Friday, April 10, 2015

The Twilight Zone: Mr. Dingle, The Strong

Sometimes, all it takes is one image in a movie, and you know right away just what the tone of the rest of the film is going to be. Case in point: "Mr. Dingle, The Strong" ranks as one of the sillier episodes of The Twilight Zone, and we figure that out fairly quickly once we get a look at the aliens who set the plot in motion.

Frankly, these aliens are some of the hokiest creatures I've ever seen in any work of filmed science fiction. Intended to be a two-headed extraterrestrial, the effect is clearly achieved by having two actors share one big costume, and it is enjoyably goofy. The actors' foreheads have also been elongated, so they almost resemble prototypes for the Coneheads (these guys are Martians, Wait until you see what the folks from Venus look like.).

But what makes these creatures funny is not how ridiculous they look; it's how, because of some gobbledygook about how their presence is invisible and imperceptible to human beings, they walk around the other characters completely unnoticed. Also, the actors playing the Martians are completely deadpan and utterly serious, so I couldn't help but enjoy them.

Anyway, the plot of this episode is these aliens conduct an experiment by granting Luther Dingle (Burgess Meredith), a meek vacuum salesman with a stutter, the strength of 300 men. The rest of the show follows Dingle as he uses his newly found power to stand up to a bully played by Don Rickles and perform physical feats to increasing fame and media attention (that the aliens are disappointed this is the only course of action he elects to do with this great power is the only commentary on human nature writer Rod Serling and director John Brahm present).

The fun of "Mr. Dingle, The Strong" is seeing the puny-looking Dingle perform great feats of strength to his own surprise. The aliens never tell him anything, so he's completely befuddled when he starts yanking doors off at the hinges and lifting with ease a vacuum cleaner he previously struggled with. Later, as he grows confident with his strength, he begins showing off, pointing at his bony bicep before he lifts a bar stool by a finger or punches holes in the wall.

Inevitably, the aliens remove the strength they give him, and the result - Dingle trying to perform the same feats to increasingly disastrous results - is predictable, but it's still pretty funny. The episode may be goofy, but it plays out logically and with tongue in cheek, so the characters never realize how big of buffoons they are. Strength easily acquired is strength easily lost.

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