Archive for Rod Taylor

It is a dimension as vast as space…

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2017 by dcairns

And When the Sky Was Opened is one of The Twilight Zone’s great Air Force Angst stories. Other include the supreme The Last Flight with Kenneth Haigh (making a surprise jaunt stateside) and the similar but inferior King Nine Will Not Return with Bob Cummings (AKA the Butcher of Strasbourg). I was initially unsure what caused this harping on the aerial theme, other than the appeal of pitting a rational, manly, courageous authority figure against irrational forces he’s not remotely equipped to comprehend. It’s a good writing tip and I offer it to you for nothing: if you come up with an interesting dramatic situation, go looking for the worst person to put in it. But not the obvious worst person — something subtler.

But this episode hints at the spark that may have ignited Rod Serling’s fascination with this motif, for Leonard Rosenman’s score practically quotes Allan Gray’s sinister arpeggio from A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, another movie in which an airman must face off against mysterious and all-powerful universal forces, a story which similarly can be viewed as an account of supernatural interference or mental derangement.

Tip-top Zone helmer Douglas Heyes directs deftly, and his star is Rod Taylor, who enters his buddy’s hospital room at the start with an all-of-a-sudden move, as if hoping to catch the universe out. Then he hunts around while talking to his buddy, as if looking for clues. (Many dramatic scenes could be improved if at least one of the actors would prowl around in search of evidence.) What he’s looking for his confirmation of the existence of his best friend, who was on an experimental space flight (X20!) that crashed, was recovered safely along with Rod and his other pal, but has since disappeared. And he hasn’t just disappeared from the present tense, but from the past too. Like he was never there. Rod Taylor, it transpires, is the only one who can remember him existing at all.

What’s particularly frightening about this one, a Richard Matheson story adapted by Rod Serling, asides from Taylor and the other mens’ powerful performances, which make the whole situation credible and even moving, is the weakness of any explanation offered. In a flashback, Carrington (Charles Aidman), feeling that he’s vanishing (sort of like Michael J. Fox fading away in BACK TO THE FUTURE, but using no special effects, only acting) speculates that the plane shouldn’t have made it, that the fliers ought to be dead, and the universe is correcting its mistake. But that doesn’t fit the facts: the fliers are not being rewritten as dead, they’re being rewritten out of the timeline altogether. It seems like some kind of punishment for trespassing beyond the outer atmosphere, but nobody hints at this. The story sits there, smugly, staring at us and giving away nothing.

Part of what makes this superior to King Nine is that the focus is more on what will happen next rather than the meaning behind what’s just happened. Viewers experienced in the uncanny tale may quickly suspect that this one is never going to be explained — and it’ll be all the scarier for that. There just hasn’t been any set-up which could be repurposed to make an answer to the puzzle. Outer space is really a red herring. Instead of unravelling a mystery, Rod gets ravelled in one — it becomes clear that the universe IS correcting a mistake, sort of, and Rod is part of it. The episode begins with a shot of the space-plane under a tarp, but ends, after all three astronauts have been vanished, with a shot of the tarp lying flat on the ground, like the aftermath of a magician’s trick.

This covers similar terrain to Jean-Claude Carriere’s magnificent short film THE NAIL CLIPPERS — where a man checks into a hotel, unpacks, and loses his nail clippers. Then the overnight bag they were in. Then his suitcase. Then his wife. Then himself. The logic of a nightmare — also, a magic trick familiar to writers, who often erase unwanted characters, not only from the present tense, but from the past. “He’s been yanked off,” mourns Rod, using an actorly image instead — the vaudevillian tugged from the stage by a slyly approaching shepherd’s crook. The comic never does notice the crook until it’s around his neck.

Neither will any of us.

“Once upon a time there was a man named Harrington. A man named Forbes. A man named Gart. They used to exist, but don’t any longer. Someone, or something, took them somewhere. At least, they are no longer a part of the memory of man. And as to the X-20, supposed to be housed here in this hangar, this too does not exist. And if any of you have any questions concerning an aircraft and three men who flew her, speak softly of them, and only in… the twilight zone.”

 

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“Don’t tell him, Pike!”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2016 by dcairns

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36 HOURS (1964) has a really neat thriller premise, derived from Roald Dahl: James Garner has the details of the D-Day landings in his head, and German psychologist Rod Taylor wants to make him spill. He kidnaps Garner and tries to convince him that traumatic amnesia has caused him to lose all recall of the last six years — it’s really 1950 and the war is over, and to help him recover his memory, he ought to tell the good doctor everything he can remember…

Since Garner’s character is called Jefferson Pike, this whole film is basically “Don’t tell him, Pike!”

The Dad’s Army similarity is reinforced by a bit of ill-advised comedy relief at the end involving the German Home Guard and featuring, among others, an aged, aged Sig Rumann.

The other televisual connection is with The Prisoner. Here’s Jim Garner waking up in a  new environment ~

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And here’s Patrick McGoohan doing the same. ~

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To clinch the resemblance, recall that McGoohan was put through a similar scheme, being tricked into thinking he’d escaped from The Village, in the episode entitled The Chimes of Big Ben.

36 HOURS would be pretty good too, a Phildickian conspiracy thriller, except it turns into a run-of-the-mill escape drama at the end — too bad, they got ninety minutes out of their Unique Selling Point High-Concept, then abandoned it. Garner and Taylor make great sparring partners, and the movie even manages to make its villain sympathetic by giving him a nasty, stupid S.S. officer opponent. Werner Peters plays this part nicely, his purring delivery at times recalling the considerably suaver Anton Walbrook. And he has a cute way of ending a conversation with a mumbled, “H’l’ittler.”

Eva Marie Saint, obviously, is good too, though it seems sadly typical of MGM to cast, as a concentration camp survivor, the least Jewish actor they could find.

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I liked the detail of this newspaper — the Germans have to invent an alternate future, based on the information available in 1944, to convince Garner that it’s 1950. Roosevelt’s vice-president, Henry Wallace, was generally expected to succeed him, and Harry Truman was a nonentity in 1944. Werner Peter’s sickly reactions to Taylor’s recounting of the war’s end is wickedly funny.

I wonder how the original story ends? Dahl was rather good at endings.

One thing about George Seaton’s script and direction — he makes a lot of play of windows, and this pays off nicely at the end, when of course romance must blossom…

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Mutant Testimony

Posted in FILM, Science, Television with tags , , , on May 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Sort of a follow-up to the sci-fi themed blogathon action.

We really enjoyed RETURN OF THE FLY (which has the same initials as Rolling On The Floor) some time back, particularly the moment when a telepod accident with a rodent produces a kind of Frankenstein hamster. There was seemingly something in the water at Twentieth Century Fox in the fifties, so that their science fiction output was more demented than most — check out THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE sometime.

The first FLY sequel was directed by one Edward Bernds, whose career fluctuated from goofball space movies (QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE) to Three Stooges comedies, and we resolved to check out more of his marvels sometime. The chance came with WORLD WITHOUT END, a fairly poor film which is not without interest. Sadly, the most ridiculous thing in it is a giant killer bug which springs out at the heroes suspiciously as if drop-kicked into shot by a stagehand. Much of the rest is dull, but the film anticipates other, better movies, in a variety of ways.

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Our heroes are astronauts whose Martian mission is blown wildly off-course — they find themselves accelerating out of control, eventually coming to rest on a wild planet inhabited by scary goofy mutants. When this planet turns out to be Earth in the future after an atomic war, the parallel with PLANET OF THE APES is complete. All that’s missing are the apes.

Instead, the movie posits a humane race divided intwo two breeds — the fey wastrels moping about underground in a science-bunker, and the rampaging uglies on the surface. Thus the movie has inverted the Eloi/Morlocks dichotomy from HG Wells’ The Time Machine. And, delightfully, one of the astronauts is played by Rod Taylor, who would go on to star in George Pal’s lovely adaptation of the Wells novel. He’s pretty good here too, giving the whole thing more conviction and dynamism than it deserves, and almost more than the flimsy set walls can contain just because it would kill him not to.

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Bernds’ self-penned script is otherwise pretty dopey — the heroes remark regularly on the strange fact that the listless subterranean dweebs are blessed with curiously dynamic womenfolk, but no explanation for this is ever offered. And, despite having more vim than the men, the women have not taken over, as they often seem to in dystopian fantasies — they are content to be led by a council of crapulent pantywaists.

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I kind of wish I’d seen this movie as a little kid, because I would have been quite impressed with its minor virtues and overlooked its glaring flaws. But on the other hand, I’m definitely glad I had my mind blown by PLANET OF THE APES and THE TIME MACHINE first.

The other seminal sci-fi movies of my youth, mostly seen in BBC2 seasons, were FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (the ending!), THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, THEM! (the beginning!), and I guess WESTWORLD and SILENT RUNNING. I was less taken with WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE and so-so on THIS ISLAND EARTH. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN seemed cold and slow. Movies that would surely have entered my DNA, but which I didn’t see until I was a bit older, were things like THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, INVADERS FROM MARS (one of the only two copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland I ever owned cautioned that this movie was one of the very few it would NOT recommend for small children, which of course made me very keen to see it) and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.

One summer holiday I was playing in the garden when my Dad told me there was something coming on TV I might like, something he’d enjoyed as a boy — the original FLASH GORDON movie serial. Watching it again, he was kind of shocked by its hoakiness, I think, but I was awestruck.

I was devoted to Dr Who, hiding behind the sofa or outside the door when the scary title music played (Delia Derbyshire’s weird sounds), and Star Trek was sometimes scary but always colourful, even on a b&w TV, it seemed.

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Big screen experiences of sci-fi were not so successful for me, until STAR WARS. I was lucky to see the original KING KONG projected, which was a seminal moment, but LOGAN’S RUN freaked me out (I was too young to be seeing it, surely — not sure how that happened) and I have vague memories of a science fictional submarine movie that bored the life out of the whole family. STAR WARS which I was simultaneously obsessed by and a little disappointed in, having built it up in my head first, was followed by CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and a re-release of 2001, both of which were a lot less child-friendly but probably did a lot to advance my cinematic thinking, even if I wasn’t ready for where they were leading me yet.