Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jonathan Harris at His Creepy Best

Jonathan Harris Shows What He Can Do

Jonathan Harris jjbjorkman.blogspot.com
The man, Jonathan Harris

Anybody who knows me is aware that "Lost in Space" is probably my favorite television show of all time, mostly because of the cool portrayal of Dr. Smith. Jonathan Harris, who literally created the character, was a class act and a very talented actor. Here, one of his classic portrayals of a creep on "The Twilight Zone."

Jonathan Harris gained fame a few years after this 1961 "Twilight Zone" episode ("Twenty Two") as Dr. Smith. He took a lot of flak for "ruining" that show because, without direction, he turned his character from purely evil into, well, still evil but comically so. Anyway, for anyone who thinks that Harris couldn't play creepy, and play it well, "Twenty Two" is a great showcase for the man and a must-see for "Lost in Space" fans.

Jonathan Harris Bill Mumy Lost in Space jjbjorkman.blogspot.com
Oh, you thought that all Jonathan Harris could do was play the simpering coward? He could do that, too.

In "Twenty Two," Jonathan Harris plays a doctor treating a stripper ("Dancer!" she corrects quickly) who has been having recurring nightmares about a hospital nurse inviting her into the morgue (Room 22 in the basement) late at night by saying, "Room for one more, honey." Barbara Nichols plays the patient in suitably melodramatic form, looking more than a little like Marilyn Monroe.

Jonathan Harris Dr. Smith Lost in Space jjbjorkman.blogspot.com
"Oh, the pain, the pain...."

For those familiar with "Twenty Two," a few things really stand out about this episode, which has the usual "Twilight Zone" heavy-handed symbolism and ending: 1) notice that Harris really is creepy, especially when he says that the next time they meet will be when he has a "ring-side seat" at one of his patient's stripper performances and wants her to "give me a subtle wink" (how that all got past the censors is an interesting question); 2) the set-up is absolutely brilliant, including the overriding implication that science doesn't have all the answers, a common theme in "Twilight Zone" and one that still resonates: and 3) the reaction that is provoked at the end, when the stewardess comes out and says "Room for one more, honey," is hysterically funny if you just picture it from the stewardess' point of view without all the previous foreshadowing. "Aaahhhhh!!!!!!," the Nichols character screams as she scrambles down the airplane ramp to get away. It's the all-time classic "you had to be watching the earlier stuff for this not to be one of the oddest scenes of all time" moment.

Jonathan Harris Don West Dr. Smith jjbjorkman.blogspot.com
Actually, Jonathan Harris could play drama and action just as well as his later humorous Dr. Smith act

It's fun on so many levels that "Twenty Two" is one of my favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes. It is the overbearing script that helps make it that way, so when I talk about the script that way, it's actually a compliment. And, of course, Harris' performance as the ultimate creepy doctor makes the entire episode work. Rod Serling's brother was a pilot, incidentally, which explains why so many episodes such as this one revolved around odd situations involving airplanes.

Jonathan Harris Dr. Smith jjbjorkman.blogspot.com
"Spare me the poisonous barbs."

Probably the most misunderstood actor of modern times, Jonathan Harris, a true talent.  Anyway, watch the episode, it's great.

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