[Dec. 5, 1960] Improved Batch (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Eps: 5-8)

We are now deep into the second year of Rod Serling’s horror/fantasy anthology, The Twilight Zone.  I expressed my dissatisfaction with this sophomore season during my review of the first four episodes.  Has the show, justly nominated for a Hugo this year, gotten any better?

Well, you wouldn’t know it from the season’s fifth episode, The Howling Man.  My biggest beef with this show is the overused trope of a man’s slow descent into madness, usually punctuated by screaming in an episode’s padded second act.  This episode begins with a madman, an “American” with a strong foreign accent, who narrates the encounter he had decades before with a mysterious religious order.  It seems they had imprisoned the Devil.  Of course, the narrator was tricked into freeing him.  He then spent the next twenty years recapturing him…only to lose Beezelbub again when the narrator’s maid let him go.  It’s an overwrought, tilt-cameraed mess of an episode.  One star.

The next one, Eye of the Beholder, fares a little better.  A hospitalized woman, head completely bandaged, awaits the results of a treatment that will make her appearance “normal.” She is, reportedly, hideous.  The twist is given away within the first few minutes as the cinematographer takes ludicrous pains never to show the faces of any of the medical staff.  What saves this episode is the unsubtle yet still resonant commentary on modern prejudice and over-conformity.  Two stars.

Nick of Time is the first episode that approaches the standard set by the premiere season.  A honeymooning pair of newlyweds break down in a rural Ohio town and lunch in a cafe.  There, a Devil-headed fortune machine dispenses eerily accurate predictions.  William Shatner, a handsome young actor, really steals the show.  Moreover, there is flow and development to the story—you find yourself caring about this couple beyond the gimmick.  The ending is a nice kicker, too.  Four stars.

But then we’re back to form with episode four, The Lateness of the Hour, in which a young woman, shut in with her aging parents, rebels against the monotony of her life and the robotic, humanoid servants who enable it.  In the end, no surprise, it turns out she is a robot.  It stars Inger Stevens, who we saw last season in The Hitchhiker, and also in the great movie The World, The Flesh, and the Devil.  I like her, but this format was not kind to her.  The show has apparently switched to video-tape from film.  It may be cutting-edge and cheaper, but it looks tacky, and the whole thing runs like one-set dinner theater leaving no room for creative editing or cinematography.  Two stars.

This isn’t the first time a show has fallen short second year out.  Now that its leads are joining the Army, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is disappointing, too.  Well, what’s worse: a long-lived mediocre program, or a show that burns brightly for a short time before petering out?

13 thoughts on “[Dec. 5, 1960] Improved Batch (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Eps: 5-8)”

  1. Eye of the Beholder does sound as if it would make a good ‘intellectual’ play. A short one.

    At least you had one good one. (Insert hint about the ending.)

    1. Stephanie, to spoil the story in case it never gets to Kiwi telly, the husband, who is a superstitious fellow to begin with, becomes increasingly obsessed with the machine.  Ultimately, his wife puts her foot down and tell him they need to live their life, not have it predicted for them.  They leave happily… and then a bedraggled couple comes in to consult the machine.  They ask, “Can we leave now?”

      It’s left a mystery whether this new couple are actually prisoners or if they are slaves to their own fears.

  2. I might be a little kinder about these four then you were.  (Of course, we agree that “Nick of Time” is an excellent episode.  Very subtle, which isn’t a word you would normally associate with this series.)

    “The Howling Man” — Yeah, kind of goofy.  More like a low-budget horror movie from the late ’30’s or early ’40’s, like the ones that are starting to show up on “Shock Theater” and the like.  But it holds a certain charm for me anyway.  At least two stars.

    “Eye of the Beholder” — I would rate this right up there with the best of the series.  Sure, the twist is telegraphed; but it’s all done so well, with fine cinematography, fine voice acting, an unusually good teleplay from Serling, and, at the end, very effective makeup.  A full four stars from me.

    “The Lateness of the Hour” — I certainly agree that the switch to videotape is a big mistake.  It may save money, but it looks very bad.  I feel like I’m watching “Tales of Tomorrow” or some other series from a decade ago.  However, I thought the story was a good one.  As with “Eye of the Beholder,” it’s not so much that the twist is a surprise, as how it’s done.  I’d give it three stars,

    1. I was spoiled for the last one if you can believe it, but I know someone involved with the production, and he blurted out before I could stop him, and it’s got androids!.  The first act would have been more powerful had I not known that.

      I felt Stevens was too one-note in her performance to be effective.  Also, about a minute into the mother’s moans of (massage-induced) pleasure, my 11-year old said to me, “I’m uncomfortable…”

      Which was the point, but still.

  3. I can’t say I agree with your low opinion of “Eye of the Beholder;” even if telegraphed a bit, I just felt it was done so well that it deserves a full three stars, and Maxine Stuart’s performance really sold me on the story. Not the best of the series, certainly – but well into the upper half.

    But we’re in agreement on the other three – particularly William Shatner, who seems to be turning into one of the finest actors on television. Did you see him on Playhouse 90 a couple of years ago?  “A Town Has Turned to Dust,” I think?  Boffo, just boffo.  I’d love to see him on the actual stage sometime – I bet he’d make a fantastic King Lear when he gets older.

    But I think it’s more likely that we’ll see him making the jump up to film. Surely at least one of the studios must be scouting him for a contract.

    As as for the look of this new “videotape” technology – mostly, the less said, the better. I suppose it’s better than kinescope. At least it doesn’t put halos around everything.

    1. It’s just so flat, isn’t it?  I suppose the higher frame rate should make it look more real, but… I like what I like.

      Beholder wasn’t bad.  It just didn’t fill 25 minutes.  Perhaps if they’d done a two-for-one, like the comics do.

      1. It’s very strange. In some ways, it seemed to have a lot more detail, but a lot of that detail looked like visual noise rather than actual detail, as though somehow, it wasn’t real. And it certainly takes out all the subtlety of light – the blacks were certainly very black, which is fine, but the whites were quite a good bit too white, I think. It’s hard to describe. So light greys are washed out, and the dark greys are lost in blackness.

        I wonder if, like in old movies, they really have to turn the lighting all the way up everywhere. Film has been able to explore darkness and shadow for a long time; perhaps videotape can’t do that yet.

  4. Actually, Shatner has already had an important role in the recent adaptation of “The Brothers Karamazov,” as the saintly Alexi.  A pretty good version of the novel, and he does a fine job in the role.

  5. I like the underlying story to “The Howling Man”, although it is a bit on the pulpy side. And this was our first episode not written by Serling; Charles Beaumont this time out. The directorial decisions were poor. German Expressionism doesn’t translate well to television. Still, I think I liked it better than you did.

    “Eye of the Beholder” was one scene too long. It really should have ended with the removal of the bandages and the failure of the treatment. The bit at the end where the handsome man comes to take her away to live among her own kind was just too much. Better to have closed on the “reveal”.

    “Nick of Time” was the best of the lot. And again not Serling, but Richard Matheson this time. I agree that Mr. Shatner looks like he has a promising future. He does have a slight tendency to over emote, but a decent director should keep him in line.

    “Lateness of the Hour” was fairly forgettable for me. Maybe I was too distracted and put off by the switch to tape. It was clearly a bad choice, but I understand CBS is looking to save money on the show this year. Along with occasionally using videotape, they’re going to use more established sets and backlot shoots. No more astronauts stumbling around in the desert and so on.

    Overall, though, the show has picked up from a weak start and looks to be back in last year’s form. Let’s hope they can keep it up.

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