9.20.2016

The Twilight Zone: A Nice Place To Visit

Next up:
"A Nice Place To Visit," Season 1, Episode 28.

"Portrait of a man at work, the only work he's ever done, the only work he knows. His name is Henry Francis Valentine, but he calls himself 'Rocky,' because that's the way his life has been - rocky and perilous and uphill at a dead run all the way. He's tired now, tired of running or wanting, of waiting for the breaks that come to others but never to him, never to Rocky Valentine. 

"A scared, angry little man. He thinks it's all over now but he's wrong. For Rocky Valentine, it's just the beginning."

Today's episode is one of TZ's more one-note affairs. But sometimes one-note affairs are very satisfying. My elder daughter and I have been watching Fantasia lately, and the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence is a good example. The story's as old as the beard of Moses (even older, actually) and the message is immediate and not complex. Yet there's something renewably pleasant about seeing Mickey get in over his head and need to be rescued, time and time again. Same here with Rocky's "Be Careful What You Wish For - You Might Get It" eternal comeuppance.

Professional crook Henry "Rocky" Valentine is shot by the police after robbing a pawnshop. He "wakes" in the presence of a pleasant and portly (as Rocky insists on reminding him every few sentence with the sobriquet "Fats") individual named Pip. 

Pip tells Rocky that he is his "guide, as it were." Rocky's wish is his command.
To assuage his doubts and hostility, Pip takes Rocky to his new, lavish digs.

Pip serves Rocky some food, which he won't eat because it might be poisoned. He tells Pip to do so, but Pip answers he hasn't eaten in two or three centuries. That's enough of your smart mouth, Fatso:


Rocky slowly begins to realize that maybe he didn't survive his run-in with the cops. ("You're my guardian angel or something like that?" (Laughs) "Something like that, yes.") He wastes no time in demanding Pip produce a million smackeroos and a "broad, stacked - like beautiful, huh?"). Pip does so. Then they all hit the casino, where Rocky attracts even more wealth and dames. Outside he berates a cop, ridicules the valet, and generally acts like a lout.

 

Rocky asks to see some of his former friends who have died. Pip says that won't be possible, as this "paradise" is his own private world, and none of the people are real except for Rocky and Pip. Eventually, Rocky begins to wonder how the hell he was allowed into Heaven; he was a rotten crook his whole life. Pip takes him to what is the visual signature of the episode:

The only things in his file, though, are his misdeeds.
"'Age of six, slaughtered small dog.' Well, why not? It bit me."

Rocky is puzzled but he decides that if it doesn't bother God, it won't bother him. Pip disappears, and Rocky goes back to the Craps and Dolls.


Naturally, Rocky becomes bored with having his every whim satisfied. He replaces his original floosies with all new ones and switches to slots from the tables. But nothing works. He wins - easily - at everything he tries. 



He suspects his unhappiness has something to do with the odds forever being in his favor, so he asks Pip if he could stage some kind of robbery where he won't get caught. Pip says sure, but it's clear that even getting caught will be a planned spontaneity. 

"Just between you and me, Fats, I don't think I belong in Heaven, see? I want to go to the other place."
"Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place."
MWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAA! 

"A scared, angry, little man who never got a break. Now he has everything he ever wanted, and he's going to have to live with it for eternity... in the Twilight Zone."

As the good folks at FilmSchoolRejects wrote, "Rocky goes insane because there’s no more challenge in his existence, there’s no more effort needed, and there’s nothing to hope for because it all exists as soon as he wants it. This is a bit like the lesson from The Escape Clause - which features a fat Satan making a deal with an idiotic human who thinks he can cheat the system. Just as death defines life in that episode, the challenge of working for and possibly not getting what you want defines desire here."

Or, as a certain Starfleet Captain puts it at the end of "This Side of Paradise:" "Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through, struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums." A rather anti-Marxist message, as all sensible messages are.

Or maybe it's just that Hell is repetition. Or (FSR again:)

"Rocky was handed the keys to Heaven but ended up making it Hell himself."

THE CAST


Larry Blyden mostly worked in television over his twenty-plus year career as an actor. The script doesn't call for him to be much more than a lowlife hood who never ascends past the lower levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The punitive aspect of Hell in "A Nice Place To Visit" seems to be allowing the individual to glimpse life above or beyond those immediate-gratification levels but never allowing them to transcend them. 


Sebastian Cabot does fine work as the unflappable Mr. Pip. Perhaps best-known as either the voice actor from Winnie the Pooh and The Sword in the Stone or as Mr. French in Eight Is Enough.


Two of the "Dolls" are worth mentioning:

and

Well, this is embarrassing. I was under the mistaken impression that Barbara English was actually Barbara Nichols, from Sweet Smell of Success and the much-maligned TZ episode "Twenty-Two." Whoops. Outside of her imdb, I can find little about Ms. English, though it looks like she never graduated from these sort of "Dancing Girl" parts. I could delete her, I suppose, as well as this paragraph of explanation, but I also wanted to point out her similarity to Jennifer Lawrence in those screencaps up there. The resemblance is eerie, if you ask me.

Sandra Warner, on the other hand, I recognized as the model from a bunch of Martin Denny albums and other Space Ace Exotica from yesteryear:


I'm a fan of this musical genre, and this playlist of Full Groovy Albums is one of my go-tos for blog-writing, actually. (Not today, though; today I write these words to the sounds of Tommy Dorsey, that Sentimental Man of Swing.) It's agreeable background music for writing, I've found. Anyway, it surprised me to recognize her in some TV from 50 years ago via a playlist I made on YouTube in the 21st century. She has a speaking part in this episode, and her line "Is there anything else I can do for you?" prompted a CBS exec to issue a cautionary note to Rod Serling: "Please be certain that the girl deliver this line in a sweet manner." It's more than obvious what she is offering, of course, especially as the camera lingers on Sandra's face in close-up, but whatever made the censors happy, I guess.

Donald Trump, of all people, mentions this episode as a personal favorite in Wayne Barrett's The Deals and the Downfall. (According to Mr. Barrett, he didn't seem to wrest the same meaning from it that the rest of us did - go figure.) And it is both paid homage to and name-checked in The Sopranos episode "Kennedy and Heidi."  

One last bit of legacy: Anthony Horowitz, the author of the fantastic Bond continuation novel Trigger Mortis, also paid homage to this in his horror short story "Howard's End." 

~

5 comments:

  1. Got this one coming up relatively soon, so I'm going to come back and read this once I've seen it.

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    1. I forget and please forgive me if we talked about it in email or elsewhere, but did you ever give this one a spin?

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    2. Not yet, no -- once I got the complete-series Blu-ray set, I circled back to the beginning and started over. I'm looking forward to it, though.

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    3. Ah-so - makes sense! I was confused last night, kept searching for that one Where No Blog Has Gone Before Twilight Zone entry you did, from a few months back. Did you delete it pursuant to watching it all again from the beginning? Also makes sense.

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    4. That post was actually the result of my starting over from the beginning -- I've been updating it and republishing it each time I watch a new episode. It currently should be the most recent story; let me know if it isn't, coz that'd mean there's a serious bug of some sort.

      When I was watching previous to getting the Blu-rays, I was streaming the episodes, and I checked to see what the last one I'd seen was. It was "The Big Tall Wish," which is the episode just before this one! So in other words, I was ALMOST there....

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