The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 28 – Caesar and Me

Former child star Jackie Cooper plays Jonathan West, an Irish immigrant who has a very unsuccessful career as a ventriloquist.  Caesar, his dummy is, of course, alive.  He berates Jonathan because of his failure and threatens to abandon him.  Having pawned his last valuables and owing the rent to his landlady Mrs. Cudahy, Jonathan and Caesar go on one last audition at a local nightclub.  But the audition is a bomb and now Jonathan is desperate.  Caesar mocks Jonathan and tells him that he is going to have to become a thief if he wants to avoid being evicted.  Caesar talks him through breaking into the local deli and stealing enough money for the rent.

But Mrs. Cudahy has a young niece Susan who dislikes Jonathan and suspects that something strange is going on with Caesar.  She eavesdrops on them talking together in their room and tries to figure out how Caesar seems to be talking.

Now Caesar tells Jonathan they need to get more money and relates a plan to rob the nightclub that they auditioned at.  Jonathan doesn’t want to do it but Caesar is adamant and they go to the club at midnight.  While escaping with the money they are caught by the night watchman but they convince him that they were there waiting for the boss.  He had seen them at the audition and believes their story so he lets them go.  That night Jonathan bewails his new career as a thief and Susan hears them talking about the robbery through the door.

The next day news of the robbery reaches Susan and she immediately calls the police to report Jonathan.  The police show up at Jonathan’s door and they tell him he’s been identified by the night watchman.  Jonathan confesses and is taken away by the police.  Susan watches Jonathan being taken away but then Caesar speaks to her.  He tells her that he knows where the stolen money is and if she will get the money and take him along he’ll show her around New York City.  She says she wants to but says her Aunt will stop her.  Caesar tells her that she can get rid of her Aunt (sounding like murder).

Regular readers of these Twilight Zone reviews know how I feel about living dummies.  But seeing how close we are to the end of the series and knowing this is the last dummy story I won’t go on and on.  The story is sort of melodramatic and Jackie Cooper plays the character as a pathetic figure.  The story is thin.  C+.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 27 – Sounds and Silences

Roswell Flemington is the owner of a company that makes model ships.  He’s a former sailor who shouts and rings bells and plays records of naval battles at sound levels high enough to shake the plaster from the ceiling.  He constantly harangues his employees in nautical terms and at full volume to run a taut ship (in a manner of speaking).  Next we meet Mrs. Flemington just as she is telling her husband that after twenty years of noise, she is leaving him to escape the insanity.

Roswell embraces her departure but as she leaves, he suddenly becomes hypersensitive to sound.  Even a dripping faucet becomes as loud as a gong.  Roswell goes to his doctor but the medical man declares his ears perfectly normal.  He sarcastically recommends a psychiatrist and after running out of other options that is where Roswell goes.  The psychiatrist attributes Flemington’s problem to an anxiety problem associated with his mother’s dislike of noise when he was a child and the transference of this anxiety to his relationship with his wife.  The psychiatrist convinces him that the malady is completely psychosomatic and once Flemington believes him the problem goes away.

When Roswell gets home, he finds his wife preparing to leave and just for spite he tells her that he has discovered that he can shut out his wife’s voice from his mind merely by willing it.  He attempts it and finds it true.  In the final scene he decides to celebrate by playing one of his recordings of a naval bombardment at full volume.  But although we can see the furniture shaking from the sound Roswell can hear nothing.  He has permanently shut himself off from sound completely.

Roswell is played by John McGiver, a well-known character actor of the time with a very distinctive voice.  He and Penny Singleton (who was the voice of George Jetson’s wife Jane, among other things) who plays his wife Lydia give the material everything they’ve got.  But let’s face it.  This is not much of a plot to work with.  There are some comical moments so I’ll be kind and say B-.

 

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 26 – I Am the Night—Color Me Black

In a small town in the Midwest Sheriff Charlie Koch is getting up to go to work.  His wife Ella criticizes him for getting up in the middle of the night but he tells her that even though it’s pitch dark outside, it’s morning.  He tells her to have breakfast ready for a condemned prisoner named Jagger who is being hanged that morning.

When Charlie gets to the jail Deputy Pierce remarks on how strange it is for it to be so dark at eight o-clock in the morning.  Pierce is upbeat about the hanging but is upbraided by the local newspaper owner Colbey for having perjured himself by lying about powder burns he had seen on the victim.  And Colbey indicts himself and Koch for not doing more to bring the facts to the attention of the court.  We also hear that Jagger killed a “bigot” who burned crosses on lawns.  We are led to believe that maybe it was self-defense.

Colbey goes in to talk to Jagger.  He asks Jagger if he wants to talk to a priest but Jagger says he doesn’t believe in God.  Jagger tells Colbey that all he feels is fear and anger.

At the scaffold a crowd assembles to watch the hanging.  Reverend Anderson a black man asks Jagger if he enjoyed shooting the victim and Jagger says he did.  Then Anderson tells the crowd that Jagger was guilty.  Jagger rebukes him.  But based on what Anderson says the guilt he is talking about is not legal guilt for murder but guilt for the sin of hate.  Jagger jeers at the crowd and tells them that he will choke and dance for them but he won’t ask for forgiveness.

Jagger is hanged and it gets even darker until the crowd says they can’t see almost anything.  Reverend Anderson theorizes that the blackness is hate and that the crowd has so much of it that they can’t hold it in anymore so it is escaping into the air and enveloping the whole town.

The sheriff, deputy and newspaperman return to the jail and Pierce tries to encourage them by claiming that any minute now the fog will break up and the sun will emerge as bright as ever.  Colbey turns on the radio and we hear that other dark spots are appearing at especially hateful places around the world.  The radio mentions the north of Vietnam, a street in Dallas, Texas, a prison in Hungary, Birmingham, Alabama and the Berlin Wall.

Rod Serling was a pretty straight forward progressive.  So naturally his convictions show up in his work.  But only in a few episodes does he let it get out of control.  Unfortunately, this is one of those.  The litany of straw man moments is long.  The man Jagger killed was a cross-burning bigot who intimidated black people.  The perjured deputy, the cowardly sheriff and newspaperman.  The death penalty claiming an innocent man.  The crowd baying for blood at the foot of the gallows.

The episode is not without artistic and storytelling merit.  In fact, if it had just been evenhanded, I think it would have made its point.  No one can deny that the world is full to overflowing with hate.  We all feel it and suffer from its effects.  But Serling always points the finger of blame at those he sees as his political enemies, namely the non-progressives.  It’s his default move.

In deference to the competent acting I’m going with a C.  If I were judging it on honesty the grade would be much lower.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 25 – The Masks

Jason Foster is a wealthy old man living in New Orleans but not for much longer.  When we meet him his family physician is informing him that he has at most hours to live.  Foster tells the doctor that he will force himself to live until midnight.  It is Fat Tuesday and Foster has invited his daughter and her husband, son and daughter to spend the night with him.  They have come from Boston because they fully expect him to die and they are in a rush to inherit his estate.

His daughter Emily is a whining hypochondriac completely immersed in concerns for her own health.  Her husband Wilfred is a cold calculating businessman with no love for anything but money.  Their daughter Paula is a vain, selfish young woman with no patience for anything and only interested in her own appearance in her mirror.  Wilfred Junior is a hulking sulking lout who we hear repeatedly enjoys torturing insects.

When told that they will need to spend the Mardi Gras sitting around Foster’s living room wearing hideous masks they revolt and refuse but Foster informs them that they must wear the masks till midnight or they will forfeit their inheritance.  This of course changes their minds.  Foster tells them that the grotesque masks are the opposite of their true personalities but of course by his descriptions you hear that he is revealing the masks as their true selves.  Foster also wears a mask and it is the skull, the face of death.  By the last few minutes the masquerade becomes unbearable and they complain bitterly about wearing the masks.  But finally midnight strikes on the clock and Foster informs them that he is dying and they will all be very wealthy.  He slumps in his chair and after checking for his pulse Wilfred Senior removes his mask and the other three react in horror.  Wilfred’s face has changed to look remarkably similar to his mask.  And the same is the case for the other three.

The doctor is called by the servants and removes the death’s head mask from Foster but he looks normal and as remarked by the doctor death is without horror only providing peace.

Ida Lupino, a very famous actress and later in her career one of the only Holywood Golden Era actresses who did much directing, directed this episode.  It’s a transparent plot and telegraphed from the beginning.  But, in my opinion, it’s one of the best Twilight Zone episodes.  Good work Serling.  A+

 

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 24 – What’s in the Box

Joe Britt (played by the irascible William Demarest) is a New York City cab driver.  He and his wife Phyllis (played by the always entertaining Joan Blondell) are thoroughly sick and tired of being married to each other.  She is always accusing him of running around on her behind her back and he constantly complains about her cooking and bad attitude.

On the night in question, Joe has just finished his dinner that he said tasted like corrugated plastic and Phyllis tells him it was that way because he was so late coming home from running around with some floozy.  Meanwhile the television repairman (played by the always loopy Sterling Holloway) is busy in the living room plying his trade.  Joe comes in and accuses him of padding the bill and in general being a crook.  The repairman smiles and tells him that the tv is now fixed and that there won’t be any charge.

Joe starts watching the wrestling match but suddenly the picture changes to a recent scene in Joe’s life where he is talking to some woman, he’s having an affair with.  Joe is shocked and tells Phyllis there’s something wrong with the tv and she has to call the repairman back to fix it.  While she is back in the kitchen Joe turns the set on again and this time, he sees the earlier scene between himself and Phyllis where he complained about the dinner.  As Joe continues to complain about the television set Phyllis begins to think that Joe is seriously ill and she calls a doctor.

When Joe looks at the tv again he sees a scene where he and Phyllis have physical brawl with him pushing her down and her smashing a ceramic sculpture over his head.  Finally, after more blows are exchanged Joe punches Phyllis in the face and she flies backward and out the window to the pavement several floors below.  Joe collapses in stunned disbelief and Phyllis helps him to bed.

The doctor attends to Joe and afterward tells Phyllis that Joe is hallucinating and she should get him to a psychiatrist.  When he leaves Joe calls Phyllis to his bedside and begins to tell her about his affair and declares his love for Phyllis.  She flies into a rage and berates him and packs her clothes to leave.  While this is happening, Joe sees another scene on the tv.  He sees himself in a law court being sentenced to death for killing Phyllis.  When he sees this, he once again collapses to the floor but instead of pitying him Phyllis mocks him over and over, laughing hysterically that it must be his floozy he sees on the screen.

Joe snaps.  He punches his hand through the tv picture tube and with bleeding knuckles he recreates his assault on Phyllis that we saw earlier on the tv.  And sure enough, she ends up falling out the window to her death.  In the final scene the police and neighbors crowd into his apartment and Joe is arrested and hauled away.  As he is leaving the tv repairman shows up and asks Joe to recommend his service to others.

I love this episode.  It’s wonderfully absurd and contains marvelously over the top overacting by some real old pros.  The War of the Sexes at its level best.  A-.

 

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 23 – Queen of the Nile

Jordan Herrick is a newspaper columnist who is on an assignment to interview a famous actress Pamela Morris whose greatest role was as the queen in the film “Queen of the Nile.”  When he arrives, the maid shows him into the house which is filled with ancient Egyptian sculptures.  Here he sees a painting of the actress signed by the artist and dated 1940 (twenty-four years before).  Next he is escorted out to the swimming pool where the actress is swimming.  Pamela welcomes him and Jordan attempts to find out Pamela’s age.  When she tells him, she is thirty-eight he reminds her of the portrait dated 1940 which would have made her fourteen at the time the painting.  But the painting is of an obviously mature woman.  Pamela replies that she was precocious.  There is obviously chemistry between the two of them and Jordan asks if they can meet again and she agrees to tomorrow night at 8 pm.  But when he is leaving a woman whom Pamela has introduced as her mother tells Jordan that actually she is Pamela’s daughter.

During the date Jordan tells Pamela what the old woman said but Pamela explains that since an accident that killed Pamela’s father, her mother has been mentally disturbed.  They agree to see each other again the next night but after he leaves Jordan calls up his editor and tries to get more information on Pamela.  He finds out that a theater that she admitted to playing had been demolished in the 1920s and that the actress, Constance Taylor, that played in a silent era version of “Queen of the Nile” looked exactly like Pamela Morris.  And Taylor had disappeared in a mysterious cave-in during filming in Egypt.

When he arrives at Pamela’s house, he shows his evidence to Pamela’s “mother” and is told that all of it is true and that Pamela is dangerous and Jordan should leave.  But Jordan refuses, saying he wants to find out the truth of this amazing story.  When Jordan confronts her, she agrees to tell him everything but first she adds a powder to his coffee while he isn’t looking.  While he is drinking it, she goes over to a potted plant and retrieves a little glass box and brings it over to Jordan.  Jordan is already feeling the effects of the drug Pamela put in his drink but he still has the concentration to ask her about the box.  She tells him it contains a living scarab beetle that she got from a Pharaoh of ancient Egypt.  But at this point he collapses to the floor and when Pamela sets the beetle on his bare chest he ages instantly and goes from a very old man to a skeleton and finally into a pile of powder spilling out of his clothes on the living room floor.  Pamela scoops up the scarab and holding it breast absorbs the life force that she has stolen from Jordan.  The old lady comes in and upbraids her for her murder but is threatened with death by Pamela and retreats.

Finally, another young man shows up at the house and we are to assume that Pamela will go through the same sequence with him.

Okay, so this is a transparent plot that everybody has figured out two minutes in.  And the acting isn’t anything to write home about.  But having the old woman tell us that she is the younger woman’s daughter was kind of fun.  And even thought the special effects are pretty crummy I kind of liked this one.  B.

 

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 22 – An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

The short story by Ambrose Bierce that the film is based on is relatively famous having been included in an anthology of short stories that was ubiquitous in the reading lists of mid-twentieth-century grammar and high school literature survey courses.  It was a carefully written story and I think, well worth reading.  This episode of the Twilight Zone was not produced by the show.  It was an independent short film made in France.  It won various film awards and caught Rod Serling’s attention and so it was added to the series.

The opening scene shows a bridge with Union Civil War soldiers guarding a detail of troopers performing a hanging.  Peyton Farquhar is being hanged.  He is a civilian southerner who was caught trying to destroy this railroad bridge.  The soldiers methodically perform the details of the hanging, tying his hands behind his back, restraining his legs at the knees and ankles, and putting the noose around his neck.  Farquhar is positioned on a plank that extends out over the river with the weight of a Union soldier on the other end of the plank as the only thing preventing Farquhar from plunging to his death at the end of the noose.

At a signal from his officer the Union soldier steps off the board and Farquhar plunges down.  But the rope breaks and Peyton Farquhar plunges into the river.  He struggles to escape from his restraints and then swims desperately to avoid the rifle fire from the troops on the bridge.  He survives the escape and begins his trek back home to his wife and children.  When he reaches home, he sees his wife running joyfully toward him.  A slow-motion scene shows us the husband and wife approaching each other and then embracing.  But suddenly Peyton cries out and his neck snaps back.  The scene shifts back to the bridge where we see Peyton Farquhar fall from the plank and reach the end of his rope and die on the hangman’s knot.  The earlier version was just a quick dream in Peyton’s mind before he reached the end of his rope.

I like the story and I like the film.  But the soundtrack includes a jazz song called, “A Livin’ Man” which, frankly, is horribly distracting and out of place.  If that song were replaced with a simple instrumental melody it would have improved the film immeasurably.  This should have been an A.  Let’s call it a B+.

 

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 21 – Spur of the Moment

Anne Henderson is the young daughter of a well-to-do family who is engaged to be married to an up and coming investment banker Robert.  One morning she goes horseback riding on the family estate and a strange middle-aged woman wearing a black cape and riding outfit on a black horse spies her from the top of the hill and screeches something frantically at Anne and starts galloping madly toward Anne.  Anne flees from her at top speed and barely escapes from the woman who keeps screaming incoherently at her.

When Anne arrives home, she dissolves into tears and chokes out her story as her parents and fiancé try to console her.  When she finishes her story, her father calls the police and assures her the woman will be caught.

Meanwhile someone rings the doorbell and as an altercation is heard with the butler Anne realizes that her former boyfriend David is at the door and demanding to speak to her.  Against the wishes of everyone else she agrees to speak to him.  Her father warns David that he has one minute to conclude his conversation and leave before the police will be summoned.

David begs Anne to break off her engagement to Robert and marry David.  She claims she can’t and when she attempts to run up the stairs David restrains her.  When Robert intervenes, David pushes him away and Mr. Henderson produces a revolver and warns David that he will certainly shoot him if David does not leave immediately.  David leaves.

The scene fades out to the same external location with caped woman in black arriving at the Henderson home.  It’s Anne twenty-five years later.  She is aged, bitter and alcoholic.  Her mother is still living there with Anne and her husband.  Mr. Henderson has passed away.  Anne reviles his memory to her mother blaming him for not forcing her to grow up and learn common sense.  Mrs. Henderson slaps Anne’s face but Anne slaps her right back.  Anne now tells her mother that once again today she has seen her younger self riding on the property and once again she has relived that scene, she remembers from her past but from the point of view of the woman in black.  She is chasing her younger self trying to warn her not to marry her present husband.  And now we meet Anne’s husband.  It’s David (shocking reveal)!  He’s also alcoholic and maudlin.  They’re about to lose the house because of his spendthrift ways.  And they hate each other sincerely.

Next scene we go back twenty-five years again to the night after the events seen.  The Hendersons are giving an engagement party for Robert and Anne.  Anne goes out on the front porch obviously bored with the proceedings.  When Robert comes out to join her, she asks him to go inside and get her a jacket for the cold air.  When he leaves David appears in the distance and calls Anne over.  She runs to him and hugs him.  He begs her to run away and marry him.  She agrees and they run into the night.

Back twenty-five years later Anne jumps back onto her horse and just in case we haven’t had enough she relives the pursuit of her young self again.

Is Rod Serling channeling one of the Bronte sisters?  This story sucks.  None of the characters is likeable or even interesting.  Bah!  C-.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 20 – From Agnes—With Love

Wally Cox plays James Ellwood, a computer programmer working with the most powerful computer in the world, Agnes.  He took over because his predecessor was driven insane by Agnes’s erratic behavior.  All is going well for Ellwood until he starts a romantic relationship with a pretty co-worker Millie.  Agnes provides him with relationship advice and all of it backfires against Ellwood.  Finally, she tells Ellwood that he should introduce Millie to a handsome, computer programmer named Walter who drives a sports car.  While having drinks with Millie and Walter, Ellwood gets a call from the office telling him that he must report immediately to reprogram Agnes for a special assignment.  But now Agnes tells Ellwood that she is in love with him.  Ellwood scorns her saying she is just a machine.  Agnes responds by becoming irrational and driving Ellwood insane.

Walter is brought in to replace Ellwood and as he is leaving, he expresses the same dire predictions for Walter that Ellwood’s predecessor had expressed for him.  He leaves a broken man.

There’s really not much to say here.  This is one of those purely comical episodes.  And the substance is extremely thin so it probably could be a C+.  But Wally Cox has precisely the correct nerdy scientist persona needed to pull it off.  I like this one so I’m giving it a B+.

 

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 5 Episode 19 – Night Call

In a small town in Maine called London Flats an old lady named Elva Keene lives.  She is wheelchair bound and has an attendant named Margaret who does her chores and makes her meals during the day then goes home for the night.

One night during a thunder storm, Elva is awakened at two a.m. by the phone ringing.  But when she answers it all she can hear is static.  After she hangs up the same thing happens again.

The next morning Elva calls up the telephone Operator and reports the odd calls.  The Operator informs her that the thunder storm knocked out a number of phone lines and that repairs were ongoing.  When Elva insists that something should be done about the calls the Operator tells her to call back if it happens again and the phone company would trace back the problem.

Several more times during the day and the following night strange calls occur.  But the calls become more disturbing.  First, she starts hearing a man moaning into the line.  Then this man starts repeating the word “hello” over and over.  Finally, the man started saying he wanted to talk to her and wanted to know where she was.  At this last call Elva told him to leave her alone and stop calling her.

The next day the Operator calls Elva back and tells her that the problem has been traced to a downed line.  But when Elva asked how the downed line was calling her the operator informed her that the line was inside the cemetery.

Elva has Margaret drive her to the cemetery and she confirms what she suspected.  The downed line is on top of the grave of her departed fiancé, Brian.  Elva tells Margaret that when she was engaged to Brian her personality so dominated him that he did whatever she wanted.  One day while insisting on driving somewhere she crashed the car causing Brian’s death and her permanent paralysis.

But being as lonely as she is somehow Elva is encouraged by the contact from beyond the grave.  When she gets home and after Margaret leaves for the day, Elva picks up the phone and calls to Brian.  He doesn’t answer so she calls again and again.  He finally answers her and tells her that he always listens to her and since she told him to leave her alone that is exactly what he will now do.

This is a good old creepy ghost story.  The ending is a little off but the whole idea of the phone call from beyond the grave is excellent.  I read that originally the ending was supposed to be that after finding out where the calls were coming from, she gets one last call where Brian tells her he’s on his way over to see her.  Now with her alone in a wheel chair and, let’s say, the phones out of service, that would be one scary ending.

Regardless, this is a solid B+.