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Here's a bit of trivia for anyone who's a fan of Universal monsters or Lon
Lon Chaney starred in this TV show's rendition of the horror classic, and it was filmed live. Unfortunately, when Lon Chaney got dressed up in the Frankenstein Monster makeup (looking similar to Robert DeNiro's incarnation, by the way) and began performing the role live before millions of watchers, he didn't realize that it was the actual performance. He was dog-drunk and was sure that this was only a rehersal. Therefore, instead of smashing chairs and tables, he merely picked them up, pretended to throw them, and then put them back down on the ground....to be smashed for the actual performance. As a result, the episode didn't make a lot of sense, but it sure was fun on a camp-level.
Just figured someone might enjoy this bit of information.
Watching this program back in the early 50's was a real treat; to say it scared the hell out of me would be an understatement. Here we had a live show with minimal sets and special effects; yet the writing was such that every story was totally believable. This caused me more than a few sleepless nights! I'm sure Rod Sterling learned a thing or two; some of his Twilight Zone episodes are eerily similar. Later anthology programs (Science Fiction Theatre, One Step Beyond, Outer Limits, etc.) never had the same impact on me (perhaps because I was older), though the more recent 'Tales from the Darkside' seemed to stir up a little emotion. I haven't watched any of the 'Tales from Tomorrow' tapes; maybe some memories should remain 'just a memory'.
I was lucky enough to see this series in first run! Fortunately, the episodes are still available on videotape. (I salute those who preserved the films.) This was in many ways more experimental than "Twilight Zone" and similar programs. And here's an example: I recall the episode where the program opened with a typical and excellent Tales Of Tomorrow science-fiction storyline. Just as the audience got into the live action, the entire play and its cast and even its crew were disrupted by an actual on-stage emergency! (This, of course, was a play-within-a-play, but the "reality" of it was stunning!) Seek out taped episodes, and learn what television once, long ago, could do, and how creative it could be, and what it wasn't afraid to try.
Television of the early 1950's had lots of science fiction programmes.
You had your choice of "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger", "Flash Gordon",
"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" and the series I am here tonight to talk
"Tales of Tomorrow" was for the most part a well done and effective series which offered plots which never . . . well okay, seldom . . . strayed into outlandishness. Monsters were rarely seen but their presence was always felt. In the "Dune Rollers" episode for example we learn that mysterious rocks found only on a spot called Lightning Island have the power to merge and grow into giant rocks which can move on their own and radiate enough heat to burn a victim to a crisp. (If that sounds familiar and you have never seen the episode you are probably thinking about s similarly theme feature from the 1980's called THE CREMATORS.)
The "Blunder" episode will have you on the edge of your seat but you might as well relax. Scientist Robert Allen risks an experiment which might deplete the Earth's entire oxygen supply. Of course he is certain that this will not happen but his fellow scientists are not at all sure. Can they reach him in time to stop him? The ending will leave you asking "WHAT just happened?"
"The Crystal Egg" will always be a favourite of mine. Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell is a university professor who is asked to examine what appears to be a harmless curio. Ah, but when he looks into it he sees the surface of Mars. And one time, a moment which will make you jump, he sees something looking back at him!
"Test Flight" starring Lee J. Cobb is another good one. Lee is a wealthy businessman who decides to build his own rocket to fly to the Moon. A mysterious engineer offers him a fool proof plan to build a rocket and Lee nearly bankrupts his company to build it. Does it work? Yes, and Lee and the engineer are the test pilots . . . but is Lee ever in for a surprise after take-off.
Everyone has already written about the "Frankenstein" episode so there is little that I can add. So much has been said about this episode that watching it today is a little disappointing because many of you will be expecting more. The one live broadcast may have contained more "juicy bits" but these were edited (if they ever even existed to begin with) for subsequent re-broadcasts. Lon Chaney gives a really great performance, way different from his portrayal of The Monster in GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) and this interpretation is wholly original.
"What You Need" was a very satisfying episode also. I was glad William Redfield's ruthless, amoral character got what he deserved but I wish Edgar Stehli had made a different decision at the end. You will see what I mean.
Okay so very often the backdrops are obviously painted. In fact in the "Appointment on Mars" episode the camera follows Leslie Neilsen as he climbs a rock and you can see the studio lights about where the backdrop ends! Characters blow lines and miss cues, even during the commercials which were also shot live. This only adds to the charm of these episodes and recalls the age of Live Television; an era which is sadly gone forever. Thank goodness for collections like this so people like me who missed that era can see what it was like.
I picked up a dollar DVD of TALES FROM TOMORROW especially for the Lon Chaney "Frankenstein" episode (yeah, everyone knows he was drunk and thought it was a rehearsal --- he was pretty good nonetheless). I must have a different DVD from the previous posters because everyone else mentions "The Crystal Egg" and "Appointment on Mars" but no one has said anything about "The Dune Roller" which, to my mind, is the best episode of the four. Of all three it suffers most from its low budget. When your title menace is a huge, terrifying "creature" at some point the audience expects to see it, even if it turns out to be only a crude puppet. In this case the menace remains off screen at all times but the story is still very effective, thanks to good writing (reminiscent of 50s British Sci-Fi like X THE UNKNOWN and THE CRAWLING EYE) and a very strong central performance by Bruce Cabot, who up until now I'd never thought of as a particularly impressive actor. "The Dune Roller" would make a good feature film, or would have when modestly budgeted science fiction thrillers were still a commercially acceptable genre.
I have never heard anything about this series, therefore I cannot
guarantee whether it was broadcast by the Brazilian TV in the 50's. I
have just bought this DVD and enjoyed the three episodes of about 20
minutes running time each:
"Frankenstein", with Lon Chaney Jr., is the less original of the three. It is a theatrical representation of Frankenstein, a short version of the story. My vote is six.
"The Crystal Egg" ("O Ovo de Cristal"), a tale of H.G. Wells, is certainly the best episode. The ambitious owner of a shop, Mr. Cave (Edgar Stehli), has a client with a great interest in a cheap crystal egg, and he decides to consult Prof. Vaneck (Thomas Mitchell) about what might be the weird object. Prof. Vaneck finds the landscape of Mars in the egg, and becomes obsessed by his discovery. He tries to keep the crystal egg for him, and the story has a tragic end. The direction of Charles S. Dubin keeps the attention of the viewer until the last scene. My vote is seven.
"Appointment on Mars" ("Encontro em Marte") presents three explorers - Captain Robert "Robbie" (Leslie Nielsen), Bart (William Redfield) and Jack (Robert Keith Jr.) that find uranium in Mars. They have to share their findings with the sponsor of the expedition, and the atmosphere and greed seem to affect the group. The direction of Don Medford is only reasonable, and the tragic surprising conclusion does not work well. My vote is five.
In the end, "Tales of Tomorrow" is a worthwhile entertainment as a whole, especially to satisfy the curiosity of how was the first sci-fi series on TV. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Contos da Escuridão" ("Tales From the Darkness")
The episode titled "A Child is Crying" provides a striking example of what can be achieved by good writing. "A Child is Crying" guest-starred Robin Morgan of "Mama" in a "Children of the Damned" style Cold War message story. There were maybe four actors in the cast and a single set. In the words of my best buddy: "It scared the Hell out of me!"
The classic January 18, 1952 live TV broadcast of "Frankenstein" with
Lon Chaney, Jr. is finally available on DVD!
I had never even heard of this program until I was browsing in my local dollar store and happened to flip through their bin of dollar DVD's and saw a black and orange package bearing the title Tales of Tomorrow with a picture of three men in space suits staring at me.
I picked it up and immediately spotted Thomas Mitchell on the back cover photo. Any television appearance with Thomas Mitchell is worth seeing, but when I saw that the first episode was "Frankenstein," I knew I had a genuine find on my hands!
The three episodes are as follows:
Frankenstein (1-18-52) Starring John Newland and Lon Chaney, Jr. This, of course,is the prize of the lot. Chaney's performance (drunk or not) still hints at the sensitivity and greatness he was capable of. I'm left wondering what he might have done during an "actual" performance.
The Crystal Egg (2-29-52)Stars Thomas Mitchell and is based on a story by H G Wells. Mitchell sees Mars inside the titular crystal egg -which promptly goes missing and there's dirty work afoot!
Appointment on Mars (6-22-52) Leslie Nielsen (looking unusually young and virile) appears as one of a trio of space explorers in this weirdly disturbing drama which comes across as a low-rent adaptation of The Martian Chronicals.
I started watching "the Twilight Zone" at age six in 1959 and for me
that has been the bar for high quality science fiction. I have recently
discovered a number of episodes of "Tales of Tomorrow" on Youtube.
Watching about twenty of them has caused me to re-evaluate "The
Twilight Zone." At its best, "Tales of Tomorrow" is as engrossing and
thoughtful as the best episodes of the Twilight Zone. In fact, at least
one episode I have seen, "All the Time in the World" seems to have been
turned into the Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough, at last" While
quite different in plot and character, there are enough similar motifs
to say that "the Twilight Zone" "borrowed" elements of the "Tales of
Tomorrow Episode." "The Twilight Zone" seems a tad less original now to
Admittedly, the sets and cinematography doesn't come close to the Twilight. Yet somehow, the cheap sets and early low resolution video cinematography gives the "Tales of Tomorrow" an eerie quality.
Like "the Twilight Zone" it has great writing and often very good acting. Guess stars are a who's Who list of great actors. These include Boris Karloff, Paul Newman, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, James Dean, Franchot Tone, Thomas Mitchell, Burgess Meredith, Raymond Burr ("Perry Mason")Jackie Cooper, Jack Warden, Jack Carter, Leslie Nielsen (five episodes), Darren McGavin (Yes, Kolchak) Nina Foch, Mercedes Mercambridge, Eva Gabor, Una O'Connor, Cloris Leachman, Sylvia Sidney, and Joanne Woodward.
There are some very bad and ridiculous episodes, such as the "Appointment On Mars" episode with Leslie Nelson, that was rightfully dissed by one of the reviewers. Yet even that one has a few interesting moments. The really bad episodes seem to be exceptions. The best episodes are riveting and surprising in plot twists.
Another reviewer mentioned the extraordinary episode, "A Child is Crying." It is about a mutant child who grows so smart that she is able to predict the future. In this episode Robin Morgan who became the head of the National Organization for Women is amazing. Also watch for Cal Thomas, who began a famous Right Wing political commentator. It is perhaps the best episode I have seen so far and stands up well against any science fiction episode on any series since.
This show is correctly described as the father of "The Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits" and all great science fiction television since. It is now a time capsule into the hopes and fears of some Americans living in the 1950's.
Well before "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits", there was a
similar anthology series on ABC, "Tales of Tomorrow". The show
generally was written very well but unfortunately its budget was
practically nothing. As a result, some of the shows were just awful
(such as "Read To Me, Herr Doktor") because the 'monsters' were just
hilariously bad and some were brilliant ("The Window") because these
episodes did NOT rely on special effects or aliens. It's a shame,
however, that the show has been mostly forgotten--as these later series
sure owe it a debt of thanks for paving the way for
horror/sci-fi/fantasy anthology shows.
Fortunately, if you want to see the show, you can! Yep, following the links on IMDb or by going straight to archive.org you can download the shows or watch them online for free, as they are in the public domain. Give them a try, you'll likely enjoy them despite their limitations.
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