Category Archives: Classic TV

TV: 10 Best The Outer Limits Eps

“You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”

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Thus began one of the most original and profound series in TV history which ran from September 1963 to January 1965. It was the brainchild of Leslie Stevens, and although his central contribution is certainly invaluable, the four episodes he wrote and directed are middling entries. More tangibly instrumental to the show’s exceptional quality were producer and most frequent writer Joseph Stefano (who wrote the screenplays for Psycho and Marnie) and director of photography Conrad Hall, who went on to win three Oscars.

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Although this show was a hit with young people, it didn’t have desirable ratings for the time. (How things have changed as now this is the prime demographic and capturing it is the only way a show can stay on the air.) The MGM executives didn’t dig the show and they continually desecrated the already thin budget. Stefano was fed up and left. Hall brought a distinctive film noir style with stark black shadows. The second season, which only lasted for seventeen episodes, had a less dynamic narrative and visual flatness under the helm of producer Ben Brady and veteran cinematographer Kenneth Peach.

Perhaps more than any series of its time, Limits demonstrates a wide spectrum of quality that results from a large group of freelance writers as opposed to a committed staff. Often from a week to week basis, there was a schizophrenic 180 degree turn as they would alternate from bashing humans and their irrational, reactionary manner to the unknown to hysterical tales of defending humanity from violent tyrannical aliens.

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The stark contrast between the sophisticated, somber storylines and the clunky, albeit inventive special effects, gives this show its quirky personality. There have been great strides in the field of special effects and CGI, often this comes at the expense of the story. I’ll take The Outer Limits every time.

For those who are interested in a comprehensive analysis of The Outer Limits, check out Mark and David C. Holcomb’s site. It’s a great way to procrastinate.

Like most of the greatest episodes, there’s a bittersweet postscript. According to the Hollywood Reporter there’s a remake in development, based off fan favorite episode “Demon with a Glass Hand,” (included in my top 10). I’m 95% sure that they’ll take the one man against a bunch of aliens plot but ditch the philosophy. Before the bastardization of this unique show’s legacy takes place, here are my ten favorite episodes.

What do you think? Chime in.

THE ARCHETECTS OF FEAR S1 E3 (aired 30 Sept. 1963)
Prod. Joseph Stefano, teleplay by Meyer Dolinsky, dir. Byron Haskin

A group of nervous scientists picking a name out of a hat is the bitterly ironic way that one doctor (Robert Culp) is chosen to undergo a harrowing transformation into an alien to stop what Earth thinks is an impending alien attack. The alien for some reason got a whole lot of folks hot and bothered, and was subsequently blacked out upon its original release, effectively censoring the third act. I found the transformation leading up to it, where the lesions and skin sagging on Culp’s face, more unsettling. There is some fantastic cross-cutting, especially in one segment that matches the jerky action to show how the wife (Geraldine Brooks) has an intuitive sense that something sinister has happened to her husband. It features the best end narration of all the episodes, a pointed attack on the insidious human flaw that is paranoia.

NIGHTMARE S1 E10 (aired 2 Dec. 1963)
Prod. Joseph Stefano, teleplay by Joseph Stefano, dir. John Erman

Its title might be modest, but its content is not. In the most politically charged episode, Stefano’s teleplay presents an intricate cat-and-mouse saga of five soldiers at war on a different planet who are held hostage and interrogated. There’s a traitor. Who is it? There is some strong allegory to the impending Vietnam War and the mistreatment of military veterans. Out of all the guest aliens, John Anderson gives the most layered performance as the head interrogator whose role is more complicated than is seen on the surface.

THE INVISIBLES S1 E19 (aired 3 Feb. 1964)
Prod. Joseph Stefano, teleplay by Joseph Stefano, dir. Gerd Oswald

Prepare yourself for a bumpy ride with this frenetically paced story about a government agent (Don Gordon) assigned to infiltrate a covert and sinister operation of malevolent high-ranking government officials and aliens who recruit outcasts (The Invisibles) from society to carry out their evil deeds. Contrary to many of their other episodes that feature grandiose ideological speeches, this one has a lot more enigmatic ambiguity.

THE BOLLERO SHIELD S1 E20 (aired 10 Feb. 1964)
Prod. Joseph Stefano, teleplay by Joseph Stefano and story by Lou Morheim and Joseph Stefano, dir. John Brahm

Stefano pens a literary Shakespearian tragedy with elements of sci-fi. Sally Kellerman plays a 60s Lady MacBeth whose grand ambitions for her meek scientist husband (Martin Landau) fester when his machine accidentally attracts an alien to Earth. Her antagonist is her father-in-law (Neil Hamilton), a King Lear surrogate whose megalomania makes him belittle his son; his lust for power and glory is her leverage over him. Landau gives a convincingly low-key and restrained performance as a poor schmuck smacked around by the enormous egos of his wife and father. In her first leading role on TV, Kellerman plays her diabolical character with gusto, making her role oddly sympathetic for her simultaneous honesty and deception about her ambitions, her ability to adapt and think on her feet and for her friendship with her housekeeper (Chita Rivera, unsettling as the taciturn barefoot widow). Script here.

FUN AND GAMES S1 E27 (aired 30 Mar. 1964)
Prod. Joseph Stefano, teleplay by Robert Specht and Joseph Stefano and story by Robert Specht, dir. Gerd Oswald

For some reason, many critics and fans overlook this fantastic episode, which hauntingly captures the emotional drain of war on its participants. A straight-laced nurse (the recently departed Nancy Malone) and hapless gambler (Nick Adams) have been recruited by a nefarious alien to battle for Earth in the form of a demented obstacle course, resembling the actions of many politicians. Though Adams and Malone have equal screen time, Malone’s character has more of a transformation as she bears more of the brunt of saving earth and learning that coming to the realization that she can’t mother people. This is one of the very few episodes that gives a woman agency.

A FEASIBILITY STUDY S1 E29 (aired 13 Apr. 1964)
Prod. Joseph Stefano, teleplay by Joseph Stefano, dir. Byron Haskin

Unlike many of the sensible, rational male protagonists on this show, Sam Wannamaker’s doctor is highly neurotic and unstable. His cold and controlling nature creates a huge rift between him and his wife (Phyllis Love), who resents her ambitions being subjugated to his rigid ideas of married life. Similarly, their neighbors (Joyce Van Patten and David Opatashu) are having marital problems due to his overworking and her loneliness. There is a veiled critique of suburbia and gender relations, that are undone when they must band together to prevent total destruction of the Earth.

THE FORMS OF THINGS UNKNOWN S1 E32 (aired 4 May 1964)
Prod. Joseph Stefano, teleplay by Joseph Stefano, dir. Gerd Oswald

The first season caps off with a bang in this loosely-linear story done in a European art house mode. The first ten minutes bears a strong resemblance to Diabolique where two women (Vera Miles and Barbara Rush) poison their conniving, manipulative blackmailer leader (Scott Marlowe). Things take a German Expressionist phantasmagoric turn as the women stumble upon a secluded mansion with an eccentric man (David McCallum), who is experimenting with altering time. This is just as much cinematographer Conrad Hall’s showcase as he gets to show off a slew of extreme close ups, canted frames, jerky moving camera shots, and long shots. This was a slightly retooled pilot for a series that didn’t make it to the air. What a trip it could have been.

EXPANDING HUMAN S2 E4 (aired 10 Oct. 1964)
Prod. Ben Brady, teleplay by Francis M. Cockrell, dir. Gerd Oswald

Cockrell’s teleplay neatly updates the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story with a group of scientists who take an LSD-type of mind-altering drug that gives the user greater strength and super intelligence, but also makes them volatile. Skip Homeier is compelling as the doctor with a duel moralist and bully at odds with one another. It’s a suspenseful episode, with a wary bittersweet conclusion.

DEMON WITH A GLASS HAND S2 Ep 5 (aired 17 Oct. 1964)
Prod. Ben Brady, teleplay by Harlan Ellison, dir. Byron Haskin

In a role written specifically for him, Robert Culp pulls off the difficult role of an amnesiac whose intelligent glass hand guides him through a battle to save humans from extinction from a future alien invasion. His incapacity for love is tested when he encounters a poor garment worker (Arlene Martel), who falls for him. Initially, her character seems hokey, but it takes form as her conflict of abhorring violence but having to use it comes into play. Ellison, whose earlier draft called for more elaborate sets and special effects, effectively scales back, mining the claustrophobic single setting of a slum building to full advantage. The conclusion is iconic!

COUNTERWEIGHT S2 E14 (aired 26 Dec. 1964)
Prod. Ben Brady, teleplay by Milton Krims and story by Jerry Sohl, dir. Paul Stanley

Out of all of the ensemble episodes, this one is the most successful because it has the most plot turns and finds a way to make stock characterizations a fresh asset. Six passengers, all of whom except one are scientists or doctors, are generally congenial as they embark on a journey to another planet. This dynamic quickly sours as an alien gets into their thoughts and exploits each person’s weakness, leading the people to turn on each other and reveal their ugly true selves. Michael Constantine stands out as a crass, ignorant businessman driven to capitalize on the new planet. Many will probably be dismayed with Jacqueline Scott’s story arc of a scientist who wants to be a woman and mother (although her simulation of a traditional woman is entertainingly nightmarish and interesting). Ultimately, there are no heroes, only humans.

Honorable Mentions
S1 E6 The Man who was Never Born
S1 E7 O.B.I.T.
S1 E9 Corpus Earthling
S1 E15 The Mice
S1 E31 The Chameleon
S2 E1 Soldier
S2 E9 I, Robot
S2 E10-11 The Inheritors
S2 E15 The Brain of Colonel Barham

TV: 10 Best Alfred Hitchcock Hour Episodes Pt. 2

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For part one of this Top 10 List, click here.

LONELY PLACE S3 E6 (aired 16 Nov. 1964)
Exec Prod. Norman Lloyd and Prod. Herbert Coleman, teleplay by Francis Irby Gwaltney and story by C.B. Gilford, dir. Harvey Hart

In contrast to many of Hitchcock’s iconic films, which are set in lavish, panoramic places and deal with the lives of urbane people, many of the best hour-long programs take place in the desolate rural South. Lonely Place tells the very bleak story of Stella (Teresa Wright), a sweet, but highly unappreciated wife, her somber and miserly farmer husband (Pat Buttram), and a sadistic, but cheap drifter (Bruce Dern) hired as a farmhand. Wright whose slightly heavyset physique and dowdy appearance, is totally convincing as a farm wife who has only just now come to the realization that her marriage is a sham and she is regarded as nothing more than a servant. Buttram is compelling as a dark version of Mr. Haney (on the sitcom Green Acres), who becomes increasingly more despicable as the episode progresses. Dern, who has played hundreds of psychopaths, attacks his assignment with relish and a maniacal chipmunk laugh.

Prod. Norman Lloyd, teleplay by James Bridges and story by Davis Grubb, dir. Arnold Laven

In most mainstream Yankee entertainment, Southerners are portrayed as backwards and stupid bumpkins. The titular character, played by a young Peter Fonda, is anything but. Verge and his brother (Sam Reese), who live on a farm in the middle of nowhere are bereft at the loss of their father, murdered in cold blood by a powerful senator (Robert Emhardt). Verge is determined to take revenge in an unconventional but highly ingenious way. In addition to Fonda’s cool and calculated portrayal, Reese’s Wilford is the story’s moral center as the sweet and well-meaning brother, imbuing his role with a lot more vulnerability than typical of male performances at the time. With his sweaty head and soft Pillsbury Dough Boy face, Emhardt looks like a Southern Good Old Boy, who is jovial in public but highly sharky in private or when provoked. The final showdown between Verge and the Senator is tense, exciting, and genuinely surprising but satisfying.

THE MAGIC SHOP S2 E13 (aired 10 Jan. 1964)
Prod. Joan Harrison, teleplay by John Collier and James Parrish and story by H.G. Wells, dir. Robert Stevens

Joan Harrison proves that she’s more than her women’s soap opera reputation in this surreal horror about two parents (Leslie Nielsen and Peggy McCay) who have a hard time disciplining their strong-willed son Tony (John Megna). They lose even further control when Tony and the sinister owner of a mysterious magic shop (David Opatoshu) join forces, giving the mean-spirited boy the resources to manifest his evil. It is a testament to the episode’s looniness that a pedantic voice-over commentary at the end adds to its surrealness. Leslie “Naked Gun” Nielsen, who is usually stiff and unconvincing in dramatic roles, has a blandness and lack of authority that lends itself well to a father who is dominated by his child and can’t do anything about it.

AN UNLOCKED WINDOW S3 E17 (aired 15 Feb. 1965)
Exec Prod. Norman Lloyd and Prod. Herbert Coleman, teleplay by James Bridges and story by Ethel Lina White, dir. Joseph M. Newman

Dana Wynter, with her genteel English-rose presence and voice reminiscent to Audrey Hepburn’s, is perfect casting as the young and talented but insecure nurse whose life is in danger from a serial killer who targets nurses. For the hour we shake in our seats as the nurse, who’s taking care of a handsome, bedridden man in a spooky mansion has neglected to lock one tiny window in the basement. Anybody who wants to write a mystery/suspense must watch this episode to see a masterful use of a red herring.

Prod. Leon Benson, teleplay by Lee Erwin, dir. Charles Haas

Although it’s been over five years since I’ve seen this one, it made quite the impact as the scariest ep of AHH (and quite possibly one of the most frightening episodes in TV history). Malibu, now swarming with people, looks like a nightmarish ghost town in this episode. Inger Stevens is perfectly convincing as a basically decent housewife whose isolation makes her suspicious of outsiders, leading her to not allow a Mexican man (Christopher Dark) use her phone for an ambulance for his wife who was brutally attacked. Her death soon after leaves the protagonist guilt-ridden, but also more paranoid; justifiably so, as she is surrounded with unsavory men. It’s too bad that a copy of this one hasn’t been available for the past few years.

Honorable Mentions:
The Jar, S2 EP17
Body in the Barn, S2 EP32
Water’s Edge, S3 EP3
Power of Attorney, S3 EP25
The Second Wife, S3 EP27

TV: 10 Best Alfred Hitchcock Hour Eps Pt. 1

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Depending on the source, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is either seen as an extension of the anthology show Alfred Hitchcock Presents or is classified as its own show. I strongly believe that Hour is a separate entity as it has a darker visual and narrative aesthetic. Going against the grain (yet again), it is my assertion that Hour had more interesting and complex scripts and better production values than the more popular and acclaimed Presents plus that extra je-ne-sais-crois factor that not only entertained but also transfixed.

Many wrongly assert that most of Hour’s scripts should have been thirty minutes but were bloated into hour-long episodes. There are certain stories that drag on too long such as Season 3’s Misadventure, but honestly, that story is so trite it would even be so in the half-hour format.

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Presents is akin to Hitchcock’s early British films; they are charming and witty one-act drawing room comedies with murders plus the famous twist ending. Hour has more of a feel of his American films with a three-act structure that’s more about the journey. The twist isn’t as pronounced.

For the most part the show was adept at doing many styles and subsets of the suspense genre. The only times the show tripped up was when they went The Twilight Zone route (Where the Woodbine Twineth, or the dreadful The Monkey’s Paw-A Retelling) or when they strained in a purely broad comedy (How to Get Rid of Your Wife).

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While Hitchcock may not have been involved with the day-to-day tasks of his show, his influence is strongly felt in the episodes in terms of style and content. Most of the entries were crafted with impeccable consistency, very worthy of the Hitchcock brand (and in my opinion, on the whole better than the more prolific, but spotty The Twilight Zone).

I could go on and on, but I’ll let y’all come to your own conclusion. Enjoy some quality television. Here are the first 5 out of 10 great Alfred Hitchcock Hours.

THE DARK POOL S1 E29 (aired 3 May 1963)
Exec Prod. Joan Harrison, teleplay by William B. Gordon and story and teleplay by Alec Coppel, dir. Jack Smight

This episode, like many of the Harrison-produced episodes, is condescendingly looked down as a “woman’s melodrama.” Lois Nettleton gives a gritty performance as Dianne, an alcoholic wife and adoptive mother married to a well-to-do businessman (Anthony George), whose baby drowns due to her drunken neglect. A beautiful and conniving blackmailer (creepily played by the exotic Madlyn Rhue), claiming to be the baby’s birth mother, threatens to expose our heroine’s drinking problem to her oblivious husband and tries to steal the husband. It’s incredibly entertaining and a real treat to see Nettleton and Rhue excel at the type of roles that they do best.

Prod. Joan Harrison, teleplay by Richard Matheson and story by Julian Symons (Based off novel), dir. Alf Kjellin

This one shares the same premise (and the same leading man, David Wayne) as the well-known Presents episode One More Mile to Go, about a mild-mannered man who kills his wife in the heat of the moment. He is stopped by a cop first for a broken car light, but due to the cop’s deeper suspicion he is continually pursued. This version goes further and casts a mystery over the man’s guilt, made compelling and taut by Wayne’s stellar performance of a man with a sense of alienation and an undercurrent of anger. The cat-and-mouse is heightened with a formidable antagonist, William Conrad, who has Orson Welles intensity as the detective hell-bent on pinning the murder on Wayne.

THE SIGN OF SATAN S2 E27 (aired 8 May 1964)
Exec Prods. Alfred Hitchcock and Norman Lloyd, teleplay by Barré Lyndon and story by Robert Blotch, dir. Robert Douglas

Apparently Christopher Lee was a little blindsided when he came to LA to film this episode, under the impression that he would be directed by Hitch himself. Even under the direction of the lesser-known Robert Douglas, Lee gives a great performance, showing a vulnerable and human side as the moody and uptight (it turns out for good reason) German actor brought to Hollywood to star in a vampire movie. An interesting counterbalance is the befuddled production team, who contrary to the typical show people cliché of high-strung divas, are logical and pragmatic. There’s a sense of community in their collaboration and the leading lady (Gia Scala) is as respected as the guys.

ANNABEL S1 E7 (aired 1 Nov. 1962)
Prod. Joan Harrison, teleplay by Robert Blotch and story by Patricia Highsmith (based off novel), dir. Paul Henreid

Many who have read Patricia Highsmith’s novel commend this episode for deftly condensing but retaining the flavor of this long material. While I haven’t read Highsmith’s story, I thought Bloch’s teleplay had an intriguingly intricate spider web structure especially in the creation of a love pentagon which heightens the suspense. Much of its drama comes from the crazed protagonist’s (Dean Stockwell) obsession with the titular character (Susan Oliver), making everybody act irrationally and exposing their more flawed sides. Lyn Murray’s lush gothic score has shades of Rebecca and Laura.

CHANGE OF ADDRESS S3 E2 (aired 12 Oct. 1964)
Exec Prod. Norman Lloyd and Prods. David Friedkin and Morton Fine, teleplay by David Friedkin and Morton Fine and story by Andrew Benedict, Dir. David Friedkin

For those of y’all sick of the sentimentalizing and prevalence of man-children in entertainment and society, this episode’s nefarious portrayal of male mid-life crisis is required viewing. Five-time Academy Award-loser Arthur Kennedy plays a fifty-something husband with a morbid case of arrested development who forces his long-suffering wife (Phyllis Thaxter, superb!) into moving to a Malibu beach house. The restaurant scene alone, where Kennedy’s and Thaxter’s characters have reached the final impasse in their miserable marriage, makes this story more than worthwhile. Many commenters in the video call Thaxter’s character a shrew and a bitch, showing an interesting, though unfortunate paradigm of our culture.

Honorable Mentions:
A Piece of the Action, S1 EP1
Captive Audience, S1 EP5
Bonfire, S1 EP13
Beyond the Sea of Death, S2 EP14
Night Caller, S2 EP15