Outer Limits – Relativity Theory (02/27/98)

Woohoo!  The crew of the USS Something has reached Tau Gamma Prime!  It is “an unspoiled planet with no signs of intelligent life,” a condition which will not change after their landing.

Xeno-biologist Teresa Janowitz explains the plants look similar to earth’s “because they’re based on photosynthesis.  You get the same amount of sunlight on the same-sized planet, survival of the fittest will give you the same types of trees.”  See paragraph one.

They land the ship on the planet which, like every planet in SF, has 2 moons. [1] It is full of resources that will make the team rich.  “The earth is almost out of resources.  No one’s found a new titanium deposit in years.  Petroleum’s just a memory” and Al Gore is still saying we have just 10 more years until it’s too late.

Perimeter weapon in action.

They’re enjoying a nice day in the woods until Corporal Judith Mason gets hauled up in a spring trap and killed.  This isn’t good news for the crew as they have lost a friend,  it leaves them short-handed, it is evidence of an aggressive native population, and it leaves one woman alone on the planet with four dudes four dudes on a planet with one woman.

That night, they are attacked again and another crew-member is killed. They high-tail it back to the ship. Once safely inside, they “activate perimeter weapons” which mostly just seem to fire 45 degrees straight down into the ground.

The next day they suit up in armor and arm themselves.  They need to clear out the locals so they can survey the planet and collect their commissions.  They follow a trail of snot blood until it leads them to some bleepin’ dead aliens.  They kill off some other aliens later and recover a mysterious object.  It really feels like they were padding out the story.

In fact, yada yada to the rest of it.  It was a fine episode, but not worth recapping every beat.  The object turned out to be a beacon.  The aliens they killed were basically children on a camping trip.  The aliens tap into the ship’s computers and locate earth.  Like the aliens in Trial by Fire, they decide the appropriate response to a few inadvertent deaths is to destroy the earth.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] Would also have accepted two suns.
  • Title Analysis: Seems pretty random.
  • Director Ken Girotti has had a huge career, so who am I to criticize?  OK, he did seem to be way too in love with close-ups in this episode.  Luckily, Melissa Gilbert made this very tolerable.

 

 

 

 

The Hitchhiker – Man at the Window (03/12/85)

Dude, that ain’t a Segway. Take it out on the street.

Arthur Brown is covertly aiming his Popeil Pocket Parabolic microphone at people on the street.  And by covertly, I mean dressed in leather, reclining like Rose being sketched by Jack in Titanic, his motorcycle parked beside him apparently having been driven up onto the walkway.

He hears an old man complaining about being an old man, and he hears a young woman with a black eye talking on the phone about having an affair.  Quite reasonably, he follows the woman.  The titular hitchhiker tells us, “Arthur Bradley Brown steals the words of others and uses them like they were his own” — just like Amy Schumer.

Arthur slowrides, following the woman as she walks to the studio of her lover.  He leaves his bike parked perpendicular to the curb, and sneaks up the fire escape.  He finds her window, and watches her.  So in the first three minutes, he is eaves-dropping, endangering pedestrians, holding up traffic, stalking, blocking the road, trespassing, and Peeping Tomming.  Ladies and gentleman, our protagonist.

Arthur had wisely called before midnight to get the free suction cup attachment for the microphone, which he sticks to her window. Turns out the woman, Diane, is having the affair with another woman, Carla Magnuson.  She makes excuses for her husband and the black eye he gave her.

That night, Arthur goes to Diane’s house and snoops outside her window for a while.  She assures her husband she was just in the city window-shopping, and that there is no one else.  They start making out, which is fine, but I think this scene could have been accomplished without seeing Michael Madsen’s butt.

Arthur is a writer.  He transcribes the scenes he has witnessed into a screenplay and takes it to his agent.  He had been a hot new talent at one time, but the drugs derailed him.  His agent is glad to see he is better than ever.  He has a few suggestions, though.  Apparently, his agent also represents Stephen King — his editing advice is: don’t cut anything, more more more!  He wants to add a scene — inexplicably not a further exploration of the lesbian affair — but of the husband finding out.

At home, stuck for a 3rd Act, Arthur calls Diane’s house to instigate trouble.  Her husband John answers, and Arthur says he is her boyfriend.  John says, “I’m her husband, you son of a bitch.”  The next day, the scamp sends flowers to Diane with a card that says, “To my best girlfriend.”  She wisely tells the delivery boy to take them away before she gets another shiner.

Diane storms into Carla’s gallery and accuses her of making the call and sending the flowers.  The flowers, I get, but why does she think Carla made the call.  Wouldn’t her husband have said a man called, or your boyfriend called?  Arthur is eavesdropping again, this time with a camera.  He takes a picture of Carla giving Diane a back-rub next to a gigantic nude photo of her.  Because, if you’re having an affair with the wife of an abusive psychopath, ya really want to prop the super-sized evidence up in front of a window that doesn’t even have curtains.

Arthur goes to Diane’s house, and this time breaks in.  He installs a bug on her phone and leaves a picture of Diane’s nude photo in their living room.  Finding this, her husband, predictably, starts slapping her around.  Arthur actually feels a little remorse when he overhears this.

The husband — Michael Madsen, playing his usual role of a muscle-head who is not particularly muscular — is a cop.  He detects a signature on the nude in the photo. In a nice bit of exposition, he calls a buddy on the force to get a number for a photographer named Magnuson.  This allows Arthur to overhear the address.  In the bedroom, Diane has picked up the extension, so she also knows where her husband is heading.

All three take off separately for Carla’s studio like the opening of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  The husband wants to kill “the guy”, Diane wants to warn her lover, and Arthur is thinking if he saves Carla’s life she will so grateful they will have a three-way.  Arthur gets there first and tries to warn Carla that John is on the way over with a gun.  Diane arrives next.

Diane:  John’s coming.

Carla:  That’s what he said.

Hee-hee.  Both women are baffled who Arthur is and why he is there.  John finally arrives and Carla breaks a perfectly good whiskey bottle over his head.  When the cops show up, they inexplicably shoot Arthur who is just standing there with his hands up.

This one grew on me as I thought more about it.  The story could hardly be simpler.  Maybe the lesbian love affair was a shocker in 1985, but it can’t support a whole story in 2017; at least not without significant nudity.  The direction called attention to itself a couple of times, but that’s OK.  Some of the shots such as through the fire escape (pictured above) and Arthur’s motorcycle riding were stylishly designed.  Performances were competent.

Maybe it is grading on a curve, but an OK episode.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – The Blessington Method (11/15/59)

In one of the great opening scenes of the series, JJ Bunce (Dick York) is sitting on a pier.  OK, it doesn’t sound like much so far, but stick with me.  An elderly fisherman approaches and says York is in his spot.  York is an affable guy, so scoots to the side so the 93 year old can sit.  York helps him out by pointing out a big fish.  The old man leans over the water to check it out.  York pushes him into the water.  Maybe he had a cement hip because he sinks like a stone.

Dick York was ludacris playing a thug in Vicious Circle.  However, in The Dusty Drawer, he seemed to find his niche.  He is a smiling sociopath who has no problem ruining or ending people’s lives if it fits his idea of justice or commerce.  Or maybe he’s just smiling because he knows he will be playing Elizabeth Montgomery’s husband in a few years.

Bunce walks into the offices of uber that-guy Henry Jones[1] This being the exotic future year of 1980, we get a couple of bits of business that aren’t all that far-fetched.  Bunce introduces himself as being from the Society for Experimental Gerology.  He seems to know every detail of Jones’ life including that he fell madly for Adlai, and has a shrill 82 year old harridan living with him.[2]  Even worse, Bunce’s statistics show that with 1980s medical advances, the old shrew [3] — his mother-in-law — could live another 32 years.  Bunce suggests he could make the problem go away.  Jones is outraged and throws him out of his office.

After an awful evening at home with his mother-in-law, Jones strides purposefully into his office the next morning.  Bunce is waiting for him. He has a plan to knock off the old woman for the low, low price of $2,000 with insanely low APR.  He is instructed to leave his mother-in-law for a nice day in the park.  Bunce finds her there in her wheel-chair.  After a brief conversation about how the old have an obligation to make way for the young — hint, hint, Bill & Hillary — he wheels her right off the pier.  Bravo!

Bunce finds Jones fishing in a transparent row-boat.  Whether that was a past thing or a future thing, I don’t know.  Bunce gives him the good news.  However, he suggests that some day Jones might have a “strapping young son-in-law” who will find him a burden.  On the other hand, his daughter will finally be somebody else’s problem. [5]

If I ever used the word delightful, I would use it for this episode.  It has great performances from Jones and York.  York goes a little overboard with the fluttering eyelashes, but I just take that like Norman Bates’ manic twitchiness.  The peeks into the future aren’t particularly prescient, but are pretty amusing and well sprinkled through-out the episode without being jarring.  Finally, the callous murders of the old people are so over-the-top that they are just a hoot.

The minorest of minor issues:  Jones realizes that he might face this same treatment from his kids.  Yeah, but in 30-40 years, so I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.[4]

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I guess this is the new Uber that-guy.
  • [2] Well, I threw in the Madly/Adlai part because I liked the sound of it; and being embarrassed about your vote is one thing all Americas can share.
  • [3] The shrew seems fairly amiable as rodents go; it’s not really even a rodent.  How did they become synonymous with nasty women?
  • [4] Actually, part of his response — and it is well-handled — is a new self-awareness.  He is suddenly aware that his smiling, loving kids might some day have him killed.  He was once that respectful younger person, and realizes what an ingrate he has become.
  • [5] His teenage daughter is 29 and living at home.  At least they got that prediction right.
  • Saying grace before dinner, Jones says, “Our father, who art in space.”
  • AHP Deathwatch:  Nancy Kilgas is still hanging in there.  Of more interest is Elizabeth Patterson who was born just 10 years after the Civil War.

Twilight Zone – The Convict’s Piano (12/11/86)

Ricky Frost is minding his own business tapping out a tune on the table as if he were playing a piano.  Unfortunately, he is in prison where that translates as “break my fingers, please” with an encore of “thank you sir, may I have another.”  A fight breaks out nearby and Ricky stupidly tries to help a friend.

He gets a minor wound in the hand that is a little baffling.  As a pianist, his hands are his life.  Yet, at no point is he overly concerned about this wound to his hand.  There is no suggestion that this could end his piano playing days.  Given that, why was the wound even written to be on his hand?

The doctor worries that Ricky is not fitting in.  He has pissed off the white gang, and “even though you play like Ray Charles, you hardly qualify for the black gang.”  Ricky refuses to stand by while others get knifed.  The wound gets him a cushy work detail.

It was 90 years ago today . . .

He is handed off to a grossly miscast Norman Fell as Eddie O’Hara.  Maybe having been there 50 years, you get special privileges.  He has a hat, smokes a cigar and is wearing a vest even though the last thing I would want to be in prison is a dandy.

Eddie: You’re the piano player.  Knocked off your girlfriend.

Ricky:  She was my former girlfriend.  They found her in a car that had been stolen from me but I couldn’t prove any of that.

That exchange bugged me, but it’s not worth dissecting.  The bishop is coming to the prison, and O’Hara wonders if Ricky can play Ave Maria on an old piano they have in the attic.  It was a gift from O’Hara’s old pal Micky O’Shaughnessy around the time he disappeared, back when major appliances were allowed as gifts in prison.  And there’s nothing guards encourage more than a huge supply of unguarded piano wire in prison.

Ricky opens up the keyboard.  He finds sheet music for The Maple Leaf Rag in his stool — heehee!  As he begins playing, he is transported back to 1899.  He is a member of a band dressed like Sgt. Pepper playing a concert in a park.  When he stops playing for a second, he is transported back to the prison attic.  Later in the yard, he asks O’Hara how to avoid trouble.

Ricky: How do you get along in here?

O’Hara:  I believe in the 11th command-ment.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . but do it unto them first!

This sounds clever, but makes no sense in multiple ways.  Again, let’s just move on.  The next time Ricky is able to get to the piano, he plays the WWI song Over There.  He is transported back to a bar in 1917 where dough-boys are waiting to ship out.  He pockets a box of matches and manages to sip a beer while playing with one hand.  When he removes both hands from the keyboard, he re-materializes back in prison.

While the doctor is removing the stitches from his hand, Ricky tells him about the piano.  The doctor, understandably, is dubious.  However:

Dr. Puckett:  If I were smart, would I be working here?

Bloody hell!  You’re a doctor!  OK, you’re not doing cancer research, but you earned a medical degree!  Maybe it’s time to point out this teleplay is from a writer with only one other credit on IMDb — another TZ segment which did not interest me enough to post about.

Apparently Ricky has freer run of the prison than Michael Scofield, because he is soon back in the attic with the piano.  Today’s selection is Someone to Watch Over Me (1928). [1]  O’Hara comes and Ricky asks him if he would like to go back to face O’Shaughnessy.  He proves it is possible by showing him the box of matches he pocketed.  He says, “I was there yesterday, the Shamrock Club in Chicago.”

What the hell?  He got those matches when he transported to the WWI bar.  One of the soldiers referred to being from 103rd street which sounds a lot more like New York than Chicago.  He offers to take O’Hara with him, but ends up being transported by himself.

O’Shaughnessy is critical of Ricky’s ivory tickling skillz.  He’s not crazy about the piano, either.  He orders a lackey to send it to young O’Hara at the state pen.  Then he sits beside Ricky and takes over the piano playing.  Since there was never a break of hands on the keyboard, O’Shaughnessy is now the driver and Ricky does not fade away.  Once O’Shaughnessy quits playing, he transports to the prison where old O’Hara punches him out for framing him and stealing his gal.  Ricky is a free man, and goes on to tickle the ivories of O’Shaughnessy’s flapper gal. [2]

Despite some gaps in math, dialogue, casting, and logic, this is a winner.  It takes a simple, high concept story and plays it out with justice being meted out all around.  Joe Penny has had a huge career, but he seems like such a natural talent, I’m surprised he wasn’t in more prestigious shows and movies.  Even though I felt Norman Fell was miscast as O’Hara, he’s still Norman Fell and that counts for something.  Another great asset is that, since this episode centered on certain songs, there was less opportunity for the awful TZ scoring to ruin the episode.

This is never going to be considered a classic, but it would have been a worthy episode on the classic 1960s series.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] The sheet music for Someone to Watch Over Me says 1928.  Since it was written in 1926, I take it we are to believe 1928 is the date Ricky goes to.
  • O’Hara has been in jail for 50 years, or since 1936.  So how did O’Shaughnessy send him the piano at the prison 8 years before he got there?
  • [2] By ivories, I mean boobs.  Just to be clear, boobs.  Under the B, boobs.  Which probably didn’t get much sunlight.  So, ivory-like.
  • [2] So this girl ended up banging all 3 guys.  Flapper, indeed.
  • Thank God for CTL-F or O’Shaughnessy would never have been mentioned by name.
  • I would encourage people to click the Maple Leaf Rag link above because it is very entertaining.  Here is a more convenient link, but to be honest, it is to pictures of Emily Ratajkowski.

The House of Kaa – Richard Sale (1934)

Jack Kirk is walking down the street and kind of has the willies.  He slips into a place even more willie-inducing, Gorgan & Wilkins Reptile Importers.  He finds the eponymously-named Gorgan and the eponymously-named Wilkins and the just-plain-weirdly-named-for-a-dude-from-India, Wentworth Lane.

Lane feels he is drawing suspicion because he only exports Regal Pythons.  He is ready to quit because he has heard The Cobra is in town.  Just to make things confusing, The Cobra is a self-appointed superhero who kills bad guys with darts containing cobra venom. Gorgan shoots Lane for his disloyalty.

Kirk is ordered to dispose of the body, so drives it out to Yorkshire.  He is followed by a black sedan driven by Deen Bradley of the Bombay Department of Justice.  These are the worst-named Indian characters in literary history.  He handled the car with dexterity, never shifting his cobra eyes (!) from the red tail light of the cadaver car before him.

The American suddenly saw the brake-light of the other machine flare into being.  Kirk slowed momentarily and as he did so, a limp bundle tumbled lifelessly from the car.

Wait, what?  Isn’t the American Kirk, who is in front of the Indian?  How did he see the tail-light of the car behind him?  Why would the 2nd car even apply the brakes?  Anyway, Bradley picks up Lane’s only-mostly-dead body and takes him to the hospital.

Lane is near death with 3 slugs in him.  The doctors inject him with Adrenalin.  He recognizes Bradley as The Cobra.  He only manages to say, “Code word Pythons . . . House of Kaa” before croaking.  That night the police find the cadaver of Jack Kirk. Protruding from his neck is a small dart.

At Scotland Yard, Inspector Ryder suggests to Commissioner Marshall that they not look too hard for The Cobra.  Kirk was a known thug.  The Cobra had cleaned up the streets in a way the police couldn’t.  Marshall admonishes him that they are a nation of laws, that vigilantism often gets the wrong people killed, that The Cobra must receive a fair trial before a jury of his peers.  No, wait — he says to drop the investigation.

Marshall and Ryder are visited by Bradley.  The author refers to Bradley as an American, so I guess the excerpted passage above makes sense after all.  Although, I have to wonder why an American is working for the Bombay Police Department if this is not a sitcom.  A colonial Brit, I might buy.  In fact, I guess Lane is not an Indian either, but just a Brit posted in India.  Are there actually any Indians in India?  I keep hearing big talk about a billion people, but they all seem to be Anglos.

Bradley says there have been a series of jewel thefts in Bombay.  Most notorious is the Kubij Opal belonging to Rajah Sarankh.  Bradley is investigating how these jewels are getting into London past the watchful scrutiny of your Revenue Officers.  I like how the real crime is that the government might not be getting their cut.

The officers deduce that Gorgan & Wilkins Reptile Importers are the center of the smuggling operation.  They hide jewels in food and feed them to the snakes.  By the time the snakes poop them out, they have arrived in England.

Bradley next visits Gorgan & Wilkins Reptile Importers.  He tells them he followed Lane’s work in Bombay and wants to be part of the organization.  When challenged, he even gives the password, Home of Kaa.  Actually, Lane said House of Kaa.  This story is 80 freakin’ years old — no one ever thought to correct that?

They figure out that Bradley is the “Yank dick” — hehe, yank dick — that Lane had warned them was hanging around the office in Bombay.  They decide to send him downstairs to be fed to the 30 foot python.  There is a pretty nifty fight in the snake pit and justice prevails . . . unless you are a 30 foot python just doing what comes naturally — then you get a bullet in the noggin.

It is a pretty slight story, but well-told.  The fight in the snake room is really the only reason for the story, but that’s enough.

Other Stuff:

  • First published in the February 1934 issue of Ten Detective Aces.  Also that month: Tina Louise is born; her first words were bitching about Gilligan’s Island.
  • Kindle gets the title wrong as House of Raa.
  • Kaa means “possession” in Hindi, but c’mon, this had to be a Jungle Book homage.