Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Twilight Zone S2 E22: Long Distance Call

"You're travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.
A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
That's the signpost up ahead.
You're next stop, The Twilight Zone."

Reading Marc Cushman's book trilogy on Lost In Space (Irwin Allen's Lost In Space: Volume One: The Authorized Biography Of A Classic Sci-Fi Series) has inspired me to revisit the many tentacles of Irwin Allen's imagination be it Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1961) here, Lost In Space (1965-1968) or the many shows his very actors and stars populated inside and outside of his own fantasy worlds.

The Twilight Zone is one of those series that enjoyed a great many guest stars. It was The Love Boat (1977-1986) or Fantasy Island (1977-1984) of the late 1950s and 1960s. Each year The Twilight Zone runs endlessly on the SyFy channel on New Year's Day and you'd think I'd have seen all of them by now. Some it seems I've seen several times while others have proved surprisingly allusive. That's bound to occur for a series that ran five seasons complete with 156 episodes.

So I've cherry-picked some of these brief episodic tales for personal reasons just to see some of the faces I grew up with and adored. Raised and reared on their work I wanted to see their performances elsewhere.

My warm up was The Twilight Zone, Season One, Episode 25, People Are Alike All Over (1960). It featured the late great Roddy McDowall (1928-1998) whose list of credits is vast and impressive. McDowall starred, of course, in Planet Of The Apes (1968) as Cornelius and went on to continue in that fantastic series of films. The Mars-based tale People Are Alike All Over offers a very Bradburian like cautionary tale on humanity with a nice twist that predates The Keeper (1966) concept from Lost In Space by six years.

Season One, Episode 28, A Nice Place To Visit (1960) featured Sebastian Cabot. As a fan of Cabot in his role as Giles French (Mr. French) on family drama Family Affair (1966-1971) it was another must see. This little heaven and hell tale sees Cabot shine. But like any of these little tales there's never long to really showcase the acting chops of any one actor. They are there seemingly more to serve the story and yet it's a nice bit of star power for the fans to enjoy particularly looking back today.

Season Two, Episode 7, Nick Of Time, features William Shatner (Star Trek) in one of two of the more popular or better known episodes of The Twilight Zone. So it's with my intention to look at some of the episodes that slipped through the cracks for me that piqued my personal curiosity.

On the cusp of the eve of the Netflix release of the Lost In Space reboot (yes, I'll be binging that one with much anticipated pleasure this weekend), this writer couldn't help but look back to the classics of television. Am I naïve enough to think the Netflix Lost In Space will be the same? I can't imagine it will come close to the charms of the 1960s original, and I have no expectation it will, but I'm still interested to see what they do with this retelling of the concept. The general framework is there from the original from the family to the vehicle to Smith, but it's a brave new world isn't it?

Actor Bill Mumy, as Will Robinson, was a big part of the success of Lost In Space along with the rest of that amazing cast. I hope they cast the series well and do it justice even if contemporary justice when compared to the many series that continue to retain classic status today like the original Lost In Space and The Twilight Zone. These series were by no means perfection, but warts and all there aren't many fans who believe they can successfully be recreated. Though the appeal of the anthology series (Black Mirror, Electric Dreams) is returning with a vengeance too.

The biggest highlight thus far for me was The Twilight Zone, Season Two, Episode 22, Long Distance Call (1961) featuring one Billy Mumy in one of three appearances on the series alongside It's A Good Life (1961) and In Praise Of Pip (1963).

(SPOILER) In the story, Billy (his character name in the story too "It's me Billy"), has a close relationship with his grandmother. When she passes he can still speak with her through a toy phone. In the end, through an accident, Billy almost dies, but his father pleads with his mother to give Billy back to them and he survives in a rather uplifting ending when it comes to The Twilight Zone.

Channeling Rod Serling imagine if you will for a moment a different ending here. I did. How about Billy dies and the father, or perhaps the mother who was angry at Billy's imaginary connection to his grandmother, picks up the phone only to discover it works. Not only does the mother hear her in-law's voice on the other end but the voice of her son now taken away at the young age of five. I might have enjoyed that more perverse ending in some ways more in keeping with eerie expectations of The Twilight Zone. As Long Distance Call stands though it's a rather affecting emotional plea.

The Twilight Zone episodes always present a short story with a thoughtful bit of social reflection that continue to stand the test of time. They may not enjoy the compelling pace of today's television but they are incredibly smart for their vintage.

Long Distance Call is by no means among the series best, but seeing a sweet little Billy Mumy making contact with the twilight zone is always a highlight.

Director: James Sheldon. Writer: Charles Beaumont/William Idelson.

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