Thursday, February 21, 2013

TZ Promo: "Miniature" (2/21/1963)

Season 4, Episode 8 (#110 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4862
Originally aired February 21, 1963

We've seen this type of story before on The Twilight Zone, in which a misfit finds a supernatural means of permanent escape, be it into the past (“A Stop at Willoughby,” “Static”), an alternate reality (“A World of Difference”), or a nonspecific combination of both (“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine,” “Kick the Can,” “Young Man’s Fancy”).  Both “The Night of the Meek” and “The Fugitive” are variations on this theme as well.  Tonight we meet yet another of TZ’s unhappy loners who finds a way out of his troubled existence into something… well, else.

Charles Beaumont’s “Miniature” introduces us to Charley Parkes, a thirty-something bachelor who lives with his mother, has no friends, and who has just lost his job because he simply “ doesn't fit in” (I’m pretty sure he could sue for wrongful termination these days).  He can’t be bothered to look for another job, however, as he’s too busy visiting a local museum every day, gazing longingly at one particular item on display.

It’s a fairly average dollhouse, silent and inert, complete with a tiny wooden girl sitting at the tiny wooden piano.  When Charley looks at it, however, it comes to glorious life in a charming miniature pantomime:  the girl (Alice) plays the piano, a tiny maid attends to her every whim, and a tiny gentleman caller comes a’calling.

Charley falls desperately in love with the Alice doll, indulging in an ongoing one-sided conversation with her through the glass shield protecting the dollhouse.  Things seem harmless enough until the tiny gentleman caller shows up drunk, clubs the maid into unconsciousness and attempts to deflower Alice by force.  Charley panics and smashes the glass wall, and subsequently winds up in a psych ward.

Without giving away more of the plot (though I’ve pretty much spoiled it at this point anyway), it’s safe to say that Charley eventually manages to get himself released, return to the dollhouse and, through unspecified magic, vanishes forever from human existence, only to reappear as the doll’s tiny new companion inside the dollhouse.

Now, maybe I’m overthinking this, but what exactly happened here?  Okay, on a prosaic level, Charley transmogrified into a miniature wooden figure, just like Alice (up till then, it appeared that he was operating under a very complex delusion).  Going forward, in what capacity will these two wooden lovebirds exist?  Are the dolls actually miniature people (like Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, recently made into a lovely animated film by Japan’s Studio Ghibli called The Secret World of Arriety), masquerading as inanimate objects during the day and doing their living at night, in secret (oh shit, is this a precursor to Night in the Museum?).  Or is the dollhouse some sort of inter-dimensional portal to some other universe, a cosmic way station in which our reality bleeds into the other, only visible to a select few?

The setup for “Miniature” feels very much like a Jack Finney story:  a guy falls in love with a girl from the past; however, in Finney’s hands, Charley would've sought the real Alice Summers (or at least her grave) out.  At no time in Beaumont’s story does this seem to occur to Charley; rather, he simply falls in love with an action figure-sized woman, which is completely impractical on a number of levels.  But maybe this makes sense, given Charley’s introverted and apparently sexless nature: see how disastrously he interacts with a normal-sized woman on a blind date:

The humor in “Miniature” is gentle and quirky, mirroring Charley’s personality, except for one scene that, truth be told, kinda bugs me.  At the end of act one, the gentleman caller arrives at the dollhouse to take Alice out (to take in the nearby African tribal exhibit, perhaps?).  As Charley watches intently and presumably jealously, this happens:

Anybody got some Windex?

I would've preferred a furrowed brow here, maybe an uneasy knuckle nibble.  The smooshed-nose-against-the-glass routine is just plain childish; it worked in “The Night of the Meek” because excited kids were doing it.  It’s out of character for Charley, it violates the tone of the piece, and it’s just dumb.

Oscar-winner Robert Duvall did a lot of TV in his younger days, and genre fans will recall his two stints on The Outer Limits (“The Chameleon” and “The Inheritors”).  Here he shines as the awkward and shy Charley; however, he was much more awkward and shy as the enigmatic  Boo Radley in 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mrs. Parkes, who is probably largely to blame for Charley’s social awkwardness, is well essayed by Pert Kelton. Kelton was the original Alice Kramden, back when The Honeymooners was a recurring sketch, performed live on TV’s Cavalcade of Stars. I kinda wish Charley had given her the old “Pow! Right in the kisser!” right before he disappeared forever.

William Windom returns to The Twilight Zone as Charley’s psychiatrist, Dr. Wallman. He’s just as humorless here as he was last time we saw him, playing the army major in season three’s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.”

John McLiam is great as the sympathetic museum guard who ultimately spots the vanished Charley inside the dollhouse (but keeps it to himself). McLiam appears in bit roles in three other TZ episodes (“The Shelter,” "The Midnight Sun,” and season five’s “Uncle Simon”).

TZ alumn Barney Phillips, as Charley’s boss Mr. Diemel, is less likable here than in his previous appearances (“The Purple Testament,” “A Thing About Machines,” and “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”).  Fear not, he’s not sporting a third eye this time around.

And hey --- TZ babe alert!  Pity this is Claire Griswold’s only TZ appearance.  She may be made of wood, but she’s crazy hot, and I wouldn't mind… (insert inappropriate wood-related innuendo here).

A gentle tale like this demands (okay, nicely asks for) gentle music.  Fred Steiner’s score incorporates several different classical works (most notably Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Major, the tune that the Alice doll plays), and the result is quite lovely.  Given the melodramatic nature of the pantomime scenes inside the dollhouse, classical music just feels appropriate.  Steiner’s score has never been released on any music format (vinyl, cassette, CD or digital), but you’ll find it in isolated form on both DVD releases and the more recent Blu-ray edition of season four.

“Miniature” is the first of five TZ episodes that were omitted from the original syndication package (“The Lost Five”) for various reasons.  In the case of “Miniature,” a pending plagiarism lawsuit kept the episode off limits when the series was prepared for syndication in 1964.  It aired only once, 50 years ago tonight, and remained buried until 1984.

In 1984, three of the “lost five” episodes were collected in a television special celebrating the series’ 25th anniversary, one of which was “Miniature.”  As a “bonus” (note the sarcastic quotes), the scenes inside the dollhouse in “Miniature” were colorized.  The colorization thankfully did NOT carry over into the various home video releases of the episode (which are four in number: Columbia House VHS collection, DVD volume 31, the season four Definitive Edition DVD set, and the season four blu-ray set). The colorized scenes were included as a bonus on the Definitive Edition DVD set, but omitted for the more recent blu-ray release (presumably because they realized what an abomination it was).  Let’s allow this unfortunate chapter in the episode’s unique history to fade into oblivion.

Next week: Burgess Meredith returns to The Twilight Zone.  Speak of the devil!


Anonymous said...

"Alice" -- Claire Griswold. Happily married to Sydney Pollack until his death from cancer. Much beloved by her family, she died 3 years later in 2011.

octobercountry said...

This is one of my favourites from season four; really, I think it’s just about perfect. Much of the success of the episode rests on Duvall’s marvelously nuanced, subtle performance. Here he’s playing someone who isn’t just shy and withdrawn; I think it’s fair to say this character is somewhere “on the spectrum” and as such has difficulty in what would be considered normal social reactions and with relating to others. Duvall does a great job with the part, reacting to situations in a restrained but very genuine way. Just look at the expression on his face when he sees the doll in the doctor’s office, and a tear begins to fall. And when he’s on his blind date, note the amusing little hitch he makes when sitting on the park bench, to scoot over just a tiny bit, so he’s further away from that woman.

Ah, so the big question is, what happens to him at the end? Is he actually now a tiny resident of the dollhouse, stuck forever in a museum that is unseen by the inhabitants of the model? My own theory is quite different. I think the dollhouse served as a sort of time portal, for those who have the eyes to see. When you look in the rooms of the house, what you’re actually seeing is not something physically going on in the model. Rather, you’re getting a glimpse of actual past events that took place in the real-life house. Charley Parkes’ overwhelming longing for the past transported him back in time to the world he had been observing. So, he’s actually become a member of that society, and if anyone had done some historical research they’d find that he had entered the time stream at that point, and lived out the rest of his life in the Victorian/Edwardian age.

This story feels very much like something written by Jack Finney. Finney is probably most famous for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” but he also wrote numerous short stories which often featured individuals that are simply desperate to escape from modern life and return to the past. I’ve often thought that it was a real shame that none of Finney’s stories were adapted for The Twilight Zone, because they are a perfect fit for the show; that’s a real missed opportunity. Only recently did I learn that the producers were quite interested in using some of Finney’s stories on the series, but that the author simply wanted too much money for his work. They were too expensive, and the budget allotted by CBS wouldn’t stretch that far. So, sadly---nothing at all by Finney was adapted during the five-year run.

One little nit-pick here. The instrument being played by the doll would appear to be a pretty standard Victorian-era square grand piano. However, what we are hearing on the soundtrack are the sounds of a harpsichord, which is an instrument that looks quite different than a square grand.

octobercountry said...

As far as the colour sequences that were engineered for Miniature.... Actually, it's an interesting idea. As others have said, it reminds one of the combination of b&w and colour as used in films like The Wizard of Oz or The Secret Garden, where the colour segments were used to separate the magical from the mundane.

Unfortunately, in practice I think the end result looked horrible in Miniature, due to the primitive colourization technology of the mid-1980s. But today it would be a different story. I think the interior scenes of the dollhouse could be coloured in a very delicate, very detailed fashion. I wouldn't mind seeing it that way, but let's face it, no one is ever going to bother to take the time and money to do it, so....