Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Monday, October 27, 2014

[Automatonophobia] Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me (1964)

Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me - Jonathan West, Ventriloquist Extraordinaire
Jonathan West, Ventriloquist Extraordinaire
Jonathan West is a down-on-his-luck ventriloquist, forced to pawn his personal belongings just to make ends meet. He's got a pretty good act with his dummy Caesar, but there just doesn't seem to be anybody willing to give him a chance. Which is unfortunate, really, because he is rapidly running out of belongings to sell.

Luckily for West, though, his partner in ventriloquism is also his partner in crime. Caesar is not only very much alive, but he's also something of a lowlife. "There's all kinds of ways to get money," Caesar tells him, resembling nothing so much as a Chicagoland thug. From his affected accent to his fedora, suit, and burning cigar, Caesar is pure puppet goodfella.

West, who seems to be a perfectly upstanding gentleman most of the time, is in such dire straits that he gives into Caesar's criminal instincts, knocking over a delicatessen in something of a practice run before moving onto the big event: emptying out the safe at the popular night club that earlier refused to hire them.

Caesar and West appear to be free and clear after their big heist, until nosy neighbor girl Susan overhears
Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me - Susan the Brat
Susan the Brat
their chatter. More so out of general brattiness than any sort of civic duty, Susan drops dime on the pair, and the police promptly arrive to haul West away. He nearly breaks down in tears in an absolutely heartbreaking scene as he tries to get Caesar to speak up and bail him out of this jam, but suddenly the dummy is not so talkative.

With West out of the picture, Caesar is going to have to find a new human companion. With few other options, he sets his sights on young Susan and is promising her the world as the episode fades to black.

The script for this episode was written by Adele T. Strassfield, who was the secretary of producer William Froug. Strassfield's screenwriting career was a very minor one, with only three credits to her name. Episode director Robert Butler worked on relatively few episodes of a great number of television programs. His most impressive run on any one series was actually his credit as co-creator of REMINGTON STEELE. The two working together crafted a fairly memorable episode.

Jackie Cooper began acting at a very young age, eventually becoming a lead in the OUR GANG comedies. At one time, he was most recognizable for his part in the military sitcom HENNESEY (1959-1962), though many people these days recognize him as Perry White from the Christopher Reeves SUPERMAN films. He was great here in the role of ventriloquist Jonathan West, a good man whose bad luck and bad choices nudged him into a life of crime. He’s short on common sense and is easily manipulated, but you still get a sense that he has a golden heart. He spoke with a fairly believable Irish brogue that was possibly used as a means to obscure the fact that Cooper was also voicing Caesar.

Twilight Zone: Caesar and Me - Goodfella Caesar
Goodfella Caesar
The chunk of wood that plays Caesar here had already been used in the earlier episode "The Dummy", and was presumably invited back based on the strength of his previous performance. Fans of the series are quick to tear this episode apart, but I still found it quite enjoyable. Although this is something of rehashed material, and "The Dummy" is easily the stronger episode, Caesar has much more personality than Willie ever did. When THE TWILIGHT ZONE was relaunched in 2002 with Forest Whitaker as the host, the series revisited a few old characters on at least one occasion to see what had become of them ("It's Still A Good Life"). It's too bad that we never got to catch up with Caesar and Susan. I bet theirs would have been a great story.


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