Wednesday, March 8, 2017

THE OUTER LIMITS - THE FORMS OF THINGS UNKNOWN 1964

"And as imagination bodies forth
the forms of things unknown, the poets pen
turns them into shapes and gives to airy nothing..."
                                              William Shakespeare




Original Air Date May 7 1964

"Mr. Hobart tinkers with time,  just as time has tinkered with Mr. Hobart..."


     In May 1964 the first season of ABC's anthology series The Outer Limits came to end with its mediocre ratings leaving its future somewhat in doubt. Created by Leslie Stevens who wrote and directed two of the season 1 episodes including the THE GALAXY BEING which was the series pilot and CONTROLLED EXPERIMENT (which was the only comedy episode produced during the series run), it was producer/writer Joesph Stefano (writer of Hitchcock's PSYCHO) was the primary driving force during the series initial season run.
    Unlike most other TV series of the time that were shot mostly "flat" and unimaginably THE OUTER LIMITS benefited from work by academy award winner cinematographer Conrad Hall (IN COLD BLOOD) and direction by Gerd Oswald (A KISS BEFORE DYING), John Brahm (THE LODGER) and Robert Florey (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE ) among others, all of whom elevated the look of show with stylized lighting and camera angles bringing to mind German expressionism and giving each individual episode the feel of a 51 minute movie.
     It was Stefano who first came up with the idea of a weekly creature (or "bear" as they were refereed to buy the creators) to be featured and he gradually took the show away from its straight sc-fi origins.  Always a huge fan of Gothic horror he jumped at the chance when ABC proposed a new show titled The UNKNOWN that would feature more horror based story lines. Unfortunately the series was cancelled and the new initial episode THE FORMS OF THINGS UNKNOWN was reworked with a different ending being shot downplaying the horror elements where it was broadcast as the finale to THE OUTER LIMITS first season.




    Combing elements of European art house cinema, German expressionism and Gothic horror along with a bit of plot inspiration from Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic DIABOLIQUE from 1955 it looked unlike anything seen on American TV up to that point. Coming across as a disjointed nightmare brought to life, its filled with beautifully atmospheric photography by Conrad Hall, a creepy score by series composer & co-producer Dominic Frontiere (later used in THE INVADERS) and disorienting obtuse compositions by director Gerd Oswald. Containing excellent performances by Vera Miles (it what might be her best role), David McCallum, the wonderful & sadly under appreciated Barbara Rush and it what would be his final role Sir Cedric Hardwicke it stands as one of the highlights of fantastic television.
      A Rolls Royce speeds through the countryside (with a road sign indicating France) and at the wheel is the sadistic Andre (Scott Marlow THE COOL AND THE CRAZY) accompanied by his two mistresses the stronger and more domineering Kassia (Vera Miles PSYCHO) along with the more fragile Leonora (Barbara Rush IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE). After announcing they are going to Lenora's father in order to blackmail him Andre stops the car and stripping down to swim trunks wades out into a pond. Shot in deep focus with a Vaseline smeared lens in one of the more weirdly erotic scenes ever seen on TV he forces the two women to wade out to him fully clothed in order to serve him a martini.




    The women however have slipped a leaf from "the highly toxic Thanatos tree" in his drink and watch silently as he gasps for breath and dies in the water. Stuffing his corpse in the trunk of the Rolls they head to look for a spot to bury when they become lost in thunderstorm and take refuge at a lonely country estate inhabited by only two people. Greeted at the door by a blind servant Colas (Sir Cedric Hardwicke THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN) they're introduced to the presumed master of the house Tone Hobart (David McCallum THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.).
    Hobart reveals that he's created a "time tilting" device that allows the dead to be brought back to life. Contained in an upstairs room down at the end of long forced perspective hallway lit by a single row of bare bulbs it consists of hundreds of different clocks all connected by fine steel wire to a central pillar. Leaving the house in order to bury Andre's body Kassia discovers the corpse missing from the trunk and its shown that Tone has procured it and taken up to his device.




   Consisting of fractured story line which leaves many gaping holes in the narrative (which might be the result of the re-editing from the episodes original form) with both characters and plot points that aren't what they first appear to be (especially in the case of the relationship between Tone & Colas), it could be said that the entire thing is just a visual piece of style over substance. It's interesting how it looks forward to both the look and nonsensical plots of the then burgeoning genre of Euro-horror and remains a fascinating if flawed early example of pushing the boundaries of TV. There's an underlying sense of eroticism running through the plot (that Stefano's script does a wonderful job of keeping just under the radar) that starts the broadly hinted at ménage à trois relationship between Andre, Kassia and Leonora that continues with the tension between the more domineering Kassia and the submissive Leonora.
   McCallum who earlier had appeared in the classic episode THE SIXTH FINGER where he played a simple Welsh coal miner who as result of genetic experiments is thrust 1,000,000 years ahead in the evolutionary scale here brings as almost child like open eyed wonder to his role along with sad ruefulness to what he's created. A criminally under rated actresses, Barbara Rush does her best here with a weak role as all she does is constantly scream and jump at the slightest movements and her character is the weakest link in the plot.











1 comment:

  1. I always appreciated the odd but welcome outer limits. This episode in particular has fascinated me and never fails to intrigue. television was so creepy and fun

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