by Patricia Grandjean
May 4, 2011
09:01 AMBox Office
My "Twilight" Chronicles—No, not THAT "Twilight"
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6. "The Howling Man." Like many shows of its ilk, when TZ tried to create monsters or aliens for the screen—thankfully, not often—it usually came up with something more laughable than scary. (Think, for a moment, about the puffball gremlin who vexes William Shatner in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," or the ridiculous Martians and Venusians who appear in "Mr. Dingle, the Strong." You could theorize that this was because of makeup limitations of the time, though honestly, nearly 40 years later "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" had the same problems.) Hands down, the unscariest of all TZ villains, believe it or not, was this ep's Satan; the average guy in your neighborhood who wears a devil's costume on Halloween gets more mileage out of the look. Part of the responsibility for the failure of this yarn should also be laid at the feet of lead actors Robin Moore and H.M. Winant, both safe as milk—the real hoot is crazed monk Brother Jerome, played by John Carradine.
7. "The Little People." Another TZ reworking of a tired bromide: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once again, "Monsters"'s Claude Akins plays the voice of reason; this time as astronaut William Fletcher, whose colleague Peter Craig (Joe Maross) goes 'round the bend when he finds out the planet they've landed on to repair their ship supports a tiny civilization of people the size of ants. Because of his size, they worship him as a god, so, natch, he goes all Old Testament on his wee supplicants until the Golden Rule catches up with him. Maross plays "punch drunk with power" the way Sir Laurence Olivier played Jewish grief in Neil Diamond's The Jazz Singer: hammy to the point of unforgivable.
8. "The Odyssey of Flight 33." Time travel was never a fruitful theme for TZ—think of "Back There" (on a bet, a gent travels back in time to try to stop Lincoln's assassination), "No Time Like the Past" (Dana Andrews fails to change several historical events) and "Once Upon a Time" (a desperate excuse to star Buster Keaton in something, anything). "Odyssey" is more about the journey than the destination: A Global Airlines Boeing 707, en route from London to New York City, hits a time warp and finds itself back in the "age of the dinosaurs," which apparently allowed TZ's producers to save some money with cheesy animated stock footage of an apatosaurus (then, of course, called the brontosaurus). The rest of the ep has to do with the plane's crew trying, and failing, to catch a tail wind back to the present. The most noteworthy characteristics of this ep are (reportedly) the accuracy of the technical jargon spoken in the plane's cockpit and the unabashedly generic quality of 99.9 percent of the cast.
9. "The Hitch-Hiker." I have yet to mention that of the 150-plus total episodes of "The Twilight Zone," Rod Serling scripted more than 90—a remarkable feat. So, understandably, a good number of his TZ teleplays were adaptations from other sources, and sometimes, quite inferior ones. Based on a radio drama of the same name by Lucille Fletcher, this first-seasoner plays like something straight out of "Tales of the Unknown." We know Nan Adams (Inger Stevens) is scared of the hobo hitchhiker because she gasps and widens her eyes melodramatically whenever he turns up. But I'll give her this: As someone who has difficulty accepting her own death, she's much more effective at bringing the "sixth sense" out in people than Bruce Willis.
10. "To Serve Man." Adapted from a chilling Cold War-era short story by Damon Knight, this should have been a slam dunk. As it stands, the episode has a lot to recommend it, particularly a nicely self-righteous turn by Lloyd Bochner as Chambers (there's something gratifying about seeing Chambers sent to the alien dinner table at the end, given all the high-minded blather he subjects the other characters to the rest of the ep). But, WTF? In Knight's story, the reason certain UN operatives are able to translate the fateful alien "book" at the center of the tale is because someone gets his hands on a Kanamit/English dictionary; here, we're supposed to believe it's translated from the ether. Knight's Kanamit are piglike; Serling, because (one guesses) he'd already been down that road in "Eye of the Beholder," decided to make his Kanamit 9-foot encephalopaths—and the perpetually doped-out expression a young Richard (JAWS!!) Kiel wears isn't much of an argument for higher intelligence. Finally, why are the brainy Kanamit traveling in a spaceship in which the doorways are much too low for them (look out for props and more backdrops from the 1956 film Forbidden Planet, including the iconic United Planets Cruiser C-57D spaceship)—and why, oh why, when it's finally revealed that the book is a cookbook, is Chambers absolutely the only person in line for the otherworldly field trip who shows even a trace of panic?