And Now, a Word about STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the fourth time yesterday. Monday will mark one month since the film hit theaters, but I have yet to post a single word here about my reaction.

It is time to rectify that:

Wow.


Okay, you knew I couldn’t really leave it at a single word, right? What an incredible movie! As Disney and others hyped The Force Awakens over the last several months, I did not allow myself to get drawn in. Oh, sure, I was excited to see a new Star Wars movie, but I was only cautiously optimistic that it would be any good – much less great.

I only watched the various preview trailers for The Force Awakens once each, and I found them to be underwhelming. While the rest of Star Wars fandom went insane over them, I wondered if perhaps I was finally too old for anything new. The previews seemed only to be random collections of snippets, with little to suggest an intriguing story or to inspire me to want to see the movie other than cameos by the Millennium Falcon and her pilots.

While Finn (John Boyega), the character dressed as a stormtrooper in the teaser (I was sure it was a disguise), seemed like he could be interesting, I was less impressed with Rey (Daisy Ridley) – who it seemed to me in every trailer and publicity still was running towards the camera with gritted teeth. She also seemed like a rip-off of the prequel trilogy’s Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), one of my favorite if underused characters of that era.

Then there was this BB-8 droid rolling around like a basketball who I was sure would turn out to be the Scrappy to R2-D2’s Scooby Doo, or, I dare say, the sequel trilogy’s version of Jar Jar Binks.

(I should point out that I am actually neither a Scrappy nor a Jar Jar hater. I also like Ewoks, though, so what do I know?)

“If this movie didn’t have ‘Star Wars’ in the title, I wouldn’t even see it,” I remember thinking after watching one of the trailers.

X-Wing versus TIE Fighter in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

X-Wing versus TIE Fighter in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

During my first viewing of The Force Awakens on December 18, I realized I had mostly been an idiot. In fact, other than an initial disappointment that occurred just before the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .” appeared on screen, I was immediately taken in by this movie. It seemed perfect right from that point. Rey turned out to be my favorite of the new characters, and BB-8 turned out to be nearly as cool as R2.

Meanwhile, the movie itself accomplishes exactly what it most needed to do – recapture the spirit of the original trilogy. Perhaps it goes too far at times trying to emulate the magic of Star Wars (1977), but I find it hard to discount the film over that. The Force Awakens covers some familiar territory, yes, but it also turns much of that terrain upside down, shakes it up, puts it upright again, and lets the pieces fall everywhere. It also introduces compelling new characters in Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

To me, The Force Awakens is a “soft” reboot in that it has restarted the story for a new generation while remaining within the overall universe of George Lucas’s six films. A full reboot of Star Wars, completely starting over from scratch, would never be accepted. At least not by oldsters like me. (Philosophical note for a future post: How can an eternal 8-year-old be an oldster?)

Han Solo and the Falcon drew me to The Force Awakens, but Rey and Finn will draw me to the next episode.

John Boyega is Finn and Daisy Ridley is Rey in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

John Boyega is Finn and Daisy Ridley is Rey in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

25 Top Elvis Presley Songs: Year-by-Year

Elvis performs live in Honolulu, 1973

Elvis performs live in Honolulu, 1973

Today marks the 81st anniversary of the birth of Elvis Presley. While I believe that his musical powers peaked during his 1966-1970 “comeback” years, I enjoy most of his career. With that in mind, I compiled the below list of my favorite Elvis song for each year he recorded.

1953: My Happiness (Demo) [The Great Performances]
1954: Good Rockin’ Tonight [Single]
1955: Mystery Train [Single]
1956: Love Me [Elvis]
1957: Jailhouse Rock [Single]
1958: As Long As I Have You [King Creole]
1959: Danny Boy (Informal) [A Golden Celebration]
1960: Are You Lonesome Tonight [Single]
1961: Can’t Help Falling In Love [Single]
1962: You’ll Be Gone (Take 2) [Elvis By The Presleys]
1963: Witchcraft [Single]
1964: It Hurts Me (Alternate Mix) [Single-Italy]
1965: Please Don’t Stop Loving Me (Take 10) [Today, Tomorrow & Forever]
1966: How Great Thou Art [How Great Thou Art]
1967: You’ll Never Walk Alone (Take 2) [A Life In Music]
1968: If I Can Dream [Single]
1969: Suspicious Minds [Single]
1970: Polk Salad Annie (Live) [On Stage-February 1970]
1971: I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day (Re-recording) [Memories Of Christmas]
1972: Always On My Mind [Single]
1973: Promised Land (Undubbed Master) [Promised Land (2011 FTD Edition)]
1974: Steamroller Blues (Live) [Forty-Eight Hours To Memphis: Recorded Live On Stage In Richmond, Virginia – March 18, 1974]
1975: Bringing It Back [Single]
1976: Pledging My Love [Single]
1977: Where No One Stands Alone (Live) [Unchained Melody]

Music of the Year for 2015

One of the things I enjoy doing at the end of each year is looking back on the music I have played, mostly from a number-crunching standpoint.

According to iTunes, out of 9,554 unique music tracks in my collection, the one I played most often in 2015 was “Always On My Mind” by Elvis Presley, as presented on the 1981 soundtrack This Is Elvis. I played the song 22 times.

This came as no surprise to me, for the track is my favorite recording of all time. Earlier this year, Sony’s Follow That Dream collectors label for Elvis fans released the soundtrack on CD for the first time. It was previously available only on vintage vinyl and cassette, neither of which I had backed up to iTunes.

This version of “Always On My Mind” is unique in that Elvis recorded it as part of a “mock” studio session with MGM cameras rolling in March 1972 for the Elvis On Tour documentary, one day after his actual master recording.

Though that film ultimately did not include the footage, portions of it later wound up in This Is Elvis almost a decade later. The This Is Elvis soundtrack version also includes instrumental overdubs created in 1981.

Elvis records "Always On My Mind" in March 1972

Elvis records “Always On My Mind” in March 1972

A “clean” version of the song without the posthumous overdubs is available on the CDs Elvis: The Great Performances and Elvis On Tour: The Rehearsals, but I much prefer the This Is Elvis version.

I listened to 3,862 Elvis songs using iTunes or my iPods in 2015 (including duplicates). That is an average of almost 11 Elvis songs a day. I listened to 1,819 different Elvis tracks during the year, out of 3,981 unique Elvis recordings in my collection.

Out of 5,573 non-Elvis tracks in my collection, my most played piece in 2015 was Alexander Courage’s “Beyond The Pale/Main Title” (1965) from Star Trek‘s second pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” I played that one 21 times, so Elvis only narrowly edged out the competition.

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION (La-La Land Records, 2012)

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES SOUNDTRACK COLLECTION (La-La Land Records, 2012)

Earlier this year, my wife gave me the 15-CD Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection from La-La Land Records for my 40th birthday.

In many ways, this set was the centerpiece of my music listening in 2015. It is a stunning collection that lives up to the many accolades bestowed upon it by folks more knowledgeable in this area than me.

If you are a fan of the original Star Trek and have room in your budget, I cannot recommend this premium set enough. Courage’s “Beyond The Pale/Main Title” might very well be my favorite track from the collection, if the numbers are to be believed. His work on the pilots and season 1 helped define the series.

Overall, I listened to 10,538 music tracks using iTunes or my iPods this year. That works out to almost 29 recordings a day. These counts, of course, exclude the additional time I spent listening to CDs and records. I love music and cannot imagine life without it.


I hope you have a healthy and rewarding 2016! Thank you for reading my little blog.

Returning to a Childhood Long, Long Ago with Kenner Star Wars Action Figures

With The Force Awakens opening in less than two weeks, my thoughts of late have turned to three of my favorite movies: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. They have been with me since childhood, but my primary experiences with those stories growing up were usually not with the actual films.

I was about 15 before my family indulged in a VCR, eventually enabling me to experience the Star Wars trilogy whenever I wanted. Until then, my viewings of those movies were limited to the fleeting experiences of seeing them in a theater, on occasional network TV airings, or at the house of a friend fortunate enough to have a VCR.

What really kept me going as a fan, though, were Star Wars books, soundtracks, and Kenner‘s spectacular toy line that ran from 1977 through 1985.

By the end of my first Star Wars toy phase in 1986, I had amassed 25 of the 94 figures released in the United States. I also had several playsets and vehicles, including my ultimate prize – the “Battle Damaged” X-Wing Fighter, though I never actually applied the “damage” stickers to Luke Skywalker’s spacecraft.

Today, what remains of these toys is still locked away somewhere in Mom’s Attic of Childhood Treasures. Someday, I will form an expedition and see what wonders I can rediscover there.

My inner 8-year-old finally won a long battle in October of last year, and I decided to start collecting the original Kenner figures. For both economic and tactile reasons, I chose to collect loose figures (i.e., already opened/used). My goal over the next few years is to collect all of the figures from that era, including their original weapons and accessories.

lukeSkywalkerJediKnightKenner70650_01

My all-time favorite action figure – Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight

In 1983, Santa gave me my favorite action figure of all — the Jedi Knight version of Luke. Rather than wait for Santa and his elves this time, Jedi Luke was one of the first figures I bought in my new Star Wars toy phase.

As you might expect, Star Wars toys were big parts of several Christmas mornings in my childhood. Last Christmas, I relived some of that as an adult because my father-in-law gave me an incredible display case that he crafted to house my slowly growing collection.

I was touched by the gift, but I also have to give him credit for simply acknowledging that his daughter is married to an overgrown 8-year-old – rather than telling me to put away childish things.

Pictured below is the beautiful display case as well as my current collection. The case was inspired by a design on Kevin Fodor’s Projects site.

My Kenner Star Wars action figure collection, as of December 9, 2015

My Kenner Star Wars action figure collection, as of December 9, 2015

While I am certainly no Kenner toy expert, I have found a number of extremely useful websites that have helped me when researching the hobby in general as well as specific figures:

I have also enjoyed flipping through two related books – almost the equivalent of department store Christmas catalogs when I was a kid:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures – 1977-1985 by Mark Bellomo (2014)
  • Star Wars: The Action Figure Archive by Stephen J. Sansweet with Josh Ling (1999)
yodaKenner38310_01

The most recent addition to my collection – Yoda

I recently acquired the 33rd piece in my new collection, Yoda. Though I have accumulated about a third of the basic Kenner figures in just over a year, it will probably be another three to four years before I finish, as my progress has slowed in recent months.

Much of the fun is in the hunt – finding just the right figure – so I would not want to complete the collection . . . or my extended childhood . . . too soon anyway.

1948 Movie Serial Builds the Legacy of Superman

After watching 2013’s Man of Steel, I went on a Superman binge to wash away the bad taste left behind by that film. I listened to soundtracks, read comics, and watched movies and TV series featuring various incarnations of the character.

One production that I revisited was Superman, the theatrical serial from 1948. Clocking in at over four hours, it played in theaters a chapter at a time for 15 weeks. Starring Kirk Alyn as Superman/Clark Kent and Noel Neill as Lois Lane, Superman represented the first live-action version of the character. Though Superman had only existed for a decade at that point, he had already starred in a series of radio programs and theatrical cartoons that built upon his comic book foundation.

Superman (Kirk Alyn) drops in on Perry White (Pierre Watkin) in SUPERMAN (1948)

Superman (Kirk Alyn) drops in on Perry White (Pierre Watkin) in SUPERMAN (1948)

The first chapter, “Superman Comes to Earth,” explores the origins of the character. One scene in particular stands in stark contrast to Man of Steel.

In the 1948 serial, a tornado strikes Smallville. A teenaged Clark Kent (Ralph Hodges) rushes out to save his adopted father (Ed Cassidy). In Man of Steel, young Clark is content to watch his father die in a similar scenario. I know which decision feels more like Superman to me.

superman1948smallvilletornado

A tornado rips through Smallville in SUPERMAN (1948)

“Clark, that was the most remarkable thing you ever did. I’m grateful to you, son,” the elder Kent tells Clark in the 1948 Superman. Several years pass, and Clark is now an adult. His father gives him the following advice:

“Your unique abilities make you a kind of superman, and because of these great powers – your speed and strength, your x-ray vision and super sensitive hearing – you have a great responsibility. […] You must use them always in the interests of truth, tolerance, and justice. The world needs a man of such extraordinary capabilities.”

While the serial is certainly not perfect and sometimes features clunky writing, the beautiful words above sum up Superman as well as any ever written.

Oddly, the narrator then explains that Clark’s parents both pass away shortly thereafter, without further explanation. This frees Clark to head for Metropolis.

Another interesting aspect of 1948’s Superman is that the primary villain of the piece is a woman, the Spider Lady (Carol Forman). She heads up a crime syndicate and is obsessed with getting her hands on a new secret weapon called a “reducer ray.”

The reducer ray is proclaimed to be more powerful than an atomic bomb. The full extent of this power is never shown in the course of the serial, though one advantage it has over the A-bomb is that it can be deployed remotely. Just dial in the location of people you want to kill, as small as a jail cell, press a button, and they are instantly fried.

Carol Forman is the Spider Lady in SUPERMAN (1948)

Carol Forman is the Spider Lady in SUPERMAN (1948)

Due to the time period in which this adventure was produced, I kept expecting it to turn out that a man had been pulling the Spider Lady’s strings all along. However, to the serial’s credit, this was not the case.

The serial does not limit its assertive female roles to villainy, however. Strong-willed and career-minded Lois Lane can be viewed as ahead of her time in many ways. While she sometimes crosses that fine line between bravery and stupidity by managing to get herself in several unnecessary jams, she does serve more to the story than only a damsel in distress. In one scene, for instance, she tries to drag a fallen miner to safety when a tunnel collapses.

Noel Neill is Lois Lane in SUPERMAN (1948)

Noel Neill is Lois Lane in SUPERMAN (1948)

However, I must take a moment to give a special mention to Lois Lane’s hat, which can be partially seen in the image above. Wow. It almost deserves its own credit. One of Noel Neill’s superpowers is being able to wear that hat. Could Margot Kidder, Kate Bosworth, or Amy Adams pull off that look?

Besides the hat, I also love much of the intentional humor of this serial. In one scene, a Spider Lady thug has handcuffed Clark and Lois together and left them for dead. Conveniently, Lois takes a blow to the head and is knocked unconscious. This gives Clark the chance to undo the cuffs, change into Superman, and save the day. He then returns as Clark and snaps the cuffs back on both of them.

Despite what the uninformed might say, even Superman is not perfect, though. “Say, weren’t these handcuffs on our other hands before?” asks Lois when she awakens.

“I guess that blow on the head’s got you confused a little,” says Clark. The look on Kirk Alyn’s face at that instant is priceless. This is one of my favorite Superman moments, across all the generations of movies and series.

The staff of the DAILY PLANET (Pierre Watkin as Perry White, Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen, Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent, and Noel Neill as Lois Lane) in SUPERMAN (1948)

The staff of the DAILY PLANET (Pierre Watkin as Perry White, Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen, Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent, and Noel Neill as Lois Lane) in SUPERMAN (1948)

By today’s standards, the Superman serial at times seems plodding and trite. Though I watched it over the course of a weekend this time, I believe the optimal way to view this serial is as originally intended – chapter by chapter on a weekly basis. Warner Home Video’s 2006 Superman: The Theatrical Serials Collection DVD set allows for either preference.

Alyn is not always convincing as Superman, particularly when he prances around in the suit. He turns in a much better performance in the Clark Kent persona.

Particularly jarring to modern eyes are scenes where Superman flies. When creating the illusion that Alyn was flying proved too expensive and difficult, the production chose to use traditional animation instead. Though the end result might bring chuckles, I still have to give credit for the serial’s many seamless transitions between live-action Superman and cartoon Superman. The animators did a great job matching the poses and motions.

Certain other effects are also animated, such as the Smallville tornado and a few explosions. This mixing of traditional animation with live-action was actually ahead of its time and is something I associate more with later movies like Mary Poppins (1964) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Of course, the Superman in Man of Steel (2013) and the Superman in Superman Returns (2006) also often fly through the assistance of animation, though computer generated. I wonder how those modern CGI effects will hold up when some future Superman fan reviews them in 65 years.

Even in our time, the 1948 Superman entertains. The characters work, even in these early forms. This Superman is still an inspiration, multiple decades later. This Superman endures.


This is a modified version of a Pastimescapes 1.0 post that first appeared on July 11, 2013.

IF I CAN DREAM Promises yet Another Elvis Illusion

Released last week, the If I Can Dream CD includes a sticker on its cover touting:

ELVIS IS BACK WITH A BRAND NEW ALBUM!
Newly Recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

I wish that were so. Instead, If I Can Dream, of course, features familiar Elvis Presley vocals placed against new audio backdrops supplied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).

Some Elvis fans are automatically against this sort of concept, which has been tried with varying degrees of success a number of times since the artist passed away in 1977.

Just to name a few:

  • 1980’s Guitar Man album of overdubs (“remixes”)
  • 2002’s “A Little Less Conversation” JXL remix
  • 2008’s Christmas Duets album of artificial duets and remixes
  • 2010’s Viva Elvis album of remixes and artificial duets

The underlying goal of most of these projects is to help attract a new audience for a singer no longer around to promote his own work or create contemporary recordings. A secondary goal, of course, is to give something “new” to his existing fans.

As for me, I have nothing against creating new art through the use of old. I try to approach each of these new takes on Elvis with an open mind. As long as the original Elvis versions remain available, then I think it is fine to experiment. In fact, it is often fun to hear Elvis in a new context, and if it brings along a few new fans, all for the better.

With all of that out of the way, I have to admit, the first time I played through Sony’s If I Can Dream on Friday, I was underwhelmed. Having one of the great rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, “Burning Love,” preceded by an orchestral introduction seemed incongruous.

Should rock ‘n’ roll mix with orchestra? This is a debate that goes back to at least 1968 for Elvis fans – for If I Can Dream is hardly the first Elvis album to include an orchestra. Many of his actual recordings featured orchestral backing, including some of the ones on this very release. I have tended to be in favor of a full sound on appropriate songs.

I also love orchestral music in general, having been introduced to it at a young age by the Star Wars and Superman soundtracks of John Williams, which led me to start exploring true classical music in more recent years. Add that to the fact that I am a lifelong Elvis fan, and I should be a natural fit for this album.

Yet, from that first listen, I walked away thinking If I Can Dream was barely a mediocre effort overall. It seemed neither as creative as Viva Elvis nor as entertaining as “A Little Less Conversation.”

I tried If I Can Dream a second time on Saturday, and something snapped into place for me. The first time, I was thinking of it as an Elvis album to which the RPO had been added. For the second listen, I thought of it as an RPO album to which Elvis had been added. A subtle difference, I know, but it is one that made me listen in a different way.

I closed my eyes and imagined I was sitting in Cadogan Hall listening to the RPO perform in London, with a surprise guest vocalist by way of Memphis.

Suddenly, it did not seem weird for “Burning Love” to include an orchestral introduction, for how else would the RPO begin one of their performances?

Prior to this album’s release, I saw a promotional video of Elvis singing “What Now My Love,” with the RPO providing orchestral backing (a track not included here). In some ways, I would say that video did this album no favors, for the impression I had with “What Now My Love” was two different recordings of the same song playing at the same time. Fortunately, that is not how the If I Can Dream album sounds. Instead, the meld is usually natural.

For instance, Michael Bublé features in a duet on “Fever.” While I would have preferred a female counterpart for that particular song (say, Beyoncé), the duet is quite convincing from a technical standpoint – much more convincing than what I can remember of 2008’s Christmas Duets (not an album I often revisit).

Bublé turns in a fine performance, and their voices blend particularly well on “Everybody’s got the fever, that is something you all know…” as if they are standing next to one another. Think Elvis and Frank Sinatra in their real-life duet on the last lines of “Love Me Tender” in 1960. The novelty factor makes “Fever” the highlight of the album.

The distinctive sound of an Elvis contemporary and fellow rockabilly legend is included in new guitar work on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “An American Trilogy.” A nice surprise that I will not otherwise spoil here.

The orchestral concept works extremely well for several other songs. “How Great Thou Art” is stunning in its fully orchestrated version. The original is a true Elvis masterpiece, so there was certainly danger in changing anything.

“Love Me Tender” and “It’s Now Or Never” are also highlights, with the latter featuring Il Volo on new background vocals.

None of these versions exceed the originals (“There’s Always Me” comes closest), but that does not make them any less enjoyable as new experiences.

Not as successful are “In The Ghetto” (less is always more on accompaniment for this song, as guitar-only outtakes have proven) and “Steamroller Blues” (way too much going on).

The real puzzler of If I Can Dream is the choice of “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind,” an awful song in its original master version to which even the RPO can add no favors.

Beyond that, my only real gripes are with the “additional backing vocals” newly supplied by Miriam Grey, Shena Winchester, and Andy Caine on nearly all of the tracks. I would have preferred the original backing vocals (the Sweet Inspirations, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, the Imperials, etc.) remained prominent in the mix, as the new ones only detract from the experience. Perhaps there was some technical limitation that necessitated this, or maybe it is just the nature of a pseudo-new album.

As emblazoned on its sticker, If I Can Dream offers up the promise of illusion delivered via the magic of technology. From that perspective, the album usually makes good on its word.

For a moment, if you are willing to accept the mirage, Elvis is indeed back.

Overall Rating: 7 out of 10.

IF I CAN DREAM (2015)

IF I CAN DREAM (2015)

Tracks

If I Can Dream
Elvis Presley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

  1. Burning Love [Elvis portions recorded March 28, 1972, Hollywood]
  2. It’s Now Or Never [Elvis portions recorded April 3, 1960, Nashville]
  3. Love Me Tender [Elvis portions recorded August 24, 1956, Hollywood]
  4. Fever (with Michael Bublé) [Elvis portions recorded April 3, 1960, Nashville]
  5. Bridge Over Troubled Water [Elvis portions recorded June 5, 1970, Nashville]
  6. And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind [Elvis portions recorded February 17, 1969, Memphis]
  7. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ [Elvis portions recorded live August 12, 1970, Dinner Show, Las Vegas]
  8. There’s Always Me [Elvis portions recorded March 12, 1961, Nashville]
  9. Can’t Help Falling In Love [Elvis portions recorded March 23, 1961, Hollywood]
  10. In The Ghetto [Elvis portions recorded January 20, 1969, Memphis]
  11. How Great Thou Art [Elvis portions recorded May 25, 1966, Nashville]
  12. Steamroller Blues [Elvis portions recorded live January 14, 1973, Honolulu]
  13. An American Trilogy [Elvis portions recorded live February 15, 1972, Midnight Show, Las Vegas, and January 14, 1973, Honolulu]
  14. If I Can Dream [Elvis portions recorded June 23, 1968, Burbank]

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded December 10, 2013, and April 9-10, 2014, at Abbey Road Studio 2, London.

Spend Halloween in the Wondrous Dimension of Imagination

Anyone who thinks TWILIGHT ZONE is not scary has obviously yet to see Living Doll (1963).

Anyone who thinks TWILIGHT ZONE is not scary has obviously yet to see Living Doll (1963).

For Halloween this year, I have decided to take a brief journey into The Twilight Zone, the only show that can truly contend against Star Trek as my favorite television series of all time. Here are the episodes I plan to watch in my mini-marathon.

“The Howling Man”
Aired: November 4, 1960
Written by Charles Beaumont
Starring: H.M. Wynant
Directed by Douglas Heyes

On foot through a terrible storm, a man seeks refuge in a monastery. The brothers turn him away but when he passes out, they allow him to stay the night. He is awakened by a loud howling that the brothers claim not to hear. He tracks it to a man locked in a cell. Though the man appears innocent, the brothers claim he is the devil and must not be freed.

“A man who knocked on a door seeking sanctuary found instead the outer edges of the Twilight Zone.”

I first saw “The Howling Man” as a teenager, flipping through stations in the middle of the night. Since I had missed the beginning, I actually had no idea it was The Twilight Zone until near the end. This is a very unusual episode that remains one of my all-time favorites.

“Elegy”
Aired: February 19, 1960
Written by Charles Beaumont
Starring: Cecil Kellaway
Directed by Douglas Heyes

“The time is the day after tomorrow. The place, a far corner of the universe.”

Nearly out of fuel, three lost astronauts land on an asteroid that is amazingly Earth-like–except that all of the people are frozen in place.

Though they are dated in terms of accuracy, I always enjoy The Twilight Zone‘s space exploration stories. This is one I have not watched as often as, say, “I Shot Arrow Into The Air” or “And When The Sky Was Opened,” so I am looking forward to seeing it again.

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
Aired: October 11, 1963
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring: William Shatner
Directed by Richard Donner

Recently recovered from a nervous breakdown and anxious about flying, a man sees a shadowy figure on a wing of the plane as it flies through a thunderstorm. The figure attempts to rip apart the engine and always moves out of sight before anyone else looks. Given his history, everyone begins to doubt his sanity.

“Tonight, he’s traveling all the way to his appointed destination which . . . happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone.”

This was William Shatner’s second and final journey into the Twilight Zone, three years before his Star Trek debut.

William Shatner about to pull back the curtain on terror in TWILIGHT ZONE: Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (1963)

William Shatner about to pull back the curtain on terror in TWILIGHT ZONE: Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (1963)

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” was the first of a half dozen Twilight Zones for then 33-year-old television director Richard Donner. Donner, of course, later broke into feature films with 1976’s The Omen and 1978’s Superman.

Both Donner and Shatner’s talents shine in this episode, one of the scariest for the Twilight Zone. I first encountered this story as a remake in Twilight Zone: The Movie, but the original television version is much better.

“The Masks”
Aired: March 20, 1964
Written by Rod Serling
Starring: Robert Keith
Directed by Ida Lupino

Knowing that he is near death, a rich old man summons his greedy family members to his home on the night of Mardis Gras. He forces them to wear special masks indicative of their inner selves until midnight or be disinherited.

“This is New Orleans, Mardis Gras time. It is also the Twilight Zone.”

Many people feel uneasy about wearing masks and perhaps this episode, one of the best, explains why.

“Living Doll”
Aired: November 1, 1963
Written by Jerry Sohl
Starring: Telly Savalas
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian

For whatever reason, I was afraid of dolls as a kid. I think it stems back to a dream I had about my older sister’s room where her dolls were all alive and staring at me.

At least, I think it was a dream.

With that being the case, this episode scared the @!#?@! out of me.

A man’s stepdaughter brings home a new doll that can talk: “My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much.” Sweet, except for the fact that she is very expensive. He upsets the little girl over the cost, and she runs off to her room. With no one else around, he finds that the doll says quite different things to him.

“She is a most unwelcome addition to his household but without her, he’d never enter the Twilight Zone.”

Of course, now, all these years later, I am no longer afraid of such things.

I have conquered my childish fears.

I just hope my wife does not mind sleeping with the lights on Saturday night.

[Source for episode information and quotes: The Twilight Zone Companion: Second Edition by Marc Scott Zicree, 1989.]


Portions of this post first appeared on October 29, 2006, and October 28, 2007, on The Film Frontier blog.