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A Sentimental Journey
This one kind of grows on one. A couple, married for six years, books a cruise to England on a ship. During the entire process, they are warned time and time again not to do this. The couple is interesting. Their marriage is in big trouble. He is a workaholic who thinks only of his next deal; she is the long suffering wife who has put up with this since they said "I do." She feels if they could just get away and be together, something might be salvaged. He is a cad, cynically commenting on everything, determined to hate everything on the trip, dismissing his wife's romantic hopes. The "Lady Anne" is on its last voyage. It is populated with elderly people, people who have a history of romance on this ship, going back decades. Some of the film world's greatest elderly character actors are on board. After doing everything they can to get the young couple to leave, they give up and invite them to be part of everything. There are some sombre comments made and they play on the mind of the young man. At one point the couple agrees that when this trip is concluded, they will go their separate ways. This whole episode is nicely played with really good performances. It has a charm and a gentleness to it is subtle in its flavor. Not the typical Twilight Zone, more like a movie from the 1940's.
The Twilight Zone: The Bard (1963)
Jack Weston is Pretty Good but So Passe
This was probably more accessible in the 1960's. Jack Weston plays an overbearing man who was once a streetcar conductor and who fancies himself a screenwriter. He has had numerous failed efforts to get the execs to look at his sad, trite imaginings for television series. He has all the lines that were appropriate for the job at the time, but he is an idiot. He talks his agent into allowing him to submit a script for a show based on black magic. Of course, he has no idea what to do. He goes to a bookstore to find a book on the subject, only to be met by its nutty proprietor who is obsessed with baseball. She thinks Weston is some former two-bit ballplayer. While he is talking, a book literally flies off the shelf, into his arms. He takes it home. It is full of spells. Because he has none of the materials called for, he is unable to get anything to work. He is taunted by the middle- school daughter of a woman in his apartment building. At some point, through no effort of his own, William Shakespeare shows up and offers his assistance. What happens is that Weston uses him in such a way to get things done his way. He is boorish and clumsy but using the bard's words, he manages to get hooked up with a commercial enterprise (a soup company CEO). He takes the plots that Shakespeare gives him and totally destroys them, using one of his ridiculous plots. Tension builds. There is a delightful cameo by a very young Burt Reynolds who is studying method acting. He has performed in two Tennessee Williams plays and is annoyed that Shakespeare has never heard of Stanislavsky or the aforementioned Williams. He pouts and prances and really annoys the great poet. This is played strictly for laughs and the Twilight Zone purists were probably annoyed. The episode is too long and often not terribly funny, but take it with a grain of salt.
The Twilight Zone: Still Valley (1961)
No Spark Despite an Interesting Plot
A humorless Rebel soldier and his partner are by themselves, looking over a town that may be in the hands of Union troops during the Civil War. The young associate is frightened and worried about his own skin. He is reprimanded and shouted at by the more experienced soldier, who leaves in disgust to investigate the placement of the troops. He is all blood and guts. When he arrives in the town, a strange sight appears to him. A troop of Union soldiers in uniform are caught in mid-step, frozen in place. He walks among them shouting and threatening, but there is no movement. As he investigate the town center, he is met by an old man who tells him that he has caused all of this through the use of black magic. Not just that but because the old man feels he will die before the day is out, the soldier is given a book of spells. The kicker is that he now must align himself with the devil. What happens when he returns to his commanding officer is part of the anti- climactic resolution to this story. This is reasonably well done and a moral tale, but there is something lacking in the delivery.
Just Ask Robert Reich
This episode has stood up pretty well. Richard Deacon, most famous for "The Dick Van Dyke Show" has control of his late father's company. Despite the fact that his father doubled his production, the son sees him as a failure, allowing the competition to get a leg up. His solution is to go to an almost totally computerized and mechanized factory, eliminating nearly all the workers, even the ones who have been there for 20 to 30 years. The factory goes from an active, friendly place to a wasteland in a few weeks. He even fires the man who has worked most closely with him since he was a boy. He speaks glowingly of giving the time card machines to a museum as well as the money he will save from fringe benefits like insurance, paid vacations, and the like. Deacon projects a villainous glee that literally glows when he is on screen. Of course, as sympathetic viewers, most of us grow to hate him. Some have written that this was a sign of things to come, showing Serling's prescience. Its outrageousness is what makes it work very well. I first saw this episode nearly fifty years ago, and now, seeing it again, it was quite familiar to me. It must have made quite an impression. The curse of mechanization is that if people aren't retrained and are left unable to work, the loss of a middle class's buying power is in the offing. Hence the Robert Reich reference.
Bing's Boy Strikes Out
This is a decent ghost story. Gary Crosby, the forgotten son of Bing Crosby, is in quest of a folk song. Somehow he has been given directions to a music store in the woods. He parks his car, proceeds on foot, and find himself in the presence of an old man who us utterly uncommunicative. Apparently, this guy is a rockabilly star and normally gets what he wants. He is verbally abusive to those around him and driven to feather his nest. He throws money on the counter and grabs an old guitar, heading for the woods. While there, he hears someone singing a beautiful song. Sensing someone behind him, he turns and sees a pretty young woman in a sort of peasant dress. She teaches him her song which begins to parallel his activities, though he is too dense to catch the drift. She warns him that she is taken, but he misunderstands. He gets romantic with her but only because he feels he can get the rights to her song. She lets him know that the only way this will happen is if he promises to love her and take care of her. And, naturally, there is a guy who is bound to show up and he isn't going to be happy. The strength of this episode is in the beautiful melody that evolves as the story does, Crosby's selfish, obnoxious character, and an oppressive setting that the bewildered rocker can't figure out. Things get a little predictable at the conclusion and the slang is really dated now, but it's a pretty tight little story.
The Twilight Zone: The Fear (1964)
Been There, Done That
This isn't a bad episode, but if you've watched The Twilight Zone long enough, you've seen the same basic plot done before a couple times. The idea of some sort of mystery force doing things to frighten us simple earthlings has appeared before. In this one a woman has sought refuge in the woods after suffering a nervous breakdown. She has reported seeing some bright lights and a trooper comes to her home. She is full of anger and belittles the "hicks" that live in the area and is eventually scolded by the young man who appears to be her intellectual equal (he even quotes Shakespeare). Fear, as the title indicates, is the central theme here. There is something out there that is big and impressive and threatening. The couple soon find themselves allied against the unknown. The trooper's patrol car is tipped over, the radio disabled, and huge fingerprints (that look like they have been painted on) appear on the side of the car. Later, the cruiser is back upright. I won't go any farther because the resolution would be unfair to the viewer. Let me just say that it is a bit schmaltzy.
Those Doggone Parents
I think this is just a mediocre effort. Many years ago there was a cartoon called "Dreamland." In it a pair of little waifs who went to bed hungry each night dreamed they were in a place where candy grew out of the ground, they were clothed nicely, and all their troubles went away. Ultimately, they woke up to the poverty which was their lives. Eventually, they come to know some happiness. The parents in this episode are so awful. They are spoiled and edgy and have no respect for their children. So while swimming in the enormous pool, the kids find themselves in a kind of "Huckleberry Finn" world with Auntie T making them cake and teaching them traditional crafts. The lesson here is so ham-handed that it loses any subtlety. When one had about twenty-five minutes to tell a story, those subtleties were often ejected. Here, however, there is no chance for reconciliation or redemption. It lacks even a little complexity or irony. Maybe even Auntie T's new book that she bought from some aliens, "How to Serve Man." Most of the family shows of the time were so syrupy that another dose didn't contribute much.
The Outer Limits: Bits of Love (1997)
Where Can I Get Me One of Them Holograms?
Remember that Ray Bradbury story, "There Will Come Soft Rains." It is about a house that begins to become human and all its implications therein. In this one, an arrogant young man appears to be the sole survivor of a holocaust. Before the event, he creates a high tech bunker, replete with everything one could use to survive. He also reproduces his mother and father and brother as holograms. They prove to be antagonists for him. He apparently has been emotionally damaged by his family, yet he enjoins them in his world through electronic genius. He also is able to create beautiful holographic women, with whom he is able to have dalliance. He can only perform in a special chamber. He does take a liking to a beautiful blonde hologram named Emma. In the twist in the story, she falls in love with him. While he enjoys her, this is too much. He doesn't want a commitment to what is not really human. He endeavors to re-wire (so to speak) his computer system to remove anything that is causing him inconvenience. This is pretty good science fiction. It forces us to think of what loneliness there would be as one looks to an empty future. There apparently are some random elements put into the program so it makes life interesting, but if you think too much, this is sadly depressing.
Tengoku to jigoku (1963)
This film took time to engage my interest. It starts with a group of shoe company executives, arguing about the future of the company. Mr. Gondo, played by Toshiro Mifune, finds has managed to accumulate enough of the company to take control and move in a whole new direction. He mortgages himself up to his ears, but knows the future is bright and he will recoup his money with patience and creativity. Just as he is about to make his move, a horrible incident occurs. He receives a call from a kidnapper, saying his son has been abducted. Strangely, the boy appears a few moments later, but it is revealed that his chauffeur's son has actually been taken because he was wearing some of the other boy's clothes. The kidnapper asks for a huge amount of money for the return of the boy. The responsibility falls on Mr. Gondo, who, if he complies, will fall into ruin. If he refuses, he will be shamed forever, as will his family. The police are involved throughout, but must play by the rules. The likable Gondo is in a no win situation. This is an excellent movie, with many twists and turns, wonderful cinematography, all amid the cultural realities of the Japanese culture. We are also given a tour of the drug trade and its implications. This is more psychological cinema than police drama, though it has parts of both. An excellent film from one of the greatest directors of all time.
La carrière de Suzanne (1963)
A Slice of Life; But Does it Do Much?
This is the second of the moral tales. Rohmer is a bit of an acquired taste. For me, it's that the characters are often unlikeable or weak. In this one, Suzanne is a young woman, enamored with Gillaume, a self centered bad boy Jerk who uses his friends. She is continually mistreated by this guy, and, of course, goes back to him. Bertrand, the feckless other man, Gillaume's friend, is taken with Suzanne and has a seemingly hopeless, puppy-like relationship with her. She pays when they go out, draining her resources. But she is actually using him. What happens is inconsequential. Rohmer is practicing his craft, developing characters, playing them against each other, and keeping out of it. When people meet, they engage in boring conversations. They are so introspective that we wish something would happen, but nothing really does. Just look at these people and enjoy the mastery of a director who knows how to make them real.