The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 4 Episode 8 – Miniature

Charley Parkes is a loner.  He lives with his mother and she dotes on him.  He is a shy quiet man who cannot socialize with his peers at work and even has trouble empathizing with his own sister and her husband.  His boss fires him because his detached attitude toward his office associates is causing animosity.  A woman that his sister convinces to go on a date with Charley slaps him in the face and walks out when Charley knocks her off the bench they were on because she tries to kiss him.  He is a hopeless recluse.

While killing some time at the local museum he happens upon an exhibit containing a dollhouse of a 19th century Boston home containing a small wooden carving of a young woman sitting at a harpsichord.  Charley is enchanted by the tiny beautiful figure and he becomes lost in the scene.  Suddenly he sees the tiny woman playing the instrument and moving.  He asks the museum guard how they can make the doll move and the guard tells him he’s seeing things.  He shows him a sign that expressly states that the doll is made of a solid piece of wood.  Charley admits that he must have been mistaken.  But Charley goes back e3very day and spends hours watching the dollhouse.  And what he sees is the whole life of the woman and her household.  There is a maid and even a gentleman caller who takes the woman to the opera.  But one day the man comes back to the house in a fury and forces his way in the door, strikes down the maid with his cane and carries the fainting woman up the stairs to her bedroom.  Charley is so alarmed for her safety that he takes a museum furnishing and uses it to shatter the glass around the dollhouse.  He explains to the guard why he did it and the guard leads him off to the authorities.

Charley is placed in a mental institution where his psychiatrist works to convince him that he was suffering from hallucinations caused by his desire to escape from a world in which he felt he didn’t belong.  When Charley persists in saying that the girl was alive the doctor reveals that he has borrowed the doll from the museum and Charlie can see that it is only a piece of wood.

Some time later the psychiatrist explains to his family that Charley has been cured and can reenter the real world.  Charley pretends that he is convinced that what he saw was an hallucination and agrees to all the plans his family make for his career and his social life.  But while he is supposedly taking a nap, he sneaks out the window and heads back to the museum.  There he hides until closing time.  Then he comes out to stand in front of the dollhouse and talk to the little woman.  He tells her of his love and his belief that he and she were made for each other and would enjoy each other’s company.

Meanwhile his family discovers his escape and along with the psychiatrist they summon the police to escort them to the closed museum.  When Charley hears them coming, he closes the lights.  They call to him but he can’t be found.  Now the museum guard who appeared in the earlier scenes looks into the dollhouse and sees the woman now joined by a little man that looks just like Charley.  He doesn’t say anything to the police because they would think him crazy.

In the last scene we see the man and the woman in the dollhouse and it is indeed Charley and the little woman looking at stereopticon slides and looking happy together.

Okay everybody what is the law!  No living mannequins, ventriloquist’s dummies, robots and just in case someone misses the category no living dolls either.

So, Robert Duvall and William Windom who play, respectively, Charley and the psychiatrist are both good actors and do a good job of giving the play depth.  And I myself am a sensitive soul who can barely interact with my fellow man without wincing at his barbarity.  But come on!  Dammit Charley, man up and kiss the girl if she wants to.  C+

The Natural – A Movie Review

The Natural is about Roy Hobbs, a midwestern farm boy, played by Robert Redford, who can play baseball better than anyone else who ever played the game.  The story is how this phenomenon of a ball player meets his fate and learns that life is more than just success or failure in the arena.

The story is a fairy tale set in the golden age of baseball, the 1920s and 1930s.  Roy lives on the family farm with his father who encourages him to become a baseball player telling Roy that he has a great gift.  In a quick sequence of scenes, his father dies of a heart attack, then lightning strikes the old tree in his front yard and Roy uses the lightning hardened core of the wood to carve out a baseball bat that he inscribes with the name, “Wonder Boy” complete with jagged lightning bolt symbol and finally he has a farewell tryst with his childhood sweetheart Iris (played by Glenn Close) whom he promises to call for and marry once he is established in Chicago.

On his train ride to try out for the Chicago Cubs, Roy meets a famous baseball reporter named Max Mercy (played by Robert Duvall) and Babe Ruth (or a look-alike stand-in for him called the “Whammer”) whom he strikes out on three pitches in a field near where the train is stopped for refueling. He also attracts the attention of a femme fatale named Harriet Bird who was following the Whammer as part of her insane mission to shoot great athletes with silver bullets.  When the train reaches Chicago, Harriet invites Roy to her hotel room where wearing a black veil she asks him if he will be the greatest baseball player of all time.   When he answers yes, she shoots him, then jumps out the window to her death.

Sixteen years later Roy shows up at the home of the Buffalo Knights a last place National League team.  He has been signed to a minimal pay contract to play right field.  We meet the manager Pop Fisher (played by Wilford Brimley) and learn that Pop will lose his share of the team ownership to his dishonest partner, “The Judge” (played by Robert Prosky) unless the Knights win the pennant that year.  At first the old rookie is dismissed by Pop and rides the bench, but finally Roy gets his chance and shows the Knights that he is their ticket to compete for the pennant.  On his first at bat Fisher prophetically tells Hobbs to knock the cover off the ball, and he does just that.  By the time the remnant of the ball is thrown back into the infield it’s just a bunch of thread and Roy is the hero the Knights need to spark them.  He goes on a streak hitting home runs almost at will.  The Knights are inspired by him and they all start wearing a lightning bolt on their sleeves in sympathy with his Wonder Boy logo.  They climb out of the cellar and into contention for the pennant.  Now Fisher’s niece, Memo Paris (played by Kim Basinger) comes on to Roy and introduces him to her “friend,” Gus Sands (played by Darren McGavin wearing some kind of glass eye on his left eye), a professional gambler who uses Memo’s attentions to distract ball players from their play on the field and thereby wins him bets.  Between the two of them they distract Hobbs with a frantic nightlife to the point where his game falls apart and the Knights start sinking in the standings again.

But then fate and the strange magic that surrounds Roy steps in again.  On a road trip to Chicago Iris Gaines shows up at the game.  She’s heard about Roy’s emergence in the Major Leagues and wants to see him.  Unbeknownst to Roy she is sitting in the stands watching the game.  After another disappointing game is almost lost, Roy comes up to bat for the last time and on impulse Iris stands up in front of her seat in the bleachers and somehow, mystically, Roy at the plate senses something and it energizes him.  He hits a colossal home run that smashes the enormous glass face of the centerfield clock.  Looking up into the stands he tries to see her but the glare of the reporters’ flash bulbs blinds him.  But later she gets a note to him and they meet after the game at a coffee shop.  They talk about their lives and how fate separated them.  They are obviously still in love but they seem almost resigned to their separation.  As she’s getting into a cab, he asks her to come to the game.  She says she can’t because she has to work but he tells her again to come.

In this next game he hits four home runs and it’s the beginning of a resurgence for the Knights.  After the game he goes to Iris’s apartment and they talk some more and we find out she has a fifteen-year-old son (whose father lives in New York).  Things remain unresolved and Roy leaves to continue the road trip in Boston.

With Roy back in the swing, the Knights tie for first place but this doesn’t suit the plans of Memo, Gus, the reporter Max Mercy and the Judge.  They are all committed financially to the Knights losing the pennant.  So, Memo invites Roy over to a swank party where various inducements are pitched to convince Roy to throw the pennant race.  He refuses and shortly after Memo feeds Roy some kind of hors d’oeuvre he has a gastric attack and is rushed to the hospital.  He misses the remaining games of the regular season and now the pennant depends on a final playoff game.  While in the hospital the attending doctor tells Roy that the bullet that he was shot with sixteen years ago (a silver bullet) had worked itself loose and was recovered while they pumped the poison out of his stomach.  And the doctor tells him that the lining of his stomach has been seriously degraded and he shouldn’t play ball anymore for fear of a fatal rupture of his stomach.

The same day Memo visits him and pleads for him to skip the playoff game promising that Gus will pay him off for it.  Roy refuses.  Max Mercy threatens Roy with exposing the scandalous details of the murder suicide attempt that Harriet Bird perpetrated on him.  Roy refuses to quit.  That night the Judge shows up and attempts to bribe him with twenty thousand dollars to throw the game.

The next day, before the game, Roy goes to the Judge’s office and in front of Gus and Memo, he throws the money back at the Judge.  Gus calls him a loser and says it won’t matter, that the Knights will lose anyway.  And the Judge reveals that he already has another key player who will ensure that the Knights lose.  Memo grabs a pistol out of the Judge’s desk and fires a round into the floor but before anything else can happen Roy takes the gun from her and throws it away as he leaves.

The game goes poorly because Roy is badly hurt and as it turns out the Knight’s pitcher is secretly throwing the game.  Roy calls time out and confronts the pitcher on the mound and he relents.  But by the end of the eighth inning the Knights are down several runs.  Up in the stands Iris is desperate to help Roy so she sends a message to him letting him know that her son is at the game with her and that Roy is his father.

In the climactic at bat, with men on base and Roy as the potential winning run, the opposing pitcher is replaced with a young phenom from Nebraska and even Wonder Boy is broken in half hitting a foul ball off his incredible speed.  And at last with a full count and everything on the line Roy hits the fast ball down the middle of the plate so hard that it’s seen driving straight through the enormous out field lighting display used for night games.  In fact, once the first light is struck all the rest of the lights explode in an extended chain reaction that continues until well after Roy has rounded the bases to win the game and the pennant.  The last scene of the game shows the home run ball continuing through and past the lights, still rising.  The scene shifts to daylight and a baseball is caught by Iris’s son in a farm field and then he throws it back to Roy.  And Iris is in the dress of a farmer’s wife and they all live happily ever after.

 

The Natural was released in 1984.  That was an amazing year.  Reagan’s re-election was a high-water mark for this country in a lot of ways.  After the hopelessness of the Jimmy Carter presidency there was incredible optimism and enthusiasm by the end of the first Reagan term.  The Natural fit that era.  It could not be made today.  It’s too optimistic and has no moral ambiguity.  The characters are clearly either good or evil.  That would never work today.  Granted, it is also ridiculously sentimental and improbable.  But fairy tales usually are.  The soundtrack by Randy Neuman has some themes that are used during some of the more stirring baseball scenes that are reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for The Common Man and are remarkably dramatic.

Tastes, of course, differ.  I could see some people finding the Natural not nuanced enough, almost cartoonish.  It’s true.  It’s a fairy tale.  How can a man slay a tremendous monster?  Impossible.

I like the Natural.  It cheers me up.  Give it a try if fairy tales interest you.

I’m the Bad Guy?  How Did That Happen?

In a recent post I said that the current revolt on the Right could be described as the Falling Down Revolt.  This references the 1993 movie, “Falling Down,” that starred Michael Douglas as a divorced, recently laid off defense industry engineer, named William Foster, who, while stopped on the Los Angeles freeway on a sweltering hot day discovers he has reached the end of his rope.  He leaves his car in the middle of traffic and goes on a trek across the mean streets of Los Angeles to see his young daughter on her birthday.  Along the way he runs into all the dysfunctional aspects of modern America.  There is the Korean inconvenience store where the clerk won’t let you have change unless you pay larcenously high prices, the fast food store where a minute after the prescribed time breakfast becomes an impossibility and the food looks nothing like the nice pictures on the wall.  There are the Mexican street gangs holding up a stranger at knifepoint and then peppering a whole sidewalk full of neighbors with automatic weapons fire to revenge themselves on someone who didn’t allow himself to be robbed.  There are construction sites that spring up and leave the drivers stopped in place for hours, not to repair streets but just to maintain the size of the city construction budget.  There are the panhandlers and psychotic hate-mongers and all manner of unhappy people wherever he turns.

At the end of the film the police detective (played by Robert Duvall) following behind Foster’s trail of destruction figures out that Foster’s unconscious plan is to commit a murder suicide against his wife and daughter.  When Duvall tells him he’s under arrest Foster and the detective have this exchange:

  • “I’m the bad guy?” he asks, in a moment of rare clarity.
  • “Yeah,” says Robert Duvall’s police officer evenly, pointing a gun at his chest
  • “How did that happen?”

Now, up until the very end of the film Foster actually seems like a well-meaning guy who’s having a nervous breakdown in the middle of a city that is psychotic.  When he replies to the detective, he tells his side of it.  To paraphrase Foster, “I always did what they told me was the right thing and now I’ve been thrown away by my job and my family.  I’ve been lied to.”  The detective tells him that everyone has been lied to but that what Foster did isn’t justified.

“I always did what they told me was the right thing and now I’ve been thrown away by my job and my family.  I’ve been lied to.”  This is the crux of the analogy.  The regular joes were just doing all the right things we were told we should be doing.  We were being the good guys and bending over backwards to help the other guys out and what is our reward?  We’re told that we’re the bad guys.  That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.  I guess you could say it’s insult on top of injury.  And if they hadn’t added the insult at the end, when they thought it was already too late for us to do anything, they probably would’ve gotten away with it.  But these folks on the left just have to rub it in.  They not only want to destroy their enemies but they also need them to grovel too.

So that’s how we got here.  We can make a good showing for ourselves now that we know who and what we are up against.  We don’t actually have to help them dig the hole they want to bury us in.  We can stop paying them extortion money as they have no intention of showing gratitude because of it.  In fact, it only makes the Left more self-righteous about their entitlement.  Basically, it’ll be every man for himself, if I may be so bold to use the singular masculine pronoun.  So that’s why I think Falling Down is relevant.  We don’t want to pay for being the good guys if we’re still gonna be called the bad guys anyway.