Night Gallery – The Little Black Bag (S1E2)

Great job, Rod.  You had 13 months after the pilot aired and you came up with bupkis (as Mr. Bauman would say) in the first episode; then adapted someone else’s story for your first contribution.  I’ll say this for Ray Bradbury Theater — it might not be very good, but Ray’s name was on the marquis, so he showed up to work.

On the plus side Serling chose good source material.  The Little Black Bag is a fun read and considered a classic in the genre.  I’m all about results, so I went in with high hopes.

Future techno-clerk Gillings reports that a medical bag has been accidentally sent from the current year of 2098 back to then-current 1971.  The episode actually aired in 1970, so they were covered through the rerun and maybe did not expect this series to last long enough for syndication.  Disgraced doctor turned Hobo-American Dr. Fall (Burgess Meredith) and his new pal Hepplewhite (Chill Wills) find the bag.

Dr. Fall’s immediate inclination is to hock this baby for a couple of bucks.   The pawn shop is not interested, but he does attract the attention of a woman who begs him to come look at her sister.  He goes with her and sees a young girl in pain.  Using the instruments in the bag, he realizes that they are not just objects, but are actually leading him through procedures and performing procedures miraculous in the current day.

ngblackbag07He heals the girl, and then a man at the flop-house where he lives.  Back in his room, he imagines giving a speech to the medical community.  His brilliant idea of a demonstration is slicing his neck open with a scalpel from the future.  The scalpel slips through the skin like water with the incision closing up behind it.  It also knows to avoid muscle and important organs.

Hepplewhite fears that the doc is going to cut him out of sharing the wealth from the bag.  He demands a 50% cut.  Dr. Fall, quite the potty mouth, calls him a garbage headed termite.  Chill Wills gives one of the most bizarre performances I’ve ever seen as he threatens Dr. Fall.  He stands almost exactly in this position for 4 minutes.  Early on, he let a few words slip between his lips.  Then for a while, he just stares at the ceiling with his mouth gaping wide for no reason . . . on and on and on.

ngblackbag06

Seriously, this goes on for almost 4 minutes.  Even more amazing, NBC LOVED this performance.

Dr. Fall is getting his medical jones back and is more altruistic, wanting to use the bag to better humanity.  Hepplewhite then kills Dr. Fall, although how he did it with the future scalpel is not shown.

In the next scene, Hepplewhite is clean-shaven, in a suit and introduced to a room of doctors as William Fall.  Darn the luck, the future techno-clerk gets a warning that the bag has been used for nefarious purposes.  He deactivates the bag and Hepplewhite slices his own throat.  Again, sadly off-camera.

The broad framework of the episode is true to the short story, but there is a major departure in the characters.  Doc Fall’s pal in the episode, Hepplewhite, is not in the short story.  However, his “partnership” with Fall, his greed, the falling out, and the denouement are all assumed by an 18 year old blonde who is the sick girl’s sister.  Gotta say, I would have preferred the blonde babe to the gaping maw of Hepplewhite.

Pointless changes: The clerk of the future is name Gillings on TV, but Gillis in the short story.  The doctor is named Fall on TV, but Full in the short story.  The bag is from 2098 on TV, but 2450 in the short story.  Actually, that last one might make sense.  In 1970, 20 years after the story was published, these instruments probably didn’t seem quite so crazy.

Also, in the story, the doctor takes a blue pill that “hits him like a thunderbolt.”  Combined with the 18 year old blonde sidekick, that could have been a verrrry different episode.

Overall, a good episode.  I don’t see that the changes helped, but it they didn’t wreck the story either.

Post-Post:

  • Twilight Zone Legacy: Burgess Meredith was one of the kings with 4 appearances in starring roles.  Jason Wingreen was in 3 episodes.  William Challee was in 2 episodes.  C. Lindsay Workman was in one episode.  Tragically, Brit Marling was in zero, having not been born.
  • A third story in this episode was a trifle called The Nature of the Enemy, Serling’s first original contribution since the Pilot.  It is just crap, and evidence that Rod Serling might have been a great writer, but picking up a paycheck was his priority.
  • From the short story:

Dogged biometricians had pointed out with irrefutable logic that mental sub-normals were outbreeding the mental normals and super-normals, and that the process was occurring on an exponential curve. 

Amen, brother.

Night Gallery – Room with a View (S1E2)

ngroom08Diane Keaton is working as a nurse for the bed-ridden Mr. Bauman whose accent makes Judd Hirsch in Independence Day sound like my Dutch grandfather.  She is also fooling around with Vic the handyman who has a strange habit of waxing the car in long black pants and no shirt.  We know this because Bauman has a pair of binoculars trained on them; don’t assume he is checking her out.

Keaton gets to his room 6 minutes late.  She is perky and takes his nagging with a smile.  He grills her on boyfriends and lovers.  Keaton made her TV debut only 1 month earlier in The Love Boat.  That is easier to believe than that it was only 2 years later that she was in The Godfather.

ngroom04Mrs. Bauman comes into the bedroom to check on her husband.  Keaton’s role in the episode is just to be a cute young nurse, not a sexpot or object of fantasy.  That being said, Mrs. Bauman BLOWS HER OFF THE SCREEN!  Holy crap is Angel Tompkins (I know, who?) sexy in this!  Screen-caps do not do her justice.

After his wife leaves to run errands, Bauman again picks up the binoculars and sees her talking to the shirtless waxer.  He’s still working on the same spot, so he’s not even very good at it.  He talks to Keaton for another minute, then looks back.  He needs to pan up as the action has moved upstairs to his quarters as the waxer is about to become the waxee.

ngroom03

Diane Keaton demonstrating Hollywood’s expertise of firearms.

Bauman asks her to have her boyfriend Vic take a look at a pistol that he keeps by his bed.  Bauman claims to be so ignorant of the weapon that he doesn’t even know how to unload it.  He watches through the binoculars as Keaton looks for her boyfriend beside the one shiny spot on the car, then heads upstairs with the loaded pistol to find him.

We hear the sound of gunshots, but because the story is told from Bauman’s POV, we don’t know which, or if both, were shot.

Really a pretty slight tale, running only about 11 minutes.  Still, it is interesting to see the young Diane Keaton, and certainly to see Angel Tompkins.  Unfortunately, Bauman’s accent is such a caricature that it is impossible to enjoy his performance.

Post-Post:

  • Twilight Zone Legacy: Joseph Wiseman was in One More Pallbearer 8 years earlier.  I don’t recall him having the accent.
  • Diane Keaton had only three more TV roles before going into the movies.  She had a great run in the 70’s with The Godfather, Play It Again Sam, Sleeper, Godfather II, Love and Death, Annie Hall, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Interiors, Manhattan, and Reds — a couple of them even without sleeping with the director.
  • OK, Reds came out in 1981, but was so long it probably started in the 70’s.
  • Sadly, the more deserving Angel Tompkins has no IMDb credits in the last 25 years.  I assume she married some rich guy and retired.  God bless America!

Curtains (1983)

curtains0220 horror movies for $5; what could possibly go wrong?  Part XVI.

I actually had some hope for this one going in.  It is still in print as a stand-alone at Amazon, although I’m not sure what it means that the DVD cost $3 more than the Blu-Ray.  Usually it would be a case of supply and demand.  But is anyone really demanding this, in any format?

Unfortunately, the transfer is this collection is god-awful, making it impossible to properly evaluate the film.  It has quite a few decent reviews online — ranging form not half-bad to calling it a gem — so I’m willing to blame the transfer for my boredom.

It gets off to a cheesy start with Samantha Eggar holding a gun on an unseen man as she yaps on and on.  The credits roll over the scene like it is a TV episode.  The camera draw back to reveal that she is an actress on stage performing for John Vernon.

Vernon and Samantha go to see a doctor Pendleton.  During their meeting, she freaks out and tries to stab Vernon.  When alone, they laugh as this was a ruse to get her admitted to the sanitarium to research a role.  She is no R.P. McMurphy as the residents bring her down rather than her enlivening them.

Also unlike McMurphy, she escapes from the institution — after hearing that Vernon is auditioning other actresses for the role she is researching.  Six women are invited to Vernon’s house to audition.  Of course, they start getting picked off, even before they get there in one case.

curtains07Probably the best kill is of the aspiring actress who is supposed to be a pro ice skater.  She can skate, but her movements and tiny leaps make it clear that the director of this movie did not hire a pro ice skater as an actress.  An old hag, or maybe a hag wearing a hag mask, begins skating toward her with a scythe.

There are more auditions, dead bodies, a head in a toilet  The conclusion has an interesting wrinkle.  Really, though, my copy is so awful, it is hard to care.

Post-Post:

  • Director Richard Ciupka asked to have his name removed from the credits.  The director credited on-screen is John Stryker — the name of John Vernon’s character.
  • Writer Robert Guza, Jr. shows up for the 2nd time in this collection (along with Prom Night).
  • Samantha Eggar was nominated for an Oscar, and won a Golden Globe for The Collector.
  • John Vernon was inexplicably snubbed by the Academy for his work as Dean Wormer in Animal House.

Tales from the Crypt – The Thing from the Grave (S2E6)

The Thing from the Grave?  Isn’t that every episode of Tales from the Crypt?

OK, after the excremental Three’s a Crowd, this is a move in the right direction.  Miguel Ferrer and Teri Hatcher are almost always interesting, and writer-director Fred Dekker previously wrote two good episodes.

Photographer Devlin Cates is shooting a layout with Teri Hatcher in a bathing suit holding a spear-gun.  They could have ended the episode here and it would have been better than the last two.

tftcthingfrom02

Yada yada spectacular.

Miguel Ferrer shows up and acts obnoxious, accusing Cates of hitting on Teri.  As her manager and fiancee, he considers her his port of entry.  After Ferrer leaves, Cates offer her the spare key to his studio in case, you know, she just ever needs to get away.

Sure enough, she shows up at his studio one night.  Note to self: have spare key made; also, a studio.  He gives her a locket an old blind woman gave to him; she said that any promise made while holding that locket would come true.   He holds it and tells Teri he will always protect her.  Ya know, he could have told the old woman he would restore her sight, but I’m sure she was no Teri Hatcher.  Meanwhile Ferrer is outside peeping at them.

Ttftcthingfrom03he next day, he calls Cates and says that Teri is in trouble and to meet him at the old mill; or something.  Cates foolishly shows up and we are at the point where a flash-forward already showed us Ferrer shooting him, tossing him in a grave, and covering him up.

A flash-forward is usually used to get a little action into the early set-up of the story.  It is not necessary when you start out with a 26 year-old Teri Hatcher in a bathing suit.

Back at Teri’s place a week later, Ferrer shows up at her place and tells her he knows about her hook-up with Cates.  But he tells her that he is probably off with other models, that’s why she can’t reach him.

The next day, she goes to his studio.  She finds a bag of groceries and picks up an incriminating carton of ice cream.  Although, it is melted as you would expect, it is also half empty which makes no sense.  I could lose a few pounds, but even I don’t eat half the Ben & Jerry’s in the car on the way home.  She plays his answering machine with Ferrer’s voice as he grabs her from behind.

He ties her to the bed, and from her shrieking it sounds like he was up to no good.  He confesses that he killed Cates and buried him in the woods.  As he gets undressed, Cates emerges from the grave and slogs toward Teri’s house.

Ferrer goes outside and is grabbed by Cates who drags him back to the grave, pulling him under the ground with him.

This is really just a pretty straightforward, workman-like effort. But coming off a streak of bad episodes, it is very refreshing.  The Dutch angles are back, the bold palette, the humor, some star power.  Pretty lackluster twist, but I am happy with it.

Post-Post:

 

Outer Limits – The Conversion (S1E12)

olconversion01The episode starts poorly with an excruciatingly awful song, but recovers quickly with the introduction of the dependable Frank Whaley.  He is sitting in a bar and jangles the ice cubes in his empty glass at the bartender.  Being a very young Curtis Manning from 24, Frank’s lucky he didn’t get his ass kicked.

While daydreaming — as you do — about killing his boss, Rebecca De Mornay sends over a drink.  She comes over and asks what he was thinking about.  He wisely keeps his boss-killing fantasy to himself.  But maybe not so wisely decides to go upstairs to the Christmas Party where is boss is.  Rebecca says she knows people up in the office and will go with him.

As the elevator doors open on the office party, he pulls a pistol from his waistband and kills three people before being shot in the stomach by a security guard.  Not John McClane, but a rent-a-cop — oh the ignominy!  He turns to look at Rebecca and she fades into thin air.

After the credits, he rushes outside in an out-of-place bizarrely-lit shot.  Things improve immediately as the freakish lighting is not sustained, plus he carjacks some mulleted yuppie scum.  He thoughtfully calls into the office to see if anyone was killed.

Running low on fuel, he coasts to the side of the road as the radio broadcasts information on him.  As it gets dark, he walks to a small restaurant.  He goes into the bathroom to examine his wound and wrap it in paper towels whilst thanking God they don’t use hand-blowers.

Maybe God hears him, because he shows up in Frank’s booth; or at least someone who seems to know a lot about Frank, his wound, the waitress, and bean-and-bacon soup.  He also knows that if Frank leaves tonight, he will be killed.  He gives Frank a magic handshake which not only perfectly heals his bullet wound, but mends and cleans his bloody white shirt.  Oh, and picks up the check — hail to the king, baby!

The — let’s call him an angel — angel points out how Frank’s financial misdealings have hurt others and makes Frank see that he is just a pathetic, lonely crook.  As Frank goes back to the bathroom, the angel stuffs some napkins under his shirt.  Either he is stealing them, or has empathically acquired Frank’s wound.

Frank now regrets shooting those people, but the angel says they weren’t really people, just “things” manufactured for the party.  The angel’s people intervened and planted these bogus humans at the party just before Frank opened fire.  Frank has killed no one.

olconversion04The angel switches bodies with Frank just as the police come in and arrest him.  Frank watches the other Frank being hauled out.  Looking in a mirror, he sees the angel’s face instead of his own.  He walks out a new man — literally.

Presumably the angel’s body that he just acquired does not still have the bullet wound the angel absorbed from Frank — that would have been a bitch.  Cue that same excruciating music again.

Post-Post:

  • Not sure this is a conversion so much as an enlightenment or redemption or atonement or just plain 2nd chance.
  • About these manufactured “people.”  So the county now has their hands on these mandroids that were just witnessed walking and talking hours before?  That can’t turn out well.  And maybe that security guard isn’t so hot after all, letting these strangers roam the office.  For angels (or possibly aliens), these two leave a lot of loose ends.
  • Rebecca really seemed to be egging Frank on to do the deed.  Not very angelic even if there was redemption planned.
  • This is Rebecca De Mornay’s only directing credit, but no problems except for that brief 2 second LSD shot outside the office building.  For an under-appreciated early-career RDM flick, watch Runaway Train.  To see how amazingly she is ageing, watch Mother’s Day.
  • Cigarette-Smoking Man is here, but mostly in the background.