Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Man with the Power

Production Order #08
Broadcast Order #04
Original Airdate: 10/7/63
Starring Donald Pleasence, Priscilla Morrill, Fred Beir.
Written by Jerome Ross.
Directed by Laslo Benedek. 

Harold Finley (Pleasence) has a unique power: he can use his mind to move really big rocks. His power has a drawback in that when he gets upset, people tend to get hurt. Feeling caged by his domineering wife (Morrill), Finley's power has been growing more out of control by the minute.

PE: Right off the bat, I have to admit this thing took me four tries and several bottles to get through. Not the most exciting TV I've seen (and I've seen a lot of TV in my years).

JS: True enough, but much like Thriller's "The Fatal Impulse," it's got a unique charm. Look at the cast—Donald Pleasence, John Marley, Edward Platt. Of course Pleasence is always fun to watch, though based on the way he stumbles around with wide eyes, it appears he was still caught up in his role as Blythe the blind forger from The Great Escape.

PE: How about that wife? How could anyone live with such a shrew? Not even the wives on Alfred Hitchcock Presents were as nasty as Harold's Vera. Every chance she gets, Vera cuts Harold down to size. By the time the hedge trimming scene pops up ("You're a nothing, Harold!"), I knew Vera was wearing a Star Trek red shirt. I was so happy when Harold discovered he was really in love with Astronaut Steve. They make such a grand couple.

JS: And like all classic love stories, it's not meant to be. For every ray of sunshine in his life, there was a storm cloud (literally) following him. To think it was all in pursuit of benefiting the universe. Cracking rocks in deepest space to gather energy to bring back home, and all the other benefits that would include.

PE: Like abolishing Texas. Why would they want to abolish Texas?

JS: Taxes, Peter. The pitch was to abolish taxes. Although frankly abolishing Texas is a less fantastic concept, even for a science fiction tale.

PE: The appearances of  Finley's "bodyguard" reminded me quite a bit of Curse/Night of the Demon (well, if Jacques Tourneur's demon looked like a washing machine full of diapers). It's pretty funny the various reactions to the "electric bear," from terrified (the macho power line guys who won't let Harold through) to ignorant (please tell me how a mini-electric storm appears over the heads of Dean Radcliffe (Edward Platt) and his secretary and they don't even notice it?). (Chief! I mean Dean—there's a lightning cloud brewing in your office! -JS) And where exactly did the Dean and his shapely steno disappear to when the roof caved in on them? Did he have a trap door for unruly students in his office? Nothing's mentioned about the roof incident afterward.

JS: Finley's power was harnessed for the Thetan ray gun in "Architects"—Vaporize any automobile in seconds! I also liked the shot of the Dean's burned out bed. Of course the cops from Thriller are on the job again, as they let Finley waltz right in to the Dean's bedroom before anyone bothers to question him. Oh, and I wouldn't have gotten your washing machine full of diapers reference before this past weekend. Did I mention how nice it was to have you visit?
PE: Walls with lots of strange shaped shadows. Criss-crossed patterns across hallways. Gloriously large picture windows in super secret laboratories!  Who taught this guy how to light a set? Do the Finleys really have a spotlight in the floor of their living room?

JS: Um, be careful treading into that territory. If you think the Shatner-philes were tough, don't even get started with the Conrad Hall-ers.

PE: My L-OL moment of the show: Dr. Hindeman's door!

Can't you just imagine the next line off screen - "AND A HELL OF A NICE GUY."

JS: That's printed on his business cards.

PE: After this episode, they had to repaint the door to reflect his next project: EXPLORING URANUS...

JS: Don't go there...

PE: ...with astronaut Steve. I want an Astronaut Steve doll.

JS: I'll get Sideshow on the horn.

PE: I'm still trying to figure out where the checkerboard pattern on the walls is coming from.

JS: Clearly it's part of the Peter Farris OL drinking game. And don't forget to take a shot every time Pleasence dons or removes his glasses.


David J. Schow on "The Man with the Power":

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

Next Up...


  1. It's worth noting here that Priscilla Morrill later played the shrieking spirit in the only film Stefano ever directed: THE HAUNTED (pilot version), aka THE GHOST OF SIERRA DE COBRE (feature version), which we'll get to. Her ghostly self is rendered via the exact same negative-reversal process used for the Galaxy Being — another example of the parallelism between Stevens' "hard science" and Stefano's "weird science."

  2. The writer of this episode (Jerome Ross) obviously had a wife, and a dean, or a boss or a ... 'Chief.' ANddddd ... not loving it.

    But seriously, I always found this a very nifty idea story sensitively realized by Donald Pleasance's performance. And thanks for the Blythe shout out, because he was probably filming that role in "The Great Escape" right about the same time. So maybe he was still in character.

    But consider the premise again; that negative emotions can be manifested into a directed force.

    It seems to me the Internet has become the perfect embodiment of this conscious expanded 'power of the mind' expressed, but like this story, also exposing the unfiltered poisons of hatred, anger, resentment, paranoia simmering under. (Just check out posts on any political or celebrity site anywhere).

    But the genie is out of the bottle and how do you get everyone to dissipate their own negative energy clouds before zapping others?

    And don't mess with Conrad Hall. The expressionistic noir lighting he did on this series was fantastic - especially where it gets even weirder in episodes like "The Guests." Why should it be realistic? It always adds its own emotional context to a scene. Here, with the haunting narrow spot frame on Finley's eyes.

    But one thing I'm coming away with revisiting this at the same time I'm going through the "Thriller" set (I'm still on the first season) is just how superior, IMO, this show was in almost every way. Cinematography. Lighting. Ideas. Music (well, Jerry Goldsmith is the highlight of the Thriller set so far for me). Writing. (I love Robert Bloch and some of the adapted Thriller scribes, but Stefano's supervision and work on this show made for such superior dialogue and poetic touches and, ironically, realism.

    But most signficantly, this show laps 'Thriller' in casting. I don't know what was going on with the budget or casting director for that show, but it almost always featured C-level tier actors (or acting quality), whereas TOL consistently featured fantastic performances by first rate actors (many of whom were on their WAY to peaking or getting more widely known). Theater-trained performers who took this way-out science fiction dialogue seriously and absolutely SOLD IT. It suprises me again ever time how natural they made the very far out sound. Robert Culp. Michale Tolin. Donald Pleasance. Robert Duvall. Edward Asner. Geraldine Brooks. Sam Wannamaker. Martin Sheen. And on and on and on. Just giving knock out performances.

    It's always a treat to be re-minded why the 'human factor' on this show is timeless, even though the science and gadgetry has become dated.

  3. The theme of the little man turning had served both Philip K. Dick ('Small Town') and J.G. Ballard ('The Last World of Mr. Goddard'), among others, to terrific effect. Unfortunately, Ross' script is solid, diverting enough but uninspired. A mite one dimensional.

    What makes this an enjoyable watch are the little things: Pleasence's wonderful performance and my favourite scene is probably the one where the wife makes suddenly realises the awesome destruction power she tangled with.

    With both '100 Days of the Dragon' and this, the production team is rearing to go but the scripting isn't quite up the outstanding levels it was to reach during it's 'hot period'. The photography is a treat, the music seems wholly recycled but is perfectly tailored to fit like a Saville Row suit. And the direction is as creative as the script will allow, with good compositions and splendid use of a hand held camera during the energy cloud's turbulent appearances.

    The ceiling caving in is a remarkably convincing effect.

    For all the that, these episodes are miles better than the flat hour long 'Twilight Zone' segments - with the exception of two from that season.

    One zanti with merits going to the outstanding production crew.

  4. You guys killed with that commentary. 4 Zanti's for it alone.

    I actually like Man With The Power for it's sheer absurdity, and by absurd I don't mean silly or stupid. It's just such an excellent premise executed so...uh...weirdly. I really feel for Pleasance's character (and stories about the little guy getting picked on to the point of snapping), and by the end of the show I wanted his Storm of Hatred to destroy the whole goddamn planet.

    I love how casual Pleasance's selective "brain surgery" comes off. Wonder if having a glowing domino inserted into your frontal lobe was covered by his health care provider? And how can you not love the first demonstration of his powers, with that "rock" floating with the help of wires and a few shocked expressions.

    Huge John Marley fan here, too, especially his work with John Cassavetes.

  5. Thanks Peter and John for pointing out the gay subplot. These episodes have deeper meanings and levels than I thought. I was disappointed to see that Pleasance did NOT kill his nagging, shrewish wife. I was gleefully waiting for a big rock to drop on her. I also did not like the ending where he gives up the power and commits suicide. I would have kept it and used it in a fair manner, like to kill my enemies and people who annoy me. Two and a half Karloffs! Er, I mean Zanties!

  6. When in doubt, roll out the Monster from the Id. I know I always do. "The Man with the Power" plays like an episode at war with itself: It wants to be a full-fledged OUTER LIMITS, what with an energy cloud monster and wild Conrad Hall visual touches; but it also wants to be a TWILIGHT ZONE, with a meek and mild protagonist (the Burgess Meredith prototype from "Time Enough at Last"/"Mr. Dingle the Strong", or Pleasance himself in "Changing of the Guard") married to a shrewish, borderline sitcom wife. In ZONE land, of course, we'd have whimsy coming into play at some point, but this being a LIMITS, everything is dead serious. End result? Entertaining for the obvious pleasures (music, fx, photography and Pleasance), but ultimately off-kilter and surprisingly flat. This one was sandwiched between "Architects of Fear" and "Sixth Finger" when originally aired, if memory serves, which means us kids back in '63 forgot about it almost instantly when those better, landmark episodes started to appear. Speaking of ZONE, Fred Beir (Astronaut Steve) turned up as another Right Stuffer in that hour long TZ entry written by Richard Matheson, "Death Ship."

  7. Some comments on the comments:

    To my pals Peter & John--

    OL is FANTASY, guys! One of the few reasons to watch "Man w/the Power" is to marvel and what Conrad Hall did to jack up the visual interest---to make it look UNlike a typical 60's Tv show! That's why, for example, the supposedly classic, chilling TZ episode "Living Doll" is an overrated bore for me: most of it was lit and shot like an episode of "Leave it to Beaver."

    And, re: our commentator Hollywood's evaluation of the OL's casting vs. that of "Thriller": we're venturing into a pretty interesting and controversial area here. The concept of the shows were ENTIRELY different; OL, which began production 3 years after Thriller, was definitely a "new-age, cutting-edge" show, like the many socially-conscious-type series that were popping up in the early 60's; so the cast "profile" of OL was definitely younger, more hip, more Actor's Studio/ was everything else about the series. And if that's your cup of tea, that's peachy (as in Kenneth). I think Culp's three OL performances are as fine as anything TV ever offered---EVER.

    Also, there's NO denying that "Thriller" contained far more merely average or SUBstandard performances than OL; no doubt about it...those early crime dramas are rank with mediocrity in every respect (but wait 'til we get to some of OL's second season entries...).

    Thriller, on the other hand, being a traditionally theatrical show, gave us a far greater number of what I call "showcase" performances by members of the Old School---roles which were written to display a particular actor's own unique flair...their virtuosic command of the screen (I attempted to enumerate these performances in the "Thriller-a-Day" site's final wrap-up). OL, on the other hand, relies far more on an authentic acting style, in order to make the encounters with the fantastic more plausible; it therefore yielded far fewer opporunities in the grand, theatrical mold.

    To put it another way: in Thriller, the most sensational element on screen might be Karloff, Henry Daniell, or Guy Rolfe, whereas in OL it was a stunt-man in a rubber suit (OK....a FANCY rubber suit). And whereas acting style ultimately boils down to a matter of taste, I certainly wouldn't put a Sam Wanamaker (as much as I like and admire him) in the same ballpark as a Henry Daniell or Oscar Holmolka in terms of sheer presence and theatrical know-how; not even close.

    As for comparing OL's scripts to Thriller's...we're talking apples and potatoes here (uh-oh....does potato end in "E" when it's plural?!?). Again, the concept and goal of each series was so different, I find it a tough comparison to grasp. And I'll be interested to see how our stable of commentators reacts to the increasingly preachy quality of Stefano's scripts as we go.

    Anyway, bravo to all for their insightful and thought-provoking comments here. Nothing like divergent opinions and fresh, new takes on old familiar material to keep things interesting!


    PS: re-Thriller vs. OL ~
    Things get REALLY wild when Stefano starts to COMBINE "Thriller's" Gothic milieu with OL's futuristic idiom; then it's "Every Man for Himself"!

  8. Interesting points about the casting....but, taking a look at the vast majority of the anthology shows of the '50 and early '60s, one finds a host of old time movie stars, rubbing shoulders with theatre actors, kicking dust with 'the method' school, swishing by up and coming upstarts who were to make it big. Which makes it a mighty golden age. Consider the 'Studio One' 2 parter, 'The Defender' (which was the blueprint for the Emmy award winning '60s show) - it has the up and coming Shatner, an off-kilter, over the top methody Steve MacQueen and Ralph Bellamy as the father.

    Kim Stanley, regarded as THE great actress, a female Brando made her appearances in the golden age of the anthologies in the '50s, such as 'Playhouse 90'.

    OL has the brilliant Neil Hamilton and George Macready, Miriam Hopkins.

    Thriller had a younf Ed Nelson and Shatner.

    Just some thoughts..

  9. Boy, we're riding a real sine wave here. Good ep, mediocre, great, bad. I like this one even less than "Hundred Days."

  10. All I know is, I'd rather sit through 52 minutes of this than 90-plus minutes of Carrie. I don't HATE Carrie, but it has a whole lot of time to wear thin for me. And as great an actress as Piper Laurie is, Priscilla Morrill's over-the-top shrew wife is less depressing than her over-the-top religious fanatic.
    Even though I'm not touchy about the subject, I just don't see any gay subtext in the scenes between Finley and the astronaut. Maybe I'm wrong.

  11. Crappy story, what a waste of Donald Pleasence. Both Morrill and Ed Platt are such unpleasant characters, its hard to watch their conversations with Pleasance. You can see the wire on the rock Pleasance dropps on the table with his mind. Pleasance's desire to be with the scientific in-croud is too obvious as is his way over the top bitch wife. What a c___ she is. This would not be greenlighted as a grade Z early scifi movie. Pleasance not being allowed out of his teaching contract is a lousy McGuffin.. Only thing I sort of like is the message: man can't completely control his emotions. So 1/2 Zanti.

  12. Found a TIME magazine from Oct 1963 in a garage recently, and the TV page was reviewing some of the "new fall shows". This was the one the reviewer fussed over -- he didn't like it, but at least the commentary was graced with a photograph. But perhaps you'll all agree -- that 'storm' in the operating room at the end was quite the payoff.

  13. I've said it elsewhere, but one of my favorite small things about the episode is how thoroughly it messes with the idea that, in the early-mid ' 60s, nearly everyone in the whole country was crazy about the space program. Vera and Dean Radcliffe aren't just unimpressed that Harold himself is involved in it - which would be strange enough - they're unimpressed by the whole thing. And of course when Harold brings home an actual astronaut for dinner, Vera couldn't care less!
    Maybe the story lays that idea on a little heavily, but it's still entertaining.

  14. I like this episode. I keep coming back to it. Not sure why. Maybe 'cuz I hate Vera so much. And I keep thinking Finley will eventually make out with Steve or something...

  15. There’s an element of basic wish fulfillment with this episode: I daresay quite a few people would have liked, at one time or another, to have the power to ZAP those who annoy them! Donald Pleasance is quite good as the mild-mannered fellow who secretly carries a store of resentment within. He has very striking eyes, which are displayed to good effect whenever he’s releasing the powers of his mind-control device.

    Unfortunately, I’m afraid Harold’s sacrifice was in vain. The scientists would certainly have the schematics of the device on file, so they could easily build another one and implant it in a willing test subject---though perhaps this time around they’d make a special effort to choose someone who is emotionally stable.

    While this episode plays out pretty much as you would expect from the get-go, I think it’s a solid piece of entertainment. This really could have been a Twilight Zone episode; it has that sort of feel to it.

  16. I watched this episode while a little drunk. It took until about 2/3 of the way through until I realized this was not a "Walter Mitty" gimmick. I thought for sure there would be a reveal showing that Finley was hallucinating the entire space program plot, and was really a brain cancer patient whose tumor was returning. The way Vera and the Dean are so unimpressed it was like they didn't believe him.

  17. Speaking of wish fulfillment and Walter Mitty, I've always felt this could have worked as a comical episode (in spite of how so many people feel about comical ones due to Controlled Experiment). In a story like that, Harold could've really used the power to assert himself in a NON-fatal way. Even though it sounds sexist, that would've definitely started with Vera. Speaking of TWILIGHT ZONE, it could've ended a little like "A World Of His Own" (with its little happy ending for Gregory).


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