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 Stones Began to Move (08/09/55)

Truman Bradley points out a coil of rope and a pyramid, saying “both are unsolved mysteries of the ages.” He demonstrates how a fakir does the ol’ Indian Rope Trick.  Well, he does the rope trick, but disgracefully leaves it open whether it is science or magic. In suggesting the Rope Trick is a legitimate scientific mystery, he says this kind of anti-gravity trick is nothing new — that may be how the pyramids were built.  I love Ancient Aliens and love young perky aliens even more, but this is just wrong.

In New York City, scientist Paul Kincaid leaves his lab late one night.  Wandering down a deserted street near the waterfront, he ducks into a phone-booth.  He tells the operator to connect him with Dr. Berensen at the United States Scientific Research Commission in DC.  Expecting the government employee to be there after 5 pm, he is clearly not a rocket scientist.

Getting no answer, he goes across the street to an arcade.  For $.25, enters a booth to make a record for Dr. Berensen, telling him he is being followed.  He recently returned from Egypt where he opened the tomb of Ahmed III without knocking.  He stumbled onto a miraculous “property entirely unknown to modern science.”  As he begins to describe the “staggering concept” he is shot and killed.  Maybe the miracle is a bullet that can kill a man in a glass booth and not break the glass, because that’s what happens.

The police take the record to Dr. Berensen.  He says Kincaid had a “very impressive bee in his bonnet” about the pyramids.  While Detective Crenshaw is grilling Berensen, he gets a phone call — Kincaid’s lab has been ransacked like Ahmed III’s tomb.  They go to question Kincaid’s boss.  It must be getting close to 5 pm as Crenshaw bails after getting no info, leaving Berensen to further question the man.[1]

They find a photo from inside the tomb.  A sword appears to be hovering in the air over III’s sarcophagus.  Notes on the back suggest a force field and mention Seja Dih who Kincaid saw perform the Indian Rope Trick in Benares and make a lady disappear at The Sands.[2]

Berensen goes to see Kincaid’s wife Virginia who was also his partner.  He is greeted at the door by a maid who might be the worst actress I’ve ever seen.  She says Ms. Kincaid’s bed hasn’t been slept in, so Berensen immediately calls the police.

Berensen’s secretary calls to tell him that Seja Dih is dead but that his granddaughter lives in New York, working as a chemist.  I have to give SFT credit — they did feature a lot of female scientists when that was probably a rarity.  Diversity has its limits though — the Indian guru’s granddaughter is played by an Irish actress in a cute little pixie hair-do, and she doesn’t even get a name.  Oh well, baby steps.

She says Kincaid had contacted her to buy some emerald rings which had belonged to her grandfather.  He believed them to possess the power of anti-gravity.  One of the artifacts recovered looted from Ahmed’s tomb has the same mineral.  Well, would have had it, but the minerals were removed from the artifact before it was shipped to New York.

When Berensen gets home, he finds Virginia Kincaid there.  Before saying a word, he offers her a cigarette.  She says she ran away because after her husband’s death, the house was scary.  She says the minerals weren’t stolen, they were given to her husband by the Egyptian government for research.

Yada yada, there is a boring confrontation.  Then Berensen demonstrates the power of the stones to the government.  The government seizes them under the PATRIOT Act and gives some senator’s brother a $10 million contract to research them.  Although that is just speculation on my part — the $10 million figure, I mean.  The rest sounds about right.

Post-Post:

  • [1] He is played by Basil Rathbone, the most iconic and the 2nd most humorously-monikered portrayer of Sherlock Holmes.
  • [2] Coincidentally, this episode aired the same year Moe Greene got whacked.  On second thought, there’s nothing coincidental about it.  There is no connection.

Science Fiction Theatre – The Frozen Sound (07/30/55)

They almost got me on this one.  Each week host Truman Bradley performs a scientific experiment relevant to the story.  Usually they are so dull and the music so overwrought that I power right through them.  This time, however, he brings out a tuning fork which always intrigued me.

He holds up “a glass of liquid” which looks suspiciously like water or vodka, then gets the fork a-vibrating and holds it against the glass.  After an edit, the glass appears to contain a few ice cubes; then an umbrella and a cherry on a tiny sword.  After another edit, it seems to have completely solidified.  In a shocking breach of lab safety regulations, he breaks the glass with no protective eye-wear.  The liquid now looks like a wax candle, but is described as “a crystal, synthetically produced by man.” [1]  I was ready to buy a tuning fork and try this myself.  After my standard 30 seconds of research, though, it appears to be baloney.

Late one night, A gent Agent Masters from Washington drops in on Dr. Otis — director of a scientific project in New Mexico (wink, wink) — and his daughter at his desert home. Last week Dr. Otis had a top secret meeting in his living room with the Secretary of Defense about converting aircraft to atomic power.  Despite the Fort Knox-like security of a screen-door with a hook, a microfilm transcript of that meeting was found on a Russki spy.  Even the respected Dr. Otis is a suspect in how the info got leaked.

Dr. Otis’s’s’s’ daughter Linda says this is ridiculous.  Nevertheless, Masters says he is going to live in the house with them until this security breach is resolved or until someone remembers the Third and Forth Amendments.

The three of them begin tearing the house apart looking for some eavesdropping device; which is like the police asking murder suspect to help find some bloody fingerprints.  Furniture is x-rayed, the walls are sonically probed. Searching for anything anomalous, Masters find three bottles of ant poison, but one doesn’t seem to be murdering any ants.

Otis breaks the bottle and finds a waxy glob inside.  Beneath the wax is a synthetic crystal.  Otis says, “crystal under compression generates electrical energy that is capable of picking up sound wave frequencies — like the old crystal radio receivers.” Masters conjectures that a jelly-like substance absorbed the sounds from the meeting and hardened in the crystal.

To demonstrate, Masters grabs an LP (Long Playing 33 1/3 vinyl disc containing recorded music or rap).   He smashes it, holds up a shard and asks, “Would you say that was a recording of sound?”  Otis says the grooves are still there, which is not true — most of them are on the ground.  Masters says, “Nothing has actually changed except the method of reproducing that sound.”  This proves nothing — the issue is whether it is possible for the the crystal to record, not if it is possible to play it back.  Anyhoo . . .

They need an expert on MASERs to prove this theory, so decide to enlist Dr. Gordine from Northwest Engineering to help.  Dr. Otis says Gordine could be there in 48 hours. Otis is apparently so excited that Gordine is coming that he doesn’t change his green shirt for 2 days. [2]

Gordine sets up his equipment and they inexplicably decide to test it on a rock Otis uses as a paperweight.  The device is able to read impressions on the rock and broadcasts sounds of hysterical panic and mayhem like someone is exercising free speech on a college campus.  Otis says the rock is from Pompeii, and the noises are people being killed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.[3]  The cooling lava recorded the sounds and 2,000 years later ignominiously and igneously wound up keeping papers on Dr. Otis’s desk from flying around the room.

Next they test the crystal that was found in the ant poison.  Sure enough, it is a recording of every-thing said in the room that day. Masters reasons that the ant poison must replaced every day.  That night, he catches the handyman switching the bottles.  Despite dressing like The Scarecrow, he is not the brains of the operation.

I have to give SFT credit for actually throwing in a twist, and then even adding a justification for it.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.

In the epilogue, Dr. Otis is excited about the historical events that can now be researched by listening to sounds recorded at the time.  However, since the recording process seems to require cooling lava, I think the playlist is going to be shorter than the Big Bopper’s Greatest Hits.   Linda, staring into Masters’ dreamy eyes says she is only thinking of the future.  Dr. Otis must sense wedding bells too, because he finally changed his shirt.

The science seems ludacris to me, but I ain’t no MASER expert.  It seems like a take-off on the Lazarus Bowl concept.  A potter was spinning a bowl while Jesus was raising Lazarus from the dead, and the bowl supposedly recorded the vibrations of his speech.

“Hey, Brittany, the son of God is raising that Lazarus kid from the dead!”

“Let me finish this clay bowl.”

The performances were as bad as usual. Marshall Thompson (Masters) was nearly somnolent.  He had a huge career, though, so maybe I just don’t get him.  Marilyn Erskine (Linda) is attractive, but delivers most of her lines like she’s yelling at an umpire.  Everything is an exclamation — the defense of her father, general exposition, skepticism . . .

I give it about 10 decibels.

Post-Post:

  • [1] In fact, it looks so much like a candle that you can see a blackened wick faintly showing on one end.
  • [2] Or maybe he has an Albert Einstein / Seth Brundle thing going.
  • [3] Most frequently heard phrase:  “Sancta excremento!”
  • Elizabeth Patterson plays a maid.  I can’t say for sure, but being born in 1875, she might the earliest born of any actor I’ve watched so far.  It would not surprise me if someone in AHP aces her out, though.  IMDb says her father was in the Confederate Army.  I wonder if he lived long enough to see Civil War reenactors? “Hey idiot, I lost 55 cousins and my left leg so you could live free from oppression! . . . uh no, the white guy beside you.  Yeah, you!”