Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spotlight on "Counterweight"

By Matthew R. Bradley

Like “The Invisible Enemy,” its immediate predecessor on the Outer Limits production schedule, “Counterweight” was based on the short story of the same title by Jerry Sohl (1913-2002), but in this case he did not receive screenwriting credit, and his script was not used.  Eighty-five when I interviewed him for Filmfax, he seemed unaware of the latter fact, or that scenarist Milton Krims (“Keeper of the Purple Twilight”) was a real person.  “I did the teleplay and they put that name on it, I don’t understand why.  They chose it; that’s not even one of my pseudonyms.  I’ve no objection to having my name on it, but they put that on there for some reason.  Oh, it’s coming back to me now—I think I had too many shows running, because I did so many,” Jerry told me.

The juxtaposition between the episodes demonstrates the series’ oft-observed disparity about just how technologically advanced we humans are supposed to be.  “The Invisible Enemy” shows us making the first tentative steps toward colonizing Mars, with the implication that this is our first visit to another world (I can’t recall if it is stated outright in the episode, which of course differs markedly from Sohl’s original story in that regard).  “Counterweight,” on the other hand, finds a group of people in a cross-section of professions preparing for a 261-day flight on a transport to Antheon, a planet in another solar system, where the heavy lifting of exploration has apparently already been done, and the work of constructing an actual colony is now relatively within reach.

First published in the November 1959 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction, and reprinted in the posthumous collection Filet of Sohl, the literary “Counterweight” once again has a much greater scope than the episode.  It is set aboard the Weblor II, which is actually en route to Antheon with its crew of fifty and 3,000 colonists, who take up arms against the mysterious man committing a series of apparently senseless crimes.  The reporter, Keith Ellason, is initially kept in the dark by Captain Branson about the nature of this “Nilly,” in reality a crewmember whose actions distract the colonists, preventing a repeat of the interstellar revolt that claimed hundreds of lives aboard the Weblor I, and whose faked execution thus of necessity must remain a closely guarded secret.

Interestingly, Sohl’s story has a premise somewhat similar to that of “The Architects of Fear,” in which a kind of SF straw man is set up to unite humanity—or, in this case, 3,000 representatives thereof—against a common adversary, which might be one reason why Krims’s teleplay features such a dramatically different concept.  The televised version is reminiscent of such Twilight Zone entries as the pilot, “Where Is Everybody?,” whose protagonist pushes the panic button during a training mission intended to determine whether he can withstand the mental and physical effects of a prolonged space flight.  There is also a visual echo of the first-season episode adapted from Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun,” with a circular pan shot upward through a glass table.

The finished episode recalls The Martian Chronicles, as aliens tap into our thoughts to forestall colonization, although here their intention is to frighten us off, rather than to lull us into the false sense of security whereby “The Third Expedition” met its untimely end in Ray Bradbury’s book.  It replaces the masked red herring who served as Sohl’s home-grown antagonist with what looks like a glowing variation on the titular critter from The Tingler (1959)—accompanied by second-season composer Harry Lubin’s eerie electronic theme—and eventually manifests itself as one of Project Unlimited’s more memorable “bears.”  This time, instead of a guy in a goofy suit, we get honest-to-God stop-motion animation in the impressive initial shots of the alien-possessed plant. 

Byron Haskin, who directed six Outer Limits episodes, also supervised the series’ special effects, and discussed the notorious bears in his Directors Guild of America Oral History interview with Joe Adamson:  “I was in charge of designing the monsters….I had a lot of fun with that series. I literally drew the original drawings of all these monsters in charcoal on a big pad….We operated with the Projects [sic] Unlimited outfit.  I forget all their names, but [stop-motion animator] Jim [Danforth] was over there, and he was more or less the coordinator with the monsters, I think—in the manufacture.  The beneficent hand of [Haskin’s frequent collaborator, producer] George Pal was underneath somewhere; he invested the money to get Projects Unlimited going, I think.”

Sohl, too, weighed in regarding bears:  “Initially—I thought they were wrong, and perhaps they were, I don’t know—[the network] wanted the monster shown at the beginning of the show.  My feeling about the matter was [that then] you might as well forget it all and just show the monster, that’s it.  You have to show something mysterious and continue on, and the mystery mounts until you find that it is a monster who is doing this terrible thing, whatever it is.  Then the story can be longer and you can build suspense, but if you show the monster right off the bat, I think you lose a lot of something that might be done with words and with scenes.  I didn’t like that, so I did not show the monster to begin with unless they absolutely intended that it be done that way,” he said.

Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen, now in its third printing from McFarland, and the co-editor—with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve—of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008), revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson (Citadel, 2009).  Check out his blog, Bradley on Film.


  1. I'm sure we all have nothing but admiration for the guys behind even THIS episode! Great background info...

    Thanks for the link to your blog. Will be visiting it often!

  2. Thanks, Matthew, for illuminating the sad saga of what obviously sounded like a much more interesting short story than this abomination. But I still didn't get whether Milton Krims is a real person or not. And, if so, has he been in witness relocation program since this episode appeared?

  3. Okay, it's not just me, but I've found this Post a Comment box glitchy in that I type much faster than text appears, and the lag throws me off, causing all sorts of typos that I am way too impulsive or lazy to always correct. I wonder if the rest of the posters type their comments somewhere else and paste them here to avoid that frustation. I've done that on longer posts, but I think I will make that policy for ANY posts from now on.

    Another glitch is that you often have to hit the Post Comment button multiple times before the code word appears and you can actually post the comment.

    But then, of course, this all could just be a conspiracy to discourage my addled participation. Only O.B.I.T. knows for sure.

  4. Ditto the gratitude of Lisa and Hollywoodaholic for your enlightening Spotlight. Some intriguing info/intimations.

    I'm also wondering about this Krims identity. We hear Seeleg Lester refer to him as a real entity in DJS' COMPANION interview coverage. But of course he might do that, if he felt confidentiality were somehow still an issue. And you can readily imagine a show, a publication---an author, for that matter---using pseudonyms to maintain credibility for rapid-fire work by the same creator. The old pulp writers did it all the time, for numerous reasons.

    Thanks, Matthew!

  5. "The machines are EVERYWHERE," Hollywood!

    They're just not up to speed yet...

  6. I wish I knew about your TOLAIR fanzine back in the day. I was so starved for information, I put together a hand-drawn magazine myself back in the 8th grade, where I drew pictures of the episodes, wrote an essay about its passing, and actually taped the loglines from every episode in TV Guide. This, in addition, to filming spot highlights of each episode with a Super 8 camera, and then viewing the frames individually with a Super 8 projection editing system (like microfilm). You’re magazine would’ve been like manna from heaven.


    I just watched the last Discovery launch from the top of my building (about 50 miles from Cape Canaveral). Sad. Particularly after watching all these space exploration-oriented episodes. We thought we were going to be so much further along by now.

    Fifty-one years ago, in 1960, I was playing with my Cape Canaveral toy set as an excitable young boy growing up in Maryland and dreaming about our great big space adventures to come. Our rival superpower, the Russians, had beaten us to space with Sputnik, and now President Kennedy was promising we would beat them to the moon within 10 years.

    And, by golly, we did. In the most amazing run of technological breakthroughs, NASA team dedication, personal sacrifice, and fast track government and popular support this world has ever witnessed, we went from stranded on Earth in 1960, to stepping on the moon in 1969.

    But we dreamed bigger than that. Thanks to the science fiction writers who inspired us, the movies that wowed us, and TV shows like TOL, TZ, (and The Jetsons).

    Maybe it was all just a fever dream fueled by huge leaps in rocket technology, hope, and great expectations.

    And now, I don’t think we’d even have the funds or the dedication or the sense of self-sacrifice to get back to the moon. And what for, anyway?

    Now, we just better get the Earth right. That seems to be our new mission.

    But I’m a little wistful watching that last mission of Discovery burn a path through the sky.

  7. Very moving tribute to a faded national mindset, Holly'holic. We hear the "Where's our jet-pack?" gag all the time and laugh it off as a simple miscalculation born of a wildly visionary era. But the truth is that an entire species' progressive, optimistic spirit has been smothered under a sea of concerns that seemingly should have long since been worked through.

    We're dying of inertia...

    I wish you had been there for TOLAIR, too. we thought we were patching a little hole in pop culture until something better could come along and fill it properly---and it did, with Dave's COMPANION.

    But it was a blast to have done it, hauntingly incomplete as it was left. And I made some wonderful friends as a result---hell, it indirectly brought me some professional work. I even wound up selling my first screen rights to a story because of connections made via TOLAIR!

  8. Thanks for the excellent Spotlight, I especially love the Director's Guild interview segments. Where in tarnation can I access these? And could you please do the same for 'The Demon with a Glass Hand' entry when it happens.

  9. According to Ben Brady, Milt Krims was a real live person ... but I never tracked him down (not knowing he was in the Motion Picture Home) and he died in 1988. (I also didn't realize that Sidney Ellis, who also contributed to OUTER LIMITS, was his BROTHER!) See obit:

    Published: July 20, 1988
    Milton Krims, a screenwriter, died of pneumonia on July 11 at the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 84 years old and had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years.

    Mr. Krims wrote more than 25 screenplays for Warner Brothers, 20th Century-Fox, RKO and Universal, as well as television scripts and novels, during a career that spanned 40 years. His movies included ''The Great O'Malley,'' a 1937 film about a tough cop; ''The Iron Curtain'' (1948), one of the first anti-Communist films of the Cold War, and ''Confessions of a Nazi Spy'' (1939).

    Mr. Krims acted on Broadway and wrote for The Brooklyn Eagle in the late 1920's. He wrote several novels, including ''Dude Ranch,'' which was made into a movie in 1931.

    During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps, and covered the war and its aftermath for an Air Force magazine. Mr. Krims wrote for the ''Perry Mason'' series and other television shows in the 1950's and 1960's. He also served as film editor for both Holiday magazine and The Saturday Evening Post in the 1970's.

    Mr. Krims is survived by his wife, Shirley O'Hara Krims of Los Angeles; a daughter, Ann Collins of Catskill, N.Y.; a stepson, Jim McHugh of Los Angeles; a sister, Claire Friedland of New York; a brother, Sidney Ellis of Santa Monica, Calif., and two grandchildren.

  10. Hollywoodaholic, any chance you still have that 8th grade mag that you could scan and post here? I know we'd love it.

    I tried to see today's rocket from here in Sarasota but we had a lot of clouds and I never caught a glimpse. I fear that we're coming up on a whole bunch of commemorative "lasts" -- last flight of Discovery, last shuttle launch...I can't imagine America getting its act or its priorities together again in such a manner. Maybe some other country in the future could be the way it continues. Or not at all. I'm betting on a comet to squash us...

  11. DJS---

    Kudos to you, yet again, for tidying up more loose ends with authoritative thoroughness.


    I fear the same ignominious end awaits mankind. In my pessimism I can't foresee any bold treks where no one has gone before...

  12. Hollywood---

    Would love to see anything that might remain of your 8th-grade TOL magazine. The film-strip thing sounds cool also. What a devoted fan!

    I used to sit in my 6th-grade class and try to draw the whole set of "Mars Attacks" cards in miniature from memory. This was after my complete set had mysteriously disappeared from their secret hiding place in the house (obviously NOT a well-kept secret) and I had only my memory to go on.

    Life was tough in the 60's.


  13. Lisa. L.R. -

    I haven't been able to find the original of that magazine, but I have a bad Xerox of it. I'll try to figure out how to post or put a link to a scan of it. The TV Guide loglines cut from the magazine are cool to see. The drawings aren't too bad. They actually come off better than the essay.

    L.R. - Those "Mars Attacks" cards were a very valuable commodity back then. I never had more than a few, but friends protected them like prized possessions. It's not surprising to me someone might have stolen yours.

  14. I've scanned and created a PDF of the TOL magazine pages I have that I could email to anyone interested, but I don't know how to post them within the comment box.

    My email is for those curious to see what a 13 year-old's nostalgia for TOL looked like. I'll attach the pdf in reply.

  15. Bobby J et al., thanks so much for the kind comments; you've really made this WACT newbie feel welcome. Scarecrow Press published Haskin's DGA interview in book form in 1984. I drew on it quite a bit when writing the Haskin profile that I posted on my blog last year ( It should be noted, by the way, that although Haskin directed ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, George Pal did not produce it---a common error that was, I believe, perpetuated in another recent WACT comment. Alas, I am not assigned to do a spotlight on "Demon with a Glass Hand," which I'm sure will be, uh, handled by someone much more qualified, although I am somewhat acquainted with Harlan Ellison (who contributed to THE RICHARD MATHESON COMPANION). Haskin talks about that episode at some length in the book. Not surprisingly, it appears to be out of print, but I see that Amazon has a few used copies. Happy hunting!

  16. Matthew---

    GAFFE ALERT!! Yeah, it was I who blurted that commonly mistaken conflation of Pal and Haskin on ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, for which I hereby solemnly apologize.

    I've done that before, despite having the damned laserdisc of the film---with all its behind-the-scenes coverage---in my collection for ten years or more. Let's hope that's the last time. We were, I think, blathering about Paul Mantee. I love that film, and as soon as someone brings it up, I see dancing visions of Mantee and Vic Lundin and darting WAR OF THE WORLDS-style spacecraft, and all that Al Nozaki scenic design immediately makes me think "George Pal."

    Bad habit. Sorry.

  17. Matthew---

    By the way, I have the Spotlight on "Demon" (one of the few that remained unspoken-for, when I was asked to take a crack at them). But since I'll be reviewing it from a traditionally holistic standpoint, you really should approach John and Peter about doing your own take on it, given your obvious erudition and specific insights into Haskin.

    They've repeatedly said "the more the merrier" with this communal response to exploring the show, and we've had multiple Spotlights and sidelights galore---

    Go for it!


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