Monday, July 17, 2017

"The Twilight Zone," Season 1 (1959-1960)

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
Your humble blogger acquired the complete Twilight Zone Blu-ray set for Christmas in 2016, and decided it might be nice to share his journey through Serling's masterpiece as he works his way through it.
I've seen a handful of episodes over the years, and know some others by reputation; but for all practical purposes, this is new ground for me.  How can a fella be a science fiction fan and not be intimately familiar with The Twilight Zone?!?  A good question, and one I'd like to prevent from hanging over my head any longer.
"Where Is Everybody?"
(season 1, episode 1)
airdate:  October 2, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Stevens
The place is here; the time is now...

Earl Holliman plays a man who finds himself walking through a deserted town.  He doesn't know where everyone is; doesn't know where he is; doesn't even know who he is.  He'll find out.

This episode serves as a solid pilot for the series.  It's engaging, creepy, atmospheric, surreal.  Like many episodes of the series for which it led the way, it threatens to fall apart unless you engage with it on its own terms.  If you do engage with it on those terms, however, I think it still works pretty well going on sixty years later.  (It probably will actually be sixty years old by the time this post is finished...)
The Blu-ray set is crawling with special features, so I think I'll try to note those as I go.  For "Where Is Everybody?" you get a good commentary track by Holliman, an isolated-score track featuring the Bernard Herrmann music, a '00s radio-drama version starring John Schneider, and (best of all) the original pilot-presentation edit of the episode.
The latter is a few minutes longer, with the iconic voiceover delivered by some different actor (who was later replaced by Serling in what must rank as one of the all-time great Hollywood recasting jobs).  This version itself contains a commentary track by former CBS executive William Self, and another audio track consisting of fantastic excerpts from a 1975 university lecture by Serling (most of which are directly germane to "Where Is Everybody?").  It's also introduced by Serling in a pitch designed to help the series sell.

WNBHGB rating:  *** (out of *****)

"One for the Angels"  
(season 1, episode 2)

airdate:  October 9, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Parrish

Street scene: summer, the present...

Ed Wynn plays a street vendor who finds himself in the unenviable position of having to bargain with Death (played by Murray Hamilton).

A thoroughly sweet episode that has enough sentiment in it that it might well choke out an audience member or two.  Me?  I liked it just fine.  Ed Wynn is spellbinding, Murray Hamilton is likably despicable, and it all comes to a very satisfying conclusion.

The Blu-ray special features:

  • a commentary track by television historian Gary Gerani (who has some solid insights)
  • a brief interview with Dana Dillaway (who plays a crucial supporting role in the episode)
  • an isolated-score audio track
  • the radio-drama version, which stars Ed Begley, Jr. (who is okay, but is vastly inferior to Ed Wynn)

WNBHGB rating:  **** (out of *****)

"Mr. Denton on Doomsday"
(season 1, episode 3)
airdate:  October 16, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Allen Reisner
This is a man who's begun his dying early... 
Dan Duryea plays a drunken, failed gunfighter who finds his fortunes changing after a visit from a traveling salesman.  Martin Landau plays an adversary.

This is not a particularly great episode.  It's not bad; but there's nothing special about it, except maybe for Duryea and Landau.

The Blu-ray includes a good commentary by Landau and an isolated-score audio track.

WNBHGB rating:  ** 1/2 (out of *****)

"The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine"
(season 1, episode 4)
 airdate:  October 23, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Mitchell Leisen
Picture of a woman looking at a picture... 

Ida Lupino plays an aging Hollywood starlet whose ability to cope with the fact that she isn't a vibrant young romantic lead is eroding to the point of nonexistence.  She spends her days locked up in a projection room in her house, reliving former glories, and wishing she could still be up there on the screen.  She may get her wish.

I don't know whether I would have responded to this episode twenty years ago; I'd likely have thought it was okay, but nothing special.  In the middle of my middle age, however, I find this to be a moving piece of work.  Lupino plays Barbara Jean Trenton, an actor who is going through something that I suspect a great many actors of both genders have to deal with: they are growing older, while versions of them that have been immortalized on screen will remain forever young.  Some people can deal with this: Tom Hanks seems just as comfortable being Sully as he was the guy in Big, for example.  But it seems to strike others hard.

Same thing in real life, right?  I catch myself remembering some aspect of my teens or twenties and the remembrance that I'm no longer that person, that that person is in effect dead and long gone, sometimes hits me like a ton of bricks.  I don't think there's anything unusual in that; I think it would be very unusual if that were NOT the case.  Then again, the world doesn't continually celebrate those younger versions of me, and compare the new version to them, and find it wanting.

Martin Balsam is also on hand here playing Trenton's agent.  They're both very good, and of the four episodes so far, this one is my favorite.

The Blu-ray is a little skimpy on bonus features for this one, with only an isolated-score audio track for the Franz Waxman music.  I'll take it!

WNBHGB rating:  **** (out of *****)

"Walking Distance"

(season 1, episode 5)
airdate:  October 30, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Stevens
Somewhere up the road he's looking for sanity; and somewhere up the road he'll find something else... 

Gig Young plays a harried advertising executive who finds himself within walking distance of his childhood hometown while his car is being serviced.  He decides to take a stroll to see the old place, and somehow finds himself in the past. 

A solid episode through and through, one which routinely shows up on top-ten-of-the-series lists.  It shares a melancholy yearning for the past with the previous episode, "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine," and tops it by amping up the surrealism and having the entire episode live in that space (as opposed to merely having a surreal plot twist).

Is this the first classic episode of the series?  I'd say yes.  (I'd also say it's a shame nobody thought to do a remake of this episode as part of Mad Men.  It'd be a natural for Don Draper.)

The Blu-ray is packed with extras on this one:

  • A commentary track by Marc Scott Zicree, a television writer who also wrote The Twilight Zone Companion (which sold at least one copy on Amazon while this commentary was playing).
  • A second commentary track (by Steven Smith, John Morgan, and William T. Stromberg) which focuses almost entirely on Bernard Herrmann's superb score for the episode.  I'm a Herrmann fan (thanks in large part to his phenomenal scores for Alfred Hitchcock movies such as Vertigo and Psycho), and it thrills me to hear him getting his due in this manner.  
  • A third audio track consisting of excerpts from a 1975 lecture by Rod Serling.  Serling is much more critical of the episode than I would be, but nevertheless, this is priceless stuff.
  • Yet another audio track that's called an "alternate audio mix."  It's not immediately evident what is different here, but having listened to that Herrmann-centric commentary, I can tell you that the difference here seems to be that an additional cue by the composer has been restored to its originally-intended use.  The scene in question: the moment in which Gig Young hears calliope music coming from the carousel.  Hermann had written his own piece for this moment, but Serling wanted calliope music instead.  I suppose this is the sort of thing that many people would find to be insignificant; for everyone else, this is the sort of thing that makes DVD and Blu-ray a treasure of a format.  For what it's worth, I think the as-broadcast version works better dramatically; but this alternative piece by Herrmann is terrific.
  • One final audio track: an isolated track of the Herrmann score.
  • Last, and definitely least, a mediocre radio-drama version starring Chelcie Ross.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (out of *****)

"Escape Clause"
(season 1, episode 6)
airdate: November 6, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Mitchell Leisen
You're about to meet a hypochondriac... 

Walter Bedeker, a hypochondriac who frets over the question of why a man only has a tiny amount of time to be a live being on planet Earth, makes a deal for long life with the Devil himself.

This isn't much of an episode, and will almost certainly vie for the title of Bryant's Least Favorite.  David Wayne is great as Bedeker, and seems to have gone to the Jack-Nicholson-as-Jack-Torrance school of acting; Thomas Gomez is campy as Cadwallader, the Devil.  Serling's teleplay is rather obvious, and Leisen's direction a bit on the ham-fisted side.

The Blu-ray includes an isolated-score track and a radio version starring Mike Starr.  This version is relatively well-performed, but lacks even the mild comedic charm of the original episode, which makes the story seem even more inadequate than it already was.

WNBHGB rating: * 1/2 (out of *****)

"The Lonely"
(season 1, episode 7)
airdate:  November 13, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Jack Smith
Witness, if you will, a dungeon... 

James Corey (played by Jack Warden) is a convicted murderer who has been sentenced to fifty years' imprisonment in solitary confinement on an asteroid.  A supply ship visits him periodically, and its Captain decides to bring him a robot companion (Jean Marsh).

This is a very good episode, provided you are willing to buy into some of the illogical ideas it presents.  For example, does it seem likely that any government would be willing to commit the financial resources to imprison one man on an asteroid?  That's a bigger buy-in than I'm willing to make.

The episode has a lot to recommend, however, including excellent performances and a characteristically strong Bernard Herrmann score.

The Blu-ray contains three different commentary tracks (one by Marc Scott Zicree, one by a trio of Herrmann experts, and one by television historian Gary Gerani), plus an isolated-score track and a radio-drama version (once again starring Mike Starr).

WNBHGB rating:  **** (out of *****)

"Time Enough at Last"
(season 1, episode 8)
airdate:  November 20, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a short story by Lynn Venable)
directed by:  John Brahm
He'll have a world all to himself... 

Burgess Meredith plays a bank teller who cares only for reading.  Then, one day, the world comes to an end.

It's entirely possible this is the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone, which would make it the most famous episode of one of the most famous series in television history.  So why am I not more enamored of it?

It's fine and all; if nothing else, it's got a crackerjack of a performance from Meredith.  But his character is entirely unlikable, in my opinion, and that keeps me from sympathizing with him.  The fact that everyone around him is even more unlikable does not enhance his likability; I think it's supposed to, but it doesn't work on me.  At the same time, he's not unlikable enough that his ultimate fate makes me feel as if he's gotten a good comeuppance.

Anyways, I gather that I'm something of an odd man out when it comes to this episode.  It's good, and some of the effusiveness our culture feels for it has rubbed off on me.  Still, it just doesn't quite work on me ... and I'm a guy who sometimes wishes he could have the world all to himself, so really, I'm kind of the target audience, wouldn't you say?

The Blu-ray has a good commentary track by Marc Scott Zicree, plus an audio track consisting of an interview with Burgess Meredith conducted by Zicree in 1978.  A radio-series adaptation rounds out the features for this episode.

WNBHGB rating:  **** (out of *****)

"Perchance to Dream"
(season 1, episode 9)
airdate:  November 27, 1959
written by:  Charles Beaumont (based on his own short story)
directed by:   Robert Florey
...time is an enemy, and the hour to come is a matter of life and death.
Edward Hall visits a psychiatrist and tells him a whale of a tale: he dreams serially, each night picking up where he left off the night before.  Lately, he's been dreaming of a carnival dancer, Maya, who wants nothing more than to literally scare him to death.  And with the heart condition he's had since childhood, that might not be too difficult for Maya to manage...
This is a terrific episode, top to bottom.  Written by Charles Beaumont (who, The Twilight Zome Companion leads me to believe, was quite a character), it is haunting, creepy, surreal stuff.  Is there a twist ending?  Of course there is!

If you're interested in reading what it is, this post at Dog Star Omnibus has you covered.  He's got lots of killer screencaps, too.

Of especial worth here: the lead actor, Richard Conte; Suzanne Lloyd (who is dynamite walking) as Maya; and the unsettling score by Van Cleave.

The Blu-ray isn't quite as loaded as one might wish when it comes to special features, but this episode is a special enough feature.  The visuals really pop on Blu-ray; you will appreciate the cinematography of George Clemens like never before.  But there is a solid ten-minute interview with Suzanne Lloyd, plus an isolated-score track and a radio-drama version starring Fred Willard.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (out of *****)

"Judgment Night"
(season 1, episode 10)
airdate:  December 4, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  John Brahm
For one man, it is always 1942... 

A man named Lanser finds himself aboard a British tramp steamer during the Second World War, unaware of how he came to be there.  But he has the strangest feeling that a German U-boat is stalking them...

I liked this episode just fine when I first saw it last year.  I enjoyed it even more the second time, and that makes sense, given the Hell-is-repetition theme of the story.  The main role is played by Nehemiah Persoff, who is excellent.  He was an Israeli actor, and here, he plays a Nazi.  That must be a tough few days at work, but he commits to it, and does quite well.

Supporting roles are filled by Patrick Macnee (just a couple of years before he made it big with The Avengers) and James Fanciscus (who, among other things, would play the lead in the first sequel to the Serling-scripted Planet of the Apes).

The Blu-ray has no bonus features of any kind for this episode, which is a shame.

WNBHGB rating:  **** (out of *****)

"And When the Sky Was Opened"
(season 1, episode 11)
airdate:  December 11, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a short story by Richard Matheson)
directed by:  Douglas Heyes
They used to exist, but don't any longer... 

Rod Taylor plays an astronaut, one of a trio of military men who survived a recent crash after going on a trip into outer space.  One of the astronauts has gone missing, all traces of him removed from the world and the minds of the people living in it.  Will the other two be next?

This is a terrific nightmare of an episode, with a great performance from Rod Taylor, a great bosom on Gloria Pall (I apologize for saying that, but it's true, and it's quite surprising for an episode of American television in 1959), and a general sense of sweaty existential horror.  What's going on in this episode?  Not a clue, but it terrifies me.

The Blu-ray has some good stuff on this one, including a commentary track by Rod Taylor (who is engaging and Australian, the latter of which I did not know), an isolated audio track featuring Leonard Rosenman's score, a very good interview between Douglas Heyes and Marc Scott Zicree, and an unsurprisingly-awesome bit of audio from Serling about the episode.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (out of *****)

"What You Need"
(season 1, episode 12)
airdate:  December 25, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling (based on the short story by Lewis Padgett)
directed by:  Alvin Ganzer
This is a sour man... 

A guy in a bar watches as an old man comes in and gives several patrons "what they need" (as he says).  He then observes the needful things actually pay off, and insists that the old peddler give him what he needs, too.

He'll get it.

This is a Jim-dandy episode, anchored by a terrific performance by Steve Cochran as Renard.  I don't think I've ever seen him in anything else (he seems to have never quite broken through), but he's menacing as all get-out here.  As played by Cochran, Renard has genuine menace, almost as if he were about to turn into a werewolf and begin eating the faces right off peoples' heads.  It's an important quality to the episode: without that threat, I'm not sure the episode works.

Cochran's Wikipedia page is worth checking out.  The phrases that stood out to me:

  • "Mamie Van Doren later wrote about their sex life in graphic detail in her tell-all autobiography Playing the Field: My Story."  I mean, that's kind of a legacy, right?
  • "On June 15, 1965, at the age of 48, Cochran died on his yacht off the coast of Guatemala, reportedly due to an acute lung infection. His body, along with three female assistants, remained aboard for ten days since the three women did not know how to operate the boat. It drifted to shore in Port Champerico, Guatemala, and was found by authorities. There were various rumors of foul play and poisoning, but reportedly no new evidence was found."  Tell me there's not a movie waiting to be made based on that...!

The episode aired on Christmas Day, 1959, and explains the reason why I kept hearing a few bars of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" in Van Cleave's score.

My only problem with the episode is that I just didn't need (a) to have the whole thing explained to me right at the end or (b) to hear the phrase "what you need" spoken as often as it was.  Like ... I got it.  The concept made sense.  You put it in a spoon and then fed it to me, and then shoved the whole spoon right down my gullet.

Apart from that, this one is fantastic.

The Blu-ray special features are limited to two things: an isolated score track and a Tales of Tomorrow episode of the same title from 1952.  It is unaffiliated with Serling or The Twilight Zone (obviously), but is adapted from the same Lewis Padgett story.  It's similar in a few key areas, but is mostly very different; and also mostly very bad.  You want need to see bad early-fifties live-television acting?  Brother, here it is.

But it's pretty sweet to have it there on the Blu-ray for reference.

WNBHGB rating:  **** (out of *****)

"The Four of Us Are Dying"
(season 1, episode 13)
airdate:  January 1, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on an unpublished story by George Clayton Johnson)
directed by:  John Brahm
This is a cheap man, a nickel-and-dime man... 

A man who can change his face into any face at will gets up to shenanigans with a torch singer, a mobster, and a news vendor.

If I learned one thing from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it's that most shapeshifters are sumbtiches.  This episode only proved that axiom to be correct.

Unfortunately, it did so in a illogical and not particularly entertaining manner.  It's not much of an episode, and we'll speak of it no further here.  (If you feel moved to defend it -- or to pillory it further -- put the comments section to use.)

The Blu-ray has an interview with Beverly Garland (the torch singer), a commentary track with Garry Gerardi (who gives us a lot of background information about the actors), and an isolated audio track featuring Jerry Goldsmith's score (which is a far cry from Poltergeist or Alien or Star Trek: The Motion Picture).

WNBHGB rating:  * (out of *****)

"Third from the Sun"
(season 1, episode 14)
airdate:  January 8, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a short story by Richard Matheson)
directed by:  Richard L. Bare
...hanging invisible over the night is a horror without words. 

A scientist and his test-pilot friend enact a plot to steal an experimental spaceship and remove their friends across the stars to safety in the calm before an impending nuclear storm.

I can't swear that this is still the case, but when I was coming up in the world, the thing people thought about an average episode of The Twilight Zone was that it ended with a plot twist.  By no means is that true of every episode, but it's true more often than not; I'd say that of the fourteen episodes I've covered so far, it's true of nine of them to one degree or another.

This is one of the twistier ones so far, and the twist will either work for you or it won't.  It works like a charm for me, but your mileage may vary.  The good news is that it's a fine episode regardless of the twist; the episode may even gain in impact once you know the twist.
This is the story of a bunch of people who are very, very afraid that the end of the world is one the way; not a hypothetical one, either, but the genuine article.  The tension they feel hangs over the episode like a pall, and that's entirely appropriate.  This is a subject that should be dark as night, palpable and cutting.  It still plays in 2017, but in 1960, it must have given any viewer with half a brain a case of the shivers.

The Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Marc Scott Zicree and a fellow TZ fan (Warehoue 13 producer David Simkins); it's pretty good.  So is a Zicree interview with the episode's director, Richard L. Bare.  Finally, there's an isolated-score track.  I haven't listened to any of those (the scoring is a bit too spare, meaning that the track would consist largely of silence), but I really dig that they are there.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (out of *****)

"I Shot an Arrow into the Air"
(season 1, episode 15)
airdate:  January 15, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a story by Madelon Champion)
directed by:  Stuart Rosenberg
She is the first manned aircraft into space and this is the countdown. 

A spacecraft launches and is promptly lost by their mission controllers.  They crash land ... somewhere.  With some of the crew dead on impact and the others in danger of dying of thirst in the arid wasteland where they find themselves, tempers soon flare, and instincts soon take over.


Another episode with a big-league plot twist, one that is similar to (but crucially different from) that in last week's episode ("Third from the Sun").  It's also similar to a future Serling-penned feature film (and made me think of this).

This one doesn't work as well for me, though, partly because the episode seems to be engineered to make the plot twist work; it offers some decent dramatic moments, but once you know the twist, you -- if you're anything like me -- might find yourself thinking, "Did none of them think of that possibility?!?"

So it's not a bad episode, and I can imagine that other TZ fans might hold it close to their heart; but for me, it's a mid-level episode at best.

The Blu-ray has an isolated score track and the radio adaptation.

WNBHGB rating:  *** (out of *****)

"The Hitch-Hiker"
(season 1, episode 16)
airdate:  January 22, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher)
directed by:  Alvin Ganzer
Her route: fear.  Her destination: quite unknown. 

A woman on a cross-country driving trip has a blowout, and shortly thereafter sees a hitch-hiker.  She ignores him, but sees him again farther up the road ... and again ... and again ... and again ...

This is a terrific episode, based on a 1946 Mercury Theatre radio play that starred Orson Welles.  I have not listened to that yet, but anecdotal evidence indicates that apart from the gender-swapped lead role, it's a very close adaptation.  Serling added a button to the end that took it from being memorable to being a classic, though, so don't get the feeling that this was mere transcription-work on his part.

A few things:

  • I was tempted to have this episode's segment consist entirely of screencaps of Inger Stevens, who is ridiculously attractive.  To me, at least.  Possibly to you, too, but definitely to me.  Apart from that, she's phenomenal in this episode.  She sells every bit of her character's awkwardness, but also has moments of confidence and resolve.  
  • Stevens died young, but appeared in the film A Guide for the Married Man, which is notable to me -- though I've never seen it -- for having a good early score by John Williams.
  • Stephen King wrote a story outline for a short called "The Hitch-Hiker," which George Romero scripted as part of Creepshow 2.  It's a riff on the concept of continually encountering a hitch-hiker, and was clearly inspired by this episode (or perhaps by the radio play), but goes in very different directions.
  • The creepiest moments might be the ones involving the sailor, who shows no explicit signs of threatening behavior toward Inger Stevens' character, but sure does seem to have something extra on his mind.  

The Blu-ray features a commentary by Marc Scott Zicree, as well as a modern radio version starring Kate Jackson.  It's decidedly inferior to the television version, which is no surprise.
There's also an isolated-score track featuring the music, which was not actually credited to Bernard Herrmann but surely must have been his work, since it reuses elements of the original Mercury Theatre score that he wrote.  Incidentally, Herrmann was married to Lucille Fletcher at the time, and the story was allegedly inspired by an actual incident that happened while the two of them were out for a drive.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (out of *****)
"The Fever"
(season 1, episode 17)
airdate:  January 29, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Florey
In just a moment, one of them will succumb to an illness worse than any virus can produce... 
A husband and wife have won an all-expenses-paid trip to a casino.  The husband is staunchly opposed to gambling, but will find his mind changed on that subject, rather intensely.
A tedious, nightmarishly overwrought episode.  I can see how it might work on a soul who's struggled with a gambling problem, but that's like saying I can see how a foot fetishist might enjoy an episode where nobody wore shoes and the camera never went above the waist: it's true, but so what?

The performances are good, but otherwise, there's nothing here for me to recommend at all.
I can almost guarantee that this will be in contention for title of Worst Twilight Zone Episode when I put such a list together.

The Blu-ray doesn't have a lot here: an isolated score track and a radio version.  Good for it!
WNBHGB rating:  * (out of *****)

"The Last Flight"
(season 1, episode 18)
airdate:  February 5, 1960
written by:  Richard Matheson (based on his short story "Flight")
directed by:  William Claxton
...a man can be lost not only in terms of maps and miles, but also in time... 

A British airman lands at an American airbase in France forty years after he too flight.

A very solid episode, one that treats time-travel in a very fatalistic manner that appeals to me.  The idea her is that whatever happened always happens.  You might have the ability to choose to behave otherwise.  But will you?  Probably not.

Good stuff.

The Blu-ray has an isolated-score audio track and a decent radio version.

WNBHGB rating:  *** 1/2 (out of *****)

"The Purple Testament"
(season 1, episode 19) 
airdate:  February 12, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Richard L. Bare
These are the faces of the young men who fight. 

In the Pacific during the second World War, an officer suddenly develops an unwanted talent: the ability to read in the faces of his fellow soldiers that they will soon die.

This is a fine anti-war episode that isn't necessarily a home run, but nevertheless gets the job done in haunting fashion.  The performances are strong, and you can tell that everyone involved took the subject matter -- and the message -- seriously.

The Blu-ray is host to a commentary track by one of the cast members.  I can't remember which one, and I'd look it up, but I honestly don't care.  Whoever he was, he had very little to say; if you ever want to listen to a commentary that consists mostly of a guy silently watching the episode, this is the one for you.

There's also a brief interview with Ron Masak and an isolated-score track.

WNBHGB rating:  *** 1/2 (out of *****)

(season 1, episode 20)
airdate:  February 19, 1960
written by:  Charles Beaumont (based on his short story)
directed by:  Douglas Heyes
Three men sharing the common urgency of all men lost: they're looking for home.

A trio of astronauts, lost in space far from Earth and nearly out of fuel, land on a planet that seems to be Earth.  There are farmers, and fishermen, and dogs, and a marching band, and a beauty pageant ... all frozen in place, unmoving, unblinking, mute, unhearing.  What sort of planet is this, anyways?

This is a decent enough episode (and was well-covered in this post at Dog Star Omnibus), but I'd say it's only mid-level TZ.  The concept at the episode's core doesn't entirely persuade me, and some of the specifics -- check out the comments of that DSO post for some thoughts on the weird beauty-pageant scene -- make me do a squint/brow-furrow combination.

The Blu-ray only has an isolated-score track.  Van Cleave's music is atmospherically science-fictional in some places, but also has several moments of what I'd describe as inappropriate jauntiness.  It's a very mixed bag, and is therefore an odd choice for an isolated-score treatment.

WNBHGB rating: *** (out of *****)

"Mirror Image"
(season 1, episode 21)
airdate:  February 26, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  John Brahm
Young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night... 

Vera Miles -- who I love via The Searchers and Psycho -- plays a professional-type lady waiting in a bus station.  The bus is running late, and she asks the attendant for an update.  He tells her it's the same update he gave her ten minutes ago: no update available.  Problem is, she didn't go up to the counter ten minutes ago.  So if she didn't ... who did?

A terrific episode, one not entirely dissimilar to several others from the first-season.  But what of it?  What works about these episodes is the degree to which they are able to make us temporarily believe in the absurd or patently impossible.  Rod Serling knew something: we want to believe in this stuff.

Dog Star Omnibus has a great review of this episode; you should go read it ASAP.

The Blu-ray has a commentary track (which consists of very sparse observations by co-star Martin Milner), an isolated-score track, and a radio version.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (our of *****)

"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street"
(season 1, episode 22)
airdate:  March 4, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Ronald Winston
At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 P.M. on Maple Street... 

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  Everyone is a-warshin' their cars, or a-mowin' their lawns, or a-fixin' up their houses.  The American dream in action, one might say.

Suddenly, something passes by overhead, and there is a simultaneous roar of noise and flash of light.  Soon after it passes, everyone notices that the power is out; not just electrical power, either: cars won't start, lawnmowers won't mow.  A couple of men decide to walk downtown and see what's what, and a young boy tells them not to: they (he says, pointing into the sky) might not even let them.

An acknowledged classic, but I've got a confession to make: I've struggled to embrace this one.  I certainly think aspects of it are great, but the whole thing feels like a case of Message coming first and Story being concocted to bolster it.  I think the effort shows, too.

Thing is, I have no fundamental disagreement with that Message.  Shit, moreso: I wholeheartedly endorse the message, and the fact that it remains relevant nearly sixty years later says something.  That makes it impossible for me to write the episode off; even if the story was complete garbage, it'd be hard to do so.

The story isn't garbage; it's a bit ham-handed and obvious, and the timeline for how quickly these people fly off the handle seems exaggerated.  Maybe that's the point, though; maybe Serling's moral here is that we remain illogical savages, in need only of a slight push in the wrong direction to spin rapidly back into savage tribalism.  A push might not even be required; we might require only a suggestion and a thin excuse.

I feel, watching the episode, as if Serling is painting with too broad a brush, taking shortcuts that allow him to stand on his soapbox and deliver the righteous dressing-down he feels we deserve.  I feel, looking around me in 2017, as if he might have been even more right than he knew (or would have wanted to know).

The Blu-ray has a Marc Scott Zicree commentary -- which makes up in some small fashion for the near-nothing he has to say about the episode in The Twilight Zone Companion -- as well as an isolated score track and a radio adaptation.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (out of *****)

"A World of Difference"
(season 1, episode 23)
airdate:  March 11, 1960
written by:  Richard Matheson
directed by:  Ted Post
You're looking at a tableau of reality: things of substance, of physical material; a desk, a window, a light.

A businessman has trouble making a phone call one afternoon in his office, so he gets up from his desk to go talk to his secretary about the problem.  Suddenly, he hears somebody yell "Cut!" and turns to find that one wall of his office has disappeared.  In its place: a camera crew, looking exasperatedly at him, waiting on him to continue the scene.

Is he a businessman who has fallen into a world where he is an actor, or an actor who has had a disassociative split and has begun believing he is the character he is supposed to be playing?

A fantastic fever-dream of an episode, written by Richard Matheson.  To answer the question that I posed moments ago is impossible, at least for me.  Rationally, you'd think it must be the latter scenario; but this is the Twilight Zone we're in, so rationality is not necessarily the rational approach.

Among the episode's virtues are expert direction by Ted Post; a terrific lead performance by Howard Duff; and a creepy-as-hell score by Van Cleave.

The Blu-ray has an isolated-score track and a commentary track by Post.

WNBHGB rating:  **** 1/2 (out of *****)


  1. Very nice addition to the blogging landscape!

    Well, of course I'D like it, but still.

    "The Twilight Zone" really does begin (and end) with an episode that encapsulates the series to come.

    That's a lot of cool extras you got, there, with this Blu-Ray collection. I look forward to enjoying them vicariously! The old Laser Disc Collection that Klum had when we lived together had tons of essay material that came with it, but no commentary tracks or other bells and whistles.

    Plus, even though it was like 10 discs, there were only, like, 30 episodes tops in there. Ah the old days.

    1. I had a handful of Trek laserdiscs that, if memory serves, were a mere one episode per side. I abandoned the act of collecting that collection once it became apparent how expensive it would be. Laserdiscs -- not for the lower classes!

    2. Ah, here it is. Very odd - I clicked on the link from my gmail where these comments appear, and it took me to a "sorry this page does not exist" notice. Then I clicked "home" and it brought me right to the post, but it was dated March 6th... but these comments are from January?

      Very odd! How fitting for the subject at hand.

    3. Ah, it must re-set the date each time you add to it. Okay, maybe that's not quite the mystery I thought it was.

    4. Writing the post this way is kind of an experiment. I eventually felt the need to write SOMETHING about the series as I was watching it, but the thought of just writing these little things and then doing nothing with them for five years or however long it takes me to actually work my way through it bummed me out.

      I was concerned that each time I reverted to draft and republished, any comments that had been left would vanish into the ether. But that seems not to happen, so that's cool.

      I'm a couple of weeks behind on these episodes. (Well, several decades behind, but you know what I mean.) This post about "The Naked Time" is taking too much, uh, time.

    5. I can't tell where the episode count was from the last time I posted but I totally agree on "Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.

      The 2003 series remake of that one is equally non-essential, but it might be better. A rarity for any remake of a TZ episode, classic or otherwise.

    6. I've got that series on DVD, plus the '80s reboot. I plan to transition into those whenever I can get moving enough on the original to make my way through it. Well, with "Night Gallery" between them, but after that.

      Yeah, sorry about the difficulty of following this post. I probably should have just done small posts on each episode; that's a lot easier to deal with than this unpublishing-and-republishing thing I've been doing. Ah, well, it was an experiment! You only get to blogging gold by tossing out the blogging rocks.

    7. I love that looking-at-the-crew reveal in "A World of Difference" so much. I keep meaning to do that one for Twilight Zone Tuesday.

      For that matter I keep meaning to REVIVE TZT!