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Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 4, Episode 7) – Jess-Belle

Throughout the years, the concept of love and relationships has popped up in many shows, often as Valentine’s Day approaches.

In February of 1963, it just so happened that the broadcast date for a new Twilight Zone episode, fell on that fated day. And with it, brought the tale of an Appalachian love triangle, between flaxen-haired Ellwyn Glover (Laura Devon), the handsome Billy-Ben Turner (James Best), and the raven-haired Jesse-Belle Stone (Anne Francis).

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At the Glover’s annual barn dance, Luther Glover (George Mitchell) praises the bountiful harvest that he and his neighbors have collected, along with an announcement: his daughter Ellwyn Glover, is to be wed to Billy-Ben Turner.TZ47-1

However, not everyone in attendance is happy for the couple, notably Jess-Belle Stone, who quickly leaves.  Billy follows her outside, where Jess claims that she still longs for the time when they were together. She feels that Billy is only marrying Ellie for her family’s wealth, but Billy claims that isn’t so.

Before he returns to the dance, Jess asks Billy to tell his bride-to-be, not to start making her wedding dress just yet.

“Why should I tell her a thing like that?” replies Billy, curiously.

“She ain’t married you yet, Billy-Ben,” says Jess, sternly. “Maybe she never will.”

It is then that Rod Serling’s voice is heard, as we see Jess watch the lovers embrace, before storming off:

The Twilight Zone has existed in many lands in many times. It has it’s roots in history, in something that happened long, long ago and, got told about and handed down from one generation of folk to the other. In the telling the story gets added to and embroidered on, so that what might have happened in the time of the Druids is told as if it took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Such stories are best told by an elderly grandfather on a cold winter’s night by the fireside, in the southern hills, of the Twilight Zone.

Jess-Belle is next seen at the home of a woman named Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan), whom the locals claim to be a witch. Granny just laughs this off, and inquires why the girl has come to her.

Jess claims she wants the old woman to help her make Billy-Ben love her again, but upon being asked for money for the old woman’s services, the girl claims she has none…but is willing to pay ‘any price.’

TZ47-2With those words, Granny pulls out a small bottle from a covered shelf. Jess drinks it’s contents, but suddenly flinches! After a few moments, her eyes open, and Granny Hart claims that once Billy sees her, he’ll never have eyes for another.

Jess-Belle then returns to the barn dance, where she interrupts a dance-circle, and catches Billy’s eye. Just as Granny Hart promised, he becomes enchanted by her, and as Ellwyn and the others watch, the two walk out of the barn!

Ellwyn’s mother and father immediately have harsh words for Billy turning his back on their daughter, but Ellwyn claims she knows what happened: “Jess-Belle bewitched him.”

TZ47-3Some ways off, Jess-Belle and Billy lay in a field, talking of their future together. Suddenly, Billy notes the moon overhead going down, causing Jess to suddenly claim she has to get home.

Once there, she rushes for her room, ignoring the entreaties of her mother. As the clock tolls The Witching Hour, Jess collapses to the floor of her room, and in a puff of smoke, turns into a leopard.

Some time later, Billy comes to Jess, and gives her the ring he had given Ellwyn, claiming it now belongs to Jess. He also speaks how he has made plans with a preacher, and how her mother will make her a wedding dress, but Jess seems perturbed by all this.

TZ47-4She claims she needs to go away, but as Billy grabs her arm not wanting her to leave, she lashes out a hand at him…leaving three claw marks raked across the side of his face!

She then rushes back to Granny Hart, claiming she feels an emptiness inside. It is then that Granny claims that she really is a witch, and reveals the price Jess paid for Billy-Ben: her soul. Granny also reveals that because of this, Jess has also become a witch!

“You paid the price,” she tells the girl. “Take what you paid for.”

After several days of doubt, Jess puts aside her fears, and decides to heed the old woman’s advice, soon giving in to Billy’s request to be wed soon.

TZ47-6Sometime later, Jess-Belle comes across Ellwyn Glover picking wildflowers. The two trade ‘quiet barbs’ with each other, before Jess tells Ellwyn to watch out for a wildcat that’s been seen in the area.

However, Ellwyn claims her father is rounding up a number of men (including Billy) to take care of the creature, before morning the next day.

Jess returns home, where her mother works to hem her wedding dress. When she claims she saw Ellwyn out in the fields looking ‘sickly,’ her mother thinks maybe she should take the girl some tonic.

“You and your tonics,” laughs Jess. “You’re worse than Granny Hart-”

TZ47-5The slip of her tongue causes an awkward silence between mother and daughter. When Jess’ mother finds out her daughter has knowledge of the old woman, she soon deduces what her daughter has done in getting Billy to love her again.

When the girl reveals the price she paid, her mother says they should pray for her, but Jesse claims that will do not good. Instead, she asks her mother to lock her room door, so that she cannot get out until morning.

Though her mother does as she wishes, Jess (in her leopard form), escapes out her bedroom window, and ends up in the Glover’s barn, spooking the horses, and scaring Ellwyn.

TZ47-7The girl’s screams attract her father and the men hunting the cat. Billy and another man fire at it, and are surprised as the creature vanishes in a puff of smoke!

“A witch,” exclaims Ellwyn’s father. “That cat, was a witch!”

Billy examines where the wildcat disappeared, and finds the ring he had given to Jess. As the other men leave, Billy begins speaking to Ellwyn…a sure sign that his connection with Jess-Belle has been severed.

A year passes, and Ellwyn and Billy are set to be wed. As Billy prepares for the wedding, he is visited by Jess-Belle’s mother, who gives him her daughter’s silver hairpin as a gift…along with a warning.

TZ47-8As talk turns to Jess-Belle, her mother claims that she does not believe her daughter is dead. Though Billy claims one of his bullets hit the wildcat in the Glover’s barn, Mrs Stone tells how she saw a toad in her daughter’s room, and upon trying to kill it, it turned to smoke, and flew away!

Billy tries to put this thought out of his mind, but at the wedding, he notices a spider crawling on Ellie’s veil. Plucking it off and holding it in his hand, it then disappears in a puff of smoke, leading Billy to believe that Mrs Stone was right.

After the ceremony, the newlywed couple returns to Billy’s house, where strange things begin to happen. Ellie finds herself attempting to slap Billy, and a clock in the room suddenly falls to the floor! Billy then gives Ellie their Bible, and tells her not to leave the house, as he rushes off.

TZ47-9Billy seeks out Granny Hart, wanting to know how to kill a witch. She asks for a lock of his hair as payment, but Billy instead pays her in coins. Hart then tells Billy that he needs to make a figure of the girl, wearing something she wore, then stab it in it’s ‘heart’ with something of silver.

Billy then goes to Jess-Belle’s home, where her mother gives him the wedding dress she hemmed for her daughter. before he leaves, she tells Billy that she is sure her daughter would appreciate what he is trying to do.

Billy returns to his house, where he finds Ellwyn standing outside. He tells her that he knows how to be rid of Jess’ spirit, but is shocked when Ellie starts speaking, with Jess-Belle’s voice!

Billy rushes into the house and locks the door (with the possessed Ellwyn pounding on it from the outside). Putting the dress on a seamstress’ mannequin, he then stabs it in the heart-area with the silver pin. Suddenly, Jess-Belle materializes, before the figure crumples to the ground and disappears, leaving behind the empty dress.

TZ47-10Billy then finds Ellwyn outside, having no recollection of what happened since her wedding. As he embraces her, the girl’s eye is drawn to the heavens, where she witnesses a star, streaking through the sky.

My mama says when you see a falling star,” she tells Billy,  “that means a witch has just died.”

“So I’ve heard tell,” replies Billy, sure that he and Ellwyn are now safe, and that Jess-Belle is truly gone, but also finally at peace.

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I’ve often been a fan of stories with a “be careful what you wish for” storyline. Of course, this wasn’t the first Twilight Zone episode to handle the concept of love and potions.

In Season 1, there was the modern-day story called The Chaser, where a young man gets a love potion to get a girl he lusts after, to love him. In the end however, her constant fawning over him gets to be too much, and he ends up paying for something called, “the glove cleaner,” to fix his dilemma.

Writer Earl Hamner Jr, wrote eight episodes during the last few seasons for The Twilight Zone, and in one interview, he claimed that Jess-Belle was his favorite one to write.

It was also done relatively quickly. When another script fell-through, Hamner pitched, wrote, and finished Jess-Belle in a week’s time (with no time for revisions!).

There was also an issue with the kind of cats considered for Jess-Belle’s nightly transformation. The original idea for a tiger was dropped, when the producer Herbert Hirschmann claimed they were hard to work with. After this, there was consideration for a black leopard (to match the color of Jess’ hair), but none could be found, leaving the production to settle on the spotted leopard in the episode.

Along with writing the episode, Hamner also wrote the lyrics to several musical interludes throughout. As the story progresses, a female voice sings bits of a small ‘ballad,’ about the story. It is notable that in place of a closing narrative by Serling, we get a reprise of part of the ballad, heard in the beginning of the episode:

Fair was Elly Glover, dark was Jess-Belle.

Both they loved the same man, and both they loved him well.

Hamner also uses some creative wordplay, when it comes to Jess and Ellwyn. They never get into a shouting match over their love of Billy-Ben (being decent young women), but Earl gives them a small moment of trading barbs, through wordplay.

TZ47-11This comes when Jess-Belle finds Ellwyn in a field by herself.

“Lots of wildflowers around here,” notes Jess. “Saw a patch of ‘old maid’s fern’ up on the mountain.”

A few moments later, Ellwyn responds with: “I notice a lot of ‘vixen-wort’ around here m’self.”

Buzz Kulik, the director, also was a Twilight Zone alumni, directing nine episodes during the show’s run.

In several of his episodes, he had a way of having the camera play among people’s faces, having the actors say plenty with just their expressions.

This type of storytelling is seen in the opening scene especially, when we see Billy-Ben looking a bit nervous, locking eyes with Jess-Belle, after his and Ellwyn’s engagement is announced.

It’s the look of a young man who seems to have possibly made a snap-decision, without telling the other party.

The overall story plays out almost like an Appalachian ‘fairy-tale,’ but it does feel like it stretches the story a bit long for the hour-long format of Season 4. Some areas feel a little repetitive, though one wonders if maybe there could have been more of Jess-Belle in her leopard form, and how her late-night presence affected the locals.

Word is that Earl Hamner was also planning to adapt the story into a musical at one point. When Anne Francis (who played Jess-Belle) heard this, she told him she’d love to play the role of Granny Hart in it…only for him to say he didn’t feel she would have been right for the role. However, this venture was never completed (as far as I know).

Out of all the characters in the episode, it is Jess-Belle and Granny Hart that stand out the most.

The character of Jess-Belle could easily have been a vindictive and over-the-top girl who is willing to knock aside anything and anyone in her way. One can easily see the girl’s name is a take on the word ‘jezebel’ (meaning ‘an impudent, shameless, or morally unrestrained woman,‘ according to Merriam-Webster), but the character here is crafted to be little more than a young woman, whose yearnings end up being her downfall. She thinks all her troubles are behind her once she has Billy-Ben, but it feels like everyday after, she is stuck living with the consequences of her actions, making her a tragic figure.

Jeanette Nolan seems to have the more ‘fun’ role in the episode, as she plays Granny Hart as a witch with a spirited personality. There is a devilish mischief Nolan imbues on the old woman. She seems to delight in causing mischief, and a naive young woman who wishes for a man’s love, gives her some entertainment. It doesn’t help that she seems to smile a great deal, a Cheshire grin that makes one wonder what is going on in her mind.

TZ47-12There is even an interesting juxtaposition, as we first see her in black robes conjuring something, before she pulls the robes away, and simply looks like a kindly old woman, expecting company.

Jess-Belle is not one of the more popular episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it feels like it was somewhat ‘experimental’ in it’s execution. And for that, it sticks out in my mind.

It’s cautionary tale about how love can sometimes blind people to the consequences of their actions, proves to be an intriguing story that the episode’s cast and crew, wove together, all those years ago.

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Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 4, Episode 4) – He’s Alive

I like to think when it came to some areas of entertainment regarding popular culture, I inherited some of my tastes from my parents. While my Mom turned me on to the wonders of Walt Disney and his animation studio, my Dad I feel, opened my eyes to adventure, and science fiction.

One series that we often watched over the years when it’d show up on television, is Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Serling’s anthology series enthralled my Dad as a young man, and during my early years, they came to entrance my own imagination as well.

As I got older, I found myself drawn to Serling’s tales that explored humanity, and oftentimes, how simple it could be for things to break down, or even how dangerous some people could become, for want of attention or respect.

Serling’s hand was often behind many of those introspective tales. In The Twilight Zone’s 4th season, he explored the possibility that an enemy that was once thought to have been extinguished after the second World War, could very well be lying in wait, ready to instigate those seeking power, or manipulate those who are easily led astray…

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As the episode starts, we see that it’s a hot night on a city street corner, and a small group of neo-Nazis are giving a speech to a small crowd.

TZ44-1.jpgPresiding over the gathering, is a young man named Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper). Peter preaches about ‘foreign control,’ and that a conspiracy is under way by minorities, to take over the country.

Several people throw vegetables at Peter and laugh at him, causing him and his men to rush out into the crowd, where a fist-fight breaks out.

The ruckus causes the Police to show up, and the citizens scatter. When they inquire to Peter who started the fight, he nonchalantly claims they were ‘all Communists,’ and walks away.

Peter and his men reconvene in a side alley. One of them claims that the heat brings out ‘the stiffs in the crowd,’ but Peter blames himself, claiming he couldn’t verbally get through to the people he saw.

As Peter sulks, Rod Serling appears, delivering our opening monologue:

“Portrait of a bush-league Fuhrer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. That something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon he calls it faith, strength, truth. But in just a moment Peter Vollmer will ply his trade on another kind of corner, a strange intersection in a shadowland called, The Twilight Zone.”

Peter then heads to the apartment of a man named Ernst Ganz (Ludwig Donath).

Upon seeing Peter, Ernst demands that he wash his face, and provides him with some medication for his wounds.TZ44-2

The older man begins to lecture Peter on getting into trouble, but the young man doesn’t want to hear it. However, he requests if he can stay the night at the old man’s place.

Peter claims that he and the old man are ‘good friends,’ but one can see Ernst is questioning that statement. Ernst recalls how as a young boy, he’d take Peter in: a rock in the storm of an abusive father, and a mentally-deficient mother. He recalls how Peter was a scared, lost little boy.

“Now, you peddle hate on street corners, as if it were popcorn,” he sighs.

It’s not hate,” defends Peter. “It’s, ‘a point of view.’ It’s a, ‘philosophy.'”

Ernst claims there were men who said the same thing…and because of it, he ended up in the Dachau Concentration Camp for nine years.

After Ernst leaves Peter to go to bed, Peter gets a strange feeling, like he’s being watched. Going to the nearby window, he sees a man in shadows, standing on the sidewalk.

TZ44-3When Peter asks who he is, the figure claims he’s ‘a friend,’ and wants to talk. Going downstairs, the figure tells Peter that he believes in much of what he was talking about earlier, and wants to help his cause.

The shadowy figure then gives Peter speaking tips, claiming he should speak to the people, like he was one of them.

“Speak to them in their language, on their level,” says the dark figure. “Make their hate, your hate. If they are poor, talk to them about poverty. If they are afraid, talk to them of their fears. And if they are angry, Mr Vollmer…if they are angry, give them objects for their anger.”

Peter takes the figure’s advice, and at the next meeting in a local hall, he claims that many say his group is biased towards minorities. Peter takes these words and turns them around, telling those in attendance, that ‘they’ are the minorities! He tells them that ‘patriotism’ and ‘love of country’ is not a majority notion anymore, and that his group, will make it so again.

This draws applause, and Peter’s associates are also energized by his fiery rhetoric.

The shadowy figure returns a little while later to help Peter, quietly giving him the money he needs to keep speaking at the hall, and praising how he speaks to the people.

It is then that the figure claims their ‘party’ needs something more, in order to ‘cement the organization’: they need a martyr.

“How do you find a martyr?” asks Peter.

“You do not ‘find’ one, Mr Vollmer,” the figure replies. “You ‘choose’ one. You take one of no value, and you make him into a symbol. You wrap him in a flag, and you make his death work for you. Find a man who is of no value while he’s alive, but who can serve you when he is dead.”

TZ44-4Of the men in his employ, Peter decides that one named Nick, will be their martyr. Peter then lies to a cohort named Frank, telling him that Nick has been telling the Police about their meetings, and must be taken care of.

Frank does as he’s told, and some time later, the Police find Nick’s body in an alley, with a note pinned to his jacket, making it look like someone is trying to send ‘a message’ to Peter’s group.

Though Frank and Pete are able to put Nick out of their minds, their associate Stanley misses his friend. Trying to act stoic, Peter claims that Nick was a traitor, and not worthy of being mourned.

However, moments later, Peter is using Nick’s death to electrify the crowd, claiming that those in the room, will carry on in his honor. His words do their trick, and the audience applauds loudly!

We then cut to some time later, to a candy shop across the street from the hall. Ernst is sitting at the counter talking to the store’s proprietor, while across the street, Peter’s voice bellows out from the open door, over which hangs a large portrait of the young man in uniform. As Peter’s voice continues to spill out into the night, Ernst and the proprietor have a conversation.

TZ44-5“Used to be, people would laugh at him,” says the man behind the counter. “But lately, he gets the crowd…and not many people laugh, either.”

“I’ve seen it before,” says Ernst, thoughtfully. “I’ve seen it all before.”

“That was another time, Mr Ganz,” says the proprietor. “Another place. Another kind of people! That doesn’t go here.”

“That’s what we said, too,” says Ernst, bowing his head. “We called them ‘brown scum.’ ‘Temporary insanity,’ part of the passing scene, too monstrous to be real. So, we ignored them, or laughed at them….because we couldn’t believe there were enough insane people to walk alongside of them! And then one morning, the country woke up from an uneasy sleep…and there was no more laughter. The ‘Peter Vollmers’ had taken over. The wild animals had changed places with us in the cage!”

As he thinks, Ernst rises from his seat, and goes to the window.

“But not again,” he says, a tone of defiance rising in his voice. “It mustn’t happen again. We can’t let it. We simply can’t let it happen again!”

Determined to do something, Ernst enters the crowded hall through the stage entrance, and catches Peter off-guard.TZ44-6

Ernst tells Peter that he’s heard these kinds of rantings before. Peter quietly pleads with Ernst to stop talking, but the old man addresses the audience, with Peter watching, unsure just what to do.

“Let me tell you about ‘this one,” preaches Ernst, pointing at the scared young man. “About the breed, the species. They’re all alike…they’re all alike! Problem children. Sick, sad neurotics, who take applause like a needle!”

Peter once again pleads for Ernst to be quiet, but the old man threatens to tell about Peter’s ‘weaker’ side, claiming the young man can only find strength in the ‘show’ he puts on…leading Peter to strike the man (whom he called ‘a friend’) across the cheek!

“The only sort of answer ‘your kind’ know how to give,” says Ernst, before walking out through the front door, followed by the audience.

TZ44-7Afterwards, Peter is alone in the hall, when he hears the shadowy figure call to him. Peter is still upset at what has transpired between him and Ernst, but the figure shows no sympathy, sharply criticizing Peter for his timidity at what took place.

“And you…what are you!?” cries out Peter. “You direct traffic from the darkness! You plan the battles and you’re never there when they’re fought! Why don’t you come out in the light? Why don’t you come up here alongside of me!? Why don’t you give me a name, and a face, and a reason WHY!?”

“Mr Vollmer!” responds the figure, sharply. “I was making speeches before you could read them. I was fighting battles, when your only struggle, was to climb out of a womb! I was taking over the world, when your universe was a crib! And as for being in darkness, Mr Vollmer…I, INVENTED DARKNESS!!”TZ44-8

It is then that the figure steps into the light, and Peter’ eyes go wide with fear, when he sees that his mysterious benefactor…is Adolf Hitler!

When Peter claims that Hitler picked him, the dictator claims it to be the other way around.

“You chose my ideas,” he says. “You invoked my name, you stole my slogans! So now, you must take whatever else comes with it.”

The old dictator then gives Peter a gun, and orders him to kill Ernst, promising that if he does not, the old Jew will keep returning to ruin their meetings.

Peter then goes to Ernst’s apartment, where the old man claims he showed the crowds how weak Peter really is. When Peter pulls his weapon on Ernst, the old man falters slightly, claiming that the young man won’t kill him.

“Just goes to show you don’t know me very well, Ernst,” claims Peter.

“I know you,” says Ernst, quietly. “From a ravaged little boy wanting love, to a torn man, craving respect, identity, pride. Peter…I don’t fear you. So you may do what you have in mind, anytime you wish, but this last reminder to you: you can never kill an idea with a bullet, Peter…never.”

TZ44-9“I’m all steel now,” Peter stoically counters. “Ernst, I’m made of steel. No sentiment, no softness…just purpose, and will.”

With that, Peter fires, and Ernst collapses to the floor.

As he dies, the old man utters his last words: “All steel. All Strength…but at the expense of the thing most other men have. Some…fragments of decency, to tell them right from wrong. To make them feel guilt at dishonor…to make them…that make them love. Yes, Peter, you have steel…but you have no heart.”

Peter then returns to the hall, where he tells his Fuhrer, that killing Ernst made him feel “immortal.”

“Mr Vollmer,” screeches Hitler’s voice. “WE! ARE! IMMORTAL!!

Suddenly, the hall’s lights come on (and Hitler disappears). Peter turns towards the doorway, to see several Policemen, who have come to arrest him in regards to the murder of his comrade, Nick.

However, when face-to-face with the Police, Peter does not act as an “immortal,” but as a coward, fleeing through the nearest door! The Police chase Peter into the nearby alleyway, where he is shot, and falls into a pile of trash.

TZ44-10As the officers come over to him, Peter looks at his hands, covered in blood.

“There’s something, very wrong here,” he gasps. “You’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m made out of steel. Don’t you understand…that I’m made out of steel?”

The officers walk away to radio in what happened, but as they do, Hitler’s shadow falls over Peter’s dying body, and slowly, walks away. As he does so, Serling’s closing monologue is heard:

“Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare. Chicago? Los Angeles? Miami, Florida? Vincennes, Indiana? Syracuse, New York? Anyplace, everyplace, where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He’s alive because through these things…we keep him alive.”

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It is notable that in his closing narration, Serling strays from his regular path. The closing narration would normally make mention of The Twilight Zone, but here, Serling chooses not to tell us that what we’ve witnessed has safely been contained in another dimension. His narration confirms, the ‘monster’ of this episode is alive…and he is walking amongst us!

When I saw the episode many years ago, it was not one that stuck out in my mind, but after recent events, I revisited it, and found it to be surprisingly eerie, regarding the story that Mr Serling had written (and broadcast over 50 years ago).

Sometimes people say Serling’s writing can become a little heavy-handed, and it feels that way with the character of Ernst. Then again, Serling portrays Ernst as Peter’s ‘last friend,’ the one who may still see some small shred of humanity in him…and when he dies, so too it seems, does any hope of redemption for Peter. While Peter did order Nick to be killed as a martyr, it is Ernst who dies by his hand.

I’ve never been a big fan of Dennis Hopper. For much of his career, he seemed to usually end up being cast as “the crazy guy,” in everything from Easy Rider, to Apocalypse Now. With his role as Peter Vollmer, this may be the most ‘toned down’ I’ve ever seen Hopper (in his quieter moments anyways).

Hopper manages to sell the desperation, and the longing to be somebody. He channels Vollmer’s ‘strength-through-repression,’ with the character dismissing these faults as if they were just overreactions.

It is notable that we encounter Vollmer a ways into the movement he’s taken a part in. Serling keeps it ambiguous if Peter originated this movement, or maybe, it was ‘inherited’ from another neo-Nazi on the streets. I could see that possibly being the case, and maybe Peter was enthralled by those same ‘poisonous promises.’

Of course when it comes to the figure of Hitler, Serling keeps it ambiguous if his spirit is still alive, or if he is just a figment of Peter’s imagination, almost like a ‘devil’ on his shoulder, in the guise of an ‘angel,’ claiming to show him ‘the right path’ to go down.

Over the years, television show and film viewers have often found pieces of popular-culture, and elevated them to a new status, given ‘current events.’

While many are quick to point out more popular Twilight Zone episodes like The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, or To Serve Man, I feel He’s Alive may gain more traction these days, given it’s cautionary tale (of course, the big question is: is it too late?).

Even though he brought the story to his anthology series, Rod Serling was also considering giving Hes Alive a second life, as a longer, feature-length film.

Th film would have added an FBI agent, investigating Vollmer’s ‘movement.’ However, the film proposal was turned down.

Even so, one has to wonder what Serling would make of current world events, and maybe even wonder if we truly have all been spirited away into…The Twilight Zone.

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Movie musings: looking through the first script for Barry Levinson’s “Toys”

When it comes to feature-film directors, many of them have a script or a project, that they desperately long to do.

Toys-1

Robin Williams and Barry Levinson, on the set of Toys.

For director Barry Levinson, one script that had been on his mind since the start of his career, was Toys. Word was when he began to make the move from television to film, he wanted this film to be his feature debut. However, it’d take over a decade, and numerous attempts, before the film was made and released by Twentieth Century Fox, in 1992.

The film concerned a company called Zevo Toys. It’s founder Kenneth Zevo (Donald O’Connor) passes away, but rather than will the company to his son Leslie (Robin Williams), he requests his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) take over management.

Of course, Leland is not of the same mind as his brother. Soon, the factory’s production begins to shift into making ‘war toys,’ which were never produced when Kenneth was alive. As the world around them begins to shrink and becomes more threatening, Leslie and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack), must find a way to restore their father’s legacy.

The film was released around Christmas of 1992, but even with it’s colorful production design, whimsical previews, and Robin Williams as it’s lead, the film failed to even recoup back it’s production budget.

Viewing the film on VHS several years after it was released, I couldn’t help but become curious over the years, and wonder: what was it about Toys that had Levinson signify it as his ‘passion project?’ Was there something in the original scriptment, that had somehow gotten lost in translation?

In July, a trip to California allowed me some time to stop by the Margaret Herrick Library  in Beverly Hills. Owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it houses a number of scripts, pictures, and other material not often available to the public.

Notable to me for this visit, was perusing through three drafts of Toys they had in their collection. Each script was written in 1979, 1982, and 1992, with writing credits on all three, given to Valerie Curtin (Levinson’s first wife), and Barry himself.

My curiosity piqued, I delved into all three copies of the script, but was most interested in the one dated December 14, 1979. What follows, is a summary of that script.

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Taking place in Connecticut, the story focuses on a company called Panda Man Toys, Inc. It is housed in a “three story, nondescript building sitting isolated in the countryside.”

The company’s founder, Kenneth Presswell, is close to death, and has sent for his Militaristic brother, General Leland Presswell. During their meeting, Kenneth makes clear his intentions to turn the factory over to Leland. The meeting takes a morbid turn, when Kenneth dies right in front of his brother.

The General is given time to consider the offer, and upon deciding to take over, is given a 60% stake in the company. The remaining 40%, is split between Kenneth’s children, Leslie, and Alsatia.

Leslie is identified as being 34 years old, but not ready yet to take over the company (with Kenneth’s assistant Wyeth Owens, claiming he’s ‘sowing some wild oats’). Leslie is somewhat of a prankster like his father, but is a ‘late-bloomer’ when it comes to business.

Alsatia is not given an age, though it is noted that she did not leave grade school until the age of 18. Even so, she is considered a devoted factory worker.

The General quickly makes it clear that he isn’t enamored with the factory’s ways, at one point claiming that money and manpower is being ‘wasted,’ when it could be used to ‘develop new ways to annihilate foreign races.’

Wyeth brings up his misgivings about the General to Leslie, but Leslie just brushes off the concern, figuring that time at the factory, will ‘loosen up’ his uncle’s demeanor.

Visiting his bedridden father (a former 5-star general), Leland tells him about the factory, but the old man shows no interest. However, as he talks about his brother’s company, Leland begins to formulate a plan.

Once he takes charge, the General makes it clear at a board meeting, that he feels the company will not survive, unless they start producing ‘toy weaponry.’ Wyeth claims that Kenneth never had the company make ‘war toys,’ because he was a pacifist.

“I know he was a pacifist,” declares Leland. “That’s why I used to kick the $#!t out of him all the time.”

(This declaration causes Leland to laugh at his ‘joke,’ while everyone else in the room remains silent.)

Talk of industrial espionage hurting the company’s R&D department, has the General send for his son Patrick, who soon starts using some brutal interrogation methods among the staff, to try and weed out the spies.

Leland also brings aboard his secretary, Gwen Tyler. Though she has a very serious demeanor at first, Leslie slowly starts to get her to lighten up, and a romance blossoms between them.

Still concerned with espionage, the General takes Patrick’s advice, and decides to counter-espionage designs from a competitor, named My Toys. Patrick manages to trick Leslie into helping him create a distraction for some guards, by putting on a strange show, seen on the My Toys security cameras. which manages to temporarily distract the guards, and allows them to make off with some of the company’s designs.

Upon hearing what has been done, Wyeth voices his objections to the General, but is ignored. Other projects and departments are then shut down, as the General commandeers the staff to work round-the-clock to produce toys off of the stolen designs.

The General likes most of the designs, but one of them he calls “a little submarine,” he thinks has potential. He soon hatches a plan to make ‘war toys,’ with the money made off of them, used to fund a few of the General’s ‘special projects.’ As work continues, more departments are shut down, and Alsatia even loses her office in the factory.

Soon, Panda Man Toys is producing and selling war toys (tanks, jeeps, paratroopers, etc). With the development continuing on the General’s projects, he soon invites some men from Washington to secretly see the designs for them. However, they are not impressed by his ideas, including his (as one of the men calls it) “submarine with a nose.”

After the General loses his temper and assaults one of the men, Patrick takes him away to calm down. Even with this setback, the General claims he is still going to go ahead with his plans.

One day, Wyeth manages to sneak into the restricted area of the factory. There, he finds men testing miniature war machines, along with video game simulators. However, Wyeth is spotted, and he is chased into a room with a large water tank. Wyeth gets into the water tank to hide, but is then attacked and killed by some underwater toys in the large tank (making the General very happy that they work!).

After Wyeth’s death is labeled an ‘industrial accident,’ Leslie demands Patrick tell him what the General is doing. Patrick attempts to stay loyal to his father, until Gwen tells him how his mother died (the true facts of which the General never told him!).

Patrick then confronts his father, and upon finding out that a nurse he likes also had an affair with his Dad, he finally confesses to Leslie, Alsatia, and Gwen, everything that has been going on. The General’s main goal, is to use video computer technology, to turn kids into ‘super-patriots,’ willing to die for their country without question!

The group then hatches a plan to steal the designs, and stop the General. Alsatia and Gwen are left behind, as Leslie, Patrick, and his surveillance team, attempt to break in.

They are attacked by a number of toys, with several of them dying (one is vaporized by a toy tank’s blast!). The final battle takes place in a miniature village, and it is during the fighting, that the ‘submarine with a nose’ (referred to as “The Guppy”) is unleashed. Of course, the General’s brilliant idea ends up being his downfall, as “the Guppy” kills him.

The final scene shows two tombstones, side-by-side. On them are the following:

Kenneth T Presswell – 1910-1979 – May Joy and Innocence Prevail

Leland H Presswell – 1914-1979 – I Disagree

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It’s never been divulged just how many scripts were written for Toys, but the next draft the library had (dated February 1982), starts to become closer to the 1992 shooting script. Here are a few noted changes:

  • The General’s secretary Gwen Tyler, becomes just another Panda Man employee, whom Leslie slowly falls in love with (becoming the character Robin Wright played in the final film).
  • The 82′ script changes Alsatia from being human, to a robot, whom Kenneth built after Leslie’s mother died when he was younger. Alsatia and Gwen also attempt to stop the General, going along with Leslie and Patrick at the end (the surveillance team Patrick had in the first draft, is dropped).
  • Unlike the 79′ script, the 82′ script has the men from Washington willing to forgive the General for assaulting them, and tell him that NATO has a weapons conference coming up, that he might be interested in getting ready for. This ‘second chance’ mentality, would be dropped in the final script.
  • The 82′ script also jettisons Leslie and Patrick stealing toy designs from a competitor. Instead, the General and Patrick purchase some competitor’s toys from the store, and attempt to build them. One of them that the General attempts to assemble, is a “Sammy the little Submarine” toy. Like the 79′ script, this toy somehow inspires the General to make a ‘killing machine’ based off of it, which the General dubs, “the Sea Swine.” Not much is told about this rendition of the sea swine, except it has two periscope-like eyes that pulsate with an eerie light, and it makes a ‘creature-like sound.’

What is most notable about the original script, is how dark it gets. Kenneth dies right in front of his brother, and his assistant Wyeth, and the General are killed. In the 82′ and 92′ scripts, Kenneth dies (off-screen) on the way to the hospital, and both Wyeth and the General survive.

There is also the fact that the original Panda Man Toys was little more than a non-descript factory building, before becoming a surreal toy factory, located who-knows-where. Plus, at the end of the day, I am still no closer to knowing when the decision was made to change the company name from Panda Man, to Zevo (the Panda Man moniker is still prevalent in the 82′ script).

Plus, there is still the question of just how a toy submarine, evolved to become the semi-alive ‘sea swine’ mentioned in the 82′ and 92′ scripts.

One item I found intriguing about the final scene in the 79′ script, is the difference in ages. I had assumed that Kenneth was the younger brother, and Leland had followed directly in their father’s foosteps. This may have been done to show the wisdom of the older brother, vs the younger, who may have wanted to be seen as acceptable in the eyes of their militaristic father.

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The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Levinson’s goal with the ‘idea’ for Toys, was to create a ‘surrealist film.’

ToysScript-5.jpg

Poster for the film, and Rene Magritte’s famous painting, Son of Man.

Surrealism is often the giving of something a dreamlike quality, where the material skirts the line between real, and unreal.

We see that so many times in numerous scenes in the final film. There are many bits inspired by surrealist painter Rene Magritte throughout the film(even the poster of Williams in a bowler hat, appears to be inspired by his works!).

One could even see the decision to put a Militaristic General in charge of a toy factory, definitely being one of several ways the story tries to keep it’s viewer ‘disoriented.’

I think that is Toys’ greatest flaw: Levinson got so into trying to make it surreal, that it probably would have made a better series of paintings (or even a short-subject), than a feature-length film.

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Over the years, when Toys has come up in interviews, Levinson still defends the film. In one interview, he claimed it’s been the one film he has been most criticized about.

Even with many not embracing the film, some can’t deny that it seemed almost prescient. This is notable in the use of small, unmanned planes, meant to get into enemy territory, without having to place a human soldier in danger.

This tied into the thinking of the time that Military budgets were being heavily slashed during peace-time, and there was some intent to keep advancements in weaponry relevant, as well as economical.

Of course, it may also be seen that Toys could be somewhat relevant in our current day-and-age, as we seem to also have a madman intent on turning our world upside-down, as we struggle to find some good in a world, that seems to have gotten darker.

Retro Recaps: Trick or Treat (1952)

This past summer, the world of voice-acting and animation, lost one of it’s most beloved members: June Foray.

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Animator Eric Goldberg’s memorial drawing for June Foray

Probably as much as Mel Blanc was a part of our childhoods, June was just as notable. She voiced dozens of characters, from Rocky the Flying Squirrel, to Witch Hazel in the Looney Tunes shorts, and many, many more!

Speaking of Witch Hazel, that’s one reason why we’re having this Retro Recap.

In the world of animation, most think of a character by that name, in relation to the Looney Tunes series of cartoons. Created by Chuck Jones, the Looney version of Hazel, would be voiced by Foray for over 50 years (with the exceptions being Bea Benaderet in 1954, and Tress MacNeille from 1992-1994).

However, most may not know that Jones was not the first to give an animated character that name, AND have her voiced by June.

In 1952, another Witch named Hazel, appeared in the Donald Duck short, Trick or Treat.

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On Halloween night, Witch Hazel flies through a nearby town on her broom B.Z. Bub, cackling maniacally, and causing plenty of mischief. During her antics, she stops to watch as Huey, Dewey, and Louie, show up at the door of their Uncle Donald’s house.

tot-2Instead of treats however, Donald decides to give out some ‘tricks,’ putting live firecrackers in the boy’s treat bags, destroying their candy haul. He then finishes by dumping water on them, before laughingly closing the door in their faces.

“Aw, bless their little black hearts,” says Hazel, coming down to console the boys.

Of course, the boys are perfectly fine encountering a real witch on a flying broom, and Hazel decides to help them get some candy from Donald. However, her polite attempts don’t work, and so she gets the boys to help her use witchcraft on him!

tot-3Setting up a cauldron, Hazel has the trio bring forth a number of specific ingredients. Finally, the concoction is complete, and sucking up some in a sprayer, she and the boys hop aboard BZ Bub, and take to the air!

Hazel’s laughing catches Donald’s attention, and as he looks out the window, he watches as she uses the spray to enchant a number of objects. A paintbrush begins painting Donald’s house green, a pumpkin menacingly flies through the air, and even some fence posts, become ghosts!

Donald is surprised to watch as these apparitions sing a song, and make their way to his doorstep, where Hazel and the boys confront him, demanding that he ‘treat’ the boys. Donald is willing to do so, until he hears Hazel tell the boys that ‘this pigeon’s a pushover.’

tot-4.jpgUpon hearing this, Donald locks all his food in the pantry closet, and swallows the key.

But this isn’t enough to deter Hazel, who enchants Donald’s feet, and demands they kick out the key he’s swallowed. Hazel starts up a hoe-down song, and the key is soon ejected out of Donald’s mouth. But even this doesn’t stop him from being a jerk, as he then tosses it under the pantry door.

Hazel’s reaction now, is to give his feet a larger dose of the potion, and demands they use Donald’s body to break down the door.

tot-6As everyone watches, the feet follow Hazel’s request to take a longer start (“Bout a mile or two!”), sending Donald out into a nearby field, before he comes screaming into the house! A loud crash later, and the door has been busted open, with Donald lying unconscious nearby.

The boys happily collect some treats from the open pantry, but Hazel notes that it’s almost dawn, and her time to play is up. Hopping aboard her broom, she bids the boys goodbye, and they do the same to their witchy friend.

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Growing up, The Disney Channel would often have little Holiday ‘clip-shows,’ and when it came to one known as Disney’s Halloween Treat, there were quite a few clips used from this short.

I think out of the many Donald Duck cartoons made over the years, Trick or Treat is one of the highlights.

tot-7The Disney Studios didn’t often do Halloween-themed shorts, so Treat is one of the few times that they acknowledged the holiday.

It’s also notable how they play with the art for the opening. Rather than the standard Donald Duck intro image, his face has been painted onto a wooden fence, and the card stating that this is a Donald Duck cartoon, also has it’s own special title-card art imprinted on the fence too.

There is some pretty wild and good animation to be had here as well. We get long shadows, Characters and objects changing scale and distance, and plenty of effects animation in the way of fire, smoke, and a fairy-dust sheen off of the fence-post ghosts.

tot-5.jpgA fun moment comes when Hazel is mixing her brew, and reciting a few lines from the witches in Macbeth (“this is the real thing ya know,” she tells the boys, “right outta Shakespeare!”).

Shakespearean-style wording comes up a few more times, in how Hazel talks. “What manner of ghoul is this?” she ponders, seeing the nephews for the first time. She also refers to Donald as “a quacking rogue” after she encounters him first-hand.

The animators also have some fun with her broom, which looks like a distant cousin to the brooms in Fantasia. For having a very small role, BZ Bub actually gave me a few laughs with how he ‘reacted’ in some scenes.

While most of Disney’s shorts are known for having a musical cadence to them, this short is one of the few that actually has a full song worked into it’s running time.

Paul Smith does the music for the piece, and the theme song like many a good Disney song, can easily get stuck in your head (it’s been popping up sporadically over the last few months for me!).

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Walt Disney, with The Mellowmen

A group known as The Mellowmen (composed of Bob Hamlin, Bill Lee, Thurl Ravenscroft, and Max Smith), sing the main song, and keep it quite sprightly.

The four men figured into a number of Disney productions during the 50’s and 60’s (even singing the opening song for the Zorro TV show!), and of course, Thurl Ravenscroft would go on to great fame, singing the songs for Chuck Jones’ adaptation of Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

When I watched most cartoons with Donald Duck in them as I was growing up, I often felt sorry for him. Most of the time, his temper was a case of others provoking him, or just trying to get him to explode into a quacking tantrum, so they could have a good laugh out of it.

However, in Treat, I found myself not really showing much sympathy for what he was doing to his nephews. It’s one of the few shorts where I actually took some delight in what Hazel was subjecting him to.

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Unlike most animated shorts, Trick or Treat’s animated storyline, ended up being adapted in the Donald Duck comic by Carl Barks!

tot-11While the animated short had just 7 minutes to tell a story, Barks  was allowed to extend certain parts of it into a 30+ page story. Plus, he gives over more ‘vocalizing’ to Donald and his nephews (in Barks’ stories, Donald often carried out long conversations!).

A simple line like “whiskers from a billy goat,” becomes a page-and-a-half gag as we see where the boys got those whiskers from.

Barks also embellishes Hazel’s bringing things to life with her magic. Notable is this long-panel, showing a number of other strange creatures, happily heading towards Donald’s front door (singing Paul Smith’s song from the cartoon!).

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However, once Hazel calls Donald a “pushover” in the comic, Donald simply assumes that all the creatures were fake, and kicks her and the nephews out of his house.

This is where Barks adds his own story touches, as Hazel then tries several ways to get candy from Donald.

She first disguises herself as a beautiful female duck, but is found out by Donald, who manages to get back the candy she took.

tot-12Next, she magically summons her pet ogre, Smorgasbord (or “Smorgie,” for short), and sends him to Donald’s doorstep.

The duck simply assumes it’s a costume, but Smorgie proves invulnerable to a mace to the chest, and his multiple arms creep in through a number of openings, looking for the pantry key. Donald seems to concede defeat and hands over the candy, but also gives Smorgie an ‘extra treat.’ It turns out to be a stick of dynamite, and once Smorgie consumes it, the creature is blown to smithereens. Surprisingly, Hazel only shows mild concern for her destroyed pet.

This then leads to Hazel using the sprayer on Donald’s feet (like in the animated short), as well as him swallowing the hey.

When it comes to Hazel having the feet use Donald as a battering ram on the door, she first enchants a suit of armor to cover the duck, before he comes hurtling in through the doorway, breaking down the pantry door, and waving a white flat in surrender. Of course, Hazel takes the chance to lecture Donald on his actions during the night.

“Thou miserly hoarders must learn that on Halloween the goodies belong to the ghosts and goblins! Thou hath to treat!” she says, pointing a wrinkled finger at Donald.

“I still say it’s plain Robbery!” he retorts, before Hazel’s broom konks him on the head.

However, by the last panel, all is well. The boys have a huge bag of candy, Donald seems to have learned a lesson (“Next year, I’m going to be a goblin, too” he admits), and the ducks wave as Hazel takes off, as the sun begins to rise.

Overall, the embellishments Barks made to the story prove quite entertaining. Notable is at the beginning, where Hazel watches the boys get treats from a few more houses, and is impressed at how simple it is to get candy (“What a racket!” she thinks to herself. “How long has this been going on?”).

Donald also proves to be more of a bully in the comic than on-screen, adamant that noone is going to get any treats from his house.

The added ghosts and goblins Barks draws are also a sight, as is the design of Smorgie, who on first sight, appears to be a cyclops, but in a following panel, is shown to have a second eye, in the back of his head!

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Of course, when it comes to Witch Hazel in the animation world, animator Chuck Jones had his own ideas.

Online, word is that Jones had originally tried to get Foray to voice his Witch Hazel in the short, Bewitched Bunny (in which Bugs Bunny saves Hansel and Gretel from the witch’s clutches). Though Foray turned down the request, she soon relented, and her career as Jones’ Witch Hazel, started in 1956 with the short, Broomstick Bunny.

June was said to have been none-too-pleased about Jones “stealing” the character Witch Hazel for his own purposes, though this could very well just be a joke, as neither Disney or Warner Brothers (as far as I know), actually owns the copyright on the name.

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When Witch Hazels collide (from Eric Goldberg’s memorial drawing for June Foray)

Of course, Jones’ Hazel wasn’t quite as playful and helpful as the one in Trick or Treat. Jones’ interpretation of the character, was a bit more selfish, and oftentimes, intended to do away with Bugs Bunny, for her own nefarious purposes. Jones’ Hazel was also given a trademark of sorts. Whenever she’d get an idea, she’d cackle loudly, jump in the air, and then quickly zoom off-camera, leaving several bobby pins dangling in the air.

While having their heyday in the 1950’s, both of these witches never did meet in the animated world, but that changed recently in another medium. At the memorial service for June Foray, animator Eric Goldberg did a Hirschfeldian caricature of the famous voice-actress, surrounded by all sorts of characters she voiced during her career.

One of the most notable gags Goldberg did, is in the bottom-left, where both Disney and Warner Bros’ Hazels, seem to be at odds with each other. I guess only in memoriam for their voice-actress, could these two witches meet face-to-face.

A Peanuts Prospectus: Linus Van Pelt’s bid for Class President

Politics and Peanuts.

It seems that over the years, the two have often collided in some very entertaining, and memorable storylines in the funny pages.

In the Summer of 2016, I did a Peanuts Prospectus on Snoopy, and a number of very political birds. The storyline took place during the first few weeks of September in 1964, but almost a month later, politics would again return to Charles M Schulz’s comic strip.

Only this time, it would affect one of the Peanuts gang’s main child characters: Linus Van Pelt.

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On October 5th, 1964, Lucy Van Pelt suggested that her younger brother Linus, run for School President, and she’d serve as his campaign manager.

peanutslinus1Linus at first has trepidations about attempting to take on such a major role, but Lucy says the magic word that often makes most normal persons, rush into the Political minefield (see left). Plus, Linus’ face takes on an expression we don’t normally see.

Over the next few days, Linus officially signs up as a candidate, and is brought up before the student body to say a few words. Right off the bat, Linus promises to do away with “cap-and-gown kindergarten graduations,” and “sixth grade dance parties.”He also vows that in his administration, “children will be children, and adults will be adults.”

On a final note, he claims he may also do away with “stupid elections” like the one he’s currently taking part in. That’s definitely a lot to put down, though it is interesting to read his ideas. Growing up in the 1980’s, I never had kindergarten graduation, or a dance party in sixth grade. Of course, one assumes that Linus doesn’t fully understand just how much power he can wield as school president, if he claims he may do away with future elections (does this mean he plans to become a grade-school despot?).

peanutslinus2Of course, one normally can’t have a President without a Vice-President, and Linus soon makes his choice: Charlie Brown! Naturally, Lucy feels this is a terrible idea at first, but warms up to it after a few moments of thought (see right).

Eventually, the school newspaper begins to interview the candidates. The job falls on a girl named Violet, who first asks Linus what he’ll do if elected. Linus bursts forth with a loud, passionate speech, but Violet just condenses it down to Linus being “very honored, and will do his best if elected.”peanutslinus3

She also goes to Charlie Brown for a short interview, and after a few moments, decides to use the same blurb on him, as she did with Linus. Needless to say, Charlie has a funny comment about her reporting skills (see left).

peanutslinus4The next few days, find Linus in the school auditorium, outlining what his election will mean. Most notable, is the strip from October 14th (pictured at right).

Along with his religious-laced ravings, Linus soon after mentions how he will also increase wages for school employees…which makes one wonder again, if he knows exactly what his role as School President will mean.

He also claims that if a little dog comes onto the playground, it will not be chased away, but welcomed with open arms, which leads to a standing ovation from Snoopy in the audience.

Along with the previous declarations, Linus also mentions that his first act will be to appear before the schoolboard, before Lucy quietly reminds him that this isn’t possible…since they meet at 8 o’clock, and he goes to bed at 7:30.

peanutslinus7Over the next few weekday strips, Schroeder takes Linus’ picture for the school newspaper, and Lucy is hard at work checking on the polls, along with ‘encouraging voter turn-out’ (see left). Most notable is her “private poll,” which steadily climbs to 92%, with the remainder giving 7% of the votes to Linus’ (unidentified) opponent, and 1% undecided. The undecided vote stings a bit for Linus, as he wonders why some would be undecided to vote for a nice guy like him.

Finally, the candidates give their final words before the election, and Linus is up. Lucy is confident in her private poll numbers, and Charlie Brown is all-smiles, eager to gain an important position in their school.

peanutslinus5And that’s when Linus drops a bomb (see right). Of course, he gets little more than a few sentences into talking about the Great Pumpkin, before he’s drowned out by the laughter of his classmates. “I’ve blown the election!” he says, as he trudges off the stage.

Naturally, Lucy is upset at her brother for what he said, and given her attitude, it seems a sure bet that her private polls have gone up in smoke, and that Linus’ rival won by a landslide.

Eventually, Linus has a small talk with Charlie Brown, who questions why Linus would even mention the Great Pumpkin. Linus firmly answers his friend, that he felt it was his duty to inform the other kids in school, re-affirming his belief to Charlie about the Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch, and bringing joy to the children of the world. Naturally, Linus re-stating his believes does little to quell Charlie’s feelings about losing the chance to be Vice-President of the school.

During the final week of October in 1964, Linus even attempted to get some sympathy from Snoopy, claiming that he simply spoke what he felt was the truth. Of course, reading Snoopy’s thought balloons, even he feels Linus made a stupid decision (“if you’re going to hope to get elected,” he thinks to himself,  “don’t mention the ‘Great Pumpkin!'”).

As Halloween approaches, the loss of the election even frustrates Linus’ belief system. He attempts to write a letter to the Great Pumpkin, which quickly turns into a small venting of frustration over him clinging to the hopes and belief that the Great Pumpkin will appear this time.

peanutslinus6Linus carries around a sign, and tries to make sure the nearby pumpkin patch is sincere enough to catch the Great Pumpkin’s eye. Charlie Brown comes by, and even attempts to see if Sally may show a little compassion and sit with him, but after the last time she did it, she’s not about to be taken a second time.

Eventually, Halloween comes around, and the Great Pumpkin doesn’t show, leading to Linus writing a very angry letter in the November 2nd, 1964 strip (see right)…but not entirely.

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Needless to say, things didn’t go so well when Linus finally expounded one of his primary beliefs on the student body. Surprisingly, the comic strip storyline about the school election, like several other storylines from the 1960’s, found it’s way into the television medium.

In October of 1972, the short You’re (Not) Elected, Charlie Brown was released as a TV special. Unlike the very Linus-centric storyline, this special would add some extra bits and pieces, to fill out the show’s running time.peanutslinus8

Most notable is a very frustrated Sally Brown, who is fed up with how she is unable to open her locker at school…notably because she can’t reach it.

When it comes to the election portion of the story, the position is for Student Body President, and it is originally Linus who suggests Charlie Brown run for the position. However, Lucy is unsure if it would be worth it, and takes a small poll. With the data she gathers, she then claims that it’s very unlikely Charlie would win.

After this news, Sally recommends Linus as a candidate, and Lucy takes another poll. After adding some ‘intimidation tactics’ to her polling methods, she concludes that Linus might have a shot.

peanutslinus9Unlike the comic strip, Linus is actually given a rival for the Class Presidency slot, in the form of a boy named Russell Anderson.

Of course, most notable about the special is how Charlie Brown’s name is mentioned in the title, and yet, he doesn’t figure that prominently into the story (heck, he isn’t even considered for, or given the Vice-President slot like in the comics!). However, he does play a part in the elections, working the podium during the stage appearances of Linus and Russell, as well as being part of the group counting the election ballots.

The short also mixes a small subplot about Snoopy, Woodstock, and Charlie Brown joining Lucy as part of Linus’ campaign. They also go to a radio station and set up time for a call-in segment, for the schoolkids to call in and talk to Linus (pretty hoity-toity, if you ask me!). Of course, the radio program idea doesn’t go off too well, and the majority of the callers fail to even know what the election entails (at one point, one caller asks what Linus is going to do about ‘the rivers’).peanutslinus10

Unlike the comic strip, Linus’ mentioning of the Great Pumpkin doesn’t fully blow his chances at the election, but knocks down some ground between him and Russell, tying both candidates in the polls. Lucy cautions Linus that if he keeps from doing another ‘stupid thing,’ he might have a chance.

Even so, Linus is more personally concerned over the laughter and jeers he heard.

“It’s depressing to think, that there are students that don’t believe in The Great Pumpkin,” he says to himself.

Soon, it’s time to vote, resulting in a tie between both candidates, with Russell Anderson casting the deciding vote. However, in a surprise move, Russell ends up voting for Linus, impressed by his convictions!

With Linus now Student Body President, Sally rushes him to the Principal’s office, eager to have him start making good on all his promises.

peanutslinus11However, after a meeting with the Principal, Linus admits to Sally that he actually doesn’t hold enough power as Class President, to actually do most of what he claimed.

“He sold out!” bellows Sally, at the top of her lungs. “We elected him, and he sold out! They’re all the same! Promises, promises! You elect them, and they weasel out of their promises!”

Yes Sally, you realized the horrible truth about politics, first-hand.

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Retro Recaps: Batman – The Animated Series (Season 1, Episode 7) – “Joker’s Favor”

1992 could be considered a big year for Batman.

While the Tim Burton-directed Batman Returns was a hit in theaters that summer (despite it’s somewhat ‘darker’ tone), a new incarnation of the Dark Knight,would find it’s way to the Fox Kids block of weekday afternoon shows that fall.

With it’s retro-stylings and entertaining writing, the show quickly became one that I and many kids watched after school (if any cartoon block could give The Disney Afternoon a run for it’s money, Fox Kids could!).

While there would be plenty of colorful members of Batman’s rogues gallery that came to light, the show would also give time over to the mobsters within Gotham City, as well as members of it’s police force (two areas that the movie series at the time, failed to properly focus on).

It also gave us some interesting one-shots, dealing with the average people that lived within the city, and how Batman and his adversaries interacted with them.

The first ‘average Joe’ we encountered, was Charles Michael Collins, in the 7th episode of the first season, titled Joker’s Favor.

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On the freeway heading home from work, Charlie Collins is taking stock of his bad day: his boss turned down his request for a raise, his son needs braces, and his wife is making meat loaf for dinner.

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Charlie feels the world is further treating him like a punching bag, when several police cars and the Batmobile flash their lights, making him move to another lane. Right after this, a station wagon cuts him off, and Charlie decides he’s had enough! Catching up to the wagon, he begins to rant at it’s driver.

“Hey, you,” he yells. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, clown! You think you own the whole road? Why for two cents, I’d-”

Charlie quickly shuts up, when the street lights reveal just who cut him off: The Joker!

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Fearing for his life, Charlie pulls off onto some side roads. Eventually his car gives out, and he is soon confronted by the Joker. The Clown is about to teach his rude friend some manners, when Charlie pleads that he’ll do anything if the Joker will spare him.

This request intrigues the Joker, and he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Taking his driver’s license, the Joker claims he’ll let Charlie go, if he’ll do him a favor.

“Okay,” agrees Charlie. “What?”

“I DON’T KNOW!! I haven’t thought of it yet!” Yells the Joker, before his voice softens. “You just toddle on back to your mundane, meaningless little life, and when I need you, I’ll call.”

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The Joker then walks away laughing, as Charlie is left behind, shaking from the encounter.

Two years later, we cut to the Gotham Police Department. A testimonial dinner is being planned for Commissioner Gordon at the Gotham Peregrinators Club, but deep down, he finds the whole thing a waste of time and money.

As he sulks in his office, the Batman shows up.

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Gordon claims that the Batman should be honored instead of him, but the Dark Knight puts things in perspective, claiming he just works “the night shift,” while Gordon has to deal with things on a daily basis.

The Commissioner accepts the Batman’s ‘endorsement,’ but as he asks if his friend knows where to rent a tux, he finds the room empty.

“I hate it when he does that,” mutters Gordon.

Meanwhile, the Joker has gotten out ‘on early parole,’ and feels he should be able to honor Gordon at the event as well. As he looks through his little black book, his assistant Harley Quinn, asks if he’s looking for ‘a specialist.’

“No no,” says the Joker, pulling out Charlie’s license. “Just an old friend…who’s dying to do me a favor!”

Some time afterward, the phone rings at the residence of Don Wallace, in Springdale, Ohio. When the caller asks for Charlie Collins, Don claims the caller has the wrong number. However, the Joker is on the phone, and he knows he’s talking to Charlie! He even rattles off Charlie’s new address, and claims he’s made knowing about Charlie and his family, his ‘hobby.’

The Joker tells Charlie that there’s a ticket on the next plane to Gotham for him, and that he should tell his family he’s visiting ‘a sick friend.’

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Once Charlie is face-to-face with him again, the Joker is all-smiles, as if he’s seeing an old friend. Charlie pleads that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but the Joker simply tells him that once the favor is repaid, he can go home.

Soon, the Joker outlines Charlie’s part of his plan. Harley is to deliver a huge cake to Gordon’s party at The Peregrinators Club. Charlie will stand by the main doors to the party room, and once Harley knocks three times, he opens the door…and that’s all he has to do!

When Charlie enters the club’s room prior to the start of the party, he sees two of the Joker’s henchmen standing nearby, keeping an eye on things. With the two men in the room, he realizes there’s no way he can alert any of the cops about what is going to happen, and wishes he could somehow contact the Batman.

Walking into the nearby Hall of Inventions, he sees a glider in the shape of a bat, hanging from a crane. Willing to try anything, he maneuvers the glider to a nearby window.

It just so happens that Bruce Wayne had been at the party a few minutes prior, congratulating Gordon. As he and his butler Alfred drive away, Alfred points out the bat-symbol in the window behind them, wavering back-and-forth.

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As Gordon gives a few words inside, three knocks are heard at the door. Charlie opens it, and Harley enters with the cake. Charlie then attempts to leave, but finds an adhesive keeping his hand stuck to the door handle!

Harley gives a little ode to the Commissioner, when suddenly, nerve gas erupts from some nearby candles. Harley gives Charlie a gas mask, and the two watch as everyone in the room freezes in place!

The Joker then emerges from the cake, and has Harley place a small bomb on Gordon’s jacket.

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“Wear it in good health,” he chuckles, “all remaining 59 seconds of it. Toodles!”

“Wait! You promised to send me home,” pleads Charlie, still stuck to the handle.

“I never said, ‘alive,'” laughs the Joker, as he and Harley leave the room.

A few moments after they leave, Batman appears through the skylight in the room. Charlie points out the bomb, and Batman quickly sends it hurtling outside of the building (where it conveniently blows up the Joker’s van).

Back in the main room, everyone has started to regain movement, and Batman loosens the adhesive on Charlie’s hand. He tells Batman about the Joker using him as part of the assassination plot, before Batman rushes into the club to find the Joker.

He quickly subdues the Joker’s goons and Harley, but ends up chasing his adversary into a recreated ancient temple (“Right down to the poison-tipped darts!” laughs the Joker at one point).

The Joker attempts to blow up Batman, but mainly succeeds in the bomb destroying the temple, as both of them run for their lives.

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Escaping into an adjoining alleyway, the Joker is confronted by Charlie. At first, he laughs off seeing the little man again, but Charlie then punches him, knocking him to the ground!

“You miserable little nobody!” he spits out. “If I get caught, your wife and son are history!”

Charlie then claims that he’s got some insurance…and reveals one of the Joker’s bombs, which is ticking!

“This is how it ends, Joker.,” he says. “No big schemes. No grand fight to the finish with the Dark Knight. Tomorrow, all the papers will say, is that the great Joker was found blown to bits in an alley, alongside a ‘miserable little nobody!’ Kinda funny, ironic really. See, I can destroy a man’s dreams too…and that’s really the only dream you’ve got, isn’t it?”

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“Stop! You’re crazy!” pleads the Joker, struggling to get away.

“I had a good teacher,” smiles Charlie.

The Joker desperately calls for Batman to help him, and his adversary emerges from the shadows. Batman tells Charlie to stop what he’s doing, but the angry little man is determined to finish off the Joker, claiming it’s the only way to keep his family safe.

It is then the Joker empties out his pockets, claiming all the information about Charlie’s family is there.

Charlie then freaks out the white-faced clown, and chucks the bomb at him! Joker ducks behind Batman, and the detonator goes off…just causing a puff of confetti, and a paper reading ‘boom” to pop out.

“Gotcha!” smiles Charlie devilishly, as Batman laughs at his little ‘joke.’

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“Oh, very funny,” smirks the Joker, like a bad sport. “A million laughs.”

As Batman leads the Joker away, Charlie heads off, eager to get home to his family.

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After all these years, Joker’s Favor is still one of my Top 5 favorite episodes for this series, and in the release schedule for the show, it was our first story to feature this incarnation of the Joker.

It was nice to see that the showrunners didn’t just decide to make an animated Jack Nicholson, and gave this Joker his own spin on the Clown Prince of Crime. It also was one of the first times I think many of us realized actor Mark Hamill’s talent for voices. He manages to provide a voice that becomes impossible to separate from the mad man we see on-screen.

This Joker is also a bit theatrical, but does have certain vestiges of pride.

Notable is when he asks for Charlie’s wallet. Charlie thinks the Joker wants whatever cash he has, and the clown is somewhat disgusted at what Charlie is thinking.

“Oh please, don’t insult me,” he snaps.

Of course, the character also revels in the power he has over this little man. The Joker even gives Charlie all sorts of nicknames, from ‘Chuckers’ to ‘Charlie Brown.’

To many a Batfan, what is most notable about the episode after all these years, is that it marked the first appearance of one of the modern era’s most famous Batman characters: Harley Quinn (voiced by Arleen Sorkin).

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In the beginning, she seemed little more than a cute hench-girl for the Joker, but as time went on, a backstory was developed for her, and she began to appear in more material related to Batman. In this episode, she is the main ‘cheerleader’ around the Joker’s plans, and has some memorable lines.

When she tries to sweet-talk Batman as a distraction, he quickly subdues her, and leaves her handcuffed for the Police to arrest.

“Beauty school’s looking pretty good about now,” she mutters.

And then, there’s Charlie Collins.

Of all the ‘average Joe’s’ the show has had, Charlie is the one who definitely stands out. He’s just an regular guy, who ended up thrust into circumstances beyond his control.

My favorite moment for the character, comes at the end when Charlie freaks out the Joker. It’s the equivalent of seeing a person whose been bullied, getting ‘the last laugh’ on their tormentor. Actor Ed Begley Jr, provides Charlie’s voice, and it’s fun to hear him go from timid, to almost crazed as he makes the Joker squirm.

Plus, it is funny that Charlie manages to do what the Joker couldn’t: make the Batman laugh!

We also get some fun little character moments, with members of Gotham’s police force. At the time, we were just beginning to meet other members of the force, such as Detective Harvey Bullock, and Officer Renee Montoya.

At the Peregrinator’s Club, we see Montoya acting much more ‘refined’ than Bullock, who seems to be there just for the free food. There also comes a moment where he tries to sweet-talk Harley, and gets the business end of a baton to his knees.

While one of my favorites, the episode isn’t perfect.

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What is notable is that when Charlie throws the bomb at the Joker, Batman has a split-second look of panic, yet doesn’t run! With a (supposed) live-bomb inches away from him, it is surprising that he wouldn’t try to kick it or toss it away (even with seconds to spare!), given how we saw him handle the last few explosives the Joker was using. Of course, it is funny to see both Batman and the Joker, in this split-second shot of utter panic.

There also is a thought, that maybe the episode could have been better utilized later on in the first season of the show. I mean, we’re seven episodes in, and we have a guy threatening to blow up the Joker!? If Charlie had gone through with it, I think Hamill’s Joker would have had slightly more screentime than Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad!

Even the music for the episode, has it’s own special ‘flavor.’ The late Shirley Walker often never gets enough recognition for the themes and musical pieces she did for the series. While there is a tinge of Danny Elfman in some areas, she brings a regality to Batman’s theme, and a playful-yet-ominous tone to the Joker’s theme.

Joker’s Favor has a theme that feels like a distant cousin to the Joker’s Theme. It has a happy-go-lucky feel with a chorus whistling a tune, but becomes somewhat humorous with an added synthesizer piece put in, that sounds like someone is squeezing a whoopee-cushion. It’s never stated outright, but I sometimes refer to the piece as Charlie’s theme song: it seems the kind of song for a ‘lovable loser,’ who just wants something to go right in his life.

Overall, I feel Joker’s Favor should be ‘required viewing’ for anyone who is introducing someone to Batman: The Animated Series. As we celebrate the show having been around for over 25 years, stay tuned, as we recap several more episodes in the coming months.

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Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 28) “The Little People”

One of writer Rod Serling’s most famous contributions to popular culture, may have been his television anthology series, The Twilight Zone.

For 5 seasons, Serling’s show would often take unsuspecting people into ‘another dimension,’ where all manner of strange and unusual things could happen. These tales would go on to inspire a number of people, including Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King.

Along with it’s tales of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, many of the show’s episodes often reflected on ‘the human condition,’ providing cautionary tales, in the same way as fairy tales.

One of the traits that can be both a blessing and a curse to humanity, has been ‘control.’ For centuries, we’ve seen human beings do horrible things, often at the behest of their own petty whims. Once in power, some are thinking of only a select few, and ignoring the needs of the many, that surround them.

That seemed to be what Serling was looking to convey, in his Season 3 episode, The Little People.

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In a rocky canyon on an alien world, a rocket has touched down. Standing outside of it are two men: William Fletcher, and Peter Craig. Both are at odds with each other, over what has brought them to this place.

While Craig chastises his commander for landing them in a canyon, Fletcher counters that Peter got them into this mess, by navigating them into a meteor storm, causing them to seek a place to land for repairs.

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Craig continues to complain (even about the food rations), leading to Fletcher demanding that he stop with the attitude. While Craig sees negatives, Fletcher is the optimist: they’ve walked away from their ship in one piece, and are on a planet that is able to sustain them while they make necessary repairs to their craft.

While Craig gives an affirmative to being told to ‘knock it off,’ Fletcher notes that taking orders seems to not be one of his co-pilot’s strong suits. When Craig mentions how he’d like to make ‘a few changes,’ the commander plays a game with him.

“What do you hunger for most, Craig?” he asks, introspectively.

“Try this one, Fletch,” says Craig. “I’d like a whole lot of people at my elbow. The more, the merrier. The louder, the better. And I’d like Yankee Stadium right alongside…but I’d like them on ‘my terms.'”

“That’s what I’m getting at,” replies Fletcher, looking into Craig’s face. “What are ‘your terms?'”

“I’d like to be the number one ‘straw boss,” he answers. “I’d like to give the orders.”

“I’ll bet you would,” replies the commander.

As the conversation trails off, Craig begins to look around, claiming he hears a strange sound, that sounds like…people.

The camera then whip-pans over to Serling, as he delivers his opening monologue:

“The time is the space age. The place is a barren landscape of a rock-walled canyon that lies millions of miles from the planet Earth.  The cast of characters, you’ve met them:  William Fletcher, commander of the spaceship; his co-pilot, Peter Craig.  The other characters who inhabit this place you may never see, but they’re there, as these two gentlemen will soon find out.  Because they’re about to partake in a little exploration into that gray, shaded area in space and time…that’s known as the Twilight Zone.”

When we return to Fletcher and Craig, we find a few days have passed. Fletcher is still making repairs, while Craig seems to have given in to shirking his duties, and has returned from another trip away from their landing site.

As he looks up at the twin suns beating down on them, Fletcher realizes that for how hot it is, he hasn’t seen Craig dip into their rations, and finds his canteen is still full!

Fletcher suspects that Craig is holding out on him, and has found a source of water. Craig soon gives in, claiming he was simply testing it to make sure it was drinkable, but Fletcher isn’t so easily convinced. He also finds some small plants that his co-pilot has collected.

While Craig claims they’re “just lichen,” Fletcher examines them under a magnifier, and finds something startling: they’re clumps of miniature trees!

Realizing that his secret’s out, Craig pulls something out of his jacket, and shows it to the commander. Though it is the size of an ant, looking through the magnifier, Fletcher finds the tiny object to be a truck!

Craig seems to be enjoying the look of awe in his commander’s face, and soon leads Fletcher to another part of the canyon. Spread out on the ground, is what appears to be a small civilization, complete with miniature houses, and even a marina (observed by Fletcher through his magnifier).

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Craig tells how he’s still deciphering their language, but they do understand mathematics. He goes on to tell how cooperative the little people are, and in looking for edible plants, they directed him to the trees that Fletcher was looking at.

As Craig continues to talk about the people they are observing, his voice quivers with excitement.

“They’re scared, Fletch,” he says. “Petrified.  And so they do as they’re told! Because this giant, is like some avenging angel to them. I’ve graduated, Fletcher, from a slob with a slide rule to…to…to a god!”

“Craig, they’re people,” replies Fletcher, trying talk sense to his co-pilot. “They’re flesh and blood. In that respect, they’re no different than us.”

“Sure they are,” says Craig, his eyes growing wider. “Because they’ve been created, ‘in my image!””

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Mad with power, Craig begins stomping down on the miniature world. Trees and houses collapse beneath his feet, as a chittering cry rises up from the unseen masses below! Fletcher is forced to knock out his partner to stop his ‘reign of terror,’ and the co-pilot collapses to the ground nearby.

“You’re no god, Craig,” he says. “That’s not what you are at all! The only trouble is, that by now you’ve probably gotten them to believe in the devil.”

Fletcher addresses the little people, telling them that he’s sorry, hoping they can forgive them for what has happened.

Some time afterwards, We see Fletcher making final repairs to the ship. Calling out to Craig, he receives no answer. Returning to the spot where the little people are, he comes across a life-size statue of Craig, towering over the miniature landscape!

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As he looks over the statue, Craig smugly tells how the little people, constructed it overnight.

It’s too bad they don’t know who they’re breaking their backs for,” says Fletcher.

“Meaning what?” asks Craig, the smile disappearing from his face.

“Meaning they’re worshiping a heartless slob whose insides are made out of the same stuff as that statue,” replies Fletcher. “Yeah, it’s a good likeness, Craig…and an hour from now they can sell it for junk!”

Fletcher then tells Craig that with the ship fixed, conditions are right for them to blast off soon. However, Craig pulls his laser-pistol on his partner, claiming he isn’t going back.

Fletcher tries to reason with his co-pilot, claiming that left alone, he’ll end up losing his mind, but his pleas are met with a laser-blast from Craig’s gun, that knocks the head off the statue.

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“This is a monotheistic society here,” claims Craig. “Just room for one god.”

Soon afterward, Fletcher takes off, and Craig glowers over his miniature ’empire,’ a look of ‘mad power’ spreading across his face.

Declaring that ‘The Age of Peter Craig’ is upon them, he proclaims that there will be a lot of projects for his little minions to begin work on.

Craig gleefully stamps down on parts of the miniature world again, claiming that he will continue to give these ‘little reminders’ periodically, to remind them to be subservient to his whims.

Suddenly, the sound of a ship can be heard overhead. Craig claims it’ll quickly go away, but he soon plugs his ears, as the sound of the craft reaches a fever pitch! Finally, the sound dies away, but is replaced by an earth-shaking, rumbling sound. As Craig looks around for what is causing the sound, he is shocked!

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Above him, stand two men, towering giants to his eyes, dwarfing the canyon walls!

“Go away!” demands Craig, trying to keep some semblance of control. “Don’t you understand?! I’m the god! I’m the god, don’t you understand?! I’m the god!!”

Craig screams in terror as one of the giants notices him, and reaches down to pick him up. However, in the process, the enormous man accidentally crushes him to death. As the giant looks down at the now-silent Craig, his partner tells him that they have repairs to make. And like a dead fly, the giant tosses Craig’s lifeless body to the ground, where he lands in a crumpled heap, not far from the little people’s world.

Some time afterward, we see a number of small ropes attached to Craig’s statue, and small, triumphant cries go up, as it comes crashing down, breaking across the body of the dead ‘tyrant.’

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Rod Serling’s voice then returns to us, closing out the segment:

“The case of navigator Peter Craig: a victim of a delusion. In this case, the dream dies a little harder than the man. A small exercise in space psychology that you can try on for size, in the Twilight Zone.”

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Size and scale have often factored into a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, though of course, the logic of what is shown here may be a bit ‘pedestrian.’

Though we are dealing with a miniature civilization on another world, it is strange that they would have such Earthly creations as trucks and boats. However, given that we don’t actually spend time among the little people, this may have been a simplified way to make us feel sympathy and association, for the unseen masses that Craig mistreats.

The effects work in the episode may seem primitive by our standards (Fletcher’s staring at the sun is simply a static image of two ‘lights’), but it is in how both of the actors sell the piece that makes it work.

The episode is one of many, written by Serling himself. Much of the story is contained in several little ‘moments,’ as we cut to scenes that actually matter to the story. It’s possible the episode could have been stretched out in the longer, Season 4 format, but for fitting into the 25-minute frame work of the 3rd season, It gets the job done.

Both Claude Akins and Joe Maross are veterans of The Twilight Zone series, with each of them having starred in a Season 1 episode (The Little People would be their final appearances in the show).

In this episode, the voice of reason, falls on Claude Akins as Commander William Fletcher. Akins had already appeared in another cautionary episode of The Twilight Zone, with the first season’s The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. In both cases, he tried to serve as the calming voice, though in this story, he manages to escape with his sanity and reasoning intact. Akins’ voice had that deep, commanding tone I heard in a number of things from the 50’s, and it works well when he tries to talk sense into his delusional co-pilot.

Maross’ first role in the series, was in the first season’s Third from the Sun episode. There, he played a more calm role, while here, he gets to act quite unhinged. There are times in his performance, where one wonders what the space agency was thinking, pairing him up with someone like Fletcher. Given how Craig doesn’t like to take orders, it seems odd that he’d be cleared to co-pilot the ship….but then again, maybe in this world, there are less restrictions on who gets to go into space.

Maybe it’s the pacing of the episode, but Craig’s delusional rantings of becoming a god, feel like they come on a bit too quickly. At times, he chews the scenery, much like some over-the-top Stephen King villains do…though one has to wonder if maybe Mr Craig, may have inspired some of the crazies in King’s novels.

Like most Twilight Zone episodes, the concept of The Little People found it’s way into popular culture.

On the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Robinson would sometimes use Peter Craig’s cries of “I’m the god,” when he’d riff on some film characters in the cheesy movies they’d watch.

Even TV show creator Matt Groening’s series The Simpsons and Futurama, borrowed from the episode.

The Simpsons had a Treehouse of Horrors segment titled The Genesis Tub, which saw Lisa Simpson create a miniature society, and her brother Bart quickly caused mayhem within it.

In an episode of the Futurama series titled Godfellas, the robot Bender ends up floating through space, where a stray asteroid crashes into him, upon which are a number of tiny creatures. They think him to be a god, and Bender revels in having a number of tiny underlings that will do whatever he commands…however, he soon finds out there are consequences to his actions.

Though a simple episode, The Little People still serves as a good cautionary tale, about size and power, and like many of Serling’s works, it’s a story that can still be used to teach morals and lessons today.