Thursday, May 29, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "The Fear" (5/29/1964)

Season 5, Episode 155
Originally aired 5/29/1964
Cayuga Production # 2633

On March 25, 1964, a sad bit of Twilight Zone history occurred when shooting wrapped on Cayuga’s final production. It was no secret at that point that the series had been cancelled (CBS had announced its fall schedule in January), so the crew certainly knew that their work in the fifth dimension was coming to an end. I’d like to believe that Rod Serling was there with them on the set to hear that final “Cut!” uttered, and that in that moment he felt a rush of pride for his contribution to the landscape of imaginative television. However, I think it’s far more likely that he was nowhere near that set, and that he was too worn out to give much of a damn. As fatigued as the series often felt as it wound down, Serling’s own fatigue was magnified several times over.

That final production, Serling’s “The Fear,” premiered on CBS a scant two months later, exactly fifty years ago tonight.

Charlotte Scott, a big city fashion editor who is on an extended sabbatical following a nervous breakdown, is staying in a luxurious cabin near an unspecified mountain village. State trooper Franklin visits her to follow up on a report of some strange lights in the sky in the area.

The two are beset by mysterious phenomena: bright lights appear and disappear outside the house, high branches in the surrounding trees are broken, and all communication with the outside world (his police radio and her telephone) is cut off.  His squad car rolls on its own (despite the emergency brake being engaged) and flips onto its side.

Soon after, Franklin discovers that his car has been flipped back over…. and a set of oversized fingerprints have been left on it. The next morning, the pair discovers an enormous footprint in a nearby clearing and, overcome with terror, Ms. Scott runs away screaming. She quickly comes face to face with the apparent source of the strange happenings: a gigantic humanoid creature whose entire head is a single eyeball.

Franklin fires several rounds into the creature, which promptly deflates. It’s a balloon! The pair then spies a small flying saucer nearby, inside which tiny aliens are reporting to their superiors that their plan to frighten the giant Earthlings has failed. The ship takes off with its proverbial tail between its legs.

“The Fear” is written by Rod Serling, his 92nd (!) and final contribution to the legendary series that he unleashed upon the world. I’d love to plumb the depths of his teleplay and analyze meanings both surface and hidden, but the sad fact is… well, there aren’t really any such depths or meanings to speak of. “The Fear” centers on a single theme, revealed right up front in the episode’s title: fear. The episode’s about being afraid in the face of the unknown… and that’s it. Serling tackled many sociopolitical themes and their impact on the human condition throughout the series, and the fact that his final Twilight Zone makes no meaningful comment on anything is more than a bit deflating (ha! See what I did there?) He misquotes FDR’s famous “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” in his closing narration and, if that’s the point he’s trying to make, I would argue that it’s not appropriate to the story. I think it’s entirely appropriate to be afraid if there’s a giant alien coming after you, whether or not it turns out to be a hoax later.

In the director’s chair this week is Ted Post, who also helmed “Probe 7, Over and Out,” and “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” earlier this season and, way back in season one, “A World of Difference” (a favorite of mine). His work here is more or less workmanlike, but there are a few nice touches (Franklin’s flashlight-armed searches outside are effectively spooky, and hey, you’ve gotta love those huge fingerprints on his car!). I do have an issue with the enormous footprint our protagonists find, however: wouldn’t there be several of them? The fact that there seems to be only one should have been a tipoff that things might not be as they appear. And how the hell does Franklin’s car flip onto its side? Even if it struck something as it was rolling, it wasn’t moving any more than five miles per hour. Those enormous fingerprints don’t appear until after the car is returned to its upright position, so we can’t even blame the aliens for this one. And Franklin’s estimation that the giant is "500 feet high" turns out to be a hilarious miscalculation, as we see when our heroes come face to face with it.

As Franklin and Ms. Scott work through the mystery of the giant alien, the episode feels like a companion piece of sorts for “Stopover in a Quiet Town” (how awesome would it have been to end things with the giant alien girl looming over Franklin and Charlotte, the sky booming with her mischievous giggling? It wouldn’t have made much sense, but I think I would’ve preferred it to the actual denouement). I guess we could also draw parallels to season three’s “The Little People” and, for that matter, “The Invaders.”

When I reviewed "The Brain Center at Whipple's" two weeks ago, I lamented the fact that the appearance of Robby the Robot signaled the final Forbidden Planet connection we'd see in the series. I love being proven wrong when it comes to stuff like this: while the tiny aliens' flying saucer isn't our beloved United Planets C-57D Space Cruiser, the stock shot (from "Death Ship") of the ship beating a hasty retreat most certainly is. So there you go,kids: one more Forbidden Planet alert for the road. 

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” says Franklin to Ms. Scott early in the episode. If this quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet seems a bit familiar, it’s because Richard Matheson also used it in season one’s “The Last Flight.”

A couple of complaints: first, it seems contrary to Serling’s usual sympathetic humanist ethic to have Franklin start shooting at the giant alien without even attempting to communicate with it, particularly since the alien has never exhibited any overt intent to bring harm or destruction. Hey Rod, remember “The Gift”Second, “The Fear” is probably the single most over-the-top example of Serling’s notorious “purple prose” tendencies supplanting natural, realistic dialogue. Zicree says it best in his Twilight Zone Companion: “(M)uch of the dialogue sounds like two Rod Serlings talking to each other.”

When I reviewed the Outer Limits episode “The Borderland” back in December, I described Mark Richman’s performance as a “pretty impressive Rod Serling impression.” Here’s a short clip to illustrate:

Pretty uncanny, huh? Now, Richman doesn’t act (much) like Serling in “The Fear,” but he definitely resembles him.

Bif Bang Pow! named their action figure of the big guy Cyclops, which is probably an appropriate name for it (it certainly sounds more ominous than “Alien Balloon”). I don’t have it, so I can’t comment on its merits (I stopped collecting Bif Bang Pow!’s TZ stuff about a year or so ago, which I probably should’ve mentioned before now; long story short: too many quality control problems on their end, plus the majority of their offerings just don’t interest me; I’ll try to elaborate in a separate post soon).


“The Fear” is stock-scored, meaning that the underscore is a patchwork of pre-existing recordings from the CBS Music Library, comprised mostly of Fred Steiner cues (from “King Nine Will Not Return” and “A Hundred Yards over the Rim,” both from season two). We also hear “Maya” and “The Fun House” from Nathan Van Cleave’s score for season one’s “Perchance to Dream.” Hearing music from the show’s earlier days this close to the end is a welcome touch indeed (though I doubt that was the intent), and I’m happy to report that the various cues mesh pretty well together, despite originating from three different scores. While “The Fear” doesn’t feature an isolated music track on the DVD and Blu-ray releases of the series, all three of those earlier scores have been released multiple times over the years, on both vinyl and CD, from both Varese Sarabande and Silva Screen Records. The Definitive DVD and Blu-ray releases of the first and second seasons also include isolated music tracks for all three episodes, so if one wanted to piece together a soundtrack for “The Fear,” the resources are easily obtained (except for that short little Marius Constant bit, dammit).


Trooper Robert Franklin is played by Mark Richman in his only Twilight Zone appearance. Richman has extensive genre experience, including roles on The Outer Limits (“The Borderland” and “The Probe”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Man with a Problem” and “The Cure”), The Invaders (“The Leeches” and “Inquisition”), The Incredible Hulk (“Triangle) and, a bit more recently, Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Neutral Zone”).

Richman with TZ alum Susan Oliver.

Charlotte Scott is played by the beautiful Hazel Court in her only Twilight Zone appearance. Genre fans can spot her in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Crocodile Case,” “The Avon Emeralds,” “Arthur,” and “The Pearl Necklace”) and one episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller (“The Terror in Teakwood”). On the big screen, Court can be seen in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein from Hammer Films, not to mention a trio of Roger Corman adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories (1962’s The Premature Burial, 1963’s The Raven, and 1964’s The Masque of the Red Death). Did I mention that she’s beautiful? She’s definitely a TZ Babe, make no mistake. *Sigh*


The part of the giant Cyclops “alien” is played by a BIG GODDAMNED BALLOON which, to my knowledge, never worked in television again (though it would’ve been positively smashing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, right?).

“The Fear” was the final Twilight Zone episode to be filmed (“The Bewitchin’ Pool,” the final episode aired, was shot earlier but took longer to complete in post-production; more on this when we get to it), and it definitely feels like the show is running on fumes as it lurches toward the finish line. It’s not exactly terrible, but it’s nowhere near good: like the aliens’ giant balloon, it’s ultimately a bit flat.

There’s only one new episode left of the entire series… but you’re gonna have to wait
three weeks for it. Talk about cancelus interruptus….


Gary R. Peterson said...

Just discovered your site and am thoroughly enjoying your episode commentaries and screencaps. Your comprehensive knowledge of the program and of related programs gives your site considerable heft (looking forward to your tackling The Invaders, one of my favorite series also).

I always enjoyed "The Fear." I tend to like the episodes with small casts ("A Game of Pool" is my favorite episode, for example). Richman and Court do a fine job and are thoroughly engaging, even if the prose went purple and over the top (growing up on Stan Lee-scripted comics primed me for such things).

I came in 154 episodes late, so I'll be spending the summer watching my Definitive Edition and catching up on all you've written before. I'm looking forward to it, Craig.

Craig Beam said...

Gary - welcome! I'm gonna warn you in advance: my episode spotlights for the first season (particularly the first half) are really brief and cursory. I didn't quite know what the blog would be at that point... I think things started to gel toward the end of the first season.

I really want to go back and revisit season one. Stay tuned....

Scott Stevenson said...

Hello again Craig.
Well, here is my crazy idea directly from the fifth dimension that will keep your TZ blog going on and on unto eternity.
How about reviewing every episode from a fresh perspective every five years?
For example, you reviewed "Where is Everybody?" on 10/02/2009.
Now, review it again for its 55th anniversary on 10/02/2014.
Keep pace with all of the other episodes and before you know it the time will come for the review of "WIE" on its 60th anniversary.
This infinite cycle of reviews will keep you on your toes and ensure that this blog never ends.
Anyway, if you think that I have become a permanent resident of the Twilight Zone, you are probably correct.
Again, thank you for everything.

Craig Beam said...

Scott - stay tuned. An announcement of sorts is coming soon....

Ken said...

I always thought Come Wander with Me was the last one shot, based on the production number. So it's nice to know that the last episode filmed was a script by Rod.

Swifty the Spacebird said...

I can distictly remember this episode but i confused it with The Outer Limits i can remember the police car with the giant fingerprint on it as if the car and been picked up and exmaned the cycploes balloon creature ad the little bitty aliens