The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 5 – The Howling Man

David Ellington narrates his unbelievable past.  After WW I he was hiking through Central Europe when a sudden thunderstorm disoriented him and he sought shelter in a hermitage.  The brothers were unwilling to give David shelter but he passes out and when he wakes up, he hears a wolf howling.    He follows the sound back to a man imprisoned in a cell who begs him to release him.  Before he does, he is brought to Brother Jerome’s office.  Brother Jerome, the head of the hermitage, informs David that the man in the cell is actually the Devil.  David seems so skeptical that Jerome explains that since he had imprisoned him the Devil had no longer been able to wreak havoc on the world.  And he warns David that if he escapes again, he’ll devastate the earth.  But David couldn’t believe the story so he removes the “Staff of Truth” that was barring the cell and the Devil escapes.

It’s many years later and we see that David is telling this story to his maid.  He tells her that after many years he has recaptured the devil in a room in the apartment and tells the maid not to remove the “Staff of Truth” from the door.  When David leaves to arrange transportation back to Brother Jerome’s the maid removes the staff and the Devil is loosed on the world again.

The set is reminiscent of some Universal Classic Horror movie and Brother Jerome is played by John Carradine who looks sufficiently gothic with his big beard and haunted eyes.  I’m a sucker for classic horror ambience.  B.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 4 – A Thing About Machines

Bartlett Finchley is a food critic who detests people almost as much as he does machines.  When we first meet him he is castigating his tv repairman for cheating him and failing to sympathize with his battle against his household machines.  The repairman states that Finchley has thrown his transistor radio down the stairs and kicked his foot through the picture tube of his television.  He considers Finchley a crank.

But once Finchley is alone in his house we see the inexplicable behavior of the machines.  A clock starts ringing endlessly even after it’s been broken in fragments.  His electric razor came alive on his own and struck at him as if it were a cobra.  His automobile escapes his control and crashes into his house and later on releases the emergency brake and rolls into the street barely missing a child.  Later on a typewriter and his tv set both start telling him to leave the house.

When his typist shows up and he insults her she quits.  But before she can leave Finchley begs her to stay because as much as he dislikes her, he fears his machines more.  Before she leaves, she mocks him and tells him he’s paranoid.  After the horrors of his day Finchley gets soused and passes out.  When he wakes up all the appliances attack at once.  All of the speaking devices tell him to get out and the razor slithers down the stairs in pursuit.

As he runs out the door his car chases him around the property until it pushes him in the swimming pool.  The next day the cop and ambulance driver discuss how he could have ended up that way.

Alright, the fussiness of Benchley and some of his diatribes are a little amusing but this is really thin.  C+.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 3 – Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room

Jackie Rhoades is a small-time racketeer who lives in a cheap motel room in New York City waiting for his mob boss George to tell him his crime assignment for the night.  Jackie is afraid of everything but most of all George.  He’s biting his fingernails and sweating like a pig.

When George shows up, he mocks Jackie for being a coward and tells him that he’s going to graduate to murder.  He has to shoot an old bar keeper who won’t pay George protection money.  Jackie begs George not to make him commit murder but George tells him if he doesn’t shoot the old man then his own life is over.

After George leaves, Jackie agonizes into the mirror about his predicament and even as he insists that he’ll be caught doing it he decides to kill the old man.  But as he’s getting ready to leave, his reflection in the mirror starts talking to him.  It’s a more assertive, more confident version of Jackie.  He tells Jackie that he’s the better side of Jackie’s personality and he’s been submerged all these years while Jackie has sabotaged their life with criminal activities and knuckling under to racketeers and gangsters.

Scared Jackie tells his alter ego that he has to kill the old man and nothing will stop him.  His alter ego tells him this is his last chance.  If he kills the old man he’ll be caught and their life will be over.  Scared Jackie lashes out at the mirror and spins it around but now he sees the mirror image growing and coming at him.

In the next scene George shows up in Jackie’s room and finds Jackie sitting in a chair with his hands over his face.  George confronts Jackie and tells him he’s gonna skin him alive.  But now Jackie tells George he quits and when George gets angry, Jackie punches George in the face and throws him out.  As the episode ends Jackie, now called John is leaving the flophouse for good to get a job and start his new life and Jackie in the mirror is trying to understand what’s happening to him.

In the comments on an earlier episode I expressed the opinion that having a discussion with someone is a lot better than a soliloquy.  Now granted that technically it’s really just one person but without a doubt dialog beats monologue.  The technique was effective and the episode benefited by it.  It wasn’t Shakespeare but it was good.  B.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 2 – The Man in the Bottle

Arthur Castle and his wife Edna own an old family business, an antique shop that is basically insolvent.  Not only can’t he pay his bills but his neighbors borrow money from him too.  An old lady neighbor brings in an old wine bottle she found in a garbage can and tells him it’s a family heirloom.  Arthur tells her it’s an old wine bottle but gives her a dollar anyway.  Edna sees the “no sale” sign on the cash register and bemoans their fate saying “I wish we could find a way out of this.”  Arthur drops the bottle on the floor and a genie dressed in a stylish English suit appears and tells them he will grant them four wishes.  Arthur and Edna disbelieve him so Arthur’s first wish is a test.  He wishes for the shattered glass in one of his floor-displays to be made whole again.  Immediately it is fixed.

Arthur and Edna become excited and Arthur wishes for a million dollars in five and ten-dollar bills.  The genie grants the wish and the money floats down onto the floor of the store.  The generous Castles start gifting money to all their friends and neighbors and announce their intention to take a trip to Europe.  Just as the last friend leaves a man with a brief case appears and announces that he is from the IRS.  After the money they gave out and the taxes they pay they only have five dollars left from the million.  When the genie returns Arthur calls him a con-artist.  The genie explains that consequences should be expected when an uncarefully considered wish is made.  Arthur starts to wish for an after-tax million when Edna tells him that money isn’t a safe wish.  They debate about positions of power; a corporate big shot or a mayor or higher.  Arthur is worried about the people voting him out of power.  So, he settles on a national leader that cannot be voted out of power living within the twentieth century.  So of course, the genie makes Arthur into Hitler in the bunker.  One of his staff gives Arthur a beaker of poison to suicide with.  Considering his options Arthur uses his last wish to be back as Arthur Castle just as he was before all of this started.  And as he drops the flask in the bunker, he becomes Arthur dropping the genie’s bottle on the floor of his store.

Edna and Arthur have a new-found appreciation for their merely unfortunate circumstances and Edna adds that at least the display case glass is still intact.  Immediately Arthur shatters the display glass with the end of the broom he was using to sweep up the shards of the genie’s bottle.  As Arthur empties the fragments into a garbage can on the street in front of his shop, the bottle is surrounded by the smoke from the genie and reassembles.

This is an extremely silly fantasy.  But as you know I like extremely silly stories.  The story is very far from original but the sentimentality is not overbearing so a B seems about right.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 1 – King Nine Will Not Return

This first episode of the second season is a war story.  James Embry is a World War II American bomber pilot.  He wakes up on the desert floor next to his B-25 bomber named King Nine.  He has problems remembering the exact sequence of events but he remembers that there was a bombing mission over Italy that was supposed to return to the North African base but they had crashed in the Sahara Desert.  None of them had parachuted away so they should all have been around the plane dead or alive.  But Embry can’t find any sign of his crew.  After running around and searching in and outside of the plane for most of the show he finds the grave of one of the crew members.  When he looks back at the plane, he thinks he can see the crew but when he runs back to them, they disappear.  He starts to become incoherent and imagines that maybe he’s dead.  He spots some planes in the sky but realizes that they are modern jet aircraft and didn’t exist in 1943 when the plane crashed.  Now he becomes almost catatonic and lays on the ground crying.

Next scene is in a hospital where a doctor and a psychiatrist are discussing how Embry was walking down the street in 1960 when he read a newspaper that had a headline about the King Nine being discovered crashed in the Sahara.  The psychiatrist states that Embry was reacting to the guilt he must have felt because he was not able to fly when that last mission in his plane crashed.  When Embry awakens, he discusses his dream with the doctors and they tell him that it is reasonable for him to be powerfully affected by the news of the discovery of the wreck.  He tells them that it felt incredibly real.  When the nurse comes back with Embry’s clothes that were taken from him when he was admitted.  Removing his shoes from the box a very large quantity of sand falls out.

Okay, so I get it that the trauma of war time loss is an important subject that can be explored and used as the basis of a sf&f story.  But this episode is way, way too thin.  Robert Cummings is a decent actor and very likable but to watch him walking around talking to himself and ranting and raving is not entertaining.  It’s actually quite annoying.  I can’t give this a good mark.  It’s a D-.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 36 – A World of His Own

Gregory West is a playwright.  His wife Victoria suspects her husband of engaging in a love affair with a mysterious blonde.  When we first see Gregory, he is sitting in his study sharing a drink and a tender moment with Mary, the blonde Victoria is searching for.  But outside the bay window of the room we see a dark-haired woman staring in.  This is Victoria.  She enters the house and calls into the study telling Gregory to let her in.  When he does let her in, she searches for Mary and even checks the walls for hidden doors.  When she finally tells that she saw him with a woman he explains what is going on.

Gregory relates that for a playwright sometimes a character can have a will of his own and in fact one day a character he was writing showed up at the house and disputed with him over his actions.  Then he explained that one day he thought up the character of Mary to give him a low-key companion who wasn’t as intimidating as his “perfect” wife Victoria.  He recorded a description on his dictation tape recorder and she appeared.  And when he needed her to disappear, he cut the piece of tape on his recorder that contained her description and threw it in the fireplace and when it burned Mary would disappear.

Victoria didn’t believe a word of this and told Gregory that he was lying.  So, Gregory demonstrated.  He described her and narrated her reaching the house and walking into the house and into the study.  And there she was, the woman that Victoria had seen through the window.  But Victoria didn’t believe it.  She thought it was a set-up.  So, Gregory snipped the tape and threw it into the fireplace and Mary disappeared in front of Victoria.

Now Victoria decides that she will have Gregory locked up in an insane asylum and tells him so.  Gregory believes her and tells her that she herself is also a product of his imagination and shows her a piece of tape in an envelope with her name on it in a safe in the room.  She scoffs at him and throws the piece of tape in the fire.  And Victoria disappears.

Sighing, Gregory starts up his tape recorder and starts describing Victoria, then stops, rewinds the recorder and instead conjures up Mary.  Only this time he calls her Mary West, his wife.  She appears and their mutual love and happiness is visible.

Now Rod Serling is in the room and he’s disparaging the reality of such an impossible story and Gregory takes offense and takes out an envelope with Rod Serling’s name on it and throws it into the fire.  Rod shrugs, smiles and disappears.  And we are left with Gregory and Mary happily ever after in the Twilight Zone.

As you know I like the fun episodes.  This is a fun episode.  Even the usually dour Serling shows some humor.  And of course, I always like when an insufferable woman gets her comeuppance.  B.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 35 – The Mighty Casey

This episode is a pure comedy.  The Hoboken Zephyrs are supposedly a very bad NL baseball team residing solidly in the standings cellar.  Their Manager, McGarry (played by Jack Warden) is informed by the General Manager, Beasley that he is going to be out of work if the team doesn’t improve ASAP.  Along comes a young left-handed pitcher named Casey and his “mentor” Dr. Stillman.  After displaying unhittable stuff McGarry wants to hire him on the spot.  When he asks Dr. Stillman for Casey’s age, Stillman tells him that he’s three weeks old.  He further explains that Casey is a robot that Stillman built.

But McGarry is completely unconcerned with the details of his star prospect’s ancestry and the team goes on an extended winning streak which brings them to the very brink of pennant contention.  But fate steps in.  Casey gets beaned and for the sake of safety he is brought to the hospital for a checkup.  The league doctor says that Casey seems fine but upon trying to take his pulse he discovers that Casey has no heart.  Dr. Stillman confirms this and elaborates that Casey is a robot.  The league doctor reports back to the National League that Casey isn’t human and the League official reads the pertinent baseball regulation.  “The game is to be played with nine men.”  It is reinforced that if Casey hasn’t got a heart then he can’t be on the team.  McGarry objects, but Beasley hasn’t got a heart and he owns forty percent of the team.”  But the official is adamant; no heart, no play.  Dr. Stillman intercedes and says that if Casey needs a heart in order to qualify then he’ll install one.   Everyone is satisfied and the modification is made.  At the next game, Casey shows up with his new heart.  He is smiling and happy as compared to his former robotic blank stare.  Dr. Stillman is pleased with the more human aspect of his creation and everyone is jubilant.

Casey is shelled inning after inning.  After the game McGarry questions him about why he was so awful.  His answer was that his new heart meant that he had empathy for the opposing hitters and didn’t want to be responsible for their lack of success.  So, he let them win.  Dr. Stillman comes over to McGarry and tells him he thinks Casey should change careers to social work and gives McGarry a copy of Casey’s blue print as a memento.  Looking at it McGarry has an idea and he goes running across the outfield to catch Stillman and suggest an idea for using his robots in baseball.  It ends with a voice over by Serling talking about a certain East Coast team that moved to California and suddenly had a pitching staff that was basically unbeatable (meaning the actual Dodgers who were the team the Zephyrs were a stand in for).

This is a hokey joke.  When Rod Serling made a later series called the Night Gallery he would have a couple of longer stories and then a short vignette, usually of a comic nature.  This story in a slightly more condensed form would have been perfect for that kind of treatment.

But as you know I prefer the more light-hearted approach to sf&f.  I especially liked the line about the GM not having a heart.  And the Dodgers were the team my family (well most of them) followed until they left New York the year I was born.  For sentimental and aesthetic reasons, I’ll give this a B but I can understand if the more serious readers disagree.  To each his own.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 34 – The After Hours

I’ll go through this episode but really one word suffices to explain my review, mannequins.

The lovely Anne Francis plays a young woman named Marsha White.  She is in a large department store looking to purchase a gold thimble for her mother.  An obliging elevator operator brings her express to the ninth floor.  But when she gets off the elevator, the whole floor is deserted, dark and empty of merchandise.  Looking confusedly for an explanation she is startled to see and hear a woman.  A very elegantly dressed woman asks her if she needs service and Marsha tells her what she wants to buy.  The woman produces the gold thimble and Marsha pays her.  Then the woman looks at her strangely and asks her if she’s happy.  They get into a little spat about the inappropriateness of the question and Marsha is headed back downstairs with her purchase.  But studying the thimble she realizes it is damaged and she gets off at the third floor to visit the Complaint Department.

There she is told to return it to the Housewares Department for an exchange or a refund.  However, when she states that she bought it on the ninth floor she is met with the news that the store has no ninth floor.  While arguing with the staff about this, Marsha thinks she sees the impertinent sales lady on the floor and rushes to her but when she gets closer, she realizes that she is looking at a mannequin, one that is dressed exactly like the sales lady and in fact has the same face as her.  Marsha faints and is taken care of by the store staff.  Somehow when the store closes, Marsha finds herself locked in.  She starts hearing the mannequins talking to her and when she retreats into the elevator it brings her to the ninth floor.  There she is greeted by the sales lady and finally by all the mannequins now animated and acting as if they know her well.  Incidentally the elevator operator turns out to be a mannequin too.

Obviously, Marsha is very upset by this turn of events but the sales lady calms her down and convinces her to try to remember the details of her recent past.  Finally, Marsha remembers that she herself is a mannequin and was on the one-month vacation that mannequins get to take and go out into the world and be human.  It seems she is a day late and the sales lady has been delayed a day on her turn because of it.  She apologizes to the sales lady, tells the elevator operator that she had a good time and assumes a mannequin pose and in the next scene she’s just a mannequin on the store display.  One of the sales managers (the very recognizable character actor James Millholin) who had been dealing with Marsha’s complaints is startled when he sees the resemblance to the recent patron who was so upset by the other mannequin but nothing comes of his astonishment.  Finally, Serling makes some final comments about the story.

Mannequins.  I’ll put up with a lot in a sci fi or fantasy story.  And I am second to no man in my admiration of the acting and other attributes possessed by the lovely and charming Miss Anne Francis but I will not submit to mannequin tales.  That is too much.  F.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 33 – Mr. Bevis

For those who’ve been reading the last few of these reviews you will have noticed that I prefer humorous and upbeat Twilight Zone episodes.  So of course Rod Serling comes back with an episode so goofily silly and so ridiculously upbeat that he makes me eat my words.

Orson Bean plays the part of James B. W. Bevis.  He’s a man-child who enjoys zither music, model ships, dogs, sliding down bannisters and playing football with the neighborhood kids.   Unfortunately, he’s not as good at getting to work on time, paying his bills, owning a reasonable automobile or maintaining bureaucratic decorum.

His idiosyncratic lifestyle leads him to lose his job, car and apartment all in the same morning.  While drowning his sorrow at the local watering hole he chances to notice in the bar mirror, a man seated in a chair behind him.  When the man speaks to him he turns and realizes the man isn’t there.  Or rather he’s visible only in the mirror.  This is how he meets his guardian angel.

The angel, named J. Hardy Hempstead, explains that he has been the guardian angel to the Bemis family for hundreds of years and he has been responsible for saving James from the consequences of many of his careless and clumsy actions for many years.  Furthermore, he is about to reverse the unfortunate results of the present day and restore his life to prosperity.  In order to affect this change, he will alter Bevis in various ways to avoid the behaviors that have caused his problems.

Hempstead dresses Bevis in a suit, puts him three weeks ahead on his rent, gives him a sports car and when they arrive at work his bizarre desk decorations are gone and his boss is praising him for his efficient and diligent work habits and providing him with a ten dollar raise.  But when Bevis tells Hempstead that he wants to celebrate his success by going home and playing ball with the kids on the street he is told that they won’t play with him anymore.  Bevis is not that guy anymore.

It’s too much for Bevis.  He insists that Hempstead returns things to the way they were previously.  Immediately he gets fired again and he heads out the door uplifted to have gotten his priorities straightened out again.  As he reaches the street his car is restored to working order, so he knows that Hempstead is still looking out for him.  In fact, a fire hydrant that he is parked next to magically moves over a spot just as a cop is going to write him a ticket.

Let’s just say that there is such thing as too much of a good thing.  I do prefer the sunnier side of the street and all that but this is a bit much.  I’d give it a C but Orson Bean is on our side of the aisle (he was Breitbart’s father-in-law) so I’ll give it a B-.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 1 Episode 32 – A Passage for Trumpet

An alcoholic trumpet player named Joey Crown is trying to get a friendly club owner to hire him as a musician.  But Joey has a very bad reputation as an unreliable drunk.  The man gives Joey some money but turns him down.  Joey is at the end of his rope and decides to sell his trumpet to the local pawn shop.  The shop owner gives him eight bucks but immediately puts it in the window for twenty-five.  Even more depressed now he goes out and spends the money on booze.  Staggering down the street he sees a speeding truck heading toward him and jumps in front of it.

In the next scene it’s twilight and Joey finds himself on the ground but apparently unharmed.  He is amazed and slightly elated.  He goes up to a few of the people walking on the street but no one seems to be able to hear or see him.  And he discovers that he has no reflection in a mirror.  After talking to himself for a while he wanders off in a puzzled mood.  While walking down an alley he hears someone playing a very skilled trumpet solo.  He finds a man in formal attire sitting on a fire escape playing.  Joey compliments the man’s playing.  The man thanks him and asks if Joey would like to try the trumpet.  Joey thanks him and takes the horn and plays it well.  The man compliments him and speaks knowingly about various aspects of Joey’s life.  Joey asks him how he can see him but nobody else can.  Joey thinks that both of them are dead and the living can’t see them as ghosts.  The man says that actually he himself is not dead, the others are dead and Joey is actually in a limbo state between life and death following his accident.  The man says that Joey has the choice to live or die and he reminds Joey that he has a pretty wonderful gift of being able to bring emotion to others and joy to himself.  He points out the good things in life that maybe Joey has forgotten about.

As the man walks away Joey asks him his name and he says, “Gabe, as in Gabriel.”

In the next scene Joey is on the sidewalk and a crowd is forming around him.  He is dazed from the impact with the truck but he hasn’t been seriously injured.  The truck driver is worried about police or insurance repercussions from the accident so he puts some cash in Joey’s hand and asks him to forget about the accident.  Joey walks away and sees the pawn shop.  He uses the money from the truck driver to buy back his trumpet.

That night Joey is on the roof of his apartment building happily playing the trumpet to himself when a young woman strikes up a conversation about how much she likes his playing.  She says she’s new to the City and wishes she had someone to show her around.  Joey offers to show here around Manhattan and you can tell that his life is turning around in every way.

Jack Klugman is Joey Crown.  Klugman was in at least three Twilight Zone episodes and I actually had forgotten about this one altogether.  This is the best of the three.  It’s a very sentimental and almost hackneyed.  But for me it strikes the right balance.  God doesn’t come down out of the sky and blind Joey with the light of heaven.  He sends an angel in the shape of a fellow musician to play a sweet trumpet song and talk man to man with him.  Of course the Angel Gabriel is usually portrayed as blowing a blast on the trump of doom at the end of the world but a horn player takes his gigs where he finds them.  I’m feeling sentimental.  It’s an A.