Monday, January 10, 2011

Controlled Experiment

Production Order #06
Broadcast Order #16
Original Airdate: 1/13/64
Starring Barry Morse, Carrol O'Connor, Grace Lee Whitney.
Written and directed by Leslie Stevens.

Two martians (Morse and O'Connor), undercover to observe Earthling patterns, are instructed to study a murder that is about to occur in a hotel lobby. They get to the scene of the crime in time but then become so obsessed with the affair they "rewind" and "replay" the moment of the murder... over and over and over.

PE: A weird and wild episode. I enjoyed the whimsical nature and the two excellent character actors chewing scenery (O'Connor even sports a British accent at times) up until we get to the re-enactment of the murder. It then becomes transparent what's going on: a quickie on a shoestring. The rewind goes on ad nauseum. But 'til then it's a delight: Morse's almost orgasmic first puff of a cigarette and cup of joe; O'Connor's transformation from a very gentle British Martian to a gruff New Yawk pawn shop owner; and more of those goofy control panels that have twenty buttons but only two that do anything (I'm sure the script even described them as such to the Project Unlimited crew). All that's missing is a now-infamous "Whomp-Schlop-Boom!" courtesy of Thriller composer Morton Stevens. God, I miss that.

JS: Hang on just a second, I think we've got the credits all wrong on this one. Leslie Stevens was all about hard science and the extrapolation of scientific possibility, right? There's no bear, there's no sine wave... I mean, he's not going to write about two Martians hanging out partaking in odd human customs such as drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes? Who are they trying to kid—this is a Rod Serling intro shy of being a Twilight Zone episode!

PE: All I have to say is "Whomp-Schlop-Boom!"

JS: I guess it could have been worse. They could have played the Benny Hill theme music when everything switched into fast-forward. On to the good. Two points to Grace Lee Whitney for being our first indisputable Outer Limits Babe of the Week.
Watch for the Outer Limits Babe Spotter™!
PE: The only plus to the episode's unending replay of the murder is that Grace Lee Whitney had one hell of an ass! Call me a pig... (pause)...but that stance of hers made me hit the rewind over and over. Oh, no, I just thought I was hitting the rewind over and over.

JS: Did you notice that right out of the Thriller playbook, we have a pawn shop with a cage customers can walk right around?

PE: My God, son, we have been married too long! I thought to myself, "Self, this is where all the cool sets from Thriller went to die!" Do you think somewhere in the run of Outer Limits we'll get to see the cut-off jeans that Larry Blyden wore in "Choose a Victim"? Perhaps on Robert Culp?

JS: I will admit a certain fondness of watching two TV greats banter back and forth (I can picture Barry Morse as you and Carrol O'Connor as me in the TV movie about this blog).

PE: Funny, I picture it more like Ricardo Montalban as me and Herve Villechaize as you, but it's all in how you look at it, I guess.

JS: Overall this one was downright silly. Reasonably entertaining, but not at all what I've come to expect from an episode of The Outer Limits. The pseudo-science talk, let alone the pseudo-science, is laughable. Content aside, I was struck with how nice the episodes have looked so far, particularly in comparison to the wildly varying quality of Thriller eps.


David J. Schow on "Controlled Experiment":

From The Outer Limits Companion, Copyright © David J. Schow, 1986, 1998. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission and by special arrangement with the author.

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  1. To completely comprehend the unexpected light-heartedness of “Controlled Experiment,” you have to understand Leslie Stevens’ comedic off-Broadway roots — another aspect of Stevens’ career quite separate from his fascination with hard-science hardware. It was while trolling the boards in New York that Leslie first met songwriter Joe Stefano (sometimes self-billed as “Jerry Stevens,” in an ironic Anglicization), and the two spent long evenings confabulating assorted comedic musical revues. So it’s only natural that Stevens, pressed for time and strapped for budget, would fall back on another of his loves to create a “bottle show” for THE OUTER LIMITS that was breezy, jokey, and most of all, warmly inviting. Paradoxically, it was an aberration that fit right in … despite the fact that nearly everything in it runs contrary to the mission statement that can be deduced from many of its fellow episodes. Today it would probably become an entire series. I’m almost protectively fond of this episode and that is almost entirely due to the winning combination of O’Connor and Morse. Earth could use a lot more Martians like Phobos and Diemos (even if Stevens can’t spell his name).

  2. I like this episode also but I have to admit the many rewinds got to be too much. I love the discussion between the two Martians about the meaning of the dollar bill. Great beginning!

  3. I remember being totally disappointed with this episode as a kid waiting for the scary 'bear,' but upon seeing it again years later, thoroughly enjoying seeing two icons of favorite television series ("The Fugitive," and "All in the Family") have a cut up time playing against type as aliens dissecting the foibles of human relationships.

    A quick question about the picture quality. I have the original issue DVD of the first two seasons (where they put 8 on double-sided discs) and continue to be really disappointed with the image quality (especially when compared to The Twilight Zone Definitive Editions, and now the blu-rays). Does anyone know of any plans for remastered re-issues of this series?

    Does MGM still control the rights, and has their financial situation been resolved enough to put this back in the pipeline? With blu-rays of "The Twilight Zone," "Star Trek," and "The Prisoner" available, you'd think this would get serious attention for a blu-ray reissue to satisfy loyal, double-dipping fans.

  4. Ok. I've lost my OL box set somewhere in the post-Christmas packing... However I am reading and keeping up with the witty banter and 1960s-esque sexism well spun by our hosts.
    I've never seen this episode before -- no one has drawn any comparison between Kang and Kodos?
    I return you to your blog...(and will return once that darn set turns up!)

  5. Pete: Down, boy — there ARE women present, or are you just trying to scare them all away? Plus which, Grace Lee is wearing a lethal thickness of pancake makeup in this show ... you'd never survive. If the pancake didn't get you, the peroxide fumes would.

  6. Not a big fan. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I won't be re-watching this one anytime soon. The first fifteen minutes or so started off so good and clever. The sleazy urban setting, the previously mentioned dollar bill conversation. Once those non-stop reverses began I got sick. At least when it's all said and done the creators and actors of this show I believe "meant well," however, this feels like it came from some other show/dimension.

    Speaking of which, A few years ago I read on some internet site that this ep. was a pilot that never got picked up, similar to Thriller's "The Specialists." Anybody else ever hear the same thing?

    Peter and John, Robert Culp wearing Larry Blyden's cut-off jeans is tolerable. Boris Karloff or Carol O'Conner parading in them is not.

  7. Always smelled a rat with this one, even as a kid. The problem with "bottle shows" is that the time-stretching gimmick becomes obvious and gets old very quickly. Usually, in non-anthologies, it's stock footage from previous episodes that dominates the running time; in "Experiment," it's stock footage from the episode itself. Once I realized that watching this crime over and over again was gonna be the whole point of the experience, I simply lost interest. Granted, Morse and O'Connor have some agreeable low-voltage chemistry working for them, but not enough to compensate for a TWILIGHT ZONE-like story that probably would have been tedious even at a half-hour. Whimsy, warmth and light-hearted romance might have been fine for Stevens' THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND, but these flavors are disorienting and fully out-of-place on an edgy noir series like OUTER LIMITS. To quote Stefano's canons, "when the tongue is in the cheek it is almost impossible to speak in anything but a foolish, garbled fashion." Amen to that, brother.

  8. I see Hollywoodaholic brings up the interesting subject of the double sided dvds. I was worried when I bought my set in 2004 because of several complaints on the site concerning freezing images and defective discs. I first started watching these episodes on a Toshiba player that plays only region one or the usual North American discs. But sure enough, I ran into the freezing and breaking up image problem. However, I then put the discs into a Toshiba all region or mult-region player and all scenes play perfect. I have three dvd players hooked up because I've often found that what doesn't work on one player, will work ok on another, especially the mult-region players.

  9. Not one of my favorites by a long shot, but this one is all about the charm of the two leads, plus as a ST:TOS fan I was delighted to see Yeoman Rand and Fortier, who was in the "By Any Other Name" episode as the Kelvan who got drunk with Scotty. Whitney was such a bottle blond here, a real tough cookie! The episode is like a light TZone crossed with a B-movie film noir.

    Thanks for including the David Schow material here! I never got the 2nd edition of the book but of course the first is an invaluable treasure!

  10. Did the complete set released in 2008 still feature the same transfers and double-sided discs as the original DVDs?

  11. As far as I can tell, "yes." I bought the first section with the first 16 episodes a few years ago before I recently purchased the complete set the other week. They are the same.

    Not only is it cheaper, the complete series set has the dvds in those thin plastic snap cases which are way better then the fold out box style from the earlier releases.

  12. The DVDs: Same damned story, every iteration: (1) the two volumes, (2) the all-in-one volume, and (3) the three volumes — all the same shitty DVD-18s, same dicey processing, same occasionally-punishable framing on all three sets. There are some episodes whose videotapes literally look more accurate than the DVDs. I've noticed one aberration. The sets mentioned above feature both parts of "The Inheritors" on different sides of the same disc, a definitively chowder-headed blunder. One of the foreign sets has two volumes of four discs each, with both parts of "The Inheritors" in sequence on the same side. It's either Region 2 British or Region 4; I got it in New Zealand.

  13. DJS ... thanks for the DVD information (or should I say, "Rats!") And thanks again for the wonderful companion guide, which I still have a first edtion of on my bookshelf and won't be selling on ebay anytime soon no matter how desperately high the bids rise.

  14. Come on, let's celebrate the SHEER CHUTZPAH of a bottle show that recycles itself...and pretty much works! Besides Morse and O'Connor, let's give props to Grace Whitney and Robert (Altman stock company guy, perhaps best know--and terrific--in THREE WOMEN) Fortier for some sweet slow-mo acting. Not to mention a priceless dumb/happy look on the latter's face for the elevator-afterglow.

    I also find the--call me crazy--replays kind of fun to watch, at their various speeds and iterations, with Morse getting in the way, and the sound design was rather pleasant.

    Okay, certainly not a great OL, but more amusing than similar attempts at humor on TZ.

    Two zanties.

    Hey, re: Morse and O'Connor, am I the only one reminded of those two overly polite chipmunks in the old cartoons?

  15. The success of the entire episode rests firmly on the charming, whimsical pairing of O'Connor and Morse and the witty dialogue that Stevens' gave them. The tiny budget not only neccessitated continuous replay of the same footage, but a rather bare-bones approach to the "futuristic" props, which include a pretty familiar-looking tape measure. Oh well...all in the name of fun.

    I actually think the slow-motion re-play of the action is quite clever; many of the best lines occur in this sequence. But the whole episode does begin to feel awfully long after this scene.

    Additonal assistance is offered by the almost continuous use of audio loops of one sort or another for the soundtrack: electronic effects, vibraphone glissandoes (such as we hear under the Control Voice intro), little carousel-like blips and boops (Morton Stevens, anyone?), as well as the very-minimalist score for two harps, two guitars, and a bass that was written especially to compliment this very minimal comedy.

    I was intrigued by Carrol O-Connor's Bronx accent as "Charlie" in the opening scene, alternating with his gentle British accent, which has always reminded me of Stan Laurel in its sound. Barry Morse..talented guy, no doubt...was one of the worst scenery-chewing- prone actors of the era. Too bad that so many of his performances were marred by his rampant mugging. His TZ performance in the very entertaining "Piano in the House" is remarkably controlled, and thus very effective. Luckily the role of Phobos calls for a fussy, somewhat fey perfectionist...something of an Felix (what's-his-name in the "Odd Couple"?) in contrast to O'Connor's much more earthbound Diemos. A delighful duo.

    I would agree that this episode, for all of its obvious flaws, still surpasses any of the lame attempts at comedy that TZ attempted, with the exception of one....the 3rd-Season "Showdown with Rance McGrew", which I think is extremely witty and well-done (starring Larry Blyden WITHOUT cut-offs, thank goodness).


  16. When I watched the program in reruns as a kid in the 70s, it seemed like this episode cycled around MUCH more often than the good ones. What an awful disappointment it was to turn the channel anticipating an episode of Outer Limits, and to get...this. Tiresome the first time, and it does *not* get better on repeat viewings. My rating: one steaming Zanti poop.

  17. I recall my mom thinking this one was too smarmy for us to watch, but she soon lost interest because of the ad nauseum slow-mo and replays. So, it was mildly corrupting - there's that!

  18. This episode also introduced another of my favorite Frontiere cues; that sprightly Debbusian piece used twice, near the beginning, establishing the city.

  19. Next to "Soldier" and "Demon With A Glass Hand," this has to be my favorite OL episode. Sorry to disagree with the experts, but funny SF screenplays are few and far between. It all works. Then add the right cast, and you have a classic TV episode.

  20. Wow....what a response!

    For me, I've always found this to be an utter little charmer that positively glows with cozy warmth and is more than a little reminiscent of TTZ's 'Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up'.

    It may be the finest bottle show ever put out. The only thing to mar it is the silly idea that the future doesn't matter. It's Stevens' one really tangible flaw in the script. Had he just placed the cigarette case in the pocket of Robert Frontier, it would have stopped his yet to be born dictator son from being the diabolical monster that he's set to become.

    The other flaw is the effect used to reverse time. Initially, it's not a bad idea to have a slowly effected reverse but with every other one it mars the pace a mite. He should have found anther way, subsequent reversals should have been a might more zippy.

    Other than that, it's delightful pairing of a boffin with his opposite in temperament and recalls the classic pairing, in the magnificent 'Shopping for Death', an adaption of a Ray Brabury's short in 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'. Not surprisingly, when the story was remade under it's original title, 'Touched by Fire', in 'Ray Bradbury Theater' is starred Barry Morse as the expert.

    Apart from the casting chemistry, the core of why this really is something a mite special here, is the deliciously inventive use, with an almost George Melies zeal, of film manipulation; slow motion, freeze frame slow at times, fast forward, reverse motion. Had it been made a few years later Stevens' would probably have used jump cuts too. And just when one thinks a shot is another replay, Morse walks into shot. Combined with textured photography, creative sound design and a lyrical's quite a triumph.

    Complaints that this isn't a typical, bear-laden monster-fest miss the mark, I think, in that an anthology should be able to be diverse itself. A light frolic it may be, but it's still within the show's thematic and visual realm. When TTZ tried anything like this, they came with angels and laughter tracks and flat.

    Had those two minor flaws in Stevens' script/direction not been present, it would have got full marks.

    Three Zantis.

  21. It's great to hear so many different opinions. I couldn't help but think of the THRILLER alter ego of this show, "Masquerade," which had the same sort of response where folks either really liked it or really didn't. Not everyone likes peanut butter in their chocolate, or humor in their horror/sci-fi. I enjoy humor wherever I find it, and I liked both episodes, even though they are not the strongest of either series. We seem to all agree that the two Martians were the saving grace of this show and the shoop-shoop negative reversal rewinds would most likely be what's showing in hell right now on an unending loop.

    On another note, two-timing bad boy, Robert Fortier, may escape his fate in this episode, but there's no Martians to save him from his evil ways in INCUBUS where he will eventually get his just desserts for being naughty.

    2 Zantis--1 for each Martian. Okay, I'll add a half Zanti for the scene we keep rewinding to (the one where piggy Peter's jaw hits the floor) for being straight out of a comic book or pulp fiction cover. I appreciate the artistry of that shot.

  22. When I first saw this episode as a teen in the seventies, I was disappointed, as I liked the more "serious" stories much better. As time went by though, I got to be appreciate more the silliness and fun of this episode. Morse and O'Conner are really great together and I like the fact that The Outer Limits could be diverse enough to have a tale like this. Granted, the serious ones ARE much better, but why not have a few laughs along the way?

  23. I'm happy to see someone "picking up where I left off" as last year I began the same process of reviewing the original series in series order, but was unable to keep up the pace.
    It's always great to see some new life being injected into this unique and wonderful series.
    If anyone is interested in what may perhaps be a different take on some of the episodes, you can see them here:

  24. CrotchetyOldFan makes a pertinent point in his lead-in (see his link) about the ability of modern audiences to usefully process entertainment from a half-century past:

    "In re-watching these episodes, I’ve noticed that there are several elements that are required in order to truly appreciate them, and I fear that some, if not all of those elements are simply not present in the set of media-receiving skills inherent in more recently decanted generations. And I’m afraid that developing those skills is something that’s just too boring, unrewarding and perhaps unnecessary in the face of today’s computer-aided technologies."

  25. I saw this episode once when I was around 10 or 11, and the idea of stopping time and examining the bullet, etc. had me completely fascinated. My feeling of awe for the premise of this one stayed buried deep in my mind for about 30 years, though I had no clue what TV show it was. Then, I bought the original DVD set of TOL season one soon after it was released. I can't put in words how happy I was to watch this and realize this was the show that had left such a deep mark in my brain all those years ago!

    Now, I really love this episode, especially for the work of O'Connor, Morse, Whitney,and Fortier. I don't even mind watching time rewind and replay so many times, except for the loud sound effect that lasts about 10-15 seconds each time they start the rewind.

    I had similar buried memories a 2 other TV episodes from my childhood. I found later that the first of these was "Hells' Bells" from Rod Serling's Night Gallery, and the second was "The Premonition" from TOL season two. The trike scene fascinated me (again we have time frozen, as in "Controlled Experiment").

    I still feel unsettled when I watch TOL, and I think a big part of it is the fantastic opening titles theme.

    On a side note, I was lucky enough to buy a copy of DJS's Companion book at about the same time the first DVD sets were released. I remember I didn't like paying the $40 plus. Then the box arrived and I found this beautiful, giant, heavy book, with heavy paper and tons of great photos--and a great read too!

  26. Aww, shucks, Rich ... *blush*

    Check back through the individual entries here and you'll find a lot of goodies that came along AFTER the second edition of the book was published; photos and tidbits ... we're trying to keep it interesting.

  27. A little late to the party, but I had to comment on this episode. I too have fond memories of this one from the original broadcast, even if it seems a bit tedious today.

    One has to place oneself back in the day when this first aired to appreciate some of the fascination that original watchers had.

    This was aired in January of 1964. Back then, there were no DVDs or VCRs or any home device for playing and controlling video. Yes, there were film projectors, but they were still pretty much a niche, specialty item and really didn't have controls for freeze-framing, reverse motion, slow motion.

    So watching this episode was actually a treat for those of us who were fascinated by such things. The gimmicks were primitive, but they were out of reach for most of us. Nowadays, stopping a DVD, reversing, playing in slow motion are accomplished with simple buttons on our handy remote controls, so it's understandable how modern viewers might not "get" what so fascinated us back then.

  28. My biggest take-away from this episode? How many people notices what an incredibly spot-on lookalike this very young Grace Lee Whitney was for Christina Applegate? I just can't get over it, or the fact that it hasn't jumped out and grabbed any other viewers... Otherwise, funny episode, and one hell of a cigarette commercial!

  29. Even more than Robert Fortier's, Grace Lee Whitney's slow motion acting (in that scene with Morse) is pretty surprising. If you didn't know, you'd think it had been done right now with computers.

  30. David J. Schow says above, ". . . soon the consequences of ignoring the future would be forcefully expressed in "The Man Who Was Never Born." Note that Schow is using the future tense in reference to the series' episode production order, rather than broadcast order; "The Man Who Was Never Born" was produced after "Controlled Experiment" (they were the twelfth and sixth episodes made, respectively), but was broadcast earlier (the episodes were the sixth and sixteenth shown).

    Thanks a lot for this detailed resource about the series, John and Peter.

  31. Is this the only comic episode of OL? Kind of like Masquerade in Thriller in that respect, only that was a much better episode. I give this 2 Zantis. I like Carol O'Connor in almost anything, Barry Morse overdoes it a bit. The countdown repetitive sounds are really annoying, yet they're employed over and over as if they had to pad the episode to 50 minutres. I didn't recognize Grace Lee Whitley from Star Trek until the credits, she's a babe, but hotter in Trek. The brunette in the long kissing scene is a total babe- those are the two longest kissing scenes in early 60s TV I would guess- how'd they get that past the censors, cause its in slowmo? Actually this epiosode seems conceived just as excuse to play with slomo, reverses, fast forward filmic techniques like that. Nice try, but no.

  32. The thing that always stays with me from the first time I saw it is the mysterious girlfriend "Two-Bit Floozy Betty Lou." Partly the name and partly the very funny - because it's completely SERIOUS - way that Barry Morse says the name. In a way, Betty Lou is the COMEDY answer to Bertram Cabot Jr., because of the mystery surrounding her.

  33. This episode reminds me of a Theodore Sturgeon story, "The [Widget], the [Wadget] and Boff." That story is about a couple of aliens that disguise themselves as humans in order to conduct a controlled experiment to study a psychological quirk of earthlings. Although the story takes place mainly in a boarding house, a key scene takes place at a pawn shop. One of the aliens, who is skeptical of humans, comes to like people at the end of the story.

  34. Along with THE MAN WHO WAS NEVER BORN, this one, in spite of all the comedy, makes me think of THE DEAD ZONE. That's because of the "forecast" that Phobos is told about Bert and Carla's son. I've never read the book, and I don't know the movie extremely well, but CONTROLLED EXPERIMENT makes me wonder if that Martin Sheen character has some kind of story involving his parents that convinces him he leads a charmed life, just like Bert and Carla's future son.

  35. The only comedy from "The Outer Limits". Only show without a "bear", I think. BTW...You missed a "lost" Outer Limits script:"Small Wonder"

  36. I'm glad someone is still coming here.
    I just saw this one again, and it's as good as ever to me, and not only for sentimental reasons (even though I have those too). So many dark comedies (and CONTROLLED EXPERIMENT is a kind of dark comedy, regardless of the ending) just don't work for me, but this one does.

  37. This gently comic episode is very much out of the usual mold for The Outer Limits. Unfortunately, it’s not a great episode; it drags considerably and you get the feeling that the story could have been told in half the time.

    The highlight of the episode is the camaraderie and interaction between O’Connor and Morse as the two Martians. O’Connor is a revelation here; with the accent and retiring demeanor, he’s light-years away from his Archie Bunker character, which is really the only way I’m used to seeing him. And Morse’s inquisitive delight as he studies the earthlings is fun to watch too.

    It’s a pity these two characters were wasted on a going-nowhere plot. A plot which has a very peculiar ending, really. The control voice winds things up by saying “What these two guys did will result in the destruction of the earth---but hey, that won’t happen for a little while yet, so whatever.” I find it difficult to believe that the Morse character would leave things as they were; he’s far too responsible to allow such a state of affairs to remain, no matter how much he enjoyed saving a life.

    With better scripts, this actually could have made an interesting series---comic adventures of two undercover Martians, meddling in earthly affairs to alter the timeline for happier endings to each week’s show. Think of it as “Early Edition” but with aliens. (Okay, the idea is a bit similar to “My Favorite Martian,” which was airing during the same general time period when this episode was first broadcast---but it’s not an identical concept.)

    1. Okay, so it's not everyone's cup of tea. But except for those dreadfully elongated time flashback effects I enjoyed the leisurely pace of this one. Morse & O'Connor were serviceable here and I loved the tired old fashioned look of that hotel lobby. Most of all, this episode had some of my favorite music by the one and only Dom Frontiere-thank goodness most of which was included in my copies of La La Land's CD boxed set.

  38. This is THE best ever OL episode and it seems many people don't actually understand it enough to rate it, which is unfortunate, to say the least. In fact it's one of the best TV SF episodes, period. Sure, it's not perfect, but it makes most un-ambitious, cliche and anodyne TV SF shows look incredibly inferior, in comparison. The sound design and visual effects alone make it top-notch, but thankfully the story is also experimental, philosophical and witty, with two brilliant main actors, to boot. Plus Grace Lee Whitney: what else do you need, fer Chrissakes?

    The greatest tragedy is that it never progressed beyond a semi-pilot into a full-blown series, which could have had the potential to become a bone fide classic.


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