Episode 02: One For The Angels
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Ed Wynn, Murray Hamilton
We are in front of the big-screen TV once again, and as Tanja breaks out the popcorn, I click the clicker and so starts episode two of season one of The Twilight Zone…in super-duper Blu-ray splendour!
No mighty chin this episode, but in the chin’s place is American comic acting legend Ed Wynn. Even Tanja, who is from Germany (I think we’ve mentioned that) recognises him. This is a chap with real acting chops… and funny ones, to boot!
Rod sets the scene. Ed plays Lew Bookman, a salesman, a pitch-man, who hocks ties and toys from his suitcase. It is summer and he’s out in the heat doing what he does best. But there is a strange man watching him, and very soon Lew is confronted by this man, who has a voice much like Rod Serling’s, and a suave way about him. This is Mr Death, and it turns out Lew is due to die at midnight. But Lew does a deal with Mr Death, and manages to put off his death indefinitely. But this has shocking consequences and for Lew, the consequences are just too much. He has to find a way to do a new deal with Mr Death!
This is classic TZ at its finest. A morality tale with oodles of character and two lead actors effortlessly entertaining their audience. Ed Wynn is spectacular as Lew Bookman, ranging from innocent and gleeful, to manic and passionate, to nefarious and underhand. And then we have the Rod Serling-sound-alike Murray Hamilton, who plays Mr Death. He’s cool and debonair, he’s polite but firm, he mysteriously pops up wherever Lew runs. He also has a rather natty little notebook in which every detail of Lew’s life is written down (we rather liked that notebook).
The ending is brilliant: full of drama and emotion. Once again TZ manages to fit into a short time what others would take several hours to achieve. It is the perfect example of tight storytelling. I love this episode, it zips along, wastes no time on fripperies and allows the two leads to, well, to lead. They manage to create a lot of sweat between them, but you know what, it never distracts you from those chops; boy they had chops in those days!
And what about Tanja? She loved it. She wanted to watch it again as soon as it had ended. It was such a pleasure to see her react so positively to one of my favourite episodes. “More, more, more!” is what you’ll hear being chanted in our living room!
Favourite Things: Robbie the Robot making a toy-based cameo; Mr Death’s notebook; incredible use of sweat; a lot of ties
SCORES: Neil 5/5 Tanja 6/5 Total 5.5/5
Episode 03: Mr Denton On Doomsday
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Dan Duryea, Martin Landau
We’re back, Tanja and I, in front of the super-dooper hi-def-o-matic-a-tron, and the Twilight Zone Blu-ray spinning disc is merrily spinning away in the PS3. Once again we are ready to delve in to the fifth dimension (possibly the only dimension James Cameron hasn’t got to first!)
The third episode of season one of the TZ is a Wild West adventure about a former fastest-draw-in-town who has lost his edge and hit the bottle hard. Al Denton (played by Dan Duryea) is a souse, a rummy, a drunkard of the first degree. We encounter him, down on his luck, being humiliated by the ubiquitous “cowboy in black” bad guy (played by Martin Landau, better known to many genre fans for his leading role in Space: 1999). He sings for booze, and makes a poor sight (and sound) indeed! The only people in town that seem to care are the barman and one of the “ladies of negotiable affection”, a Miss Smith (played by Jeanne Cooper). The only other person in town who takes an interest in Denton is a peddler, Henry J Fate (played by Malcolm Atterbury).
With his typical brilliance of words, Rod sums up the scene perfectly, “This is a man who has started his dying early.”
Down and out and lying in the dirt street, Denton finds a mysterious gun. However, Landau’s “cowboy in black” sees him with it and forces Denton into a fast-draw. But then, what happens next is odd indeed, but to tell you that would be to spoil the episode.
So, what did we think? After the incredible opening two episodes, I felt a little let down by this one. It feels too much like the standard Hollywood fare: dust off the old Wild West set, roll out the age-old characters, et voilà! It is just too standard for my tastes. That said the twist in the tale is the usual TZ brilliance, so maybe I am wrong about this one, maybe by using such a normal/over-used setting allows for the twist to have extra potency? Hmmm. Let’s ask Tanja, our German TZ virgin, what did she think?
Well, Tanja enjoyed it more than I did, not having been so exposed to westerns as a child. She agrees that the setting and characters lack the originality and interest of the first two episodes, but she felt the atmosphere and pacing was very well handled. And, like me, she loved the twist in the tale, one that you think you can see coming a mile off, but which is subtly different to your expectations.
All in all, an enjoyable half hour of TV, but coming off the back of two wonderful episodes, this one falls a bit flat. Of course, it was aimed at Americans of the era, and so had a much better response from them. For us, we can take or leave it, but we definitely want to see more episodes!
No chins or Wynns in this one, but lots of marvellous hats, rugged types and a baby-faced Doug McClure!
Favourite Things: drunk cowboy singing, whores as heroines, Martin Landau’s scowl, budget-friendly re-use of existing Wild West sets
SCORES: Neil 2.5/5 Tanja 3/5 Total 2.75/5
Episode 04: The Sixteen Millimetre Shrine
Written By: Rod Serling
Starring: Ida Lupino, Martin Balsam
Spinny-spin, that spinning Blu-ray disc just keeps on going! Luckily, Tanja and I have a big bowl of butter popcorn and our specially-designed tinfoil hats, so we are prepared to head once more in to Rod Serling’s fifth dimension (he keeps it spotlessly clean, don’t you know?)
We’re watching episode four from season one of the TZ, and this one stars big name actress of the time Ida Lupino as aging Hollywood actress Barbra Jean Trenton. Poor Barbra is unable to cope with growing old, losing her spot at the top of the actress tree, and so stays locked in her private screening room endlessly re-watching her old 16mm movies. Sally, her maid, and Mr Weiss, her agent, are both concerned for her. Weiss (played brilliantly by Martin Balsam, do we sniff a whiff of unrequited love between Weiss and Trenton?) arranges an audition for her with her old producer nemesis. But when Barbra ruins her chances by acting uppity and rude, she retreats back to her movies and refuses to come out again. To tell you anymore would be to heap spoilers all over you in a nasty, messy heap, and I’m not one to do such a thing to my friends.
Rod’s opening line is superb: “Picture of a woman looking at a picture, movie great of another time…”
I really liked this episode. It was a return to form after the disappointment of episode three. Ida Lupino’s portrayal of Trenton is sublime: shades of emotion, depression, sadness, love, desire, passion, hatred, desperation. It is, for a half hour TV show, a movie star performance. You fully grasp how this character is living in denial; haunted by her past, running from her future. It is another example of TZ’s amazing ability to get a two hour play in to a half hour format without racing through or confusing. The addition of Martin Balsam as Weiss is wonderful: there is a real buzz between the two actors.
It is period Hollywood in the extreme, for lovers of classic-era movies, of old Hollywood, of contract deals and grand-passions, this episode will be fantastic fun. The ending is as haunting as the rest of the episode, and is both poignant and endearing. I loved this episode, and found it uplifting and extremely well performed.
Tanja, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. She agrees that Ida and Martin are both excellent in their roles, but she found the story too obvious, too by the numbers. I can’t argue with her that the storyline is predictable, and the twist isn’t as shocking as other episodes. But for me, I could get past those things to lap up the old Hollywood grandeur, whereas Tanja just found it a drag. Fair enough.
So, we are a little split on our scores for this episode. You get a lot less in the way of extras, just an isolated score and the usual Sponsor Billboards. As always, Rod is superb, but it is the first time I have noticed how rigid his top lip is: how odd, yet oddly beguiling, too! Whatever our feeling about the ep, the TZ has certainly made us think, discuss and cogitate, excellent stuff!
Favourite Things: Old dames telling snotty producers where to stick it, unrequited love, old projectors
SCORES: Neil 4/5 Tanja 2/5 Total 3/5