Archive for Rod Serling

It is the middle ground between light and shadow…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on March 31, 2017 by dcairns

I was duty-bound to writer about this one, wasn’t I?

In this season 2 Twilight Zone episode, Charles Beaumont pens and Dennis Weaver stars. It’s a tale of a recurring dream — Weaver is electrocuted nightly — we never see his waking life. The episode isn’t quite clear if it wants us to worry about the execution, Weaver’s perpetual oneiric torment, or the threat to the dream-characters — he warns them that if he’s executed, they’ll cease to exist. This splitting of our concerns is an imperfection, and possibly a real problem, but it works out OK since Weaver is so compelling and the unusual direct cutting back and forth between characters builds tension, and the whole waiting for execution scenario is pretty surefire as a dramatic device.

Weaver insists that irl he has no experience of trials and death-houses, so his imagination is constructing this world out of movie clichés, and so it would appear — Weaver gives an intense, perfervid performance as you’d expect from him, and everybody else is basically from Central Casting. This leads to the episode’s best stuff… Weaver, talking to the priest, speculates about where his memory has produced this priest’s face from. Then he remembers it, and tells the priest a story about a real priest who died when he was ten. And he tells this story happily, because he’s pleased he remembered it — he’d been struggling to place the man. This is all very uncomfortable for the priest.

Then, out of the blue, he tells the D.A. a weird tale about the steak his wife is cooking. We’ve already seen this meat in a shock cut from Weaver describing his execution to the oven tray being pulled out with a harsh metallic grating sound, the steak sizzling like a condemned man. If the DA goes home, “It’ll be something different!” insists Weaver. The D.A. heads back to the kitchen and finds a big, juicy joint where the steak once sizzled. WHY? No real explanation, but a great moment of phildickian uncanny.

The nice directorial touches are courtesy of John Brahm, Teutonic noir specialist, who throws in a very novel split-screen effect to show the long walk to the chair as Weaver describes it, and whose opening shot includes a dramatic pull-back with a theatrical lighting change so that Weaver starts out isolated in darkness before the world emerges around him. Niiice.

Inevitably, the meat-induced reprieve comes too late, so Weaver fries, and is then launched back into scene 1 — a DEAD OF NIGHT style strange loop, with no interval of waking reality at all. As a final pay-off, the scene plays out as before, but with the faces all jumbled up — Weaver’s cell neighbour is now the judge, the priest is now a juror, etc. A real dream feel.

Good grim episode, with no lightening of the mood whatsoever, and a central character going through an irrational hellish punishment. Just what we want from this show.

“We know that a dream can be real. But whoever thought that reality could be a dream? We exist, of course, but… but how? In what way? As we believe, as flesh and blood human beings? Or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare? Think about it. And then ask yourself, do you live here, in this country, in this world, or do you live instead in the twilight zone?”

And to cap the whole thing off in a horrifying kind of way, Rod Serling appears with the instrument of his own doom ~

There is a fifth dimension…

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2017 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2017-02-26-21h08m45s571

Rod Serling had acquired John Collier’s wicked short story The Chaser and made a memorable Twilight Zone episode from it, so I guess they felt entitled to “borrow” another of his yarns, Evening Primrose, and turn it into The After Hours, which isn’t quite as beautiful and complete as its unofficial source, but is still pretty incredible. Chalk it up as a NOSFERATU or FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, one of those examples of plagiarism you can’t help but feel grateful for.

vlcsnap-2017-02-26-21h10m07s071

We start with an intriguing mystery — Anne Francis arrives at a department store with the intention of buying a gold thimble. A slightly odd elevator operator — you know, just slightly odd — takes her to the ninth floor, which is deserted save for one woman and one thimble. The woman sells Anne the thimble. It’s only after this transaction has occurred that Anne questions how strange it all is. Then, on the way back, she notices that the thimble is dented. She tries to return it —

Cut to an entirely different KIND of episode, one of the Zone‘s frequent and seldom wholly comfortable comedies, with a camp floorwalker and hammy manager discussing the strangeness of Miss Francis’ tale. You see, there IS no ninth floor.

The discussion spills out on to the shop floor, where Anne sees the woman who sold her the dented thimble — just as a shop assistant lifts the woman up — she’s a mannequin. Excellent close-up of the figure bobbing along as if walking herself, though we know she’s being carried. Anne faints, is forgotten about, and wakes when the store is closed.

(The director here is Douglas Heyes, who did KITTEN WITH A WHIP but also several very strong TZ episodes, including the celebrated Eye of the Beholder.)

vlcsnap-2017-02-26-21h09m50s701

Now there’s another gear shift, as we learn the truth — the ninth floor is populated by department store dummies, who come to life when no one is looking, Toy Story style. Worse, Anne is one of them, but she’d forgotten this fact while on her annual holiday. She ends up accepting her new, limited half-life, but it’s haunting, melancholic.

This episode is simultaneously completely overwhelming, which means it MUST be good — and totally unsatisfactory in story terms. Where Collier’s yarn (also televised in musical form by Stephen Sondheim with Anthony Perkins) is beautifully self-contained and logical within its own nutty terms, Serling’s is a big plate full of loose ends. Why does Anne Francis think she wants to buy a gold thimble for her mother? How does the other mannequin know this? Why are the uncomfortable comedy characters unaware of the ninth floor? I’m in a troubling place here because I hate plot holes but I love unsolvable mysteries. Serling gets away with this uncharacteristically shambolic construction because the eerie, tragic place he parks us in at the story’s end — “in the Twilight Zone” is so touching, and because the superb Anne Francis expresses the yearning to be alive so well. Somehow the longing to be truly human is a universally recognized emotion, as if we all feel deep down that we haven’t made it yet.

In the Zone

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by dcairns

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-08h27m07s110

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.”

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-08h29m35s646

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 —

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h02m21s378

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h05m37s053

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h13m54s712

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h14m35s534

vlcsnap-2017-02-23-00h14m40s751

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