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Light and Shadow:
Quint crosses over into The Twilight Zone!
Episodes 1.7-1.9 reviewed!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next Light and Shadow, my systematic and possibly suicidal attempt at going episode by episode through one of the best scripted shows to ever be beamed to idiot boxes, THE TWILIGHT ZONE. As I mentioned in my intro to the first installment of this article The Twilight Zone was on regular rerun rotation as a kid, but outside of an odd episode here or there as I flip through channels at 4am I haven’t revisited the series since my childhood. Even then the reruns all seemed to be the same two dozen episodes. This is the first installment of Light & Shadow that covers an episode I know for sure I’ve seen before, that being the infamous TIME ENOUGH AT LAST starring the great Burgess Meredith. Oddly enough that episode also marks the first real gut-punch ending of the series, the ironic twist that makes you go “Oh, damn!” when watching. The series is kind of known for those twists, but up until that particular episode even the ironic twists still had some degree of optimism or hope to them. But we’ll talk more about that when we get to that review. Here’s what’s on the slate for this report: This installment features episodes 1.7 (“The Lonely” starring Jack Warden and Jean Marsh), 1.8 (“Time Enough At Last” starring Burgess Meredith) and 1.9 (“Perchance to Dream” starring Richard Conte and Suzanne Lloyd). Enjoy!

1.7 – “The Lonely”
Directed by Jack Smight
Written by Rod Serling
Original Airdate: November 13nd, 1959

Witness if you will a dungeon, made out of mountains, salt flats and sand that stretch to infinity. The dungeon has an inmate: James A. Corry. And this is his residence: a metal shack. An old touring car that squats in the sun and goes nowhere, for there is nowhere to go. For the record let it be known that James A. Corry is a convicted criminal placed in solitary confinement. Confinement in this case stretches as far as the eye can see because this particular dungeon is on an asteroid nine million miles from the Earth. Now witness if you will a man's mind and body shriveling in the sun, a man dying of loneliness.
As you can tell from Rod’s great intro this is a tale of loneliness as a man (Jack Warden), wrongly convicted of murder in the distant future, is isolated on an asteroid, which oddly looks like the deserts outside of Los Angeles. There are no bars on his windows, no guards at his door, but where would he go? Four times a year he is visited by John Dehner’s Allenby, the captain of a spaceship that carries supplies and information across the universe, but other than that sparse and brief interaction Warden is left to occupy his time with building odds and ends all by his lonesome. Allenby takes pity on him when he has to deliver the news that Warden’s appeal has been denied. So he delivers a large crate, telling his crew nothing about it and asking Warden to wait to open it until after they leave. When Warden does crack the case he finds himself a girl. A robot girl. Or, as they constantly say in this episode, a ro-butt. I don’t know why I find it so funny as it was obviously a common pronunciation back in the ‘50s... I’ve seen robots called ro-butts in many films and TV series of this era… but it does make me crack a smile every time I stumble across it. This robot is played by a young Jean Marsh, who our UK friends will know from UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS and DR. WHO, but who will always remind me of two extremely creepy bad guys of ‘80s fantasy: Bavmoda in WILLOW and that fucking headless lady from RETURN TO OZ. I can’t deny that she’s pretty hot here. There’s a dark innocence to her in this episode… I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Burton watched this one as a kid and discovered a whole new world of sensations. Marsh’s Alicia looks a bit like Sally in NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Jack Warden is what keeps this episode afloat. The writing is fine, but the whole thing feels rushed, like they didn’t have enough time to really tell this story. At first Warden can’t see this robot, Alicia, as anything but a kitchen appliance with skin. He’s a rude fucker, insulting this poor girl even though she seems to have all the same emotions as he does. She feels pain, rejection, thirst, hunger, loneliness just like he does. The bulk of that rushed feeling comes from this middle section where Warden turns from rude asshole to caring companion within one scene and then we get the “11 months later” narration, not really getting any time to see how these two grow to love each other. So when the captain returns, proclaiming that Warden’s pardon has been granted, but they have to leave within 10 minutes and only have room for Warden I didn’t feel the torture of that news as much as I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong, that horrible decision is sold 100% by Warden. At first he doesn’t understand, then denies and pleads, looking insane for saying that Alicia’s a real person, there’s a real soul in there, the machine parts be damned. A lot of these episodes you have to fill in your own gaps, take some leaps you might not have had to take if there had been slightly more budget or time to develop these stories and I absolutely admit this is a well done episode, just one that I felt was done a disservice. If they had time for just one or two more scenes between Marsh and Warden I wouldn’t be picking nits. The actual ending of the episode I won’t spoil, but it’s a corker, even if I think the impact would have been greater if we had seen more of Marsh and Warden’s relationship.

1.8 – “Time Enough At Last”
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Rod Serling, based on the short story by Lynn Venable
Original Airdate: November 20th, 1959

Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself, without anyone.
Now we’re in to one of the all time classic episodes… not just of Twilight Zone but of any episodic TV ever broadcast. I remember watching this as a kid and it really having and impact on me because the whole damned episode is about gaining your trust and then punching you in the gut. Seriously, rewatch this episode. Every moment is designed to make you sympathize with Burgess Meredith’s bookwormy Henry Bemis. Every person he’s around is a hateful douchebag, even his wife. Especially his wife. If they made this episode today they would have made Meredith’s character an uber-nerd, terribly withdrawn, socially awkward and pathetic and, in doing so, miss the point. Henry Bemis loves books because he can get lost in them without having to be talked down to, scolded or mocked. The feeling I get is that if he were in a better position, surrounded by better people he wouldn’t be forced to escape into his reading the way he does here. There’s a giddy excitement when he thinks his cunty wife (I was going to say “bitchy” wife, but go watch the episode again… she steps way out of Bitch territory and firmly into Cunt County here) is actually engaging him. The character is starved for interaction and if he had other outlets he wouldn’t turn to books as zealously as he does when we meet him. But as it is, his wife is a miserable human being, his boss at the bank is a big dickhead and he has no other friends, so Meredith, with his coke bottle glasses, turns to whatever books he can sneak. Of course I see a parallel between Mr. Bemis and myself. He has novels, I have DVDs. Fortunately for me, I don’t work in a bank, sneaking peeks at Criterions on a portable DVD player as I go about my day to day duties. I get to talk about my passion every day, but like almost every other movie geek I know there was a time when I thought I was the only one out there. And as any DVD/Blu-Ray hoarder will admit to when pressed there’s a certain “end of the world” fantasy involved in stocking your own video store, essentially. Between movies and TV I myself have probably 10 months worth of unseen stories on my DVD shelves. Of course, if the scenario that Henry Bemis finds himself in happened to me I’d be left with a few thousand shiny coasters since I doubt I’d have the electricity needed to play my media after the A-bomb drops. Unlike my issues with The Lonely this episode feels perfectly paced. You spend just enough time with Meredith pre-bomb drop to get to know him and just enough time after to feel his complete isolation and loneliness. Then that glimmer of hope as he stumbles across one of the few remaining structures in the post-apocalyptic wasteland: the public library. That represents Serling throwing a nice, cozy rug down for us to trod upon just so he can yank it out from under our feet leaving us with one of the most memorable finales ever, sold impeccably by Meredith’s heart-breakingly pathetic murmurs of the words “It’s not fair…” Awesome episode, even better than I remember it being.

1.9 – “Perchance to Dream”
Directed by Robert Florey
Written by Charles Beaumont, based on his short story
Original Airdate: November 27th, 1959

Twelve o'clock noon. An ordinary scene, an ordinary city. Lunchtime for thousands of ordinary people. To most of them, this hour will be a rest, a pleasant break in the day's routine. To most, but not all. To Edward Hall, time is an enemy, and the hour to come is a matter of life and death.
This episode marks the first Twilight Zone not scripted by Rod Serling. Instead series collaborator Charles Beaumont adapts his own short story in a dreamscape tale that surely provided the groundwork for Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Basically you follow a young Richard Conte (from The Godfather and pretty much every knock-off of The Godfather until his death in 1975) as he goes to see a new shrink after suffering a series of recurring nightmares that are putting such a strain on his weak heart. He’s certain he’s going to die the next time he falls asleep. This episode more than any other covered up to this point got under my skin. It’s not even the big moments, but a simple story Conte is telling his shrink about how his imagination can sometimes make him see things. He describes reading about a woman being killed while driving by a murderer hiding in her backseat, so we see him nervously driving along shooting glances into his rearview mirror. All we see is blackness. The editing becomes more and more frantic and I realized I was clenching up a bit in anticipation of what was going to pop up. Freddy Krueger isn’t hunting Conte. Quite the opposite, actually. A beautiful woman haunts him. He dreams of being at a carnival and conversing with this woman, a dancer known as Maya, The Cat Woman, who has the devil in her eyes. She wants him dead, Conte is sure of it. Because he dreams in sequence he knows that the progressively bizarre and scary dreams are about to come to a head and is bound and determined to stay awake. The dream sequences are filmed with Dutch angles and a Vaseline-smeared lens giving them a true nightmarish quality. In a technical respect this episode is years ahead of its time. Conte is great here, really selling his torment as he spills all this to a sympathetic psychiatrist. You can probably spot the ending if you pay close attention to the beginning, but it’s cleverly hidden. It’s a solid episode, not as iconic as the previous, but artistically well done and notable for playing with a conceit that would become a cornerstone of horror in the coming decades. I also have to love the throwback to the feel of the Val Lewton horror films, which all felt dreamlike as well. There you have it. Another three down! I’ll be attacking the next three this week, so stay tuned! -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

Previous Twilight Zone Articles:

Episodes 1.1-1.3
Episodes 1.4-1.6

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