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Old 01-23-2021, 08:39 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Trollheart Falls Into The Twilight Zone



Without question one of the first shows to bring science fiction into the mainstream on television, The Twilight Zone is now recognised as one of the most popular and well-written anthology shows ever. Creator Rod Serling often used the stories - set in space, the future, alternate realities or sometimes just the plain old present - to moralise, teach, educate and even to warn. Some of the stories were so good they have passed into the general human consciousness, some were, well, not quite so good. The theme tune to the show has become a byword for whenever something spooky or weird happens, and the phrase has been referenced in songs by, among others, Iron Maiden and Golden Earring.

In this journal, I’m going to go through the series episode by episode, writing synopses and them discussing them in my usual way. I’ll be asking which ones are the good ones, which the great, and which ones fail to measure up? I’ll also be comparing the original 1950s series to its many reworkings, the last of which at the time of writing was this year, 2020, and to my mind fell woefully short of the kind of quality we’ve come to expect from this show over nearly seventy years now. I’ll also compare within series - was season one of the original better or worse than season five, and so on. Comments and debate as usual welcomed.

INDEX

Season One

Episode One (Pilot): "Where is Everybody?"
Episode Two: "One For the Angels"
Episode Three: "Mr. Denton on Doomsday"
Episode Four: "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine"
Episode Five: "Walking Distance"
Episode Six: "Escape Clause"
Episode Seven: "The Lonely"
Episode Eight: "Time Enough At Last"

Original Series (1959-1964)



Title: “Where is Everybody?”
Original transmission date:October 2 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Robert Stevens
Starring:
Earl Holliman as Mike Ferris
James Gregory as General
Garry Walberg as Colonel
Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Loneliness, isolation, insanity
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: A

(Ratings go from A++ for the very highest quality and best episodes, right down to C- for the trash)

Serling’s Opening Monologue

Every episode begins with a short comment by Rod Serling, either advising what is about to happen, giving clues to the plot or expounding on the theme in what may or may not be an abstract way. As this is the first ever episode, this opening monologue is missing, but from the next episode on, as far as I know without exception, each episode will have such a lead-in.

A man walks into a cafe where there is loud music blaring from a jukebox, but when he calls behind the counter for service nobody answers. He turns the music down but still nobody arrives to serve him, so after calling a few times he vaults over the counter and goes to see… nobody there. He looks back from the kitchen and sees a pot of coffee boiling, so he goes to take a cup and knocks down a watch, the glass of which shatters, the time stopped at 6:15, but whether this is AM or PM is not made clear. Talking to himself now, he admits he has a bit of a problem, in that he can’t remember who he is, and on entering the cafe he had asked what the town was, but having received no response he is none the wiser.

Leaving the empty cafe he heads on down the road till he reaches the nameless town, but it is as deserted as the diner. Everything looks good and proper, all lawns mowed, no sign of any violence or disaster, but not a soul to be seen. A church bell peals, its lonely tones echoing across the roads, and he feels even more isolated, until he sees, finally, a figure, a person, a woman sitting in a car. He approaches her, careful not to spook her, but when he gets close enough he can see she is a mannequin, a dummy. Across the road, a telephone starts ringing but when he gets to the phone box the line is dead. So he tries calling the operator, but only gets a recording. When he tries to get out it seems he’s locked in, but it’s just that the door is one of those old concertina-type ones, and you have to kind of fold it to open it, whereas he’s just pushing against and rattling it.

Once he finds his way out, he goes into the police station, which is as deserted as everywhere else, but here he does find a half-smoked (and still smoking) cigar, so he knows now that he is not alone. Somewhere in this crazy town, someone is watching him, playing with him, observing him, manipulating him. And he aims to find out who that is and what they’re playing at, to use the parlance of the time. In one of the cells he finds running water and evidence someone has been shaving, or was in the middle of it when they suddenly left. He not unsurprisingly thinks he’s dreaming and tries to force himself to wake up, but to no avail.

When night falls lights come on in the buildings, and he’s drawn towards a cinema which is showing a movie about the US Air Force. This triggers something in his memory, and he remembers that he too is in the Air Force. It’s not much but it’s something, something to hang on to, something that might lead to his discovering his actual identity. The cinema is of course empty, but as he sits down a movie begins showing a B-29 flying, and realising that someone must be operating the projector (this is 1959 remember) he runs up to the booth, but there’s nobody there. Running back down the stairs he crashes into a mirror, then, stunned, runs outside and just breaks down completely.

Now we see a group of people watching him from an office, all in military uniform. We can see that the picture they’re watching shows a man hooked up to electrodes, and with a resigned look one of the men orders the release of “the subject”. As these orders are carried out, the others debate the success or otherwise of the experiment. We see that this was all a test, an attempt to acclimate a human being to the desperate loneliness of space, and that everything the pilot saw was manufactured by his own rambling brain. Eventually it became too much and he snapped. But they’re getting closer. Soon, it will be for real.

Serling’s closing monologue

Each episode also ends with Serling speaking a monologue, usually tied to and sometimes, though not always, offering an explanation of the story.

The barrier of loneliness: The palpable, desperate need of the human animal to be with his fellow man. Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting... in The Twilight Zone.


The Resolution

Here’s where I’ll be commenting on whether the twist was good, whether the story concluded well, whether or not the resolution was believable and fit in with the story line. This first one dovetails nicely. Of course they could have gone with the obvious ending of the guy being in an asylum, or being studied by aliens, or even just having a dream. But I think Serling here tapped into the almost frenetic sense of something great being on the horizon, with talk of the moon landings still a decade away but closer than before, man on the cusp of taking his first tentative steps out into space. Of course, back then he wouldn’t have known that the moon missions would end up being mostly a colossal waste of time, money and resources, that we’d do nothing with the discoveries we made, and that in the end, our single satellite would turn out to be nothing more exciting than a big lump of dead rock.

But while authors had written and would continue to write about brave space adventurers plying the trackless depths of the interstellar deep, few if any would have grappled with the intrinsic problem of loneliness and isolation that comes with it. Serling had the foresight - he may not have been the only one but at least he was thinking about it - to consider the massive burden man would carry with him when he went up into space. Certainly, in reality it turned out that no single man ever went into space alone - it was always a crew, NASA being perhaps mindful indeed of the danger of depriving its astronauts of human companionship - but even with three or four men on the vessel, it could still be a struggle. Deprived of friends and family, loved ones and familiar people, who might not crack? In Serling’s story, it’s akin to being locked in solitary for - here the colonel says over 484 hours, that’s roughly 20 days - a hell of a long time, and in addition being out in the unforgiving vast reaches of space. A very long way from home.

I’m sure NASA probably did conduct stress tests of this nature, or similar, with their astronauts before allowing them to blast off from the Earth and head out into the remote dark. It’s a scary place out there, and you’ve got to be able to face it.

The Moral

Space can be a lonely place, so you had better be ready to spend a lot of time with yourself if you plan heading out there.

Questions and, sometimes, Answers


What about....?

The broken watch at the beginning? That was a clue; we see it right at the end, a gauge or clock in the booth in which the guy has been sealed. It’s broken because he’s banged his head against it in his frustration, and yes, it shows 6:15.

The telephone ringing? That's never explained, though you could imagine it’s his desire for companionship, contact, the desperate need to know that there is at least one person out there besides him.

The cigar? Presumably the same; there is nobody else in the town, nobody watching him, and nobody running the film, because everything has been constructed inside his mind. It doesn’t exist at all.

I do wonder why, when he hears the church bells (twice) he never thinks to go into it? If the bell is ringing, there’s surely a half-decent chance there’s a service on, so would be not be likely to find people there if anywhere? But he never goes near it.

The interrupted shaving? Hmm. Well it might be a metaphor in his mind for when he says “I never actually woke up this morning”, finding himself instead on the road into the town created by his mind. Perhaps it’s symbolic of something he knows he should have had to do, but could not remember having done.

Those clever little touches

When he runs down the stairs from the projection booth and runs into a mirror, the symbolism couldn’t be clearer. He’s crashing into his own self, the only thing that shares the booth with him, and his personality, his very sanity, is in danger of shattering with that glass. It also harks back to an earlier scene where, making an ice cream, he sees himself in a mirror and begins talking to himself, another indicator of his fracturing sanity.

In the shop, he finds a rack of books all titled The Last Man on Earth, 1959. This is especially clever, as it skews the viewer’s thoughts in the direction that this may all be real, that he may in fact be the last man left living on the planet.

At the very end, he looks up to the moon and says “we’ll be up there soon.” That was 1959. Ten short years later Neil Armstrong was making his “one small step for man”.


Themes

The main theme explored here is of course loneliness brought on by isolation, similar to a man being placed in solitary confinement, or living on a desert island alone for some time. The mind, desperate for company and rationality, begins to play tricks, inventing people and places, but often these constructs lack cohesion and so may not make much sense, such as empty cinemas, a cigar left in an ashtray when nobody is there, a mannequin sitting in a car, a jukebox playing in a deserted cafe. They’re like badly-made cinema sets, liable to fall down at any moment and reveal the stark bare nothingness behind them.

The human animal needs companionship. This much is known, which is why imprisonment in solitary is one of the most feared of all punishments for the incarcerated. No matter how bad things are, there are others to talk to, listen to, argue with, laugh with, cry with or even fear. But being alone is one of the hardest things for any man or woman to contemplate. This may be why some people (myself included) tend to talk to themselves when alone, as if we’re trying to make believe there’s another person there with us.

In the episode, the pilot is desperate to find other living beings. Even just to sit with others and if not talk, just listen to them, but on his mission to the moon he will be utterly alone (as Serling saw it) and will have to be ready for that. His mounting terror and frustration, culminating in a nervous breakdown, shows that he is far from that place yet.

Insanity is the other theme. As it becomes increasingly apparent that he is alone, the pilot, trying to figure it out, slowly edges towards madness. This can’t be happening, therefore the only possible explanation is that he has lost his mind. In the end, ironically, this is pretty much what happens.

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Old 01-30-2021, 08:14 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Title: “One For the Angels”
Original transmission date: October 9 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Robert Parrish
Starring:
Ed Wynn as Lewis J. “Lew” Bookman
Murray Hamilton as Mr. Death
Dana Dillaway as Maggie Polanski
Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Arrogance and sacrifice
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: C-

Serling’s opening monologue

Street scene: summer, the present. Man on the sidewalk named Lew Bookman, sixtyish, occupation: pitchman. Lew Bookman, a fixture of the summer, a rather minor component to a hot July; a nondescript, commonplace little man to whom life is a treadmill, built out of sidewalks. But in just a moment Lew Bookman will have to concern himself with survival, because as of three o’clock this hot July afternoon, he’ll be stalked by Mr. Death.

Lew Bookman, as described above, a nobody who scratches a meagre living trying to sell knick knacks, cheap toys and items from a collapsible stall is interviewed by a man in a dark suit who seems very interested in him. Turns out he’s Death, and our Mr. Bookman is due to shuffle off this mortal coil at midnight. Trying to forestall his “departure”, as “Mister Death” - yeah, that’s what he calls him, give me a break - refers to his imminent demise, Bookman tells him that he’s always wanted to do the perfect pitch - one for the angels. Intrigued, Death agrees. But Bookman believes he has fooled Death, intending, having gained the stay of execution, as it were, never to pitch again, and so not have to die.

Death is not happy. He tells Bookman that there will be consequences, and indeed there are. Maggie, a little child who lives in his building, is run over, and Death shows Bookman that if he thinks he’s so smart, trying to cheat him, he’ll find he doesn’t know who he’s messing with. When it becomes clear that Maggie can see Death - and Death has informed him that only those who are to die can see him - Bookman realises what he has done. He tries to go back on the deal, offer himself in Maggie’s stead, but that ship has sailed.

When he is told by Death that he has to be in Maggie’s room at precisely midnight, Bookman delays him by, well, pitching for the angels. At the end of his pitch he offers himself as a servant to Death, and that’s it really: he interests Death so much in his stock that the Reaper forgets about Maggie and misses his appointment. The girl will live, and Bookman is happy to go with Death in her place.

Serling’s closing monologue

Lewis J. Bookman, age sixtyish, occupation: pitchman. Formerly, a fixture of the summer, formerly a rather minor component to a hot July. But throughout his life a man beloved by the children, and therefore a most important man. Couldn’t happen, you say? Probably not, in most places. But it did happen in the Twilight Zone.

The Resolution

One word: ridiculous. How anyone could believe that the personification of death would be remotely interested in such mundane items as ties, ribbon and string, certainly to the extent that he would neglect his charge and forget the time, is unthinkable.

The Moral

The only one I can think of is when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.
Oh, and don’t drink seven bottles of Johnnie Walker Black before trying to write, Rod!

Those clever little touches

One of the first things we see - almost the first - on Bookman’s tray is a toy Robbie the Robot, the movie that would go on to gain a cult following and be hailed as one of the most important science fiction films of all time, Forbidden Planet, having been released a mere three years previously.

Bookman asks Mr. Death (really? ) if he is a census taker? In a way, yes he is: the ultimate census taker.


Questions, and Sometimes, Answers

Only one really: how could a writer of Serling’s calibre write such unadulterated crap? Also, considering he too was pitching his series, how could he expect that this could stand as a second episode, after the far superior pilot? And how did the series not get cancelled (thankfully) when the execs saw this? Okay that’s three questions: wanna fight about it?

Themes

Although Bookman is seen as a fairly sympathetic, even pathetic man, we soon learn that he is devious and cunning, as he outwits Mr. Death by fooling him into allowing an extension to his intended date of death and then cites his intention to do all he can to avoid meeting the terms of the contract. It’s pretty arrogant of him; he thinks he’s really smart and clever, but Mr. Death has the last laugh when he then substitutes the young Maggie to go in his stead, and Bookman has to back down. By now though it is too late and so we see his skills as a pitchman (look, just let me get through this, okay? It’s painful enough as it is) used to delay Mr. Death and cause him to miss his appointment to take Maggie, then sacrifice himself, which kind of is no real sacrifice as he was slated to go anyway. One would think that, with his failure to reap Maggie, the contract would have reverted back to Bookman? Maybe not, but I think it might have done.

Anyway, that’s all the time I wish to spend on this blight on an otherwise superb series. Consign it to the trash bin of history, and let’s move on.
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Old 02-01-2021, 10:11 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Title: “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”
Original transmission date: October 16 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Allen Reisner
Starring:

Dan Duryea as Al Denton
Martin Landau as Dan Hotaling
Jeanne Cooper as Liz Smith
Doug McClure as Pete Grant
Malcolm Atterby as Henry J. Fate
Ken Lynch as Charlie
Bill Erwin as Man in Bar

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: The Old West, probably around late nineteenth century
Theme(s): Redemption, courage, pacifism, alcoholism
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: A+


Serling’s opening monologue

Portrait of a town drunk, named Al Denton. This is a man who has begun his dying early: a long, agonising route through a maze of bottles. Al Denton, who would probably give an arm or a leg or a part of his soul to have another chance, to be able to rise up and shake the dirt from his body, and the bad dreams that infest his consciousness. [The camera pans up to a figure standing before a stagecoach] In the parlance of the times, this is a pedlar: a rather fanciful-looking little man in a black frock coat. [A revolver mysteriously appears on the ground next to Denton] And this is the third principal character of our story. Its function? Perhaps to give Mr. Al Denton his second chance.



Al Denton, town drunk and butt of all jokes, finds a gun on the street. He used to be a gunfighter, but now he’s the favourite whipping boy of the local cowboy gang. When their leader jokingly challenges him to a draw, he easily beats him although he seems to have no idea what he’s doing, as if the gun is firing by itself. Nevertheless, suddenly he’s respected and more to the point, finds new respect for himself. His joy is short-lived though, as he remembers how, when he was a gunslinger, every hot shot in the territory wanted to prove they could beat him. All were killed, and now he knows it’s only a matter of time before it all starts up again.

Sure enough, it’s no time at all before a cowboy called Pete Clark issues a challenge, and seeing that he still can’t shoot like he used to, Denton decides to skip town. As he does though he runs into the pedlar mentioned in the intro (whose name just happens to be Henry J. Fate!) who gives him a potion which, he says, will make him the greatest marksman ever - for ten seconds. Armed with this new weapon, Denton decides to stay and face his rival.

However, when the challenger arrives, and Denton drinks his elixir, Grant does, too, and they can both see now that they are evenly matched, and when they fire, each hits the hand of the other, rendering his opposite number no longer able to wield a gun. Having proven his courage, and skill, to the town, Denton no longer has to worry about young guns coming in to challenge him, as the word will go out that he is not able to answer any, but that he proved himself. He can now look forward to a long peaceful life, lived with honour.


Serling’s closing monologue

Mr. Henry Fate, dealer in utensils and pots and pans, liniments and potions. A fanciful little man in a black frock coat who can help a man climbing out of a pit—or another man from falling into one. Because, you see, fate can work that way, in the Twilight Zone.


The Resolution

Very clever. Rather than just make Denton fast enough to put Grant down, Fate (yeah) gives both of them the liquid, matching them and therefore allowing each to cripple the hand of the other, at least temporarily, but ensuring neither will use a gun again. Denton gets his redemption, while at the same time Grant is given the chance not to make the same mistakes his opponent has.


The Moral

I guess there are two: there’s always the possibility of a second chance, and you don’t have to answer every argument with violence and death.


Those clever little touches

As they await the arrival of Pete Grant, the camera zooms in on the clock, heading towards 10 pm. It’s very similar to what happens in the classic western, High Noon, though of course in that case it’s midday the clock is counting down to.

The saloon is called The Dalton Saloon, presumably a tip of the hat to the Dalton Gang, one of the legendary cowboy outfits of the Old West.


And isn’t that…?


This is the first, but by no means the last of the episodes to feature either the debut performances of, or cameos by future stars.


Martin Landau (1928-2017)

The leader of the cowboy gang who torment Denton at the beginning, and who is humiliated by the drunk as soon as he finds the gun. Landau has only really a small part in this, but would go on to become famous as Commander Koenig in Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999 and also star in Mission Impossible, working alongside Cary Grant in the classic Hitchcock movie North by Northwest, as well as a host of other credits. He passed away in 2017.



Doug McClure (1935-1995)

Famous for an assortment of B-movie credits as well as series such as The Virginian. This would have been one of his early roles, he only 24 at the time. McClure passed on in 1995, and was famously parodied as Troy McClure in The Simpsons.



Jeanne Cooper (1928-2013)

Famous (apparently) for her role as Katherine in the long-running American TV Soap The Young and the Restless, Cooper died in 2013.


Themes

Courage plays a large part here, initially in its absence, as Denton allows himself to be used by the cruel cowboy gang, the butt of their humour, and then later, when he prepares himself to face his death. Courage of a different sort is displayed by Grant, who rides into town in a cloud of youthful exuberance, eager to prove himself, but not so sure of himself that he doesn’t take the help offered by Henry J. Fate.

Redemption of course looms large in the foreground, as Denton rediscovers his prowess with a gun but almost immediately finds it the curse it once was, yet is offered a way out by Fate and ends up being able to retain his honour and his life, and get a second chance, presumably with Liz. Then there’s alcoholism, with Denton having sunk into the abyss of drunkenness thanks to his being responsible for so many deaths, one of which was a kid of sixteen. Every western town seemed to have a town drunk, and usually they were comedic figures, but here Serling paints Denton in shades of tragedy and pity; a man who once had it all has fallen so far he can’t fall lower. It’s notable that once he regains his gunfighting skills Denton no longer needs the bottle, nor does he want it.

And finally, there’s pacifism. Odd, perhaps, in an episode set in the Wild West, but we learn that all Denton wants is to have a peaceful life. He has lived as a gunfighter and no longer wishes to, so when his hand is hurt and he can no longer hold a gun he is delighted, and so much more so for Grant, who, young and impressionable, would surely have gone on to make the mistakes Denton had made, or be killed young, had Fate not stepped in.


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Old 02-05-2021, 02:34 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Title: “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”
Original transmission date: October 23 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Mitchell Leisen
Starring:
Ida Lupino as Barbara Jane Trenton
Martin Balsam as Danny Weiss
Jerome Cowan as Jerry
Ted de Corsia as Marty Sall
Alice Frost as Sally

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Isolation/seclusion; wishing for the past
Parodied? Yes, at the very least in the American Dad episode “A Star is Reborn”
Rating: B


Serling’s opening monologue

Picture of a woman looking at a picture. Movie great of another time, once-brilliant star in a firmament no longer a part of the sky, eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit-and-run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.


A woman sits in a room alone watching films, films of herself. She is an actress, or was: her time has now long passed, her best years behind her, and she is reliving her past glories as bitterness twists her up inside. Barbara’s becoming increasingly reclusive and retreating more from reality, trying to regain her past, unwilling to face the world. When Danny, her agent comes to try to coax her out of the room she is initially resistant, until he breaks the news that he has a part for her to play, and suddenly visions of her golden years come flooding back, and she is happy to leave the room.

However, it turns out that the part is not what she was expecting. She refuses to see that she has grown older, that the world has moved on and nobody wants her anymore. She can’t “demand” the roles she wants, as she says herself, and anything she does get is going to be for the more mature woman. She refuses the part, rushes home, locks herself in again, wishing herself back in the 1930s. Danny tries to shake her into reality by having one of her co-stars call by, and at first she is excited, as she hasn’t seen him in twenty years, but Gerry is older now, and she almost doesn’t recognise him. Stupidly, when told he was coming, she had pictured him as he had been in the movies in which she starred with him. It’s a big shock, but does the reverse of what Danny had hoped, and sends her scurrying back into her room, eager to avoid the present and the fact that she too has grown old.

When the maid comes to bring her coffee, she can’t find her, and then looks up at the screen and screams. A while later Danny arrives, confirming that Barbara is nowhere to be found. Reluctantly, he turns on the projector, and is amazed to see Barbara on the screen, as she is now, talking to all her old friends (as they were then, and not as characters but as the actors and actresses they were). He calls to her and she responds, coming to the screen, smiles, blows him a kiss and turns away. The film ends. Danny picks up the scarf she threw to him, from the screen, which is now at his feet, and smiles.

Serling’s closing monologue

To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own. To Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank tomb of an empty projection screen into a private world. It can happen in the Twilight Zone.


The Resolution

Again, highly ridiculous. Barbara, unable to cope with her fading fame in the real world, simply “wishes” herself into the screen. It’s absolute nonsense. At least if she had wished herself into one of her old movies, with no sign of her in the house and one of the old films perhaps betraying a wink or a smile not there originally, to hint at the possibility that she had somehow managed to transfer into the film, but here, she’s shown in her own house but in the 1930s, surrounded by all her friends, actors who have passed on. It’s, as Burt Reynolds once said on The Simpsons, garbage.

The Moral

A very poor one I feel. If you want to live in the past, and can’t face the future, why then just wish really hard and you’ll be back in the past for which you crave. Never mind cowboying up and facing reality!

Those clever little touches

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but when Danny talks of Barbara’s room, he says it’s “dark, damp and full of cobwebs”. And she’s sitting there, alone, in the dark, trying to relive the past or at least blot out the present. Reminds me of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.

Iconic?

Although Serling’s scripts are mostly original, there are one or two episodes which seem to draw from previous writings, either on television or on film, and of course it often goes the other way too, as later writers copied, used or built on his ideas. This isn’t the same, of course, as parodying the episode or parts of it, which is why this is in its own section.

This episode draws heavily on two movies of the 1950s, one totally indeed iconic, Sunset Boulevard, and the other perhaps lesser so, Bette Davis’s The Star.

And isn’t that…?


Ida Lupino (1918-1995)

She plays the fading actress. Ida Lupino was a film maker in Hollywood at a time when the industry was almost completely male-dominated. She is acknowledged as one of the finest filmmakers of her age, and also starred in films and on television.


Martin Balsam (1919-1996)

How odd! Born one year after Lupino and died one year after her too! Balsam was a Hollywood actor who appeared in three iconic movies - Pyscho, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the original Cape Fear. He was also originally cast as the voice of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey but was rejected by Kubrick for sounding “too American”.

Themes

Basically we have two: the self-imposed seclusion by Barbara of herself from the rest of the world, living in her own darkened little picture house, unwilling to accept that she is older and that the world has changed. There’s an almost admirable, Trumplike quality to Barbara’s refusal to accept reality, and in the end, it seems, she gets her wish. There’s a definite theme of loneliness here too, as Barbara cuts herself off from her old friends and co-stars, who are either dead or have grown too old (she does not see herself as old, but still as she appears on the screen in her old movies, and hates to be reminded of the passage of years) and becomes the sole inhabitant of her own world. Like a vampire hiding from the sun, she keeps the curtains drawn and the windows closed, living in a fantasy land where time never moves on, nothing changes, but in this world she is completely alone, and on some level she knows this, even though she resists it.

The other real theme is one of wishing for and living in the past. All Barbara wants is for it to be the 1930s again, when people were more sophisticated, kinder, more elegant. She abhors the “new rock and roll” and everything the fifties (verging into the sixties) brings with it. She’s happy to live on - and literally in - past glories, rather than face the fact that the world has changed, and she needs to change with it.

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Old 02-13-2021, 10:03 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Title: “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”
Original transmission date: October 23 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Mitchell Leisen
Starring:
Ida Lupino as Barbara Jane Trenton
Martin Balsam as Danny Weiss
Jerome Cowan as Jerry
Ted de Corsia as Marty Sall
Alice Frost as Sally

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Isolation/seclusion; wishing for the past
Parodied? Yes, at the very least in the American Dad episode “A Star is Reborn”
Rating: B


Serling’s opening monologue

Picture of a woman looking at a picture. Movie great of another time, once-brilliant star in a firmament no longer a part of the sky, eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit-and-run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.

A woman sits in a room alone watching films, films of herself. She is an actress, or was: her time has now long passed, her best years behind her, and she is reliving her past glories as bitterness twists her up inside. Barbara’s becoming increasingly reclusive and retreating more from reality, trying to regain her past, unwilling to face the world. When Danny, her agent comes to try to coax her out of the room she is initially resistant, until he breaks the news that he has a part for her to play, and suddenly visions of her golden years come flooding back, and she is happy to leave the room.

However, it turns out that the part is not what she was expecting. She refuses to see that she has grown older, that the world has moved on and nobody wants her anymore. She can’t “demand” the roles she wants, as she says herself, and anything she does get is going to be for the more mature woman. She refuses the part, rushes home, locks herself in again, wishing herself back in the 1930s. Danny tries to shake her into reality by having one of her co-stars call by, and at first she is excited, as she hasn’t seen him in twenty years, but Gerry is older now, and she almost doesn’t recognise him. Stupidly, when told he was coming, she had pictured him as he had been in the movies in which she starred with him. It’s a big shock, but does the reverse of what Danny had hoped, and sends her scurrying back into her room, eager to avoid the present and the fact that she too has grown old.

When the maid comes to bring her coffee, she can’t find her, and then looks up at the screen and screams. A while later Danny arrives, confirming that Barbara is nowhere to be found. Reluctantly, he turns on the projector, and is amazed to see Barbara on the screen, as she is now, talking to all her old friends (as they were then, and not as characters but as the actors and actresses they were). He calls to her and she responds, coming to the screen, smiles, blows him a kiss and turns away. The film ends. Danny picks up the scarf she threw to him, from the screen, which is now at his feet, and smiles.

Serling’s closing monologue

To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own. To Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank tomb of an empty projection screen into a private world. It can happen in the Twilight Zone.



The Resolution

Again, highly ridiculous. Barbara, unable to cope with her fading fame in the real world, simply “wishes” herself into the screen. It’s absolute nonsense. At least if she had wished herself into one of her old movies, with no sign of her in the house and one of the old films perhaps betraying a wink or a smile not there originally, to hint at the possibility that she had somehow managed to transfer into the film, but here, she’s shown in her own house but in the 1930s, surrounded by all her friends, actors who have passed on. It’s, as Burt Reynolds once said on The Simpsons, garbage.

The Moral

A very poor one I feel. If you want to live in the past, and can’t face the future, why then just wish really hard and you’ll be back in the past for which you crave. Never mind cowboying up and facing reality!

Those clever little touches

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but when Danny talks of Barbara’s room, he says it’s “dark, damp and full of cobwebs”. And she’s sitting there, alone, in the dark, trying to relive the past or at least blot out the present. Reminds me of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.



Iconic?

Although Serling’s scripts are mostly original, there are one or two episodes which seem to draw from previous writings, either on television or on film, and of course it often goes the other way too, as later writers copied, used or built on his ideas. This isn’t the same, of course, as parodying the episode or parts of it, which is why this is in its own section.

This episode draws heavily on two movies of the 1950s, one totally indeed iconic, Sunset Boulevard, and the other perhaps lesser so, Bette Davis’s The Star.


And isn’t that…?



Ida Lupino (1918-1995)


She plays the fading actress. Ida Lupino was a film maker in Hollywood at a time when the industry was almost completely male-dominated. She is acknowledged as one of the finest filmmakers of her age, and also starred in films and on television.



Martin Balsam (1919-1996)

How odd! Born one year after Lupino and died one year after her too! Balsam was a Hollywood actor who appeared in three iconic movies - Pyscho, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the original Cape Fear. He was also originally cast as the voice of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey but was rejected by Kubrick for sounding “too American”.

Themes

Basically we have two: the self-imposed seclusion by Barbara of herself from the rest of the world, living in her own darkened little picture house, unwilling to accept that she is older and that the world has changed. There’s an almost admirable, Trumplike quality to Barbara’s refusal to accept reality, and in the end, it seems, she gets her wish. There’s a definite theme of loneliness here too, as Barbara cuts herself off from her old friends and co-stars, who are either dead or have grown too old (she does not see herself as old, but still as she appears on the screen in her old movies, and hates to be reminded of the passage of years) and becomes the sole inhabitant of her own world. Like a vampire hiding from the sun, she keeps the curtains drawn and the windows closed, living in a fantasy land where time never moves on, nothing changes, but in this world she is completely alone, and on some level she knows this, even though she resists it.

The other real theme is one of wishing for and living in the past. All Barbara wants is for it to be the 1930s again, when people were more sophisticated, kinder, more elegant. She abhors the “new rock and roll” and everything the fifties (verging into the sixties) brings with it. She’s happy to live on - and literally in - past glories, rather than face the fact that the world has changed, and she needs to change with it.

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Old 02-13-2021, 09:28 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Old 03-07-2021, 10:34 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Title: “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”
Original transmission date:October 23 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Mitchell Leisen
Starring:
Ida Lupino as Barbara Jane Trenton
Martin Balsam as Danny Weiss
Jerome Cowan as Jerry
Ted de Corsia as Marty Sall
Alice Frost as Sally

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Isolation/seclusion; wishing for the past
Parodied? Yes, at the very least in the American Dad episode “A Star is Reborn”
Rating: B

Serling’s opening monologue

Picture of a woman looking at a picture. Movie great of another time, once-brilliant star in a firmament no longer a part of the sky, eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit-and-run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame.

A woman sits in a room alone watching films, films of herself. She is an actress, or was: her time has now long passed, her best years behind her, and she is reliving her past glories as bitterness twists her up inside. Barbara’s becoming increasingly reclusive and retreating more from reality, trying to regain her past, unwilling to face the world. When Danny, her agent comes to try to coax her out of the room she is initially resistant, until he breaks the news that he has a part for her to play, and suddenly visions of her golden years come flooding back, and she is happy to leave the room.

However, it turns out that the part is not what she was expecting. She refuses to see that she has grown older, that the world has moved on and nobody wants her anymore. She can’t “demand” the roles she wants, as she says herself, and anything she does get is going to be for the more mature woman. She refuses the part, rushes home, locks herself in again, wishing herself back in the 1930s. Danny tries to shake her into reality by having one of her co-stars call by, and at first she is excited, as she hasn’t seen him in twenty years, but Gerry is older now, and she almost doesn’t recognise him. Stupidly, when told he was coming, she had pictured him as he had been in the movies in which she starred with him. It’s a big shock, but does the reverse of what Danny had hoped, and sends her scurrying back into her room, eager to avoid the present and the fact that she too has grown old.

When the maid comes to bring her coffee, she can’t find her, and then looks up at the screen and screams. A while later Danny arrives, confirming that Barbara is nowhere to be found. Reluctantly, he turns on the projector, and is amazed to see Barbara on the screen, as she is now, talking to all her old friends (as they were then, and not as characters but as the actors and actresses they were). He calls to her and she responds, coming to the screen, smiles, blows him a kiss and turns away. The film ends. Danny picks up the scarf she threw to him, from the screen, which is now at his feet, and smiles.

Serling’s closing monologue

To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension of its own. To Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank tomb of an empty projection screen into a private world. It can happen in the Twilight Zone.



Those clever little touches

I don’t know if it’s intentional, but when Danny talks of Barbara’s room, he says it’s “dark, damp and full of cobwebs”. And she’s sitting there, alone, in the dark, trying to relive the past or at least blot out the present. Reminds me of Miss Haversham fromGreat Expectations.

Iconic?

Although Serling’s scripts are mostly original, there are one or two episodes which seem to draw from previous writings, either on television or on film, and of course it often goes the other way too, as later writers copied, used or built on his ideas. This isn’t the same, of course, as parodying the episode or parts of it, which is why this is in its own section.

This episode draws heavily on two movies of the 1950s, one totally indeed iconic, Sunset Boulevard, and the other perhaps lesser so, Bette Davis’s The Star.

The Resolution

Again, highly ridiculous. Barbara, unable to cope with her fading fame in the real world, simply “wishes” herself into the screen. It’s absolute nonsense. At least if she had wished herself into one of her old movies, with no sign of her in the house and one of the old films perhaps betraying a wink or a smile not there originally, to hint at the possibility that she had somehow managed to transfer into the film, but here, she’s shown in her own house but in the 1930s, surrounded by all her friends, actors who have passed on. It’s, as Burt Reynolds once said on The Simpsons, garbage.

The Moral

A very poor one I feel. If you want to live in the past, and can’t face the future, why then just wish really hard and you’ll be back in the past for which you crave. Never mind cowboying up and facing reality!

And isn’t that…?

Ida Lupino (1918-1995)
She plays the fading actress. Ida Lupino was a film maker in Hollywood at a time when the industry was almost completely male-dominated. She is acknowledged as one of the finest filmmakers of her age, and also starred in films and on television.

Martin Balsam (1919-1996)
How odd! Born one year after Lupino and died one year after her too! Balsam was a Hollywood actor who appeared in three iconic movies - Pyscho, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the original Cape Fear. He was also originally cast as the voice of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey but was rejected by Kubrick for sounding “too American”.

Themes

Basically we have two: the self-imposed seclusion by Barbara of herself from the rest of the world, living in her own darkened little picture house, unwilling to accept that she is older and that the world has changed. There’s an almost admirable, Trumplike quality to Barbara’s refusal to accept reality, and in the end, it seems, she gets her wish. There’s a definite theme of loneliness here too, as Barbara cuts herself off from her old friends and co-stars, who are either dead or have grown too old (she does not see herself as old, but still as she appears on the screen in her old movies, and hates to be reminded of the passage of years) and becomes the sole inhabitant of her own world. Like a vampire hiding from the sun, she keeps the curtains drawn and the windows closed, living in a fantasy land where time never moves on, nothing changes, but in this world she is completely alone, and on some level she knows this, even though she resists it.

The other real theme is one of wishing for and living in the past. All Barbara wants is for it to be the 1930s again, when people were more sophisticated, kinder, more elegant. She abhors the “new rock and roll” and everything the fifties (verging into the sixties) brings with it. She’s happy to live on - and literally in - past glories, rather than face the fact that the world has changed, and she needs to change with it.
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Old 03-07-2021, 12:18 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Title: “Walking Distance”
Original transmission date: October 30 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Robert Stevens
Starring: Gig Young as Martin Sloan
Frank Overton as Robert Sloan
Irene Tedrow as Mrs. Sloan
Michael Montgomery as Tweenage Martin
Ron Howard as Wilcox Boy
Byron Foulger as Charlie
Sheridan Comerate as Gas Station Attendant
Joseph Corey as Soda Jerk
Buzz Martin as Boy with Car
Nan Peterson as Woman in Park
Pat O'Malley as Mr. Wilson

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Childhood, innocence, longing for the past, pressure of modern life
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: B-

Serling’s opening monologue

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six. Occupation: vice-president, ad agency, in charge of media. This is not just a Sunday drive for Martin Sloan. He perhaps doesn't know it at the time, but it's an exodus. Somewhere up the road he's looking for sanity. And somewhere up the road, he'll find something else.

Leaving his car in for a service at a gas station, an executive realises he’s stopped near the town he grew up in, and since the service is going to take about an hour, he decides to walk into town, to see how things have changed. Turns out they haven’t. He can still get his favourite ice cream - at the price he used to pay as a kid - and the boss of the ice cream soda parlour or whatever the damn hell you Americans call those things - soda fountains? - well whatever - is still alive when he should be long dead (though the businessman does not see this; it happens after he leaves the shop). Heading into town, the executive, Martin Sloan, meets a kid, but he gets spooked when he tells him his name, saying he knows Marty Sloan and he (the executive) is not him.

Things take a weirder turn (I know; you and I know where this is going, but let’s just run with it as if we don’t, eh?) when he meets the so-called Martin Sloan, and recognises him as himself. Intrigued (but perhaps not quite getting it right away) he goes to his old house, and meets his mother and father, as they were when he was eleven years old. They of course don’t recognise him, grown now into a man, and indeed think he’s mad when he tries to tell them who he is, and slam the door in his face. After a second, similarly unsuccessful attempt to convince his parents of who he is, Sloan decides it’s more important to use this god-given opportunity to right his past than to establish his identity here, which nobody will believe anyway.

He goes to talk to his younger self on the merry-go-round, but there’s an accident when past Martin runs from future Martin and falls. Later, his father comes to see him, saying he has looked in his wallet and the evidence there seems to confirm that he is who he says he is. Even if the father does not understand how it’s happened, it has. He tells future Martin he has to leave and he does. When he returns to the soda thing, it’s all modernised (back to how it should be) and things cost 1959 prices. The old owner is indeed dead, and he’s told the merry-go-round he just rode on was condemned and torn down twenty years ago. He heads back for New York, in a sober silence, carrying now the inherited limp he got when he caused himself to fall off the fairground ride.

Serling’s closing monologue

Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men, perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too, because he'll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone.

The Resolution

There really isn’t one. Sloan discovers that he doesn’t belong here and kind of bogs off without doing anything, other than perhaps gaining a new perspective on adulthood.

The Moral

I expect it can be interpreted two ways: either “you can’t go back home” or “be happy with what you have.” Either way, I personally find it weak.

Iconic?

You’d have to say yes. I don’t know if this was the first story wherein someone is magically transported back to their childhood (more than likely not) but it certainly set the template for a slew of science fiction adaptations, and would also crop up periodically in this series again and again. To some lesser degree, its themes tie in to time travel movies such as Back to the Future and series like Future Man.

And isn’t that…?


Ron Howard (1954 - )
The small boy Sloan meets when he first enters Homewood is played by Howard (surely if not his first acting part, one of the first?) who came to fame as Richie Cunninham in the seminal series Happy Days, also the movie American Graffiti, and who went on to become a very successful movie producer.

Personal notes

I find it odd that this is rated so highly, ninth best episode of the series according to Time Magazine. For me, it’s pretty empty; an episode that promises much and leads up to… nothing. Sloan does nothing while he’s “back home” other than weakly call after his younger self to cherish these childish years (yeah, great advice pal); he changes nothing and contributes nothing. In fact, if you want to balance it on a scale of good to bad, he goes in the opposite direction, collecting for himself a dodgy leg along the way and scaring the **** out of everyone. In the end he kind of shrugs and heads off. Would not be one of my favourites, that’s for sure. Even Serling himself admitted it showed up his inexperience as a writer, and I agree.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

You have to laugh at the innocence of the time though. Consider today, a man coming into a small town and sitting down beside a small boy to strike up a conversation. Or pursuing another young boy on the roundabout yelling “I’m not going to hurt you!” Seems to me he would be seeing the inside of a jail cell pretty damn quick!

Questions, and sometimes, Answers

Why did his father so readily accept the rather mind-blowing premise of his son having come back from the future? All he saw was some printed money and a licence that could have been manufactured in some joke shop. But this is all it takes to convince him that a near impossibility is in fact the truth?

Sloan talks about the roundabout. Don’t Americans call them carousels?

Themes

One which will be retread often in this series is the idea of returning to or reliving your childhood, going back to the place you grew up in and somehow magically finding that nothing has changed, often meeting your younger self. The theme of pressure is there too, pressure from a high-paid and stressful job, the enormous burden the “modern” world puts on those who want to make it, and what is sacrificed in attaining that goal. The innocence of youth is presented starkly contrasting with the reality of adulthood, and the idea of perhaps re-examining your life.
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Old 03-07-2021, 07:58 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Title: “Escape Clause”
Original transmission date: November 6 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Mitchell Leisen
Starring: David Wayne as Walter Bedeker
Thomas Gomez as Mr. Cadwallader
Virginia Christine as Ethel Bedeker
Dick Wilson as insurance man #1 (Jack)
Joe Flynn as insurance man #2 (Steve)
Wendell Holmes as Bedeker's lawyer
Raymond Bailey as Bedeker's doctor

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Present (at the time)
Theme(s): Greed and hubris; eternal life; the devil; trickery
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: A

Serling’s opening monologue

You're about to meet a hypochondriac. Witness Mr. Walter Bedeker age forty-four. Afraid of the following: death, disease, other people, germs, draft, and everything else. He has one interest in life and that's Walter Bedeker. One preoccupation, the life and well-being of Walter Bedeker. One abiding concern about society, that if Walter Bedeker should die how will it survive without him?

Walter Bedecker is a sick man. In his mind only. He thinks/wishes he is dying, but in reality he’s perfectly healthy, as several - mostly unnecessary - visits from the doctor have shown. He’s basically a hypochondriac who worries about every ache and pain, every sneeze and sniffle, and thinks he has everything from measles and whooping cough to bubonic plague. He is, in short, a pain in the arse. His is very rude to and unappreciative of his long-suffering wife, who leaves him to rest after a particularly snippy argument.

Suddenly, a man appears in the bedroom. He introduces himself as Cadwallader, and offers Bedecker a bargain: immortality and invulnerability in exchange for his soul. Cadwallader is of course the Devil, and Bedecker realises this, but the deal is too sweet, and once he has made some adjustments (such as never ageing) Cadwallader shows him his escape clause, which allows him, if he ever gets tired of living, to call the Father of Lies to release him, whereupon, of course, his soul becomes the property of Hell. Happy with the contract, Bedecker signs.

He immediately tries out his powers, and begins to use them for scamming every insurance company he can: jumping in front of trains, buses, running into burning buildings and claiming for damages. But soon it becomes apparent the novelty is wearing off. When you can’t be hurt, can’t die, where’s the thrill in life? Even the least of us get the tiniest frisson from, say, walking down a deserted street at night or crossing against traffic. When the possibility, however remote, exists that you might hurt or even kill yourself, there’s interest, there’s danger, there’s excitement.

There’s fear.

But not for our Walter. Oh no. Everything bores him now, and once again he’s moaning. But he’s still the same selfish, heartless scumbag he was before the deal. When he accidentally knocks his wife off the roof of their apartment building and she falls to her death, he doesn’t even try to save her, even though he could easily. He just shrugs, probably envies her the final rush, the terror, the disbelief as her young life comes to an end. Eventually he considers turning himself in, so that he can try out the electric chair, and so he does. Unfortunately for him, his guilty verdict does not bring in a sentence of death, but life imprisonment. And back in 1959, life meant life! With no option left, he calls up Cadwallader and exercises his escape clause, suffering and dying from a heart attack.

Serling’s closing monologue

There's a saying, "Every man is put on Earth condemned to die, time and method of execution unknown." Perhaps this is as it should be. Case in point: Walter Bedeker, lately deceased. A little man with such a yen to live. Beaten by the devil, by his own boredom, and by the scheme of things in this, the Twilight Zone.


The Resolution

Clever. I like it. I couldn’t see it myself, but yes, eternity spent behind bars would have been a fitting end for this loser. It’s kind of a pity that the Devil didn’t renege on the contract and leave him there, or maybe say the decision might be tied up in committee or appeals procedure for a few hundred years. But well handled, yes.

The Moral

As is stated in, I think, another episode, if you seek immortality, you’re going to have to live with that for the rest of your life.

Questions, and sometimes, Answers

When the doctor leaves Bedecker’s bedroom and his wife follows the doctor out, why does she leave Bedecker’s bedroom door open, only for him to call after her and whine he’s cold? Why not close it, knowing he was going to raise a fuss, and particularly if she believes - incorrectly - that her husband is sick?

Oops!

Being the nitpicker I am, here’s where I’ll point out any errors I find in episodes.

It’s being a prick I know but who cares? The actor playing Bedecker, David Wayne, gets one line wrong when he compares man’s life to that of the world. Instead of saying microscopic he says microscopic. There: I told you I was a bastard, didn’t I?

I would also classify Cadwallader’s contention that “five or ten thousand years is not much; the world will go on ad infinitum” as inaccurate and wrong. The world will not go on forever. In a matter of a few billion years the sun will cool and go out and die, and long before that the Earth will be a barren rock. Had he said “life will go on” or “man will go on”, then maybe: Man may very well escape into space before his home planet dies, but that insignificant ball of mud spinning in the cosmos will not be spinning till the end of time, far from it.

You’d also have to point to the fact that, on Cadwallader’s departure, the contract having been signed and stamped, Bedecker says “Everything seems to be in order” but does not bother to read the contract. How does he know everything is in order?


Personal notes

Stories about deals with the Devil are hardly new. You can go back hundreds of years for tales of souls exchanged for money, power, women, or anything else, so even in 1959 the challenge would have been to put a twist on a very old story. Serling manages better than he doesn’t, casting a fat, jolly old man in the role (which he will do again) and making him hardly scary, and even quite generous in the terms of the contract he offers Bedecker. Of course, as in all such stories, the moral is “if you’re going to sup with the Devil use a long spoon”, for his ways are wily and he knows all the tricks, and like stories of wishes granted by genii, they never turn out well.

It’s a decent twist, as referred to above, and I also like when Bedecker asks Cadwallader how he got into his room the Devil replies that he has always been there, intimating that evil has been in the nasty hypochondriac’s heart for a very long time, just waiting for the right time to show itself and make its move. I like, too, how Bedecker, thinking he is so smart and has covered all his bases, still gets tricked into giving up immortality, and after a very short time too. He could have used his power for good - going into burning buildings, for example, not for the insurance money but to save people - and he might have not had to put himself in the position he ended up in, but he didn’t think along those lines.

It’s also poetic justice how he isn’t forced or tricked into jail. He smugly and arrogantly places himself in that position, believing nothing can harm him, but unaware that his under-appreciated lawyer is working hard to have his sentence commuted, the worst possible outcome for him. Of course, given that he is invulnerable, I suppose you could say he could punch his way out of the cell without damaging his hands, and just go on his way, but he would be a fugitive.

Forever.

Themes

On the face of it, a comedic episode but with a dark side (Bedecker’s wife does after all die, an innocent) with a very serious and timeless message: no matter what you do, you can’t outsmart the devil. Stories of immortality are as old as, well, the idea of immortality, and everyone in them thinks he can cheat the devil, or whoever is offering eternal life. They’re always wrong. Just ask Dr. Faust. Greed is a recurring theme in many episodes as the series goes on; people trying to get all they can out of life regardless of what it costs them or others. And of course man;s hubris always leads him down a dark and slippery path, running faster and faster down those slick stairs till he loses his balance and falls.
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Old 03-10-2021, 01:22 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Title: “The Lonely”
Original transmission date: November 13 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: Jack Smight
Starring:Jack Warden as James A. Corry
Jean Marsh as Alicia
John Dehner as Allenby
Ted Knight as Adams
James Turley as Carstairs


Setting: Unnamed asteroid
Timeframe: Unknown, but the future, as there is space travel and also there are prisons in space
Theme(s): Loneliness, companionship, artificial intelligence, punishment for crime, isolation
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: B

Serling’s opening monologue

Witness if you will, a dungeon, made out of mountains, salt flats, and sand that stretch to infinity. The dungeon has an inmate: James A. Corry. And this is his residence: a metal shack. An old touring car that squats in the sun and goes nowhere—for there is nowhere to go. For the record, let it be known that James A. Corry is a convicted criminal placed in solitary confinement. Confinement in this case stretches as far as the eye can see, because this particular dungeon is on an asteroid nine million miles from the Earth. Now witness, if you will, a man's mind and body shriveling in the sun, a man dying of loneliness.

A man has been sentenced to life imprisonment (as you can read above) on a lonely asteroid millions of miles from Earth, as a self-contained solitary confinement. His only companions are the crew of supply ships that visit him four times a year, so when he sees one land he’s delighted. Human company! He’s somewhat crestfallen though to find that they can only stay fifteen minutes, which is nothing when you’re on your own for years. Captain Allenby, whom he has become friends with, tells him that back on Earth there’s growing unrest about this kind of punishment, that people think the likes of him should be imprisoned back on Earth, that having to serve out his sentence out here in space all alone is cruel and unusual punishment, but so far nothing has been changed.

One of the other crew seems happy with the situation, crowing over Corry’s dilemma, angry that he personally has to spend so much time in space doing these runs that his own kids sometimes don’t know who he is when he gets home. Corry complains that he’s going crazy out here, that it’s unfair: he’s not a murderer, he says. He killed in self-defence, and the Captain seems to believe him. He tells him he has brought him something special, in a big crate, but that nobody can know about it or he'll lose his job.

When the ship leaves, Corry goes out to open the crate. To his surprise it turns out to be a robot woman (yeah). Apparently she can feel and think and reason and talk and do everything a real woman can do, but he knows it’s still a robot and is disgusted by it. He soon warms to it - her - though and in a short enough time is in love with Alicia. She makes his loneliness go away, gives him someone to talk to, to share things with, to pass the time. So when the ship arrives and he’s given the great news that he’s received a pardon, he’s thrown onto the horns of a dilemma. The ship is full and there’s only room for him, not Alicia as well. As he tries to save her, Allenby takes the initiative and shoots her. Now there’s nothing to stop Corry getting on the ship and heading back to Earth.

Serling’’s closing monologue

On a microscopic piece of sand that floats through space is a fragment of a man's life. Left to rust is the place he lived in and the machines he used. Without use, they will disintegrate from the wind and the sand and the years that act upon them. All of Mr. Corry's machines, including the one made in his image, kept alive by love, but now obsolete—in The Twilight Zone

The Resolution

Poor. I really expected something else; either that Corry would choose to stay on the asteroid, having fallen in love with Alicia (though who would then supply them I guess) or that Alicia, seeing he wouldn’t leave without her, would sacrifice herself by pretending to be just a machine. In the end, it’s a clunky, awkward ending that leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

The Moral

Not sure. The selflessness (if such can be said of a robot) of Alicia in keeping Corry sane is not repaid, and she’s cast aside in a rather hamfisted stab I guess at misogyny, but if you want a moral, maybe Futurama said it best: Don’t date robots!

Iconic?

Again, the idea of robotic companions for lonely men (ooer) has been explored before in science fiction, however I think this might be the first time a female one was used in a television series. It would certainly lead to the idea being recycled right up to today, in series like Star Trek and Red Dwarf among others.

And isn’t that…?

Jean Marsh (1934- )
Known for creating and starring in the English period dramas Upstairs, Downstairs and House of Elliot


Ted Knight (1923 - 1986)
The snarky crewman is played by a man who would go on to become another snarky favourite, untalented radio host Ted Baxter in the iconic Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Oops!

It’s not necessarily wrong, but is annoying the way everyone on the episode refers to Alicia as a ro-but and not a ro-bot (though she does have a nice butt).

I think the idea of the ship having to take a particular orbital window from the asteroid to get back to Earth is just some technobabble; I don’t believe there are any factors in a planet or indeed asteroid’s rotation that could contribute to any flight plan, or could prevent a ship plotting a course for Earth. I think this was just written in in the hope - realised - that nobody would question it and would assume it was based on science.

Corry says he and Alicia have been on the asteroid for eleven months when the ship comes back, but Allenby when leaving the first time said “see you in three months.” That would mean that they have been back twice before, and nobody has noticed or seen Alicia? They certainly act - all of them, including Allenby - surprised at the presence of the robot. I suppose he could have hidden her, or asked her to go off away from where they could see her, but still, on a flat asteroid which is all desert and has no cover, where was she going to go?

Themes

Again we have the overarching theme of loneliness, which, given the show’s premise and its rather bleak opening credits and mournful music, is not surprising. This time though it’s loneliness due to being marooned (intentionally, by the powers that be) on an asteroid, and how the slow and steady march of time slows to a slouching crawl when there’s nobody else to share your days with. The first episode to deal with robots, and therefore artificial intelligence, it can be looked on as either a hope of companionship for a lonely man, or a deeply misogynistic story that envisions women as nothing more than helpmates for him. In fairness, it’s Alicia’s tears that move Corry, rather than have him envisioning a sex doll as it were (which might have been too much for the times) and he does fight to take her with him, but when she’s shot it’s as if he realises she was just a robot, and is content to leave her behind.

At its core though the episode also explores the notion of love between, as it were, different species, if you can consider a robot a species, though no mention is made or even hinted at of a sexual relationship (he does say he’s fallen in love with her, but it could be seen as a platonic kind of love) and how love - and companionship - is one thing, perhaps the only thing, that can keep a man sane when he is left on his own.

The idea of crime and punishment is also tackled here for the first time in other than ways already known, and while the idea of banishing one man to his own asteroid, necessitating shuttles having to be sent every three months with supplies is pretty unlikely, not to mention hardly cost-effective, this kind of thing does reverberate through later science fiction, with penal colonies established on dead planets and asteroids, though these are normally manned and guarded, and invariably for more than one prisoner.

Mention is made of unrest at home, so we can see the government is not entirely popular, and given that the pardon is eventually forthcoming, we might also assume the authorities have been deposed or replaced, whether through elections, succession or even revolution we’re not told. Serling’s vision of the future is certainly a bleaker, but more practical and likely one than that of Gene Roddenberry.

Personal notes


This is the first ever episode set off-world, and indeed, in the future.


Although written by Serling, this is the first episode where the idea was not his, where he adapted the story from the writing of another, in this case Lynn Venable, who wrote the short story.
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