Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Twilight Zone. Once Upon a Time

"Once Upon a Time" is one of the sillier episodes of The Twilight Zone as well it should be: it stars Buster Keaton. Keaton was getting up there in age when this was filmed, and while he no longer has the same dexterity and physical skills to jump from trains and dangle off ladders, he still had talent for physical comedy.

More time travel. Keaton plays a janitor in the 1890s who journeys to 1960 with an inventor's helmet and meets a scientist (Stanley Adams), an expert on the late 19th century who wants to go back to that period. Once they get the helmet fixed by a repairmen, the pair travel to Keaton's original time.

Yeah, we get the usual lessons about belonging to one's own time. Keaton learns to appreciate his own decade while Adams discovers the past isn't all it's cracked up to be, but it's played for laughs and not something we should be taking too seriously. We get the expected the chases and hi-jinks we've seen from Keaton's heyday, and it's fun to see him up to his old tricks.

What is really cool is while the 1960s scenes are filmed with contemporary techniques, the 1890 sequences are filmed as a silent movie, complete with sped-up, jerky motion and inter-titles. Sound is critical to the effectiveness of the story. When it opens, silent, we see Keaton walk down the street, visibly annoyed by all the commotion we can't hear. When he ends up in 1960, the real noise, traffic, and bustle of the city overwhelm him.

Richard Matheson wrote this one, and it's a sly, silly, and charming effort, a nice tribute to one of cinema's great clowns.

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