In the Zone

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Our nightly Twilight Zone viewings prompted me to suggest a screening of SADDLE THE WIND — we’d watched a few Zone episodes with western settings, so a Rod Serling-scripted oater seemed worth a punt. Didn’t go too well — might be a while before I can persuade Fiona to view another cowboy flick.

(My mother LOVES westerns, so I grew up thinking this was normal. Women like westerns. Men like musicals and horror movies. It seemed so reasonable.)

STW is one of those wretched “part-works” (Douglas Sirk: “I have no interest in these part-works.”) Robert Parrish is the credited helmer, but John Sturges also did some of it, I have no idea what. There IS a noticeable tendency for expressive location shots to be interrupted by nasty, obtrusive process-shot “exteriors” and these often come along just when a scene is looking promising. So my guess would be somebody did too interesting a job and the producer wanted it watered down.

It isn’t Serling’s story, so he’s mainly the dialogue man, I guess. It’s noticeable that these cowboys tend to express themselves in florid similes and metaphors, some of which are pretty entertaining. “Keeping your brother under control is like putting hot butter in a wildcat’s ear, it just can’t be done.”

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The story is hopeless. The very strange trio of Robert Taylor, John Cassavetes and Julie London are at the centre. I thought these three would be bound to produce something of interest, but Taylor is such a wet blanket, God love him. He’s also a detestable hero: his little brother, Cassavetes, evolves into a psycho-killer in the course of two days, and Taylor does nothing except bully a poor farmer (Royal Dano) whom his brother later kills. London is brought in as Cassavetes’ girl, and within minutes three different men have referred to her as a “thing” — this turns out to be preparation for her insistence on personhood, which is good to see, but after the first act she’s left with nothing to do. Serling could be considered an artist who found a freedom and creative scope in TV that the movies couldn’t grant —

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Which may be the only grounds for comparing him with Red Skelton.

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2 Responses to “In the Zone”

  1. I’ve been reading your blog for years and am indebted to you for introducing me to many movies I would otherwise never have heard of (The Black Book and Play Dirty come to mind). This is the first time my viewing has paralleled your blog. With the recent Twilight Zone blu ray release, I’ve been viewing the series, which I grew up watching in 70s re-runs.

    It’s impressive how well the show holds up. Like many things of quality, the end result is a combination of skill and pure luck. It’s fortunate that it was made in the era of black-and-white TV since color would have destroyed the mood and highlighted the cheapness of the production. Hair styles and clothing were fairly neutral during this period so the visuals don’t come off today as glaringly dated. Somehow despite the network alternately trying to kill or ruin the show, they still managed to crank out an alarming number of quality shows. Even the last season when the show was on its last legs still has standout classic episodes.

    Lastly, in the disturbing era we are forced to live through, it strikes me how Rod Serling’s world view feels timely and even comforting.

    Jeff

  2. Thanks, and yes! Some of the nicest visuals above came about clearly because the budget didn’t exist for big complicated things so they made simple, graphic sets which are really striking.

    And yes, odd bits of the episodes we’ve watched (a slightly random sampling) have popped out as extremely relevant today.

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