Destruct that ship, General!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Episode Spotlight: "The Man With the Power" (10/07/1963)




“The Man With the Power”
Season 1, Episode 4
Originally aired 10/07/1963



“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I’m angry.” Those immortal words, uttered by Bill Bixby in the pilot episode of TV’s The Incredible Hulk in 1978, could just as easily have come from tonight’s protagonist who, fifty years ago tonight, demonstrated just how violently destructive a seemingly nice guy can be if his id runs unchecked.


“The Man With the Power” introduces us to Harold J. Finley, a quiet, unassuming college professor who has dreams of doing something more substantial with his life. To this end, he’s devised a method of harnessing and directing cosmic energy through the use of a “link-gate” device that he’s had implanted in his brain. Imagine a kid using a magnifying glass to torch ants on a sunny day: in this analogy, Finley is the magnifying glass, all the energy in the universe is the sun, and the ants… well, they’re whoever gets in his way.

Finley can move incredibly heavy objects with his mind, a talent which the space program believes can be useful in extracting otherwise-inaccessible rare elements from asteroids. They’ve got a volunteer (all-American astronaut Steve Crandon) lined up, and he's just rarin' to get his own link-gate installed and get crackin'. Unfortunately, Finley is slowly discovering a horrific downside to his promising invention: deep down, beneath his conscious awareness, he harbors seething resentment issues over his doormat status and, when he feels intimated or threatened, those subterranean negative thoughts can access the energy just as easily as his conscious mind can, manifesting as a crackling cloud of energy that disintegrates those he secretly hates.

Burn, bitch, burn.

Realizing the terrible potential of such power, Finley attempts to stop the project from proceeding and ends up tranquilized for his trouble. While the surgery on Crandon moves forward in the next room, Finley gradually comes to and unleashes the cloud one last time, killing both the project head and the head surgeon before turning it on himself.


RANDOMONIUM

“The Man With the Power” is the only episode written by Jerome Ross; however, director Laslo Benedek will return to helm “Tourist Attraction” in December and “Wolf 359” next season.


Man, I thought Carol Maxwell (“The Galaxy Being”) was a ball-buster. Finley’s wife Vera is a mean-spirited, castrating bitch (check out the framing at time stamp 15:20, in which Vera is trimming a hedge, for a clever visual representation of said castrating). I’m only sorry Finley didn't vaporize her before the big light show at the lab during act four. From now on, every time I feel under-appreciated at home, I’m gonna think of Vera and thank my lucky stars for Teresa, my gorgeous and patient wife. I could’ve ended up with SO much worse….


Y'all can look, but y'all can't touch.


Finley’s Energy Cloud is comprised of roiling smoke (actually an underwater ink cloud, I believe) overlaid with lightning bolts and electrical discharges, and it’s a pretty cool effect. Not such a cool effect is the half-ton boulder that Finley moves around the room with his mind… in which the strings holding it up are plainly visible (maybe they weren't on the TV sets of 1963, but the quality of today’s screens coupled with the increased resolution of DVD render them painfully clear).



I got a D-minus in String Theory.


DOP Conrad Hall continues to amaze here. “The Man With the Power” offers fewer opportunities for shadowy composition, given the many daylight and exterior scenes, but Hall still manages to inject surprisingly amounts of darkness into the proceedings (next week’s episode will be shot by John Nicklaus, and will look markedly different). I can't wait till we get to "The Forms of Things Unknown," when Hall will give us almost intoxicating contrast levels.



A moment of weirdness: near the end of act two, when Vera has made Crandon (whom Finely has invited to dinner) uncomfortable enough to leave, Finley walks him to his car. Finley appears to be making feeble excuses for the iron maiden he calls a wife, but his dialogue is completely inaudible under the sound of the Energy Cloud gearing up off camera. This may have been intentional, some attention-getting avant-garde move, but it comes off as an amateur mistake. Why couldn't we have both on the soundtrack? The DVD doesn't have subtitles, fer crissakes.

Once you get to know her, she's really quite--- oh, fuck it. Just kill me now.


Of course sets are reused all the time in TV shows, and it’s always fun to discover them, but imagine my surprise and delight to spot TWO of ‘em in this episode. The Finley’s living room previously belonged to Ted and Ann Pearson in “The Hundred Years of the Dragon” (I guess the Pearsons are renting the place out, since they’re now living in the White House). The laboratory surgical bay in act four is a slightly redressed version of the one seen last week in “The Architects of Fear” (does this mean that Dr. Keenan and his crew are working for United Labs…?).



So far, each episode has featured distinct underscore during the episode-specific credits (at the start of act one); this week, we’ll instead hear an electronic buzzing, augmented with a reverby “magic wand” sound (I don’t know how else to describe it). This will be standard through the rest of the series; in season two, the magic wand sound will be dropped and we’ll hear only the aforementioned buzzing. Here, see (well, hear) for yourself:



TEASE ME

In his indispensable (hell, near-Biblical) Outer Limits Companion, David J. Schow indicates that “’The Man With the Power,’ the fourth Outer Limits show broadcast, is the last to make use of a pre-title prologue--- in this case, Finley’s encounter with the tree pruners. By the fifth week of prime time, ABC decided a shrewder commercial strategy was to insert a clip from the body of each episode ahead of the opening titles, to give audiences a titillating glimpse of that show’s “bear” before they saw anything else. This was done on the next show to be broadcast, ‘The Sixth Finger.’”  Now, I hate to sound contrary, but on the VHS, DVD and streaming versions of the episode, “The Man With the Power” does begin with a teaser--- a brief clip of Dean Radcliffe getting insta-cooked by Finley’s Energy Cloud (the tree-pruner scene opens act one, after the episode credits). What’s the deal? 


I can’t speak for the syndication prints, but on all the home video releases of the previous three episodes "The Galaxy Being," "The Hundred Days of the Dragon," and "The Architects of Fear"), the show’s opening title sequence has been inexplicably moved in front of the prologue, which creates a structural anomaly that doesn't match the rest of the series. I suppose such tampering could be the culprit here too, except for the confounding fact that there is a teaser attached to this episode. Maybe it was done after the original broadcast but before the summer repeat, for conformity’s sake? Hey, that could be it… but it still doesn't explain the other three not having a teaser in evidence. Oh, my aching head.


AURAL PLEASURE

“The Man With the Power” doesn't feature an original score; actually, it doesn't have much music in it at all. We hear a cue from “The Architects of Fear” (“Allen Leighton,” which is the music heard when Allen’s name is drawn for the Thetanization makeover; it's used here as a bridge in act three between the scene of Finley talking to Dr. Hindemann and Finley at home with Vera). Two cues from "The Human Factor" follow ("Building Terror" and "Phone Call"), and, fittingly, "The Big Finish" cue from "The Borderland" plays during the climax. Interesting to see (well, hear) these cues prior to the broadcast of the episodes they were actually composed for. 


DRAMATIS PERSONAE


Donald Pleasance is quite good as Finley; it’s easy to believe a meek and nonthreatening guy like him could have dark impulses seething behind his bland and forgettable persona (wait, does that make me sound like a Vera?). He also turned in a memorable performance as Professor Ellis Fowler in “The Changing of the Guard” on The Twilight Zone (in fact, his urging to astronaut Steve Crandon to “make (his) mark while (he’s) young” sounds like nothing if not a Fowlerism). Genre fans may also remember him from his roles in Fantastic Voyage and THX 1138, but he’s probably best remembered as Dr. Sam Loomis in the early Halloween films. To me, he’ll always be Ernst Stavro Blofeld in one of my favorite James Bond outings, 1967’s You Only Live Twice

Same bald head, different fake scar.

Dr. Keenan is played by Frank Maxwell. He only visited The Outer Limits once; he also appeared as the director of the film-in-progress The Private World of Arthur Curtis in The Twilight Zone’s “A World of Difference” in 1960. He seems a bit, I dunno… gruff and rough-around-the-edges for his role here as the head of an advanced space project, but it’s nothing problematic.


Douchebag Dean Radcliffe is played by Edward C. Platt in the first of three Outer Limits appearances. We’ll see him later this season in “The Special One” and next season in “Keeper of the Purple Twilight.” He also appeared on The Twilight Zone (“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim”).


Intrepid astronaut Steve Crandon is played by Fred Bier in his only TOL gig. He also showed up on The Twilight Zone in “Death Ship,” one of its greatest offerings but, for our purposes, we’re most interested an appearance he made on Burke’s Law in 1965, an episode called… “The Man with the Power”!





John Marley plays Dr. Sigmund Hindemann (A psychiatrist named Sigmund? Really?) in his only TOL stint. The Twilight Zone featured him twice, in 1962’s “Kick the Can” and in 1963’s “The Old Man in the Cave” (the latter episode turns 50 in almost exactly one month). And speaking of The Incredible Hulk, Marley also played David Banner’s father in its "Homecoming" episode in 1979. Paul Lambert plays Dr. Henschell in his only TOL role; however, his sci-fi resumé doesn’t end there: he appeared on the “King Nine Will Not Return” episode of The Twilight Zone and had a minor role in 1968’s Planet of the Apes. More recently, he appeared twice on Star Trek: The Next Generation (“When the Bough Breaks” and “Devil’s Due”). Dr. Tremaine is played by James McCallion, who had a small role in The Twilight Zone’s very first episode (“Where Is Everybody?”); however, of more interest here is his appearance on Daystar’s pre-TOL series Stoney Burke earlier in 1963 (“The Weapons Man”).

Diane Strom plays Dean Radcliffe’s unnamed secretary in what amounts to about nineteen seconds of screen time (she does get to scream, though, so there’s that). Strom also appeared on The Twilight Zone as “Girl In Commercial” (“Static”) and Stoney Burke as, simply “Girl” (“Kelly’s Place”). During her illustrious six-year acting career, she also inhabited such diverse roles as “Receptionist,” “Stewardess” (twice!), “Blonde” and, my personal favorite, “Matt’s Wife” (on TV’s El Dorado; incidentally her last acting credit according to IMDB). I can't call her a TOL Babe because, frankly, we don't see enough of her to make that determination. Sorry... um, what was your name again?


HOME VIDEO RELEASES


Nine, count ‘em, nine distinct video releases have featured “The Man With the Power.” It was one of the very first episodes ever released on VHS way back in 1987 (along with “The Galaxy Being” and “The Hundred Days of the Dragon”), in an old school oversized plastic clamshell case. The rest of the series was subsequently released in regular (but gorgeous) cardboard slipcases, so the episode was re-released later to match. It received another VHS release in the late 90’s with, um, revised artwork (the standard blue box was so much nicer).


It was also made available, mail-away club style, from Columbia House. Their VHS volumes contained two episodes each; "The Man With the Power" was paired "The Forms of Things Unknown." In the UK, the episode was paired with last week’s “The Architects of Fear.”


The episode was included in the third LaserDisc collection in 1994. Of the four total LD collections, this one has the least TOL-looking cover (except for the logo, ‘natch). I never had a player, so my LD knowledge is more or less nil. Do LaserDiscs have menus screens, like DVDs, or do they just play straight through like VHS tapes? If they do have a menu structure, are they similar to those on the later DVD sets? Anyone?


It’s shown up on DVD three different times: in 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 (which is probably just the three 2007 volumes combined into one box; I couldn't say for sure because I bought the original season releases the day they came out (true fan here), so I skipped the later releases.


And finally, MGM has made the series available for standard-def streaming on Hulu, but they have no apparent interest in future-proofing this groundbreaking and highly-influential series by remastering it in high definition. Yes, I’m bitter about the fact that it’s not available on blu-ray, and yes, I’m gonna keep bitching about it every single week.


TRADING CARD CORNER

Harold J. Finley (and his cloud of electric doom) has never been depicted on a trading card. Had Rittenhouse made it past their first series (which featured eight episodes), they might’ve gotten around to it eventually. And I guess Donald Pleasence isn't really monstrous enough to warrant a Topps card, so there ya go.


MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT

Not a goddamned thing here either, unless you count the listing on the Dimension Designs website. Harold J. Finley has been assigned a serial number (DD/OL/HF-43), but there’s no picture, no sculptor, no release date, no nothin.’ I sent them an email about a week ago, and they have yet to respond. So until I see something concrete, I’m gonna say this episode has never inspired any merchandise whatsoever. 





Dimensional Designs does offer a model kit of the Energy Being from “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork,” which is basically an evil electrical cloud creature like Finley’s Energy Cloud, so there’s certainly a precedent for a formless, nebulous creature getting the model treatment. Or I dunno, maybe they’re too similar to do both.

Related?


THE WRAP-UP


“The Man With the Power” is worthwhile, but it’s by no means essential Outer Limits. Performances are good, effects are good, story is… well, pretty good, but nothing earth-shattering. No matter what, it’s a big step down from the brilliance of “The Architects of Fear” last week. If it had aired later in the season, say after “Specimen: Unknown” or “Production and Decay of Strange Particles,” it'd probably seem a whole lot better.




One final thought: Finley and Dr. Keenan are dead, sure, but can’t the other scientists just build another link-gate device and continue the project? Who’s to say Finley’s sacrifice will make any difference whatsoever? He probably should've had his cloud destroy the entire complex.








9 comments:

  1. Another good entry, Craig. Here's another one I agree with you on.

    And yes, the Complete Series set is just the three volumes bundled together; that's how I own the series. Sadly, I missed the season boxes; they seem much cooler.

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  2. Well, they do come with a little booklet with an episode guide....

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  3. The episodes don't have subtitles, but the box set I bought does have closed captioning.
    Maybe try that option.
    There was one more episode with the prologue, "It Crawled Out Of The Woodwork."
    I could have sworn that "The Man With The Power" originally had the tree pruners as the prologue, but it's been many years since I've seen the original broadcast.

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    1. Originally, the tree pruners sequence WAS the prologue, but it was seen that way only in the syndication prints, which did not have the teaser at the beginning.

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  4. Great recap!

    I really like the box design of the original 2003 DVD season sets. I bought both the first and second seasons on the day each was released (to say I overpaid for them would be an understatement). I also went out and bought the cheaply boxed three volume set in later years. It's good to have spares.

    I really like Donald Pleasence as Finley. He really shines as a shy man with a desire to be important. His wife Vera (Priscilla Morrill) is an overbearing, bitter bitch who actually manages to pull some sympathy once she realizes that Finley is the real deal destructive force that he's been claiming.

    I'm not crazy about the Finley-generated power cloud effect. It's impressive in its originality but the size and scale are too difficult to grasp. Finley's power eventually grows so great that he becomes concerned with his ability to control it; and rightly so. The conclusion is just okay as Finley's fate does not necessarily determine the future actions of the Space Agency's scientists. The good side of this uncertainty is that it provides the opportunity to form your own conclusions about what happens next.

    This is a good episode, but I'd only score it about 6 out of 10.

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  5. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the subject of original broadcast versus syndication versus home video releases, about episodes with teasers and without teasers, and no one else seems to know what happened, so I'll explain it all here. The first three broadcasts, The Galaxy Being, The Hundred Days of The Dragon, and The Architects Of Fear did not have, and never did have, teasers at the beginning. They began instead with the original intro and original, full length control voice speech, followed immediately by a pre-title prologue. Originally, The Man With The Power had this type of opening as well, and that episode was originally intended to be the third Outer Limits show broadcast, on September 30, 1963. But apparently at the last minute, ABC decided to reschedule it for the following Monday, October 7, 1963, and moved that week's intended show, The Architects Of Fear, to the September 30, 1963 slot. The reason had to do with ABC's concern over ratings for the fledgling series. The previous week's episode, The Hundred Days Of The Dragon, did not feature a monster or "bear" of any kind, not even an optical special effect, and was only nominally science fiction, being more of a political espionage thriller. Viewers who tuned into "Dragon" after the previous week's "The Galaxy Being", expecting The Galaxy Being Part Two, were surely disappointed, I know I was, and that was not lost on ABC. The network had been promised a monster in every episode, that was a major reason why they bought the series, but series creator Leslie Stevens wasn't keen on the "monster of the week" concept, he wanted viewers to know that the series offered more than just scary monsters. Stevens, I'm sure, was instrumental in getting "Dragon" on as the second show, especially after ABC nixed using "The Borderland" for the follow-up to The Galaxy Being. The Man With The Power did feature a menacing optical special effect, Finley's energy cloud, but apparently that wasn't impressive enough of a "monster" to suit ABC. Moreover, "Power" was, admittedly, a slow moving show, especially at the beginning, and ABC feared that viewers would be tempted to change channels. So they went with The Architects Of Fear as the third episode instead, with it's scarifying Thetan monster, which got a LOT of viewer notice and comment. Prior to its rescheduled broadcast on October 7, 1963, The Man With The Power underwent an extensive revision, the opening of the show was completely re-edited. A teaser was tacked on to the beginning, in this case, the scene at the end of act two in which Finley's energy cloud vaporizes Edward C. Platt in his bedroom, in his pajamas, in his bedroom. Then came a modified intro and shortened rendition of the original control voice speech. After a commercial break came a modified opening title and credits sequence, interrupted part way through by what had originally been the pre-title prologue, the ending of which then dissolves back into the end of the opening credit sequence. This new style of opening, with a teaser up front and the shorter control voice speech, was subsequently used for the remaining first season episodes. There is reason to believe that United Artists Television, the production company for The Outer Limits, did not like having to make these changes to The Man With The Power, because when the series was placed in syndication it was the original, unaltered version of the episode, without the teaser, that went into the rerun package, while the altered-by-the-network version was put away in the vaults and was not seen again until it was released on videotape by MGM/UA in 1987. In addition, The Man With The Power was restored by United Artists to its original, number three position in the running order of the episodes in syndication, and The Architects Of Fear was restored to its originally intended, number four position.

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  6. Although not, perhaps, one of the very best Outer Limits episodes, The Man With The Power is a decent episode and the Harold J. Finley character is certainly one of the most memorable of the entire series. It's slow in spots, especially when Finley clashes with his shrewish wife Vera and his stuffy boss, played by Edward J. Platt, but there are some powerful scenes, such as the prologue, where Finley vaporizes a crew of tree pruners who weren't trained to be civil to passersby. The end, where Finley commits suicide to prevent killing anybody else, is memorable also. My favorite scene occurs at the end of Act Two, when Finley's energy cloud attacks and vaporizes Platt in his bedroom, in his pajamas, in his bed. I don't know if it was intended, but this ended up being a very funny scene, combining humor and horror in a way that was seldom seen in the series. Platt is priceless in the scene, reacting as he does to an optical effect that the actor most likely never saw, as it was added to the film in post production. There is something about the idea of a guy waking up in bed and seeing a thing like that coming at him that makes me just break out laughing. In the syndication print of this episode stock Outer Limits theme music plays under the title and opening credit sequence, the ending of which can be heard under the "Produced By", "Written By" and "Directed By" credits.

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  7. Since the episode is about Donald Pleasance's guilt over killing Edward Platt, it can be summed up in one simple phrase. "Sorry about that, Chief." :)

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