Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Syfy Channel's Twilight Zone New Year's Marathon (2017)

It's that time again when the Syfy Channel turns the page on a new year with a Twilight Zone marathon. This year's marathon will be an extra long block of Zone beginning at 5:00 a.m. (CST) on New Year's Eve and running all the way through 6:00 a.m. (CST) on January 3, 2017 with only one brief interruption in the early morning hours on the 3rd for paid programming. Below is the complete listings for the marathon including episode titles. All times are CST so adjust accordingly. We've covered a large number of the episodes here in the Vortex in our ongoing episode guide and those episodes can be accessed using the labels on the sidebar. Each episode we have covered has been noted with an (*) in the listing below.

This year's marathon seems to be all over the place and even includes some episodes being shown twice due to the Syfy Channel's latest gimmick for the marathon which invited fans on Twitter to choose episodes to be shown in prime time on New Year's Day. In the majority of previous years, the format of the marathon remained relatively the same: show fan favorite episodes in prime time on New Year's Eve and throughout the afternoon of New Year's Day with episodes of less quality relegated to the early morning hours. In recent years, the Syfy Channel has tried to offer a gimmick of some sort to shake up the format of the marathon, whether it is running a day of the first Twilight Zone revival series from the 1980s or running the entire original series in order of original air date (in fact, some of this year's marathon retains the format of original air date but without consistency). The result can be somewhat disappointing when high quality episodes such as "The Howling Man" or "Death Ship" are slotted in the early morning hours when few people are likely to be watching.

Anyhow, we hope everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy the marathon and experiences a safe and happy New Year's. We'll see you in 2017.

12/31/2016
5:00 a.m. - Twilight Zone: The Movie
7:00 a.m. - "One for the Angels"*
7:30 a.m. - "Mr. Denton on Doomsday"*
8:00 a.m. - The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine"*
8:30 a.m. - "Escape Clause"*
9:00 a.m. - "Perchance to Dream"*
9:30 a.m. - "Judgment Night"*
10:00 a.m. - "What You Need"*
10:30 a.m. - "The Four of Us Are Dying"*
11:00 a.m. - "Mirror Image"*
11:30 a.m. - "Execution"*
12:00 p.m. - "The Big Tall Wish"*
12:30 p.m. - "A Nice Place to Visit"*
1:00 p.m. - "The Chaser"*
1:30 p.m. - "A Passage for Trumpet"*
2:00 p.m. - "Mr. Bevis"*
2:30 p.m. - "The Mighty Casey"*
3:00 p.m. - "A World of His Own"*
3:30 p.m. - "King Nine Will Not Return"*
4:00 p.m. - "The Obsolete Man"*
4:30 p.m.- "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
5:00 p.m. - "Night Call"
5:30 p.m. - "The Encounter"
6:00 p.m. - "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"*
6:30 p.m. - "A Game of Pool"*
7:00 p.m. - "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You"
7:30 p.m. - "Where Is Everybody?"*
8:00 p.m. - "The Hitch-Hiker"*
8:30 p.m. - "The After Hours"*
9:00 p.m. - "Long Distance Call"*
9:30 p.m. - "A Penny for Your Thoughts"*
10:00 p.m. - "A World of Difference"*
10:30 p.m. - "Little Girl Lost"
11:00 p.m. - "The Mirror"*
11:30 p.m. - "And When the Sky Was Opened"*

1/1/2017
12:00 a.m. - "The Man in the Bottle"*
12:30 a.m. - "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room"*
1:00 a.m. - "A Thing About Machines"*
1:30 a.m. - "The Howling Man"*
2:00 a.m. - "Mute"
3:00 a.m. - "Jess-Belle"
4:00 a.m. - "Death Ship"
5:00 a.m. - "The Lateness of the Hour"*
5:30 a.m. - "The Trouble With Templeton"*
6:00 a.m. - "A Most Unusual Camera"*
6:30 a.m. - "Dust"*
7:00 a.m. - "Back There"*
7:30 a.m. - "The Whole Truth"*
8:00 a.m. - "Mr. Dingle, the Strong"*
8:30 a.m. - "Static"*
9:00 a.m. - "The Prime Mover"*
9:30 a.m. - "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim"*
10:00 a.m. - "The Rip Van Winkle Caper"*
10:30 a.m. - "Shadow Play"*
11:00 a.m. - "The Mind and the Matter"*
11:30 a.m. - "Two"*
12:00 p.m. - "The Arrival"*
12:30 p.m. - "The Passersby"*
1:00 p.m. - "The Mirror"*
1:30 p.m. - "The Grave"*
2:00 p.m. - "Deaths-head Revisited"*
2:30 p.m. - "The Midnight Sun"*
3:00 p.m. - "Still Valley"*
3:30 p.m. - "Once Upon a Time"*
4:00 p.m. - "The Old Man in the Cave"
4:30 p.m. - "The Odyssey of Flight 33"*
5:00 p.m. - "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air"*
5:30 p.m. - "Person or Persons Unknown"
6:00 p.m. - "The Bewitchin' Pool"
6:30 p.m. - "The Dummy"
7:00 p.m. - ?
7:30 p.m. - ?
8:00 p.m. - ?
8:30 p.m. - ?
9:00 p.m. - ?
9:30 p.m. - ?
10:00 p.m. - "Nick of Time"*
10:30 p.m. - "Nothing in the Dark"*
11:00 p.m. - "A Stop at Willoughby"*
11:30 p.m. - "The Shelter"*

1/2/2017
12:00 a.m. - "Miniature"
1:00 a.m. - "The Jungle"*
1:30 a.m. - "A Quality of Mercy"*
2:00 a.m. - "Valley of the Shadow"
3:00 a.m. - "He's Alive"
4:00 a.m. - "Printer's Devil"
5:00 a.m. - "One More Pallbearer"*
5:30 a.m. - "Dead Man's Shoes"*
6:00 a.m. - "The Hunt"
6:30 a.m. - "Showdown with Rance McGrew"
7:00 a.m. - "Kick the Can"
7:30 a.m. - "A Piano in the House"
8:00 a.m. - "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank"
8:30 a.m. - "The Fugitive"
9:00 a.m. - "The Gift"
9:30 a.m. - "The Little People"
10:00 a.m. - "Four O'Clock"
10:30 a.m. - "The Trade-Ins"
11:00 a.m. - "I Sing the Body Electric"
11:30 a.m. - "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross"
12:00 p.m. - "Black Leather Jackets"
12:30 p.m. - "From Agnes With Love"
1:00 p.m. - "Spur of the Moment"
1:30 p.m. - "Stopover in a Quiet Town"
2:00 p.m. - "Queen of the Nile"
2:30 p.m. - "What's in the Box?"
3:00 p.m. - I Am the Night, Color Me Black"
3:30 p.m. - "Sounds and Silences"
4:00 p.m. - "Caesar and Me"
4:30 p.m. - "The Jeopardy Room"
5:00 p.m. - "Nightmare as a Child"*
5:30 p.m. - "Ring-a-Ding Girl"
6:00 p.m. - "Third from the Sun"*
6:30 p.m. - "The Silence"*
7:00 p.m. - "The Lonely"*
7:30 p.m. - "Time Enough at Last"*
8:00 p.m. - "Perchance to Dream"*
8:30 p.m. - "Judgment Night"*
9:00 p.m. - "And When the Sky Was Opened"*
9:30 p.m. - "What You Need"*
10:00 p.m. - "The Lonely"*
10:30 p.m. - "People Are Alike All Over"*
11:00 p.m. - "The Fever"*
11:30 p.m. - "In Praise of Pip"

1/3/2017
12:00 a.m. - "The Thirty-Fathom Grave"
1:00 a.m. - "Mr. Garrity and the Graves"
1:30 a.m. - "The Brain Center at Whipples"
2:00 a.m. - "Come Wander With Me"
2:30 a.m. - "The Fear"
3:00 a.m. - ----
4:00 a.m. - ----
5:00 a.m. - "The Parallel"
6:00 a.m. -"Where Is Everybody?"*

Note: Of related interest is an X-Files marathon running throughout New Year's Day on the Syfy Channel sister station Chiller Channel.

-JP

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Viewer’s Guide to a Twilight Zone Christmas

Essential episodes of The Twilight Zone for the winter season, in order of original air date.

1.) "What You Need," season one, episode 12 (12/25/59)

           -This episode, which aired on Christmas, concerns a fantastic form of gift-giving. A meek old man who helps people by giving them things they need for the future falls prey to a villain who attempts to use the old man's talent for his own gain. Adapted by Rod Serling from a story by Henry Kuttner and C.L Moore, the episode eschews the original story's science fiction flavor for the feeling of a film noir. It is an effective treatment of the theme that no man should know too much about his own destiny.  

Here's Our Look at "What You Need."
                                          

2.) "A Passage for Trumpet," season one, episode 32 (05/20/60)

          -This episode marks the first of four appearances by veteran actor Jack Klugman on the series and is essentially Rod Serling’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic Christmas fantasy film from 1946. Though “A Passage for Trumpet” is essentially a retelling of Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift,” which formed the basis of It’s a Wonderful Life. In that story, a man contemplating suicide is shown what life without him would be like and decides to backtrack on his attempt to take his own life (life being the greatest gift of the title). Joey Crown, from “A Passage for Trumpet,” likewise is shown the ugly side of the afterlife after a suicide attempt and decides to remain in the land of the living. Despite its derivative nature, the episode is an uplifting fable (featuring a classic example of Serling’s “lovable loser”-type character) and features strong performances from Zone regulars Klugman and John Anderson (Anderson assumes the role of guardian angel Gabriel, the horn-playing herald who shows Joey Crown the error of his ways).

Read our commentary on “A Passage for Trumpet.” 


3.) “The After Hours,” season one, episode 34 (6/10/160)

          -Nothing says Christmas like the rush of department store shopping, and Rod Serling puts a truly unique spin on the tradition in this exceptionally creepy episode starring Anne Francis. Francis portrays a young woman seeking the perfect gift who instead discovers a shocking secret about the nature of department store mannequins. The journey to a secret level of the store is a particularly disturbing highlight. Francis gives an underrated performance and the unsettling atmosphere in the episode is second to none on the series. It comes highly recommended.

Read our thoughts on “The After Hours.” 

4.) “The Night of the Meek,” season two, episode 47 (12/23/60)

          -This most overtly Christmas episode of the series certainly has its flaws but remains one of the more uplifting episodes of the series due to a strong performance by Art Carney as another of Rod Serling’s “lovable losers.” This time the loser is an alcoholic department store Santa Claus that gets a chance at redemption when he discovers Santa’s magical bag of toys and uses it to spread Christmas cheer throughout the city. “Night of the Meek” is essential Christmas viewing for Zone fans and remains a fan favorite, despite the hideous videotape appearance of the episode.

Read all about “The Night of the Meek.” 

5.) “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” season two, episode 64 (5/26/61)

          -Two state policemen and a group of bus passengers face off against harsh winter weather and a hidden adversary at a roadside cafe in this highly entertaining episode. Another atmospheric gem from Rod Serling heralds the arrival of director Montgomery Pittman to showcase perhaps the finest group of Serling characters created for the series, especially in the form of John Hoyt as a grouchy businessman and Jack Elam as a boisterous eccentric. The twisting narrative and whacky makeup effects make this one a sure-fire crowd-pleaser certain to delight those in search of macabre fun.

Find out more on “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” 

5.) “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” season three, episode 79 (12/15/61)

          -Another Christmas tradition is the ringing of donation bells and Rod Serling again delivers an imaginative twist on the tradition. Jumpstarted by a story idea from journalist Marvin Petal, Serling draws on his exceptional skill at characterization to craft one of the more unusual and haunting offerings from the series. The playful title clues the viewer in on the existential nature of the play and fine performances enhance the strange fantasy. The final twist is perhaps overly-familiar now but remains one of the more memorable created for the series. Highly recommended.

Explore the secrets of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” 

6.) “Nothing in the Dark,” season three, episode 81 (1/5/62)

          -Bundle up for this frosty bit of dark fantasy. This episode is arguably the finest work from three of the most talented creators on the series, writer George Clayton Johnson, director Lamont Johnson, and actress Gladys Cooper. Cooper gives an outstanding performance as a woman who has shut herself away from the world in fear of meeting “Mr. Death.” The fable-like story has a strong winter atmosphere and features some of the finest camera work of the series. It comes highly recommended.

Here's our review of “Nothing in the Dark.” 

7.) “The Changing of the Guard,” season three, episode 102 (6/1/62)

          -Veteran actor Donald Pleasance gives an emotionally powerful performance in this Christmas episode. It is simultaneously a melancholy and uplifting episode in which an aging professor forced into retirement is confronted by Christmas spirits in order to remind him of his value as an instructor to generations of young men. This one has a uniquely haunting quality and again approaches the subject of depression and suicide during the Christmas season, a time of reflection and contemplation. It remains a strongly affecting episode from Rod Serling. 

8.)  “Living Doll,” season five, episode 126 (11/1/63)

         -What says Christmas more than children and their toys? When little Christie brings home Talky Tina, mean ole Stepdaddy will pay the price. Telly Savalas is excellent in this creepy classic as a temperamental stepfather who meets his match in an indestructible killer doll. This episode served as the basis of or inspiration for numerous subsequent tales of killer dolls and remains an all-time classic from the series. Highly recommended.

Here's our thoughts on “Living Doll.” 

-JP

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Dead Man's Shoes"

Warren Stevens as Nate Bledsoe
"Dead Man's Shoes"
Season Three, Episode 83
Original Air Date: January 19, 1962

Cast:
Nate Bledsoe: Warren Stevens
Dagget: Richard Devon
Wilma: Joan Marshall
Chips: Ben Wright
Sam: Harry Swoger
Ben: Ron Hagerthy
Dagget's Woman: Florence Marly
Jimmy: Joe Mell
Maitre d': Eugene Borden

Crew:
Writers: Charles Beaumont and OCee Ritch
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week, through the good offices of Mr. Charles Beaumont, we take a walk in some 'Dead Man's Shoes.' It's the story of a hobo who takes some shoes off a recently deceased hoodlum and then discovers that if the shoe fits you have to wear it. And, in this case, you have to do as the shoes do, go where they tell you to, and then perform some services above and beyond the norm. I hope we see you next week for 'Dead Man's Shoes.'"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:

"Nathan Edward Bledsoe of the Bowery Bledsoes. A man once, a specter now, one of those myriad modern-day ghosts that haunt the reeking nights of the city in search of a flop, a handout, a glass of forgetfulness. Nate doesn't know it but his search is about to end. Because those shiny new shoes are going to carry him right into the capital of The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            In the early night hours, a dark sedan pulls into an alleyway and dumps a dead body beneath a tenement staircase. The sound of the car awakens Nate Bledsoe, a homeless man sleeping on a bed of newspapers. Nate spies the dead body and proceeds to turn out the pockets of the corpse. Then he sees the nice pair of shoes on the corpse and switches them for his own worn-out shoes. Walking down the street, he is accosted by two fellow homeless men who inquire as to where Nate came upon the nice shoes. But Nate seems confused and much gruffer than his usual meek self. Nate shrugs off the two men and heads to an apartment building on the nicer side of town.
            There he walks in on Wilma, a beautiful woman alone in a top floor apartment. She demands to know who he is. When she sees the shoes on Nate’s feet she recognizes them as belonging to her boyfriend Dane, now a shoeless corpse in an alley across town. Dane may be dead but he’s still pretty lively when Nate’s wearing his shoes.
            Nate comes back to himself when he takes off Dane’s shoes. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. Wilma points a gun at him and demands that Nate leave the apartment. When Nate puts the shoes back on, Dane resumes control and easily takes the gun away from Wilma. He kisses her furiously like Dane used to kiss her. Wilma goes into hysterics and Dane slaps her across the face. He’s got business to attend to and Wilma better be there when he gets back.
            Nate/Dane makes his way to a nightclub where he sits close to a table of gangsters and orders tequila with a lump of sugar. Dane’s signature drink. That gets their attention. They don’t recognize Nate so they call him over to the table and ask him who he is and what he’s up to. Nate/Dane tells them that he’s a messenger and he has a private message for Dagget, the leader of the little group.
            Alone in Dagget’s office, Nate/Dane openly talks of Dane’s murder at the hands of Dagget and his goons. Nate/Dane pulls out a hidden gun. One of Dagget’s men springs from a hidden panel in the wall but Nate/Dane gets the drop on him. “You didn’t think that would work twice, did you?” Dane asks. Another of Dagget’s men shoots Nate/Dane though a space in bookcase that conceals another hidden panel.
            “I’ll be back,” Dane warns as he lies dying on the floor of Dagget’s office for the second time that night. “I’ll be back again and again until I get you.”
            Dagget and his men dump Nate’s body in an alley. One of Nate’s fellow homeless friends takes the shoes from Nate’s body and puts them on.      

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"There's an old saying that goes: 'If the shoe fits, wear it.' But be careful. If you happen to find a pair of size nine black and grey loafers, made to order in the old country, be very careful. You might walk right into The Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
            “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a breezy, entertaining, but ultimately undistinguished offering from the otherwise exceptional duo of writer Charles Beaumont and director Montgomery Pittman. It is largely derivative in style and subject matter, bearing a strong resemblance to the plot and structure of the earlier, and superior, episode “The Four of Us Are Dying,” along with a number of other film noir offerings on the series. Like “The Four of Us Are Dying,” it also features a jazzy, interpretive musical structure more suited to a crime drama than a fantasy series. 
Charles Beaumont had a great deal of help in scripting the episode from his friend and frequent collaborator OCee Ritch, who does not receive credit on the episode and was last a contributor to the series as the source (via unpublished story) for Beaumont’s excellent second season offering “Static.” In fact, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a clear reversal of the process that created “Static,” the latter of which concerned OCee Ritch’s idea adapted by Beaumont whereas “Dead Man’s Shoes” concerns Beaumont’s idea adapted by Ritch. Beaumont likely had little hand in the writing process at all outside of the principle idea, which, according to multiple sources, was initially imagined to concern a cowboy hat instead of a pair of shoes. This approach leaned heavily toward comedy but Ritch managed to combine the lighter material inherent in Beaumont’s original idea with an urban fantasy populated by relatively standard, underworld-type characters. This approach was similar to the method by which Rod Serling adapted Lewis Padgett’s (the joint pseudonym of Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore) science fiction short story “What You Need” for the noir-esque first season episode which bears that title.
Beaumont had yet to display the symptoms of the terrible degenerative disease that would claim his life just five years later but he remained a freelance writer unable, or unwilling, to turn down an assignment. As such, Beaumont was constantly overworked and under pressure of deadlines. He’d long assumed the occasional practice of farming out his ideas for his writer friends to flesh out in television assignments to which he was contractually obligated. This practice became more frequent as Beaumont began to succumb to the disease (generally believed to be early-onset Alzheimer’s) that would ultimately take his life at the tragically young age of 38.
            OCee Ritch and Charles Beaumont initially bonded over their shared loved of automobiles and automotive racing. Ritch authored several manuals on motorcycle repair for the Chilton series of publications in the 1960's, and also contributed to a volume of sports racing material compiled and edited by Beaumont and fellow friend William F. Nolan (The Omnibus of Speed: An Introduction to the World of Motor Sport, G.P. Putnam's, 1958; "The Golden Days of Gilmore"). Beaumont and Ritch soon discovered a mutual love of nostalgia and collaborated (under Beaumont's name alone) on nostalgic essays for Playboy and other magazines ("The Bloody Pulps," "The Golden Age of Slapstick Comedy," "Don't Miss the Next Thrilling Chapter!"). Ritch's talent for dramatic writing was also apparent to Beaumont and, besides their two episodes on The Twilight Zone, the two writers produced collaborative efforts (under Beaumont's byline) for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ("The Long Silence," with William D. Gordon and based on "Composition for Four Hands" by Hilda Lawrence), Boris Karloff's Thriller ("Guillotine," based on a story by Cornell Woolrich), and Channing ("Gate to Nowhere"). Ritch also appeared in director Roger Corman’s 1962 adaptation of Charles Beaumont’s 1959 novel The Intruder (along with appearances by Beaumont’s other friends George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, and by Beaumont himself). Ritch wrote an article, "The Intruder," on the making of the film which appeared in the December, 1961 issue of Rogue magazine. 
            Director Montgomery Pittman graced the series for a brief time from the end of the second season through the middle of the third season and brought with him both a distinguished style and the distinguishing characteristic of being a director that often wrote the episodes he directed. Pittman wrote three of the five episodes he directed (the exceptions being Rod Serling’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Dead Man’s Shoes”) and, like many of the series directors, was adept at infusing an episode with a distinctive film noir aesthetic.
            Two areas in which the series does not receive its due course of credit is in its commitment to versatility and to its outstanding stable of directors. The series was certainly the most varied and stylish show of its type and time. Much like the varieties of writing styles, series creator Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton encouraged individual directors to work against any type of “house” style to present unique, idiosyncratic visions for the series. This practice was greatly helped by the presence of versatile and hugely talented cinematographer George T. Clemens, a man adroit at adapting to the individual styles of the show’s many directors.
            The Twilight Zone is often seen as a science fiction series primarily concerned with the recognizable tropes of the science fiction genre. Though the series did attempt several recognizable forms of science fiction, from time travel to robots to dystopian politics to interplanetary travel to alternate dimensions, the show took great efforts to attempt virtually every form of popular storytelling. Beyond the experimental episodes (including a couple of virtually silent episodes and one in which the faces of the principle cast remain hidden) the series attempted everything from romance to ghost stories to westerns to tales of war to screwball comedy. Yet, the one genre most often approached by the series was that of noir, a genre distinguished by chiaroscuro lighting and camera effects to illustrate tales of criminals and the underworld.
            It should come as no surprise that the series would approach such subject matter considering the unique type of urban fantasy the creators returned to time and again, evident in such offerings as “What You Need,” “The Four of Us Are Dying,” “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” “The Prime Mover,” “A Nice Place to Visit,” and some half dozen more. It is even less surprising when one surmises the talented directors Serling and company brought to the show, several of whom made their reputations in the film noir genre or in the earlier, formative mode of expressionism, including Ida Lupino (also notable for both acting and directing on the series as well as being the only female director to helm an episode), Jacques Tourneur, Robert Florey, and John Brahm.
            Montgomery Pittman can be placed in that company as well if one looks to his small but varied output and recognizes the noir-influence style which he brings to tales as diverse as “Two,” “The Grave,” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.”
            “Dead Man’s Shoes,” however, is also part of a smaller subgenre occasionally seen on the series which changes the tonal dynamic of the episode. It is a “magic item” episode and, like its counterparts “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “A Piano in the House,” and “A Kind of Stopwatch,” there is a liberal sprinkling of levity into the episode’s graver moments (the notable exception being the earlier mentioned and uniformly grim episode “What You Need”). One of the more amusing moments in the episode is also the best scene, that in which Nate/Dane (Warren Stevens) returns to Dane’s apartment and is confronted by Wilma (Joan Marshall), Dane’s girlfriend. The moment in which Nate alternately removes the dead man’s shoes and puts them on again is very amusing and played relatively silent. Pittman chooses instead to focus on the facial expressions of the two principle actors with effective medium shots. One method by which Ritch and Pittman tamper the comedic impulse of the story is in the high level of abrupt violence which ends the second and third acts. Most shocking is the level of domestic abuse which Wilma certainly suffered under Dane as Nate/Dane both threatens to break her arm and strikes her across the face in the space of a few minutes.
            The deadpan performance of prolific actor Warren Stevens perfectly illuminates the gallows humor characteristic of the material. Stevens saw Broadway early in his acting career before moving into film and television, the latter medium providing him with more than 150 credits, including plenty of genre material. Stevens had a memorable role (and death) in the classic 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet. On the small screen Stevens appeared in episodes of Inner Sanctum, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Science Fiction Theatre, One Step Beyond, Star Trek, and a long-running association with legendary genre producer/director Irwin Allen, appearing in such Allen productions as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and The Return of Captain Nemo (alternately known as The Amazing Captain Nemo).
            Joan Marshall, who portrays Wilma and shares the best scene of the episode with Stevens, has provided even more unique contributions to genre film and television. Marshall used the stage name Jean Arless to portray the dual characters which are climatically revealed to be singular in William Castle’s 1961 film  Homicidal, which was largely an imitation of and attempt to cash in on the success of Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho (1960). As was Castle’s style, the budget was lowered and the shocks were ramped up to create a movie that got a surprising amount of positive buzz at the time of release but is largely considered inferior material by posterity. Homicidal does continue William Castle’s tradition of mounting a novelty marketing campaign in a memorable way. The film was given a 45-second “Fright Break” before the climax, allowing those viewers not brave enough to finish to film to be released from the theater to sit in a “Coward’s Corner” in the lobby.
Marshall is also remembered by genre fans as the first matriarch of The Munsters. In the original, unaired, color-filmed pilot episode, “My Fair Munster,” Marshall portrayed Phoebe Munster, a character replaced by Lily Munster portrayed by Yvonne De Carlo. It has been suggested that the character of Phoebe was too similar to the character of Morticia Addams as portrayed by Carolyn Jones on the ABC series The Addams Family. Another Munsters character that was altered along with Marshall’s Phoebe was the character of Eddie Munster, originally played in a comedic, ferocious style by Happy Derman in the unaired pilot before being reimagined and replaced by Butch Patrick for the series proper.
            “Dead Man’s Shoes” was reimagined in a rather effective episode of the first Twilight Zone revival series under the title “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode concerns a timid thrift store worker (Helen Mirren) who puts on a pair of donated high heeled shoes which allow the spirit of a murdered woman to assume control of her body in an effort to exact revenge on her husband (Jeffrey Tambor). The episode was adapted by writer Lynn Baker and directed by Peter Medak and is a very close adaptation which mirrors several key scenes from the original in interesting ways for the viewer that follows closely. “Dead Woman’s Shoes” largely shies away from the violence of the original episode (with the notable exception of a scene in which a woman is slapped across the face) and exchanges the dark, urban landscape of the original for a bright, Beverly Hills setting which does not detract from the effectiveness of the versatile story. Mirren is particularly good in the episode and it features a truly unsettling scene in which the dead woman telephones the husband to announce her return. One other interesting aspect of the adaptation is that a mirror is used in a number of quick edited shots to reflect how the dead woman looked in life. You will notice in the original episode that the character of Nate, after he puts on the dead man’s shoes, looks into a mirror situated on top of a scale but the opportunistic moment is wasted. The new Twilight Zone episode comes recommended for those curious to see an effective updating of the material. "Dead Man's Shoes" was also, at least nominally, the inspiration for an episode of the second revival Twilight Zone series titled "Dead Man's Eyes," in which a window discovers that her deceased husband's eyeglasses reveal the final moments of his life, including his murderer.
            Ultimately, however, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an average effort with some interesting connections to other aspects of the series and the series creators. The setting is generic, the characters clich√©, the story predictable (which the seemingly requisite twist ending), and the performances vary from memorable to forgettable. “Dead Man’s Shoes” is the best of a bad streak of episodes (which runs from episodes 82-85, “One More Pallbearer” to “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”) but fails to ignite any of the imaginative power of the third season’s strongest offerings.     

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement is made to The Work of Charles Beaumont: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide by William F. Nolan (2nd edition, Borgo Press, 1990)

Notes:
-Montgomery Pittman directed four additional episodes of the series, of which he also wrote three. Use the “Montgomery Pittman” label on the sidebar to access the episodes he wrote/directed.
-Warren Stevens also appeared in the first Twilight Zone revival series episode "A Day in Beaumont," which originally aired April 11, 1986.
-Ben Wright also appeared in the first season episode “Judgment Night” and the third season episode “Deaths-head Revisited.”
-OCee Ritch also wrote the story upon which the second season episode “Static” was based. “Static” was scripted by Charles Beaumont.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was remade for the first Twilight Zone revival series as “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode starred Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor, was adapted by Lynn Baker, and directed by Peter Medak. It originally aired on November 22, 1985.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama, starring Bill Smitrovitch.


-Jordan Prejean

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"One More Pallbearer"

The great Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), shortly before his demise.

“One More Pallbearer”
Season Three, Episode 82
Original Air Date: January 12, 1962

Cast:
Paul Radin: Joseph Wiseman
Mrs. Langford: Katherine Squire
Reverend Hughes: Gage Clark
Colonel Hawthorne: Trevor Bardette
Speaking Electrician: Josep Elic
Silent Electrician: Robert Snyder
Policeman: Ray Galvin

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: George R. Nelson
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next on the Twilight Zone we let you in on an extravagant practical joke: a man who wants to convey an illusion that the world is coming to an end. Now there are jokes and there are jokes, but this one stands all by itself as an exercise in the very different, and the very bizarre. Our play is called ‘One More Pallbearer’ and we commend it to you as something quite special.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric, and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive. How eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            Eccentric millionaire Paul Radin is making the final preparations for the most important night of his adult life. Sound technicians are placing audio equipment in the underground bomb shelter several hundred feet beneath a New York City skyscraper which bears Radin’s name. Once they are finished Radin bids them goodbye. And waits.
           Later in the evening his three guests arrive, each completely unaware of why they have been summoned to this place. It is revealed that each of them has been the cause of profound mental anguish for their host at various points in his life. Mrs. Langford was Radin’s grade school teacher and once embarrassed him in front of the class after he was caught trying to frame another student for cheating. Colonel Hawthorne was Radin’s commanding officer in the Army and had the young soldier court martialed after his cowardice cost the lives of dozens of men. Reverend Hughes once publicly slandered Radin after he drove a woman he was in a relationship with to suicide.
            Radin reveals to his guests that they are about to witness the end of the world. Nuclear war is imminent and the bunker is their only salvation. He will allow them to seek refuge here if they agree to apologize for the years of emotional anguish they have caused him. He plays a phony government emergency announcement to give his claim authenticity. To his dismay they all choose to leave and risk death rather than stay with him. They shuffle into the elevator and are gone.
            Devastated that his revenge has been ruined after a lifetime of resentment, Radin launches into a fit of rage, smashing things around him, as the sound of thundering explosions fill the tiny bunker. After the explosions stop Radin goes to the surface. To his horror New York City is in ruins. His building demolished. Was it real or had he made it up? He could no longer remember. Alone and broken, Radin crumbles to the ground, sobbing.
           A New York City police officer spots Radin weeping into a water fountain outside of his Manhattan high rise, pedestrians going about their business around him, the city totally unharmed by Radin’s imaginary nuclear attack. The officer attempts to engage him in conversation but his effort is wasted. Paul Radin has abandoned this world for the cold familiarity…of the Twilight Zone.


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Paul Radin. A dealer in fantasy, who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on Earth, doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin. Pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            “One More Pallbearer” is one of only a handful of blemishes on an otherwise remarkable season. It is an episode marred by a clumsy plot, over-the-top performances, recycled themes, and a noticeable surplus of unnecessary dialogue. These inconsistencies, however, do not occur independently of one another and all stem from the fact that the premise of this episode simply wasn’t strong enough to support a fully realized dramatic interpretation.  
            The threat of nuclear annihilation in the wake of World War II was a very real fear for much of the world during the middle of the twentieth century. The uneasy relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two world powers at the time, left both nations, and numerous others, in a state of perpetual anxiety. The United States had already demonstrated its nuclear capabilities in 1945, dropping wide-range explosives on two densely-populated Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands and effectively soliciting Japan’s surrender. The Soviet Union, bitter at being kept in the dark about these weapons during the war, began manufacturing its own nuclear weapons once the war was over. The panic that arose in the following years was real and pervaded virtually every aspect of American culture for decades.
            In the years after the war the science fiction and fantasy genres experienced a massive hike in popularity in almost every medium. As the world began to heal from unprecedented devastation writers of every genre sought social commentary through their work. Some wrote epic nightmares warning of dystopian futures ruled by fascists and communists while others exploited social paranoia to warn against things like McCarthyism and prejudice. By the early 1960’s, however, many of the themes and tropes common in post-war science fiction, including and especially stories about the end of the world via nuclear fallout, were stale and laughable and often exploited merely as plot devices. Within a few short years this trend would become altogether extinct as America moved into a Vietnam-war era mentality. Serling had already touched on the threat of nuclear war on a more serious note earlier in the season in “The Shelter” and also several times during the previous seasons. So it is fair to assume that by this time he had grown as tired of the idea as his audience had.
            The plot of this episode is problematic from the very beginning. In the opening scene Serling reveals what would normally be the twist ending, that the nuclear attack is simply a hoax orchestrated by Radin. This shifts the viewer’s attention from the impending attack to Radin and his three victims. The audience believes what Radin presumably believes: that they are about to witness an intimate moment as each of Radin’s victims struggles to choose between their loved ones and their instinct for preservation. Instead, none of them show the slightest hesitation in their thought process and immediately abandon the safety of the bomb shelter for a few extra moments with their loved ones, leaving Radin emotionally blindsided and the audience wondering whether that awkward plot twist was intentional. Serling answers this twist with another in which the audience is briefly lead to believe that the nuclear attack actually occurred—even though rational thought quickly reminds them that it did not—and that the three victims, along with the rest of New York City, are now dead. But before they can began to analyze the dozens of possible interpretations this scene has to offer they are derailed once again when Serling reveals that the bomb was a hoax after all and that the previous scene, featuring a totally demolished New York City, was simply a glimpse into Radin’s deteriorating mind which is now completely disconnected from reality.
This episode can be interpreted a number of ways, none of which make it any more enjoyable. Repeat viewings suggest that Serling likely meant this as a character study of an unlikable person and that the continuous plot twists are intended to give the audience the same sense of shock that Radin is experiencing. The episode begins with the audience believing that Radin will be at least marginally successful. By the final scene, however, they should have abandoned what little faith, and compassion, they may have held for him. His intended objective, or so it would seem, is the importance of distinguishing fantasy from reality and the dangers of obsession.
This is a reasonable premise but it proves unsuccessful for a number of reasons. First, the rapid succession of twists are a bit disorienting, at least upon the initial viewing, mainly because several of the twists conflict with one another instead of each naturally building upon the last. The result is an awkward ending which feels as though it is comprised of the endings to several different episodes all rolled into one.
Radin’s mental collapse during the final scenes is also handled poorly. Serling touched on mental health issues quite often in his writing and usually approached the subject from a thoughtful point of view. He most likely intended for the audience to believe that Radin’s mind has simply snapped after such a monumental disappointment. He may also be suggesting that Radin has simply escaped back into his fantasy world where he is the eternal victim. Given his closing narration, however, the former explanation makes more sense. Either way, the sequence simply does not work. It happens far too abruptly and the contrasting visualization between the real New York and Radin’s fantasy world is too severe to be believable. It feels lazy and inappropriate. Wiseman’s absurd over-acting here doesn’t help this scene any and suggests that if he isn’t taking any of this seriously then neither should we.
            Another problem is that the audience isn’t really given a chance to know the characters. It is obvious from the start that Radin is the villain here and that our sympathies are supposed to lie with his three victims. However, none of them seem like redeemable people either. Our impression of them is based solely on their words and actions while they are on screen. Within this short time frame we see a school teacher who publicly humiliates a child instead of addressing the actual problem and a Christian minister who also exploits his public platform in order to slander Radin, an act that seems contrary to the beliefs of his religion. The only punishment that seems appropriate is Radin’s discharge from the Army as a result of his cowardice. However, the colonel’s remark about having him shot, while not totally unwarranted, immediately removes any empathy the audience may hold for him. And the three continue to degrade and insult Radin, Mrs. Langford in particular, even after it becomes clear that he is emotionally disturbed. Likewise, the audience never witnesses Radin doing or saying anything onscreen that is particularly unforgivable. All he wants from his victims is an apology. Just two words. The audience is supposed to form an opinion of him based on the testimonies of the other characters but their cold, unlikable personalities render them unreliable judges of character.
            Finally, Serling’s dialogue is out of control in this episode. As we have stated numerous times, one of Serling’s strongest attributes as a writer was his gift for dialogue. His words had a unique crackle about them, full of emotion and swift consonant sounds that had a mesmerizing quality. His dialogue was very intense and very specific to his personality as a writer. In suitable doses, and in the appropriate context, his words were magic. However, if a script seemed weak, as this one likely did, Serling would flood it with dialogue which often gave it the balance it needed. Unfortunately, it does not seem to help this episode any and the verbose dialogue gives it a bloated quality.
            Lamont Johnson, the stalwart of the third season, delivers the fourth of his eight total episodes—only one of which, season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne,” appears in a season other than this one. His direction here is quieter than in a lot of his episodes but still effective. A former theatre director, he is adept at using minimalism to his advantage. The majority of the episode takes place in a single room which Johnson chooses to leave open, letting high contrast lighting frame most of his shots. Serling’s on-screen appearance deserves a mention as well. Johnson pans the length of an elevator door until it chimes and the door opens revealing our host, complete with Chesterfield.
            While certain aspects of this episode are interesting, “One More Pallbearer” is a weird, clumsy story which leaves its audience slightly confused and highly dissatisfied. It was probably not destined to be a masterpiece but could have possibly been more effective had Serling the time to flesh out the plot. A demanding writing schedule due to contractual commitments is likely the demise of this particular script. This one, unfortunately, does not come recommended.

Grade: D

Notes:
--Lamont Johnson directed a total of eight episodes of the show including the George Clayton Johnson episodes “Nothing in the Dark,” which aired the previous week, and “Kick the Can.”
--Joseph Wiseman also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Room With a View." 
--Katherine Squire also appeared in season four’s “In His Image.”
--Josip Elic also appeared in the season two finale “The Obsolete Man.”
--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross.

--Brian Durant

Monday, November 21, 2016

Entering the Twilight Zone on Public Radio's Selected Shorts


Robert Sean Leonard
             The Twilight Zone recently made an appearance on Selected Shorts, the public radio program which features live readings of short fiction presented by well-known performers. The program is part of Public Radio International and comes recommended due to the high quality of the performances and the unique aspect that accompanies a live audience. The program is, with some exceptions, recorded live on Broadway at Symphony Space in New York City and later broadcast on public radio stations on Friday evenings.

            The Twilight Zone program was hosted by actor Robert Sean Leonard with three short stories that formed the basis of three episodes of the series. This was presumably done in an effort to offer something outr√© during the Halloween season. The selections were eclectic and unusual. The three stories featured were “Four O’clock” by Price Day, “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont, and “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” by Henry Slesar. Though Selected Shorts typically devotes an entire one-hour episode to a single short story, the program decided to select very short stories from The Twilight Zone in order to fit more than one story into an episode. Oddly enough, Rod Serling is only directly connected to one of the stories, other than as creator of the series, of course, as he adapted Price Day’s “Four O’clock” for the series. It would have been nice to see the program devote an entire episode to one of Rod Serling’s many story adaptations from one of the three Bantam paperbacks he wrote in the early 1960s, and perhaps the program will do so in the future. Alas, the Serling stories proved too long for current consideration and Selected Shorts opted instead for shorter material connected with the show.

            The three Twilight Zone stories were spread out over two programs. The original broadcasts were as follows: On Friday, October 28, Selected Shorts featured “Four O’clock” by Price Day, read by Zachary Quinto, “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont, read by Zach Grenier, and “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl, read by Sam Underwood. On Friday, November 18, Selected Shorts featured “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” by Henry Slesar, read by Robert Sean Leonard, “Head Over Knees” by Eric Schlich, read by Robert Sean Leonard, and “Dornicka and the St. Martin’s Day Goose” by Helen Oyeyemi, read by Colby Minifie. These episodes can currently be downloaded free on iTunes or another podcatcher but those interested should hurry as Selected Shorts only features the last dozen or so episodes available for download at any given time. The October 28 episode can be found under the title “Entering the Twilight Zone” and the November 18 episode under the title “Fateful Encounters.”

            The readings offered an opportunity to revisit the source material in comparison to the finished product on the series. Zachary Quinto’s reading of Price Day’s “Four O’clock” is serviceable. The actor, best known for his role as Spock in the current Star Trek films, chooses to read the very short story in a subdued, almost monotone, fashion. Though this method produces an overly long build-up, it works well when delivering the story’s memorable final line. “Four O’clock” was originally published in the April, 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Incidentally, we will soon see that this Selected Shorts program had as much to do with Alfred Hitchcock as it did with The Twilight Zone, beginning with Price Day’s story, illustrating the vast common ground shared by Hitchcock's and Serling's programs as well as the permanence of Hitchcock on literary culture then and now.  

              “Four O’clock” was adapted by Rod Serling and directed by Lamont Johnson for the third season of The Twilight Zone. The story is very short and it is interesting to see how much Serling added when crafting his adaptation. A lot of what he added was necessary as Serling painted the main character, Oliver Crangle, as a much viler person than in Day’s story. In the story, Day only hints at Crangle’s true nature in an effort to keep the shock ending unexpected, although a reader is left wondering if Crangle truly deserved his awful fate. Serling leaves no doubt of this by clearly displaying Crangle’s warped sense of justice.

               The standout reading of the program is Zach Grenier’s performance of Charles Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream,” which received raucous applause from the audience once the devastating final line of the story was delivered. The manic story of a sleep deprived man’s attempt to explain his plight to a sympathetic psychologist is perfect for an energetic reading and that is exactly what Grenier delivers. One forgets how terrifying a story it is, especially the scenes in which Phillip Hall, the afflicted man, is the victim of a recurring nightmare in which he steadily climbs a high wooden roller coaster. “Perchance to Dream” was first published in the October, 1958 issue of Playboy, the magazine to which Beaumont would contribute a large amount of his published work. The story was the first Beaumont’s first contribution to The Twilight Zone, produced for the first season from Beaumont’s own adaptation under the direction of Robert Florey. Beaumont changes little in his adaptation, allowing Florey free reign to display his excellent, German expressionist-inspired, directing style. “Perchance to Dream” remains one of the most nightmarish and frightening episodes of the entire series. Florey was an accomplished French director who is primarily remembered by horror fans for developing an adaptation of Frankenstein in 1930 for Universal Studios with Bela Lugosi in the role of the Monster before the project was scrapped by the studio. Universal quickly hired director James Whale to develop the project instead. Whale “discovered” Boris Karloff for the role of the Monster and the resultant film is a classic. The compensation prize for Florey and Lugosi was the 1932 shocker Murders in the Rue Morgue.


            The first program also featured an inspired reading of Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady” by Sam Underwood. The reading was recorded at a comedy club and Underwood relishes and heightens the humorous aspects of Dahl’s story to a great degree. “The Landlady” was adapted for the sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and boast one of the finest pedigrees of any episode of that series, as it was adapted from the Dahl story by Robert Bloch and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Dahl later presented the story for the first season of his 1970s era television series Tales of the Unexpected. 
           Robert Sean Leonard, host of the program, reads the final Twilight Zone story, Henry Slesar’s “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.” Leonard’s reading is fine and even, not given to the broad melodrama presented in Jerry McNeely’s adaptation of the story for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. Revisiting the Slesar story greatly illustrated the failings of the adaptation. In the original story, Salvadore Ross is a pitiable figure nowhere near the selfish villain of the adaptation, which makes the surprise ending that much more shocking. In the adaptation, Ross is presented as a cruel bully of a man and his relationship with Leah is borderline abusive. This turns the story into a one-dimensional twist ending tale which unfortunately became very common by the fifth season of the series. Slesar’s story was first published in the May, 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Slesar was a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so much so that in 1989 appeared a volume dedicated solely to Slesar’s contributions to Hitchcock’s show titled Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar’s Alfred Hitchcock Stories.


                In all, it was a delight to see Selected Shorts feature Twilight Zone stories on their program. It stands as proof of the high literary quality of the series. Here’s hoping the program continues to feature not only material from The Twilight Zone but other crowd-pleasing genre material from that Golden Age of the 1950s-1970s.

-Jordan P.     

                                                    Selected Shorts from PRI