by Gary Gerani
If I had to select one Outer Limits episode to hook a newcomer on the series, this is the show I’d go with. It boasts a striking, amazingly influential sci-fi premise, a totally compelling central character (wearing equally memorable monster makeup), a smart and sensitive heroine, an exciting chase sequence, and a corker of a punchline followed by a just-as-intriguing final image. Add to this Dominic Frontiere’s magnificent score (his largest orchestra for any entry) and wonderfully evocative, stylized cinematography by Conrad Hall that is actually motivated by the “beauty and the beast” fairy tale motif.
Yep, this would be the episode…
OCTOBER 28, 1963
…the night “The Man Who Was Never Born”’ premiered on ABC. As mentioned in an earlier essay, my parents were generally home on Friday evenings, so we all experienced Twilight Zone together and sort of made a game of it. But Outer Limits was a show I generally watched alone, in my room and on my 19” portable TV. Starting the school week was always a bit daunting, and knowing a series like OL was right there waiting for you every Monday night made the responsibilities of a nine year-old somehow bearable. Private viewings aside, my mother and I saw exactly three first-run episodes together, starting with “Man,” which we viewed on the larger living room set (Dad was usually downstairs at this hour hanging with my grandparents). And my mom was and remains a science fiction enthusiast, so her critical response to these films/TV shows we saw back in the day was significant. Anyway… There we were that Monday evening, my mother on the living room couch, me sitting on the floor right in front of the set. And away we went…
That final (flopped) shot of Andro shambling into close-up had already been presented in a “coming soon!” promo shown a few episodes before, and it fascinated me. When I read the “Man” story synopsis in TV Guide, I suspected this might be the episode that contained that particular image. Sure enough, there it was…
Good God, how much amazing stuff can be packed into one fifteen minute act? We begin with astronaut Reardon in his spaceship; we feel the profound loneliness of this solitary explorer, along with the damned spookiness of his situation in general. Up lighting from Conrad Hall adds to the ominous atmosphere, as does Frontiere’s music – but before we can even catch our breath (and with the narration barely concluded) he’s dramatically plunged into that “time convulsion,” a high intensity bit-of-business with ascending Frontiere notes. Wow. All this within the first two minutes! As Reardon descends to the planet, the OL theme kicks in big-time, wowing us with pure melodrama, reaching its crescendo as the craft sets down on a weird, nightmarish world. Not only is this scorched planet intriguing, but soon monster mutant Andro springs into close-up (yes!), confronting Reardon and telling him fascinating things that we need to know. The Outer Limits specialized in “eloquent monsters,” of course, and we’d already heard impressive soliloquies from both the "Galaxy Being" and super-evolved Gwyllm Griffiths. Still, the dramatic contrast between Andro’s grotesquely distorted face and his gentle but passionate voice provided yet another remarkable element which we added to the growing list. “Bertram Cabot Junior!” he says with primal contempt, each syllable crisply pronounced by actor Martin Landau, who knew he’d landed a showy role and clearly intended to make the most of it. The visit to that library enables both Andro’s persona and the particulars of this powerful plot to take root. “If I can find the warp again…” Reardon says with heroic determination. And Act I ends with the two characters planning to travel back through time in order to save humanity from destroying itself, with Andro serving as exhibit A (kind of like the “real” version of what those “Architects of Fear” folk were trying to accomplish with Allen Leighton). Fade out. “How interesting!” my mom said with an almost giddy smile, honestly enthused about where this imaginative adventure would be taking us. Her approval confirmed what I was thinking myself… this was unquestionably the most original, most involving Outer Limits I had seen so far.
Reardon doesn’t make it through the return warp (kind of a horrific, unexpected moment in itself), leaving Andro with the monumental task of trying to convince a disbelieving world without the aid of a (probably) influential astronaut. Okay… so he somehow lands, skulks about the enchanted forest, and takes a meaningful look at the show’s ethereal leading lady (Shirley Knight) from a safe distance. We get the beautifully-shot “vision in the woods” moment, complete with “the monster is so gentle he’s kind to animals, even ugly little frogs that he probably relates to.” Nice. Now, at long last, Andro assumes his human persona (a lovely optical effect/harp cue signals the mutant’s hypnotic power), and we meet Landau proper for the first time. I remember talking to Stefano about this; if you’re doing a “Beauty and the Beast” take-off, the human version of the Beast is generally dashing in an overt, almost clichéd way. “And for our ‘handsome prince’ we had…Martin!” I remember Joe laughing. Offbeat casting, to be sure, and ultimately an inspired choice. Landau’s Andro is achingly real, not a stylized stand-in (Robert Webber from Season Two’s “Keeper of the Purple Twilight” would have been a more typical choice). A sharply-edited “he’s caught by surprise” scare neatly leads us into the final scene of Act II, where “Professor” Andro’s sweet love for Noelle begins to manifest itself (“When a woman brushes her hair she imitates the motion of the stars” – I used that line on a date once, much to my regret). But it’s really where this scene is going that widens our eyes fully. “You will be his mother!” Andro states with choked horror as Hall and director Leonard Horn frame a brilliant two shot: “You will be the mother of Bertram Cabot Junior!” My heart practically stopped. What was damned interesting to begin with had now become absolutely riveting.
Here’s where we meet Andro’s rival, Noelle’s fiancée and Bertram’s potential future dad (John Considine). Always liked that brief scene of these two guys chatting together on the porch; maybe it’s all that natural soundwork (chirping birds, etc.) counterpointing Landau’s captivating, classical-style dialogue. Their equally brief “confrontation” in the woods concludes with another poetic touch, as Andro goes from a desperate act of violence to an artist’s love for beauty – the flower, like Noelle, must be crushed in order to keep “the whole world whole,” and an unkind fate has chosen heartbroken but responsible Andro to see this thing through. Dig those extended dissolves, linked by clanging church bells, as our self-loathing mutant smashes the mirror that constantly reminds him of his ugliness…and, ironically, the vital importance of his mission. The assassination attempt on Cabot during the living room wedding ceremony provides “Man” with its only true action sequence, other than the great chase from Act IV. Shot from several angles, it builds impressively to a fine “horror” reveal: winded Andro in his natural state. And sure, it’s a little hard to believe that everyone present just allows Noelle to run after this dangerous creature, no matter how stunned they may be. But hey, at this point, we’re so caught up with the great story and rich characters that we simply don’t give a damn. WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, pure and simple.
Beginning with a wonderful dreamlike sequence shot with ultra-soft lenses, Noelle manages to find Andro in the woods, and he finally comes clean about everything. DJS pointed out how Landau’s reading of the line “Ugly” is counterpointed by Hall’s star lens as the actor turns his head, as if nature itself was contradicting Andro’s harsh self-evaluation. Brilliant. So Beauty and the Beast decide to go off together and save humanity, fulfilling their romantic destiny in the process. Only a nifty chase scene threatens this idyllic goal, as gun-wielding Cabot and company close in on their quarry. Incredible hand-hand tracking shots create an almost kinetic excitement as silhouetted figures race through jungle-like foliage. Leave it to Connie Hall to shoot that wedding veil in Cabot’s hand like a glowing, magical artifact, even in a running long shot. Finally, with Frontiere’s exhilarating chase music reaching its climax, our lovers find the ship, it blasts off, and a final up-and-over camera move gives poor, jilted Cabot his dramatic due, teardrop and all. Now the coda… Yes, like Twilight Zone, this episode provides a high-concept “twist”; and yet, it also happens to be the title of the story! A surprise perhaps, but also a confirmation of what we’ve probably begun to suspect already. (Actually, a more accurate title would have been “The Men Who Were Never Born,” as this designation refers to both Andro and “aborted” Bertram Cabot Jr.) Noble Andro is arguably the most sympathetic character in all of OLdom, and he “dies” as the ultimate martyr, his accidental love affair only increasing the tragedy, for now he’s tasted the joy a “whole” life can provide. And if his memorable fate wasn’t enough to end this landmark tale, we’re left with Noelle, now totally alone in that time-warping spacecraft. “It’s like she’s become a twinkling little star,” my mother pointed out as the rest of the ship fades away and our heroine is swallowed up by the cosmos.
Although my personal OL favorites are those Stefano-Oswald-Hall collaborations (I’m just a sucker for noir expressionism), “The Man Who Was Never Born” is an absolutely lovely piece of filmmaking, a rare excursion into sci-fi poetry that actually works. OL purists and sharp civilians alike can appreciate a plethora of creative plusses throughout, with some occasional lapses in credibility smoothed over by the semi-surreal fairy tale overlay. Re-living my own “safe and dear” memories for this Spotlight has been extremely enjoyable, probably even therapeutic, and I hope it helped to establish time, place and the way we kids felt back in late ‘63.
I used to own a first-generation pull of the Andro mask (I can be seen wearing it in the Comic Images cards), but it eventually crumbled to pieces. Just as that "Galaxy Being" head in Bob Burns’ collection slowly melted away…
Gary Gerani is the author of Fantastic Television, the first book to focus on science-fiction, fantasy and horror TV. In association with IDW, Gerani recently launched a new publishing company, Fantastic Press, with November's TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES. Next up is TOP 100 SCI-FI MOVIES in April. His graphic novel, BRAM STOKER'S DEATH SHIP (which takes on that famous nightmare voyage from Varna to Whitby, as you-know-who feeds on the crew of the Demeter), is available now and has garnered several nice reviews. That's him on the right, wearing the now-disintegrated Andro headpiece.