Thursday, May 30, 2013

Repeat Report: Summer 1963 and... 1965 too?

The rerun season kicked in on 5/30/1963 and ran for 17 uninterrupted weeks. There were only 18 episodes produced in season four, so other than the unfortunate “Miniature” (which was tied up in litigation that would ultimately keep it out of sight for almost 20 years) and “The Parallel” (which, for reasons unknown, was never repeated during the series’ original run, but has always been present in syndication) each episode got an encore summer airing. “The Thirty-Fathom Grave” and “In His Image,” however, had already been repeated during the spring, which means that they were aired THREE times in 1963. Worse yet, “Printer’s Devil” was aired TWICE during summer ’63, so it too got three broadcasts in 1963.

Jess-Belle (rerun)

Mute (rerun)






In His Image (rerun #2)


He's Alive (rerun)


Death Ship (rerun)

The Bard (rerun)



Printer's Devil (rerun #2)


Season five began the following week on 9/27/1963 with the series’ original half-hour format restored.  This wasn’t quite the end of the hour-long episodes, however: two years later, in the summer of 1965, CBS ran most of season four yet again (which is strange, since by then the series was officially cancelled and had been off the air for almost a year).  As before, “Miniature” and “The Parallel” were absent, but the other 16 season four episodes aired.  This means that “In His Image,” “The Thirty-Fathom Grave” and “Printer’s Devil” were broadcast on CBS a total of FOUR times each.



The New Exhibit (rerun #2)

Jess-Belle (rerun #2)

In His Image (rerun #3)

The Bard (rerun #2)


Printer's Devil (rerun #3)

I Dream of Genie (rerun #2)


Mute (rerun #2)

He's Alive (rerun #2)




Death Ship (rerun #2)

You may have noticed that I didn't include any screen caps in this repeat report. To be blunt, I didn't feel like spending another minute on season 4, much less the hour or two it would've taken me. I've spent more time on these 18 episodes than any others so far, and I'm damned weary of 'em, period.  I do like most of season 4, don't get me wrong, but....

...hell, I just need a break. It's funny: as the series winds down (just 36 episodes to go), it becomes increasingly limp and fatigued. I now know exactly how it feels, and I can't deny that I'm dreading coming back to this in the fall. I actually considered admitting defeat and stopping here, but I've come too far to give up now.  

I have, however, decided to nix my plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Outer Limits this fall with a blog similar to this one (the framework is already online here, but I'll probably take it down now that I've aborted it). The first season of The Outer Limits is so, so much better than the fifth season of The Twilight Zone, but there's no way in hell I can juggle both. I suppose there's a sliver of a chance that I could change my mind, but it's highly unlikely. If Sony sees fit to release the series on blu-ray between now and September, that may be just enough to get me back on board (but seeing as how that's only three and a half months away, an announcement would've happened by now).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In Retrospect: Season 4 (1963)

There's a certain mystique about The Twilight Zone's fourth season, mostly because the expanded length has historically kept it from airing as often in syndication, where the series was/is usually allotted a 30-minute time slot. However, said mystique has dissipated somewhat over the last decade or so, with the numerous ways in which these episodes can now be seen/obtained (DVD, blu-ray, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc) alongside the more familiar half-hour efforts.

Season 4 is actually a half-season of 18 episodes but, because of the hour format, the total running time is about the same as the other seasons (with the exception of the slightly-shorter 2nd season). But does the double length equate to double quality? In most cases.... not quite. However, most of the season's offerings are at least decent, and several are pretty great. I don’t typically rate and/or rank the episodes as I spotlight them. However, for categorization purposes, I am willing to place them in three general ballparks:  Good-to-excellent, mediocre, and lousy.  In this fan's humble opinion, season 4 breaks down as follows:

Good-to-Excellent:  15

Mediocre:  3

Lousy:  0

Statistically, that means 83.33% of season four is at least good, if not great or even excellent. What's really interesting to note is the fact that NONE of these 18 episodes are truly lousy, which is the first and only time that'll happen in the series' five-year run (no Bevises, Dingles or Unusual Cameras to be found here, thankfully!). The mediocre episodes, in case you're wondering, are "The Thirty-Fathom Grave," "The Parallel" and "I Dream of Genie," but even these three have some positive aspects that keep them from truly sucking. Season 4 is often dismissed as being inferior to the rest of the series but, from my perspective, it's better than season 5 (which is positively riddled with crappy episodes; you'll see when we resume in the fall).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

TZ Promo: "The Bard" (5/23/1963)

Season 4, Episode 18 (#120 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4852
Originally aired May 23, 1963

50 years ago tonight, an ex-streetcar conductor-turned-struggling television writer found a supernatural route to instant success, with the help of history’s greatest playwright.

“The Bard,” the eighteenth and final episode of The Twilight Zone’s abbreviated fourth season, finds Julius Moomer badgering his agent, Mr. Hugo, into giving him a crack at a pilot for a series about black magic. Does he know anything about black magic? Of course not, but he’ll happily research it. Hugo, clearly exasperated with Moomer’s aggressive begging, relents.

Our first indicator that supernatural forces are at work comes when Moomer visits a book shop in search of material for said research. An ancient tome (cleverly titled Ye Book of Ye Black Arte) flies from a shelf, apparently of its own volition, and lands at his feet. Spooked, the clerk lets him have the book gratis and hustles him on his way. Moomer’s subsequent attempts at conjuring (what exactly he’s trying to conjure isn't clear) appear unsuccessful at first, but his misfortunes reverse when he inadvertently summons….

…yup, it’s William Shakespeare himself. He doesn't seem terribly nonplussed to have inexplicably materialized in the twentieth century; in fact, he rather congenially agrees to ghostwrite Moomer’s pilot assignment. The Tragic Cycle results, Moomer gains instant acclaim from the Television City bigwigs, Shakespeare objects to the sponsor-demanded changes to his work and, as the saying goes, hilarity ensues.

“The Bard” is surprisingly successful for a Serling-penned comedy (like earlier entries “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “The Night of the Meek”; his other attempts are dreadfully unfunny and, in the cases of “Mr. Bevis” and “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” actually rage-inducing). Since most of the characters here are larger-than-life, Serling’s inflated and unrealistic dialogue isn't as glaringly inappropriate (an exception is Cora, a meddlesome kid in Moomer’s building who suspects he’s up to no good):

Caption:  Seriously, what 12 year-old talks like this?

Much of the success of “The Bard” stems from Serling’s inside perspective on the inanities associated with television production. Shakespeare’s bristling against network interference, for example, comes straight out of Serling’s own well-documented experience with censorship of his pre-TZ work.If you haven’t seen it, there’s a remarkable Mike Wallace interview with Serling in which this very topic is discussed in detail.

There’s also a marvelous in-joke in the episode’s prologue: among Moomer’s many failed TV series ideas is one in which he proposes to turn The Millionaire into The Multi-Millionaire and expanding it to fill an hour time slot.  Serling is clearly jabbing CBS for its questionable decision to do that very thing to The Twilight Zone (his point must have hit home, seeing as how the very next episode aired --- the season five opener “In Praise of Pip” --- found the show returned to its original half-hour format).

Jack Weston is perfectly cast as the talentless but endlessly determined Julius Moomer. We last saw Weston murder poor Pete Van Horn in season one’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”  

The great John Williams (no, not the film composer) shines as the beleaguered William Shakespeare.  Williams was a frequent face on TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents; he also appeared in Hitch’s Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief. His last role was Sire Montrose on the “War of the Gods” episode of TV’s Battlestar Galactica in 1979.

The estimable John McGiver appears as Mr. Shannon, the soup magnet whose company is sponsoring The Tragic Cycle, and we’ll see him again in season five’s “Sounds and Silences.” McGiver is excellent as liberal Senator Thomas Jordan in one of my favorite films, 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, in which he famously takes a fatal bullet through a carton of milk.

A young Burt Reynolds offers his services as Rocky Rhodes, the actor cast in The Tragic Cycle’s lead. Rhodes is an obvious lampoon of the method actors of the day, but Reynolds goes the extra mile and infuses him with a certain, shall we say, dullness of mind that is truly hilarious to behold. Reynolds went on to a storied career in film, and was apparently quite a sex symbol in the 70’s, as evidenced by his appearance in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1972.

Effective March 23, 2015, Blogger will disallow all sexually explicit or graphic nude images. Therefore, ol' Burt's nether region must be concealed. Sorry, guys 'n dolls.

I hadn't seen “The Bard” in probably 20 years or so before scanning the episode for screen captures recently. Reynolds’ performance brought to mind Matt Leblanc’s dimwitted but lovable Joey Tribbiani from TV’s Friends. I dunno, maybe it’s just me (betcha never thought you’d see a Friends reference here, did you?).

Fred Steiner was commissioned to create original music for “The Bard,” his seventh and final contribution to The Twilight Zone’s musical landscape. His score is comprised solely of brief, comical cues (appropriate, since there’s really no drama to be found here) and, while it all works fine within the context of the episode, I’m sure they could’ve pulled similar cues from the CBS Music Library (for free!) and used Steiner’s considerable talents elsewhere (stock scores were used in a number of season four episodes which certainly deserved original music, like “In His Image,” “Death Ship” and “Printer’s Devil”). Steiner also contributed the score for “I Dream of Genie” earlier this season, which was equally pointless… man, what a waste. For Rod’s sake, this is the guy who gave us “The Passersby” in season three, which stands one of the all-time great TZ scores! Anyway, if you care, Steiner’s underscore for “The Bard” is isolated on both DVD releases (volume 42 and the season 4 Definitive Edition set) and the more recent season 4 blu-ray release, so you know where to go if you want funny music to accompany those cat videos you’re about to upload to YouTube.

“The Bard” is a nice hearty chuckle to close out the series’ abbreviated fourth season. The Twilight Zone would return for its final season in September 1963, which means we’ll be back in September of this year to celebrate each episode’s 50th anniversary. I imagine it’ll be pretty quiet ‘round here between now and then... Have a great summer!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

TZ Promo: "Passage on The Lady Anne" (5/09/1963)

Season 4, Episode 17 (#119 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4869
Originally aired May 9, 1963

Ah, that thin line between love and hate.

50 years ago tonight, a couple suffering a disintegrating marriage quarreled and bickered their way onto the Lady Anne, a British cruise ship on its final voyage. What awaits them out on that open sea?  Reconciliation?  Death?  An iceberg??? 

I'm really sorry for this, folks.

Allan and Eileen Ransome snip at one another viciously, their exchanges bristling with resentment. Their mutual tension hangs in the air almost as palpably thick as the fog that perpetually engulfs the ship. Still, we see brief glimpses of affection; clearly love still exists beneath the bitterness (or at the very least lust: check out time stamp 14:10 to see Eileen bending over to look into a vanity mirror, and Allan blatantly checking out her ass).

The Lady Anne was, in its heyday, a luxury liner catering to young lovers. The Ransomes are surprised to discover that everyone else on the ship is at least 75 years of age, and all of them were married on the Lady Anne, and are on board to celebrate the old girl’s legacy on her final expedition before being decommissioned. Some are traveling alone, having already lost their partners, but all are united in their passionate devotion to the ship. 

The passengers initially object to the Ransomes’ presence, viewing them as interlopers, but they soon warm up to the young couple and (subtly) encourage reconciliation. The Ransomes submit to the Lady Anne’s romantic spell in fairly short order, and all seems well… until Allan notices that they’re sailing away from their destination. The engines abruptly stop, a pistol is drawn, and it becomes pretty goddamned evident that something is amiss.

On the surface, it appears that the Ransomes have stumbled innocently (and quite accidentally) into/under the Lady Anne’s enchantment; however, upon analysis it’s clear that they’re being maneuvered at every turn.  The events that unfold, along with the people they encounter, form a design that seems geared specifically toward saving their marriage. Said design seems to require repeated attempts by multiple characters to steer them away from the cruise, which invariably results in the Ransomes rebuffing them and barreling ahead with increased resolve (their mutual stubbornness is likely why they’re still together after six years of apparent misery). 

In other words, pushing them away only serves to draw them in further, a kind of reverse psychology approach, and virtually everyone in the episode, including the prologue’s travel agent, seems to be in on it… but whose design is this?  I get the how, I get the why…. I’m haunted by the who. Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s Cupid, or maybe it’s the spirit of the Lady Anne herself. And hey, maybe I’m overthinking this. Part of The Twilight Zone’s appeal, after all, is that element of the unresolved, the unexplained. 

The Lady Anne herself is a marvelous construct, a ridiculously ornate relic from an earlier time (it was a relic in 1963, so it’s even more so now). She’s spoken of so lovingly by her passengers, and what we see of her is so lavish and detailed (not to mention that sumptuous fog always swirling about her), that it’s difficult not to view her as a living, breathing character in the proceedings.

“Passage on the Lady Anne” feels at times like early Hitchcock (The Lady Vanishes and Suspicion come to mind), not in plot but tone. It’s a charming mystery, gentle and sophisticated (and veddy British), lightly sprinkled with bits of suspense throughout. It never really feels like a Twilight Zone, but that’s not necessarily a strike against it.  It’s a bit slow and overlong (a hallmark of most season four episodes), but our patience is rewarded with an absolutely delightful cast (Wilfrid Hyde-White in particular). It’s easy to spend an hour with this group, and most of their faces should be quite familiar to genre fans.

Lee Philips (Allan Ransome) stops by for his first TZ role; we’ll also see him next season in “Queen of the Nile.” Phillips also appeared in the pilot episode of The Outer Limits (“The Galaxy Being”) as radio-deejay Gene “Buddy” Maxwell.

Joyce Van Patten is quite good as Eileen Ransome in her only TZ appearance, but she was also seen on The Outer Limits (“A Feasibility Study”) the following year. I’m gonna go ahead and call her a TZ babe: she’s sufficiently attractive (and, um, sufficiently buxom as well), and she possesses a certain spark that I find quite endearing. It’s interesting to note that she was briefly married to TZ alum Martin Balsam (1958-1962).

This is Wilfrid Hyde-White’s only Twilight Zone appearance (as Toby McKenzie). I’m mentioning him because last week’s episode co-starred Tim O’Connor, who would go on to co-star on TV’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, a series which also featured Hyde-White (as Dr. Goodfellow). He’s also a supporting character in one of my all-time favorite films, 1949’s The Third Man.

Gladys Cooper (Millie McKenzie) previously appeared in “Nothing in the Dark,” and will appear again in season five’s “Night Call.” She also visited The Outer Limits as a medium-slash-con-artist in “The Borderland.”

Cecil Kellaway (Burgess) previously entertained us in season one’s “Elegy” as the murderous android Jeremy Wickwire. Cyril Delevanti shows up as an unnamed officer (brandishing a pistol, no less!) in this, his fourth and final TZ appearance (he previously graced “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “The Silence,” and “A Piano in the House”). Alan Napier (Capt. Protheroe) only appeared on TZ this one time, but he subsequently showed up on Serling’s Night Gallery three different times. He’s probably best remembered as Alfred the butler on TV’s Batman

Mr. Spiereto, the travel agent who books the Ransomes on their trip, is played by Don Keefer. Keefer holds a special place in the pantheon of TZ alumni: he played Dan Hollis in season three’s “It’s a Good Life,” in which Anthony Freemont turned him in to a human jack-in-the-box before wishing him away into the cornfield. Happily, he's much less slobbery this time around. He’ll swing through The Twilight Zone one more time, in season five’s “From Agnes, With Love.”

“Passage on the Lady Anne” features an original musical score by Rene Garriguenc (one of four he would ultimately contribute to the series). There’s nothing really memorable here, but it does fit the proceedings (the underscore is a bit old-timey and melodramatic, which is totally appropriate).  Garriguenc’s score is isolated on both DVD releases (volume 40 and the season 4 Definitive Edition set) and the more recent blu-ray release of season 4, so you know where to go if you need music for your next Murder Mystery Party.

“Passage on the Lady Anne” is the final Twilight Zone episode written by Charles Beaumont (he adapted his 1960 short story “Song for a Lady”).  There will be three episodes in season five credited to him, but his involvement with them will be peripheral at best (ghostwriters will pen the actual teleplays, as we saw recently with “The New Exhibit” and season three’s “Dead Man’s Shoes”).  Interestingly, all three will be among the better offerings of the series’ final, wildly uneven season.

In two weeks: 
Bo ‘Bandit’ Darville tries to find his tertiary motivation and ends up getting decked by William Shakespeare.
Don’t believe me?  Tune in.

Monday, May 6, 2013

TZ Merch: Twilight Zone License Plate Frame

Bif Bang Pow! is currently offering three different Twilight Zone license plate frames for, you know, those of us who want the world to know that we’re nerds (as if the Stormtrooper action figure* on my desk at work isn't sufficiently conveying my geekiness).

Click on the links under each if you want to order. Oddly, the price has gone up from $9.99 to $11.99 on all three. Curios.

I opted for the third one listed above.  I've had it for a while, but I just recently got around to opening it up and mounting it on my car.  Here are some pre-mounting shots:

And here it is in its mounted state:

... and now you all know my license plate number. Oh well, stalk freely.

My thoughts?  It’s plastic and kinda flimsy (I’d happily pay a bit more for metal) but, for ten bucks, I can’t really complain.  It looks pretty sharp.

*Stop the presses!
Since I typed this entry up the other day, my beloved Stormtrooper (Desktrooper?)
has been replaced by this charming fellow: