Thursday, April 18, 2013

TZ Promo: "The Incredible World of Horace Ford" (4/18/1963)

Season 4, Episode 15 (#117 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4854
Originally aired April 18, 1963

50 years ago tonight, yet another of The Twilight Zone’s nostalgic misfits found himself visiting his own idealized past.  No, it’s not last week’s episode all over again.

“The Incredible World of Horace Ford” (written by Reginald Rose, adapted from his own 1955 Studio One teleplay) finds the title character, an overgrown man-child, designing toys for a living and aching for his treasured childhood on Randolph Street (is this the same Randolph Street from “A Game of Pool”?) as he nears his 38th birthday.  He takes an evening stroll down to the old neighborhood and marvels at how little has changed.  

A gang of kids runs by, one of whom bumps into him and knocks his pocket watch out of his hands. The boy smiles at him before running off, and Horace recognizes him as Hermy Brandt, a kid he knew as a youth, impossibly still a child. Horace, understandably freaked out, gets the hell out of there.  Later that night, Horace’s wife answers the doorbell: it’s Hermy, who hands her the pocket watch and smiles, “He dropped this.”

It’s a pretty obvious hook to get him to return to Randolph Street… which he does.  He won’t like what he finds, though, as time has a tough lesson to teach him.

It’s impossible to watch “The Incredible World of Horace Ford” without drawing parallels to season one’s “Walking Distance” (and other similar nostalgia-driven time travel stories throughout the series’ run).  It’s fairly successful on its own, but the been-there-done-that vibe is palpable.  In all fairness, Rose’s original version was written before Serling's 1959 teleplay, which makes one wonder if Serling remembered the live broadcast and, um, subconsciously borrowed from it.  However, one could draw a parallel between Rose’s original 1955 teleplay and Ray Bradbury’s 1953 short story “The Playground,” in which a man is beaten to a pulp by a mob of children (oops, spoiler alert!), and wonder if Rose did some, um, borrowing of his own.

Hey kids!  If you've ever had difficulty making paper airplanes (like yours truly), we’re given a very useful step-by-step close up of Horace doing just that at the end of the prologue.

And I’m not sure it’s an actual Forbidden Planet connection, but Horace’s robot toy design looks, at least from the waist down, an awful lot like Robby the Robot.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a little something-something going on between Horace's wife Laura and Leonard, his coworker at the toy company?  Watch as he stares intently at her with the burning gaze of unrequited passion, and gasp in shock as he basically paws the hell out of her, never mind that her husband is in the next office over.

Down with O.P.P.? Yeah, you know me.

Pat Hingle is pretty effective here as Horace, swinging wildly from wide-eyed glee to sullen brooding, oftentimes in a matter of seconds (you know, like a little kid).  It’s impossible not to get caught up in his excitement as he giddily relives his childhood to whoever happens to be in the same room, and it’s easy to forgive his childish behavior once we've witnessed his living situation (he shares a home with his wife AND mother!). Hingle is probably best remembered by modern audiences as Commissioner Gordon in the Tim Burton (and later Joel Schumacher) Batman films (1999-2007).

Nan Martin is fine as Laura in her only classic TZ appearance (I’m undecided if she qualifies as a TZ babe; she’s not bad looking, though….). She’d return to The Twilight Zone for two appearances (“If She Dies” and “A Saucer of Loneliness”) in the 1985-1987 revival series on CBS.

We last saw Phillip Pine (Leonard) playing Virgil Sterig, one of Arch Hammer’s alternate faces, in season one’s “The Four of Us Are Dying.”  He also plays a pivotal role in the “Hundred Days of the Dragon” episode of The Outer Limits as Vice President Ted Pearson.

Mr. Judson, Horace’s boss, is played by Vaughn Taylor in his fourth (out of a total five) TZ appearance.  We previously saw him in season one (“Time Enough at Last”), twice in season three (“Still Valley” and “I Sing the Body Electric”), and we’ll see him again in season five (“The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”).  He also showed up twice on The Outer Limits (“The Guests” and “Expanding Human”).

“The Incredible World of Horace Ford” is yet another stock-scored episode with disparate cues by multiple composers, including Rene Garriguenc, Lyn Murray, Fred Steiner, Nathan Van Cleave and, most significantly, Bernard Herrmann.  Herrmann’s “Walking Distance” evokes the sweet ache of nostalgia, so it fits in quite well here (as it did in season three’s “Kick the Can”).

"The Incredible World of Horace Ford” is decent, but it would undoubtedly be more effective as a half-hour episode. Horace goes back to the same moment in time on Randolph Street three different times, stretching the proceedings out into three stages instead of one.  Martin Sloan, meanwhile, learned his lesson in a single trip and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of the half-hour format.

Ha! Suck it, Horace!

Two weeks from tonight:
A bunch more Forbidden Planet eye candy but, more importantly, a great episode.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The 16mm... Shrine?

On March 11 of this year, Portland’s historic Hollywood Theatre hosted a rather unique program. Local film archivist Dennis Nyback presented three classic Twilight Zone episodes on 16mm film, from his private collection, called (appropriately enough) Twilight Zone! Twilight Zone! Twilight Zone!, complete with vintage commercials. The episodes shown were “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “The Fugitive,” and “The Eye of the Beholder.” I found about it… well, a day or two after that date. D’oh!

However, on April 8 (last Monday), Nyback presented another three episodes (“The Trade-Ins,” “The Prime Mover,” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”). This time I knew about it in advance, and this time I made damned sure I was there.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the Hollywood’s lobby was the selection of beers available. TZ and beer? Was this heaven? As I made my way into the actual theater, I was surprised to see Nyback himself setting up his 16mm projector in the back of the theater, out in front of the projection booth.Maybe somebody can chime in and educate me, but can’t 35mm projectors run 16mm film?

Note the projector shadow on the screen.

I was one of the first people to arrive. I sat in the fourth row. As he was setting up a large speaker at the front of the theater, Nyback smiled and thanked me for “coming to his show.” I told him that I missed the first one, but I wasn’t about to miss this one. I then asked him if any more of these events were planned, and was delighted to hear that there’d be one each month for the next six months. I was almost giddy at the prospect.

The place got pretty full as the magic hour (7:30 pm) approached. As a hardcore TZ fan who frequently feels a bit isolated within this particular passion, it was heartwarming to see so many people turn up. At 7:30, Nyback addressed the crowd, the lights dimmed, and the projector came to life.  I must’ve been grinning like a kid on Christmas as the 3-2-1 countdown appeared.

Unfortunately, the presentation left a great deal to be desired.  Either Nyback’s prints are in rough shape, or his projector is way past its prime.  I’m inclined to suspect the latter for several reasons: first, there was a pretty constant jitter throughout the entire program (particularly during “The Trade-Ins”). After a technical problem delayed the start of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” by about ten minutes, much of the episode was distractingly blurry around the edges (I have no idea what would cause that). And finally, the audio was horrendous throughout all three episodes.  I mean really horrendous.  I feel sorry for anyone in that audience who wasn’t already familiar with these episodes, as much of the dialogue was unintelligible.

So what was good? “The Prime Mover” looked pretty decent by comparison, and the sight of the prologue’s shocking car accident up on the big screen was certainly impactful.  Happily, all three episodes were complete and uncut (so these weren't syndication prints). The single best thing about the evening, however, was the vintage commercials:  Crisco, Gleem toothpaste, Folgers, 9-Lives cat food and many, many others. It appears that Nyback spliced the vintage commercials in, so it’s highly doubtful that they were the actual commercials that originally aired with the episodes, which wouldn't be a problem except that, at one point, the ABC logo popped up (!).

Nyback’s next installment screens on May 20 (the episodes haven’t been announced yet), and I've gotta say, I’m seriously torn here. I want to support anything that draws attention to The Twilight Zone, and I really believe that the concept is sound (showing episodes on the big screen). But I can’t deny that the presentation left me pretty cold, especially since I can screen my blu-rays on my 60” plasma set at home and they look (and sound) stunning. And I can probably find an endless supply of vintage TV commercials on YouTube, so there’s really no reason for me to go back.

But... I still might, though.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

TZ Promo: "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" (4/11/1963)

Season 4, Episode 14 (#116 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4867
Originally aired April 11, 1963

Fifty years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone brought forth yet another discontented man with a longing for the days of his youth.  However, this isn't a Martin Sloan or a Booth Templeton, with whom we might identify or at least sympathize.  This guy’s a rampaging asshole through and through.

“Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” introduces us to billionaire industrialist William J. Feathersmith, who is described by business associate Sebastian Deidrich as being “a predatory, grasping, conniving, acquisitive animal of a man, without heart, without conscience, without compassion, and without even a subtle hint of the common decencies.”  This dialogue (yes, that’s dialogue, not narration) immediately tells us that Rod Serling wrote the script before we ever see the writing credit. As the series progressively winds down, Serling’s dialogue gets more bloated and unrealistic.

Feathersmith and Deidrich both got their start in the titular town of Cliffordville, Indiana, in the 1910s.  In the present, we witness Feathersmith essentially destroy Deidrich in a hostile takeover bid, after which he drunkenly laments his long, lost youth to Hecate, the building janitor who, coincidentally enough, is also from Cliffordville (wait, did I say coincidentally? I meant painfully implausibly). Feathersmith also finds time to cruelly insult Hecate, who has no choice but to lower his eyes and take it.

On his way out for the night, Feathersmith's elevator inexplicably stops on the 13th floor, where he finds a new tenant. Feathersmith bursts in and demands to know how the place opened without his knowledge (this is, after all, his building).  The occupant, the sparkling and charming Miss Devlin, eases him into a conversation about his dissatisfaction with his life now that he’s at the top and has nowhere else to go.  He tells her of his younger days in Cliffordville, and his desire to go back and start over.  Miss Devlin can help him with that because, as fate would have it, she’s the devil.  She removes her hat to reveal two horns jutting out of her perfectly-coiffed hair (check out the similar horns rimming her hat; nice touch).

Miss Devlin offers to return him to 1910 Cliffordville as a young man while retaining his memory of the events of the fifty years hence.  She doesn't ask for his soul, as he evidently relinquished it by default over his years of ruthless business dealings; instead, she demands his vast fortune (save for $1,400.00, which will be more than adequate seed money when he relives his climb to tycoondom. Feathersmith, practically drooling, hastily signs the contract (echoes of “Escape Clause” here or, more recently, “Printer’s Devil”).  The dotted line, as they say, has been signed upon.

There’s a nice bit when Feathersmith leaves Miss Devlin’s office.  In one continuous shot, we see him walk away from the door (which is initially visible in the frame), take a few steps, then stop and turn back around.  The travel agency is gone.  I’m assuming this is another example of the rolling-wall approach used to great effect in season one’s “A World of Difference,” but I have no information confirming this.  Unfortunately, this clever sequence is marred by a continuity error:  after disappearing, Devlin’s Travel Agency is still listed on the floor directory!

Immediately after, Feathersmith steps into the elevator, vanishes, materializes on board an empty commercial jet in mid-flight, which then transforms around him into a train car.  He looks at his watch, which has transformed into a vintage pocket watch, and we see that he is now a young man again. In a very Willoughby-esque moment, the train arrives in Cliffordville, much to Feathersmith’s delight.

"Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" is marred by inefficient pacing: Feathersmith doesn't reach Cliffordville until the 25:05 mark, which means the entire first half of the episode is spent on setting up the second (which seems more than a bit rushed by comparison).  Further, the effectiveness of the first two acts are undercut by the terrible age makeup foisted upon Salmi (which is particularly painful to behold in high definition; check out that bald cap seam!), but it’s Salmi’s performance that ultimately dooms the proceedings, particularly in reference to his deliberate, obnoxious voice (maybe this was his intent to speak in an utterly repellent fashion so we would detest the character; however, it comes off amateurish and hammy, particularly his halting, braying laugh).  Once Feathersmith is his new (old) younger self in Cliffordville, Salmi’s performance brightens up considerably.  Oh sure, he’s still a rampaging asshole, but he becomes more human with each obstacle that the past (or Miss Devlin) throws in his path (look at his priceless expression when he first sets eyes on the homely and annoying Joanna Gibbons, whom he remembered as being beautiful and demure).

William Feathersmith is essayed by TZ veteran Albert Salmi (he impressed us in season one’s “Execution” and season three’s “A Quality of Mercy”). As outlined above, it’s a problematic performance with some definite overacting, but I do suspect that this was intentional on his part.  Salmi would meet up with Serling again a few years later, in the Night Gallery segment “The Waiting Room.” Salmi’s life ended tragically in 1990 when he murdered his wife and subsequently committed suicide. 

John Anderson (Deidrich) makes his third of four Twilight Zone appearances (we previously saw him in season one’s “A Passage for Trumpet,” season two’s “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” and we’ll see him again in season five’s “The Old Man in the Cave”).  Anderson also memorably portrayed the Ebonite Interrogator in the “Nightmare” episode of The Outer Limits.  For me personally, I’ll always remember him as the lunatic General Stocker on TV’s The Greatest American Hero (“Operation: Spoilsport,” which is probably the single best episode of that series).

More TZ alumni on display here:  Wright King (the janitor, Hecate) last visited us in season two’s “Shadow Play” as the troubled reporter Paul Carson, who tries desperately to convince the DA to pardon Dennis Weaver.  Hugh Sanders (Cronk) stops by for his third TZ stint (we saw him previously in season one’s “Judgment Night” and season three’s “The Jungle”).  John Harmon (Clark), meanwhile, popped up in season three’s “The Dummy.”

And, last but most certainly not least… TZ MEGA BABE ALERT! Feast your eyes on the stunningly gorgeous Julie Newmar, here salvaging this whole train wreck all by herself as the devilish Miss Devlin. Newmar is one of an elite subsection of TZ Babes, which also includes Suzanne Lloyd’s Maya the Cat Girl (“Perchance to Dream”) and Anne Francis (in two roles: Marsha the Mannequin in “The After Hours” and the title character in “Jess-Belle”). Good God, just look at her.  *Sigh* Newmar is best remembered for her indelible interpretation of Catwoman on TV’s Batman (1966-1967).

Sad to say, there’s nothing new or noteworthy here.  We get echoes of “Walking Distance” and “The Trouble with Templeton,” set in the backyard of “A Stop at Willoughby” with a healthy dash of “Escape Clause” thrown in.  However, despite the copious amounts of redundancy on display, the episode is elevated by Newmar’s delicious she-devil and, I must admit, watching Feathersmith getting his just desserts doled out to him in multiple stages is entertaining.  We also get some great skewed camera angles to signify Feathersmith’s mental unraveling in act four, hearkening back to similar unraveling scenes in season one’s “Where Is Everybody?” and season three’s “The Dummy.”  And the final scene positively drips with irony and cosmic justice, so things do end well…. but ultimately, the lopsided pacing really undermines the episode’s effectiveness.  In the final analysis (well, mine anyway), “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” only intermittently rises above mediocrity.

Next week:  An overgrown man-child longs for the past.  No, it’s not my life story.