RLJ Entertainment // 1961 // 950 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Alice Nelson // July 10th, 2013
"Tony! Fun With Tofu, it's...it's a cookbook!"
On June 23rd, 2013 "I Am Legend" author Richard Matheson died at the age of 87. In addition to being a prolific short story writer and novelist, Matheson was also a gifted screenwriter, who was a frequent contributor to the classic anthology series The Twilight Zone. He wrote 16 episodes in the series' five year run, and 3 of the 37 episodes from The Twilight Zone: The Complete Third Season. This review is as much a tribute to Richard Matheson as it is an analysis of the series third season. Matheson was a big part of this classic television show, and both continue to pick up fans more than 50 years after they began entertaining the public.
It's one of the most recognizable television themes around, when those iconic high pitched dissonant tones begin, everybody and they mama know it's time for The Twilight Zone. Season Three contains 37 episodes from the years 1961 and 1962, and includes fan favorites "To Serve Man," "Kick the Can" and "It's a Good Life." It also includes some lesser known, but no less impressive episodes by then young writer Matheson. Already an established writer when he began partnering with Mr. Rod Serling, he had written many stories, including "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in 1956. In Season Three, Matheson authored the gems "Once Upon a Time" (December 1961), "Little Girl Lost" (March 1962), and "Young Man's Fancy" (May 1962). These three stories couldn't be more diverse, and shows just what a talent Matheson was as a writer. In them he utilizes the very trait that makes Twilight Zone so compelling: putting regular folk like you and me in odd and sometimes terrifying situations.
"Once Upon a Time" stars the great silent film comedian Buster Keaton, in one of the show's comedy episodes. Keaton plays Woodrow Mulligan, a man tired of living in the 1890s because he thinks prices are too high and the small town he lives in is much too noisy. Mulligan is a janitor for a professor who invents a time helmet, and he uses it to travel to 1962, where he believes things will be far better. However, he experiences an immediate case of buyer's remorse from the moment he lands in the middle of his hometown almost 100 years in the future -- it's much more expensive, and far more crowded and noisy. Wanting to return to the relative peace of 1890, Mulligan runs into an idealistic engineer named Rollo, who pines away for what he believes is the idyllic existence of the 1890s. Rollo promises to help Mulligan return, but then decides he wants to go back to that time instead. This was meant to be a homage to Buster Keaton's storied career, using silent movie intertitle cards during the 1890s, and reverting to the talking pictures we're used to when Mulligan is in 1962. Matheson's story is fun and purposely silly, the way Keaton's old films were. It's a clever episode in the way it transitions from the silent era to the modern era, and it nails the scratchy, jerky film style of those old silent films. Keaton was 66 years old during the production, and he hadn't lost the ability to perform the physical comedy that made him a star in the early 20th century.
"Little Girl Lost" is based on a real life experience that Matheson and his wife had with their young daughter, who fell off her bed one night while sleeping and rolled against a wall. Matheson's wife could hear the girl, but was unable to see where she was -- a horrifying few moments for any parent whether real or in the Twilight Zone. In the fictionalized version, little Bettina (Tracy Stratford) is quite literally in another dimension. Her parents, Chris (Robert Sampson, Re-Animator) and Ruth (Sarah Marshall, Dangerous Minds), can hear the girl's cries but can't find her anywhere in the bedroom. The dog knows something is amiss and begins barking fiercely, when Chris lets him in he runs under Tina's bed and vanishes just as the child had. Chris calls his physicist friend Bill (Charles Aidman), who finds a portal to another dimension in the wall behind Tina's bed. Chris goes through to find his daughter while Bill holds on to him so he too won't get lost on the other side. And as Chris searches for his little girl, he can here Bill screaming for him to hurry before it's too late. Does Chris get his daughter back? Oh, I won't ruin it, but it is quite the ride and Matheson's story will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
Matheson's final contribution to The Twilight Zone: The Complete Third Season, is a little heartwarming tale about a son's love for his recently deceased mother -- and if you know anything about the Twilight Zone, it ain't a normal kind of love at all. "Young Man's Fancy," is about Alex and Virginia, newlyweds who put off their wedding for a dozen years because Alex didn't want to leave or upset his mother, who was in poor health. Now that the old battleax is dead, Virginia finally believes that Alex is all hers. All that's left to do is sell his old childhood home, and they can begin many years of wedded bliss. Ah, but nothing is ever that easy in The Twilight Zone, and when the couple returns to shore up the sale, good ol' Alex misses his dearly departed mother more than Virginia had realized, and while she tries to convince him they need their own place, things in the home begin changing in very strange ways. Neither Matheson nor The Twilight Zone is ever too predictable, and honey, this episode goes in a direction that would make even Freud's head spin; it is by far my favorite of Matheson's from Season Three.
Season Three lives up to all the expectations set by the previous two. Rod Serling is just as smooth and suave as ever, with that trademark baritone voice that is as relaxing as a couple of Vicodin. But this review is a tribute to Richard Matheson, an influential writer who was part of a show that will live on long after we have left this mortal coil.
Presented in 1.33:1 standard definition, this DVD release gives the collection a very nostalgic feel. I've heard many a complaint of the lack of extras on these RLJ releases, but if you love the show that won't be such a huge deal. It is a program that stands firm on its own merits, and doesn't need all the fancy extras. The special features that are included give us a taste of a simpler time, where there were only three networks, and families actually sat in the same room and watched TV together -- go figure. These extras are some fascinating public service announcements of long ago; some encouraged worshiping together at church, others asked audiences to support Radio Free Europe. There are also a few ads hawking Chesterfield Cigarettes -- peddled by none other than Serling himself. In that famous voice he tells the viewing audiences that "Chesterfields Satisfy Completely." And that's not all! There are even a few promos for Gunsmoke, voiced by Marshall Dillon himself: Mr. James Arness. These little tidbits of history really give the DVD that sense of what it must've been like to watch The Twilight zone during its original run, and maybe this was the intention of the studio when it decided to release these collections without the traditional special features.
The audio is in Dolby Mono, but it would almost be sacrilegious to try and give this set a modern day sound quality. The dialogue is easy to hear in each episode, and the smooth jazz vocalizations of Rod Serling pierce through any audio deficiencies.
Richard Matheson and Rod Serling made quite the team, and in The Twilight Zone: The Complete Third Season this pair treated us to stories that are a powerful take on ordinary lives through some extraordinary times. Rest in peace, Mr. Matheson, and thank you for the fictional joy you bought so many fans of your literary work and The Twilight Zone.
The sign post up ahead says, "Not Guilty."
Review content copyright © 2013 Alice Nelson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: RLJ Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 950 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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