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Image Entertainment presents
Tales of Tomorrow Collection Two of 1st Season Shows (1951-1952)

"You can never tell if you're one of us, or one of them."
- Crazy John (Vaughn Taylor) in The Search for the Flying Saucer

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 16, 2005

Stars: Sidney Blackmer, Thomas Mitchell, Jack Carter, Eva Gabor, Bruce Cabot, Claire Luce, Sylvia Sidney, Gene Raymond, Lex Barker, Gene Lockhart, Leslie Nielsen, Darren McGavin, Paul Tripp
Other Stars: Meg Mundy, Edgar Stehli, Olive Deering, William Eythe, Nancy Coleman, Adrienne Corri, Una O'Connor, Robert Harris, Charles Proctor, James Doohan, Fred Stewart, Monica Lovett, Theo Goetz, William Redfield, Brian Keith, Cameron Prud'homme, Ruth Enders
Director: Charles S. Dubin, Don Medford

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence, attempted suicide)
Run Time: 06h:05m:18s
Release Date: November 01, 2005
UPC: 014381965520
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B+D+C- D-

DVD Review

Anthology shows were a mainstay of television during the 1950s and early '60s, with such sci-fi and fantasy standards as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits being the best known today. But the granddaddy of all such genre shows was a live anthology from 1951-53, running a total of 86 episodes, Tales of Tomorrow. This second set of programs selected from that first season provides another overview that gives a good sense of what the show was like.

The series is unusually bleak for the early 1950s, which tended to take a more positive approach towards sci-fi; while science might get us into trouble, typically Hollywood presented science as also finding a way back out again. That's especially the case on television, where one would more expect to find a space western type program rather than serious sci-fi. But this series stays quite serious, with only occasional glimpses of humor or even action in these thirteen programs. Almost all of this selection feature grim endings, with aliens triumphing, or the hero being killed or otherwise destroyed, a negative attitude that seems almost shocking for the period. The subject matter tends to be fairly serious too, such as in the first episode, The Dark Angel, in which Tim Hathaway (Sidney Blackmer) becomes alienated from his wife after she starts to mutate into a superior life form. Such mutations reappear in The Children's Room, where the mutants are the result of interference in our evolution by aliens, a theme that would reappear to rather different effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Paranoia is a consistent theme, such as in The Crystal Egg, based on a story by H.G. Wells, in which the title object provides a window on Mars, but only too late do the protagonists realize that windows reveal in two directions. The Search for the Flying Saucer picks up on that craze of the period, anticipating much later stories of suppression of stories and containing prototypical examples of what would later be called the Men in Black.

Humanity in its darkest moments is frequently a theme, such as in The Invader, in which a father's disapproval drives a son to take untoward risks. Greed is the subject of Time to Go, a clever tale about a bank that allows one to save time instead of money. Natalie (Sylvia Sidney) becomes obsessed with saving time, leading to disaster for her and her increasingly annoyed husband. Manipulation by aliens is also a constant theme here; creatures from another world are never benign in this set. They attempt to destroy mankind with disease in the Plague from Space, and when man goes to Alpha Centauri, he discovers a dead world that is coated in Red Dust, which proves to be a persistent plague of its own. In Appointment on Mars, Captain Robbie Malcolm (Leslie Nielsen) and crewmates William Redfield and Brian Keith (billed as Richard Keith Jr.) are brought to blows through mental manipulations, in a morbid anticipation of Nielsen's film, Forbidden Planet (1956). Our own government is just as much willing to manipulate, however, as Darren McGavin finds out to his distress in The Duplicates, a strange tale of dual worlds that telegraphs its finale a mile away, with a story that would be picked up later in Journey to the Far Side of the Sun. The only program that has something of a happy ending, Ahead of His Time, still features such cheery topics as a future dying Earth resulting from a mathematical error in 1952.

Ten of the programs are presented complete, while three are about five minutes shorter, the result of trims for syndication. The complete shows are fascinating, since at its inception the program was backed by a single sponsor. It's hard to imagine a television series being sponsored solely by a company hawking $10 watchbands, but that's exactly what was going on with Jacques Kreisler, the original sponsor of the show. The Kreisler emcee provides plenty of hype for the various ugly watchbands Kreisler was purveying. You can see his complete discomfort at trying to segue from the consistently depressing content of the show to cheery explanations of the Monte Cristo and Flirtation lines of jeweled and enameled watchbands. At about the start of 1952, the Masland carpet company started to take over, and by the summer of that year it was the sole sponsor, with a different host reading on-the-air editorials from the Masland company's house magazine, The Shuttle, which makes for incredibly bizarre television to say the least. One can see that the show clearly had roots in radio; the 1951 episodes feature an overwrought organ accompaniment and many things occur offscreen and are merely described by the actors (probably to keep the budget way, way down—it takes a lot of watchbands to do serious special effects). The 1952 shows also shift from the organ to a needle-drop score that's immensely less interesting (though in The Duplicates the needle skitters across many grooves at one point, providing an unintentional hip-hop feel to the music).

Most of the episodes that feature big name actors already appeared on Volume One of this series, which featured a sampling of 13 other episodes from the first season. While not strictly season sets of consecutive programs, the shows that are selected are at least presented here in order of airing. Live television always has something interesting going on, and many episodes feature muffed lines and bungled entrances, but being live there was little that could be done. Considering its live presentation, the show is fairly ambitious in the number of camera setups and cuts that come off flawlessly for the most part. Almost every show features at least one B-list actor in the lead, as well as familiar supporting character actors in various roles. They tend to be quite capable for the most part, with particularly fine performances from Thomas Mitchell (It's a Wonderful Life and Bruce Cabot (King Kong). The set is a fascinating look into early television, and quite rewarding to those interested in more serious approaches to science fiction.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: There are serious limitations to the video image here, since the program apparently survives only in kinescopes (essentially, film shot off a video monitor). For kinescopes, however, they don't look too bad. The earliest shows suffer from extremely high contrast, with limited greyscales. The later shows look rather better, but still not as good as modern video sources. Details are quite limited and some shows are extremely dark. To top it all off, the kinescopes tend to be fairly worn, with regular scratches, especially at reel heads. Given the source material, the transfers are actually pretty good; the softness hasn't been compensated for by added edge enhancement or manipulation. The grade really refers primarily to the source material.

Image Transfer Grade: D+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono is noisy and full of hiss as one would expect. Some of the effects are far too forward, and are very annoying in the last episode, Ahead of His Time. There's generally a murky sound but the dialogue is plain enough. Don't expect anything approaching high fidelity, though.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 91 cues and remote access
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There are no extras. There is a "Play All" button for each disc, however, and each program is well-chaptered.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

Serious science fiction turns downright grim in these 13 episodes from the first season. The source material is iffy, but one can't expect much better. Fans of The Twilight Zone will definitely want to check these programs out.

 


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