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The Twilight Zone: The Fear (1964)
The Fear is a pretty good sendoff (well almost, but not quite) from the Twilight Zone, and it doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves, at least as I see it. As science fiction, it isn't much; and from that perspective, given the reputation of the series I can see why many find it a letdown, and a rather repetitive one at that. The good news is that there really are aliens in this one.
For me it works as a two character story about how people face fear, with one person a self-confessed angst-ridden New Yorker, the other a state trooper, veteran of two wars, thus presumably a seasoned fear fighter, so to speak. Not so easy, though, where the unknown is concerned; and by the half-way point in this story he's getting a bit rattled himself.
Both characters learn a lesson in life. As to exactly what it is, I can't say, however what strikes me as the often self-referential nature of the Twilight Zone itself is the moral of the story: strange things do go bump in the night sometimes, and this might not be your imagination. It could also be your television set, specifically the show you're watching, that's yanking your chain, and in the end you're going to be alright.
Hell Is A Television
Fifth season Twilight Zone entry What's In The Box is one of the most daring to be different episodes of the series, as it presents a miserable New York couple, constantly getting on one another's nerves , with the husband a cab driver who clearly doesn't like his work, and who uses television as escape from the woes of a marriage that should never have been.
This man also has a mistress on the side, has been making up excuses for his late returns home, and his wife is beyond suspicious about this, makes it clear to him that she knows what he's up to. Hubby's response is that all he wants to do is watch the "fights" on television (as if his marriage wasn't enough of a real life fight).
Early on, we see the television set in the process of being repaired by a fey and peculiar looking man played by Hollywood veteran Sterling Holloway, who tended to play benign, often comedic roles; but not this time, as his character's brief time on screen suggests that there's more to this man than meets the eye. His late reappearance, in the final scene, is surreal and unsettling, as there's no reason for him to be there.
But this is small beer when compared to what has already transpired, which is mostly bickering, hollering and threats. Fortunately for the viewer, the dysfunctional couple is portrayed by yet two more Hollywood veterans, Joan Blondell and William Demarest, both of whom were known for playing down to earth, likable, even at times lovable characters; yet as with Holloway, both are playing way against type this time; and they're wholly credible not only as a battling couple but as loathsome human beings.
It's worth mentioning that the eponymous box, the television, is apparently haunted,--or maybe possessed would be a better word for it--as it shows Demarest's character not only events from his past but what is about to transpire in the near future, which causes him to literally collapse. Unfortunately, the feisty Demarest does not stay in bed, as his doctor ordered, and when he arises what occurs is exactly what he had seen on the television earlier in the evening!
There's no explanation for why things went the way they did offered for the viewer; and not much to think about while the story unfolds, though erupts might be a better word for it. This is near experimental television, from a time when most shows were conventional. Everything happens in the apartment. Nothing extraneous occurs. It's no frills all the way. The extreme unpleasantness of not only the story but its main characters is never explained. They are given no back story. It's almost as if they were born like this, miserable and quarrelsome.
It's left for the viewer to come to his own conclusion, as this is a rare Twilight Zone, with Rod Serling's closing narration not so much wrapping up what has just been shown as being playful. Yet the episode was anything but playful, as it consisted mostly of knock down, drag out fights, verbal and physical, between two aging, unappealing people who might never have known what a hell their life was if it hadn't been for a television.
The Beautiful People?
I just happened to catch Number 12 Looks Just Like You last night, almost by accident, had seen it many times before and always found it decent enough but too typical of The Twilight Zone to be truly memorable. This time it played like one of the best of the entire series.
The story is simple: set in the not too distant future, a plain looking woman, Marilyn, is being urged by everyone she knows to undergo a medical procedure of some sort that will transform her into a beautiful person. Better still, she'll be happy all the time, or so she'd told; and she'll live longer and be healthier than if she doesn't undergo the procedure.
Alas, the young woman doesn't want to be changed or altered in any way. She may not be the happiest of campers but she values her identity, even if it means not being beautiful, more than her outward appearance. Marilyn is an individualist, and she names a few authors who influenced her decision and is criticized for not being with it. The great thinkers were yesterday, and it's a different world now.
It's a strange, topsy turvy world we see in this episode: everyone looks like everyone else but Marilyn, the plain jane. On the one hand, Marilyn is told she has the freedom of choice,--this is insisted upon--and yet people continually to badger her, urging her to get the happy life that lies ahead by changing the way she looks.
Marilyn, for her part, cares less about how she looks than who she is. The others don't understand this. It's an odd case of the "grownups",--just about everyone else--telling the "child", Marilyn, that she's not only wrong but that the wisdom she values is actually holding her back, inhibiting her "development". For all this, Marilyn comes across as the most mature person in the episode even as she's treated like a stubborn child by all the others.
When this episode was new, a little more than fifty years ago, it must have played as rather dull and preachy (all talk, plain sets, no aliens, no action sequences), and indeed it is a moral tale, not a fun one. However, this time around it chilled me to the bone. We're far closer to the dystopian world presented in the episode than one would ever have imagined a half-century ago.
Appearance is everything, television commercials tell us; and so many ads are youth and beauty oriented these days as to make one wonder if the average viewer thinks of anything else. Talk shows, when The Twilight Zone was first broadcast, often actually featured conversations, of intelligent people discussing ideas. Now they're mostly celebrity driven, with the talk, such as it can be called, consisting largely of one-liners.
Viewed from 21st century perspective, I find Number 12 Looks Just Like You disturbingly prescient. The future it presents isn't much like today outwardly, but inwardly,--psychologically, emotionally, spiritually--it's spot on as to predicting what will be preoccupying people's minds in the future.
No, the world hasn't gone to the dogs, nor to hell in a handbasket, not literally; but those values humans once held dear do seem to be slowly slipping away. We're a far more conformist society than we ever were in the past, and even throwaway, seemingly innocuous turns of phrase ("get with the system", "not on the same page") can have ominous implications when directed at a person's individuality and sense of self.
Monster on the Campus (1958)
Familiar Ground, Well Covered
I've only seen Monster On the Campus a couple of times, find it entertaining and competently made. It's a nostalgic trip to the old Universal back lot of what's now a half-century ago, thus a lot of the sets are familiar to film buffs of the Hollywood of an earlier time.
Arthur Franz plays the title character well and without a whiff of condescension. He's a better actor than the material requires, gives his all. Whit Bissell, like Franz, was also an old hand, a veteran of science fiction pictures of the period. Both actors had played professor-scientist types before, and both were good at it.
The actors in the film consist of familiar faces and a few familiar names, most notably soon to be teen heartthrob Troy Donahue. Joanna Moore is the leading lady and, like Franz, does nicely with what she's given to do. Overall, the movie is a solid professional job, as director Jack Arnold had made a number of films like it before.
My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that the movie cues the viewer how it's going to end on the last leg of the journey, when the professor spends what's supposed to be down time in a mountain cabin. There are shades of earlier Universal films in Monster On the Campus, whose main character is not unlike the Invisible Man; and his fate is rather similar to that of the Wolf Man, with a needle instead of an autumn moon, but no matter.
Those old, easy to guess plot twists,--it's pretty easy to guess who's going to "get it" next--were, to me, reassuring, and I think they would be for most viewers. The absence of much in the way of surprise in the story doesn't really hurt the movie, a road well traveled by those most likely to want to watch a film with a title that, well, says it all.
The Bachelor Party (1957)
There's Life In This Party
Having just finished watching the movie The Bachelor Party I'm surprised that it isn't all that highly regarded on this site. It's a far better than average slice,--more accurately, slices--of life from a now bygone era when people still sat on stoops of apartment buildings, and if it was a youngish, even plain woman most men would regard her as at least somewhat "available".
The plot of the movie is simple: a bunch of white collar guys, some middle class, others on the fringe, go out on a binge called a bachelor party to celebrate the engagement and impending marriage of one of their fellow workers. What transpires isn't so happy an evening as one might have imagined, and things do not, as time passes and the men get drunker, improve. As is to be expected in films (and at the time, TV dramas), the question of the meaning of life comes up in various forms; as does the issue of whether marriage is worth the grief that often comes along with it; and as the story meanders along, rambling with its characters, larger matters of love and death are brought up; too schematically for my tastes, but there you have it.
It's a decent, at times flawed script, but the superb performances of the major players help enormously; and the character development is good. Some of the parts are meatier than others, but the actors themselves cannot be blamed for this:
Don Murray is a young Everyman with a pregnant wife; he's in night school so as to become an accountant, which will better equip him to support his family. He's the "audience identification" character in what's in many ways a thankless part, but Murray breaths life into it. Jack Warden could have played his standard issue baseball loving bachelor in his sleep, but he didn't. E.G. Marshall's portrayal of a death haunted (and for good reason) book-keeper, is itself haunting, and for me, a revelation, as Marshall generally played men in control of their emotions, not in conflict with them.
Larry Blyden was fine in a small part, while Philip Abbott, whom I've always liked, played his role of the man the bachelor party was thrown for, with beauty, sincerity and an modest, non-showboating realism that made me wish he'd got better parts later in his career. Carolyn Jones made the best of her small beantick role but for the life of me I can't see why she got an Academy award nomination for her few brief scenes.
Joseph La Shelle's photography was Oscar worthy (he didn't win,--I don't know if he was even nominated). As a kind of street-bound, realistic panorama of a now vanished New York City the movie is worth viewing just for that. Not to belittle the story,--it's a good one, albeit prosaic--some of the greatest pleasures of the film are in the way it looks: the subways, the bars, whether neighborhood or the hipster kind, even the men's rooms, the staircases of older buildings. At its best, as the purely visual-spatial level, the film is a joy to behold.
The ending, the way author Chayefsky wound things up too neatly for my tastes, felt quite frankly specious, as if written for suburbanites who want to see city folk as "normal", or trying to be, rather than going their own way, so to speak, at the time an option in urban life; today, not so much, as the cities of today are, culturally, not much different from the suburbs. The lines Don Murray was given to read in his final few moments in the film felt like came from a sermon, not from the mouth of a real human being. Too bad. The movie is mostly talk, which is, when well done, fine by me, but it seemed, in those closing scenes to switch gears too quickly.
Overall, The Bachelor Party is a first rate movie with. admittedly, some issues that kept it from being truly great; and it's certainly worth watching. It does fall short, but not, in my humble opinion, nearly so far as many reviewers have said it does.
The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944)
The Invisible Man's Revenge is rather Horror Lite from Universal pictures, 1944. As horrors go, there are a lot better but certainly a whole lot worse. This picture has the advantage of not taking itself too seriously. While I wouldn't call it a comedy the presence of comic actor Leon Errol (who's excellent, btw), nudges it in that direction, at least some of the time.
The movie starts out quite well, and early on takes on some of the trappings of a Sherlock Holmes picture due to some familiar sets and supporting player. It's established early on as a revenge story, with American Jon Hall (cast as a Brit, unless I missed something) returning to England for his share of a fortune in diamonds he was cheated our of by his former friends and business associates.
Enter John Carradine--on a dark and stormy night, no less--and the invisibility aspects of the story begin to take shape. Carradine is quite good as a mad doctor who had learned to make thing invisible, which comes in handy for Jon Hall. What ensues is a fairly by the number horror cum crime picture, well acted by all. That the film is handsome to look at helps enormously.
This movie is not a direct sequel to any of the early Invisible Man pictures that preceded it. Universal never seemed to know quite man to do with the invisibility business established in the 1933 The Invisible Man; and they played fast and loose with it, on and off, for nearly another twenty years till the inevitable meeting with Abbott and Costello. The Invisible Man's Revenge is a lot better than that, and just as good as the first sequel in the series.
Lake Shore Noir
A well above average entry in The Untouchables series that focuses on the smuggling of brewmeisters from Germany into the U.S. in a lake shore community in northern Michigan called Chippewa Falls. It gets off to a good noirish start in the fog and stays in that mode for the remainder of the episode.
The story revolves around an attractive young widow, slightly ditsy but basically just lonely and too good for the class of people she hangs with, and a very dangerous and ambitious brewmeister excellently portrayed by Claude Akins,--startling to behold in his first scene--whose German accent wobbles but whose performance is baleful, so much so as to make just about every scene Akins is in feel like something out of a a horror movie.
Dolores Dorn is excellent as the widow with an overactive imagination and a crush on Eliot Ness. Her fate,--as in "will she, won't she, survive?"--drives the second half of the episode, as the noose tightens, and Akins, already in take charge mode with mobster Frank Nitti, is getting mighty suspicious of this seemingly out of place in the world of gangsters dame who might just be betraying the people she's supposed to be in league with.
The Monkey Wrench is good enough to have been a stand alone episode in an anthology series set during Prohibition; or, better yet, a first rate low budget movie, with the story more fleshed out (but not padded), with more character development for Dorn and, especially, Akins' brutal hood who, even early on, the viewer is reminded, has a bad reputation as unpredictable, a bit unhinged, and very dangerous. Danger drives this story, and it's very well done.
Man from Del Rio (1956)
Watchable Western Set In a Troubled Town
Man From Del Rio (1956) is one of a large number of well directed, nicely written and acted westerns from the 50s, a decade rich in quality westerns, from the small scale, epic and everything in-between. The film's director, Harry Horner, was an old Hollywood hand, used some odd camera angles and made the visual and spatial aspects of this modest production interesting, pleasing to look at, even as the film is itself low budget and in black and white.
Anthony Quinn is the Hispanic sheriff of a small western town where he is needed, due to his skill with handguns, but not liked or wanted due to his ethnic background. Even Katy Jurado's token Hispanic woman, playing somewhat against type, would rather Quinn would simply disappear. The supporting cast is outstanding for a film of this sort, with such familiar players as Whit Bissell and Douglas Fowley in roles in which each would seem be a better fit for the the other's.
It helps to be a western fan to enjoy this picture. This is not a movie for everyone. The story itself is by the numbers, but it works some nice variations on its familiar themes; and star Anthony Quinn is excellent in the lead. He was on the verge of major stardom when he appeared in the film, and on the basis of his performance it's easy to see why. The film was released the same year as Lust For Life, in which Quinn's supporting performance won him an Academy award. It's difficult for me to imagine two more different films for this actor to have appeared in during the same year.
Thriller: Dark Legacy (1961)
That Old Black Magic
Dark Legacy is a well above average episode of the Thriller TV series that could have been a classic of its kind with a better script and one major change in the casting. The opening is one of the best of the entire series. It's a dark night at the castle, with distinguished players Richard Hale, Doris Lloyd, Harry Townes as guests, and spectral Milton Parsons on hand as the butler. Magician Radan Asparos (also played by Harry Townes) is preparing to die, summons up unholy spirits to help him to prepare for death and make some last minute decisions as to what to give the members of his family.
The episode never gets better than the first act. Radan wills a book of black magic to nephew Mario, a second rate magician who truly has no new tricks up his sleeve. We even get to see part of his nightclub act, and it's terrible. It's no wonder that his boss is threatening to let him go. As things turn out the book teaches Mario how to really put on a show, but at a price, by dancing with the devil, called Astaroth in the story, which changes Mario's personality considerably, inspiring him to conjure up tricks that appear to defy not only God but the laws of physics, and of nature in general.
Mario is having problems with his wife, who wants no part of her husband's increasingly bizarre magic act; and an old friend of the couple a former magician himself, who knows the tricks of the trade and doesn't like what he sees, is also involved, and he urges Mario to turn his back on his newly acquired powers. By this time, in the episode's second half, it begins to veer away from horror toward soap opera; and yet the horror is still there, alive and well, returns in full hurricane force, in the final scenes. Director John Brahm works wonders with the story; and the production values are superb, especially early on. The mixture of seedy nightclub antics and Gothic horror is in itself novel, and this adds to the story's effectiveness.
Sadly, those wonderful players whom we see early in the episode do not turn up later. Harry Townes, an excellent actor, is miscast as Mario. He was too refined as a type to play such a seedy character; and he lacked the larger than life quality to convincingly play a magician. Of the actress who plays his wife, the less said the better. Henry Silva, in the ex-magician turned psychology student (!) part, also seems miscast. His somewhat diabolical presence would have made him better casting as Mario, but no matter. As a mood piece, Dark Legacy works wonders. The Lovecraftian premise is an intriguing one, and the elder gods makes their presence felt.
Poor Martin Balsam was once a big shot, but he was brought down by others, two to be specific, one of them, Gavin McLeod, a former friend of his. When McLeod, who's fair to medium high in the rackets, appears to be getting too big for his britches, top guy Tom Drake doesn't like what he sees and hears. McLeod is in trouble now, is nearly killed by Mike "Moose" Mazurki, asks old buddy Balsam to help an old pal out, and Balsam obliges,--or does he?
The screws are turned on both guys by Drake, who now holds all the high cards. Balsam was once bigger than McLeod, but McLeod and Drake cut down erstwhile top man Marty, who on the surface seems to bear no ill will toward anybody; and he does seems to love his blowzy, aspiring singer wife, Cloris Leachman, who'd rather her hubby bought her nice things, like a new hat once in a while. Slot machines figure prominently in this episode, which deals with the various ways they can be tampered with.
For all the business about slot machines, which are thrown out windows, taken apart, then replaced by newer, better ones, they're really only a symbol of a larger corruption. As Untouchables episodes go, this one isn't all that violent. It's more of a series of character studies, of how big men are brought down, become middle men, and are then trapped due to what's expected of him by those higher in the food chain. This is a deceptively quiet and cruel episode. In the days when gangs ruled the streets of Chicago, it seems that you just couldn't win. Solid performances all around; and no hamming this time.