Tag Archives: television

[Jan. 12, 1960] Twilight of the 60’s (Twilight Zone monthly wrap-up

I was asked by a dear reader if I had stopped watching The Twilight Zone on Fridays, it having been a month since I last discussed that delightful science fiction/fantasy/horror anthology.  Well, fear not.  I just like to let four episodes get into the queue before describing them.

In fact, if anything the show has only gotten better.  It helps that creator Rod Serling has been joined by a myriad of other established writers, which broadens the themes and tones we get to see.

Four weeks ago, Episode 12, What You Need debuted.  A kindly old sidewalk peddler seems to know exactly what items a given person can use at any given moment to achieve success.  At first, one expects the episode to have a cynical sting in it—perhaps it’s a deal-with-the-Devil sort of thing.  But it’s not.  In fact, as my daughter and I guessed early on, it turns out that the salesman has a limited sense of precognition.. and a big heart.  But what happens when this fellow runs across an unscrupulous man whose heart is as dark as the peddler’s is light?  Has the criminal found a golden goose?  Or a tiger by the tail?

It’s really good stuff, though the salesman has a plot-summarizing line at the end that is wholly superfluous, I suppose to drive the point home for the slower folks at home.

The Four of Us are Dying, the following week’s episode, involves a man who can change his face to match that of any person he can see, in life or photo.  It just takes a little time to concentrate.  He hatches a scheme to win the heart of a beautiful woman and to bilk a criminal of ill-gotten gains.  But when he puts on the wrong face at the wrong time, he suffers the consequences.  A solid, surreal show that is very effective despite the complete lack of special effects.

I was a little disappointed with Richard Matheson’s Third from the Sun, in which two families attempt to flee impending Armageddon by departing their doomed planet in a spaceship.  The kicker, obvious from the title, is that the refugees aren’t going from, but rather fleeing to Earth.  It suffers from overlongitis in the middle act, as earlier episodes did, and the constantly crooked camera angles look more silly than atmospheric.

Just the other day, we saw I Shot an Arrow, about the first manned spaceflight.  The ship goes off course during take-off and crashes on a remarkable Earth-like “asteroid.”  The next twenty minutes involved the crew dealing with thirst, hopelessness, and most significantly, a selfish crewmember gone mad and murderous with the desire to survive.  Both my daughter and I knew how it would end almost from the beginning—in fact, the expedition had crashed on Earth, and the actions of the crazy crewman were wholly unecessary.

I suspected the ending since the “asteroid” had an terrestrial atmosphere, was the same distance from the Sun, and all the other incidentals (including gravity and geology) were identical.  Of course, this sticks in the craw a couple of ways.  On the one hand, to buy that the crew had landed on an “asteroid,” you have to believe that the writer has no idea what the surface of an asteroid would really be like.  After all, asteroids have so little mass, relative to a planet, that they have no atmosphere and virtually no gravitational pull.  Moreover, no asteroid routinely comes very close to the Moon.

On the other hand, since it was so manifestly obvious to the audience that the crew had actually crashed on Earth, one has to wonder how the crew was so thick-headed as to miss the fact.

My daughter noted that space stories have been a common topic on this show, which makes sense given the current mania for the Space Race.  I just wish The Twilight Zone had the budget to really pull off stories set off-planet.  I feel the show is more successful when it sticks to intimate, moody, Earth-bound stories.

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!



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[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?

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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!



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[Nov. 14, 1959] Disappointments and Weirdness (Glenn L. Martin and The Twilight Zone)

Have no fear, for The Traveler has returned from Orlando safe and sound.  My apologies for not submitting this article earlier, but I did not have easy access to a typewriter or my editor while on my vacation. 

I have come home to my brand new typewriter, however, and it is time to tell you all about the local Glenn L. Martin Company plant… and to wrap up the last four weeks’ worth of that television sensation, The Twilight Zone!

First off, the plant.  Martin has become one of this nation’s leading developer of rocket systems including the Titan and the Atlas, both of which have been tapped for service with the manned space program.  Their Orlando plant opened in December 1957, and I was looking forward to seeing some boosters in the process of manufacture.

Nothing doing.  The Orlando plant is specifically for the production of smaller weapons systems including the Lacrosse and Pershing artillery missiles (for the Army), the Bullpup air-to-surface missile (for the Navy), and the Missile Master, an electronic air defense control system.  Worse yet, all of the work is secret, for obvious reasons, and I was turned away at the gate.  So much for the inside view!  At least I had a lovely time in the Orlando sun, which looks much like San Diego’s sun, with my cousin and her family.

Also, I got home in time to watch The Twilight Zone last night, so I now have four episodes to talk about.  Ready for a preview?

The fourth episode of The Twilight Zone was The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine, in which Ida Lupino, playing an aging star of the screen, shuts herself off from he world to watch endless replays of her old movies.  Unable to face an aging reality and the reality of aging, she ultimately disappears into one of her films.  The end is telegraphed from the beginning, and this was one of the show’s poorer entries.

Walking Distance, episode five, fares a bit better.  A 36-year old ad-man (played by a 46-year old Gig Young) flees from the city, desperate to recapture the simplicity of his small town pre-teen days.  He returns to his stomping grounds to find them unchanged—in fact, he has gone back in time.  He even meets himself and his family, whereupon his father urges him to return to the present and let his younger self enjoy an unshared youth.  It’s not bad, but it is mawkish and somewhat drawn out.

I’m a sucker for “deal with the Devil” stories, so I enjoyed Escape Clause: A thoroughly unlikable hypochondriac played by David Wayne bargains his soul for invulernability and immortality.  The fellow had only been concerned with himself before the exchange, and such remains the case afterward.  Rather than focusing on a myriad of fantasized ailments, he instead throws himself into a series of would-be fatal accidents in an attempt to chase thrills.  He quickly tires of the game and becomes just as miserable as he had been. 

Things look up when his wife ends up in a fatal accidental fall.  Our “hero” calls the police and confesses to the crime, hoping to get the Chair, which he would endure with ease and a smirk on his face.  Instead, he receives life imprisonment.  Oh the irony.  In his final act, the prisoner beseeches Old Nick to take his life prematurely, and off he goes—to Hell, presumably.

That ending frustrated me.  Were I immortal and stuck in prison, I’m sure I’d find little difficulty (and excitement) in breaking free.  But, as my daughter noted, the fellow hadn’t much soul to begin with; selling it to Satan couldn’t improve matters.  It’s no wonder Wayne’s character was doomed to disappointment.

Finally, we’ve got the brand-new The Lonely.  A convict is incarcerated on an asteroid; a supply ship comes every three months, but besides that, he has only a few books and a diary to keep him company.  Though the prisoner is innocent of the murder for which he was convicted, a pardon seems unlikely.  The supply ship captain takes pity on the convict some four years into his sentence and gives him an unusual gift—a robot in the shape of a woman.

I actually don’t want to spoil this one in the event it gets rerun mid-season.  Jack Warden does an excellent job with his role as the convict.  The episode kept us guessing throughout.  It has the setup of Eric Russell’s Panic Button and much of the plot of John Rackham’s If You Wish.  These stories were so recently published that I have to wonder if they did not directly inspire the show.

Back shortly with a wrap-up of the new Galaxy.  Stay tuned!


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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!



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[Oct. 20, 1959] The Twilight Zone and the Far Side (Television and Luna 3)

Twilight Zone, the new television science fiction/fantasy serial program, continues to be excellent.  As a result, Friday night’s activities now revolve around ensuring that the family can tune in.

Here’s a quick recap:

Episode 2, One for the Angels features aged sidewalk peddler Lou Bookman, beloved by the neighborhood children.  Unfortunately for all concerned, his hours are numbered; a certain Mr. Death has been dispatched to ensure that the salesman’s departure occurs according to schedule.  Of course, the huckster has other plans, but cheating Death has its own set of consequences…

There were no surprises in this episode, at least not to me, but I did enjoy the characterization of Mr. Death a great deal.

Episode 3, Mr. Denton on Doomsday, follows the eponymous Al Denton, a former gunfighter turned alcoholic both for his protection and that of those who would challenge him (and lose).  An encounter with a new gun and a mysterious snake oil salesman named Dr. Fate sobers Denton up, but also appears to set him back on his old destructive path. 

I did not see the twist coming in this episode, and it’s a good one.  And if you like oaters, you’ll especially enjoy this outing.

My daughter summed up the last fortnight’s viewing with this: “The great thing about this show is it takes all your deepest fears and sets them on their head.”  I think I may have her start writing my columns from now on.

In other news, Luna 3 has finally returned a dozen vacation slides from its jaunt around the Moon.  At first glance, it looks as if the back side is quite a bit different from the front.  Significantly, there are far fewer of the gray splotches or “maria” (seas).  The Soviet news source, T.A.S.S., has been typically tight-lipped regarding the primary question on everyone’s lips: is the far side where the Moon keeps all the cheese?

Seriously, I have not read anything in the press regarding data from Lunik’s other scientific instruments.  These are the results I was really excited about.  It is rumored that previous releases were incorrect and that Luna 3‘s only experiment was the camera.  That’s a shame, if true, though one cannot deny the moment of that lone experiment’s success.

Next up: A Canticle for Leibowitz! See 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!


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[Oct. 3, 1959] Entering the Twilight Zone (Twilight Zone’s first episode)

It never ceases to amaze me how far technology can progress in such a short time. 

Think about it: a thousand years ago, the pace of history was pretty placid.  Sure, there was plenty of turbulence in the span of a life, from war to plague to famine, but the background of civilization (or lack thereof) was fairly constant. 

Over the last few hundred years, the pace of change has accelerated exponentially.  There are people alive today who clearly remember a time before automobiles, before air travel, before the telephone, before electricity, before atomic energy, before computers.  So much of our values and coping mechanisms are rooted in our childhood and upbringing; how do people adjust to living in a world so wildly different from that of their youth?

It seems inevitable that change is going to become so rapid that we just won’t be able to deal with it.  Perhaps science fiction is the lubricant that keeps it all from being too overwhelming.  After all, if we’ve already gotten a sneak preview of the future, it can’t surprise us as much.

What brought this all home to me was the debut of a new science fiction/fantasy anthology on television called The Twilight Zone, hosted by screenwriter and producer, Rod Serling.  It debuted yesterday, October 2, 1959.  And here’s why it is so significant, to me.

Twenty years ago, “hard science fiction” was just beginning, led by Astounding and Campbell’s brood.  Ten years ago, print science fiction exploded and produced a profusion of genre magazines.  Many have died, but I think the science fiction novel may fill that gap.  And, in the last decade, the science fiction movie (and it’s bastard step-child, the science fiction B-movie) has come into its own.

Now we’re getting science fiction delivered to every home in the country courtesy of the little glass-screened box in the living room.  We truly are living in the future. 

If this first episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled “Where is Everybody?” is any indication, the future is bright, indeed.  For the show is produced with movie-level sophistication, including technically innovative cinematography and excellent musical scoring.  Production values would be meaningless without a good story, however.  So how did TZ do on its first outing?

The episode opens up with a jumpsuited youngish man walking down an empty road.  He arrives at a cafe where music is blaring from a jukebox, steam is rising from a coffee pot, pies are in the oven… but there’s no one in sight.  Moreover, the man doesn’t remember who he is or where he came from.

Walking into town, he hears the reassuring bells from a church marking the passage of time, and there are hints that life is going on: a lit cigar, a phone ringing in a booth, but still no people at all.  Our protagonist stumbles upon a movie theater, which springs to life as the sun sets, and he realizes he is a member of the Air Force (which explains the jumpsuit). 

At this point, my daughter cleverly guessed that the man had flown an experimental plane so fast that he’d broken some kind of time barrier.  This was after I had guessed that the man was somehow in the same time as everyone else but out of phase.

It turns out that both of us were wrong.  The man is actually an Air Force sergeant enduring three weeks in an isolation chamber so as to get used to one aspect of a solo lunar trip: enforced solitude.  The sergeant has cracked up by the end of it, though he recovers after being let out.

For me, the ending was a bit of a let down.  I thought our explanation was more interesting.  Moreover, I just don’t believe all this hype about the dangers of space travel.  I don’t think weightlessness will be a problem, or loneliness, or radiation, or meteors.  Lack of air, pressure, the cost of rockets, the ability to lift off and land safely, those are real issues.  These other factors are melodramatic boogeymen.

That said, I think the show has a lot of potential.  It’s smartly done and very atmospheric.  My daughter loved it and can’t wait to watch next week’s episode, apparently involving an aged salesman and a Mr. Death.  We’ll tune in, for certain.

We should all rejoice.  Science fiction has entered yet another medium.  Truly, the Golden Age endures.

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!

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