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Riveting Train Ride
I just watched "The Five-Forty-Eight" last night and was riveted. I'm quite surprised to see the lukewarm reviews here. John Brahm, the director, had a penchant for noirish, anxiety-laden night pieces like this one ("The Five-Forty-Eight" in fact has a similar feel to the Twilight Zone episode "Mirror Image", also directed by Brahm.) Phyllis Thaxter is terrific as the lonely, fragile secretary who goes over the edge after being jilted by Zachary Scott's weak, cad businessman. Brahm ratchets up the tension and suspense by having Thaxter narrate the back-story in flashback while holding Scott at gunpoint on a commuter train. The final scene, with Thaxter marching Scott like an execution squad out to a field outside the train station, had me guessing all the way how it would end. A must see!
The Mysteries of Childhood
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was great at capturing the essence of a child's perception of reality. This episode gets at a profound philosophical truth: sometimes the most significant and life-forming experiences we have as children are those that take place outside of the confines and strictures imposed by adults. Try as June and Ward might to make Beaver enjoy the cotillion dance they have been forcing him to go to (along with Larry Mondello), it turns out that a gallop on a horse with a young "cowgirl" is a more revelatory experience for both the boys. Of course, all June and Ward can see is that Beaver and Larry have got themselves filthy, but we know that the boys have experienced something special that will mark them for life. Watch out for some classic Larry Mondello lines in this one.
Wally and the Misfit
Anyone who was a misfit as a kid can relate to this episode. A teenager named Dudley McMillan has moved into town, and June asks Wally to befriend him. Dudley's formal attire and polite manners (and his shyness around girls) immediately make him a magnet for sly mockery by Eddie and Lumpy. When Eddie invites Dudley to Christine Staples' birthday party, it's up to Wally to prepare Dudley. Unbeknownst to all, Dudley has a trump card up his sleeve - a talent that no one knows about. Dudley is played by Jimmy Hawkins, who was the child George Bailey in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. My only complaint is that the payoff scene could have been stretched out a little longer. Still, this is a memorable episode of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. It's too bad they couldn't have had Dudley as a regular character.
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was more than a family sitcom filled with heartwarming lessons about growing up. It also offered droll satire of post-war suburban life, with all of its social pretenses. In "The Parking Attendants," Wally and Eddie get a job parking cars for guests at a wedding in the neighborhood. The episode offers a riot of sophisticated wit, with Fred Rutherford and Eddie socially "on the make" in amusing ways. To add to the social mix, we also have the only black character ever to appear on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, a maid played by Kim Hamilton. This is very much a "Wally and Eddie" episode, with Beaver firmly in the background. "The Parking Attendants" shows that this beloved series was still as strong as ever in its sixth and final season. Not to be missed!
Wally and the "Bad Girl'
This is my personal favorite of all "Leave It to Beaver" episodes; it puts the lie to popular notions that "Leave It to Beaver" consisted only of sanitized, predictable fare. Wally has been admiring Marlene, the ticket girl at the movie theater box office, from afar. It's not hard to see why: a couple of years Wally's senior, Marlene has an air of sophistication and glamor. June is perturbed by Wally's fascination with this "older woman" with the platinum blonde hair (tellingly, she accidentally refers to Marlene as "Marilyn"!), but Ward wants to give her a chance. Meanwhile, Beaver and his pal Gilbert have discovered that Marlene is a hardened "woman of the world" who frequents beer joints! Wally is left to discover the hard way what sort of a person Marlene really is. His date with Marlene is a journey into the dark side of life. The moment when Wally leaves the dingy bar, then emerges back into the comfort and peace of his home, is breathtaking: a superb piece of direction and cinematography. "Box Office Attraction" takes "Leave It to Beaver" into uncharted territory, pushing the thematic envelope and yet doing so with all the taste and class which were the hallmark of the series. Be sure not to miss this great episode!
Wally's Love Trangle
One of the pleasures of watching the later seasons of "Leave It to Beaver" is seeing Beaver and Wally in more "mature" situations, as befitted their age (after all, by the end of the series, Wally was ready for college and Beaver was about to enter high school). In this fifth season episode, Wally finds himself in nothing short of a love triangle. He meets a pretty girl at the tennis court who happens to be four or five years older than him; the two hit it off very well, and the girl appears to enjoy Wally's company. Little does Wally know that the girl is only using him as a ruse to make her boyfriend jealous! Wally learns some hard lessons about life and human nature, and is reminded once again of Ward's wisdom and life experience. This bittersweet episode is superbly written, plotted and acted. If you like this one, be sure to check out Season 6's "Box Office Attraction," another episode about Wally becoming infatuated with an "older" woman.
Terrific Episode About the Power of Evil
"The New Exhibit" isn't mentioned nearly enough for its excellent writing, probing moral content, and stunning central performance from Martin Balsam as Martin Senescu, a strange little man with a most unusual obsession. Senescu has worked for practically his whole adult life as curator of the Murderers' Row Exhibit in Ferguson's Wax Museum. Then suddenly one day his life comes crashing down when Mr. Ferguson decides to close the museum. Senescu has been around the figures so long that he thinks of them as friends and can't bear to part with them. He therefore makes the fatal decision to bring the figures home with him, and this action begins his inexorable plunge into the abyss. "The New Exhibit" is about the power of evil, which roots itself in Martin Senescu's heart and from there spreads like a cancer until it destroys him and everyone around him. Senescu's tragic flaw is that he pets evil on the head: he coddles it, seeks to empathize with it, and treats it as sensationalist entertainment. There is a telling bit of dialogue early on in the episode in which Mr. Ferguson explains his reason for closing the museum: modern people have become blasé about evil; they are no longer shocked by Murderers' Row; the horrors of Dachau have ruined Ferguson's chamber of horrors. It's a delight to see Martin Balsam, a prolific supporting player in films and television, let loose on this tour-de-force starring assignment. Balsam gets inside the person of Martin Senescu, his understated acting making the character's creepy behavior seem almost plausible.
Critics of this episode usually point to the lack of a twist ending (it's pretty evident from the word go how the episode will end) and the "padding" in the script (a feature common to many of the hour-long Twilight Zones), but it's the depiction of character and the interplay of good and evil that's the main thing here. Actually, the "padding" works quite well, giving real breadth and depth to the plot and character relationships. The strong supporting performances (including Will Kuluva as Ferguson, Maggie Mahoney as Emma and William Mims as Dave) add much to the quality of this episode, as does the direction by John Brahm, that master of the Gothic in The Twilight Zone. It's worth noting the masterful use of music and sound effects throughout, from the eerie organ music accompanying Senescu's tour of the museum, to the creepy blowing of the air conditioner in Senescu's basement, to the ticking of a clock in the middle of the night before Emma's murder, to a bird singing cheerfully before Dave is killed. (For the record, I think that it is Senescu who is doing the murders, and his crazed imagination leads him to believe that the figures are committing them. But of course, part of the genius of Twilight Zone episodes is that they permit more than one interpretation.) This terrifically grim, sordid episode is perfect for viewing on Halloween night.