amazon or eBay).

When viewed as a whole, The Twilight Zone is positively bristling with compelling and iconic images; here we get one of my personal favorites. Upon receiving a forearm injury right before the midway act break, Alan slowly peels the skin back to reveal the first concrete hint about the mystery of his identity.

  Boom!  You’re a robot, dude.

The idea of a simulacrum carrying on in ignorance of its own artifice was almost certainly a sci-fi clichĂ© by the time The Twilight Zone tackled it (in season one’s “The After-Hours” and season two’s “The Lateness of the Hour”), but in the capable hands of writer Charles Beaumont, the concept never feels unoriginal or stale (Beaumont also wrote another surprise-it’s-a-robot story called “Last Rites” in 1955, an equally fine yarn that would've made a great TZ episode).  Harlan Ellison would employ this device in his 1965 Outer Limits teleplay “Demon with a Glass Hand” (which happens to be my all-time favorite TOL episode; maybe I’m a much bigger fan of surprise-robot stories than I realized).

Walter Ryder Jr.’s basement lab is a pretty impressive set, complete with the usual wall-sized computer terminals and assorted gadgetry.  Particularly effective is what appears to be a brick-lined incinerator unit in the wall, but is more likely some sort of finishing/activation chamber for Ryder Jr.’s mechanical offspring (speaking of which, check out those failed proto-Alans lying dormant on a double-wide gurney).

And hey, Forbidden Planet alert!  The notorious bank of Pac-Man lights, originally a piece of equipment in that film’s C-57D Space Cruiser, makes yet another appearance on the series. This prop was used previously in “People Are Alike All Over,” “Elegy" and “Third From the Sun." I'm betting we'll see it again before the series ends...

As the first double-length TZ episode aired, “In His Image” never feels overlong or bloated (an attribute which next week’s episode will sadly not share).  It’s an absolute winner, one of my top 20 favorites of all time.

Next week:  There’s something scary inside that wrecked submarine, so whatever you do, don’t go down there!  No?  Okay, whatever you do, don’t go down there twice!  Still no?  Okay, can we at least agree that you won’t go down there a third time?  Oh come on, seriously??!

1 comment:

octobercountry said...

The season of hour-long episodes got off to a splendid start with this entry. I really enjoy the set-up for this sort of story, where the protagonist finds there is some kind of “glitch” in reality; somehow, everything is off-kilter and things just don’t seem right in an unexplainable way. And then we the audience spend the rest of the show/film/book trying to figure out just what is going on.

The “surprise, you’re a robot!” sci-fi element may already have been old-hat when the story was filmed, but it’s all very well done and I think this episode shows to great advantage, among the best that the Twilight Zone had to offer.