Movies which were prototypes of "The Twilight Zone"

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films,
Date: Monday, March 02, 1998 7:43 PM

About a week ago, I posted "Forgotten films that are predecessors of well-remembered films" in rec.arts.movies.past-films, for which a few responses came in. Along the same lines, I'd like to find out if you've noticed parallels of a more specific kind: prototypes of "The Twilight Zone."

I invite you to ruminate over your memories in the same way for a list of older movies that are, at least in part, prototypes of "The Twilight Zone" television series and of specific episodes of it.

Here are ones I have to offer:

* * * * *

"Outward Bound" (Warner Bros. 1931) and the "Twilight Zone"* episode "Passage on the 'Lady Anne'" (4th-season). Both stories center on a young couple in a troubled marriage who find themselves aboard a mysterious ship on which almost everyone else, if not everyone else, is elderly. In both stories, the ship travels to where some of its passengers hadn't expected, although in both stories, at least some of the characters are wise about the ship's purpose and otherworldly destination. Both stories have central characters turning up or disappearing from a room where they thought they had been, and in both, the ultimate explanation for it all is a supernatural one.

(* The absence of the "The" in the show title is not an accident; during the fourth and fifth seasons of "Twilight Zone," the superimposed title on the opening title sequence omitted the article.)

The "Twilight Zone" episode in question credits the story to a short story by Charles Beaumont, whose 1929 birth occurred after the stage version of "Outward Bound" had first played.

"Outward Bound" almost certainly was unique or unusual if not unprecedented in its content. The post-credits "forward" title on the movie version tells of this:

"'Outward Bound' was first produced in London, England, on the 17th of September, 1923. We all know the international success that it has since achieved as one of the most important stage plays of this generation. It presented for the first time to the peoples of the world an entirely new and different imaginative concept of life, death, and the hereafter--and it is little wonder that the producers at that time anxiously awaited the verdict of the public and the press. Would 'Outward Bound' be mistaken for a farcical satire, or would the public recognize the profoundly sincere theme of the play and appreciate the strange psychology and glorious sentiment interwoven between the lines?

"It was a memorable night. It launched a new era in play- writing. It set a new standard. And now, as you sit in this theatre, we cordially beg you to place yourselves in the same position as that first-night audience in London, and see if the deep sincerity of our Vitaphone version of the play impresses you as it has impressed the appreciate theatre audiences of the world."

For the record: "Outward Bound" was remade by Warner Bros. as another movie, "Between Two Worlds" (1944), with John Garfield, and Paul Henreid playing reconfigured versions of the roles played in the earlier film by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Leslie Howard. (Characteristics and actions taken by one character in the original are enacted in the remake by other than the corresponding character.) The change in cast led to the replacement by cynicism for the spirituality of the original.

* * * * *

"Stranger on the Third Floor" (RKO 1940) and "The Twilight Zone" episode "Shadow Play" (2nd season, the Dennis Weaver episode), and, to a lesser extent, "The Twilight Zone" episode "Perchance to Dream" (1st season, Richard Conte).

"Stranger on the Third Floor," a seemingly-modest 64-minute feature film played out mostly by relatively-unknown actors (Peter Lorre, though receiving star billing, is onscreen very little) and far more inner-mind scenes than usual for a film of the period, begins with a reporter's thinking well of a jury's verdict of guilty on a murder charge for which there was merely a great deal of circumstantial evidence, for the reporter shrugs off uncertainty as unavoidable and unworthy of serious consideration; however, his doubts eat away at him from his inner voice, and then these doubts take the form of nightmares in which he is subject to the same doltish injustice as he had disregarded--made worse when real-life begins to parallel the nightmare. On "The Twilight Zone," Dennis Weaver played an unhinged defendant who unsuccessfully tries to tell judges and prosecutors that they are figments of his imagination who if they don't cease night after night sentencing him to death, will allow their subjective mentality to force a lifetime of insanity upon the hapless defendant.

"The Twilight Zone" episode "Perchance to Dream" had a man seeking psychological attention after several sleepless nights during which he had been unable to escape not only bad dreams but also the appearance of evil people from his dreams in unexpected locations of his real life. This episode, like "Stranger on the Third Floor," blurs the line between reality and a person's experience of it.

* * * * *

"The Great Gabbo" (1929) and the "TZ" episodes "The Dummy" (3rd season, with Cliff Robertson) and "Caesar and Me" (5th season, with Jackie Cooper) all deal with a ventriloquist who comes to believe that his dummy has developed a will and personality of its own.

* * * * *

Regular readers of rec.arts.movies.past-films may be tired of repeated citings (by myself and others) of "Peter Ibbetson" (1935). It came up in my posting "Re: Gary Cooper movie info request. (Peter Ibbetson and The Fountainhead)," dated December 13, 1997 <#biIKbCC9GA.198@upnetnews04>, therein as a response after someone asked, "Gary Cooper starred in a movie as an architect who refused to change his plans when he was requested to. Had an affair with the wife of the man who hired him. Does this sound familiar to anyone out there?" One response came quickly: "The A[y]n Rand thing, …The Fountainhead…" Afterward, "Peter Ibbetson" was brought into the thread by Gene Stavis's response: "Actually, that could also describe the plot of 'Peter Ibbetson' (1935) with Gary Cooper and Ann Harding -- a little known masterpiece by Henry Hathaway."

My response at that time suggested comparison between "Peter Ibbetson" and "The Twilight Zone":

"The 1935 film is indeed a little-known masterpiece. The story delves into two lovers' feeling so connected with each other that they meet in each other's dreams. Few if any other films so beautifully capture the sense that two people can seem soul-mates. In this story, the two have met as children, and meet again as adult without first realizing it. The movie seems like 'The Twilight Zone' as performed in the romantic traditions of the earlier decade."

Similar "(The) Twilight Zone" episodes "Long Distance Call" (second season, with Billy Mumy), in which a boy uses a toy telephone given to him by his grandmother to communicate with the now-deceased but beloved woman, and "Night Call" (5th season, with Gladys Cooper), in which an elderly woman receives nightly telephone calls from her long-dead fiancée after a fallen wire atop that man's grave.

* * * * *

And a whole television series preceded "The Twilight Zone" in presenting otherworldly half-hour stories episode after episode, each time with different characters and actors: "The Black Tower." On the air, apparently as a syndicated series, in 1950, at least one of its episodes may have been an abandoned feature film cut to be a two-parter in the series. Said episode starred Peter Cookson and Anne Gwynne in a little-disguised rip-off of Doestoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment." Production values are decent, but the ending seems to have been hastily rewritten. (What really points to the episode's possible origin as a planned theatrical film is that the detective role is played (unbilled) by Warren William, who at the time of the episode's 1950 copyright had been dead two years. Does anyone have better information about "The Black Tower" and in particular this episode?)

Months after this newsgroup posting was made, I discovered on my own that these television episodes had been re-cut from a 1946 feature film by Monogram Pictures called "Fear."

David Hayes


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