12.13.2016

The Twilight Zone: Ring-a-Ding Girl

Today's selection:
Season 5, Episode 13. (First aired Dec. 27, 1963)

"Bunny Blake is a public figure. What she wears, eats, thinks, says is news. But underneath the glamour, the makeup, the publicity the buildup, the costuming is a flesh-and-blood person, a beautiful girl about to take a long and bizarre journey... into the Twilight Zone."

Movie star Bunny has thirty-five minutes to make her flight from Rome, but as she gathers her things last-minute in her hotel room, her agent hands her a special delivery fan letter from her hometown, Howardville. (Which, Bunny tells her, she'll soon be able to see for herself from the plane. "We fly right over the center of town." "Well, hooray for us.")

Thus begins the pattern which plays out for the rest of the episode. When she looks into the ring, she sees faces from her hometown imploring her to come home.
And to "Help us... help us... help us."
She also sees (closer to the end) evidence of a plane in trouble, and herself and her agent aboard.

From the hotel the story cuts to Bunny's sister Hildy and her teenage son Bud engaged in traditional domestic accoutrements: chores and quips about child labor laws, etc.. Bunny surprises her sister by showing up ("you know me - glamorous, unpredictable, full of surprises - the same old nut") and claims she was inspired to drop in by the gift of the ring. Hildy tells her the entire town chipped in to buy it and send it to her, which echoes the story she told her (bored) agent on how Bunny Blake left Howardville in the first place, when they took up a collection to send her to Hollywood on account of how her talent outgrew the available opportunities. 


"I don't mean that the way it sounded, but I just knew I had a talent and had to find a place to let it grow. Otherwise, it would have died."

Awesome car.

Every time Bunny receives a vision in her ring, she's increasingly disoriented. She becomes convinced, though, that the town picnic, scheduled for the day of her visit and where years before she won its crowning event (the beauty pageant) which got her started on the road to fame, must be cancelled. No one can understand why she wants it cancelled and assume it's just one of her movie star whims. Bunny insists it's about giving back to the town. Eventually, her sister and the groundskeeper at her old school - who agrees to not interfere with her hosting a meet-and-greet-a-Hollywood-star event at the same time as the town picnic - agree not to go. 

As Bunny, her sister, and nephew are about to leave for the performance, they hear sirens and rush to look out the living-room window.
"Goodbye, Hildy."

The radio breaks the news of a horrible plane crash at the town picnic, and as Hildy and Bud absorb the news, a police officer calls to tell Hildy that he identified Bunny among the deceased passengers on the plane. As she struggles to make sense of this, the anchorman on TV relays that several townspeople claimed to have seen Bunny walking around in town that day and to have talked to her. "Until the mystery is unraveled," the newscaster adds, "Only one thing is certain: Bunny Blake is dead." 

The final scene shows Hildy finding Bunny's magic ring, which had fallen to the floor; now chipped and charred.

"We are all travelers. The trip starts in a place called birth and ends in that lonely town called death. And that's the end of the journey, unless you happen to exist for a few hours, like Bunny Blake, in the misty regions of the Twilight Zone."

Okay, so, once again here's an episode I've always really liked that never seems to make anyone else's list of great TZ eps. If it had been a Season One episode, I bet, its reputation would be better, but coming as it does in Season Five, perhaps people feel it's redundant of earlier explorations. Or perhaps this specific type of ghost story (person saves town/family from suffering her own fate) was just too familiar for audiences, then or now.

Me? I think there's a lot to like here. I like how Bunny Blake leaves Howardville with a genuine mystery to solve (how could she have been in town - and on television, to boot, actually recorded - promoting her appearance at the school if she was at the same time flying in the doomed plane in the sky above?). I like her backstory and her agent's disdain for fly-over country (always timely). I like Bunny's ambivalence about her home town even knowing she would have withered there. And I like that at no point is there any explicit explanation given for what a "Ring-a-Ding girl" is. It could be a catchphrase of Bunny's from a show, or she could be the face of a product line. It doesn't really matter, of course, it's just a nice touch. 

And this guy  

immortalized - well, to those who remember them - on the cover of this Wombats album

who gives the most half-hearted plea for help in the world history of mystical ring pleas

"'Ring-a-ding girl' but she don't fool Cyrus Gentry. Miss high and mighty coming back here like she was somebody special. Well, you are special - right now... maybe the most special person Howardville will ever have. So, Bunny Blake ... help us."

Cyrus Gentry was played by Green Acres (among many other things, including two other TZs) vet Hank Paterson. The lead:



Apparently, Ms. McNamara didn't do too much of anything else. For what it's worth, I think she gives a great performance here. I care about Bunny Blake and the arc of her imaginary life and death more than I ever expect to when I hit "play" on this one.


And David Macklin as young Bud Powell.

See you next time.


~

4 comments:

  1. I haven't seen this one, but it sounds solid. I'd never heard of McNamara, and know nothing about her, but I find myself wondering what it must be like to be an aspiring star who gets cast in a role as a huge star only to then never actually become a huge star.

    It seems like it would be a downer.

    Interesting that the episode's title is never explained.

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    Replies
    1. I can't believe I made it to the end without mentioning Sinatra's "Ring a Ding Ding" even once.

      So, there it is, I guess. "My heart goes ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding-ding-ding..."

      Stardom is so fickle. I wondered the same thing. Is it cool to not quite make it but have one of your performances be that of a star? Or is it a cruel irony? No-name actors play monarchs and larger-than-life people all the time, of course, as well as "Thug #5" roles. (The kid who plays BUd, here, apparently his last credit is as a homeless guy / thankless task in I-forget-which at his imdb.)

      Interesting question. The kind of thing an "Inside the Actors Studio" for actors-no-one's-really-heard-of would be ideal for.

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    2. This is the first review I've seen of this episode that actually makes me want to see it.

      I could be wrong, however I think Vic Perrin is the voice behind this iconic TV opening:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCcdr4O-3gE

      ChrisC

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    3. You're certainly not wrong - that's the "Control Voice" part of my pic-text, there. He pops up all over the place. I'm sometimes amused at how often some of these guys show up whenever I dip into other 60s and 70s TV. (And beyond and before, of course.)

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