With recent developments revolving around COVID-19, this country has found itself in a deadly game of tug-of-war. With people demanding their “freedom” to do whatever they wish in the face of a pandemic that (as of this posting) is still infecting and causing deaths with no signs of a readily-available vaccine, I couldn’t help but feel that even here…I was thinking of a Twilight Zone episode I hadn’t seen in years.
It turns out that on Social Media, some others were thinking the same as I was…leading me to craft this little Retro Recap of the Season 5 episode, The Old Man in the Cave.
In an unnamed town with nary a working automobile or electricity, we see a number of disheveled people huddled around some boxes of canned food. One person claims the food is “pre-bomb,” and safe to consume. However, another says they should wait to hear what The Old Man has to say about the food.
Eventually, a man named Goldsmith (John Anderson) returns to the townspeople to deliver a message from The Old Man in the Cave. Along with advising them all to prepare for inclement weather (which could spread radioactive contamination), Goldsmith says the Old Man has proclaimed that the canned goods are toxic, and are not to be consumed.
It is then that the camera whip-pans, and we find Rod Serling standing in the street, delivering his opening monologue:
What you’re looking at is a legacy that man left to himself. A decade previous, he pushed his buttons, and a nightmarish moment later, woke up to find that he had set the clock back a thousand years. His engines, his medicines, his science, were buried in a mass tomb, covered over by the biggest gravedigger of them all: a bomb. And this is the earth 10 years later, a fragment of what was once a whole, a remnant of what was once a race. The year is 1974, and this…is The Twilight Zone.
As the townspeople begin to dispose of the cans, a Jeep pulls into town, with four armed men. One of them gets out, and introduces himself as Major French (James Coburn). He claims that the town is now to be placed under a Constabulary, and expects full cooperation from the people.
When Goldsmith speaks up against this declaration, French threatens to hang him for insubordination if he doesn’t cooperate. Claiming that there are only around 500 people left alive after the bombing, French says that his command is the new way to retain order in a lawless country. Upon seeing the canned goods, French inquires why the townspeople haven’t partaken of them yet.
Hearing about how The Old Man in the Cave cautioned the town against this, French laughs, telling how he’s heard tales of other “cults” the meager populations across the country have gathered into, and assumes that this is more of the same.
When Goldsmith offers scant details as to the identity of The Old Man in the Cave, French demands they find out more about the town’s reclusive benefactor.
French, his men, and the townspeople are led to the cave, which is sealed shut by a metal door. When French asks how the Old Man can survive inside the cave, Goldsmith claims he does not know…only that notes and messages are given to him, and this information he relays to the townspeople.
French’s men then use a hand grenade to blast open the door, but the metal holds strong. Yelling through the door to The Old Man that ‘this is just the beginning,’ French and his men return to the town with the citizens…where they then start passing out the canned goods to the townspeople!
Goldsmith claims that the canned goods could be poisoned by Strontium-90 (a radioactive isotope), but French calmly eats from one of the cans, and feeling no ill effects, once again claims the stoic man is overreacting.
Goldsmith however, does not relent. He claims that they don’t know where the cans came from or who processed them. If the food has been poisoned by radiation, they’ll be dead in 10 days.
But French’s words and actions, are more than enough to cause the starving townspeople to ignore Goldsmith. He again pleads with them as they begin scooping up the canned foods, before one of French’s soldiers breaks into a store with the words “contaminated” on the door, and starts passing out liquor bottles from inside!
By nightfall, the townspeople (sans Goldsmith), have opened the food and drank from the liquor supplies. During this time, French has a conversation with a man named Jason (John Marley), before Goldsmith comes over to him.
French taunts Goldsmith for not partaking in the food and spirits, claiming he (French) has helped these people, and inquires why the stubborn Goldsmith does not “unbend.”
“You came as intruders,” says Goldsmith, “But now you’re murderers. Only God knows how many people will die because of tonight. The Old Man in the Cave warned us about this food dozens of times. He warned us.”
The talk irritates French who then loudly calls for attention, claiming Goldsmith has lied to the townspeople, and has made up The Old Man to hold sway over them all. Soon, he has riled up the townspeople, and they take Goldsmith back to the cave, demanding he open the metal door.
Once again, Goldsmith pleads for reason, claiming that they should think logically. Though they have suffered hardships over the past 10 years, The Old Man has succeeded in helping to keep them alive. He claims they shouldn’t need to intrude, but his words fall on deaf ears, and he consents to their demands.
Activating a hidden switch in the nearby rocks, the metal door opens, and the townspeople and soldiers rush inside. What they find causes them to come to a halt.
There is no Old Man…only a large computer, it’s lights blinking, and the sound of information processing through it’s system.
French demands that the people need to kill their ‘tyrant’ if they are to be free of it, and Goldsmith quietly watches as the townspeople destroy the machine.
Some time later, we see the town, with it’s citizenry strewn about it’s streets, unmoving…including Major French and his soldiers.
We then hear movement, and see Goldsmith, walking about, quietly looking at those who have been poisoned by the canned food and liquor. As his eyes fall upon French’s corpse, he speaks aloud.
“When we talked about the ways that men could die,” says Goldsmith, “we forgot about the chief method of execution. We forgot faithlessness, Mr French. Maybe you’re not to blame. Maybe if it weren’t you, it would have been someone else. Maybe this has to be the destiny of man. I wonder if that’s true. I wonder. I guess I’ll never know…I guess I’ll never know.”
As Goldsmith walks further among the dead, Serling delivers his closing monologue:
Mr Goldsmith: survivor. An eyewitness to man’s imperfection, an observer of the very human trait of greed, and a chronicler of the last chapter. The one reading, ‘suicide.’ Not a prediction of what is to be, just a projection of what could be. This has been…The Twilight Zone.
And that was The Old Man in the Cave.
The episode does leave several questions unanswered, such as the relationship Goldsmith has with “The Old Man.” The image of the perfect-and-clean machine sitting in a cave feels quite “artificial,” let alone we do not know how the computer stays powered on. Did Goldsmith craft it? Did he know of it’s capabilities prior to the bombing, and hid it in the cave? There are a number of questions here that Serling chooses not to answer, instead focusing on the battle of wills between Goldsmith, and Major French.
Throughout the episode, Anderson’s portrayal of Goldsmith is one that never wavers in his “faith” (or the chiseled, placid look upon actor John Anderson’s face). Though he does give-in and open the metal door in the end, he presides over the townspeople mainly like a priest trying to keep his “flock” alive in these troubled times. He will offer words of encouragement, but he will not strike back at those in the town who come against him.
It is notable how Serling has given these people a man-made savior in the form of the machine, but unlike man himself, it is not prone to emotions like selfishness or greed…just giving calculations and information that is able to keep the people alive, even through the worst of conditions. It’s information looks to be a help to everyone in the town, and survival is not based on a caste or class system.
It is also notable that some in the beginning of the episode, defend The Old Man. It’s prediction at the start of 80% inclement weather shows it doesn’t always get everything perfect, but has gotten enough right to keep the people willing to listen to Goldsmith for over 10 years. There is talk about how the people attempted to grow crops in areas that were deemed unsuitable by The Old Man, resulting in dead or mutated vegetation that most likely made them put more faith in the machine’s messages.
The portrayal of Major French could easily have been turned into a belligerent tyrant, but Coburn imbues his character as a man who is looking for logical answers to Goldsmith’s hold over the people, even as he and his men are brandishing weapons.
We even find out that French went to college and that he seems well-studied, with a personality that is more realist. French has to see The Old Man in order to believe Goldsmith. He has to taste the food before he’ll believe it to be poisoned. Without the proof, French believes he is justified in his actions, and that he is “helping” instead of “hurting.”
The Old Man in the Cave is an episode that uniquely blends together faith and logic, leaving the viewer to ponder the events of what has happened. In the end, with The Old Man destroyed, Goldsmith is on his own, with the viewer to assume that he will most likely try to get by as best he can, but now runs the risk that without guidance, he may die soon.
Much of the episode feels pretty simplified in where it’s going, with the townspeople’s mob mentality putting me in mind of other instances in The Twilight Zone, from the episodes The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, or The Shelter. Unlike those episodes, the violence here does not reach the nightmarish levels we’ve seen before, as the people here are merely looking for hope, guidance, and a possible break from the miserable life they’ve lived after the bombs fell.
Much like Serling’s underrated episode from season 4 titled He’s Alive, The Old Man in the Cave is a story that shows there are themes made almost 50 years ago, that can still resonate in today’s time, but just under different circumstances.
Times may change, but there are certain elements of humanity it seems, that are everlasting…and in some cases, some of those elements can still prove dangerous to many.
Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.
Though only lasting two seasons, Steven Spielberg’s anthology series Amazing Stories, left an impression on my young mind many years later. While I didn’t have fond memories of the two episodes he directed, there were others that left little bits of residue in my youthful brain.
One of them, was a tale of the saintly and the selfish, that seemed to have a little bit of author Roald Dahl thrown into it’s storyline.
The 32nd Yarborough County Fair is about to end another successful year. This time, the judges for the annual pumpkin contest have chosen Mildred McMinamin (June Lockhart) as 1st place winner!
However, the announcement is met by a sharp ‘NO’ from the audience, as wealthy local Elma Dinnock (Poly Holiday), cuts through the crowd and storms onto the stage. Elma claims that since she has not won in the 21 years she’s been entering the contest, it must be fixed (even though we see in one moment, that Mildred’s pumpkin is bigger than Elma’s).
Her tirade is interrupted by Mildred, who claims her failure to win is due to the angry woman’s stingy nature. Elma owns half the county and has foreclosed on a number of people’s properties, and Mildred has decided to have her say in the matter.
“To be rewarded in life, Elma,” lectures Mildred, “one must give. Whether you’re raising vegetables or raising children.”
The words do nothing to change the old woman’s feelings, and she storms off the stage.
Returning home, Elma is perturbed when a man named Bertram Carver (J.A. Preston) shows up at her doorstep. She quickly demands this ‘salesman’ leave, but allows him in when he says he can help her win next year’s competition.
Mr Carver claims he’s a professor of agriculture, and is working on finding a way to help end world hunger. Naturally, Elma cares nothing about the plight of the hungry, and wants him to get to the point.
It is then that Mr Carver pulls out a large green object the size of bowling ball. Cutting off a piece of it, he gives it to Elma to eat. When she claims that it ‘tastes like a pea,’ he confirms her observation.
Bertram has created a formula to enlarge fruits and vegetables, but needs $10,000 to finish his research. He is willing to give some of his formula to help Elma, if she will give him the money he needs.
Elma’s desire to win gets the better of her, and she goes to her secret safe. However, she retrieves only $5,000, claiming it is all she can spare Mr Carver. The cash-starved botanist reluctantly takes the money, and gives the miserly woman a flask and some instructions.
As growing season begins, Elma plants a pumpkin seed with the formula, but over a period of days, nothing happens. Just when she is ready to sue Mr Carver for false advertising, she awakens one morning to the sounds of breaking wood! Rushing out to her backyard, she finds that an enormous pumpkin has sprouted in her garden!
Shortly afterward, she goes to sign up for the 33rd annual pumpkin competition, and runs into Mildred.
Mildred claims her pumpkin is bigger than last year’s, and says she is telling Elma this to not only save her from disappointment, but also paying the entry fee (since the miserly woman hates to part with money).
This concern causes Elma to laugh and she proposes a wager: everything she has (her estate and savings) against everything Mildred has (a small trailer-home and meager finances). Her goading gets Mildred to consider, and she smiles at the nervous expression that washes over her opponent’s face.
“Mildred,” she says, “do your friends really believe all that about, ‘blessed be the givers?'”
“I’m sure they do,” says a shaken Mildred.
“Good,” smiles Elma, “since you’ll be asking them to give you a place to stay!”
Elma then attempts to hire a local moving service to transport her pumpkin to the fair, but finds they are unavailable. Forced to get creative with time running out, she uses railroad spikes and rope to attach the pumpkin to her car, before driving off.
However, the friction of the pumpkin against the road soon causes chunks of it to tear off over the course of the trip, leaving a sloppy trail behind the car.
By the time Elma has reached the fair, the pumpkin is 1/3 it’s original size…and Mildred has won for the second year in a row! Naturally, Elma throws a fit, claiming that hers is the biggest pumpkin there.
“Obviously, you haven’t seen this year’s entries,” chuckles the judge.
Opening a door behind the main stage, Elma is shocked to see numerous pumpkins…each as large as the one she grew!
“Quite amazing, really,” says Mildred. “A professor asked us for $5,000 to complete his research to end hunger. Of course, we all gave, and in return, he gave us his growth formula!”
We then see Elma shaking on the ground, realizing that her greed has not only cost her the contest, but also the bet she made with Mildred…all because she couldn’t truly “give.”
And that was The Pumpkin Competition.
This was one of those episodes that I only saw once, but remembered in bits and pieces. Most of my memories had to do with the enormous pumpkin of Elma’s, from it being dragged behind her car to it’s final ‘ruined state’ (though in my mind, the drive was longer, and there was less of the pumpkin when she arrived).
There was also a scene I recalled, where Elma drives past a family changing a flat tire on their car. A boy in the car starts freaking out about ‘the great pumpkin,’ to which his Mom claims he’s “too old for fairy tales.”
When it comes to the characters in the episode, Elma Dinnock is our main focus. Played by actress Poly Holiday, many had already seen her play a somewhat similar character, in Joe Dante’s Gremlins…which also seemed to be an offshoot of Miss Gulch from the 1939 Wizard of Oz film. Just like Gulch, Holiday’s character roles were wealthy people who sneered down their noses at being “insulted” by those they felt below them. Though in the case of her character in this episode, she lived to be tormented by her decisions.
Strangely, Holiday’s portrayal of Elma feels a little less abrasive than one would assume. It almost feels like they hold back from making her too much of a caricature, though they do hammer over our heads just how obsessed she is with money in a few scenes.
There even comes a minor character moment when Mildred is lecturing Elma. When she mentions ‘raising vegetables or children,’ this causes the old woman to gasp. It could be possible that due to unforeseen circumstances in her life, Elma may have wanted to have a family and children, but being denied such things, turned her attention to more ‘monetary pursuits.’
June Lockhart’s Mildred is the straight-arrow of the piece, taking us back to her roles as the mother figure in the TV series Lassie, and Lost in Space. Her character isn’t wealthy like Elma, but she gets by well enough on her beliefs, and has a grandmotherly quality to her line deliveries.
Just like in episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Pumpkin Competition is a story that shows someone being a greedy jerk, and getting their comeuppance.
Elma’s stinginess ends up being her downfall, when we find out she could have won the contest had she just paid Mr Carver the full $10,000 he asked for.
Of course, one has to wonder if he offered the formula to the rest of the locals as a way to get back at Elma. Or, maybe Mildred didn’t have enough money, but was able to convince her friends to chip in, thus why they were able to “share the wealth” of the formula.
Plus, given the local moving company was unavailable when Elma called, maybe they were busy moving the other contestant’s pumpkins to the fairgrounds?
Writer Peter Z Orton depicts a place that seems somewhat unstuck in time. The vehicles are decidedly retro, and we only have the fair location and Elma’s home to go off of. Orton was the story editor on half of the Amazing Stories episodes that were made, but this episode marks the only time he is credited as the sole writer for a story.
Directing duties fell to Norman Reynolds. This would be one of two Stories episodes he directed…the only directorial credits in his career. Many may know his name from doing production and art design in the 80’s and 90’s, contributing to films like Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark (to name a few).
Yes, The Pumpkin Competition doesn’t rank as highly as others, but it definitely into the methodology that would be a part of many Steven Spielberg-related projects: the ability for extraordinary things to happen to ordinary people, and maybe throw in a little morality tale into the mix.
While there would often be good people within the Twilight Zone who found themselves in circumstances beyond their control, there were also plenty of jerks to be found as well.
The episode that we’re covering today on Retro Recaps, isn’t one of their more memorable ones, but it still manages to rattle around inside my head from time-to-time, with it’s subject matter, and examinations on humanity.
I speak, of Four O’Clock.
In a cramped apartment, lives Oliver Crangle (Theodore Bikel), and his parrot, Pete.
Oliver spends the better part of his day, calling up employers and writing them letters, claiming they have unsavory individuals who should be fired immediately. He also promises to follow-up, and be sure that his “requests” have been carried out.
Hearing Pete squawk for a “nut,” Oliver complies, and then goes over to the nearby window. Looking down at the people below, he mutters aloud about all the ‘evil people’ around him, and how they must be dealt with. However, he feels that his phone calls and threats, are not going far enough.
Looking at a nearby clock, Oliver declares that at four o’clock, he will ‘destroy evil.’
It is then that the camera whip-pans to the right, and Rod Serling addresses us:
That’s Oliver Crangle, a dealer in petulance and poison. He’s rather arbitrarily chosen four o’clock as his personal Götterdämmerung, and we are about to watch the metamorphosis of a twisted fanatic, poisoned by the gangrene of prejudice, to the status of an avenging angel, upright and omniscient, dedicated and fearsome. Whatever your clocks say, it’s four o’clock, and wherever you are, it happens to be…The Twilight Zone.
As Oliver goes over some papers, his landlady Mrs Williams (Moyna MacGill) drops off a package. When she inquires about what he does, he reveals how he collects information on people, to determine whether or not they are ‘evil.’ If he figures they are not, he feels it is his duty to guide those who are ‘misled,’ or ‘naive.’
He also reveals to Mrs Williams, a card of information he has collected on her, which causes her to quickly leave the room.
Soon after, a woman named Mrs Lucas (Phyllis Love) comes and confronts Oliver. She has come to talk to him about his incessant calling and writing letters to the hospital her husband works for, demanding he be fired.
Oliver claims he has information that her husband allowed a patient to die, but Mrs Lucas counters that the ward he was in was understaffed the night it happened. However, her pleas for understanding fall on deaf ears.
“Your husband, is an evil man!” bellows Oliver. “I will not put up with evil in any form! Communists, subversives, thieves, harlots…evil! All of them. And I will not countenance evil.”
Going over to the window, he looks down again at the people outside. As he starts comparing them to bugs and bacteria…he suddenly begins to laugh in an unpleasant manner.
“That’s what I’ll do,” he says. “I’ll turn all the evil people…into little ones!”
As he prattles on about making the evil people of the world two feet tall, Mrs Lucas finally has enough, and leaves.
We next see Oliver dressed in a suit, awaiting a visitor. As he does so, he looks at a framed copy of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Reading aloud a few lines, Crangle underlines the phrase, ‘it is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us.’ He also crosses out the words, ‘all men are created equal,’ with a disgusted growl in his voice.
Eventually, a Mr Hall (Linden Chiles) arrives from the FBI. As he sits down, Crangle tells how he has also notified Police and Fire departments, but doesn’t fully trust calling anyone in Washington DC…claiming that ‘The Reds’ have taken over the government, as part of a ‘worldwide conspiracy.’
Crangle then tells Mr Hall about his plans regarding four o’clock, and Hall calmly asks how this strange little man will make it happen.
Oliver claims that he merely has to ‘will it’ to happen. He then tells how he even considered ‘willing airplane propellers to go limp,’ before prattling on about how making all evil people little, will render them unable to function in a normal world.
It is about this time that Mr Hall asks Oliver, if he has ever sought out any psychiatric help for himself.
“Help?” asks Oliver, incredulously. “Why should I need help? I’m not evil!”
It is then that Mr Hall decides to take his leave, but claims that the FBI is not planning to do anything regarding what he has just heard.
This response causes Oliver’s eyes to narrow, and he now assumes this man is also working for ‘The Reds!’ As Hall leaves, Oliver yells after him, claiming that he’ll soon be two feet tall!
Soon, it is almost four o’clock, and Oliver happily delights in the transformations he imagines are happening outside his window.
“Nut,” calls out Pete.
“Certainly Peter,” smiles Oliver. “This is kind of a celebration.”
As Crangle turns towards the peanut jar on the window sill…he suddenly finds that he is now two feet tall!
Pete utters the word “nut” one more time, as we see Crangle weeping at what has happened to him, and Serling delivers the closing monologue:
At four o’clock, an evil man made his bed and lay in it, a pot called a kettle black, a stone-thrower broke the windows of his glass house. You look for this one under ‘F’ for fanatic and ‘J’ for justice, in the Twilight Zone.
Four O’Clock is one of those Twilight Zone episodes that seems to have an interesting idea going for it, but it’s execution feels a bit lackluster.
Theodore Bikel portrays Oliver as a fanatically-driven individual, but one is left to ponder what possessed Crangle to go down the path he has chosen. Was it too much time on his hands? Was there something in his past that affected him to seek out ‘the truth,’ and that personal investigating became an overpowering obsession with him? Given his penchant for filing and cataloging information, was he a government clerk that lost his mind?
I’m all for some episodes of the show leaving things unanswered, but when it comes to Crangle, one almost wants a little more information to feel grounded in his ‘reality.’
Oliver’s talk about having the power to ‘will things to happen,’ almost makes him sound like an adult version of Anthony Fremont, from one of The Twilight Zone’s more famous episodes, It’s A Good Life. Anthony had an otherworldly power that held sway over his parents and a small town, and he could wish/will things to happen all with his mind.
However, Crangle’s ‘powers’ do not go quite as far as Anthony’s did (there is no ‘wishing into the cornfield’ when it comes to Crangle getting rid of nosy subversives). For most of the episode, we’ve seen no sign of Oliver possessing any powers, and we can just as easily side with the man from the FBI, thinking he has mentally snapped (in more ways than one).
The episode is based off of a short story by Price Day, and I sought it out afterwards to see how it compared/contrasted with Serling’s adaptation.
Price’s story does have Oliver with some powers, but they are not permanent. He obtains them from time-to-time, and must use them quickly, or they will disappear until the next time he obtains them.
Price’s story is a bit more straight-forward than the episode it’s based on. His version of Crangle is not a man obsessed with poring over information. He just figures there is evil in the world, and he wants to get rid of it using the powers when they come to him again. There is also a parrot named Pet (instead of Pete like in the show), who also makes requests for a “nut” from time-to-time in the story.
The angle of using information and persons giving into unhealthy paranoia, has been reflected in quite a few of the show’s more memorable episodes, such as The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. Following the Red Scare of the 1950’s, Serling seems intent in a number of his scripts to remind people to use their brains, before jumping to unhealthy conclusions…a sentiment that many of us wish some would heed, in this day of information overload.
Given the recent revival of the Twilight Zone by CBS, one could almost see Four O’Clock reworked for today’s audiences. It would be easy to see an Oliver Crangle-like character acting as an internet troll, using social media as his weapon to weed out the people he feels are ‘evil.’ One could imagine him bombarding people with incessant messages or memes, maybe even recruiting others to act as his ‘avenging angels,’ never thinking for a moment what his actions could be doing to those on the other side of a computer monitor or smartphone.
Over the years, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone series would often tell stories about the flaws of human nature. Whether it be pride, arrogance, or greed, many episodes would often show people reveling in their deplorable behaviors, unable to turn the mirror on themselves until it was too late.
As the series wound down in it’s fifth season, there were still plenty of lessons to be learned. And in The Masks, Serling attempted to show what lies beneath the surface, of some of the worst of humanity.
Our episode starts in New Orleans, and wealthy Jason Foster is at death’s door. As a doctor leaves Jason’s bedside, Rod Serling appears, and begins his opening narration:
Mr. Jason Foster. A tired ancient who on this particular Mardi Gras evening will leave the Earth. But before departing he has some things to do, some services to perform, some debts to pay, and some justice to mete out. This is New Orleans, Mardi Gras time. It is also…The Twilight Zone.
We soon find out that Jason has sent for his daughter and her family to be with him in his final hours. However, as they greet the old man, Jason chastises each of them.
His daughter Emily he mocks for being a hypochondriac, claiming she always seems to be ill with something. His son-in-law Wilfred Sr, he mocks for his heartless business sensibilities. His Granddaughter Paula (he notes) has just been fussing over her reflection in the mirror since she arrived, and for his Grandson Wilfred Jr, he calls out his (past) love of torturing small animals.
Jason then sends the family off to have dinner (prepared by his servants), and they then meet him in his study. Here he shows them a series of masks he’s had “created” by an old Cajun. He claims they are worn only during Mardi Gras, and the tradition is that a mask reflect the antithesis of it’s wearer.
Jason then analyzes each of his family members, to determine which mask they shall receive.
Wilfred Sr claims himself to be ‘an affable man,’ and Jason selects a mask for him: a face containing greed, cruelty, and avarice.
For Emily, he bestows the mask of a self-centered coward, which he claims to be her opposite.
Paula’s mask shows vanity and insolence, while Wilfred Jr’s is the face of “a dull, stupid clown.”
For himself, Jason’s mask is a skull, given that he is still alive.
Naturally, none of the family members want to wear the grotesque creations, but that is when Jason points out that none of them even care to be in his presence…except to see him die and claim his estate for themselves. He reveals that their wish will be granted, upon the following condition: the family are to wear their masks until midnight. If any of them removes their mask before then, they will forfeit the inheritance, and be sent away.
The family reluctantly give in to the demand, but as the clock closes in on midnight, they start to complain, demanding this game come to an end. It is then that Jason starts to cough.
When Emily asks her father if he feels weaker, Jason mocks the ‘note of hope’ in her voice.
“Why must you always say such miserable, cruel things to me!?” she demands.
“Why indeed, Emily,” Jason responds sharply, “Because you’re cruel, and miserable people. Because none of you respond to love. Emily responds only to what her petty hungers dictate. Wilfred responds only to things that have weight, and bulk, and value. He feels books, he doesn’t read them. He appraises paintings, he doesn’t seek out their truth, or their beauty. And Paula there lives in a mirror. The world is nothing to her but a reflection of herself. And her brother. Humanity to him is a small animal caught in a trap to be tormented. His pleasure is the giving of pain, and from this he feels the same sense of fulfillment most human beings get from a kiss or an embrace. You’re caricatures, all of you! Without your masks…you’re caricatures.”
It is then that the clock strikes midnight. As Jason’s voice quiets, his body stiffens, and then goes limp. Wilfred checks his pulse, and joyfully declares the old man is dead. He gleefully pulls off his mask…revealing that his face has melded to it’s inner-contours! The same holds for the others when they remove their masks as well.
The head servant then call for the doctor. When he examines Jason’s corpse, the skull mask is removed, but his face remains the same as before.
“This must be death,” remarks the doctor. “No horror, no fear. Nothing but peace.”
As the servant takes Jason’s mask away, we see the now-deformed family members in the foyer, as Serling’s closing narration is heard:
Mardi Gras incident. The dramatis personae being four people who came to celebrate, and in a sense, let themselves go. This they did with a vengeance. They now wear the faces of all that was inside them, and they’ll wear them for the rest of their lives. Said lives now to be spent in shadow. Tonight’s tale of men, the macabre, and masks…on The Twilight Zone.
Growing up, The Masks was one of those Twilight Zone episodes I remembered very well, most notably due to Robert Keith who played the late Jason Foster.
Some episodes could be carried on the backs of some rather eccentric characters, and Keith’s voice has a certain ‘eeriness’ that one could almost mistake for Vincent Price in how he chastises his relations.
What is most notable about Jason Foster, is that his character breaks some of the standards of a Twilight Zone episode. Usually a wealthy, eccentric man such as himself would be the one learning a lesson. I guess since Jason is at death’s door, he is the exception since he can’t take his fortune with him.
The lessons to be learned are instead given to his family members.
Out of all of them, it is Emily (played by Virginia Gregg) who seems to show the most ‘concern,’ though Jason throws all of it back in her face no matter what treacly sentiments she musters.
Wilfred Sr (Milton Selzeer) is the one who tries to grin-and-bear-it through most of the events, most likely trying to keep his ‘eyes on the prize.’ However, the most opinionated notes from the family come from Paula (Brooke Hayward) and Wilfred Jr (Alan Sues). Paula loudly complains about being unable to take part in the Mardi Gras celebration right outside the house, and Wilfred is one of the most vocal when it comes to wearing the masks.
One interesting fact about the episode, is that it is the only original Twilight Zone episode directed by a woman. Ida Lupino starred in one of the series’ first season episodes, but her simplicity in telling an “intimate story,” really keeps things in perspective here.
Rarely are all of the characters ever in a single frame, and most of the time, their faces take up quite a bit of a scene. Plus, there are some nice little character moments and camera choices to be had. A prime example comes when one of Jason’s servants hears his relatives are coming, and she quickly shoves a flower into a vase, showing just how she feels about them.
The Masks is one of a few Season 5 episodes (along with Nightmare at 20,000 Feet) that often ends up on a number of Top 10 lists for The Twilight Zone. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 55 years since it debuted, but like a number of episodes made back in the day, it seems there are still lessons to be learned from it…even if the person giving the lesson isn’t much better than those he’s teaching.
Over the years, you’ve probably seen a number of television tropes in the different series you’ve watched. From an annoying relative that comes to visit, or a character developing amnesia, there are some tropes that show-runners just love to dip into over and over again.
One trope that would appear in some older television shows, was “the love potion trope.” This would usually result in someone getting their hands on the fabled concoction…only for their plan to backfire, as the “be careful what you wish for” storyline played out.
31 episodes into The Twilight Zone’s first season, The Chaser would bring this trope to Rod Serling’s anthology series. However, despite it’s themes of love, the episode would premiere on May 12th, 1960, and not on Valentine’s Day of that year.
As the show starts, we see a young man in a phone booth, dialing a phone number, trying over-and-over again to get through to someone. Outside of the booth, a small line of people are impatiently waiting their turn to use the phone. As the young man continues to dial, we hear Rod Serling’s opening monologue:
Mr Roger Shackleforth. Age: youthful 20’s. Occupation: being in love. Not just in love, but madly, passionately, illogically, miserably, all-consumingly in love, with a young woman named Leila who has a vague recollection of his face and even less than a passing interest. In a moment you’ll see a switch, because Mr Roger Shackleforth, a young gentleman, so much in love, will take a short but very meaningful journey…into the Twilight Zone.
After some time, Roger manages to connect with Leila. She calmly listens to Roger’s declarations of love, before telling him to “take a flying jump at the moon,” and hanging up.
Before Roger can call her back, the man behind him muscles the lovesick young man out of the booth. He gives Roger a business card, claiming the man on the card can help Roger with his problems.
Roger follows the card’s address to the door of Professor A Daemon. Daemon reveals himself to be an apothecary, and at first figures Roger is there seeking his help to gain wealth or power…but grows morose when he finds out Roger just wants help getting a girl to love him.
Daemon claims he has something that will do the trick, but tries to entice Roger with a pricey concoction he calls, “the glove cleaner.” Roger claims he just wants the love potion, and Daemon sells it to the young man…for a dollar.
“Love potions are my cheapest item,” mutters Daemon. “And they’re overpriced at that.”
Roger next heads to Leila’s with some champagne and flowers. Begging her to let him have a drink with her, she begrudges his request. While she is away in another room, Roger pours Daemon’s potion into her glass. A few moments later, she eagerly rushes into the young man’s open arms!
The next scene shows six months have passed since the two were married. Now it seems the tables have turned, with Leila being overly-passionate towards Roger, and him having become annoyed by her constant attentions. As Leila fawns over him, Roger suddenly declares he forgot he has an appointment, and rushes out of their apartment.
Roger returns to Daemon’s residence, and asks him if there is a way to possibly dilute the love potion, but is informed that “the glove cleaner,” is the only solution.
Handing over a check (already written out for the exact amount!), Roger receives the old man’s specialty. Daemon also warns him that Leila must drink all of it, and Roger must not hesitate to administer it…otherwise, he’ll lose his nerve to ever use it again.
“Always the same way,” smiles Daemon, as Roger leaves. “First the stimulant…then the chaser.”
Returning to Leila, Roger prepares them champagne, secretly pouring “the glove cleaner” into her glass. However, as he prepares to hand her her glass, Leila claims she has a surprise for Roger, and mischievously shows him some baby booties she’s been knitting…causing him to spill the drinks!
As he mutters to himself that he couldn’t have gone through with the whole thing anyways, Leila smiles lovingly, telling him that they’ll be together for the rest of their lives.
The final shot shows Professor Daemon, relaxing in a lounge chair. As he blows a heart-shaped smoke-ring, Serling delivers the closing monologue:
Mr Roger Shackleforth, who has discovered at this late date that love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a 6-alarm fire in a bamboo-and-canvas tent. Case history of a lover boy, who should never have entered…The Twilight Zone.
Throughout it’s history, The Twilight Zone has never shied away from storylines with a “be careful what you wish for” premise, and The Chaser certainly has a little fun with it.
George Grizzard plays Roger with un-thinking aplomb at the start…and an unhealthy obsession that would probably land him a restraining order in this day and age. As the episode goes on, we soon see that he definitely gets more than he bargained for.
Patricia Berry’s role as Leila, is little more than the object of Roger’s desire. For the first half of the show, she “politely tolerates” his requests, and then in the second half, she becomes so lovesick due to the potion, that she is unable to do most things on her own.
It is in John McIntire’s role as Professor A Daemon, where there’s truly some fun to be had. With his questionable name and intriguing abode, the character shows a man who enjoys playing devil’s advocate, but seems to also enjoy some mischief.
One can make out that the professor has had experience with being blinded by young-love in his own life, but Roger is too foolish to take any of his hints. There’s also some dark humor with Daemon’s constant talk about “the glove cleaner.” Traceless and odorless, the old man even gleefully claims it to be called, “the eradicator.”
The Chaser is actually based on a short story of the same name, by John Colliers. Much shorter than the Twilight Zone episode, it deals with a young man going to the Daemon character (though he is not given a name). The young man has come on the promise of a love potion, though the old man does tell him of the more expensive “glove cleaner,” hinting that later on in life, some of his customers come back to purchase it.
The episode’s title also contains a dual meaning. On one hand, it could refer to Roger as “the chaser” of Leila’s affections. On the other hand, the term “chaser” can sometimes refer to a secondary drink, often used to quell the strong taste of hard liquor. Daemon himself mentions this, after Roger purchases “the glove cleaner.”
The Chaser is definitely one of the simpler episodes of The Twilight Zone’s first season. It doesn’t get as introspective as The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, but I believe there’s a charm in it’s simplicity. Plus, I still enjoy watching McIntire’s performance as Daemon, a man who’s seen what reckless young love can do, but whose warnings often fall on deaf ears.
When it comes to Rod Serling’s television series The Twilight Zone, the episodes that most often come to people’s minds, are those that deal with some of the darker elements of humanity.
However, buried within it’s 156-episodes, there are some stories that tend to stick in our minds, that often don’t rely on aliens, or humans turning on each other.. One that I’ve seen show up in some people’s favorite episodes list (and that I recall watching with my Dad over the years), premiered on February 9th, 1962.
The episode opens at Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged. As the camera shows us it’s tired residents, we see Charles Whitley (Ernest Truex), happily proclaim that his son is taking him home today.
When Charles’ son arrives, he explains to his father that he only meant to talk with him about the possibility of going home, and the two quietly part ways.
As his son drives away, Charles sees several kids playing a game of kick-the-can across the street from Sunnyvale. One of them kicks a dented tin can towards him, and Charles picks it up. As he holds it close, Rod Serling emerges from behind a bush, and delivers his opening monologue:
Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged. A dying place, and a common children’s game called kick-the-can, that will shortly become a refuge for a man who knows he will die in this world, if he doesn’t escape…into The Twilight Zone.
We next see Charles talking with a friend of his at Sunnyvale, named Ben Conroy (Russell Collins). While Charles holds the tin can from earlier (maybe he traded the kids for another in the home?), Ben complains how noisy the kids are outside their window.
Charles reminds him that the two of them were just as noisy as youngsters, but begins to wonder if those games they played, and some of what they believed in those younger days…may be the key to staying young.
Ben just dismisses these ideas, telling Charles that they’re old men now, but Charles dwells on his thoughts.
Concerned for his friend’s sanity, Ben tells the rest home superintendent Mr Cox (John Marley) about his fears. Things don’t get much better when the two observe Charles trying to act young, first shoving an empty wheelchair across the living room, and then running through the sprinkler outside! Mr Cox has Charles placed in bed, and warns Ben that his friend may need to be isolated for observation, unless he behaves himself.
Ben tries to explain the predicament to his friend, but Charles claims he doesn’t want to become “a vegetable” like a number of those in the home. When Ben snaps at his friend and tells him to “use his brain,” Charles quiets down…before looking at the tin can on his night table.
Later that evening, Charles wakes up a few of the residents, and they convene in a small room. When he stirs up memories of the games they played in their youth, their faces light up. Charles eagerly makes them buy into his request to play a game of kick-the-can in the summer evening, and soon the group is quietly waking up the other residents to join them.
Charles personally attempts to get Ben to join them, but Ben once again claims they’re too old to be doing such things. Even his request that his friend help him try to rekindle the lost magic of their youth does nothing to sway the old man, and Charles quietly leaves his friend’s bedside.
One of the seniors has a stash of hidden firecrackers, and sets some off outside to distract the night nurse. Once she leaves, Charles and the others rush outside.
Ben goes to Mr Cox’s office door, and tells what Charles has done. The two rush outside to bring in the seniors, but only find a number of children playing kick-the-can under the streetlight!
Mr Cox rushes off behind the house to search for his missing residents, when Ben sees a little boy who looks just like Charles did in his youth!
Ben realizes that his friend was right, and pleads with Charles to let him play too. But the boy merely looks upon Ben as a stranger, and he and the other kids rush off into the night, their voices echoing on the wind.
Sadly, Ben finds the discarded tin can, and realizes that his mindset has doomed him to be what he claimed to be: an old man…one who has now lost one of the last friends he had.
As Ben walks back to the now-empty house, Rod Serling delivers the closing monologue:
“Sunnyvale Rest, a dying place for people who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity and old age, are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking, to visit…The Twilight Zone.”
Over the course of it’s 5 seasons, The Twilight Zone would sometimes deal with the topics of youth, and age. Out of all of them, Kick the Can could probably be considered one of the most treacly of them all.
For much of the episode, the Camera never strays very far from Charles Whitley. Ernest Truex’s role definitely has some small memorable moments, but for much of the episode, one can’t help but wonder if Charles really has mentally started to lose his grip on reality. It could be easy to imagine that his talk about children’s games and magic keeping one young, is him trying to come to terms with the thought that he is never going to leave Sunnyvale Rest. Even so, Charles’ attempts to wish for something innocent is rewarded, and does not backfire on him like in some of the episodes, where wishing for vengeance or selfish desires, backfires on a number of “adult” figures.
Speaking of adult figures, Charles’ friend Ben is front-and-center as the “cantankerous old man” in the episode. However, he is not totally without heart. There is still the friendship he and Charles share, and he almost acts like a big brother figure at times. This comes to mind when he tries to get Charles to “act normally,” lest Mr Cox and the home’s nurse isolate Charles because of his actions.
The episode was written by George Clayton Johnson, a science fiction writer who seemed to write about age and time quite a bit. Along with writing an additional eight episodes of The Twilight Zone, he co-wrote the screenplay to Logan’s Run, in which a man tries to escape his societal fate, once he turns 30 years old.
In 1983, Kick the Can got a second chance at life, when Steven Spielberg directed a more up-to-date version of the story, for his portion of 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie.
In this version of the story (also written by the original episode’s writer), the magic of playing kick-the-can is brought to the Sunnyvale Rest Home in Florida, by a man known as Mr Bloom (played by Scatman Crothers). Bloom gets a number of the old folks to play the game, but unlike the television show’s episode, the regressed elderly people still retain their memories. Though they soon wish to return to their actual ages, the chance to experience their youth again has energized them to make the most of their remaining years.
The film even attempts to do it’s own version of the Charles and Ben friendship. This comes in the form of a person named Agee, who decides not to return to his old age, and wishes to have a second chance at youthful adventure. A friend of his named Leo Conroy (Bill Crowley), who didn’t partake in the game of kick-the-can, has second thoughts and wants to to go off with Agee. However, the now-young-man tells Crowley that he cannot go with him, and he vanishes out an open window, as freely as if he were Peter Pan.
Much like it’s 1962 counterpart, the 1983 version feels much more innocent when put next to the film’s adaptations of more popular episodes like It’s a Good Life, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.
Seeing Kick the Can after all these years, makes me feel that it has slipped a few notches in my list of favorite Twilight Zone episodes, but some of what it preaches to the audience, can still be something to consider.
Even if many of us in the lasts few generations have never played a game of kick-the-can, the story’s request that we allow ourselves to not forget who we once were, can end up keeping us young, in ways that may not be seen by the naked eye.
Over the five seasons of his anthology series The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling never failed to deliver cautionary tales. Oftentimes he would remind the viewers that despite all the luxuries and distinctions that wealth and power could bring…deep down, every one of us is human, and who we choose to be, can be an incredibly important choice.
With the Season 3 episode One Last Pallbearer, Serling once again chose to enter into the mind of a wealthy eccentric, with some particular plans of his own design.
As the camera fades in, we see Mr Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), taking an elevator to a bomb shelter in the basement of his personal office building. Speaking with an electrician, he is assured that the installation of a large projection-screen television and sound system, have just been completed.
Radin then tests the system. As we see a large metropolitan city disintegrated in a few moments by an atomic blast on the screen, the sound of the explosion reverberates off the walls. He then tells the curious electrician, that the installation is for “three special guests,” who will be visiting him on this very night.
After their exchange, we see the elevator doors open, revealing Rod Serling. He then delivers his opening monologue:
What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive, how eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…The Twilight Zone.
When the show continues, we see that Radin’s guests have arrived via elevator, curious as to being summoned urgently to this place. Radin does not meet them personally, but addresses them via an intercom system. As the heavy metal door of the bomb shelter opens “theatrically,” they enter into the special room. The door closes behind them, and Radin is revealed, sitting placidly before them.
He then identifies his guests by name:
– Colonel Hawthorne (Trevor Bardette), whose command Radin once served under while in Africa
– Mrs Langsford (Katherine Squire), who was one of Radin’s high school teachers
– Reverend Hughes (Gage Clarke), who one can assume was probably associated with a church Paul attended as a young man
Starting with Hawthorne, Radin jogs the Colonel’s memory, when he reminds him how he (Radin) was court-martialed after serving under his command.
Hawthorne recalls, and explains it was because Radin refused to follow a direct order to lead an assault charge, which could have cost the lives of a number of men under the Colonel’s charge. The court-martial that followed, saw Radin “dishonorably discharged.” However, the Colonel claims that if it was up to him, Radin would have been shot for his insubordination.
Radin next turns his attention to Mrs Langsford, claiming that when he was her student, she flunked and humiliated him in front of her class. However, the teacher tells the others that there were reasons behind her actions.
She explains how Paul was caught cheating, and rather than take responsibility for his actions, he tried to frame another student in her class. She then called him out before the entire class regarding his actions. Given what she has seen so far, she still considers Paul “a devious, dishonest troublemaker.”
The Reverend Hughes is finally addressed, with Radin claiming the holy man placed a scandal over his head, which destroyed his reputation. Hughes claims it was due to Radin’s actions causing a girl to commit suicide, and his feelings that the young Mr Radin did not hold honor in high regard.
This final blow against his character causes Radin to angrily retort that his guests can “go to the devil,” claiming none of them showed him the compassion or understanding that he feels was owed to him in these past situations.
It is then that Radin tells his guests about the room they are in: a specially-designed fallout shelter that has generators, electricity, and a warehouse full of food and supplies. Being a man of high importance and knowing people in powerful places, he claims that tonight, an overseas power is planning to attack the country, which will set off a nuclear war. Unseen by the group, he presses a button.
A few moments later, air raid sirens are heard over the speakers, and an announcer’s voice tells people to take shelter. Radin smugly smiles at the worried looks on his guest’s faces and mocks them, asking for words of comfort or wisdom.
He then offers them a deal: they may stay in his elaborate shelter to survive the coming attack…on the condition that they beg his forgiveness, and get down on their hands and knees to do so.
“Pretty please with sugar on it,” says Mrs Langsford, only the request is not to beg for Radin’s forgiveness, but to open the door, claiming she’d rather spend her last moments with total strangers above-ground.
Hawthorne and Hughes also demand to leave the shelter, and Radin’s smug expression falters, realizing his scheme is not bearing the fruit he had expected to pluck.
“All you have to do is to say a sentence,” he says, a trembling in his voice. “Just a string of silly stupid words like a command, Colonel, or like a lesson, Teacher, or like a prayer, Reverend. All you have to say is you’re sorry!”
But there comes only silence, leading Radin to give in to their demands and open the metal door, but loudly proclaiming that they’ll be back soon enough.
As the three board the elevator, Radin desperately rushes at it’s door, claiming they’re throwing their lives away if they leave.
“Life is very dear, Mr Radin,” says the Reverend Hughes, “infinitely valuable. But there are other things that come even higher. Honor is one of them…perhaps the most expensive of them all.”
“Amen,” says the Colonel, quietly backing up the holy man’s words.
Mrs Langsford attempts to offer some form of help to the desperate man, telling Paul to counter the loneliness in the shelter by putting up mirrors.
“Then you’ll have the company of a world full of Radins,” she promises. “It’ll be a fantasy of course, but then, your whole life has been a fantasy: a parade of illusions. Illusions about what people have done to you, illusions about what justice is, illusions about what is the dignity of even the lowest of us. A fantasy, Mr Radin…and now you can have it all to yourself.”
No it’s not a fantasy!!” Radin bellows as the doors close…when suddenly, the sirens and defense announcer’s voice ring out, but not by his pushing of a button! As he wanders back into the main room, the shelter’s large screen shows the city, rocked by a nuclear explosion!
“THAT’S QUITE ENOUGH!!” he yells, smashing the speakers and destroying the screen. However, a few moments later, he panics and rushes outside.
Emerging from the building, his eyes go wide with shock as around him, his building and the city have been reduced to rubble!
As he breaks down in heavy sobs, the scene dissolves to what has really happened: Radin’s grip on reality has snapped, and the world has not been obliterated…just in his mind.
As he sobs at the fountain outside of his building, an officer tries to help him, but Radin’s mind is trapped in it’s own world of desolation, and he doesn’t hear the officer or the people around him.
“I didn’t want it this way,” he babbles. “Anybody, won’t somebody listen to me?”
It is then that we hear Serling’s voice over the closing scene:
Mr Paul Radin, a dealer in fantasy who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on earth. Doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness, because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin, pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in The Twilight Zone.
Written by Serling, One More Pallbearer is probably not one of his stronger episodes, but there is something intriguing to me about the characters within it.
Broadcast on January 12, 1962, it would be the second episode during the show’s third season, to utilize a fallout shelter. However, unlike that episode where desperate neighbors turned hostile to get into a shelter, the people in Pallbearer are desperate to get out of one, and willing to risk death if it will bring them some form of human compassion above-ground.
Joseph Wiseman’s portrayal of Paul Radin would come just months before he would be seen as an eccentric villain in the first James Bond film, Dr No. Wiseman’s voice and demeanor definitely give the air of a pompous businessman who feels he can have anything, and make anyone do anything. However, it shows just how twisted Radin is that he tries to “scare” an apology out of these three people. Then again, one wonders if this plan had succeeded…maybe there would be others he would have attempted to scare as well?
Given how Radin shrugs off not following orders, cheating, and even driving a woman to suicide as being nothing more than character assassination, Serling shows us how twisted the man is. This is someone with an inflated sense of self-entitlement, and most importantly, one who has been unable to mature and move beyond thinking of these people that he feels have wronged him (or even felt the need to better or improve himself after these events).
It is rather satisfying to watch Radin’s demeanor crack, and we get to see what a pathetic little man he really is when his plans fall apart. He tries to mock and bully his guests into staying, even claiming that just saying they are sorry would be nothing more than “silly stupid words,” when in truth they’re fool’s gold to pay off his desperate ego.
In the end, the guests prove to be much stronger than their host. The Reverend Hughes tells how important honor is, while Mrs Langsford seems to try and offer a shred of pity to Radin, though it sounds like she doesn’t hold out much hope that he can be saved from what he has become. They may not chew the scenery as much as Wiseman’s character, but their resolve holds in the face of their captor’s demands.
When Paul snaps and actually believes in the illusion he’s created, this is where I feel the episode gets a little “wobbly.” Given that the final scene takes us back inside Radin’s mind, I can’t help but feel this was a late addition to drive home just what he was seeing in his head, maybe revealing to the viewer why he isn’t acknowledging the people crowding around him in reality.
Once again, One More Pallbearer is definitely food-for-thought when it comes to some episodes of The Twilight Zone that don’t crack the shows’s Top 10 best episodes lists, but still have something important to say.
It’s lessons about sticking to integrity and basic moral principles, are important takeaways to remember in this day and age.
Over the years, we’ve seen a number of cartoon characters make a comeback.
In the 1980’s, Ross Bagdasarian Jr, ushered in a revival of his father’s creation, The Chipmunks. Starting in 1983, RBJ would bring Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, into the 1980’s, placing them and their father Dave Seville, into the California lifestyle. Along with singing Chipmunk versions of famous hits, the boys would get into a number of adventures.
Watching Alvin and the Chipmunks was a staple of my Saturday Mornings growing up. After the show went off the air, several cable channels picked up the episodes, and I soon found myself watching them in re-runs. Out of many of the episodes I remembered, there was one from the sixth season, that I always kept an eye out for.
An episode called: The Wall.
As the show starts, the boys are awoken by Dave, who informs them that they have been invited to play at the Wall of Iron Concert.
Alvin (naturally) is excited at the prospect of rubbing shoulders with plenty of big-name acts there, but Dave puts things in perspective, telling him that the concert is very important.
Soon they are flying over the host city, and view a long span of wall. It is here that Dave tells the boys (and us) that the wall was built after a war divided the country. The concert the Chipmunks will play at, is set up so that those on the concert side, can send the music across the wall to those on the other side, where a number of freedoms are encroached upon…including the ability to listen to our play rock music (which shocks the heck out of Alvin).
After landing in the (nondescript) city, Dave checks on the staging area, while the boys head over to check out the wall.
They soon encounter a little girl named Caterina, who is waiting for her brother Erik to send a message over the wall.
The message comes taped to a soccer ball, along with some drawings he did. The boys agree to take some pictures with Caterina to send back over the wall…and only after taking the pictures, does she recognize them(?). Her brother is a big fan of rock and roll (as well as the Chipmunks), but when the family was forced to flee, her brother did not make it to their side of the city.
Wanting to help reunite the siblings, Alvin attempts to use his star-power to try and reason with the guards on the other side of the wall’s entry-point. However, they assume the three boys are there to ‘defect,’ and one guard orders that the trio be taken to ‘the rock pile.’
Dave hears their cries for help, but is unable to get to them in time. He then attempts to scale the wall, but before he can make it over, Erik’s soccer ball hits him, and he falls back down.
Caterina intercepts the ball, which has a note saying that Erik has seen the Chipmunks being carried off, and is going to try to help them escape during the concert that night. Naturally, Dave takes Caterina’s word to wait (instead of going to the US Embassy to try and get the boys released).
Erik ends up infiltrating the boy’s room as a bellboy(?), and brings along some towels to tie together, allowing them to escape out the nearby window. He then takes them to a tailor, who disguises the boys. Before they leave, the old man gives them some items to give to his granddaughter, who is also on the other side of the wall.
However, the group doesn’t get far, when the boys are recognized, leading to them being recaptured, along with Erik.
As night falls, the boys are led to ‘the rock pile,’ with Alvin emotionally trying to drag out his expected death.
“Give him, ‘the ax,” says the man in charge.
Alvin braces for the worst…but is surprised when he is handed an electric guitar! Simon and Theodore are also surprised, when they are also given instruments.
It is then, that the commanding officer reveals that he and his men (who I guess have chosen to defect against their superiors!), want the boys to play rock and roll!
“Show our people, it should not be forbidden any longer,” he says.
On the other side of the wall, Dave has waited long enough, when he suddenly hears Alvin’s voice, singing a song that carries over the wall.
Soon, people on both sides of the wall are listening to the song. As they join in the chorus, the wall begins to form cracks, and soon a portion of it crumbles to the ground! Once the song ends, Caterina is reunited with Erik, the tailor with his granddaughter, and Dave with the Chipmunks.
The image then wavers, and we see Alvin and his brothers, asleep on an airplane. It is at this point that Dave wakes them up, and points out the wall through the plane’s window.
“It was just a dream,” says Alvin, “But it doesn’t have to be.”
As the episode ends, we get one more image of Caterina and Erik, standing next to the open wall.
While Alvin and the Chipmunks did have some emotional episodes, something about The Wall always stuck with me. It was when I went looking around online for more information on it some time ago, that I was surprised to find others also had fond memories of the storyline as well!
One reason the episode stuck in my head, was probably due to the song that Alvin and the boys sing.
For much of their career, the Chipmunks have mostly sung their renditions of popular songs. In the case of this episode, the song that was sung was an original piece of music (just who wrote it, I have no clue).
While there have been a number of albums of Chipmunk music released over the years, this song still has never had a proper release. Of course, if you look around Youtube, you’ll find audio copies people have gotten off the episode.
At the time, episodes of The Chipmunks usually consisted of two 10-12 minute stories. The Wall was the first part of the episode, that aired on December 17, 1988. However, some believe it’s story may have been inspired by several events.
During the late 1980’s, there was already growing resentment towards the Berlin Wall, that had divided East and West Berlin since 1961. In 1987, former President Ronald Reagan had given a speech, in which he had requested that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, “tear down the wall.”
The Wall of Iron concert in the episode, may have been inspired by several artists who played near the Berlin Wall. In 1987, David Bowie performed there during his Glass Spider Tour, and in 1988, Bruce Springsteen and his band followed suit (which could explain Alvin’s Springsteen-like vocals!).
And then, on November 9th, 1989, the unthinkable happened.
It was on this day, that the gates separating East and West Germany were thrown open. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I can still recall NBC News footage with reporter Tom Brokaw in the foreground, reporting on the event. Plus, word is that the weekend after the event, NBC re-aired The Chipmunks episode featuring The Wall in it.
Cartoons have often found ways to insert real-world notions or thoughts. Most of the time, they go over the heads of their younger audiences.. In the case of The Wall however, there was just something about it’s message about unifying families who had been separated under horrible circumstances, that I think stuck with many who saw it…and still see the episode today.
Growing up in the 1990’s, I still remember when NBC ruled Thursday nights, with their Must-See-TV lineup.
Thanks to the involvement of Jurassic Park alumni Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg, I soon had another show to watch along with Seinfeld and Frasier, when E.R. debuted in 1995.
Like millions across the country, I was soon deeply engrossed in the interconnected lives of the staff of County General Hospital, in Chicago, Illinois. The constantly-roving cameras, along with the hyper-kinetic scenes when the doctors would have to contend with emergency situations, soon had me sucked in.
All these years later, there’s been a few episodes that I can still recall parts of from memory. One of them came out twenty years ago this week, and I thought it fitting to do a Retro Recap on it.
As the episode starts, we find John Carter (Noah Wyle) and several of the E.R. staff, working on a little girl named Corinna Nelson (Nicolette Little). While her father Sawyer (John Thaddeus) only has a gash on his forehead from the vehicular accident they were involved in, Corinna has a ruptured spleen. Med student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) takes Sawyer to be stitched up, before returning to Corinna.
Doctors Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) and Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle) soon enter the room to examine the little girl, when her eyes close and her blood pressure spikes! A blood transfusion has been set up, but her body does not seem to be taking it. Lucy is sent to ask Sawyer if his daughter has any special conditions, but upon checking on him, she finds he has disappeared.
Sawyer had given Lucy some information, including the phone number for Corinna’s mother. Upon calling her, Lucy is given some shocking news: Sawyer’s name is actually Keith, and he kidnapped his daughter a few weeks prior!
Things don’t get better when they find out that Corinna has a very uncommon blood type, and the blood draw taken from Keith after the accident, confirms a match with his daughter. Carter inquires to the nearest blood banks, but finds nothing. Meanwhile, Lucy’s shift ends, and she attempts to follow the street address Keith gave her, even though Carter feels he just gave her false information.
Carter is soon relieved by Dr Greene, and takes off with a woman he knows named Roxanne Please (Julie Bowen). However, he also is informed by a member of the Chicago Police Department, that they found Keith’s totaled car came from a dealership in the Chicagoland area.
Carter attempts to spend the afternoon with Roxanne, but his mind is still on Corinna, and he heads off for the dealership, hoping to find information on Keith. There he finds out that Keith is a bookie, and the salesman tells Carter to check with a Bellhop at the Delaware Hotel downtown for more information.
Carter does so, and is surprised to find that Lucy is already there. The address Keith gave her was a former place he lived, and some locals in the area directed her to the hotel. A bellhop tells them that a guy named Toby knows Keith, and recommends they check out a meat-packing plant.
Back at the hospital, Corinna’s mother has arrived, but her daughter’s condition has worsened. With the lack of blood (her mother’s blood type does not match), her kidneys are in danger of shutting down.
It is then that Dr Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) gives the team some hope. The rare donor program has found some frozen units of Corinna’s blood type in Nashville. The blood is soon on the way, and Corinna is prepped for surgery for her ruptured spleen.
Meanwhile, Carter and Lucy have gone from the meat-packing plant, to a dilapidated neighborhood looking for Toby. Lucy manages to find a relation who says he may be at a market nearby. However, as she glances up at the nearby El train platform, she sees Keith on it!
Carter quickly rushes across the street and jumps the turnstile. Unfortunately, he is accosted for not paying the fare, and he watches as the train leaves with Keith on it. Carter and Lucy then find Toby, who claims he doesn’t have Keith’s contact information, but suggests talking to a guy named Uncle Joey at Soldier Field.
Back at County General, the blood has been received, but there’s bad news. Several small holes have been found in the bag, which could mean the contents may have been exposed to bacteria. This leads to Dr Benton and the others to performing a “blood-less surgery,” attempting to repair the girl’s spleen, while trying to keep her from losing what little blood she has left.
Taking Uncle Joey’s advice, Carter and Lucy head to another address on the south side of Chicago. As they wander around some dilapidated buildings, they both begin to question each other’s motives in looking for Keith. Carter claims he went looking because he wanted to help. Lucy on the other hand, feels responsible since Keith walked away when her back was turned (which Carter had berated her for earlier).
“I shouldn’t have made you feel that way,” admits Carter. “Truth is, you’re the only med student I had that showed any promise.”
Things don’t get better when Carter ends up taking a fall, and dislocating his shoulder. The two decide to leave, but find that someone has torched Carter’s Jeep!
They then take off on foot, and soon come to a payphone. Lucy decides to call Toby back to see if he can provide more information, but Carter feels that they’ve reached a dead-end.
Surprisingly, Toby comes through, and provides them with an address that leads them to a small wooden shack along some train tracks. They find evidence that Keith and Corinna had been living in the shack, along with a phone message.
Playing back the message, they hear Keith’s voice telling someone named Inga that he’s across the street, and to check on Corinna at the hospital.
This sends Lucy and Carter headed back to the hospital to look for Inga, when Lucy thinks of Keith saying the words, “across the street.”
The two end up rushing into a restaurant called Doc Magoo’s across from County General, and sure enough…Keith is there!
Keith is quickly rushed over to the hospital, where Lucy draws his blood. He’s then wheeled into the room with his daughter and ex-wife, but it is then that Dr Greene explains Corinna’s condition. The spleen surgery came out successfully, but given how much time has elapsed since she first needed the blood transfusion, Corinna has slipped into a coma. She’s had multiple seizures, and her kidneys have shut down.
“But his blood will make her better, right?” asks Corinna’s Mom.
“A lot of damage has been done,” says Dr Green, quietly.
After getting his arm in a sling, Carter goes up on the roof, and finds Lucy there. While they were able to get Corinna the blood she needed, Lucy is upset that they couldn’t have saved her from her current condition.
“Some patients get to you more than others,” says Carter, sitting down next to her. “I know. But when you do everything that you can…sometimes, even more than you though you could, you got to walk away knowing you fought the good fight. You fought the good fight, Lucy. Tomorrow, you’ll fight another one.”
When it came to E.R., the general format for an episode, usually involved weaving multiple stories together like a hospital-based soap opera. Sometimes however, the show writers would give their multiple plot-threads a break, and focus on a singular event like this one.
In the E.R., the fight to save Corinna ends up being an event that touches almost every regular character on the show (even George Clooney’s Dr Doug Ross shows up for a few minutes). However, it feels almost like the secondary story arc, with the main focus being on John Carter and Lucy Knight’s quest to find Corinna’s father.
For the show’s fifth season, Lucy Knight was a newcomer to the hospital staff: a third-year medical student, but one that had some difficulty asking questions and getting a handle on certain elements. This led to a series of mishaps that soon ended up with her and John Carter at odds with each other.
With this episode, we both got to see each of them being strong-willed and caring people, who just want to help. The storyline isn’t too different from those we’ve seen before, where two characters who don’t get along, are forced to find common ground to achieve a goal.
The episode also had the two sharing some personal information about themselves. At one point when the topic turns to Keith “abandoning” his daughter, John and Lucy begin to divulge a bit about their own fathers. Carter admits that a father should stick around for his kids, only to find out from Lucy that her father wasn’t around when she was young.
The episode worked to bridge the communication gap between them, and going forward, the two ended up becoming a fan-favorite “pairing” that is still talked about to this day.
Looking back on the episode now, the storyline of the two looking for Keith Nelson seems a bit ridiculous. I doubt any medical drama today would use such a storytelling device, but the concept of doing whatever it takes to try and save someone definitely spoke to me. There’s even an added “emergency beat” when Carter comes across a woman in a housing complex, who is suffering from tuberculosis.
The final moment with John and Lucy taking a beat after their adventure, is still one of my favorite moments from the series. Carter’s speech about “fighting the good fight,” is one that I sometimes think about in my quieter moments.
For those of us who grew up in the 1990’s, there was one commercial ad campaign that you couldn’t ignore.
Beginning on October 27th, 1993, the Got Milk ad campaign officially began showing up on TV. Soon it would be in print magazines, on billboards, and many other places.
For many like myself who watched a lot of television in the mid-1990’s, there are many commercials that were made for the campaign, that are still stuck in my head. There were so many, that I decided to compile my (personal) Top 5 favorites from the Got Milk ad campaign (hint: most of them are from the early days of the campaign).
And so, here’s my little stroll down memory lane.
A nervous man enters a convenience store, and picks up three boxes of cereal, including Trix. At the register, the old woman chastises him for this.
“Don’t you know Trix are for kids?” she laughs, ringing him up, as he bolts out the door.
Once returns to his apartment, the man empties the cereal into a bowl, before suddenly, unzipping his skin(!), revealing that he is the Trix rabbit in disguise!
The rabbit is finally about to enjoy his cereal, when he realizes…that he’s out of milk!
Over the years, the Got Milk campaign would often bring some star-power into their commercials. After all, how else to get the kids’ attention, than to use characters and icons they were familiar with? Additional iconic characters used over the years, included The Powerpuff Girls, and Mario from Nintendo.
Personally, I felt that the Trix rabbit commercial was the stronger of these concepts, given that it played with the topic of desperation, and then trips up the main character right before he can achieve his goal…which was often a staple of many different Got Milk commercials.
Of course, if one looked at the commercial logically, the rabbit could simply eat the cereal without milk (plus, four years before this commercial came out, a promotional campaign had let kids across America, vote to let him eat the cereal during a Trix commercial).
As the clock strikes six, an old woman prepares to feed her cats. Unfortunately, she quickly realizes she’s all out of milk.
Looking for a substitute, she finds some non-dairy creamer in a cupboard.
“Oh look,” she says to herself. “Just like milk.”
Mixing the creamer with water, she then proceeds to feed the cats…but one lick, and they turn on her.
Next thing we see, are paws closing the blinds, locking the doors…and turning off the power to the house!
This was one of those commercials where someone tries to get out of a bad situation, but as we soon see, their fate is sealed.
Most likely thanks to a number of Stephen King-based films, we know that when you mess with cats, things aren’t going to turn out well. Though as the commercial begins, I don’t think anyone expected the final outcome, making the final moments both humorous…and a little uncomfortable.
As the commercial starts, we see a businessman firing someone over his cellular phone…before nonchalantly walking out into the middle of a street, and getting hit by a truck!
Next, we see him in an all-white world.
“Welcome, to eternity,” a female voice says, as the man notices a pile of huge chocolate-chip cookies on a table.
“Heaven,” he murmurs, taking some bites, before going to the nearby fridge, and finding it filled with milk cartons.
However, as he picks one up, he finds it empty. Pretty soon, he realizes that all of the cartons are empty!
“Wait a minute,” he murmurs, “where am I?”
Growing up, I often felt that Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had some important lessons. The most important lesson of all? Don’t be a jerk!
The businessman and his joy over someone less-fortunate than himself, seems very much in line with Twilight Zone characters who realize too late, what their selfishness has wrought upon themselves.
The kicker for this commercial, is we don’t even need to be told where this guy is spending “eternity.” It’s spelled out for us in the Got Milk logo we see at the end of the commercial…which is on fire!
In a boardroom, we see a number of men sitting around a large table, trying to name a familiar black-and-white sandwich cookie.
As the men dunk their cookies in milk and play with them, all sorts of names are thrown out, from “twist-o-cookie,” to “choco-lama.”
The head of the company (named C.W.), doesn’t feel any of these names are winners.
“What do you think, Hurley?” he asks, to a man with his mouth full of cookie.
At this point, Hurley attempts to pour himself a glass of milk, but finds the carton empty. Addressing the boss, he shrugs his shoulders, and mutters through his mouthful of cookie: “Or-eo (aka ‘I don’t know’).”
“Hurley,” say C.W., his eyes opening wide, “you’re a genius.”
I’ve always been a fan of word-puns, and the way the writers come up with the punchline for this commercial, has always been one of my favorites! It’s still funny to see Hurley’s “accidental genius” moment.
While we have seen other cookie-related Got Milk commercials, the Oreo sandwich cookie has often prided itself on being an accessory to milk. This was one of the few times where we had a food product referenced by name in one of the commercials, rather than the nondescript chocolate-chip cookies in a number of them.
As the commercial opens, we see a man sitting at a table, making a peanut-butter sandwich. As he stuffs the sandwich into his mouth, the radio program he’s listening to, begins it’s daily contest.
“For $10,000,” says the announcer, “who shot Alexander Hamilton, in that famous duel?”
The young man’s eyes go wide…as he’s sitting amongst all sorts of Hamilton-related historical items!
Just then, the phone rings. The man picks it up, and hears the announcer’s voice!
However, his mouth is still crammed full of sandwich, and he is unable to clearly say, “Aaron Burr.”
Grabbing the carton of milk nearby, he finds it to be empty…just as the radio announcer says his time has run out, and the phone-line goes dead!
I don’t think it’s any surprise that this, the first Got Milk commercial, ended up being my favorite.
What is surprising to a lot of people, is when they find out who directed this commercial: Michael Bay!
Bay’s kinetic filming and editing style is on display here, as the scenes cut fast-and-furiously all around the room. We get all sorts of information that the guy in the commercial is a huge fan of Hamilton and Burr, though when one stops to question things a bit more, it can make your head hurt (as most of Bay’s feature films have done).
The commercial went on to win several awards, and in 2015, was parodied in a promotional commercial, related to the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.
Over the years, the Got Milk slogan would also end up being mentioned in a number of shows and films, cementing it’s place in America’s pop-culture. It would also be used in a number of other slogans (such as Got Jesus).
The campaign also branched out into advertising for chocolate milk, and even had a Hispanic outreach with the slogan, Familia, Amor y Leche (“Family, Love and Milk”).
In 2014, there was an attempt to change the Got Milk slogan to Milk Life. However, in the Summer of 2018, Got Milk officially returned, to try and give the dairy products a boost, in the face of 21st century offerings like almond and soy milk. Plus, just like the big to-do over the years regarding the health benefits/risks of “the incredible edible egg,” dairy-based milk may not be the be-all/end-all to strong bones, and prevention of osteoporosis.
It’s interesting to think about what has happened to the world of milk-based products over the past 25 years, and if the current attempts to steer people back towards the dairy aisle, will work as well in the early 21st century, as it did on people’s consumer tastes in the late 20th century.