Thursday, January 31, 2013

"The Howling Man"

The Howling Man (Robin Hughes) pleads for his freedom with
stranded traveler David Ellington (H.M. Wynant)
"The Howling Man"
Season Two, Episode 41
Original Air Date: November 4, 1960

Cast:
David Ellington: H.M. Wynant
Brother Jerome: John Carradine
The Howling Man: Robin Hughes
Brother Christophorus: Frederic Ledebur
Housekeeper: Ezelle Poule

Crew:
Writer: Charles Beaumont (based on his short story)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson and Sidney Van Keuren
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Ethel Winant
Sound: Franklin Milton and Charles Scheid
Music: Stock
Makeup: MGM Makeup Department (William Tuttle, supv)

And now, Mr. Serling:
"Down this hall is a very strange individual locked in a room. He's known by various names and by various forms and next week on The Twilight Zone you'll be close to the elbow of the people who let him out. Our story is called 'The Howling Man' by Mr. Charles Beaumont. It's designed for the young in heart but strong in nerve. I hope we'll see you next week along with 'The Howling Man.' Thank you and good night."

 Rod Serling's Opening Narration:

"The prostrate form of Mr. David Ellington, scholar, seeker of truth, and, regrettably, finder of truth. A man who will shortly arise from his exhaustion to confront a problem that has tormented mankind since the beginning of time. A man who knocked on a door seeking sanctuary and found instead the outer edges of The Twilight Zone."


Summary:
            "It's an incredible story. I of all people know this. And you won't believe me. No, not at first. But I'm going to tell you the whole thing. Then you will believe because you must. You must believe."
So begins David Ellington's story of how, after the first World War, he became lost in a storm during a walking tour of central Europe. Coming upon a remote hermitage he begs entry and is allowed to see Brother Jerome, the leader of an order of monks which reside within the hermitage. Ellington is alarmed as he hears the first strange howling sounds which will repeat periodically throughout his stay at the hermitage. When confronted with Brother Jerome, Ellington attempts to explain his situation and asks for shelter and food. Jerome firmly tells him that the brotherhood cannot help him and Ellington will have to leave the hermitage immediately. Shocked by Jerome's words, Ellington slowly makes his leave but is unable to reach the door before collapsing unconscious upon the floor.
            Upon waking, Ellington again hears the strange howling and tracks the sound to a small cell with a barred door. Behind it is a young, thin, bearded, and kindly seeming man who begs Ellington for help in releasing him. The prisoner tells Ellington that Brother Jerome and the others in the hermitage are mad, insane, and imprisoned him here against his will. Ellington tells the prisoner that he will speak about this with Jerome and this only sends the prisoner into panic. "Jerome," he says, "is the maddest one of all."
            When Ellington confronts Brother Jerome, the old monk attempts to convince Ellington that he has not seen or spoken to a man at all. The howling which Ellington hears again and again Brother Jerome pretends not to hear at all. It is only when Ellington threatens to involve the authorities in the matter that Jerome relents and tells Ellington the truth. The man in the cell is not man at all. It is the Devil, himself!
            Ellington is reluctant to believe the incredible story but tells Jerome that he does believe. Jerome sees through the lie and attempts to explain to Ellington how he and the brotherhood came to be the guardians of the Devil in a prison cell. The herding staff which all the members of the order carry represent "truth," which is, in Jerome's words, the greatest weapon against the Devil. It is but a meager wooden staff which holds closed the door of the Devil's cell. Jerome pursued the Devil across the world and finally managed to trap him. Ellington again tells Jerome that he believes. This time, unfortunately, Jerome believes him.
            Later in the night, however, Ellington leaves his room against Jerome's orders by stealing the key to the locked bedroom door from about the neck of sleeping Brother Christophus. Ellington rushes to the prison cell to free the howling man. In a moment before he frees the prisoner, Ellington notices that it is only a thin piece of wood, the staff of truth, which holds the door closed. It is something which can be easily removed by the prisoner himself. It is the last questioning moment that Ellington will have and to remove the staff seems to be a difficult act. Once the staff is removed, Ellington learns the terrible truth. The man in the cell really is the Devil and he quickly escapes from the hermitage.
            It is years later, after the second World War and the Korean War and the development of the new mass weapons of war, that Ellington manages to recapture the Devil in a room in his home, barred only by a small wooden staff. He plans on shipping the Devil back to Brother Jerome at the hermitage. It is not to be. Though the whole tale has been a tale of warning to Elllington's housekeeper, whom he will leave in charge of his home while he is off making arrangements to move the Devil back to Brother Jerome, the housekeeper, upon hearing the howling from behind the closed door, cannot resist removing the staff once Ellington has left. The door opens to darkness but we know what waits there in the dark.

 Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Ancient folk saying: 'You can catch the Devil but you can't hold him long.' Ask Brother Jerome. Ask David Ellington. They know, and they'll go on knowing to the end of their days and beyond, in The Twilight Zone."

 Commentary:
            With "The Howling Man," The Twilight Zone ventured into genuine Gothic horror in the style of the first great cycle of American horror films in the 1930's and 1940's. It is a production that succeeds on virtually every level, from script, direction, photography, and casting to makeup and set design. Even the stock music soundtrack, which includes pieces from regular Zone contributors Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann, is used effectively. It is one of the most recognizable episodes of the series, due to a unusual atmosphere, a memorable monster, and through repetition in The Twilight Zone syndication package. It is unquestionably one of the crowning achievements of not only the second season but of the entire series. It is a triumph for writer Charles Beaumont (here adapting and improving upon his own short story) and director Douglas Heyes, and definitively proved, with its early second season broadcast, that Rod Serling's fantasy show was capable of producing mature, adult fantasy which had appeal across a range of viewer demographics. The episode is not flawless but it is one of a handful of episodes that give the show a strong cultural identity among even those who have never seen an episode.
            The genesis of the episode beings with writer Charles Beaumont's original short story, published in the November, 1959 issue of Rogue, a men's magazine (one of many which cropped up in the wake of Hugh Hefner's successful Playboy) which was fortunate enough to briefly have as its editors a pair of talented American writers who specialized in speculative fiction, Harlan Ellison and Frank M. Robinson. The story was later reprinted in Beaumont’s collection Night Ride and Other Journeys (Bantam, 1960). The story has become a classic of its type, its influence boosted by its excellent adaptation for The Twilight Zone, reprinted often and used as the title of the paperback edition of Beaumont's career retrospective from Tor Books in 1992. It is a core work in Beaumont's relatively small but highly influential body of work.
            At the time the story was published, Beaumont was on a monthly retainer from Playboy for first refusal rights to his fiction. Ray Russell, a fringe member of the Group, was the fiction editor of Playboy at the time. Beaumont was also writing nostalgic essays for Playboy, some of which were written in collaboration with Zone writers Jerry Sohl and OCee Ritch, and which would later be collected for his book Remember, Remember? (Macmillan, 1963).                 
           Because of his close association with that magazine, Beaumont was strongly discouraged from submitting his work to competing periodicals if he hoped to continue to sell to Hefner's high paying market. Beaumont resorted to using pseudonyms to place his work with other periodicals. Beaumont had already sold several nonfiction pieces to Rogue, including personality profiles under the uniform title, "Rogue of Distinction" (a series Beaumont shepherded from 1956-1959), and articles on automobile racing (one in collaboration with William F. Nolan), all written without byline or under the pseudonym Michael Phillips. "The Howling Man" was first submitted to Playboy but the magazine turned down the chance to publish the story and Beaumont took his story from the Chicago offices of Playboy to the nearby offices of Rogue in Evanston, Illinois. Fiction editor Harlan Ellison (recently discharged from the Army and well into a professional writing career) knew the Beaumont story was a gem and published it in the November, 1959 issue of Rogue under the originally conceived pseudonym "C.B. Lovehill," a play on Beaumont's name. Other stories appeared from Beaumont under the Lovehill pseudonym. The December, 1960 issue saw the Lovehill byline on a story titled, "Dead, You Know," and, some months earlier, in the April, 1960 issue of Rogue, another story appeared by Lovehill, the short fantasy "Gentlemen, Be Seated." Beaumont later adapted this story into a teleplay for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone before William Froug, the show's final producer, shelved it. It can be read in The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont, Volume One, edited by Roger Anker (Gauntlet Press, 2004).
            Though the original plot of "The Howling Man" short story is retained for the adaptation on The Twilight Zone, the differences between the two versions are numerous. Generally speaking, Beaumont, and the production crew, improved upon the already impressive short story with nearly every change incorporated into the dramatic adaptation. There are subtle changes, such as Father Jerome in the story becoming Brother Jerome in the episode. The staffs which the inhabitants of the hermitage carry do not exist in the story. The door to the prisoner's cell is therefore locked with a simple lock and not the "staff of truth" which is the one barrier the Devil cannot pass. According to Beaumont's original script, the members of the hermitage were to carry large crosses but director Douglas Heyes was against using this device because he did not think it wise to use a distinctly religious symbol for fear of a backlash among viewers. Therefore, the versatile image of the staff was substituted for the cross. The sounds of the Howling Man are referred to as screams in the short story and, because of the nature of the literary medium, a reader need not dwell on the specific nature of the sound as that aspect is left purely to the reader's imagination. The Howling Man is, in fact, seen howling, or screaming, in the short story and director Douglas Heyes wisely avoided showing Robin Hughes making the howling noises in the episode as this would have not only been incredibly difficult to convincingly execute, but would certainly have destroyed the carefully built up tension and atmosphere. 
            Other changes are more significant. As originally written, the true nature of the prisoner in the cell is all but ambiguous. Beaumont chose to reveal the Devil as a single cloven hoof descending over the abbey wall as the Devil makes his escape. Even with this approach it is never clear, even at the end of the story, whether Ellington has truly released the Devil upon the world or been the victim of strong suggestion by the religious fanatics in Father Jerome and the other hermits of the Abbey. It is, however, suggested that Ellington did indeed release the Devil as what follows is World War II and all the horrors resultant of that terrible conflict. The ending of the short story, equally ambiguous, concludes with Ellington receiving a postcard from Brother Christophorus which reads "Rest now, my son. We have him back with us again." Elllington, as filmed for The Twilight Zone, becomes obsessed with recapturing the Devil and getting him back to Brother Jerome and accomplishes the feat himself.
            For The Twilight Zone, Beaumont wanted, with the appearance and escape of the Devil, to retain the original story's version. He wanted the glimpse of a cloven hoof descending over the wall and the look upon Ellington's face to be confirmation enough for the audience. Douglas Heyes felt this was not enough and feared the ambiguous nature of the ending. Heyes began his career while still a teenager working as an artist for Walt Disney Studios. The visual artist within knew that they needed to show and not merely suggest what the entire episode built toward. The result was a literal transformation of actor Robin Hughes into the archetypal image of the Devil using makeup and photographic techniques. The result has split many viewers, some of whom do not like the literal transformation. Though most viewers agree, including us here in the Vortex, that a transformation needed to happen and not simply be suggested, some writers have criticized the makeup as too literal and unimaginative. It's really a pointless argument as the entire episode is filmed and acted in a hyperbolic manner and if one is to accept John Carradine's wonderful, yet over-the-top, performance as a staff wielding, white bearded, bass toned Moses, then one is simply being petty in not accepting the literal version of the Devil.

            Though the makeup is a bit pedestrian (in concept, not execution), the transformation of Robin Hughes into the Devil is one of the finest technical achievements of the entire series. Though Douglas Heyes has been interviewed on the subject more than once, his version of the design and genesis of the effect varied. In an early interview with Marc Scott Zicree in the late 1970s, while the author was researching his essential work, The Twilight Zone Companion (Bantam, 1982; revised second ed. 1989), Heyes does not credit any major film source for the technique, though it is obvious to those well versed in the genre to pinpoint which films the director and his crew borrowed from. Heyes would amend his statements on the effects for "The Howling Man" in later interviews and would rightly credit the two films from which the techniques were derived, 1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from Paramount (starring Fredric March, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with makeup by Wally Westmore and cinematography by Karl Struss) and 1935's Werewolf of London from Universal Studios (starring Henry Hull, directed by Stuart Walker, with makeup by Jack Pierce and photographic effects by John P. Fulton). Heyes does make two small errors when he further states that Dr. Jekyll's transformation into Mr. Hyde (in the 1931 film version) was a stationary, lap dissolve technique in the mold of Universal's The Wolf Man from 1941 (it was not), and that Henry Hull walks up a staircase for his transformation in 1935's Werewolf of London (he begins by descending a staircase but the transformation occurs while the actor walks through a garden, concealed and then revealed by a line a trees). Heyes does not take credit for the idea to use these specific techniques, however, and credits the achievement to photographer George T. Clemens and makeup supervisor William Tuttle.
            The transformation effects in the episode were achieved two-fold. The first part of the transformation occurs immediately after Ellington has released the Devil from his cell. A distinct physical change comes across the facial features of actor Robin Hughes. This effect was achieved using the same method that changed Kevin McCarthy from a young man to an old man in a matter of seconds in Beaumont's first season episode, "Long Live Walter Jameson." This is a process by which makeup is applied to the actor is a specific hue and color filters are used to first conceal and then reveal the makeup. In this case, red makeup was applied to Hughes's face. A red filter over the camera concealed the makeup until the transformation was scripted to happen. The red filter was then removed and replaced with a green filter, thus revealing the red makeup in a dark hue and effecting the transformation. This allowed the actor to be in motion at the time of the transformation and did not require the technique of a stationary lap dissolve with photographic editing to be used. The color filter process was perfected by makeup artist Wally Westmore, photographer Karl Struss, and director Rouben Mamoulian for the aforementioned 1931 horror classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The transformation of Fredric March (co-winner of a Best Actor Academy Award for his work in the film) from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde is still one of the most impressive and recognizable transformations and makeups in the history of film.
            The second portion of the transformation was a technique taken from another horror film of the 1930's, a production from the preeminent horror film studio, Universal Studios, and their first foray into lycanthropy, the 1935 film Werewolf of London. The film featured a minimal werewolf makeup designed by head of the Universal makeup department Jack Pierce. The reason for the minimal makeup design is often erroneously given as the fact that actor Henry Hull was not a willing participant for heavy makeup and Jack Pierce was forced to alter his vision for the werewolf, not unveiling his full version for another six years, in 1941, with The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney, Jr. Hull was more than willing to undergo heavy makeup and more often than not used his own makeup designs to turn himself into Edgar Allan Poe or Mark Twain for a stage production or a film. The true reason the werewolf makeup is minimal in Werewolf of London is that Hull's character was supposed to be recognized by the other characters in the film when he was in werewolf form and Pierce's heavy wolf makeup would have made that recognition all but impossible. 
            Werewolf of London displayed an innovative transformation sequence designed by Academy Award-winning special effects photographer John P. Fulton. Henry Hull began his first transformation into a werewolf as he exited his home and began to make his way to his private laboratory across a wide garden. The transformation occurred as the actor's image was first concealed and then revealed as he moved across a line of trees. It was achieved by photographing the actor in progressing stages of makeup while walking the same path and using the same camera speed for multiple takes. The effect was completed by editing the footage together to create the appearance of one continuous take, thus creating the transformation. Director Heyes and photographer George T. Clemens did the same thing for "The Howling Man." Actor Robin Hughes walked down the abbey corridor behind a line of pillars, first concealed and then revealed. Heyes and Clemens's version is much faster and cleanly edited but they had nearly thirty years to perfect the process. John P. Fulton would go on to create the astounding photographic effects for Universal's The Invisible Man series of films. Jack Pierce created numerous recognizable makeups for Universal in the 1930's and 1940's, including Boris Karloff's makeup for Frankenstein and The Mummy, and Lon Chaney, Jr.'s makeup for the aforementioned The Wolf Man. Pierce was unceremoniously fired by Universal in the late 1940's and replaced with Bud Westmoore as head of the makeup department. This was primarily because Pierce held on to the technique of using outmoded methods of makeup appliance and displayed a general reluctance to use innovations such as foam rubber appliances. Still, it is telling that when it came time to recreate the makeup effects achieved by Lon Chaney, Sr. in films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) for the biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), the foam rubber appliances from the Universal Makeup Department were in no way as effective as Chaney's makeup of over thirty years earlier. 
            One final note on the makeup. William Tuttle's aging makeup on actor H.M. Wynant was exceptional. Though Tuttle will always be remembered for his grotesque makeups for episodes of The Twilight Zone ("Eye of the Beholder," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," "The Masks," etc.) and his Academy Award winning makeup for The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Tuttle was also very skilled in subtle makeups and his work on aging H.M. Wynant is a notable example.
            Douglas Heyes appears to be the director that producer Buck Houghton sought most often during the show's first two seasons for episodes which required more than the usual technical requirements and Heyes would direct some of the show's most impressively technical episodes, including "The After Hours," "Eye of the Beholder," "The Invaders," and, of course, "The Howling Man." Heyes and photographer George T. Clemens decided to use very expressionistic camera work for the episode and the effects are impressive. From the beginning sequence, in which the camera zooms out of the window, through the pounding storm, and backwards in time for a rain-drenched exterior view of the partially ruined abbey (a miniature), the camera never seems to stand still or take a straight angle for the entire episode. It is especially frenetic in the early portion of the episode as Heyes attempts to use the camera to convey the disoriented mindset of H.M. Wynant's character, David Ellington, who arrives sick and weak at the door to the hermitage.
            Another effect which was integral to the show's success was the sound of the howling. Though Heyes and the crew decided on the sound of a traditional wolf or dog howl, the process for selecting the sound was apparently a dilemma. William F. Nolan, a close friend of Charles Beaumont and a fine fantasy and mystery writer, accompanied Beaumont to the set of "The Howling Man" during filming. Nolan relates the story to author Marc Scott Zicree of the crew spending a great amount of time listening to recordings of different screams and howls, trying to settle on the proper sound. The sound settled upon is certainly generic but it seems inconceivable that any sound would have sufficed when the readers of the original story could simply rely on their imagination to conjure the proper sound. In adaptation, it was a difficult effect to achieve and, as noted before, Heyes wisely chose not to show Robin Hughes actually making the howling sound.         
            As with any episode with a small cast (for “The Howling Man,” only five principle characters and four speaking parts), the casting was very important to the success of the show. Heyes had previously worked with John Carradine and knew that the actor's range could extend from extremely reserved to extremely over-the-top. Heyes gave Carradine the go ahead to let loose with the character of Brother Jerome and Carradine turns in a commanding performance, moving from reserved, holy-father figure to raving religious fanatic and back again. It has become one of the most memorable and recognizable performances in the show's entire run. Though Carradine starred in several highly regarded American films, most memorably John Ford's films Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) (for which he would be typecast as a rugged, western type and thereafter find dozens of roles in western films and television series), and racked up some 340 film and television credits, he will be remembered by horror and science fiction fans for his roles in Universal's horror films of the 1940's, including Captive Wild Woman (1943), The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), and memorable turns as Dracula in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). Carradine also turned up as Dracula in the camp western/horror film Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966). He was also a familiar face in the Poverty Row horror films from the 1940's, finding roles in Revenge of the Zombies (1943), Voodoo Man (1944), Return of the Ape Man (1944), and as the title character in cult director Edgar G. Ulmer's Bluebeard (1944). The actor was also all over television from the mediums earliest days right up until the end of the actor's career. His genre television credits include Lights Out, Suspense, Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Munsters, Lost in Space, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, and the 1980s The Twilight Zone revival for the episode "Still Life." In 1953, he appeared in a segment of The Kate Smith Hour, a live drama anthology series, titled "The Hound of Heaven," opposite James Dean. The segment was written by Earl Hamner, Jr. and was an early treatment of the writer's Twilight Zone episode "The Hunt." John Carradine died in Milan on November 27, 1988.
            H.M. Wyant was born February 12, 1927, began acting at age 19, and has amassed over 140 film and television credits in his long career. Wynant began in television and worked virtually nonstop on numerous series before getting occasional roles in films in the late 1960s, finding a memorable role in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). His genre credits include Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Thriller, and Batman.
             Robin Hughes, the Howling Man, was born in Buenos Aires in 1920 and died in Hollywood in 1989. He worked until the early 1970s in both film and television. Genre credits include The Mole People (1956), The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958), and on television in Boris Karloff's Thriller and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond.
            "The Howling Man" remains one of the finest episodes produced for The Twilight Zone. It displays a range of exceptional and innovative technical effects and shows the care and attention with which the talented crew afforded scripts and productions they considered worthy of such preparation and careful execution. It also displays the thematic range attainable on the series, from far flung science fiction to Gothic horror, and remains arguably the most famous show to emerge from the typewriter of Charles Beaumont, the series writer that created some of the most complex and innovative scripts of the series and whose career was sadly cut short from the early onset of a mentally debilitating disease.

Grade: A+

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following for information contained in the commentary:

-The Work of Charles Beaumont, An Annotated Bibliography and Guide by William F. Nolan (2nd edition, Borgo Press, 1990)

-The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (2nd edition, 1989)

-Marc Scott Zicree interview with Douglas Heyes (included as a commentary track on "The Howling Man" on the Definitive Edition DVD of The Twilight Zone, season 2)

-"The Howling Man" by Charles Beaumont (The Howling Man, Tor, 1992)

-Harlan Ellison's introduction to "The Howling Man" by Charles Beaumont (The Howling Man, Tor, 1992)

-The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org)

 Notes:
--Charles Beaumont originally published his short story “The Howling Man” in the November, 1959 issue of Rogue under the pseudonym C.B. Lovehill. It has been reprinted in the author's collection Night Ride and Other Journeys (Bantam, 1960) and Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories (titled The Howling Man in paperback) (Dark Harvest, 1988 (paperback: Tor Books, 1992)), a career retrospective edited and with an introduction by Roger Anker.
-Director Douglas Heyes also directed several classic episodes of the series, including "The After Hours," "Eye of the Beholder" and "The Invaders." Heyes wrote and directed the first segment of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "The Housekeeper" (based on the Fritz Leiber story), as well as wrote the segments "The Housekeeper" and "Brenda" (based on the story by Margaret St. Clair) under the pseudonym Matthew Howard.
-John Carradine appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Big Surprise."
-"The Howling Man" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Dennis Etchison, starring Fred Willard. 
-H.M. Wynant also appeared in two Twilight Zone Radio Drama episodes, "The Trade-Ins" and "Deaths-Head Revisited."

--Jordan Prejean           

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Twilight Zone in Four Colors


A Look at The Twilight Zone Comic Books
         
From the inception of the original television show through today, The Twilight Zone has been adapted for radio, a theatrical movie, a theme park thrill ride, board games, toys, books, and countless novelty items. It has inspired documentary films on the lives of its principle creators and released on numerous high production home video packages from VHS tapes to Blu Ray discs. It has been endlessly imitated and parodied and has been the subject of untold number of nonfiction books, articles, and online resources. It should come as no surprise that The Twilight Zone has also been adapted multiple times into illustrated editions, as three series of monthly comic books (2 from now-defunct publishers) and as a line of graphic novels from a preeminent American college of art and design. Like the show itself, The Twilight Zone in comic book form appeared in three different incarnations, each a product of its own time, displaying its own trends, and each illustrating the versatility with which the fantasy show could lend itself to an alternate visual format.
            The landscape of the American comic book in in the early 1960s was one dominated by factors which occurred during the latter part of the previous decade. In the now famous hearings by a Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, itself a product of the outcry of parents and religious organizations brought about by psychologist Fredric Wertham's highly questionable book, Seduction of the Innocent (which put forth the idea that comic books, especially horror and crime comic books, although all forms of comics outside of the most mundane were targets of Wertham's ire, were the root cause of the rising problem of juvenile delinquency in the country). William M. Gaines, publisher of E.C. Comics, purveyors of gruesome, yet beautifully rendered and surprisingly well written, horror, crime, and science fiction comics (a hugely successful line which included Tales From the Crypt, Crime SuspenStories, Weird Science, etc.), was made an example of by Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver as a publisher, among others, who was contributing to the degeneracy of America's youth. For more information on this subject the reader is directed to The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008). 
            The pressure from the "moral majority" forced Gaines and other publishers of horror and crime comics (there were many which followed closely in Gaines's successful wake) to develop a self-policing agency among comic book publishers which became known as the Comics Code Authority. The subsequent policy formed by the Authority rendered it virtually impossible to publish a crime or horror comic book. It effectively banned any words or situations which depicted terror or violence. Without compliance to the code there would be no stamp of approval on the cover of a publisher's books. Without the stamp of approval on the books no distributor would touch them. Without a distributor, Gaines and other publishers could not get their books to the buying public. As a result, may publishers ended their crime and horror titles altogether or changed formats to suit the new rules imposed by the Authority. Some publishers, most notably Warren Publishing and Marvel Comics (under the Curtis label) would eschew the comic book format entirely and produce some of the finest material available to the adult comic book consumer beginning in the 1960s. These magazine-sized, black and white comics were not subject to the Comics Code and therefore operated virtually free of rules or restrictions. A few of the titles in this vein were Warren's Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella, and Marvel's Bizarre Adventures, Vampire Tales, and Tomb of Dracula Magazine. Fortunately for William Gaines at E.C., who was forced to end nearly his entire line of titles, he had an ace in the hole with Mad, which soon changed to a magazine format on its way to becoming a cultural institution.  It would take over a decade for the comic book industry to again change and relax the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority.
            The reverberations of the Senate hearings were felt across the entire comic book industry. Even those publishers which did not specialize in horror or crime comics were so terribly afraid of not falling within the guidelines established by the Comics Code Authority (or, even worse, drawing the sort of negative attention which Gaines had at E.C.) that the industry saw a widespread "softening" of comic books in both subject matter and execution. Publishers were told that children were their target audience and most comic books were thereafter written and drawn safe enough for toddlers. Even Batman, the Dark Knight, perhaps the most mature and complex of the popular superheroes, was toned down, given an extended family of squeaky clean crime fighters including "Bat-Mite" and "Bat-Dog." Batman's iconic villain, the homicidal criminal mastermind known as The Joker, was relegated to playing a bumbling fool. A logical extension of this, or a solution to a situation if taken from the publishers’ perspective, was to begin licensing properties from television. All of this is to say that the publisher who would become the leading purveyor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror comic books did not submit their work to the Comics Code Authority. Western Publishing distribution channels were so well established that distributing a book without Code approval was not a problem for the publishing giant. 
            By the 1960s science fiction was well established on television, from the early serials (Buck Rogers, Space Patrol) to the early anthology shows specializing in fantasy and science fiction (Tales of Tomorrow, Science Fiction Theater). Every home in America equipped with a television could be invaded by aliens or travel back in time on a weekly basis. It wasn't long before comic book publishers began to consider science fiction programs to adapt for their line of books. The decade would see a boom in science fiction properties adapted for four colors from The Twilight Zone to The Outer Limits to Star Trek. The publisher who led the science fiction charge was Dell Comics.
            In 1960, about the time of production on the second season of the television series, Western Publishing acquired the rights from Rod Serling's Cayuga Productions to create a Twilight Zone comic book. The comic book was initially published under the Dell imprint (Western and Dell had worked closely since the 1930's) for Dell's Four Color series, a try-out series to gauge the potential of certain titles. The comic would not directly adapt the episodes of the show but would take an original format (though there are instances of the comic book loosely adapting original series episodes and reprinting Rod Serling's opening introductions from episodes of the show).   
          Four issues after The Twilight Zone comic began its run under the Dell imprint (two for Four Color, two as its own series), Dell and Western Publishing had a falling out and Western decided to continue most of the Dell titles (many which feature properties licensed to Western), as well as create new titles under their own imprint, Gold Key Comics. It is under the Gold Key imprint that The Twilight Zone remained for the bulk of its run. Gold Key Comics became a haven in the 1960's and into the 1980's for fantasy, science fiction, and horror properties with titles including Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery, Grimm's Ghost Stories, and The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor. Late in the run of The Twilight Zone comic, Western's comic book line added a new imprint, Whitman Comics, and many issues of The Twilight Zone comic were released under both labels in different distribution patterns.   

The Dell comic was incorporated into an existing series (continuing from the Dell Four Color series) and therefore numbered in a preexisting pattern. The Dell comic lasted a mere two additional issues before the move to Gold Key Comics, in which the series began with a new issue #1 and ran to issue #91 with no change in numbering occurring with the move to/integration with the Whitman imprint.*
             The difference in design elements for each imprint can be seen in the production side of the books. Each issue featured between 2 -4 illustrated stories and incorporated short text stories (1 page, a feature required to maintain access to second class postage). The first eight issues of the Gold Key comic featured a pin-up reproduction of the front cover illustration on the back cover, sans logo and text. Artist George Wilson contributed many of the eye catching covers to the Gold Key comic. Other notable artists that worked on the book during its long run include a virtual who's who of exceptional comic book artists of the era: Reed Crandall, George Evans, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, Alex Toth, Jerry Robinson, Mike Roy, Angelo Torres, Frank Miller (making his professional debut), Russ Jones, Bob Jenny, Mike Vosburg (who later created comic book covers for the Tales from the Crypt television show), Walter Simonson, and Alex Nino. Several stories in the issues of the early 1970s were contributed by writer/editor Len Wein, creator of Wolverine and (with artist Bernie Wrightson) Swamp Thing. The first incarnation of The Twilight Zone comic finally folded in June, 1979, 91 issues and 15 years of (almost) uninterrupted publication after the cessation of the show upon which it was based. The first series of Twilight Zone comic books have never been collected in a permanent, archival format, despite being part of a line of comics (Gold Key) which have seen a resurgence of interest in recent years. Many other contemporary properties, such as Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery and Star Trek, have been restored and reprinted in archival editions (by Dark Horse and IDW, respectively). 
            A brief graphic novel detour. 1979 saw the appearance of a little-known or remembered volume titled Stories from the Twilight Zone: A Skylark Illustrated Book. Published by Bantam Books, this volume featured comic book style adaptations of Rod Serling's prose stories collected in his 1960 book Stories from the Twilight Zone. The stories were adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer. 
            The Twilight Zone returned to monthly newsstands a little more than a decade later when the first issue of the second incarnation of the comic book was released, dated November, 1990. The new book was decidedly different than its predecessor. The second series of Twilight Zone comic books were a natural off shoot of another boom in science fiction and fantasy films and television programs adapted as comic books.          
             NOW Comics was founded in late 1985 by Anthony Caputo during a creator-led, industry wide movement toward independent publishing and creator owned properties. Though NOW began as a sole proprietorship, Caputo was soon bought out and the company began growing at an increasing rate, becoming one of the top five producers of comic books in America by 1990. Much of NOW's success came from their line of licensed properties, including titles such as The Real Ghostbusters, Fright Night, The Green Hornet, Married. . . with Children, The Original Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Mr. T and the T Force, Terminator: The Burning Earth, and, of course, The Twilight Zone.  
Is this cover appropriate for The Twilight Zone?
            Similar to the second incarnation of The Twilight Zone on television, for which the second series of comic books owes its genesis but not its sustained creative identity, Rod Serling wasn’t to be found. Whereas Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine struck a perfect balance between coverage of the original series (and other classic science fiction and fantasy properties) and the more idiosyncratic styles of the 1980s, the NOW comic eschewed any connection to classic science fiction and fantasy to capitalize on the affront of graphic, mature fantasy content. Multiple covers were sometimes produced for a single issue and these covers were either drawn in a mature, hard science fiction style, or as illustrations which, ironically, conjured the style of the pre-1960s science fiction and horror comics which brought along the creation of the Comics Code. 
       When story introductions were utilized, they were delivered by a disembodied narrator. As was the publishing trend in comic books at the time, special issues were frequent and included a double-sized "science fiction" issue, a 3-D issue, an "all computer" issue, and a double sized annual issue. The most notable issue is the landmark series debut issue featuring award-winning speculative fiction author Harlan Ellison's script "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich," illustrated by artist Neal Adams. Ellison, who acted as Creative Consultant for a time on the 1980s The Twilight Zone television series, provides an incisive essay preceding the story detailing his experiences working on the show. The NOW series ceased publication in August, 1993, an early casualty of the over-publication crash which negatively affected the entire comic book industry by the middle of the decade. Like many of the NOW titles, The Twilight Zone series has never been reprinted in a collected edition. 
            A second graphic novel detour. Rod Serling's scripts for The Twilight Zone were adapted into a series of graphic novels produced in 2008 and 2009 by Walker & Company in conjunction with the Rod Serling Trust overseen by Serling's widow, Carol Serling. Serling's scripts were adapted by art instructor Marc Kneece and art duties were handled by the student-artists from the Savannah College of Art and Design, including Dove McHargue, Rebekah Isaacs, Robert Grabe, Rich Ellis, Anthony Spay, and Chris Lie. Though the volumes are handsomely designed, the quality of execution leaves something to be desired. Yet, it is apparent that the creators are having a good time with the material and care deeply about the storytelling legacy of Rod Serling. Each volume includes an introductory essay and a biographical essay on Rod Serling.
The third and, so far, final incarnation of The Twilight Zone in comic book form arrived in December, 2013 with The Twilight Zone issue #1 from Dynamite Entertainment. Like Gold Key and NOW, Dynamite is an independent publisher that specializes in producing comic books from licensed properties. Dynamite introduced a long-form series written by J. Michael Straczynski, who contributed significantly to the 1980s Twilight Zone television series as a scriptwriter. The main series continued for twelve issues, until February, 2015. A second series, Shadow and Substance, appeared for four issues in 2015 and another, The Twilight Zone: The Shadow (a crossover series with the famous pulp fiction hero) appeared in 2016. Like the NOW series, Dynamite released a number of single issue specials, including a 2014 Annual, The Twilight Zone: Lost Tales, and The Twilight Zone: 1959. These one-shot issues are more in-line with the anthology format of the previous comic series. The series appears to have concluded with the publication of The Twilight Zone: 1959 in 2016. 
         It's unlikely we have seen the end of The Twilight Zone in comic book form. It is a tribute to the creators of the show (the writers, the directors, the actors, the artists) that each new generation rediscovers the show and re-imagines it in an interesting and unique way.

*Issue #92 of the Gold Key/Whitman series was released nearly a year after the series proper ended and was a reprint issue with an alternate cover scheme and so is not considered as a new issue.


The Twilight Zone comic book checklist:

1.) Dell Four Color Comics #1173, 1288
2.) The Twilight Zone (Dell Comics), 2 issues
3.) The Twilight Zone (Gold Key/Whitman) 91 issues (#1-91), November, 1962-June, 1979. Issue #92 is a reprint, variant cover issue. 
4.) Mystery Comics Digest (Gold Key reprint series) #3,6,9,12,15,18,21,24
5.) Dan Curtis Giveaway Comics #3 (Gold Key, 1974; These comics were mini-comics designed as bubble gum premiums).
      6.) The Twilight Zone (Gold Key, 1976; mini-comic, sold in packs)
      7.) Stories from The Twilight Zone: A Skylark Illustrated Book by Rod Serling, stories adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer (Bantam Books, 1979)
      8.) The Twilight Zone (NOW Comics) Series 1: Nov, 1990 (1 issue; reprinted Oct, 1991), Series 2: 11 issues (Nov, 1991-Sept, 1992), Series 3: 4 issues (May-August, 1993). One shots (all 1993): Annual, Science Fiction Special, 3-D special. 
      9.) The Twilight Zone graphic novels (Walker & Co.); 1. "Walking Distance" 2. "The After Hours" 3. The Odyssey of Flight 33 4. The Monsters are Due on Maple Street 5. The Midnight Sun 6. Deaths-head Revisited 7. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? 8. The Big, Tall Wish
      10.) The Twilight Zone (Dynamite Entertainment) Series 1: 12 issues (Dec, 2013-Feb, 2015; collected in 3 volumes as The Way Out (#1-5), The Way In (#4-8), The Way Back (#9-12)), Series 2: Shadow and Sustance, 4 issues (2015), Series 3: The Twilight Zone: The Shadow, 4 issues (2016). One-shots: 2014 Annual, The Twilight Zone: Lost Tales (2004), The Twilight Zone: 1959 (2016)


--Jordan Prejean

Monday, January 14, 2013

"A Thing About Machines"

Richard Haydn as bitter Barlett Finchley battling an electric razor intent on killing him.
"A Thing About Machines"
Season Two, Episode 40
Original Air Date: October 28, 1960

Cast:
Bartlett Finchley: Richard Haydn
Edith (the secretary): Barbara Stuart
TV Repairman: Barney Phillips
Intern: Jay Overholts
Policeman: Henry Beckman
Girl on TV: Margarita Cordova

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: David Orrick McDearmon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Sidney S. Van Keuren
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Direction: Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Ethel Winant
Editor: Leon Barsha
Sound: Franklin Milton and Charles Scheid
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
"These are familiar items, I'm sure. Television set, electric razor, clock, typewriter, the normal, everyday accouterment that are part and parcel of twentieth century progress. But next week you'll see them under different circumstances and in a totally dissimilar guise. They'll be machines, but they'll also be monsters. Our story is called 'A Thing About Machines' and it'll be here waiting for you in The Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"This is Mr. Bartlett Finchley, age forty-eight, a practicing sophisticate who writes very special and very precious things for gourmet magazines and the like. He's a bachelor and a recluse with few friends, only devotees and adherents to the cause of tart sophistry. He has no interests save whatever current annoyances he can put his mind to. He has no purpose to his life except the formulation of day-to-day opportunities to vent his wrath on mechanical contrivances of an age he abhors. In short, Mr. Bartlett Finchley is a malcontent, born either too late or too early in the century and who in just a moment will enter a realm where muscles and the will to fight back are not limited to human beings. Next stop for Mr. Bartlett Finchley. . . The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            The opening scene immediately establishes what the remainder of the episode repeatedly hammers home: Bartlett Finchley, a wealthy, reclusive bachelor whose occupation involves some sort of regular commentary on high culture, is an unmitigated and unrepentant snob prone to sudden and outrageous bursts of violent anger. Finchley exchanges barbed witticisms with the television repairman, a familiar figure in the large, solitary home as Finchley repeatedly assaults his television when it does not work according to the standards which he has set forth for the electrical and mechanical appliances and contraptions in his home. After the television repairman has left his home, Finchley smashes a tolling clock with a fireplace poker to drive the point home.
            Finchley's next vicious human encounter, this time with his personal secretary, who promptly quits on him after suffering one too many insults from his tongue, reveals Finchley's true dilemma. Not only has Finchley had a lifelong inability to properly use machines, he now believes that the machines have gained sentient life and are conspiring not only to malfunction and frustrate him but to cause him bodily harm. After an angry outburst when she suggest Finchley see a doctor, the secretary storms off angrily but not before telling Finchley that he is mentally sick and that his paranoid fears about machines are all in his head. We quickly learn that the secretary is indeed wrong and the machines are out to get Finchley.
            Then the fun begins. Finchley's typewriter writes on its own: GET OUT OF HERE FINCHLEY, over and over. His television turns itself on and displayed on the screen is a strange dancing woman alone on a stage who looks straight out at him and utters the same threatening message. In a panic, and not wanting to be alone, Finchley attempts to call old friends from his little black book. None, however, have time for the old curmudgeon. Blaming the telephone itself for this embarrassment, Finchley tears it from the wall. That does not, however, stop the phone from working. It screams at him to get out, over and over. The sound of police sirens outside calls Finchley to the end of his driveway where a policeman and a crowd have gathered because Finchley's car has rolled itself out into the street, almost hitting passersby. It seems Finchley's car, too, has been causing trouble as only a few days before the car's steering wheel turned itself in Finchley's hands as he was pulling the vehicle into the driveway and a headlight was broken as a result. It hit Finchley where it hurts most, his wallet. After resolving the issue of the car, while spewing insults and threats to the people gathered near his home, Finchley decides the only logical thing to do is to drink himself into a stupor.
            He awakens hours later. Rising groggily and going upstairs to his bedroom, Finchley is greeting with a frightening adversary, his electric razor gained life of its own and attacking him. The razor chases Finchley downstairs and out of the house where the car takes its turn tormenting the man, chasing him up and down the street and through backyards where it eventually knocks Finchley into a swimming pool and drowns him. When the ambulance and the police finally arrive to retrieve the dead man, they wonder why Finchley's body stayed on the bottom of the pool instead of floating up. It seems as though something were holding him down.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Yes, it could be. It could just be that Mr. Bartlett Finchley succumbed from a heart attack and a set of delusions. It could just be that he was tormented by an imagination as sharp as his wit and as pointed as his dislikes. But as perceived by those attending, this is one explanation that has left the premises with the deceased. Look for it filed under M for machines, in the Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
            Author Marc Scott Zicree, in his Twilight Zone Companion (second ed., Silman-James, 1992), was short and sharp in his review of "A Thing About Machines": "Although the concept of 'A Thing About Machines' is a clever one and some of the effects are fun (who couldn't help but love the image of an electric shaver slithering down a flight of stairs?), neither the writing, direction, nor performances are able to give the show any real vitality." And in this one Mr. Zicree is right on the money.
            The problems with the episode are many but fortunately for series creator and Rod Serling, this one appears to be an anomaly among his work for the series, particularly in the early seasons. If fault can be made of Rod Serling's style of drama, it is that his scripts can be overly "talky," as exemplified by "A Thing About Machines." The only problem is that the incessant talking, after the first scene, does little to move the plot forward other than to pad out the time limit required for a half-hour show. For a show like The Twilight Zone, a show that thrived on the fable-like quality of its scripts, the script for "A Thing About Machines" is especially threadbare and struggles to remain interesting for more than ten minutes. Like Zicree states, the main interest in the episode after the first few minutes are the effects of the machines coming to life to attack Finchley, and these are reasonably well done. Unfortunately, on the higher resolution of today's home videos, the fish line attached to the electric razor can clearly be seen holding the razor upright and pulling it down the stairs.
            Also, the characters are one-dimensional and even worse, with "A Thing About Machines," the viewer doesn't like Finchley. Unlike some of Serling's other so-called "hopeful loser" characters, Finchley starts unlikable and doesn’t change or transform from his trip into the Twilight Zone other than to go from living to dead. It renders the episode not only thin on plot but also thin on character and asks the viewer to remain tuned into this drama for the sole reason of seeing what everyone knew was coming all along: the machines kill Finchley. Few if any viewers can relate to Finchley nor is there any semblance of humanity about the man to elicit viewer sympathy. If anything, we want to see Finchley hurt and punished. Unlike other episodes which generate a similar response in the viewer, think "Death's-head Revisited" or "What You Need,"the effect simply doesn't come off and the viewer is left feeling bored with the whole thing.
            Serling didn't even feel it necessary to tack on one of his twist endings, which even by this point in the show’s history had become the defining characteristic of the series. The one truly unnerving effect in the episode is Margarita Cordova dancing on the television and stopping to look straight out at Finchley and tell him to "get out of here." It is an effectively bizarre choice for the television scene and the one truly imaginative spot in an otherwise predictable and rehashed episode.
            It is interesting to note that this episode resembles a story written by another of the show's frequent contributing writers, Richard Matheson. Matheson published a story titled "Mad House" about a (much more sympathic) aspiring writer and college professor who is victimized by steadily progressing and nearly uncontrollable bouts of rage that not only cost him his job and destroy his marriage but imbue the everyday objects in his home with a malevolence aimed at destroying him. In Matheson's story, not only do machines attempt to inflict pain (instead of a typewriter typing out a threatening message, there is a grisly scene of a typewriter shredding the character's fingers with its metal keys), but so do simple, inanimate objects, including a pencil that breaks and stabs and a deadly straight shaving razor (similar to the electric one in Serling's script) that ends the character's life in a gut-wrenching moment of pain, regret, and helplessness. Matheson's story had seen three printings before Serling brought his vision of killer household machines to the show. "Mad House" was originally published in the January/February, 1953 issue of Fantastic. It was reprinted twice, in Matheson's first hardcover book, a collection of stories titled Born of Man and Woman (Chamberlain Press, March, 1954) and the abridged paperback reprint of the same collection, Third from the Sun (Bantam, February, 1955). Though Serling certainly took his vision in a different direction for the show (albeit a duller direction, both less horrifying and less emotionally engaging) it is reasonable to assume that Serling had at least read the Matheson story if not consciously borrowed the germ of the story altogether. The genius and horror of the Matheson story is that the malevolent objects are not the scorned avengers of Serling's version but are products of the character's own rage and negative energy. The resulting death is that of being consumed by one's own hatred for oneself.
            The only other interesting aspect of the episode is an ending which confused some viewers upon initial telecast. As written, Finchley is knocked into the swimming pool and the car enters the pool on top of Finchley to hold him down until he is drowned. As filmed, it is a tad confusing as the viewer never sees the car enter the pool after knocking Finchley in. It simply stops on the edge. A subtle hint is given when Finchley's body is found and the water is shown to be pouring out of the car as though it had recently been submerged. Perhaps it was a bit too subtle and probably a bit too clever on top of the already predictable drama beforehand.
            Though author Marc Scott Zicree bemoans the direction of the episode, it must be said that David Orrick McDearmon was basically attempting to spin straw into gold with this assignment. The director turned in two other fine episodes for the show, the previous season’s "Execution" and the following season two episode "Back There." British born actor Richard Haydn plays it so that Finchley never seems to have a moment when he lets that high cultured, snobbish exterior down, even in moments when he is alone and in fear of his life. Hadyn’s fussy mannerisms found early success on radio and later became a fixture in anthology television, appearing in Playhouse 90, Lux Playhouse, and G.E. True Theater, as well as finding roles in popular television shows Burke's Law, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Man from U.N.C.L.E., Bewitched, and Bonanza. He found occasional supporting roles in impressive films ranging from Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951), voicing the Caterpillar, to Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and The Sound of Music (1965). He sat in the director's chair for three features in the late '40s and early '50s, including the Bing Crosby vehicle Mr. Music (1950). Hadyn died on April 25, 1985.
            Barbara Stuart is suitably waspish as the independent working woman who's finally had enough of Finchley's condescending remarks. The talented character actress amassed over a hundred television credits from the early '50s until 2004. Her other genre credits besides The Twilight Zone include appearances on One Step Beyond and the ‘60s Batman show. She died on May 15, 2011.
                 The one familiar face in the cast is that of Barney Phillips as the television repairman. Phillips appeared in four episodes of The Twilight Zone and "A Thing About Machines" is certainly the worst of the lot. He also appeared in the first season's "The Purple Testament,"season four's excellent "Miniature," and, most memorably, in the second season's fan favorite "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" as a alien from Venus moonlighting as a short order cook in a remote diner and revealing himself as such by displaying a third eye embedded in his forehead.
            In all, it seems that "A Thing About Machines" got the short end from the start. The stock music cues are uninspired and unremarkable except for the fact that they are used as predictably suits the episode. Like all of producer Buck Houghton's episodes, its looks great and the wonderful old MGM back lot is in fine form. The episode, however, lacks the complexity or the simple moral nature of Serling's best scripts. Serling's creative muscles were likely being stretched too thin that the enormous amount of material he was obligated to provide for the show. Fortunately, Serling amassed an extremely talented supporting crew of writers for the first season (namely Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont) and which would add another to the stable in young writer George Clayton Johnson, soon to make his script writing debut in season two's "A Penny for Your Thoughts" after previously selling a couple of short stories that Serling adapted into season one’s "The Four of Us Are Dying" and the aforementioned "Execution." Of course, Serling was far too talented a writer to produce disposable fodder for the show with any regularity and he would turn in one of his finest efforts with "Eye of the Beholder" just two broadcasts later.

Grade: D

Notes:
-Director David Orrick McDearmon also directed season one's "Execution" and season two's "Back There."
-Actor Barney Phillips also appeared in season one's "The Purple Testament," season two's "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and season four's "Miniature."
-Henry Beckman appeared in Rod Serling's "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar" for Night Gallery.
-"A Thing about Machines" was adapted as a The Twilight Radio Drama starring Mike Starr.
-Rod Serling adapted his teleplay into a short story for More Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam Pathfinder, April, 1961).

--Jordan Prejean