Thursday, April 10, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Caesar and Me" (4/10/1964)

Season 5, Episode 28 (148 overall)
Originally aired 4/10/1964
Cayuga Production # 2636

Fifty years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone brought us yet another pint-sized anthropomorphized terrorist.

Jonathan West is an Irish immigrant trying to make a living as a ventriloquist and failing miserably. Susan, his landlady’s niece, torments him relentlessly. His dummy, Caesar, is inexplicably alive (and sounds like a bad Humphrey Bogart impersonator) and convinces him that he’ll have to stoop to petty theft in order to stay afloat. 

West successfully robs a local delicatessen and gets his rent caught up, much to Susan’s chagrin. With a full belly and a few belts of (presumably Irish) whiskey for courage, he cracks the safe of a local club. The night watchman spots him, but he’s able to charm his way out with Caesar’s help.

Susan is delighted to discover West’s guilt (she’s an expert eavesdropper) and promptly reports him to the authorities. He’s hauled away, leaving Caesar to start making plans with the scheming Susan…. he knows where West hid the loot, after all.

Dos Dummies: Willie (left) and Caesar. Are they the same exact dummy? They look awfully similar....

“Caesar and Me” is of course a second-rate copy of season three’s “The Dummy,” a Rod Serling effort that is superior in every respect. In that episode we witnessed an alcoholic ventriloquist on the verge of a nervous breakdown, locked in mortal combat with a dummy that would ultimately take over his life (and transform him into a wooden dummy in the process). Here we have a dummy that is alive for no apparent reason other than to ruin its puppeteer and take up with an evil little girl. When Caesar convinces the kid to murder her aunt and run away with him, it’s painfully clear that the series has completely given up doling out cosmic justice. The lunatics have taken over the asylum, and all bets are off.

“Caesar and Me” was written by Adele T. Strassfield who was series producer William Froug’s secretary (I could speculate about what she probably had to do in 1964 to get her “cute little script” produced… but I won’t), the sale of which launched an extremely brief career in which she sold a total of three television scripts. And yeah, this one sure as hell ain't great… but to put things in perspective, it’s quite a bit better than last week’s “Sounds and Silences,” which was a Serling script.

In the director’s chair is Robert Butler (who will also direct May’s “The Encounter”), who would go on to a few notable genre gigs: he directed three episodes of The Invaders (“Panic,” “The Enemy,” and “The Trial”) and the original Star Trek pilot (“The Cage,” most of which would be recycled as flashback footage in the two-part “The Menagerie”). I was especially tickled to learn that he directed the pilot episode of TV’s Moonlighting, which was my favorite TV show in the late 80’s.


The only positive aspect of “Caesar and Me” is the original score by Richard Shores, who is probably best remembered for his extensive compositional contributions to TV’s Perry Mason (though he isn’t responsible for that show’s famous theme; we have Fred Steiner, another TZ composer, to thank for that). His work here features some very effective dramatic and mysterious cues, and it’s a real shame that it’s never been released on any of the series’ myriad soundtracks. The DVD and Blu-ray sets include many isolated music tracks, which has historically been a great resource for obsessive TZ music collectors (like yours truly); however, as with several other season five episodes, “Caesar and Me” lacks this feature.


Top o' the morning to ya laddie! Jackie Cooper is sufficiently morose as the Danny Boy-stereotype Jonathan West. Genre fans might recognize him as the Daily Planet editor Perry White in all four Christopher Reeve Superman films (1978-1987).

Susanne Cupito is quite convincing as the vile little snot Susan. Cupito also appeared in season one’s “Nightmare as a Child” and season four’s “Valley of the Shadow”; she also popped up on The Outer Limits (“The Inheritors, Part 2”). She grew up to be breathtakingly beautiful and, when she turned 18, she changed her professional name to Morgan Brittany.

Stafford Repp (left) plays the unnamed pawnbroker in the prologue (we've seen him twice before: he was the auto mechanic in season two’s “Nick of Time,” and Ira Broadly in season three’s “The Grave”; below left). Mr. Smiles, the clerk at the unemployment office, is played by Olan Soule (right), who played the IRS agent in season two’s “The Man in the Bottle" (below, right).

The unnamed man watching West’s pathetic audition in act one is played by Robert McCord, who can be seen in over a third of the series’ 156 episodes, usually as an easy-to-miss extra (see my recent spotlight on “What’s in the Box” for more).

Ugh. I don’t hate “Caesar and Me,” but I sure as hell don’t like it much. Been there, done that, that's it, that's all there is.

Next up:
Martin Landau searches The Jeopardy Room, but can’t find Alex Trebek anywhere.

1 comment:

Bill Huelbig said...

Suzanne Cupito was also in "The Birds", as one of Veronica Cartwright's school friends.