Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "The Duplicate Man" (12/19/1964)



“The Duplicate Man”
Season 2, Episode 13 (45 overall)
Originally aired 12/19/1964


Flash forward to the year 2025. The world’s not terribly different, except that man has managed to travel to other planets and bring back specimens… all of which either die on arrival or try to kill everything in sight. This week’s story concerns that second type, and it premiered exactly fifty years ago tonight.


The alien creature in question is a Megasoid, an imposing critter whose primary instinct is to kill. They are therefore outlawed on Earth, which doesn’t stop Henderson James from smuggling one in for research purposes. He arrives home one day to discover that it’s escaped from its cage and is on the loose. As if that’s not bad enough, it’s in its reproductive cycle, which means James’ problem is about to multiply several times over. James knows that the only place it can hide is in the local alien zoo. He also knows that he’s an abject coward, so he enlists the aid of disgraced scientist Basil Jerichau to create a temporary and disposable clone of himself (also illegal) to clean up his mess.




James II awakens in the lobby of the zoo armed with a pistol. His memory is limited to his basic identity and the job at hand. He finds the Megasoid hiding in plain sight and promptly puts a bullet in it; however, the wounded creature knocks him out and escapes. The longer James II exists, the more of the real James’ memories surface in his mind, which leads him to Emmet, the interstellar captain who helped him acquire the Megasoid (and whose face was mangled in the process). He asks Emmet to help him kill the creature. Emmet realizes pretty quickly that this is not the Henderson James he knows and attempts to call the police. James II coldcocks him and heads to the James mansion, which he now recalls is his home.

He arrives just as the real James is leaving to hopefully enlist Emmet’s aid. He talks with Laura, James’ wife, who is immediately taken with him, since he’s essentially a younger version of James who prioritized her over his work. James returns with Emmet, who has agreed to kill both the Megasoid and James II. While James and his clone hash things out inside, the Megasoid stalks and ultimately kills Emmet.


James sees the error of his ways and is determined to win back his wife’s affections. He and James II set out to kill the Megasoid together, a task at which they succeed… but one of them is killed in the process. Laura, meanwhile, receives a phone call from Jerichau, who informs her that he genetically programmed the clone to die at midnight. The surviving James shows up and, after a brief moment of suspense, reveals that he is the real thing.


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RANDOMONIUM
               

“The Duplicate Man” is based on Clifford D. Simak’s 1951 short story “Goodnight, Mr. James,” first published in Galaxy Magazine and subsequently included in three Simak anthologies: 1962’s All the Traps of Earth, 1964’s The Night of the Puudly (which changed the story’s title to match the book’s), and 1996’s Over the River &Through the Woods: The Best Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, which restored the story’s original title (got all that? There’s gonna be a test at the end). Simak’s narrative focuses exclusively on James II; it opens with his blank-slate awakening and traces his dawning awareness of who he is. He finds a pistol on his person and realizes that his mission is to kill an escaped Puudly, who must be stopped before it reproduces. He searches a nearby alien zoo (where he occupies a position of authority, he remembers), and encounters the creature, promptly shooting it down. “You fool, you half-thing, you duplicate…” it croaks as it dies. He journeys to the James mansion, coming to grips with the reality of his existence on the way, and sneaks inside undetected. He inadvertently switches places with the real James, who ends up terminated by mistake, after which he learns that he was engineered to expire after twenty-four hours.

In adapting Simak’s story, Robert C. Dennis expands the story to follow both James and James II, adds several characters, and changes the ending considerably. This is probably his best teleplay for the series (we’ve already seen his work in “Cry of Silence” and “’I, Robot’”; we’ll look at “The Brain of Colonel Barham” in two weeks), thanks in no small measure to the great source material. I assume it was his choice to change the creature’s name from “Puudly” to “Megasoid,” but I’ve gotta say I disagree with it (“Puudly” seems much more appropriate to the final realized creature somehow). And there are a couple of superfluous scenes, which I’ll discuss in a bit… but overall, I have no major objections. The teleplay’s greatest success comes with its exploration of identity and the juxtaposition between the older, cynical James and his “younger,” more vibrant clone (the two never cross paths in the Simak original). The addition of a Mrs. James creates a sense of competition between the two beyond the inherent “there can be only one” problem (never thought you’d see a Highlander reference in these pages, didja?). Given the episode's morose tone, the happy ending is a bit incongruous; if the season one crew had produced this, I imagine they would have gone with the darker, downbeat ending of Simak's original story.

Director of Photography Kenneth Peach adds a nice glossy sheen over much of the episode, adding a subtle ethereal quality to the proceedings (I’m assuming it’s the same filter used in previous episodes to make lights (and here, James’ cuff links!) sparkle like twinkling stars. The photography itself isn’t terribly stylish otherwise; Peach wisely lets the retro-futuristic production design speak for itself. The exception comes in the final moments leading up to the James Twins’ final confrontation with the Megasoid: it’s all close ups of prowling feet and deep shadows in a marvelously tense scene that looks like it was pulled straight out of a 40’s noir film. Just gorgeous.



In the driver’s seat is Gerd Oswald, TOL’s greatest director, acquitting himself nicely after October’s embarrassing “Expanding Human.” Under his expert tutelage, the production weaves clever and subtle futuristic touches throughout. The cars look more or less like 60’s-era vehicles until you glimpse their stylized radiator grills and hear the vaguely electric sound of their engines (the idea of the hybrid engine may very well have started right here). The light-activated drinking fountains have come true, in an approximate way, in the motion-activated paper towel dispensers in the public restrooms of today. And of course we get the quaint videophones, which never really took off in the real world on a telephony level; however, the webcam craze of the 90’s integrated the idea of face-to-face chatting into home computing, and today, we’re FaceTiming and Skyping across the miles using our tiny smartphones (not even Star Trek’s communicators offered video!). And the pistols are augmented with… well, something extra, though they seem to fire regular bullets like their non-futuristic counterparts.


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The production value gets a boost thanks to the use of the famous Chemosphere House in the Hollywood Hills for the exteriors of Captain Emmet’s residence (the ultra-modern look of which strikes a nice contrast with the stately (read old-fashioned) décor of the James mansion). I first saw the house in Brian De Palma’s 1984 film Body Double when I was about fifteen or so, but I took no notice of it, as my attention was fixated exclusively on the breasts and sex. And breasts.






Speaking of which: am I the only one who gets a fairly strong Maddie Hayes vibe from Constance Towers? Not so much personality-wise, just… I dunno, something about the way she’s all put together (she looks a bit too glamorous for hanging around the house, just as Cybill Shepherd looked a bit too glamorous for the office). I definitely see a resemblance, but your Hot or Not mileage may vary. And I dunno, maybe I’m subconsciously looking for reasons--- thin as they may be--- to reference Moonlighting again in these pages.

I'm a bit hung up on the Megasoid's escape. James keeps it in a barred cell in a locked cellar. Murdock, the gardener, opened the door because he heard strange sounds coming from within, landing him an ass-chewing from James. But what does opening the outer door have to do with the creature ripping the cage apart? Had it been gnawing on the bars just waiting for someone to unlock the outer door? We're told that the creature is telepathic, so couldn't it have simply hypnotized Murdock into freeing it?

We learn that cloning has been outlawed, except for special cases in which--- well, it’s never really clarified, but I’m assuming military and/or law enforcement purposes (it’s strange that there’s a Federal Duplication Bureau at all; stranger still is the fact that it’s apparently accessible by the public… they’ve got a receptionist and everything!). I’m of course reminded of 1982’s Blade Runner (based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), in which artificial humanoids, Replicants, are created to do man’s heavy lifting; the menial physical tasks he no longer wants to endure. Here, James creates his clone to avoid the inherent danger in capturing the escaped Megasoid. Replicants are engineered with a pre-determined lifespan, just like James’s clone. And just like James’s clone, they desire to continue living.

Exposition alert! James goes to the Federal Duplication Bureau to ask the receptionist some extremely elementary questions about the cloning process, which a scientist like himself undoubtedly already knows the answers to. This occurs of course to give viewers a shorthand lesson in the dangers of (and penalties for) Xeroxing oneself, but it feels incredibly unnecessary, particularly since the information could’ve been easily inserted into his conversation with Jerichau in the previous scene. And speaking of Jerichau, if he was discharged from the Bureau eight months prior, how is he able to gain access to the cloning equipment on James’s behalf? Did he keep his key to the back door? Or is it just really easy to break into places (or out, in the Megasoid’s case) in the future?


The Telltale Tail.
The Megasoid appears to recycle* the Empyrian mask from season one’s “Second Chance” with a beak added… um, for what, exactly? I couldn’t say. It’s clearly not an avian creature. Throw in what appears to be an oversized dog costume, complete with fat Muppety tail, and you have yourself a Megasoid. It looks like Snuffleupagus got Big Bird pregnant (or vice versa, I dunno) and this was the result. Oh, and its chompers look like those cheap plastic Dracula teeth found in every single goddamned store in America every October (the ones with the sharp edges that hurt like hell). It’s every bit as stupid-looking as it sounds, and it’s a testament to the writing and production that the episode manages to succeed in spite of it. It’s like The Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” all over again, with its laughable furry Gremlin adding unintended comedy to an otherwise tense and well-executed story.

Then again, TZ’s Gremlin didn’t talk…. but the Megasoid does, for one scene with James II, using a warbling cartoonish voice that renders it even more ridiculous, painfully ruining any menace achieved by its hulking size and constant growling (so yeah, it might actually be worse than the Gremlin). Dammit, why does it have to talk at all? In the Simak story, the Puudly is telepathic, so… well, I guess we still would’ve needed a voiceover, so never mind. The voice is the problem, not the fact that it verbalizes, but since the creature’s telepathy is all but eliminated in the TV adaptation, its dialogue could’ve easily been assigned elsewhere.


I like the idea of a zoo full of stuffed aliens (I like the idea of zoo full of live aliens even more; I just re-read Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 recently), and I find the critters on display delightful… in fact, I greatly prefer them (the Imwarf and the Puudly) to the Megasoid.  However, this was a golden (and sadly missed) opportunity to include some choice cameos by earlier series monsters, a finale encore of sorts as the show was winding down. Imagine an exhibit featuring the Chromoite, the Thetan, the Box Demon and the Ichthyosaurus Mercurius!


During the zoo tour, a female student turns around and glares at somebody behind her for no apparent reason. I'm not sure why, but it cracks me up every time (it's oddly comforting that teenage girls are still bitchy in the future). And what's up with tour guide's lunchbox? Do lunchboxes have built-in microwave ovens in 2025? Or is he borrowing the zoo's Roomba?

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DEJA VIEW


The Empyrian/Megasoid mask would be used a couple of years later in “The Cage,” the original Star Trek pilot (blink and you’ll miss it)*. And I can’t confirm this, but some online sources claim that the cowl covering Captain Emmet’s facial disfigurement is used in the Trek episode “The Conscience of the King.” It looks kinda similar, but I dunno. Grain of salt, your mileage may vary, yadda yadda yadda.


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AURAL PLEASURE

Like all second season episodes, the underscore for “The Duplicate Man” comes from Harry Lubin’s vast library of stock cues, many of which were first heard on One Step Beyond. This week's assemblage includes several brooding, ethereal bits including:

Spooks Appear (1 and 2)
Other World 1
Alien Alarm
Danger Steps
Violent Death

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

We’ve been spoiled of late by copious genre cast connections; more specifically, connections that I can easily obtain screen captures for (we see a lot of crossover with I Spy, The Invaders, Star Trek, The Fugitive and The Twilight Zone, all of which I either own or can get off Netflix). This week’s cast required me to check out several DVDs from the freakin’ library of all places (sheesh, the things I do for you people!).

Ron Randell, here doing double duty as Henderson James and James II, doesn’t have much in the way of genre connections. He did appear on Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“Contact”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Thou Still Unravished Bride”) and the two-part “The Contender” on Mission: Impossible, a series which starred TOL veteran Martin Landau. Randell also appeared in a pair of seriously offbeat theatrical endeavors: he co-starred in 1956’s The She-Creature (a film bad enough to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) and headlined 1961's Most Dangerous Man Alive, in which he played an irradiated man on the warpath (it's unavailable on home video, but I found it here).



Constance Towers (Laura James) hasn’t done much genre work either. Her first acting credit came in “Seeing-Eye Surgeon” on Tales of Tomorrow in 1952; after her appearance here, it would be 29 years (!) before she’d take another sci-fi gig (“The Forsaken” on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1993). More recently, she appeared in “Audrey Parker’s Come and Gone” on The 4400 in 2007. On the big screen, she had a minor role in 1997’s The Relic.





Sean McClory (Captain Karl Emmet) should be a bit more recognizable to genre fans. His credits include stints on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Appointment at Eleven” and “Place of Shadows”), Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“The Inheritance”), Boris Karloff’s Thriller (“The Hollow Watcher” and “The Specialists”), and “The Long Patrol” on the original Battlestar Galactica.





Basil Jerichau is played by Steven Geray, who I know from several classic film noirs, including The Dark Past (1948), In a Lonely Place (1950), The House on Telegraph Hill (1951), and A Bullet for Joey (1955). He also played Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein in 1966’s Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, which I’ve never seen… but I can only assume it’s as terrible as it sounds (it's surprising that it didn't get the MST3K treatment!). On the small screen, he appeared on Adventures of Superman (“The Deadly Rock”) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Deadly Goddess Affair”).








Murdock the gardener is played by Konstantin Shayne, the only visible TOL alum in the cast this week (he played the Astrophysics Professor who testified in season one’s “O.B.I.T.” and gave us all a lump in our collective throat). Shayne also has film noir cred, turning in appearances in The Stranger (1946), Cry of the City (1948) and I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951). He appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Safe Conduct” and “Flight to the East," both pictured below), which led to a role in Hitch’s big-screen masterpiece (and my all-time favorite film) Vertigo (also pictured below).




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The zoo tour guide is played by Alan Gifford, whose résumé features two very interesting genre connections. He appeared briefly in 1974’s Phase IV, an intelligent-ants-on-the-rampage opus directed by legendary graphic designer Sal Bass (designer of countless memorable film credit sequences, including the aforementioned Vertigo). Gifford’s other claim to sci-fi fame? He played Dr. Frank Poole’s father in a little indie film by Stanley Kubrick called 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. This association alone gives him immeasurable sci-fi cred in my book (he utters the line “See you next Wednesday,” which would inspire John Landis to feature the phrase in every single goddamned thing he’d ever direct, including 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie and the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in 1985).


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Mike Lane (above left), who inhabited the Ikar suit two weeks ago in “Keeper of the Purple Twilight,” returns to inhabit the Megasoid costume. Miss Thorson, the receptionist at the Federal Duplication Bureau, is played by Ivy Bethune (above center), whose other genre roles include appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (she played a nurse in the audaciously weird “Consider Her Ways”), the short-lived 1985 series Otherworld (“I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar”), and Star Trek: The Next Generation (“When the Bough Breaks”). The police officer who drops James off at Emmet's swanky bachelor pad is played by Jeffrey Stone (above right), whose only other genre credit is Universal's The Thing that Couldn't Die in 1958 (another film, um, honored by MST3K). Finally, Jonathan Hole is credited as playing an unnamed pedestrian, but I can't find him anywhere in the episode. A deleted scene, perhaps? In any case, he's visible in episodes of The Twilight Zone (“The Mighty Casey,” playing the team doctor; pictured below with Abraham Sofaer, who played Arch in “Demon with a Glass Hand”), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Power of Attorney”), Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“The Day the World Wept: The Lincoln Story”), and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Sort of Do-It-Yourself Dreadful Affair”).

Clockwise from top left: an Ikarified Mike Lane, Ivy Bethune, Jonathan Hole, and Jeffrey Stone.

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HOME VIDEO RELEASES


“The Duplicate Man” hit VHS in 1991, one of the last episodes to be released on home video. It has what is probably the weirdest cover in the entire collection (it’s not necessarily the worst, but it really sticks out with all that blank space). It was paired with “’I, Robot’” for its inclusion in Columbia House’s mail-order exclusive collection.



“The Duplicate Man” was among the lucky 28 episodes to get the deluxe LaserDisc treatment; you’ll find in the third volume,which was released in 1994 (30 years after it first aired, which means this LD is 20 years old).


The series’ second season has seen three distinct DVD releases and, no matter which one you get, you’ll find “The Duplicate Man" at the start of the final disc. The downside here is that all three employ the failure-prone DVD-18 format (dual-layered and double-sided). The LaserDisc may just last longer (hell, the VHS tapes may outlive ‘em all).


Or you can ignore physical media altogether and surf your way over to Hulu, where all 49 episodes can be streamed for free in standard definition. You can’t get the series in anything better than standard definition resolution anyway, since MGM continues to refuse to release the show on Blu-Ray… so yeah, you might as well save yourself some money and go the Hulu route.

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TRADING CARD CORNER

There are no legitimate trading cards commemorating “The Duplicate Man”; however, the Megasoid showed up in one of four digital parody cards by David and Mark Holcomb (of Behind Transmission Control fame).


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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT


As is the case with most Outer Limits episodes, the only commemorative and/or collectible artifacts come in the form of model kits from Dimensional Designs, and “The Duplicate Man” is no different. You can obtain your very own 1/6-scale Megasoid (DD/OL/ME-12), sculpted by Takeshi Yoneda. Given its larger size, expect to pay more ($69.00 plus shipping). I’m gonna go on record right now and state that I really don’t like this one at all. I mean, of course I hate the Megasoid, but the rearing-up-on-its-haunches pose doesn't help its admittedly hopeless case. I would’ve preferred the critter in its crouched hiding-in-plain-sight-in-the-zoo pose (as in the Holcomb card above), but that’s just me. Here’s a shot of a completed specimen… I couldn’t tell you who’s responsible for it.


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THE WRAP-UP

Replace that ridiculous Megasoid with… well, just about anything else, and “The Duplicate Man” would rate quite high in the season two rankings (not quite “Demon with a Glass Hand” levels, but close). It pains me to no end that such a lovely, atmospheric study of the fracturing of a man’s identity is so severely undermined by such a lame monster design. I still like the episode a lot though... and for my money, it's the last great Outer Limits episode.




* Correction! According to Schow, the Megasoid mask (at least the face area) was cast from the same mold as the Empyrian mask, but is not the same mask. It was the Empyrian mask that showed up later on Star Trek. The management and staff here at MLITGOTOL once again tips its collective hat in thanks.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for informing me that Frank Poole's father was on The Outer Limits. I can hear the similarity in the voice now. This means both Frank's parents were actors from my early childhood. His mother was played by Ann Gillis, who was Lou Costello's 18th-century girlfriend in The Time of Their Lives, one of the best Abbott & Costello movies.

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    1. Wait, I knew something about 2001: A Space Odyssey that you didn't? You've seen it, what, 60-something times now?

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  2. 67 times in a theater, since 1968. If I counted video viewings, it must be well over 200. But I never knew about Alan Gifford.

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  3. Out of all the second season episodes, this is the one I most wish had been done by Stefano and crew. It's not bad at all, but I think Stefano would have really knocked it out of the park.

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  4. Yes, the VHS cassettes may indeed outlive the DVDs. I still have my cassettes from 1990, and they play just fine, thank you.

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  5. Yeah, the Megasoid, which is supposedly the most intelligent life in the galaxy, is a huge problem here. The Megasoid costume is ridiculous looking and the way that it growls like a dog is so low budget. I did like its huge claws, though.

    The underlying "cloning" story is interesting. I did think the futuristic looking cars and clothing were nice touches.

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  6. I just surfed into your blog and I must say, it's hilarious, very informative and thorough! I am a fan of the television show, "Bewitched" and I noticed that the creature from this episode of the Outer Limits looks like a not so distant cousin of the Macedonian dodo bird that vexes Endora on a memorable last season episode. (I tried to link a photo but couldn't in the comment box).

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  7. "The Duplicate Man" is an interesting story unfortunately compromised (badly) by being filmed on a VERY limited budget.

    "The cars look more or less like 60’s-era vehicles until you glimpse their stylized radiator grills and hear the vaguely electric sound of their engines (the idea of the hybrid engine may very well have started right here)."

    One of the "futuristic" cars was a 1963 Buick Riviera customized by famed Hollywood car builder George Barris. The police vehicle was actually a Mercury concept car from 1955 -- ten years before the episode was made! The cars' dubbed-in "engine" sound was the whine of a jet, not the whirr of an electric motor. (In the muscle-car Sixties, we thought all the cars of the future would be turbine-powered. Electric cars were for old people and sissies!)

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  8. Thanks for these great commentaries, which I'm just discovering and enjoying very much. I think Ron Randell gives one of the finest performances in all of science fiction television...he is incredibly nuanced and affecting in all of his scenes, and he plays against himself extremely well. (The camera tricks are particularly well done too.)

    The megasoid...do any other "beaks" play absolutely no role in the function of a creature's mouth? But once you watch the show a couple of times, the monster becomes less important and you can focus on the human aspects of the story.

    No one did "over it" like Ron Randell...one of the all-time best character leads, sadly underused.

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  9. A Megasiod here on earth!
    I told you I never wanted to hear you say that word!

    Does anyone know who did the voice of the Megasiod?(no not Rin-Tin-Tin) It's one of those cool weird OT voices like the teen on Feasibility Study "You can't see me..I'll spoil the experiment". I think the Megasiod is Ivy Bethune doing the voice, as it sounds somewhat female after all the Megasiod is bisexual or hermaphroditic as it was in its reproductive cycle. Perhaps the Megasiod was Paul or John Koo koo key Choo!

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  10. Not a great episode. The Megasoid "suit" had potential. But that stupid beak! Take it off! And the extra fur and the lame tail! Jeez.... And it never should have talked in that silly high voice.

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