The Sixth Finger
(Most description of the plot and discussion NOT involving DMc has been deleted.)
The whittled-down version of the script was only forty pages long, and by the (untrue) TV rule of thumb that one script page equals one minute of running time, something had to be done to fill "The Sixth Finger's" gaps. "We had a meeting on the set," recalls director James Goldstone, "to determine what we could do that didn't disrupt the structure of the piece, and utilized things we already had at hand-we couldn't build new sets or introduce new actors, and it had to be the sort of thing that could run twenty seconds or two minutes depending on how we wanted to play it. I don't recall who among us had the initial idea: What if Gwyllm discovered music? One of us went, 'Music! Aha-mathematics.'"
"I remember feeling a little responsible for suggesting that sequence," said David McCallum. "We came up with the idea of having Gwllym play the piano in the night, having learned very fast. One scene had me looking through book after book; it was shot over my shoulder as I was turning pages, quite fast. And I found an edition of Bach preludes, flipped open to the music, and paused just a split second."
Stefano quickly wrote a five-page insert in which the music from Wilt Morgan's concertina matches with the first notes of Gwyllm's performance . . .
"We sent a prop man to Wallich's Music City," said Goldstone, "to pick up the new Glenn Gould recording of the Bach preludes, which were performed faster than anyone had ever done them before. . . . David picked the ones he thought he could master a little fingering for, and then mimed to the record." Since Goldstone wanted to begin the shot with Gwyllm's hands and tilt directly up to his face, no "cheating" using an off-camera pianist could be involved. McCallum's father was a musician (as "The Sixth Finger" was being filmed, he was just starting a fifty-eight-city tour with Montovani), and David had spent several years at the Royal Academy of Music as an oboe player. "I took the recording home and learned enough of it to mime," McCallum said. "Joe Stefano wrote the dialogue where Gwyllm talks about it being a simple matter of mathematics and manual dexterity. But you try playing the piano with six fingers sometimes-it's not all that easy!"
. . .
Gwyllm's observations on the human condition make the piano scene one of the Outer Limits' most captivating moments. "It was shot within hours of its conception, and it's an example of what is so exciting about film," said Goldstone. "You have a problem, and people of good will and creative spirit get together to solve that problem, and have an idea that becomes one of the best scenes in the show. This transcended intellectual point-making with a moment that was visual, and totally sensory. It was fun."
. . .
"The Sixth Finger" would be much diminished without the powerful central presence of David McCallum, here making one of his earliest appearances on American TV prior to worldwide, fast-lane success as The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'s Illya Kuryakin. He had crossed the Atlantic to play Judas Iscariot in The Greatest Story Ever Told, which is where John Erman found both McCallum and Jill Haworth, then only 18 years old. "I originally offered the part of Gwyllm to Gary Raymond," said Erman. Raymond, late of El Cid and Suddenly, Last Summer, was another of Erman's friends from the cast of Greatest Story. "Gary thought it was a silly script, undignified for a professional. He told me, 'Oh, no, I can't do this, I'm a serious actor!' So David did it, and was wonderful. I've talked to Gary since then, and he always laughs and says, "You know, I was a fool to have turned that part down!'" Raymond later became a regular on the Rat Patrol series.
St. Joseph met McCallum on the set one day. "He was terribly shy," St. Joseph (the script's co-writer) remembered. "He came up and said of the script, 'I hope I can do it justice.'" First AD Robert Justman adds: "David did a fantastic job. He had to go from a brash young miner to a being that was incredibly intelligent. As he went from state to state he changed the way he walked, the way he moved and phrased things. A most amazing interpretation."
. . .
Gwyllm's physical evolution was the most elaborate prosthetic makeup job ever devised for The Outer Limits. John Chambers (who would win the first-ever Academy Award for makeup in 1968 for his revolutionary Planet of the Apes designs) made a life-mask of McCallum, then did concept sketches of the three evolutionary phases required. "I'd seen many movies that used appliances on the face, and there always seemed to be a deadness," said McCallum. "I asked John to retain the mouth, the cheekbones, and my eyes, so I could go for expression." Chambers had the same idea. "I wanted to keep the basic thread of McCallum's identity through each evolutionary stage," he said, "by adhering closely to the physiognomy. Keep the eyes, keep the mouth free. Don't lose sight of the man." His first sketch of Gwyllm's final phase incorporated grotesque, bulging eyeballs, which were eliminated.
. . .
"John designed and made the appliances," said McCallum. "And Freddie Phillips put them on me. I used to come in about four o'clock in the morning, and we'd get my head on by about 9:00 or 10:00." The other stages of Gwyllm's transformation took about three hours per application. Even the large, final-stage mask (dubbed "Dr. Silvana" by Robert Justman) allowed McCallum a great deal of subtle facial animation but because of its weight the actor could only keep it on for about four hours at a stretch. "If you stick a great big thing like that on your face and head," he said, "there's also a certain amount of claustrophobia." Phillips also improvised Gwyllm's brief regression to a Neanderthaloid stage when Cathy reversed the dials on Mathers' evolution machine. "I gave David an Abe Lincoln beard, stuck a quarter-apple into his mouth and glued his lips together. They shot it that way." The bud of Gwyllm's sixth finger was also a quick on-the-set contrivance by Phillip, who adds, "It was made from spirit gum, cotton, and sealer in about twenty minutes. They wanted a finger and nobody had bothered to make one."
. . .
Byron Haskin directed in the postproduction, all the shots of Gwyllm changing inside Mathers' "sonic chamber"-a long-winded session due to all the makeup changes involved. McCallum describes this as "getting in the box" . . . and for a time, there was some question about what should come out of that box as the conclusion of the episode. Dorothy Brown the ABC censor, had objected to the Darwinism and promotion of evolution inherent in "The Sixth Finger." One of the early deletions from the script was a speech by Mathers on the taboo topic.
. . .
"There was also some discussion that Cathy should open the box and out would jump this sort of rhesus monkey," said McCallum, laughing. "For that we would have used a real monkey; that would be all that was left of Gwyllm, and he'd go leaping around the room. I still think there's something wonderful about the idea of a woman keeping her boyfriend as a pet monkey! In the ending we did shoot, he comes back 'dead,' and then discovers the tear on Cathy's face, which saves him-the classic Matter of Life and Death ending, you know, the tear on the rose.
As McCallum was to discover, ABC's sensitivity to the topic of evolution was minutely focused: "I changed one word from the script, and it had to do directly with the religious aspect of the show." As written, Gwyllm's line was, "It is the goal of evolution; Man's final destiny is to become what he imagined in the beginning when he first learned the idea of the angels." McCallum continues: "I changed it to 'first dreamed the idea,' because it was as if Gwyllm was talking scientifically about angels, and I felt that was totally wrong. I thought someone with a massive intellect would consider the concept of angels primeval. I was reprimanded by having to change it back, and if you listen, you'll notice that one line is dubbed in."
As to the idea of extemporization, McCallum was quick to add: "In those days, I was still the kid from Glasgow who'd come over to Hollywood. And doing this show and 'The Forms of Things Unknown' was, for me, wonderful because it wasn't only getting a job but a good job, but the ideas and the scripts were wonderful as well. So I don't think there's ever been much of a sense of 'making it up as I went along.' I mean, scripts are scripts, and the writers write those words for a jolly good reason, and I think you should stick to it."
"We had all sorts of prolonged meetings in which the question of evolution was debated," said Lou Morheim. "Our position was that being able to evolve into the future was basic to science fiction, and to kill that would be to kill a whole body of science fiction material." . . . "The new ending of 'The Sixth Finger' was probably more satisfactory to the audience, and the changes we were asked by ABC to make in the beginning were never made."
What evolved from all this was a stimulating and touching drama, one of the best shows The Outer Limits had to offer. "The main makeup, the big one, was just issued as a Halloween mask," said McCallum. "They sent me one. After all these years, now I have my head back."
And from the Chapter: The Forms of Things Unknown
(Curiously, this episode from the Outer Limits was first conceived as a pilot for a TV series, an "un-science fiction series, kind of scary, spooky and mysterious," according to its writer Joe Stefano. The two versions DMc refers to are one with a science fiction theme and one without-the latter filmed, more of a gothic horror tale than science fiction in Stefano's view.)
"And then we came to the clocks, and running around in lakes, and lots of tyings of bits of wire," David McCallum mused in his best Tone Hobart (his character in "Forms") tone. "That script seemed very Shakespearean; I didn't know there were two versions of the film, and I didn't see it at all for many years."
"That show was one of Joe's bad dreams," said 1st AD Claude Binyon. "I don't know whether the audiences can appreciate it as much as the people who made it; unless you understand Joe Stefano, it may not make any sense to you. It's a world unto him, wholly, and he tries to translate it into lay terms so the rest of us can understand it."
"The Forms of Things Unknown" is definitely a disorienting experience on first viewing; it doesn't run against the grain of normal TV fare so much as attack it outright. It is The Outer Limits' most dreamlike show-wispy and unclear, but crammed with arty compositions and startling images. Its stylistic inspirations run from Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream to Val Lewton, Les Diaboliques . . .and Stefano's own screenplay for Psycho.
. . .
"We played it all very Hamlet-like, with me wearing the black pants and white shirt," said David McCallum.
. . .
Stefano had been anxious to use McCallum again ever since "The Sixth Finger." "David can read any line," he said. "You take one look at his face, and hear his voice, and you know you're going to get away with murder!"
(The rest of this chapter mostly concerns Stefano's battles with ABC which culminated in his leaving The Outer Limits. I'd type it up if I were a member of a Joe Stefano list but alas . . .)