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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tales of Tomorrow - Collection Two of 1st Season Shows
Tales of Tomorrow - Collection Two of 1st Season Shows
Image // Unrated // November 1, 2005
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted December 15, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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It's too bad that the modest production values and antiquated technology used to make Tales of Tomorrow will turn off even many hard-core science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans. Though by today's video standards the crudely kinescoped episodes of the 1951-53 series, which originally aired live on the east coast, hardly look impressive on big screen, high-def TVs the series, often regarded as a forerunner to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, is actually pretty good and impressively adult.

At the time, science fiction/fantasy shows were limited to the crude serial-like adventures of Captain Video and His Video Rangers and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Even The Adventures of Superman, newly out on DVD, is pretty flaccid, and its affection is driven more by nostalgia than quality.

Tales of Tomorrow, by contrast, was in terms of content more in line with the classier science fiction features being made in the early fifties. Episodes were written by and for adults, as evidenced by sponsor Kreisler Jewelers' equally crude commercials for pricey watchbands. I don't think kids were buying too many of those. Indeed, by 1951 standards several episodes are actually pretty intense, and I'll bet many parents wouldn't let their kids watch Tales of Tomorrow at all.

Also unusual is the fact that Tales of Tomorrow frequently adapted written science fiction, from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne (whose work was or was falling into public domain) to more contemporary writers like Raymond F. Jones (This Island Earth). Generally however, the pedigree of the source material is less important than the ability to successfully dramatize the material within the limited confines of a live, studio-bound broadcast. To that end the best episodes tend to be the most intimate with just two or three characters and which don't rely on the often cumbersome and inadequate on-set effects and special make-up.

For example, Image/Wade Williams' Tales of Tomorrow - Collection Two of 1st Season Shows get off to a great start with "The Dark Angel," with ordinary man Sidney Blackmer learning that his wife (Meg Mundy) has a greatly accelerated intellect, that she's fast evolving into a new and arrogant species that can no longer relate to him, and in no time she looks upon him as a human being would an ant. Devoid of showy effects, the episode works as emotional horror and anticipates "The Sixth Finger," one of the most famous Outer Limits episodes.

"The Crystal Egg," from H.G.Wells' story, is another good, intimate show, starring Thomas Mitchell (Stagecoach, It's a Wonderful Life) as a scientist obsessed with a strange object (it looks like an ostrich egg) that produces images from the planet Mars. Like nearly all the episodes in this collection, "The Crystal Egg" is fairly doom-laden and downbeat.

The limitations of live television are generally offset by the immediacy that the format allows. There are a few flubbed lines and such, but nothing outrageous here. A bigger problem is the obviously low budget, which on several shows precluded anything more music-wise than an intrusive electric organ score.

To some degree Wade Williams threw most of his eggs into one basket; the most saleable shows were already tapped for Volume 1, including the infamous Lon Chaney "Frankenstein" and episodes featuring a young Paul Newman, James "Scotty" Doohan, Veronica Lake, and others. You can read John Sinnot's review of that disc here.

Both collections bounce around within the show's first season. Episodes on this two-disc set are as follows:

Disc One: "The Dark Angel" (original airdate: 9/28/51), "The Crystal Egg" (10/12/51), "The Search for the Flying Saucer" (11/9/51), "The Invader" (12/21/51), "The Dune Roller" (1/4/52), "The Children's Room" (2/29/52), "Time to Go" (4/18/52).

Disc Two: "Plague from Space" (4/25/52), "Red Dust" (5/2/52), "The Golden Ingot" (5/9/52), "Appointment on Mars" (7/27/52), "The Duplicates" (7/4/52), "Ahead of His Time" (7/18/52).

Other rising young talent in these shows include Leslie Nielsen, Brian Keith, William Redfield, Jack Carter, a pre-Green Acres Eva Gabor, and Darren McGavin, as well as older character players and fading stars like Bruce Cabot (King Kong), Robert H. Harris (How to Make a Monster), Gene Lockhart, Lex Barker, Una O'Connor, Sylvia Sidney, Edgar Stehli, and Vaughn Taylor.

Mort Abrahams (Planet of the Apes) produced the show, while Arthur Rankin, Jr. (of Rankin-Bass) was the graphics director.

Video & Audio

Heaven knows where controversial collector/distributor Wade Williams got his hands on Tales of Tomorrow, but that these episodes survive at all is pretty remarkable. What's presented here are kinescopes, filmed (not videotaped) during the live broadcast by essentially pointing a movie camera directly at a video monitor. Under the best of circumstances, this wasn't the best way to preserve a program, and was done not for syndication really, but rather to provide other time zones in the country the means to see the same show - this being in the day before there were any satellites in space to transmit signals coast-to-coast. Most episodes include the original commercials, suggesting these prints were indeed intended for broadcast on the west coast and likely were considered junk after the shows aired. A few episodes are minus the commercials and look like they might have been intended for syndication use. That said, episodes are surprisingly watchable, even on big screen TVs. Similarly, audio is not the best, but acceptable. There are no subtitle options.

Extra Features

There are no supplements, unless you count the original commercials, most of which are for Kreisler watchbands, though there are a few others.

Parting Thoughts

Tales of Tomorrow is a happy surprise, a show whose fairly decent writing and good performances overcome technical limitations which are as remote to us now as early radio must have seemed back in 1951.

Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.

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