Thursday, January 17, 2013

TZ Promo: "Valley of the Shadow" (1/17/1963)

Season 4, Episode 3 (#105 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4861
Originally aired January 17, 1963

Before we get started, look at the title card above.  Look odd?  Something… missing, maybe?  There aren't any fucking quotation marks!  It seems to be a simple mistake… until the title is shown again during the end credits, where it happens again!

This is exactly the kind of minutiae that keeps obsessive fans like me awake nights, trying to decode the mystery behind what appears to be a typographical error that nobody else seems to have ever noticed, but may also be some bizarre and very subtle plot to screw with obsessive-compulsive minds like mine.


Fifty years ago tonight, a man stumbled across the best-kept secret in human history in Charles Beaumont’s “Valley of the Shadow” (with quotes, goddammit!). We find reporter Philip Redfield snooping around Peaceful Valley, his curiosity piqued by a glimpse of impossible technology, not to mention the townsfolk’s determined resolve to get him to leave town ASAP.

The town elders, realizing there’s no getting rid of him, relent and relay to him the fantastic tale of a stranger who visited their town a century ago.  This visitor, who may have come from another planet or another time (or both), bestowed upon the town the means to construct machines that, among other things, can rearrange matter into anything (including a ham sandwich with mustard, just the way I like ‘em), and generate impenetrable force fields (hey, this sounds really familiar; was the visitor in fact a Kanamit, an advance scout who didn't eat the locals because he was a vegetarian?)  The town elders were charged with protecting the technology until the day that humanity finally achieves world peace and, now that Redfield knows the secret, he can never be allowed to leave.

Redfield is given a house to live in once he (facetiously) agrees to cooperate, but quickly discovers that he’s trapped on the premises by an invisible force field. We’re reminded of season one’s “People Are Alike All Over,” in which marooned astronaut Sam Conrad (Roddy McDowell) is given a similar house by seemingly friendly Martians, only to discover that it’s actually a cage in their interstellar zoo.

Cue the escape plan, which consists of the following:

Seduce a comely local girl.  Yeah, that one'll do nicely.

Use the matter-rearranging console to create a loaded pistol
(why would the machine even allow this...?).

Turn off the force field that prevents you from leaving town
(maybe breaking off the handle would have been smart).

Steal the town's Book of Secrets
(which is kept in an unlocked safe, fer chrissakes!).

Shoot everybody who tries to stop you.

As interesting as this all sounds (particularly that first part), it’s unfortunately a pretty vanilla affair.  I wouldn't call it boring, necessarily (nothing like last week’s snoozefest), but there’s a blandness throughout that’s hard to deny.  Maybe pedestrian is the word I'm looking for. There’s no sense of atmosphere or style and, since every single scene takes place in broad daylight, there’s a total lack of shadows and contrast.  Despite the fantastic elements of the story and the vast potential therein (a cool flashback showing the town's fateful meeting with the visitor would have been most welcome), there’s never really any tension to speak of, not even when our hero’s very life appears to be in mortal jeopardy at the climactic moment when….



…um, when nothing actually happens.  And I mean nothing.  You’ll see.

Even the assorted gadgets are pretty boring to look at, despite their amazing functions.  The worst is The Glass Bowl of Doom, shown above, which we’re led to believe will terminate Redfield’s life…. but doesn't.


I’m thinking Gene Roddenberry saw this episode and immediately created Star Trek. The matter replication machine appears to be a 20th century version of Trek’s replicator technology (perhaps the “visitor” was a rogue time traveler from the future…? Somebody call the Temporal Integrity Commission!). Meanwhile, the handheld device that teleports Redfield from place to place manages the same function as Trek’s famous transporter (but without the cool visual effects).  I'm not saying Roddenberry was a thieving hack, but.... well, maybe I am saying it.

Of course there’s always the possibility that the visitor was in fact a Time Lord (the BBC's Doctor Who debuted in 1963, after all).  But I’ll be damned if I’m going there (so suck it, Logan!*).

That stupid how-many-people-can-we-fit-into-a-phone-booth fad?  Yeah, it started right here.

Philip Redfield is played by Ed Nelson, who, if his IMDB listing is accurate, appeared on just about every television series throughout the sixties and seventies. He’s probably best known for his work as Michael Rossi on TV’s Peyton Place (1964-1969), but genre fans will recall his appearance in the “Nightmare” episode of The Outer Limits, which aired a little less than one year after this, his sole Twilight Zone stint.

Interestingly, writer Charles Beaumont sold a (very) similar script called “An Ordinary Town” to The Outer Limits a year later, which was heavily revised and filmed as “The Guests.”

Smart House™, 1964 model.

Oh, and speaking of Roddy McDowell, the deliciously busty Ellen Marshall is played by Natalie Trundy (TZ babe alert!) who is probably much more recognizable to genre fans as McDowell’s simian mate Lisa in the final two Planet of the Apes films.  She also appeared in the second and third Apes films as a mutant and a human scientist, respectively, but her connection to the Apes saga is much deeper: she was married to producer Arthur P. Jacobs, and she took over his APJAC Productions when he passed away in 1973.  Trundy is still with us as of this writing (she’s 72 today, which would make her 22 here).  I should note that McDowell and Trundy are the only two actors to appear in four out of the five Apes films.

Oh, and speaking of Star Trek, we're treated to an appearance by James Doohan, who famously portrayed Trek's resourceful (and very Scottish) engineer Montgomery Scott.  Maybe Roddenberry saw him here and like him enough to use him... you know, when he was "coming up with" his "totally original" new TV series "idea."

I do like "Valley of the Shadow," but it’s a bit frustrating to realize that it had the potential to be so much more.  It calls to mind those vintage sci-fi comic books like Weird Science and Incredible Science Fiction, which frequently featured tales like this one, in which lone heroes stumble upon shocking secrets or alien plots and must somehow save the day.  There’s one in particular that’s been stuck in my head forever, about a guy who stumbles upon a secret passageway which leads to the center of the earth, where the earth’s orbit is controlled by a machine, which is somehow damaged and he has to fix it to save mankind (I think I've got a reprint my storage unit someplace… maybe I’ll dig it out and come back to this).

Redfield doesn't save the earth, by the way.  In fact, he doesn't end up doing a goddamned thing.  You’ll see.

*Logan, my 19 year-old stepson, is a Doctor Who fanatic.  I've never seen a single episode, so he tried repeatedly over Christmas break to make me watch it.  He was unsuccessful.

Next week:  Mein Gott!


Ken said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed the lack of quotation marks on this episode the very first time I saw it! I think some of the 4th season episode titles are in a larger type, too!

Joel Benedict Henderson said...

Yeah Mute has a surprisingly large title card IIRC.

Craig Beam said...

Believe me, I'll be addressing that gigantic "Mute" title card.

Geoffe Haney said...

Nothing about David Opatoshu? He was amazingly eerily calmly the actor that stole the show for me. I have to say that this is in my top 5 episodes.

octobercountry said...

I thought this was the quintessential sort of Twilight Zone story, and I enjoyed it very much. Oh, it isn’t the most exciting episode, but when you think it over the plot does give you plenty of food for thought.

There’s more than a hint of Brigadoon here. While the town isn’t physically hidden, the residents carefully keep a low profile, separating themselves from what they see as a corrupt world. And like the village of Brigadoon, apparently no one is ever allowed to leave the town of Peaceful Valley.
As for why the elders allowed Redfield to stay, instead of just erasing his memory right at the start, well… Perhaps after some thought they viewed the situation as a test. They could check to see if the basic corruption at the root of all human nature has improved at all (nope). But---there was also the chance that Redfield would be happy to stay---I daresay they wouldn’t have minded a fresh addition to the town’s gene pool, if he did end up becoming part of the community.

I do find it difficult to believe that in over 100 years no other resident of the town has tried to make off with the technological secrets to make a profit in the outside world.

But yeah, the elders really were right. While their inventions could do a lot of good in the world, this technology would INSTANTLY be used for all sorts of evil purposes as well. However, you have to wonder just what makes all of the residents of Peaceful Valley so pure, that they (as a microcosm of humanity) haven’t destroyed themselves already.