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[March 12, 1962] Must come down… (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 21-24)

by Gideon Marcus


by Lorelei Marcus

[I’ll let the Young Traveler lead this time.  She’s put her finger on what we enjoy and don’t about The Twilight Zone]

Guess who’s back with another The Twilight Zone review! Well, I personally prefer Rocky and Bullwinkle, but I’m afraid you came here for a The Twilight Zone review, so I suppose I’ll have to comply. As usual, me and my father watched four episodes of Sterling’s show over these past four weeks.

Kick the Can, by George Clayton Johnson

We seem to have found a common theme in all of the very highly rated episodes. Specifically, that we hate them! For example, we have the classic gem, Eye of the Beholder, where the episode can be summed up with: “Oh they’re taking off the bandages… Oh, they’re still taking off the bandages….. Oh, they’re STILL taking off the bandages…… snore.”

This episode was no exception. It was about a group of old people at a retirement home who, through playing a children’s game, are able to become young again.  I wouldn’t say we hated this episode, like we did many other popular ones, but it certainly wasn’t groundbreaking like many make it out to be. There was no real twist, and the only mystery aspect was if they were actually going to turn into kids by the end of the episode. I’m sure it probably didn’t help that I’m not very familiar with kick the can either. I prefer skipping rope, or, of course, watching television. All joking aside, I believe this episode wasn’t exactly bad, but also didn’t go anywhere. It sort of just dragged on without resolving itself. In my opinion, it certainly doesn’t deserve the popularity it got. 1.5 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

Where some see sentimental genius, I see mawkishness.  The setup could have been done in half the time, leaving plenty of room for some sort of poignant decision the part of the protagonist.  I would have enjoyed the crusty old fellow making the deliberate choice to finish his years naturally.  This would address fundamental questions of existence: Is it worth reliving the past when it is the sum of one’s experiences that make a life?  Is there, perhaps, more value in the arc of an existence fully enjoyed?  2 stars.

A Piano in the House, by Earl Hammer

by Lorelei Marcus

I would say this second episode was a great example of a simple concept done right. A bitter art critic gets a self-playing piano for his wife’s birthday, but the peculiar thing is it causes the people hearing its music to reveal their true emotions, brought forth in the flavor of the particular song that is playing. The man, being a sadist, decides to cruelly use it on the house guests attending his wife’s birthday party. In the end, the wife plays a specific song that causes the sadist to spill his darkest fears, humiliating himself. This episode really left a feeling of a mixture of bitterness and awe the way only The Twilight Zone can do. It was very simple, and yet entertaining all the same. I also very much liked the theme of, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself,” that was clearly displayed throughout the episode.  3.5 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

This piece might not have been nearly as interesting without the entertaining portrayal of the critic by skillful Barry Morse.  His lines are genuinely funny, and he turns a mediocre script into a compelling performance.  Three stars.

The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank, by Montogomery Pittman

by Lorelei Marcus

For once me and my father’s opinions on an episode differed, if only by a little bit. This third show was about a young man rising from the dead, and how the people around him react and adjust. The mystery of the episode is whether he’s a demon, actually alive again, or something else. I won’t tell you which one it is, because I don’t entirely know myself! This episode left on a bit of a cliffhanger, though it is fairly easy to extrapolate and theorize from what they give you. I personally wasn’t very fond of all the people hating and being suspicious, but I know my father enjoyed it, so I’m happy about that. 2 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

It’s all right to disagree.  Two travelers separated by thirty years shouldn’t have altogether identical opinions, should we?  It’s the performances that sell this episode (as is often the case in this show), and there’s no denying that the opening scene is an indisputable gotcha.  That said, this episode tries to have it both ways – lambasting ignorance and prejudice while undermining said condemnation by showing the townspeople likely had the right to be suspicious of the erstwhile corpse.  Three stars.

(fun fact: Ed Buchanan, who played the doctor who pronounces Myrtlebank dead, and then alive, showed up two weeks later on an episode of Thriller as…you guessed it – a doctor!)

To Serve Man, by Rod Serling (based on a story by Damon Kinght)

by Lorelei Marcus

Lastly, we have last week’s episode! In the short time its been out, this episode has also gotten a high rating by many. I won’t say much about the episode to avoid spoiling it, but I will say that I didn’t catch the twist until the end. I have mixed feelings about this episode. It was light and dark at times, but seemed to just drag on throughout. I suppose you could say that this episode was thoroughly mediocre, and I probably will forget it in the future. 1.5 stars.

by Gideon Marcus

I didn’t like this story when it was a jokey throwaway in the November 1950 Galaxy, and I like it even less played straight.  Moreover, could they get someone dopier looking than Richard Kiel (who “played” the alien)?  Lots of telling, not a lot of showing, and a punchline only Benedict Breadfruit could love.  One star.

by Lorelei Marcus

Overall, we had a mix of really good, really bad, and just in between episodes this time around. They total up to an average of 2.125 out of 5 stars. Despite the below average score, I’m still somewhat excited to review the next batch of episodes. 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! Until next time!

This is the Young Traveler, Signing off.

by Gideon Marcus

What she said…

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

by Gideon Marcus


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.

[Oct. 15, 1961] Top of the Third (The Twilight Zone, Season 3)

by Gideon Marcus


by Lorelei Marcus

Two years ago, CBS aired the first episode of a new television anthology, one destined for the history books.  It was called The Twilight Zone, and it featured science fiction and fantasy themed stories in a most sophisticated fashion.  Twilight Zone garnered its creator, Rod Serling, a much deserved Emmy, and if Serling be remembered for nothing else, it’s certain he will leave a lasting legacy.

The new season began last month, and though I had high hopes, Serling’s creation is starting to feel a little tired.  Word through the grapevine is he’s a bit storied out, and the episodes that used to flow like water from his pen come a lot more sluggishly.  That said, a half hour of Twilight Zone is still better than most hours of other television — and two hours have already been aired this year.  Let’s take a look, shall we?  (Synopsis first, then my commentary followed by the Young Traveler’s)

First up is Two, and it’s easily my favorite of the new crop.  This may well be attributable to it having been written by someone other than Serling – in this case, writer/director Montgomery Pittman.  Two features an abandoned urban setting some years after the start of World War Three.  A ragged young invader (Elizabeth Montgomery) in a threadbare uniform is scavenging for scraps when she runs across a similarly bedraggled native soldier (Charles Bronson).  Though the latter would be quite happy to forget the horrors of war, the Russian woman continues the conflict, repeatedly attacking the American.  Ultimately, through kindness and appeal to reason, Bronson convinces Montgomery to give up the fight, her gun, her uniform, and the two head off into the sunset as friends. 

There is little dialogue in this episode and no twist.  It’s just a little post-apocalyptic meet cute.  What makes Two work is the sublime cinematography, the deft acting.  Bronson has already proven to be a charismatic leading man (q.v. Master of the Air), and Montgomery delivered her virtually wordless role convincingly.  Four stars.

Over the past couple of weeks, me and my father have been watching the first few episodes of the new season!  The first episode was fairly standard.  It was, once again, about life after a nuclear dust-up.  There were only two characters, a male and female soldier from opposite sides of the war.  The episode was basically just them interacting, and almost no words were spoken.  It was exactly what it was trying to be, and I don’t really have much else to say about it.  You may watch it if you like, but honestly, I would recommend skipping this episode.  Two stars.

Serling-penned The Arrival begins compellingly enough: a DC-3 lands at a busy airport with not a single soul or piece of luggage on board.  Grant Sheckly, an FAA investigator, is brought in to crack the case.  A little past halfway, realizing that none of the pieces are adding up to a coherent whole, Sheckly concludes that the plane is an illusion, the result of some kind of hypnosis.  In a tense scene, Sheckly places his hand in the path of the plane’s spinning propeller, and the aircraft disappears…along with the rest of the airport crew in the hangar with him! 

Sadly, this is the peak of the episode.  It turns out that the DC-3 is not some kind of ghost ship, nor is there some sinister purpose behind the apparition.  Rather, the plane is a personal demon of Sheckly’s; 17 years ago, the plane had disappeared without a trace, and Sheckly’s inability to solve the case has haunted him ever since.  It’s entirely too prosaic an explanation for The Twilight Zone, quite possibly the least satisfying resolution to what started as a most promising episode.  Two stars.

The second episode was interesting, at least until the end.  It was about a ghost plane with no one on it, and the man who was trying to figure out how it landed by itself.  His eventual conclusion was that the plane simply didn’t exist, and that turned out to be true.  In the end, the man was just crazy, end of story.  In my opinion there were a lot of stupid moments that could’ve easily been avoided that really damaged the story.  It was an interesting concept, but not very well carried out.  Despite the bad ending, I would recommend watching this one, as there were some interesting parts.  Two and a half stars.

The lackluster run continues through The Shelter, another Serling story.  A convivial birthday party for a neighborhood doctor is broken up by a bulletin from CONELRAD: unidentified flying objects, believed to be missiles, have been detected, and there is but a matter of minutes to reach safety.  The forward-thinking sawbones had built a shelter in his basement, and he quickly repairs there with his family.  Then the doctor’s friends arrive, each pleading to be let in, but the doctor refuses.  Whipped into a panicked frenzy, the neighbors bickeringly debate breaking into the shelter, then fight amongst themselves for the privilege of displacing the doctor’s family.  Racial slurs are cast against the one Jewish neighbor.  Just as the friends batter down the door to the shelter, CONELRAD announces that the UFOs were harmless space debris.  The neighbors, shamefaced, attempt to apologize to the doctor, but it is clear that the trappings of civilization cling loosely to them – and to the physician, as well, who refused to share his refuge. 

It’s not horrible, but this message was done more satisfyingly (and in a less over-the-top fashion) in the first season episode, The Monsters are due on Maple Street.  Two stars.

Episode three was fairly straight-forward.  It re-explored a common Twilight Zone topic of testing human nature under immense stress and danger.  I didn’t enjoy it very much, simply because people going crazy and yelling at eachother is not my cup of tea.  However, it is still an interesting episode and I recommend you watch it.  Three stars.

Last up for now is yet another Serling episode, the Civil War piece, The Passerby.  In the wake of Appomattox, a train of bedraggled soldiers trudges past a burned out home toward a final destination.  The inhabitant of the house is a fever-ridden widow whose husband died at Gettysburg.  She is joined by a maimed Confederate sergeant, who keeps her company as they are visited by several spectral forms in uniform.  One is the husband of one of the widow’s friends, a man the widow believed had been killed.  Then a Union lieutenant whose death the sergeant personally witnessed arrives, asking for water. 

The next morning, the sergeant confesses to a deep desire to continue down the road.  As the widow pleads for him not to leave, she hears the rich baritone of her husband.  He arrives, embracing her, and it is clear now that he, the sergeant, and even the widow are all ghosts of the war dead.  Last up the road is Honest Abe, himself, the last casualty of the “Great Unpleasantness.”

The first half is a talky muddle, the widow giving an overwrought performance of the kind I might expect in a high school play.  Yet, even though it was clear where the story was going (and I have, in fact made fun of shows employing this exact gimmick), I found its resolution somewhat moving.  It’s nicely scored, too.  It deserves two stars, but I’ll give it three anyway.

Last week’s episode was probably my favorite.  It was about a civil war fighter on the long road home who stops, seeking hospitality from a nice young woman.  I won’t spoil too much (though it looks like my dad may have), but despite the predictable ending, I still enjoyed the episode.  The acting was good, the sets, though simple, were attractive, and just overall it had a moody feel.  Of course, I highly recommend you watch this one on your own.  Three and a half stars.

So ends the first batch of the third season.  A mediocre batch, to be sure, though I have to remember that Season Two started badly, too. 

Next week, Galactic Journey will return to the written word.  It’s a little book called The Planet Strappers, and I think you’ll enjoy it (the review, if not the book).  In the meantime, as you know, I went to a small convention in Seattle last week.  While there, I met a lovely young lady who has since become a fan of this column.  She is a fashion model as well as the owner of a clothing store, and she sent me a photo to be included in the column as a kind of advertisement.  Please meet Sarah, the Journey’s latest Fellow Traveler.