The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
H. L. Mencken
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
H. L. Mencken
Rod Serling tells us the town we see has been deserted for five years after a war. He tells us this could be a century in the future or a million years in the past.
A shapely young woman in a military uniform arrives in the town. Her face is covered in grime and she seems very wary of her surroundings. Walking down the street she sees a building with a sign that says restaurant. She walks in and rummages through the shelves until she finds a food can. She opens it but before she has a chance to examine its contents, she sees a man enter wearing a military uniform different from hers. She immediately throws a kitchen cleaver at him and follows it up with a frying pan. He dodges the missiles and attempts to restrain her but she continues to pummel him with kitchen ironmongery so he clocks her in the jaw and knocks her cold.
The man (played by Charles Bronson) walks over to the can of food and starts eating the chicken drumsticks it contains. On a personal note, the chicken always made me a little hungry but I think I might have hesitated to eat canned chicken that was over five years old.
Now the man goes over to the unconscious woman (played by Elizabeth Montgomery a very attractive actress of the day) and checks to see if he has broken her jaw. Satisfied that she is intact, he picks up a pot of water and pours it over her face. This revives her and she cowers at his feet. Neither speaks the other’s language but he tries anyway to tell her that there is no longer any reason for them to be enemies. He pushes the can of chicken toward her and leaves the building.
He walks down the street and finds a barber shop. He gathers a razor and some soap and water and proceeds to give himself a shave. Meanwhile, the girl has finished her meal and has followed him into the barber shop. As he finishes his shave, he tosses her a bar of soap and she washes her face. Now feeling slightly more human they walk out on the street together and inspect the town. They walk over to the movie theater and see a poster for a war-time romance film which makes them smile but then they both notice two skeletons with rifles. Each grabs a rifle and points it at the other but the man soon decides to just ignore the threat and walks away with the rifle strapped over his shoulder. The girl follows behind him and they end up in front of a clothes store and they both look at a mannequin wearing an evening dress. The girl says something that must mean pretty and the man goes into the window display and takes the dress off the mannequin and throws it to the girl. He walks to next door and points to it to tell her to go inside and change into the dress. After hesitating for a moment, she goes inside and he waits across the street on the curb.
Inside she begins to get undressed but the storefront is a recruiting station and there are pictures of the armed forces and they represent her army as the enemy. This angers her and she runs out the door and fires two energy rounds at the man (so it is not the 20th century anyway). She misses him with the shots but keeps the rifle trained on him. He reacts in shocked disbelief but soon walks away and is gone.
In the next scene the girl is sleeping in the barber shop during a rain storm and looking very lonely. The next day the man is on a second story porch putting on some civilian clothes and gathering some jars of preserved fruit. When he looks down, he sees the girl’s head poking above a car parked across the street. He yells to her to go away because, “this is civilian territory.” But she walks around the car and he can now see that she is wearing the evening dress. Smiling, he throws her a jar of fruit and walks down the street in front of her. She hurries to catch up to him and lifts her dress to walk faster and we can see she’s still wearing her army boots. She catches up to him and they walk on hand in hand.
Bronson and Montgomery are perhaps the least likely couple I could imagine in a love story. But damned if this isn’t a very affecting and enjoyable teleplay. It’s especially interesting that Bronson was given all the lines. He is usually the strong silent type in his movies. Good Zone. A.
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
H. L. Mencken
Burgess Meredith is the obsolete man of the title. He is Romney Wordsworth and his self-declared occupation is Librarian. Unfortunately, Romney lives in a future authoritarian state that has eliminated books and made their possession a capitol crime. By declaring himself a librarian he has by definition defined himself as an obsolete man and therefore legitimately categorized as requiring termination (death).
The opening scene has Romney entering a cavernous hall where the Chancellor is standing at a raised lectern that is much higher than a long table at which his assistant is seated reading out the charges against Romney. Romney is forced to step into a glaring spotlight while the Chancellor harangues him and mocks his claims of relevancy and worth. The Chancellor and his assistant talk of the charges and the needs of the state in quasi-liturgical language and chant the charges and verdict as if they were priests of some fanatical blood-thirsty cult. Because of Romney’s refusal to recant he is sentenced to death. But he is allowed to chose the method and location of his death. As the location, he chooses his own apartment and asks that his death be televised. And as one of the details he asks that the details of the method not be shared with anyone but himself and the executioner.
On the day of the execution Romney invites the Chancellor to see him at his apartment before the execution. During this visit we learn that Romney is a deeply religious man and has a Bible hidden in his room and that he is at peace with his approaching death. Then he tells the Chancellor what the method of his death will be. A powerful bomb is hidden in the apartment and at midnight it will explode killing everyone in the apartment. And at this juncture Romney reveals that he has locked the door so that the Chancellor cannot escape the bomb either.
While all of this is being televised, we get a chance to compare the strength and courage of the god-fearing meek, mild, librarian and the atheistic, athletic, brash leader of the state as they both stare down their own deaths. As the appointed hour approaches the librarian is reading aloud the psalms that comfort the afflicted while the Chancellor becomes more and more panicked until finally, he shouts “for God’s sake let me out.” And because he implored in God’s name, Romney unlocks the door just in time to allow the Chancellor to escape with his life. The scene ends with Romney bowing his head in prayer as the explosion rocks the building and the Chancellor cowers at the bottom of the staircase below the door to the booby-trapped room.
In the next scene the Chancellor is walking into the cavernous hall and suddenly he is in the harsh spotlight and his assistant is now at the high pulpit denouncing him for cowardice and declaring him obsolete. He tries to defend himself but is shouted down and now the mob of agents of the state surround him and drag him to the floor where they exact the penalty for obsolescence right then and there with their own bare hands.
This is a very iconic episode. Basically, we are looking at the imagery of 1984. The all-powerful state crushes anyone who defies it and does so in the public eye to make an example that none can ignore. Burgess Meredith is excellent as a man of integrity and faith who refuses to knuckle under and save his life by betraying everything he believes in. And the Chancellor is delightfully strident and bombastic.
This is, I suppose, a science fiction episode but I always look at it as a comedy.
Two state police officers are investigating a flying saucer sighting somewhere in the snow-covered New England countryside. They observe a hole in the ice on a small pond and also footprints coming out of the water. They follow the prints back to a diner where they find that a bus is stopped and its passengers are waiting for a small bridge to be declared safe. The troopers begin interrogating the diner patrons to determine who was on the bus and who entered separately. In addition to the cook, there is a bus driver and seven people who claim to be bus passengers. Unfortunately, the bus driver is absolutely adamant that there were only six passengers. The alleged passengers include a businessman heading for a Boston business meeting, a blonde exotic dancer, a crazy old man played by character actor Jack Elam and two married couples, one older and one younger.
The Boston businessman and the old coot start accusing each other of being the intruder and even the two couples start looking suspiciously at their mates. The only one who the driver remembers is the good looking blonde for obvious reasons. While the interrogation is stalled out with bickering the juke box mysteriously starts on its own and everyone panics thinking the hidden Martian is messing with them. As the businessman continues to complain about missing his meeting the bus driver warns him that he doesn’t trust that bridge and unless the state inspector gives it the all clear the bus won’t be crossing on it. Once again, the juke box flares up and then all the sugar dispensers on the tables explode. Eventually, a call comes in from the inspector certifying that the bridge is safe. The troopers decide to give the bus an escort over the bridge and all the patrons settle their restaurant bills and depart.
In the next scene, the businessman walks back into the diner and asks the cook for a cup of black coffee. The cook asks the businessman what happened after he left. The businessman says that both the bus and police cruiser were on the bridge when it collapsed and no one got out. The cook said, “no one but you.” But then he notes, “but you’re not even wet.” The businessman asks, “What’s wet.” After they sort that out the businessman explains that his dry appearance is an illusion. And then he makes the juke box start and the phone ring. Now we see that the businessman has three arms and he tells the cook with great satisfaction that he’s the Martian and he’s waiting for his fellow colonists to invade Earth.
Well, the cook tells the businessman that there are colonists coming but they’re not Martians but Venusians (or Venerians if you like Latin) who had the same idea a few years earlier and have intercepted the businessman’s friends. Then the cook takes off his cap and we see he has a third eye. Now the cook is laughing but the businessman is not.
I love this episode. Jack Elam is great as a crazy coot and each of the passengers and the cook and the troopers do a great job of providing the atmosphere for this goofy sci-fi tale. I love how Elam analyzes the mystery and declares, “It’s a regular Ray Bradbury. That’s what it is!” A+
“The war of ideas is a Greek invention. It is one of the most important inventions ever made. Indeed, the possibility of fighting with with words and ideas instead of fighting with swords is the very basis of our civilization, and especially of all its legal and parliamentary institutions.”
As a native inhabitant of New York City and a parochial school inmate with deep family roots in the NYPD, I grew up with the yearly ritual of the St. Patrick’s Day parade with its kilted and bagpipes playing policemen and endless blarney about the religiosity of the City’s inhabitants. But I still think fondly of the ritual. Also March Seventeenth is Camera Girl’s Birthday so she is honorary Irish and celebrates by making corned beef and cabbage for dinner. So a Happy St. Patrick’s Day to any and all Irish and other fans of the day.