Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Human Factor

Production Order #03
Broadcast Order #08
Original Airdate: 11/11/63
Starring Harry Guardino, Sally Kellerman and Gary Merrill.
Written by David Duncan.
Directed by Abner Biberman.

Stationed in an arctic base on watch for possible attack on the U.S., Major Brothers (Guardino) is convinced there's a creature in the snow that has to be destroyed. After he attempts to blow it up, he's sent to see Dr. Hamilton (Merrill), a psychiatrist who has been working on mind-linking experiments that so far have only allowed him to find out his assistant Ingrid (Kellerman) has feelings for him. When an earthquake causes an accident mid link, Brothers' mind ends up in Dr. Hamilton's body, giving him the ability to follow through on his mission.

JS: Okay. For the record, we get a bear (albeit an imaginary bear) and a babe (Kellerman) this time out, so it's a definite improvement over "The Borderland." And who doesn't get excited about the mysterious goings-on at an arctic outpost? Why, I think I could even hear Godzilla during one of the earthquake montages, which I'd say places this episode near the opening of King Kong Vs Godzilla.

PE: I think the sound you heard was Dr. Hamilton gasping when he looked into Hot Lips' mind and saw donkeys and rubber trousers.

JS: Is it just me, or did anyone else think, wow, they're in a remote arctic outpost, but they can still tune into The Outer Limits! I'm beginning to think that sine wave is going to find its way into every episode.

PE: Who does Kellerman's hair? Is there an arctic outpost salon on base?
JS: Props to Dr. Hamilton, who develops a machine to find out a gal likes him before risking embarrassment by just asking her out. We're even treated to a romantic melody to go along with their little mind reading tryst. One can only imagine what sordid image of himself Hamilton found in Ingrid's mind. You can almost hear him gulp before he tears off his headset.

PE: I so bought that a babe like Sally Kellerman would dig an old scientist with a comb-over. In the final scene of the episode, she actually looks like she's about to go in to Merrill for a kiss and thinks better of it.

JS: I always loved Harry Guardino as Lt. Bressler opposite Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and The Enforcer, and was pleasantly surprised to see him doing something so much more dynamic in his role as Major Brothers. He and Merrill both do a fine job when it comes to selling their role reversal. And nice to see Colonel Sangriento himself (Joe de Santis) from Thriller's "The Bride Who Died Twice" as Colonel Campbell.

PE: By 1970, Guardino had learned he didn't have to yell his lines. I thought it very cool that when Guardino and Merrill switch brains (Holy Kirk Cameron!!), Merrill does the yelling. Now that's acting. And just in case viewers couldn't tell that the brain switching was going on, we get an elaborate MRI showcase.

JS: Again, we're treated to a very nicely shot episode with decent production values.

PE: Yeah, John, how much do you think that emergency escape hatch cost?



David J. Schow on "The Human Factor":

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. Right furniture; wrong story.

    Right setting, right use of Conrad Hall -- this episode is lit to within an inch of its life, if you'll stop to notice -- good cast, good music, and nonetheless this still gets misremembered as a TWILIGHT ZONE by most people who recall it at all.

    I know a thing or two about the DEWLine, and that totally-impractical, yet very cinematic escape hatch would never have existed. But, oh dear ... they BUILT it for a single shot! Once again, the money faucet was open. The excesses of "Tourist Attraction" would shortly slam it shut. But it's a glorious-LOOKING episode, and a missed opportunity, apart from the evidence that THE OUTER LIMITS was gradually starting to creep toward what would become its visual identity.

    1. You said it your self, "[You] know a thing or two about the DEWLine," but it would seem you are forgetting the time period this film was made/set. At that time the satellite system we now use was still a thing of the future. Apart from its existence being public knowledge, most information about the DEWLine was classified TOP SECRET. Like the interior of the United States Bullion Depository in the movie GOLDFINGER, everything had to be created by speculation. The production team had no way of knowing what features a DEWLine installation did and did not have. All they could do was speculate about it an create it on film. So "that totally-impractical, yet very cinematic escape hatch would never have existed;" they reasoned it probably would exist so they built it. Cut them some slack.

  2. I love when Guardino-as-Hamilton and Kellerman talk through the gap in the holding cell door -- Hall makes their exchange much more intimate than if it had been prosaically lit and shot, and it's actually kind of a touching scene for it (the only one in the episode I can detect).

    Wonder whatever happened to that escape hatch...

  3. John Townsley RiddleJanuary 5, 2011 at 7:52 AM

    The Winter of Our Content

    Icicled with hibernation-inducing performances, blanketed under drifts of heatless romance, and freezer burned by thawed out leftovers from other writers' dinners (Barry Pain's AN EXCHANGE OF SOULS comes to mind), "The Human Factor" adds dangerous momentum to the series' snowballing problems.

    Mercury-raising touches, such as attention-perking stuntwork, and Ice Station Tenebra photography, are whited-out in a flurry of derivativeness and predictability.

    "The Human Factor"'s bear is the series' only bugbear (imaginary monster); but what might have been teeth-chattering becomes shoulder-shrugging, as "Chill Charlie" is replaced by his unscary understudy.

    Still, "The Human Factor" can be a source of potboilerish fun, as long as you forgive its fridge logic, turn down the thermostat in your brain, and go with the "floe".

    Two Zantis.

    By the way, John and Peter, your "Human Factor" review was a rasgueado to the ribcage. Keep up the good work.

    1. Yes. I forgot that the snow monster imaginary thing qualifies as a bear. I thought it was pretty effective.

  4. I'm a sucker for snowbound settings, be they western (the great DAY OF THE OUTLAW) or thriller--particularly scifi-horror fare at remote arctic outposts; THE THING X 2, the creepy TV movie A COLD NIGHT'S DEATH, the X-FILES "Ice", or the recent THE LAST WINTER (and for reading, I recommend Duncan Kyle's fun arctic army base thriller"Whiteout").

    But here we get a brain swap. What a waste of...well...everything else.

    Private Bear is cool looking, but should have been either promoted or discharged; his three appearance seem more like an afterthought. His presence reminds me of the beckoning/accusing sailors' ghosts in the (I think) underrated one-hour TWILIGHT ZONE "The Thirty-Fathom Grave", though they are far more eerily effective.

    I do enjoy Guardino's loon in this, however, and his sunflower seeds.

    But best of all for me, and the thing that makes this show bearable (ouch), is Frontiere's great score. A hefty orchestra here, and it spawned some of OL's go-to themes--particularly two of my faves; the great mounting suspense cues used in so many teasers.

    Anyone catch future Hill Street Blueser James B. Sikking getting locked in the storeroom? And Ivan Dixon, a wonderful actor hopefully not just remembered for HOGAN'S HEROES, but rather for a long career of fine acting and directing work. TZ fans know him for his moving portrayal of the not-quite-washed-up fighter in the episode "A Big Tall Wish".

  5. I'm not sure exactly why, but I liked this one a lot. Harry Guardino delivered a fine performance as a convincing nutjob. The plot is so outlandish and creatively overblown, yet, it works.

    When you break down the plot simply as: It's about this psychotic Major haunted by a fatal decision he's made, that wants to blow up the military base in the arctic where he's stationed at, and he ends up switching minds with a good scientist. Oh yeah, he's also being stalked by an ice zombie in his own mind.

    That's something FOX would build a whole television series around nowadays. The bear might seem gratuitous, but iho, just adds an extra creative layer to a good episode.

    Speaking of the bear, I was looking at some scans of the Outer Limits 1960's card set. One of the bears featured in two cards was an ice creature. The site only showed the fronts of the cards and not the backs so I was unable to find out which episode the bear was from. Was it the same creature or is a different snow monster coming up in a future ep. of the series? If it is the same bear from "The Human Factor," that's almost the equivilant of giving Dengar from Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, his own action figure.

  6. Sorry to drift off topic, but the Thriller: Complete Series DVD set is currently $59.99 at amazon. I stumbled on to this, so I'm not sure how long it will be available at this price.

  7. UTW, that was Chill Charlie, the unused prop figure, and by the way, DJS, do we know specifically WHY it was canned?

  8. UTW - You can read about the fate of "Chill Charlie" in Schow's OL Companion excerpt above.

    And be sure to check out the Holcomb brothers article on the Monsters of OL cards, including four additional cards they designed themselves!

    And just to drive Peter crazy, allow me to say that these days there are far worse offenders than Dengar having their own action figure. Four words: Ice Cream Maker Guy. As for Dengar, at least he finally got some screen time in one of the last Robot Chicken: Star Wars specials...

  9. What are you guys talking about? This was a love story, right? Sally Kellerman looked great and I had trouble getting my tongue unstuck from the TV screen.

  10. Always wanted to know more about Chill Charlie's inglorious exit. Considering that this was a prop created at some expense AND that the network was pressing for monsters, the purely creative decision to cut him out and replace him with the icy soldier must've been quite a moment over at the OL office. Who decided this? Stevens? Stefano? The episode director? Was Charlie actually filmed, with shots of him incorporated into the body of the episode, and then did Abe Biberman watch his first cut and say, "Nah, the creature thing's too much of a reach. Brothers is haunted by guilt, pure and simple. So let the weird manifestation just be the soldier he left behind, now an icy corpse with an accusing finger." Did they go back and re-shoot these scenes? Did they revise Hamilton's dialogue at the end to reflect the appropriate manifestation?

    A word on the OL trading cards: In the mid-90s, I edited a new set for Comic Images that reprinted X-amount of the original trading cards as a bonus. On the backs of those reprinted cards, I explained how and why Len Brown at Topps revised all of the show's storylines and came up with things like "The Brainless Glob" (aka Turdo from "Don't Open Till Doomsday"). I'm not sure if the Holcombs cover this... BTW, the reason why the original storylines were not used on the cards was purely legal: the licensing agent didn't secure the rights for individual episode plots, so Topps was told to make up their own. This was true of licensed trading card sets way into the 1970s...

  11. How cool would it have been to include a flashback scene where Brothers finds the frozen corpse of Private Icicle (as portrayed by "Chill Charlie"), inspiring his waking nightmares of the reanimated soldier from that point on.

    Gary - We need to do a detailed history of your trading card work for bare•bones!

  12. Gary, we concocted our OL site back in the early '90s (fuck, we're old), and were going from the original Topps set. So we missed your explanation by a few years, unfortunately. Maybe Brown's fabricated story lines were what ABC had in mind for the series all along...

  13. Larry- Day of the Outlaw is in my top ten favorite westerns of all time. The inspiration for "The Great Silence," spaghetti western. TZ's "Thirty-Fathom Grave," I thought was one of the worst! Big thanks for pointing out Ivan Dixon and James B. Sikking. Being a huge Hill Street Blues fan that owns all the seasons through Japanese bootlegs, I can't believe I didn't recognize him!

    John S.- Wow. I can't say shit about Dengar after you showed me that.

    Shame on me for not reading DJS's article before posting. Now I know what he meant, in yesterdays post, about the first three episodes pissing away money.

    Whatever happened to Chill Charlie? Is he in some old ladies basement collecting dust? Was he incinerated? Did some rich Tycoon pick him up on Ebay? The big guy looks actually kind of sad in the pics. Like a hotshot ballplayer that was drafted to the big leagues, but got cut before being allowed to play one single game.

  14. The SF concept is old hat and the plot line mundane (it was far to my young eyes when I first caught it), yet this episode has a marvellous feel to it; the opening shot of the sledge being hoisted into the base amid a blizzard, the contrasting warmth of the base, the production design of it makes it look far more expensive. Especially with it's glowering photographic beauty, orchestral charm. I watched over three times last night just for that.

    Most of the problems lie in whoever commissioned David Duncan, the thinking being that a script-writer of big screen "sci-fi" would be able to do it for the small screen, without taking into account that those efforts were the work of a hack.

    I think this may have been one of the great missed opportunities. They should have just adapted 'Who Goes There' by John Campbell, which at novella length would have been a perfect fit, fleshed out the characters a mite and with the Hall/Frontiere magic, it would have easily surpassed Hawks' 'The Thing' (1951) (great characterisation but just a dim replay of Frankenstien and the SF drained out to the most basic), Carpenter's 'The Thing' (1982?) (lousy characterisation, great effects and the original idea intact).

    The finest story I've ever encountered within this ice-bound setting is the stunning Tom Baker 'Dr Who' story 'The Seeds of Dooms' (a beautiful mixture of 'The Thing, 'The Day of the Triffids', 'The Avengers' and 'The Quatermass Experiment' but generally far better then those), made during it's three year golden age under the Hinchliffe/Holmes regime.

    Strangely Biberman proves a dab hand as a director (he did direct TTZ classic 'The Dummy' and to a lesser extent, 'Number 12 Looks Just Like You'). His direction is pacey when it needs to be pacey, uses outre dutch camera angles after the snow collapse and inventive, such as the placement of the camera in the cupboard shelf, so that we see darkness, towel after towel gets removed to reveal more and more light and a soldier with the door open behind him and Kellerman rushing in to close it behind him. It's an unusual placement of the camera, where most journeymen directors would have just shown Kellerman from the outside locking the door. Considering the fact that most directors are usually inspired by good scripts to give it their all, his direction is way beyond the call here and very distinctive.

    Here is another possible thesis for why he never worked on the show again. On Stephen Bowie's brilliantly informative and inspiring 'Classic Television blog' - he conducted an interview with Collin Wilcox....

    " Wilcox on 'Number 12': The director was Abner Biberman. Between playing the role and being chased around on the set by that man – and I had on some skimpy clothes, particularly that hospital thing. Fortunately he was really heavy, and I could get into small places that he couldn’t!

    Bowie: Biberman was really that obvious about trying to grab you?

    Wilcox: Oh, yes. He had directed me to a play previous to casting me in this. Oh, god, it is an awful play, called 'The Family Way'. Jack Kelly was my co-star. That’s where Biberman knew anything about me, really. I thought I was working with a man who was frothing at the mouth all the time – he had quite a temper – but he chewed Tums or something, so this frothy white stuff came out of the sides of his mouth when he was talking."

    Now if he was doing that with the charmingly mousy Wilcox, what would he have been like with with Kellerman and how would his temper have fared in the under Stefano's regime? Just musings...

    One Zanti, with merits going to Biberman, Hall and Frontiere.

    bobby j.

  15. I go off to work and the place goes to hell in a bucket! What's with all the westerns and Star Wars talk, people?

    Honestly, I don't want to seem a tyrannical moderator or anything but we need to stay on topic.

    Could we stay away from the trivial (and frankly silly)digressions and get back to the serious discussions concerning brain swapping, ice cream cone head ghosts, and Sally Kellerman's breasts?

    I can imagine what our critics are saying when they read this stuff. Oy!

  16. Peter, you read my X-rated mind about Sally Kellerman.
    This is a fun, middling episode. Yeah, Sally is hot for 50ish and looks older ex-Mr. Bette Davis Gary Merril. That'll be the day. That makes it for me a male-written wish fulfillment fantasy, Merril is rather condesending "be a good girl".
    The stock footage doesn't match very well. But I happen to like the scienci-experiment-gone-wrong sub-genre as well as mistaken identity stories, as well as mind-swap movies.
    So 2 1/2 Zantis.

  17. If there's any moment I have trouble with, it's when Merrill sees "the Private" behind Kellerman and shouts "Leave me alone!" and she thinks it's directed at her. Sure, it's entertaining, but it seems a lot like one of those sitcom scenes about misunderstood conversations (the kind people associate with Three's Company). But apart from little things like that I just don't have much of a problem with it.

  18. By the time I saw this in syndication (in the 70s), I'd already seen mind-swapping stories on LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL, THE AVENGERS, STAR TREK, THE MONKEES, and ROCKY & BULLWINKLE. This was the BEST one!

    Harry Guardino can also be seen as "Barrabus", the Jewish rebel leader in the very-political "KING OF KINGS", and as Richard Widmark's partner in "MADIGAN". ("You bum! You were lookin' at the BROAD!" "Well what the hell were YOU lookin' at?")

    I mostly remember Gary Merrill for "THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND". And Sally Kellerman, both "Where No Man Has Gone Before" on STAR TREK, and the movie "M*A*S*H". ("This isn't a hospital-- it's an INSANE ASYLUM!!!!!")

    I get a kick out of spotting actors years or decades before they got famous. Hope everyone spotted Dabney Coleman in "SPECIMEN UNKNOWN". (He's the first one to die!)

  19. I know I'm in the minority in a huge way, but to me the Frank / Margaret scenes of MASH are the only DOWNSIDE of the movie, in spite of Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman.
    On the other hand, I think she gets to be truly hilarious in the movie SLITHER (not the horror film of that name, but a suspense comedy from ' 73). I don't usually say "You've GOTTA see" such and such thing, but anyone who likes her should see that movie.

  20. If “The Thing” and “Freaky Friday” had a baby...

    This isn’t a terrible episode, but it’s far from the best. When viewing the episodes in order of air date, this (episode 8) is the most lackluster so far. Nothing too fresh or original here.

    There are a few bone-headed plot points on display. Like, why on earth would the fellow in charge of the bomb demonstrate, step by step, just how to detonate it to unauthorized personnel? And I wonder how on earth secretary Larkin was able to explain why she broke Major Brothers out of detention---a move that would appear (to everyone who didn’t know the whole story) to result in his death? The ending is all warm and fuzzy, but I have the feeling that Ingrid Larkin was about to experience a world of trouble right after the credits rolled.

    I wish the effects guys could have come up with a slightly more sophisticated display depicting the mind-meld on the lab screens. As it is, looks rather like two amoebas in love.

    Wow, Gary Merrill has some major eyebrow game going on there, doesn’t he... I haven’t seen very many of his films; I remember him primarily from All About Eve back in 1950, and of course as being Bette Davis’ one-time husband.

  21. I liked it a bit better on reviewing. I think originally I was too ticked off at Merrill for not immediately getting it on with a smoking hot Sally Kellerman. But mind transfer stories are kind of interesting. The acting was ok. I liked Ivan Dixon in particular. The scene where Kellerman is convinced Merrill is on the other guy's body is pretty good. 2 1/4 Zantis.


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