Thursday, March 28, 2013

Repeat Report: Spring 1963

Season four’s original run included three weeks of repeats (before the customary rerun season commenced after the first-run premieres finished).  Since the series had just returned to the air in January 1963, this meant that the episodes were still very recent (“The Thirty-Fathom Grave,” for example, premiered less than three months before it was repeated!). 

Original air date: 01/10/1963

In His Image (rerun)
Original air date: 01/03/1963

Death Ship (rerun)
Original air date: 02/07/1963

Records are sketchy, but it’s doubtful that “Death Ship” was actually repeated on 5/16/1963: the episode was scheduled, but coverage of Project Mercury’s MA-9 mission started at 9:30 (in all fairness, it probably would've been in bad taste to show an episode about a doomed rocket crew while we had an astronaut in orbit!).  I've included it here just in case (in case of what, exactly?  I dunno).

The regular summer repeat season would commence on 5/30/1963, so we'll run 'em down in due course.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

TZ Promo: "I Dream of Genie" (3/21/1963)

 Season 4, Episode 12 (#114 overall)
Cayuga Production #4860
Originally aired March 21, 1963

50 years ago tonight, another genie visited The Twilight Zone, this time only offering one wish instead of the customary three. I dunno, maybe times were tough (I imagine this would happen today too, with all the sequestering and whatnot going on).

John Furia Jr.’s “I Dream of Genie” introduces us to George P. Hanley, another of The Twilight Zone’s spineless doormat types (on the ObnoxioMeter ™, I’d probably place him somewhere between Roger Shackleforth and Henry Bemis; at least he’s nowhere near James B.W. Bevis levels of noxiousness).

Here’s “I Dream of Genie” in a nutshell (spoiler alert, if you care):  guy inadvertently buys a lamp, which houses a modernized genie who only offers him one wish.  Guy spends the next hour imagining different wishes and their resultant consequences.  Guy can’t make up his mind.  Guy finally decides to take over the genie job himself, restores all the classic Middle Eastern flair associated with genies in lamps, and starts dolling out the customary three wishes per customer.

“I Dream of Genie” tries to be light and charming, and there is a certain Walter Mittyesque quality therein as George entertains elaborate fantasies in the form of dream sequences, but unfortunately there’s just not enough actual content here to fill an hour, so it gets tedious pretty fast. It doesn't help that TZ has already done this basic story (season two’s “The Man in the Bottle,” which also featured a genie in modern attire), so there’s nothing new or original here (except the ending, which I’ll admit is a well-played surprise). 

One bright spot is the fact that George’s pet dog, Attila, changes from fantasy to fantasy (all told, four different breeds play the various versions of the pooch).  I’m a dog lover, so naturally I was tickled.  And I can’t deny that I enjoy the scene early in act two in which George mulls over possible new vocations before the actual dream sequences kick in (scientist, army general, etc).

However, these elements wouldn't be enough to sustain a half hour format, much less this season’s double length requirement.  Sad to report, “I Dream of Genie” is probably my least favorite episode of the entire fourth season.  There’s just nothing here to hold my interest, man.  Nothing, that is, except…

Arroooooogah!  Patricia Barry!  TZ babe alert! Barry Previously appeared in season one’s “The Chaser” (alongside George Grizzard as the above-mentioned Roger Shackleforth).  Funny --- the coworker she flirts with here is also named “Roger.”

Barry also appeared in 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie as Anthony Fremont’s unfortunate mother in the “It’s a Good Life” segment (not sure why they didn't get Cloris Leachman to reprise her role from the original episode, though). 

We last saw Jack Albertson in season three’s “The Shelter.” It’s hard not to picture him surrounded by Oompa Loompas in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (in which he played Charlie’s beloved grandfather); however, he’s probably best remembered for his Emmy-winning role as “The Man” himself from TV’s Chico and the Man.

Other TZ alumni on display here include Loring Smith, who previously appeared in season two’s “The Whole Truth” as politician “Honest” Luther Grimbley.  We also get another dose of James Millhollin, who delighted us in season one’s “The After Hours” and season two’s “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” Less delightful (and more head-scratchingly bizarre) was his choice to appear as Willoughby (!) the llama in the “Great Vegetable Rebellion” episode of TV’s Lost in Space.

George P. Hanley is played by Howard Morris in his only TZ appearance. He’s probably best remembered as Ernest T. Bass on TV’s The Andy Griffith Show, but you've probably heard his voice in numerous television cartoon series, including The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Magilla Gorilla and, more recently, Cow and Chicken on Cartoon Network.  He was also the original voice of McDonald’s Hamburglar!

 I got yer Robble Robble right here, Andy!

I cannot for the life of me fathom why this episode was endowed with an original score, while worthy season four episodes like “In His Image” and “Death Ship” got the recycled library music treatment (imagine Bernard Herrmann tackling either of those!). If it’s any consolation (it’s unfortunately not), Fred Steiner’s work is serviceable enough… but instantly forgettable.

“I Dream of Genie” strives to be a light comedy with supernatural overtones, but it wears out its welcome long before the hour is up.  And even if it didn't, if it somehow managed to hold our attention till the silly end… well, The Twilight Zone has done this story before, rendering this effort completely superfluous.  File it under “U” for Unnecessary and hey, while you’re at it, take next week off.

In two weeks:
Sorry to WAX rhapsodic, but Martin Balsam just plain KILLS in his return to The Twilight Zone.
Seriously, he SLAYS ‘em.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Twilight Zone on the big screen!

If you're in the Portland area (which I am), you have a singular opportunity to see three episodes of The Twilight Zone on the big screen at the historic Hollywood Theatre (4122 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR 97212).

On Monday April 8th at 7:30pm, local film archivist Dennis Nyback will be taking you to another dimension with TWILIGHT ZONE!  TWILIGHT ZONE!  TWILIGHT ZONE!  A night of classic Twilight Zone episodes on 16mm.  Lineup of episodes that will play (with classic commercials included)

The Trade-Ins – Starring Joseph Schildkraut and Alma Platt  – Written by Rod Serling

The Prime Mover - Starring Dane Clark and Buddy Ebsen – Written by Charles Beaumont (Masque of the Red Death)

Five Characters in Search of an Exit - Starring William Windom – Written by Rod Serling

The Hollywood is an awesome venue (I saw This Is Cinerama! there a few years back).  Five bucks gets you in.  Maybe I'll see a few of you there....?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

TZ Promo: "The Parallel" (3/14/1963)

Season 4, Episode 11 (#113 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4859
Originally aired March 14, 1963

“Something happened. I know you’re not going to believe this. I’m not absolutely certain that I believe it myself.  There’s another dimension.  I don’t know how it exists or where it exists, but there’s another world parallel to ours.  The same people, the same places, most of the same chronology of events, except now and then there’s something a little bit different…. I was there, General.  I was there for almost a week… looking at our counterparts, looking at us.  Us, as we exist in a parallel world, one that exists alongside but which we can’t see, the world I stumbled into. I don’t know how; some kind of space time continuum, some… warpage.  There’s a doorway up there somewhere into it.  It exists.  Every now and then I think it’s possible for somebody to fall through it, and I did.”

That’s Major Robert Gaines, relaying his fantastic experience during an apparent blackout during a space flight. It sounds like something from the mind of Jack Finney, whose short stories often featured time travel and parallel realities (his “The Coin Collector” would've made a great TZ episode), but unfortunately Finney didn't write this… Rod Serling did. And he kinda fucked it up.

Fifty years ago tonight, “The Parallel” found Major Robert Gaines leaving the earth, blacking out, then waking up in a military hospital with no memory of the rest of the mission, including his return trip. After his debriefing, he begins to notice subtle details in his world have changed: his house now has a white picket fence that he doesn't remember being there, his wife and daughter seem to think he’s “different somehow,” and oh! He’s magically been promoted to full Colonel. We suspect that maybe he’s some sort of brainwashed alien plant until it’s revealed that the man Gaines claims to be President is someone his superiors have never heard of, some guy by the name of John F. Kennedy.

Gaines begins to suspect that he didn't land on the same earth that he left; instead, he somehow crossed over into a parallel universe and landed on an alternate version of earth. For clarity’s sake (and my own amusement), I’m going to refer to the two realities as “Earth Prime” and “Dupe Earth.”

Serling puts forth what could have been an interesting mystery (a kind of companion piece to “And When the Sky Was Opened”), but “The Parallel” is hampered by both its overlong length and several plotting problems that can’t be ignored. The bit at the end, in which it’s revealed that Capcom established momentary telemetry with Gaines’ duplicate from Dupe Earth, does seem to validate Gaines’ theory, so I guess he wasn’t just dreaming during his six-hour blackout; however, it does nothing to assuage the lingering questions. How exactly did he land his capsule on Dupe Earth if the craft had no landing capabilities? Since he swaps places with his parallel self while in space, we can reasonably assume that the fissure between the parallel universes lies in earth’s orbit; how then does he manage to swap back without going back up into space? Gaines spent several days on Dupe Earth, yet was only out of radar contact for six hours, which is impossible:  for both earths to exist side by side, wouldn't they move at the same rate of time?

The only solution which ties up all the loose ends? After Gaines crossed over to the Dupe Earth universe, God himself plucked the capsule out of the sky and set it gently down on dry land  (suggest by Gaines’ initial explanation: “I blacked out, I simply blacked out. There was some factor up there, something which I had no control over, something which must have taken over for me.”). The Big Guy subsequently snapped His almighty fingers to undo the whole thing, which explains why Gaines snaps back into his own universe without even returning to space first. This theory also serves to obliterate most of the other plot holes, since the whole affair ultimately never happened (except that Gaines remembers it, which is an odd choice; but hey, He moves in mysterious ways). Serling of course doesn't suggest this (admittedly bogus) possibility; he just slaps together a half-assed denouement and moves on to his next script (gee, thanks Rod).  Interestingly, season one’s “And When the Sky Was Opened’ (also scripted by Serling) provided even less insight into the astronauts’ inexplicable plight, but somehow it worked there. Maybe because the hour format intrinsically demands more explanation, I dunno.

One more irreconcilable thing:  after Gaines is back in his own capsule in his own universe late in act four, the “wavy line” dissolve effect is used to skip forward to his examination in the military hospital. Up to this point, this transition signified the crossovers between the two earths.  Are we to assume, then, that Gaines has splashed down on a third earth? Of course not, it’s just an overused time passage visual (usually framing a flashback)…. but it’s completely inappropriate here.

I usually love these kinds of stories: parallel earths, alternate realities, evil twins, multiverse doppelgängers, etc; “The Parallel,” however, has gotta be the single most boring exploration of such concepts ever committed to film.  Any given episode of TV’s Sliders beats this vanilla affair hands down (and that series had more than its share of duds, despite a great concept).

At the very least, “The Parallel” does offer some nice atmospheric visuals. When Gaines blacks out at the moment he crosses over into the Dupe Earth universe, we fade in to a dark hospital room. A single light hangs over his unconscious body as we drunkenly pan in towards him, conveying his disorientation as he wakes up. Later, the scenes with the capsule in the hanger offer some excellent contrast between the inky blackness and the large overhead lights (many of the shots are filmed low, looking up at the actors, adding a nice paranoid tension; however, I’m not sure why the hell they keep the hanger so goddamned dark). Oh, and speaking of nice visuals….

TZ babe alert!  This is Jacqueline Scott’s only TZ appearance, but she ventured into The Outer Limits twice (in the pilot episode “The Galaxy Being” as well as the goofy “Counterweight”). She also had a recurring role on TV’s The Fugitive as Richard Kimble’s sister Donna.

Another Outer Limits connection! The skeptical General Eaton is played by Phillip Abbott, who stopped by in season two for "Long Distance Call." He also appeared in two TOL episodes (“The Borderland” and the delightfully wacky “ZZZZZ”).

Speaking of The Outer Limits, its “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” is reminiscent of “The Parallel” in the sense that we have an astronaut returning to earth who’s just not quite himself.  However, The Outer Limits wins for two reasons: first, theirs has William Shatner; second, theirs features this hilarious alien:

If you need another TOL connection, look no further than the 31:09 mark: Gaines is asked how he’s doing.  His reply: “Me? Well, that depends. Depends on just what are the current standards for sanity, the acceptable outer limits.”

Colonel (er, Major) Robert Gaines is played by Steve Forrest, who’s a bit stiff and bland, but I guess he gets the job done (I can’t help but imagine what other TZ actors like Charles Aidman or Cliff Robertson might’ve done with the role). This is Forrest’s only TZ appearance. I should mention that Forrest is Dana Andrews’ younger brother (whom we enjoyed last week in “No Time Like the Past.”

Other familiar faces in “The Parallel” include Paul Comi as the psychiatrist (previously seen in season one’s “People Are Alike All Over” and season two’s “The Odyssey of Flight 33”) and William Sargent as The Project Manager (he’ll come back for season five’s “Ninety Years Without Slumbering”). And OMG, there’s David Armstrong again (uncredited as usual), this time manning one of the tracking consoles at Capcom. And he has a line (“We don’t have contact here either. No contact at all!”)!

Like many Twilight Zone episodes, “The Parallel” uses preexisting music from the CBS Music Library in lieu of an original score. The serene pastoral music heard as Gaines arrives at home back on Earth Prime (oops, spoiler!) is “Quiet Western Scene” by Nathan Van Cleave. Here we only hear part of it (like we did in season three’s “The Changing of the Guard”); we’ll hear the whole lovely thing in “On Thursday We Leave For Home” in May.  I should also mention that a single cue from Leonard Rosenman’s score from the aforementioned “And When the Sky Was Opened” is used here. It’s title?  “Missing Colonel,” of all things!

1999’s The Astronaut’s Wife seems to have been inspired by “The Parallel,” but there the astronaut (Johnny Depp) turns out to be an alien replacement instead of a friendly duplicate from another earth. Jeez, if you’re gonna steal ideas from The Twilight Zone, there are so many better episodes to crib from.

One more thing that bugs me: Gaines’s capsule is called “Phoebus 10” on Earth Prime, but on Dupe Earth it’s called “Astro 7.” Wouldn't you think that this discrepancy would've come up during Gaines’ debriefing on Dupe Earth? Screw all the vague “something feels different” shit; that right there is an immediate and obvious disparity between the two earths. Sigh. File “The Parallel” under “D” for Dumb and hope next week’s episode is better. Um, sorry to say… it’s kinda not.

Next week: It’s a total fake-out.  Barbara Eden is nowhere to be found, dammit.