Twilight Zone – Shadow Play (04/04/86)

Adam Grant is sentenced to “hang by the neck until dead” and he laughs.  See, that’s the problem.  My idea is to hang criminals, but give them just enough air so they hang there until they starve to death.[1]

He tells the judge, “all of this and all of you are a dream.”  He is hauled out of the courtroom under Charles Aidman’s narration of the exact same intro Rod Serling used 25 years earlier.  This is the perfect example of how Aidman’s avuncular voice undermines the show whereas Serling’s menacing tone gave it gravitas.

He tells the other inmates that this is just a dream that he lives over and over.  He describes in detail each step of walking the last mile, getting your feet bound, and having the hood placed over your head.  Then the noose.  He describes how they all nod at each other and a red light comes on, but given that he is already wearing the hood, that must be speculation.  Then the switch is thrown and he hangs by the neck until he wakes up.

Grant’s attorney goes to see the D.A.  She is starting to believe Grant’s story that this is all a dream even though she is not wearing stilettos and a push-up bra.  She points out to the DA how weird it was that there were no spectators in the courtroom, and no Hollywood actors were coming to Grant’s defense in the media.  Although, to be fair, I don’t remember if he was in jail for killing a cop.

The DA goes to death row where apparently executions are carried out on the day of sentencing — hey that’s my dream!  Grant points out several inconsistencies in this world that make the DA question his reality, like why Girls lasted six seasons and Arrested Development only lasted three.

With a slight twist, Grant is executed, then we and he find ourselves at the beginning of the episode.  However, the players are recast.  A prisoner is now his attorney, his attorney is now the judge, the priest is now a juror, etc.

I see some reviews suggesting this version is better than the original, but I don’t get it.  As good as Peter Coyote always is, it is hard to top Dennis Weaver and the B&W cinematography.  Also, the original had a classic cut (T-bone, I think) from Grant’s description of the electric chair to a sizzling steak.  Frankly, both episodes are undermined by the small stakes here — it’s just a dream.  Take some Ambien for crying out loud.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Adam Grant is electrocuted in the 1961 version.  In that case, my penal reform would be the electric couch for maximum taxpayer savings. Heh, heh, penal.
  • Classic TZ Connection:  Duh. Also, William Schallert (Priest) was in an episode and the movie.
  • Skipped segment:  Grace Note.  Notable only because it contains the same Marriage of Figaro opening as Trading Places.

Twilight Zone – Dead Woman’s Shoes (11/22/85)

In the 1962 Twilight Zone episode Dead Man’s Shoes, hobo-American Warren Stevens puts on the titular dead man’s titular shoes but strangely not the dead man’s socks as he goes commando. Possessed by the soul of the previous owner, he becomes a confident gangster seeking revenge.

In this 1985 version, 71 year old Helen Mirren puts on the titular dead woman’s shoes and becomes 40 year old Helen Mirren.  Better.

OK, to be fair, she starts out at 40 in the episode.  She is such a frumpy bundle of nerves, though, it is hard to recognize the elegant woman I’ve seen in roles in her 60s and 70s.  When she puts on the shoes, she transforms into a beautiful woman that I also have trouble squaring with the actress at her current age [1].  So her performance gets a freakish time-warping boost from this episode being 31 years old.  However, even viewed in 1985, her performance would have been amazing.

Hot maid Inez [2] is packing up Susan Montgomery’s clothes to give to a thrift store.  Susan’s husband Kyle says it still pains him to see his dead wife’s things but, you know, get a receipt.  He is played by Jeffrey Tambor who is hideous in a huge bushy beard, silly in white shorty-short tennis togs, and unconvincingly named Kyle.  But it’s nice to see him him men’s clothes again.

tzdeadwomansshoes3The introduction of Maddie (Helen Mirren) is creatively shot from the knee down as she awkwardly makes her way to work.  Framed from the hem of her drab dress to her sensible shoes, she is constantly in the way, startled, apologizing, stumbling.  Her job at the thrift shop is no less nerve-wracking as she is forced to wait on two obnoxious teenage girls.  Then an Elvissy jerk with huge hair, massive sideburns, and several buttons open on his shirt crudely hits on her.

She retreats to the back room.  Needing a boost, she tries on the fabulous shoes that just came in from the Montgomery house.  She walks confidently back out into the shop. Again shot from the knee down, her stride is now straight and purposeful.  She tells Elvis to “buzz off” and leaves the building.

She takes a cab to the Montgomery house.  She is greeted at the door by Inez, who jumps around giddily and licks her face.  No wait, that is Susan’s poodle Fritz.  Inez is baffled as the stranger picks up Fritz and walks right in.  She further stuns Inez by mentioning her cheating husband Carlito.  She prepares to take a shower, but when she removes the shoes, she is Maddie again and baffled by how she got there.

tzdeadwomansshoes4Inez comes in and busts her, but sees that Maddie is genuinely confused.  Despite recognizing the shoes as Susan’s, Inez gives them back to Maddie.  She slips them back on and becomes Susan again. Despite Inez being told twice to get rid of Susan’s clothes, Maddie walks out of the house in a snappy black number.  Or maybe Kyle was hanging on to that one for himself.

Susan calls Kyle at his law office.  He threatens to sue this person with the poor taste to imitate his wife.  Then she mentions how Kyle killed her.  He rushes home and we are treated to an outstanding an shot from the second floor — Kyle walks in the front door, the camera pans past Inez cleaning the 2nd-floor bedroom, and continues to shoot over a balcony overlooking the living room where Kyle confronts Susan.

And by confronts, I mean punches in the face — a really solid one, right on the kisser.  He goes for a gun they keep handy in the living room, but she has already taken it.  She fires at him as he flees the house.  She chases him down the street.  Unable to run on high heels, Susan removes them and instantly reverts to Maddie.  She drops the gun and places the shoes in a convenient Garbage Can, although the Recycle Bin would have been a more appropriate choice for this episode.

The maid at the house the garbage can belongs to sees the shoes in the can and slips them on.  Now she is possessed by Susan. She picks up the gun, crosses Easy Street where this episode apparently takes place, and walks up the Montgomery’s driveway.  A crane shot shows her approaching the house, climbing the steps, and opening the door. The door closes and there is legitimate suspense for a few seconds until a gunshot is heard.

tzdeadwomansshoes5As mentioned, Helen Mirren is just great here.  Theresa Saldana is not given much to do, but is a fine presence.  The only weaknesses are a melodramatic score and Tambor’s performance.  His leaden line readings combined with that absurd beard work against every scene he is in.  Nevertheless, I was wrong to assume this would be a watered down rip-off of the original episode.  It might be the 2nd best segment so far.

I rate it a 13 EEE.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  If 70 year old women are your thing, she is pretty awesome.
  • [2] The lovely Theresa Saldana, who died this year.
  • TZ Legacy:  Maybe one time ripping off a classic title for Little Boy Lost was OK, but don’t make a habit of it.  Both “homages” were written by Lynn Baker.  Her next IMDb writing credit was 17 years later.  What do these people in between gigs?
  • Director Peter Medak completely redeems himself after the dreadful Ye Gods.
  • Kyle’s secretary is played by Nana Visitor from Deep Space Nine.
  • Charles Beaumont gets a story-by credit.

Twilight Zone S4 – Passage on the Lady Anne (05/09/63)

tzladyanne1Coming off a mediocre Tales of Tomorrow and an unwatchable Fear Itself . . . if it turns out the other passengers on the Lady Anne are just dead, I’ll scream.

Alan and Eileen Ransome go to a Travel Agency to book a trip to London.  They hoped travel by ship, but the Agent says they are all booked.  Well, all the reputable ones are.  Reputable, I fear, meaning ones where all the other passengers are not dead.

Eileen asks about the Lady Anne.  It is the slowest boat on the water, but leaves in less than a week.  Despite Alan and the Agent’s resistance, she insists on purchasing two tickets.

Alan and Eileen arrive at the dock and meet an elderly couple — Toby and Millie — that are pretty close to validating my fear.  Toby can’t believe this young couple actually has tickets and makes them prove it.  Seeing them, he still insists this is a mistake, that this is a private excursion.

tzladyanne3Eileen is thrilled with their large ornate cabin.  Alan is not far off the mark when he proclaims it “maybe the most ridiculous room in the world.”  Of course, he never got to see the gilded New York Casa de Trump.

They go up on deck. Toby and another elderly man ask them again if some mistake has been made.  They try to scare the Ransomes into leaving by telling them what an old dilapidated ship this is.  Then they try to bribe them by offering $10,000.  Ransome must be doing pretty well as he refuses.  In fact, it is his pre-occupation with work that led Eileen to insist on this trip.

The next morning, Eileen is up at the crack of eleven.  They go up on deck for the mandatory Fire Drill training.  They are stunned to see that all the other passengers are old enough to literally remember the Maine, which might explain their enthusiasm for the fire drill.  Alan later finds that they are the only ones on the ship under 75.

tzladyanne2At the bar, they order a couple of martinis.  Eileen tells Alan she wants a divorce. Because, what better time than the first day of an expensive cruise where they will be stuck on a fully-booked ship and share a single room for a week.

They have dinner with Toby and Millie.  Toby gives them the good news that they will be allowed to stay on the ship.  Millie explains that he means they won’t have to die. Hmmmmm.

To make an interminable story short, when Alan thinks he has lost Eileen, he realizes how much he has neglected her.  They learn that the oldsters had fallen in love on the ship eons ago and want to finish their lives together on it.  How they intended to do this is not clear.  Were they going to poison themselves?  Were they going to sink the ship?  Run it aground into a waterfront Farmer’s Market?  Serling only tells us they sailed into the titular Twilight Zone.  The super-annuated passengers are basically sailing to Valinor. [1]

Not what I feared, but not really what I wanted either.  Your nautical mileage may vary.

Post-Post:

  • It would just be churlish to question who was crewing this ship.  Were there a bunch of 75 year old men shoveling coal down below?
  • Wilfred Hyde-White (Toby) was always great playing bumbling old Englishmen — actually the same bumbling old Englishman. He didn’t have much range, but was a great character.  And always old.  So old.
  • [1] Kind of a non-sequitur, but I love it:

 

Twilight Zone S4 – The New Exhibit (04/04/63)

We open in Ferguson’s Wax Museum.  Do these things even exist anymore? [1]   Mr. Ferguson himself is leading a tour which includes two sailors on the tamest furlough since Gomer Pyle went back to Mayberry. After checking out waxy Marie Antoinette [2] (who is sadly not topless in either sense of the word), they move on to waxy Cleopatra. This place ought to be called the Museum of Murdered Women.[3]

Next they are led to “the most infamous black-hearted killers of all time.”  They first meet the flesh-and-blood curator Martin Senescu who introduces them to the Murderer’s Row exhibit:

  • William Burke & William Hare – They suffocated their victims with pillows, frequently prostitutes.
  • Henri Desire Landru – French serial killer of spinsters and lonely widows.
  • Jack the Ripper – English serial killer of prostitutes.
  • Albert W. Hicks – A mate on an oyster boat who killed his entire crew with an axe. Given the attitude of this museum, I have to suspect that it was an all-girl crew.

Martin Balsam is excellent as Senescu.  He is clearly devoted to this exhibit, and is slightly creepy.  He steps on a switch that causes Mr. the Ripper to slash away with his knife.  This is a pretty good gag, but freaks out the sailors who “blow this creepy joint.”

Later as Senescu is dusting Landru, Ferguson tells him that the museum is going to close so he can sell the location a company for a supermarket.  Ferguson decides not to open a new museum because, even 60 years ago, he sees this is a dying industry.  He reasons that people see too much horror in every day life.

tznewexhibit03Senescu asks to buy the wax figures as he can’t bear to see them destroyed; although, he doesn’t seem to care much for Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette.  Movers deliver the figures to Senescu’s house.  He installs the exhibit in the basement which he has rigged up with a new industrial strength air conditioner.[4]

Weeks later, Senescu’s very patient wife is concerned that her husband still has no job and the new A/C is costing a fortune.  Senescu seems to spend all his time in the basement acting as a valet for his new friends.  Emma tells her brother Dave about the problems she is having with her husband.  He suggests that sabotaging the A/C might solve the problem.

That night, Emma sneaks down to the basement to take care of the A/C.  She is creeped out by the figures, but makes her way to the plug.  As she reaches to unplug it, Jack the Ripper’s arm slashes toward her and she screams.  The next morning, Senescu finds her dead on the basement floor and detects blood on Jack’s knife.

Fearing he will be blamed, Senescu buries his wife in the basement and repaves the floor.  Emma’s idiot brother Dave — an incredibly obnoxious performance — stops by and becomes suspicious.  After Senescu throws him out, he breaks into the basement. When he finds traces of Emma’s blood, Albert Hicks takes an axe to him.

tznewexhibit07Ferguson stops by and tells Senescu that a museum in Brussels wants to buy the figures.  While Ferguson is measuring them for shipment, Landru garrotes him.  When Senescu sees another dead body, he chews the wax figures out for betraying him.  He grabs a crow bar to destroy them, but they become animated.  They stiffly move toward Senescu claiming that he committed the murders, and fall on top of him.

At the Murderer’s Row home in Brussels, there is the titular new exhibit — Martin Senescu leaning on a shovel as he digs his wife’s grave.

After several very good 4th season scripts from Charles Beaumont, this one was a bit of a let down.  Everyone has an off-week, but this one might be due to the fact that Beaumont’s deteriorating health forced him to farm the job out to another writer.  There are a few rough edges that maybe Beaumont could have polished.

The causes of death are a little muddled.  Emma’s murder could be related to the switch that Senescu revealed during the museum tour — was she murdered or did she just step on that switch which made the wax figure slash her throat?  Dave’s murder is not seen which lends credence to the figures’ assertion that Senescu is the real murderer.  Then when Ferguson is murdered, we actually see Albert Hawks strangle him.  So are the murders 1) accidents, 2) committed by Senescu, or 3) committed by the wax figures?

When the wax figures advance on Senescu, how does he die?  He is portrayed as a murderer in the titular new exhibit, so it must have been a heart attack.  If he had been axed, suffocated, slashed or strangled, he would have been considered just another victim.

All of that is mostly just being churlish.  The strength of the episode is in Martin Balsam’s performance as Senescu.  He and Will Kuluva as Ferguson ground the episode.  Despite a few rough spots, this is still a good episode in the unfairly maligned 4th season.

Post-Post:

  • [1] Apparently they do exist, and there are even a couple of chains.  Here is fun article from Vice about a visit to one.
  • [2] Like Cersei on Game of Thrones, Marie Antoinette was put on trial for multiple crimes including incest.  Both had their hair cut off and were stripped naked (Marie at least got to put on a simple white dress (in front of her guards)).  Both were paraded through town to the jeers of the peons.  Marie was tied up, but at least got to ride in an open cart while Cersei was perp-walked naked on foot.  On the plus side, they didn’t chop off Cersei’s head at the end of the trip.
  • [3] It is not clear whether Cleopatra was murdered or committed suicide-by-snake. It is interesting that, like Cersei and Marie, her downfall was a nude-fest.  Several paintings (many sharing the unimaginative title The Death of Cleopatra) portray her as topless at her death.
  • [4] Oder, auf Deutsch.
  • Martin Balsam was last seen in The Equalizer.

 

Twilight Zone S4 – Printer’s Devil (02/28/63)

tzprintersdevil06Even though Rod Serling is revered as a master writer in TV’s alleged golden age, and certainly was the creative force behind The Twilight Zone, some of the other contributors really could write circles around him.  Maybe it was just the volume of scripts he was committed to cranking out.  In just the first few seconds here I was amazed at how real these characters were, and at the little pieces of throwaway business.  The papers on the desk, searching for a cigarette, a broken chair, a “circulation” pun, and use of the word gloomcookie.[1]  Just great at establishing a world and two likable characters.

Owner Douglas Winter is struggling to make ends meet at The Dansburg Courier.  He is interrupted by his supportive girlfriend Jackie.  They are interrupted by Andy the linotype man.  Unfortunately, Andy has not been paid in 8 weeks and the greedy bastard is quitting to take a paying gig.  Winter reaches in his desk and pulls out a bottle of scotch to calm him down.  This is in the era when a reporter kept scotch and cigarettes in their desk, not pictures of the president with little hearts all over them.

tzprintersdevil20Andy knows the paper is unlikely to survive now that the big, bad Gazette has moved into town.  Even worse, Andy is going to work for them.  Jackie really chews him out, but Winter understands.  After they leave, Winter compares that day’s Courier to the Gazette. Both have as their main story the mayor’s daughter winning a beauty contest. Only The Gazette suggests there might have been fraud involved.  Frankly I would subscribe to The Gazette over The Courier too.  The Gazette is also tarted up with more pictures and larger headlines like USA Today.  Meanwhile The Courier’s front page looks as interesting and as doomed as a phonebook.

Winter drives out to a country bridge, scotch still in hand.  As he prepares to throw himself off the bridge, he is approached by Mr. Smith (TZ 4-timer and Rocky 3-timer Burgess Meredith).  He requests a ride back to town.  As Smith lights his awesomely twisted cigar with tzprintersdevil10his flaming finger, we get the idea he might not be just another angel on the bridge.

Smith finally succeeds in getting Winter to put down the bottle by joining him at a bar.  Winter has run up a tab of Normian proportions, but Smith happily picks up the tab. As the waitress walks away he awesomely comments, “She moves fast for a big one.” Smith claims to be a newspaperman and offers to work for free as a linotype operator and reporter.

Winter and Smith go back to The Courier where Jackie has apparently returned to do some important midnight filing.  Smith not only plays the linotype machine like a piano, he has a nose for news and $5,000 in his pocket to keep the paper afloat.

tzprintersdevil13Smith has a knack for having stories reported, written and typeset immediately after they happen or even sooner — a feat similar to current reporters who also use pre-written stories, although theirs are handed to them by politicians, lobbyists, activists, and corporate PR departments.

His scoops bring attention to The Courier.  Smith even starts hawking papers on the street in his spare time.  Circulation triples!  The Gazette even offers to buy The Courier.  Eyebrows are raised when Smith reports a fire at The Gazette even as the firetrucks are heading to the scene.

Finally, halfway through the episode Smith reveals what was obvious all along — that he is the devil.  Writer Charles Beaumont was wise not saving this until the end since the audience was already hip.  He is also very deft in how the devil maneuvers Winter into signing away his soul.  In just a few sentences, Beaumont deflects two tropes which are too common in The Twilight Zone: The blatant last-second twist, and people not reacting as a real person would.  It is also pleasant to hear conversations rather than speeches.

tzprintersdevil16Smith goes on reporting tragic story after story, always minutes after they occur.  He has rigged the linotype machine so that now any story it prints will come true in the future.  He uses this to coerce Winter into giving his soul up earlier than planned. Winter outsmarts him with his own device, however, resulting in a happy ending for him and the newspaper; at least until the internet is invented.

Once again, Season 4 exceeds expectations.  Maybe that is because Charles Beaumont wrote 4 of the 9 episodes I’ve watched so far.  He has tended toward happy endings even if not by conventional standards of happiness.  The main characters, all men so far, are able to escape from an isolated life or to get a second chance.  Whether this escapism was a conscious choice related to Beaumont’s own troubled life, who knows.

Post-Post:

  • [1] No idea if this is the first use of the word.  All the Google entries I’m willing to scan at 3 am refer to a more recent comic book.
  • Of course, The TZ theme is iconic.  But to get the full effect, wake up and listen to it through a good pair of speakers at 3 am.  Black & Decker wishes they could make a drill that good.