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.

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.