Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Tales of Tomorrow: Ice from Space & The Bitter Storm

Neither Paul Newman nor Joanne Woodward ever appeared in horror film, so, sadly, it is likely they both considered their acting careers to be failures. At least, they had a smidge of science fiction. Of course, Newman was in Robert Altman’s Quintet, but both thesps also appeared in separate episodes of the early 1950s sf anthology, Tales of Tomorrow, neither of which is discussed in the upcoming 6-part HBO Max documentary, The Last Movie Stars.

predated The Twilight Zone, which you might think could have co-starred at least one of the power couple, but neither did (just family friend Robert Redford). The earlier show is lesser-known, but it remains a cult favorite, because it was written by science fiction writers, for science fiction fans. Frankly, “Ice from Space” (written by E.H. Frank and directed by Don Medford) is a lot like TheThing from Another World, but instead of an alien, it features a mysterious block of ice. Somehow, it seeped into an experimental rocket on its return to Earth and is now freezing the isolated desert military base into a frozen wasteland. It is up to Major Dozier to stop its freezing effects, before it expands to more populated areas.

Unfortunately, the loud-mouth Congressman Burns will berate and bully Maj. Dozier every step of the way. Given its heroic portrayal of the American military and the crass, mean-spirited behavior of the observing politician, it is not surprising “Ice from Space” does not figure prominently in Newman’s profile. It is definitely an outlier in his filmography, but it is a cool, unconventional alien invasion story, boasting an excellent performance from Edmon Ryan as Maj. Dozier. Newman has a minor role-playing Sgt. Wilson, but you can tell from his cocky side-long glances into the camera that he believed he was a star in the making.

The themes of “The Bitter Storm” (written by Armand Aulicino and again directed by Medford) are even further removed from those we associate with the Hollywood titans. It is in fact a rare example of Christian science fiction, a road largely not taken, but even better represented by “The Obsolete Man” episode of
The Twilight Zone (written by Rod Serling). In this case, Aulicino also largely prefigures the Macguffin of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, The Light of Other Days (co-written with Stephen Baxter).

Prof. Leland Russell is an embittered scientist, who was living alone in his island laboratory, until he took in his sister Madeleine and her daughter Pat, after the untimely death of his brother-in-law. However, his latest invention is the real deal, a receiver that allows him to pick up every sound ever uttered at any time in history. It is a notion that jazz fans often fanaticize about, so we might be able to hear Buddy Bolden or Ornette Coleman’s infamous engagement at the 5-Spot for ourselves. Russell isn’t a jazz fan, but he gets the idea, tuning in a performance from a long-retired opera diva.

Then he dials up something completely different: Christ’s crucifixion. Yet, the sounds of Calvary might just give them the courage they need to survive the perfect squall heading towards the island. So, it isn’t very Woodward & Newman, but it is definitely different. She is fine playing Pat, but Arnold Moss (who played a Shakespearean actor on the original
Star Trek) projects the right level of arrogance for the before-Russell and sufficient gravitas for the after-Russell.

There is no question
Tomorrow was produced on a shoe-string budget, but viewers should remember when it aired, people only expected to watch it once, on a grainy, black-and-white television that took up half the space of their living rooms. To recreate the original viewing experience, watch it in a small window on your laptop, while crinkling a candy wrapper next to your ear. All things considered, these episodes hold up pretty well, especially “Ice.” They also have the novelty of young Newman and Woodward in some of their earliest performances. Both episodes are immeasurably superior to WUSA. Recommended for vintage television fans, Tales of Tomorrow streams via Best TV Ever.