Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Episode Spotlight: "The Brain of Colonel Barham" (1/02/1965)



“The Brain of Colonel Barham”
Season 2, Episode 15 (47 overall)
Originally aired 1/02/1965


“Man or machine. You can’t have it both ways!”


Brilliant but arrogant astronaut Colonel Alec Barham is the ideal candidate for the first manned space flight to Mars; unfortunately, he contracts and is grounded by a terminal illness. His superiors--- General Pettit and Doctors Rahm and Hausner--- devise a plan in which they’ll extract his brain and create a cybernetic hybrid that will have the resilience of a machine but the quick, organic thinking of a human being, which will be sent to Mars and secure the United States’ lead in the Space Race. After his initial shock at the idea, Barham agrees.

His wife, Jennifer, opposes the idea, much to his callous amusement. Theirs is a loveless marriage, but she’s stayed with him because of her strong aversion to the idea of divorce…. much to the chagrin of Major Douglas McKinnon, the psychologist assigned to monitor Barham’s mental and emotional state, who has fallen in love with her. The operation goes off without a hitch, and soon Barham’s mental capabilities grow beyond the project leaders’ wildest dreams. They seem all-too-willing to look the other way when his ego grows proportionally and he develops a god complex, paying no mind to McKinnon’s dire warnings.


One of Barham’s new talents is the ability to emit an energy bolt that temporarily neutralizes free will. Angry that Jennifer refuses to visit him in his new mechanized state, Barham forces Ed Nichols (the technician assigned to maintain his complex systems) to attack her. McKinnon manages to intervene before she is hurt; however, his actions spur Barham into sending Dr. Rahm after him with a pistol.

McKinnon narrowly avoids getting blown away and pleads with General Pettit to terminate Barham. After Barham tells Pettit that he no longer recognizes his authority and that he’s assuming control of the project, Pettit agrees to pull the plug. Barham responds by holding Jennifer and McKinnon hostage, prompting Pettit to take the megalomaniac brain out from outside the window with a sniper rifle.



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RANDOMONIUM


“The Brain of Colonel Barham” reunites writer Robert C. Dennis (here revising an original teleplay by Sidney Ellis) and director Charles Haas, who previously collaborated on “Cry of Silence” back in October (Dennis also scripted “’I, Robot’” and “The Duplicate Man”; Haas also directed “Cold Hands,Warm Heart” and “Keeper of the Purple Twilight”). Capturing the proceedings on celluloid is Director of Photography Kenneth Peach. The script isn’t necessarily terrible, but it’s certainly nothing special, even looking past the hoary brain-in-a-jar cliché that had been worn into the ground two decades earlier with Universal’s Frankenstein franchise. There are a few snappy snatches of dialogue, mostly from the shockingly mean-spirited Barham (Jeez, who pissed in this guy’s Astronaut-Os?), but my favorite line comes from General Pettit, during his initial briefing with Barham:

BARHAM (snidely):
Tell me something, General:
how would I do with pretty girls?

PETTIT (glancing at Barham’s wheelchair):
How are you doing now?

Oh, snap. Burn! I wish the script had more zingers like this; unfortunately, Barham goes along merrily insulting and degrading those around him and receives little to no pushback. Jennifer gets the bulk of his heartless wrath, which is doubly insulting considering the fact that, before he fell ill, he was rampantly cheating on her (and actually has the audacity to flippantly remark that she “took their wedding vows much more seriously” than he ever did). The guy is a supreme dick, and it’s a shame that he never receives an appropriate level of comeuppance--- he gets a quick death without any real suffering, which is unfair in the extreme. Imagine what The Twilight Zone might have done with him… and speaking of which, his line “Why me? Why do I have to die, with the world full of useless slobs?” sounds like it was ripped from Rod Serling’s “Escape Clause,” in which egocentric hypochondriac David Wayne angrily wonders “Why does a man have to die? The world goes on for millions of years, and how much a man’s life? This much, a drop!” Serling’s sentiment is more powerful and evocative to be sure, but then, Dennis is no Serling. I do think it would’ve been more effective to have Jennifer somehow be the one who ultimately takes Barham out… yeah, that would’ve been some Twilight Zone–style cosmic justice right there.

There’s nothing visually compelling going on here; even the sprawling computerized array keeping Barham’s brain alive (which resides in the center, inside the requisite glass bell jar with a light bulb inside for effect) isn’t very interesting to look at. This is science fiction, dammit! This is a textbook example of a missed opportunity to create something truly unique and special… which would elevate this episode considerably, the same way beautifully-conceived aliens and monsters improved otherwise half-baked efforts like “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” and “Keeper of the Purple Twilight” (both of which were directed by Haas, interestingly enough). An early night scene in Barham’s hospital room, in which he verbally spars with an ill-prepared McKinnon, is the only thing approaching mood and atmosphere; otherwise, the look of the episode is bright, bland and utterly forgettable.


The Brain Center at Barham's.
Speaking of the Cybernetic Brain Center™, I’m unclear why Barham’s brain wasn’t put into a robot body instead. Barham’s brain will eventually pilot a spaceship to Mars; it seems like a no-brainer (ha!) that he’d be housed in something ambulatory so that, when he lands, he can actually, y’now, GET OUT OF THE FUCKING SHIP. Otherwise, what’s the point of going all the way to Mars in the first place? However, that might’ve resulted in the reuse of the pathetic Adam Link costume from “’I, Robot’,” so I should probably just shut up and be grateful. I love Wesley Addy, but his portrayal of Rahm is downright creepy, due mostly to his slow, laconic delivery (which would probably be hypnotic if he had a long stretch of dialogue, which Dennis never gives him). And I’m pretty sure Hausner is one of the Nazi scientists brought to the US thanks to Operation Paperclip… it’s not hard to imagine the Nazis working on this kind of thing. It's probably worth mentioning that the actor playing Hausner, Martin Koslek, played Joseph Goebbels (Hitler's propaganda minister), as well as other Nazi soldiers, multiple times throughout his long career.

Oh hell, I just thought of a way better ending for this episode.  Barham is starting to lose his grip, flinging lightning around the room while terrorizing Jennifer and McKinnon. Hausner and Rahm burst into the room and demand that he stop his foolish tantrum immediately or he’ll jeopardize everything---- “everything” being an insidious Neo-Nazi plot to take over the world, a project that began in Nazi Germany and simmered for years and is now coming to fruition on American soil. Barham realizes that he’s been a pawn all along and apologizes to Jennifer, then destroys himself and takes Hausner and Rahm with him. It’s certainly a different direction, but you could pepper a couple of bits earlier on that cast Hausner and Rahm in a questionable light. Hey, you can’t deny that this would imbibe the episode with a healthy dose of dramatic heft, not to mention an emotional arc for Barham and Jennifer (and McKinnon by association). It could be season two’s “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” equivalent.

And speaking of hypnotic, what the hell is up with Robo-Barham™ trying to seduce McKinnon into confiding in him? Here’s the dialogue:

BARHAM:
Problems, Major? They’re only for mortals.
Would you like to discuss yours? I could
help you now. Why don’t you tell me all about it?
It’s really nothing to be ashamed of. Just
start talking. It’ll make you feel much… better.

Yes, he’s only a brain in a jar, but he’s pretty obviously trying to get into McKinnon’s pants despite his utter lack of equipment. No wonder he’s so mean to Jennifer… she could never give him what he really wanted. Perhaps his hostile demeanor, at the end of it all, is merely symptomatic of a lifelong suppression of his true sexual identity. Also note McKinnon’s disgust when he shakes off Barham’s advances… he’s either really homophobic or suffering in a similar state of denial. Of course, this all implies a level of character (and thematic) depth that, sadly, this episode couldn’t possibly achieve. So the point of this entire scene is anybody’s guess.

It’s undeniably fun to watch McKinnon’s Voice of Reason stance constantly disregarded or outright ignored by the project leaders. It does beg the question, however: why did they assign a psychologist to profile Barham at all? McKinnon turns in a comprehensive report advising against using Barham for the project, accurately predicting exactly what will ultimately happen, and his only response from Pettit is that it “didn’t make (him) sleep any better.” It’s also amusing that Pettit only sees reason--- finally--- when Barham openly defies his authority, not when, y’now, people are getting assaulted and shot at and whatnot.

Soon before the final showdown, Brainham™ demands that his glass jar be replaced with something larger and more protective. I have to seriously question his “godlike” nature and “superior” intellect when, despite possessing the ability to control energy and fling it around at will, he never thinks to simply project an energy field around his jar. D’oh!

As in “Counterweight” last week, we get a completely superfluous shot of a rocket in outer space, even though there’s never a space flight in the episode. This rocket is very similar to the needle-nosed craft--- the XMP-13 from the 1959 TV series Men into Space--- seen multiple times in season one (“The Man Who Was Never Born,” “Nightmare” and “The Children of Spider County”), but it’s not quite the same rocket: the nose is rounder and lacks the needle, plus the fins are a slightly different configuration. There’s no way the show could afford to create a brand new rocket model, complete with flames coming out of its ass… so where did this thing come from? My curiosity was duly piqued, so I embarked on an epic internet search… which lasted all of five minutes.  It occurred to me that The Outer Limits had pilfered Men into Space pretty extensively, and maybe this rocket also originated there… and as it turns out, my hunch was right. I found it in the 9th episode (“Edge of Eternity”), originally broadcast December 2, 1959. And in the 7th episode ("Space Trap"), BOTH rockets appear!


Wow, all 38 episodes of Men into Space are available on YouTube, and I’m only now finding this out? Had I known, I would’ve been pulling comparison shots every time its footage appeared on The Outer Limits. Dammit, all sorts of things are opening up now that I’m almost done here…. first Hulu makes the show available on mobile devices, and now this. What’s next? A fucking Blu-ray announcement?

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AURAL PLEASURE

“Barham” gets its musical underscore from the library of stock cues from composer Harry Lubin, much of which was recorded from his One Step Beyond days. Most of the pieces heard this week have already appeared in earlier season two episodes; among them are:
Certain Doom
Hostile Galaxy
Drama Chord
Paranormal 1


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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Grant Williams (Major Douglas McKinnon) only has one other genre TV credit (“Dead Ringer” on Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond), but he’s definitely got big-screen sci-fi/horror clout: He starred in a trio of classic Universal pictures, most notably The Incredible Shrinking Man in 1956 (which was followed by The Monolith Monsters in 1957 and The Leech Woman in 1960). He later appeared in less impressive fare like Brain of Blood (1971) and Doomsday Machine (1972).




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Colonel Alec Barham is played by Anthony Eisley, whose other genre credits include three tours on The Invaders (“Moonshot,” “The Believers,” and “The Ransom”) and B-films like The Wasp Woman (1959), The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966), and 1967's Journey to the Center of Time, in which he co-starred with TOL alum Abraham Sofaer.



And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that both Williams and Eisley were regular cast members on TV's Hawaiian Eye (1959-1963).





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There’s a lot of variety to be found in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror credits on the resume of Douglas Kennedy (General Daniel Pettit). He appeared three times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Jonathan,” “A Little Sleep” and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”), once on Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“Twelve Hours to Live”), and once on Science Fiction Theatre (“Beyond”). On the big screen, you’ll find him in Invaders from Mars (1953), The Land Unknown (1957), The Alligator People (1959) and The Amazing Transparent Man (1960); he also appeared in several film noirs, among them Possessed (1947), Dark Passage (1947), Whiplash (1948), Backfire (1950), and 1954’s Cry Vengeance, which co-starred TOL’s own Skip Homeier.




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The résumé of Elizabeth Perry (Jennifer Barham) is pretty light when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy/horror, but she did appear on both Mission: Impossible (“The Brothers”) and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (“The Death Ship”). Actually, her résumé is pretty light altogether: in the 27 years that she acted professionally, she only racked up 19 credits. I do like her, but I’m not sure if she qualifies as a TOL Babe or not. I guess…. um, kinda. Okay, yeah.

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Paul Lukather (Technician Ed Nichols) returns for his second Outer Limits jaunt (he appeared briefly in season one’s “Production and Decay of Strange Particles”). Quinn Martin utilized his services in three Fugitives (“Man in a Chariot,” “Echo of a Nightmare” and “Approach with Care”) and one Invaders (“Moonshot,” which also guest-starred the aforementioned Anthony Eisley). Other notable genre credits include stints on Science Fiction Theatre (“The Man Who Didn't Know”), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Secret Sceptre Affair”) and Mission: Impossible (“The Trial” and the two-part “The Bunker”); on the big screen, he appeared in Dinosaurs! in 1960.

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As a huge fan of Universal’s classic horror films, I’m delighted to see Martin Kosleck (Doctor Leo Hausner) in the cast this week: he appeared in The Mummy’s Curse (1944), She-Wolf of London (1946) and the Rondo Hatton vehicle House of Horrors (1946). He can also be spotted in a bit part as a hobo in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 intriguer Foreign Correspondent. On the small screen, Kosleck graced Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (“The Devil Is Not Mocked”), Mission: Impossible (“The Bunker, Part 1” along with the aforementioned Paul Lukather), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ("The Fear-Makers"), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Deadly Smorgasbord Affair,” “the Cap and Gown Affair” and “The Test Tube Killer Affair”) and Boris Karloff’s Thriller (“Waxworks”).





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Wesley Addy (Doctor Rahm) possesses a Robert Culp connection thanks to his appearance on I Spy (“Crusade to Limbo”). You’ll also find him on The Fugitive (“Conspiracy of Silence”), The Invaders (“Doomsday Minus One”), and the first episode of the short-lived 1951 sci-fi anthology series Out There, which was titled “Outer Limit” (!) and starred TOL alum Robert Webber.* On the big screen, he appeared in John Frankenheimer’s 1966 masterpiece Seconds (which co-stars TOL alums Salome Jens and Jeff Corey; I’ve plugged this film repeatedly in these pages; if you haven’t seen it, stop reading and seek it out) as well as film noirs Kiss Me Deadly (1955; a personal favorite of mine, starring TOL alum Ralph Meeker), The Big Knife (also 1955) and Time Table (1956).





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Peter Hansen (Major Locke) was a familiar face during the early days of sci-fi TV. He appeared on Space Patrol (“Danger: Radiation”) in 1957, Men into Space (“Space Trap”) in 1959, and an impressive six episodes of Science Fiction Theatre in 1956-57. He also showed up on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (“The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair”) and in George Pal’s When Worlds Collide (1951). He too appeared in several film noirs, among them A Bullet for Joey (1955), Hell on Frisco Bay (1955), and A Cry in the Night (1956).






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Robert Chadwick (Guard) is probably best recognized by genre fans as the Romulan Scanner Operator in the “Balance of Terror” episode of Star Trek. His only other notable TV connection is “The Silent Saboteurs” on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Chadwick can also be seen in David Lynch’s bizarre and disturbing-as-hell 1970 short film “The Grandmother.”





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HOME VIDEO RELEASES


MGM started releasing The Outer Limits on VHS three episodes at a time in 1987. When 1991 rolled around, only 12 episodes remained unreleased, and “The Brain of Colonel Barham” was one of them. I have a vague memory of all 12 being dumped onto the market in one big last Hail Mary batch, but they may have been sprinkled out throughout the year (anybody with a better memory than mine, feel free to chime in here). When “Barham” appeared in Columbia House’s mail-order exclusive club, it shared tape space with last week’s “Counterweight.”



“Barham” isn’t likely to appear on anybody’s favorites list, but MGM apparently thought highly enough of it to include it in their second (of a total four) LaserDisc collection, which was released in 1992. That’s right, kids… smart, worthy episodes like “The Invisibles” and the two-part “The Inheritors” never saw the light of LaserDisc day, but this decidedly unbrainy offering did. MGM pulled the plug on the LD series after the fourth collection came out in 1995; I’m not sure if poor sales were the culprit, but it probably didn’t matter either way, since LD went almost immediately extinct in 1997 with the arrival of…

...DVD! The show’s first season was released in one big set on the compact new format in 2002. Season two followed exactly one year later. In 2007, the series was split up into 3 volumes (two for season one, one for the shorter second season) and, in 2008, all three were bundled in what was billed as the “45th Anniversary Collection.” Buyer beware: all three releases are authored on double-sided discs which have proven unreliable over time (I had to buy the third volume a few years ago to replace a disc in my season two set that went bad). MGM has never done any remastering since the first releases in 2002-2003. Cheap triple-dipping bastards. They also released the cursed double-sided discs in Australia, but for the UK release in 2005, they used more reliable and robust DVD-9s (single-sided discs). Fuckers.



Since starting this blog, I’ve regularly encouraged readers to forgo the DVDs entirely and instead get their Outer Limits fix on Hulu, where all 49 episodes were available for free streaming. That’s were, past tense. As of last week, only the first three episodes (“The Galaxy Being,” “The Hundred Days of the Dragon” and “The Architects of Fear”) are still available. You’ll now have to subscribe to Hulu Plus to see all 49 episodes. It’s only $7.99 a month, but the portability factor somewhat makes up for it (Plus subscribers can watch content on smart phones and other mobile devices; in fact, I watched “Barham” on my iPhone two different times this week while writing this entry).

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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT

The Outer Limits hasn’t exactly been heavily merchandised, but we usually see at least a model kit from Dimensional Designs if nothing else… sadly, there isn’t a single goddamned thing commemorating “The Brain of Colonel Barham.” It’s a bit surprising, actually, since a brain in a jar with attached hardware seems like a natural choice for a model kit.

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THE WRAP-UP

I think maybe I’d appreciate “The Brain of Colonel Barham” a bit more if I believed for a second that the script and cast choices comprised a conscious effort to pay tribute to the classic sci-fi and horror films (y’now, the glorious B’s) that came before… but I don’t. I think the script is a disappointing rush job, and I think many of the players were past the apex of their respective careers and needed the work, and it was nothing more than coincidence that brought them together for this exercise in half-assery. In this light, the whole thing is even sadder. I don’t hate it as much as I thought I did, but I sure as hell don’t like it… and it probably is the single worst episode of the entire series. Wait, there’s still “The Probe” in two weeks….




* It’s interesting to note that the plot of “Outer Limit” concerns an American jet pilot who is abducted by aliens and told that its consortium of peaceful planets will destroy Earth if it doesn’t stop its atomic weapons research. Sounds like a direct rip-off of The Day the Earth Stood Still, right? Well check this out: the episode was broadcast on November 28, 1951… exactly one month after the film opened! In any case, it doesn’t appear that Out There, which only lasted 12 episodes, survives in any viewable form.

8 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure Martin Kosleck was also in the second regular episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, "The Fear Makers", as the boss of the evil scientist who brings the fear gas on board the Seaview.

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    1. Right you are. I usually only include Voyage in my cast connections if there aren't enough of the usual suspects (Stoney Burke, I Spy, The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, The Invaders, Alfred Hitchcock Presents/Hour, etc.), but I went ahead and added it.

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  2. About "The Outer Limit"--wow, that makes 3 times the story was dramatized for broadcast--twice on radio in the early '50s, and once on TV.

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    1. It was also adapted for Robert Montgomery Presents in 1953...assuming it's the same "Outer Limit."

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  3. Maybe it's the reference to a brain that is the basis of my enjoyment of "The Brain of Colonel Barham" (you know...the whole "Whitsbrain" thing).

    It's not like there is anything groundbreaking about the episode. There's a brain removed from someone's head and chaos ensues. It had been seen and done previously. I guess I like the whole idea of melding a human brain with a spaceship for the purpose of visiting far away worlds. Brilliant!

    The real strength to this episode is its interesting characters. The ego-maniacal brain of Colonel Barham being the most interesting. This guy was smart and carried a significant superiority complex along with him. Barham's truly selfish and dangerous mannerism are only seriously considered by our hero, Major MacKinnon. Barham's wife Jennifer is initially shocked by Barham's decision to have his brain removed for the project, but at least she is told what's going on unlike the sacrifice for progress secretly agreed to by Allen Leighton in "The Architects of Fear" (this is not to imply that "Barham" is in anyway superior to "Architects"...it surely isn't). Once wife Jennifer knows of the decision she seems to get over it quickly. She appears to have a hankerin' for the studly MacKinnon.

    Moving along, the special effects in "Barham" are pretty neat in a crude way. I really liked the tacky eyes-and ears-in-a-box controlled by Barham's brain. The box rotated around, following the people in his room as a sight aide to the brain. The box was also equipped with a twirling radar dish; the brain's ears. I read that the prop used for Barham's brain was actually a calf's brain placed in a large jar. The lightning effect used by Barham's brain to attack the other project members was also convincing.

    "The Brain of Colonel Barham" is not held in the highest regard by fans of The Outer Limits, but I certainly enjoy it.

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  4. Craig -

    I discovered your blog just a couple of months ago, and have now read my way through it and finally caught up to the present. Just wanted to say- Great Job! Highly entertaining and nicely insightful forum for fans.

    I especially like the way you pull in all of the material culture stuff - the collectibles and the VHS/LaserDisc/DVD manifestations, which I don't think anyone has tried to do before. You seem to have created the only Outer Limits Collector's Guide.

    The picture galleries of the actors' other genre appearances are fun too - and show an impressive amount of effort spent among screen-caps!

    Looking forward, though sadly, to the Probe this week!

    Thanks for entertaining us all so well,

    Melissa

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  5. "So the point of this entire scene is anybody’s guess." Let me take a stab at it. Barham has never gotten along with McKinnon, and was uncooperative when McKinnon tried to analyze him. Also, by this point Barham's brain is aware of the handsome major's budding romance with Jennifer, which he (it?) hypocritically opposes despite his own history of infidelity. Therefore, Barham is trolling McKinnon by taking the major's attempt at outreach and sarcastically throwing it back in his face. For someone who no longer has a body, Barham somehow manages to be a huge, flaming asshole.

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