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[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.

[January 16, 1962] Accidents (un)happen (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 13-16)


by Gideon Marcus

It is common practice in statistics to average out data over time in a rolling fashion.  This gives you smoother lines, free of the jagged spikes of noisy data.  For the last several months, The Twilight Zone has shown a definite tendency toward the lower end of the quality scale, at least in comparison with its brilliant earlier seasons. 

But, I’m happy to report that the last month (ending January 5, anyway) showed a distinct and sustained improvement.  I’ll let the Young Traveler do most of the talking this time around since I find I don’t have much to improve upon her insights!

(Once upon a time, written by Richard Matheson and featuring the great Buster Keaton as a janitor who is propelled from the late 19th Century into the world of today…)


by Lorelei Marcus

Going into these four weeks, I was really dreading what was to come. Prior experience had given me doubts about the quality of these most recent Twilight Zone episodes. Thankfully, this time around, you will not have to hear me rant about how awful these past few episodes were!

To start us off, we had a charming little episode about a man from 1892. He goes to the present (1962) and finds a large scientist who just so happens to be obsessed with that earlier time period. I won’t say much more about the plot since I highly recommend you see the episode yourself. It did give us a lot of laughs, and was partly shot in the old, silent movie style. This was definitely a breath of fresh air from the usual grim twilight zone themes.

(Five Characters in Search of an Exit, adapted by Rod Serling from a story by Marvin Petal, whose title is literally descriptive…)

This second episode did return to a darker feel, but this time it was done fairly well. The episode started out with a small group of oddly specific but different people. A soldier, clown, ballerina, hobo and piper stuck in a completely metal prison, but with an open top. Despite guessing the answer at pretty much the beginning of the episode, it still managed to reveal just little enough information to keep it interesting.  At one point I wondered if this was a metaphor for depression, that feeling of being trapped with no exit, accepting the hopelessness of escape, and eventually giving up entirely.  Just to keep you on your toes, I won’t tell you the ending. I do recommend you watch this episode yourself. Even though me and my father predicted many things that happened, it never felt like the episode went on for too long, which frankly, is a real treat these days.

(A Quality of Mercy, adapted by Rod Serling from an idea by Sam Rolfe, in which an American platoon Lieutenant must weigh the virtues of assaulting a beleaguered Japanese position on the eve of V-J day…)

Unfortunately, this batch was not quite four for four. At least this episode was forgettable enough that I could pretend it didn’t happen at all! Alas no, I must do a review on it for you readers, so here I go. As I said before, the episode itself was entirely mediocre, but I did like the message and the effects. “Everyone is human, even if they are the enemy” is a great lesson that I think to be very true. The makeup was fairly impressive at making one of the actors look asian, and the Japanese accents weren’t completely atrocious. I would recommend spending your 20 minutes in a more productive manner, but I will not stop you from watching this episode.


by Gideon Marcus

My problem with this episode was absence of crisis.  Rather than allowing the Lieutenant to learn from his jaunt through the Twilight Zone, and then let the audience judge the wisdom of his actions, instead decisions are made for the protagonist, and the whole plot sort of meanders along without influence by the show’s participants.  More tightly written, and with actual consequences, this could have been a great one.  C’est la TV.

(Intermission, in which the Traveler family detours away from The Twilight Zone by way of The Twilight Zone…)


by Lorelei Marcus

Before we watched this fourth episode, my dad got caught up in the game show, The Price Is Right, where people were bidding on this cool looking soda fountain! When it ended we changed the channel and started watching. The episode had a much different feel this time, being more of a comedy sitcom rather than the usual Twilight Zone format. The twist seemed to be that one of the cast members was a talking horse! Oh wait a minute, we weren’t watching Twilight Zone, we were watching Mr. Ed! Oops.

So Mr. Ed finishes and we go to watch Twilight Zone. Perhaps, we thought, we would be able to catch the end of it, enough to make a review on. We were pretty sure we’d found the right show; it certainly was more true to Twilight Zone in that it had a lot of scientific themes. Still, it was very different, mainly in the fact that it was entirely cast with puppets!  Oops, again! Turns out we were watching Supercar, not Twilight Zone

That’s when we realized were still on the wrong network. So we turn to CBS, and find…The Andy Griffith show. Good enough. I like this show. 

Still, what happened to Twilight Zone? We start getting ready for bed, only then remembering that this was Monday, and Twilight Zone airs on Friday. OOPS. Darned winter break. Made us forget entirely what day of the week it was!

(Nothing in the Dark, by George Clayton Johnson, featuring a return of Mr. Death and the woman whose profound fear of him has kept her alive – so far…)

Well, the Friday after that wild goose chase, we did end up watching the last Twilight Zone episode. This episode was a lot more reminiscent of older Twilight Zone shows, which was really nice to see after all the lousy newer ones. Like the second episode, it had a good theme (“Things in darkness are the same as they are in the light, and should not be feared”) which I really appreciated. The episode was just long enough to tell a full satisfying story, and it was never too predictable. The acting was slightly off, but it was intentionally so, hinting at certain hidden truths, but not all out saying them. Over all it was a well rounded episode that I thoroughly enjoyed.

My episode scores, in order, are 4, 3, 2, and 3.5. This comes out to an average of 3 stars out of 5. I very much enjoyed most of these episodes and recommend you watch the first, third, and fourth ones. With such a good lineup, it’s starting to look a little more promising in terms of episode quality. Hopefully it will continue to be this way for the next few weeks!

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[December 27, 1961] Double and Nothing (The Phantom Planet and Assignment: Outer Space)


by Gideon Marcus

Our effort at the Journey to curate every scrap of science fiction as it is released, in print and on film, leaves us little time for rest.  Even in the normally sleepy month of December (unless you’re battling Christmas shopping crowds, of course), this column’s staff is hard at work, either consuming or writing about said consumption.

I try to write my annual Galactic Stars article as close to the end of the year as possible.  Otherwise, I might miss a great story or movie that had the misfortune to come out in December. 

Fortunately for that report, but unfortunately for us, neither of the films in the double feature we watched last weekend had any chance of winning a Galactic Star.

Both of them were low budget American International Pictures films.  This is the studio best known for making B-movie schlock for the smaller Drive-Ins.  However, they also brought us the surprisingly good Master of the World as well as the atmospheric Corman/Poe movies.  So I’m not inclined to just write them off.  This time, however, we should have. 

The Phantom Planet is a typical first-slot filler movie.  Spaceships launched from the moon keep getting intercepted by a rogue asteroid.  Only one crewmember of the third flight survives, a beefcake of a man who shrinks to just six inches tall when exposed to the asteroid’s atmosphere.  What’s stunning is not the lack of science in this movie, but the assiduous determination to avoid any scientific accuracy in this movie.  However, I the sets are surprisingly nice…and familiar.  They look an awful lot like the sets from the short TV series Men in Space


“Remember when we flew these last year?”

The people of the asteroid (humans, natch) are a paradox of ultra-advanced technology and primitiveness.  They have powerful gravitational devices, operated similarly to the theremin, but they grow food out of rock and spin their own clothes.  There is some typical jive about the softness of civilization and the conscious choice to live the harder, but more pure life.


“Decisions…decisions…”

Beefcake pilot must choose between the two women who asteroid chief throws at him.  The younger, dramatic-looking one is mute, and therefore more readily impressed with a projected personality.  The older one is coveted by the chief’s top adviser, and some drama results from that.  All squabbles are put aside when enemy aliens appear to blast the asteroid with fire.  Beefcake and Jilted Lover work together to defeat them with theremins.  One of the lumpy aliens, a prisoner at the movie’s start, takes the mute girl captive.  She is rescued, and happily for her, the ordeal gives her back her voice.  Sometimes it’s that easy folks.


“You asked to be woken up at 6…”

Jilted Lover wins the love of Older Beauty.  Beefcake takes a gulp of oxygen and returns to normal size.  He returns to the moon with nothing but a pebble to remember the formerly mute girl with whom he shared the love of a lifetime in the course of 25 silent minutes.

Not quite one star, I suppose, but not much above it.  Call it 1.5.

Assignment: Outer Space, the “A” feature, is even worse.  An Italian production, it promised to be the superior of the productions, featuring full color, a wider aspect ratio, and a diverse cast.  Sadly, Assignment, filmed in Italy and dubbed with signal ineptitude, is a hot mess.  The set-up is fine, with an Earth reporter assigned to a space naval vessel to record a routine scientific investigation.  There’s some refreshing nods to weightlessness and some not terrible in-space shots.  The laughable model work is somewhat offset by the serviceable sets.  Yet, between the arbitrary plot (an Earth ship’s “photonic drive” has gone haywire and will destroy the Earth!!!) the fuzzy grasp of distance (Let’s go to Mars!  Now let’s go to Venus!) and the indescribably poor acting, this film is a dud.  And, of course, there is the perfunctory and accelerated romance between our reporter, Ray, and the navy ship’s navigator, Lucy.  It is as engaging as it is nuanced.


“These plants convert hydrogen into oxygen.”  “I love you.”

Another 1.5 star film (the half-star given for the mildly interesting engineer character, who is both Afro-American and the most competent of the ship’s crew).

Of course, as usual, the Junior Traveler came along for the ride.  As might be expected of someone with such maturity, culture, and discernment for her age, her views mirror mine…


by Lorelei Marcus

Today me and my dad decided to hit the theater and see what magical experience it would give us this time. We got a double showing, featuring The Phantom Planet and Assignment Outer Space. I will start with the former movie, to keep things in order. So without further ado, the review:

I think Phantom had to be one of the most low budget, poorly written, B movies we’ve seen so far. However that does not mean it wasn’t enjoyable. In fact it was quite humorous, after we decided to add our own little ongoing commentary. It’s more a movie to be made fun of rather than watched as a respectable feature. I don’t think it’s possible to watch it seriously all the way through.

What really intrigued me, is that it was made by the same studio who made Master of the Sky and the infamous Konga! This baffles me, because as you might know, these movies have a drastic difference in quality. In a way that’s really an understatement considering Konga was literally the worst movie we’ve ever seen. I suppose it isn’t that surprising for the studio to make The Phantom Planet though. It’s about the quality you would expect from a B movie studio.


“I thought cotton shrunk in the dryer…”

In terms of the story, there wasn’t one. Things happened, of course, but there was no ongoing plot, just a bunch of random events being thrown in your face, at random! The effects were cool at times, though mostly they just made me laugh. For example, the rubber alien suits on flaming ships, in space. The science of the movie could not be less accurate. I found myself constantly muttering to myself, “That’s not how it works!” throughout the movie. Still, that did also give more fuel to make fun of the movie and get any scraps of humor we could out of the mess.


“Theremins…in…space!

I’m going to give this movie 2 stars. Despite being absolutely terrible in every way, the experience around it that I had with my dad was quite enjoyable. I imagine someone going alone would give this movie a lower score than mine, but my experience is going to affect my score – I imagine if I’d gone alone it would probably be a 1 out of 5 stars instead. At least I had fun!

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Assignment Outer Space. We came back from the concession stand with high hopes, after the not-very-good experience we’d just had. Sadly, our hopes were soon crushed into a billion, tiny, disappointed pieces. The worst part is this thing tried to disguise itself as a movie, making the realization that it wasn’t even harsher.

We start off on a space ship where the main characters are waking up from hyperspace. We know this, thanks to the constant expositional narration that describes everything that’s currently going on in every scene. Despite that, we still managed to be confused about what was actually happening nearly the entire movie, which tells you something.


“I dreamed I was in a lousy movie!” “It’s no dream, my son.”

Anyway, we are soon introduced to the main character of the film, Ray, who is actually a reporter, and the narration is the article he writes after the movie. This was a terrible, and I repeat, terrible choice on the script-writer’s part. Not just because it’s completely boring and unnecessary, but it ruins the entire climax of the movie!

For you to understand, I will need to tell you the movie’s plot. Unfortunately this movie does not have one, just a series of events with no context or build up whatsoever. The main conflict of the film, which literally appeared out of nowhere, was an indestructible man-made weapon, intent on destroying Earth. The main crew’s job is to find a way to stop it, and that’s the entire second half of the movie! However we know how it ends from the beginning, we know they save Earth and the main character survives because we know he writes an article that he will share with the world! Plus, its not like the narration was even needed in the first place!


Ray saves the day.  Surprise, surprise.

As you can probably tell, that frustrated me a lot, probably because it felt like the entire movie was a pointless waste of time and I wasn’t going to get anything new out of watching it. I almost walked out of the theater at one point, especially when they killed the one character I was at all fond of (the engineer sacrifices himself to find the photonic barrier’s weakness). But no, I stayed.


“Mustn’t… show… emotion…”

I could go on and on about all the flaws in the pacing and acting and dubbing sync etc., but I already pretty much did that for the other movie. In comparison to Assignment Outer Space, The Phantom Planet actually looks like a decent movie (despite being in black and white). So of course, Assignment Outer Space is going to get a lower score of 0.5 stars. I think this is the lowest score I’ve given a movie so far, and this one deserves it. Konga was incredibly bad, but it had more redeeming qualities than this pile of garbage. I think the only two things I liked about this movie was the style of one of the character’s hair, and a shot where the main character turns towards the camera ridiculously slowly for no reason. That’s it!


Get used to this shot.  You’ll see it a lot.

With a steep ratio of bad to good Science Fiction movies this year, I’m really hoping we’ll get some better quality stuff in 1962. I wish I were a Time Traveler so I could just go and see, but that would spoil the fun. I hope you all have Happy Holidays, and do me a favor: never watch Assignment Outer Space. Thank you.

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.

[November 16, 1961] Made in Japan (Mothra)

Now here’s a special treat.  Not long ago, the Junior Traveler began contributing as a co-author.  This time around, she has decided to take center stage.  My little girl is all growed up!  Excuse me.  I have something in my eye…


by Lorelei Marcus

Recently, me and my family thought we should take a break from time traveling (in fiction and movies) and do some real traveling!  We decided to go to Japan!  I was sad because we weren’t going to be able to watch any Twilight Zone or new movies.  Luckily, we were treated to a new Japanese movie called Mothra.  Me and my father had the luxury to see it in theaters, in Japan!  It was a very similar (but intriguingly different) experience to an American movie in various ways.

Mothra, similar to many of the American movies we’ve watched, is a monster movie – in this case, about a giant moth that attacks Tokyo.  I noticed monster movies often start out the same, something or someone dear to the monster is taken from them to a big city, and the monster comes back to rescue it, destroying said city in the process.  It happened in Gorgo; this movie did not break the mold.

We start out with a ship crashing on an island that is being used as a nuclear test site by the Japanese.  A helicopter finds four survivors who were miraculously free of any radiation poisoning or side affects!  A team of scientists, including their sponsor Nelson, explore this mysterious island.  It turns out there have been natives living on this island the whole time!  Among these completely, naturally brown-skinned natives, are two foot-tall Japanese girls who communicate through song.  Nelson steals these girls thinking he can make a profit.  Of course the girls and the natives are distressed, so they call to Mothra for help, who at this point is still an egg.

After a ceremony and dance number, Mothra hatches as a little larvae and starts making her way across the ocean to Japan, where it wreaks havoc.  There was an exciting scene involving a baby and a bridge that had me on the edge of my seat.  I will not tell you how it ends, but I’m a real sucker when it comes to animals and babies in distress.  Anyway, after destroying many buildings, and killing many people, Mothra cocoons herself onto Tokyo Tower!  By this point, Nelson has now escaped to New Kirk City, in his native country of “Roliska.”  There, he is relieved to hear that Mothra has been defeated by Roliskan-provided heat rays. 

Or has she?

The movie goes on for quite a bit longer, but to avoid spoiling you of the ending, I will stop my summary there.  Now for my opinions!  I actually enjoyed the movie a lot; however after seeing so many of this type of movie, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t very bored at some parts.  The special effects were outstanding; it was hard to tell real from fake at some parts.  Though, by the second half they weren’t nearly as good, it was understandable considering it was supposed to be a remake of America, which Japanese would not have much knowledge of its architecture.  The sets of Japan though, those were completely realistic.  Even the tanks — the tanks were so good I couldn’t believe they were fake at first!  There is no doubt the effects in this movie had a high budget.

However, the story and acting at times were lacking.  I think the largest cases of terrible acting were Nelson and the incidental Americans.  Through the entire movie, Nelson’s poor Japanese accent bugged us so much — it was just so annoying!  There were certainly American actors who couldn’t do a proper Japanese accent to save their lives, but Nelson’s halfway-servicable accent was somehow worse.  There’s almost no way to describe how terrible it was! 

In contrast, the American dialogue, particularly that of one of the scientists, was probably the best part of the movie.  The emphasis on certain words was completely unnatural, and the words themselves were completely out of place!  Still it made my dad and I laugh every time one of these odd lines were just thrown into the background, simply for the heck of it!  “I wonder…a blood-sucking plant!”  Still gets me every time.

As I said before, the plot was your typical monster movie story. Though there were certainly exciting moments, with outstanding effects to complement them, I still found myself bored at times.  The story isn’t bad, and certainly isn’t weak, but I still find it lacking in a way that you can’t simply add something to fix.  You would need to re-write the story rather than add something to it to make it better.  The movie is a very specific genre, and I’m starting to get bored of that genre, so adding a twist or different plot all together would likely really help make it interesting.  I knew what I was getting into from the start, and how it was going to end.  I think the movie would’ve been better if it was just a little less predictable at least.

Overall I’d say this movie was solid, if unsurprising.  Similar to Gorgo, it did exactly what it was trying to do: be a disaster monster movie.  Clever characters as well as hyper realistic special effects and an adorable giant moth managed to keep me watching, despite the mediocre story and bad acting that made me (for lack of a better word) cringe at times, really tied it all together.  With all of these factors in mind, I’d give this movie a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Now rather than me signing off, I’ll I have my father do the footer for a change!  Here are his thoughts on Mothra:


by Gideon Marcus

I don’t have much to add to Lorelei’s excellent report.  A few things elevated this movie above Gorgo for me, despite having a similar plot.  Firstly, I appreciated that the movie’s protagonist, “Zen-Chan” the journalist, was atypical.  A chubby, comedic type, his performance might have simply been played for laughs.  Instead, we got a competent, plucky fellow to root for.  Similarly, his colleague, the photographer Michi Hanamura, was not a love interest or an appendage.  Rather, she was a strong character with agency. 

The production values were exceptional, easily the match of a high budget American production like Journey to the Center of the Earth.  In particular, the aerial scenes when the beautifully organic Mothra larvae wriggles across the Japanese countryside are just exquisite.  The scenes with the little Mothra maidens were well done and as convincing as the miniature scenes in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

So all in all, I think this was a better movie than Gorgo and thus deserves a higher score.  Three and a half stars from me.

[Nov. 5, 1961] Settling in (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 5-8)


by Gideon Marcus

and


by Lorelei Marcus

The house that Rod built was showing signs of decay, but, as happened last season, The Twilight Zone has gotten a little better a few episodes in.  It’s not perfect, mind you, but I’m still tuning in on Friday.  In fact, Serling’s show, Andy Griffith, and Route 66 are my strongest bulwark against the “vast wasteland” lying behind the screen of the one-eyed monster (sadly, Route 66 wasn’t on this week, more’s the pity).

Anyway, submitted for your approval are the next four episodes of the Third Season (descriptions followed by commentary by the Traveler and then the Young Traveler):

Jack Klugman returns for a amazing turn in A Game of Pool as a aspiring billiards shark who wants nothing more than to beat the best – a deceased legend called “Fats” (played by comedian, Jonathan Winters in a surprisingly humorless performance).  Well, he gets his chance…since this is The Twilight Zone. 

The writing is some of the pithiest I’ve seen on this show, and Klugman is an absolute scene-stealer. If there’s any kind of downer, it’s the ending.  While logical, it also feels “safest” for the show (I understand no one was really happy with Pool‘s conclusion, and it was shot several ways).  Four stars.

For the past four weeks I’ve watched another four episodes of Twilight Zone with my father!  The first episode we watched was about a wannabe legendary pool player, who had a pool game with the legend of that time.  I won’t spoil the ending or anything, but it was very suspenseful and had great pacing.  I enjoyed it very much, there was just enough mystery to keep it interesting.  It was refreshing after a lot of badly paced and bland episodes.  Three and a half stars.

Up next is The Mirror, featuring a Castro stand-in (played by the decidedly non-Latin Peter Falk) as the paranoid dictator of a Cuba stand-in.  After Falk is notified by the captured Bautista stand-in that he has inherited a mirror that shows him his would-be assassins, the island dictator quickly dispatches his compatriots. 

Did I say quickly?  I meant over the course of twenty minutes of swaggering, tedious, brown-faced, fake-bearded monologues.  Falk may have been nominated for the Oscar last year, but this performance wouldn’t let you on to that info.  On the other hand, while bad, the episode has the virtue of being memorable, at least.  My daughter and I have taken to doing faux-Castro/Falk impressions whenever we see each other in the bathroom looking glass…  Two stars.

Speaking of “badly paced and bland episodes,” the next episode we watched was bad.  It was about a new Cuban leader who ends up murdering all his friends due to mistrust.  It’s as boring as my father makes it sound.  The worst part, is this drags on for 20 minutes!  It’s like they thought of one semi-interesting idea, and decided to stretch it so thin across the run time, that there was practically nothing there.  Please, save yourself some time and don’t watch this episode.  One and a half stars.

The Grave is a Halloweeny piece set in the Old West.  Lee Marvin plays a bounty hunter who has been on the trail of an outlaw for months, never quite summoning the courage to face the criminal down.  The bandit’s demise comes at the hands of his own kin, the people of his town resolving to finish the job themselves.  But with his last gasp, the outlaw threatens to strangle Marvin from beyond the grave.  After a good amount of whiskey-fueled goading, and after a little more whiskey-fueled loin-girding, Marvin visits the outlaw’s burial site…and is found dead the next day.  Was it a heart attack?  Or the satisfaction of a death curse? 

A plodding episode, but with some decent acting.  Two and a half stars.

This third episode was fairly forgettable.  So forgettable that I actually had to get up, halfway through writing this, and ask my father what it was about again.  I found the ending to be the most interesting part, so I won’t spoil it, however getting to there was painfully slow.  There wasn’t a setting change until the very end, and the middle was just people sitting and talking.  I must admit that I almost fell asleep at times; still you may watch this if you like.  As I said before, it has a decent ending, but its a matter of if you want to waste your time getting there.  Two stars.

Last up is the thoroughly unpleasant It’s a Good Life, starring Bill Mumy, a tyke who starred in one of last season’s episodes.  The boy has the psychic ability to do, well, anything.  And, like most 6-year old kids with untempered power, he is a terror.  His fellow rural villagers live in constant fear of being brutally murdered and then “wished into the cornfield.”  One brave soul decides he can’t take anymore and attempts to distract Mumy with an angry outburst, entreating the adults to take the opportunity bash the kid’s head in.  Alas, the townspeople, while they clearly are miserable, can’t overcome their fears.  The rebel is slaughtered, and life, such as it is, goes on. 

As horror, Life is effective if overwrought.  I take it as allegory, however.  Life depicts the discomfort humans will endure to avoid a worse fate, even when these same humans have the power to eliminate the source of their discomfort.  As such, I found it effective.  Three stars.

Finally, today’s episode.  I really don’t have much to say about it honestly.  The story was very straightforward, and there was no real message or conflict.  I kept waiting for something to happen that would change the course of the story, but no, it was just a boy with mind powers who didn’t feel empathy.  I felt it went on a little too long, like most Twilight Zone episodes do, and could’ve used another element to help keep the story interesting.  Two and a half stars.

In total I give all these episodes a mean of 2.5 stars.  They were fairly average, and I really only recommend the first one to watch.  The fourth one might be good to see as well, just to be literate (as I imagine “wishing people into the cornfield” is going to become a popular phrase); however I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off….

…and the less-Young Traveler, also signing off.  Next stop…Japan!  Stay tuned for pictures and articles from the Land of the Rising Sun.

[August 20, 1961] Sub-mediocre (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea)


by Gideon Marcus


“Wake me when it’s over, willya?”

In this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov describes the dread he felt when his children suggested they all go see a “science fiction” film.  The kids thought the mention of that term would sway him positively, seeing how sf is Asimov’s bread and butter.  Asimov knew better, though.  Sci-fi films generally aren’t very good, replete with scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo, giant monsters, and nonsensical plots. 

Of course, in service to my readers, I make sure to see them all.  Every so often, a gem slips through.  Witness The Time Machine and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  They may not be scientifically rigorous, but they are worth watching.

Galactic Journey’s latest cinematic outing, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, is neither scientifically rigorous nor worth watching. 


(Actual voyages to the bottom of the sea not included)

From the trailer, I’d expected a madcap romp across the ocean, a sort of modern-day cross between Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Certainly, the snippet showing off Barbara Eden’s jiggling hips and Frankie Avalon’s trumpet, not to mention the giant octopus on the movie poster, suggested as much. 

This is what we got instead:

The nuclear submarine Seaview surfaces at the North Pole, a moment billed as momentous (even though the real-life sub Nautilus accomplished this feat in 1958).  Almost immediately thereafter, the Van Allen Belts catch fire, dramatically heating the Earth, and the ship is recalled home. 

Yes, you read that right.  The Van Allen Belts caught fire.  Never mind that despite the hellish radiation resulting from all those charged particles whizzing around up there (which I described in my recent article on Explorer 12), the space up there is essentially a vacuum.  What matter exists in the Belts comprises just free nuclear particles — neutrons, protons, and electrons.  There’s virtually nothing up there to burn.  Certainly not in the literal sense, i.e. rapid oxidation. 

Never mind that.  I can hand-wave an improbable premise if it results in a good flick.  Sadly, this one does not.  Quite the opposite.

Upon arrival in New York, Admiral Nelson, the sub’s creator and flag commander, announces before an emergency session of the United Nations that he can stop the heightening catastrophe before the Earth is burned lifeless.  At odds with every other scientist in the world, Nelson believes that, by firing a nuclear missile at the proper trajectory into the Belts, upon detonation, the Belts will be saturated with radiation and poof out of existence.  I’m not sure how the Admiral is qualified to make this deduction given his specialty is nuclear submarines, not geophysics. 

A scientist named Zuko declares that he is “diametrically opposed” to the Admiral’s plan, that it will prove disastrous to the Earth, and that, by his calculations, the Van Allen fire will burn itself out before the Earth reaches the critical, point of no return, absolutely scientifically based, life-destroying temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.  The UN votes, and Zuko’s admonitions are heeded.  Nelson is not to proceed with his mad plan.

So, of course, Nelson does.  The renegade Seaview, Nelson in command, takes off for the Marianas region of the Pacific.  Three weeks hence, at a specific short window of time, he will fire his missile and save the Earth.


To the Marianas! (but not the bottom of the sea)

At this point, the movie has only committed a few sins: The science has been laughable, the protagonist has been portrayed as unquestioningly correct (despite no justification; well, we did see Nelson fondle a slide-rule at one point, so math was apparently involved), and despite the magnitude of the portrayed disaster, it’s been a dull film.  Come on, fellas — if you’re going to present an Earth-ending event, at least let us see some of it. 

Over the next hour, however, Voyage only sinks further into the depths of its badness.  We get a few “exciting” set-pieces.  When crew of the Seaview leave the ship to tap into a telephone cable (the radios having been silenced by all that Van Allen burning), they end up in a pitched battle with some kind of tentacle monster.  Later, the sub runs into an old minefield and has to clear its way through.  Directed as flatly as a plane, all drama is leached from scenes that could have been interesting.


Fighting killer seaweed!  Oh wait… that’s Diver Dan.  Which is better.

There is one mildly compelling thread in Voyage.  Throughout the film, Admiral Nelson becomes increasingly irascible and monomaniacal.  The ship’s psychiatrist is certain that he’s cracking up.  Captain Crane, the Seaview’s skipper, becomes concerned with Nelson’s irrationality, opposing him at every turn.  The crew seethes toward mutiny, and incidents of sabotage occur. 

Given the peremptory manner in which the Admiral hatched his plan, as well as the news that the navies of the world have begun a hunt for the Seaview to prevent it from launching its missiles, I started to think that perhaps we weren’t supposed to sympathize with Nelson.  That Voyage was a morality play about the danger of self-righteous action in the face of contrary evidence.  This thread climaxes with Crane’s relieving of Nelson just as an American attack submarine appears to do battle with the Seaview.

For a moment, Voyage teetered on the edge of watchability.  Could Allen salvage an hour of badness?

Well, no.  You see, it turns out that Zuko was wrong.  The Belt doesn’t burn itself out, evidence of which comes just before the launch window (even though the whole drama of the film depends on Nelson not believing he’ll get this information until a full day after).  So the Admiral was right all along.  After a few minutes of tacked on drama involving a giant octopus and a couple of civilians who lacked proper faith in the infallible Admiral, the missile is fired at the last minute.  The Van Allen Belts explode outward, and the day is saved. 

In short, in just 5 minutes, Irwin Allen sabotages his own movie, sacrificing an actual story for some cheap (and I do mean cheap action). 

It’s films like Voyage that rightly make Asimov trepidatious about going to the movies.  And in this case, it was the father who dragged the child unwillingly to the theater.  I feel terrible.  Almost as terrible as Irwin Allen should feel for making this flick.

One star.

But don’t just take my word for it…


by Lorelei Marcus

Today we watched Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. I’m sorry to say that this movie was more of a journey to the exposition sea, than anything else.  Almost everything was told to us in radio or TV announcements.  The sets consisted of three colors, gray, red, and grayish blue. The acting was mediocre, the dialogue almost nothing but exposition, and the costumes all a bland uniform beige.  By the end of the movie I couldn’t tell anyone apart!


Tell us more, magic box!


Who’s who again?

There was a plot to the movie, but filled with too many holes to count, and the entire movie was conveyed through static speeches or random (speechless) visuals.  God forbid you have both at the same time though!  That would mean the movie might start to make sense!


Ten minutes of silent diving footage?  Sure, I’ll wait.

All joking aside, the movie was bland, boring, and predictable.  I guessed events long before they happened.  There wasn’t even any journeying to the bottom of the sea as the title suggested. If I had to choose, I’d have to say the best parts of the movie were the cook’s parrot, the dog (carried aboard by a rescued civilian), and one of the crew member’s accents.  That should tell you how hard it was to find a good part to this movie.


Gertrude lives!

Oh the ending, the ending was the worst.  Basically the movie kept putting out a certain message.  Conveying it through actions and behaviors.  Though it was kind of obvious it was also pretty clever, for this movie at least.  The ending, however, threw that all away and did the opposite of what THE ENTIRE MOVIE had been building up to.


“Ha ha!  I was right all along.”

Overall this movie was one of the worst I’ve seen with my dad.  I’d give it a 1 out of 5.  I do not recommend you see this movie.  It’s the worst kind of bad, where it’s not even ironically good.  I was tempted to walk out of the theater it was so bad.  They tried really hard to make a movie, and didn’t.  So please, spare yourself from this, and be glad we watched it so you don’t have to.

This is the young traveler, signing off.

[July 30, 1961] 20,000 Leagues in a Balloon (Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island)


by Gideon Marcus

Jules Verne, the father of scientific adventure, has probably inspired more movie spectacles than any other writer.  Verne’s characters have conquered all areas of the globe, from the center of the Earth, to the heights of the clouds, to the bottom of the ocean. 

Perhaps the most famous of Verne’s protagonists is Captain Nemo, skipper of the magnificent submarine, the Nautilus.  In 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, adapted to film in 1953, Nemo led a one-man crusade against war, sinking the world’s warships in the cause of pacifism.

My daughter and I just came back from the premiere of Mysterious Island, the latest translation of a Verne novel.  It is a sequel of sorts to 20,000 Leagues, though this is not immediately apparent from the beginning.  The initial setting is the siege of Richmond at the end of the American Civil War.  Four Yankee prisoners make a daring escape in a balloon along with an initially wary, but ultimately game, Confederate prisoner.  The film begins with no indication of where it’s going other than the title (and the mention of Nemo in the cast list – an unfortunate spoiler).

This first act sets the pace for most of the movie – fast and exciting.  It continues for a good twenty minutes before the balloon crash-lands onto the movie’s namesake, a volcanic spot of land in the South Pacific.  In this span, we get a good feel for the characters, all of whom are interesting and likable.  We have Captain Harding, a brusque, efficient sort who has little trouble commanding authority.  Neb is his aide-de-camp and good friend, a Negro soldier who’s clearly served with Harding a long time.  Young Herbert is another of Harding’s men, an ashamed coward who wishes he could be a better man (and gets the opportunity!).  The captured Rebel, Sergeant Branson, is an amiable sort.  After some initial mistrust, he falls in line with Harding.  The last of the adventurers is Gideon Spillet, a cynical and jaunty war reporter.  It is, perhaps, no surprise that the middle-aged journalist named Gideon is my favorite character…

Once upon the island, the band discovers a host of extraordinary features.  The volcano is ominously active.  Many of the flora and fauna of the island are unnaturally large.  Yet, despite these dangers, the castaways seem to have a guardian angel, always providing aid at the brink of catastrophe.

The oversized critters are beautifully brought to life by the master of stop-motion effects, Ray Harryhausen.  We’ve seen his work before in films like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and this may well be his most impressive outing.  Not only does he do a wonderful job of rendering a giant crab, a Diatryma, and a swarm of outsized bees, but their interactions with living actors are convincing. 

Not long after my daughter lamented the lack of women in the movie, two were thoughtfully provided.  The shipwrecked duo are the Lady Mary Fairchild, and her niece, Elena.  I greatly appreciated that the newcomers were treated, as characters, with dignity.  They quickly become members of the team, the noble Mary proving to be quite resourceful, indeed. 

Island maintains its tempo and excitement for a good 75 of its 101 minutes, prematurely climaxing with the introduction of the party’s benefactor, Captain Nemo.  The final act, depicting Nemo’s plan to leave the island in a captured brigands’ vessel (the Nautilus having been crippled in the last movie), is somewhat inconsistent and expositional.  We lose a bit of the character interaction that made Island so entertaining. 

Nevertheless, there’s no question that Island, despite its simple, linear plot and its uneven ending, is a delight.  It’s a lovely film with a fine cast, yet another success in the long line of Vernian films.  Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about the movie, aside from the diverse cast, was its lack of an opponent.  So many films involve some degree of treachery or antagonism, an enemy to overcome or a traitorous party member.  I find that rather tedious.  In Island, all of the cast are basically good, and they work together to master their situation.  The setting, itself, provides enough drama to hold interest.

Moreover, the only animals we see killed and eaten are ones that attacked the party.  No goats or Gertrudes lose their lives in this film.

3.5 stars.


by Lorelei Marcus

Today we watched Mysterious Island, which was a pretty good movie, I would say.  Like most of the Verne movies we’ve watched, it has an exciting setup.  The special effects were amazing, as to be expected from Ray Harryhausen.  I loved seeing all of the creatures they’d come up with and seeing them turned into giant forms. The stop motion was meshed so well with the actual footage, it was hard to tell what was real and what wasn’t!  I can’t pick a favorite creature — they were all so good.

The acting was also very good, and there was a lot of attention to detail on the actors.  I particularly liked the strong relationship between the Captain and Neb.  I’m not surprised that neither of them got involved with the castaway women as they had each other. 

My favorite thing is seeing people surviving and rebuilding, and this movie really scratched that itch. They came up with a lot of creative ways to create modern implements in the wild, from the goat pen to the shell bowls.

Overall the pacing was very good, until around the end where it slowed down a bit, but otherwise it was a fun movie.  It’s hard to describe a plot because there wasn’t much of one. They escaped from prison, they found an island, they built on the island, they escaped the island, The End.  Despite this though, I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  The sets were all very beautiful, and it was edited very well.

I think I would give this movie a 3.5 out of 5.  It was very good, but kind of lost me at the end. Still, I highly recommend you go see it yourself, if not for the story, then for the amazing special effects.

This is the young traveler, signing off.

[June 11, 1961] Until we meet again… (Twilight Zone Second Season wrap up)

When Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone debuted in October 1959, it was a fresh breeze across “the vast wasteland” of television.  Superior writing, brilliant cinematography, fine scoring, and, of course, consistently good acting earned its creator a deserved Emmy last year.

The show’s sophomore season had a high expectation to meet, and it didn’t quite.  That said, it was still head and shoulders above its competitors (Roald Dahl’s Way Out, Boris Karloff’s Thriller, etc.) The last two episodes of this year’s batch were par for the course: decent, but not outstanding:

Take Will the Real Martian please stand up.  A pair of policemen track the survivor of a flying saucer crash into a remote coffee house.  None of the folks inside will confess to being an alien, but it is certain one of them, all seemingly human, is no Terran.  Paranoia ensues, heightened by some electrical hijinks.  The show keeps you guessing to the end, and then there’s a bit of a twist. 

I think I’d have liked this piece more if it hadn’t been done better in first season’s The Monsters are due on Maple Street.  The episode was also a bit padded, with some unnecessary expository exposition.  I guess I’ll call it three stars, if only for getting to see John Hoyt again.  Jack Elam, who trades on looking weird, was also fun to watch.

I liked this episode a lot, even if it was slow.  It was similar to a previous episode of Twilight Zone, but the difference was this one almost turned the idea of people going crazy out of mistrust on its head (resolving the problem rather than going insane). 

The whole plot of the episode hinges on the fact that “There were only six passengers on the bus, and now there’s seven at the diner!”  At first I thought the twist was that there were only six passengers and the driver, a total of seven, until I did a headcount about halfway through the episode.

Something funny: earlier today I’d been watching the sit-com Angel, which had James Garner as a guest star!  Towards the end they had an in-show commercial for cereal.  In this Twilight Zone episode, one of the men was talking about how good his cigarettes tasted, and I thought for a moment he was going to break into an advertisement.  Of course that didn’t come until the end — when Rod Serling recommended Oasis cigarettes “for the freshest of tastes”.

I would give this episode a solid four.  It wasn’t perfect, and the pacing was a little slow, but I still loved the kooky special effects and funny story.  Even though it was simple, the story had me wondering the whole time.  I was hoping for a little more of a twist out of the end, but over all it was a good episode, and I highly recommend you watch it yourself.

The last episode of the second season, Obsolete, was a morality play.  A meek librarian endures a show trial under a regime clearly informed by Nazi Germany.  In it, he is declared “obsolete” and sentenced to execution.  The defiant man’s sole remaining right is to choose the method of his execution.  The librarian’s choice ultimately places the sentencing chancellor’s life in jeopardy as well.  Let us just say that one faces death more nobly than the other. 

It’s a beautifully shot piece, and the first half genuinely engages.  But the latter portion drags and is so monochromatic in its allegory that there is no room for pondering.  The God-loving, book-toting little man is right.  The Hitler-analogue is wrong.  Aren’t we glad that’s not us?  I give it three stars, but that comes from averaging the two halves.

I thought this episode was only okay.  The concept wasn’t that interesting and it was a pretty predictable episode overall.  The episode starred Burgess Meredith, who has already starred in two other Twilight Zone episodes.  The acting was alright, but the concept was so simple that the episode was almost bland.

The episode was about a society built on the idea that, if you were obsolete, you were killed.  There really wasn’t much else to the episode.  The man was tried, declared obsolete, and killed.  It felt even more drawn out than Martian.

I would give this episode a two and a half.  It was entirely mediocre and predictable the whole way through.  I would recommend skipping this one, because, to put it bluntly, it’s just not good.

And that’s that!  Next week’s episode is a summer rerun of the first of the first season, Where is Everybody.  Go check it out if you want to see where it all began.  Until next time,

This is the Traveler…

And, this is the Young Traveler, signing off.

[May 29, 1961] Oasis in a Wasteland (The Twilight Zone, Season 2, Episodes 25-27)

Nelson Minow, the new Chair of the Federal Communications Commission, offered the following challenge to the National Association of Broadcasters earlier this month (May 9, 1961). 

“I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland…

…When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse.”

He is, of course, stating the obvious.  If you park yourself in front of the idiot box all day, your mind will be turned to mush by the soap operas, game shows, inferior anthologies, and the endless commercials (sometimes as many as ten 30-second spots per hour!).  But, for the more discriminating, there are about six hours of good TV on any given week.  If you like Westerns (and you’d better..because there are so many!), there’s Rawhide and Maverick, though the latter is much reduced in watchability since James Garner left the cast.  You’ve got Route 66.  Andy Griffith has got a fun show.  Dobie Gillis is still amusing on occasion.

And then you’ve got Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.  I’m shed much ink over the fact that this second season hasn’t been as good as the first.  The last three episodes, however, comprise a solid streak of goodness that I think you’ll enjoy if you catch them during the summer reruns (and, as is now tradition, you’ll get a one-two review punch with both me and the Young Traveler reporting our thoughts):

——

The Silence, aired about a month ago, is a most peculiar episode.  For the first time since Zone‘s debut segment, we have 25 minutes without a single science fictional or fantastic twist.  Rather, this show, about a rather obnoxious Gentleman’s Club regular who is bet that he can’t keep his mouth shut for a year, relies solely on fine acting, lush cinematography, and compelling storytelling to hold your attention until the final reveal.  It’s a neat trick, and Serling probably could only get away with it because we were all expecting a gimmick.  Four stars.

I highly enjoyed this episode.  It really had the feel of a first season Twilight Zone episode, with its creepy twist.  The sets were interesting, the plot intriguing, and the acting spectacular.  I appreciate that the episode was more realistic than other episodes, with the character’s actions having consequences, rather than some unknown force messing with them.

I enjoyed the concept, and it had the right amount of creepiness.  The actor’s expressions really helped convey different parts of the story and I absolutely loved the twist.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it is very good.

I give this episode a solid 3 and a ½ out of five stars.  I highly recommend you watch this episode for yourself, and enjoy this well done story, just as I did.

——

Shadowplay is a gripping piece.  A man on Death Row (a cliched, broad version thereof) attempts to convince his attorney, his prosecutor, his contact at the newspaper, that the world is just a solipsistic fantasy.  Once the convict sits in the electric chair, and the circuits are opened, it will not be the criminal who dies, but the entire world.  Moreover, this will not be a one-time event: in fact, it is all the nightly dream of the condemned man.  Over and over, he almost convinces the phantoms to grant a stay of execution.  Almost.  Not quite.

The tension of the episode derives from this iteration’s outcome.  Will he break the cycle this time?  Four stars.

I felt that this episode was actually kind of slow.  I was somewhat unsatisfied by the end because it felt like despite there being some tension, the ending was actually fairly predictable. There was no twist in this one, the story simply unfolded and then it was done.

The cinematography and acting was very good, but I really disliked the plot.  I have never particularly liked the whole “people going crazy” angle that Twilight Zone likes to use, and this episode started right off with it.  I was also slightly disturbed with the episode’s concept, which I suppose is what they want you to be, but it just left an overall bad taste in my mouth.

I would give this episode 2 out of five stars, however this is simply my opinion, and if you enjoy this concept, then I would highly recommend you watch this episode, if not for the plot, then the cinematography.

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Last up is The Mind and the Matter, a comedy piece starring comedian Shelley Berman.  Berman plays a finicky insurance clerk, hemmed in at all times by people.  People on the subway.  People in the cafeteria.  People at the office.  Crowds everywhere.  When he discovers the psychic ability to wish everyone away, or in the alternative, make them all like himself (the one fellow he thinks he can stand), it seems he’s finally found the answer.  Relief, however, is short-lived in both cases.

While not an outstanding episode, I could not help noting how attractive it was, with truly crisp cinematography.  Also, as with the other pieces on which I report this month, the emphasis is increasingly on characterization, making you care about the people portrayed beyond the twist ending.  Three stars.

I actually enjoyed this episode a lot.  The cinematography was just as good as the last one, the pacing was good, and the plot had a lot I could relate to.  Though I don’t “despise people” like the main character did, I related a lot to the loneliness and boredom he felt towards the middle of the episode.  When you have no responsibilities and there’s no one to talk to, you can get pretty bored, and I think that was wonderfully conveyed so we could relate to it. 

As I said earlier, the cinematography and acting was very good.  The special effects were amazing, making everyone the same person, it really allowed for some funny moments.  I think the thing I liked most about the episode though, is the ending.  It didn’t end with any crazy people, or a terrible twist; the man simply learned his lesson, and continued his life.

I would give this episode a solid 3 1/2 stars.  It was funny, lighthearted, and I highly recommend you watch it yourself.