Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"The Four of Us Are Dying"

Harry Townes as one form of shifty con-man Arch Hammer
"The Four of Us Are Dying"
Season One, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 1, 1960

Cast:
Arch Hammer: Harry Townes
Hammer as Johnny Foster: Ross Martin
Hammer as Virgil Sterig: Phillip Pine
Hammer as Andy Marshak: Don Gordon
Maggie: Beverly Garland
Pop Marshak: Peter Brocco
Mr. Penell: Bernard Fein
Detective: Milton Frome
Trumpet Player: Harry Jackson

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (based on "All of Us Are Dying" by George Clayton Johnson)
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis & William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Rudy Butler
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

And now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week on the Twilight Zone one of the most bizarre and unusual tales we've told yet. One man with four faces. Four separate and adventuresome lives that must be seen to be believed. Harry Townes, Philip Pine, Ross Martin, and Don Gordon star in 'The Four of Us Are Dying.' This is a story designed for goosebumps. I hope we'll see you next week. Good night."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"His name is Arch Hammer. He's thirty-six years old. He's been a salesman, a dispatcher, a truck driver, a con man, a bookie, and a part-time bartender. This is a cheap man, a nickle and dime man, with a cheapness that goes past the suit and the shirt; a cheapness of mind, a cheapness of taste, a tawdry little shine on the seat of his conscience, and a dark room squint at a world whose sunlight has never gotten through to him. But Mr. Hammer has a talent, discovered at a very early age. This much he does have. He can make his face change. He can twitch a muscle, move a jaw, concentrate on the cast of his eyes, and he can change his face. He can change it into anything he wants. Mr. Archie Hammer, jack of all trades, has just checked in a three-eighty a night, with two bags, some newspaper clippings, a most odd talent, and a master plan to destroy some lives."

Summary: 
                Arch Hammer, a con man, is in town with a plan to use his unique talent, the ability, with some mental concentration, to perfectly resemble anyone he sees, to find a quick payday to permanently retire from his shady lifestyle. Setting up in a cheap hotel room, he quickly sets to work. Using newspaper clippings from the obituary section, he focuses in on the picture of a jazz musician named John Foster who was recently killed when a train hit his car. Hammer wanders down to a jazz club that Foster frequented and finds himself smitten with Foster's old flame, a sultry lounge singer named Maggie. Hammer assumes the face of Foster and shocks Maggie, who was traumatized by news of the musician's death, into believing that someone else was killed in Foster's car and in Foster's clothes and that Foster thought it would be an opportunity to get out of the limelight permanently. Maggie, jubilant by the impossible return of her lover, buys the outrageous story wholesale and agrees to meet Foster at the railroad station at midnight. When a trumpet player recognized Foster's face as he is leaving the bar, Hammer quickly resumes the appearance of his own face, startling the man with the sudden change. Hammer figures to have Maggie for himself and to run away with her, never having been loved like that before in his life, even if the whole thing is the sham. First, though, he needs getaway money. 
                Back in his hotel room, Hammer sets his sights on the obituary picture of a gangster named Virgil Serig, recently found dead, shot and dumped into a river. In the guise of Sterig, Hammer makes his way to the hotel suite of the local mob boss, Penell. Here, Hammer tries to strong-arm Penell when the gangster is shocked at the sudden return of a man recently fished out of the river. Hammer manages to get Penell to reveal the location of a envelope of money but pushes too hard as the gangster insists that he had nothing to do with Sterig's murder and eventually sees something wrong in the situation. Chases out of the hotel and down an alleyway by a pair of Penell's armed men, Hammer finds himself at a dead end and unable to change his face from that of the marked gangster Sterig. Then he turns around and sees the image of a boxer named Andy Marshak pasted with a plethora of other flyers on the brick wall at the end of the alley. It's the just the image his needs and he changes his face in the nick of time. Penell's men catch up to Hammer and see his new face. Though confused and suspicious, they leave him alone. 
                Laughing to himself at his clever escape, Hammer makes his way out of the alley. Crossing in front of a newsstand, Hammer is confronted by an old man that he, of course, doesn't recognize but that certainly recognizes the face that Hammer has assumed. The old man is Andy Marshak's father and Marshak, it is revealed, is a terrible person with a dark past of betraying his family and those who loved him. His father, having obviously not seen his son is untold years, is overcome with shock, rage, and grief, and Hammer has to push the old man to the ground just to get away further down the sidewalk. 
                Back once again at his hotel room, Hammer is confronted by a detective who is after him for crimes committed in Detroit. Wearing his own face, walks downstairs with the detective to be taken and booked at the police station. At the turning doors of the hotel entrance, Hammer makes a break for it, swinging around and bolting out onto the sidewalk, changing his face back to the image of Andy Marshak, the boxer with the dark past. The detective is fooled but Hammer takes only a few steps down the sidewalk before he is once again confronted by the old man, Pop Marshak,  who this time is brandishing a loaded revolver. Hammer tries desperately to change his face but is unable to do so as he is unable to concentrate with a gun pointed at him. A last ditch effort to convince the old man that he is mistaken gets him nowhere but shot down on the sidewalk. As he is dying, Hammer's image fluctuates between the four faces he has used to try and change fate, only to come out on the losing end. 

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"He was Arch Hammer, a cheap little man who just checked in. He was Johnny Foster, who played a trumpet and was loved beyond words. He was Virgil Sterig, with money in his pocket. He was Andy Marshak, who got some of his agony back on a sidewalk in front of a cheap hotel. Hammer, Foster, Sterig, Marshak, and all four of them were dying."

Commentary:
               The first thing which jumps out at the viewer about "The Four of Us Are Dying" is the set design, art direction, and cinematography. In these areas the production team did an exceptional job. It is a beautiful, hallucinatory, noir-drenched city, all floating neon and twisting camera angles. Director John Brahm, a German expatriate, was heavily influenced by German Expressionist cinema, a rather small creative movement which has since become sort of a blanket term for the German films of the Weimar Republic which used the primary elements of dreams, nightmares, and fantasy in their physical and creative construction. It is a creative movement exemplified in films such as director Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) and Faust (1926), and Paul Leni's Waxworks (1924). 
             The directorial style and artistic design of these films came to strongly influence the look and tone of American horror and crime films for more than thirty years, largely due to the fact that so many of Golden Age Hollywood film directors, especially directors who dabbled in the darker genres, were European (Otto Preminger, Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Michael Curtiz, Jacques Tourneur, etc.). As a feature film director in Hollywood in the 1940's, Brahm displayed the obvious German influence with his brilliant use of innovative camera work, lighting effects, and subjective character study in moody chillers like The Undying Monster (1942), The Lodger (1944), and Hangover Square (1945), the latter two films notable as the final work of ascendant character actor Laird Cregar, who died at the age of 31 due to the ill effects of a crash diet which the heavyset actor undertook in order to transform himself into a slender, leading man-type actor.   
               As television work came to dominate his creative output in the late 1950's and the 1960's, Brahm became a reliable and prolific director who amassed a large number of credits by developing a creative style which was adaptable over a wide range of subject matter while still remaining identifiable by its individual creative traits. Given an opportunity to display the full range of his talent behind a camera, as he is afforded with "The Four of Us Are Dying," he took advantage of the extensive, and unusual, set design and subject matter and produced episodic television filmed with a propulsive energy rarely seen at the time. 
               All the exterior sets were sound stage constructions on the MGM lot. It was very fortunate for the series to have full use of the vast resources at MGM, including the excellent makeup department under the leadership of Academy Award-winner William Tuttle. Brahm's camera work sets the tone for a type of story that Serling was very skilled in writing, a sharp crime story with a healthy dose of weird fantasy in a potent mix. Even as late as the fifth season, Serling was returning to this type of story for some of his best work, including the episodes "In Praise of Pip" and "The Jeopardy Room." 
               Like the previous episode in the series, "What You Need," Serling chose to adapt another writer's work. This time it was an unpublished story treatment (later fleshed out into a short story) by a previously unpublished writer named George Clayton Johnson. Johnson was a friend of prolific Zone writer Charles Beaumont. In previous episodes, "What You Need" and "And When the Sky Was Opened," Serling changed narrative points, sometimes egregiously, in order to functionally serve the needs of the show. With "The Four of Us Are Dying," Serling did not have much of a source story to work with and had to put a lot of flesh onto the bones of the story in order to fill out a half hour of television. At the time, George Clayton Johnson's story treatment was a mere three and a half pages long and described a man whose face would change according to the perceptions of those around him. He would appear to people as the person they most desired to see. It ends with the unfortunate protagonist pulling into a service station and being seen by the attendant as the man he has, for years, wanted to kill. Serling would make significant changes to the story, most importantly the fact that the protagonist, named Arch Hammer, has some control over the changes in his appearance. Serling's script quickly immerses the viewer in the fast developing action, thereby making them forget the essentially ridiculous nature of the fantasy element. The acting is exceptional and the selection process for the casting of the four male leads is an interesting story. 
                Initially, the production team considered casting one actor and, through make-up processes, changing his appearance to suit each character. This idea was eventually scrapped because of the intense make-up the actor would have to undergo and the large amount of time that must be allotted to the process. Casting director Mildred Gusse developed the plan to have a casting call for a specific type of male actor, each possessing a certain set of attributes. In the case of this episode, they settled on men of a height approximately five feet, ten inches, with brown hair and dark eyes. A dozen actors were initially selected, contacted, and instructed to dress in a black suit to the casting call. After dismissing a few for their eye color being too light, the remaining actors were tested by reciting identical lines of dialogue. Out of the remaining were cast the four leads: Harry Townes, Ross Martin, Phillip Pine, and Don Gordon. It was important that the viewer believe the same man existed behind the four different faces.
         As stated before, the short story titled "All of Us Are Dying" was written by George Clayton Johnson, best-known today for his subsequent Twilight Zone episodes "A Game of Pool," "Nothing in the Dark," and "Kick the Can," and for co-writing, with William F. Nolan, the 1967 novel Logan's Run. Johnson, originally from Wyoming, made his way to California in 1959 and eventually settled in Los Angeles where he made the acquaintance of writer Charles Beaumont. At the time, Beaumont was already an established professional with several short stories, television plays, screenplays, and a novel (Run From the Hunter, written with John Tomerlin under the joint byline Keith Grantland) to his credit. He also had several credits in popular outlets such as Playboy, where he was on a monthly retainer for first refusal rights to his fiction, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, where he wrote reviews of science fiction films for the column, "The Science Screen." Johnson's connection to Beaumont was fortuitous for the young, unpublished writer. Through Beaumont, and the rest of Beaumont's entourage, including William F. Nolan and John Tomerlin, Johnson was encouraged to become a disciplined and productive writer if he held any hope of seeing print in professional markets. Ray Bradbury, a mentor to Beaumont in the latter's formative years, also became a mentor to Johnson and was one of the first to praise "All of Us Are Dying" as an exceptional story, albeit one that Bradbury suggested needed a stronger ending. Working with Beaumont, Johnson developed the ending suggested by the title and, through Beaumont's agent, submitted it for placement in a professional market. The agent unkindly renamed the piece "Rubberface!" but sent the story along to Buck Houghton and Rod Serling at Cayuga Productions, where it was subsequently purchased for The Twilight Zone. Serling made an additional change to the title, albeit one less offensive to Johnson's original intention. 
          This initial connection to Rod Serling combined with his ongoing friendship with Charles Beaumont led to Johnson selling two more stories to the series, "Execution" and "The Prime Mover," the former adapted by Serling and the latter by Beaumont and Johnson (with Beaumont alone receiving credit), before working a deal to provide original teleplays for the show, beginning with the second season's "A Penny For Your Thoughts." 
         Johnson returned to the essential idea behind "The Four of Us Are Dying" when he later wrote "The Man Trap," the first episode aired for Star Trek, appearing on September 8, 1966. Johnson was still enamored by the idea of a being that could shape-shift in order to resemble that which is most pleasing to those who see it. "The Man Trap" concerns a shape-shifting alien that attacks the crew of the Enterprise in order to extract salt from their bodies, which it requires for sustenance. Johnson had this to say about the episode and its relation to "The Four of Us are Dying": "I had written a story for The Twilight Zone called "All of Us Are Dying" and it was about a face changer, someone who could take a look at a photograph and become a different character. . . part of the fun of it was watching someone transformed into someone else. So, the transformation thing was still sort of fresh in my head, and I think almost every writer tries to get some more mileage out of anything that works. So that was, I think, why I thought of the idea of trying to do a story about a creature that could appear to be anyone." (from The Star Trek Interview Book by Allan Asherman, pg 136; Pocket Books, 1988). In the same interview, Johnson shed light on his relationship with Rod Serling during their time together on the series. Though it was a tough climb to get onto the series, with 51 broadcast episodes before his first original teleplay for the series saw light, Johnson remembers Serling in much the same manner as the other writers on the series: a kind, complex man full of energy. "Mr. Serling, by the way, was a remarkable man. He was really a super gentleman. I admired him, and I was also intimidated by him: and I think he was intimidated by me.When we met at agents' offices we'd be very polite to each other, but he always seemed to be in a hurry to rush off." (Asherman, 140).* Johnson's impression of Serling always in a hurry to rush off was not uncharacteristic. Serling was frequently characterized as a man full of creative energy who found it difficult to sit still for very long, which is why a steady, experienced producer in tune with Serling's creative vision was so important for the show. Producer Buck Houghton fit the bill perfectly and allowed Serling the freedom of creative motion needed for a successful series.
                 A final note about composer Jerry Goldsmith. His music for this episode, and for just about anything else he did for television at this early point in his career, is as engaging and idiosyncratic as any composer working in any medium. Goldsmith's music could be both unobtrusive and yet inseparable from an episode. Goldsmith's strongest suit was his ability to explore a wide range of styles and instrumental arrangements to fit the show for which he was providing a composition. Goldsmith could move from a brass-heavy score to the stark string arrangement of "The Invaders." Goldsmith never seemed to phone it in but took the time to understand what he was working with and to develop the appropriate sound for the story elements of the show. In "The Four of Us Are Dying," it works beautifully, a sometimes hectic, sometimes mellow and sultry score which perfectly melds the shifting moods of the episode. 
                The acting, the music, the set design, the story treatment of a talented fantasist and a strong future contributor to the show, along with Serling's usual tight plotting and terse dialogue, make this episode an exceptionally fine production.

Grade: B
Grateful acknowledgement is made to Marc Scott Zicree for The Twilight Zone Companion, second edition (1989), and to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. 

*Asherman's book also contains interviews with others who have contributed to The Twilight Zone, including actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei, writers Jerry Sohl and Jerome Bixby, and director Robert Butler. 

Notes:
-George Clayton Johnson's short story "All of Us Are Dying" was unpublished at the time it was adapted for the series. It has been subsequently published in the October, 1961 issue of Rogue, in SF: Author's Choice #4, edited by Harry Harrison (Putnum, 1974), and in the May, 1982 issue of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, as well as in Johnson's Twilight Zone Scripts and Stories (Streamline Pictures, 1996) and career retrospective All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories (Subterranean Press, 1999) 
 -Actor Harry Townes also appears in the second season episode "Shadow Play," written by Charles Beaumont, as well as the episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Lindemann's Catch," scripted by Rod Serling. 
-Actor Ross Martin also appears in the fourth season episode, "Death Ship," written by Richard Matheson, and in two episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "Camera Obscura" and "The Other Way Out."
-Actor Don Gordon also appears in the fifth season episode, "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross," based on a story by Henry Slesar.
-Actor Phillip Pine also appears in the fourth season episode, "The Incredible World of Horace Ford," written by Reginald Rose.
-Actor Peter Brocco appeared in the episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Deliveries in the Rear."
-"The Four of Us Are Dying" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Eric Bogosian.
-Beverly Garland also appeared in the Twilight Zone Radio Drama episode "Uncle Simon." 
--JP

3 comments:

  1. I wholly agree that the noir aspects of The Four Of Us Are Dying are what sell it, and it's a beauty. The Zone eventually let go of that style, most evident in the early seasons, especially the first.

    If only the writing was as good as the direction, production values and the acting by the mostly excellent cast. I find Harry Townes as the "real" Arch Hammer intriguing: he comes off as a seedy dandy with some airs and graces that his various "personas" don't possess, and it would be interesting to get to know this fellow on his own; a small time crook, but a fascinating one.

    It often feels to me as I watch the series, in sequence especially, just how much of Rod Serling there is in the show. He's there, whether he wrote the episode or not, from Where Is Everyody? through The Fear.

    I can't help but feel that he was a haunted man in many respects, and not just because of his wartime experiences. It's as if at some level he was uncomfortable with being a writer.

    If one changes Arch Hammer's line of work from impersonating others for profit to creating fictional characters for TV series, it might almost be a mini-autobiography of Serling himself. Not literally, of course, but in a manner of speaking.

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    1. I agree that the show cashed in on the noir style in the first season but it's a style that would show up intermittently throughout. Episodes such as "A Game of Pool" and "The Jeopardy Room" strike me as in the same mode. Of course, the master of the film noir, Jacques Tourneur, delivered a wonderfully moody episode with "Night Call."

      Interesting thoughts on Serling. While I definitely think some of the other writers have their own styles, I agree that a viewer can feel Serling's influence on almost every episode in one way or another. This episode was an audacious start on the series for writer George Clayton Johnson and, as originally written, was a slight story which hung on a gimmick. Serling was marvelous at taking a morsel of a story and placing all the wonderful dialogue and gift of character which he possessed as a writer.

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    2. I just watched The Four Of Us Are Dying and it holds up nicely, is one of those Zones that never seems to get old. This is an episode that is best when not analyzed too closely, otherwise one might ask questions, such as why the Arch Hammer character can change not only his looks but his voice as well as personality (to a degree, as two of his personas are tough guys).

      Then there's the ESP factor, such as Arch's way of knowing the personal histories of at least the first two character whose identities he assumes, and yet with his last one he doesn't know anything, thus he doesn't recognize the newsman as his father. One might think that if he did he'd have handled the encounter differently.

      Finally, at the end, having just changed from his real face to that final character, confronted by the gun-toting father, he cannot change his face fast enough to avoid getting shot. Yet earlier, when being chased by two thugs in an alley, and also under great pressure, he was able to assume the character based on a boxing poster. No matter. It works well as a TV show. The episode has good narrative drive and it hold the viewer's attention.

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