Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Four O'Clock"

Theodore Bikel as Oliver Crangle, counting down to four o'clock

“Four O’Clock”
Season Three, Episode 94
Original Air Date: April 6, 1962

Cast:
Oliver Crangle: Theodore Bikel
Mrs. Lucas: Phyllis Love
Agent Hall: Linden Chiles
Mrs. Chloe Williams: Moyna MacGill

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (based on the story by Price Day)
Director: Lamont Johnson
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
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock
Optical Effects: Pacific Title
Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at M.G.M. Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week an exceptionally fine actor named Theodore Bikel portrays a misguided kook who fancies himself some kind of guardian of law and order. He decides that it’s his mission in life to eradicate evil the world over. Now, this one is told very far-out but considering the nature of the times it happens to be very close-in. Next week an exercise in insanity. It’s called ‘Four O’Clock.’ Set your watches and come on in.


“This cigarette, Chesterfield King, gives all the advantages of extra length and much more. The great taste of twenty-one vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, and blended mild. No wonder they satisfy so completely.” 

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“That’s Oliver Crangle, a dealer in petulance and poison. He’s rather arbitrarily chosen four o’clock as his personal Götterdämmerung, and we are about to watch the metamorphosis of a twisted fanatic, poisoned by the gangrene of prejudice, to the status of an avenging angel, upright and omniscient, dedicated and fearsome. Whatever your clocks say, it’s four o’clock, and wherever you are, it happens to be The Twilight Zone.” 

Summary:

            Oliver Crangle has one mission in life: to expose all the evil people of the world. His view of evil, however, is fluid and morally ambiguous. His personal judgment of his fellow man is corrupted by deep-seeded prejudices and a profound lack of empathy. From within his cramped apartment, Crangle compiles documents on his fellow citizens and spends his days making phone calls to employers and law enforcement offices to cry warnings about those citizens he deems subversive.
            Crangle is visited by Mrs. Lucas, the wife of a doctor whom Crangle has vigorously attempted to ruin. The doctor in question failed to save the life of a grievously injured woman and Crangle therefore considers him an evil person. Mrs. Lucas offers a prophetic warning, that Crangle is truly evil, that his judgments are unfair and his attempts to ruin lives are cruel. Crangle arrogantly dismisses the woman.
            Crangle fastens upon an idea. At four o’clock, this very day, he will mark all the evil people of the world in a way that will uniquely identify their terrible inner natures. After abandoning a number of unfeasible ideas, Crangle decides that he will make every evil person in the world one third their size, or roughly two feet in height. He calls an F.B.I. agent to his apartment to tell him that at four o’clock law enforcement had better be prepared to arrest all the diminutive people. Hall, the F.B.I. agent, questions Crangle’s sanity before dismissing his crank idea and leaving.
            Undeterred, Crangle gazes out of the window, counting down the minutes until four o’clock. When the moment arrives he rejoices the in exaltation of his efforts. He turns again to the window and the terrible realization that he is only two feet tall.     

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“At four o’clock an evil man made his bed and lay in it, a pot called a kettle black, a stone-thrower broke the windows of his glass house. You look for this one under ‘F’ for Fanatic and ‘J’ for Justice in The Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            “Four O’Clock,” the short story by Price Day, originally appeared in the April, 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It appeared in book form the following year as part of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: My Favorites in Suspense, a Random House book ghost-edited by Robert Arthur, a prolific short story writer, creator of The Three Investigators series of children’s mysteries (to which Hitchcock lent his name for a time), and the co-creator of The Mysterious Traveler radio program. Arthur compiled several Hitchcock anthologies for both adults and young readers in the late 1950s and 1960s before his untimely death in 1969. He is underrated as an editor and his anthologies come recommended. “Four O’Clock” appeared in paperback in 1960 in Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 14 of My Favorites in Suspense from Dell. It is included in The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories, edited by Richard Matheson, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh for Avon Books in 1985.

            A brief aside. An additional connection exists between Alfred Hitchcock and “Four O’Clock,” at least as far as the title goes. Hitchcock filmed a now well-regarded segment titled “Four O’Clock” for the anthology program Suspicion in 1957. It concerns a man (E.G. Marshall) who, believing his wife is unfaithful, plants a bomb in his home to kill his wife and her lover. The bomb is set to detonate at exactly four o’clock. Not only is the man mistaken about his wife’s infidelity, he is attacked by burglars in his home and tied up in the basement, forced to sweat out the minutes counting down to four o’clock and the detonation of the bomb. This segment was remade in 1986 for the revival Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. The basis of both segments is Cornell Woolrich’s 1938 story, “Three O’Clock.” The title change appears to have been a perfunctory move on the part of the production.
            Price Day, author of the short story, is best-known as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. He tried his hand at poetry and fiction early in his career before turning to journalism. He placed poetry with The New Yorker in 1931 and, though “Four O’Clock” is by far Day’s most famous work of fiction, he wrote several short stories for Collier’s Weekly in the late 1930s and early 1940s, many in collaboration with Charles Bradshaw, though none approach the subject or tone of “Four O’Clock.”
Day was born in Plainview, Texas in 1907 and attended Princeton University. He began his journalistic career as a cartoonist and occasional freelance contributor to newspapers in New York and Florida. Day was a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Times in 1942 and moved to the Baltimore Evening Sun that same year before becoming a reporter for the Baltimore Sun in 1943. Day was a war correspondent for the Sun and as such was one of the first civilians to witness and report upon the conditions of the liberated Nazi death camps. Day was the only reporter from an individual newspaper to witness the German surrender at Reims. In 1949, Day received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his feature in the Sun, “Experiment in Freedom – India and Its First Year of Independence.” He served as Editor-in-Chief of the Sun from 1960-1975. Some of his Sun columns were collected as The Spillway: Columns from the Baltimore Sun, 1956-1960 (Baltimore Sun Press, 1997). Day’s sole film credit is for one of his stories with Charles Bradshaw, which was adapted by other writers into the 1939 film The Lady and the Mob, a film which featured a young Ida Lupino, star of “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” and director of “The Masks.” Price Day died in 1978.
Though Rod Serling remained remarkably faithful to Day’s story, the brevity of the original story require Serling to pad out the tale in order to bring it up to running time. As such, the episode comes across as dialogue heavy, particularly since the setting is so constrictive. It doesn’t help that “Four O’Clock” is a story which exists only to serve a twist ending. It is a memorable twist ending (it just cracked our Top 20 best of the series) but episodes which live and die by the twist ending often have little besides which to recommended them.  
Serling’s attraction to the material should appear obvious as the story confronts the idiocy and intolerance of modern American society, a fight against which Serling built his entire creative career. Although The Twilight Zone is frequently portrayed as the series Serling had to create so he could say the confrontational things being muffled on the more prestigious anthology programs, the series never really attempted to convincingly camouflage these type of confrontational efforts. Any viewer of “The Shelter,” "The Mirror," or “The Obsolete Man” who does not see beyond the trappings of the thriller or the science fiction story is an unsophisticated viewer indeed. In a rare instance of calling direct attention to the show’s attempt to confront these issues, Serling speaks of “considering the nature of the times” in his preview narration.
The internal time of the short story consists of thirteen minutes, as it begins at 3:47. Price Day provides the bulk of exposition in flashback. Serling could not utilize this method and instead pushed the time back to the morning in order to develop the narrative over the course of the day. As such, Serling needed to create characters for Oliver Crangle to interact with. The short story contains only the single character, Crangle, unless one considers Pet, the parrot. Serling’s creative mastery was in character development and he effectively creates three foils to Crangle’s madness, the simple-minded and long-suffering landlady, the desperate spouse of one whom Crangle has attempted to ruin, and, perhaps most important, the F.B.I. agent, who represents a rational enforcer of the law and the only character to directly question Crangle’s sanity.
Some additional interesting symbolic representations are present in the episode, particularly in the construction of Crangle’s apartment, which manages to be both obsessively organized and chaotically cramped at the same time, a useful symbol for the mental workings of Crangle himself. The series excelled in the story told in a single or highly constrained environment. This was likely due to budgetary limitations but the production crew, particularly the art directors and set decorators, rose to the challenge again and again to create interesting and engaging set design which often mirrored the theme of the tale. There is also the use of the parrot as a pet for Crangle, which is obvious in its symbolic representation as a communicative animal that can only repeat back what is spoken to it. The short story uses the parrot in a more interesting way than the episode, as well. Throughout the story, Crangle is repeatedly feeding the bird nuts and only realizes he has shrunk down to two feet when he tries to feed the bird a nut and his hand comes up short. In the episode, a shot is utilized to show Crangle unable to reach the bowl of nuts. Serling, in an unusual touch, presents a moment in which Crangle consults Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for moral support. It is an expert illustration of the dangerous way in which the morally reprehensible can favorably twist the meanings of dogmatic writings to suit their purposes.

The logical problems of the story are presented to the viewer in the form of complete ambiguity. The result is that some natural questions arise in the mind of the viewer. From whence does Crangle derive his information? His power? His income? Where does this story take place? Leaving such questions unanswered is undoubtedly an attempt to give the story the feeling of a moral allegory but it can be frustrating for one who requires a base line of logic even in tales of fantasy. The short story offers a marginal bit of explanation about Crangle’s power and seems to suggest it is a divine gift. Day writes: “. . . since that morning three weeks ago when, as he sat on a bench in a park, looking at the pictures in the clouds across the lake, it came to him that he had the power to do this thing, that upon him at that moment had been bestowed the gift of putting a mark on all the bad people on earth, so that they should be known.”

            There is also the issue of the mental state of Crangle as portrayed by actor Theodore Bikel. Near the end of the episode the true severity of Crangle’s delusion is revealed in language making reference to gallows and electric chairs. Crangle strikes the viewer as suffering from both a psychotic disorder as well as a severe social anxiety disorder, one characterized by obsessive and repetitive behavior, unusual mannerisms and use of language, and an inability to engage in normal social behavior. Bikel’s performance is frequently dismissed as over-the-top and manic but it is a far more nuanced performance than it is given credit for.
            Theodore Bikel was born in Vienna in 1924 and studied acting with both an Israeli company and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London before moving to the United States in 1954. He is likely best-known for his stage role as Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. Bikel is also known for his role in the film My Fair Lady (1964), his long career as a folk music singer, and for his political activism. Despite the fact that Bikel was frequently cast as a shady or outright villainous German or Russian character, he was capable of great versatility, illustrated in one instance with his role as a Southern sheriff who pursues Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in the 1958 film The Defiant Ones. That film was made at the height of the Blacklist era, co-written by a blacklisted writer (Ned Young) whose script won the Academy Award, and whose story and theme perfectly shadowed in film what Rod Serling was continuously doing in television. There is little doubt that a politically active humanitarian like Bikel relished the opportunity to play the bigot Crangle in “Four O’Clock.” Bikel did little additional genre work but was memorable in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of Thomas Burke’s Jack-the-Ripper inspired story, “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole,” from the second season of that series. In an interesting, and not altogether successful, choice, Bikel was selected to narrate Serling’s short story “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” for Harper Audio Books in 1993 as part of a series featuring actors/actresses from the original series reading Serling’s short story adaptations for the audio book market. I highly recommend Tom Elliot's podcast episode on those audio books, which can be found here.  Bikel died in Los Angeles in 2015.
            As the above commentary indicates, “Four O’Clock” is a fascinating episode layered with symbol and interpretive meaning. The story cannot, however, sustain itself under the weight of the immense amount of circular dialogue leading to a rather predictable twist ending. Bikel’s performance is a rewarding one but it is the only element of the story which repays repeat viewings. Perhaps the story feels too familiar. After all, the series traded in “bully gets comeuppance” quite often and would continue to do so well into the fifth and final season. One need only look to “The Last Night of a Jockey” to see this point illustrated in a particularly relative way. All in all, “Four O’Clock” is par for the course.
            One final note. “Four O’Clock” was selected to be read on the NPR program Selected Shorts when that program featured a Twilight Zone special in October, 2016. “Four O’Clock” was read by actor Zachary Quinto in a crowd pleasing performance. You can read our review of it here.      

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement to:

-The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org)
-The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com)
-Unz.org publication database
-Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners by Elizabeth A. Brennan and Elizabeth C. Clarage (Greenwood Publishing, 1998)

Notes:
-“Four O’Clock” by Price Day originally appeared in the April, 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
-Theodore Bikel narrated Rod Serling’s short story adaptation of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” for Harper Audio Books in 1993.
-Director Lamont Johnson was at the helm for some of the most memorable episodes of the series, including “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” “Nothing in the Dark,” “Kick the Can,” and “Passage on the Lady Anne.”
-“Four O’Clock” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stan Freberg.

-JP

Friday, July 14, 2017

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Part 2

In which we take a closer look at each issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. For our capsule history of the magazine, go here.

Volume 1, number 2 (May, 1981)

Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Cover illustration by René Magritte (“The Pleasure Principle”)

for Tanith Lee’s “Magritte’s Secret Agent”

TZ Publications, Inc.
President & Chairman: S. Edward Orenstein
Secretary/Treasurer: Sidney Z. Gellman
Executive Vice Presidents: Nils A. Shapiro & Eric Protter

Executive Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein
Publisher: Nils A. Shapiro
Associate Publisher/Consulting Editor: Carol Serling
Editorial Director: Eric Protter
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Jane Bayer
Contributing Editors: Gahan Wilson & Theodore Sturgeon
Design Director: Derek Burton
Art and Studio Production: Georg the Design Group
Design Consultant: Steve Phillips
Production Director: Edward Ernest
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Administrative Assistant: Eve Grammatas
Public Relations Manager: Melissa Blanck-Grammatas
Public Relations Asst: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Manager: Chris Grossman
Circulation Director: Denise Kelly
Circulation Assistant: Karen Wiss
Circulation Marketing: Jerry Alexander
Western Newstand Consultant: Harry Sommer
V.P. Advertising Director: Martin Lassman
N.Y. Advertising Manager: Louis J. Scott
Advertising Production Manager: Rachel Britapaja
Advertising Assistant: Marina Despotakis

Contents:


In the Twilight Zone, editorial by T.E.D. Klein
Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
Peter Straub Interview conducted by Jay Gregory
“In the Sunken Museum” by Gregory Frost
“Blood Relations” by Lewis Shiner
“And I Only Am Escaped to Tell Thee” by Roger Zelazny
“Chronic Offender” by Spider Robinson
“Seven and the Stars” by Joe Haldeman
TZ Screen Preview: The Hand
“Drum Dancer” by George Clayton Johnson
“Brief Encounter” by Michael Garrett
“How They Pass the Time in Pelpel” by Robert Silverberg
“Magritte’s Secret Agent” by Tanith Lee
Show by Show Guide: TV’s The Twilight Zone by Marc Scott Zicree
TZ Classic Teleplay: “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” by Rod Serling
Looking Ahead: “In the June TZ . . .”

--In the Twilight Zone by T.E.D. Klein
Subtitle: “Rewriting the Legends,” here Klein gives a rundown of the careers of the fiction contributors at the time of publication. It is interesting to see some writers, such as Lewis Shiner and Tanith Lee, at an early stage of their long and successful careers.

--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
After a perfunctory column in the premier issue, Sturgeon is back to provide his first in-depth book review column for the magazine. He reviews the following:

-Zelde M’Tana by F.M. Busby

-Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, which Sturgeon labels the best SF novel of 1980. Wild Seed is part of Butler’s Patternist series and received near universal acclaim from literary critics upon its release. Many critics still hold the opinion that it is Butler’s best book.

-Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstader. This nonfiction study of the art of the three subjects of the title won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award upon its release in 1979.

-The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light by William Irwin Thompson, a book which Sturgeon claims will be running through is head for the rest of his life.

-Orbit 21 edited by Damon Knight. Sturgeon laments the final volume of Knight’s series of original sf. The Orbit series began in 1966. The Best from Orbit appeared in 1975 and covered the first 10 volumes of the series. The series is known for its literary quality.

-Shadows 3 edited by Charles L. Grant. Sturgeon suggest the Shadows series as a worthy replacement for the Orbit series. Though Shadows mainly featured horror fiction, Grant was open to science fiction and dark fantasy as well. The Shadows series ran to 11 volumes, with the last volume, Final Shadows, appearing in 1991. The Best of Shadows appeared in 1988.

-The Last Defender of Camelot by Roger Zelazny. The title story of this collection was adapted for the first revival Twilight Zone television series as episode 24 of season 1.

-Fundamental Disch, a collection of stories by Thomas M. Disch, who would later review books for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine.

-If All Else Fails by Craig Strete

-Far from Home by Walter Tevis. This is a collection of Tevis’s speculative fiction. Sturgeon was a passionate admirer of Tevis and it is displayed in this review.

-King David’s Spaceships by Jerry Pournelle

-An Island Called Moreau by Brian W. Aldiss

-The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe, part of Wolfe’s series The Book of the New Sun.

-A Fond Farewell to Dying by Syd Logsdon. Part of Pocket Books’s then-new science fiction line, Timescape, which ran from 1981-1984.

-Conan and the Spider God by L. Sprague de Camp

-Nightmares, edited by Charles L. Grant

-Jack Vance, edited by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller. Literary essays on the writer. Part of a series which was edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander.

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
Wilson reviews two films: Flash Gordon (1980) and Altered States (1980). He urges filmgoers to approach Flash Gordon without taking it too seriously as it is clearly a throwback to the cartoonish science fiction comic strips of yesteryear. Wilson generally praises Altered States, especially the acting and special effects, but feels that the filmmakers completely dropped the ending. The special effects makeup artist on Altered States was Dick Smith. You can look back on our essay detailing the early television makeup work of the Academy Award-winning Smith here.

--TZ Interview: Peter Straub, conducted by Jay Gregory
The interviews with the leading proponents of horror and suspense are the gems of these early issues. This excellent interview with Straub details how he first became interested in reading and writing, how he made his way into writing supernatural fiction, and details the writing of each of his books to that point, including Ghost Story and Shadowland. Straub was in the process of writing Floating Dragon at the time of the interview and an adaptation of Ghost Story was currently being filmed. I highly recommend reading this interview for fans of Straub or of horror fiction in general. If you have never read Straub, he was one of the giants of the horror boom of the late 1970’s and 1980’s but unlike so many who capitalized on the public’s sudden taste for horror, Straub stayed relevant and carved out a very nice career for himself. He collaborated with Stephen King on two novels, The Talisman (1983) and Black House (2001) and his association with the popular writer has perhaps overshadowed Straub’s own notable achievements. Like T.E.D. Klein and a few others of the period, Straub was strongly influenced by the classical form of supernatural fiction, notably the works of Henry James and Arthur Machen, and, as such, his work is marked by a fine literary style rather than the more debased cinematic style adopted by many other horror writers of the same period. All of his work comes highly recommended. 

--“In the Sunken Museum” by Gregory Frost

Illustration by Frances Jetter
“Surely this was hell – or a fever-ridden nightmare. But then he learned the truth: that he was trapped”

-Edgar Allan Poe awakens in an impossibly vast and concealed domain which contains exhibits dedicated to his macabre literary masterpieces. Grade: A

-On September 27, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe intended to leave Richmond, Virginia by train for New York. He never made it. Last seen by his friend Dr. John F. Carter, Poe vanished for five days. He was found in Richmond on October 3, 1849 in a state of delirium. He died on October 7 having never recovered state of mind enough to tell what had become of him during the missing days. One of his last words spoken was “Reynolds.” This set of circumstances has baffled historians in the succeeding years. Where had Poe been? Who was Reynolds? What was the true cause of Poe’s death? From these elements Gregory Frost weaves a startling, surprising, suspenseful, and affectionate look at Poe’s whereabouts during his missing five days. The story is a treat for fans of Poe as it references Poe’s well-known works and is written in a pleasingly brisk style. By the climax the story does get very far-out but it does not diminish the charms of the tale. Highly recommended. Gregory Frost has worked in virtually every aspect of science fiction and fantasy, from novelist and short story writer to writing instructor and film actor. He has been nominated for every major award in the field and continues to occasionally produce short fiction.

-T.E.D. Klein reprinted “In the Sunken Museum” in the Fall, 1985 issue of Night Cry.

--“Blood Relations” by Lewis Shiner
Illustration by Arthur Somerfield
“There was a monster on the farm – and perhaps it was a member of the family”

-Someone or something is brutally killing the livestock on a struggling farm and soon sets its sights on to humans. Grade: C

-Shiner employs a lot of misdirection and plenty of bloody set-pieces in his story but it doesn’t add up to a satisfying tale and the rather juvenile ending just solidifies the overall underwhelming effect. Shiner went on to much better things. He is well-regarded as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, being closely identified with the Cyberpunk movement and winning a World Fantasy Award for his 1993 novel Glimpses.

-T.E.D. Klein reprinted “Blood Relations” in the first issue of Night Cry. 

--“And I Only Am Escaped to Tell Thee” by Roger Zelazny

Illustrated by Bob Gale
“All men pray for rescue – but who will save the rescuers?”

-A seaman on a cursed ship dives into the sea upon sighting another vessel. He is rescued but is revealed to be a portent of doom. Grade: B

-This short, enjoyable, if not terribly original, tale by Zelazny bears a strong resemblance to two Rod Serling stories, “Judgment Night” from the first season of The Twilight Zone and “Lone Survivor” from the first season of Night Gallery, as well as dozens of other such tales. Zelazny, of course, was one of the titans of mid-century science fiction and fantasy, with a shelf full of Hugo and Nebula Awards to show for it. His most famous work is the series of novels known as The Chronicles of Amber.

-Despite its brevity and derivative nature, Zelazny’s story has been reprinted a number of times, including in Terry Carr’s Fantasy Annual V, Carr’s, Greenberg’s, and Asimov’s 100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories, and Peter Haining’s The Ghost Ship: Stories of the Phantom Flying Dutchman. 

--“Chronic Offender” by Spider Robinson

Illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia
“In which Harry the Horse takes a gander at the present – and almost gets caught in a pair of ducks”

-A time traveling gangster from the Depression finds himself in the 1980’s and devises a scheme to get rich with the help of an old friend. Grade: C

-Robinson’s story is written in a mock-Damon Runyon style which immediately sets it apart from the other offerings in the issue. While the story is quite funny in places, it runs entirely too long and the Runyon style grows tiresome by the end. Robinson is a prolific science fiction writer and a Hugo and Nebular Award winner. Health issues forced him to greatly slow down on writing in 2008. Robinson was a frequent guest on the Canadian science fiction show Prisoners of Gravity and can be seen there speaking on a wide array of topics related to speculative fiction. “Chronic Offender” is included in Robinson’s short story collection Melancholy Elephants (1984). 

--“Seven and the Stars” by Joe Haldeman

Illustrated by José Reyes
“It had no mouth to speak of, or with. It was scaly blue and smelled like an orange grove in heat.”

-A disillusioned science fiction writer meets a beautiful woman at a party who brings him back to her place to meet an alien that crash landed in her garage. Grade: C

-Haldeman’s story couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a send-up of science fiction, a commentary on being a serious science fiction writer in a society that doesn’t take science fiction seriously, or an exploration of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As such, it doesn’t possess a consistent tone and feels too cobbled together to be effective, despite Haldeman’s usual graceful style and effective characterizations. The story is certainly not indicative of Haldeman’s talent. He is the author of such notable and award-winning novels as The Forever War and Forever Peace as well as a score of short stories, many of them award winners. Haldeman wrote the episode “I of Newton” for the first season of The Twilight Zone revival series. It aired on December 13, 1985. “Seven and the Stars” is included in Haldeman’s short story collection Dealing in Futures (1985). 

--TZ Screen Preview: The Hand

-Director Oliver Stone’s major film debut in the director’s chair is this psychological horror film about a cartoonist (played by Michael Caine) who loses his hand in a car accident and, while struggling to get his crumbling life back in order, is tormented by the idea that his hand is still out there carrying out the acts of rage which he holds within himself. The movie is based on the novel The Lizard’s Tail by Marc Brandel and falls within a small but distinguished subgenre of horror literature and film, that of the dismembered hand which develops a murderous life of its own. Other notable examples include William Fryer Harvey’s 1928 short story The Beast With Five Fingers, later made into a 1946 Warner Bros film starring Robert Alda and Peter Lorre, Maurice Renard’s 1920 novel Les mains d’Orlac, made into the highly regarded 1924 German silent film The Hands of Orlac, starring Conrad Veidt and later remade in the U.S. in 1935 as Mad Love starring Colin Clive and Peter Lorre, the “Terror in Teakwood” episode of Boris Karloff’s Thriller, the 1964 film The Crawling Hand, and a segment of the 1965 film Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors starring Christopher Lee and Michael Gogh. Writer George Clayton Johnson’s story “Sea Change,” which will appear in a future issue of the magazine, falls in this subgenre and was nearly filmed as an episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone. Although The Hand is an enjoyably deranged film, it is sadly almost totally forgotten, even among dedicated horror film fans. Oliver Stone went on to direct such films as Platoon, J.F.K., and The Doors. 

--“Drum Dancer” by George Clayton Johnson

Illustrated by A.G. Metcalf
“The Indian girl was lithe and beautiful – and she could dance up a storm. So what was the agent afraid of?”

-A talent agent discovers a beautiful American Indian woman who channels ancient and dangerous magic when she dances. Grade: B

-Johnson’s story of an innocent and oblivious young woman’s dark and deadly power is refreshingly original in nature and stylishly executed. Johnson always had a knack for original ideas, think of his Twilight Zone episodes “A Penny for Your Thoughts” or “Kick the Can,” and “Drum Dancer” proves no exception. It is a short, enjoyable piece of dark fantasy from a master of the short story. In his preview to the story, T.E.D. Klein states that “Drum Dancer” was originally published in a limited edition book but I have been unable to verify this prior publication. “Drum Dancer” was reprinted in Johnson’s career retrospective volume, All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories (Subterranean Press, 1999). Johnson, of course, was one of the chief creative forces behind the original Twilight Zone television series, crafting such enduring episodes as “A Game of Pool” and “Kick the Can.” 

--“Brief Encounter” by Michael Garrett
Illustration by José Reyes
“His time machine brought him knowledge, fame, and a shattering glimpse of the past.”

-A time traveler goes into his own past to see the mother he lost as a child. Grade: C

-This very brief time travel story is a simple character and mood piece. Garrett doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation or contemplation, instead showing a brief, tragic moment in a time traveler’s life. Garrett is notable for co-editing (with Jeff Gelb) several volumes of the Hot Blood series of erotic horror stories, beginning with Hotter Blood in 1991 and concluding with the final (to date) volume Dark Passions in 2007. Garrett provided a story to each volume he co-edited in the series.

--“How They Pass the Time in Pelpel” by Robert Silverberg
Illustrator unknown
“In search of rare plants, he discovered the strangest breed of all was human.”

-A man in search of a rare breed of cactus traces the plant to a strange, secluded village in Chile whose residents practice a highly unusual form of entertainment. Grade: D

-Science Fiction Grand Master Robert Silverberg is unquestionably one of the most erudite, engaging, stylish, literate, and fecund writers of science fiction and fantasy in the 20th century. That said, “How They Pass the Time in Pelpel” is a bafflingly poor short story from Silverberg. The set-up is a familiar one to readers of horror and fantasy. A person arrives in an unfriendly town whose inhabitants may be concealing a secret, perhaps a deadly one. Some notable examples of this type of story include “The Shadow over Innsmouth” by H.P. Lovecraft, “The Summer People” by Shirley Jackson, and “The Children of Noah” by Richard Matheson, among many, many other examples. Here, Silverberg seems to play against the expectations of such a story but has no viable alternative to offer other than an underwhelming and perplexing climax that I won’t reveal here. The story feels about twice as long as it really is due to a combination of excessive exposition and the let-down of the ending. The story was included in Silverberg’s 1984 short story collection The Conglomeroid Cocktail Party. 

-Silverberg's 1963 short story, "To See the Invisible Man," was adapted as part of episode 16 of the first season of The Twilight Zone revival series. The story was adapted by Steven Barnes and directed by Noel Black. It originally aired on January 31, 1986. 

--“Magritte’s Secret Agent” by Tanith Lee

Illustration by José Reyes
“His eyes were clear, large, utterly contained. Rather than an unseeing look, it was a seeing through – to something somewhere else.”

-A young woman working in a women’s store becomes obsessed with a beautiful young man bound to a wheelchair and under the chair of his seemingly cold-hearted mother. Grade: A

-Lee’s story combines tropes of the classical fantasy story with a modern character study of obsession and personal tragedy. When a young woman becomes obsessed with an impossibly beautiful young man bound to a wheelchair, she takes it upon herself to save him from what she perceives to be a repressive existence under the thumb of his uncaring mother. The truth she discovers about both of them will alter her life forever. It is a highly affecting piece which reminds me of Robert Aickman’s strange stories, but with a style that is completely Lee’s own. Tanith Lee was a highly prolific and idiosyncratic science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer who came to prominence in the early 1980’s with her Gothic influenced tales of dark fantasy. She’s won the British Fantasy Award, multiple World Fantasy Awards, and the Lifetime Achievement Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writer’s Association. “Magritte’s Secret Agent” was reprinted in Lee’s 1985 collection The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales, as well as in editor Paula Guran’s Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep (Prime Books, 2015).

--Show by Show Guide: TV’s The Twilight Zone, Part Two by Marc Scott Zicree
-Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, continues his tour through the original series of The Twilight Zone, reviewing each episode in order. For each episode, Zicree offers information on the cast and crew, Rod Serling’s Opening and Closing Narrations, and a detailed summary. A photo accompanies each episode. The episodes he covers in this issue are: “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air,” “The Hitch-Hiker,” “The Fever,” “The Last Flight,” “The Purple Testament,” “Elegy,” “Mirror Image,” “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “A World of Difference,” “Long Live Walter Jameson,” and “People Are Alike All Over.

--TZ Classic Teleplay: “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” by Rod Serling
-Presents the shooting script of Serling’s classic episode of paranoia and alien menace. Although “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” may not be the most popular episode of the series, it is arguably the one from which Serling got the most use and one which has endured to a remarkable degree. Serling adapted the teleplay into a short story for his 1960 volume Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam Books) and it is the one story from the series which regularly makes its way into school textbooks and into amateur stage productions across the country. The story has twice been adapted into comic book form, first with the 1979 volume Stories from the Twilight Zone with adaptations by writer Horace J. Elias and artist Carl Pfeufer and later in 2008 by writer Marc Kneece and artist Rich Ellis. The story was adapted to audio in 1993 for Harper Audio and read by actor Theodore Bikel, who appears in the original series episode “Four O’Clock.” It was also adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama. Another interesting aspect of the short story is that Serling added an epilogue which sees the alien menace take over the entire world. This section is missing from the filmed episode and the original teleplay. 

--Looking Ahead: In the June TZ . . .

-Preview feature of the contents of next month’s issue.

Join us next month when we look at the June, 1981 issue, which includes the usual features and Rod Serling’s teleplay for “The After Hours,” as well as stories from Stephen King, Anthony Boucher, Alan Ryan, and others.

-JP 

Monday, July 3, 2017

"The Little People"

Joe Maross as self-made god Peter Craig
“The Little People”
Season Three, Episode 93
Original Air Date: March 30, 1962

Cast:
Navigator Peter Craig: Joe Maross
Commander William Fletcher: Claude Akins
Spaceman 1: Michael Ford
Spaceman 2: Robert Eaton

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: William Claxton
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis & Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Editor: Jason H. Bernie, A.C.E.
Sound: Franklin Milton & Bill Edmondson
Music: stock
Optical Effects: Pacific Title
Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at M.G.M. Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week we take a trip through a galaxy to a few million lightyears away from your collective television screens. We’ll land on an uncharted asteroid and then undergo an experience designed for goosebumps and palpitations. Because on The Twilight Zone next time out you’ll see that monsters come in all assorted sizes and shapes. I hope we’ve whetted your appetite and, if so, we’ll see you next week. Our show is called ‘The Little People.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“The time is the Space Age. The place is a barren landscape of a rock-walled canyon that lies millions of miles from the planet Earth. The cast of characters? You’ve met them. William Fletcher, commander of the spaceship; his co-pilot, Peter Craig. The other characters who inhabit this place you may never see, but they’re there, as these two gentlemen will soon find out. Because they’re about to partake in a little exploration into that grey, shaded area in space and time that’s known as The Twilight Zone.” 

Summary:

            Commander William Fletcher and Navigator Peter Craig make an emergency landing on an uncharted asteroid after their spacecraft sustains damage in a meteor storm. Craig, a sullen and sulky man, refuses to help Fletcher with repairs to the ship, choosing instead to spend his time exploring the nearby landscape.
            When Fletcher discovers that Craig has been withholding knowledge of a water source, he demands that Craig lead him to the resource. There, Fletcher discovers that Craig has stumbled upon a civilization of intelligent lifeforms no larger than the ants of Earth. Fletcher’s fascination turns to horror when he realizes that Craig has gone mad with the power he wields over the tiny lifeforms. Craig destroys their small cities at will and fashions himself a god.
            Fletcher finishes with repairs to the ship but Craig does not want to leave the asteroid and give up his new-found power. Pulling a weapon, he demands that Fletcher leave him to rule his tiny kingdom. After a final attempt at reason, Fletcher departs.
Soon after, another spaceship makes an emergency landing on the asteroid. The inhabitants of this craft tower over the landscape. Craig, fearful of losing his power over the little people, screams at the giants to go away. Hearing a small voice, one of the giants reaches down and grabs Craig, accidentally crushing him to death in the process.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The case of navigator Peter Craig, a victim of a delusion. In this case, the dream dies a little harder than the man. A small exercise in space psychology that you can try on for size in The Twilight Zone.” 

Commentary:

“You’re no god, Craig. That’s not what you are at all. The only trouble is, by now you’ve probably gotten them to believe in the Devil.”

I.

            Despite the fact that “The Little People” is not one of the stronger offerings from the series, the episode manages to provide a neat bridge between elements of the space exploration episodes and Rod Serling’s socially conscious character dramas, reminding us again that humankind is little prepared to face the challenges of interior conflict and outward diversity offered not only in the potential of deep space exploration but here on our own planet as well. The general fault with “The Little People” is that it is far too compressed for the time needed to satisfactorily explore the concept. When given the due amount of time, Serling created his masterwork along the same thematic grounds with the hour-long fourth season episode, “On Thursday We Leave for Home.”

Although The Twilight Zone preferred to explore tales of terrestrial fantasy, and was arguably at its best in this mode, the series occasionally dramatized tales of intergalactic travel. Of the episodes in which intergalactic travel was utilized, the story in question typically concerned a small group of astronauts who land on an unknown planet only to discover too late some initially unperceived danger. Notable examples include Charles Beaumont’s “Elegy,” Richard Matheson’s “Death Ship,” and a couple of Rod Serling’s adaptations, “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air” and “People Are Alike All Over.” Other related episodes, such as Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun” (by way of a Rod Serling adaptation) and “The Invaders,” and Earl Hamner’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town” (the latter of which neatly lifted the ending of “The Little People”), appear at first to be terrestrial fantasies only to be revealed as something else in a twist ending.   

            The common inspiration for this type of story on The Twilight Zone was the style of character-based space fantasy popularized by Ray Bradbury, and in particular Bradbury’s 1950 collection of interconnected stories, The Martian Chronicles. In fact, one could view certain episodes of the series as reimagining particular Bradbury stories. Charles Beaumont’s “Elegy” is clearly inspired by Bradbury’s 1948 story “Mars is Heaven,” which was included in The Martian Chronicles as “The Third Expedition.” Rod Serling acknowledged his debt to Bradbury in personal correspondence when he wrote the pilot episode “Where is Everybody?” due to that episode’s likeness to Bradbury’s 1949 story “The Silent Towns.”

            If “The Little People” is one part Bradburyesque space fantasy, it is equally met with distinctive Rod Serling characterizations and moral messaging, aligning the episode with such Serling-penned episodes such as “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “The Shelter,” “One More Pallbearer,” and “Four O’Clock,” the latter of which was adapted from the story by Price Day. In these episodes, Serling utilizes recognizable aspects of fantasy or mystery fiction to say something more about the human condition and explore the heights and depths to which humankind may rise or fall when faced with an extraordinary situation. Again, Serling fully mastered this blending of conceptual influences in his fourth season episode, “On Thursday We Leave for Home.” 

            An additional possible influence upon Serling’s construction of “The Little People” is Sidney Carroll’s short story, “None Before Me,” the title of which would have served the episode better than its rather plain heading. “None Before Me” was first published in the July, 1949 issue of Cosmopolitan but if Serling encountered the tale it was likely in the 1952 volume Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow, a frequently reprinted collection of fantasy tales selected and introduced by Ray Bradbury for Bantam Books. That book was one of two Bradbury compiled for Bantam in the 1950’s, the other being The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories in 1956. A short aside, The Circus of Dr. Lao was a 1935 novel by Charles G. Finney. It was later adapted into a film by producer/director George Pal in 1964 as The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. Twilight Zone veterans Charles Beaumont and William Tuttle provided the script and makeup effects, respectively. Tuttle won the first ever Academy Award given for achievement in makeup for his contributions to the film.

            “None Before Me” concerns Mr. Gresham, a miser with the taste of a connoisseur. He takes pleasure in having only the finest things but he is covetous to the point of ruination. Gresham is contacted by one of the dealers he associates with and is enticed to purchase an exquisite doll’s house. What so captivates Gresham about the house are the miniature figures of life-like people that reside within. Gresham becomes enamored with forcing the small figures to do his bidding and his obsessive nature soon blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Selected quotations from the story illustrate the story’s thematic relationship with “The Little People”:

            “Here it was – a real home, and family, and children to do his bidding.”
            “Gresham began to figure that he was God.”
            “The change from benevolent to vindictive god grew with his growing realization of the absolute power he possessed.”

            The ending to the story is starkly similar to the episode. Gresham grows enraged at the occupants of his doll’s house and destroys the home. Soon after, while looking out the window of his study, he sees “from the immense void, covering half the shoulder of the sky, the back of an enormous Hand was coming down at him – swiftly, powerfully, vengefully.”

            Whether or not Serling was inspired by “None Before Me” when composing “The Little People” is of little consequence to the interesting correlation between the stories. You can go here  to listen to an excellent reading of “None Before Me” by Michael Hanson from the Mindwebs radio series. It is episode number 54 on the list.

II. 

            Fantasy fiction has been filled with tales of travelers happening upon strange unknown vistas of existence since its earliest days. Within the episode there is mention of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels, which likely contains the most well-known example of “little people” in literature during the episode in which Gulliver is shipwrecked on the isle of Lilliput, where he is imprisoned by the diminutive natives, the less than six-inch tall Lilliputians. Gulliver also meets a race of giants on his fantastic journey. Traditional folk tales are filled with tales of diminutive peoples, the most common of which are tales concerned with faery, a land often portrayed as undiscovered country with magical properties and populated by mischievous or outright malevolent races of small peoples.

Tales of fairyland have since been largely sanitized in terms of the nature of the inhabitants of the realm but, concerning early fantasy fiction, the myths of the little people were frequently used to evoke awe and fear of illimitable nature and of passages beyond the veil of reality. Notable examples of such fiction include “The Child That Went With the Fairies” (1870) by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, the works of Arthur Machen, particularly “The Red Hand” (1895), “The Shining Pyramid” (1895), and “Novel of the Black Seal” (1895), and a story by E.F. Benson, author of the story which inspired the second season Twilight Zone episode “Twenty-Two,” who approached the subject of the little people with “Between the Lights” (1912). Benson was an author who, like Charles Beaumont, frequently utilized dreams and dream imagery to accomplish his effects and his supernatural fiction will appeal to fans of the series. In many such stories, a diminutive race of Neolithic, malevolent humanoids are purported to still exist in secluded, forgotten places, ready to attack the unwary traveler who strays beyond the edges of civilization.

The theme continued to be explored with the rise and proliferation of horror, fantasy, and science fiction pulp magazines in America (see Theodore Sturgeon's "Cargo," from Unknown, November, 1940, Robert E. Howard's "The Little People," a posthumously published story inspired by Machen's "The Shining Pyramid," and the illustration on the sidebar as representative of the theme in fantasy, horror, and science fiction as it evolved during this period). Of course, we continue to see tales of fairyland in literature, films, and television of today, yet only occasionally offered in the same tone of awe and terror of the classic treatment.

An amusing and informative volume on the subject of the little people in myth and folklore is A Field Guide to the Little People by Nancy Arrowsmith with George Moorse (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977). 

III.

“The Little People” is interesting in terms of the technical aspects of production. Once again, the production team utilized costumes and props from the 1956 film Forbidden Planet, with some slight alterations. Though the spacecraft was a mock-up and the desert landscape of the asteroid was filmed on the MGM backlot (apparent in the clearly compressed space of the setting), stock footage was used in a couple of instances. The first is the footage of the spacecraft departing the asteroid, a clear use of a lower grade stock film footage. The second is the sequence in which the giants arrive on the asteroid and interact with the setting. Footage from an earlier episode, “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air,” was reused and combined with a matte painted background to achieve the effect. Producer Buck Houghton recalled the footage having been taken from “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air,” a first season episode filmed on location in Death Valley, in eastern California. The use of on-location filming was infrequent but memorable on the series, and also included such episodes as “King Nine Will Not Return,” “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” and “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.”

            The adaptation of “The Little People” for The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas relieved some of the time compression that plagued the original episode in that the radio drama utilized a forty-five minute format. In order to increase direct character interaction, the spaceship’s computer software is given human characteristics with a flirty, Marilyn Monroe-esque voice and attitude. It is a unique and interesting addition to the original story, which is otherwise faithfully adapted to the radio drama medium.
           
Receiving top billing is prolific character actor Joe Maross (1923-2009) as co-pilot Peter Craig. Maross was last seen in a supporting role in the first season episode “Third From the Sun.” Maross’s performance is perhaps the one element which makes the problem of time compression clearly evident. Instead of the carefully modulated character development seen in the best Serling-scripted episodes, Craig’s megalomania is apparent from the moment he first speaks a line, pushing him toward the type of one-dimensional villain which appeared in Serling’s writing from time to time (think of Bartlett Finchley from “A Think About Machines” or Fred Renard from “What You Need”). It feels like a rushed performance and comes across as over-the-top, though Maross manages to achieve the desire effect well enough. Maross was born in Pennsylvania and learned the dramatic craft at Yale University. He was on Broadway by 1950 and moved into the burgeoning television medium soon after, amassing over one hundred television credits. The versatile Maross appeared on numerous dramatic anthology series in the early days of the medium. His genre credits include appearances on The Web, Danger, Inner Sanctum, Thriller (in an adaptation of Fredric Brown’s Knock Three-One-Two), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits (in Jerry Sohl’s “The Invisible Enemy”), The Time Tunnel, and The Invaders. Maross made infrequent appearances in film and is most well-known for supporting roles in Run Silent, Run Deep and Elmer Gantry. His last credit was for an episode of Murder, She Wrote in 1986.
          
  Claude Akins (1926-1994) returns to The Twilight Zone, portraying nearly the exact same character he brought to life for the first season episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” In both instances, Akins is perfectly believable as the reassuringly sensible character, a thinly veiled stand-in for writer Rod Serling. He excelled in this type of role as the voice of reason and good sense, despite the fact that Akins was frequently cast as villains or untrustworthy characters in his numerous roles in western film and television. Akins was also a versatile character actor whose commanding presence was a staple of television for forty years, from the early 1950’s to the early 1990’s. Although Akins made his name primarily through appearances on western and comedy programs, his genre credits include appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Climax!, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Kraft Suspense Theatre.

            “The Little People” is a breezy, well produced bit of space fantasy despite its inability to overcome shortcomings in originality and pacing. The production value under Buck Houghton was generally so high that even the average episodes look great and have nice performances. In some instances, the lack of scientific accuracy in the episode has been pointed out but it should be perfectly clear at this point in the series that The Twilight Zone had little interest in scientific extrapolation and used the recognizable aspects of the science fiction genre to frame realistic human drama. In this respect, “The Little People” works fine as a diverting half-hour of suspenseful drama.

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgment:
-“None Before Me” by Sidney Carroll, from Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow, edited by Ray Bradbury (Bantam Books, 1952).
-Marc Scott Zicree interview of Buck Houghton, from the Definitive DVD edition of The Twilight Zone, season three.
-The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR, 2008).
-The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org).
-The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com).

Notes:
-Joe Maross also appears in the first season episode “Third from the Sun.”
-Claude Akins also appears in the first season episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”
-William Claxton directed three additional episodes of the series, “The Last Flight,” “The Jungle,” and “I Sing the Body Electric” (with James Sheldon). 
-“The Little People” was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Daniel J. Travanti.

-JP