Saturday, July 28, 2012

Time Enough at Last



We were reviewing old TWILIGHT ZONE episodes as we walked the other night and probably ALFRED HITCHCOCK got mixed in too and it occurred to us (and probably lots of others too) that if the protagonist wanted anything on some of the more moralistic episodes--like to be pretty, smart, to write a best seller or to read books all day long, he/she were bound to get slapped in the face for it.

Was the show as punitive as it seems in retrospect? Did a lot of episodes mete out punishment for pretty mundane and harmless desires or ambitions or do we only remember those? For instance in the episode with Burgess Meredith, Time Enough at Last, he just wants the time to read. Why must he be punished for that?

14 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - That's an interesting question! I think in some ways those consequences are pretty punitive. This episode in particular struck me that way. Or maybe it's because I really empathise with the main character in this story.

Deb said...

People are generally punished in the "Twilight Zone" for being "different." Did you ever see the episode where a man wanted to quit his job as an high-powered advertizing exec (yeah, it was Mad Men--half a century earlier), but his shrewish wife and demanding boss wouldn't let him? Every day on the train home, he dreams of visiting an old-fashioned town called Willoughby. Eventually (SPOILER), he has a fatal heart attack on the train and the van that takes him to the funeral home has WILLOUGHBY AND SONS written on the side.

So take that, all you people who want to live a different life! You'll just end up dead or surrounded by books but with no reading glasses.

Charles Gramlich said...

Time enough at last is probably the cruelest work ever put on film. Or maybe that's just a bibliophile talking. I think the idea is kind of what the Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven. "Deservin's got nothing to do with it." That's true horror.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And the night it was on, my grandfather died on his way home from the movies. It is forever embedded in my brain.
I think Charles is right--or Clint Eastwood. Deserving has nothing to do with it.
And yes, difference is punished.

Ron Scheer said...

Don't know if this is generally true, but the kicker at the end of AH and TZ was often the dashing of someone's hopes. Deserved or undeserved.

pattinase (abbott) said...

So why did we like it? The twists were often forced and nasty.

David Cranmer said...

I never looked at the show like that, Patti. I'm betting the writers were only looking for that perfect twist and never considered how mundane the desires were.

Thomas Pluck said...

I think that is a function of the rise of the middle class in the 40's and 50's- wanting to rise above "your station" was punishable. A great many noir stories are like this as well. Sometimes the folks higher up on the ladder are stomping you down, sometimes it's those climbing with you, and other times it seems like the cruel hand of the universe punishing you for daring to dream or want something other than what you have. It's very Calvinist. You are born the way God wants you to be, and your refusal to accept it is defiance of God.
Though I agree with Dave- for some of these stories, I think they knew that viewers liked seeing someone get their comeuppance whether it was deserving or not, and a good twist is all it took.

michael said...

Be careful what you wish for...

As for the endings, it was a refreshing change from the happy ending so common in 50s melodrama where the black hat got punished and the white hat got the girl.

I always like to think Burgess Meredith walked down the road and found an eyeglass shop in similar condition as the library and found some pieces of glasses that allowed him to read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's the writer speaking, Michael.
Tom-some interesting stuff here. I do think we had a need to punish people who stepped out of line, who hoped for too much. Parents of that generation (mine) were very stingy with a compliment.

Todd Mason said...

Well, there are several dynamics at work here simultaneously. One is the desire for a twist ending that David mentions, and TZ particularly, with entirely too many scripts written too hurriedly by Serling (not, on balance, one of the better idea-men in sf or fantasy) tended to be very mechanical indeed (the one involving a man who hates modern gadgets, yet who nonetheless has an electric shaver [something every Luddite is of course forced to resort to, in the lack of good razors, no?], which takes on sentience and the ability to chase him around the house, is one of the most embarrassing scripts ever to be broadcast on US television). "Time Enough at Last" is actually a rather decent script (though further condolences on the timing of its broadcast in relation to your personal life), where the point is indeed the horrible, undeserved waste of human life, both at the macro level and in the personal case of Meredith's bookworm character. But, yes, still rather heavyhanded (most of the best TZs were written by Charles Beaumont, at least as long as his health allowed). Hitchcock, even more than Serling, was a misanthrope, and presumably even however much Hitchcock let his producers control the series, they either shared his views or at least his tastes and attitudes were rather strongly represented there (the number of shrewish wives and turning worm, emphasis on the latter word, husbands in AHP episodes got to be more than a little monotonous) often set up the stories for pettily cruel twist endings, as well.

Meanwhile, middle-class aspirants of the postwar era were always encouraged to hope for More and Better, and the difficulty in getting that probably drove the appeal of these kinds of stories at least as much as resentment of those people who seemed to be able to improve their financial lot...though resentment of those who did so seemingly unjustly (whether this was a sensible assessment or not) probably did crackle pretty loudly. The parents and older folks coming into the post WW2 era, after all, had come through the Depression and wartime austerity, and frankly the wealth of the pre-Depression '20s wasn't all that well-distributed...hence the popularity, even in this country of little formal class distinction, of the Socialist Party and the Progressive Party and other much-opposed, calumnied, and suppressed radical and reform groups.

It should also be noted that neither TZ nor AHP were real barn-burners in the ratings, but tended to fall toward the middle...CBS damned near cancelled TZ at least once before actually doing so, and AHP switched networks during its run...but both certainly were healthier than usual syndicated repeat fare. But, then, so was that other middling-ratings series, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Waiting for you to chime in, Todd. Funny how about a dozen stay in the head. I should watch them again and see if I can pick the ones written by Beaumont. I think they are on some station on my cable system.

michael said...

"Time Enough At Last" remains one of my favorite TV episodes, certainly my favorite TWILIGHT ZONE, but I can't disagree with Todd's opinion of it.

The more you examine the episode the more it falls apart in logic and believability. As a critic, I find it the perfect example of how a "perfect" ending can make a viewer forget or forgive a flawed story preceding it.

It is also an example of something critics hear a great deal, "It is just a TV show, lighten up." To which I reply, "Where is the fun in that?"

John said...

I've said it before: I think it's one of the nastiest TZ episodes. I think I understend Serling's favorite attack: people who are obsessive to the exclusion of all else. He was more of a humanist and I think far too much of an idealist. True idealists tend to be the best cynics. If they are also writers they are bound to become satiric writers who are hypercritical of the world. I think Serling would hate what our culture has turned into with the lack of social skills and less socializing face to face, less real conversation, in favor of online socializing, texting and the immersion in the digital world. His writing tends to warn us that we we headed this way.