Thursday, April 4, 2013

TZ Promo: "The New Exhibit" (4/04/1963)

Season 4, Episode 13 (#115 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4866
Originally aired April 4, 1963

The Twilight Zone has featured a variety of artificial human forms throughout its run: mannequins, ventriloquist’s dummies, electric grandmothers and other robots and, as of fifty years ago tonight, museum wax figures.

 From left: Albert W. Hicks, Burke and Hare (with victim), Henri Desire Landru, and Jack the Ripper.

Charles Beaumont’s “The New Exhibit” finds curator Martin Senescu suddenly out of a job when Mr. Ferguson, the owner of the museum, announces its imminent closure due to diminished ticket sales. Martin has been maintaining Ferguson’s wax figures for 30 years, and has formed a strong attachment to five of them in particular… those populating the Murderer’s Row exhibit.  

Ferguson agrees to let Martin store the figures in his basement (for which he’ll install air conditioning, damn the expense) in the dim hope that Martin can get someone to bankroll a new museum. While the 24/7 air conditioning drains his family’s finances, Martin spends day and night in the basement with his waxen friends.  The people in his life try to intervene (his wife, brother-in-law and finally, Mr. Ferguson himself) to snap him out of his obsession…. much to their peril.

In his Twilight Zone Companion, Marc Scott Zicree faults the episode as follows: “Where the story falls down is in its denouement.  Although we see Jack the Ripper kill Martin's wife, Hicks his brother-in-law and Landru his boss, at the end the murderers reveal that it is Martin who committed the murders. This just does not wash. Had there been a greater subtlety in the murder scenes, merely suggesting that the murders were committed by the figures without actually showing them, this ambiguity might have allowed for such a conclusion. But such is not the case.”

My interpretation of “The New Exhibit” differs: I've always believed that the wax figures DID commit the murders (meaning that they are somehow more than wax figures) and framed Martin for their crimes. At the end, when we see the frozen form of Martin, now immortalized in wax himself, it’s a variation on Marcia White resuming her mannequin form in season one’s “The After Hours.” Martin was singularly obsessed with the care and preservation of the figures, to the exclusion of everything else in his life, so it makes a kind of cosmic sense that he’d end up joining them, perpetually on display as part of their collective.  

“One of us! One of us! One of us!”

Zicree takes the wax figures’ j’accuse revelation at face value, and I suppose the Dissociative Identity Disorder theory is somewhat viable; however, I don’t believe the depiction of the figures committing the murders necessarily undermines it.  Those scenes may not be intended as reality; rather, we may be seeing Martin’s own delusional mind creating alternate events to protect his psyche from the horrors of his actions. Or hell, who knows, maybe both theories can coexist comfortably.  Maybe Martin did commit the murders, but he did so under the influence of the wax figures so they could ultimately induct him into their elite wax fraternity.

“The New Exhibit” is credited to Charles Beaumont, but in truth he only helped map out the basic story; the teleplay in its entirety was written by Jerry Sohl.  In declining health due to Alzheimer’s Disease (or Pick’s Disease; I don’t know if it was ever definitively determined), Beaumont would frequently use ghost writers to help fulfill his many commitments. Sohl would ghostwrite two more TZ episodes (“Living Doll” and “Queen of the Nile,” both in season five), and Beaumont would be dead four years later at the age of 38.

Martin Senescu is well played by Martin Balsam, who manages to make us sympathize with him despite the fact that he’s a seriously disturbed individual at best (and a serial killer at worst).  We last saw Balsam unsuccessfully try to keep Ida Lupino grounded in reality in season one’s “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine.”  Balsam also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and the noir classic Cape Fear (1962), two films with musical scores by frequent TZ composer Bernard Herrmann (coincidentally, both films were needlessly remade in the 1990's, both retaining the original Herrmann scores).  Balsam returned to The Twilight Zone for two appearances on the 80’s revival series (“Personal Demons” and “Voices in the Earth”).

If the actor playing Mr. Ferguson (Martin’s boss) looks familiar, it’s because he previously appeared as an ousted dictator in season three’s “The Mirror.”  

William Mims is sufficiently blustery and obnoxious as Dave, Martin’s brother-in-law.  This is Mims’ only TZ appearance, but he’d cross paths with Rod Serling again eight years later on TV’s Night Gallery (“The Hand of Borgus Weems”).

One more familiar face to mention:  Marcel Hillaire, who previously appeared in the dreadful “A Most Unusual Camera,” appears here as the Marchand Museum guide (and finally gets to add a good Twilight Zone gig to his resumĂ©!).

And speaking of Bernard Herrmann, several cues from his radio score “The Moat Farm Murder” are heard here among the various stock cues from the CBS Music Library.  In fact, this episode features selections by all the major TZ composers:  Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Nathan Van Cleave, Lucien Moraweck, Rene Garriguenc, Marius Constant and Lyn Murray.  As is often the case, the stock-scoring is just as effective as an original score, and “The New Exhibit” is no exception.  It’s isolated on both the Definitive DVD and the more recent blu-ray releases of season 4, so do have a listen if you possess either of those (or both, like I do).  Herrmann’s “The Moat Farm Murder” can also be found (along with other TV scores in the CBS Music Library that found their way onto The Twilight Zone) on Bernard Herrmann: The CBS Years Volume 2: American Gothic from Prometheus Records.

“The New Exhibit” is one of the better season four offerings, both in concept and, um, execution.  Axe me again and I’ll tell you the same.

Next week:
A devil of a time-travel tale! And this time, His Satanic Majesty is a she.

1 comment:

octobercountry said...

Nice solid episode. Though, with all the murders, this put me more in mind of an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, than the Twilight Zone.

Those figures were undoubtedly creepy; I certainly wouldn’t want them standing in my basement!

I think you can interpret this episode in a couple of different ways, and either viewpoint is equally valid. Either Martin was quite disturbed, and committed the murders himself even though he imagined the figures doing it and he blamed them for it. Or, the figures did actually come to life and destroyed anyone who might cause them harm. I think both scenarios have their own validity.