01 November 2018

Season 1 of the Zone holding strong (4/24)

O, how the immortal phantoms crowd around me!
I see the vast alembic ever working—I see and know the flames that heat the world . . . .
– Walt Whitman

As always, as I discuss (here, Season 1) of The Twilight Zone, there are apt to be SPOILERS.  You have been Warned.

The difference in “A World of Difference” is sharp and irreconcilable.  Arthur Curtis is never in any doubt who he is;  at no point does it seem to him even a distant possibility that he might be Gerry Reagan, temporarily deluded.  Yet, for us in the audience, the entire environment indicates that Arthur Curtis is a fictional character in a shooting script.  The screenplay is sharp, the acting is superb.  Excellent score by Van Cleave, with wry echoes of the introduction to L’oiseau de feu.  Funny to see David White here, since not long ago we saw Dick York in “The Purple Testament”; and gratifying, as (of course) David White’s acting is much richer here than in Bewitched.  The dilemma is, indeed, unresolvable; so how does Arthur Curtis get out of it?  With what passes in The Twilight Zone for a prayer.

I did not know, when I first watched “Long Live Walter Jameson,” who Kevin McCarthy was.  Now, to be sure, I have seen the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  This is a curiously “non-dramatic” role for McCarthy, his mastery of the emotional subtext is exemplary.  The drama is in the other characters, especially Prof. Kittridge and Laurette.  Laurette acts not out of vengeance, really, nor out of anger, but with a sorrowful sense of trying to right a peculiar temporal wrong.

The high dramatic pitch is sustained by Roddy McDowell in “People Are Alike All Over”; his partner is phlegmatic, philosophical, but McDowell is frightened and apprehensive.  For her part, Teenya seems well aware that she has been used as bait, and to her credit, she exudes discomfort at the knowledge.

“Execution” is an unusually bleak tale for the series.  Albert Salmi plays a bad-to-the-bone desperado whom a modern-day scientist’s time machine whisks away from the hangman’s noose.  He wreaks havoc at every turn, until at last he falls afoul of his modern counterpart, an equal “primitive,” and every character whom we have gotten to know, perishes (some, completely deservedly).  The effect is perhaps a little flat.  But allow me to observe (let those who wish call it waving a pom-pom) that even “grade-B” Twilight Zone is superior television.

This second time around, I found “The Big Tall Wish” much better than at first (not that I am certain why I took it with reservations, back then).  It is, in a child’s-eye view, perhaps as bleak in its theme as “Execution.”  The boy loses nothing material at the end, but the man he admires most teaches him a terribly cold lesson.  Although the boy is the key to the plot, his character is written on the shallow side.

The light touch – Rocky settles into addressing Pip as “Fats” – suits “A Nice Place to Visit” very well.  If the yarn is perhaps a shade mannered and cartoonish, this is perfectly apt with the cosmic joke which ultimately awaits the (curiously gullible, but entirely credible with these small-time operators) deceased.

“Nightmare as a Child” is a return to a note of somber intensity, and features perhaps one of the best performances by a child actor in the series.  It is a drama of suppressed memories, and someone you do not recognize from the past, and a mysterious, solemn, at times almost impertinent child.  Janice Rule, Terry Burnham & Shepperd Strudwick do a brilliant job with Serling’s dialogue;  and both Helen Foley and young Markie are among Serling’s best-delineated female characters.

“A Stop at Willoughby” is something of a dark cousin to “Walking Distance”;  the protagonist in each screenplay is a businessman who wants the balm of a spiritual respite from The Rat Race.  But the chap in “Walking Distance” gets to limp back and face his world afresh.

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