[May 18, 1960] Good and bad news (Twilight Zone and the Summit)

What makes quality television?  No, that’s not an oxymoron, despite what anyone might tell you.  Sure, there are plenty of vapid game shows, variety shows, soap operas, situation comedies.  The techniques and technology are primitive–sometimes, it feels as if I’m watching a local junior high troupe in their multi-purpose room.

But there are those occasional gems that stand out, the shows that bridge the gap between the small and large screens.  They feature top notch storytelling, acting, cinematography, and scoring.

I’m talking, of course, about I Love Lucy.

No, I’m not.  I’m talking about The Twilight Zone, as you might have expected since I do a monthly wrap-up after four episodes have gone by.  This latest batch is another good one.  It is a show that has found its feet, that reliably entertains and provokes thought every Friday night.

First up is A Nice Place to Visit, a well-executed if unsurprising tale about an utter wretch of a criminal with no redeeming qualities.  He dies in a police shoot-out and finds himself in what can only be described as paradise.  All the best food, the best drink, the prettiest dames, neverending good fortune at gambling.  But no challenge.  No sense of accomplishment.  No element of risk.  Is it Heaven?  Or the other place? 

While the episode won’t leave you guessing, it is fun to watch.  The actor playing the criminal does a fine job, as does the overly genial “butler” who caters to the dead man’s every whim… until the very end.

Perhaps the best of the bunch (certainly the most cleverly titled) is Nightmare as a Child.  A young schoolteacher finds herself haunted by a menacing, yet strangely familiar little girl.  The girl seems to know all about the woman, even things the teacher seems to have forgotten, including a dark secret. 

I won’t spoil this one at all.  It’s nicely creepy, and it goes unexpected places.  It’s also fun to watch with a daughter who happens to be the same age as the guest star, and who shares a fondness for hot cocoa.

A Stop at Willoughby is classic Twilight Zone.  A harried, ulcered ad executive has grown weary of his fast-paced world, his materialistic wife, and his hounding boss (“It’s a Push Push Push business!  Push Push Push!”).  While on his nightly train commute from New York to Connecticut, he drops to sleep and wakes up on a train in 1888, stopped at the idyllic town of Willoughby. 

The most thoughtful bit of this episode involves the mystery of what happens to the exec in the event he decides to get off at Willoughby.  Is it a dream?  A genuine journey? 

Finally, we have the rather unpleasant, The Chaser, in which a desperate young man endeavors to seduce an uninterested young woman with the aid of a love philter.  It’s the kind of story that unfailingly disturbs me, as it involves a variety of rape.  It’s also a Deal-with-the Devil tale, and one is given the impression that the whole affair was orchestrated by Lucifer-as-storekeeper: from the purchasing of the potion, to the inevitable aftermath where the woman is reduced to cloying adoration, to the ultimate end where the young man will do anything to rid himself of his beloved.

Not badly done; just not my cup of tea.  But what I wouldn’t give for a house with that kind of bookshelf set-up!  Oh wait… I do have that house.

By the way, it looks like the expected has come to pass: The four-party Summit in Paris ended catastrophically on the same day it began, May 16, thanks to a grandstanding Mr. Khruschev.  He demanded that we stop overflying Soviet airspace.  Ike agreed to a temporary suspension of flights, but that wasn’t good enough, and the Soviet Premier stormed out.  It is pretty clear that this was Khruschev’s sole reason for attending, and one wonders just what he would have talked about had we not given him an excuse to torpedo the conference (i.e. one U2 pilot named Gary Powers).

Lest this sound hypocritical (i.e. “We’d have done the same in their shoes”), recall that Ike didn’t raise a stink when the Soviets started sending beep-beep satellites over the American continent.  Espionage is part of normal foreign relations.  To sabotage world peace on such a thin thread smacks of diplomatic cynicism, not genuine outrage.

That’s just my two cents.

10 thoughts on “[May 18, 1960] Good and bad news (Twilight Zone and the Summit)”

  1. For what it’s worth, I agree with you. If it’s any consolation, and it’s a pretty bitter one, Kruschev certainly didn’t make the Soviets look good by his teenager tamtrum.

    My leftself always feels particularly annoyed by the Soviet Union calling itself left wing. It’s not so Stalinist any more, but it’s still Henry Ford.

    Thanks for sharing the TZ episodes. They all seem first class. Perhaps it’s my sweet tooth, but the Willoughby one sounds the best.

    And, who knows, they might inspire better writing for I Love Lucy.

  2. Yeah, but…  then the USAF began overflights of the USSR with B-47s five or six years ago it really really put the wind up the Soviets’ skirts.  And Strategic Air Command has continued those operations ever since.  Eisenhower tried to make it look like Curtis LeMay was doing it on his own initiative, but if that was true, he never ordered him to stop.  And now SAC has been caught with their collective hand in the Soviet cookie jar.

    If the Soviets tried any such shenanigans with us, we’d just shoot them down… but the USSR has the longest border in the world, and almost all of it is in wilderness.  The Soviet Air Force has been building radar installations as fast as they can, but every time SAC slides a plane through it just makes them look incompetent.  And angrier.

    I’m at a loss as to what kind of useful intelligence the flights might be producing, but hopefully it’s worth provoking an ideological enemy that has atomic weapons and means to deliver them.

    Khruschev’s actions might have seemed crude, but he wasn’t playing to the West.  The Soviets are still wooing converts in Africa and Southeast Asia, and they have to show their subservient European states that they’re still the big dog.  What was that Churchill called them a few years ago?  Nations behind the “Iron Curtain.”  The Soviets already had trouble in Poland a few years ago, and Czechoslovakia is looking antsy now.

    1. Good points all, TRX.  Surveilance is important-one can’t make conclusions without data.  I’m sure the Soviets engage in nefarious subterfuge where they can.  If they could penetrate our airspace, they would.

  3. The Soviets don’t have any intelligence-related need to penetrate US airspace; the Soviet Embassy subscribes to the Congressional Record and all the major newspapers and news magazines.

    The downside of living in a free country is that you’re living in a fishbowl.  Unlike the Soviets, we barely control our borders at all.  People get angry enough when the Revenuers check people returning from Mexico for untaxed liquor and tobacco; even requiring proof of citizenship would probably be enough to cause riots.  Up north, Canadans and Americans wander around as they please; there’s more than one town straddling the border, and nobody cares.  Nobody is going to mess with an arrangement like that.

  4. I’ve been following the Journey for quite some time, but until recently the comment system and my browser didn’t seem to get along.  Now the problem seems to have resolved itself and I’ve been enjoying myself expanding on some of the issues you’ve brought up. 

    History usually looks inevitable after the fact, but it’s much less certain for the people who are living it…

  5. “A Nice Place to Visit” is pretty much a one-twist tale, so it provides momentary amusement at best.

    “Nightmare as a Child” is one of the darkest episodes yet, and can be read as an allegory of repressed memories.

    “A Stop at Willoughby” definitely shows Serling’s obsession with escaping the rat race, going back at least as far as “Patterns.”  I personally think that “Walking Distance” is a superior variation on this theme, and the form of “escape” provided by Willoughby is certainly not particularly hopeful!

    Unfortunately, “The Chaser” is based on a far superior short story by John Collier, so it suffers in comparison.


    1. Welcome back, Victoria!  Yes, I was surprised to see the sub-par work from the pen of Mr. Collier; I am gratified to see that something was lost in translation.

      I also saw the Willoughby/Walking Distance connection, but there was something unengaging about the latter.  Perhaps it was the excessive quivering of Frank Overton’s face…

      Nightmare has the distinction of having two female starring characters, and they talk to each other.

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