Exploring The Twilight Zone, Episode 44: "The Lateness of the Hour"
Gee, you'd think it would be a good thing to have a house filled with domestic help you don't have to pay -- or feed.
The Twilight Zone, Episode #44: "The Lateness of the Hour" (airdate 12/02/60)
The Plot: A distinguished scientist builds an army of robots to serve his family's domestic needs, but his daughter throws a monkey wrench into his carefully-laid plans when she starts complaining about them.
The Goods: We begin with a woman, her father, mother, and their maid Nelda in a beautifully appointed private library. The woman, Jana (Inger Stevens) is wound up tight, and it only takes a few minutes before she explodes in anger. She feels that the family is suffocating, or atrophying away, because an army of domestics is attending to their every need. Jana becomes so angry that she pushes Nelda down the staircase! And then Nelda stands up smiling from her fall. It seems that the elderly Dr. William Loren (John Hoyt) has built an army of robots to serve the family's needs, but never imagined that Jana would rebel against them.
The opening caught me pleasantly by surprise. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent what the twist will be. Knowledge of an "end twist" can make watching the episode in its entirety feel too schematic. Sometimes, as with the previous episode, "Eye of the Beholder," the quality of the writing overcomes that. But in this case, the episode didn't seem to be able to provide enough to compensate.
The cast is fine. (Irene Tedrow plays the mother.) The idea is fine. Somehow, it didn't all come together for me. Admittedly, the fact that the episode is one of only six that were videotaped, rather than filmed, was quite distracting to me because it's so different from the "look" that I have come to expect. Beyond the look, however, it feels like a routine episode, so I've graded it C. (Note: Even routine TZ episodes are still better than most other TV shows, in my estimation.)
The Trivia: Sixteen episodes of Season 2 had been completed by November 1960, but costs ($65,000 per episode) were reportedly exceeding the budget. Therefore, as a cost-saving measure, it was decided to videotape six consecutive episodes, which were later transferred to 16mm film ("kinescoped"). But the cost savings were minuscule, and the experiment was abandoned. "The Lateness of the Hour" was the first of the six videotaped episodes to air.
Director Jack Smight, a television veteran, later made a number of interesting feature films, including Harper, The Illustrated Man, The Traveling Executioner, and Damnation Alley. Actress Inger Stevens also starred in another TZ episode from Season 1 ("The Hitch-Hiker") and later broke into features, but sadly took her own life in 1970 at the age of 35.
On the Next Episode: An aging actor is given the opportunity to go back in time and be with the love of his life. Things don't quite add up as he anticipated, however.
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won't be doing it alone! Our friends at Film School Rejects will be entering the Zone as well, only on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at FSR and feel free to also follow along on Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.