Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 5, Episode 25) – The Masks

Over the years, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone series would often tell stories about the flaws of human nature. Whether it be pride, arrogance, or greed, many episodes would often show people reveling in their deplorable behaviors, unable to turn the mirror on themselves until it was too late.

As the series wound down in it’s fifth season, there were still plenty of lessons to be learned. And in The Masks, Serling attempted to show what lies beneath the surface, of some of the worst of humanity.

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Our episode starts in New Orleans, and wealthy Jason Foster is at death’s door. As a doctor leaves Jason’s bedside, Rod Serling appears, and begins his opening narration:

Mr. Jason Foster. A tired ancient who on this particular Mardi Gras evening will leave the Earth. But before departing he has some things to do, some services to perform, some debts to pay, and some justice to mete out. This is New Orleans, Mardi Gras time. It is also…The Twilight Zone.

TZ525-1We soon find out that Jason has sent for his daughter and her family to be with him in his final hours. However, as they greet the old man, Jason chastises each of them.

His daughter Emily he mocks for being a hypochondriac, claiming she always seems to be ill with something. His son-in-law Wilfred Sr, he mocks for his heartless business sensibilities. His Granddaughter Paula (he notes) has just been fussing over her reflection in the mirror since she arrived, and for his Grandson Wilfred Jr, he calls out his (past) love of torturing small animals.

Jason then sends the family off to have dinner (prepared by his servants), and they then meet him in his study. Here he shows them a series of masks he’s had “created” by an old Cajun. He claims they are worn only during Mardi Gras, and the tradition is that a mask reflect the antithesis of it’s wearer.

TZ525-2Jason then analyzes each of his family members, to determine which mask they shall receive.

Wilfred Sr claims himself to be ‘an affable man,’ and Jason selects a mask for him: a face containing greed, cruelty, and avarice.

For Emily, he bestows the mask of a self-centered coward, which he claims to be her opposite.

Paula’s mask shows vanity and insolence, while Wilfred Jr’s is the face of “a dull, stupid clown.”

For himself, Jason’s mask is a skull, given that he is still alive.

Naturally, none of the family members want to wear the grotesque creations, but that is when Jason points out that none of them even care to be in his presence…except to see him die and claim his estate for themselves. He reveals that their wish will be granted, upon the following condition: the family are to wear their masks until midnight. If any of them removes their mask before then, they will forfeit the inheritance, and be sent away.

TZ525-3The family reluctantly give in to the demand, but as the clock closes in on midnight, they start to complain, demanding this game come to an end. It is then that Jason starts to cough.

When Emily asks her father if he feels weaker, Jason mocks the ‘note of hope’ in her voice.

“Why must you always say such miserable, cruel things to me!?” she demands.

“Why indeed, Emily,” Jason responds sharply, “Because you’re cruel, and miserable people. Because none of you respond to love. Emily responds only to what her petty hungers dictate. Wilfred responds only to things that have weight, and bulk, and value. He feels books, he doesn’t read them. He appraises paintings, he doesn’t seek out their truth, or their beauty. And Paula there lives in a mirror. The world is nothing to her but a reflection of herself. And her brother. Humanity to him is a small animal caught in a trap to be tormented. His pleasure is the giving of pain, and from this he feels the same sense of fulfillment most human beings get from a kiss or an embrace. You’re caricatures, all of you! Without your masks…you’re caricatures.”

It is then that the clock strikes midnight. As Jason’s voice quiets, his body stiffens, and then goes limp. Wilfred checks his pulse, and joyfully declares the old man is dead. He gleefully pulls off his mask…revealing that his face has melded to it’s inner-contours! The same holds for the others when they remove their masks as well.

TZ525-4The head servant then call for the doctor. When he examines Jason’s corpse, the skull mask is removed, but his face remains the same as before.

“This must be death,” remarks the doctor. “No horror, no fear. Nothing but peace.”

As the servant takes Jason’s mask away, we see the now-deformed family members in the foyer, as Serling’s closing narration is heard:

Mardi Gras incident. The dramatis personae being four people who came to celebrate, and in a sense, let themselves go. This they did with a vengeance. They now wear the faces of all that was inside them, and they’ll wear them for the rest of their lives. Said lives now to be spent in shadow. Tonight’s tale of men, the macabre, and masks…on The Twilight Zone.

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Growing up, The Masks was one of those Twilight Zone episodes I remembered very well, most notably due to Robert Keith who played the late Jason Foster.

Some episodes could be carried on the backs of some rather eccentric characters, and Keith’s voice has a certain ‘eeriness’ that one could almost mistake for Vincent Price in how he chastises his relations.

What is most notable about Jason Foster, is that his character breaks some of the standards of a Twilight Zone episode. Usually a wealthy, eccentric man such as himself would be the one learning a lesson. I guess since Jason is at death’s door, he is the exception since he can’t take his fortune with him.

The lessons to be learned are instead given to his family members.

Out of all of them, it is Emily (played by Virginia Gregg) who seems to show the most ‘concern,’ though Jason throws all of it back in her face no matter what treacly sentiments she musters.

Wilfred Sr (Milton Selzeer) is the one who tries to grin-and-bear-it through most of the events, most likely trying to keep his ‘eyes on the prize.’ However, the most opinionated notes from the family come from Paula (Brooke Hayward) and Wilfred Jr (Alan Sues). Paula loudly complains about being unable to take part in the Mardi Gras celebration right outside the house, and Wilfred is one of the most vocal when it comes to wearing the masks.

One interesting fact about the episode, is that it is the only original Twilight Zone episode directed by a woman. Ida Lupino starred in one of the series’ first season episodes, but her simplicity in telling an “intimate story,” really keeps things in perspective here.

Rarely are all of the characters ever in a single frame, and most of the time, their faces take up quite a bit of a scene. Plus, there are some nice little character moments and camera choices to be had. A prime example comes when one of Jason’s servants hears his relatives are coming, and she quickly shoves a flower into a vase, showing just how she feels about them.

The Masks is one of a few Season 5 episodes (along with Nightmare at 20,000 Feet) that often ends up on a number of Top 10 lists for The Twilight Zone. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 55 years since it debuted, but like a number of episodes made back in the day, it seems there are still lessons to be learned from it…even if the person giving the lesson isn’t much better than those he’s teaching.

 

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Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 1) – Butterfly Follies

After almost a full year, Star vs the Forces of Evil returns…for it’s final season.

The story of Star Butterfly took some rather dramatic turns in it’s last one. The Battle for Mewni was one of the biggest season openers the series had, and the revelations that happened at the end revolving around former Queen Eclipsa and her daughter Meteora, led many to wonder what would happen next.

And so…here we are, ready to see what series creator Daron Nefcy has planned for her cast of characters, and what will become of the Kingdom of Mewni.

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After rumors surface that former Queen Moon Butterfly is still alive, Star Butterfly, Marco Diaz, and former King River, set off across the kingdom in search of her.

The search eventually leads them to a Pie Carnival, with several signs indicating that Moon may be among it’s people.

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Like some previous episodes of Star, Butterfly Follies has the task of trying to tell not only it’s own story, but allow newcomers to play catch-up regarding what has happened since the previous season’s ending.

This causes the pacing of the storyline to feel rather uneven. There are even some jokes that the show tries to keep making us think are funny, but they come off as a little lame.

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One element that was touched upon in Season 3, was the relationship between Mewmans and Monsters. Star had attempted to bridge this gap, but with her giving up the throne to former Queen Eclipsa, it seems that a new rift has formed. While many in the monster community enjoy the breaking down of barriers (and happily thank Star for what she did), a lot of mewmans see Star’s decision as being incredibly stupid and foolhardy.

This is evident at the Pie Carnival. The show writers not only poke fun at the Walt Disney Company’s incessant merchandising in some of the carnival’s scenarios, but also in the use of acting productions to poke fun at the aristocracy (in probably one of the episode’s funniest moments).

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There’s a cornucopia of returning characters we see again, from Star’s ex-boyfriend Tom, to Eclipsa herself. However, the main focus is on the search for Moon. King River once again plays into the storyline as “a bumbling idiot,” save for a scant few moments where he gets downright emotional. Marco Diaz as a character, also seems to just be here as support for Star, which is a dynamic of his character I always enjoy (though the Starco shippers may be disappointed that their fanship fantasies are sidelined here).

Star is definitely front-and-center in this episode, and the bright spot to me was seeing her taking some very serious initiative in trying to find her Mom. However, we also see some vulnerability in her, when she begins to question if some of the decisions she made when she was Queen temporarily, were actually a good idea.

We also get to see that she can now use magic without her royal wand, but whether we’ll get to understand why or how, remains a mystery.

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Best line from episode (said by King River): “We’d love to stay, but we don’t want to!”

Final Grade: C+

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “…that’s not how the Narwhal Blast works!”

 

Overall, Butterfly Follies feels like a weak season opener. It has a few moments that I did enjoy, but it feels like a few episodes I saw last season. In them, the story seemed to dawdle until the final few moments, where we were then hit with something that probably would have contributed to a much livelier episode overall.

Our re-introduction to the world of Star vs the Forces of Evil seems to tell us that the craziness of it’s storytelling is still going strong, but there are still plenty of questions to be answered…and given the show’s track record, I feel only a small handful will ever reach that stage by the time the show reaches it’s conclusion.

In the next episode titled Escape from the Pie Folk, it looks like Star Butterfly isn’t going to be straying very far from pies, and our next review will tell us a little about what she encounters.

 

Book Review: Star Wars – Queen’s Shadow

As he worked on editing his Star Wars prequels, George Lucas soon had to make some storytelling choices. Ultimately, he felt the main focuses for his new trilogy, were the rise of the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace.

This would lead to drastic scene cuts for one particular character: Padmé Amidala. Gone was the chance to learn more about the former Queen of Naboo, as she became little more than Anakin’s love-interest in Episode II, and a fretting mother-to-be in Episode III.

There were many like myself that wondered about her political backstory, and one of them was author E.K. Johnston. Having already written a story about Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano, Johnston was excited to go back in time, and reveal more about one of her favorite characters.

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Following her final term as Queen of Naboo, Padmé Amidala is unsure of what she should do next. Upon meeting the newly-elected Queen, she is surprised when the new ruler wishes her to represent their planet in the Galactic Senate.

Padmé accepts, and soon finds herself in the capital city of Coruscant. With a new chapter starting in her life, she attempts to find her way in a new political arena, far outside the scope of her home world.

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For much of the story, Amidala is far removed from the main players of the prequel trilogy. While there are some minor asides to R2-D2 and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, she is usually surrounded by several handmaidens, and some Naboo security forces. It is with the former, that Johnston is most concerned with for supporting characters.

The attempts to give little bits of backstory to almost every handmaiden during the first chapters of the book does become a bit much, and it almost feels like Johnston begins to get a little lost in trying to keep some of them relevant to Padmé’s life. Even a chapter that chronicles part of a mission that her most loyal handmaiden named Sabé undertakes, feels like it could have been jettisoned, and simply replaced with her reporting to Padmé instead.

The main focus of the story regarding Padmé, is her attempting to understand how she can fit into the Senate. Who can she trust? How transparent can she be regarding her actions? And probably most important: does she make decisions for just the good of her home world…or does she have to think moreso of other planets and systems with her senatorial powers?

Much like how some saw parallels to certain real-world events during the prequel film’s releases, some may be a bit surprised at how Johnston writes about Padme’s treatment via holonet newsfeeds. Back in 1999, there were some who mocked Lucas’ idea that a teenager could rule an entire planet when Episode I was released. Johnston channels that mockery into the story, as Padmé tries to prove her worth amid reports that someone like her does not belong in the political arena.

It is also in regards to Padmé’s adventures within the Senate, that I found the story to be lacking. I know politics isn’t necessarily exciting for some, but I felt Johnston could have delved deeper into Padmé’s character, by seeing how she would handle a number of different issues brought before the Senate. As it stands, we only see her tackle a small handful.

There are also a number of references that have been inserted for many different Star Wars fans to pick up on. While I was familiar with names like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, some such as Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri, will probably excite anyone who has watched the Clone Wars television series. We also get a return to some familiar locations, including one I definitely did not expect to visit.

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I’ve only read a few books in relation to the Star Wars series over the years, but I was curious as to what Queen’s Shadow could give us regarding Padmé.

E.K. Johnston shows a definite love for her source material, but it feels like she struggles to maintain focus. When the story zeroes in on Padmé herself, that was when I found myself turning pages to find out more. It was half-way through the book that I started to really get pulled in, and it made me a little sad that it took so long for the story to grab my attention.

This isn’t to say I felt Johnston should have jettisoned the handmaidens. Given her wish to hand over some extra character development to them, maybe she could have focused on a collection of short stories regarding the numerous young women who served alongside Padmé during her life.

In conclusion, Queen’s Shadow tells a decent story, but it could have been so much better.

Movie Review: Alita – Battle Angel

Rated PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language

Over the last two decades, the topic of adapting the Japanese manga Battle Angel Alita, would pop up in conversations with writer/director James Cameron. However, once he set full-sail into his own world of Avatar, it seemed like Alita would just be another of his “lost projects” (like his plans to make a Spider-man film in the 1990’s!).

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Writer/Producer James Cameron, and Director Robert Rodriguez on the set of Alita: Battle Angel.

Enter Robert Rodriguez. Having seen what Cameron wanted to do many years before, Robert was able to obtain Jim’s blessing, and has now brought Alita’s story to the big-screen.

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While looking for parts in Iron City’a scrap yard, Dr Dyson Ido (Christopher Waltz) comes across the severed torso of a feminine-looking cyborg. After reviving the cyborg and giving it a new body, Ido names it Alita, and sets out to help her start a new life.

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Dr Ido (Christopher Waltz), and Alita (Rosa Salazar)

However, the more Alita experiences of Iron City, the more she begins to learn about humanity, along with the darker sides of our world…and possibly, who she once was.

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Much like Avatar, the key to Alita is believing in the main character, created exclusively through motion-capture and visual effects.

With actress Rosa Salazar and the team at Weta Digital behind him, Rodriguez has managed to craft a believable performance that delivers for the majority of her screen time. Early trailers had some unsure of Alita’s anime-style eyes, but as the film goes on, you’re soon drawn moreso into her journey.

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Hugo (Keean Johnson), and Alita.

It is also in the characterization of those around Alita, that keeps us invested in her. Waltz’s performance as Ido, gives the two a father/daughter relationship, but one that can get testy at times as the cyborg yearns to know more than what Ido wants her to. Alita also develops a friendship with one of Ido’s friends named Hugo (Keean Johnson), whose adventurous spirit she quickly latches onto.

While the focus on Alita’s story is a positive of the film, it falters a bit at times in how jam-packed it is with subplots. Cyborg hunters, a ghostly presence that can possess anything cybernetically-enhanced, and even a deadly sport called Motorball, are just a few of the things that may have you a little confused as the story progresses. It feels like a film series could tackle these topics one-by-one, but this film seeks to take on the herculean task of trying to juggle all of them, and hope the audience is keeping track of what is going on.

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Cyborg hunter Zapan (Ed Skrein), has an altercation with Alita.

Most of the action scenes do benefit from the skills of cinematographer Bill Pope, who has cut his teeth on the Matrix films and Scott Pilgrim vs the World’s hyper-kinetic, anime-inspired action sequences. Given the shadowy, noir-like environments, Pope’s focus works greatly to keep us close to Alita, throughout her journey.

Like anything associated with Cameron these days, Alita also tries to draw us into viewing the film in 3D. However, given the number of dark environs for much of the film, it doesn’t feel like the extra money is necessary to viewing the story.

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Battle Angel Alita manages to succeed where many other American-adapted manga films have failed. Alita herself and the characters that surround her, help make us care for her plight, and feel grounded in the world of Iron City.

It’s easy for me to see why Cameron was drawn to adapting the manga. Much like Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, and even Rose Dawson, Alita is a character who soon realizes she has the potential to be something more than what others feel she should be. And just like those characters, Alita also proves she can hold her own in a world largely controlled by men.

Unfortunately, the film overloads itself with a few-too-many subplots, and it’s juggling act at times can be a bit cumbersome to follow.

Even so, Robert Rodriguez has done a commendable job in showing us a digital world that builds upon his experience directing the Spy Kids and Sin City films. One can only wonder if he’ll get another chance to play in Cameron’s toy box, in the future.

Final Grade: B

Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 1, Episode 31) – The Chaser

Over the years, you’ve probably seen a number of television tropes in the different series you’ve watched. From an annoying relative that comes to visit, or a character developing amnesia, there are some tropes that show-runners just love to dip into over and over again.

One trope that would appear in some older television shows, was “the love potion trope.” This would usually result in someone getting their hands on the fabled concoction…only for their plan to backfire, as the “be careful what you wish for” storyline played out.

31 episodes into The Twilight Zone’s first season, The Chaser would bring this trope to Rod Serling’s anthology series. However, despite it’s themes of love, the episode would premiere on May 12th, 1960, and not on Valentine’s Day of that year.

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As the show starts, we see a young man in a phone booth, dialing a phone number, trying over-and-over again to get through to someone. Outside of the booth, a small line of people are impatiently waiting their turn to use the phone. As the young man continues to dial, we hear Rod Serling’s opening monologue:

Mr Roger Shackleforth. Age: youthful 20’s. Occupation: being in love. Not just in love, but madly, passionately, illogically, miserably, all-consumingly in love, with a young woman named Leila who has a vague recollection of his face and even less than a passing interest. In a moment you’ll see a switch, because Mr Roger Shackleforth, a young gentleman, so much in love, will take a short but very meaningful journey…into the Twilight Zone.

After some time, Roger manages to connect with Leila. She calmly listens to Roger’s declarations of love, before telling him to “take a flying jump at the moon,” and hanging up.

Before Roger can call her back, the man behind him muscles the lovesick young man out of the booth. He gives Roger a business card, claiming the man on the card can help Roger with his problems.

TZ131-4Roger follows the card’s address to the door of Professor A Daemon. Daemon reveals himself to be an apothecary, and at first figures Roger is there seeking his help to gain wealth or power…but grows morose when he finds out Roger just wants help getting a girl to love him.

Daemon claims he has something that will do the trick, but tries to entice Roger with a pricey concoction he calls, “the glove cleaner.” Roger claims he just wants the love potion, and Daemon sells it to the young man…for a dollar.

“Love potions are my cheapest item,” mutters Daemon. “And they’re overpriced at that.”

TZ131-5Roger next heads to Leila’s with some champagne and flowers. Begging her to let him have a drink with her, she begrudges his request. While she is away in another room, Roger pours Daemon’s potion into her glass. A few moments later, she eagerly rushes into the young man’s open arms!

The next scene shows six months have passed since the two were married. Now it seems the tables have turned, with Leila being overly-passionate towards Roger, and him having become annoyed by her constant attentions. As Leila fawns over him, Roger suddenly declares he forgot he has an appointment, and rushes out of their apartment.

TZ131-6Roger returns to Daemon’s residence, and asks him if there is a way to possibly dilute the love potion, but is informed that “the glove cleaner,” is the only solution.

Handing over a check (already written out for the exact amount!), Roger receives the old man’s specialty. Daemon also warns him that Leila must drink all of it, and Roger must not hesitate to administer it…otherwise, he’ll lose his nerve to ever use it again.

“Always the same way,” smiles Daemon, as Roger leaves. “First the stimulant…then the chaser.”

Returning to Leila, Roger prepares them champagne, secretly pouring “the glove cleaner” into her glass. However, as he prepares to hand her her glass, Leila claims she has a surprise for Roger, and mischievously shows him some baby booties she’s been knitting…causing him to spill the drinks!TZ131-7

As he mutters to himself that he couldn’t have gone through with the whole thing anyways, Leila smiles lovingly, telling him that they’ll be together for the rest of their lives.

The final shot shows Professor Daemon, relaxing in a lounge chair. As he blows a heart-shaped smoke-ring, Serling delivers the closing monologue:

Mr Roger Shackleforth, who has discovered at this late date that love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a 6-alarm fire in a bamboo-and-canvas tent. Case history of a lover boy, who should never have entered…The Twilight Zone.

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Throughout it’s history, The Twilight Zone has never shied away from storylines with a “be careful what you wish for” premise, and The Chaser certainly has a little fun with it.

George Grizzard plays Roger with un-thinking aplomb at the start…and an unhealthy obsession that would probably land him a restraining order in this day and age. As the episode goes on, we soon see that he definitely gets more than he bargained for.

Patricia Berry’s role as Leila, is little more than the object of Roger’s desire. For the first half of the show, she “politely tolerates” his requests, and then in the second half, she becomes so lovesick due to the potion, that she is unable to do most things on her own.

It is in John McIntire’s role as Professor A Daemon, where there’s truly some fun to be had. With his questionable name and intriguing abode, the character shows a man who enjoys playing devil’s advocate, but seems to also enjoy some mischief.

One can make out that the professor has had experience with being blinded by young-love in his own life, but Roger is too foolish to take any of his hints. There’s also some dark humor with Daemon’s constant talk about “the glove cleaner.” Traceless and odorless, the old man even gleefully claims it to be called, “the eradicator.”

The Chaser is actually based on a short story of the same name, by John Colliers. Much shorter than the Twilight Zone episode, it deals with a young man going to the Daemon character (though he is not given a name). The young man has come on the promise of a love potion, though the old man does tell him of the more expensive “glove cleaner,” hinting that later on in life, some of his customers come back to purchase it.

The episode’s title also contains a dual meaning. On one hand, it could refer to Roger as “the chaser” of Leila’s affections. On the other hand, the term “chaser” can sometimes refer to a secondary drink, often used to quell the strong taste of hard liquor. Daemon himself mentions this, after Roger purchases “the glove cleaner.”

The Chaser is definitely one of the simpler episodes of The Twilight Zone’s first season. It doesn’t get as introspective as The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, but I believe there’s a charm in it’s simplicity. Plus, I still enjoy watching McIntire’s performance as Daemon, a man who’s seen what reckless young love can do, but whose warnings often fall on deaf ears.

 

Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 21) – Kick The Can

When it comes to Rod Serling’s television series The Twilight Zone, the episodes that most often come to people’s minds, are those that deal with some of the darker elements of humanity.

However, buried within it’s 156-episodes, there are some stories that tend to stick in our minds, that often don’t rely on aliens, or humans turning on each other.. One that I’ve seen show up in some people’s favorite episodes list (and that I recall watching with my Dad over the years), premiered on February 9th, 1962.

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The episode opens at Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged. As the camera shows us it’s tired residents, we see Charles Whitley (Ernest Truex), happily proclaim that his son is taking him home today.

TZ321-1When Charles’ son arrives, he explains to his father that he only meant to talk with him about the possibility of going home, and the two quietly part ways.

As his son drives away, Charles sees several kids playing a game of kick-the-can across the street from Sunnyvale. One of them kicks a dented tin can towards him, and Charles picks it up. As he holds it close, Rod Serling emerges from behind a bush, and delivers his opening monologue:

Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged. A dying place, and a common children’s game called kick-the-can, that will shortly become a refuge for a man who knows he will die in this world, if he doesn’t escape…into The Twilight Zone.

TZ321-2We next see Charles talking with a friend of his at Sunnyvale, named Ben Conroy (Russell Collins). While Charles holds the tin can from earlier (maybe he traded the kids for another in the home?), Ben complains how noisy the kids are outside their window.

Charles reminds him that the two of them were just as noisy as youngsters, but begins to wonder if those games they played, and some of what they believed in those younger days…may be the key to staying young.

Ben just dismisses these ideas, telling Charles that they’re old men now, but Charles dwells on his thoughts.

TZ321-3Concerned for his friend’s sanity, Ben tells the rest home superintendent Mr Cox (John Marley) about his fears. Things don’t get much better when the two observe Charles trying to act young, first shoving an empty wheelchair across the living room, and then running through the sprinkler outside! Mr Cox has Charles placed in bed, and warns Ben that his friend may need to be isolated for observation, unless he behaves himself.

Ben tries to explain the predicament to his friend, but Charles claims he doesn’t want to become “a vegetable” like a number of those in the home. When Ben snaps at his friend and tells him to “use his brain,” Charles quiets down…before looking at the tin can on his night table.

TZ321-5Later that evening, Charles wakes up a few of the residents, and they convene in a small room. When he stirs up memories of the games they played in their youth, their faces light up. Charles eagerly makes them buy into his request to play a game of kick-the-can in the summer evening, and soon the group is quietly waking up the other residents to join them.

Charles personally attempts to get Ben to join them, but Ben once again claims they’re too old to be doing such things. Even his request that his friend help him try to rekindle the lost magic of their youth does nothing to sway the old man, and Charles quietly leaves his friend’s bedside.

tz321-8One of the seniors has a stash of hidden firecrackers, and sets some off outside to distract the night nurse. Once she leaves, Charles and the others rush outside.

Ben goes to Mr Cox’s office door, and tells what Charles has done. The two rush outside to bring in the seniors, but only find a number of children playing kick-the-can under the streetlight!

Mr Cox rushes off behind the house to search for his missing residents, when Ben sees a little boy who looks just like Charles did in his youth!

TZ321-6Ben realizes that his friend was right, and pleads with Charles to let him play too. But the boy merely looks upon Ben as a stranger, and he and the other kids rush off into the night, their voices echoing on the wind.

Sadly, Ben finds the discarded tin can, and realizes that his mindset has doomed him to be what he claimed to be: an old man…one who has now lost one of the last friends he had.

As Ben walks back to the now-empty house, Rod Serling delivers the closing monologue:

“Sunnyvale Rest, a dying place for people who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity and old age, are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking, to visit…The Twilight Zone.”

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Over the course of it’s 5 seasons, The Twilight Zone would sometimes deal with the topics of youth, and age. Out of all of them, Kick the Can could probably be considered one of the most treacly of them all.

For much of the episode, the Camera never strays very far from Charles Whitley. Ernest Truex’s role definitely has some small memorable moments, but for much of the episode, one can’t help but wonder if Charles really has mentally started to lose his grip on reality. It could be easy to imagine that his talk about children’s games and magic keeping one young, is him trying to come to terms with the thought that he is never going to leave Sunnyvale Rest. Even so, Charles’ attempts to wish for something innocent is rewarded, and does not backfire on him like in some of the episodes, where wishing for vengeance or selfish desires, backfires on a number of “adult” figures.

Speaking of adult figures, Charles’ friend Ben is front-and-center as the “cantankerous old man” in the episode. However, he is not totally without heart. There is still the friendship he and Charles share, and he almost acts like a big brother figure at times. This comes to mind when he tries to get Charles to “act normally,” lest Mr Cox and the home’s nurse isolate Charles because of his actions.

The episode was written by George Clayton Johnson, a science fiction writer who seemed to write about age and time quite a bit. Along with writing an additional eight episodes of The Twilight Zone, he co-wrote the screenplay to Logan’s Run, in which a man tries to escape his societal fate, once he turns 30 years old.

In 1983, Kick the Can got a second chance at life, when Steven Spielberg directed a more up-to-date version of the story, for his portion of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie.

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A scene from the Kick the Can segment, from Twilight Zone: The Movie.

In this version of the story (also written by the original episode’s writer), the magic of playing kick-the-can is brought to the Sunnyvale Rest Home in Florida, by a man known as Mr Bloom (played by Scatman Crothers). Bloom gets a number of the old folks to play the game, but unlike the television show’s episode, the regressed elderly people still retain their memories. Though they soon wish to return to their actual ages, the chance to experience their youth again has energized them to make the most of their remaining years.

The film even attempts to do it’s own version of the Charles and Ben friendship. This comes in the form of a person named Agee, who decides not to return to his old age, and wishes to have a second chance at youthful adventure. A friend of his named Leo Conroy (Bill Crowley), who didn’t partake in the game of kick-the-can, has second thoughts and wants to to go off with Agee. However, the now-young-man tells Crowley that he cannot go with him, and he vanishes out an open window, as freely as if he were Peter Pan.

Much like it’s 1962 counterpart, the 1983 version feels much more innocent when put next to the film’s adaptations of more popular episodes like It’s a Good Life, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

Seeing Kick the Can after all these years, makes me feel that it has slipped a few notches in my list of favorite Twilight Zone episodes, but some of what it preaches to the audience, can still be something to consider.

Even if many of us in the lasts few generations have never played a game of kick-the-can, the story’s request that we allow ourselves to not forget who we once were, can end up keeping us young, in ways that may not be seen by the naked eye.

Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 17) – One More Pallbearer

Over the five seasons of his anthology series The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling never failed to deliver cautionary tales. Oftentimes he would remind the viewers that despite all the luxuries and distinctions that wealth and power could bring…deep down, every one of us is human, and who we choose to be, can be an incredibly important choice.

With the Season 3 episode One Last Pallbearer, Serling once again chose to enter into the mind of a wealthy eccentric, with some particular plans of his own design.

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As the camera fades in, we see Mr Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), taking an elevator to a bomb shelter in the basement of his personal office building. Speaking with an electrician, he is assured that the installation of a large projection-screen television and sound system, have just been completed.

pallbearer-1Radin then tests the system. As we see a large metropolitan city disintegrated in a few moments by an atomic blast on the screen, the sound of the explosion reverberates off the walls. He then tells the curious electrician, that the installation is for “three special guests,” who will be visiting him on this very night.

After their exchange, we see the elevator doors open, revealing Rod Serling. He then delivers his opening monologue:

What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive, how eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…The Twilight Zone.

 

When the show continues, we see that Radin’s guests have arrived via elevator, curious as to being summoned urgently to this place. Radin does not meet them personally, but addresses them via an intercom system. As the heavy metal door of the bomb shelter opens “theatrically,” they enter into the special room. The door closes behind them, and Radin is revealed, sitting placidly before them.

pallbearer-2He then identifies his guests by name:

–  Colonel Hawthorne (Trevor Bardette), whose command Radin once served under while in Africa

– Mrs Langsford (Katherine Squire), who was one of Radin’s high school teachers

– Reverend Hughes (Gage Clarke), who one can assume was probably associated with a church Paul attended as a young man

Starting with Hawthorne, Radin jogs the Colonel’s memory, when he reminds him how he (Radin) was court-martialed after serving under his command.

Hawthorne recalls, and explains it was because Radin refused to follow a direct order to lead an assault charge, which could have cost the lives of a number of men under the Colonel’s charge. The court-martial that followed, saw Radin “dishonorably discharged.” However, the Colonel claims that if it was up to him, Radin would have been shot for his insubordination.

pallbearer-3Radin next turns his attention to Mrs Langsford, claiming that when he was her student, she flunked and humiliated him in front of her class. However, the teacher tells the others that there were reasons behind her actions.

She explains how Paul was caught cheating, and rather than take responsibility for his actions, he tried to frame another student in her class. She then called him out before the entire class regarding his actions. Given what she has seen so far, she still considers Paul “a devious, dishonest troublemaker.”

The Reverend Hughes is finally addressed, with Radin claiming the holy man placed a scandal over his head, which destroyed his reputation. Hughes claims it was due to Radin’s actions causing a girl to commit suicide, and his feelings that the young Mr Radin did not hold honor in high regard.

This final blow against his character causes Radin to angrily retort that his guests can “go to the devil,” claiming none of them showed him the compassion or understanding that he feels was owed to him in these past situations.

It is then that Radin tells his guests about the room they are in: a specially-designed fallout shelter that has generators, electricity, and a warehouse full of food and supplies. Being a man of high importance and knowing people in powerful places, he claims that tonight, an overseas power is planning to attack the country, which will set off a nuclear war. Unseen by the group, he presses a button.

pallbearer-4A few moments later, air raid sirens are heard over the speakers, and an announcer’s voice tells people to take shelter. Radin smugly smiles at the worried looks on his guest’s faces and mocks them, asking for words of comfort or wisdom.

He then offers them a deal: they may stay in his elaborate shelter to survive the coming attack…on the condition that they beg his forgiveness, and get down on their hands and knees to do so.

“Pretty please with sugar on it,” says Mrs Langsford, only the request is not to beg for Radin’s forgiveness, but to open the door, claiming she’d rather spend her last moments with total strangers above-ground.

pallbearer-5Hawthorne and Hughes also demand to leave the shelter, and Radin’s smug expression falters, realizing his scheme is not bearing the fruit he had expected to pluck.

“All you have to do is to say a sentence,” he says, a trembling in his voice. “Just a string of silly stupid words like a command, Colonel, or like a lesson, Teacher, or like a prayer, Reverend. All you have to say is you’re sorry!”

But there comes only silence, leading Radin to give in to their demands and open the metal door, but loudly proclaiming that they’ll be back soon enough.

As the three board the elevator, Radin desperately rushes at it’s door, claiming they’re throwing their lives away if they leave.

“Life is very dear, Mr Radin,” says the Reverend Hughes, “infinitely valuable. But there are other things that come even higher. Honor is one of them…perhaps the most expensive of them all.”

“Amen,” says the Colonel, quietly backing up the holy man’s words.

pallbearer-6Mrs Langsford attempts to offer some form of help to the desperate man, telling Paul to counter the loneliness in the shelter by putting up mirrors.

“Then you’ll have the company of a world full of Radins,” she promises. “It’ll be a fantasy of course, but then, your whole life has been a fantasy: a parade of illusions. Illusions about what people have done to you, illusions about what justice is, illusions about what is the dignity of even the lowest of us. A fantasy, Mr Radin…and now you can have it all to yourself.”

No it’s not a fantasy!!” Radin bellows as the doors close…when suddenly, the sirens and defense announcer’s voice ring out, but not by his pushing of a button! As he wanders back into the main room, the shelter’s large screen shows the city, rocked by a nuclear explosion!

pallbearer-7“THAT’S QUITE ENOUGH!!” he yells, smashing the speakers and destroying the screen. However, a few moments later, he panics and rushes outside.

Emerging from the building, his eyes go wide with shock as around him, his building and the city have been reduced to rubble!

As he breaks down in heavy sobs, the scene dissolves to what has really happened: Radin’s grip on reality has snapped, and the world has not been obliterated…just in his mind.

pallbearer-8As he sobs at the fountain outside of his building, an officer tries to help him, but Radin’s mind is trapped in it’s own world of desolation, and he doesn’t hear the officer or the people around him.

“I didn’t want it this way,” he babbles. “Anybody, won’t somebody listen to me?”

It is then that we hear Serling’s voice over the closing scene:

Mr Paul Radin, a dealer in fantasy who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on earth. Doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness, because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin, pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in The Twilight Zone.

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Written by Serling, One More Pallbearer is probably not one of his stronger episodes, but there is something intriguing to me about the characters within it.

Broadcast on January 12, 1962, it would be the second episode during the show’s third season, to utilize a fallout shelter. However, unlike that episode where desperate neighbors turned hostile to get into a shelter, the people in Pallbearer are desperate to get out of one, and willing to risk death if it will bring them some form of human compassion above-ground.

pallbearer-9Joseph Wiseman’s portrayal of Paul Radin would come just months before he would be seen as an eccentric villain in the first James Bond film, Dr No. Wiseman’s voice and demeanor definitely give the air of a pompous businessman who feels he can have anything, and make anyone do anything. However, it shows just how twisted Radin is that he tries to “scare” an apology out of these three people. Then again, one wonders if this plan had succeeded…maybe there would be others he would have attempted to scare as well?

Given how Radin shrugs off not following orders, cheating, and even driving a woman to suicide as being nothing more than character assassination, Serling shows us how twisted the man is. This is someone with an inflated sense of self-entitlement, and most importantly, one who has been unable to mature and move beyond thinking of these people that he feels have wronged him (or even felt the need to better or improve himself after these events).

It is rather satisfying to watch Radin’s demeanor crack, and we get to see what a pathetic little man he really is when his plans fall apart. He tries to mock and bully his guests into staying, even claiming that just saying they are sorry would be nothing more than “silly stupid words,” when in truth they’re fool’s gold to pay off his desperate ego.

In the end, the guests prove to be much stronger than their host. The Reverend Hughes tells how important honor is, while Mrs Langsford seems to try and offer a shred of pity to Radin, though it sounds like she doesn’t hold out much hope that he can be saved from what he has become. They may not chew the scenery as much as Wiseman’s character, but their resolve holds in the face of their captor’s demands.

pallbearer-10When Paul snaps and actually believes in the illusion he’s created, this is where I feel the episode gets a little “wobbly.” Given that the final scene takes us back inside Radin’s mind, I can’t help but feel this was a late addition to drive home just what he was seeing in his head, maybe revealing to the viewer why he isn’t acknowledging the people crowding around him in reality.

Once again, One More Pallbearer is definitely food-for-thought when it comes to some episodes of The Twilight Zone that don’t crack the shows’s Top 10 best episodes lists, but still have something important to say.

It’s lessons about sticking to integrity and basic moral principles, are important takeaways to remember in this day and age.