Monday, February 28, 2011

Wolf 359

Production Order #06
Broadcast Order #08
Original Airdate: 11/07/64
Starring Patrick O'Neal, Sara Shane, Peter Haskell.
Written by Seeleg Lester, story by Seeleg Lester and Richard Landau.
Directed by Laslo Benedek. 

A scientist (O'Neal) creates a miniaturization of a far-off planet in his laboratory. From this little world comes a ghostly creature bent on destruction. Can the brilliant scientist save the world before his nagging wife blows her top?

JS: I can't help but express my profound disappointment that there's nary a submarine to be found in this episode. Did someone miss a memo? Or did they sublet that script to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea?

PE: Nice little hand puppet. It'd be a lot creepier if I couldn't see the puppet master's fingernails. And there's not much range to it. He reminds me a lot of the "Kooky Spooky" ghosts I had when I was knee high to a grasshopper.

JS: As if you couldn't figure out the magic behind the puppet, they couldn't help but transition to our whispy pal from a shot of Patrick and Sara's hands.

PE: I fully expected to see Ethan Edwards and old Mose Harper to come ridin' up behind that old dawgie howlin' at the moon. Seriously, I've seen some lame stock footage on this show but that  grainy oater shot takes the prize. But I get it, wolves. There weren't near 359 of the varmints though.

JS: I counted. Maybe six or seven, tops. But the beautiful shots of Sara Shane wandering the halls of their dimly lit castle whilst listening to the music of the children of the night... can you say Babe of the Week?

PE: At least this family barbecues outside. But Ethel? What the hell kind of name is Ethel for our bonafide Outer Limits babe of the week, Sara Shane? Trixie maybe. That peekaboo shot of Ethel in bed in her nightie actually made me pay attention to the show for a bit rather than the basketball game I was watching. Do all scientists ignore their babe wives or was it a myth perpetuated on national TV in the early 1960s? Ethel practically runs a flag up the pole (so to speak) and all John can do is mumble about the quality of the steaks and snore (Hey—I, oh, the character. My bad... -JS). I was beginning to wonder if this was one of those Lifetime Network shows where a woman's sexual frustration can take on physical forms. The wolf howling = Ethel not getting what she wants. I get it. I get it.

JS: You can't possibly mean that we've got another dyed in the wool scientist too consumed in his work to have a relationship with his wife. Bless his heart, he manages to find time for his bear...

PE: Gotta jump on this score. There are spots when it's just perfect (whenever our sock puppet shows up there's a cue very reminiscent of the main theme from Dark Shadows) but other times when it's unfathomable. During John and Ethel's discussion of his fear we hear...  Spanish guitar? To make things worse, the damned thing's loud at times and threatens to drown out what the couple is talking about.

JS: Yeah, I also thought it was creepy and atmospheric at times, and at an odd moment I actually thought John was reacting to someone on the Chia-planet playing a harp.

PE: L-OL scene: With Spanish guitar blaring in the background (I almost wanted to see a mariachi crew off to the side of the dining room), John tells Ethel that there are animal lifeforms on  Planet Dundee. When she asks what he means, he shows her a picture of a modified "Invisible Enemy" bear. (Poor bastard was de-toothed! I actually think it would have been cooler if they got a pic of Adam West laying on a rock. -JS). They both then discuss rather calmly the discovery. Ethel could very well be picking out her new dress from a Macy's catalog as much impact it makes on her. Later she sneaks a peek at the mini-world and comes face to glass with the cute little ghostie. Irrationally, she tells John he must destroy it as it's obviously evil (Sand monsters - blah. Casper - bad). Ethel must have gotten a really nasty vibe from our friend though as she tells John:
Ethel: You said you'd been frightened. John, I've been petrified. For a second there, I felt such... pure... evil. That... creature... makes me afraid in a way I've never been afraid before. It's the most awful feeling. All hollow and achey. Like death is near. A kind of death that has no peace. We should run from it just as fast as we can.
JS: So Casper evolves out of the microscopic petri dish Dundee, and when he's out and about, he grows to be almost as big as the planet. Fine, I can accept that. But I still don't get why our footloose and fancy-free friend is whisked away when our BOTW breaks the glass on the science project.

PE: Patrick O'Neal is one of those actors who can make just about anything interesting. This 70s kid grew up on a steady diet of Columbo and O'Neal made a couple of appearances on the classic detective show, including one standout performance as a murderous architect (genre vet Forrest Tucker  as his victim). He's also fondly remembered by TV horror fans as the arachnophobic in Night Gallery's "A Fear of Spiders." Peter Haskell was relatively new to acting (this was only his second role) and would later become the star of Bracken's World.

JS: So to recap—no submarines, and a significant shortage of wolves to make up for the misleading title. All I can say is that I still haven't found what I'm looking for.



David J. Schow on "Wolf 359":

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

Be sure to check back later today for Gary Gerani's Spotlight on "Wolf 359."

Next Up...


  1. WOLF 359 does not refer to the wolves in the episode, it refers to the wolves watching the show, gawking at Sara Shane running around in her nightie. I see this was just about her last acting gig; the censor's must have banned her from TV. They were strict back in 1964...

    I'm sure many of you will see the resemblance to Thedore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God", or was it "Microscopic". However, the Sturgeon story was a classic and this episode is ok but nothing that great.

  2. Dull, but not embarrassing. And a surprisingly sophisticated leap from the previous juvenile, "Behold, Eck!"

    This one is all martinis and a married couple in the early 60s actually SHARING THE SAME BED. Even Rob and Laura Petrie couldn't do that. Nor any earlier spouses on TOL, if I recall. And no one had to keep one foot on the floor. The censors at Standards and Practices must have blinked.

    I also like the fact the chick saves the day. The token, unappreciated scientist's wife saves his ass. And the rest of our asses, actually. When has that ever happened before on TOL?

    Then there's the origami ghost that looks like fingers with Lee press-on nails stretching through a latex condom. And it didn't break! Consumer Reports and Planned Parenthood give it their seal of approval.

    Still, when you think about the actual ideas behind these Season 2 episodes, they have all been very strong sci-fi concepts (sand sharks, 2-D beings, Ant Farm planets). It's just the execution that sucked.

    This one I enjoyed more today as a fan of "Mad Men" (and early 60s lifestyles) than I did as a kid. I give it two dry martinis.

  3. Anyone else get a Hazel Court vibe from Sara Shane?

    Conceptually, this feels closest to a Season One show, but pretty underdeveloped. Seems to be stuck in Act One for the longest time. I'd wished it had portrayed an alien planet's development that was NOT parallel--that just seems too tidy to believe.

    Of course, that would defeat Lester's idea of a protagonist obsessed with viewing our future. But too many things are murky (is Dundee just like earth, or an evil earth?), and if an episode needs the OL Companion to help clarify things--at least to some extent--then something is wrong. Oh, and weren't they rather blase about destroying a planet and, presumably, millions of lives(!)?

    The Plag effect is okay for a cost-effective bear, but as DJS says--we see too much of it. Speaking of "Plag", I'm wondering why it even has a name when that name is never used in the show?

    Some nice work by Peach on this one--at least sporadically.

    Amazing about those twins beds--I would have sworn it was one.

    Good and amusing points, John and Peter--like that unfortunate wolf footage. Yikes.

    Overall, I enjoy this more than many of S2; had potential, but ultimately unsatisfying.

  4. Not only an excellent episode of THE OUTER LIMITS, but one of the most intriguing science fiction stories ever put on film, with an astonishingly subversive central premise that managed to slip by the network censors. I'll be back with a most enthusiastic Spotlight later today...

  5. Like my old man would say, "It's not so much that I'm mad, it's that I'm disappointed."

    I really wanted to like this one. After all, it was the inspiration for a spoof by 'The Simpsons,' during one of their Halloween episodes, where Lisa S. creates her own world using one of her baby teeth put in a bowl, then it gets electrocuted. Unfortunately, the cartoon did a better job of entertainment then this ep. could provide.

    As Hollywood pointed out with the drinking, for a cast of characters that apparently drank several Martinis an hour, they were pretty boring. Wooden performances were given that made me not care whether the 'ghost with the most' killed them or took over the world.

    The budget for the ep. must have been wasted on olives before they decided to splurge on bear effects. While it reminded Peter of a toy ghost puppet he had as a kid, it subsequently remined me of a plastic Hamburglar hand-puppet that used to come in Happy Meals when I was a tyke.

    Now for the good. The plot has got to be one of the best, most interesting ideas for any sci-fi series. Maybe it's just me, but this ep. seems to have one of the more noirish looks to it of all the S2 shows so far.

    Also, I got to love the Sand Shark appearance, which makes the OL episodes seem like they are all part of the same, one universe. Kind of like how Tarantino does with his Big Kahuna burgers making a cameo in just about all of his films.

    2 Zanti's

  6. Larry B---

    Hazel Court!! You win the (booby) prize for being the first blogger here whom I can recall bringing up one of my favorite Brit Scream Queens! (Was she more fascinating, or was Barbara Shelley?) Good call. Sara Shane does bear a noteworthy resemblance.

    This is an episode that's hard not to admire, though it tries just as hard to turn you away with its ponderous pacing. The cast is decent, Benedek and Peach at least keep you wanting to turn pages faster---alas, film creates its own reading speed---and this is one helluva concept, used many times in sf fiction, as noted. (My own favorite world-in-a-bottle tale is the more recent vintage "Sandkings," by George R. R. Martin, regrettably diluted in impact in its NOTer Limits incarnation.)

    Shades of Kandor---wasn't that the Krypton bottle city?

    Some nice ideas broached here. I think the genius loci evil being was intended as a cautionary message for human society: the gods you create reflect your spirit as a species. The Plag effect I always found intriguingly chilling, despite the fact that the artifice in its creation is so transparent. "Eyes without a face" will forever lend themselves to sinister apprehension: it's a primal instinct, perhaps, a racial memory of predatory eyes shining in the night, with no other facial features to mitigate intent.

    The narrative seems to play out too long for the rather obvious and summary solution to the problem. It becomes simply a matter of sympathetic advisers overruling one man's potentially self-destructive obsession.

    Break the glass, turn off the gas, take out the bullets---and the problem is solved. (SOL-ved, if you're Clouseau) The drama doesn't pay off so much as get whooshed away by a white tornado. Not the sort of catharsis you're hoping for.

    I'd have liked to see something darker and less pat: the Plag released but banished into that wilderness they were so fond of showing, its trace shadowing the land. The wolves and other predators---animal AND human---now joining and turning as one, evil prescience in their eyes as they regard the lights of civilization. Then Meredith recovers and desperately tries to contact the denizens of Wolf 359: "Dundee Planet, we need your help. did you---how did you deal with this malevolence...?"

    Ahh---that's just the crazed pulp-fiction-writing urge bursting its bonds. Never mind. Carry on.

  7. Great point about Sara Shane's pro-activity -- she could have run an assertiveness workshop for Outer Limits Beleaguered Wives, especially Geraldine Brooks.

    As Tim Lucas has pointed out to my chagrin, the roots of the idea go all the way back to Poe, and "The Sphinx." But Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God" seems to be the strongest idea-source; it's even referenced back-handedly in the MEN IN BLACK movies (with the little civilization in the storage locker).

    A Plag is a Plag is a Plag ... that's what the script calls it. Kind of like "Helosian" in "O.B.I.T." -- never referenced, but there originally.

    And it's time for another big shout-out to my pal Bob Burns, for supplying a one-of-a-kind, pull-back-the-curtain glimpse of Project Unlimited with his trusty 16mm camera. Would that he had intruded on them earlier ... like, during Season One!

    A common "save" for S2 is to consider the ideas being bandied about, as opposed to the low-budget execution. In the best cases, they at least AIMED high. Again, this makes more sense as creative thinking when considered in concert with what most other TV looked like in the early 1960s -- flat, monotonous, bright, workmanlike. The intrusion of any darkness into even the most prosaic of S2 shows is still a cause to speed up the heart. This is no artificial defense; S2 must still stand or fall on its own, but would naturally fare better when NOT compared to S1. That's why I think it would have been interesting to experience the series with S2 first ... which must have happened to somebody, seeing the show in syndication, if they walked in at the right moment. Then the syndie package would cycle back 'round to S1, and the viewer might go, "What the hell happened? This show just got a lot better!"

    But then, an equal number of viewers might have thought the show just got a lot worse ...

    Keep you eye on Seeleg Lester, and later, Robert C. Dennis. They were the saviors of S2, to the degree that S2 COULD be saved.

  8. Meredith's last-act suffering is made moot by Ethel's genocidal chair-toss, but the reverse Adam and Eve implications of this non-climax climax are kind of interesting to ponder. For once I wouldn't have minded a talkier bear; the Plag makes me realize how little these second-season monsters had to say, the Megasoid's handy line of exposition in "The Duplicate Man" notwithstanding.

  9. This one is memorable and almost exciting, and plenty creepy. Maybe too much time devoted to the devoted couple, but it was fun to see lots of the early 1960s suburban -- or make that desert-retro -- lifestyle brought to life. They are a believable couple.

    Of course I would have loved to see more of what THEY were seeing through that microscope, but the notion alone kept you going.

    Definitely a good one and not just for its goofy qualities.

  10. A bright SF idea floats about in this one but almost all the scenes seem to last too long and end up a mite ponderous, it's too talky, there is no real dynamism and movement until the last act by the wife.

    It surprised me too that the couple shared a double bed - does anyone know of any other segments with single beds instead? It would be interesting to tally them up.

  11. Wolf 359 is an episode that… intrigues. DJS, you’ve pointed out the good fortune the second season had to have Seeleg Lester on board, and his script here is pretty darn good. The episode starts off in 1960’s S2-ville, with the barbecue and champagne (and later the two single beds pushed together!), but that’s alright. Soon after we look into the microscope and see the Plag creature. It’s a pretty believable alien effect considering it’s just a plastic hand puppet. The music and sound effect helped make it frightening enough, in the sense that imagining being in that house alone with it would be horrific. The sense of isolation in the desert is nicely achieved in the scene where Ethel wakes up and walks around the house at night, hearing the howling wolves (coyotes?) while we’re treated to Harry Lubin’s perhaps signiture S2 piece. The unanswered questions about Earth’s future in the Dundee planet add a bit of mystery. And Peter, an absolute yes for Sarah Shane, an OL babe indeed. This is the type of thing that had season 2 not been under budget cuts, and been allowed to find it's stride (remembering that some of the early season ones were certainly not the best) would have born out the theory that adaptations of published sci-fi themes could make great TV. My favourite so far of the second season, but with better ones yet to come. Three Zantis.

  12. Bobby Josson's question is interesting because of something I THOUGHT I noticed the last time I saw ZZZZZ. In that scene where Marsha Hunt sees Joanna Frank's dance in front of the house, it looks like the bedroom has a single bed in it. If so, even though you don't see her and Philip Abbott in it TOGETHER, it would still be another case of that.

  13. Has no-one noticed something really ODD about this episode? After Ethel has seen the latex 'demon' for the first time she discusses this with John back in their living room. After he says to her "We can watch evolution at work!", there is a shot of an anxious Ethel with her hand up to her mouth. Except its not her hand - IT IS THE HAND OF A HORRIBLE MUTANT MONSTER! Now what's that all about?

  14. Hmm, no comments about the so-frequent-in-Season-Two appearance of the filming crew members ??!! Watch carefully in the last Act when O'Neal is going paranoid alone in the house and goes towards some water faucet underneath a big mirror to throw water on his face : you can clearly see in the mirror the top of the head of some guy in the filming crew !!

    1. You can clearly see TWO heads in that mirror! Just watched this again last night on Hulu as it is one of my three most memorable OL episodes (Architects and Glass Hand).

      Sara Shane's definitely an OL Babe.

      Five Zanties.

  15. And she's one more "OL Babe" who contradicts the whole "helpless female" image people have of these stories during the whole ' 50s and ' 60s (except for Jonathan's line about "packing her off" when he thinks she should leave! - and even that could be seen as semantics).

    When I think of Patrick O'Neal and weird stories, I also can't help thinking of CHAMBER OF HORRORS, which might be about the only time he got to be genuinely flamboyant as an actor, either in or out of horror and SF.

  16. 359 is almost killed off early on by Season 2 blandness, but has always held a strange suspense for me. I really hoped (even on many re-viewings) that O'Neal would learn some deep truth about our own future. Cry of Silence is a similarly fascinating but frustrating (though cheesier) S2 show.

  17. One of the better season 2 TOL eps, Wolf 359 benefits greatly from the casting of Patrick "who could never be an Everyman" O'Neal, whose rather aloof and aristocratic presence, despite the middle class ambiance, channels the show's first season. He could be a Macready, Hoyt or Hamilton in training.

    The Dundee planet is well realized, and the scientific gobbledygook no better or worse than what one hears in season 1 (sorry for the invidious comparisons here). Wolf has a more contemporary, specifically JFK era feel to it than most episodes of TOL, with the leads rather the Jack and Jackie of the piece, the planet the Soviet Union (Cuba?) surrogate. In this it's very much a product of its time, and a fascinating one.

  18. Patrick O'Neal was great at playing determined characters like Jonathan. Just see his COLUMBO episode "Blueprint For Murder," or of course the movie CASTLE KEEP.

  19. Here's a case where the 2nd season music works. Ok, the bear is a semi-silly hand puppet, but I still find it creepy. All in all, one of the better season 2 eps, in my opinion. I've enjoyed it multiple times. Has a creepy vibe about it all the way through, that keeps me coming back. The concept is cool. Multiple Zanti's for me for this one-

  20. I agree completely, but that includes the "Plag" itself. You'd think that reading that the Plag is Wah Chang's hand in a glove should keep it from looking scary to you again, but it doesn't in my case.

  21. Ouch. You guys were too kind to this one. It's bad. Cold Hands, Warm Heart bad. Mainly it's unbearably slow. The Ghost-thing makes no sense. It's pointless. I guess the Simpsons episode where Lisa has a quick evolving miniature planet is a parody of this only that was a thousand times better in a 10th the time. I can't think of a single thing I liked about this episode except the music is effectively creepy although so similar to other episodes. Maybe I like the wife saving him but I'm really reaching.1/2 Zanti.

    1. The pacing of human interactions, even in the TV business, is largely a function of the overall rate of human development. So it's absurd to compare what's
      considered "too slow" now to how it was perceived and lived back in the early 1960s. Me, I LOVE the slow pacing; it warms up the nice scenes with the couple together. It also gives time to remind the viewer that their house/lab is probably on the outskirts of So-Cal desert (which I wish they could have somehow blended more of with the story). I also liked Patrick O'Neal and his SLOW methodical probing of that duplicated piece of that planet; wished he had appeared in other episodes. Sure the hand puppet a cheapy kind of effect, but even before ABC drove Stevens and Stefano to quit, the show's producers were never given more than six days to finish an episode. And by the second season, ABC's hatchet man Adrian Samish had gleefully cut the show's budget a second time. No doubt those like him wanted to kill the show; there just weren't enough scary monsters and shown often enough in the episodes for his liking.


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