Science Fiction Theatre – A Visit from Dr. Pliny (09/24/55)

The episode begins in the fictional town of Killbrook, PA so as to not embarrass any any real Pennsylvanians; although the citizens of Millbrook, PA might be getting some calls.  Two men go to Mrs. Peterson’s Boarding House near the Institute of Advanced Astrophysics. [1]  The sign outside advertises “Board and Room” so maybe some reality-warping shenanigans have already taken place.

Pliny the Elder The elderly Pliny takes a look around Mrs. Peterson’s living room.  He seems to not initially recognize a TV; but he then refers to it as “a conglomeration of mistakes” so I guess it came back to him.  He is also a little fuzzy on the concept of money when Mrs. Peterson offers them a room at “$15 a week for two, in advance.”

She is ready to throw these two oddballs out.  They ask to just stay the night so they can peruse her late-husband’s library as he had been a scientist at the Institute, and must have had many technical journals and old nudist magazines.  As they are checking out the stacks, Pliny drops what appears and feels to be a solid gold comb.  He admits it isn’t gold, and offers it to Mrs. Peterson as payment for the room and a Snickers from the mini-bar.

The next morning, Pliny and his assistant Mr. Thomas barge in Dr. Brewster’s lab.  Pliny insults their primitive equipment and says he is old enough to remember such pieces, but his assistant would know them only from books.  He admits his doctorate is honorary, but says he has information that can change the world.  He wants to give Brewster the secret of free, limitless energy.

Brewster turns them loose in the lab and they build some contraption that stuns Brewster.  Pliny says, “It’s only a model but it will actually work” so I don’t know what distinguishes this model from a real whatever-it-is.

Mrs. Henderson comes to the Institute.  She is outraged that the comb Pliny said was not gold is not gold.  She is looking for Pliny and Thomas because they owe her $3 for the room — although, at $15/week, I’m not sure of her math.  Are guests not allowed to stay for the weekend?  Dr. Brewster settles the debt by buying the comb from her.  This is really quite generous as the folically-challenged Brewster has about as much use for a comb as I do.

On the other hand, he suspects the comb is actually made of a new element which enables the infinite energy machine to operate and is potentially worth trillions of dollars.  So, way to con the widow Henderson, big shot!  Got news for you, trillionaire: to the girls, you’re still the bald guy.

They melt the comb down and fabricate the part needed for the device.  Brewster is unsure what calamity might occur when he turns it on, as it will release massive, never-before seen levels of energy.  He asks Ruth if she would like to leave, but she gamely say she will stay.  Then he tells her to turn the device on.  Rrrrright, as long as you’re here.  Brewster watches a couple of vacuum tubes light up and says “Dr. Pliny was right.  We’ve just seen the end of the Atomic Age.”

Next we see Pliny and Thomas at the Royal Scientific Academy in London.  The secretary tries to stop him from barging into the lab, but Thomas stops her saying, “Nor rain, nor hail, nor you, nor outer space can stop Dr. Pliny.”  Kinda nit-picky, but ya really need a neither before the nors.

Damn it, SFT roped me in again!  Of course, objectively, it is just awful.  The music is still riotously overwrought, and the story is as thin as Brewster’s hair.  However, every second Pliny and Thomas are on the screen, it is great fun.  The gnome-like Edmund Gwynn is marvelously odd, and thoroughly believable as a time-traveler or alien (depending on your interpretation).  Gwynn got a late start in movies, at age 43.  To be fair, that’s mostly because they were not invented — he was born just 12 years after the Civil War.  Eight years before this episode, he won an Oscar for playing Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.  He is still the only actor to win an Oscar for playing Santa Claus after the Academy’s shameful snubbing of Billy Bob Thornton.

Mr. Thomas is played subtly by William Schallert.  By shrewdly waiting for movies to be invented before he was born, he wracked up an astounding 385 credits on IMDb.  He both predates and outdoes Seneca’s beard in The Hunger Games.  His Van Dyke consists of long sideburns and a pointy satanic beard, but also features free-floating hair on the cheek, not connected to either.  His slight frame towering over Pliny while being subservient make them a great pairing.

The fun of watching these two, and a better than usual transfer on You Tube makes this . . . well, I didn’t hate it.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] As opposed to Elementary Astrophysics.
  • This was the first IMDb credit for Victoria Fox (secretary at the London office).  Her second credit was 30 years later.  Way to persevere!
  • What I learned:  Edmund Gwynn and Ed Wynn, not the same guy.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Backward, Turn Backward (01/31/60)

This episode confused the hell out of me.  Unlike The Hitchhiker, I happily admit it is my probably my fault when an AHP episode confuses me.

A crowd has gathered outside the Thompson house.  Inside, detectives are searching for clues about the murder of Matt Thompson.  The sheriff [1] says, “All they want is Phil Canby’s head for dinner.”  The murder weapon, a Langstrom 7″ wrench, was left behind, but was washed with dish detergent.  “He scrubbed it in the sink, then washed the sink.”  Maybe he could kill somebody at my place a couple times a week.

[1] My problems began immediately as the episode opens on two men talking about a murder case.  One of the men is dressed in a suit and the other is dressed like Indiana Jones.  Turns out, he is the sheriff, but they don’t give you any indication.  Sure, if you realllllly look for it, you can see a holster from one angle, but your eye is really drawn to the fedora, and he is not wearing a badge.  Also, the conversation by the two unidentified men about two other men who would not appear on camera for quite a while just made my head spin.

Thompson’s neighbor Mrs. Lyons had been telling people something like this was going to happen because the killer was “Phil Canby, chasing after a girl young enough to be his grand-daughter.”  She saw Phil Canby kiss Sue Thompson “right on the mouth” and it made her “sick to my stomach” because he was 59 years old.  The sheriff points out that Canby proposed to the girl, and she accepted.  That doesn’t mollify Mrs. Lyons.  “The very idea, a girl still in her teens marrying an old fool like that!”

He asks, “Are you prepared to testify you heard the Murray baby [2] crying last night at 10:30?”  She says, “Absolutely.”  Further, it had to be that baby because there wasn’t another one on the whole block.  Canby swears the baby was asleep at that time. [3]

[2] When the baby is first mentioned, it lacks any context.  Why is he asking about a baby?  What would its cries indicate?  In what house was it located?  The Murray house apparently, but who are the Murrays?

[3] Before the Sheriff leaves Thompson’s house, he asks the detective if the ambulance can take the body.  What?  The body has been there the whole time?

Sheriff Willets goes next door to Canby’s house. [4]  The door is answered by his daughter Betty.  He asks to see Phil Canby, but they are interrupted by baby Phillip [5] bawling in the kitchen.  As soon as Phil Canby enters the kitchen — Sweet Jesus, he is old! — baby Phillip stops crying.   OK, Mrs. Lyons said the baby was crying at the time of the murder which is meant to suggest that Canby wasn’t at home.  So maybe I’m starting to get it.

[4] When the sheriff leaves Thompson’s house to go next door, we don’t know where he is going.  Then when Betty Murray answers the door, we don’t know who she is.  She is young and cute, so it is natural to assume she is Sue Thompson.  In fact, the actress is 3 years younger than the 35 year old Lolita playing the teenage Sue (not to be confused with the Sue who would play the teenage Lolita in 2 years).

[5] The baby has to be named Phillip also?  Could they make this any more confusing?  And doesn’t that immediately suggest it is the love child of Phil Canby and Sue rather than Phil’s grandson?

Betty says she doesn’t understand why the town is so quick to pin the murder on her father.  Like all daughters, she supports her old father nailing some teenager.  While the Sheriff is talking to Canby, Sue comes downstairs. [6]  He asks her to describe what happened the night before.  Last night, she asked Phil to her house to fix the drain.  There was an argument and Mr. Thompson said he’d have Canby put into an institution before he let Sue marry an old man.  Sue says her father was alive when Canby left.

[6]  Maybe thus is nit-picky, but why was Sue upstairs at the Canby house?  Or is it the Murray house and they just let Canby live there rather than send him to a nursing home?  Maybe she wouldn’t want to stay at the house where her father was just murdered, but why was she not just lounging around the living room.  Well, Canby had been upstairs, maybe they were . . . I don’t even want to think about it.

After the funeral, the Sheriff comes to arrest Canby.  Sue has a tantrum and begins bawling like a baby.  “That’s what Mrs. Lyons heard,” Mr. Murray says helpfully in almost his only line.  From this, they all conclude that Sue killed her father and reacted hysterically, crying like a baby. [7]

[7] But the crying did not come from the house where the baby was.  Maybe Mrs. Lyons can hear the whole block, but her direction is way off.

The ending is not a complete non-sequitur as the 35 year old actress played the 19 year old Sue as having the emotional maturity of a child; which makes the relationship even Moore creepy.  The twist is just a little too silly.  It is not helped by an erratic performance from the Sheriff, and some clunky staging and exposition.  This is especially surprising coming from writer Charles Beaumont.

I’m confused.  However, AHP is so consistently well done, I must just be tired.  Or, as one commenter suggested, a moron.


  • Also messing with my head:  I initially typed the wrong names for Thompson vs Canby just about every time I used them.
  • Also, I have never once spelled Sheriff correctly on the first try in 1,000 attempts.

Twilight Zone – Dream Me a Life (10/22/88)

Retirement home resident Roger Leads is having another one of his nightmares.  He is in a dark room lit only by many candelabras.  An old woman is crouched in the corner, terrified of what is trying to get in the door.  She pleads with him to help.  This is too much for Roger and he wakes up shivering, although that might be because the staff turns the thermostat down to a chilly 85 at night.

The narrator tells us that since the death of his wife three years ago, he leads a life where “he touches no one and no one touches him.”  That is about to change as his pal Frank says the room next door to him is getting a new resident.  I wonder what happened to the old res . . . oh, right.

A nurse wheels in his new neighbor — it is the woman from his dream.  Unfortunately, his dream about the frightened old woman, not the other one about Angie Dickinson.  Roger’s pal Frank says she hasn’t spoken a word in 10 years, so she really is the girl of his dreams.

Later, Roger’s pals are passing the time playing cards.  He sees the new gal, Laura Kincaid, has her chair parked across the room.  She is catatonic, also silent and unmoving, as she has been since her husband died.  Roger recalls his dead wife and realizes how much he needed her.

That night, Roger again dreams of being with Laura in the dark room.  She is begging him to help her again.  When he accidentally burns his hand on a candle, he wakes up.  He is stunned to see his hand actually is burned.

The next day, he sees her sitting outside.  He asks her some questions, but the woman seems to take no notice of him.  Join the club, pal.  He asks, “That is you, isn’t it?  In my dream?  Even before you got here, you were there!”  He asks how she picked him, and pleads with her to pick some else.  He feels unworthy because he couldn’t save his wife.  He shouts at her to “get out of my head!  Leave me alone!”

That night, he has the same dream again. As always, Laura is begging him to save her from the thing behind the door.  Roger has the revelation that “you’re not keeping someone out, you’re keeping someone in!”  Roger opens the door and a respectable looking old gentleman enters.  It is Laura’s dead husband.  He tells her she has got to let go.  And so on . . .

This is yet another episode where I think it is fine, just not what I’m looking for from a series called The Twilight Zone.  I know the original series had its share of sentimental episodes, but the 1980s reboot feels like I’m watching Kick the Can every other week.

Taken on its own, there is a lot to like here.  There is a lot of yakking, but well-done for a change.  It is not the printed prose torturously forced into a screenplay like Ray Bradbury Theatre, nor is in the nonsensical padding of The Hitchhiker.  I appreciated that it was natural dialogue which brought depth to both the story and the characters.  Eddie Albert, who seemed so feeble just 2 years later on RBT, carries most of the episode.  Whether he is angry, scared, or just curmudgeonly, he nails it throughout.

Other Stuff:

  • Holy crap, Laura was only 61!  That seems pretty young for these shenanigans.

Tales of Tomorrow – The Bitter Storm (12/26/52)

Professor Leland Russell is getting frustrated.  He is working on his new invention which is giving him static.  And, he lives with his sister Madeleine; who is also giving him static.  Leland took in Madeleine and his niece Pat after his brother-in-law died.  Pat is now married to Steve, but Madeleine still lives with Leland.

Leland bitterly toils away in this remote house to escape from the kinds of people who stole his ideas and profited from them.  Meanwhile, he lives in a cabin on an island he owns, which, frankly sounds pretty sweet to me.  Pat and Steve show up, having braved a hurricane.  Steve hangs up their coats, but they fall to the floor as he turns away.  This is not listed as a Goof on IMDb probably because I’m the only one dopey enough to watch this since 1952. [1]

When Leland steps off-camera to chew out his agent for getting him this gig, Steve turns on the device to see what it does.  OH MY GOD, IT’S A BOMB!  Oh, wait, it’s a radio which picks up conversations that took place earlier.  Leland returns and is furious at their snooping, and the reveal that he voted for Wendell Willkie.

Leland explains, “This is a machine that picks up and recaptures the sounds of the past.”  He demonstrates by turning on the machine again.  It picks up the ear-piercing sound of an opera.  Madeleine recognizes the singer as [unintelligible] who retired years ago.  Cynics might say it was just picking up a radio station.  But this was pre-PBS and no profit-seeking station in America would have broadcast this caterwauling.

He turns a few knobs and picks up Roosevelt’s “All we have to fear is fear itself” speech.  I get that they wanted to use a familiar speech and speaker, but they undermine the device’s power by using something that was so widely broadcast and replayed so often.  It would have been better to use something that everyone knew about, but was not recorded or broadcast.  Like when Thomas Jefferson said, “Hey, Hamilton, leave room for everyone else!”  Or when John Wilkes Booth said, “[BANG] Sic Semper Tyrannis . . . Ow, my f****ing knee!  Well, I’m done now.  They’d have to be complete idiots not to capture me before I even get off the stage.”

Leland starts getting static again.  The dial starts swinging wildly . . . back past the middle ages.  Madeleine begins to hear something through the interference.  She steps back in horror and shrieks, or maybe it is the opera fading back in.  She faints for approximately the length of a commercial break.  When she awakens, she says they were the most glorious sounds she ever heard. She heard and understood, and snottily tells Leland he should be asking himself why he didn’t understand.

Steve leaves to see if he can get the boat ready to take them back to the mainland.  Pat tries to get an explanation, but Madeleine says, “It is a message no one can escape, if they will only listen.”  She asks Pat to read the bible to her.  She opens it randomly to the “blessed are the peacemakers” chapter and reads aloud.  Madeleine asks Pat if she remembers any of the Aramaic that her father taught her.  She remembers only, “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Steve returns and says they can escape by boat, Leland is touched that he risked his life to save them.  Leland doesn’t want to abandon his invention, though.  Like all sci-fi break-throughs, he has no plans, no back-ups, no prototypes, and it can never be duplicated.  He turns the device on again and is amazed that he can now hear through the interference.  He is overcome as he realizes that he is listening to the crowd sounds at the crucifixion.  Leland stares into the camera and describes the scene.  It would make sense if he were quoting the voices being transmitted, but the writer opted to have him quote the bible.  At length . . . this guy knows his bible.

Hey professor, was you born in a manger? Shut the freakin’ door !

The storm gets so bad, they decide to flee the island.  Leland is a changed man.  He says, “Those sounds meant nothing to me until I had faith in people.”  He takes a last look at the machine that provided his salvation, this priceless device that could lead the world to peace and love.  Then he walks out into the hurricane and doesn’t close the door.  The end.

I kind of like what they were going for even if the botched it in a few places.  Using the “fear itself” speech was the first mis-step.  It was also a mistake to have Pat remember a few words of Aramaic (and have her late father apparently be fluent).  This opens up the possibility that Madeleine understood the transmission because she picked up some of the lingo from her father.  That certainly was not the intent, so why muddy the narrative?

Madeleine was the first to understand because she was already woke enlightened to the goodness of people.  Leland began to understand when he witnessed Steve’s selfless act to help every one.  Maybe Steve was too busy saving the group to pay much attention to the transmission, but why didn’t Pat understand what was being said?  Is she an asshole?

I was suckered in because I didn’t realize this was a Christmas episode.  Normally I skip them because they are so sappy and mawkish.  This was OK, though.  Wait, I understand now!  I see the error of my ways!  My heart is no longer hard!  I’m going to go back and watch that Christmas episode of Night Gallery . . . naaaaah.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] At least 3 other people have seen it based on the Comments at IMDb.
  • Actually this is more a tale of yesterday than a titular tale of tomorrow — it aired the day after Christmas.
  • The first IMDb credit for Joanne Woodward.  Her husband Paul Newman had his 2nd IMDb credit on another ToT episode.

The Outer Limits – Mary 25 (05/29/98)

Innobotics has gotten stagnant.  That’s why Charlie Bouton has been searching for new opportunities.  Today he is giving a presentation about his newest product.  He brings out the beautiful Mary 25 which looks a lot like the earlier “companion robot” Valerie 23, but is redesigned to be a nanny.  Because what new mom, just home from the hospital, wouldn’t want a flawless young, athletic 25 year old nanny in a form-fitting uniform whose prototype was a sex-bot moving in with her and her husband?  The board thinks the project is too risky because the Valerie 23 went haywire.  Charlie says he will test her out with his own family.  The risk to his noggin by his wife, who was not consulted, does not seem to be a concern to them.

Charlie goes home and tells his wife Teryl they will have a guest for dinner the next few years.  Within 30 seconds of entering the house, he fires the dumpy current nanny.  The next morning, Charlie’s hunky associate Milburn Ross delivers Mary to the house.  She gets along with the kids, so he heads back to the office.  Milburn, who had an affair with Teryl long ago, stays behind to observe.  The grammatically-challenged Milburn asks, “Why didn’t you ever return my calls?  Or wrote me a note?”

That night, Teryl suggests Mary’s programming might need some work.  Charlie belts her.  He walks out and sees Mary “checking her lubrication system” which looks a lot like giving herself a breast exam.  Charlie asks if Melburn left the old Valerie 23 subroutines in place.  She says she no longer has that programming.  Luckily, however, her AI makes her a fast learner.  Charlie begins making out with her, and is seen by Teryl.

When Teryl gets home the next night, Mary is acting very strangely, keeping the kids separated so they don’t fight.  When Teryl objects, Mary chokes her until Charlie uses a remote to shut her down.  When Teryl suggests Mary might not be ready for production yet, Charlie whacks her again.  That night, Teryl shows what she and Milburn had in common by saying.  “Are you replacing me with Mary?  She’s got Valerie 23’s looks which I know turns you on.” [3]

Yada yada, when Charlie next hits Teryl, Mary breaks his neck.  Teryl and Melburn resume their affair.  Melburn tells her, “You haven’t changed a bit in nine years.”  Then he discovers that she is a robot.  Charlie built her to replace the real Teryl after he killed her.

Love the story, but one thing I can’t figure out.  Mary 25 is still somewhat robotic.  She moves awkwardly and does not understand certain phrases, emotions, and actions.  Then, how was the Teryl robot, made nine years ago, able to pass for human all that time?  She seems to hold a job, and even her former lover never suspected all that time.  WTF wasn’t she trotted out as the nanny prototype; or three years ago as the Valerie 23?  [2] And why would Charlie have programmed her with the memories of her affair with Melburn?

Mary 25 is no Valerie 23 in more ways than one.  The episode Mary 25 had some great moments, but overall wasn’t as satisfying as Valerie 23.  What baffles me is how much more I liked the character of Valerie 23.  They were both played by Sofia Shinas, and just three years apart.  Yet, she is quite different looking.  Sure, the black wig does her no favors, but that is not the problem.  Maybe there should be a difference since she was playing a sex-bot before and not a nanny.  However, Valerie’s smile and sunny disposition would also be welcome in a nanny.  Mary 25 is kind of a downer.  Valerie’s robotic tics were endearing; Mary’s are merely robotic.  I just think this is not a very good performance.

Maybe it’s the liquor [1] talking, but a few times the script stunned me with how good it is.  I half-watched this once, then gave it a proper viewing later, so I knew what was coming.  Frequently the dialogue is perfect in its misdirection and double meanings.  The script has just the right balance to let the viewer know something might be up with Teryl, but doesn’t beat you over the head with it.  It straddles that line as cleverly as any story I can recall.

So, maybe not what it could have been, but still pretty good.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Grand Old Parr.
  • [2] Mary says she was developed from a discarded 24 prototype, which would have been within the last three years.  But then the “nine year” comment makes no sense.
  • [3] I go back and forth on this . . . see [1].  Is “looks” singular or plural?
  • Charlie says Mary has “three fail-safes”.  C’mon, just call them what they are.
  • He also told the board she was named “Mary, after the nanny in the movie.”  C’mon, just say Mary Poppins.  You don’t have to pay just to say the name, do you?
  • Teryl Bouton is clearly named after the fabulous Teryl Rothery.