Twilight Zone – Profile in Silver (03/07/86)

Professor Joseph Fitzgerald wraps up his Wednesday Harvard Economics lecture by saying. “We’ll pick this up on Monday.”  So the Harvard Economics class-week is only 3 days?  That would explain a lot.  I know the day of the week because it is November 21, 1963.

One of his students mentions he will be writing a paper about President Kennedy’s speech at the Trade Mart the next day.  In the incredibly unlikely event that the speech doesn’t occur, he wisely has a sure-fire backup plan to interview Aldous Huxley that afternoon.  Back in his office, Fitzgerald empties his pocket of some trash, a piece of gum and a 1964 dollar coin bearing Kennedy’s profile.  He draws the curtains and a colleague from the future, Dr. Kate Wange, materializes.  It is not a formal status report. She just wants to know how he is doing.

Fitzgerald is upset that he must be so detached from everyone here.  He is especially troubled that he has spent the last three years studying Kennedy but hardly got to know him as a man — maybe they should have sent Kate instead.  Now his assignment is ending and he will be forced to watch the assassination.  She busts him for violating the rules by carrying the coin, but wishes him well on his trip to Dallas.

Fitzgerald transports 3,000 miles to Dealy Plaza just as Kennedy’s motorcade makes the turn.  I guess he transported ahead a day to the 22nd also, but that isn’t mentioned. He raises a camera that puts Abraham Zapruder’s to shame and films the cars.  He pans up the schoolbook suppository building and sees Oswald.  He just can’t let history play out as it had before.  He shouts a warning, Kennedy ducks, Oswald misses, and Jackie gets to wear that snappy pink dress another day.  Most injured in this new timeline:  Aristotle Onassis.

The Secret Service detains Fitzgerald, but quickly determine he is “an upstanding citizen.”  He’s from Harvard, after all, and knows Robert MacNamara.  He is taken to Love Field to meet Kennedy who was disappointed to find out it was an airport.  They have to make a quick exit as tornadoes are bearing down on them — wait, what? Fitzgerald is invited to fly back to DC on Air Force One.

Fitzgerald learns that his disruption of the timeline caused the tornadoes, and now the Russkis have captured West Berlin, and Khrushchev was assassinated.  He determines that his shenanigans will inevitably lead to a nuclear holocaust.  He reluctantly admits to JFK that he is from 200 years in the future, and shows a holographic film of the assassination as it really happened.  JFK realizes he must go back and take the bullet in order for the world to survive.

Hologram: Still more solid than Oliver Stone’s version.

Fitzgerald manages to save the world and JFK and not blow the timeline.  There is another fun wrinkle but why give away everything.  Well-played!

Andrew Robinson does an amazing job as JFK in every facet that he has control over — the accent, the inflections, the mannerisms.  Unfortunately he does not bear the slightest resemblance to JFK — and has his own very distinct look — so his performance, though excellent, is a little jarring.  Enormous credit must also be given to the script by J. Neil Schulman which must serve multiple functions; not only the premise, but the dialogue that drives it, the political discussions, and having the words tailored to be absolutely believable coming out of JFK’s mouth — all amazing.  Maybe it is an idealized version of Kennedy, but that’s OK.

At the risk of gushing a little, the set design and production are also phenomenal. Jackie didn’t really have anything to do but was perfectly placed and costumed.  Dealy Plaza and the assassination were cut together — I assume — with footage from another production, but it flowed beautifully.  Even the White House, seen in hundreds of movies, felt more real than ever, down to JFK’s rocking chair in the Oval Office.

The best TZ segment so far.

Post-Post:

  • Classic TZ Legacy:  In Back There, a man goes back in time to save Lincoln.  In No Time Like the Past, a man goes back in time to save Garfield.  Where’s the love for McKinley?  Also, Barbara Baxley (Wange) was in Mute.
  • Title Analysis:  I’m not thrilled with this one aspect of the segment.  I get that it is a reference to Profiles in Courage, and to his profile on the dollar.  But then, Profile in Coinage would have been much worse, so maybe it’s OK.
  • Chappaquiddick!  Whew, been holding that in for 30 minutes with nowhere to use it.

The City of Hell! – Leslie T. White (1933)

The piercing screams of a woman filled the awed hollow of silence left void by the chatter of a sub-machine-gun and acted as a magnet of sound to suck the big squad car to the scene.

That opening sentence had me diving for cover —  I mean the cover of the Cliffs Notes version.
Fortunately, things took a turn for the much better, although not immediately:

Even before the police driver braked the hurtling machine to a full stop, Duane and Barnaby debouched from the tonneau.

Did what from the what now?  From this point, things get more serious as a child has been killed with three slugs in the back from a drive-by shooting.  Just to keep the reader on his toes, Barnaby and Duane are the last names of the detectives.

The boy’s mother is not comforted by the presence of the police.  She shrieks, “You’re just like the gangsters wat [sic] kill my baby!  You know who did it, but you won’t do nothin’!”  Sadly, Barnaby and Duane know she is right to feel that way.  It was probably Krako’s boys hitting one of Okmyx’s men, but nobody saw nothing and they are all politically protected.  Even if they were hauled in, they would never be convicted.

It’s worth a shot, though.  They see Boss Ritter in his car and pull him over.  He is packing a .38, but has a permit all nice and legal.  They search his car without a warrant which is not so legal.  Ritter is utterly shocked when Barnaby punches him out and arrests him.  By the time they get to the police station, his lawyer is waiting to spring him.

This gets Police Chief Grogan’s goat and he chews Barnaby out for slugging Ritter, illegally searching the car, and hauling him in with no evidence.  He is busted down to a uniformed beat cop.  He tells off the corrupt Grogan and quits.

Later at Duane’s house, Barnaby and Duane are joined by two fellow cops.  The four men decide to establish an alternate legal system.  Not as vigilantes, but as private citizens operating by the rule of justice rather than the rule of law.  So, yeah, vigilantes.

Their first target is “Big Dutch” Ritter whom they haul out of La Parisienne Cafe before his companions see how he got his nickname.  Ritter knows that a squad car ride downtown ends at the police station, which is no problem.  He is a little concerned, though, that this time he has been thrown in the back of a private sedan, and the driver has an Uber rating with fewer stars than Batman v Superman.  Barnaby tells Ritter they are working for a different police force now — from the City of Hell!

Ritter is hauled subterranean to their HQ in an abandoned sewer line.  They say it is appropriate because it was built due to graft and is unusable.  Crooked lawyers in the above-ground court-rooms can’t save him now.  They have set up a whole judicial system down there including a judge, lawyer, clerk, grand jury etc that they have abducted into service as apparently kidnapping is not considered a crime in the City of Hell.

After a brief reign of terror justice, our boys clean up the streets, the police department, and hopefully that septic tank they are operating out of.  Of course there will be no repercussions for their unconstitutional shenanigans — having driven the old gang of corrupt bureaucrats out of their jobs, the City of Hell gang will assume those positions and keep their brothers out of jail.  The cycle continues.

Maybe my favorite story of the collection so far.  Who doesn’t love vigilantes?  Until they usually end up killing the wrong person, I mean.

Post-Post:

  • First published in Black Mask in November 1933.
  • Also that month:  Duck Soup released.

Science Fiction Theatre – The Strange Doctor Lorenz (07/09/55)

I know, you’re thinking he is strange because he went into proctology. Those guys must have hookers in their booth at doctor career day.  But no.

Nurse Helen enters and the overbearing music tells us she is concerned for Dr. Garner’s heath, that he works too hard and has no life, that there are unrequited feelings, that the composer had a few too many at lunch.

While Garner peers into his microscope, Helen goes behind a screen and changes clothes.  When she comes out, she catches him fingering his prick.  No wait, he is pricking his finger — and finding it numb.  He says he is afraid he will “lose the use of the finger, then the finger itself, then the next one, then the next one, then the hand, then both hands.” He says he can’t marry her in his condition.  She insists she loves him and maybe there will be a cure.

Dr. Garner gets a call from a woman whose son was burned and makes a house-call. Maybe this episode should have been called The Strange Dr. Garner.  When he and Helen arrive, they see the boy’s wounds have already been treated by a friend of the local handyman who lives in the swamp.  Despite suffering serious burns that afternoon, the boy is completely healed.

The handyman gives them directions to Dr. Lorenzo’s house in the swamp.  Lorenz tells them he is a doctor, but of Chemistry.  He takes a sip of the honey-concoction he was been working on and pronounces it, perfection!”  That’s nice, but then he offers the same spoon to Helen for a taste.  Then Garner uses the same spoon.

Garner asks Lorenz about the boy’s “3rd degree burns over an area 1/3 the body . . . healed almost completely in 3 hours” making me suspect the free-masons were behind this episode.  Lorenz abruptly leaves the room and goes upstairs to sleep.  His servant — hey, TV’s Fred Ziffel [1] again! — tells them there are rooms prepared for them.  Rooms, so don’t even think about it.

The next morning, Helen goes to Garner’s room and wakes him up.  He has apparently slept in his suit and tie, and on top of the bedspread.  He washes his hands and discovers the numbness in his hands is gone.  Just that spoonful of honey he had the previous day cured him.

Lorenz tells them he has mastered communication with our Apian-American friends.  Garner tells Lorenz, “The whole world will be grateful when news of your discovery is made public.  With the facilities of a big pharmaceutical company, production can be stepped up.  Every man, woman and child will have access to your curative.”  Let’s do the math . . . some bees, they make the honey.  $750 a pop sounds about right.

Sadly, Lorenz says that is not possible, and once again abruptly leaves.  That night, the handyman breaks in to get his hands on that sweet honey.  He doesn’t spot Helen, though, so instead looks for the miracle bee-juice.  Lorenz catches him, but refuses to give him the potion because his ailment — a stiff knee — is not serious enough.  When the handyman pushes him aside, Lorenz unleashes some bees on him.

While patching up Lorenz, Garner asks why he didn’t just let the man have a swig.  Oh yeah, there is one side-effect:  If you have been cured using the elixir, a mere bee sting will kill you.  That’s why he only administers it to “those who would have surely died without it.”  Er, like the kid with the burns?  Or Garner with the numb hands?  Actually this only results from prolonged use of the drug.  Garner’s numbness is even starting to return. [2]

Just as in The Brain of John Emerson, the elderly Lorenz dumps this obligation on Garner.  Just as in Conversation with an Ape, Garner says he can’t expect a hottie like Helen to move to the swamp.  She overhears and promises to move to the swamp and support his experiments, but if things get too tough, she might hide his OFF.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Not actually much Fred Ziffel in that clip, but I did enjoy it.
  • [2] Lorenz does mention that he will give the burned kid a regular supply.

Outer Limits – Dead Man’s Switch (04/04/97)

Now this is how you start an episode!  A helicopter comes in low over a snowy landscape, approaching a small government (?) installation. Just like The Thing, only better — no one is shooting at a dog.[3]

The helicopter lands and two men go through a blast door which houses an elevator.  As they go down, Lt. Ben Conklin remarks on how deep the bunker is.  General Eiger is surprised at first, but says, “That’s right; I keep forgetting you are a last-minute replacement for Samuelson.”  So we are to believe that Ben is trusted with the fate of the planet, in a project managed by the general, where Ben is the sole US employee . . . and the general can’t be troubled to keep the names of his army-of-one straight?  I didn’t need the (?) above — it’s a government installation alright.

The elevator stops at 11,000 feet, paradoxically the site of a Strategic Air Command [1] control room. Eiger tells him the elevator doors will be welded shut, but that he will have food and air to last a year.  He shows Ben the reason for this project — photos taken of an alien armada heading toward earth.  It has not yet been determined whether they are hostile or friendly.  There is a distinct Trial by Fire vibe, and that is a good start.

Eiger tells Ben, “This bunker is a doomsday device, able to annihilate the entire planet.” There is a red button which is the titular dead man’s switch.  If Ben fails to press the button after an alarm, the world will be destroyed.  His food and air will run out after a year.  If he has not been relieved by that time, he will die, the button will not be pushed, and the earth will be destroyed to save it from the aliens.

Some time later, Eiger contacts Ben by video phone and has him test the equipment.  There is a retinal scanner and palm print analyzer so that none of the other zero people welded into the top-secret, 2-mile deep bunker at the South Pole will try to destroy the earth.  But better safe than sorry — however, it might have been a morale-builder to assign him a code name more optimistic than DeadMan1.  Even more depressing, the scanner says, “Authorized: Dead Man” confirming his likely fate and not even getting his code name right.

Day 1

On monitors, Ben sees the four other people sharing his job.  Donald in South Africa, Gwen in Australia, Hong in Asia, and over on the Spice Channel, Katya the hot commie.[2]  After their first hellos, a loud alarm blares telling them they have 30 seconds to respond.  Ben hits the button first and the earth is saved.

Day 12

They discover that all have spent time in isolation which prepared them for this task. Donald was a political prisoner, Ben and Katya were in missile silos, and Hong has been alone mostly because he’s an asshole.[4]  Gwen is more of a watcher than a do-er.

Eiger comes on their monitors.  Earth has begun communicating with the aliens.  They say they are on a scientific expedition, but Eiger believes the large ships are full of colonists.  I’m surprised the producers didn’t emphasize this by having the American member of this project be Native American.  But then they would have had to cast a Native American, and how often does that happen?

Day 70

Nothing important happened today.

Day 102

Ben has a very good dream, then a very bad dream, but both were pretty great.

The alarm sounds again.  Katya is busy on a treadmill and wearing a black sports bra so can’t be troubled to save the world (but is making it a better place).  Donald and Gwen are off-line.  Hong gets to his button first, but it doesn’t stop the alarm.  Ben is able to stop it.  USA!  USA! Hong opens the control panel to see if he can repair his button, and his monitor goes out.

Day 134

After a month, Hong comes back on line and Eiger checks in.  The aliens have passed Mars.

Day 229-304

The aliens have arrived.  Unfortunately, the lowest-bid contractors got there first.  Hong overloads his bunker by using a short-wave radio.  The ventilation system goes haywire and he dies.  Donald freezes to death in Africa.  The aliens break into Gwen’s bunker and kill her.

Day 367

After Katya dies, Ben and I have no reason to go on.  The alarm sounds.  With his life support systems failing, his team dead, rescue overdue and no contact from Eiger, he does not push the button.  At the last second, Eiger comes on the monitor, and Ben pushes the button.  Eiger says humanity took staggering losses, but has prevailed.  He was incommunicado because “the leadership was in hiding” which sounds about right. But all is not as it seems — there is a nice wrap-up that I won’t spoil.

The suspense was not as relentless as Trial by Fire.  Here there were several scenes of a long distance romance between Ben and Katya to break the tension.  Unfortunately, some of this was just padding to reach 45 minutes for syndication.  However, there was a great 35 minute episode here, and that’s good enough.

I rate it 8.5 Cloverfield Lane.

Post-Post:

  • [1] The seal says it is the United Nations Strategic Air Command, not United States.
  • [2] This might actually be her role.  Gwen is a clinical psychologist, Hong is an electrical engineer, and Donald is a priest.  Katya is a soldier, but has no unique skills other than full, luscious lips and a smokin’ body.  But then, Ben has no special skills either; well, I guess Gwen and the priest need some eye-candy too.
  • [3] IMDb trivia says this “appears to be stock footage from The Thing”.  Thanks for nailing that down.  To their credit, they did update “MacReady . . . appears to be Jerry Garcia” to “MacReady . . . Kurt Russell.”
  • [4] Hong and the misanthropic jerk in Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium . . . Asians seem to have a type in TZ.
  • At one point, Katya says 5,000 Rubles = $1 US Dollar.  It is worth $86 now, so I’m dubious about that figure in 1997.
  • Couldn’t work it in above, but:  Dude living underground, put there by a dubious authority figure, told to have no communication with the outside world, a slave to a deafening alarm system on a timer, being observed by other stations, pushing a button to save the world.  There’s a real Desmond vibe here.

The Hitchhiker – In the Name of Love (04/07/87)

A couple of low-lifes go into a blues club where we hear blues so bad it is giving me the blues.  One of them orders a scotch and drops a $20 bill on the floor.  A stiletto heel stamps on it.  He says to the shapely owner Jackie Dresser, “You’re not my mother” which I don’t understand at all.  He follows her to the 2nd floor which is conveniently located upstairs.

She says a girl likes a little tenderness and says, “Tell me you like my smile.”  He replies, “Yeah, wrapped around my you-know-what.”  I am generally critical of the overuse of profanity but this is a drug kingpin and a whore — no need to be coy.  He cops a feel and discovers she has breast implants that are so bad they are actually on the outside.  While he is gawking at the gelatinous nippled blob in his hand, she kills him.  She puts her floozy wig on the corpse, kills his lackey, and leaves.

Turns out she is a hit-man [1].  The next day she meets with her handler to collect the $25,000 payment for the contract on the man she just killed.  He has another assignment for her, a blackmailer of women, but she says she is going on vacation.  There is literally nothing about the rest of this scene that I understand.

She writes on a piece of paper, and gives it to him.

“What’s this?” he asks.

“The hottest thing since Juliet.  At least that’s what I heard.”

“How do you know?”

“Phone book.  Try her out.”

It would seem that she is giving him the name of a substitute hit-man.  But who is Juliet? The most famous one is Juliet Capulet, but I don’t remember her being a killer (although her shenanigans were lethal to Romeo).  Googling “Juliet the Assassin” gives me nothing, so I am baffled.

Let’s say it is the name of a fill-in assassin . . . she found her in the phone book?  AAAAssassins r Us?  Is that before AAAA Bail Bonds?  And given what happens later, Jackie doesn’t know what she looks like?

Back at her place, she dolls up like she’s going to the prom.  Her bedroom is lined with pictures of a guy.  One of the pictures is signed “Bill Hagerman”.  Is this her boyfriend?  He signs his full name? It probably isn’t a movie star because she is in one picture with him.  I’m baffled.

She fantasizes aloud about going to the dance, then to the lookout where he will do things to her.  She suddenly takes off a shoe and throws it at the mirror. I have no idea why.  She is topless, though, so you make allowances.

She heads for a B&B in the mountains.  Her 1-week stay costs $4,500.  If a B&B charges me $4,500 one of the B’s better stand for you-know-what.  In her room, she makes a call to Bill.  She says she saw a handsome guy, “but not as handsome as you.”

Johnny, the local tennis pro, is massaging a middle-aged blonde when he spots Jackie.  They go out to eat, but the blonde finds them and accuses him of standing her up.  After a scene in the restaurant, Jackie and the Johnny go out to his convertible and she also puts her top down.

That night, she makes a call to Bill and the camera pans across a shrine of photos that Jackie is keeping.  She is on the phone again: “You were so wrong about him.  He’s sensitive and shy and so sexy.  I can’t keep my hands off him.  I swear I haven’t felt this way about anybody since you.”

It takes only seconds to get Jackie’s third topless scene, frankly the only reason to keep watching.  She and Johnny are in bed making out.  I don’t know where he was during that phone call.

The next morning, the blonde pounds on Jackie’s door looking for Johnny.  She is just coming out of the shower, and we almost get another look.  We see more of her pictures.  It appears that Bill cheated on Jackie so she killed him, launching her life of crime.

Jackie goes to Johnny’s room to tell him the blonde is looking for him and admits she isn’t married.  She sees he has a file of B&W pictures of their hook-up last night.  He was going to blackmail her, so she kills him.

The blonde comes back and breaks into Johnny’s room.  She sees a body in the bed, and says, “You slut” which makes no sense.  From her POV, she can only see a little of the person’s head.  Why would she assume it was Jackie alone in Johnny’s room?  She sees someone walking to Johnny’s convertible and uses a remote detonator to blow it up.

This also problematic.  The blonde looks out the window and sees someone walking toward Johnny’s car.  True, Jackie is wearing a hat, but it is clearly not Johnny.  On top of that, as seen in the picture, SHE EVEN TAKES OFF THE HAT AND LOOKS BACK AT THE BLONDE!  You’re thinking, she wants to kill Jackie too for banging Johnny — but blonde says, “Goodbye Johnny” before she detonates the bomb.

Surprise!  Blondie is meeting with Jackie’s boss.  She is dressed more stylishly and is sporting a punky new ‘do that looks good on her.  She is a hit-man too.[1]  She apologizes for taking so long, says she couldn’t shake the bimbo her target was with.  She collects her $25k.  Her handler says he didn’t realize she was an imitator of Jackie.  But she doesn’t even know who Jackie is.

He has a newspaper with a picture of Johnny dead in bed.  As she walks away, he calls after her, “Who was the guy in the car?”  Hmmmm, two guests at the B&B are missing.  One is found dead in his room.  Who could the burnt body be?

This one rivals The Miracle of Alice Ames for making my head spin.  I was repeatedly puzzled by the dialog, motivations, and logic.  That’s too bad because there is a good episode to be had here.  The sub-plot about the old boyfriend is unnecessary.  I guess it is to explain how she became an assassin — it is her boyfriend that she is killing on each contract.  But who cares why she became a hit-man?  The basic mistaken identity twist would have been sufficient.

These problems hobble a nice performance by Lucy Gutteridge as Jackie.  She is believable as the rough prostitute, but when the wig came off she transformed into a lovely woman for the rest of the episode.  And what a smile.  And those eyes.  Susan Tyrrell is also good, making a similar transformation.  I completely bought her as the frumpy housewife, but at the end she was surprisingly believable as the spunky punky hit-man.[1]

On the basis of their two performances, I kind of liked it, but boy did that script need another pass.

Post-Post:

  • [1] I will not be writing hit-woman.
  • Lucy Gutteridge starred in the vastly underrated Top Secret!.
  • It took 3 story credits and 1 teleplay credit to come up with this.
  • The director is responsible for 5 episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater.