Monday, September 25, 2017

"The Trade-Ins"

Joseph Schildkraut and Alma Platt as Mr. and Mrs. John Holt
“The Trade-Ins”
Season Three, Episode 96
Original Air Date: April 20, 1962

Cast:
John Holt: Joseph Schildkraut
Mr. Vance: Noah Keen
Marie Holt: Alma Platt
Mr. Farraday: Theodore (Ted) Marcuse
Young John Holt: Edson Stroll
Gambler #1: Terrence deMarney
Gambler #2: Billy Vincent
Receptionist: Mary McMahon
Surgeon: David Armstrong

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Robert Walker
Special Makeup: William Tuttle
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock
Optical FX: Pacific Title
Rod Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“We have a return visit next week from a most eminent performer, Joseph Schildkraut, and his vehicle is called ‘The Trade-Ins.’ It’s a story of a future society in which new bodies may be traded for old. It’s my own personal feeling that of all the various story areas we’ve tackled on The Twilight Zone, this has the most import and carries with it the most poignance. I hope you’ll be able to be with us next week.


Here, in one cigarette, a Chesterfield, is all the flavor and taste of twenty-one of the world’s finest tobaccos, aged mild and then blended mild. The end result: tobacco too mild to filter, pleasure too good to miss. Smoke for pleasure. Smoke Chesterfield.” 

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, aging people who slowly and with trembling fingers turn the last pages of a book of life and hope against logic and the preordained that some magic printing press will add to this book another limited edition. But these two senior citizens happen to live in a time of the future where nothing is impossible, even the trading of old bodies for new. Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, in their twilight years, who are about to find that there happens to be a zone with the same name.” 

Summary:
            At an unspecified time in the future, Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, an elderly couple, arrive at the New Life Corporation, which specializes in designing young, state of the art bodies into which one’s consciousness can be placed in order to alleviate illness and extend life. After establishing that the Holts are still very much in love and that John is in near constant pain, they are given the grand tour by Mr. Vance, a salesman with the company, who shows them the many human models which they can inhabit. When the issue of cost comes up, the Holts realize they have a problem. They have only enough money to purchase one New Life body. Restricted by law and unable to extend the Holts any credit, Mr. Vance apologizes profusely but explains that there is no way both of the Holts can receive New Life bodies unless the additional money is presented at the time of purchase. Dejected, the Holts leave.
            John decides to take their life savings and attempt to double it in order to buy New Life bodies. He happens upon a poker game in the back room a bar owned by a prominent criminal, Mr. Farraday. It becomes apparent to Farraday that Holt is desperate for something and coaxes the truth out of the older man. When Farraday realizes that he is about to win the final hand of the game that will clean Holt out of all his money, he folds so that Holt can win the hand and leave with exactly the amount he brought to the game.

            The Holts return to the New Life Corporation having decided that John must go through with the operation to alleviate his terrible pain. He comes out of the operation in the body of a handsome younger man. John is ecstatic with his new body until he realizes that Marie will remain old and will be unable to share in his newfound youth and happiness. John decides to return to his old body and together, hand-in-hand, the Holts leave the New Life Corporation, determined to make the most out of their remaining time together.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“From Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: ‘Love gives naught but itself and takes naught from itself, love possess not nor would it be possessed: For love is sufficient unto love.’ Not a lesson, just a reminder from all the sentimentalists in The Twilight Zone.” 

Commentary:

            It has been said before, most often by author Marc Scott Zicree (in his book, The Twilight Zone Companion), but it bears repeating that the writers on The Twilight Zone, all of whom were in their early to middle thirties at the time of the series, frequently wrote about aging and dying from a sympathetic and often heartbreaking perspective.
It is interesting to consider that these men, all in the prime of life, dwelt so frequently on the subject of aging and dying that each of the core writers for the series approached the material at least once. Here, Rod Serling presents perhaps his finest rumination on the subject, but he also covered similar ground in “One for the Angels” and “The Changing of the Guard.” Charles Beaumont wrote such powerful episodes on the subject as “Long Live Walter Jameson” and “Passage on the Lady Anne.” George Clayton Johnson wrote perhaps the two finest examinations of the theme in “Nothing in the Dark” and “Kick the Can,” along with providing the story for the underrated fifth season episode “Ninety Years Without Slumbering.” Richard Matheson gave us “Night Call” and Earl Hamner, Jr. gave us “The Hunt” along the same lines. As evidenced from the titles listed above, the subject and theme of aging and dying resulted in some of the most haunting, beautiful, and well-regarded episodes of the series.
Perhaps it is the idea that the passage beyond life into the vast unknown is the ultimate embodiment of The Twilight Zone and the writers on the series found pliable material in the theme. Whatever the case, Rod Serling was certainly in the mood to tackle the subject head on at the end of the third season, as “The Trade-Ins” is followed closely by “The Changing of the Guard,” which closes out the season. Serling thought highly of the message behind “The Trade-Ins,” as evidenced in his preview narration, and he was clearly attempting to create the feeling of a fable or fairy tale with the episode, a futuristic story which nevertheless examined the timelessness of love and companionship. He generally succeeded in this regard though the episode comes close to becoming too sentimental at times and the reliance upon a simplistic style of story leaves some logical holes in the plot construction.
“The Trade-Ins” presents an achingly romantic and optimistic view of everything from marriage, the future, and humanity in general. An interesting aspect of Serling’s characterizations is that he wrote two of the supporting characters against type. Noah Keene, here playing the salesman Mr. Vance and last seen in the third season opener “The Arrival,” could easily have been written as an unsympathetic, pushy salesman. Serling opts to write him in a near saintly manner as a man who takes an immediate and personal interest in his clients. Vance’s role in the corporation remains unclear even by the end of the episode as it is difficult to determine if he is only a salesman or if he perhaps owns the company when considering Vance is seen as part of the operating team later in the episode.
Another supporting character who is written strongly against type is Mr. Farraday, played by Theodore Marcuse, last seen in the earlier third season episode “To Serve Man.” Farraday is clearly a criminal but is portrayed as curious, caring, and ultimately willing to make a sacrifice for the interest of the aging John Holt. Everyone in the episode seems to be on the side of the Holts and all character interaction serves to underline the idea that people are generally kind and good. Serling has occasionally been accused to having too bleak a view of humanity in such episodes as “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “The Shelter,” but Serling understood the basic dichotomy of human nature, that the most outwardly sinister of us may in fact be a decent human being, and those seeming kind and warm may hide a darker nature. 
The character of the sick and dying John Holt is brought wonderfully and sympathetically to life by veteran actor Joseph Schildkraut, last seen in an equally powerful performance in the earlier third season episode “Deaths-Head Revisited.” Here, aged by William Tuttle’s makeup, Schildkraut provides the episode with a strikingly believable portrayal of a man not only suffering from immense chronic pain but also one terrified of facing a future without his loving wife. Unfortunately, Schildkraut’s performance was informed by the fact that he lost his wife to illness after the first day of filming “The Trade-Ins.” Schildkraut, a consummate professional from a proud acting family, insisted on finishing the episode before allowing himself to properly grieve. It is clear, however, that Schildkraut’s grief made it into his performance and rendered it that much more powerful.
Schildkraut is matched by his on-screen wife played by Alma Platt, who is largely responsible for the two most emotionally wrenching moments of the episode, the first being her chant of “yes, yes, yes,” urging Schildkraut’s character to commit to the operation in order to alleviate his pain and suffering. The second moment, of course, is when both she and Schildkraut’s character, now inhabiting the young body of actor Edson Stroll, come to the dawning realization that youth and age will forever separate them. Though Platt never appeared in another Twilight Zone she did appear in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery titled “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay,” based on A.E. van Vogt’s 1943 story “The Witch.”
“The Trade-Ins” is directed by Elliot Silverstein and he brings a highly artistic style of the episode. Silverstein directed three additional episodes of the series and always managed to convey a dream-like (or nightmare-like) quality in the episodes he directed. “The Trade-Ins” is visually defined by the stark contrast of light and shadow, as well as by the cavernous set design, particularly in the case of the showroom floor at the New Life Corporation. In this way, the episode resembles Silverstein’s earlier effort, “The Obsolete Man,” especially in the contrast of a large Act One set with a smaller, more intimate Act Two set. In the case of “The Trade-Ins,” Silverstein contrasts the large showroom floor with the close interior setting of Farraday’s poker game. Furthermore, the two sets offer a contrast of a different nature, this being the difference between a clean, futuristic setting and that of a traditional noir design, the latter represented by the back room poker game. This sort of contrast would soon become fashionable, seeing perhaps its most effective merging just a few years later in Godard’s 1965 film Alphaville.
 The shortcomings of the episode are generally two-fold. Continuing on from the future noir look of the episode, the story does not feel as though it is set far enough into the future, considering the type of operation offered by the New Life Corporation. We’ve talked before about how the series, though often considered science fiction, was really a fantasy series which occasionally used familiar concepts from the science fiction genre. Serling is doing this here and wisely leaves any details about how the New Life Corporation achieves its miraculous trading of bodies shrouded in ambiguity and broad dialogue.
The more egregious shortcoming which most viewers will notice is the fundamental flaw of the ending. John is given a New Life body because he is in terrible and constant pain. He needs the body or he will die very soon. It is intimated that his wife, Marie, is not in as desperate a need for a new body. At one point in the episode John suggests to Mr. Vance that he would be young enough to work again and pay for the second New Life body in installments. Why, then, cannot John continue on in his young body until he can work enough to save up the five thousand dollars required to get his wife a New Life body? As it stands, this relatively minor problem with the story hardly detracts from the effectiveness of the episode.
A final mention should be made about the excellent adaptation of “The Trade-Ins” on The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas. In the title roles are H.M. Wynant as John Holt and Peggy Weber as Marie Holt. Wynant is one of the most memorable faces from the original series of The Twilight Zone as he portrayed the stranded traveler, David Ellington, who frees the Devil in the second season episode “The Howling Man.” Peggy Weber did not appear on the original series but did appear in two episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, “I’ll Never Leave You – Ever” and “The Different Ones,” the latter of which was written by Serling. Both Wynant and Weber are excellent in this story which one might believe is best suited to a visual medium, but radio drama has the appealing aspect of allowing the listener to visually build the story in their own minds. This one comes recommended.  
“The Trade-Ins” is Rod Serling’s love letter to love and marriage and to the ultimate optimistic view of fundamental human decency. Though it doesn’t quite strike the high notes of Serling’s finest episodes, it remains a moving, effective, and uplifting episode with memorable direction and outstanding performances.

Grade: B

Notes:
--Elliot Silverstein also directed “The Obsolete Man,” “The Passersby,” and “Spur of the Moment.”
--Joseph Schildkraut also appeared in the season three episode “Deaths-head Revisited.”
--Noah Keen also appeared in the season three episode “The Arrival.”
--Alma Platt also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.”
--Theodore Marcuse also appeared in the season three episode “To Serve Man.”
--Edson Stroll also appeared in the season two episode “Eye of the Beholder.”
--David Armstrong appeared uncredited in the episodes “To Serve Man,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”
--“The Trade-Ins” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring H.M. Wynant and Peggy Webber.
--Serling misquotes Gibran in his closing narration. The line should read: “Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.”

-JP

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Conversation with Author William F. Nolan


Recently, we were fortunate enough to correspond with legendary author William F. Nolan. Nolan was a core member of the Southern California School of Writers in the 1950s and 1960s, having collaborated on numerous occasions with his close friends and Twilight Zone writers Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and John Tomerlin.


Nolan is the author of the 1967 dystopian novel Logan’s Run (written with George Clayton Johnson), which has been adapted into a film, a television series, multiple comic books series, and followed by two Nolan-penned sequels, Logan’s World (1977) and Logan’s Search (1980). He is the author of a highly regarded body of short fiction, primarily in the horror, fantasy, science fiction, and suspense genres, which have been collected across several volumes including Impact-20 (1963), Alien Horizons (1974), Things Beyond Midnight (1984), Night Shapes (1995), Dark Universe (2001), and Like a Dead Man Walking (2014). His novels include The Black Mask series, the Sam Space series and the horror novel Helltracks (1991), among many others.

Nolan’s work in film and television is showcased in his collaborations with director Dan Curtis, which includes screenplays for The Turn of the Screw (1974), Trilogy of Terror (1975), Burnt Offerings (1976), and Trilogy of Terror II (1996). 

Nolan is also an accomplished editor, having compiled such anthologies as The Pseudo-People (1965), Man Against Tomorrow (1965), A Wilderness of Stars (1969), A Sea of Space (1970), and, with Martin H. Greenberg, Urban Horrors (1990) and The Bradbury Chronicles: Stories in Honor of Ray Bradbury (1991). With William Schafer, Nolan compiled the essential Group anthology, California Sorcery (1999). In recent years, Nolan has worked closely with author, editor, and filmmaker Jason V. Brock on such projects as William F. Nolan: A Miscellany (2011), The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers (2009), The Devil’s Coattails: More Dispatches from the Dark Frontier (2011), and the comic book series Tales from William F. Nolan’s Dark Universe.

Nolan’s work in non-fiction fields is equally accomplished and includes such essential volumes as The Ray Bradbury Companion (1975), The Work of Charles Beaumont: An Annotated Bibliography & Guide (1986; 2nd ed. 1990), and Nolan on Bradbury (2013). He has written essays on such science fiction luminaries as Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester, Chad Oliver, and Philip K. Dick, as well as book-length biographies of Dashiell Hammett, Steve McQueen, and John Huston, among others. He is the author of two books on writing, How to Write Horror Fiction (1990) and Let’s Get Creative: Writing Fiction That Sells (2006).

Nolan’s output also includes poetry, art, articles, teleplays, and books on a variety of subjects. Of particular interest are his two books on automobile racing compiled with Charles Beaumont, The Omnibus of Speed (1958) and When Engines Roar (1964). Nolan has won multiple Bram Stoker Awards from the Horror Writers Association, including a Grand Master Award in 2014. He won the International Horror Guild’s Living Legend Award in 2001 as well as the World Horror Society Grand Master Award in 2015. Nolan’s accolades also include awards from the Mystery Writers of America, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the World Fantasy Convention.

Mr. Nolan was kind enough to talk to us about his time with the Group, his assessment of The Twilight Zone, and his long and successful writing career.

 -JP

Vortex: You were a core member of the creative group which produced so much of the material seen on The Twilight Zone. What was the feeling amongst members of that group during production of the series?

Nolan: They were proud to be a part of what they came to realize was a unique series. Everyone admired Rod Serling, but none of us realized the impact that the show would have. We just thought it was another TV series. At the time, they greatly appreciated having their scripts shot exactly as written. Most shows would make significant changes, but most of the Twilight Zone episodes were shot pretty much as they were imagined by the writers.

Vortex:  Can you talk about your Twilight Zone story, “Dreamflight,” written with George Clayton Johnson?  What was it about and why did it go unproduced? Were there any other Twilight Zone stories which you wrote but were never produced?

Nolan: It was a modern version of Sleeping Beauty. In our take, an airliner suddenly lost all four engines and was headed down for a fatal crash. Then, at the last minute, a young man stepped up to a still sleeping girl and kissed her goodbye. Instantly, all four engines roared back to life, and the plane was saved. Saved by a magic kiss.

Rod liked it, paid us for it, and I’m sure would have produced it. But by that time, Twilight Zone was headed into its next season with hour long episodes. Written to a half-hour format, “Dreamflight” didn’t fit. “Dreamflight” did get printed in the 2006 anthology, Forgotten Gems from the Twilight Zone, Volume 2. This was my one and only teleplay for the series. Alas, I was too busy to write other episodes for the show.

Vortex: One of distinguishing characteristics of the Southern California Group of Writers was the willingness to collaborate on a variety of creative projects, from novels and anthologies, to television and film scripts. What fostered this desire to work together? How did close friendship affect the creative process?

Nolan: We in the Group were all close friends: Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Charles Beaumont, Chad Oliver, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, John Tomerlin – all of us were close. We enjoyed working with one another, as we felt we were getting a bonus in doing this; that two sets of imagination added to every collaborative project. After all, two heads are better than one. Logan’s Run was better with Johnson’s contribution.

We also criticized each other’s work relentlessly, sometimes spending all night at a coffee shop doing so. But it made us each a stronger writer than we would have been alone.

Vortex: How would you describe your style of writing?

Nolan: It varies considerably. My Logan novels are swift and direct, never a wasted word. Extremely fast-paced. Hard edged. I’ve used many styles over the years with my work. Depending on the kind of story I’m telling. Plot and character dictate how I write. To sum up: I have no primary writing style. This way I stay fresh. My cardinal rule: never bore the reader. I do my best to follow this rule.

Vortex: Your best known work is the novel Logan’s Run but a large portion of your career has been dedicated to the short story form, including much of your finest work. What continues to draw you to the short story form and how has your approach to short story writing changed over the course of your career?

Nolan: The short story is, to my mind, the purest form of fiction. They demand a tight structure, sharp dialogue, and a clear beginning, middle, and end. They are direct, akin to a one round knockout punch in a fifteen-round bout. With each new story, I attempt to “push the envelope” – to do things I’ve never done before. I love writing them.

Vortex: You produced an influential body of work for film and television, particularly your work with producer/director Dan Curtis. Can you talk about how you broke into film and television? What do you feel are your most successful forays into those mediums?

Nolan: Back in 1959, Charles Beaumont and John Tomerlin both allowed me to co-write teleplays with them under their by-line. That’s how I learned how to write for television. By 1971, I was able to strike out on my own when I adapted my story “The Joy of Living” for Norman Corwin’s Canadian television series, Norman Corwin Presents. Among my most successful projects for television: The Norliss Tapes, The Turn of the Screw, Trilogy of Terror – and for film Burnt Offerings – all with my friend, the late Dan Curtis, who produced and directed them. Dan was a very talented guy, and I was recommended to him by another good friend, the late Richard Matheson.

Vortex: Another interesting aspect of your career is the large body of essays, biographies, catalogues, and bibliographies you’ve produced, much of it exploring the careers of your contemporaries in science fiction and fantasy. Can you tell us about this dedication to cataloguing and commenting upon the work of your contemporaries?

Nolan: I’ve always been very interested in what my fellow writers do. I enjoy exploring their output in bibliographic form. Very satisfying, and I feel of real value. Plus, it offers a nice break from my fiction.

I guess I’ve always had a preoccupation with list making. In the Group, they called me “the old indexer.” I felt it was important to record people’s accomplishments, even when they didn’t think so themselves at the time. Sometimes, when asked about when a certain story appeared and where, even Richard Matheson would say, “Go ask Bill. He knows more about my work than I do.” I’d always have the answer.

This interest also led me to create the Ray Bradbury Review, the first critical treatment of Bradbury’s work. I went on to do other bibliographies and several full biographies. I have even kept a month-by-month journal of my own life since my birth in Kansas City. Right now, I am working on my memories as I push 90 years of age.

Vortex: One of the writers to whom you dedicated your career retrospective, Dark Universe, was Charles Beaumont. Beaumont’s work has been kept alive largely through his association with The Twilight Zone but also by a dedicated group of readers and by Beaumont’s close friends such as Ray Bradbury and yourself. With his inclusion into the Penguin Classics line of books, Beaumont’s work has reached new heights of accessibility and respectability. How did Beaumont’s work strike you at the time it was being written and what do you feel is the quality of the work which elicits such devotion from its readers?

Nolan: Charles Beaumont was indeed a fine writer. One of the trailblazers. His work had a lyrical quality and always dealt with humanistic concerns. He was a superb storyteller, and my dear pal. In many ways, I owe my career to him. I speak about him at length, and so does Bradbury, Matheson, Johnson, and others, in the documentary Charles Beaumont: The Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man. Of everything out there, I think that film most closely captures the essence of why Beaumont was an important figure in all our lives.

Vortex:  Charles Beaumont’s excellent fourth season episode “Miniature” related to your own life at that time. Could you tell us the story behind that episode?

Nolan: Well for one thing, the character was shy around women and Chuck (which is what we called Beaumont) was well aware of this. It was partly his way of ribbing me, but I also have always had a thing for miniature figures and models. Maybe it’s because my eyesight – I am near-sighted in one eye, and far-sighted in the other – prevents me from really seeing large objects in 3D. But a small object that I can hold up in front of my face can become a whole world to me.  I can see it in its totality and study it. It fascinates me. Chuck was one of the only people who knew me well enough to pick up on this and used it in the story.

Vortex:  You recently won a Bram Stoker Award for your book, Nolan on Bradbury: Sixty Years of Writing about the Master of Science Fiction. Before that you created publications such as The Ray Bradbury Review and The Ray Bradbury Companion. Although Bradbury only saw one teleplay produced on The Twilight Zone, his influence can be felt in everything seen on the series. Can you tell us what Bradbury’s work and friendship meant to you personally and to the Group as a collective?

Nolan: Well of course, Bradbury was the master, the role model for us all. He had a tremendous influence on modern literature around the world. To the Group, he was our mentor. To me, a deeply valued friend as well. Bradbury was generous to all of us. He spent time with us and helped us with our problems. Even when we interrupted his writing, he was never angry or impatient. He gave his time and advice freely and he helped all of us with our careers.

Vortex:  I feel that The Twilight Zone was the purest creative expression of the Southern California Group. What do you feel are the qualities of the series which causes it to endure and renew itself with each succeeding generation?  

Nolan: The Twilight Zone told human stories, no matter how fantastic the basic concept might be. It used fantasy and fable to illumine human character. Rod Serling deserves much credit for the creation of a truly memorable series.

Thank you again to William F. Nolan and a special thanks to Sunni Brock. 

Visit William F. Nolan’s official website
View William F. Nolan’s listing on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database

A William F. Nolan cover gallery:


































































































Monday, September 11, 2017

"Hocus-Pocus and Frisby"

Somerset Frisby (Andy Devine) on his biggest adventure yet,
a journey into the Twilight Zone

“Hocus-Pocus and Frisby”
Season Three, Episode 95
Original Air Date: April 13, 1962

Cast:
Somerset Frisby: Andy Devine
Alien #1: Milton Selzer
Alien #2: Larry Breitman
Alien #3: Peter Brocco
Mitchell: Howard McNear
Scanlan: Dabbs Greer
Old Man: Clem Bevans

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (based on an unpublished story by Frederic Louis Fox)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens and Jack Swain
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Direction: Keogh Gleason
Makeup: William Tuttle
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Casting: Robert Walker
Music: Tom Morgan

And Now, Mr. Serling:

“As it happens to all men, a newcomer takes his first step into the Twilight Zone next week when Mr. Andy Devine joins us for a show called ‘Hocus-Pocus and Frisby.’ He plays the role of a storekeeper of the cracker barrel variety who stretches the truth like most people pull on taffy. This one is for laughs and for the congenital liars amongst you. Next week, Mr. Devine, ‘Hocus-Pocus and Frisby.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“The reluctant gentleman with the sizable mouth is Mr. Frisby. He has all the drive of a broken cam shaft and the aggressive vinegar of a corpse. As you’ve no doubt gathered, his big stock in trade is the tall tale. Now, what he doesn’t know is that the visitors out front are a very special breed, destined to change his life beyond anything even his fertile imagination could manufacture. The place is Pitchville Flats. The time is the present. But Mr. Frisby is on the first leg of a rather fanciful journey into the place we call…the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:

            Somerset Frisby is an aging small-town yokel who spends his days lazily manning his quiet general store, playing his harmonica, and entertaining the locals with extravagant tales of a life well lived. Taken at his word, Frisby has been a war hero, an accomplished government engineer, and a meteorologist—Old Cumulus Frisby, they called him—to list just a few of his former occupations. His friends don’t believe a word of his fantastical claims but listening to them passes the time just the same.
            While closing up his shop one evening, two men in suits drive up to buy gas. Frisby walks out to greet them. They seem inquisitive and slightly peculiar but Frisby brushes it off as the curiosity of out-of-towners just passing through.
            After the shop is closed and everyone has gone home Frisby hears a voice. Believing it is a prank, he plays along. The voice tells him to walk outside and travel a mile or so down the highway where he will find a great surprise. Before he can make the journey, however, he is whisked away to a barren field where he discovers a spaceship waiting quietly for him. Curious, he climbs inside and finds the two men in suits from earlier.
They believe Frisby to be the most accomplished human being to ever live and they want to take him back to their planet to be studied and marveled. Frisby tells them that his stories are mostly lies, tale tales made up to entertain and pass the time. He demands that the aliens release him at once. They refuse his request so Frisby punches one of them. To his horror the man’s face breaks into several pieces before falling off completely revealing a bizarre figure beneath.
Later, Frisby begins to play his harmonica out of boredom. The creatures immediately clamp their hands over their ears and begin to scream. Frisby plays as loud as he can and the aliens are forced to release him.
Frisby races back to his store and is surprised to find his friends waiting for him. Today is Frisby’s 63rd birthday. He tries to tell them about the spaceship and the aliens but his story is met with good-natured laughs and jeers. They simply wish him a happy birthday and thrust a box into his hands. He opens it to find a trophy inside with the inscription: World’s Greatest Liar.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“Mr. Somerset Frisby, who might have profited by reading an Aesop fable about a boy who cried wolf. Tonight's tall tale from the timberlands of the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

            “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” is Rod Serling’s whimsical adaptation of an unpublished story treatment by Frederic Louis Fox which itself is a twentieth century take on “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” fable as Serling mentions in his closing monologue. This was actually the second Fox story that Serling adapted for the show, the first being “Showdown with Rance McGrew” which aired in February of the same year. Like its earlier counterpart, “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” has an interesting premise and begins promisingly enough, with an all-star cast and a well-crafted opening sequence, but quickly loses its momentum after the first act. It manages to redeem itself with a light-hearted final scene where Frisby is reunited with his friends who obviously care a great deal about him but by this point the episode has become more or less forgettable. This is unfortunate for several reasons but mostly because it proves a missed opportunity for veteran director Lamont Johnson and a highly talented ensemble cast.
            Frederic Louis Fox (1902 – 1981) enjoyed a fairly successful career as a television writer during the medium’s golden age, contributing primarily to western series such as Lawman, Zane Grey Theatre, Branded, Rebel, and Bonanza among others. His film career was a bit more sporadic but it did produce a handful of feature-length titles including the 1956 crime drama When Gangland Strikes, the 1969 Elvis Presley vehicle Charro! and director Gerd Oswald’s 80 Steps to Jonah (1969), featuring Twilight Zone alumni Keenan Wynn and Mickey Rooney. One of his earliest screen credits was a 1954 Joe McDoakes short film called So, You Want to Be a Banker? which was directed by frequent Twilight Zone director, Richard L. Bare.
In The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR Publishing, 2008) author Martin Grams, Jr. writes that after completing the script for “Showdown with Rance McGrew” Serling sent a copy to Frederic Louis Fox as a gesture of good will. Fox wrote back complementing Serling on a fine script and attached to his letter a paragraph-long story treatment titled “Mister Tibbs and the Flying Saucer.” In Fox’s story an aging service station owner named Henry Tibbs dreams of traveling the world but is trapped in his small town. Instead, he constructs elaborate imaginary adventures and tells them to his regular customers. Unbeknownst to Tibbs, his fantastical tales are being broadcast on Martian radio. One day he is contacted by a Martian who wants to pay him for his worldly adventures. He asks instead for a trip around the world in a space ship. Upon his return home he learns that he has been awarded first place in the town Liar’s Contest. Dismayed, he decides not to tell people about his trip because he knows they would not believe him. Instead, he keeps a souvenir from his adventure in his home as a secret reminder to himself.
Serling liked the story and promptly wrote back saying that he would be interested in adapting the short treatment into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Overall he remained relatively faithful to Fox’s story. His decision to nix the idea of the main character’s rants being broadcast on Martian radio was a smart one as it makes the plot tighter and easier to follow. It was also smart to have Frisby’s friends bestow upon him the title of World’s Greatest Liar instead of the local paper as it establishes that he has a healthy social life and makes him a likable character despite his tall tales. Most of the other changes—the title and character names—are mainly for stylistic preference.
            This episode has traditionally not received high marks from fans or reviewers. While it has its share of sore spots it is not without its own personal charm. Serling begins his script with a fantastic opening act, full of witty tongue-in-cheek banter from an interesting set of characters played by a remarkable cast. Frisby is an immensely likable character from the moment he appears on screen and the close community of tough-talking friends he surrounds himself with seems natural and welcoming.
It’s the second act that I think loses a lot of people. The audience is abruptly transported from a warm, familiar environment to one that is cold and totally alien to them—no pun intended. The juxtaposition between the sleepy Midwestern town with its charmingly cantankerous peanut gallery and the confines of the alien vessel is obviously intentional on Serling’s part but it simply does not transition well on the screen. It almost feels like two different episodes, not vastly so but to the extent that it loses the audience’s attention and never fully earns it back. The other weak spot of the second act is the rather cartoonish faces of William Tuttle’s alien masks. Tuttle of course was an enormously talented makeup artist and industry legend who provided the show with a number of memorable designs but unfortunately these simplistic masks are not among them.
The cast is really what makes this episode memorable. The opening and closing scenes feature a handful of talented character actors which many will recognize from various television and film roles. Dabbs Greer, who plays Scanlan, the loudest of Frisby’s skeptics, was an immensely prolific actor. His profile on the Internet Movie Database lists over three hundred acting credits on both the small and big screens in every genre imaginable. Among his more well-known television credits are appearences on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, Perry Mason, and Gunsmoke and roles in genre classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), House of Wax (1953), and the Jerome Bixby-penned It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). He capped his film career off with a moving performance in The Green Mile in 1999.
Howard McNear is probably the most familiar face in the supporting cast thanks to his role as Floyd the Barber on The Andy Griffith Show. His other television credits include episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller. His film career includes appearance in Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1960).
            Milton Selzer is probably best known to Twilight Zone fans for his fantastic performance as the greedy son-in-law in season five’s “The Masks.” Selzner was often cast in similar roles playing unlikable characters with overtly pathetic qualities. He seems a bit out-of-place in this episode though. His performance here seems wooden and doesn’t really do the second act of the episode any favors. Selzer later appeared in Buzz Kulik’s 1963 screen adaptation of Whit Masterson’s novel The Yellow Canary which was written by Rod Serling.
           The most memorable thing about the episode of course is veteran character actor Andy Devine as the lovable but highly flawed protagonist Somerset Frisby. Devine’s career goes back to the era of silent films and at the time that this episode originally aired he was one of the biggest names to appear on the show. Commonly recognized by his signature raspy voice and heavy figure he was told repeatedly as a young actor that he would never have a career as a performer. Similar to Frisby, Devine is remembered by those close to him as a loud, lovable prankster who liked to be the center of attention. He was even known for bending the truth to get a reaction from people. For instance, he often told interviewers that he earned his scratchy drawl from a childhood accident in which a curtain rod became lodged in his throat. Several biographers have dismissed this as barely more than a fabrication and Devine’s son said it was one of several stories he used to explain his raspy voice.
Devine was often cast in westerns, usually as the quirky comedic relief but he did occasionally play more serious characters. Over the course of his six decade career he worked with some of most highly acclaimed directors in cinema history. His first major role was as Danny McGuire in the 1937 version of A Star is Born directed by William A. Wellman. Devine would work with Wellman numerous times throughout his career. He also appeared in films made by John Huston, George Stevens, James Whale, Michael Curtiz, Jacques Tourneur, and Victor Flemming. He appeared in five films made by John Ford including Stagecoach (1939) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). He also appeared in ten films with Roy Rogers as his sidekick, Cookie. His unique voice also landed him a career as a voice artist. He worked extensively in radio, most notably for NBC’s The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, which would eventually make the transition to television delivering 112 episodes from 1951 to 1958. He also voiced Friar Tuck in Disney’s Robin Hood (1973) and provided the voice for the rooster in the famous Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercials during the 1970’s. Frederic Louis Fox originally suggested Ed Wynn for the role of Somerset Frisby and Wynn would have undoubtedly delivered a fine performance. Devine, however, was perfect for the part and is easily the best thing about the episode.
Lending this episode an appropriately nonchalant personality is renowned harmonica player Tommy Morgan. Morgan's career spans over six decades and he is considered one of the most important harmonica players of all time, contributing to a countless number of projects in virtually every medium. As a session musician he has worked with Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Randy Newman, Ray Charles, and dozens of others. He has composed music for dozens of television series including Gunsmoke, The Waltons, Green Acres, The Rockford Files, and Family Guy. His filmography includes Blazing Saddles, Cool Hand Luke, and How the West was Won. He has also recorded solo albums and written books and instructional guides to playing the harmonica. Morgan also composed the music for "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank" and "Mr. Garrity and the Grave" and can also be heard on the soundtracks for the episodes "Dust" and "The Big Tall Wish" which were written by close friend Jerry Goldsmith.
            While we will likely never see “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby” crack any top ten lists it certainly isn’t a terrible episode. Fox’s story is charming and Serling’s script is full of witty dialogue far better than most of the banter found in the lighter episodes. This one deserves at least one viewing for those who have never seen it and for the naysayers perhaps even a second viewing if only to discover the quaint and pleasant charm that they may have missed.


Grade: C


Grateful acknowledge is made to:

The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR Publishing, 2008)

The Joe Franklin Show, Interview with Andy Devine conducted by Joe Franklin (1976)

www.mohavemuseum.org/andy.html

www.tmorganharmonica.com

www.filmmusicsociety.org/news_events/features/2008/121108.htm


Notes:

--Milton Selzer also appeared in the season five episode “The Masks.”
--Howard McNear also appeared in the season four episode “The Bard.”
--Dabbs Greer also appeared in the season four episode “The Valley of the Shadow.”
--Peter Brocco also appeared in the season one episode “The Four of Us Are Dying.” He later appeared in a segment of Night Gallery written by Rod Serling called “Deliveries in the Rear” during the show’s second season. He also played “Mr. Mute” in “Segment II” of Twilight Zone: the Movie (1983) directed by Steven Spielberg and based on George Clayton Johnson’s season three episode “Kick the Can.”
--This episode is one of many to feature the spaceship from MGM’s Forbidden Planet (1956).
--This episode also features a camera shot very similar to the famous opening shot of the earlier season three episode "To Serve Man."

--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama featuring the late comedy legend and “The Mind and the Matter” star Shelly Berman.



--Brian