Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Cold Hands, Warm Heart" (9/26/1964)


“Cold Hands, Warm Heart”
Season 2, Episode 2 (#34 overall)
Originally aired 9/26/1964


Space: the final frontier. These are the exploits of spiffy spaceman Jeff Barton, intrepid rocket jockey, beloved national treasure, and…. aquatic monster-in-training? The tangled tale of his pleasureless predicament was first spun fifty years ago tonight.


Jeff, the first man to fly to Venus and back, returns to Earth a celebrated hero. He’s promptly promoted to Brigadier General and spearheads the next phase of Project Vulcan: the colonization of Mars. As his Venus mission data is combed through and analyzed, Jeff begins experiencing dizziness and extreme bouts of coldness. He gulps scalding hot coffee and swaths himself in proto-Cosby sweaters and gloves as his team probes into his mysterious blackout upon reaching Venus.

Jeff hunkers down for a leisurely steam and jacks the heat as high as it will go. He dozes off and experiences a hallucinatory flashback of his arrival at Venus, in which he disobeys a direct order and descends into the planet’s atmosphere. He is intercepted by a floating alien creature who stares at him menacingly through the rocket’s porthole.



Panicked technicians hack through the steam room’s door to rescue Jeff, who wakes up hale and hearty except for the troubling webbed fingers he’s now sporting. He hides his condition from his peers to ensure Project Vulcan gets the funding it needs; however, the jig is effectively up when he suffers a psychotic break in front of his shrill, undersexed wife and ends up setting himself on fire to stay warm.


The clock is ticking down to Jeff’s scheduled meeting with the military penny-pinchers to request funding for Project Vulcan and, running out of options, his team isolates him in a pressure chamber and starts poking and prodding in earnest. A chemical analysis of his blood reveals an extraterrestrial pathogen in his system which is likely the culprit behind his genetic mutation. They crank up the heat to dangerously high levels, cross their fingers, and hope for the best… because really, what else can you do when your Top Gun is turning into a goddamned fish?

Jeff addresses the brass with his Project Vulcan proposal, wearing gloves to hide his amphibious flipper hands, and charms his way into a resounding green light. Anne, his long-suffering wife, notices sweat on his forehead... the first solid indicator that he’s turned a corner in his man-to-sorta-monster-and-back-to-man journey.



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RANDOMONIUM

The episode originated as “Project Vulcan,” a teleplay by Dan Ullman (who contributed several teleplays to The Fugitive and The Invaders; he also co-wrote the screenplay for 1961’s big screen adaptation of Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island). Ullman’s teleplay was heavily rewritten by Milton Krims (a name we’ll see again when we get to “Counterweight” in December) and associate producer/story editor Seeleg Lester (Ullman retained sole screen credit, however). I’m not in a position to assign blame, as I don’t have access to Ullman’s original effort or the subsequent drafts, but I will say that “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” in its final form is pretty fucking weak. 

Jeff’s transformation is too gradual, and it never really goes anywhere interesting anyway (it’s hard to get too worked up over body chills and webbed fingers). Jeff is supposed to be your average combination Spaceman Steve-Captain America hero, but Shatner’s performance undercuts that persona frequently, particularly in the second half. His histrionic outbursts feel almost subversive; it’s as if Jeff may in fact be a closeted homosexual (the fact that he repeatedly rebuffs his wife’s sexual advances lends a bit of weight to this theory). If you re-watch the episode with the notion that he is in fact gay… well, it’s a very different episode (not to mention vastly more interesting, though not quite enough to make it all worthwhile).


In the director’s chair is Charles Haas, who will helm three more episodes this season (“Cry of Silence,” “Keeper of the Purple Twilight,” and “The Brain of Colonel Barham”… gee, they musta straight up hated this guy). Haas directs the episode in a style I like to call lazy vanilla, which means there’s nothing interesting or notable about it. DOP (it sounds more like a scented candle my wife would buy ten of). Kenneth Peach dutifully captures the proceedings, injecting none of the flourish we know he’s capable of (but then, this paper-thin narrative might’ve collapsed under more dynamic photography).



I do like the brief sequence with the Venusian: despite the obviousness of its puppet nature, the creature’s slow approach is eerie and beautiful (it was filmed underwater, imbuing it with a floating, ethereal quality), and it’s only when we see it glowering at Jeff through the porthole that we realize that is in fact a pissed-off, possibly dangerous critter. The Venusian is probably my favorite alien from season two, and it deserved a way better episode than this.


The role of Jeff Barton seems like Shatner’s audition for the role that would come to identify him: the intrepid Alpha male Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, which he would take on just a few years later. When Ann describes him as “brave and handsome and bright,” she may as well be describing Starfleet’s Finest. We get all the Kirk hallmarks here: hilarious facial expressions, rampant overacting with the occasional effete flourish, aggressive kissing and yes, even shirtlessness.





Speaking of Shatner sans shirt, LA artist (and friend of this blog) Woody Welch, who possesses the enviable talent of capturing likenesses perfectly using just about any medium at his disposal, absolutely nails Shatner's pensive side (left) in pencil. Woody's portfolio contains many, many female nudes, so it's nice to see him slip a little beefcake in for equal time's sake.





Jeff’s rocket is surprisingly roomy for a one-man craft (I can only imagine how much fuel is being wasted on all that extra space). The brief montage of Jeff in space (time stamp 24:10) is delightfully trippy; it might just have inspired the psychedelic celestial journey at the climax of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Hey, you never know.





Ann wears an extremely short skirt during her attempt to seduce Jeff, observing that he “hasn’t come home to (her) yet” since his return from space (I can’t read this as anything but innuendo). This poor lady is positively starved for sex, to the point where she’s developing a borderline personality disorder. Her strange, sullen demeanor during this scene is downright ominous, and… well, we all know what happened to Mrs. Kry when her carnal needs went unmet.

Jeff’s psychotic episode in act three hearkens back to Allen’s similar crackup in “The Architects of Fear” but, while Robert Culp delivered a masterful and nuanced performance, Shatner is hysterically and monomaniacally over the top. Seriously, folks, this is some seriously top-grade ham on display. His fevered delirium as he staggers around his living room reminds me of the Chromoite’s frantic, spastic materialization in season one’s “The Mice.”



The nature of Jeff’s ailment is frustratingly vague, and the hallucinatory flashback depicting his brush with Venus only serves to confuse matters. The alien approaches the rocket and stares menacingly into its porthole, clearly trying to scare him off. He is exposed to the alien virus despite the protection of the rocket’s hull, possibly because it is transmitted via sound waves (that’s Jeff’s theory, anyway). Back on Earth, Jeff gets dizzy, chilly, and downright silly. We could chalk it up to a simple Venusian flu bug; perhaps one intended to make him so uncomfortably sick that he’ll never dream of trespassing again, a genetic Do Not Disturb sign. But then his hands mutate into swollen webbed fins, and all bets are abruptly and maddeningly off. Is the virus turning him into something else, some kind of aquatic creature? If so… why? The only reason I can surmise for the mutation is to help him withstand Venus’s hostile climate, but this seems contrary to the Venusians’ presumed desire to keep humans off their planet… unless I’m reading their intentions totally wrong, and this is actually their way to invite humans to their world, which is actually pretty friendly when you think about it (except for that pesky--- and highly invasive--- genetic manipulation). Bear in mind that we’re never given any indicator that Jeff’s run-in with the Venusian really happened at all… it could simply be a feverish nightmare stemming from his overheated delirium. Apparently the virus is the true monster of the week, versus the really cool alien being that gets about forty seconds of total screen time (we’ll see some more woefully underutilized aliens in “The Duplicate Man” in December).

And there’s the matter of Jeff’s apparent attempt to destroy his files during his above-described lunatic rumpus in act three. It occurred to me that perhaps the Venusian virus isn’t just designed to make him ill; perhaps its coded to force him to take specific actions (like the destruction of mission records) to thwart future visits to Venus, a fascinating concept that “The Inheritors” two-parter will explore quite successfully in November. But is that what’s happening here…?  Nah, I don’t think so. This script just ain’t that smart. The whole thing is just half-baked, underdeveloped, and impossible to care about.


During Jeff’s massive stock-footage coming-home parade (which appears to be bigger than V-Day and New Year’s Eve in Times Square combined), we see a man climb out onto a balcony and, for a brief moment, it appears that Jeff’s about to get the business end of a sniper rifle. This mysterious fellow then produces a Super 8 camera and zooms in for some premium footage of America’s darling astronaut. After the fuzzy, disappointing episode that follows, a preemptive bullet might’ve been preferable.


One more note: does anybody else get a strong sense of Shatner-centric déjà vu when the Venusian approaches Jeff’s capsule and peers in through the porthole? It’s as if we’ve seen him in this situation before, stalked by a strange creature outside the window of a high-flying aircraft….

* Apologies to Charles Thaxton, whose idea I stole for the Photoshopped image above.

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GRILL-WATCHING


"Cold Hands, Warm Heart" provides our first look at an odd---- yet strangely wonderful---- season two-specific phenomena: the grilling of meat; also know as barbecuing. For whatever reason, this uniquely American pastime is featured repeatedly throughout the 17 episodes that comprise The Outer Limits' abbreviated second season. This week, we see our hero charring some steaks... in his fireplace. Wait, what? Isn't that a fire hazard? Was this a thing in the early 60's?

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AURAL PLEASURE

Like all of season two, Harry Lubin provides the underscore from his vast store of generic library compositions. “Hostile Galaxy,” heard during the Control Voice’s introduction in the prologue, will get lots of play throughout the rest of the season. A cue called “Red Army March” accompanies Jeff’s parade, which is pretty goddamned ironic if you think about it. Other Lubin cues heard in the episode include:


Supernatural
Supernatural Planet
Space Quest
Light Years Away
Desolate Lands
Forever in Love

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Aside from their work here, the cast members of “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” have something else in common: they all appeared at least once on ABC’s The Fugitive, a series that would make extensive use of Dominic Frontiere’s Outer Limits music in its fourth season. Well, almost all of ‘em.

William Shatner (Brigadier General Jeff Barton) certainly needs to introduction to genre fans. Genre appearances include two on The Twilight Zone (“Nick of Time” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”), two on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Glass Eye” and “Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?”), two on Boris Karloff’s Thriller (“The Hungry Glass” and “The Grim Reaper”), and one on The Fugitive (“Stranger in the Mirror”). More interesting for our purposes here is his starring role in TOL creator and Executive Producer Leslie Stevens’ film Incubus (1966). More recently, he was hilarious as “Bill,” a slightly skewed version of himself, in 1998’s Free Enterprise; he was even more hilarious as attorney Denny Crane in TV’s Boston Legal (2004-2008). And of course, he is (and shall always be) James Tiberious Motherfuckin' Kirk. Suck it, Chris Pine.





Geraldine Brooks (Ann Barton) returns to The Outer Limits in a veritable reprise of her earlier role as Yvette Leighton in season one’s “The Architects of Fear,” which turned 50 almost exactly one year ago today. She first worked for Daystar Productions in the “Death Rides a Pale Horse” episode of their pre-TOL series Stoney Burke and, like almost the entire cast of this week’s episode, appeared on The Fugitive (“Ticket to Alaska,” “Everybody Gets Hit in the Mouth Sometimes” and “The Ivy Maze”). I called her a TOL Babe when I reviewed “Architects,” but she’s somehow less attractive here. I dunno, maybe my disappointment in this episode is affecting my capacity for arousal.








Lloyd Gough plays General Matthew Claiborne in his only Outer Limits appearance. Sci-fi fans can also spot him in the “Wall of Crystal” episode of Quinn Martin’s The Invaders; he also appeared twice on The Fugitive, another Quinn Martin production (“The Survivors” and “Dossier on a Diplomat”).



Malachi Throne (Dr. Mike) is probably most identifiable to sci-fi fans from his Star Trek roles (he played Commodore Mendez in “The Menagerie” two-parter on the original series and the Romulan Senator Pardek in the two-part “Unification” on Star Trek: The Next Generation); for our purposes here, it’s more interesting to note that he appeared in "Lori" on I Spy, a series which starred our beloved Robert Culp. But did he appear on The Fugitive? Why yes, twice in fact (“Rat in a Corner” and “Conspiracy of Silence”).


If James B. Sikking (Botany Phil) looks familiar, it’s because we saw Sally Kellerman lock him in a storage closet in season one’s “The Human Factor.” Sikking’s other genre credits include stints on The Invaders (“Valley of the Shadow”), Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (“Nature of the Enemy” and “Death in the Family”) and, of course, The Fugitive (“Home Is the Hunted,” “Last Second of a Big Dream” and “Ten Thousand Pieces of Silver”). Trek fans may remember his turn as U.S.S. Excelsior Captain Styles in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which co-starred TOL alums Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan and of course, the one and only William Shatner.








Dean Harens (Medicine) logged appearances on Stoney Burke (“The Journey”) and The Invaders (“Storm"). He was also seen in “The Journey” on Men into Space, a series which was heavily mined for stock footage for season one’s “Moonstone.”


Lawrence Montaigne (Construction) portrayed both a Romulan (“Balance of Terror”) and a Vulcan (“Amok Time”) on the original Star Trek. He served a total of four tours of duty under Quinn Martin (“The Experiment” and “The Ransom” on The Invaders; “The Old Man Picked a Lemon” and “Conspiracy of Silence” on The Fugitive), plus he crossed paths with Robert Culp on I Spy (“It’s All Done with Mirrors,” which also costarred TOL vets Carroll O’Connor and James Frawley).


Henry Scott (Electronics) last visited The Outer Limits way back in “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” (as FBI Agent Marshall), but his association with Daystar goes back to Stoney Burke (“A Matter of Pride”). He also crossed over into The Twilight Zone twice (“The Thirty-Fathom Grave” and "The Big Tall Wish") and graced The Fugitive twice (“This’ll Kill You” and “The Sharp Edge of Chivalry”).

Scott (left) with TOL alums Walter Burke and Ivan Dixon.

Lou Elias makes an uncredited appearance as an unnamed guard here, but Outer Limits fans probably know him best as the unfortunate son of a bitch inside the Eck costume in next week’s “Behold Eck!” Elias’ extensive genre credits include stints on The Twilight Zone (“The Thirty Fathom Grave,” where he crossed paths with the aforementioned Henry Scott) and I Spy (“Tonia” and “Lori,” the latter of which also costarred the aforementioned Malachi Throne), plus a whopping five appearances on Star Trek (“Dagger of the Mind,” “And the Children Shall Lead,” “The Tholian Web,” “Is There No Truth in Beauty?” and “The Cloud Minders”).


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HOME VIDEO RELEASES


“Cold Hands, Warm Heart” was one of the final Outer Limits episodes to be released on VHS (around June 1991, my sources indicate), and damn, that's a really cool cover. For the episode's inclusion in Columbia House’s mail-order club, it shared tape space with season one’s “Production and Decay of Strange Particles,” and honestly, I’m not sure which of them is worse.




The first Outer Limits LaserDisc collection was released in November 1990, offering eight episodes in that era’s version of high definition (it certainly pales in comparison to the Blu-rays we enjoy today, but it was the highest quality format at the time), including “Cold Hands, Warm Heart.” That’s right, this silly offering was slotted in alongside classics like “The Architects of Fear” and "Demon with a Glass Hand," and it hit LD a full six months before VHS. This may have been a calculated move by MGM to increase LaserDisc sales and, before you accuse me of being a jaded cynic, let’s fast forward a few years to…


...DVD! MGM (like all studios) dropped LaserDisc like a hot potato and invested heavily in the CD-sized format, and released The Outer Limits in two full-season sets (season two arrived in September 2003, just in time for the 39th anniversary of “Cold Hands, Warm Heart”). That’s all fine and dandy, but they proceeded to release the series again in 2007 and 2008… and only changed the fucking packaging. So yeah, those triple-dipping bastards almost certainly pressured eager fans into upgrading to LaserDisc back in the day just so they could get their sweaty paws on this crappy episode.


Still no Blu-ray. Still. New fans, or old fans still watching your videotapes and/or LaserDiscs, speak with your wallets and don’t buy the DVDs. Just don’t. Point your browser to Hulu, where you can watch all 49 episodes for free. Stick it to the man!

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TRADING CARD CORNER


In a move both surprising and deeply inexplicable, Rittenhouse chose to open their 2002 Outer Limits card series with nine cards devoted to “Cold Hands, Warm Heart.” And it was here that they really set the tone for the entire set: boring face shots and an almost pathological avoidance of the aliens and monsters; there are a exceptions here and there, of course, but Rittenhouse really missed an opportunity here. All nine cards are Shatner-specific, creating a kind of “9 Moods of William Shatner” mosaic (see directly above). The Venusian puppet alien is never glimpsed (not even on a card back; seriously, what the fuck, Rittenhouse?), and we get two different shots of Jeff and Ann Barton passionately kissing (apparently they weren't above evoking Jim Kirk’s legendary lady-killing prowess).



The 72-card base set can be found pretty cheap these days; however, the chase and autograph cards are a different story. Shatner can be found in both the "Stars of The Outer Limits" and the "Authentic Autograph" insert sets. I recently spotted the autographed Shatner card on eBay for $300.00!



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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT


“Cold Hands, Warm Heart” hasn’t spawned any collectibles to speak of, but I suppose one could very easily customize their own General Jeff Barton out of the endless Captain Kirk action figures that have been released over the decades. Otherwise, you may want to check out the beautiful 1/8-scale Dimensional Designs model kit of the Venusian (DD/OL-16), sculpted by Chris Choin. The detail is pretty amazing, and look--- it’s got hair! It’s probably my single favorite kit in the entire line and it’s at the top of my list of kits to eventually pick up, but I’ll almost certainly need somebody to paint it for me… like the talented Mr. Enamel, who never disappoints.


I also found another painted specimen in my extensive internet scrounging, this one by Rhinoctopus over at Hobby Talk, which is equally impressive (and features what appears to be a custom base):


Here’s yet another (front and back), this one by a fellow calling who goes by the moniker Chinxy (who also fabricated his own base):



If you want your own (and why wouldn’t you? Look at it!), be prepared to fork over $49.95 plus shipping.
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THE WRAP UP


Okay, kids, let's do the math: tepid, underdeveloped script + uninspired direction + underused awesome alien puppet ÷ Shatner ham = an unfortunate flop. “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” is a big step down from last week’s “Soldier,” but it’s by no means the worst that this season has to offer, which is…. well, you’ll see soon enough.