Friday, December 27, 2013

Episode Spotlight: "Ring-a-Ding Girl" (12/27/1963)

Season 5, Episode 13 (133 overall)
Originally aired 12/27/1963
Cayuga Production # 2623

Fifty years ago, a self-absorbed movie star redeemed herself through the offices of One Step Be---- oops, I mean The Twilight Zone.

Bunny Blake, Hollywood’s “Ring-a-Ding Girl” (whatever that means), is about to depart for a movie shoot in Rome when her personal assistant hands her a package. Bunny, who is very clearly a spoiled celebrity, tears it open immediately. It’s a ring from her fan club, located in her hometown of Howardville (I almost typed “Indiana,” but they never say what state it’s in). Bunny, who is shallow and is easily captivated by shiny objects, places the ring on her finger, and is immediately confronted with images of her friends and family, urgently imploring her to come home.

Bunny arrives unannounced in Howardville to her sister and nephew’s delight, but things take an odd turn when she insists on inviting the entire town to forgo their annual Founder’s Day picnic and watch her perform a one-woman show in the high school auditorium instead. At this point we’re on the same page as the disgusted high school superintendent, said page reading “Wow, what a conceited bitch!” As it turns out, however, Bunny knows something the rest of them don’t, and has a rather altruistic plan in mind to save them (or as many of them as possible) from an imminent catastrophe.

“Ring-a-Ding Girl” was written by Earl Hamner Jr. (“Jess-Belle”), and I can’t help but wonder if he originally wrote this for Alcoa Presents One Step Beyond, discovered that the show was cancelled two years earlier, and submitted it here instead. It’s practically dripping with that show’s unique ethos, right down to the astral projection/doppelgänger theme and the eerie Theramin riffs punctuating Bunny’s periodic gazes into her magical ring (which sound like Harry Lubin composed them; they’re actually by Rene Garriguenc). It’s not the first time TZ has stepped on John Newland’s toes (see season two’s “Twenty Two”).

I have a couple of issues with “Ring-a-Ding Girl.” First and foremost, Bunny Blake is annoying as hell, and not just because of her lame “ring-a-ding!” catchphrase (I can’t decide if it’s the character or the actress that I object to; perhaps it’s both). We don’t see much of Howardville, but its “golly gee whiz small town USA” character still comes through loud and clear (thanks particularly to the Budd character). Both the characters and the locations are clichéd caricatures.

And the ring itself is maddeningly enigmatic. Is it some kind of interspatial conduit, through which people are communicating with Bunny? Are they calling to Bunny from an alternate timeline and beyond the grave, attempting to save their other selves? Is the ring some kind of focusing element for Bunny’s body and/or soul, which appears to be stretched across two different realities?  Hildy sent the ring to Bunny, so is she aware of its apparent powers? And, perhaps more importantly, is she also aware of the tragedy soon to unfold, and is attempting to intervene (her shocked reaction at the end would indicate not)? I know, I know: this is The Twilight Zone. Why the hell am I asking so many questions?

Despite my misgivings, there are a few things I like about the episode.  Bunny’s grating antics stop dead every time she looks at her ring and, for those few seconds, she’s suddenly a real, troubled person.  And I like the optical effect used for the ring shots too (see above).  And Bunny’s final exit, in which she steps outside into the pouring rain and vanishes, is well-executed and hauntingly effective. The episode certainly ends on a better note than it begins. But is it enough to redeem the whole thing? I dunno.


While the actors in the lead roles aren't repeat TZ visitors, almost the entire supporting cast has repeatedly intersected the fifth dimension.

Bing Russell plays Ben Braden, the local TV personality who facilitates Bunny’s on-air invitation to her one-woman show. Russell crossed over into The Twilight Zone previously in season three’s “The Arrival.”  He was well-known here in my neck of the woods as the owner of minor league baseball’s Portland Mavericks (1973-1977). Oh, and genre fans are undoubtedly familiar with his son Kurt (Escape from New York, The Thing, Stargate), who played on his dad’s team in ‘73 and ‘77 (the team’s first and last years in existence, interestingly enough).

Hank Patterson is sufficiently gruff as the crotchety high school superintendent Mr. Gentry.  He last appeared on TZ as Mr. Freitag, one of the Sunnyvale Rest Home residents, in season three’s “Kick the Can”; we’ll see him again later this season in “Come Wander with Me.”

The State Trooper who telephones Hildy with news of the plane crash (and Bunny’s death) is played by none other than Vic Perrin, the famed Control Voice on ABC’s The Outer Limits.  Here in The Twilight Zone, Perrin played a Martian in season one’s “People Are Alike All Over” and, more recently, provided the voice of the robot in “Uncle Simon.”

George Mitchell (Dr. Floyd) turns in his fourth and final TZ appearance: he played the cranky gas station proprietor in “The Hitch-hiker” and the bitter father at Joe Caswell’s hanging in “Execution” (both in season one); more recently he played Elly Glover’s father in season four’s “Jess-belle.”

Bill Hickman plays the briefly-glimpsed pilot of Bunny Blake’s ill-fated airplane in his only TZ appearance. He also popped up as a guard in the Outer Limits episode “The Mice.”

Before my recent viewing, I hadn't seen “Ring-a-Ding Girl” in well over twenty-five years. I can honestly say that, having seen it through older eyes, I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I thought I did, but I can’t say that I necessarily love it either. Like many season five offerings, there’s some potential in the core idea but the execution is somewhat lacking. In his Twilight Zone Companion, Zicree breezes past it with a single line: “(It’s) much like the stone in the ring Bunny Blake receives: interesting, but no gem.” I get no pleasure out of agreeing with Zicree, but… yeah, he totally nailed it here.

Next week:
You know what's worse than a backseat driver? No driver at all.


Geoffe Haney said...

First of all I love this blog! You are doing Gods work my friend! I have been a TZ fan for about 30 years. My mom never missed a marathon and neither do I. Albeit these days I refuse to sit through the commercials on SYFY and (since I own all the episodes) do my own marathon.

Ring A Ding Girl is one of the episodes I rarely watch. Bunny has Audrey Hepburn's charm and Nostradamus' vision. It's astral projection at its best. It's like "Hey I'm Bunny a big star, and I am going to literally rain on your picnic, but I will save as many as I can so it's all good."

Bill Huelbig said...

We disagree on this one, especially when it comes to Maggie McNamara. I'd always liked her, but her performance became even more moving after I found out how sad her life was. She found big success in the movies early in her career but couldn't sustain it, and she died a suicide. Bunny was one of her last roles.

Erica said...

Just discovered this blog -- very cool! But having just seen "Ring A Ding Girl" yet again in the latest Syfy marathon, I must disagree -- this was one of my favorites. It was flawed, and definitely had its clichés, but it was so sweet. I didn't see that ending coming, and the moment when Bunny walked out into the rain was so poignant, especially the look of peace and acceptance on her face.

Since you mentioned John Newland and OSB, riddle me this: Why does TZ continue to get so much attention and airplay and references, when OSB has fallen into obscurity? The latter started before TZ, so if anything, TZ is a rip-off of OSB, not the other way around. Both deal with the metaphysical and the unknown, both had suave hosts and creepy music, and both had a star power (although admittedly, TZ had more). I want to see an OSB marathon, dammit!