02 October 2018

Zoning In (2/24)

Again, there are going to be spoilers throughout this post. So watch The Twilight Zone, first.

Burgess Meredith reports that, of all his television appearances, people spoke to him most about “Time Enough at Last.” (He also emphasized television, in contrast to his work in the movies.) This is probably an apt time to raise my principal quarrel with The Twilight Zone: Too many of the women are stock characters.  Liz was there mostly to sympathize with poor beleaguered Al in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”; Martin's entirely reactive mother in “Walking Distance” (it would not have marred the script at all, had it been the mother rather than the father who figured out that Martin had somehow come back from the future); the pathetically spineless (I doubt that even at that time I should have found that common caricature at all amusing) Ethel Bedeker in “Escape Clause.”  Serling did, however, write a good principal female role for Ida Lupino, in “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”; and Jack Warden's robot companion was a good deal more interesting a personality than any of the other supporting women thus far. Thus, Helen Bemis is only a two-dimensional shrew to torment Burgess Meredith.

Serling was one of the greatest writers to hit television, yet he too often phoned it in when sketching the woman in the screenplay. (He got better in Night Gallery.)

A minor quibble is, that for a character who was established as being practically unable to put a book down, as feeling almost physical discomfort if he didn't hold a book in his hands, I confess to mild (but, probably, previously informed) surprise at the delay before it occurs to Bemis that ... he can pass the time in reading.

No complaint about, erm, fleshing out the female character applies to Charles Beaumont's “Perchance to Dream.”  Suzanne Lloyd recounts the story of her watching the episode for the first time, with a gentleman, who responded to her performance as Maya by upbraiding her, “I had no idea you were that kind of woman,” and canceled their date. An unimaginative fellow, who did not understand what acting is.

Long enough an interval elapsed, that I completely forgot that Patrick Macnee appears in “Judgment Night.” I like that we hear his distinctive voice, before seeing his face.

Any A-list of Twilight Zone episodes (a substantial list, to be sure) must include “And When the Sky Was Opened.”  The agents of removal, as it were, are all the more frightful, for being out of view, and indeed an unanswered mystery. Rod Taylor managed to keep his cool better in The Birds, than here.

In this second survey, I've found both “What You Need” and “The Four of Us Are Dying rather better than I gauged them at first. When I first surveyed the series on DVD, I was perhaps so thoroughly taken with the first disc's consignment of episodes, that I may have come to disc 2 with something of a defiant mien. In fact, these two episodes provide a welcome variety, both in the visual style, which is more a stylized, possibly cartoonish, city-scape in “The Four of Us Are Dying,and in the fact that we meet some highly unsavory characters. The peculiar conceit of “The Four of Us Are Dying” threatens to be just a little diffuse for a 25-minute teleplay, but then, the soundtrack comes to its aid.

I intended to draw a contrast, between the emotional center provided by the chamber orchestral soundtracks provided by Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Van Cleave, e.g., and the “stock” jazz soundtracks used in (among others) “The Four of Us Are Dying,” perfectly suitable though they are. But on some more consideration, I wonder if this is more a reflection (like the frequently shallow writing for female characters) of the time, and the fact that jazz music and artists did not, in the late 50s, enjoy the respect, the parity with the “legit” musical world, which it has probably achieved by now.

“Third From the Sun is charged with a nervousness which leaves the ending in doubt. Interestingly, “I Shot an Arrow in the Air is an apt complement:  in one, we suppose we are on Earth, in the other, we thought we weren't.

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