Thursday, February 28, 2013

TZ Promo: "Printer's Devil" (2/28/1963)

 Season 4, Episode 9 (#111 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4864
Originally aired February 28, 1963

After entertaining us with multiple manifestations during the first two seasons of The Twilight Zone, His Satanic Majesty (a.k.a. Ol’ Scratch, Beelzebub, Lucifer, The Prince of Darkness, The Devil; he answers to all of them) apparently took last year off.  Happily (or not, depending on your religious/spiritual inclination), he/she/it makes up for it by appearing twice this season.

50 years ago tonight, The Evil One visited the city of Danzburg under the name “Mr. Smith.” His target?  One Douglas Winter, editor of the failing Danzburg Courier. Winter’s just lost his linotype operator to the competing Danzburg Gazette, effectively spelling the end of his paper. Full of self-loathing and liquor, Winter is poised to jump off a bridge… until Smith shows up out of nowhere, looking for a job.  It seems he’s an expert linotype operator and a crack reporter to boot.

With Smith on board, The Courier quickly becomes the town’s top newspaper, consistently scooping The Gazette. Winter’s long-suffering girlfriend Jackie doesn't trust Smith; in fact, she suspects he’s behind the very catastrophes he’s reporting. When Winter confronts him, Smith lays his cards on the table:  he’ll continue providing his services, guaranteeing permanent success for The Courier, in exchange for Winter’s soul.

Smith’s diabolical work on The Courier comes with an interesting twist: he isn't directly influencing events in Danzburg; rather, he’s “made some modifications” to the paper’s linotype machine that causes whatever is typed into it to come true. This ultimately causes Smith’s plans to unravel, as the linotype machine twists reality regardless of who uses it. Some may cry deus ex machina, but I think it’s a nice touch.

"Printer's Devil" is scored with an impressive array of CBS library cues, including selections from previous TZ scores "The Big Tall Wish" and "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" (the latter is put to great use to build suspense during act four; both are composed by Jerry Goldsmith). CBS Music Director Lud Gluskin had an amazing knack for choosing preexisting music for episodes for which original scores hadn't been commissioned.  "Printer's Devil" is a perfect example of this: the entire score, stock though it is, is imminently listenable on its own (happily, it's isolated on the season four Definitive DVD and blu-ray sets for our listening pleasure).

This is the fourth and final TZ appearance by the great Burgess Meredith: he’s previously graced “Time Enough at Last” and “The Obsolete Man” (he also starred in the dreadful “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” but we try not to talk about that ‘round here). He’s just marvelous as the (literally) devilish Mr. Smith, particularly in his completely unapologetic horndoggedness.  Note his unsubtle ogling of the waitress, about whom he observes: “She moves quick for a big one.”  Later, he whispers something (presumably highly inappropriate and/or offensive) into Jackie’s ear, which prompts her to slap him (after all these years, I still wonder what exactly he said!).  This is my favorite of Meredith’s four TZ performances (yes, even over his brilliant work as the obsolete Romney Wordsworth).  Meredith is probably remembered best as either The Penguin on TV’s Batman or as boxing trainer Mickey in 1976’s Rocky.


Robert Sterling is suitably morose as Douglas Winter in his only Twilight Zone appearance. Genre fans may remember him as Captain Lee Crane in 1961’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

The editor of the competing Danzburg Gazette is played by Ray Teal, who is probably best remembered as Sheriff Roy Coffee on TV’s Bonanza.

TZ babe alert! Winter’s girlfriend Jackie is played by Patricia Crowley, and she’s a fine looking specimen indeed; unfortunately, she spends the entire episode frowning and complaining. She appeared on TV’s Bonanza a mere four days before “Printer’s Devil” aired (“The Actress” on 2/24/1963); unfortunately Sheriff Coffee wasn’t in that episode.

The actor falling asleep at the wheel in act four is uncredited, but he looked damn familiar to me, so I tried tracking him down… to no initial avail (IMDB, Wikipedia, The TZ Café, even the ever-useful Martin Grams Jr. book…. nothing, nada, zip). However, after much digging, I’m convinced that he’s David Armstrong, who almost ran over the mechanical grandma in season three’s “I Sing the Body Electric” (Jesus, somebody revoke this guy’s driver’s license!). He also appeared as an uncredited extra in “To Serve Man” and was Simon Oakland’s stunt double in “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.”  His greatest TZ moment, however, came in “The Trade-Ins,” in which he had a speaking role as the surgeon who successfully turns Joseph Schildkraut into Edson Stroll.

“Printer’s Devil” is great fun, maybe not quite top-tier Zone, but quite good all the same (Meredith’s performance advances it several notches, just as Julie Newmar will do for “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” in a few weeks).  If you’re keeping track, this puts us exactly halfway through season four.

Next week:  Dane Andrews tries to assassinate Hitler but burns down a school instead.  D’oh!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

TZ Promo: "Miniature" (2/21/1963)

Season 4, Episode 8 (#110 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4862
Originally aired February 21, 1963

We've seen this type of story before on The Twilight Zone, in which a misfit finds a supernatural means of permanent escape, be it into the past (“A Stop at Willoughby,” “Static”), an alternate reality (“A World of Difference”), or a nonspecific combination of both (“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine,” “Kick the Can,” “Young Man’s Fancy”).  Both “The Night of the Meek” and “The Fugitive” are variations on this theme as well.  Tonight we meet yet another of TZ’s unhappy loners who finds a way out of his troubled existence into something… well, else.

Charles Beaumont’s “Miniature” introduces us to Charley Parkes, a thirty-something bachelor who lives with his mother, has no friends, and who has just lost his job because he simply “ doesn't fit in” (I’m pretty sure he could sue for wrongful termination these days).  He can’t be bothered to look for another job, however, as he’s too busy visiting a local museum every day, gazing longingly at one particular item on display.

It’s a fairly average dollhouse, silent and inert, complete with a tiny wooden girl sitting at the tiny wooden piano.  When Charley looks at it, however, it comes to glorious life in a charming miniature pantomime:  the girl (Alice) plays the piano, a tiny maid attends to her every whim, and a tiny gentleman caller comes a’calling.

Charley falls desperately in love with the Alice doll, indulging in an ongoing one-sided conversation with her through the glass shield protecting the dollhouse.  Things seem harmless enough until the tiny gentleman caller shows up drunk, clubs the maid into unconsciousness and attempts to deflower Alice by force.  Charley panics and smashes the glass wall, and subsequently winds up in a psych ward.

Without giving away more of the plot (though I’ve pretty much spoiled it at this point anyway), it’s safe to say that Charley eventually manages to get himself released, return to the dollhouse and, through unspecified magic, vanishes forever from human existence, only to reappear as the doll’s tiny new companion inside the dollhouse.

Now, maybe I’m overthinking this, but what exactly happened here?  Okay, on a prosaic level, Charley transmogrified into a miniature wooden figure, just like Alice (up till then, it appeared that he was operating under a very complex delusion).  Going forward, in what capacity will these two wooden lovebirds exist?  Are the dolls actually miniature people (like Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, recently made into a lovely animated film by Japan’s Studio Ghibli called The Secret World of Arriety), masquerading as inanimate objects during the day and doing their living at night, in secret (oh shit, is this a precursor to Night in the Museum?).  Or is the dollhouse some sort of inter-dimensional portal to some other universe, a cosmic way station in which our reality bleeds into the other, only visible to a select few?

The setup for “Miniature” feels very much like a Jack Finney story:  a guy falls in love with a girl from the past; however, in Finney’s hands, Charley would've sought the real Alice Summers (or at least her grave) out.  At no time in Beaumont’s story does this seem to occur to Charley; rather, he simply falls in love with an action figure-sized woman, which is completely impractical on a number of levels.  But maybe this makes sense, given Charley’s introverted and apparently sexless nature: see how disastrously he interacts with a normal-sized woman on a blind date:

The humor in “Miniature” is gentle and quirky, mirroring Charley’s personality, except for one scene that, truth be told, kinda bugs me.  At the end of act one, the gentleman caller arrives at the dollhouse to take Alice out (to take in the nearby African tribal exhibit, perhaps?).  As Charley watches intently and presumably jealously, this happens:

Anybody got some Windex?

I would've preferred a furrowed brow here, maybe an uneasy knuckle nibble.  The smooshed-nose-against-the-glass routine is just plain childish; it worked in “The Night of the Meek” because excited kids were doing it.  It’s out of character for Charley, it violates the tone of the piece, and it’s just dumb.

Oscar-winner Robert Duvall did a lot of TV in his younger days, and genre fans will recall his two stints on The Outer Limits (“The Chameleon” and “The Inheritors”).  Here he shines as the awkward and shy Charley; however, he was much more awkward and shy as the enigmatic  Boo Radley in 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mrs. Parkes, who is probably largely to blame for Charley’s social awkwardness, is well essayed by Pert Kelton. Kelton was the original Alice Kramden, back when The Honeymooners was a recurring sketch, performed live on TV’s Cavalcade of Stars. I kinda wish Charley had given her the old “Pow! Right in the kisser!” right before he disappeared forever.

William Windom returns to The Twilight Zone as Charley’s psychiatrist, Dr. Wallman. He’s just as humorless here as he was last time we saw him, playing the army major in season three’s “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.”

John McLiam is great as the sympathetic museum guard who ultimately spots the vanished Charley inside the dollhouse (but keeps it to himself). McLiam appears in bit roles in three other TZ episodes (“The Shelter,” "The Midnight Sun,” and season five’s “Uncle Simon”).

TZ alumn Barney Phillips, as Charley’s boss Mr. Diemel, is less likable here than in his previous appearances (“The Purple Testament,” “A Thing About Machines,” and “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”).  Fear not, he’s not sporting a third eye this time around.

And hey --- TZ babe alert!  Pity this is Claire Griswold’s only TZ appearance.  She may be made of wood, but she’s crazy hot, and I wouldn't mind… (insert inappropriate wood-related innuendo here).

A gentle tale like this demands (okay, nicely asks for) gentle music.  Fred Steiner’s score incorporates several different classical works (most notably Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Major, the tune that the Alice doll plays), and the result is quite lovely.  Given the melodramatic nature of the pantomime scenes inside the dollhouse, classical music just feels appropriate.  Steiner’s score has never been released on any music format (vinyl, cassette, CD or digital), but you’ll find it in isolated form on both DVD releases and the more recent Blu-ray edition of season four.

“Miniature” is the first of five TZ episodes that were omitted from the original syndication package (“The Lost Five”) for various reasons.  In the case of “Miniature,” a pending plagiarism lawsuit kept the episode off limits when the series was prepared for syndication in 1964.  It aired only once, 50 years ago tonight, and remained buried until 1984.

In 1984, three of the “lost five” episodes were collected in a television special celebrating the series’ 25th anniversary, one of which was “Miniature.”  As a “bonus” (note the sarcastic quotes), the scenes inside the dollhouse in “Miniature” were colorized.  The colorization thankfully did NOT carry over into the various home video releases of the episode (which are four in number: Columbia House VHS collection, DVD volume 31, the season four Definitive Edition DVD set, and the season four blu-ray set). The colorized scenes were included as a bonus on the Definitive Edition DVD set, but omitted for the more recent blu-ray release (presumably because they realized what an abomination it was).  Let’s allow this unfortunate chapter in the episode’s unique history to fade into oblivion.

Next week: Burgess Meredith returns to The Twilight Zone.  Speak of the devil!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Merch Spotlight: Kanamit's Cookbook Set (SDCC Exclusive)

The annual San Diego Comic Con brings many exclusive collectibles, and 2012 was no different. It's the Kanamit's Cookbook Set, an interesting all-in-one collection of three Kanamit-themed items, two of which are available separately, and one that's exclusive to this set.

 14+?  Why, exactly?

First the good news.  If you don’t yet own the Kanamit Tin Tote and/or the Kanamit Cookbook Journal, they're identical to those included here, so you can skip them if you have this set.  The only thing unique about this limited edition set is the variant Kanamit action figure, which is cloaked in black instead of white.  So if you’re collecting all the action figures, you’re gonna have to buy this set to stay current.

The Kanamit figure itself appears identical to the regular version, but the three-piece outfit is all black  Oh, and the "To Serve Man" cookbook is the same (as it should be).

The variant Kanamit does look pretty cool… unfortunately, mine is severely fucked up.  Have a look (or several):

I’m not privy to the ins and outs of action figure making, so I have no idea how this could’ve happened, but obviously some of the black from the clothing rubbed off onto the figure.  I haven’t tried cleaning it off: since I don’t know what the cloak is made of, I have no idea what I should use.  My fear is that I’ll somehow damage the figure if I use the wrong cleaning agent.  So I don’t know what to do.  In all fairness, most of the damage is hidden beneath the robes, but there are still visible black marks on the head and hands.  So yeah, I’m kinda pissed.  I thought about asking for a replacement or a refund, but I probably missed the deadline for that (I received the items in the fall, and just now got around to opening them).

Dude, you really ought to see your dermatologist.

Your mileage may vary, of course.  I’m not telling you not to buy this… I’m just saying check your Kanamit carefully, and maybe contact Entertainment Earth if you’re unhappy with what you get.  They've been very good in the past about replacing damaged items (I've had three bobbleheads arrive broken over the years, which I’ll be talking about when I review the Henry Bemis bobble head), so I can vouch for their customer service. The set is still available, as of this writing, in both the regular $34.99 version and a more expensive version, signed by actor Richard Kiel, for $49.99.