The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 16 – The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross

Salvadore Ross is a selfish, angry young man who is in love with Leah Maitland, a gentle, sensitive young woman.  He tries to get her to go out with him but his lack of empathy convinces her that although she finds him attractive that they could never be happy together.  When she closes her front door in his face, he angrily punches the door and breaks his hand.

Forced to stay overnight at the hospital prior to the bones being set, he shares a hospital room with an old man with a respiratory infection.  When Ross questions why the old man is in the hospital for just a cold, he tells Ross that for the elderly a cold can become pneumonia and that he would trade his cold for a broken hand gladly.  Ross jokingly says, “it’s a deal.”

The next morning Ross wakes up and when he accidentally bangs his bad hand on the furniture, he discovers that it isn’t injured anymore.  But he also finds that he is coughing.  He checks on his roommate and discovers that the old man has a broken hand.  But when the old man changes his mind about the broken hand, Ross laughs at him and tells him all trades are final.

Now Ross realizes that he has the ability to make deals for unbelievable exchanges between himself and other people.  He approaches a rich old man he knows and offers to exchange his youth for the old man’s age and a million dollars and a beautiful apartment.  The old man jokingly agrees and the next morning Ross is old, rich and living in the apartment.

Now Ross cleverly offers a number of younger people like the bell hop and the elevator operator a thousand dollars for a year of their lives.  Soon Ross is young again but still very rich.  He goes to see Leah and although she is amazed and happy for his prosperity, she tells him straight out that she could never marry a man that wasn’t kind and gentle like her father.

Ross goes to Leah’s father and tells him that he will give him one hundred thousand dollars for something hard to describe.

In the next scene Ross is driving Leah home from a date and he is courteous and affectionate and sincere.  He goes to Leah’s father and asks for her hand in marriage.  The father refuses.  Ross asks whether he has any compassion.  The father says, “you bought it from me yesterday,” and then shoots Ross point blank.  The drama ends with Ross dead on the floor.

Okay, so this sounds like a pretty dopey concept and I guess it is.  But I actually liked it despite myself.  There’s some cleverness to the set up and it moves right along.  The ending is predictable but I took it as kind of a joke ending.  B+.


The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 15 – The Long Morrow

Douglas Stansfield is an astronaut who has been selected to go on the first interstellar mission.  The round trip will take forty years so Stansfield will be put in suspended animation for the trip.  Right before the flight he meets a girl named Sandra Horn who is working for the space agency.  They fall in love on their one and only date and she tells him that her life will be a meaningless exercise without him and when he returns in forty years, she will greet him at the landing.

When Stansfield’s ship returns the mission, controllers see a note to notify Sandra Horn.  When the controller asks whether he should check the old age homes his colleague says that she is currently in a cryogenic facility.  The base commander meets Sandra when she is revived from suspended animation and gives her the shocking news.  Stansfield set his cryogenic unit to revive him very shortly after his launch from Earth.  He has aged almost the entire forty-year interval.  When Douglas and Sandra meet, she tells him that the age difference won’t matter to her.  But he tells her it would matter and he releases her.  The base commander tells Stansfield that he is honored to have met a man as selfless as he is.

The very pretty Mariette Hartley plays Sandra and she does a good job of representing the tragic love story that sets up the surprise ending.  But anyone who has read a lot of golden age science fiction stories saw this one coming a mile away.  Still in its day it was probably a surprise for the audience.  B.


The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 14 – You Drive

Oliver Pope is a middle-aged man who thinks his co-worker Pete Radcliff is after his job.  Driving home one night he is so worried and distracted that he accidentally hits a boy on a bicycle.  He stops and gets out of his car but when he sees that the boy is badly hurt and that no one is around he gets back in his car and flees the scene of the accident.  But a woman sees his car take off and reports it to the police.

Oliver arrives home and tells his wife Lillian that he’s not feeling well.  From her he learns that the boy he hit was their paperboy, Timmy Danbers, who is in critical condition.  Oliver becomes very upset and when Lillian questions his agitation he claims it’s due to Pete Radcliff at work angling to get his job.

After dinner the door between the garage and the kitchen opens on its own and Lillian sees the car lights flashing.  She tells Oliver to see if there are intruders in the garage fooling around with the car.  He goes in but no one is there.  The lights are flashing on their own.  Later that night the car horn starts honking on its own and the lights flash.  In an angry rage Oliver smashes the lights and horn with a hammer.  In the middle of the night the car radio starts playing and the audio is from a news flash from earlier in the day that the boy on the bike had been hit.

The next day Oliver stays home from work to avoid being seen by the witness and the police.  Pete Radcliff stops by from work with Oliver’s correspondence that Pete has kindly answered and only needs Oliver’s signatures to complete.  Oliver screams at Pete claiming that Pete is just trying to steal his job.  After Pete leaves and while he is driving home the witness misidentifies Pete to the police and Pete is arrested for the homicide.

When Oliver hears the news report that Pete has been arrested, he is relieved and claims to Lillian that he always knew Pete was a bad guy.  Next morning Oliver tells Lillian that he is going to take the bus to work and sell the car.  But after he leaves the house and right in front of a stunned Lillian, the car drives out of the garage and with no one at the wheel follows Oliver down the street.  The car shadows Oliver and finally he panics and flees down the street with the car in hot pursuit.  When he trips while running the car stops with its front tire inches from Oliver’s head.

In resignation he enters the open passenger side door and allows the car to drive him to police headquarters where he gets out and apparently goes in and confesses his crime.

Edward Andrews who plays Oliver is a familiar face from film and television as the officious and smug middle-aged businessman.  Here he is frantic and harried as the guilty Oliver.  This is a mildly interesting play.  But B- is how it strikes me.


The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 13 – Ring-a-Ding Girl

Bunny Blake is a Hollywood movie star who is about to fly to Rome to star in a new picture.  She receives a box in the mail and finds that her fan club in her home town of Howardville have sent her a ring with some kind of large stone.  But when she looks into it, she sees her sister Hildy begging her to come home.

In the next scene we are in Hildy Powell’s home where we also meet her son Bud.  Suddenly Bunny shows up in her fur coat and movie star persona.  Hildy is thrilled by the surprise visit but when Bunny sees another Howardville inhabitant in her ring begging for help and she passes out Hildy is panicked and calls the family doctor.

Dr. Floyd examines Bunny and although she seems better, he tells her to rest.  Bunny asks the doctor who is the chairman of the Founder’s Day Picnic to postpone it to another day so she can visit her friends in peace.  He tells her that she has let Hollywood go to her head and refuses.

Bunny decides to go downtown with Bud to get her own prescription and while there she stops in at the High School to ask if townspeople can come to the auditorium to see a cabaret show she wants to put on that day.  Then she goes to the radio station and invites the town to see her show instead of the picnic.  All this seeming selfish behavior angers Hildy but she relents and decides to see Bunny perform.

Now a heavy thunderstorm begins and Bunny sees visions in her ring of herself on an airliner during a storm.  Next she walks out the door into the rainstorm and disappears.  Hildy receives a phone call from the police and is told that an airliner has crashed on the picnic grounds.  Luckily most people were at the high school auditorium waiting for the show.  Then the officer tells Hildy that Bunny was a passenger on the jet liner and is dead.  Hildy is confused because many people have seen Bunny throughout the day.  When she looks around, she sees Bunny’s ring on the floor but the ring is scorched and broken.

This is a ghost story but the twist is that the ghost appears before the woman is dead.  It’s an interesting switch.  Even though I’m not particularly sympathetic to the actress character (she seems a typical Hollywood narcissist) I’ll give this episode a solid B.


The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 12 – Ninety Years Without Slumbering

Ed Wynn is Sam Forstmann, an old man living with his granddaughter and her husband, Marnie and Doug Kirk.  Sam has a grandfather’s clock that he tends to compulsively.  He was given the clock by his father on the day he was born and Sam believes if the clock ever stops his heart will stop too and he’ll die.

Doug is upset that Sam is worrying Marnie with all his fretting about the clock.  Marnie is expecting a child and Doug wants Sam to see a psychiatrist to determine if Sam is lucid.  When Sam goes to the psychiatrist, he tells the old man that the delusion about the clock is unhealthy and he should get rid of the clock.

Sam gives the clock to their next-door neighbor Carol, and is happy for the first couple of weeks as he gets to go over every other day to wind it.  But one day he finds that the neighbors have gone out of town for the week and Sam panics.  In the middle of the night he tries to break into the house to wind the clock but the police see him breaking a window and escort him home.

Now reconciled to his own death as the clock winds down he takes to his bed.  Suddenly his spirit, looking like a ghost of himself arrives and tells him his time to die has arrived.  But inexplicably Sam tells his spirit that he doesn’t believe that clock can determine his life and death and the spirit becomes dispirited and fades away.

Now Marnie shows up at his bedside expecting the worst but Sam rebounds and tells her he’s fine and the important thing is her child.  He takes her downstairs to have some hot chocolate and sounds like a new man determined to embrace life.

Ed Wynn was a comedian of the earlier part of the twentieth century.  He did an earlier episode of the Twilight Zone (actually the second episode shown) called “One for the Angels” that was a gentle but entertaining teleplay.  This episode is equally gentle but I would say it’s a little thin.  Not to say bad but not too substantial.  It’s based completely on that old song that ends, “the clock stopped never to go again when the old man died.”  Let’s call it a B-.


The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 11 – A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain

Harmon Gordon is an old man who married Flora, a very young wife.  Flora is a gold-digger who is bored and resentful of her old husband who can’t keep up with her energy level and appetite for thrills.  Desperate to satisfy her, Harmon begs his brother Raymond, who is a medical researcher, to inject him with a youth serum that has, so far, only been tried on animals.  Raymond refuses saying that the serum is just as likely to kill Harmon as make him younger.  But when he sees that Harmon will jump fifty stories to the pavement below if thwarted, Raymond relents and injects him.  Raymond tells Harmon he will visit him early next morning to see his condition.

The next morning, Raymond shows up early and questions Flora about Harmon.  She dismisses the questions claiming she hasn’t noticed anything strange about him.  But then Harmon walks out of the bedroom and is immediately seen to be about thirty years younger.  He barely has grey hair at his temples and looks about thirty-five.  Harmon says that he feels fantastic and tells Flora that they’ll be going on a cruise the next day.  She becomes ecstatic and all seems well.  But in the next moment suddenly Harmon looks even younger, just a man in his twenties.  And then he doubles up in pain.  Raymond drags him into the bedroom and Flora waits nervously.  When Raymond reappears, he warns her that her life will now change.  Flora doesn’t understand and wants to see Harmon.  Finally, she bursts into the bedroom and finds that Harmon looks like a four-year-old boy.

Raymond tells Flora that if she wants to live in the luxury, she’s become accustomed to she will be responsible for raising Harmon and if she shirks her responsibilities at all, Raymond will see that she’s disinherited altogether.  Flora says it’s not fair but Raymond tells her it will get worse.  She will grow old and then one day Harmon will replace her.

In my opinion this is a swing and a miss.  The story feels flat and the whole thing is kind of boring.  C.


The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 10 – The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms

A three-man tank team of National Guardsmen participating in war games in Montana find a wigwam close to the Little Bighorn River.  Pvt. McClusky and Sgt. Connors are familiar with the history of Custer’s Last Stand and after finding a canteen with 7th Cavalry inscribed on it they explain to Cpl. Langsford that the location of the wigwam jibes with the events of Custer’s route.  The next day they are sent along the stretch of ground where the battle occurred and one by one, they experience all the signs that preceded the battle.  They see smoke signals, find a village and McCluskey is actually shot in the back with an arrow.  In the next scene the crew climbs over a ridge on foot and sees the battle occurring.  They prime their machine guns and pistols and charge into the battle.

Back at the War Games Headquarters Captain Dennet learns that the tank crewed by McClusky, Connors and Langsford was found abandoned.  Dennet has the soldiers declared AWOL.  While walking through the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Dennet and his assistant Lieutenant Woodard notice that McClusky, Connors and Langsford’s names are inscribed on the memorial.  Finally, Dennet says out loud, “Too bad they couldn’t have brought the tank.  It would’ve helped.”

This is a simple and straightforward fantasy.  I think it was quite well done.  And of course, it would have ruined the integrity of historical evidence and the ghostly aspect of the story but I have to agree with Dennet.  I wish they had brought the tank.  That would have been one hell of a story.  B+.


The Star Beast by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

When I got a Newfoundland dog many years ago there was never any doubt that his name would be Lummox.  Because that is the name that Heinlein gave to his star beast.  When we meet Lummox, he’s living in the backyard of John Thomas Stuart XI.  He’s lived there for over a century under the present owner’s father, grandfather and great grandfather.  Over the course of his tenure he’s grown from about the size of a chihuahua to something larger than an elephant.  He’s equipped with eight legs and an appetite for a menu that ranges from rude neighborhood dogs to a Buick automobile.  His personality is friendly, enthusiastic and energetic but his discipline and attention to his master’s orders are decidedly inconsistent.  And for a creature with such an imposing size he has the voice of a baby girl.

Johnnie and Lummox are best friends, almost brothers, and even though his mother doesn’t share his feelings for the beast his girlfriend Betty is on their side.  So, when Lummox gets into trouble for going off reservation and busting up a lot of stuff, Johnnie and Betty do everything in their power to save Lummie from the clutches of the unsympathetic local sheriff who wants to have Lummox terminated as a public menace.

Heinlein weaves together the two threads of Lummox’s past and present to provide a future that wouldn’t have been guessed at the start of the story.  Mixed in with this is the story of Mr. Kiku, the Under Secretary of the Department of Spatial Affairs and his fear of snakes.  Heinlein builds up the little constellation of characters in the Department very nicely and gives us his ideas about how the permanent career bureaucrats in a government department interact with the political appointee that supposedly manages them.

And this is a typical Heinlein trait.  He likes to build up little self-consistent “worlds,” like Westville, the small town where Lummox lives or the Department of Spatial Affairs.  In another book you’ll find that the small-town people act and talk a lot like the people in Westville in this story.  I’m guessing that these small towns were like the small towns in Missouri that Heinlein remembers from his childhood.  And his descriptions of life on a space ship in several of his books comes from his own experience of shipboard life in the U. S. Navy.  Likewise, his ideas of government bureaucracy came from his experience as a government employee.

And throughout we get to know Johnnie and learn about his struggle to weigh loyalty to his friend against fighting insurmountable odds. He is the Heinlein young man character who has been raised to respect authority, is socially conventional, polite and honest.  But he runs smack dab into the injustice of the bureaucratic machine.  In the ensuing turmoil he discovers that a man sometimes has to break the rules to do what’s morally right and protect his own.  And mixed in with this is his relationship with his overprotective and domineering mother and his hyperactive and ambitious girlfriend.  This is another part of his growth as he finally asserts himself against these women jockeying for control of his life.

In this book Heinlein creates a few extraterrestrials types.  And he provides both sympathetic species and other less friendly from a human perspective.  And this lack of empathy allows for a plot device that has since been “borrowed” by the makers of the movie “Men in Black.”  See if you notice it when you read the book.  But the most interesting extraterrestrial is Lummox and Heinlein’s description of Lummox’s internal point of view is highly entertaining.  From my experience as the owner of a Newfoundland I found the beast’s motivations for some of his mistakes extremely familiar and plausible.

I won’t ruin the story by giving away any surprises.  They’re too good.  I would call this one of Heinlein’s most original novels and definitely highly successful as entertainment.  Once again, highly recommended for young and old.

The Rolling Stones by Robert A Heinlein – A Science Fiction Book Review

After rereading Starman Jones and writing a review it occurred to me that the Heinlein juveniles are better than ninety percent of all the Young Adult (YA) science fiction that’s come out since.  So my idea is not to just look at plot but really give a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these classic stories.  Let’s look at “The Rolling Stones.”

The Stones are a family of “Loonies.”  That’s what the human inhabitants of Earth’s Moon call themselves.  In his Future History Heinlein has decided that the Moon is officially named Luna.  Roger and Edith are the parents of Meade, Castor, Pollux and Lowell (or as he’s nicknamed Buster).  And Hazel Meade is Roger’s mother.

Roger is an engineer by profession but lately his job has been writing a television (or whatever they call it) serial called Scourge of the Spaceways.  He despises the vapidity of the show but the hefty paycheck has hooked him.

Edith is a medical doctor and housewife who manages to keep the individualistic personalities of her children from wreaking havoc with her husband’s ideas of domestic sanity.

Meade is the oldest, recently graduated from high school and a social butterfly.  Castor and Pollux are identical twins high school juniors.  They are precocious engineering inventors who have made a good amount of money on an invention and are aching to break out on their own and make their fortune out in the far flung reaches of the solar system.  Buster is a four-year-old who is either a chess prodigy or can read his grandmother’s mind.  Finally, Hazel is one of the original “Founding Fathers” of the Luna Revolution (which Heinlein later back filled in his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”).  She is a senior citizen but because of the preservative effects of living on the low gravity Moon she is quite lively and also extremely outspoken on everything from child-raising to larceny.

Heinlein creates a story about a middle-class family leaving their comfortable but boring environment in order to head out into the frontier of the solar system and experience life as a family and a crew.  Roger and Castor (and later Meade) handle the astrogation.  Hazel and Pollux run the engines.  Edith is the ship’s doctor, cook and also Buster’s mom.  Buster is (as his father notes in the crew list) supercargo.

But really what Heinlein is trying to point out is that the family hasn’t fared well under the modern lifestyle and living life together as a team can allow a father to get to know his children.  And allow them to find out more about their parents than just how much they are willing to spend on useless junk.  All the children benefit from the skills, talents and experiences of their parents and grandmother and the adults are enriched by the challenges of the trip and the chance to influence the choices their children make.

Of course, this is an altogether outlandish odyssey that they are on and apparently bankrolled by the amazingly lucrative writing contract for Scourge of the Spaceways.  Perhaps this is in a way a stand-in for Heinlein’s own lifestyle which was made possible by his well-paying books.  And considering the paucity of other money coming in from the commercial enterprises that the Twins attempt you could be excused for thinking the whole trip was a bust.  But it’s the setup we’re supposed to enjoy.  Seeing the Twins through the eyes of their grandmother as she attempts to extricate them from a legal mess that their ingenuity and inexperience combine to create, we see that this family is resourceful and interesting even when they fail.  These are the story elements that give the book its character.  The action, such as it is, is light and only occasionally rises above familial squabbling.  But Heinlein paints an entertaining picture of his Swiss Family Robinson in space.  Despite the futuristic backdrop and the extraordinary qualities of the individuals, the ethos and character of the family is mid-twentieth century American and it is a charming world that Heinlein has reimagined in the unrealizable future of his era.  The children despite their precocity are decidedly normal and compared to today’s versions, decidedly a breath of fresh air.

And whereas he did manage to tie Hazel somewhat into his other books, I had hoped he would have had a follow-on novel of the brothers in their grown-up stage pursuing fame and fortune while trying to avoid execution.  Some more exciting adventures in this frontier environment wouldn’t wear out the welcome for the Stone family among Heinlein readers.  In fact, one day I might write some of those stories, although if the copyright forbids, I’ll have to alter them to the extent of calling them Castor and Pollux Rock or Boulder or Pebble.  Either way the characters are too good to waste.

A remarkable thing about this book is that it introduced the science fiction creature the flat cat that was stolen by Star Trek and turned into the Tribble.  Of course, Heinlein was gracious enough to permit the theft but it just goes to show you how impoverished Hollywood really is.

The Rolling Stones is different from the other Heinlein juveniles in that the adventure is muted.  But I believe it has its own charm that is completely character driven.  The showcasing of a normal functional family is especially enheartening today when they are almost completely missing in books and films.

Highly recommended for children and adults.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 9 – Probe 7, Over and Out

Richard Basehart plays Colonel Cook, an astronaut crash landed alone on a world four light years from home.  Cook’s arm is broken and the only thing left working on the space ship is the communicator.  Cook is in touch with his home base and General Larabee tells him they have no ship that can rescue him.  Later he tells Cook that a nuclear war is imminent.  After exploring the area around the ship and finding some symbols drawn in the dirt Cook looks around and calls out for the stranger to come out of hiding.

When next he calls his home base the General informs Cook that the nuclear war has occurred and they are waiting for the radioactivity to finish them off.  After this call Cook goes out again looking for the people he thinks are around.  Unfortunately, he is injured and lies unconscious on the ground through the night.  While he lies there a last call comes in from home and the General tells Cook that the end is upon them and he hopes that Cook will be able to live in peace with the strangers he’s found, without hate.

When Cook wakes up he reenters the ship and discovers that someone has occupied and locked one of the ship compartments.  Cook leaves the ship to lure the stranger out.  And it works.  He chases after the intruder and he catches a woman!  Dealing with the language barrier he communicates that his name is Cook and she tells him that her name is Norda.  They have some difficulties when Norda runs in fear from him.  But when Cook has packed his supplies to leave the ship for a garden-like area that he’s found, Norda returns and joins Cook on his trek.  We find out that Cook’s first name is Adam and Norda’s name is Eve.  Adam asks her to name their new planet and she calls it Earth.  And Eve gives Adam an apple that she picks from a tree.

Richard Basehart was a television actor that I remember from a sort of science fiction show called Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  He actually does a very good job of animating this story.  And although the plot and the reveal are a little much, I enjoyed this little teleplay quite a bit.  The story works.  Let’s give this one an A-.