Friday, December 13, 2013

Episode Promo: "A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain" (12/13/2013)

Season 5, Episode 11 (131 overall)
Originally aired 12/13/1963
Cayuga Production # 2614

Fifty years ago tonight, a desperate man submitted himself to a dangerous experiment.  And no, he didn’t have a pet mouse named Algernon.

Rod Serling’s “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” concerns one Harmon Gordon and his wanton wife Flora. It’s your classic May-December conundrum: Harmon is slowing down as he enters his twilight years, while Flora is vibrant, young and perpetually craving excitement.

Harmon is at the end of his rope trying to keep up with Flora. His scientist brother Raymond is working on a youth serum that’s shown some promise in lab animals, a serum which Harmon asks to be injected with. Raymond flat out refuses, but relents when Harmon twists his arm by threatening suicide.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the serum actually does work. Harmon is a strapping young man in short order, much to Flora’s delight. However, the serum doesn’t stop working, and by the next morning Harmon has been reduced to an infant. Like Barbara in “Uncle Simon,” Flora is now trapped. She’ll have to provide constant care for the li’l guy or, as Raymond observes, she’ll be out on her ass (my own paraphrasing).

Gotta love how Raymond places all the responsibility on Flora, threatening to “take it out of her skin” should Harmon be damaged or killed by the injection that he administers. Yes, we can at least partly blame her for Harmon’s state of mind, but she had no part in Harmon’s request for the injection, or Dr. Raymond’s decision to honor said request. Raymond clearly despises Flora with a passion, so it makes sense for him to relish somewhat in her fate; however, if she’s really as selfish and irresponsible as he believes, how can she be trusted to take care of the newly-infantile Harmon?  In looking at all three characters with a critical eye, I’m inclined to blame Flora the least for what transpires. Harmon is a whiny self-loathing schmuck who clearly lacks the balls necessary to demand better treatment from his wife (I’m reminded of Henry Bemis, who elicited a similar disgusted reaction in me). Raymond, while ostensibly looking out for his brother, actually dooms him with both eyes wide open, and isn’t man enough to acknowledge his culpability (that’s putting it lightly).  And Flora… well…

DAMN. Check out the way Ruta Lee (Flora) lustily licks her luscious lips (say that fast three times) and flashes those bedroom eyes at Harmon while they’re dancing in the prologue. This is probably the single hottest moment in the entire series’ run (yeah, even hotter than Maya the Cat Girl’s dance in “Perchance to Dream,” though not by much), and Lee reaches the highest tier of TZ Babedom with ease. 

Flora very much evokes the classic femme fatale villain present in most film noirs: acid-tongued, money-grubbing and ladder-climbing, she employs her beauty as a tool and her body as a weapon. You just know that, somewhere in the back of her head, she’s been planning to off poor Harmon in some Double Indemnity-type scheme all along.

The episode is fun (albeit by-the-numbers and pretty predictable); however, the real fun is thinking ahead to what might happen after the episode ends. Once Flora’s initial shock wears off, I imagine she’ll realize that Raymond really has nothing on her. She could dump the baby at a local shelter (or on somebody’s doorstep) and report her husband as missing. Harmon will eventually be declared dead, and she’ll get all his money. Raymond almost certainly won’t go public with the truth, since doing so would destroy his career and very probably land him in prison (even if Harmon had signed a release, which he didn't do). Speaking of film noir…!

Minor technical gripe: at the top of act one, there’s an abrupt cut to a medium shot of Flora directly after the episode credits are shown. Usually act one’s opening shot will extend beyond said credits, providing a smooth flow into the action. This awkward cut makes me wonder if the episode ran a bit long, so they excised something. It reminds me of the syndication trims I used to see when I first discovered the series on local channel KPTV-12 in the early 80’s (they’d keep the episode titles but then chop a minute or two out immediately after, which almost invariably resulted in a jarring, sloppy splice).


Harmon Gordon is played by Patrick O 'Neal in his only TZ appearance; however, he crossed paths with Rod Serling again in a 1971 episode of Night Gallery (“A Fear of Spiders”). He also starred in the “Wolf 359” episode of The Outer Limits in 1964.

Walter Brooke (Dr. Raymond Gordon) previously passed through The Twilight Zone in season three’s “The Jungle.” Genre fans may also recall his recurring role on TV’s The Incredible Hulk as Mark Foster, determined reporter Jack McGee’s boss. Also on the sci-fi fantasy front, Brooke played the unnamed U.S. President in the “Testimony of a Traitor” episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in 1981.

“A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” is the second of five episodes that comprise “The Lost Five,” a group of episodes that weren't syndicated with the rest of the series for various reasons. In this episode’s case, a plagiarism suit was filed against Cayuga Productions after it was aired (Serling based the teleplay on an unpublished story by Louis Holz; another writer claimed that Serling had stolen his idea). The ensuing litigation kept the episode out of circulation until 1984 when it (along with last season’s “Miniature” and “Sounds and Silences,” the fiftieth anniversary of which is coming up in April) reemerged as part of the syndicated Twilight Zone Silver Anniversary Special, which was hosted by none other than Patrick O’Neal, who by then looked old enough to play the role of Harmon without makeup (if memory serves, he made a crack to that effect when he introduced this episode).

Interestingly, “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” is the only “Lost Five” episode to have been added to the syndication package since its 1984 reappearance. The other four are available on DVD, blu-ray and Hulu (as of this writing), but as far as I know, they still aren't being aired along with the rest of the series.

It’s certainly not top-tier Zone, but “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” is pretty decent (if a bit claustrophobic, since the entire episode takes place in the Gordons’ high rise apartment). It’s not particularly interesting visually, except when Ruta Lee is in the scene, and then… *sigh*

Next week:
Ed Wynn whips out his big ol’ clock for all to see.

1 comment:

Joel Benedict Henderson said...

Sounds and Silences also got readded IIRC.