Science Fiction Theatre – The Frozen Sound (07/30/55)

They almost got me on this one.  Each week host Truman Bradley performs a scientific experiment relevant to the story.  Usually they are so dull and the music so overwrought that I power right through them.  This time, however, he brings out a tuning fork which always intrigued me.

He holds up “a glass of liquid” which looks suspiciously like water or vodka, then gets the fork a-vibrating and holds it against the glass.  After an edit, the glass appears to contain a few ice cubes; then an umbrella and a cherry on a tiny sword.  After another edit, it seems to have completely solidified.  In a shocking breach of lab safety regulations, he breaks the glass with no protective eye-wear.  The liquid now looks like a wax candle, but is described as “a crystal, synthetically produced by man.” [1]  I was ready to buy a tuning fork and try this myself.  After my standard 30 seconds of research, though, it appears to be baloney.

Late one night, A gent Agent Masters from Washington drops in on Dr. Otis — director of a scientific project in New Mexico (wink, wink) — and his daughter at his desert home. Last week Dr. Otis had a top secret meeting in his living room with the Secretary of Defense about converting aircraft to atomic power.  Despite the Fort Knox-like security of a screen-door with a hook, a microfilm transcript of that meeting was found on a Russki spy.  Even the respected Dr. Otis is a suspect in how the info got leaked.

Dr. Otis’s’s’s’ daughter Linda says this is ridiculous.  Nevertheless, Masters says he is going to live in the house with them until this security breach is resolved or until someone remembers the Third and Forth Amendments.

The three of them begin tearing the house apart looking for some eavesdropping device; which is like the police asking murder suspect to help find some bloody fingerprints.  Furniture is x-rayed, the walls are sonically probed. Searching for anything anomalous, Masters find three bottles of ant poison, but one doesn’t seem to be murdering any ants.

Otis breaks the bottle and finds a waxy glob inside.  Beneath the wax is a synthetic crystal.  Otis says, “crystal under compression generates electrical energy that is capable of picking up sound wave frequencies — like the old crystal radio receivers.” Masters conjectures that a jelly-like substance absorbed the sounds from the meeting and hardened in the crystal.

To demonstrate, Masters grabs an LP (Long Playing 33 1/3 vinyl disc containing recorded music or rap).   He smashes it, holds up a shard and asks, “Would you say that was a recording of sound?”  Otis says the grooves are still there, which is not true — most of them are on the ground.  Masters says, “Nothing has actually changed except the method of reproducing that sound.”  This proves nothing — the issue is whether it is possible for the the crystal to record, not if it is possible to play it back.  Anyhoo . . .

They need an expert on MASERs to prove this theory, so decide to enlist Dr. Gordine from Northwest Engineering to help.  Dr. Otis says Gordine could be there in 48 hours. Otis is apparently so excited that Gordine is coming that he doesn’t change his green shirt for 2 days. [2]

Gordine sets up his equipment and they inexplicably decide to test it on a rock Otis uses as a paperweight.  The device is able to read impressions on the rock and broadcasts sounds of hysterical panic and mayhem like someone is exercising free speech on a college campus.  Otis says the rock is from Pompeii, and the noises are people being killed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.[3]  The cooling lava recorded the sounds and 2,000 years later ignominiously and igneously wound up keeping papers on Dr. Otis’s desk from flying around the room.

Next they test the crystal that was found in the ant poison.  Sure enough, it is a recording of every-thing said in the room that day. Masters reasons that the ant poison must replaced every day.  That night, he catches the handyman switching the bottles.  Despite dressing like The Scarecrow, he is not the brains of the operation.

I have to give SFT credit for actually throwing in a twist, and then even adding a justification for it.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

In the epilogue, Dr. Otis is excited about the historical events that can now be researched by listening to sounds recorded at the time.  However, since the recording process seems to require cooling lava, I think the playlist is going to be shorter than the Big Bopper’s Greatest Hits.   Linda, staring into Masters’ dreamy eyes says she is only thinking of the future.  Dr. Otis must sense wedding bells too, because he finally changed his shirt.

The science seems ludacris to me, but I ain’t no MASER expert.  It seems like a take-off on the Lazarus Bowl concept.  A potter was spinning a bowl while Jesus was raising Lazarus from the dead, and the bowl supposedly recorded the vibrations of his speech.

“Hey, Brittany, the son of God is raising that Lazarus kid from the dead!”

“Let me finish this clay bowl.”

The performances were as bad as usual. Marshall Thompson (Masters) was nearly somnolent.  He had a huge career, though, so maybe I just don’t get him.  Marilyn Erskine (Linda) is attractive, but delivers most of her lines like she’s yelling at an umpire.  Everything is an exclamation — the defense of her father, general exposition, skepticism . . .

I give it about 10 decibels.


  • [1] In fact, it looks so much like a candle that you can see a blackened wick faintly showing on one end.
  • [2] Or maybe he has an Albert Einstein / Seth Brundle thing going.
  • [3] Most frequently heard phrase:  “Sancta excremento!”
  • Elizabeth Patterson plays a maid.  I can’t say for sure, but being born in 1875, she might the earliest born of any actor I’ve watched so far.  It would not surprise me if someone in AHP aces her out, though.  IMDb says her father was in the Confederate Army.  I wonder if he lived long enough to see Civil War reenactors? “Hey idiot, I lost 55 cousins and my left leg so you could live free from oppression! . . . uh no, the white guy beside you.  Yeah, you!”

Outer Limits – Music of the Spheres (05/09/97)

College student Devon Taylor is listening to space.  He thinks he can detect a pattern coming from Sirius. [1]  His professor finally tells him to go home, but he grabs the tape to listen to later.  When his younger sister Joyce overhears the tape, she is able to clearly hear the pattern.  In fact, she puts on a set of head-phones and snoozes all night with it playing.

Her father finds her in the morning.  He immediately assumes she is on the drugs.  To be fair, her pulse is racing and she is acting weird.  And he should know the symptoms because is has two doctorates — the one of his character, and being played by Dr. Johnny Fever.  Before he can tell her to just say no, she grabs the tape and runs out the door to school.

Joyce gets everyone at school listening to the groovy space music.  Devon insists that there is a message embedded in it, which is likely since it sounds suspiciously like the transmission sent in Contact.  He goes looking for Joyce at a rave where the music makes everyone look like they’re playing that game Riker brought onto the Enterprise; you remember, the one that induced orgasms . . . c’mon, you know you want to click it.

Devon sees that the euphoric teens are addicted to the music like crack.  He is a little over the demographic so is able to resist its charms.  It also has the side-effect of causing metallic scales on the kids’ skin.  He goes to the booth where the DJ has the easiest job in the world — one tape, on a loop.  When Devon grabs the tape, the people stop their orgasmic, slack-jawed moaning and scream in pain like when I accidentally hit the Firefox back-button to my sister’s Facebook page at an inopportune time.

Joyce and the other teenagers are taken to the hospital.  All of them are getting the same metallic plating on their skin even though soap and water would take care of most of it. Devon looks in Joyce’s eye with one of those lighted doctor doohickeys and says, “Her iris is changing.”  No, Mr. Know-It-All, her pupil is changing, not her iris. Seriously, does anyone in TV finish the sixth grade?

After Devon sends the tape to a friend in Japan, he is responsible for a global outbreak. The Feds show up and confiscate his stereo, oscilloscope and nudie magazines.  The enigmatically-named Dr. Riddle is called from the CDC, but she is no match for the 20 year old Devon.  She confirms that the disease is spread by a signal that is like music to teenagers and random noise to adults . . . just like _____________ . [2]  It also instills an intense desire to share with others, thus explaining Bernie Sanders’ success. Oh, and it comes from space.

The CDC decides the best course of action is to play the signal in reverse.  In addition to confirming Paul is dead, this also kills Joyce.  Thank God Devon is there to turn the original tape up to eleven and revive her.

Devon further concludes that the changes are a gift from aliens.  Our sun is about to shift to a blue dwarf.  Only those who have evolved the metallic skin will survive. The CDC agrees and the government starts broadcasting the signal, finally using that goofy Emergency Broadcast System, and on PBS, although they wisely schedule it during Downton Abbey so someone will actually be watching.

All the kids on Earth are soon covered with a gold shell making them look like small Oscar statues, which will drive Roman Polanski crazy.  Adults are able to get a treatment which will give them the same metallic shell. For reasons not well explained, Joyce & Devon’s father opts out.

I always like a mystery that has to be solved.  And the magnitude of the story — human evolution & sun shift — certainly lend gravitas to the story.  Add in a little star-power (no pun intended), and a few minutes of padding don’t seem too big a price to pay.


  • [1] The pattern is to cancel every 3 months before the welcome-back offer expires. I ain’t paying full price for radio, man!  Actually, I saw later that they were saying Certus, not Sirius.  That isn’t a thing, so I have no idea what they were going for.
  • [2] Mad-Libs time.  [Name some dreadful young people’s music].
  • Devon is played by Joshua Jackson who would go on to play a similar brainiac on Fringe.  Surprisingly, he is great here as a 20-year old know-it-all and less annoying than the know-it-all he played as an adult.
  • Joyce is played by Kirsten Dunst, three years after Interview with the Vampire and three years before the greatest movie in the history of cinema.
  • Title Analysis: About as perfect as you can get.
  • Music of the Spears.
  • Music of the Sneers.
  • Music of the Shears.

The Hitchhiker – O.D. Feelin’ (01/28/86)

You touch me, he dies. If you’re not in the air in thirty seconds, he dies. You come back in, he dies.

God, the 1980s — cultural nadir of America.  The big-shoulder clothes, the rolled up jacket sleeves, the parachute pants, the over-produced music, the synths, the big hair, the punk motif, the MBA-mentality, the manic coke-snorting yuppies, The Hitchhiker. Confidence is not high.

Sandra Bernhard (playing the charmingly-named ‘Rat’) witnesses a drug deal.  She is pure 80’s homeless / punk chic with spiky bright yellow hair.  There is a Mexican Stand-Off between three white guys, a black guy and no Mexican guys that leaves them all dead guys.  Rat walks onto the scene and makes off with a wristwatch and a brick of cocaine.

She walks home tapping a crystal-knobbed cane in front of her.  Wise Man — a true 80’s dude with both a tiny pony-tail and a mullet — says to his rotund, inevitably-named associate Fool, “Look who’s tapping his way down the street.”  OK, Sandra Bernhard was always kinda androgynous, but I don’t get the use of his.

Wise Man and Fool follow Rat to her, by definition, Rat-infested home. They peek in the window and see that within seconds she has already thinned the herd by overdosing on the coke.

Damn them for actually giving me a good laugh as they enter her hovel via crashing through the window. They take the cocaine . . . I mean with them.  A few seconds after they leave, partners of the drug-dealers break in.  It’s just as well Rat OD’d or she would have been murdered twice by now anyway.  Looking out the window, one of them sees, “Wise Man and that fool” running away, so I guess Fool isn’t his given name.

The episode is wearing me down as usual, but this time in a good way.  Yeah, the 80’s atmosphere is awful, but if you look beyond that, there are some fun performances and dialogue here winning me over.  Sadly Fool does not survive the scene.[1]  His death forfeits logic and the laws of physics for a shock laugh, but that seems like a good trade to me this time.

Wise Man goes to see The Chemist (played perfectly by Joe Flaherty). Whether it was intentional or not, his ditsy blonde assistant Orchid gets a laugh from me by calling him Wiseman [2] as if it were his name. While Chemist and Wise Man are weighing the cocaine, Orchid pours some champagne — hey, there’s a brick of coke right there! [3] We are tipped off that Orchid has slipped poison into one of the glasses.  Son-of-a-bitch if I wasn’t fooled again!  She killed The Chemist and she and Wise Man end up in the sack.

Orchid leaves Wise Man and takes the cocaine to The Duke.  The drug-dealers, always a step behind, find Wise Man and kill him.  Now he is Dead Man.  And on it goes through The Duke and Mr. Big.

The ending . . . well, I don’t even understand what happened.  It was fun and unexpected and looked great, though.  The Hitchhiker could use a lot more episodes like this.

Great stuff.


  • [1] Played by the then ubiquitous, now dead, always likable Dennis Burkley.
  • [2] Unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger who just didn’t care when he pronounced Batman like it was his name.
  • [3] I’ve got an I Get a Kick Out of You shaped hole right there with nothing to go in it.  Yeah, I could have linked to Blazing Saddles, but I always wondered if Frankie really mentioned Cocaine.
  • The top picture caption is an Escape from New York reference.  I had mashed up a comparison, but they don’t look as similar as I remembered.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – A True Account (06/07/59)

A reel-to-reel tape tells us, “The following is a true and full account and hereby sworn by me, Paul Brett, Attorney at Law.”  Dang, you had me right up til that last part.  The tape continues on, leading into a flashback . . .

Mrs. Cannon-Hughes comes to Brett’s office and tells him she knows of a murder that was committed.  He agrees consulting a lawyer is a prudent move and bills her four hours.  She begins her story, leading us into the rarely seen flashback within a flashback.  Or is it three-deep, with the tape being the first flashback, Mrs. C-H being the second, and her recollection being the third?  This is why Inception didn’t win the Oscar vote . . . or did it?

Miss Cannon is a live-in nurse to the elderly Mrs. Hughes.  We join the story just as Mrs. Hughes croaks from natural causes (“natural causes” on Alfred Hitchcock Presents = MURDER!).  Mr. Hughes keeps her on the payroll until the funeral, then gives her a severance check.  It isn’t long, however, before Mr. Hughes gives her a call.

She puts on her white uniform, white shoes and white cap and goes to casa de Hughes. When she gets there, she finds this was just a ruse to get her to go to a concert with him.  She eagerly accepts.  Things progress quickly through the concert phase, dinner phase, driving to the airport phase, and now he is helping her paint her living room. After a few horizontal strokes of latex — has this guy ever picked up a paint brush before? — he asks her to go away with him.  Soon they are married.

Once back from the honeymoon, she feels Mr. Hughes has become “distant, hard to reach”, perhaps fearing another room needs painting. He refuses to let her see her old friends.

One night, she notices he is not in bed.  She gets up to look for him, but he sleepwalks into the bedroom.  He mutters, “Here, drink this and go back to sleep.  I know you took some earlier, but this is doctor’s orders.”  He goes through the motions as if giving medicine to his dead wife.  So we have a ultra-rare sighting of a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.  Or is it . . . nevermind, it’s getting late.

She tells Brett that she suspects murder because he never should have given his wife that medicine; that was her job.  Brett suggests that maybe their marriage is an insurance policy — Hughes married her just in case there were questions, and a wife can’t testify against her husband in TV court [1].  She says that if he knew she saw him sleepwalking he would kill her!

I’ll say this for AHP, they get right to it — the next shot is at her funeral with Brett in attendance.  Zing!  It is staged so that it is impossible to see until the end — this is Mr. Hughes funeral, not hers.  Kudos!

On the reel-to-reel, Brett tells us the coroner has ruled Mr. Hughes’ death a suicide. This leaves the new Mrs. Hughes very rich; she asks Brett to help settle the estate.  Before long he is touching her hand.  Soon he will be making some horizontal strokes of his own; coincidentally, also in latex. [2]

One night after they are married, his wife is having a nightmare.  She says, “Drink this, Mrs. Hughes. Have another dose.  Mrs. Hughes, I know you took some earlier, but you have to have another dose.  Drink it.”

Brett continues on the tape stating that he believes she committed two murders and would kill him if she suspected he was on to her.  That is very perceptive as we see him lying dead on the floor as the tape plays.  His wife washes the glass that contained the poison, and tosses the tape into the fireplace.

Hitchcock returns for his usual closing remarks.  Or was this whole episode a flashback by him?  And was that framed in a flashback to 1959 by Hulu?  And am I flashing back in recalling it now?  And will you flashback as you remember reading this in a few days?  Probably a “no” on that last one.

Good stuff.


  • [1] This doesn’t make much sense.  How would spousal abuse ever get prosecuted? Or maybe it didn’t in the 1950’s.
  • [2] Just an assumption on my part on his part.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  No survivors.
  • Mrs. Cannon-Hughes-Brett gets no first name, but three last names [UPDATE below].
  • For a more in-depth look at the episode and its source material, check out bare*bonez e-zine.  Jack says Miss Cannon’s first name is Mabel in the original story and Maureen on AHP.  I was going by IMDb, which is on thin ice with me anyway after deleting the IMDb Message Boards — now how will I know the worst movie ever?
  • Miss Cannon has a roommate well-played by Marlon Brando’s sister.  If you grew up with Marlon Brando, could rooming with a serial killer be any crazier?
  • There is a strange opening vignette where a cute nurse is taking Hitchcock’s blood pressure.  He is lying on a table with a sheet over him.  As he ogles her pumping the device, a bulge emerges from his mid-section.  This really was a different time.

Twilight Zone – Button, Button (03/07/86)

This segment begins by setting up a story that never arrives.  Norma Lewis (Mare Winningham) is such an insufferable shrew that you have to think that characteristic must be of some great importance to the plot.

Maybe something happened in her past that made her this way . . . not that we’re told.  Surely this will be the catalyst for a dose of 1960’s TZ style cosmic comeuppance . . . eh, not really.  Maybe it will be cathartic when this battle-ax is bumped off in a grizzly fashion . . . nope.  Maybe . . . maybe . . . I got nothing.  She is just a nasty woman for no good reason; so unlikable, that it really casts an unnecessary pall over the whole segment.

OK, money is tight.  The car is broken and she has stolen a shopping cart to get her groceries home.  Her husband Arthur (Brad Davis) is clearly far too good for her.  He is a handsome guy with a cheerful attitude.  All he wants is a kiss after working on the car, but she pushes him away.  She might have nabbed the cart expecting him to push her around town.

The doorbell rings.  This surprises them because WTF would drop in on this couple?  Arthur goes to the door, and finds a package has been left on their doorstep.  He hands it to Norma, I guess hoping it is a bomb.  Inside is a wooden box with a glass dome over a red button.  There is a note on the bottom telling them Mr. Stewart will be by the next day.

The next night, Mr. Stewart comes to the apartment and explains to Norma how the device works.  If the button is pushed, someone she does not know will die, and she will receive $200,000.  When Arthur gets home from work, she gives him the 4-1-1 through a constant sneer and cigarette smoke.

The premise is solid gold, but Mare Winningham sinks the episode.  OK, maybe there isn’t much time in a 20 minute segment to create a nuanced character.  However, there is no need for a character to be so pointlessly repulsive she is unwatchable.  In discussing their options, every sentence is a scream delivered like a zinger, everything is negativity and sarcasm, she is smoking like a chimney, and constantly scrunching her face into a sneer.  And how long is she going to wear that same t-shirt?

Brad Davis also plays it very over-the-top, but at least his character is a decent human being.  Because they are both playing it so broadly, clearly that was the intent of the director.  It just doesn’t suit this story, though.  I guess the writer had issues with it too because he had his name taken off the episode.

Of course Norma is going to push the button.  She is low-life trash and her husband is too whipped to stop her.  They take a long time to get there, but there is never any doubt. Imagine if this had been a classy couple; maybe moderately well off but just suffered some big financial loss.  Or a preacher who sees only the immediate good the money could do for people around him.  Or a parolee who is struggling to be a better person.  Or a dying man who wants to provide for his family.  There would have been some tension then.

She pushes the button, but there is a twist.  I peeked at the Wikipedia page for the short story, and I must admit the TV version has a better ending.  But, overall, what a squandered opportunity.

The most positive thing I can say is that it makes me really appreciate yesterday’s Profile in Silver.  In particular, Andrew Robinson’s performance just gets more amazing.


  • Classic TZ Legacy:  Written by TZ royalty Richard Matheson, but he used an alias in the credits.  I would love to hear that story.
  • The same short story was the basis for The Box starring Cameron Diaz.  I saw it on 03/23/10, but don’t remember a single frame.
  • Brad Davis was just in the execrable Why Are You Here?