Science Fiction Theatre – Dead Storage (10/08/55)

Army engineers are using a chainsaw to cut something from the ice in the Arctic, and that always turns out well.  They teletype their findings to the Institute of Scientific Research in DC, apparently a competitor to the United States Scientific Research Commission in DC mentioned in an earlier episode.  The narrator tells us they found something frozen the ice, “a weird, frightening relic belonging to the very dawn of time.”

Dr. Robinson tears the report from the teletype.  He is adamant that the object be preserved.  Dr. Avery says, “All those specimens found in Siberia were completely ruined in the excavating.”  This is as close as they get to divulging that a mammoth has been found.  Whether this is a flaw in the script or an effort to build suspense, I do not know; but I have a hunch.  Because the object has been exposed to the sun, Robinson wires them back to pack it in ice and fly it back to DC in a refrigerated plane.

“Hour 3: Still melting.”

Zoologist Dr. Myrna Griffen joins the team when the mammoth lands in DC.  Over her objections, reporter Warren Keath also joins the group.  They observe the block of ice through a window.  Steam is piped in to melt the ice, and it is about as exciting as watching ice melt.  Keath asks what Robinson expects to find.  He says, “even though he has been dead for half a million years, his organs might still contain living material such as bacteria.”  Dr. Griffen suggests that if the specimen was flash-frozen, they might even be able to briefly revive it.

Finally, by 5 am, all the ice has melted.  The group goes to see the specimen which is a mammoth.  We are 10 minutes into the episode, and just learning this.  There is no big reveal — and God knows SFT loves them some crazy orchestral stingers — so, I think they really did just forget to script that fact earlier.

Despite the all-doctor cast (even the reporter has a PhD), this is not a bright bunch.  It is described as “larger than any animal we know now” totally dissing the blue whale.  The mammoth, maybe 5 feet tall, is described as being just a year old.  OK, but one of the doctors says it will grow to 10 times its current size.  Really, like the size of the Cloverfield monster?  They actually seemed to top out around 12 feet.

And I assume this brain-trust designed the equipment.  While I appreciate that it is not just a bank of blinking lights, why would the gauges be 7 feet off the ground so you needed a step-ladder or, fortuitously, a mammoth to read them?

They apply a “galvanic shock” to revive the beast.  Dr. Griffen has said it could only revive it for a few heartbeats so I don’t know what the point is.  After the shock, Dr. Robinson says, “Apply the oxygen”.  This is to be done with a standard human-sized face-mask.  Which 10% of the beast’s mouth will it cover?  Or was it used on the end of its trunk?  Sadly, the picture is too dark to tell, because that would have been a hoot.  It’s all good, though, as the mammoth leaps to its feet.

30 minutes later, the group is observing the mammoth through a window.  Keath and Griffen want to go into the steam-room to take pictures and maybe have a schvitz.  Robinson reluctantly agrees.  They find the mammoth to be agitated.  Aside from being revived from the dead, being yanked from Mammoth-heaven, awakening 400,000 years later to the crushing loneliness of being the only mammoth on earth, and being enclosed in a strange wood-paneled room under florescent lights rarely, if ever, found in nature during the Pliocene epoch, they can find no reason.

Dr. Griffen suggests maybe it misses its mammy.  It could be Griffen’s own maternal instinct kicking in.  She reveals to Keath that her husband and son were killed in an accident five years earlier, although that might just have been her way of saying she is available.  Just to make the beast’s misery complete, they name him Toby.

Toby begins to eat and grow, however.  This, despite that fact that the doctors calling him a mammoth is really just fat-shaming.  The doctors agree Toby can be released to an open area to live in open air.  They hire a driver to take him to a compound where he can live to a ripe old age as long as it is not the Kennedy compound.  Dr. Griffen is quite the good sport.  Seeing Toby is scared of the trailer he is being hauled in, she rides with him in the tiny trailer.  Unfortunately, the truck jack-knifes on the way.  Dr. Griffen is found unconscious, but Toby has honorably stayed by her side, not galumphing his fat ass off to lawyer-up and fabricate a laughably transparent lie about the accident. [1]

The accident puts Myrna in the hospital, and Tobey is moping around too. Keath visits her in the hospital and sees a newspaper headline TOBY NEAR DEATH.  Against doctor’s orders, Myrna leaves the hospital with Keath to see if Tobey is OK.  Sadly, Tobey dies seconds after they arrive.  Keath suggests Tobey died because he was unloved by another mammoth and uses the opportunity to ask Myrna to dinner.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] When is that freakin’ Chappaquiddick movie coming out?  I’ve been hearing about it for months.  IMDb says it is a 2017 movie, but it now has a 2018 release date.  I smell a conspiracy.  Roswell!  Roswell!  If this is my last post . . .

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Day of the Bullet (02/14/60)

In which Alfred Hitchcock Presents proves once again that it is just about incapable of turning out a bad episode.  Ya got an motor-mouth kid, ya got an extended flashback, ya got a straight drama, ya don’t even get a murder.  This feels like a very different type of episode, but they pull it off bigly.

In NYC, Clete Vine picks up a newspaper. [1]  The headline shouts BROOKLYN RACKETS BOSS SHOT TO DEATH.  Who says the news is never good?  The entire front page above the fold is a picture of the bloody gangster slumped behind the wheel of a large automobile.  Clete remembers the gangster from when they were kids 35 years earlier.

Clete and Iggy Kovacs live in Brooklyn.  One day they are excited to see a fancy car.  As they are climbing all over it, they get caught by gangster Mr. Rose and his chauffeur getaway driver Joe.  The two humorless cretins chase the kids off.

Like all 12 year old kids in 1925 Brooklyn, Iggy dreams of golf.  He has his eye on a $10 putter in a store window.  With all due respect to AHP, I have my doubts about this.  That would be about $140 today.  While you can find a putter for that now, I doubt they had such high-end equipment back then.  And could this kid come up with that kind of dough? [2]

His father comes walking by after his softball game at the park.  It is clear that Mr. Kovacs is a hero to his son and respected by Clete.  We also learn that Clete will be moving into the city the next day,  The boys decide to go to the golf course to make some money by fishing golf balls out of the water hazards.

While there, they see Joe and Mr. Rose drive up in either that fancy car, or the world’s fanciest golf cart.  The kids hide behind a bunker as they watch them pull another man out of the car and start roughing him up.  Somehow the gangsters have decided that the fairway of the golf course is a place they are unlikely to have any witnesses, which is true if I’m playing.

Joe and Mr. Rose beat this guy pretty good.  Joe drags him to the water hazard and tosses him in.  After the gangsters drive off, the boys go to help the man.  He just tells them to “get outta here!”

Iggy wants to tell the cops about Mr. Rose, but Clete is hesitant.  He figures the man can go to the police himself, but Iggy knows the man would be too scared.  Clete finally agrees — he’s moving tomorrow; what does he care?  They go to the police station.  When the cops hear Mr. Rose is involved, they are not interested.  Iggy says he will tell everyone, including his father.  Finally the desk sergeant tells another cop to bring in Mr. Rose for question, and Iggy’s father too.  Iggy says to Clete, “Just wait til my pop gets here.  He’ll show that cop, and Mr. Rose, too.”

When Mr. Rose gets there, the sergeant asks him if he was at the golf course.  He calmly denies it and suggests the little scamps are playing a trick on him after he chased them away from his car earlier that day.  Iggy tells his Pop he’s telling the truth and begs to be believed.  “He was only a little guy, Pop, and Mr. Rose nearly killed him!”  The shot is strangely framed as we see his father from the chest up.  Only Iggy’s wrist and hand is visible as he touches his father’s face and tugs at his shirt, begging for his father to do something.

Mr. Rose actually looks concerned that this touching scene might put him behind bars.  Mr. Kovacs knows better than to cross him, though.  He appears pained as he tells Iggy, “I don’t want you going around telling stories about people, ya hear me?”  Iggy looks up at his father — silently, for the first time in the episode — who has just lost his hero status.  Mr. Rose tells Iggy he is welcome to look at his car any time; he might even have some odd jobs for him.  Mr. Rose pulls a bill from his pocket and tells Iggy to have some fun.

As they are walking home, Iggy shows Clete that Mr. Rose gave him a $10 bill.  Clete says that’s a lot of money and “you better give that to your old man or he’ll really jump on you.”  Iggy, crushed by his father’s failure says, “You know what I’ll do if my father tries anything?  I’ll tell Mr. Rose on him, that’s what! You’ll see!”  Iggy repeats “You’ll see!” as he runs down the block past several brownstones while the camera rises high above the street — one of AHP’s best shots (picture at bottom).

35 years later, grown up Clete thinks to himself, “In each lifetime there is one day of destiny.  It may be a day of which none of us is aware at the time.  35 years ago, fate squeezed the trigger.  The bullet has been waiting in time ever since.  Today it struck, but that day long ago when Iggy and I were boys, was the day of the bullet.”

The episode was not what I expect from AHP.  When I say that same thing about TZ, it usually indicates a failure.  AHP, however, gave me something I was not expecting, and delivered an amazing episode.  It is so good, that the sole weakness is easily identified:  Clete’s delivery in the bookend scenes is so lifeless that it drains the emotion out of the words.

Enough with the negativity.  AHP moves all the pieces just right.  Iggy’s loss of innocence is heart-breaking.  He looks up at his father and sees not a hero, not even just a man, but a coward.  His father is crushed, knowing that he has let his son down, and lost his respect.  Probably less important to him, he has let himself down.  The other authority figures — the cops — might as well be pro-wrestling referees.

Above it all is Mr. Rose — always MR. Rose.  With the fancy car, and the fancy suit, he commands, if not respect, at least fear.  Here’s a guy who can get things done.  He is the only adult that has not sold out his principles (lousy as they might be), and is not sadly hanging his head in shame that day.  It is genius that AHP has Mr. Rose 1) be kind to Iggy at the end as a strong father-figure, 2) prime Iggy by putting a few bucks in his hand, then 3) mention that he has some odd jobs the kid could do.  Rather than just relying on Iggy’s loss of respect for his father to suggest his path to a life of crime, this provides a perfect 1-2-3 road-map for how he ended up dead.

Hollywood has had another 58 years of experience making TV shows since this was made.  How can so few have learned anything?

Other Stuff:

  • [1] In a TV rarity, he even pays for the paper.  This show rules!
  • [2] Point hardly worth mentioning:  The price tag is on the spindly putter shaft is right in front of 2 tennis rackets, so it appears he is looking at the rackets.  The putter is almost invisible.  This is even more distracting after the the word RACKETS appeared in the newspaper headline.
  • Didn’t mention above, but 12 year old Barry Gordon IS the episode.  Even Mr. Rose can’t steal a scene from him.  His is a tiny — much shorter than Clete — ball of fire.  He talks fast and non-stop.  He has dreams.  He can make you laugh, make you sad, and could probably sell you a car.  Even a couple of times when he is yelling instead of acting, he is such a dynamo that it doesn’t interrupt the flow.  I guess that’s why he was on every old TV show in the history of television.
  • Clete as a boy is played by Christopher Walken’s brother.  Wait, what?

Twilight Zone – The Hellgramite Method (11/05/88)

A dude is lighting another dude’s cigarette in a bar, and his name is Timothy Bottoms.  Thank God I’m woke enough not to make anything of that.

The older man tells Miley Judson to keep the box of matches which says Hellgramite Method and has a red slash over a liquor bottle which I interpret as “say no to blended Scotch.”  The back of the box promises “a cure for the problem drinker” although a better ad for a matchbox would  be “a cure for the modern smoker.”  When he turns to the man, he is gone.  So Miley orders another drink.

He wakes up hours later with his head on the bar.  It’s bad to fall asleep at a bar, but it’s worse to be a bar that allows a dude to fall asleep there for hours.  He asks for another drink, but the bartender tells him to go home.  He grabs a pizza box that has been sitting on the bar beside him for 5 hours and heads home.  There is no ad on the pizza box to “cure the problem eater.”  At home, his wife is not pleased to have him coming home drunk yet again.

The ad said they were open 24 hours, so that night Miley goes to see Dr. Eugene Murrich at the sprawling medical campus of Hellgramite Method (i.e. Murrich’s living room).  After offering Miley a drink, which he happily accepts, Murrich offers him a red pill.  Like Morpheus, Murrich warns him that if he takes the red pill “there’s no turning back.”  Like Neo, Miley takes the pill.

The next morning, his wife is still pissed in the American sense, and he is probably still pissed in the British sense.  She is hostile and not supportive at all, but she’s probably seen this 100 times.  He says this time is different, and goes to work.

Naturally, he heads back to the same bar again.  He slams back his usual mass quantity of booze.  This time, however, he feels no effect from it.  He perspicaciously thinks, hey, maybe it has something to do with that red pill I took from an unlicensed practitioner working out of his living room at 3 am last night.  So he goes back to see Murrich.

Murrich explains that just like Agent Smith did to Neo, he put a disgusting squid-like bug inside Miley.  There was a hellgramite tapeworm larvae inside the red pill.  He explains, “By now, the worm [1] has attached itself to your stomach, and the drinking has stimulated its growth.  From now on the hellgramite will absorb all the liquor you can consume.  You won’t feel any effect from drinking.”  Miley is understandably doubtful.  Then Murrich shows him one of the slimy bastards in a glass jar.

Murrich helpfully waits until after the commercial to further explain the rules.  “No matter how much you drink, the worm will not be satisfied.  If ever you stop drinking, the pain will be excruciating . . . it’s dangerous.  You might not live through it.  And even if you succeed, the worm will always be waiting for you to drink again.  Every time the hellgramite is awakened from its dormant state, it comes back stronger.  Eventually, strong enough to kill you.”

Back at home, he once again tells his wife this time will be different; then kicks her and his son out.  He pours all the liquor in the house down the drain.  He then goes through the excruciating withdrawal phase.  While in agony, he goes back to see Murrich.  We finally get Murrich’s motivation, which is that he lost his family to a drunk driver.

But I’m still not entirely understanding Murrich’ motivation.  Is he interested in solving a problem or just wreaking vengeance on other alcoholics?  Taking the pill neutralizes the intake of liquor — great!  But why the agonizing pain?  And the only way to stop the pain is to drink more?  Isn’t that counter-productive?  Sure, the continued drinking will be fatal eventually, but how many more lives will be at risk until that time?

Back at home, Miley continues suffering through the withdrawals.  He is in such pain that he begins searching for any leftover alcohol.  He finally finds a small bottle in his luggage.  We next see him clean and sober handing a Hellgramite Method matchbox to another alchie.  But what does this mean?  Did he find temporary relief from the pain by drinking the little bottle?  Or did he persevere through the pain and is now free (as long as he doesn’t take another drink)?  The scene isn’t played to make that ambiguity interesting, so I guess it is the latter.  But what is his motivation to lure more drunks into the painful, potentially deadly, scheme?

A fine episode, but it could have been tightened up.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I’m no entomologist, but how is this thing a worm?  It has at least 6 appendages and a definable head and abdomen.  Probably a thorax back there somewhere, too.
  • Hey, Miley, how about calling the cops or a good gastroenterologist?

Tales of Tomorrow – The Great Silence (02/20/53)

Well, they tried something different.  I’ll give them credit for that.

Most of the episodes of Tales of Tomorrow have offered simplistic plots which did not contain much more than a weak premise or a single unexplored event.  The episodes written by Frank De Felitta, however, seem to transcend the mediocrity more than the others.  He wrote the interesting Another Chance last week, and of course the fun The Window.  Even The Fatal Flower showed more depth than we usually get.  Sadly, there just isn’t much going on this time despite having a high concept and starring Burgess Meredith.  But maybe that’s enough.

The headline on the Kanasha Courier [1] takes up the entire front page:  THIRD DAY OF GREAT SILENCE.  We immediately cut to Washington DC where Senator Perkins is making a radio address.  He reports that in the Northeast, people have lost their voice and the phenomena seems to be spreading to all points of the compass.  “Government scientists and physicists charge this strange paralysis of the vocal chords to invisible hydrogenic particles in our atmosphere resulting the recent H-Bomb experiments.  They are agreed that this phenomenon is only temporary . . . and everyone affected will recover their voices.”  Way to kill the suspense.

Mountain man Paul (Burgess Meredith) is relaxing, listening to the report on the radio.  When his wife enters their cabin carrying a handful of wood, he pretends to be asleep (later in bed, when their situations are reversed, she will do the same).  She purposely drops the logs to wake him up, giving herself a good laugh.  He wacks her on the butt, which gives him a good laugh.  The she takes out a rifle and points it at him, giving me a good laugh.  At this point, it becomes clear what they are going for.

He comically hides as if he expects her to shoot him.  His goofy character and his serious wife are played so broadly, that this becomes a silent movie.  After much pantomiming, she communicates that she wants him to take the rifle and hunt something for dinner.

Viewing Tip:  Wishing to get to bed at a reasonable hour, I turned the playback speed up to 2X.  Not only did this knock a few minutes off the running time, it also further transformed the episode into a silent movie.  It ain’t no Buster Keaton, but the speeded up action did take the homage to a different level.

Paul finds the true cause of the vocal chord paralysis.  In the woods, he spots a flying saucer; but on the ground, not flying.  He tries to tell this to the government, but fails.  So, like a great American, he solves the problem himself.  Then they get their voices back.

Tales of Tomorrow is on a roll.  I suspect the episode would have seemed interminable without increasing the speed, but it worked as I viewed it.  46 years later, there was a similar episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. [2]  I look forward to the musical episode of Tales of Tomorrow.  If they made one, De Felitta might have been just the guy to pull it off.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] There is no Kanasha.  The story seems to take place in Iowa or Montana due to judging from the map and the proximity to the Bitter Root Mountains.
  • [2] There is even the same silent jerking-off joke at 14:07 on You Tube.  OK, probably not intentional on Tales, but it was hilarious on Buffy.

Outer Limits – Lithia

When it came to pass that the men of the Earth could not make peace among themselves, and so took up arms against one another, the fires of hatred rained down upon the land, laying waste to all that was good and gentle.  Those who survived saw death and destruction all around . . . it was called The Great War.  And in the days that followed there was more death as a miasma called fallout bore down on the survivors.  But even then, the men who had made the Earth a fiery hell saw not the error of their ways.  So the Goddess raised her mighty hand, and wrecked vengeance upon them and the men who remained fell victim one by one . . . to the Scourge.  The Scourge cleansed the Earth of evil, singling out the men and leaving the women unscathed.  And the Goddess saw that the evil was gone and the men were no more, and she unfurled the fingers of her hands and she made a sign of blessing among the females who now inherited the sea and the sky, the land and all its bounty.  And when the males of the Earth had vanished, so too did wickedness and war and hatred and the peace and the glory of her kingdom was restored.  Let us say “Praise Goddess”.

— Ariel, shaping young girls’ minds in our future

Wow, I haven’t heard that kind of bigotry and hatred since I accidentally turned on MSNBC in a hotel room a couple of years ago.  While it has been men leading the charge in our wars, it has not been every man.

Maybe some grizzled old veteran could have taught her that The Great War was already used by WWI.  Maybe some nerdy, bow-tied English teacher could have told her that she meant wreaked or wrought and not wrecked.  Maybe Christopher Hitchens could have suggested that while the invisible man in the sky might be unlikely, arbitrarily changing him to a woman is just Ludcris.  But no, those three male-genitalled bastards were just evil, so let’s teach the little girls to laugh at their extinction.  Now the virtuous, peaceful women are free to live in a pastoral community, haul carts around like horses, live without electricity, clean clothes on a rock, and shit in a hole.

However, man has entered the forest farm.  Ariel’s class is interrupted by Major Jason Mercer who staggers in and collapses.  He says he volunteered for a 6-month experimental cryo-sleep, but has just awakened in 2055.  The Elder — named Hera, naturally [1] — informs him that 99% of the population has died.  99%?  So maybe Goddess wasn’t all that crazy about women, either.

He slowly becomes part of the community and the women’s acceptance of him ranges from “cast him out” to “the showers are for everyone.”  When he sees that the women are grinding wheat by turning a big wheel in the ground like Conan, he immediately thinks about ways to engineer a more efficient process.  The bastard!  It turns out a neighboring community is on the verge of producing electricity, so he wants to barter a deal.

So, women are in charge, and the leader still wears a hijab? Which side won this war? Also, I like the hand-crank TV. Even the professor on Gilligan’s Island couldn’t figure that out.

To be fair, after the anti-man screed at the beginning of the episode, there is nuance and complexity.  Mercer’s presence, the introduction of electricity, and trade with other enclaves lead the women to show they are not above petty jealousy, violence,  and saber-rattling.  But he is to blame for some of the trouble, too.  While it might seem sexist that it took a man to bring technology to this enclave, don’t forget the neighboring enclave managed to get a hydro-electric dam back online with no dudes.

There is a twist, maybe two depending on how you count.  They are both fine, but not really necessary.  Another good episode.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] There is reason to believe she gave herself this godly name.
  • The episode was written by a man, but directed by a woman.
  • C’mon, a lesbian shower scene, two hetero sex scenes, we’re on cable, and still no nudity?