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Twilight Zone

TWILIGHT ZONE MASTER GUIDE (original series 1959-64)

* New reviews added on regular basis

Season 1, Episode 1 – “Where is Everybody?”

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on October 2, 1959, this episode was directed by Robert Stevens, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actor Earl Holliman.  Holliman plays Mike Ferris, a man who “wakes up” in a strange down, not remembering who he is.  As he maneuvers his way around the town, he starts to realize that there is no one there.  All the businesses are unoccupied, no one walks the streets and the pay phone in the middle of the courtyard downtown will not connect to any outside calls.  However, Ferris has the strange sensation that someone is watching him.  To appease his mind, he decides he is just in a dream, but as he continues looking for someone around town, he realizes he is not.  What is going on and where are all the people in this strange, deserted town?

This was the original episode of the series and defined the layout of the program for many of the episodes to come.  The story is sharp, the direction is precise and the cinematography is a high contrast, dream-like black-and-white.  A suitable entry to begin the journey of this landmark television series.

Season 1, Episode 2 – “One for the Angels”

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Released on October 9, 1959, this episode was directed by Robert Parrish, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actors Ed Wynn and Murray Hamilton.  Wynn plays street salesman, Lew Bookman, a staple of the town and longtime pitchman who deals in ties, toys and other small amenities.  Bookman’s soft spot is for children, whom he gives small toys and gifts from his salesman suitcase for free.  One day, after spending the afternoon selling on the street corner of the his local neighborhood, Bookman is followed home by a strange man (Hamilton) taking notes.  In his apartment, the man magically appears and relays to Bookman that his time will be up at midnight that evening; the strange man is, in fact, Death.  Bookman, being the salesman he is, asks for some kind of extension.  Death explains that there are some reasons for extension, but not sure whether or not Bookman himself meets them.  Bookman mentions that he has always wanted to make the perfect pitch, a “pitch for the angels.”  Death thinks it over and allows Bookman that one wish; however, Bookman, in hopes to live much longer, decides he will quit pitching and never make another one in his life.  Death, feeling cheated, causes a young girl and friend of Bookman’s to get hit by a car.  He explains to Bookman that he had to make other plans and that she will now take his spot at midnight.  Will the young girl die or can Bookman make the pitch of his lifetime?

Director Robert Parrish had been a staple of the film industry since childhood, even appearing as a newspaper boy in Chaplin’s City Lights before spending many years as a First Assistant Director.  It was interesting seeing his handling of a Twilight Zone episode and knowing that the young paper boy from Chaplin’s masterpiece was calling the shots on this episode.  Hamilton’s performance was very well done and Wynn, who generally plays the same kind of character in many productions he is in, was a good pick for the likable Bookman.  Actually, the role of Bookman was specifically written for Wynn because Rod Serling was such an admirer.

Season 1, Episode 4 – “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

★ ★ ★

Released on October 23, 1959, this episode was directed by Mitchell Leisen, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actors Ida Lupino and Martin Balsam.  Lupino plays a Norma Desmond-esque character named Barbara Jean Trenton, an aging film actress whose heyday has long since passed.  She spends her time watching old films from the 1930s in her living room.  Balsam plays her agent, Danny, friend and what to be lover, who is very concerned for her well-being.  He lines up an interview with studio executive Marty Sall (Ted de Corsia) for a supporting role as a mother.  Unfortunately, Trenton doesn’t know that it is only a minor role when coming into the interview.  She pitches a fit about playing an older woman in a bit part and re-sparks a longtime feud with Sall.  Sall, disgusted by her behavior, harshly reprimands her and sends her on her way.  She retires more and more to her living room after this incident to watch her old films.  Danny, in hopes of bringing her spirits up, contacts her old co-star, Jerry (Jerome Cowan), to come for a visit.  Trenton becomes very excited, but Jerry shows up much older and no longer in the business as an actor.  Can she handle the truth or will she return to her room in seclusion?

So far, in my watching of the series, this has been my least favorite episode.  Lupino and Balsam both do a great job and Lupino would later go on to direct several of the episodes.  However, I feel this one just borrowed too heavily from Sunset Boulavard, to the extent that it was bordering just copying rather than being an homage.  It’s not a bad episode, I just feel we’ve seen this type of story before and had it play out better in Wilder’s film.

Season 1, Episode 5 – “Walking Distance” 

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on October 30, 1959, this episode was directed by Robert Stevens, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actor Gig Young (eventual Academy Award-winner for Best Supporting Actor in 1969 for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, whose career later ended in tragedy).  Young plays a middle-age advertising executive from New York, Martin Sloan, who is traveling back to his hometown on a whim for nostalgia’s sake.  When he arrives, however, he finds that the town is just the same as he remembers it and, eventually, realizes it actually is the same.  He has traveled 25 years into the past, where he runs into his mother, father and former self.

The direction of this episode and cinematography by series DP regular George T. Clemens is amazing.  The final scenes, with their dutch angles and atmospheric lighting, create an intriguing dream-like effect.  Time Magazine later rated this episode as the eighth best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 6 – “Escape Clause”

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Released on November 6, 1959, this episode was directed by Mitchell Leisen, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actors David Wayne and Thomas Gomez.  Wayne plays eternally sick hypochondriac David Bedeker.  On top of feeling that he is always sick, he is also mean-spirited and abusive to all those around him, especially his wife, Ethel (Virginia Christie).  A strange man who calls himself “Mr. Cadwallader” (Thomas Gomez) appears in his bedroom one night.  The strange man, who we find out is the devil, has a proposal for David.  For his soul, he will be granted eternal life; of course, as with any contractual agreement, for the safety of both parties, there is an escape clause.  David agrees to the proposal, signs the contract and is then granted the wish he’s always dreamed of – eternal life.  Is this a blessing come true or an agreement he will regret in the end?

Mitchell Leisen’s direction works for the episode, but compared to the rest of the series’ directors, I’ve found his shots less inspiring than others.  David Wayne and Virginia Christie are great in their roles as the abused and the abuser, and Thomas Gomez is perfect for his role as the devil.  His look alone is enough to sell the part, but his mannerisms and style really help sell it all the further.

Season 1, Episode 8 – “Time Enough at Last”

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Released on November 20, 1959, this episode was directed by John Brahm, adapted by Rod Serling and starred actor Burgess Meredith (probably best known as the coach in the Rocky series or Jack Lemmon’s father in the Grumpy Old Men series).  Meredith portrays bookworm bank teller, Harold Bemis, who is constantly in trouble at both work and at home for his insatiable reading habits.  While retiring to the bank safe to satisfy his desires, a Hydrogen bomb wipes out everything above ground.  Bemis exits the safe and realizes that he is the only person left in the world.

This episode is based off the short story of the same name by Lyn Venable and won director John Brahm a DGA award for excellence in television directing.  Meredith would go on to appear in several other episodes in the series and this episode is consistently rated as one of the best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 9 – “Perchance to Dream”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Released on November 27, 1959, this episode was directed by industry veteran Robert Florey, written by Charles Beaumont, with basis on his short story of the same name, and starred Richard Conte.  Conte plays Edward Hall, a man who is afraid to go to sleep for fear of dying.  He enters Dr. Rathmann’s (John Larch), a psychiatrist’s, office for an appointment.  In questioning him, Dr. Rathmann finds out that Hall has been awake for 87 hours.  Hall explains that he has always had a vivid imagination, as well as a heart condition since he was 15 years old.  His imagination is so vivid that it causes him to see and believe things to be there that are truly not.  Recently, he began having recurring serial-like dreams in which a strange woman named Maya is forcing him to do things that might endanger his life because of his weak heart.  Will the doctor be able to save him?

I love the cinematography in these early episodes.  The bulk of the series was shot by George T. Clemens and the style he put forth in giving such an eery quality to the crisp black-and-white through lighting and in camera tricks is truly breathtaking.  Director Florey was said to strive for perfection on set and was deeply influenced by expressionistic filmmakers of the past like Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau.  This episode certainly evokes an expressionistic quality that works beautifully for the story.  Beaumont’s script, and short story for that matter, are very cleverly put together.  Unfortunately, Beaumont suffered from believed Alzheimer’s and Pick’s disease and passed at the young age of 38.  Conte’s performance is also very believable and exudes interesting subtleties in the character.  So far, this has been my favorite episode since beginning the series for review.

As an interesting six degrees of separation side note, Richard Conte’s son, Mark, is a film editor.  The film I worked on a few years ago that was shot here in the Piedmont,The 5th Quarter, was edited by Mark.

Season 1, Episode 10 – “Judgement Night”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Released on December 4, 1959, this episode was directed by John Brahm,written by series creator Rod Serling and stars Nehemiah Persoff.  Persoff portrays Carl Lanser, a passenger aboard a British cargo ship in 1942.  He stands on the ship, overlooking the water, during the opening shots.  As he moves into the canteen, it is noticeable that he is nervous and feels out of place, possibly not sure where exactly he is.  Through his interactions with the other passengers, it is quite clear that he doesn’t remember getting on, but feels a familiar feeling towards the ship for some strange reason.  Being on the open waters, the constant concern of attack by German U-boats runs high, but Lanser’s unease over attack feels higher than any of the other passengers.  When Lanser retires to his cabin for the night, he sees a Captain’s hat from the German military.  It has his name on the inside and states that he is a U-boat commander.  Confused, Lanser bursts from his room and warns of impending danger, certain the ship will soon be attacked.  Surprisingly, the engines die down a bit and, before long, the ship is attacked.  Lanser, through binoculars, sees the U-boat that is attacking and, on the deck of the U-boat, sees himself in full uniform.  Bewildered, he runs through the ship trying to save as many people as he can.  The story switches perspectives and arrives on the U-boat to focus on their side of the attack.  Who is Carl Lanser and how is this strange phenomena happening to him?

John Brahm seems to consistently be one the stronger directors of the series and instills all the elements of fear, impending doom and eeriness into his shot selections and editing methods that make episodes like these work so effectively.  Also, so far in my mini-quest through the Twilight Zone, Persoff’s performance has been one of the strongest.  He plays the character of Lanser with such subtlety and genuine confusion, that it nicely complements the story in the highest regard.

Season 1, Episode 18 – “The Last Flight”

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on February 5, 1960, this episode was directed by William Claxton, written by Richard Matheson (of I am Legend, Stir of Echoes, Incredible Shrinking Man, etc. fame) and starred British actor Kenneth Haigh.  When Flight Lt. Decker (Haigh) gets lost over France during World War I in 1917, he lands his plane at an air force base.  Unbeknownst to him, he has landed at Lafayette Air Force base in 1959.  The Major General of the base at first thinks his outfit, plane and story are some kind of joke.  In the end, however, they realize he is not joking and this chance landing in another time is important in helping Flight Lt. Decker do the right decision in his own time.

Though not necessarily as flashy or well-revered as the other two episodes I reviewed today, I really liked the plot of this one.  It kept you interested from beginning to end and Haigh’s performance was perfectly on par.

Season 1, Episode 19 – “The Purple Testament”

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Released on February 12, 1960, this episode was directed by Richard L. Bare, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred William Reynolds and Dick York.  Reynolds plays Lt. William Fitzgerald, an officer serving in World War II.  After a routine outing, four men are reported dead and Fitzgerald seems more upset about the loss than usual.  Captain Phil Riker (York, who many of you might know as Darren from Bewitched) confronts Fitzgerald and tries to understand why he is so upset over the loss of four men, being that many more had been loss in other operations.  Fitzgerald reveals that before going out, when all the men were preparing for the operation, he saw an eery, glowing light appear over the four men’s faces who died that day.  Riker, a bit surprised, passes it off as battle fatigue or a hallucination.  However, when Riker talks to one of the Army’s staff medical doctors, he finds that Fitzgerald has no history of fatigue or mental illness.  While talking to the doctor, Fitzgerald is visiting a man from his platoon who was wounded at the hospital.  The white light appears on this man’s face during the visit and he soon dies.  Riker insists Fitzgerald needs to pull himself together once they are back at the camp and insists he needs to fast, as a new operation is on the horizon immediately.  In preparing, Fitzgerald sees the light on Riker’s face.  He tells him not to go on this operation, but Riker does anyway.  Will Riker live through the operation?  Is this battle fatigue or a stronger sixth sense?

I really enjoyed this episode and it has a few interesting surprises along the way that I have deliberately left out of the synopsis.  Richard L. Bare, who directed this episode, was an early author on the craft of filmmaking with his book “The Film Director.”  I recently ordered this book off Amazon and will eventually put a review up as a main post.  Another interesting side note to this episode is that future 5-time Oscar nominated director, Paul Mazursky, appears as one of the men in the platoon.

Season 1, Episode 20 – “Elegy”

★ ★ ★

Released on February 19, 1960, this episode was directed by Douglas Heyes, written by Charles Beaumont and starred Cecil Kellaway, Jeff Morrow and Kevin Hagen.  In the year 2185, three astronauts who are running out of fuel, arrive on a strange asteroid millions of miles away from Earth.  When they land, they realize that the asteroid has the same oxygen makeup as Earth, and upon exiting the spaceship, realize it looks the same as well.  However, all of the inhabitants are apparently frozen in time like in a wax museum.  They feverishly search for someone truly alive and, finally, make contact with an older gentleman named Peter Kirby (Don Dubbins).  On invitation inside a Victorian manor house, Kirby relays the truth about the asteroid and why all the people are frozen in such a manner.  The truth is much more harrowing than originally observed and hypothesized by the astronauts.

This episode keeps you guessing at every turn, but almost too much so.  It seems as if it gets too convoluted for a mere 25 minute television program with too many questions and a rushed answer at the end.  Because of this, I rated the episode a bit lower.  The acting in this episode also seemed more stilted than your average Twilight Zone entry.  However, I have to admit, that the carefully placed extras in the large “waxworks” scenes is quite impressive, though I did notice a few blinks and shakes along the way.

Season 1, Episode 31 – “The Chaser”

★ ★ ★

Released on May 13, 1960, this episode was directed by Douglas Heyes, written by Robert Presnell Jr., based on the short story by John Henry Collier, and starred George Grizzard, John McIntire and Patricia Barry.  Grizzard plays Roger Shackleforth, a young man who is desperately in love with Leila (Barry).  Unfortunately, the amorous feeling is not reciprocated.  While calling her from a public phone booth, a hurried older man gives Shackleforth a card and tells him that this man can help his situation.  Shackleforth visits the man, Professor Daemon (McIntire), and is given a love potion for only $1.  The “glove cleaner” is another potion on hand for $1,000, but Shackleforth is not interested in it.  Shackleforth spikes Leila’s drink with the potion and she instantly falls madly in love with him.  Finally, Shackleforth has everything he’s ever wanted – the girl of his dreams.  Or is this fairy tale not as wonderful as it originally seemed?

The premise of this story works pretty well and the Professor’s quarters are interestingly designed; however, I wasn’t as mesmerized with this episode as I have been with many of the others during the first season.

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