Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"The Shelter"


"The Shelter”
Season Three, Episode 68
Original Air Date: September 29, 1961

Cast:
Bill Stockton: Larry Gates
Grace Stockton: Peggy Stewart
Paul Stockton: Michael Burns
Jerry Harlowe: Jack Albertson
Martha Harlowe: Jo Helton
Frank Henderson: Sandy Kenyon
Mrs. Henderson: Mary Gregory
Marty Weiss: Joseph Bernard
Mrs. Weiss: Moria Turner
Man: John McLiam

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 and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Jason Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week on The Twilight Zone, we use a camera like an X-ray and look under the skin of a neighborhood of men and women. It’s a little experiment in human nature and behavior on the night that a Conelrad broadcast shatters their composure with an announcement of terse terror: a bomb is coming. Most of our stores are a little far out. This one is very close in. You’ll see what I mean next week when we present ‘The Shelter.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“What you are about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic. It need not happen. It’s the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is The Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            While a birthday party is taking place for Dr. William (Bill) Stockton in his suburban home, surrounded by his family, friends, and neighbors, Bill’s son, Paul, informs the partygoers of an emergency radio broadcast. The President of the United States has issued a yellow alert after unidentified flying objects have been detected heading toward the United States. In the context of the Cold War, this means a probable nuclear attack. The partygoers quickly disperse and Bill’s family prepares to enter their fallout shelter, which had been installed the previous summer, by gathering food, water, and various other supplies. Soon, the water and the power shut off in the home, heightening the alarm.
            Though the neighbors have previously teased Bill about the construction of his fallout shelter, they now begin to arrive with their families in tow to seek his aid in this moment of crisis. None of the neighbors have followed Bill’s lead and constructed a fallout shelter for their own families. Bill quickly locks his family into their shelter and tells all who come begging at the door that there is not enough space, oxygen, or supplies to let anyone else in. The shelter was designed for the survival of three people: Bill, his wife, and their son.
            The response from the Stockton’s friends and neighbors is shocking anger and violence. The neighbors, in an attempt to be chosen by Bill to be allowed into the shelter, begin to verbally tear each other down, exposing secret prejudices and hatreds. Desperation gathers the neighbors together in an attempt to use a battering ram to get through the door of Bill’s shelter and spoil the Stockton’s attempt at survival. While the neighbors are in the process of breaking down the door to the fallout shelter, another radio broadcast is heard. The unidentified flying objects are identified as satellites. The threat is over, yet the damage done through the panic will change their lives as friends and neighbors forever.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
No moral, no message, no prophetic tract, just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight’s very small exercise in logic from The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

"So each stood there with a secret thought, while the voice of the radio announcer, quivering with a barely perceptible tension, kept on repeating the announcement over and over again in the same studiedly dispassionate voice - the well-rehearsed ritual of a modern Paul Revere on a twentieth-century night-ride."
           -"The Shelter," New Stories from the Twilight Zone 

           It seems to be an unavoidable practice, yet also an unfair one, to view Rod Serling’s “The Shelter” in the context of his enduring first season episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” There is no denying the many similarities. Both episodes present a Middle-American neighborhood sent into hysteria over a poorly perceived threat, one a series of tricks (and the instigation of an imaginative child), the other a false alarm. Both feature similar American stereotypes designed to represent the many facets of the American “Everyman” or “Everywoman.” Both episodes present moments of mob violence that must have been shocking amid the relatively safe offerings of early 1960's American television. Both episodes tackle the ugly problems of middle century America head-on in an unblinking manner, most especially the inner prejudices each one of us secretly harbors and keeps hidden from our neighbors and friends.  
            Rod Serling often revisited previous material on the series but rarely did so without presenting a new way of looking at the chosen subject matter. “The Shelter” is no exception, and the episode has achieved a reputation for quality independent of its connection to the earlier episode, as evidenced by the research of Martin Grams, Jr., who notes, in his book, The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008), that reprint rights for the one-act play were quickly bought by Charles Scribner’s Sons Publishers for inclusion in a contemporary textbook. The episode was also one of the show’s best reviewed segments at the time of its initial broadcast and viewer response was immediate and enthusiastic. During a radio interview with Bob Crane, Serling stated that the episode received 1,300 letters and cards over a two day period after the initial broadcast. Listen to the full interview here.  It gives a fascinating insight into Serling’s impetus for writing “The Shelter” as well as a contemporary discussion of the topic.
            Whether or not “The Shelter” would have been written and produced had Serling not first had success with “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” is debatable. The result remains the same: a vastly interesting episode, if for no other reason than Serling was able to clean up some of the (few) problems of the earlier episode and change some of the elements to better suit the timely treatment of the theme. It is interesting to consider what the view of the two episodes would be had “The Shelter” been first to air. Of course, one of the fundamental differences in the two episodes is that by the third season of the series, Serling no longer felt the need to cloak his socially conscious episodes in the trappings of the science fiction genre in order to camouflage the message to the viewer and elude the ire of corporate sponsors. The steady ratings and the Emmy Awards ensured the show could be plainly bold in its approach to sensitive social matters.
           “The Shelter” offers nothing as trite as the “little green men from space” invasion backdrop presented in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” an element which may, ironically, explain that episode’s enduring popularity. Besides an unseen flyover sound effect near the beginning of the panic, and the use of the term “unidentified flying object,” “The Shelter” offers no such imaginative removal from the issue at hand. Serling was attacking the real anxieties of the American public with a logical doomsday scenario. In “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” the intelligent viewer intuited what Rod Serling was really talking about when he talked about alien invaders: the red scare, irrational prejudice, unwarranted paranoia, fear of the outsider among us, a horror of cultural assimilation. “The Shelter” requires no such interpretation. It spells out its message clearly and in relative terms, even to a viewer removed from the initial broadcast by more than half a century. It is this quality and the immediacy of the topic that give the episode its power to stun the viewer, even upon repeated viewings. Though Serling’s closing narration states “No moral, no message, no prophetic tract,” he immediately states the episode’s moral and message: “for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized.”  
            Serling was undoubtedly drawn back to the themes inherent in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” because the anxiety over imminent nuclear war had greatly increased in the two years since the broadcast of that first season episode. No longer was Middle America only frightened by a silent, insidious Communist invasion but also by the threat of sudden, spectacular apocalypse. The main ingredient missing from “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” was the symbolic image of the fallout shelter and what it represented to the average American at the height of the Cold War. It was a powerful enough symbol to prompt Serling to revisit the material by exploring what would happen during an emergency if only one person in a neighborhood possessed a fallout shelter. Would we hold it together or would we, when faced with our own deaths, collapse into violence and savagery? What would be the ethical answer to the problem for the one family that possessed the shelter?
            By 1961, the fallout shelter had become as much an emblem of the American way of life as the television upon which the series was broadcast to millions of Americans every Friday night, perhaps more so. An entire manufacturing industry had grown up around the anxiety of nuclear war and many Americans with the financial means to do so were seriously contemplating the construction of a fallout shelter on their property. Sundry items were being marketed based on their effectiveness in a fallout situation.
            “The Shelter” offered Serling an opportunity to present a timely episode about a looming social and political issue as well as revisit previous material in an attempt to mold it differently and see how it behaves. One of the key differences in “The Shelter” and the earlier episode it resembles is that, in “The Shelter,” Serling juxtaposes the inherent tension of the episode with moments of levity, which serves to heighten the horror as it unfolds. Once viewed, even the episode’s simple title has a blackly humorous double meaning. “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” doesn’t present such a juxtaposition. Instead, the tension begins immediately with a flyover sound effect and only increases to the violent conclusion. All is unrelieved dramatic tension which is why that early episode can feel somewhat stilted in its delivery and rushed in its pacing.
            Serling chose to begin “The Shelter” with a birthday party, a universally identifiable event that displays the close connections between the residents of the neighborhood in order to present a stark contrast to the manner in which the episode will play out. Serling understood that to better bring home the impact of the theme the viewer must be made to see the characters together in a pleasant social setting. We must believe that these characters have long enjoyed agreeable relations. Moments in the script allude to frequent get-togethers and barbecues. As an added measure of plausibility, Serling makes the birthday party one characterized by drunkenness, which can logically explain at least some of the impulsive and irrational behavior after the panic begins.
           Even when the tension has mounted to the near breaking point, Serling and director Lamont Johnson take a moment to show two children secretly partake of the half-eaten, forgotten birthday cake on the dining room table while their parents discuss desperate solutions to their dire situation. It is a wonderful moment that lends the episode a frightening verisimilitude, somewhat lacking in "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street." That earlier episode, on the other hand, presents the characters independent of each other and only later coming out of their homes to react to the threat.
            Another difference in the two episodes is the logical catalyst that propels the panic. However believable the viewer finds the likelihood of a young boy’s imagination, together with some unusual electrical phenomena, igniting a panic, there is little doubt that such an emergency radio broadcast as depicted in “The Shelter” was something very likely to be on the minds of most adult Americans in 1961. That, along with the pervasive presence of the partygoers’s drunkenness, present a very likely scenario for panic, regardless of time or place. It is the sharp contrast between a joyful party and the sudden onset of very real physical danger that lends “The Shelter” an alarming, disorienting quality. Serling is intimating that when frightening events happen quickly, people may temporarily recourse to an emotional state in which one can react on a purely instinctual level.
            This brings to mind another episode of broadcast history which likely inspired Serling in constructing both “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and “The Shelter.” This was the October 30, 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air. Presented as a news bulletin, this radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel caused controversy as it convinced some listeners that the Earth was actually being invaded by hostile extraterrestrials, presumably causing panic in the streets. Though reports of the mass hysteria caused by the broadcast have been greatly exaggerated in the ensuing years, due mostly to contemporary newspaper attempts to discredit radio in the latter medium’s early days, the myth of the Mercury Theatre broadcast quickly became a permanent part of American popular culture, to the point of attaining something close to the status of folklore. If the reader is interested in learning more about it, they would do well to read Slate's article on the persistent myth of the broadcast, written by Jefferson Pooley and Michael J. Socolow.
             Though a child is partially responsible for the initial paranoia in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” children are even more prevalent in “The Shelter,” as the subject of saving the children becomes a point of both strength and fear, and is one of the chief catalysts of violence as the tension increases. “The Shelter” presents the story in the form of a ticking clock, a countdown to Armageddon, which serves to better justify both the fast pace of a half-hour program and the sudden change in behavior of some of the characters. One of the major deficiencies in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” is that all of it happens a bit too fast and the events cannot justify the necessary quick pacing. Another important similarity between the two episodes is that Serling chose darkness as the moment when the panic really revs up. He suggests that it is easy to continue to be rational as the lights remain on, but once we are cast into darkness begin our descent into madness and savagery. This is by no means a new idea or an outmoded idea if the modern viewer will only recall the panic of the Y2K scare at the beginning of the 21st century, when the idea of a new dark age briefly placed the world on edge.
            Serling wisely chose to set “The Shelter” within the home and shows the viewer only small glimpses of the panic on the street, whereas “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” takes place wholly outside on the street and we are not privy to viewing the sanctuary of the characters’s private lives. The change is fundamental to the impact of the story, as seeing the destruction within a home, the most private of American institutions, is more forceful than a confrontation on a street in an intentionally stereotypical American neighborhood.
            The preceding is not an attempt to present “The Shelter” as a superior example of the theme first explored in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” or to present the episode as wholly dependent upon the other, but only to suggest that “The Shelter” is deserving of being viewed in a positive light outside of the shadow of the earlier, and more famous, episode. Of course “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” has the advantage of originality of concept as well as, despite the Emmy Award laden talent in front of the camera for “The Shelter,” perhaps the most talented ensemble of character actors of any episode of the series. Actress Mary Gregory, who portrays Mrs. Henderson, wife of Frank, in “The Shelter,” is the only cast member to appear in both “The Shelter” and in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” The latter episode remains one of the jewels in the crown of Rod Serling’s efforts on the show and was a rich enough concept to produce a second take on the theme that is nearly as powerful as the original.
            “The Shelter” features the debut of director Lamont Johnson on the series. Johnson would be a mainstay on the series for the third season and helm some of the finest episodes of the show, including “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” and a pair of writer George Clayton Johnson’s finest, “Nothing in the Dark” and “Kick the Can.” Lamont Johnson also directed Charles Beaumont’s excellent fourth season episode “Passage on the Lady Anne,” his sole directing credit on the series beyond the third season. Johnson also directed “One More Pallbearer,” a Rod Serling-penned episode that is thematically related to “The Shelter” in that the story revolves around a fallout shelter, though the episodes differ radically in their approach to the subject and in their success as effective drama. With the departure of Douglas Heyes after the second season of the series, it was fortunate for producer Buck Houghton to acquire the talents of a director like Lamont Johnson, a former actor who understood well the requirements of dramatic storytelling. Much like with Douglas Heyes, and along with stalwart series director John Brahm, many of the best scripts would be funneled to Lamont Johnson.
            Johnson (1922-2010) was born in Stockton, California and began his acting career in 1951 performing on syndicated radio programs, portraying characters as diverse as Tarzan and Archie Goodwin, assistant to actor Sydney Greenstreet’s Nero Wolfe. Johnson made the move to acting in films and television before finding his niche behind the camera in the director’s chair, working almost entirely in television. His efforts yielded eleven Emmy Award nominations and eight Director’s Guild of America Award nominations. Johnson finished his career with two Emmy Awards and four Director’s Guild of America Awards. Despite the fact that Johnson’s efforts on The Twilight Zone were very successful, he rarely worked within the fantasy genre outside of the series and was never called upon to helm episodes of similar contemporary programs.
            Unfortunately, Lamont Johnson did not think highly of “The Shelter,” or, more specifically, of Rod Serling’s script for the episode. Author Marc Scott Zicree quotes Johnson in his book The Twilight Zone Companion (Bantam, 1989, second ed.) as saying: “It was too uptight with its own self-righteousness, I think. I found it an interesting idea, I think the thesis was excellent, but I think its devices and general style of writing were a little too pompous.” This low opinion of the episode is one shared by Zicree as well. The episode is certainly pessimistic in nature and perhaps this quality engineers a negative response from those more in tune with the lighter, reassuring episodes. Or perhaps it is, as Serling notes in his preview narration, a little too “close in” for some viewers, lacking as it does that comforting barrier of fantasy found in so many other episodes.
            In any case, “The Shelter” remains a powerful episode that still speaks to many societal problems being experienced by Americans in the 21st century, nearly sixty years after its initial broadcast. If it is derivative in places it is equally original in others. It is interesting to contemplate the personal impact on the viewer of “The Shelter” during its initial broadcast, as little of American television was willing to be as dark, daring, and blunt as was The Twilight Zone when Rod Serling turned his talents to attacking a timely social issue. Serling would by no means be finished with the concept after “The Shelter,” as he would approach the themes at the heart of the episode in one form or another in later episodes such as “The Midnight Sun,” "Dust," “On Thursday We Leave for Home,” “The Old Man in the Cave,” and “I Am the Night-Color Me Black.”

Grade: B

 Notes:

-Academy Award and Emmy Award winner Jack Albertson (1907-1981), best known for the sitcom Chico and the Man and the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, also appears in the fourth season episode “I Dream of Genie” as well as in “Dead Weight,” a segment of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

-Sandy Kenyon, born Sanford Klein (1922-2010), also appears in the episodes “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” from season two, and “Valley of the Shadow” from season four. Kenyon also has credits on Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond and The Outer Limits. Kenyon was an accomplished voice actor for animated television late in his career.

-Jo Helton also appears in the season four episode “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”

-As stated before, actress Mary Gregory has the distinction of also appearing in “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” as well as the second season episode, “The Lateness of the Hour.” She appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Different Ones."

-John McLiam also appears in the fourth season episode “Miniature,” as well as in uncredited roles for the third season episode “The Midnight Sun” and the fifth season episode “Uncle Simon.”

-Despite the fact that Rod Serling adapted “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” into a short story for his 1960 collection Stories From the Twilight Zone, he felt confident enough in similar episode “The Shelter” to adapt it into a short story as well for his 1962 collection New Stories From the Twilight Zone.

-“The Shelter” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Ernie Hudson.

 --Jordan Prejean

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"The Arrival"

The mysterious Flight 107
“The Arrival”
Season Three, Episode 67
Original Air Date: September 22, 1961

Cast:
Grant Sheckly: Harold J. Stone
Bengston: Noah Keen
Paul Malloy: Fredd Wayne
George Cousins: Bing Russell
Robbins: Robert Karnes
Dispatcher: Jim Boles

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Boris Sagal
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: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Jason Bernie
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
          "Literature is studded with stories of ghost ships and skeleton galleons, and next week on The Twilight Zone we take the old tale of the Flying Dutchman and give it a coat of fresh paint. This time the haunted ship is an aircraft. It lands in a typical busy airport and rolls up to the ramp, and it’s at this point that you find yourselves on a passenger manifest of a flight that leads only to The Twilight Zone. It’s called 'The Arrival.'"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
          "This object, should any of you have lived underground for the better parts of your lives and never had occasion to look toward the sky, is an airplane, its official designation a DC-3. We offer this rather obvious comment because this particular airplane, the one you're looking at, is a freak. Now, most airplanes take off and land as per scheduled. On rare occasions they crash. But all airplanes can be count on doing one or the other. Now, yesterday morning this particular airplane ceased to be just a commercial carrier. As of its arrival it became an enigma, a seven-ton puzzle made out of aluminum, steel, wire, and a few thousand other component parts, none of which add up to the right thing. In just a moment we're going to show you the tail end of its history. We're going to give you ninety percent of the jigsaw pieces and you and Mr. Sheckly here of the Federal Aviation Agency will assume the problem of putting them together along with finding the missing pieces. This we offer as an evening's hobby, a little extracurricular diversion which is really the national pastime in The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            Passenger Flight 107 from Buffalo arrives at an airport and makes a perfect landing. Upon inspection it is discovered that, despite the perfect landing, no one was piloting the airplane. Furthermore, there are no signs of other crew or any passengers. Grant Sheckly, an investigator with the Federal Aviation Agency, is sent in. Sheckly is assisted by the local airport staff, including Vice President of Operations Bengston, Public Relations Officer Malloy, a mechanic named Robbins, and a ramp attendant named Cousins. 
            The men are unable to solve the mystery of the empty aircraft until Robbins remarks upon the color of the passenger seats as being blue, which contradicts Sheckly's perception of the seats being brown. Bengston perceives the color of the seats as red. Sheckly follows this train of observation by reading aloud the registration numbers on the tail of the aircraft. Each man sees a different set of numbers. Sheckly comes to the conclusion that the men are seeing conflicting aspects of the aircraft because the aircraft is not there at all. It is merely a figment of their imagination, a sort of mass hallucination. 
               To prove his theory, Sheckly instructs Robbins to turn on the engine. Sheckly then places his hand directly in the path of the airplane's whirling propeller. The result is that Sheckly is unharmed and the plane suddenly disappears. As Sheckly triumphantly turns to the other men, each man also disappears in turn.
               Startled and calling for the other men, Sheckly stumbles into the Operations Building of the airport. It is there that he again encounters Bengston and Malloy. Only this time the other men have no idea who Sheckly is or why he is there. Bengston, when pressed, reports that Flight 107 from Buffalo arrived without incident. A moment later, Bengston understands what is happening. He recognizes the name Sheckly and recalls the incident of the missing Flight 107 from Buffalo to which Sheckly continues to refer. But, Bengston informs him, that was some 17 or 18 years ago.
                  The truth is revealed that Sheckly was the lead investigator on that incident all those years ago and has since remained tortured by the unsolved mystery, constructing elaborate hallucinations in order to cope with the illogical aspects of the disappearance. He is left alone on the airport runway with the phantom sounds of aircraft engines rising above him.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
           "Picture of a man with an Achilles' heel, a mystery that landed in his life and then turned into a heavy weight, dragged across the years to ultimately take the form of an illusion. Now, that's the clinical answer that they put on the tag as they take him away. But if you choose to think that the explanation has to do with an airborne Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship on a fog-enshrouded night on a flight that never ends, then you're doing your business in an old stand in The Twilight Zone." 

Commentary: 
Noah Keen, Fredd Wayne, Harold J. Stone
           The September 27, 1961 issue of Variety and the October 28, 1961 issue of TV Guide, each upon reviewing “The Arrival,” observed that The Twilight Zone was beginning to reuse and recycle story elements, “feeding on itself” as the Variety review put it. Though the TV Guide review was, despite the implication, somewhat positive, finding comfort in the fact that the series was not attempting to bloat its concepts or its time frame (the latter sentiment is ironic considering the series would move to an hour-long format after the third season), the Variety review was not as kind to the show, the implication there being that the show had run dry of original content. It is shortsighted on Variety’s part that a publication which did much to celebrate the series through the first two seasons of production would only now begin to recognize the reuse of story elements in certain third season episodes. They simply were not watching closely enough as the series was “feeding on itself” almost from its inception, and, unlike with “The Arrival,” not always to the detriment of the series.
Though there is no denying that “The Arrival” is a particularly blatant example of story recycling (Serling previously produced two episodes, "King Nine Will Not Return" and "The Odyssey of Flight 33" on the same narrow thematic ground), it was hardly a sign that the series was struggling to come up with new material. This estimation was not true when it was proposed at the beginning of a very strong third season and it would not really be true until the departure of the third producer for the series, Bert Granet, in the middle of the fifth and final season. This was the point from which the show would truly be unable to recover the consistent quality of earlier material.
When discussing the derivative aspects of the series it is important to remember two things. The first is that the show was largely created by a group of only five writers: Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Earl Hamner, thus cultivating the sometimes narrow story focus. Second is that series creator Rod Serling was contractually obligated to write a majority of the show’s content, eighty percent alone in the first season and not much less through season three. It stands to reason that when Serling was passionate about a subject, or felt that a previous episode was successful, he would approach the subject again from a different angle. It is a testament to Serling’s talent that he was able to craft as many memorable and successful episodes as he did while under obligation to produce as much as he was. As stated earlier, recycling story elements did not always work against the series.
Take an example from the first season. Serling wrote four episodes, “The Hitch-Hiker,” “Mirror Image,” “Nightmare as a Child,” and “The After Hours,” that are essentially the same story construct, a solitary young woman’s seemingly normal existence is intruded upon by a supernatural (or psychological, often interchangeable concepts on the series) element. One character is stalked by a ghost, another by a double, and two others by a memory. Of the four, only one can be said to be an unsuccessful treatment of the theme, and two of the episodes are outright classics. Also in the first season are strongly related episodes such as "Walking Distance" and "A Stop at Willoughby," both fan favorite episodes. Immediately after “The Arrival” would be “The Shelter,” Serling’s reworking of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” We would see this same essential story again in the fifth season’s “I Am the Night-Color Me Black.” Again, one treatment is of high quality and the other was not successful. 
Serling was not the only writer on the series to recycle story content. Charles Beaumont's obsession with dreams and the dreaming state produced related episodes such as "Perchance to Dream" and "Shadow Play." Richard Matheson wrote his episodes focused on marriage and the domestic condition and would even produce a later third season episode, “Little Girl Lost,” that would mirror certain aspects of “The Arrival," albeit more successfully. Series writers sometimes even echoed each other, as Beaumont’s third season episode, “Person or Persons Unknown” strikes the same chord as Matheson’s first season effort, “A World of Difference.” For the third season, George Clayton Johnson would produce one of the show's most celebrated efforts, "Kick the Can," which is essentially a reworking of Charles Beaumont's and OCee Ritch's second season episode, "Static." In many cases, this sort of familiarity in story content lent the show its idiosyncratic characteristics and ensured a loyal viewership. 
  “The Arrival” is the culmination of a number of story concepts borrowed from earlier episodes, from the strange appearance/disappearance to the focus on aircraft to the ending that reveals the psychological reasoning behind the prior events. This is likely the reason the episode remains unremarked upon or outright rejected among viewers of the show. Familiarity breeds contempt and by the third go-around with this story Rod Serling was unsuccessfully trying to spin straw into gold.
Exteriors (the landing strip and hangar) were filmed at the Santa Monica airport and the interior was filmed on an MGM stage. In front of the camera was an accomplished group of character actors and behind the camera was Ukranian-born Boris Sagal. Sagal (1923-1981) was a successful television and film director best remembered for the Rich Man, Poor Man miniseries (1976). Sagal also directed episodes of 'Way Out (an excellent macabre anthology show contemporary of and similar to The Twilight Zone and hosted by Roald Dahl), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery (“The Cemetery” segment of the full-length pilot movie written by Rod Serling and starring Roddy McDowell and Ossie Davis). Sagal also directed the 1971 film The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston and (very) loosely based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. The director met with a tragic end (ironically tragic considering the climatic scene of "The Arrival") in 1981 when he accidentally walked into the rear rotor blades of a helicopter while exiting the aircraft on the set of the miniseries World War III.
Producer Buck Houghton had the show running as smoothly as it would ever run at the beginning of the third season. It is interesting to contemplate whether Houghton chose to use Montgomery Pittman’s poignant episode “Two” as the third season opener instead of Serling’s “The Arrival” because “The Arrival” too closely echoed earlier episodes and was of lower quality. The series opened the second season with “King Nine Will Not Return,” a virtual remake of the series pilot, “Where is Everybody?” Perhaps production did not want to open the third season in a similar manner. “Where is Everybody?” and “King Nine Will Not Return” are the two episodes “The Arrival” closely resembles.
          Rod Serling’s older brother, Robert Serling, was a nationally renowned writer on the aviation industry. This and the contemporary American obsession with air and space travel inspired the younger Serling to set many of his scripts around aircraft. These stories invariably concerned a strange appearance or disappearance and range from the existential horror of “And When the Sky Was Opened” (nominally based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Disappearing Act”), to the psychological thriller “King Nine Will Not Return,” to science fiction fare like “The Odyssey of Flight 33.” Serling again approached the subject in “The Arrival,” which could nearly work as a sequel to “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” if the viewer imagines that Sheckly, the investigative character in “The Arrival,” is tortured by the disappearance of the time lost Flight 33.
          It is notable as well that many of the episodes in the series associate mass travel in one form or another with a metaphysical event. In some episodes, “The Hitch-Hiker,” “Judgment Night,” or “Death Ship,” the connection to travel is readily apparent. In others, “Mirror Image” or “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (both episodes which deal with bus transit), the connection is secondary.
          As stated before, “The Arrival” also resembles a later episode in the third season, Richard Matheson’s “Little Girl Lost,” based on Matheson’s previously published short story. Both episodes present mysteries in a quantifiable manner and focus on a systematic investigation. In both episodes, the nature of the mystery is revealed upon the outstretched hand of the investigator. Unlike Serling’s treatment in “The Arrival,” Matheson wisely avoids the let-down ending in “Little Girl Lost” by maintaining the conviction of the metaphysical event.
          Rod Serling was inspired by folklore (or short stories retold so often they are mistaken for folklore) when writing many of his scripts. “The Hitch-Hiker,” “The Man in the Bottle,” and “Twenty-Two” are a few of the episodes that fit within this category. He was likewise inspired by true-life mysteries. Though Serling alludes to The Flying Dutchman in his preview narration, “The Arrival” was most likely inspired by the story of the Mary Celeste, an American merchant ship found deserted and adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872. If the viewer recalls, Serling was likewise inspired by the 1943 disappearance of the B-24 bomber the Lady Be Good when composing the related episode, “King Nine Will Not Return."
          For all the knocks against it, “The Arrival” does have some nice touches. One is the methodical build-up of the mystery and the way in which the men logically attack it. The idea that the men all see a different form of the aircraft is an interesting moment, cluing them in, as well as the viewer, on the fact that something even further out of the ordinary is at work. Upon re-watching the episode, the viewer can easily follow the slow awakening to what is happening in Sheckly’s mind. Another effective moment is the very tense scene in which Sheckly prepares to place his hand into a whirling propeller in an attempt to prove his theory that the aircraft is not really there. It is one of the show’s most suggestively grisly moments. It is the strength in this setup which makes the ending of the episode a disappointment. By the beginning of the third season, viewers were simply not willing to buy the “it’s all in the character’s head” ending, especially one which required such an elaborate setup.
A couple of other factors are also at work in weakening the effectiveness of the ending. The first is that there are introductory scenes which do not include Sheckly at all. It seems rather ludicrous that Sheckly’s hallucination, however all-encompassing, would go so far as to include scenes he had no part in. The supposition, of course, is that Sheckly is recreating the entire investigation from 17 or 18 years ago, built whole cloth out of the investigative report he has read and obsessed over in the time between. A more debilitating reason why the ending is a letdown may be that the stress factor upon the character’s mind is not convincing enough. For the two episodes “The Arrival” most closely resembles, both in construction and ending, “Where is Everybody?” and “King Nine Will Not Return,” one character is isolated for an extreme period of time in a solitary chamber and another is unconscious in a hospital bed, respectively. Whatever the level of the authenticity of these two scenarios, they are certainly more believable than a man’s mind completely fracturing from obsession over an unsolved mystery nearly two decades before, one in which he played only a secondary role.
          Harold J. Stone (1913-2005) portrayed the investigator Sheckly in the episode. Stone was born Howard Hochstein into a family of Jewish actors. He appeared in six productions on Broadway and made his film debut in the 1946 film noir The Blue Dahlia, alongside Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, and William Bendix (star of Rod Serling’s unofficial Twilight Zone pilot film, "The Time Element"). Stone occasionally appeared in other genre fare, such as Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), The Invisible Boy (1957), and Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963). Stone was busy on television throughout his career and appeared on Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including the famous episode, “Lamb to the Slaughter”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Stone found his niche playing domineering characters in television crime dramas from 1960's to the 1980's.
          Noah Keen (1920- ), playing Bengston, began appearing on television in 1959 and amassed nearly one hundred credits over the next forty plus years. He did not often turn up in science fiction or fantasy programs outside of his two appearances on The Twilight Zone.
          Fredd Wayne (1924- ) appears as the public relations man Paul Malloy. Wayne is best known for his one man show, Benjamin Franklin, Citizen. Wayne has appeared as Franklin on the Today and Tonight shows as well as in a two-part episode of Bewitched. He has amassed over one hundred acting credits and began first appearing on television in the 1940's. Wayne also appeared in an episode of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond.
          Bing Russell (1926-2003) played George Cousins in the episode. He is the father of actor Kurt Russell, and played Vernon Presley to Kurt’s Elvis in the 1979 television movie, Elvis. Bing is best remembered for his role as Deputy Foster on Bonanza, and was featured in a number of television westerns during that genre’s golden age on the small screen. Russell also appeared in episodes of Science Fiction Theatre and The Munsters, as well as in the cult film Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966).
          Robert Karnes (1917-1979), here playing Robbins, was a familiar face on television, amassing nearly 200 acting credits on the small screen. Born in Kentucky, Karnes may be best known for the NBC series The Lawless Years, a Prohibition-era crime drama which preceded the similar series The Untouchables but never attained the latter show’s popularity. Karnes also enjoyed a long run on Have Gun, Will Travel. Karnes was featured in episodes of Rocket Squad, Men into Space, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and 8 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock’s programs, five times for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and another three for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
          “The Arrival” does not have a great deal to recommend it to the average viewer of the show since it is far too similar to more successful episodes. For the long-time viewer of the show, however, it offers an interesting capsule study of where the show was at the beginning of the third season and how the show consistently re-approached earlier material in an effort to keep pace with production and also to examine an intriguing story concept from a different angle. All in all, it’s par for the course at the beginning of a third season that would see many of the most popular and enduring episodes of the series, beginning with the following episode, “The Shelter,” an underrated gem of suburban paranoia which marks the debut of director Lamont Johnson on the series.

Grade: C

Notes:
-Boris Sagal also directed the second season episode, “The Silence,” and "The Cemetery" segment of the pilot film for Rod Serling's Night Gallery.
-Noah Keen also appears in the third season episode, “The Trade-Ins.”
-Fredd Wayne also appears in the second season episode, “Twenty-Two.”
-Bing Russell also appears in the fifth season episode, “Ring-a-Ding Girl.”
-Robert Karnes also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Midnight Never Ends."
-Jim Boles also appears in two episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "Lindemann's Catch" and "Death on a Barge."
-“The Arrival” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Blair Underwood.

-Jordan Prejean                

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Two"

Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery at the
beginning of a new life.
“Two”
Season Three, Episode 66
Original Air Date: September 15, 1961

Cast:
The Man: Charles Bronson
The Woman: Elizabeth Montgomery

Crew:
Writer: Montgomery Pittman (original teleplay)
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photographer: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Nathan Van Cleave

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“This is a jungle: a monument built by nature honoring disuse, commemorating a few years of nature being left to its own devices. But it’s another kind of jungle, the kind that comes in the aftermath of man’s battles against himself. Hardly an important battle, not a Gettysburg or a Marne or an Iwo Jima. More like one insignificant corner patch in the crazy quilt of combat. But it was enough to end the existence of this little city. It’s been five years since a human being walked these streets. This is the first day of the sixth year—as man used to measure time. [Enter the Woman] The time? Perhaps a hundred years from now. Or sooner. Or perhaps it’s already happened two million years ago. The Place? The signposts are in English so that we may read them more easily, but the place—is the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            We open on a deserted city, a city that said goodbye to the spirit of progress and the electric hum of bustling streets ages ago. A city that clings to a world forgotten, one ripped apart and abandoned by those who helped build it. A city whose buildings lay in ruin, whose streets are littered with debris, whose stores are empty. A lonely city.
            A young woman enters the city. She walks its streets and gazes at its buildings, she admires its artwork. Her clothes, a military uniform, are tattered and dirty, her hair unkempt. Her face is worn with exhaustion and caked with dirt and time. Still, she is beautiful.
She spots the remnants of a restaurant and makes her way to the kitchen. She rummages through trash and rubble and finds a sealed container of food. As she works to open it a young man appears in the doorway. He is also wearing a uniform, one different from hers. The woman immediately begins hurling objects at the man. He dodges them and approaches her. After a short struggle he knocks her unconscious. After searching around for food he wakes her up by dumping a bucket of water on her face. The woman jolts up and the man slides the can of food towards her. He tries to communicate with her but fails because she doesn’t understand his language. He continues talking anyway and tells her that since there are no more armies or governments left then there is no reason for them to fight. He waxes philosophically to himself for a moment then leaves.
The woman follows after him, cautiously. They walk through the city, rummaging through shops, taking what they need. They stop at a movie theater and admire film posters from another world. The man takes a wedding gown from a window display. He hands the dress to the woman encouragingly and she walks inside an abandoned recruiting office to change. While inside she spots a war propaganda poster in which her homeland is presumably portrayed as the enemy. Enraged, she grabs her rifle and charges outside. She fires at the man but misses. He stares back at her in disbelief and then walks away. Confused and embarrassed, she goes back inside the store.
She returns later and sees the man wearing a suit. He tells her to go away, that he is done fighting. She emerges from behind a bus wearing the wedding dress. Her face is apologetic and eager. She is ready to move on. The man looks at her for a moment and tells her she is beautiful and she smiles.
She joins him as they stroll quietly through the littered streets of the forgotten city, man and woman, on their way to another city and to tomorrow.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
            “This has been a love story, about two lonely people who found each other…in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            For the Season Three premiere the producers chose this sweet, poignant story about love and survival in a post-nuclear world. It may not seem like a bold decision today, but “Two” was a risky choice for the season opener. There are only two actors in the entire episode, little dialogue, and basically no plot. And for the first time in the show’s history the producers chose an episode not written by Serling as the season opener, an episode penned by someone who had never written for the show before. The risk proved to be well worth it, however, and the result is a warm, well-crafted fairytale delivered in the show’s signature brand of pathos and wonder.
            Montgomery Pittman holds a unique spot in the show’s history. He is the only writer to direct his own episodes, which he did a total of three times. He also directed two additional episodes written by others. Considering the short time he was involved with the show, Pittman’s output is both impressive and significant. He seemed to appear out of nowhere at the end of Season Two and by the middle of Season Three he had disappeared just as quickly. He may have contributed much more to the show had he been given the opportunity. Unfortunately, The Twilight Zone would be one of his last projects. He succumbed to cancer in June of 1962. He was 45.
Although his career spanned only a decade or so, his body of work is impressive. He started on Broadway as an actor then moved to Hollywood where he turned his attention to writing and eventually directing. Pittman made the leap to directing his own scripts mostly due to his frustration with directors and networks altering his material. This may have been why he was attracted to a venue like The Twilight Zone, where the writer was often the star of the show and the producers took great care to preserve the original script. He was primarily known during his lifetime as a writer of western television, penning teleplays for Maverick, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, and Lawman, among others. He had worked with Buck Houghton several years before as a writer on Schlitz Playhouse.
            While his two other writing efforts on The Twilight Zone are probably better representations of his style and personality, “Two” is Pittman’s crowning achievement on the show. The plot is simple and the dialogue sparse. He simply sets up a situation in Serling’s opening monologue and hides a few plot points in Bronson’s dialogue and in various set pieces. Explanatory exposition is always tricky for a writer and Pittman pulls it off brilliantly without saying hardly anything. This episode works because it appeals to many themes the show had already explored and would continue to explore until the end of its run. On the surface it’s a post-apocalyptic story about life after the big war. But it’s not a cautionary tale. It’s simply a story about loneliness and about two individuals who find each other in the aftermath of devastation. It’s warm-hearted but it doesn’t pour on the sentimentalism to the point of nausea like many of the lighter episodes do.
This episode is notable for featuring early performances from two actors who later became parts of Hollywood immortality. With little dialogue and only a vague concept of a plot it was largely up to the actors to make this story believable. If their chemistry wasn’t genuine then the entire episode was lost. To play the part of the Woman, Houghton enlisted a largely unknown actress named Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of actor Robert Montgomery. This is several years before her iconic role on Bewitched and she is almost unrecognizable here as a brunette with tattered military clothes and a dirt smeared face. The part called for her to remain silent for nearly the entire episode. This meant that her thoughts and emotions had to be conveyed through physical mannerisms and facial expressions. She pulls this off nicely and there is never a moment in the episode where the audience is unsure of her thought process.
               Charles Bronson plays the part of the Man. This was an interesting casting choice albeit a brilliant one. At this point in his career Bronson had primarily made his living in television often playing a villain, vigilante killer, detective, or similar brutish-type character. But a year or so before this episode he landed a part in The Magnificent Seven where he played the role of Bernardo O’ Reilly, a hardened gunfighter who turns out to have a soft spot when he gives his life to save a group of small children. This role was a turning point for Bronson and it helped mold his on-screen image as the archetypal tough guy with a moral center. It’s this persona that he brings to his performance here. His physical appearance and demeanor give the audience the first impression of a brute without a conscience. But he turns out to be a sympathetic character. Pittman plays against gender stereotype here and Bronson’s character, the male, is the one resisting a confrontation while the attractive female is the aggressor. Bronson seems to understand this for he plays the character with an equal mix of wisdom, anger, and hope.
            Van Cleave’s score deserves a nod here as well for it also helps to convey the thoughts of both characters, particularly Montgomery’s. It's suspenseful when it needs to be, whenever the characters feel as though they are in danger, but mostly takes a sad stroll with them throughout the city. They are many scenes, however, that have no music or dialogue at all. It was most likely Pittman’s decision to leave these scenes with nothing but sound effects in order to convey how empty and still the city is supposed to be.
            The first time I saw this episode I found it enjoyable but forgettable. Over the years, however, I have developed an attachment to it. It has a refreshing quality that isn’t cheap or sugary-sweet like many of the show’s happier episodes. It’s a doomsday story without the same tired message that often accompanies such fare. Instead, it begins as one type of story and ends as another, leaving the audience with empathy for these two characters and quite possibly a better understanding of themselves.

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgment is made to:

"A Somewhat Forgotten Figure to Some Extent Remembered: Notes on Television Director, Script Writer, and Occasional Actor Montgomery Pittman" by John Desmond. Bright Lights Film, October, 2010.


The Twilight Zone Companion, Second Edition by Marc Scott Zicree (Silman-James, 1989)

Notes:
--Montgomery Pittman also wrote and directed Season Three’s “The Grave” and “The Last Rights of Jeff Myrtlebank.” He also directed Season Two’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and Season Three’s “Dead Man’s Shoes.” For a more in-depth look at his career check out this cool essay by John Desmond.
--“Two” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Don Johnson.
--This episode was shot at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, CA where numerous influential comedy films were shot during the silent and early sound eras including those of Laurel and Hardy and early Harold Lloyd two-reelers. Part of the studio backlot was in disrepair and was about to be demolished. Houghton thought the decaying scenery would suit the episode well.
--Buck Houghton previously worked with Charles Bronson on the television series Man With a Camera (1958-1960).
--At the time this episode was produced, Elizabeth Montgomery was married to actor Gig Young, who'd previously starred in the exceptional first season episode, "Walking Distance." They divorced in 1963. Montgomery also appeared alongside Dick York, Agnes Moorehead, and David White on Bewitched, all four of whom appeared in episodes of The Twilight Zone. York appeared in "The Purple Testament" from season one and "A Penny For Your Thoughts" from season two, Moorehead starred in the highly regarded second season episode "The Invaders," and White appeared in "A World of Difference" from season one, and "I Sing the Body Electric" from season three.  


--Brian