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King Nine Will Not Return
The Twilight Zone

Both of Serling’s initial ideas for The Twilight Zone are developed in this teleplay. “The Time Element” (dir. Allen Reisner) has a New Yorker in 1958 with a recurring dream that it’s 1941 and he’s in Honolulu, the day before Pearl Harbor. “Where Is Everybody?” (dir. Robert Stevens) imagines a town devoid of people save one man. The theme is later developed in “Back There” (dir. David Orrick McDearmon), and also by Beaumont in “Passage on the Lady Anne” (dir. Lamont Johnson) and Hamner in “Stopover in a Quiet Town” (dir. Ron Winston), with many variants throughout the series, most importantly a close variant by Serling, “The Thirty Fathom Grave” (dir. Perry Lafferty).

A man wakes up on the desert sand beside his USAAF B-25 Mitchell. He is the captain, the crew are gone. He finds a canteen and a grave marker, and has fleeting visions of one or more crewmen. The idea impinges itself on his consciousness that he’s drunk or sick somewhere hallucinating all this. At the sight of jets flying overhead, whose types he knows, he begins to break down over the unreality of his present circumstances. It becomes a de profundis as he says over and over again, weeping, “please let me in on it, God.”

He is in a hospital bed, it’s not 1942 but 1959. The plane has been found, as published on the front page of the newspaper. The doctor in charge of his case has determined that the man was meant to be on that routine flight from Tunisia to Italy, but reported sick that day. A psychiatrist brushes aside the man’s profession of cowardice, there was no way of knowing the plane would not return. Repressed guilt is found to have caused his collapse after seeing the newspaper story.

The sequence of the plane and the man in the desert is concluded with this diagnosis. A nurse brings in the man’s clothing, one of his shoes tips over, full of sand. This decisive image is as surreal as anything in The Twilight Zone, allied as the episode is to Robert Shaw’s The Man in the Glass Booth (dir. Arthur Hiller) and Huston’s Let There Be Light.

 

The Trouble with Templeton
The Twilight Zone

Yeats homme de théâtre, “hurt into poetry” and thereupon with Whitman under other circumstances (“Where Is Everybody?”, dir. Robert Stevens) a bard of the Twilight Zone. The past revisited, a recurrent theme and this time it follows a script to repel the traveler back into the present, where he is a leading actor on the Broadway stage for many years and thus well-acquainted with the stuffings of art, the misery that loves a company. Brian Aherne’s performance is one of his magisterial dispensations, and there is Sydney Pollack as the director, a drawling martinet (“ah will direct this play mah way at all times, is that cle-ah?”) among the perfect cast, as well as Jeff Alexander’s touching score. It might have been written for Aherne, who encountered Molière’s troupe under rather similar circumstances in Whale’s The Great Garrick, not living in the past but backward in their acting. Fellini might have directed the charade at the speakeasy and no mistake. Cf. “Walking Distance” (dir. Robert Stevens) on another basis.

 

Static
The Twilight Zone

The past recaptured by persistence and fortitude against the temptations of time (“it’s like progress,” Julius Moomer would say). Something even less specific, more desirable even, achieved by attentively tuning a radio dial. The answer to a question in Serling’s “The Parallel” (dir. Alan Crosland, Jr.), the present title...

Performed with startling precision and ease by Dean Jagger and the rest of the cast, while Kulik’s live apparatus bustles to see them.

 

A Hundred Yards Over the Rim
The Twilight Zone

The vision of the future is medicine to a man, who gives it to his wife to administer to their son, who (the vision has revealed) will become a doctor in his turn.

The wagon master from Ohio hears complaints from his tiny party in the desert of New Mexico exactly like Moses and responds by taking a Pisgah view.

Cf.
“King Nine Will Not Return”, “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air” (dir. Stuart Rosenberg) and “The Rip Van Winkle Caper” (dir. Justus Addiss), which takes our present into a future at the same pace, et al.

The pioneer’s rifle left behind in the future is a memento.

 

The Mind and the Matter
The Twilight Zone

A man who complains of his cattle-like existence in the crowd is advised by his boss to eat more greens.

An office boy lends the man a book, The Mind and the Matter, that teaches the power of concentration. With it, the boy has observed a friend induce a woman in a department store to select “a chartreuse-and-orange scarf”.

The satire now proceeds in two stages, with a setup in which the man “disappears” his landlady. He wills the crowd into unpersons, and is so bored he wills an earthquake and a storm to pass the time. Finally, he wills the crowd to share his mind, and finds them all dissatisfied with their cattle-like existence. Therefore he undoes his mischief, and patiently suffers the office boy spilling coffee on him once again.

The technical demands of this tour de force are handily dispatched by Kulik, and Shelley Berman gives a quite accurate performance of distinction. The material is variously used by Serling in “Time Enough at Last” (dir. John Brahm) and “The Brain Canter at Whipple’s” (dir. Richard Donner), to give two examples. The curious stylistic experiment here is to define the Hitler disaster according to ironic principles of curt misanthropy, he wills away the people, toys with destruction out of consequent boredom, fills the world with his disagreeable semblables, and finally resigns himself to the reality everywhere present.

 

A Game of Pool
The Twilight Zone

A true picture of the champion, as portrayed by Jonathan Winters with infinite resources dealt out according to circumstances, “I take them as I find them.” What’s finally seen is just a demonstration for the uninitiated, as explained more or less by Fats himself.

Some of this is real, some “gamesmanship and fun”, there’s some hard work and a lot of sizing up the newcomer, with an eye toward Henry King’s The Gunfighter.

On the other hand, as a technical thing, a consideration of St. James on works, as a mirror to “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” (dir. Allen Reisner) on faith, describing the same asymptotic parabola, here in the sense that “ye have the poor with you always.”

 

A Quality of Mercy
The Twilight Zone

The instrumental memory of Corregidor comes to aid in the regeneration of a “peagreen shavetail” giving no quarter on an island in the Pacific.

Serling’s quiet and plainspokenness are more than eloquent and serve in that capacity as well for “One More Pallbearer” (dir. Lamont Johnson).

Dean Stockwell’s technical mastery is exhibited by Kulik to best advantage, and Albert Salmi’s forthrightness.

 

Jess-Belle
The Twilight Zone

The transmigrations of a jealous woman, a superexcellent tale of witchery from Earl Hamner, Jr.

 

On Thursday We Leave for Home
The Twilight Zone

The discourse of civilization and the tribes laid out a billion miles from Earth amongst failed colonists awaiting rescue.

Serling’s great stride in double length, every aspect of the question is represented on a desert planet with two suns and failing equipment. Kulik’s direction sustains the clarity of the representation all the way.

 

Sergeant Ryker

Sentenced to death for treason. Early in the Korean War, sent on a secret mission for CIC, he says. No record exists, CO dead.

Prosecuting counsel has a doubt. “What is it then, Zola and Dreyfus all over again? David, that world is dead, along with millions of people, old, young, innocent, guilty, what’s one more?”

The speaker, a vital prosecution witness, has been consorting with the enemy every night, unawares.

Howard Thompson of the New York Times found “all of it on target.”

“The Case Against Paul Ryker” (Kraft Suspense Theatre), re-edited for theatrical distribution, a fact complained of by Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema.

 

Villa Rides

A long hard look at Conway’s masterpiece Viva Villa!, a second look for the essential points. Villa as a democrat espouses Whitman’s principle of “liberty and respect for the rights of others”, he is an ally of President Madero, who is assassinated by General Huerta.

To achieve this perfect clarity takes the entire length of the film. Critics never observed it and dismissed what they saw as an empty Western spectacle, it has latterly been admired as precisely that.

Therein lies a certain kind of critical progress. The film has a certain essential patience, as you might say, to cope with it.

 

Pioneer Woman

An Indiana drugstore clerk plants himself in the soil out West, his wife harvests the wheat. There’s a cattleman on the adjoining acreage.

William Shatner, Joanna Pettet, David Janssen. The plowman busts the sod and builds a house of it as well, outside the merest settlement (Big Pines, Wyoming Territory).

The story is told out of the wife’s diary as she writes in it, the pictures are a little different. He’s beaten off the land he’s bought in Nebraska, homesteaders are there already, she loses her baby.

Rolling into Big Pines, the cattleman exerts his presence, she’s discomfited.

The husband’s labors night and noon plowing and building neglect the wife (he’s “the best of men” in her diary), he gives her a kiss and a kiss on the brow as he leaves for Cheyenne to register his claim.

A flash flood kills him on the way back. There’s no money to leave, she and her two children stick it out to harvest time.

A prairie fire threatens the wheat, the cattleman leads farmers and cowboys against it. She opts to stay and farm.

Beautifully constructed, acted and filmed. The dramatic elements combine with the subdued cinematography to make a psychological Western that goes far back and is the latest thing. An Easterner becomes a Westerner, an Indiana housewife learns to keep a farm.

 

The Hunter

The main point of indirection in Kulik’s style is to arrive at his point having made it several times over without letting on, covering a great deal of ground on a very casual level, almost subliminal.

The main structural form in this film is a long buildup to a short punchline, the character of the first is shittiness and arduousness, honest poverty and the adverse world of lowly crime faced by the bounty hunter. Counter to this are a queer’s raiment, a drug dealer’s home in the Hollywood Hills, a conniving sheriff’s Houston high-rise office, and something else again, the bounty hunter’s child born in a hospital parking lot, the punchline.

In Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, this meant nothing at all to reviewers.