“ Listening Length: 38 minutes / Publisher: Falcon Picture Group / Release Date: 7 Jan 2011 „
"Introduction to Bunny Blake. Occupation: film actress. Residence: Hollywood, California, or anywhere in the world that cameras happen to be grinding. Bunny Blake is a public figure; what she wears, eats, thinks, says is news. But underneath the glamour, the makeup, the publicity, the build-up, the costuming, is a flesh-and-blood person, a beautiful girl about to take a long and bizarre journey into the Twilight Zone." Ring-a-Ding Girl is a 2011 radio drama based on the 1963 Twilight Zone television episode of the same name written by Earl Hamner Jr. Bunny Blake (the voice of Sarah Wayne Callies) is a famous Hollywood actress and on a plane bound for Rome where she is due to start work on her next film. But Bunny (known as "Ring-a-Ding Girl" because she has so many rings from admirers and fans sending them to her as gifts) suddenly begins to get cold feet about the Rome trip and the film she is supposed to be making and decides she doesn't want to go there anymore. This strange feeling is further exacerbated when she opens the latest present from the Bunny Blake fan club based in her sleepy, old-fashioned and small Americana home town of Howardville. It's yet another ring but there is something strange about this one. Bunny hears muffled otherworldly voices calling out to her and the ring seems to exert an exceptionally powerful aura of memory, nostalgia and something that can't quite be comprehended or explained in a rational sense. Bunny is suddenly acutely aware of all the people she used to know in Howardville and decides to return immediately, dropping in unannounced on her surprised sister Hilday and nephew Bud. The actress hasn't been back to Howardville for years so her presence is big news in the town and she's soon making her presence felt. Bunny seems to be especially interested in the traditional Founder's Day picnic that is almost here once again for the town to enjoy. She unsuccessfully attempts to have it cancelled or moved and then organises and begins furiously promoting an impromptu one-woman show in another part of town - on the exact same day as the picnic. For what purpose?
Ring-a-Ding Girl is a fairly forgotten story from the very last series of the original black and white television Twilight Zone series but rather underrated I think with a poignant conclusion (that you may or may not see coming) and a nice lackadaisical dreamy and vaguely off-kilter small town atmosphere that is enjoyably conveyed through the medium of radio. This is quite talky compared to most Twilight Zone stories and not dependent on a consistent stream of visual cues or action and revelations so the transfer to radio is always relatively smooth. What I liked here was the way that the radio drama has no real sense of time and seems to exist in an anachronistic bygone world that could perhaps be the forties, fifties or even sixties. Some of these Twilight Zone audio dramas have been modified and updated around the edges from the source material and the updating process has seen them shift a few into the present day to make use of new technology as a backdrop to or part of the story but - happily - Ring-a-Ding Girl is left well alone and is the closest to the screen incarnation out of any I've encountered in this radio series so far. Sarah Wayne Callies (best known for playing Andrew Lincoln's wife in the zombie show The Walking Dead) steps into the shoes of Maggie McNamara to take over the role of Bunny Blake and is perfectly fine here in what is essentially a one-actress show. She has that faintly aristocratic air that McNamara used, a sort of bored polite indifference at times, as Bunny is very rich and famous and finds Howardville rather dull these days. Then she softens as she experiences life with her relatives and the modest activity that makes up the day there, gradually beginning to scheme and put her show together after her strange curiosity about the annual picnic.
Callies captures that slightly weird duality in the character. A small town girl who has long outgrown the town she comes from and there is therefore an object of great curiosity when she returns and the absolute centre of attention. All the attention is something she used is to but still however rather irksome sometimes in Howardville. She soon has a mysterious sense of purpose that makes you wonder what she is up to. I liked the way they used most of the dialogue from the television script and although this is (somewhat unfairly) regarded to be one of the lesser lights in the Twilight Zone pantheon I think the ambience of Ring-a-Ding Girl and many of the flourishes by writer Earl Hamner Jr (who is best known for going on to create The Waltons) are very good. "Wind me up and I glow. Isn't that what stars do? Give off incandescent sparkles." This audio drama runs to nearly 40 minutes so is expanded from the 25 minute television version and therefore able to project its languid atmosphere and growing sense of mystery more I think. I liked the music cues here too. They are very neon lights in alleyway puddles at one in the morning. Jazz inflected and otherworldly. They reminded me very much at times of the cues in the sixties television series and are always a dreamy backdrop that add a sense of atmosphere rather than anything too overbearing or modern (which wouldn't work at all). Spooky rings that seem to incite voices inside one's head aside, this is one of the least fantastical Twilight Zone stories for the most part and the fact that it seems like a more conventional radio drama is often a strength as we are not asked to undertake gigantic suspensions of disbelief early on and so take the premise at face value as we move slowly but surely to the wonderfully bittersweet coda (which though nice, sadly can't replicate the emotional nature of the television version where the final shot of Maggie McNamara was very moving).
The respect for the source in this radio series is always palpable and to this end you get Stacey Keach in each episode taking on the narrating duties that were so famously the domain of Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling on television. Not only the opening and closing monologues in relation to each story but the more general introduction after the PTS and of course to the strains of the legendary Twilight Zone theme. "You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone!" Keach sounds a bit sedated here at times as if he needs a bucket of water thrown over him but he has a distinctive voice and is a nice choice to be the regular host of these spooky audio baubles I think. Criticisms of Ring-a-Ding Girl? Well, as far as the television version went, this is a story that you only really appreciate fully once you've seen the end and then go back and think about the story as a whole. It seems a trifle dull at first as one eases into the premise and maybe it isn't the most eventful of the Twilight Zone stories and so not really the best place to start as far as these audio dramas go. Personally though I enjoyed the low-key nature of the story and the bygone location of Howardville. From the beeps and background static and chatter of Bunny's plane at the through to her capers in Howardville as Bunny Blake descends on the town like a returning hero who has been in exile. The simplicity of the construction of Ring-a-Ding Girl makes for a decent radio drama and while not the most exciting Twilight Zone story ever it does reward those who are willing to stick with it. At the time of writing you can buy this as part of a Twilight Zone audio collection or download it individually for £1.19.