Science Fiction Theatre – Dead Reckoning (09/17/55)

After the completion of the 3rd DVD set of what appeared to be random (rather than chronological or, God knows, the best of) episodes of The Hitchhiker, I had a dilemma: Fill in The Hitchhiker gaps with episodes from You Tube, finish Science Fiction Theatre, poke self in eye with stick. [1]

I fear there is no right answer here.  As soon as I heard the comically overwrought orchestral music of SFT, the stick started sounding pretty good (honestly, it was never going to be lower than 2nd place).  On the other hand, this appears to be a much better transfer than the episodes I watched earlier, and host Truman Bradley starts playing with magnets.  You can’t go wrong with magnets.

A volcano erupts on an island in the Arctic Circle.  Before they decide whether to evacuate the island’s military personnel, the government decades to fly in a geo-physicist from 7,000 miles away.  A nameless commanding officer summons four soldiers to his office.  He tells them their top secret mission is to fly Dr. Lewis Townsend to Dorian Air Force Base in the Arctic Ocean.  As in every 1950s SF episode I’ve watched, he will be accompanied by a young hottie.[2]

Once the plane is airborne, the pilot goes back to check on his passengers.  He sees Evelyn Raleigh is reading one of those, whattaya call ’em, books.  He asks what it is, and she says, “This is a book on aerodynamics”.  Then she proceeds to tell him how airplanes work.  After he leaves, Dr. Townsend tells her, “As a scholar, you are brilliant.  As a woman, tsk tsk . . . didn’t you ever notice that only single women are smarter than men?”

During some turbulence, their altimeter is busted.  This is important as the approach to the island runway requires a specific path to avoid cross-winds and mountain goats.  Even worse, the other instruments start acting screwy due to a magnetic storm.  Maybe my senses have been dulled by weeks of The Hitchhiker and years of drinking, but this episode is actually pretty good.

As always, that is a relative assessment.  It is impossibly dated, the acting is that stilted early TV style, and the sets are cheap.  It is easy to say the treatment of the woman is sexist, but consider this: there is a woman there at all.  Also, she is a scientist.  Certainly, she would be treated with more respect today.  Like when I called her a hottie above.

After losing other instruments in a magnetic storm, the crew begins searching for alternative methods of navigation.  They can’t guide by the planets and steer by the stars because of the fog.  After 3 hours of flying blind, a hole in the fog allows them to see they are 500 miles off course.  Finally, Dr. Townsend says, oh by the way, I can make a compass and an altimeter.  Oddly, he also has the formula for the polio vaccine in his wallet, just waiting for the right time to spring it. [3]

The doctor rigs up a thermometer and boiling water to create a make-shift altimeter.  By noting the boiling point, he an calculate the air pressure and altitude.  Of course, conducting this procedure in a pressurized cabin, he would have ended up flying them into the side of a mountain.  But that’s just being churlish; this is good stuff.

The plane climbs and successfully clears the mountains.  Townsend starts talking about how wondrous the earth is.  As he drones on, Evelyn gives the pilot a lascivious look like she is ready to join the 202-degree boiling point club.  Dr. Townsend pronounces the volcano safe, but says Evelyn is ready to blow.

Not a bad 30 minutes of TV.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Other options:  I watched the first episodes of Friday the 13th and Tales From the Dark Side.  Both were dreadful.
  • [2] Arleen Whelan was also in something called The Women of Pitcairn Island.  The mutineers from The Bounty have all died and the tropical island is now populated by their widows.  Now, there’s an idea with potential!  Someone should have sent that to Russ Meyer.
  • [3] OK, the polio vaccine was discovered by Jonas Salk two years earlier, so this doesn’t quite work.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Cure (01/24/60)

Marie Jensen, like Rhona Warwick in NG’s The Caterpillar, is a beautiful woman living in a remote jungle outpost with her husband. [1] Also like Rhona, she seems perfectly content with this isolated life and loves her husband.  No, wait, she stabs him in bed within the first 10 seconds.

Luckily, handyman Luiz is there to pull her off.  He holds a knife to Marie’s throat, but her husband Jeff stops him.  Jeff’s partner Mike comes in.  He suggests that Marie is suffering from “the fever.”  While Luiz dresses Jeff’s wound, Mike takes Marie back to her room and ties her to the bed.  So do Marie and Jeff have separate rooms?  None of my business.

Jeff goes to see her.  She is bound with her arms tied to the headboard.  She says she doesn’t remember what she did to deserve such treatment.  Jeff unties her and calls their servant Chita in to sit with her.  Marie laughs at him and rolls over.

Jeff asks Mike to take Marie 200 miles upriver to a doctor.  Mike reminds him that he warned Jeff not to marry her.  When Mike suggests that Marie might not come back, Jeff says, “I know what you think of her, and I know what she was.  But I pulled her out of that place and I married her.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Game.

Mike says he hates her, but somehow that devolves into them having a long kiss.  This is accompanied by a grotesque melodramatic orchestral flourish that is unworthy of AHP.  She then gets dressed in some snappy safari-wear and goes to Jeff’s room.  He is also down with fever.  She claims to remember nothing, but agrees to go to the doctor.

Luiz, Mike and Marie take off in a very small boat.  After a while, Luiz pulls over to the side of the river to scout a place to spend the night.  While he is gone, Marie says they can kill him here.  Mike prefers to just lose him in the city.  The next morning, after Marie eggs him on, Mike tries to kill Luiz, but Luiz stabs him.  Though out-of-frame, the knife visibly lands to the side of Mike.  I still have to give them credit, Luiz’s knife would have landed squarely in Mike’s melon.   Luiz chases Marie back to the boat.  More kudos are due for the knife darkened by Mike’s blood.  He forces her back in the boat to “do what master want.”

Later returns to the outpost.  He says bad things happened.  “Senor Mike dead.  He tried kill me, so I kill him.”  Luiz says Mike was mislead by “bad woman.”  He says, “I do what you ask.  I take her to my people.  Best headshrinkers in the world.”  And pulls out the shrunken head of Marie.

R-r-r-r-r-right.  I have no problem with an episode that hinges on a one-word pun.  Really.  The episode was based on a story by Robert Bloch [2] who, among many great accomplishments, wrote the novel Psycho was based on.  The teleplay was by a guy with a thousand other credits.  Who am I to criticize?  Nobody, that’s who.  Walking erect is about all I have in common with these titans.  Still . . . it’s a little thin.

I get that calling a psychiatrist a headshrinker might be a colloquial term not ever used in the Amazon; also not ever used in the Amazon: colloquial.  However, Luiz was never in a scene where he heard that word spoken.  And Jeff still loved Marie — inexplicably, sure — so why would Luiz think he intended for her to be killed?  However, the reveal is fun, and who doesn’t like a little head?

Other Stuff:

  • [1]  In fact, the Amazonian outpost is so far out that they can hear the Kookaburras from Australia.
  • [2] Robert Bloch would do the shrunken head thing again 11 years later in Logoda’s Heads on Night Gallery.  It was so uninteresting that it didn’t rate its own post.
  • AHP Deathwatch:  There must have been something in the water down there.  All three of the leads are in their 90s and still alive.
  • OK, the F. Scott Fitzgerald thing makes no sense.  I couldn’t think of another way to reference Gerald’s Game.  Edmund Fitzgerald’s Game?  Gerald Ford?

Twilight Zone – The Hunters (10/15/88)

A kid wearing a red beret and an ascot saunters across an open field.  Either he is intended to be a generic Boy Scout knock-off, or he’s just a real dandy.  He falls through a hole into a pretty nice multi-level set which conveniently has a raised area under the hole so he was’t sent to the final Jamboree.  This scout is preparedness incarnate — despite the fact that he is crossing an open field at high noon, he has a fleshlight flashlight on him.  When he sees something moving around, he goes to get the sheriff.

The sheriff shines his bigger light around and sees paintings on the walls of the cave.  He calls in Dr. Cline from the local college to check it out.  She says the paintings are 12,000 years old.  There are buffalo depicted, and hunters stalking them.  Another item is just a blob which Cline suggests might be spiritual doorway or a circle where they all got together for protection.  It looks more like the space shuttle to me, but I might be watching too much Ancient Aliens.

Sometime later, topside, Cline tells the sheriff she needs the site guarded because there have been some disturbances.  The sheriff suggests it might just be raccoons.  Cline persuasively disagrees by showing a huge sheep carcass literally two feet from where they were standing.  They had just had a little walk & talk, so this could have been blocked much more effectively.

The sheriff goes about his sheriff business.  The developer who owns the land goes full Murray Hamilton, only with a bolo tie rather than that wacky anchor jacket.  The sheriff tries to calm him down, but I must say Dr. Cline is no help.  It’s admirable that she wants to protect the old artifacts, but she callously mocks the developer’s financial situation.  I’ve never seen a college professor so full of contempt unless someone was trying to exercise free speech on their campus.  The sheriff is also tracking some missing animals.  They appear to have been dragged to the excavation and cooked.

The sheriff spends the night in his car at the cave.  Dr. Cline hears noises and sees shadows darting around in the cave.  When she screams, the sheriff goes down to check things out.  He finds her lying on the ground with a spear in her back.  He too begins seeing shadows.  As he chases them around, he turns to see Cline’s body is gone.

He looks at the paintings on the wall and sees one is moving — a stick figure dragging Cline’s body away.  He gets a brush and starts scrubbing the other paintings from the wall.  And just in time — an Indian is about to spear him in the back.  As the sheriff erases the figure, the Indian fades away.

Can something be less than the sum of its parts?  That’s what we have here.  Louise Fletcher and Michael Hogan are recognizable faces.  The set was intriguing with both outdoor and subterranean areas.  I’m sure it’s racist in ways I can’t even imagine, but the idea of the ancient Indians coming back had great potential.  The idea of the paintings changing, especially when we actually see the animation, was fun.  They even had an experienced director.

And yet, it was something of a slog.  The feeling started early as Hogan seemed a little hammy and Fletcher just seemed miscast.  The episode really took a wrong turn killing off Dr. Cline so brutally.  I like a nice undeserved murder as much as the next guy, but TZ has always been more about just deserts and comeuppance.  This is just gratuitous.  Worse, it is almost amusing due to the sudden exposition — she was killed off-camera — and that giant spear sticking up particularly perpendicularly.

The final scene also bugged me for the most nit-picky of reasons.  I doubt either an archaeologist or a sheriff packs cleaning products.  So the sheriff had to go buy some and come back.  Or even if he or the doctor did have them, he had to get the bucket, some water, a brush, etc.  Yet the Indian stood around until he was actually erasing the figure to hurl a spear at him?  I know, drama.

As illogical as it sounds, it also bugged me that the sheriff started erasing the cave paintings.  Sure, it saved his life, but only because he stuck around to scrub the wall.  This is like idiots who leave graffiti in parks, or topple ancient precariously stacked rocks.

And what brought the Indians back anyway?  At least there was no cliched burial ground.  The doctor was not desecrating the area, although, the sheriff did almost trip over a bone.  I say almost, there was nothing going on here to warrant a murder. There was also no effort made to tie the drawings to the Indians.  Why were their movements reflected on the wall?  Compare this to a better episode in this TZ series, Still Life.  That also involved ancient tribesmen returning.  There, however, their return was explained by the developing of photographs which had stolen their souls.  Neat.

This is more like a Hitchhiker episode where they throw a bit of weirdness on the screen with no context or motive and think they have accomplished something.

It could have been great.

Other Stuff:

  • Classic TZ Connection:  None that I see, but strangely, in addition to Still Life, the changing picture reminded me of The Cemetery from Night Gallery.
  • The kid who fell in the hole was Charlie from RBT’s The Playground.

Tales of Tomorrow – The Fatal Flower (12/12/52)

Experimental Plant Station

Tropical Division


. . . reads the sign on the door.  If you are standing in front of this door, do you really need to be told you are in Brazil?

Botanist Dr. Alden is feeding flies to a carnivorous plant as he rhapsodizes to his band of assistant Merriman about its superiority.  “While man fiddles around with his petty problems, the vegetable kingdom is silently on the march.”  If they are so smart, why don’t the march their asses to Taco Bell instead of being fed dead flies?

Merriman just arrived a month ago and can’t stand the Amazonian heat.  He is also bored to death as Dr. Alden is not much of a companion.  He spends all his time studying the plants.  His pride and joy is a hybrid carnivorous plant the size of Audrey II.  Merriman doesn’t see the point.  Alden asks, “Do you honestly say that you don’t realize the worth of such a discovery?”  Sadly, Alden does not clue Merriman or the viewer in to what that worth might be.

At breakfast the next morning, Merriman is still bored to death.  He mopes around whining like an eight year old.  No wonder Alden prefers the company of plants.  A batch of mail is delivered from a cargo ship, but Merriman has not been there long enough to receive any, and frankly, who would be writing to this loser?  He envies the stack of mail Alden receives.  Depressed and lonely, he offers Alden $10 for a random unopened letter he can call his own.  Alden eventually agrees and this seems to perk Merriman up.

The next day, Alden says he opened all of the mail he had expected.  He asks Merriman what was in the $10 letter?

A: Who was it from?

M: I hate to say this doctor, but it’s none of your business.

A: You must be joking.

M: I’m sorry doctor.  I’m not joking.  I paid $10 for that letter and I’m not going to share it with anybody.

Unfortunately, I find this premise much more interesting than the mopey Merriman and the carnivorous plant.  However, there is reason to hope the two threads will come together in an interesting way since this episode shares the same writer / director team from The Window.  The two men struggle, but Alden has a heart condition that impedes him.  He collapses into the lap of the giant plant.  It closes its branches around him.  He escapes but smiles.  Hmmmmm.

The next day, Alden slaps a lock on the lab.  He tells Merriman to be on the next cargo ship out and his insubordination means he will never mope in his chosen field again.  Merriman suddenly changes his attitude.

M: If I give you the letter back, will you forget about all this?

A: (Laughing) No, you keep the letter.  It’s yours. That letter is your property, not mine.  (Laughing) You paid for it.  It’s legally yours.

Alden continues feeding the carnivorous plant larger and larger meals.  Finally, it gets so big that he decides to name it.  He decides on Emily after his “beautiful, captivating, wantonly cruel” estranged wife.  Hey, maybe that’s who the letter is from.  Even better, maybe it contains some candid photographs.

Alden goes to Merriman and says he has decided to give him another chance.  Merriman senses he has the upper hand and tells the doctor that returning to the US sounds pretty good to him.  Alden demands the letter, bit Merriman reminds him of his earlier words.  Alden’s heart starts acting up gain.  He begs Merriman to at least tell him if the letter is from Emily.  Merriman claims to have not read the letter yet.  “Maybe tomorrow. It just takes patience.”  Alden walks away clutching his literal and figurative broken heart as Merriman laughs.

Well, you can kind of figure what happens even if you didn’t see it coming when the plant first groped Alden . . . or when you first saw the man-sized carnivorous plant . . . or when you saw the first, baby-sized carnivorous plant . . . or when you saw the title of the episode.

The team of director Don Medford and writer Frank De Felitta from last week again elevate the series.  The wacky premise of last week couldn’t be matched.  They do, however, inject more imagination into the episode than we usually see.  A typical Tales of Tomorrow script is single-minded, and barely that.  There is no room for nuance, misdirection, or twist endings.  I think in the hands of most of the ToT staff, the story would have ended with the plant eating Merriman.  This team had the wit to also bump off Alden.  That is not so extraordinary, but they also provide both a twist and a motive in the mystery letter.  Even the simple act of fore-shadowing Alden’s heart problem seems Shakespearean in this series.

Of course, it is still objectively terrible.  However, it is such an improvement over their usual productions, that I have to give it some credit.

Other Stuff:

  • Don Hanmer had some excruciating early scenes as Merriman.  He plays cockiness much more effectively than boredom.
  • Maybe he was just pissed that they misspelled his name in the credits.  But, really — Hanmer?
  • I wonder if his character’s name was ironic, because “he was not a Merry Man.”

Outer Limits – To Tell the Truth (04/24/98)

Dr. Larry Chambers and Miss Amanda Harper — because who would believe a woman scientist? — are watching a storm and solar flares wreaking havoc on the colony.  The green-screen is just terrible, it does not appear real at all, totally unbelievable!  The fusion plant explodes, and there is massive destruction.  Chambers freezes the picture — it is a simulation.  Oh, in that case it is the best simulation ever, totally believable!  Unfortunately, his simulation has determined that this destruction will occur in mere days — although, since this is not earth, who knows how long that is?

Amanda’s father Ian is a councilman — because who would believe a woman councilman, or even a councilwoman?  He is skeptical of Chambers’ prediction of doom because he cried wolf once before.  Five years earlier, as the colony was 40% complete, he insisted that it be relocated because a nearby volcano was going to blow.

With timing better than a Swiss watch, Chambers’ neighbor Fenton stops by to remind Chambers that his wife fled the planet with their kids after his first prediction.  The angry, beady-eyed man doesn’t mention why they never came back to him, though.  I don’t think Chambers is to blame on that point.  After this perfectly pooped choad [1] of exposition, he unceremoniously exits.  Ian says that is the kind of reception his new theory will receive.

Later, Amanda admits her father might have a point — the doomsday scenario only occurred in 2 of 46 simulations.  Yeah, but the last time was after Chambers added new data to the model.  And here’s an idea — if the future of the freakin’ planet is at stake, maybe keep running simulations.  I’m willing to authorize some OT for this.

As further evidence, he shows her an alien (i.e. indigenous) skeleton he looted from a reservation.  They were shape-shifters.  Somehow he also looted a rock wall with petroglyphs that seem to confirm his theory.  As they are talking, Chief Bennett walks in.  Dude, you have a door!  I see it right there in the shot!

Chambers goes to see head councilman Murdoch, and if there was ever a trustworthy character named Murdoch on TV, I missed it. [2]  Chambers suggests they evacuate the planet or take some core samples to maybe, ya know, check out this potential world-wide Armageddon.  Murdoch thinks he subconsciously wants to sabotage the colony because his wife died of cancer there, far from the facilities on earth that could have helped her.

Chambers goes back home.  He finds Fenton there lounging in his living room.  Ian walks in and runs Fenton out.  Seconds later, Amanda walks in.  Seriously, does this guy not get the whole door concept?  It’s right there and says “Chambers Quarters”!   BTW, a much better episode could have been filmed in “Quarters Chambers”.  He tries unsuccessfully to convince the colony of the danger.

The next day, Ian, Fenton, Bennett and Murdoch open his door and walk right in.  So he has figured out the door, but not mastered the lock yet.  Fenton saw an alien leaving Chambers home.  Murdoch concludes Chambers must be a shape-shifting alien, overlooking the fact that every f***ing bi-ped in this colony seems to waltz in and out of Chambers front door whether he is there or not.  He forces Chambers to take a DNA test which reveals him to be an alien.  He is hauled off to jail.

Ian and Amanda break Chambers out of jail after determining that the first DNA test was rigged.  Blah blah, there are twists and turns but it was hard for me to get invested.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Apparently I’ve had the meaning of this word wrong all my life.  I kind of like my definition better, though.
  • [2] OK, I just thought of The A-Team.