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.

Ray Bradbury Theater – The Crowd (07/02/85)

After midnight, Spelliner leaves a party and is driving his white Datsun 280-Z home when a dog runs in front of him.  Not being a bike messanger, he actually swerves to avoid it and flips the car.  He tries to crawl out.  Before the wheels even stop spinning, he is surrounded by people.  And not the kind of people you expect to be out at 2 AM, but a nice cross-section of male & female, young & old, white & off-white.  When the ambulance arrives, the crowd disperses.

A few days later, he is back at work in his neon sign studio.  He and his partner Morgan hear a car wreck and go to the window.  Spelliner pulls out his Casio digital watch and times that it only takes 21 seconds for the crowd to assemble.  They are the same people that flocked to his accident.

Spelliner first tries roaming the streets with a camera hoping to witness an accident.  Luckily, Morgan is able to get his hands on a stack of surveillance tapes [2] and episodes of America’s Wackiest Fatal Car Accidents.  He finds the same group gathering at 11 different accident sites.  There is one man in dark clothes whose face is never visible.

Shop Spelliner’s Gallery for all your Sumo-Wrestler ass art needs.

He shows all this to Morgan, who asks what the connection is.  Spelliner then produces morgue photos of these same people who had been killed in auto-accidents.  His friend suggests he drop it.  Spelliner believes the crowd is former accident victims who try to steal the air of those injured in current accidents.  He wants to meet these killers.

They go out looking for trouble.  They see no accidents, but do see some of the crowd-members individually walking around which kinda undermines the story. Spelliner panics and runs over Morgan, and flips his car again.  Spelliner climbs out of the car.  The crowd has assembled around Morgan lying dead in the street.  He looks around and sees Morgan is now one of the crowd.

There was a great premise here that falls far short of its potential.  Part of the problem is simply the times.  The synths, the hazy cinematography, the goofy clothes, the neon — they just don’t time-travel well.  Some of the fault must also fall on Nick Mancuso’s painfully dull performance as the awkwardly named Spelliner [1] (to be fair, I’m not sure it was ever spoken, but it was tough to type).  Morgan was mostly a non-entity as well.

Credit where it is due. It is a simple shot, but maybe the best in any RBT episode.

And what of the faceless man on the tapes?  Surely that was supposed to be Spelliner or Morgan, but it is just left hanging.  I’m not saying that would have made sense, but it would have tied things up.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] It is slightly more manageable as Spallner in the short story.
  • [2] I guess they are surveillance tapes.  When he hands them to Spelliner, he says something I have been unable to decipher after multiple replays.
  • LOL — Googling the episode, I found a New York Times article that called HBO’s Hitchhiker series “embarrassing”.  Shockingly, they did not blame Donald Trump.

Outer Limits – In the Zone (02/20/98)

“The Ageless One” Tanner Brooks has just slammed something into something to win The World Octal Federation match.  He has seen better days, though, and isn’t even in the top 10 anymore.  He gets a visit in his dressing room from Michael Chin who says he can help him win the championship.  To prove it, Chin speeds around the room at super speed.

Brooks goes to see Chin at his lab.  He explains that his process accelerates the human neuro-musculature system so that a person can react to events in a much shorter time scale.  Brooks subjects himself to the process.

His next match is against a woman, Helen “The Hammer” Draybeck.  This is a pretty lousy test of his skillz.  While the lovely Ms. Draybeck could no doubt kick my ass, I don’t know of a single sport where strength is an asset that a woman can beat a pro-level man.

Helen: You feeling good today?

Brooks:  My health insurance is all paid up.

Helen: You won’t be.

Are they even working from the same script?  Helen dominates him in the match and is fairly easily able to grab the ring.  Rather than stuffing it in the slot, she holds it up and milks cheers from the audience.

She has only a few seconds of screen time, but she’s getting the rest of the pictures. Go figure.

Dr. Chin’s process kicks in.  Brooks is able to move at super speed to yank the ring out of Helen’s hand and slam it home for a victory.  That leaves Helen baffled, although the ref, the ring announcer, the press, and the fans seem to have not noticed that he moved at about 500 MPH to do it.

Brooks goes on with more treatments and wins repeated victories in the arena.  Afterward, in the shower, he begins to see the water falling in slow motion.  Outside, he sees a fan about to be hit by a truck and exhibits the usual tropes:  1) victim “saved” by being pushed away to safety so quickly that the truck would have actually had less impact, 2) the driver doesn’t stop to complicate the narrative.

Brooks finally gets his title shot.  When he goes up against his younger, stronger opponent, he kicks his ass.  He is easily able to grab the ring.  Before he can put it in the slot, however, he begins to go out of synch with this reality and appears to vanish.

There was a funny shot of Pasdar that made him look really fat, but Helen wasn’t in it.

His wife and, for some unfathomable reason the ring announcer, go to Chin’s lab. Brooks’ wife goes through the same process to try to rescue him.  When she goes into the same hyper-state as Brooks, Chin and the announcer appear to be frozen to her.  She believes Brooks went back to the arena, so makes her way through the frozen city to find him.

Blah blah blah.  This version of The Outer Limits has always gone heavy on sentimentality.  They usually pull it off far more successfully than the 1980s Twilight Zone.  Sometimes, however, the score and an actor as uninteresting as Adrian Pasdar can sink the episode.  And this is in spite of an interesting story, Pat Morita as Chin, and a Selena Gomez look-alike as his wife.

Outer Limits was pushing its luck here.  If you are going to put the word Zone in a title, it had better be great.  And it really better not make you think of a Twilight Zone episode with the same gimmick.  Or a 1980s Twilight Zone episode.  The super-fast person / frozen masses trope is a classic, and I dig it every time (like also on Star Trek episodes); just maybe use a different title.

Other Stuff:

  • Helen fought in American Gladiators as “Ice”.
  • Kudos to Adrian Pasdar for great agility in the arena.
  • It would just be churlish to point out the super-speedy person would burst into flames.

The Hitchhiker – Man of Her Dreams – (04/08/86)

Jill slips into a hot bath with a dude.  Unfortunately, the dude is Mr. Bubble, denying us even that paltry prurient thrill in this week’s load.  She begins pleasuring herself, so at least one of us is getting some-thing out of this scene.  They went more for realism than a screaming orgasm which is, I guess, laudable even if not as entertaining.

She fantasizes a pencil neck dude in a laughable leather jacket [1] entering the bathroom.  Strangely enough, her fantasy begins through his POV — entering her apartment, walking by the kitchen, and opening the bathroom door before reverting to the omniscient POV.  She does a G-rated exit from the tub.  The dude sniffs a single rose, hands it to her, and begins kissing her.[2]

As she leaves for work — wait, wouldn’t that previous scene have made more sense at the end of a stressful day? — she passes a neighbor that makes me again question the sanity of the wardrobe department.  You’re on thin ice wearing a nylon jacket with no sleeves.  And why would you wear a wool cap that does not cover your ears?  He asks her out for a pizza, but she blows him off.

At her yoga class, she complains, “Every man I meet is either a wimp, a creep, or an emotional cripple.”  As she goes through the routines, she has another fantasy.  She is in a park wearing a long white lacy gown, and for some reason, sporting Ayn Rand’s old hair-do.  A guy in a trench-coat and a black beret walks over a bridge and approaches her.  He hands her a rose, and begins kissing her.  Then he begins strangling her.  As she struggles, Jill snaps back to her class.

The next morning, she wakes up and turns on the TV.  She opens the door to get the newspaper.  Her neighbor is standing in her doorway, again wearing that stupid wool cap; this time indoors.  He says he was just about to knock and she slams the door in his face.  On the TV, she sees a news report about a murder at the same park she dreamed about.  The murderer left a white carnation on the body.  Well haha, Kreskin, in your dream it was a red rose.

Jill goes back to the park where the police have left the white outline of the body, but no crime scene tape, presumably to traumatize young kids for laughs.  And, hey wardrobe department, why is Jill suddenly wearing a black beret?  Is she the killer?  Is she empathizing with him?  Another dude comes walking across the bridge with a multi-color umbrella and approaches Jill.  He says, “They say murderers always return to the scene of the crime.”  It would be a pretty good line if it didn’t come out of the pie-hole which was smoking a Tiparillo with a plastic tip.  Turns out he is a cop, Lt. Tony.

Jill says she “doesn’t like overgrown boys who define their masculinity with props like guns and badges.”  The beret is starting to make sense.  But, he is a jerk, touching her hand; he does try to help, though.  However, she slams the metaphorical door in his face, too.

She goes to the Farmer’s Market and sees a customer from the bank.  She had turned him down for a loan and he did not take it well.  Ominously, in the foreground, a pasty guy with an absurd notice-me yellow scarf is buying a white carnation.  She is interrupted by Jim Buckley, a handsome Aussie dude she recently met.  He sniffs a rose and hands it to her, which startles her.  But is she startled because of the Carnation Killer (as the news called him)?  This is not a carnation.  The disgruntled bank customer glowers at her as she goes for coffee with Jim.

Jim takes her home.  She likes him, but does not invite him in.  She does, however, hook up with Mr. Bubble again that night.  In an unintentionally funny shot, she is shown in the tub fantasizing about Jim.  She has a beatific smile, and the water . . . say, around the hip area . . . is churning like the perfect storm.  I guess it is a Jacuzzi, but it really looks like she is giving herself a very energetic rogering.  Even if it was unintentional, I give the director kudos for that.

She fantasizes about Jim in a white tuxedo, sniffing a red rose and handing it to her.  They are in a dark alley with graffiti that says INNOCENTS SUFFER.  They begin kissing.  Then he pulls out a switchblade and stabs her.

She goes to the cops and tells them she had another premonition of the Carnation Killer.  Even though it was a red rose.  The cops reasonably ask what they can do based on the information she has provided.  Lt Tiparillo says he believes her.  They go cruising through all the alleys in the city.  Just as Jill is about to give up, she spots the INNOCENTS SUFFER graffiti.  He touches her face and she flashes back to the murder.  She runs off.

That night she calls Jim.  They meet, but as they start walking, they pass another bit of INNOCENTS SUFFER graffiti.  Jill freaks out and runs again, but Jim catches her.  She collapses in his arms and says, “Make love to me.”  As they walk to her place, he surreptitiously grabs a white carnation from a flower stand as they pass.

  • Why does Jill look like herself in the 2nd vision, but has black hair and goofy haircut in the 1st?  I guess the answer is that the unseen actual victim had that hair style.  And went to the muddy park in a long white lace dress.
  • I think the killer in the 1st vision was her neighbor, but who can tell with the wool cap and beret.  If so, then she is just seeing everyone as the killer.  How is that a premonition?  All she got was the location.
  • Her 2nd vision was under the INNOCENTS SUFFER.  But that never happens — they are going back to her place for the festivities.  So she is wrong again.
  • Is it just coincidence that she envisioned Jim and he really is the killer?  Apparently it was just random that she saw her neighbor’s face earlier.  Eventually the bank customer’s mug would have shown up.
  • And why does she keep envisioning roses if the killer uses carnations?

Marilyn Hassett as fine as Jill [3] — actually, very good in a couple of spots (and I don’t mean the tub).  The rest of the cast was hamming it up, but I think that was probably at the request of the director.  He seemed to be going for a certain otherness here for reasons that elude me — the acting styles, the wardrobe, the umbrellas, Lt. Tiparillo’s touchy-feely moves.  But especially that little plastic tip on the Tiparillo.  The only people using little plastic holders to smoke are society-destroying, myopic megalomaniacs like The Penguin or FDR.

This was the last episode on the 2nd DVD of what one (i.e. me) could reasonably have expected to be their greatest hits.  Sadly, Amazon has already delivered the 3rd to me.  Stupid Amazon Prime!

  • Other Stuff:
  • [1] My Leather Jacket Rule:  Unless you’re Vic Mackey or The Fonz, don’t even try it.  You will look ridiculous.
  • [2] Surely this is the most nitty of picks — or is it pickiest of nits — but why does the dude take a small step back when Jill gets out of the tub?  Is her fantasy a punk in a grown-up’s jacket who sensitively sniffs flowers and is scared of naked ladies?  If there was just not enough room in the bathroom to film the scene, then shame on the director.
  • [3] Certainly a step up from her debut as Dancer #75 in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  • Teleplay by Gary Ross.  This was his first IMDb credit and his only TV credit. He went on to write and/or direct many great and/or successful movies, so maybe he needed rent money.