Friday, February 21, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Spur of the Moment" (2/21/1964)




Season 5, Episode 21 (141 overall)
Originally aired 2/21/1964
Cayuga Production # 2608


Young Anne Henderson is out for a relaxing horseback ride on her family’s sprawling Southern estate. Atop a hill, an ominous figure appears, also on horseback, clad in black and, with a blood-chilling shriek, tears down the hillside on an intercept course. Anne, naturally frightened, heads hurriedly for home. An exciting prologue, right? Who is this mysterious harbinger of doom? Is it a vicious demon? A vindictive ghost? Or maybe our old friend “The Hitch-hiker,” now traveling by horse instead of thumbing rides?




Viewers fifty years ago tonight quickly realized that it was none of those things. Thanks to a questionable (or, more to the point, stupid) directorial choice, we see the identity of Anne’s pursuer immediately. It’s herself, older and apparently really pissed off. 


Young Anne is about to marry Robert Blake, who has a bright future ahead of him and whom her parents approve of. However, her heartstrings are being seriously tugged on by no-good loafer David Mitchell, who implores her to run away with him, much to everyone’s chagrin.  

Meanwhile, 25 years in the future, the Henderson mansion is in a state of advanced disrepair and is about to be foreclosed upon. Nursing a stiff drink, Anne blames her dead father for spoiling her when she was young, which led to her choosing the wrong man. David enters, drunkenly taunting her. She flees the house, mounts her horse, and rides to the hilltop… and looks down at her younger self. She races down the hill and gives chase in what will be, as it always is, a futile pursuit.



Exceedingly melodramatic and painfully soapy, Richard Matheson's “Spur of the Moment” isn’t one of season five’s better offerings. Young Anne is excruciatingly annoying, a drama queen clearly desperate for attention. Future Anne is abrasive and bitter, blaming her shitty life on the fact that her father spoiled her as a child. Um, seriously? Marrying David was a bad choice, and maybe it happened partially because of her spoiled-child-rebellion-phase, but what’s prevented her from divorcing him at some point in the 25 years that he’s been making her life miserable? It’s her that’s opted to stay with his sorry ass, not her deceased father.

We only know the woman in black’s identity because the camera pans in for a close shot of her face, yet somehow Anne can see her “glaring” at her from the top of the hill (which would be impossible from that far away). By the same token, Future Anne couldn't possibly recognize her younger self from that distance; however, it’s more puzzling why she’d assume it’s her younger self at all (we know it’s The Twilight Zone, but she doesn’t).




Nitpicking aside, what exactly is happening here? Future Anne sees her young self… how, exactly? Is it the power of her own unhappiness, creating a kink in space and time, allowing her the opportunity to influence her younger self? I could buy it if it were a single event, in which she tries but fails to change the past, reinforcing the permanence of the past… but Anne indicates that she’s seen her younger self repeatedly, and does so again at the end of the episode. The opening scene is replayed, so apparently Future Anne’s created herself a time loop of sorts. She can apparently revisit this moment in her past as often as she likes, but she’ll never successfully get her younger self’s attention to sufficiently warn her away from marrying David…. but y’now, this is problematic too. She could easily opt to NOT scream like a banshee, and instead calmly descend the hill. Or maybe somehow, once they both occupy the same space, everything is locked into place, and Future Anne is helpless to change it. I dunno. We've seen characters interact with themselves before (“Nervous Man  In a Four-Dollar Room”; “The Last Night of a Jockey”), but here the Annes never actually get that opportunity, the maddening frustration of which is the whole point, I imagine.

Anne and Yang.


As repellent as both Annes are, the episode isn’t exactly a total loss. I suppose the production values are fine; I think this is the only time in the entire series that we see a full-on chase on horseback. The costuming choice to have Future Anne wearing all black and riding a black horse (symbolizing the darkness of her life) and Young Anne wearing all white and riding a white horse (symbolizing her relative purity) is a nice touch, if a bit obvious. The juxtaposition of the Henderson mansion in the two different time periods (pristine in the family’s happier, richer days, run down and almost devoid of furniture in the dark future) is effective.


When Future Anne throws her drink at David before running off for yet another attempt to warn her younger self, David breaks down into drunken tears. Is it just me, or does he look just like Dan Duryea in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”?


THE MUSIC


“Spur of the Moment” features an original score by Rene Garriguenc which, like all season five scores, has never enjoyed an official soundtrack release. You’ll find it, however, isolated on its own track on the season five DVD/blu-ray sets. The score is overly melodramatic; it sounds like accompaniment for silent films (where’s the mustache-twirling villain?). Like everything else here, it grates on my nerves.



FAMILIAR FACES

Diana Hyland (Anne Henderson) only has a smattering of genre roles on her resume, among them two Alfred Hitchcock Hours (“To Catch a Butterfly” And “Beyond the Sea of Death”) and two episodes of The Invaders (“Vikor” and the two-part “Summit Meeting”… I guess that’s technically three episodes). She’s probably best remembered for her work on TV’s Peyton Place (1968-69), which this soap-operatic episode certainly prepared her for.


That no-account rascal David Mitchell is played by Roger Davis in his only Twilight Zone appearance. He’d cross paths with Rod Serling again in 1972 on Night Gallery (“You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Millikan”). Other notable genre credits include 128 episodes of Dark Shadows (1968-1970; more soapiness!) and the hilariously awful Galactica 1980 (“The Night the Cylons Landed”).


The reliable and upstanding Robert Blake is played by Robert Hogan, who also popped up on Serling’s Night Gallery (1971’s “Brenda," a thoroughly stupid segment about a lonely girl and the swamp monster that befriends her. Yes, you heard that right; incidentally, the teleplay was written by TZ producer Buck Houghton under a pseudonym... can't say I blame him). Ahem, back to business. Hogan was also a regular on Peyton Place, so that connects him to Diana Hyland.



As Mr. Henderson, this is Philip Ober’s only TZ appearance; however, he showed up on both of Alfred Hitchcock’s TV series (“Burglar Proof” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and “I Saw the Whole Thing” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) as well as his 1959 film North by Northwest. Mrs. Henderson is played by Marsha Hunt, who appeared on The Outer Limits just three weeks prior to “Spur of the Moment” (“ZZZZZ”). And finally, Reynolds (whom we only see from behind) is played by Jack Raine, who played an officer in season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne.”




As you've probably gathered, I’m not a big fan of “Spur of the Moment.” Any story about time paradoxes has automatic potential in my book, but here the concept is hazily integrated and lazily developed. Toss in unlikable characters and… well, I check out pretty quickly. It’s not that I hate it, necessarily… I just don’t care. Your horse mileage, of course (of course) may vary.


Next week:
Mon Dieu! Le Twilight Zone passe en France!



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