Thursday, June 19, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "The Bewitchin' Pool" (6/19/1964)




Season 5, Episode 36 (156 overall)
Originally aired 6/19/1964
Cayuga Production # 2619


Fifty years ago tonight, a television legend came to an end as The Twilight Zone aired its 156th and final episode.  Sadly, the series ended with a soft, weak whimper instead of going out with a powerful, brilliant bang.


The Sharewoods are an unhappy bunch. Gil and Gloria have two modes of interaction: passive aggression and just plain aggression, and siblings Sport and Jeb are constantly caught in the crossfire. One day a young boy named Whit appears out of nowhere in their swimming pool and invites them to come with him. They dive in after him, and emerge in a lake.





There’s a charming cottage on the lake’s shore, and several children are playing in the yard. Whitt introduces Sport and Jeb to Aunt T, an elderly woman who explains that her home is a sanctuary of sorts for sad and neglected children. Sport insists that they aren’t neglected; that their parents do in fact love them despite their fighting. Aunt T tells them that they should go home if that's the case.


The next day, Gloria angrily orders Sport to find her brother (who is nowhere to be found), so that all four can have a family meeting. Sport returns to Aunt T’s home and finds Jeb there, who refuses to leave. Sport lies and tells him that things will be different now, that their parents have promised not to fight anymore, and that they’ll be a happy family at last. Jeb reluctantly goes home with her, on the understanding that they can probably never return to Aunt T’s place.






Gil and Gloria tell Sport and Jeb that they are getting a divorce, and that the kids can choose which parent they want to live with. Sport balks, and she and Jeb return to the pool, calling out for Aunt T to help them. They swim toward the bottom, prompting Gil to in after them... but he comes up empty. The kids are gone.



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Earl Hamner Jr.’s “The Bewitchin’ Pool” (that’s right, the series finale wasn’t even written by Rod Serling) isn’t necessarily terrible… it’s just nothing special. Drop it in the middle of the third season and I wouldn’t bat an eye. But here, at the very end, it leaves me wanting… pretty badly, in fact. It’s yet another of Hamner’s down-home “city folk are wicked and country folk are good” efforts which, as a lifelong city-dweller, I find a bit offensive.





Occupying the director’s chair is Joseph M. Newman, who previously helmed “In Praise of Pip,” “The Last Night of a Jockey,” and the terminally goofy “Black Leather Jackets” (he also directed an impressive ten Alfred Hitchcock Hours). Sci-fi fans are probably aware that he also directed 1955’s This Island Earth, which co-starred TZ alums Russell Johnson (“Execution” and “Back There”), Jeff Morrow (“Elegy”), and Lance Fuller (“The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”). I can only assume this week’s episode was a quick paycheck for Newman and nothing more, since there’s really nothing notable about the episode’s direction. It just…. is.

Some of Mary Badham’s dialogue is regrettably dubbed by June Foray, who provided the voice of Talky Tina earlier this season in “Living Doll” (I can’t help but wish she said “My name is Sport Sharewood, and I don’t think I like you” at some point in the episode, preferably to her asshole parents), as Badham’s southern accent was reportedly thick enough to make her semi-unintelligible. The dub job is obvious and, frankly, a bit confusing since all of Badham’s dialogue in the Aunt T segments --- which wasn’t replaced --- sounds fine. History also cites “backlot noise” as an additional culprit, so I dunno. In any case, the episode’s post-production took longer than anticipated and, rather than airing in March as originally planned, it was held back until the very end of the season. So at least we know why such a limp offering ended up being the series finale.


Leave it to The Twilight Zone to throw us a curve ball in the final play of the final game. The entire prologue segment isn’t a prologue at all; it’s what we generally call a “teaser” over on my Outer Limits blog, which means it’s a scene from the episode shown out of order and out of context, intended to (wait for it) tease the viewer. The Outer Limits used this practice for most of its first season (at ABC’s behest) in order to show the audience the alien/monster of the week as fast as possible. “The Bewitchin’ Pool” has no such beasts to speak of, so I’m guessing the episode ran several minutes short (in addition to the sound problems detailed above), necessitating some creative editing. We do get the customary Serling intro at the end of it, but we don’t get the customary whip pan leading into it; rather, Serling’s face emerges from the swirling waters of the Sharewood clan’s swimming pool, which is admittedly a cool effect, hearkening back to the imaginative and unexpected Serling appearances in the show’s second and third seasons.

Rod Swirling?

A further indication that the teaser wasn’t part of the original plan can be found at the start of act one, where we hear another chunk of Serling narration (this is the only time in the entire series we hear him during the first act). I’m guessing (I don’t have the script, so guessing is all I can do) that the teaser narration was written at some later time after principal photography had wrapped.



I find myself a a bit hung up on the concept of Aunt T’s Refuge for Neglected Tykes; specifically, what’s the long-term plan? Does she return them to the real world when they reach the age of majority, after she’s raised ‘em up right 'n all? Aunt T explains to Jeb and Whitt that “all children need chores” to teach them responsibility and so forth, so this certainly seems possible. However, I get a very strong Neverland vibe from the whole thing, which might keep the kids young forever. So I dunno.



I’m reminded of the X-files episode “Closure,” in which the mystery of FBI Agent Fox Mulder’s missing sister is finally (sort of) solved: it turns out she was taken by “The Walk-Ins,” spectral beings who saved her from imminent harm and relocated her to an ethereal paradise for lost children.  Is Aunt T such a being?  Is Samantha Mulder with her now???



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THE MUSIC



“The Bewitchin’ Pool” is stock-scored with selections from the CBS Music Library, a few of which are vaguely familiar (meaning they probably appeared in other episodes). Two cues of note are “Hope" and "Act Ending" by Bernard Herrmann, both from his sublime Walt Whitman Suite. I’m really glad that ol’ Bennie, who scored the series pilot “Where Is Everybody?,” is heard one more time in the series closer; it’s a nice musical bookend of sorts. If you'd like to obtain said Walt Whitman Suite, you can find on Bernard Herrmann at CBS, Volume 2: American Gothic from Prometheus Records.



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DRAMATIS PERSONAE


Mary Badham stars as Sport Sharewood in her only Twilight Zone appearance. Badham’s résumé is pretty sparse, but she did play Scout Finch (who is more or less a younger version of Sport) in 1962’s wonderful adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, so color me impressed as hell.





The cherubic and adorable Jeb Sharewood is played by Tim Stafford, who now works under the name Jeffrey Byron. I couldn’t find any of the usual genre connections for him; however, he did appear on The Fugitive in 1964 (“Tiger Left, Tiger Right"; below), my favorite non-genre series of that time. More recently, he administered the Kobayashi Maru Scenario test in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot.




Aunt T is played by Georgia Simmons in her sole Twilight Zone excursion. Simmons has no other genre credits to speak of, but she did appear in Fellini’s , so at least she did something worthwhile with her career (“The Bewitchin’ Pool” sure as hell ain’t it).







The Huck Finn-ish Whitt is played by Kim Hector, who only worked as an actor for six short years. In that brief amount of time, he managed to score this TZ gig and an Outer Limits (he played the afflicted child Johnny Subiron in “The Inheritors”)…. but his most impressive credit came with his role as Cecil Jacobs in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, so he already knew Mary Badham when he reported to the TZ set.

Kim Hector (right) squares off against Mary Badham.


If Dee Hartford (Gloria Sharewood) looks familiar, it may be because she also appeared on The Outer Limits (“The Invisibles,” which starred TZ alums Don Gordon and George MacReady). Hartford also showed up on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Day of Reckoning”) and Batman (she played Miss Iceland in “Green Ice”/”Deep Freeze”). Is she a TZ Babe? I’d say yes, despite her bitchy demeanor here.

Dee Hartford (left) with TZ alum Don Gordon.

The résumé of Tod Andrews (Gil Sharewood) doesn’t contain any of the usual genre connections; however, he did appear as “Skipper” in 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, so there’s a very tenuous Rod Serling connection (since Serling worked on the screenplay for 1968’s original Planet of the Apes. Don’t look at me that way; I said it was tenuous). Andrews also starred in 1957’s From Hell It Came which, despite a promising title, concerns a wrongfully-executed man who is reincarnated… as an ambulatory tree stump monster.




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The Twilight Zone served many functions during its five-year life span. It meted out cosmic justice by punishing the guilty, and allowed second chances to those deserving of them. It enlightened those who’d lost their way, and it provided escape for those desperate enough to seek it out. As its final noble act, it provided a haven for neglected children which, as a parent, I can definitely appreciate. But damn it, I wish the episode surrounding that promising theme was better. “The Bewitchin’ Pool,” taken strictly on its own, is mediocre at best. As the final Twilight Zone episode ever, it’s disappointing and anticlimactic.





13 comments:

John Mcgee said...

Tobanga Lives!

When I was 8 years old I lived in Manila, and we were able to go to the Embassy swimming pool Every day of the year. After I saw this episode I would pretend I could come out of the pool in different places, similar to the late Vic Morrow, in the water, in the film TZ. I never realized it was the last episode; I was looking forward to the return of The Outer Limits, which was 1 hour long, so it was "better" than TZ, at least in an 8 year old perspective. I like your comment about Dee. Please say you are on board for the fifty year ago Star Trek? This blog and TOL blog are simply the best out there. Thank you for your service to our fandom!

Bill Huelbig said...

It's the end of an era. You must feel the way Rod Serling and the staff of Cayuga Productions felt after five long years: exhausted, but happy and proud of the great thing you've created. And all your hard work will now live on forever, theirs in syndication/DVD/Blu-ray/streaming video/whatever comes after that, and yours in cyberspace. I'll really miss reading your views on every episode, so much so that I wish you'd change your mind about Star Trek. But who knows what can happen in two years. For now, even Rod Serling would be proud of what you've accomplished.

Craig Beam said...

Thanks for the kind words, guys... I can say that this blog isn't quite done yet (more on this soon).

And with regards to Star Trek... man, I dunno. I was actually planning on doing The Invaders ('67-'68) next, but I've only recently discovered that show, so I'm not exactly a lifelong fan. Star Trek, meanwhile, has been with me as long as I can remember, and is certainly more dear to me. So it certainly makes sense from that perspective. I think my initial hesitation stemmed from an assumption that, given Trek's considerably higher visibility, there must already exist tons of similar efforts. However, I may have been wrong, as I've only found a few blogs that transcend the simple and cursory episode guide approach, and even those don't provide the eye candy that I strive for in my blogs. So.... let's just say I'm considering it.

Anonymous said...

Once the children had escaped back to Aunt T, and the parents divorced, I would love to start taking advantage of the mom, especially by wrestling her to the ground, taking off her shoes, and tickling and playing with her feet for as long as I wanted!! I would be sitting on her legs, and she couldn't get up!!

Anonymous said...

Are you aware that at in the third paragraph you refer to Sport as "Scout"?

Craig Beam said...

Sport, Scout, what's the difference? They're basically the same character, right? ;) Fixed (thanks for the heads-up).

Mary said...

i hate that you hate this episode. and i disagree that its a "cityfolk vs countryfolk" premise. it's about finding an escape from misery to a wonderland where you can always be happy. there were many kids, myself included, that dreamed of such a refuge and found hope in our imaginations vicariously thru this episode. fantasy escape was a running theme throughout tz: kick the can, stop at willoughby, 16mm shrine, once upon a time, the hunt, walking distance, miniature, a world of difference, elegy. rod himself writing some of those scripts. i believe rod loved bewitchin pool. it may not have meant to be the final bow but it is an engaging story and is beloved by many. by the way, which episode from the final season would you have chosen to be the final episode?

Craig Beam said...

Mary: I conveniently answered your question here: http://mylifeintheshadowofthetwilightzone.blogspot.com/2013/09/episode-spotlight-in-praise-of-pip.html

Anonymous said...

Like it or not this is the most popular and well remembered Twilight Zone of them all. Rod would be happy to know that this last episode of TWZ was so popular with the viewers. It turned a negative (unhappy divorce)into a positive(a happy childhood). Like the Gospel of Jesus turning the bad news (hell) into the "good news" (salvation). So what could be better than that?????????????????

Lucie said...

I always wondered if the senior Sherwoods actually divorced after the disappearance of their kids.

Not to mention why the kids are so darn Southern and the parents are...not.

Morgan Barnes said...

And soon afterward, now that the children were permanently living with Aunt T, and after the dad left the mom, I would start taking advantage of that mom by wrestling her down, smacking her bum, grabbing her legs and snatching her shoes off, and tickling her feet right away!!

Anonymous said...

This was the best episode! I always thought the parents were city transplants to the South and the kids grew up there...

Anonymous said...

Exactly. As a kid I wanted a pool, swimming lessons and freedom from parents interrupting my summer reading.