Zoning Out

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Even though Joseph DR NO Wiseman’s lead character in the Twilight Zone episode One More Pallbearer is called Paul Radin, I could determine no reason why his building is called Radin Blog. (Note: I got it eventually.) I tweeted author Dean Radin, whose book The Conscious Universe is a good eye-opener, to say that it’s a shame he wasn’t writing a blog anymore as I had found the perfect banner for him.

I don’t think I ever want to run out of PG Wodehouse books to read, and in the same way I don’t want to run out of Twilight Zone episodes, although all the same i would hate to check out leaving any of them unenjoyed. This will need careful management.

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One More Pallbearer is Rod Serling in atomic mode (see also: Carol for Another Christmas), which is usually good value, and he has the ideal star. As Dr. No, Wiseman played a scientist with metal hands, having lost his original flesh ones in an atomic experiment. That always struck me as improbable and a bit funny. This one suffers a bit from having no sympathy, really, for any characters, but the double twist at the end is a zinger and a half. Not quite two zingers, but still pretty good.

Kick the Can was remade by Spielberg in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and Fiona suggested it might be illuminating to check out the original. It was — where Spielberg’s filmlet was cloying and annoying, the original is beautifully bleak. All the rough edges were smoothed off, and the result bathed in a honey-like amber glow. The old folks’ home where it’s set seems paradisical in the movie, and starkly deadening in the series installment. The ending, in which the inmates rejuvenate and run of into the night, leaving one bereft old skeptic, is stark and strange in the series: we don’t know how these kids will live, where they will go. Serling pops out of the bushes to say they’re in the Twilight Zone, which might as well mean they’re dead. It’s eerie, not reassuring.

In the Spielberg, having enjoyed their moment of second childhood, the oldsters return to their doddering, hip-replaced selves, because the status quo must, apparently be preserved.

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I like Scatman Crothers fine, though as a “magic negro” figure he Uncle Toms it a bit in the Spielberg, encouraged by his director. There’s no such character in the series episode, just an old duffer who HOPES, but does not KNOW, that playing children’s games might cancel out the aging process. I was wracking my brains to identify the actor while I was watching, then realized it was old Ernest Truex, best known as the saccharine would-be poet from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (maybe they hired him to script the Spielberg), and also memorable in Preston Sturges’ CHRISTMAS IN JULY. Turns out he had a huge career, starting in silents, and they even tried him in lead roles during the pre-code era when such things seemed worth attempting. WHISTLING IN THE DARK, which pairs him, improbably, with Una Merkel, is well worth a look.

 

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9 Responses to “Zoning Out”

  1. The best “Twilight Zone” episode of them all was “To Serve Man.” Lloyd Bochner who starred in it told me of all the work he’d done over his long career that was the one people asked him about the most.

  2. That kind of thing must happen to so many actors. And so many of them in The Twilight Zone, which in its first series in particular was a kind of repository of a golden age of American acting. See also Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

    I discovered The Simpson’s “Treehouse of Horror” spoof of To Serve Man before the thing itself, so it was kind of pre-spoiled for me.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    Your instincts were correct–Dr. No did not lose his hands to atomic experiments in the original novel. As he recounts:
    “The two great New York Tongs, my own, the Hip Sings, and our rival, the On Lee Ongs, joined in combat. Over the weeks hundreds on both sides were killed and their houses and properties burned to the ground. It was a time of torture and murder and arson in which I joined with delight. Then the riot squads came. Almost the whole police force of New York was mobilized. The two underground armies were prised apart and the headquarters of the two Tongs were raided and the ringleaders sent to jail. I was tipped off about the raid on my own Tong, the Hip Sings. A few hours before it was due, I got to the safe and rifled the million dollars in gold and disappeared into Harlem and went to ground. I was foolish. I should have left America, gone to the farthest corner of the earth. Even from the condemned cells in Sing Sing the heads of my Tong reached out for me. They found me. The killers came in the night. They tortured me. I would not say where the gold was. They tortured me all through the night. Then, when they could not break me, they cut off my hands to show that the corpse was that of a thief, and they shot me through the heart and went away. But they did not know something about me. I am the one man in a million who has his heart on the right side of his body. Those are the odds against it, one in a million. I lived. By sheer willpower I survived the operation and the months in hospital. And all the time I planned and planned how to get away with the money—how to keep it, what to do with it.”

    Oh, and in case anyone is really curious, Dr. No received his medical degree in Milwaukee!

  4. I still think “It’s a Good Life,” starring Billy Mumy as, well, god I guess, is one of the most tense, unnerving things I’ve ever seen.

  5. When in a comic or satiric mood, it was sometimes implied that a person could find a nice niche in the Twilight Zone.

    There was the scriptwriter whose wife didn’t believe he could materialize what he wrote. In the end it turns out he materialized her as well. When she accidentally erases herself, he starts to write her back into existence — then decides to rewrite her as a different, prettier woman, placidly mixing him a drink.

    The schlub who finds a genie, and none of his well-intentioned wishes work out. His final wish is to be a genie (and his dog a genie dog), and we see him joyfully granting other people’s wishes.

    And the lonely man obsessed by a beautiful doll, finally seeking out the model … a spinster who has a doll of him. The end hints that maybe the real story was the two dolls finding a way to be brought together, a bit of creepiness that left the happy ending intact.

    A Twilight Zone revival had an episode where a put-upon secretary slips into an alternate world where ordinary secretaries are envied by supermodels and command movie-star salaries … and stays there, happily. Pretty Pam Dawber played the secretary, which diluted the idea a bit. But the expected mean twist never came.

  6. I have watched precisely ONE episode of eighties Zone — and it was good! A man finds to his alarm that every word in the language is starting to change its meaning. So I have all those to look forward to.

    It’s a Good Life is indeed horrific. The short story is just as good. It took me a while to accept the brilliance of the Joe Dante version in the movie, because it takes it all in a different direction, but the comedy there is pretty unsettling also.

    (Serling’s own attempts at comedy in the original are not my favourites: I like him better in eerie or doomsayer mode. Who better to buy a pack of Chesterfields from?)

  7. The episode of the ’80s Zone I always remember was an adaptation of Robert Silverberg’s “To See the Invisible Man.” I’d never read the story before, but the ending really knocked me out. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s on You Tube, if anyone is curious.

  8. Thanks! I’ll investigate!

  9. The original Twilight Zone had a huge effect on me as a child. Many episodes terrified me. It seems like they’ve been rerunning them ever since, and eventually they lost some of their luster. Many of the ironic twists began to look sadistic, and the comedies leaden.

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