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This one is truly a sub-par entry in the usually excellent Hitchcock half-hour series. There aren't too many this bad,--and there are much worse--but it truly lacks originality, pacing, good dialogue and a good story.
On the surface it's a promising idea: an American journalist in London, who also has some gambling debts, wants to spend a night in a wax museum for, among other reasons, a good true life magazine story.
So far, so good; and a promising cast, too, including two capable veteran players, Barry Nelson, as the journalist; and Everett Sloane as the museum owner. Yet the set-up at least is if nothing else promising.
Once the journalist is alone the museum for the night, as one might expect, strange things start happening. Or are they figments of the man's imagination? He appears normal enough, yet he seems easily spooked by the eerie atmosphere, as he's surrounded by wax figures of well known murderers.
Alas, the story unfolds as one might expect, as wax museum tales, like ventriloquist dummy ones, tend to feature similar themes and resolutions. This one is disappointingly conventional, especially as it's a Hitchcock entry.
Yet it's by no means all bad, just not very good. The actors help, as does the art direction, which nicely suggests sinister things lurking right around the corner. The episode does have a few modest virtues.
Robert Stevens was a capable director, yet he failed to bring much to the table with this one, which might have benefited from being handled by a more seasoned movie man with some experience handling macabre yarns such as this one.
I think of Robert Florey and John Brahm, who were active in American television around the time this one was made; and I suspect that either would have made a better job of it, with inventive camera placement, stronger pacing, shadows in all the right places.
A Martian Nine Feet Tall
No Martians in this Perry. This review's title is a reference to a line repeated a few times in this episode that points to a suspect who turns out to be the murderer in this somewhat convoluted though watchable Perry Mason entry. A decent supporting cast helps this one along, as does as livelier than usual performance from William Hopper as Paul Drake.
Maybe the most memorable thing about this episode is pinch hitting guest star Michael Rennie, playing a law professor who gets involved in the case because a student of his is a suspect, is that nine foot Martian line. A guess here: this is maybe a thinly veiled reference to Rennie's most famous film role as space alien, though not Martian, Klaatu, in the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still.
In that film Klaatu has a giant android robot as his helper,--or is he Master?--named Gort, who is capable of killing with a death ray. Gort may well have been at least nine feet tall, maybe taller, and Klaatu's famous order to him ("Klaatu barada nikto!") is a key line in the film, as is the bit about the nine foot Martian in The Case Of The Libelous Locket. I'm guessing that someone involved in the making of the episode added this as an in-joke, whether for Michael Rennie's sake or to remind the viewer of Rennie's best remembered film role.
Mannix: The Color of Murder (1971)
The Color Of Murder is a decent Mannix episode featuring an excellent guest starring cast, including Diane Keaton, John Lupton, Virginia Gregg and Johnny Haymer. The hook, which is a young woman being harassed by a mysterious female caller who claims that her late politician father, murdered several years earlier, was killed by some unknown person, and that there's a Big Reveal behind it all. The plot is convoluted, as was often the case with this series, with nearly the guest players suspects one degree or another.
This is far from the best Mannix I've seen but it's above average to very good in its parts more than as a whole. The big picture, which offers some tantalizing glimpses into how the Mob operates in L.A., the way political figures are often linked to unscrupulous people, feels about right. There's an almost laid back, unflashy knowingness to not only this episode but all the better Mannix entries that I've seen that contribute to it being, overall, not only a very good detective series but also a classy one.
The twists and turns of the plot of The Color Of Murder are mostly just that. They're there to keep the viewer watching and guessing. There must be an aesthetic (of sorts) behind all this that all good crime and mystery writers love, honor and obey, as if it were an marriage. If there's a downside to this particular episode it's that there's little in the way of empathy for or among its various characters. Mannix (and his secretary) are or appear to be the only two unambiguously decent, ethical human beings around, which ramps up the danger level a good deal, and holds the viewer's attention.
The Highway Man
The Hitch-Hiker is a Twilight Zone adaptation of Lucille Fletcher's famous radio play of the same title, and for my money an improvement on it. An eerie tale in any medium, it's the story of Nan Adams, a department store buyer from New York, driving cross country, who, after a tire blowout in Pennsylvania, begins to see the figure of a shabby little man hitch-hiking, wherever she goes. The most uncanny aspect of this is that the little man isn't following her. He's always ahead of her, looking for a ride. It's more like she's following him, albeit reluctantly; and it's like she can't "shake him", get rid of him. But then, how can a person avoid or rid himself of something or someone that always lies ahead?
For all the menace implicit in Nan's predicament, it's not quite a literal nightmare she's living in as she makes her way cross country. She mentions the little man a few times to other people, yet she's the only one who can see him. They see nothing. Nor is the man threatening her. His presence is unappealing: scruffy like a hobo, small, middle aged, wearing a hat, he never behaves in an intimidating manner. If anything, there's a plaintive quality to him, a wistfulness, that suggests that he's seeking not merely a ride but fellowship. Yet this is also a key element in his strangeness. Nan does not know this man, and she proceeds on her journey his familiarity rattles her, as she is driving alone, does not want company.
After a gas station owner refuses to get out of bed in the middle of the night to help her, Nan returns to her car to find a sailor, and his manner is friendly, his disposition pleasant, and she agrees to give him a ride. For a few precious minutes the tension lessens; and then that hobo turns up ahead of them on the road. The sailor cannot see him, however, and when Nan veers toward him, so as to kill him, she drives off the road, at which point the sailor decides that things are getting too strange for him. Sore as his feet are he prefers to go it alone on foot. Once again alone, Nan stops of at a diner, closed for business, and uses a pay phone to call her mother in New York, and what she learns is both very bad news as well as a relief.
As she returns to her car Nan feels at peace with herself and the world, ready for anything, as she at last knows the truth of what has been happening to her these past few days. She adjusts the rear view mirror and,--no surprise to her, though perhaps a shock to the viewer--the little man is sitting in the back seat behind her, speaks to her in a friendly voice and says "I believe you're going my way"; and indeed she is. The Twilight Zone dealt with death in many ways, as something to be feared, yet also to be accepted when it's inevitable. In this case there was no alternative, as death came aboard as a companion, as it were, and as such an end to worry and fear.
Are You Happy, Marsha?
Written by series creator Rod Serling, directed by Douglas Heyes, this first season entry is one of the most eerie and ambient episodes of the entire series. It's a straightforward telling of an attractive young woman in search of a gold thimble as a gift for her mother in a department store of a large American city. Neither the store nor the city are named. The woman, however, is. Her name is Masha White. Or is it? Ah, there's the rub, and the story hinges on this question, of whether Marsha is a real human or something made of wood.
The hustle and bustle of a large department store is nicely conveyed early on as Marsha asks someone where she must go to find the item she's looking for. She's told the ninth floor, and there she goes. When she arrives the place is dark, like a warehouse, and the only other person there is a strange looking and acting sales woman, who asks her some odd questions. Marsha does get the thimble she was looking for, then leaves. When she arrives back on the first floor she realizes that the thimble is scratched, asks where to return it; and when asks where she bought it, on the ninth floor, she is taken aback, as she is told that in this store there is no ninth floor!
After discussing the matter with the man in charge of returns and complaints, Mr. Ambruster, Marsha is taken to an office suite, where she lies down to wait to speak to someone about the matter. She soon falls asleep, and when she wakes up, the store is dark and empty, with not a soul in sight. What follows is an unsettling series of elevator trips and encounters with store mannequins behaving like people and speaking to Marsha, as if beckoning her to join them, which is in the end is what she does. Unable to escape, and also apparently devoid of personal memories, Marsha is told that she has been on leave, as it were, allowed to live like a normal human being, and that her time is up, she now must return to her true self, that of a department store dummy!
As if aware of the nightmarish aspects of his story, Rod Serling chose to end it on a semi-humorous note, on the next morning, with Mr. Ambruster recognizing the face of Marsha in a crowd, only to suddenly realize that it's a mannequin, not the woman he spoke to the day before. I'd rather they'd handled this differently, but this is a small criticism of an otherwise masterfully written, directed and acted episode. Young and lovely Anne Francis was perfectly cast as Marsha, as her well defined features gave her a somewhat generic look. Elizabeth Allen, as the too inquisitive for comfort ninth floor sales lady and James Milhollin, as the dithering Ambruster, were well cast. Milhollin's playing is broad, and I gather this was what was asked for, which was a lessening of the tension. This was, after all, mid-20th century television, geared to families, and that includes children.
Long Live The Twilight Zone!
Long Live Walter Jameson is one of the best and best loved episode of the Twilight Zone TV series, and like so many from the first season it's different in mood and theme from the ones that came before and after it. The script is by the legendary science fiction and fantasy writer Charlies Beaumont, and it's directed by radio veteran Tony Leader.
The story is that of a perennially youthful looking history professor at a small college who, it strikes a colleague and friend of his, more than just a little too knowledgeable about the history he lectures about. This is particularly disturbing as the professor, the Walter Jameson of the episode's title, is engaged to be married to his colleague's daughter.
After a post-prandial chat, and during a game of chess with his, he hopes, father-in-law to be, Jameson admits that indeed that's him in the Matthew Brady photograph taken during the Civil War, and that indeed he's way over a hundred years old. More like two thousand, and counting.
Jameson acquired his gift of youth from a sorcerer of some kind millenia ago, and this enabled him to live an incredibly long time, and to have been married, raised children, and yet also see his family and friends die, many times over; and as he speaks the viewer learns that this gift has not granted him wisdom but is something nearer to a curse.
Even with his eternal youth Jameson yearns for death. In the end he gets his wish, and from an unusual source, as he is shot by an ancient wife he had abandoned decades earlier. The transformation of the still handsome and youthful looking Jameson to an old man, then a painfully wizened and crippled dusty old thing is probably the best special effect of the entire original Twilight Zone series.
There's wisdom in this episode, and a cruel irony as well, as author Charles Beaumont suffered from a rare medical condition that caused him to age prematurely and die before he was forty. Nor was the show's creator, host and frequent contributor, Rod Serling, destined for a long life, as he died before he turned fifty.
Yet the dark clouds that hung over these two men have silver linings for the viewer: The Twilight Zone has been in continual syndication since production closed in 1964. This may not be immortality but it's a very long time for what's become a cult TV series to remain popular, as it is to this day.
The Big Payoff
Final Arrangements is a bland but effective Hitchcock show, featuring excellent performances from its offbeat cast. I especially like John Ford regular O.Z. Whitehead as an undertaker, and Slim Pickens as the owner of a store specializing in exotic masks, weapons and the like.
In the leading role of the put-upon husband of a wife from hell, Martin Balsam is almost too good casting. His performance, good in itself, comes across as a bit too serious for this playfully morbid episode. It's seems merely a matter of just a matter of time it will take him to murder his nagging, hypochondriac of a wife, and by what means.
Those know-it-alls, fans of this series who think they can guess the endings of all the Hitchcock shows may come a cropper big time if they think they have this one all figured out,--and I'll leave it at that.
Sing Along With Bish
Make My Death Bed is a stylish Hitch entry, features well to do suburbanites, and fairly young ones at that, and a good 'ol boy, Bish who's handy with a guitar and other men's wives, very well played by James Best, who, if it's him doing the actual singing, makes a nice job of it, especially the old ballad Barbara Allen, the lyrics to which prove (ironically) prophetic.
Fine acting by all in this upscale, modern looking episode. Top billed Diana Van der Vlis is the lovely object of his affections; and the feelings are mutual. Also on hand: Jocelyn Brando, sister of Marlon, as the doctor's wife; and Madeline Sherwood, probably best remembered as Gooper's wife in film version of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, as Best's wife.
Aside from the last few minutes dang near telegraphing the outcome, this is an almost perfect and, for its time, very adult half-hour of television, even today.
Here Is A Man
Coming Home is a fine showcase for two superb players who never achieved the recognition they deserved; although one of them, Jeanette Nolan, had a successful career, mostly on television. The other, Crahan Denton, had a career in the theater, was already middle aged when he began appearing on television and, later, in motion pictures; and he died way too young.
This is the only time I've ever seen Denton in anything in which he was top billed, and his performance, as a man just released from prison after serving a twenty year sentence for robbery and shooting a policeman, is almost self-effacing in its excellence. He doesn't miss a beat.
Denton disappears into the role of Harry Beggs, and his subtle playing raises the quality of the episode considerably. His character's awkwardness in a bar, having his first taste of alcohol in ages, and his inability to recognize that he's being set-up to be taken for the more than $1600 he has in his wallet, makes his fate quietly credible. One senses the actor playing not for sympathy but understanding.
Later in the episode, in his scenes with his wife, who never even once visited him when he was in prison, now bitter and impoverished, we see Denton and Jeanette Nolan playing off one another beautifully. It soon becomes apparent there's genuine affection between these two people upon whom fortune has never smiled.
Coming Home is more drama than melodrama; concerns not so much crime but the fate of a man who has committed one, has paid the price. Crahan Denton's somewhat severe demeanor, pensive and tragic, is perfect for Harry Beggs, who has done good and bad things in his life and is first and foremost a man, and this is what shines through in his performance.
Servant Problem is a fair entry in the Hitchcock show, of more interest as a reflection of the changing times, as for its story's quality, which is routine. It's 1961, the era of Mad Men and the dawn of Camelot. The half-hour Hitch series began in the mid-Fifties, and one can see how much the times had changed since its beginning in this entry more than in most.
A successful author, played by John Emery, is planning to have a few friends and business associates over to celebrate the publication of his new book. While preparing for their arrival he is intruded upon by a blast from the past: his ex-wife, whom he hasn't seen in twenty-two years, and dressed like a nightclub floozy of an earlier era, and talking like one, too.
The ex-ux is flamboyantly played by Jo Van Fleet, and while I wouldn't call the performance of this brilliant actress outstanding, her presence, her coarseness and bad manners, are realized with such larger than life energy,--like a cross between Apple Annie and Auntie Mame--as to make the episode feel like a comedy whenever she's on hand.
Set in Manhattan, and taking place entirely indoors, this one's like a chamber piece. The action, of which there is very little, consists mostly of people sitting or standing, walking up and down stairs. It's somewhat of a challenge to watch, with an unsurprising ending, and the prospects for the future of its main character not looking rosy.
Self-Defense is a well above average sixth season Hitch half-hour, well acted by Audrey Totter and, especially, in the leading role, George Nader, who gives the nearest to a bravura performance I've ever seen from him; and it sells the episode. Well written by John Kelley, an author unknown to me, it's a study in human nature, and of the character of one man in particular; and the outcome is nearly impossible to guess even after the first commercial break.
A simple tale of a handsome, gentle man nearing middle age who, when trying to break a five dollar bill for a six-pack of beer in a liquor store finds himself in the middle of a robbery. Unbeknownst to him, when he entered the place, the woman at the counter was in the process of being held up, with the perp hidden from sight. When the man realizes that someone is holding a gun on him and takes action, the hold-up man, quite young, nearly a boy, and inexperienced looking, flees.
Loaded gun in hand, the older man chases the younger one outside, as the latter jumps into a car and tries to drive away, the older man shoots,--four times!--which seems excessive, as the car had stopped after the second bullet was fired. Devastated and deeply shaken by what he has done when he realized that the perp was a near juvenile, that his gun was unloaded, and that he's in intensive care and may not pull through, the man has a chat with an officer in the police station, who reassures him that while he may not have done the right thing that his actions were within the law and he should try to take it easy.
In short time we learn that the young robber died in the hospital, and his killer runs into the deceased's mother, in tears, volunteers the information that it was he who shot the boy, how sorry he feels, and the two arrange to meet. He even attends the funeral, volunteers to pay for it. Increasingly stressed and distraught looking, and seeming to have aged ten years in a short period of time, when he invites the boy's mother to his apartment to talk to her he's still guilt-ridden and yet able to rally sufficiently to face the mother of the young man he killed.
Yet something is amiss. These two mature adults are not on the same wavelength. The man is in guilt overdrive, the woman in revenge overdrive. We are faced with two grieving characters, in the same place, each with very different agenda from the other. The woman, from out of the blue, pulls a gun on the man, interrogates him, demands to know why he fired so many shots at her son. What occurs as a result of this confrontation is nearly impossible to guess in advance.
There's a lesson to be learned in this episode on how easily people can unravel and become, both figuratively and, here, literally, loose cannons when provoked, shocked and no longer in control of their emotions. This is one of the best and most surprising entries from the show's sixth season. Even after all those years on the air the series could still rise to its former heights; and it could make the viewer think.
A Little Child Shall Lead Them
Twilight Zone's first season The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, which concerns the hatred that arises from paranoia and I suppose xenophobia that settles in on a suburban neighborhood when what first appears to be a meteor passes overhead, then lands nearby; and then strange things start happening: the electricity goes out, cars won't start, there appears to be nothing on the radio.
Before long people are gathering on the sidewalk, frightened and suspicious. A child who apparently reads a lot of science fiction seems to know something about the event,--the aliens have landed--and yet he has no facts to back up his statement. Thereafter, what follows is a cruel channeling of Isiah: a little child shall lead them. Within a remarkably short period of time people are pointing fingers left and right accusing each other of either being space aliens or being in league with them.
This is a well made episode, and the acting of its cast is outstanding, and it has a major reputation among fans of The Twilight Zone. I like it, consider it well made and watchable, however I can't buy its premise that this is how people would behave in a suburban American community on the basis of a relatively small number of things going on in the absence of any outside corroborating evidence.
It's a too obviously factitious set-up, and for this viewer not a credible one, as the middle class suburbanites of the story simply don't behave like adults; these are men and women who, in some cases have education, and they ought to possess a measure of knowledge, and with it the authority to back it up and convince their neighbors not to go haywire. There is one voice of reason, if not authority, but his warnings and pleadings are drowned out by the mounting mob mentality of his neighbors.
I can see why this is a popular episode. It could almost be a representative entry of the series; one whose elements sum up much of what made the Zone such an enduring show. Still, it's about grownups, and as a product of the era it depicts, allowing that I was a child at the time, I can say that I'd never seen or heard of people, middle class types of the sort we see in this episode, ever behave so irrationally, so mindlessly. This is an entertaining episode, complete with ironic ending, and yet for me what food for thought it provides is pretty thin gruel.
Deathmate is a nicely made, unexceptional and well acted Hitchcock half-hour. The story is typical of the series, featuring yet again two people engaged in a relationship in which one is married to someone else and either or both start to make plans to do away with the (as nearly always) aging spouse so that the young lovers can live happily ever after.
Things never work out as planned in these tales, no matter how cleverly the murder is planned and executed. The twist at the end of this one I could see coming, as so often when watching stories like this, around the half-way point. It's worth noting that there's no real hero in this episode, and that none of the three major characters is sympathetic.
Lee Philips and Gia Scala make an attractive young couple, with Miss Scala's performance the more engaging of the two, as she appears to be living in a dead end. She was also a beautiful woman in addition to being a fine actress. Philips is good in "other man" and organization man parts, and was well cast.
Russell Collins, playing a former police officer, now a private investigator, shines in one of the few times on this series he was allowed to look clean shaven, wear a suit and tie and portray a character of substance and authority. He looks to be having a ball, and his enthusiasm is infectious. It's a plus in this mostly dour entry.
Mother From Hell
Coming, Mama is a downbeat and depressing Hitchcock show that might have played better with some humor added. It's the story of a middle aged woman and her beau and the problem that the woman has with her ailing (or is she?) mother, who doesn't approve of the man her daughter wants to marry, even warns her that he's a fortune hunter, threatens to cut her daughter out of her will is she marries the man.
The action that the daughter takes to ensure that this shall not happen is, as it generally the case in a Hitch show, extreme; and as i nearly always the case the consequences are dreadful and ironic. There's little in the way of suspense in this episode. Eileen Heckart gives an outstanding performance as the unhappy and unfulfilled main character, and Don DeFore is competent as the man she loves.
All this aside, there are good reasons to watch this one that have little to do with the plot, much to do with the problems posed by an aging and ailing parent of a mature adult who refuses to let go of his (or her) son or daughter, and the potential for tragedy when the lives of younger people get smothered by the needs of older folk.
On its surface, Coming, Mama might appear to be a period piece, and a rather old hat one in the bargain. If one looks a bit further it raises issues that are as common with people today as they were fifty years ago.
One Step Beyond: The Last Round (1961)
Fighting The Darkness
The Last Round is one of the best efforts of the One Step Beyond series, and it production values are superior to most entries in this modestly budgeted show. Set in and around a boxing arena, its offices, locker rooms and corridors, in London's East End, during the early days of World War II, when the city was under siege due to the Blitzkreig,--air attacks from the bombings of the Luftwaffe--the fear of imminent death permeates the episode from start to finish. Its qualities are such as it plays more like a mini-movie than a television show.
An overage American boxer, Yank, as portrayed by Charles Bronson, is in the fight of his life, and to make matters worse there's a folk legend in the arena that if someone sees the image of Paddy, a fighter killed in the ring many years earlier, it is an omen that one's own death is near at hand. There is also a problem of a man who closely resembles Paddy who is sometimes hired to spook boxers by a rival manager.
Under the circumstances, given what London and England in general were going through in 1940 Britons didn't need ghosts or apparitions to fear that death was imminent. Such fears were already in the air and coming from the air. This added element of danger hangs like a black cloud over all the characters in The Last Round, making it one of the darkest and most morbid episodes of One Step Beyond. The mostly British players act superbly, and the sleazy atmosphere feels real, as one can practically smell the cheap cigars and beer.
Tipping The Scales
Ordeal On Locust Street is yet another One Step Beyond tale that dangles the impossible or, as the case may be, improbable, in the viewer's face in its modest half-hour format, and like most of the better entries in the series it can raise goosebumps in the flesh of even a rational viewer when the story's well told, as in this case of this one.
Set in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood in the 19th century, the events depicted concern a reclusive and apparently agoraphobic young man young who lives in with his family in a comfortable brownstone, who is deeply embarrassed by a medical condition that left him with scaly skin like a fish, thus ugly and frightening looking to most people. We see very little of the man in the course of the episode; and his face is covered throughout.
The traumatized young man's mother consults with a hypnotist, or mesmerist as they were often called at the time, and he sets out to cure the young man's condition through what appears to be some kind of thought control, and over the course of several sessions he succeeds.
This is a more sedate than usual entry for this show, and it offers the only real glimpse of anything that could be called truly called horrible to behold--a scaly hand--in its entire three season run; and this image stands out for the first time viewer due to the rest of the drama being so low key and rather talky.
Such a medical condition as described in the show does exist, and so far as I know no one has even been cured of it either by hypnosis or psychotherapy. Yet as with most medical conditions there are cases of spontaneous recovery, and this may well be one of them. As usual, host John Newland's introductions and concluding remarks help seal the deal.
One Step Beyond: The Secret (1959)
A sad tale of romantic yearning presented first as soap opera, then with what feels like like life drama, with a dollop of the supernatural, it ends on a note of mystery. Extremely well acted by Maria Palmer and Robert Douglas, with the latter playing unlikable very well (I found his character loathsome), this One Step Beyond delves, more than most episodes in the series, into human heart, and then explores, with a kind of clinical compassion, the matter of what becomes of a broken heart.
There's another topic present in this supposedly based on fact tale, and it's mental illness. Inspired by what look to her like signals she see on a Ouija board, the woman recalls a man named Jeremy who had, according to her, contacted her before, and was now doing it again. She's delighted to have him back, however the viewer can only wonder what's actually happening, as one can see no concrete evidence that this Jeremy ever existed outside the woman's imagination.
A small cast helps the viewer get to the heart of the matter of what's wrong with this modern marriage of the contemporary London of the postwar era in which the story is set. At first, the husband appears jealous, even goes so far as to hire a detective to follow his wandering wife around; and then it becomes increasingly apparent that she's not seeing another man but living in what seems to be a dream world.
Or is it? The issue of whether this woman's "invisible man" actually exists gets raised, and yet is not satisfactorily answered. The husband, if nothing else a rational human being, calls for a doctor to take his seemingly slipping into schizophrenia wife to a sanitarium. A man comes, the wife appears fond of him, and the two leave. A while later another man arrives looking for the woman and her husband said that someone had already come for her and that she was gone.
As stated during host John Newland's introduction to this story the woman disappeared that night and has never been seen again. This is restated at the episode's close, accompanied by speculations on,--is it the supernatural or more, "respectably", the paranormal?--and I was not convinced that the woman was anything more than a deeply disturbed individual who disappeared from the face of the earth likely due to mental illness. Still, it was a compelling story and presented in such a manner as to allow for differing interpretations of it.
One Step Beyond: The Navigator (1959)
A Stranger In The Ocean
The Navigator is an above average and way more atmospheric than usual One Step Beyond entry, and it features an outstanding cast headed by Robert Ellenstein and Dun Dubbins. As episodes in the series tended to be indoorsy it was nice to see one set largely outdoors, even as it was all filmed on a back lot.
In the 19th century a stowaway is found aboard an American ship in the north Atlantic, and the captain and his by the book company man first mate disagree as to what to do with the man. Rules and regulations as to how the best deal with this unusual situation are discussed and disputed, while the stowaway himself is mute and keep in chains.
In the end a strange thing happens, as a raft containing some members of the crew of another ship that had recently sunk, on which the stowaway, we soon learn, had been navigator, is discovered. All men are saved; all, that is, but the navigator, who is the same man as the stowaway, only now he is dead.
As this man had written directions as to where the ship should sail it seems that he was by some mysterious process transported from the ship that sank to the other ship. When the first mate, understandably rattled, goes down to the hold of the ship to see if the stowaway is still there, he has vanished.
Neither the captain nor his first mate have a clue as to why all this happened, aside from that fact that it saved the lives of a few men. A good sea yarn, the events are discussed by the show's dapper, seemingly unflappable host John Newland after the story is over. He does a good job of it, and I'd love to knows where he and his staff found dug up such odd stories. Diaries? Ripley?
The first season Untouchables episode The Noise Of Death is one of the best of the season and of the series as a whole. Well directed by Walter Grauman, from a Ben Maddow script, it tells a tale that has no moral, as such, as it doesn't concern people of principle but rather men of Code, the code of the Mafia. As such it's a fascinating study of a man, Joe Bucco, who's done nicely for himself, is a high ranking capo in the Organization, and an aging one at that, but not a don. His "territory" is a Chicago neighborhood, over which he rules like a benign despot, when in a good mood, and a not so benign one when he has to. The man is a criminal who does not like to see himself as one.
One doesn't sense a whole lot of cruelty in Joe Bucco, as his story develops, but rather a man capable of doing bad things when it's absolutely necessary. The big guys, the men just above him, want him to retire. They mean him no harm at first; they simply believe that a young rival of Joe's, whom we know only as Little Charlie, is a better man for the now somewhat more complicated position that Joe holds, and who demonstrates a more street smart business sense. He's also more ruthless than Joe. Little Charlie resembles the much older man in being stubborn and in not taking no for an answer.
This is the gist of the episode, which plays more like an entry in an anthology series than of a TV show with regular characters; and while the eponymous Untouchables play a role, they're mostly witnesses to the decline and fall of a career criminal, a man Eliot Ness calls a monster, and yet a monster with a man inside. Ness appeals to Joe Bucco the man and in the end is humiliated for his efforts. There's lots of death in this one, and only some of it's noisy. Guest stars J. Carrol Naish and Henry Silva are excellent as, respectively, the old lion and his young rival. Naish, who can go over the top at the drop of a napkin, shows occasional restraint, allows the viewer to see the inside of a very human monster.
The Wages Of Sloth
The poorly titled Hitchcock show One Grave Too Many has nothing whatsoever to do with graves, but aside from that it's an outstanding entry in the series, and it could be used as an example of how long running anthology series from television's golden age kept running: quality control. This one isn't great but it's awfully good.
Adapted from a Henry Slesar story, it's main character, played by Jeremy Slate, is a lazy man with a lovely wife who's been chronically unemployed for a long while and seems to lack the motivation to find a job for himself. Before the first act reaches the half-way point we learn that the electricity of this young couple's apartment has been turned off. That both husband and wife are young and highly attractive raised in my mind the issue of why they didn't become models, but no matter. The subject never came up.
After complaining of bad luck,--despite his wife's telling him bluntly of how many jobs he has refused--hubby tries to secure a loan, and is turned down. Later that night, on his way home, a well dressed man collapses on the sidewalk with Slate's character the only witness. After determining that the man has simply dropped dead, the young man takes his wallet and proceeds home with a made up tale of how he ran into an old army buddy who owed him money, etc.
Elated, and on the verge of taking his wife out for a steak dinner, the man looks into the wallet from which he removed nearly $300 only to discover a note that says the man he took it from was suffering from catalepsy and in all likelihood only looked dead, and please contact his doctor. What transpires as a result of this discovery constitutes one of the best transformations of a character I've seen in the series thus far.
As things turn out, this heretofore seemingly worthless young fellow turns out to have not only a conscience but a heart as well. This was scarcely in evidence early on, as from what we came to learn about him he came across a rather more a borderline villain than a man capable of true heroism. The race is on: can the body of the man who collapsed on the sidewalk be located, and in time to save his life? There are still a few twists and turns left in the story, which is too good to give away the ending of.
More Tragedy Than Suspense
I Can Take Care Of Myself is one of those Hitch one offs that's not typical of the series as a whole. Nor does it resemble, in plot and characterization, any other entry in the half-hour series that I can remember. Well acted by lead players Myron McCormick and Linda Lawson, with good support from Will Kuluva, Edmon Ryan, an almost unrecognizable Pat Harrington, Jr. and ex-child star Frankie Darro as the very light "heavy" of the piece.
It's a simple story of a middle aged pianist and the young woman who works with him as a singer in a New York nightclub. The act appears to be doing well enough but for the presence of a mobster known by the name of Little Dandy, who quickly develops an obsession with the singer, who rejects his advances.
There is an unfortunate incident, an altercation is maybe a better word for it, that leaves Dandy humiliated, in public, no less. While tension had been building for a while it didn't seem so bad as matters turned out, as neither the pianist nor his singing partner treated the man with respect. Admittedly, being a criminal, he didn't deserve any, yet I couldn't help but wonder why these urban entertainers didn't handle the Dandy business with more street smarts and at least humor the little jerk.
The refusal of these two gifted, likable people to play ball, as it were, would cost them dearly, and it feels way disproportionate to their snubbing of the mobster, who, as a character, rather anticipates the much later (and louder) Joe Pesci in his pathological cruelty. Director Alan Crosland, Jr. handled this one nicely. Maybe it's me, but in its atmosphere and interactions between the characters, and in some of their names, the episode, while set in contemporary New York, has the feel of an old movie, like something out of the Prohibition era.
In The Beginning...
Where Is Everybody? was the premiere episode of the classic Twilight Zone TV series, was actually filmed the year prior to the show's network debut. Written, as one might expect, by the show's host and creator, Rod Serling it begins with a man, wearing what appears to be a jump suit of some kind, wandering around the outskirts of a small, typical American town of the Fifties. Earl Holliman plays the man, very well; and it's a virtual one man show.
At first he enters a cafe, orders eggs, over easy, with ham, and home fries, gets no answer. There's no one there. The man, who's given no name because he doesn't know he is, talks to himself, wanders about, then proceeds to enter the town of Oakwood proper, which on the surface looks pleasant and reassuring, even comforting, aside from the fact. as the man soon learns, there's nobody home. There's nobody there.
When he approaches a woman sitting in the driver's seat of a car she falls over, turns out to be a mannequin dressed up like a woman. A phone rings, the man rushes to the phone booth to answer it, is unable to find a real live person to talk to. As he wanders the streets, walks through a police station, where he finds a cigar burning in an ashtray but no desk sergeant, or anyone else for that matter, he cries out "where is everybody?".
For a seasoned viewer of the series this episode and its ending should come as no surprise, and yet for someone unfamiliar with this much beloved, offbeat, sometimes science fiction, at other times pure fantasy show, it's an excellent introduction to it. I couldn't help when watching it the other night how "Biblical" it felt, as Rod Serling was a man who knew his Bible. This first episode is, figuratively, almost the Genesis of the series. It has a kind of Adam but, alas, no Eve.
As the series progressed it returned to the Bible in various ways, as it focused on moral tales, fables, as deeply felt as they are, so often, slickly packaged. That the show began featuring a man in isolation seems only fitting. Serling often wrote of loneliness, the sorrows of extreme solitude. Whether Mr. Serling was an extrovert I cannot say, but he did like people, as throughout its run The Twilight Zone showed concern for not only the human condition but for human beings as well.
Cruise Into The Past
The Hero is a nicely written and very well acted Hitch episode, written by Bill Ballinger, and adapted from a story by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, author of The Blue Lagoon, and directed by John Brahm, expert at handling darkly themed tales in films, and later on television, it's more slowly paced than one might wish but it delivers in the end. The ambiance is more cosmopolitan that usual for a Hitchcock show, which is nicely realized on a small budget.
International businessman and multi-millionaire Sir John Musgrove waves good bye to his wife and young daughter as he boards a ship for a long cruise from England to South Africa on business. Early on he notices a man whose face and presence disturbs him. It's strongly suggested that he knows this man, and he even comes out and says so. The stranger, who claims to be someone different from whom Sir John mentioned suggests to the viewer that these two share some dark secret from the past.
Sir John's suspicions are in time confirmed by the man, as the stranger acknowledges obliquely, tells a story about a man in South Africa who was beaten and left for dead (an old newspaper clipping had been slipped under Sir John's cabin door confirms this). The Englishman is not, as things turn out, what he appears, while the stranger, as masterfully portrayed by Oscar Homolka plays his hand very close to the vest. A perceptive viewer can guess that there's an ironic ending early on,--the irony, I mean, not the ending itself--as the tale proves satisfying if rather far fetched.
Nothing But The Dark
I Am The Night--Color Me Black is a late fifth season entry of The Twilight Zone, written by Rod Serling, it's one of the many episodes of the series that not only channels the spirit of its time but comments on it. Written shortly after President Kennedy's assassination late in the previous year, and aired in early 1964, the story revolves around the issue of whether a man, guilty of murder, scheduled to be hanged, should be, as the man he killed was universally despised in the community; with the additional issue of the fact that the sun didn't raise that morning, the entire town being in pitch darkness, and what the meaning of all this is to the various characters in the story, notably the sheriff, his deputy,a newspaper editor and a minister, with the last named being black and yet his race not being mentioned as in itself an issue.
The entire episode plays like a nightmare from which one cannot awake, and as I ponder the matter it's consistent with many entries in the series in which people are trapped by circumstances beyond their control, which they do not, indeed cannot, understand, and how they respond to it. This was the case in the first episode broadcast in the series, and here, five years later, the theme is being reworked once again. In I Am The Night the predicament is more overtly symbolic than usual, as the nation was itself still reeling in the darkness of mourning over the death of its president, and in this rare instance author Rod Serling's lack of subtlety as a writer actually works in his favor, as he was the right man for the job of commenting on the malaise the country was in back then, and his straightforward approach to the issue feels now, even more than when this episode was initially shown, the right one for that time, in that moment.
To call I Am The Night--Color Me Black a time capsule would be an insult to all involved in the making of the episode. Even the more neutral snapshot doesn't feel quite right, either. It's too good for that, too powerful. Also, in its deliberate, unsophisticated aspects, in Serling's refusal to cater to the more educated viewer, its daring qualities, are all the more admirable more than a half-century since it was first broadcast.
The Twilight Zone: The Masks (1964)
The Zone Of The Masks
If Rod Serling had a major flaw as a writer for television it was that he seemed, much of the time, incapable of telling a story without at the same time delivering a sermon of some kind. The TV series he's best remembered for, The Twilight Zone, is full of them; and the good news is that some of them are very good. His fifth season entry, The Masks, I rate as good but not outstanding.
It has, however, many outstanding things in it: the magnificent central set of the New Orleans mansion dying millionaire Jason Foster lives in is one of them. A standing set on a studio back lot it may be, it's evocative all the same. Also first rate is the work of director Ida Lupino, who had her time in the sun as a movie star back in the Forties, never made it to the level of the next Bette Davis many predicted for her, she was a very good actress and an even better director.
Miss Lupino elicits fine performances from her gifted cast. Robert Keith is credible as both a dying man and a sadistic human being who sees his worst traits in his various adult children and grandchildren, criticizes them brutally on the eve of his death, as if they were malevolent people who just happened to fall from the sky, not his own flesh and blood, which they are, and true if split off embodiments of his mean-spirited self. Many viewers may view this episode otherwise, with old Jason the One Good Man in a family of nasty pieces of work who gave his offspring the comeuppances they richly deserved.
This seems to be the moral, if it can be called that, of The Masks. As I see it, old Foster had a diabolical streak himself, as we learn early in the episode when he speaks of the masks "an old Cajun" fashioned for him; hideous masks which he makes his offspring wear, till midnight, which, while they are supposed to represent the opposite of the true selves of the people they were intended for, were clearly commissioned as punishment. There's a stark, primitive quality in the story, and I can easily imagine that it would have played better as a silent movie forty years earlier!
Although Twilight Zones were set in many different places, from the exotic to the prosaic, when it ventured, as it sometimes did, into the American South, it was usually the mountain or upland South of the Appalachian region; or else the border or fringe South of western states. The Masks is set in New Orleans, at Mardi Gras time no less, and this makes it feel uncanny, especially as its characters are all locked indoors. One can hear and occasionally see the revelers outside; and yet one never senses that there was ever much to celebrate in this house, and by the episode's end there is much more to mourn than the death of an ancient patriarch.