[January 9, 1961] Looking up?  (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 9-12)

What goes down sometimes comes up!  The sensational new sci-fi/surreal anthology, The Twilight Zone, started its sophomore season with a sharp decline in quality from its debut run of episodes; but, I’m happy to report that the quality of last month’s batch was pretty good.

The batch started out with a subtle bang with The Trouble with Templeton, in which an aging star of the stage seeks solace in the too-brief sweet time of his young adulthood.  It is both kin and different from the other episodes that have essayed this territory: A Stop at Willoughby or Walking Distance.  Though the 1920s Templeton returns to look as he remembers, particularly the lovely form of his long-dead wife, neither his bride nor his best friend seem happy to see him.  In fact, they practically chase the old man away.  But in one poignant moment, it is revealed that it was all an act; they were pushing him back for his own good, so he could live out his life with vigor rather than remorse.  A bit long in the first act, but worthy watching.  Four stars.

A Most Unusual Camera is the clunker of the four.  A trio of none-too-bright criminals pick up a vintage camera in a heist, one that takes pictures a few minutes into the future.  They quickly hatch a plan to turn it to profit–by snapshotting of the results board at the horse racetrack and betting before the end of the match.  Their winning streak is foiled by a greedy bellboy, and they all four end up dead in one way or another.  Unsubtle and rather grating.  Two stars.

The next in what was originally a consecutively produced batch of video-taped episodes is Night of the Meek.  It’s a Christmas episode, about a dipsomaniacal Santa who ends up about as down on his luck as one can imagine…until his wish is granted: to be a true Holiday gift giver, providing all the folks he knows with what they most desire for Christmas.  I was ready to dislike this episode as video-tape cripples the cinematography, and I tend to dislike Christmas-themed fare on principle.  But it was actually heart-warming and, more importantly, my daughter quite enjoyed it.  Three stars.

Day-before-yesterday, we wrapped all cozy in blankets, turned on the space heater, and tuned in for the latest episode of The Twilight Zone.  It didn’t look promising, this somber piece about a squalid Old West town in which a fellow was locked up, waiting to be hanged for running over and killing a little girl.  He had been drunk, you see, filled with the sadness of a village wasting away.  The prisoner is tormented by a vulgar snake-oil salesman, who is run out of the jail by a clearly sympathetic sheriff.  When the prisoner’s father pleads for his boy’s life, to no avail, the peddler offers for 100 pesos a bag of “magic dust” that, he claims, will warm the hearts of the lynch mob so that they spare the penitent killer.  Of course, it’s just a bag of dirt.  The young man is sent through the gallows with the rope around his neck…and yet, he is spared when the noose (ironically, also an item sold by the peddler) snaps.  The parents of the deceased decide the prisoner has suffered enough.  Was there any magic in this episode?  Or did the heartsick lawman give the rope a little fraying before use?

It’s a poignant episode with some of the best writing I’ve seen, both in the bumper narration and in some of the dialogue.  This was another one we expected to dislike, but it was surprisingly gripping.  Four stars.

If things are looking up in the New Year for television, they are looking decidedly grim in the world picture.  On New Year’s Eve, several North Vietnamese battalions charged into the neighboring Southeast Asian country of Laos.  There is concern that this could turn into a full-fledged proxy war between the Superpowers; America is actively supporting the Laotians, and Soviet planes have been spotted dropping supplies for the Communist Vietnamese troops. 

We avoided a catastrophe during the Suez crisis, when neither the USA nor the USSR was willing to intervene for their clients.  That is one of the reason the “Doomsday Clock” was turned back last year from two to seven minutes.  Perhaps the Federation of Atomic Scientists, the keepers of that macabre timepiece, were a bit hasty…

See you in a few with cheerier news, I hope.

4 thoughts on “[January 9, 1961] Looking up?  (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 9-12)”

  1. Let’s hope the Asian news takes a turn for the better!

    The Twilight Zone does sound better. Even the dud has a good idea in it. Thanks for sharing the stories!

  2. I wonder if the first few scripts this season were leftovers from the last that didn’t quite make the cut, but were used now to save some money. While the camera story didn’t quite work, I think it was largely a problem of execution. The concept was strong enough. And from the Christmas episode, Art Carney really doesn’t get enough credit as a serious actor. He’s Ed Norton and nothing else for too many people.

    As for Indochina, I hope we aren’t making a mistake. We’re getting dragged into this by the French to prop up their colonial empire, even though they’ve already walked away from this part of it. I’ve no desire to see Southeast Asia go Communist, but I’m not sure how much blood and treasure it’s worth on out part. Thailand and the Philippines are two dominoes that won’t fall; Indonesia might wobble, but I doubt it will fall either.

  3. It does seem as if episodes like “A Most Unusual Camera” depend entirely on the gimmick.  You need an unusually powerful gimmick to get away with that, and they usually aren’t terribly original.  But if you have a story about people, you don’t need to rely on the gimmick.

  4. > Indochina

    France asked us for help in maintaining order in French Indochina as early as 1953; I’m pretty sure they tried during the Truman Administration as well, but I can’t find a cite for that at the moment.

    I’ve also never found out where the anti-French stance of the US Government comes from.  Churchill touches on it in his history of WWII; Roosevelt committed to the restoration of France in the Atlantic Charter, but over time Churchill came to understand that Roosevelt meant only European France, not the French Empire.  Apparently Roosevelt took it badly when Churchill brought up the Philippines and Puerto Rico…

    The USA actually worked against “French Imperialism” in North Africa after the war, which destabilized the countries that are now brutal dictatorships or Communists.  For the French to have come to us for help in Indochina during that time must have galled them, and even more when they were turned away.  And now, as a result of our inaction, we’re looking at the same thing again.

    Both Truman and Eisenhower were content to let the Communists have their way with the “little countries.”  Korea doesn’t count; our presence there was as part of a United Nations force.

    This new crop of trouble all has a French taint, so I expect our new President will maintain post-WII policy and let the rest of Indochina go red.

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