A The Twilight Zone Community
CBS (ended 1964)
Well, with the Olympics upon us, I have a week or two to spare and thought I would catch up on a few old shows. For some reason I noticed Tales of Tomorrow a week or so ago, and decided to catch up on a few episodes on Hulu. It's been described as an early predecessor of Twilight Zone (as well as Outer Limits, hence the review title).

Tales is primarily a sci-fi show, so it's closer to Outer Limits. But the half-hour format and the "kicker" ending edge it toward Twilight Zone. It features adaptations of classics like Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Grey, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and H.G. Wells' short story "The Crystal Egg." but it also does hokey Tales of the Crypt-type stories just with science fiction rather than horror.

It also appears to be a live production for the most part, so it bears a strong resemblance to the "filmed on video" episodes of TZ. Static camera work and a few sets. The music is organ-style 60s soap opera tunes.

In honor of TZ, I picked one episode that was an earlier version of a TZ episode, one at random, and one that we didn't have a plot summary at TV.com, but turned out a lot like a couple of 80s TZ episodes. Go figure. They're all from the show's first season, so maybe it changed radically in the second season. Maybe I'll check that out on my next review.

So first off is "The Dark Angel," my random episode. I thought the idea of people turning into angels seemed kind of interesting. However, it turns out it's a combination of alien invasion and X-Men style mutation, with heavy Children of the Damned overtones.

Basically a wife starts mutating into a superior being, who turns out to be a cross between Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Forge. She gives the game away when she heals injuries in a matter of a day or two, gains telekinetic abilities, and then starts creating electro-radiation gizmos to advance her evolving super-race's goal to take over the Earth.

In any case, her husband eventually figures out something strange is going on, Wife rejects him, saying she's evolved thousands of years beyond him, goes off to build her gadgets under a series of fake IDs, he stalks her and tracks her down, shoots her dead, and then goes home, has a lot of a drinks, and tells the whole story to a police lieutenant. And then there's a twist ending.

There's no special effects (the telekinesis is a string yanking a statue), the music is the worse soap opera, and you wonder why the husband Tim is so obsessed. Some guys can't take a hint! Again, it's not a bad episode, but you get the impression that a lot of the episodes will be of the "Here's a flashback to what happened" narratives.

Next up is "What You Need", which is an earlier adaptation of the same short story as the later TZ episode of the same name. This version is apparently close to the original short story (by the same writers who did "The Dark Angel" above), in that it features a scientist who creates a machine that scans people's futures and then sells them 'what they need." There's a little more bulk to the story then the TZ version, since the scientist-turned-shopkeeper is actively trying to make the world a better place by helping people who will alter the future in a positive manner. As opposed to the peddler in the TZ story, who seems to just be helping random people with his magical/psychic ability.

Just like in the TZ story, an unscrupulous man learns about the scientist's gift. In this case, it's a desperate freelance writer who initially isn't as bad a guy as the thug in the TZ story. As the writer points out, why is he less worthy of help than anyone else? Unfortunately, he soon mutates into a desperate murderer for no particular reason and the scientist is forced to kill him. Unlike the TZ version, the guy is a lot more conflicted about killing someone who plans to kill him than the peddler. Eventually he realizes that he's "tampering in God's domain" and destroys the machine.

It's still an intriguing story, and it makes a little more sense in the context presented here of a shopkeeper rather than a peddler. The invocation of God is the kind of thing you see in the 50s and 60s that isn't that common these days. For those who have seen the TZ version, the story beats of a lethal scarf and a fatal pair of shoes are still there.

The scientist is played by Edgar Stehli (above) with a bit more enthusiasm than Ernest Truex in the TZ version. And Stehli goes on to become a TZ alumni when he plays the elderly professor to Walter Jameson in Long Live Walter Jameson.

That brings us to "Time to Go", another Tales of the Crypt ... style story about a housewife, Natalie, who is obsessed with saving time. She lucks into a sure thing when aliens who are running a bank on Earth contact her. They collect time from people, and then send it to their homeworld so that they can use the extra time to prevent their planet from being crushed by cosmic gasses. They return the time with interest so that the depositor gets an extended lifespan.

However, when it turns out that they need the time sooner than anticipated, they execute a clause in their contract to collect on all of their depositors' time. Meanwhile, Natalie drives her husband out of the house with her increased obsession with time, leaving her home alone when the time bank president comes a-callin'.

Since it's the 50s, we'll have to forgive the fact that the story really doesn't make a lot of sense. Somehow aliens are running a bank on Earth, and they can enforce legal contracts to kill people. And all you have to do to hand over your spare time is record your schedule in a black book. Ummm, okay... Natalie is played by Sylvia Sidney, best known to the younger generations as the Death Counselor Lady in Beetlejuice.

Unfortunately, Ms. Sidney's character is a bit of a nag in a 50s hausfrau kind of way. She's not particularly sympathetic, and you can see the twist in this one coming a mile away. Like "The Dark Angel," it's also one of those "Let me tell you what's happening to me in an extended flashback" narratives, which I suspect is a continuing theme with Tales of Tomorrow.

There's some interesting fashion design on the bank, which uses that no-walls style you see in Outer Limits episodes like "Nightmare" and Star Trek ones like "The Empath". It has the advantage of being considered artsy-fartsy and cheap. Second-banana actor Robert H. Harris (one of those "I've seen him in every 60s show ever made) guys is appropriately spooky as the aptly named Mr. Tickton.

The reason I commented on the TZ resemblance is because the theme is somewhat similar to a couple of the 80s TZ episodes that also deal with housewives tied up with banks and time. There's "A Little Peace and Quiet" where a housewife falls afoul of time and runs out of it. And both "Wish Bank" and "The Card" where housewives run afoul of banking situations gone horribly awry.

Anyhoo, you can check these out on Hulu. I'm not sure if they have all of them, but archive.org also has quite a few of them since the show is apparently in the public domain. Note also that some of the Hulu episodes have all of the advertising. The show itself runs about 23 minutes, but Hulu versions of "The Dark Angel" and "What You Need" have six minutes of advertising. So if you really want a blast from the past, check out those old-style ads as well.


Speaking of Outer Limits, if I can ever find a reason to do it, I really want to do a review of the episode "Demon With a Glass Hand." One of the best science-fiction scripted dramas in TV history. Until or if I ever do, check it out on Hulu, you won't be sorry.
There are no comments yet. Be the first by writing down your thoughts above.
Follow this Show