The Lonely is a science fiction short story about being human. I take a few points off because of the silliness of the set-up. James Corry is a convicted killer who’s been sentenced to a fifty-year prison sentence but the “prison” is an asteroid nine million miles from Earth. Let’s forget about the inaccuracies of where and how but let’s look at the silliness of the logistics of this prison. Four times a year a ship has to come from Earth and drop off supplies to all of the asteroid prisons in use. So apparently there are enough asteroids to keep each prisoner in solitary confinement. Next, according to the supply ship personnel, they have to spend eight months out of every year performing their supply circuit. So in effect, they too are virtual prisoners of their jobs. The whole things is completely absurd and pointless since a prison on Earth would be infinitely cheaper, easier and equally effective. Okay, rant off.
Corry is in year four of his sentence when a sympathetic supply ship captain, Allenby brings him a present. Believing Corry to be an innocent man and knowing that Corry is close to despair, he gives him a crate that he tells him to open after the ship leaves because it is contraband which the Captain would be punished for giving to Corry.
Corry opens up the crate and finds a robot that looks and acts like a living woman. Alicia, as she calls herself, tries to befriend Corry but at first he rejects her because he feels she is a mockery of life and worse than being alone. But when he treats her roughly she feels pain and her tears touch his heart and he grows to accept her as a human and love her as a real woman. The scene of the two of them sitting out in the desert night while he points out the familiar constellations is very touching.
Then Allenby’s ship returns unexpectedly with the best news he could possibly hope for. Corry has been pardoned and can now return to Earth immediately. In fact he has only minutes to leave and can only bring fifteen pounds of belongings. He is overjoyed and states that he doesn’t have fifteen pounds of possessions, just a notebook and a pencil. He tells Allenby that he’ll call Alicia and they can go right away.
But Allenby breaks the news to him that Alicia cannot come. There is no allowance for her weight and she is a criminal possession anyway. Corry becomes agitated and angry and tells Allenby and his men that Alicia is a real woman and she must go along with them. Allenby realizes the harm he has caused by his gift to Corry but sees the only possible resolution to the dilemma. He shoots Alicia in the face and thereby destroys her. Corry goes into a shocked silence seeing the mechanical components behind her face and Allenby assures him that leaving the asteroid will mean waking up from a nightmare and the only thing he’ll be leaving behind is loneliness. To which Corry mechanically replies, “I must remember that, I must remember to keep that in mind,” as he’s lead back to the relief ship.
Jack Warden who played Corry was a pretty familiar face to television viewers of the era. He seemed to play a lot of cops from what I remember of him. He does a good job playing the part. Allenby is played by John Dehner who is not as well known but played in several Twilight Zone episodes and is actually one of my favorites for western sheriffs and space ship captains. He also did a good job.
I like this episode. It’s far-fetched and a little bit contrived but fits my tastes for a half-hour drama. It gets a B.
At last, the first season has an episode I can applaud. Escape Clause is the story of Walter Bedeker a hypochondriac in a high rise who says that it’s unfair that he can only live such a very short span. Along comes Cadwallader a portly fellow who says he can provide Walter with virtual immortality and indestructability in exchange for his insignificant soul. After just a little bit of haggling the bargain is struck and Cadwallader even throws in an escape clause just in case the day ever comes when Walter tires of life and wants an easy way out.
Mr. Bedeker strides forward into his new life by hurling himself in front of every subway train and bus he can find. He makes a few thousand dollars of liability insurance but finds himself bored to tears. After drinking a glass of poison in front of his horrified wife, the jaded Methuselah informs his better half that he’s going to the roof and jump the whole fourteen stories just to see how it feels. When she follows him to the roof and tries to block his way, she accidentally falls over the edge to her death.
Walter calls the police and claims he murdered his wife in order to try out the electric chair. But the trial ends with him sentenced to life in prison without parole (damn Democrats). Faced with the endless boredom of a perpetual prison sentence he agrees to the escape clause and Mr. Cadwallader gives him an immediate heart attack exit.
Now that’s my idea of a Twilight Zone. Walter is a cranky egomaniac and Cadwallader is a friendly if oily ambassador for hell. It’s an obvious match made in heaven? There aren’t any big stars but it’s filled with character actors that you’ll recognize from any number of shows and series of the time. The most notable for me is Joe Flynn playing one of the insurance agents paying off on his accident cases. Flynn played Captain Binghamton (Old Leadbottom) on the McHale’s Navy sit-com opposite star Ernest Borgnine as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale.
Finally a Twilight Zone that deserves a solid B+.
Gig Young plays Martin Sloane a Manhattan advertising VP burned out from modern life. Driving his sports convertible through a rural area he realizes he’s at his home town (of course named Homewood). He wanders around and realizes he’s back 25 years ago when he was an 11-year old. He of course, meets himself and his parents. And he causes trouble. He accidentally causes his 11-year old self to fall off the carousel and hurts his leg. Finally, his father realizes that Martin is who he says he is but that retreating into the past is wrong. So some how or other he finds himself back in the present and although he is wiser he doesn’t appear any happier.
One small detail, a very young Ron Howard is a little boy playing marbles in the street near Martin’s boyhood home.
It’s a slight tale and not particularly poignant but I’ll give it a solid C.
This is the homage to Sunset Boulevard. Ida Lupino is playing an over the hill actress named Barbara Jean Trenton. Martin Balsam plays her manager Danny Weiss who wants her to stop living in the past and rejoin the world. But Barbara Jean wants it to be 1934 forever, back when she was a beautiful young star. So basically, this is Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard except instead of murder we get urban fantasy. So, no surprise, after she realizes she was too old for the movies the world no longer had any appeal. So, of course, she ends up entering into the 16 millimeter film of the title. She is seen walking off camera with all of her old friends from twenty five years ago.
Obviously, there are no surprises here. It’s a straight forward wish fulfillment plot. It’s a good story and I’ll give it a B. Not bad.
This is a morality play dressed up in Western trappings. Denton is a former gun hand turned town drunk. He turned to drink because he had to shoot a sixteen-year old kid who came gunning for his reputation as the fastest gun. One day while Denton is lying on the ground after being humiliated by the local bully he finds a Colt pistol and picks it up. When the bully tries to use the gun as an excuse to murder Denton in a shootout Denton accidentally fires off a few shots that each time hit a target that saves his life. Inspired by his change of luck, he walks away from the saloon and tries to restart his life. But his success with the gun reignites his reputation and a gunfighter challenges him to a duel. While preparing to sneak out of town before the fight Denton runs into a travelling peddler named Henry J. Fate. We’ve been seeing Mr. Fate in every scene where Denton had his amazing luck with the gun and so we already know he’s the source of the gun and Denton’s success. He’s peddling a “potion” that makes anyone who takes it a dead shot for exactly ten seconds. Denton accepts the potion and shows up to the duel. When his opponent also drinks a potion before the gunfight it is of course not shocking that both shooters end up hitting their opponents in the gun hand. And a conveniently present doctor informs each man that he will never be fast with a gun again. Mr. Denton tells his young opponent that they are both blessed with being free of the gunfighter’s fate. Denton is played by Dan Duryea who was a fairly well-known character actor of the Hollywood golden age and the town bully was played by Martin Landeau who was a well known television actor especially from the long running, Mission Impossible series. Landau shows up in several other episodes of the Twilight Zone. I would rate this episode as fair. The storyline is mildly entertaining but hardly original or surprising.
A sidewalk pitchman (the guy with the foldable suitcase/table full of cheap junk) named Lou Bookman (Ed Wynn) is visited by Death. Not wanting to die he negotiates a delay until he can “Make a Pitch for the Angels.” Death agrees to this but once the agreement is made Bookman gloats that he’ll stop making pitches forever. But the consequences involve the death in his place of a small child that Bookman knows. The little girl is struck by a truck and will die at midnight when Bookman was scheduled to die. Bookman awaits Death and delays him by distracting him with his most persuasive sales pitch and succeeds in saving the girl’s life. And of course, that pitch was the “One for the Angels.” And at that point Mr. Bookman is ready for his journey with Death who really isn’t a bad guy.
Wynn was a comic actor of the vaudeville era. My only other memory of him was a small part in the original Mary Poppins movie from the 1960s. The whole teleplay is highly sentimental and affected but it works. It’s a gentle fantasy that tugs at the heartstrings and appeals to our sympathy for the little guy who also happens to be a nice guy. For myself, being a rank sentimentalist, it appeals to my childhood view of how the world should be. So, it feels comfortably familiar. In other words, it’s nostalgic escapism and sometimes that’s exactly what I want. You have to decide for yourself if this type of story is acceptable entertainment for you.
I am embarking on a long voyage of discovery. And like most long voyages it will be a combination of rare moments of pleasure immersed in long stretches of boredom. That’s right, I intend to review the whole Twilight Zone series in its original order. You will benefit from my suffering and will thereby know which episodes to skip, which to give a chance and which to view without fear of boredom. Greater love hath no blogger than this, that he lay down his sanity for his readers.
Episode 1 – Where is Everybody?
Earl Holliman (the guy who played the cook on Forbidden Planet) is a man wandering around a town that seems to have had people in it immediately before but now is completely empty. He finds fresh coffee, lit cigarettes and running machines but no people. I guess it’s supposed to be mysterious and claustrophobic but mostly it’s just boring and annoying. At the end we find out he’s an astronaut in an isolation chamber hallucinating. This is preparation for a future moon mission. Granted this was made in 1959 and Sputnik launched in 1957. That means the Space Race was all the rage. So maybe this seemed more interesting back then. But honestly, it’s really dull. This was the first episode of the whole series. The fact that they would lead with this should have been a warning to viewers of what was to come. Not a very auspicious beginning.