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.

Science Fiction Theatre – Negative Man (09/10/55)

At the generically named Research Center for Advanced Studies [1], we see the most advanced thinking machine ever constructed — blinking light and knob technology made great strides in the 1950’s.  People from all over the country submit questions to the machine like “WTF are we doing in Korea?”  Host Truman Bradley tells us that, like a human being, a computer can have a nervous breakdown, a bug not worked out until the HAL 9001.

Professor Spaulding is feeding a formula into the computer which would take 30 mathematicians 6 months to solve.  The real achievement is that he seems to be feeding it from a chalkboard.  A typewriter is clacking away like a player piano with the keys pressing, but I’m not clear what the source of the data is.  The computer should be able to derive the answer in 3 minutes, but has performance anxiety and blows up in just a few seconds.  The other scientists find non-professor Vic Murphy unconscious.

They figure Murphy took 90,000 volts.  The doctor thought he was dead, but only because he had “no pulse [and] respiratory function had ceased”.  Turns out he was only mostly fried — sautéed really — and bounces back quickly.  In no time, he has re-tightened his necktie. His boss tells him to take the rest of the day off.  On his way out, Vic notices an error in the complex problem the computer was working on.  He pulls a Good Will Hunting and corrects it on the chalkboard (actually a Better Will Hunting because Matt Damon is not involved).

He stops by the pharmacy to pick up whatever you take for being electro-cuted and flat-lining for a couple of minutes.  He sees a hot blonde in the phone booth and asks Pete the soda-jerk [2] who she is.  Pete is busy adding up the day’s receipts, but says she lives in the apartment above him.  Vic amazes him by adding the columns of figures instantaneously.  With his new super-hearing, he can hear Sally’s boyfriend Frank being mean on the phone.

When Pete says he can’t hear the conversation, Vic grabs Pete’s noggin in a way too familiar way.  Vic asks for just a glass of water.  The woman comes out out the phone booth and also asks for just a glass of water.  Well, at least Pete won’t have to update those sales figures.

Vic and Pete go up to Pete’s apartment.  Vic can hear Sally crying in the apartment above.  Pete says, “C’mon Vic, these are very quiet apartments.  I can’t even hear her walking around up there.  And I’ve listened.”  Vic hears Frank up there too.  Then he hears Frank slap her, although, I’m not sure how he knew it wasn’t Sally belting him.  Vic dashes out of Pete’s apartment.  He spots the stairs, then looks the other way down the hall, then back at the stairs.  He shrewdly determines that the best route upstairs is up the stairs.  That was kind of a weird beat; didn’t he just come up the stairs to Pete’s 2nd floor apartment?

Vic barges in and tosses Frank out.  Sally gets mad at Vic.  After all, this is 1955 and she is unmarried at 29.  When Vic reels off the things Frank did to her, she gets even madder, calling him a Peeping Tom.  She tosses Vic out.  He is upset, hearing her still crying inside.  Pete says, “Spend the night with me, Vic . . . you’ll feel better in the morning.”

The next day, Vic goes to Dr. Stern at Leland University “to get an answer to his dilemma.”  Although, I don’t think dilemma means what the writer thinks it means.  Miraculously, Vic catches him during office hours. Had he arrived 15 minutes later, he would have missed him; or 15 min-utes earlier.  The professor suggests he would be better off seeing a psychiatrist.  Then Vic is able to tell him the conversation on a call he receives.

Sensing a textbook deal which could con debt-ridden students out of a cool $125 per head, Stern gives Vic a series of tests.  Vic looks at a Rorschach picture and not only interprets it, he has analyzed it down into six separate components with circles and arrows when it is clearly just a man having sex with a chicken.  Playing with blocks displays his remarkable mechanical aptitude, or maybe they were just taking a break. He then completes a 3-4 hour IQ test in just 53 minutes, and tests out at 197.

For some reason, he is still hanging out with Pete; and still wearing the same suit and striped tie.  Pete is impressed by the the high IQ resulting from Vic’s electrocution and asks if he would be a genius if he stuck his finger in a light socket.  Asked and answered, counselor.  Vic says there will be more tests tomorrow.  Suddenly, Vic appears alarmed.  He can hear gas escaping in Sally’s apartment.  They run up and rescue Sally who is passed out on the floor.

After more tests, Dr. Stern comes up with a theory.  He proposes that the blast from the computer caused a surplus of electrons in Vic, making him negatively charged — the theory of static electricity, at least according to SFT.  That negative charge caused his senses to heighten.  Unfortunately, more testing reveals that Vic has lost his super-powers and must go back to holding a glass up to women’s walls to listen in.  Dr. Stern falls back on the old “10% of the brain” trope that still just won’t go away.  He says that even though Vic is back to normal, he proved what is possible.

Back in the pharmacy, Sally meets up with Vic.  She thanks him for saving her life.  Vic tells her that his brush with death has inspired him to “swing the pendulum” the other way, to go back to school, to enter the bustling field of medical research. He encourages her to do the same. Of course, his brush with death was the result of a lab accident which endow-ed him with super-powers; and hers was a failed suicide attempt resulting from soul-crushing depression and a overwhelming sense of loneliness, hopelessness, and despair.  But I’m sure they’ll be fine.

Despite being a complete man-child caricature, Pete did amuse me a couple of times. He was not enough to save the episode, however.  Criticism has a short menu on this show: Negative.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] To be fair, DARPA isn’t much better.  However it does make me long for the days before tortured acronyms like USA PATRIOT Act, VOICE, and SHIELD.
  • [2] The soda-jerk was played by former Little Rascal Alfalfa.  It would have been nice to have a Buckwheat cameo at the lunch-counter, but . . . you know.
  • [2] Apparently, long ago, pharmacies often had a soda fountain.  This began in the 1800’s when you could put drugs such as cocaine into the drinks.  In the early 1900’s, they became a soda & ice cream replacements for bars closed during Prohibition.
  • IMDb calls this episode The Negative Man.
  • Particle Man.

Science Fiction Theatre – Barrier of Silence (09/03/55)

Dr. Richard Sheldon can’t remember what happened from the time he vanished in Milan, Italy until his appearance two weeks later in Zurich, Switzerland.  Thornton from the US State Department and Harcourt, a prominent psychiatrist, await his arrival at the airport. Sheldon is catatonic as they wheel him off the plane.  Unable to find a cause for Sheldon’s symptoms, Harcourt injects him with truth serum even though he wasn’t lying, unless it was by omission.

He is put in a hospital bed in his home.  His wife Karen tries to get him to respond, but doesn’t really use the best tools in her fine-ass arsenal.  When a firetruck goes by blasting its siren, Sheldon’s eyes open and his eyes dart around.  Once it passes, his eyes close again.  Harcourt deduces that when Sheldon is alert, it is always in the presence of loud obnoxious noise.

Harcourt tries beaming [          ] [1] through a parabolic dish and Sheldon’s eyes open.  When it ends, his eyes shut again, but he dreams of [          ].  High and low frequencies all produce the same response over the course of a week.

Dr. Neilson proposes that Sheldon should be subjected to absolute silence rather than noise.  He designs a field that will screen out ALL sounds so that Sheldon can be put into it.  He shows Harcourt a ringing bell that, when held inside the field, is silent.  As usual, SFT gets it backwards.  That proves sound within the field is silenced to an outside observer, but not that sound from outside the field will be eliminated to the person within it.

Even worse, he tells Harcourt to “say anything” and walk into the field.  Harcourt starts counting “one, two, three” and enters the perimeter.  He reacts as if stunned by the sudden silence.  But guess why — the dumbass stopped counting!  His lips aren’t moving.  Did no one on the set have the cajones to explain this to Adolphe Menjou? Were they still scared of a guy named Adolphe in 1955?

They bring Sheldon in and sit him in the cone of silence.  He awakens in response to the silence.  He still seems anxious, and they determine that he can still hear the sound of his own heartbeat.  Well, wait a minute — Harcourt couldn’t even hear himself speaking in the cone.  How . . . oh, who cares?

Sheldon has a flashback to being grilled by his captors during his time missing. Sleepily, he says, “I can’t go through it again.  I’ve told you everything I know.”  Which are my feelings on this post; I can’t even go back for pictures.  Turns out Sheldon gave up some secret codes, I guess to the Commies.  He snaps out of his catatonia.  The codes can be changed.  And now scientists can study silence as a cure for “amnesia and even more complicated forms of mental illness.”  The end.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] I’m so bored that I spent more time looking at this blank than watching the episode.  At first I had Amy Schumer in there.  She is a terrible comedian, but not really known for being loud, so I took her out
  • Sam Kinison was not funny either, but was loud.  But, really, who cares anymore? OK, that one bit was good.  How long before Amy Schumer starts using it?
  • Googling “worst band” gave me some ideas.  One idea is that people who write about music are pretentious dicks.  C’mon, Wings or The Eagles are the worst bands ever?  Get over yourself.
  • Nickelback seemed to be the knee-jerk, go-to worst band choice, but I’ve never heard anything by them, and it seemed like piling on.
  • Then I was fixated on how many spaces should be in the brackets.  Seven seemed too few, so I bumped it up to ten.  Made all the difference in the world.
  • Zzzz-zzz-zzzz-zzzz-zzzz.
  • Title Analysis:  Barrier of Silence?  Why not Silence Barrier to play off “sound barrier?”
  • In the intro, pseudo-science guy Truman Bradley again uses a tuning fork for his demonstration.  This time he calls it a vibrator.  Hehe.

Science Fiction Theatre – The World Below (08/27/55)

Once again Truman Bradley opens up with more dubious facts than a month of Ancient Aliens.  He says there are two great undiscovered areas — “outer space and the 4/5ths of our own planet lying under the earth’s great oceans.  Beneath the sea is a hidden region more than twice the size of all the nations of the earth put together.”  Well, wouldn’t it be five times the size of all the nations then?  I guess he has a partial out with Antarctica not being a nation, but I’m no cartographer.

Bradley also demonstrates how fake boobs are made.

Using a mammalian balloon, he then shows us how a man would explode in the vacuum of space due to the air in his body.  Well, probably not unless he took a big breath and held it.  Conversely, he says deep sea creatures explode when brought to the surface.  I’m doubtful of that too.  Maybe if they have sealed air sacs, but that seems unlikely or they’d be launching out of the water like Polaris Missiles.

To explore the ocean at record depths, the Turner Institute of Oceanography converted a “surface combat submarine” to withstand the pressure 1,000 fathoms down.  The 4-man crew is on a “photographic mission” apparently thinking deep-dive submarines have big ol’ windows.  And BTW, how is a submarine a surface combatant?  Maybe that’s how Indy survived.

Truman Bradley tells us, “On April 2nd, Captain John Forester began his first vacation in 5 years.  He disconnected the doorbell to make sure he wouldn’t be disturbed.”  He has a fiendishly clever visitor at the front door who outfoxes him by knocking.  Turns out it is his old pal Buck Naked Weaver. He has come to recruit Forester to captain an experimental sub named The Loon.  Wait, what?  That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  Sailors are a superstitious lot.  There’s a reason there was never a ship named after Louis Leakey; although it was probably because he was a paleontologist.

This is Jean’s factory setting.  BTW, pictures 1 and 3 are different shots.

Twenty-6 days later The Loon is cruising at 1,000 fathoms.  When they go down to 1,200 fathoms, they lose radio contact.  On a sonar scope, we see 3 blips — escape pods — rising to the surface.  Later on the news, Forester’s wife Jean is relieved to see her husband survived.  Weaver tells a reporter that at 1,800 fathoms, they found a city and Forester backs him up.  So, they are famous and in the newspaper.

Forester and his wife turn on the TV to see the film they took of the city beneath the sea. The film shows a rippling skyline.  However, when the Navy goes down to salvage The Loon, they see no city.  Forester and Weaver will be charged with perpetrating a hoax that got a man killed.

Forester is called into a Board of Inquiry where they grill him about a possible hoax.  It isn’t The Caine Mutiny but it is pretty good for SFT. The next day Weaver shows up with an explanation of what happened. They did not see a city, but it was an honest mistake.  Shockingly, the explanation does not strike me as complete baloney.

One of the more tolerable episodes, but that ain’t saying much.