Destruct that ship, General!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Episode Spotlight: "The Man Who Was Never Born" (10/28/1963)



“The Man Who Was Never Born”
Season 1, Episode 6
Originally aired 10/28/1963



Sixty-seven years ago, French audiences were treated to one of the most beautiful, haunting films ever made: La Belle et la Bete (that's Beauty and the Beast for you 'Muricans), Jean Cocteau’s sparkling and exquisite adaptation of the 18th century fairy tale.  Fifty years ago tonight, ABC presented something of a variation on this film, a similarly sparkling and beautiful fairy tale rich with visual ingenuity… only instead of an enchanted castle, they gave us a spaceship; instead of a roaring beast, they gave us an ugly mutant with a handgun.



“The Man Who Was Never Born” opens with intrepid astronaut Captain Joseph Reardon returning home after an eight-month deep space mission. As he nears earth, he passes through a time convulsion and is thrust 185 years into the future, where the earth is a barely-populated wasteland. Upon landing, he is met by Andro, a friendly mutant who gives him a grim history lesson: in the late twentieth century, a scientist named Bertram Cabot Jr. created a virus that genetically altered mankind, rendering them hideous and unable to reproduce. 



Reardon hits on a plan to bring Andro back with him to his own time as a walking, talking cautionary tale to hopefully rewrite history but, as they enter the time convulsion, Reardon learns the hard way that it’s a one-way trip and disintegrates. Andro lands in the green, vibrant past and sets out to assassinate Cabot Jr., using his mutant telepathy to hypnotically appear as normal to others. He discovers that he’s roughly thirty years too early, and Cabot Jr. hasn’t been born yet! Andro’s Plan B involves killing Cabot Sr. during his wedding (thereby preventing Cabot Jr.'s conception), but finds he can’t bring himself to do it: he’s a pacifist but, more importantly, he’s fallen in love with Noelle, the bride.


He flees into the woods, pursued by Noelle, who has fallen in love with him as well.  With Cabot in hot pursuit, they make for the spaceship and successfully escape. As they enter the time convulsion, Andro has a horrible realization: the hopeful future they are fleeing to is one in which he was never born. He disappears, leaving Noelle stranded in space, alone.




RANDOMONIUM

The mark of a truly great piece of work, be it literature or art, film or music, is not perfection. Nay, I say, it’s the ability of the piece to rise above its own flaws and still compel, still enrapture, still delight. “The Man Who Was Never Born” is one such work, as I’m sure most will agree. It's an epic fairy tale, filled with gorgeous imagery and fascinating plot twists... but there are most definitely flaws. That said, let the skewering begin!

Where to begin? Let’s start with the “time convulsion” that sets the whole chain of events in motion. Why can a person only pass through it once? Why would doing so again result in death? We see Flash Gord--- er, Capt. Reardon--- vanish in a flurry of overlapping double images, then take on a mysterious glow just before he disappears. Andro merely disappears, softly and without fireworks, which indicates that he was uncreated (versus dying due to his second trip through the time convulsion). It is easy to see how some viewers could interpret it differently, since we've already seen a guy die on his second pass. The one-way-only limit is ultimately only there to expediently get rid of Reardon, which gives it an unfortunate deus ex machina feel when considered after the fact.

Going.... going.... going... GONE.


Major Matt Mas--- er, Capt. Reardon --- is your typical young, brash, virile astronaut… until the last few seconds of his life, in which he seems to revert to a whiny-voiced adolescent. Were his testicles the first thing to vanish? 







If mankind's ability to reproduce was inhibited by Cabot's work, then how does Andro exist at all? Shouldn't all of humanity have died off? Let's see... Reardon is from 1963, 185 years in the past. In the ‘late 20th century’ in the original timeline, Bertram Cabot Jr. will cause the destruction of humanity; we’ll be generous and say 1999. That’s 149 years before Reardon’s encounter with Andro. Let’s say Andro is 49. That means 100 years elapsed between Cabot’s Folly and Andro’s birth, which also means that mankind was still reproducing 100 years after Patient Zero became infected. So… it was a really slow sterilization effect, then? Or maybe math wasn’t writer Anthony Lawrence’s strong suit…?

And as long as we’re talking about time issues, how the hell did earth turn into a rocky wasteland in less than 200 years? Andro assures Reardon that there was no atomic war, so what happened? Catastrophic natural event? Luminoid contamination?  All we’re told is that humanity was more or less “wiped out” by Cabot Jr.’s plague, which wouldn't have caused such wholesale ecological devastation. A bit more backstory here would've really helped.


Andro makes a point of telling Buzz Lighty--- er, Captain Reardon--- that Cabot Jr.’s mother’s name was Noelle (“a woman who issued destruction for all future Christmases,” which is a pretty damned trite line that Martin Landau somehow manages to thoroughly sell). Once Andro is in the past, Mrs. Ives tells him that the fickle blonde he’s eyeballing is named Noelle Andresen, yet he inexplicably doesn’t make the connection until later, when he discovers that he’s a few decades early. Andro is a learned, highly literate scholar who has “memorized every detail of (Cabot’s) life”… so how the bloody time-convulsing hell didn't he immediately figure it out? 


The frog that Noelle catches just before her first sighting of Andro is stiff as a board and very obviously fake (or do frogs suffer catalepsy if they’re captured? I’m not an expert on amphibious behaviors). However, a moment later when Andro holds it in the palm of his hand and strokes it, it appears real (I saw its neck goiter whatchamacallit thing move once, right before the cut; it’s almost impossible to see but it’s there).

The climactic chase scene through the forest is exciting enough, but the handheld camera work is a bit too shaky for my tastes (the Steadicam wouldn't be invented until 1976). The jittery, frenetic sequence seems a bit at odds with the otherwise languid, dreamy visuals that the rest of the episode offers. When Andro and Noelle reach the spaceship, the image suddenly stabilizes thanks to a rock-steady crane shot, a welcome relief. 

Turn around, bright eyes.

It probably sounds like I’m just looking for things to bitch about. I guess I kinda am. Lawrence’s brilliant script is brilliantly rendered by director Anthony Horn (who will return to direct "The Zanti Misfits" and "The Children of Spider County" later this season) and Director of Photography Conrad Hall, and it’s a testament to its greatness that it prevails despite the flaws I've described. It really is a thing of shimmering, gauzy beauty, a definite high point for the series. It looks and feels like a dream and, if we accept it as such, then said flaws are rendered more or less immaterial. 

You can glow your own way.


AURAL PLEASURE


“The Man Who Was Never Born” features an original score by Dominic Frontiere. It’s a powerful, sweeping work, and it's enjoyed two distinct releases: the original GNP/Crescendo single-disc soundtrack from 1990, and more recently the three-disc set from La La Land Records (dear God, it’s only $19.99 plus shipping! Go order it right now and come back. I’ll wait. No, seriously, go get it. You cannot call yourself a true fan if you don't have it).


The score features several cues that will reappear throughout the rest of the season, most notably the music heard during Andro and Noelle's space flight (up until his disappearance). It's technically part of the "I Was Never Born!" cue, but the original GNP/Crescendo lists it as "The Outer Limits Signature Loop," which is much more fitting. It may just be the single most recognizable, most reused (but never overused) piece of music Frontiere contributed to the series. It, perhaps more than any other recurring cue, sonically defines The Outer Limits. Have a listen:

video


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Martin Landau inhabits the role of Andro with passionate desperation, and walks away with one of the best performances in the entire series. We’ll see him again later this season in “The Bellero Shield,” but his Outer Limits connection doesn’t end there: he would team up with series producer Joseph Stefano in 1964 for The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, a failed TV pilot that would ultimately see a theatrical release outside of the US. Landau also graced two episodes of The Twilight Zone (“Mr. Denton on Doomsday” and “The Jeopardy Room”) and would enjoy starring roles on Mission: Impossible (1966-1969) and Space: 1999 (1975-1977). More recently, genre fans may have spotted him as gynecologist/UFO nut Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil in The X-files: Fight the Future in 1998, in which he takes a piss in an alley with David Duchovny (ah, the perks of fame).



Shirley Knight (Noelle Andresen) doesn’t seem to have any other sci-fi/fantasy credits on her resume, but I’m going to count her as a TOL babe, if for no other reason than the upside-down shot of her lying on the grass in act three. Breathtaking. Otherwise, she’s a Disney princess made flesh, frolicking with the fauna in the flora and torn between the hunky hunter and the bewitching beast (say that fast three times).



John Considine is suitably jealous and incensed as Bertram Cabot. This is his only TOL role but, earlier in 1963, he played deep sea diver McClure in the Twilight Zone episode “The Thirty-Fathom Grave.”


Buck Rog--- er, Capt. Reardon--- is played by Karl Held in his only TOL appearance; however, he would cross paths with Martin Landau again on Space: 1999 (“The Immunity Syndrome”) in 1977.  Is it just me, or does he kinda resemble a young David Bowie?  “Space Oddity” indeed.

Captain Reardon, meet Major Tom.


The role of Mrs. McCluskey is played (and screamed) by Maxine Stuart, who presumably had an in with Daystar Productions thanks to her work on Stoney Burke (“Gold-Plated Maverick”). She’s probably most famous, however, for her role as the masked Janet Tyler in the legendary “Eye of the Beholder" episode of The Twilight Zone. Ms. Stuart very recently passed away, in June of this year.



Marlowe Jensen officiates at the doomed Cabot-Andresen wedding as the unnamed minister. He’ll get a name next time around, as Sgt. Berry in season two’s “Soldier.”




Here’s something interesting. A different ending was filmed which had Noelle arriving on a lush, green future earth after Andro's disappearance. An old man, played by Jack Raine, sees her and chats her up. The scene was cut in favor of the darker, unresolved ending, but Raine’s name still appears in the end credits. This was his only Outer Limits appearance, but he showed up in two Twilight Zones (“Passage on the Lady Anne” and “Spur of the Moment”...in which we only saw the back of his head).


HOME VIDEO RELEASES



“The Man Who Was Never Born” has been released on VHS twice here in the US; first in the late 80’s in the standard (and prettiest) packaging, then again in the late 90’s with revised artwork. God, that green and purple just burns my eyes.



Other VHS releases include Columbia House's mail order release, which paired the episode with "The Sixth Finger." The retail releases across the pond had two episodes per volume, and their third volume included the same two episodes.


The episode was included in the second LaserDisc collection in 1992. I'm not sure why clunkers like "The Brain of Colonel Barham" and "The Probe" made it onto the second collection when so many other deserving episodes never got the LD treatment at all, but I'm sure the marketing geniuses at MGM Home Video had their reasons. 


The episode can be found on three different DVD releases: the season one boxed set in 2002, the volume 1 set in 2007 (which comprised the first half of season 1), and the complete series boxed set in 2008. If you bought all three, you are the proud (?) owner of three identical sets, since the discs are the exact same all across the board. Triple Dip, baby! The Twilight Zone has been released on DVD twice: the original single volumes and the dramatically improved Definitive Edition season sets (not to mention the blu-ray sets, which are even more dramatically improved). Why can't The Outer Limits get similar love?


And for those Gen-Z forward thinkers out there who don't need physical media, MGM has made the entire series available for standard-def streaming on Hulu. It's not available on Hulu Plus, however, which means you can't watch it on your iPhone or other mobile device.... which isn't really forward-thinking at all, is it? 

And no, dammit, there's still no sign that a blu-ray release is in the works. #pissed


TRADING CARD CORNER




In their Monsters from Outer Limits trading card series in 1964, Topps went a bit crazy over Andro and depicted him on SIX different cards. Here he was renamed “The Clay Man,” a robot with a skin-like outer coating of clay. No, really, I’m serious. You can’t make this shit up.



MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT



Andro was immortalized in a deluxe action figure by Sideshow Collectibles in 2004, offered in a two-pack with the Helosian alien from “O.B.I.T.” These were the final two figures in the line, and they were produced in limited numbers. Prepare to cough up some semi-serious coin should you wish to add ‘em to your collection. Since I tend to lack said “serious coin” (semi or otherwise), I don’t have these two. A helpful review of both can be found here.


Dimensional Designs offers a model kit of Andro (OL-08), sculpted by Greg Nicotero (whom I believe is the same Greg Nicotero currently executive-producing AMC's The Walking Dead; somebody chime in and correct me if I'm wrong). I have this grand idea in my head that, someday, I’m gonna buy all the model kits and create a highly impressive display of them (never mind that I've never in my life put a model together, much less done any intricate painting). I suppose it’ll never happen, but t’s nice to dream (sigh). If you’re more proactive (and talented) than me, and you’d like to launch such an endeavor, you can start with Andro, whom you can acquire for $49.95 plus shipping here.


THE WRAP-UP



The Outer Limits will feature other fantasy stories with dreamlike atmospheres (“The Guests,” for example), but “The Man Who Was Never Born” is the first and best. Like “The Architects of Fear” a few weeks back, it stands with the greatest episodes of the series run. Hell, any television series, ever. Definitely top ten for me.








12 comments:

  1. Craig -- you've written another outstanding blog. Almost all science fiction plots have the surprisingly obvious holes you point out so well: faulty basic arithmetic, extraneous plot elements, lack of backstory (one of your most valid complaints), contradictions galore, and other things that are left unexplained. You're right that these holes don't detract from the beauty of this moving episode, but you're also right to enumerate them – because so many of us have spent idle moments trying to straighten all this out in our heads over the past fifty years. (Isn't that a basic part of the science fiction "experience"?)

    After first run (two broadcasts, including the rerun), I didn't see this one again for twenty-five years (when I finally noticed that TOL was out on videotape). All that time, I only remembered something about Martin Landau grabbing people by the collar and shrieking about "Bertram Cabot, Jr.!!!" And showing up at the wedding with a gun… And the slightly serious discussion they had in the woods a few minutes later… Mind-numbingly intense moments. These stuck in my mind for years as if they had been real events. (And – as with other episodes –in 1963, my dad and his friends discussed this one in shocked disbelief for days.)

    Those seemingly pointless internet lists of favorites do teach us how varied people's tastes can be. For example, a few episodes of TOL appear often on lists of both best and worst. Though there probably is no "best", it is impressive how often The Man Who Was Never Born is ranked first. Among people I knew who were familiar with the series, this episode almost always evoked such strong emotions that they had difficulty discussing it (and it's just a TV show!). TOL was a series "about" the awe & mystery of the universe, but in this episode (and in The Architects of Fear and maybe a couple of others), the show itself becomes That Which Is Awesome And Mysterious (particularly now that it is an old, historical phenomenon).

    One detail: when the episode is over and history has been rearranged, Andro existed for a few days in 1963 -- though he was indeed "never born" (because he prevented the future in which that happened), he did exist (as a time traveler) for those few days. But – in this altered, final version of history – Bertram Cabot, Jr. never existed at all. A handsome mutant "from London" shouted the name for a few days in 1963, but there never was any Bertram Cabot, Jr. George Carlin used to ask something like, "When something is scheduled but then is cancelled before it happens, what is it exactly that doesn't happen?"

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  2. I was lucky enough to meet Shirley Knight in April 2000, and she told me about the alternate ending after I told her how upset I was by the actual ending. How reassuring it was to see her alive after all, and to hear from her that Noelle had a different ending to her journey that took place maybe a few minutes after the one we all saw. That's how indelible an impression that episode made on me as an 8-year-old. I know the universe can be a cold, unfeeling place where terrible things happen, but Noelle did not deserve that fate as much as Henry Bemis did not deserve his.

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    1. Bill Huelbig's deeply felt and informative comment has stuck with me for days. And when he met Shirley Knight, he didn't waste the moment.

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    2. i was lucky to meet shirley knight in portsmouth nh while filming the defection of simas kadirka and also met donald pleasence

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  3. You guys continue to amaze me with your comments. Keep 'em coming! It adds a nice human element to my (admittedly) snarky blogging style.

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  4. This is probably the most respected of any Outer Limits episode, with the possible exception of "Demon With a Glass Hand". This has a great story, terrific acting and a number of set pieces and special effects that I really enjoy. The only real problem with the story is the ease with which Andro finds Bertram Cabot, Jr. The coincidences are almost too much.

    Martin Landau is great as Andro, his performance is very warm and heartfelt. The sets and shots, like the inside of the spaceship and its view of Earth from its orbit, are spectacular. The "future" Earth is also convincing or maybe I should say "cool", as Craig's point asking how the Earth became such a wasteland so quickly is well taken.

    I could have used a little less of Andro and Noelle running through the woods, but it is important to the story. The ending is truly one of the most stunning of the series, as it offers promise and tragedy at the same time.

    Another '10 of 10" from me.

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  5. Absolutely agree, the top of the top. One thing that always amazes me is that so much of the episode goes by before Andro gets back to earth...lots happens in a relatively short amount of time there. Wonder if this would have made a nice two-parter, though we always want more of a good thing, don't we? Great write-up and terrific memes!

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  6. Great OL, cool blog, enjoyable comments etc. Always good seeing this show in spotlight. The storyline of this episode, btw, seems interesting almost eerily familiar. Straighten me out where I got it wrong, I can get stuff mixed up.

    We have a character from Earth's ravaged, scarred future (as scifi-fantasied, visualized). His world, a post apocalyptic one - ruined dreams, wasted land - all unintended consequence of technosciencey tamperings by a singular figure, a character out of the fantasied future's past history - our present day era in real life (vital story context). So across from our future character, is a past name that will live in infamy for what's left of humanity in the future - as linked to the disaster inflicted. And becomes a real focus of serious grim determination accordingly.

    And thereby hangs the story. The plot turns on our character from the future traveling to his past (our present), with express intent of undoing the damage, 'proactively' - by murderous prevention. He'll get there first before its done, and stop it cold so to speak, by killing the perpetrator-to-be, before he's able to commit his deed. Thus averting disaster that awaits and otherwise befalls. Interesting story axis - the 'character motivation' to redeem humanity's future, restoring it to lost wholeness - by a brutal, surgically precise operation on its past, assassinating one key player.

    Hmm. Now I'm getting an idea for a story of my own. It'd be about a moviemaker - visited by a time traveler from - not the future, the past. The unscrupulous time traveler proceeds to rip off the film maker's story idea. Hijacks it to back to his earlier historic era. It'd be like a story of the past almost plagiarizing the future - real cunning too, making it all look like other way around, if anyone notices any similarities - the victim ends up looking suspicious, culprit comes off pure as driven snow, to the eye. Pure science fiction of course. Any resemblance to anything from reality purely coincidental.

    Bottom line - no way could this OL episode have ripped off TERMINATOR - impossible. But I trust folks've read about that flick's "Bill & Hillary" getting in trouble with Ellison - as involves SOLDIER and DEMON W GLASS HAND? (I first read all about it in a Cinefantastique issue years ago).

    PS - anyone know, where to buy a 'Stay Calm And Watch OL' tee?

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  7. There are definitely some problems in the writing of this episode, as already pointed out. In addition, why would an astronaut on an apparently routine orbit of the earth take a revolver with him? This same gimmick was used in several, without possibly 1950's science fiction films about astronauts landing on other planets or going into the future, they always seemed to take with them everything they would need, without possibly knowing WHY they would need such items. The revolver, as it turns out, does in fact play an important role in the story, but you would think that the writer could have come up with a mor3e believable way to introduce it into the story. Also, how is it that, when Andro tries to break up the wedding, and loses his hypnotic control and everybody sees him as his horrible mutant self, Noelle somehow does not? The first time she sees Andro, hiding in the woods up a tree, she clearly sees the horrible mutant, screams and runs away. Many regard The Man Who Was Never Born as the single best Outer Limits episode, but there are simply too many mistakes in the story. Beyond that, though, the episode has enough things going for it to place it in the top five, at least. The music and cinematography, alone, are worth the price of admission, and Shirley Knight's performance as Noelle is stunning. I'm not convinced, though, that Martin Landau was the best choice for the role of Andro. Landau had a tendency to overact, and definitely goes over the top in a few scenes.

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  8. i own the whole series on dvd 6 disc set i also had own'ed all episodes on vhs but when i got the dvd set i gave the vhs'es to a friend of mine

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  9. You forgot to notice one huge flaw: the enraged former-groom shooting indiscriminately from a distance at both bride and Andro! The emphasis here is on "shooting at/toward the bride".

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  10. I just saw TMWWNB on MeTV for the first time in years. Yes, it's a great episode*, but I've got to say that when he's in 1963, Andro often comes across as a creepy, obsessive stalker. Given the world he comes from and the urgency of his mission, it's easy to understand why, but Noelle is a very special person to be able to see the good in him.

    *Although I would have preferred the happier ending. Let's hope Kino Lorber includes it as a Blu-ray extra!

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