Tag Archives: charles beaumont

[Apr. 7, 1962] Half and Half (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 25-28)

[Apr. 7, 1962] Half and Half (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 25-28)


by Gideon Marcus

I have criticized the show that Rod built over the course of this, the third season.  Serling has seemed tired, borrowing cliches from himself.  Thus, I was delightedly surprised to find some of the best quality of the series appearing more than half-way through this latest stretch.  Read all the way through because, in keeping with the show, there’s a bit of a twist around the mid-article mark.  You won’t want to miss it:

The Fugitive, by Charles Beaumont

A 12-year old girl with a bum leg has befriended a sweet old man with magical powers.  But he’s on the lam from another world.  Can the plucky child save him?

There’s a lot going on for this episode: genuinely likable characters, several plot twists, fast pacing.  It’s a charming piece with a strong young woman in the lead role.  We need more like this one.  Five stars.

Little Girl Lost, by Richard Matheson

Mom and Dad are wakened by the cries of their young daughter, but when they rush to her aid, she is nowhere to be seen.  Where could she be trapped such that she could be so close yet so far away?

This one packs a punch to any parent.  Richard Matheson has a knack for turning in compelling screenplays, and Lost was apparently inspired by a personal experience.  You’ll be on the edge of your seat all the way to the exciting resolution.  Five stars.

Person or Persons Unknown, by Charles Beaumont

Unfortunately, the winning streak doesn’t last.  With Persons, we’re back to vintage 3rd Season.  A fellow wakes up to find all evidence of his existence had disappeared.  His wife and co-workers don’t remember him.  His wallet is empty of identification.  He slowly goes mad, in typical Twilight Zone fashion and ends up in an institution.  There’s a twist at the end, but it’s not much of a surprise.

What kills this episode is that there is five minutes of content stretched out into a twenty-two minute show.  A far more interesting piece might have been made of him finding out that he was slipping across universes.  There would have been time to throw him into a few different situations and still leave space for an interesting resolution.  Instead, we get this dull story.  Two stars.

The Little People, by Rod Serling

Here’s an episode that starts poorly and doesn’t travel far from there.  Two humans crash land on an alien world (an “asteroid,” per Mr. Sterling’s preview last week…but clearly a planet, even though it’s only “millions of miles” away).  The junior of the crew has delusions of godhood, which are nicely fulfilled when he finds an entire city of tiny humanoids, over which he cruelly lords.  His fun is put to a quick end when another pair of spacemen, these hundreds of times larger, land and squash him like a bug.

It’s a dumb tale, and Serling has apparently never heard of surface tension or the square cube law.  I did, however, appreciate the implied critique of our religions.  After all, does not the Judaeo-Christian-Moslem tradition feature an almighty and oft-times menacing God?  One who would deluge a planet or decimate a people out of spite?  Maybe that’s the semi-precious stone at the heart of a drab pebble of a piece.  Two stars.

***

Now, where’s the Young Traveler, you ask?  Here she is, taking on the month’s episodes in reverse order, so that unlike the viewing audience, you can end on a positive note.

***

by Lorelei Marcus

“I’m hoping we’ll have a more reliable batch of good episodes in the future, but you never know. I’m counting on you Serling!” (me, last article)

Well, I think I can safely say that Serling did come through, for the first two episodes at least. This is a special day, because something that has never happened before, has happened. However I’m not going to tell you what it is until later. This review will be a little bit odd, in that I’m going to review the episodes in reverse order of how we actually watched them. My father reviewed them in the right order of their airing, so you shouldn’t get confused. So without further ado, I bring you “The Little People”

The Little People, by Rod Serling

The episode stays true to its title well, being about a whole city of microscopic alien people. Unfortunately, that’s all the episode is. Two spacemen crash onto a rocky planet (of course the planet has the same atmosphere and gravity as Earth) and are stranded until they can fix their ship. One of the two men happens to stumble on a tiny city, almost too small to see. The man becomes power hungry and stays on the planet, even after his fellow spaceman repairs the spaceship and flies away, so he can rule the tiny people as their “god.” It ends with two real giants coming and accidentally killing the spaceman, saving the tiny people.

I think my biggest peeve with this episode is the fact that the whole focus is on these tiny people and their town, and yet we only get about three shots of it. I understand these effects are difficult to create, but it felt so lazy having almost all the shots be composed of just one of the two men’s faces. I would have loved to have seen some small people or maybe even a model home or two rather than the boring cinematography we actually got. I give this episode 1.5 stars. The story was bland and predictable, the camera-work was boring, and the set was boring. The only thing I liked was the acting! Definitely not one of Serling’s best.

Person or Persons Unknown, by Charles Beaumont

Sadly, Serling did not come through for us in this next episode either. This episode can be summarized in one sentence: Man loses identity. It’s as interesting and ground breaking as it sounds. Normally I would summarize the episode here, but there is literally nothing else to summarize: that one sentence was the episode.

However, despite being the utter mediocre piece of work it was, it did give me something worth while. In the beginning of the episode a man – the one who loses his identity – wakes up next to his lovely wife. He is a total jerk to her as he gets up and changes, commanding her for breakfast. It was then that I realized how much I really wanted to see an episode about a husband and wife switching places.

Just imagine, there could be humor, for example, the man being unable to cook eggs, and the woman unable to tie a tie. However, there could be so many deeper messages in the episode too – who’s “in charge” of the house anymore? Who will actually go to work? Not only that, but I think it would be the perfect kind of confusing, interesting, thought-provoking episode that Serling wants to make.

Unfortunately we didn’t get that episode, we got this one, and I give it 2 stars. It really felt like a bad season one episode, being entirely mediocre and dragged out. Could there still be hope for The Twilight Zone at this rate?

Little Girl Lost, by Richard Matheson

The episode started with a mother and father waking up to their child crying. The way it was acted out felt very real to both my father and me, since we’d both experienced the event from opposite perspectives. Anyway, when the man goes to his daughter’s room he can hear her crying, but he can’t see her! He wakes his wife in a panic as their dog frantically barks outside. Now, I’m going to stop the summary right there, because I want to force you to watch the episode yourself. It’s just that good. Great special effects, superb acting, amazing story telling, and overall a perfect episode. 5 stars, in fact, the first 5 star rating I’ve given anything we’ve watched since my dad started this column!

The Fugitive, by Charles Beaumont

This last episode starts out with a group of kids playing with an old man. Out of these kids, one of them in particular stands out. A feisty little girl in boy’s clothes and a leg brace. She connects most with the man, and its clear that they are close in a cute, grandpa-grandchild sort of way. I’m sorry to do this to you again, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut the summary short again to avoid spoiling anything else about the episode.

This episode is my favorite episode of Twilight Zone, and really my favorite thing we’ve watched since the beginning of the Journey, by far. Now I can hear you confusedly saying to yourself, “wait wasn’t that last episode five stars?” I reply with yes, and so is this one. It would get more than the last, excellent episode, but the meter stops at 5. The only flaw with this story was there wasn’t enough of it. It has everything I like in The Twilight Zone and nothing I don’t. No people going crazy, no padding, no lackluster twists, nothing creepy – just a fantastic situation and characters you care about.  I want you to go watch it right now, well maybe after you finish reading this article, that is.

***

In sum, that truly was a legendary combo with two 5 star episodes in a row. I did the reviews in reverse so I could save the best for last. I hope you will go watch those two episodes and enjoy them as much as I did. And now, I think all that’s left to say is:

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[February 12, 1962] Out of the Wasteland (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 17-20)


by Gideon Marcus

and


by Lorelei Marcus

Reading a recent Radio Television Daily, I see that Rod Serling is once again up for an award.  I’m not surprised.  While his latest achievement, The Twilight Zone has flagged a bit in quality this season, it has still been (for the most part) worthy TV.  In fact, the last four episodes do a lot toward watering the “vast wasteland” that has chagrined our new FCC Chairman of late.  Check these out:

ONE MORE PALLBEARER, by Rod Serling


by Gideon Marcus

This tale of a ne’er-do-well turned millionaire out to humiliate the elders who once impugned him should be a fairly straightforward story.  Said tycoon invites his former schoolteacher, priest, and senior army officer to a shelter with the intent of convincing them a nuclear attack is imminent.  He wants to hear them recant their criticisms and beg for mercy.  Instead, they stick to their guns, abandon the scoundrel as simulated sirens blare, and the poor fellow has a mental breakdown.

What makes this story interesting is how it’s played.  We only hear of the tycoon’s indiscretions from the sanctimonious authority figures.  The millionaire, in fact, comports himself with dignity and charisma.  One is left with the impression of a story turned on its head.  Was this man really as bad as all that?  If the do-gooders had spared him an ounce of compassion, might he not have been salvaged?  Did he even need salvation?  He certainly seems a better sort that the so-called “good guys.” 

I’ll never know if this depth was intentional, but it did make memorable an episode that, on the face of it, should not have been noteworthy.  Three stars.


by Lorelei Marcus

Ah it’s that time again — I smell another round of Twilight Zone episode reviews! This time I think it’s safe to say the old show has finally gotten its charm back.  Well, let’s dive right in then! Our first episode was more faithful to the old Twilight Zone episodes, carrying that eerie charm it does so well.  This episode was about a man who believed he needed to get revenge on those who humiliated him in the past.  These people were a school teacher, an army officer, and a reverend. It was certainly a very interesting story, given an entire new layer by the acting that I don’t think was intentional.  The story hinges on the fact that he was really a terrible person and deserved all their humiliations, but the character we see never seems like the same person, adding to the whole episode.

DEAD MAN’S SHOES, by Charles Beaumont


by Gideon Marcus

Now here’s one that really sizzled.  An underworld type is rubbed out and left in the alley to rot, but when his shoes are pilfered by a Skid Row resident, the rogue gets a new lease on life as he possesses the bum’s body to take revenge on those that murdered him.  The sparkle all comes from the excellent performance of Warren Stevens, who deftly manages the transition from broken-down hobo to dashing gunslinger.  Four stars.


by Lorelei Marcus

This second episode is fittingly named seeing how it was about a dead man and his shoes.  It was about an old alley bum who happens to come across a dead body with a rather nice pair of shoes.  He puts them on and well, I won’t say anymore to avoid spoiling you.  I will say, however, that this episode was very well done.  The effects were nice and subtle, and the acting was certainly spectacular.  I highly recommend you watch this episode yourself; it was masterfully done and really stays true to that classic Twilight Zone feel.

THE HUNT, by Earl Hamner


by Gideon Marcus

Where do you go when you die, and how will you know you’ve got the right place?  That’s the fundamental question behind this episode, which stars a old man and his dog, two old pals who go off to hunt ‘coon and never come back.  It’s a touching tearjerker of a backwoods tale, the likes of which I’ve not seen on this otherwise urban show, and I found it authentic – very reminiscent of my mother-in-law’s home in Washington County, Maryland, in fact.  I also greatly appreciated the warm relationship between the fellow and his wife; it’s not often that happy married couples are portrayed on TV, especially elderly ones.  Five stars.


by Lorelei Marcus

I would have to say this third episode was my favorite out of this bunch. However, this is to be expected considering it stars not only a dog, but a raccoon too! This charming story starts out with an old fashioned couple eating supper out in their old farmhouse.  The “Old Woman” is worried about her husband going ‘coon hunting that night, but he insists and goes anyway.  Sure enough he gets bested by the animal and drowns with his dog.  He soon passes into the Twilight Zone, taking the rest of the episode to realize he’s a ghost.  There is a twist at the end, but I’d rather you find out what it is yourself.
This was a sweet episode that wasn’t too drawn out or overdone.  It was what it was, and I liked it.  I think you will too if you watch it.

SHOWDOWN WITH RANCE MCGREW, by Rod Serling (based on an idea by Frederic L. Fox)


by Gideon Marcus

You ever wonder how historical figures feel about how they’re portrayed on TV?  Showdown involves a posse of Wild West outlaws sending representative Jesse James to put a certain marshmallowy actor in his place.  McGrew, an insufferable high-rent oater star, has put the black hats in a bad light, James says, and he wants the record set straight.

It’s an episode with some genuinely funny bits, though the joke can only run so far without getting tired – about 18 minutes of the episode’s 22 minute running time.  Like Pallbearer, however, this is another episode with hidden depths.  Jesse James and his gang are not interested in the truth.  Their aim is not to promote historical accuracy for the education of our television audience.  They want to be cast as the heroes.  In effect, they are bushwhacking our entertainment industry to advance their own agenda.  You know, exactly what you’d expect a bunch of last-century criminals to do.

Again, I don’t know if this subtext was intentional, but it is intriguing.  Three stars.

And now I’ll let the Young Traveler finish things off:


by Lorelei Marcus

This final episode was interesting.  It started off in the classic old Western town, which made us do a double take to make sure we were on the right channel!  Soon, the main cowboy drove on screen, telling us that this was indeed, a Twilight Zone episode.  The main cowboy was really an actor playing a cowboy for, you guessed it, a Western.  The only problem is, he was a completely terrible person in every way!  Worst of all, he was giving bad names to the honest men who were chosen to be the villain cowboys in the show.  So, naturally, these tough vigilantes of the past decided to choose someone to go talk to him face to face, in the Twilight Zone of course.  To be honest, I found this episode to be my least favorite out of these four.  This is by no means an insult considering that all the episodes this time around were fine.  This episode had a nice, satisfying, unpredictable ending and certainly got a few chuckles out of me; it just wasn’t as good as the others.  I still recommend you watch it though.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed these episodes. They all had charming qualities and great, satisfying stories. Each were unique in their own way, and really give me hope that we’ll see more of the same in the future. My scores, in order, are 3.5, 4, 4.5, and 3, with an average of 3.75 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend you watch these episodes for yourself, and I hope you have just as good experiences as I did.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[December 8, 1961] Fore!  (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 9-12)


by Gideon Marcus

I feel badly, I really do.  Earlier this year, I was given an award by Rod Serling’s people.  It’s an honor I treasure tremendously.  After all, Mr. Serling has given us some of the greatest television since the medium was invented.

But now the wheels are coming off The Twilight Zone, and I can’t help but be candid about it.  This half hour show that used to be the highlight of Fridays is now something of a chore, an event I might well skip if I hadn’t committed to covering it in its entirety. 

Serling himself confessed last Spring, “I’ve never felt quite so drained of ideas as I do at this moment.  Stories used to bubble out of me so fast I couldn’t set them down on paper quick enough – but in the last two years I’ve written forty-seven of the sixty-eight Twilight Zone scripts, and I’ve done thirteen of the first twenty-six for the next season.  I’ve written so much I’m woozy.  It’s just more than you really should do.  You can’t retain quality.  You start borrowing from yourself, making your own cliches.  I notice that more and more.”

The fact is, of this latest batch of four episodes, none of them are particularly worth watching.  There’s Death’s Head Revisited, about a sadistic Nazi concentration camp commander who goes back to Dachau to relive happy memories.  He is haunted and tortured by the spirits of those he tormented.  Great subject matter, but tediously treated.  It’s heavy handed and a bore.

Then you’ve got The Midnight Sun, where the Earth is knocked out of its orbit, spiraling inevitably toward a fiery death.  A woman and her landlady struggle against the rising heat futilely until the both succumb…only for us to find out that the woman was actually in a fevered dream, and the Earth is spiraling away from the sun toward a frozen doom.  I like Lois Nettleton, the star (I also enjoyed her the following week in Route 66), but there just wasn’t much to the episode.  Still, it may well have been the best of the four.

Still Valley, in which a Confederate sergeant gains the power to stop the Civil War, but only by enlisting the aid of the Devil, has its moments.  In the end, though, it’s too static a piece to recommend.  Moreover, we’ve seen the gimmick of actors frozen in their tracks for long periods in the first season episode, Elegy.

Finally, there’s Jungle.  It starts promisingly enough, with a stuffy corporate board deciding to approve a dam-building project in Africa, despite the threat of curse from local witch doctors.  But the second act, where John Dehner flees the drums of the Dark Continent overlaying a quiet New York night scene, never leads to a third.  It simply goes on and on before reaching an utterly predictable climax.  It’s well shot and acted, but there’s no there there. 

None of these episodes merit more than two, maybe two-and-a-half stars.  If not for the production quality, I’d think I was watching one of the lesser anthologies like the one Roald Dahl hosts.  If things don’t get better, I fear this may be the last season for this Hugo-winning has-been.


by Lorelei Marcus

After another four weeks, I have yet to be impressed by Twilight Zone‘s newest episodes. Four out of four episodes were mediocre and forgettable.

To start off we have an episode about another man that goes insane. The victim is a sadistic Nazi soldier, who revisits an old concentration camp he used to run. He gets haunted by the ghosts of his tortured victims, and they subject him to the same, unspeakably terrible things he did to them. The visuals were alright, and I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the episode, which seems to be getting rarer and rarer for Twilight Zone, but never the less it was pretty mediocre.

The next episode was a sci-fi apocalypse “what if” situation. The Earth had gotten knocked out of its orbit and was moving closer and closer to the sun. It stars two women, and tells the story of how they’re trying to survive. I did like some of the effects in the episode, especially when they got creative and made a painting out of wax so they could make it appear as if it was melting. However, even the effects really didn’t make up for the stereotypical plot. The ending was alright, even if the twist was fairly predictable. I suppose I should be grateful that there even was a twist considering that’s starting to become a rarity in Twilight Zone episodes too. After having just read Fritz Leiber’s A Pail of Air, which is a short story with a similar concept, I think this episode could’ve been written much better. Still, it proved to be my favorite out of the bunch.

The third episode was another take on a Civil War scenario. There has been a lot of Civil War themed content due to its recent 100th anniversary! The episode starts off with a confederate soldier coming across a town of “Yankees.” The only catch is they’re all frozen! Not dead, but frozen in place, unable to move. We soon find out that the cause of this was an old man who practiced witchcraft. Eventually the old man gives the soldier the book, and leaves. The episode ends with the soldier throwing away the book, because even if he could use this book to win the war, the guilt of going against God would be strong. So he burns the book instead. Seeing all the people frozen in place was interesting, but otherwise it was another bland episode.

Finally, the last episode was all about superstitions. The entire episode was predictable and much longer than it needed to be. I did like how there was a real lion in the show, but that was about the only part I liked. I was very bored for basically the entire episode. The plot was extremely simple, and there wasn’t even a twist! I was thoroughly unimpressed.

Overall, the episodes all had decent effects, but lacked plots and pacing. The twists were dull or non-existent, the pacing was much too slow, and the endings were entirely too predictable. I give these episodes an average of 1.75 stars, with the first being 1, second being 2.5, third being 2, and fourth 1.5.

This bunch was thoroughly unsatisfying, and I hope to see better from Mr. Serling in the future.

This is the Young Traveler, Signing Off.

[April 2, 1961] Uprooting itself (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 17, 19, 20, 21)

Twenty years ago, even ten (and zero in some places), science fiction was all about the twist ending.  Aliens would seed a dead planet with life only for it to turn out…that planet was EARTH!  Or folks might spend a story in a struggle to stay alive, only to find out THEY WERE ALREADY DEAD!  And so on.  Stories would usually end with a shock sentence, often with copious slammers (!!!)

But the genre matured.  Characters, writing, and fully explored concepts appeared.  These days, the “gimmick” often takes the back seat, facilitating rather than dominating the story.

The Twilight Zone, the science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology created by Rod Serling, is generally a cut above anything else on TV.  This includes its pale competitors like One Step Beyond and Way Out.  Unfortunately, several times in the first season, and more frequently in this, the second season, the show has aped the gimmick stories of print sf.  The result is a run of predictable, sub-par episodes.  There is light at the end of this tunnel, however – the most recent episodes have returned the focus to interesting characters and genuine drama. 

First, we have to get there:

The episode preceding the lackluster The Odyssey of Flight 33 was the lackluster 22.  In it, a young dancer has been committed to hospital for an apparent case of nerves.  She repeats a chilling dream: she awakens, a glass crashes to the floor, she follows a nurse to the hospital basement, and there she finds the nurse waiting behind a door marked “22” – the morgue.  It is a clear case of precognition, though no one believes her, including herself.  At the episode’s end, the dancer, wide awake, is about to board a plane.  Just before she does, something crashes to the terminal floor, and she notes the plane is number 22, its stewardess the nurse of her dreams.  She falls in hysterics and watches wide-eyed as the plane takes off without her…and explodes over the runway.

It sounds a lot better when I type it than when you watch it, which is the problem.  It’s yet another of the episodes captured on videotape rather than film, an unsuccessful experiment I hope is ended soon.  The acting is a notch too broad, particularly the sardonic, uncaring doctor (though perhaps this is intended to make us think that even the dancer’s waking scenes are dreams).  In short, good concept, mediocre presentation.  Two stars.

Burgess Meredith is back for the silly Mr. Dingle, the Strong.  Take the most nebbishy of folks and give him the strength of Superman; then sit back and watch the fun unfold.  Of course, you can’t leave it there, so rob him of his powers at a critical juncture to ensure maximum humiliation. 

It’s somehow not awful.  In particular, the strength effects are nicely done.  Lots of scenes with a scrawny fellow lifting heavy objects, punching holes in walls, etc.  Also, the aliens that bestow strength are genuinely hilarious.  Bad concept…but good presentation.  Three stars.

The dreary Static, in which a regretful old man tunes into the past on a magic radio, could have been good.  Like any bad gimmick story, it draws out far too long without developing the characters beyond bare pencil sketches.  Videotape doesn’t help this one either.  One star.

Things end on a high note, though.  The Prime Mover is an excellent character study that starts right – with the focus on the players, not the twist.  Ace Larsen is a fellow who feels down on his luck, despite co-ownership of a little coffee shop, the love of a lovely co-worker, Kitty, and the unflagging friendship of the other owner, Jimbo Cobb.  It’s Ace’s desire for more, what he considers his due, that promises to be his undoing, especially when it turns out Cobb has the power of psychokinesis, able to manipulate items with his mind.

They end up in Vegas, with Ace raking in the dough at the craps and roulette tables.  With winnings totaling $200,000, both Kitty and Cobb urge Ace to pack it in, but Ace wants one more game, even if it means losing Kitty, and perhaps, sight of what’s really important.  At a high-stakes craps bout with a notorious gangster, Cobb “blows a fuse” right as Ace lets his fortune ride.  Ace is left with nothing.

Or is he?  The event proves a watershed for the basically good-hearted Ace.  He laughs off the loss, returns back to the restaurant and proposes to Kitty, who accepts.  As a coda, we see that the seemingly simple Cobb hadn’t lost his power at all.  It was all orchestrated for Ace’s maximum benefit.  Now there’s a friend. 

The episode works because the gimmick, Cobb’s psionic ability, is almost incidental.  It isn’t even revealed until almost a quarter-way through.  While I was pretty sure Ace was going to lose his winnings in the end, I was delighted to see that it wasn’t the point.  Excellent acting and cinematography help, too.  Five stars.

More good news: the succeeding episode was also good…but you’ll just have to wait until the next round-up to read about it!

Coming up, Part 2 of my article on the Women of Science Fiction.  Expect it day-after-day-after-tomorrow.

[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?

[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.

[April 11, 1960] A Steady Flame (Twilight Zone wrap-up)

Some shows start with a bang and quickly lose their spark; some are a slow burn, taking a while to find their stride; The Twilight Zone has remained a class act from the beginning.

As of Friday, April 8, 1960, there have been 27 episodes.  They have ranged in quality from fair to outstanding, and the current crop of four (I like to review them in monthly batches) comprises superior installments.

I think the success of the show can be attributed in large part to the high bar that creator and writer, Rod Serling, has set for its production.  This is a person who clearly knows his craft and seeks out like talents (Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, etc.) to draft screenplays.  Much of the credit must be doled out to the directors, cinematographers, and composer Jerry Goldsmith, to say nothing of the frequently excellent acting talent that CBS has managed to contract.

So much for the general praise.  On to the reviews!

Long Live Walter Jameson sets the standard for this batch.  The eponymous Professor Jameson is a brilliant history teacher with a knack for vivid anecdotes.  It’s almost as if Jameson has lived through each of the periods and settings he describes, which is, of course, the case.

This is a thoughtful, fascinating piece that describes the blessing and curse that is immortality.  It’s hardly the first, of course.  The one I remember most vividly is The Gnarly Man, by L. Sprague de Camp, but it is always a worthy topic.  In a piece I wrote many years ago, I once put these words into the mouth of a 5000 year old man:

“Imagine being in library with every book you ever want to read, and all the time in the world in which to do so.  And you read them… and you still have all the time in the world.”

The following week, People Are Alike All Over.  Two astronauts, a rock-chinned type and a frightened intellectual, go to Mars where they find a remarkably human populace.  But why does the fine house crafted for the scientist (the hero-type having died soon after landing) have no windows or doors? 

I’ll spoil it for you.  Roddy McDowell (the panicky scientist’s actor) has been turned into a zoo specimen, relegated to live out the rest of his life as an exhibit in his “native habitat.”  I get the message, but I still think it was a weak story idea.

Execution is another time travel fish-out-of-water story, but unlike The Last Flight, the voyager is a thoroughly unlikable chap.  Snatched from the hangman’s noose in 1880, the murderous viewpoint character finds himself in 1960, the guest of a dapper chronologist (is that what you call a time travel expert?) The criminal remains true to type, killing and looting, being driven close to madness by the ever-present 20th century cacophony.  The ending comes as a surprise, for the most part. 

An interesting point—time travelers often are inordinately worried about changing the past, but no one gives a thought to changing the future.  After all, the present is really just someone else’s past, and any gross modification of the present (say, sending one of its inhabitants permanently into the past) must to a resident of the future, make a severe alteration to the timeline.  Food for thought.

Finally, we have The Big Tall Wish, the first episode to date that features a black protagonist (and several black supporting actors).  An over-the-hill boxer tries to win a come-back fight with the help of the wishes of a little boy. 

The episode doesn’t feature the madness or the weirdness of its predecessors.  Rather, it is a slow, wordy piece.  My daughter particularly enjoyed the heart-warming relationship between the boxer and his child friend.  That said, the twist (there’s always a twist on this show) is very effective, and we are left with this conundrum: is a fight won with magic preferable to one honestly lost? 

That’s the wrap-up for this month.  I’ll be back in two days with this month’s F&SF!




(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[March 16, 1960] Four More! (Twilight Zone Wrap-up)

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone.

It’s a stirring intro, no doubt, and it never fails to put me in the mood for a half-hour of suspense and surreality.  Since its debut in October of last year, The Twilight Zone has consistently delivered a superior television experience (though even this fine show occasionally misfires: if I have any complaint, it is how frequently the protagonist degenerates into screaming madness about 15 minutes in.)

Continuing my tradition of recapitulating episodes in batches of four, here are episodes 20 through 24:

By far the weakest of the bunch, at least to me, is the first: Elegy.  A three man crew of a deep space mission crash land on an “asteroid” (you’ve got to love those entirely Earth-like asteroids on this show.) They appear to have traveled back in time some two centuries to mid-20th Century America—except that all of the inhabitants of the area seem to be frozen in time.  Rather than coming to the logical conclusion that the place is an exhibit in a museum, they instead become increasingly hysterical and spend much wasted time trying to get the dummies to respond to shouts.  It turns out that the asteroid is actually a cemetery with myriad themed plots for the wealthy deceased.  In the end, the crew are duped by the cemetery’s caretaker into becoming permanent residents.  It’s all rather silly.

Mirror Image, in which a sensible young woman discovers that there is another her attempting to take over her life, is better.  For one thing, it is one of the few episodes starring a woman.  For another, rather than going insane, she quite reasonably comes to the right conclusion as to what’s happening.  Also, the obligatory helpful young man is far less creepy than the one we saw in The Hitchhiker.  The only flaw comes in the second act, when our heroine spends several minutes retelling the events that the audience has just seen happen to her: Twilight Zone often suffers from passing in the second act.  Disregarding that, it’s an interesting premise, and the best stories are the ones that keep you pondering after they have finished.

There was a lot of buzz around the water cooler regarding the third episode, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.  After a strange meteor causes a local power outage, the inhabitants of a suburban neighborhood quickly become suspicious of each other and soon degenerate into violent anarchy.  It’s a pretty clear metaphor for The Red Scare.  I’d dismiss it as hackneyed, but McCarthyism is too recent a memory.  Mistrust is a cheap commodity, easily traded.

That brings us to last week’s episode, A World of Difference, which I quite liked.  A corporate businessman sits down to make a call to his wife.  When the phone doesn’t work, he hears a director call, “Cut!” and discovers that he’s really on a soundstage, and everyone believes him to be an actor.  He is then confronted by an angry ex-wife and a much put-upon agent, who corroborate his new identity.  There is a fine ending that leaves one questioning which is the true reality?  And in the end, what does reality even mean? 

Coming up next, the April 1960 Astounding!

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Dec. 15, 1959] Between Superstition and Knowledge (Twilight Zone 4-week wrap-up)

This Friday night was a bit of a repeat performance of last week’s: another trip to the German delicatessen in Escondido, another beer, another coffee and dessert.  This time, I was in the most enjoyable company of my wife, and we had an avid discussion of what it is to be a “fan.” 

A mutual friend of ours once observed that fandom has three things in common—the following utterances:

“Where did you get that?”

“How can we get more people into it?”

“It’s not as good as it used to be…”

It’s true that fandoms come and go.  The “Golden Age” of science fiction, when Astounding ruled the roost with its Campbellian stories, is departed.  The boom of science fiction magazines came to an end a couple of years ago.  The cozy British country-house mystery is becoming a thing of the past. 

Things change.  It’s an inevitable part of life.  But it’s a mistake to get so stuck in nostalgia that one cannot see the old fandoms that continue to thrive (Conan Doyle, for instance) or the new evolutions in current fandoms (the small but rising tide of female authors, the general increase in quality of science fiction and fantasy even as the number of digests diminishes). 

There are also brand new fandoms.  I am very excited to have gotten in on the ground floor of one on which the paint is still wet: Rod Serling’s anthology science fiction show, The Twilight Zone.

Three months ago, the program was an exciting idea.  Now, eleven episodes in, it is a bonafide phenomenon with staying power.  Though the quality of each episode varies, of course, Twilight Zone is still head and shoulders above what came before on television.  I’ve high hopes it will only rise in excellence.

Here’s what my daughter and I have enjoyed for the last four Fridays:

Time Enough at Last came out on November 20.  The buzz I hear is that it went over well, and there’s no question that Burgess Meredith turned in a fine performance as a frustrated bibliophile bank teller, who finds himself alone after surviving a nuclear holocaust.  But the ending, where he finds a lifetime of books to read and then immediately breaks his glasses, is not clever.  It’s just cruel, and it soured me on the whole piece.

Charles Beaumont is the first writer whose name isn’t Rod Serling to pen an episode, and his outing, Perchance to Dream was interesting.  A fellow with a heart condition is afraid to sleep for he knows that a temptress in his dream will lead him into a carnival of horrors, which will aggravate him into cardiac arrest.  The afflicted man tells his story to a sympathetic doctor, and we get to see the narrative progress in flashback.  It’s creepy and fascinating.  I guessed the ending early on, but the tale was so compelling, I forgot all about my premonition until it actually happened.

I enjoyed the subject and setting of Judgment Night, in which a German man finds himself aboard a British liner cruising the Atlantic during World War II.  He is deathly afraid of U-Boats and seems to be certain that an attack from under the sea is impending.  It’s a suitably atmospheric piece though somehow a bit plodding.  It was during this episode that my daughter noted that virtually none of the protagonists on the show are female.  I can only recall one, from The 16 millimeter Shrine.

This week’s episode was a winner.  Written by the master of science-fiction horror teleplays and fiction, Richard Matheson, it stars the excellent Rod Taylor as one of three survivors of a spaceplane crash.  It seems each of the astronauts is disappearing one-by-one, not just from the Earth, but from history and memories.  Creepy creepy stuff, though my daughter complained that she was getting tired of episodes featuring “people acting crazy.”  (A neat tidbit: the spaceplane featured is the X-20, a real-life Air Force project that has either just gotten or is in the process of getting the green light for construction.  This vehicle will be the next step beyond the X-15, actually capable of orbital flight!)

As much as I enjoyed the episode, it shared the same overwrought middle that I’ve seen consistently in the last eleven episodes.  This, I think, is the main weakness of this young show.  While the writing is often brilliant, the acting usually excellent, and the cinematography remarkable, the middle third of each episode tends to take a bit too long padding out the set-up before the payoff. 

Perhaps I’m just a little too clever, guessing the ends before well before they happen.  It may well be that Twilight Zone is starting easy to draw in the uninitiated, those who haven’t read a thousand science fiction stories already.  With all the talent going into this program, I have faith that the show will continue to mature and, as with science fiction, move beyond “gotcha” storytelling.

What say you?

Note: If you like this column, consider sharing it by whatever media you frequent most.  I love the company, and I imagine your friends share your excellent taste!

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.

[Nov. 26, 1959] Happy Thanksgiving! (December 1959 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Happy Thanksgiving!

This season, we have much to be thankful for, but I am particularly thankful that I ended this publishing year on a high note—the December Fantasy and Science Fiction.

If anything could get out the taste left by this month’s Astounding, particularly the Garrett story, it’s F&SF.  In this case, the lead novelette, What now, little man? by Mark Clifton, was the indicated antidote.

Clifton addresses the issue of racial abuse head on with this excellent tale.  On a distant mining colony, humans have only one native source of food—the bipedal, humanoid “Goonie.”  When the colony was first inhabited, the Goonies were deemed unintelligent by human standards.  They seemed to have no culture, and they let themselves be slaughtered without so much as a peep of protest.

Then they proved to be trainable.  At first, they performed simple beast-of-burden chores, but over time, they learned more sophisticated skills.  By the time of the story, many can read and write, and one exceptional example can perform as an accountant.

This tale is that of a man wracked with conscience.  This farmer, who was the first to train a Goonie to perform advanced mathematical services, is convinced that the slaughter of Goonies is wrong.  To champion this cause, he is willing to put his life on the line, though it turns out that a female sociologist from Earth employs better, non-lethal methods to effect change, or at least to set the world on the course of change.

The protagonist, and the reader, are left with the fundamental questions: What defines intelligence?  Who defines intelligence?  Can one justify making the definition so rigid as to exclude members of one’s own race?  And what do the Goonies represent?  True pacifists?  The ultimate survivors?

Good stuff.  Four stars.

Dr. Asimov has another fine article, this one on the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s well timed, perhaps on purpose, as I’d just read a scholarly article on a new revised atmospheric model.  We’ve learned a lot in just three years of satellite launches. 

I’ve never heard of Gerard E. Neyroud.  His Terran-Venusian War of 1979, in which Venus conquers the Earth with love, but subsequently devolves into civil war, is glib and fun, if rather insubstantial.

Marcel Aymé has another cute short translated from the French.  The State of Grace is about an (un)fortunate fellow whose saintliness is blessed with a halo only a few decades into his life.  This quickly becomes a terrible annoyance to his wife, who begs him to do something about it.  His solution: to sin like there’s no tomorrow.  Yet, no matter how far he indulges himself in the seven deadly sins, he cannot rid himself of the damned thing.  The moral is, apparently, piety will out, even when covered in degradation.

Stephen Barr’s The Homing Instinct of Joe Vargo is chilling stuff, indeed.  An expedition to a mining planet finds a truly unbeatable creature.  Ubiquitous, cunning, and virtually indestructible, “It” is a translucent blob that kills by extruding threads of incredible strength, constricting its prey, and slicing it alive.

Only one fellow, the eponymous Joe Vargo, is able to survive thanks to equal parts wisdom and luck.  The ending of the story is unnecessarily downbeat, and also implausible.  As with Poul Anderson’s Sister Planet, one can excise the coda and come away with a perfectly satisfying story.

Jane Rice has another good F&SF entry with The Rainbow Gold.  Told in folksy slang, it is the story of a somewhat magical (literally) yokel family and their quest to secure that legendary pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It’s a lot of fun, and it has a happy ending. 

damonknight has, perhaps, the best line of the issue in his monthly book column.  Writing of Brian Aldiss, he says, “If the writer ever does a novel with his right hand, it will be something worth waiting for.”

The Seeing I is Charles Beaumont’s new column on science fiction in the visual media.  In this installment, he details at length his involvement with the new show, The Twilight Zone.  It’s an absolutely fascinating read, and it just goes to show that things of quality can still be made, on purpose, so long as people are willing to invest the time and energy into the endeavor.

Finally, we have Robert Nathan’s A Pride of Carrots, written as a radio play.  That’s because it actually was a radio play a couple of years ago on CBS.  The prose has been substantially embellished, but it’s largely the same story.  At least, I think it is.  I’m afraid fell asleep during the last act of the radio show.

I won’t spoil the plot, save that it involves the planet Venus, two warring states peopled by vegetables, two visitors from Earth, and an interracial love triangle. 

But is it good, you ask?  Well, it’s silly.  It’s not science fiction, but it is occasionally droll.  Try it, and see what you think. 

That wraps up the year.  I’ll be compiling my notes to determine which stories will win Galactic Stars for 1959.  I’ll make an announcement sometime next month.

In the meantime, enjoy your turkey.  I’ll have more for you soon.

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!



(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth, where it has comment count unavailable comments. Please comment here or there.