Thursday, March 27, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "I Am the Night - Color Me Black" (3/27/1964)

Season 5, Episode 26 (146 overall)
Originally aired 3/27/1964
Cayuga Production # 2630

“The man I killed was the white knight.  He did what his other pals in this town wanted to but didn’t have the guts. He was the cross burner, the bomb thrower. He handled the whipping of some poor, scared colored guy.”

That’s Jagger, the town iconoclast, on the morning he is to be hanged. Sheriff Koch, Deputy Pierce, and Colbey (the editor of the local paper) ruminate about Jagger’s precarious conviction, and how all three of them may have skewed the facts to secure it. Odd meteorological detail: the sun hasn’t come up yet in their little town, even though it’s daylight everywhere else.

At 9:00, the townspeople gather at the gallows, and it’s still dark. Folks are starting to get concerned.

Jagger is finally brought to the gallows. Offered the opportunity to speak his last words, he vehemently refuses to apologize, incensing the crowd to demand that the hanging commence. Reverend Anderson, the only African American in sight, thanks Jagger for “sticking up for me and mine,” but does have a question: did he enjoy the killing? Jagger acknowledges that he did, satisfying Anderson’s lingering doubts of his guilt. Jagger is hung, at which point the darkness becomes thicker and more impenetrable. Anderson attributes it to the outpouring of hatred he’s witnessed in the Jagger case.

Back at the station, Colbey turns on the radio. The announcer reports that similar pockets of darkness have appeared all over the world: the Berlin Wall, North Vietnam, Dealey Plaza in Dallas… the list goes on and on.

Rod Serling’s script is one of the more obvious examples of his tendency to overwrite dialogue. The characters do express a number of interesting insights, but they’re less impressive when they’re buried under unrealistic verbiage. Still, there are enough powerful moments to carry the piece. It’s an interesting combination of themes addressed previously in season one’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” (the dangers of mob mentality) and season two’s “Dust” (the questionable morality of the death penalty), both of which were Serling efforts, but “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” never feels like a rehash. In the director’s chair is Abner Biberman, back for his fourth and final TZ stint (he previously directed “The Dummy,” “The Incredible World of Horace Ford” and, more recently, “Number 12 Looks Just like You.” He also directed “The Human Factor” over on ABC’s The Outer Limits as well as four episodes of NBC’s The Fugitive.

This of course isn’t The Twilight Zone’s first hanging. Season one’s “Execution” found an Old West outlaw being strung up, only to vanish in the nick to time (courtesy of a time-tampering scientist from the future). Season two’s “Dust” found a convicted murderer granted an unexpected reprieve when his rope snapped in the nick of time (thanks to a sprinkling of magic dust). But here the hanging occurs without supernatural intervention… it’s as if the third time, as the saying goes, was the charm.*

The crane shot late in act one as the townspeople gather around the gallows, the clock tower clanging in the distance, is effectively eerie. As they wonder aloud about the inexplicable darkness, it suddenly feels a lot like the aforementioned “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which featured a similar scene of neighbors discussing their sudden lack of electricity.

My favorite moment in the episode comes when Jagger, having incited the crowd to near-riot levels, turns and looks up the gallows. Everything goes completely and immediately silent. His face is framed in the noose, and the reality of the moment is suddenly very evident on his face.


“I Am the Night – Color Me Black” is stock scored, almost exclusively with cues from earlier works by Bernard Herrmann

The first piece we hear, right at the beginning of the prologue, is Herrmann’s “The Cellar,” which sounds like a selection from his Outer Space Suite, but actually comes from his score for Collector’s Item, an unsold pilot from 1958. The Collector’s Item score was first released on vinyl in 1985 as part of Cerberus Records’ Bernard Herrmann: Music for Radio and Television album, the contents of which were released on CD in 2003 on Prometheus Records’ Bernard Herrmann at CBS, Volume 2: American Gothic

Next we hear a brief snippet from Herrmann’s radio score for “The Hitch-hiker," which was first released on vinyl in 1983 as part of Cerberus Records’ Bernard Herrmann: The Outer Space Suite album. The suite later appeared on CD in 1999 as part of Silva Screen’s 4-disc Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection.

The bulk of the episode is scored with cuts from Herrmann’s score for “Where Is Everybody?” from season one, a score that has seen three distinct releases. First, it appeared on the second volume of TZ scores from Varese Sarabande (an album which was released on both vinyl and cassette in 1983, then on CD in 1992--- in Japan only). It also appeared on Varese Sarabande’s The Best of The Twilight Zone CD in 1990 and, finally,  the aforementioned 4-disc Twilight Zone 40th Anniversary Collection in 1999.

One non-Herrmann cue is heard a few times: “Now We Move” by Nathan Van Cleave, from his score for the “Alice” episode of Have Gun, Will Travel. This score has never been released to my knowledge, and since “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” doesn’t have an isolated music track on the Season 5 DVD and Blu-ray sets, this particular cue is unattainable…. or so a less dedicated blogger might have you believe. If you’re aching to possess Van Cleave’s “Now We Move” cue, it can be found on the isolated music track for “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” on both the Definitive DVD and Blu-ray releases of Season 4. The cue is heard three different times, so you can’t miss it. So if your heart is set on assembling a complete soundtrack for this episode…. well, now you can. You’re welcome.


Sheriff Charlie Koch is played by Michael Constantine in his only TZ appearance. He'd cross paths with Rod Serling again in the Night Gallery episode "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes"  but, before that, he popped up on the "Counterweight" episode of The Outer Limits.

Rev. Anderson is played with appropriate gravitas by Ivan Dixon, whom we know better as boxer Bolie Jackson from season one's "The Big Tall Wish." Dixon also appeared twice on The Outer Limits ("The Human Factor" and the two-part "The Inheritors"... so maybe we should call that three appearances). He also directed six episodes of The Greatest American Hero, which was my favorite show when I was in the 6th grade (incidentally, I’m strongly considering doing a blog about it at some point).

Colbey, the newspaper editor, is played by Paul Fix, who is probably best remembered by genre fans as Dr. Piper in the "Where No Man Has Gone Before" episode of Star Trek, which is the only regular series episode of the series in which Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy does not appear.

If Terry Becker (Jagger) looks familiar to you, it may be that you enjoyed him as Chief Francis Ethelbert Sharkey) on TV's Voyage to the Bottom of the SeaElla Koch (the sheriff's wife) is played by Eve McVeagh, who previously appeared in season three's "Kick the Can." She did four stints on Alfred Hitchcock Presents "Coyote Moon," "The Gloating Place," "The Test" and "What Frightened You, Fred?" as well as two Alfred Hitchcock Hours ("Last Seen Wearing Blue Jeans" and "The Second Wife"). George Lindsey (Deputy Pierce) appeared in the memorably disturbing Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode "The Jar" (which co-starred TZ alum Collin Wilcox and was scored by Bernard Herrmann), but let's be honest: he'll always be Goober Pyle (of The Andy Griffith Show fame).

"I Am the Night - Color Me Black" is Serling's final leftist political rant of the series. I'm not knocking leftist politics (I'm pretty liberal myself), but when you get preachy... well, pointing at a racist and yelling "racist!" isn't going to open his/her mind. I totally agree with the sentiment, but.....

Ahem. It's still pretty decent, thanks mostly to powerful performances by Terry Becker and Ivan Dixon. And as you can see from the screen captures, the episode is beautifully dark and noirish. And speaking of going dark.... we now have ten episodes left.

Next week:
You might want to turn a deaf ear to next week's offering. No, seriously.

*Of course we also saw a successful hanging just a few weeks ago in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but I’m not counting it since it’s technically not a Twilight Zone episode.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "The Masks" (3/20/1964)

Season 5, Episode 25 (145 overall)
Originally aired 3/20/1964
Cayuga Production # 2601

Jason Foster’s doctor has informed him that he could shuffle off his mortal coil at any moment; that he truly is at death’s proverbial door. But he’s not quite ready to go yet: he has a final score to settle and, fifty years ago tonight, he did just that.

Mardi Gras festivities boom and swell outside as Foster’s daughter Emily and her husband Wilfred, along with their children Paula and Wilfred Jr., hover around the mansion like vultures as they impatiently wait for the old man to kick off and leave them his riches. Foster has every intention of doing just that; however, he has one small prerequisite: they must each wear masks to celebrate Fat Tuesday. Foster has commissioned a set of special masks, crafted by a local Cajun, which are said to "possess magical properties."

Wilfred (avarice), Emily (self-pity), Jason (death), Wilfred Jr. (cruelty) and Paula (vanity).
Each mask is a caricature depicting their deepest, darkest flaws: Wilfred is a money-hungry douchebag, Emily is a fragile crybaby, Paula is a vain and self-absorbed bitch, and Wilfred Jr. is a semi-retarded bully. Foster, meanwhile, will wear a skull mask, since he is very near death. The masks must be worn until midnight; if any of them remove their mask prior to then, they’ll automatically forfeit their inheritance. 

The hours drag by, and the four vultures grow increasingly uncomfortable in the masks. Foster gives them a final dressing down before he dies as midnight strikes. The newly-wealthy heirs remove their masks… and are horrified to discover that the exaggerated features of the masks have impressed themselves permanently onto their faces.

“The Masks” is one of Rod Serling’s better fifth season efforts. It’s a bit talky, but within tolerable limits (as opposed to, say, “The Long Morrow,” in which his trademarked “purple prose” runs rampant). It feels like a classic revenge tale straight out of E.C.’s Vault of Horror comic series (in fact, there are many TZ episodes that seem uncomfortably similar to tales first published in E.C.’s various horror and sci-fi comics; at some point I’ll be posting a special report on this topic, probably this summer), in which nasty people get a nasty, unexpected comeuppance.

We’re clearly supposed to side with Foster; however, I don’t think he’s any better than the family members whom he so clearly loathes. Listen to how he addresses them! He’s snide, condescending, vicious and downright cruel. He’s no hero, particularly since he opts to disfigure them rather than, say, leave his money to charity instead of rewarding their misbehavior(s) with his fortune. I’d say he’s the real villain here.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras setting is only briefly glimpsed in a couple of stock shots at the start of act two; I would've liked to have seen a bit more. And why not show us the Cajun who made the masks, maybe just a quick scene of him delivering the masks to the butler, before Foster’s exchange with his doctor in the prologue? I guess what I was looking for is a bit more voodoo, a bit more mystery, a more pronounced and ominous shadow hanging over the proceedings. 

The real star here, of course, is the quintet of masks that the cast wears throughout the episode’s second act, all designed by William Tuttle (who gave us many of the series' greatest makeup triumphs, including "Eye of the Beholder," "The After-Hours" and "Steel"). Unfortunately, the actual makeup jobs on the actors’ faces after their unmasking are disappointingly indistinct. Their distorted features aren’t exaggerated nearly enough; their new faces should be just as sharply detailed as the masks, not sixth-generation dupes of them.

In the director’s chair for “The Masks’ is film noir siren Ida Lupino, who starred in season one’s “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine.” Lupino also co-starred in 1951’s On Dangerous Ground, the cast of which also included Frank Ferguson (whom we saw two weeks ago in “Queen of the Nile”; incidentally, frequent TZ contributor Bernard Herrmann provided the score for that film). Her many directing credits include nine episodes of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, three episodes of The Fugitive, and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents


In 2010, the character of Jason Foster (wearing his skull mask) was immortalized in plastic by Bif Bang Pow! in their first wave of Twilight Zone action figures. It’s happily one of their better efforts (except for the lack of a wheelchair, which would’ve been awesome); my review can be found here. The line appears to have all but dried up; however, most of the figures can still be purchased at Entertainment Earth.


This week’s cast only features a couple of TZ veterans; however, they’re all connected by their work for Alfred Hitchcock.

According to the IMDB, Jason Foster is Robert Keith’s last credited role (apparently he took that death mask a little too seriously). It’s his only TZ appearance, but he worked for Hitch twice (“Ten O’clock Tiger” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and “Final Escape” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour). You may have also seen him on The Fugitive, playing Richard Kimble’s father in “Home Is the Hunted.”

We last saw Virginia Gregg (here playing Emily Harper) as Ossie Stone, mother of the tortured Jess-Belle, in the season four episode of the same name. She worked fairly extensively for Hitchcock, including four stints on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Don’t Come Back Alive,” “Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid,” “And So Died Riabouchinska,” and “Nightmare in 4-D”), three on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“A Home Away from Home,” “Thou Still Unravished Bride,” and “Consider Her ways”: that last one features an original musical score by the aforementioned Bernard Herrmann) and, perhaps most significantly, provided the voice of Norma Bates in his 1960 horror classic Psycho (also scored by Herrmann). Gregg reprised her voice role in that film’s second and third sequels.

The obnoxiously gregarious Wilfred Harper is played by Milton Selzer, who also played the head alien in season three’s “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby.” He briefly appeared in Hitch’s 1963 Marnie (also scored by Herrmann, incidentally).

Paula Harper is played by Brooke Hayward in her only TZ appearance; she also appeared in “The Cadaver” on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a series on which Willis Bouchey (here playing Foster’s doctor) appeared three times (“I Saw the Whole Thing,” “The Paragon,” and “One of the Family”).

“The Masks” is comprised of five unpleasant people hating on one another almost continuously for half an hour. It could’ve been fun, like Serling’s earlier “Uncle Simon,” but here all the meanness just isn’t enjoyable. It’s still a pretty well-crafted horror story, but ultimately its Tuttle’s masks that really save the day. Hey Bif Bang Pow!, if you're reading this, how about selling full-sized replicas of the masks? They'd make amazing Mardis Gras accessories... hell, they'd look stunning just hanging on a wall.

Next week:
It’s “Dust” all over again, but darker. Like, literally.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "What's In the Box" (3/13/1964)

Season 5, Episode 24 (144 total)
Originally aired 3/13/1964
Cayuga Production # 2635

Fifty years ago tonight, a miserable couple’s constant bickering escalated to violence and murder. So yeah, good times.

“What’s in the Box” finds NY cabbie Joe Britt impatiently waiting for a repairman to finish fixing his TV before his beloved wrestling comes on. The repairman’s response to Joe’s accusations of larceny is to give him the repair for free, which sounds incredibly nice… but there’s just something creepy about the guy.

Britt turns on the set and is shocked to see himself in the company of his mistress, a scene that occurred earlier that evening (he was late coming home from work, arousing his wife Phyllis’s suspicion). He immediately suspects that Phyllis is somehow in cahoots with the repairman (never mind that such a plot would be highly difficult, if not impossible, in 1964; it would actually be relatively easy to pull off today), escalating the tension between them.

The TV then shows him a scene in which he and Phyllis get in what amounts to an all-out brawl, culminating in her death. Shaken, Joe attempts to apologize to her for his philandering, which only serves to make Phyllis angrier. He then sees himself tried and sentenced to death for the murder and punches out the TV screen in dismay.

Phyllis then berates and humiliates him, which sets off the brawl he witnessed earlier. It ends the same, with him punching her through a window. The police bust in and, as Joe is hauled away, the TV repairman appears and asks that Joe recommend his “service” to others.

“What’s in the Box” is written by newcomer Martin M. Goldsmith (who will also contribute “The Encounter” in May). Goldsmith wasn’t terribly prolific during his twenty-year career, but he did write one of my all-time favorite film noirs, 1945’s Detour. In the director’s chair is Richard L. Bare, on hand for his seventh and final turn at the helm which is, sadly, his least impressive (his previous credits are as follows: “Third from the Sun,” “The Purple Testament,” “Nick of Time,” “The Prime Mover,” “To Serve Man,” and “The Fugitive”). If he’d only turned down this gig, he’d have an unblemished TZ record (he’d go on to direct a whopping 166 episodes of Green Acres, however, so I guess he was destined not to be taken too seriously).

Only Joe can see and hear the TV’s prognosticating broadcasts, which suggests that they may be hallucinations, his mind creating an elaborate construct through which to process guilt or trauma, something we've seen on The Twilight Zone before (“Nightmare as a Child,” “The Arrival”). However, we know that the repairman is real, and the events that unfold before Joe’s TV-addicted really do end up happening, so it's clearly not all in his head. So what’s really going on here, then?

Who is this TV repairman? He must be some supernatural force, but for what? His so-called “services” didn’t serve anyone: the Britts’ lives are destroyed, and why? Because Joe couldn’t keep it in his pants? Is that really cosmic justice? That’s a rhetorical question, because I’ll state for the record right here and now: it sure as hell isn’t. I’m not necessarily advocating infidelity, but I’m also very aware that relationships suffer for a variety of reasons, and people can be excruciatingly lonely within them. I’m not saying cheating is okay… I just understand how it can happen. So Joe’s getting some on the side. Does that mean he deserves to fry in the electric chair?  Absolutely not, but even if it did, the chain of events started by the TV repairman brought about Phyllis’s death too, so it’s a pretty goddamned moot point. This is chaos, plain and simple. I’ve talked at various points this season about the loss of the series’ moral compass as it winds down. “What’s in the Box” is yet another example of that.

There seems to be an attempt to lampoon the sillier aspects of television (the inanity of pro wrestling, the obnoxiousness of used car salesmen, etc.), which we also witnessed in season two’s “Static.” In that earlier effort, those isolated bits were appropriate since there was a clear effort to contrast radio with TV. Here, they just sorta hang there, unconnected to anything, for no apparent reason other than to fill time.

When Phyllis is berating Joe for sneaking around instead of coming home on time, she suggests that “maybe (he) went to Yonkers twice.” Is that intended as sexual innuendo? Is Phyllis implying that Joe in fact scored twice in one extramarital encounter? If so, I’ve gotta applaud Cayuga for getting it past the censors.

While Joe watches his climactic fight with Phyllis unfold on his TV, the musical cue (“Mistral #1” by Marius Constant) that will accompany the actual scene later is heard. This means that Joe can actually hear the underscore, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.  Or maybe it’s laziness on the editor’s part, I dunno.

Two police officers break into the Britt apartment, guns drawn, exactly 25 seconds after Phyllis crashes through the window to her death. We’re never told which floor they live on, but it’s safe to assume that it’s several flights up. Even if the officers happened to be passing by at the moment she kissed the sidewalk, and watched her entire fall, and knew the building well enough to pinpoint exactly which apartment she fell from… well, I think you know where I’m going with this. You've heard the old adage “there’s never a cop around when you need one”? Well, these cops are beyond fast. Maybe they had a future-telling TV at the precinct.  Or… maybe they’d already been called, since the Britts’ racket was undoubtedly disturbing several neighbors. Yeah, that’s much more probable, but much less fun to consider.


William Demarest plays Joe Britt in his only TZ appearance. Demarest appeared in the 1948 film noir Night Has a Thousand Eyes, plus he appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“And the Desert Shall Blossom”) in 1958.

Joan Blondell (Phyllis Britt) also has a classic film noir on her extensive resume (1947’s Nightmare Alley); however, my wife Teresa would most likely recognize her from her role as Vi in 1978’s Grease, one of her all-time favorite films.

Sterling Holloway plays the impish and slightly-malevolent TV repairman. He’s probably best remembered for his vocal work in several Disney films, most prominently The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, in which he voiced the titular bear. His distinctive voice could also be heard in the “Atomic Shakespeare” episode of TV’s Moonlighting, one of my favorite 80’s shows.

We have a trio of TZ vets in the supporting cast. The judge who sentences Britt to death is played by Howard Wright, who last appeared in season three’s “The Jungle”). The prosecuting attorney (who is only heard, not seen) is played by Douglas Bank, who will return for “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” in two weeks. Finally, Britt’s unnamed chickadee on the side is played by Sandra Gould, who played another unnamed woman in season three’s “Cavender Is Coming.”

Robert L. McCord III appears in an uncredited role as one of the two guards that strap Britt into the electric chair in the TV’s final future scene. According to his IMDB page, McCord appeared in more than 60 (!) Twilight Zones, far more than any other actor, almost invariably in small, uncredited background roles. However, he did manage to land a few more visible characters, including the Burke wax figure in season four's "The New Exhibit," the sheriff in season two's "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim," the ice cream man in season one's "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street," and the shooting gallery attendant in season five's "In Praise of Pip."

I've been a diehard TZ fan for over thirty years now. How the hell did I never know about McCord until now? I suddenly feel like an amateur. I hate discovering this fascinating item now, near the end... I would've done an ongoing "Robert McCord" alert every time he showed up (like I've done with my Forbidden Planet alerts). And here I was, thinking I was so clever with my David Armstrong sightings. Damn, damn, damn. The Twilight Zone Museum has a nice piece about this amazing individual here.

“What’s in the Box” is a textbook missed opportunity. What if Joe learned the error of his ways, thanks to the TV repairman’s ministrations, and salvaged his marriage to Phyllis? Then it starts sounding like the Twilight Zone we all know and love, doesn’t it? But it’s not. As it slips into its final death throes, it feels like a different show entirely.

Next week:
Speaking of death throes, Jason Foster is about to check out. But first…. revenge!