Monday, March 19, 2018

A Look at "The Twilight Zone," Season 1

Your humble blogger acquired the complete Twilight Zone Blu-ray set for Christmas (all the way back in 2016!), and decided it might be nice to share his journey through Serling's masterpiece as he works his way through it.  I'd seen only a handful of episodes through the years; for all practical purposes, the series is uncharted territory for me, which is exciting, given its reputation.  To me, it made sense to blog my way through it (an urge prompted, it must be credited, by the Twilight Zone Tuesdays posts at Dog Star Omnibus).
 
I had not initially intended for this walkthrough to appear on The Truth Inside The Lie.  Instead, I planned originally for it to be part of Where No Blog Has Gone Before, my infrequently-updated sci-fi blog.  But as I was reaching the end of the first season, it occurred to me that not only is The Twilight Zone almost certainly of interest to many Stephen King fans, it's also germane to a discussion of King's career.  Germane enough, I think, to allow it fit in nicely here.
 
In his 1981 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, King devotes about ten pages to The Twilight Zone and its creator, Rod Serling.  These are not uniformly sycophantic, not by any means; King admits to preferring The Outer Limits, in fact.  Nevertheless, King recognizes the program's unique position in the pantheon of fantastic storytelling.  "Of all the dramatic programs which have ever run on American TV," King writes, [The Twilight Zone] "is the one which comes closest to defying any overall analysis.  It was not a western or a cop show (although some of the stories had western formats or featured cops 'n' robbers); it was not really a science fiction show (although The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows categorizes it as such); not a sitcom (although some of the episodes were funny); not really occult (although it did occult stories frequently -- in its own peculiar fashion), not really supernatural.  It was its own thing, and in a large part that fact alone seems to account for the fact that a whole generation is able to associate the Serling program with the budding of the sixties . . . at least, as the sixties are remembered."
 
King's storytelling has sometimes been described as evincing a Twilight Zone influence, and he has often mentioned that the work of Richard Matheson was influential upon his development.  Matheson was perhaps the second most notable writer for The Twilight Zone behind Serling himself.  King would also eventually be published in the eighties Twilight Zone Magazine on numerous occasions, and even had a story ("Gramma") adapted for the revival of the television series during that decade.
 
So all things considered, I thought it made sense to put these blog posts up here.  I was going to be writing them one way or the other, and while I've gotten some feedback that my King blog doesn't always have as much writing about King as it might optimally contain, I think this side-step is permissible.  It's not going to be super in-depth; just an episode guide and some relatively brief comments from yours truly, conducted in as un-spoilery a manner as possible.
 
With that in mind, let's get to side-steppin'.
 
There's a signpost up ahead...
 
 
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
  
 
  
  
  
"Where Is Everybody?"

  
(season 1, episode 1)
  

airdate:  October 2, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Stevens
  
The place is here; the time is now...
  



Earl Holliman plays a man who finds himself walking through a deserted town.  He doesn't know where everyone is; doesn't know where he is; doesn't even know who he is. 
 
He'll find out.




  
 
This episode serves as a solid pilot for the series.  It's engaging, creepy, atmospheric, surreal.  Like many episodes of the series for which it led the way, it threatens to fall apart unless you engage with it on its own terms.  If you do engage with it on those terms, however, I think it still works pretty well going on sixty years later.
  
The Blu-ray set is crawling with special features, so I think I'll try to note those as I go.  For "Where Is Everybody?" you get a good commentary track by Holliman, an isolated-score track featuring the Bernard Herrmann music, a '00s radio-drama version starring John Schneider, and (best of all) the original pilot-presentation edit of the episode.
 
The latter is a few minutes longer, with the iconic voiceover delivered by some different actor (who was later replaced by Serling in what must rank as one of the all-time great Hollywood recasting jobs).  This version itself contains a commentary track by former CBS executive William Self, and another audio track consisting of fantastic excerpts from a 1975 university lecture by Serling (most of which are directly germane to "Where Is Everybody?").  It's also introduced by Serling in a pitch designed to help the series sell.
 
Bryant's rating:  *** / *****


"One for the Angels"  
 
(season 1, episode 2)

airdate:  October 9, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Parrish

Street scene: summer, the present...


Ed Wynn plays a street vendor who finds himself in the unenviable position of having to bargain with Death (played by Murray Hamilton).






A thoroughly sweet episode that has enough sentiment in it that it might well choke out an audience member or two.  Me?  I liked it just fine.  Ed Wynn is spellbinding, Murray Hamilton is likably despicable, and it all comes to a very satisfying conclusion.
 
The Blu-ray special features:
  • a commentary track by television historian Gary Gerani (who has some solid insights)
  • a brief interview with Dana Dillaway (who plays a crucial supporting role in the episode)
  • an isolated-score audio track
  • the radio-drama version, which stars Ed Begley, Jr. (who is okay, but is vastly inferior to Ed Wynn)
 
Bryant's rating:  **** / *****


"Mr. Denton on Doomsday"
  
(season 1, episode 3)
  
airdate:  October 16, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Allen Reisner
  
This is a man who's begun his dying early... 
 

Dan Duryea plays a drunken, failed gunfighter who finds his fortunes changing after a visit from a traveling salesman.  Martin Landau plays an adversary.



 
 

This is not a particularly great episode.  It's not bad; but there's nothing special about it, except maybe for Duryea and Landau.
 

The Blu-ray includes a good commentary by Landau and an isolated-score audio track.
 
Bryant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****


"The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine"
  
  
(season 1, episode 4)
  
 airdate:  October 23, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Mitchell Leisen
  
Picture of a woman looking at a picture... 


Ida Lupino plays an aging Hollywood starlet whose ability to cope with the fact that she isn't a vibrant young romantic lead is eroding to the point of nonexistence.  She spends her days locked up in a projection room in her house, reliving former glories, and wishing she could still be up there on the screen.  She may get her wish.
 
 

 
 

I don't know whether I would have responded to this episode twenty years ago; I'd likely have thought it was okay, but nothing special.  In the middle of my middle age, however, I find this to be a moving piece of work.  Lupino plays Barbara Jean Trenton, an actor who is going through something that I suspect a great many actors of both genders have to deal with: they are growing older, while versions of them that have been immortalized on screen will remain forever young.  Some people can deal with this: Tom Hanks seems just as comfortable being Sully as he was being the guy in Big, for example.  But it seems to strike others hard.
 

Same thing in real life, right?  I catch myself remembering some aspect of my teens or twenties and the remembrance that I'm no longer that person, that that person is in effect dead and long gone, sometimes hits me like a ton of bricks.  I don't think there's anything unusual in that; I think it would be very unusual if that were NOT the case.  Then again, the world doesn't continually celebrate those younger versions of me, and compare the new version to them, and find it wanting.
 


The Blu-ray is a little skimpy on bonus features for this one, with only an isolated-score audio track for the Franz Waxman music.  I'll take it!
 
Bryant's rating:  **** / *****


"Walking Distance"

(season 1, episode 5)
  
airdate:  October 30, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Stevens
  
Somewhere up the road he's looking for sanity; and somewhere up the road he'll find something else... 


Gig Young plays a harried advertising executive who finds himself within walking distance of his childhood hometown while his car is being serviced.  He decides to take a stroll to see the old place, and somehow finds himself in the past. 
 
 

 
 

A solid episode through and through, one which routinely shows up on top-ten-of-the-series lists.  It shares a melancholy yearning for the past with the previous episode, "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine," and tops it by amping up the surrealism and having the entire episode live in that space (as opposed to merely having a surreal plot twist).
 

Is this the first classic episode of the series?  I'd say yes.  (I'd also say it's a shame nobody thought to do a remake of this episode as part of Mad Men.  It'd be a natural for Don Draper.)
 

The Blu-ray is packed with extras on this one:
 
  • A commentary track by Marc Scott Zicree, a television writer who also wrote The Twilight Zone Companion (which sold at least one copy on Amazon while this commentary was playing).
  • A second commentary track (by Steven Smith, John Morgan, and William T. Stromberg) which focuses almost entirely on Bernard Herrmann's superb score for the episode.  I'm a Herrmann fan (thanks in large part to his phenomenal scores for Alfred Hitchcock movies such as Vertigo and Psycho), and it thrills me to hear him getting his due in this manner.  
  • A third audio track consisting of excerpts from a 1975 lecture by Rod Serling.  Serling is much more critical of the episode than I would be, but nevertheless, this is priceless stuff.
  • Yet another audio track that's called an "alternate audio mix."  It's not immediately evident what is different here, but having listened to that Herrmann-centric commentary, I can tell you that the difference here seems to be that an additional cue by the composer has been restored to its originally-intended use.  The scene in question: the moment in which Gig Young hears calliope music coming from the carousel.  Hermann had written his own piece for this moment, but Serling wanted calliope music instead.  I suppose this is the sort of thing that many people would find to be insignificant; for everyone else, this is the sort of thing that makes DVD and Blu-ray a treasure of a format.  For what it's worth, I think the as-broadcast version works better dramatically; but this alternative piece by Herrmann is terrific.
  • One final audio track: an isolated track of the Herrmann score.
  • Last, and definitely least, a mediocre radio-drama version starring Chelcie Ross.
 
Bryant's rating:  ***** / *****


"Escape Clause"
  
  
(season 1, episode 6)
  
airdate: November 6, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Mitchell Leisen
  
You're about to meet a hypochondriac... 


Walter Bedeker, a hypochondriac who frets over the question of why a man only has a tiny amount of time to be a live being on planet Earth, makes a deal for long life with the Devil himself.





This isn't much of an episode, and will almost certainly vie for the title of Bryant's Least Favorite (as least from the first season).  David Wayne is great as Bedeker, and seems to have gone to the Jack-Nicholson-as-Jack-Torrance school of acting; Thomas Gomez is campy as Cadwallader, the Devil.  Serling's teleplay is rather obvious, and Leisen's direction a bit on the ham-fisted side.
 
The Blu-ray includes an isolated-score track and a radio version starring Mike Starr.  This version is relatively well-performed, but lacks even the mild comedic charm of the original episode, which makes the story seem even more inadequate than it already was.
 
Bryant's rating: * 1/2 / *****


"The Lonely"
  
  
(season 1, episode 7)
  
airdate:  November 13, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Jack Smith
  
Witness, if you will, a dungeon... 


James Corey (played by Jack Warden) is a convicted murderer who has been sentenced to fifty years' imprisonment in solitary confinement on an asteroid.  A supply ship visits him periodically, and its Captain decides to bring him a robot companion (Jean Marsh).
  
 

 
 

This is a very good episode, provided you are willing to buy into some of the illogical ideas it presents.  For example, does it seem likely that any government would be willing to commit the financial resources to imprison one man on an asteroid?  That's a bigger buy-in than I'm willing to make.
 

The episode has a lot to recommend, however, including excellent performances and a characteristically strong Bernard Herrmann score.
 

The Blu-ray contains three different commentary tracks (one by Marc Scott Zicree, one by a trio of Herrmann experts, and one by television historian Gary Gerani), plus an isolated-score track and a radio-drama version (once again starring Mike Starr).
 
Bryant's rating:  **** / *****


"Time Enough at Last"
  
  
(season 1, episode 8)
   
airdate:  November 20, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a short story by Lynn Venable)
directed by:  John Brahm
  
He'll have a world all to himself... 


Burgess Meredith plays a bank teller who cares only for reading.  Then, one day, the world comes to an end.
 
Stephen King on this episode in Danse Macabre: "One of the guiding moral precepts of The Twilight Zone seems to have been that a little irony is good for your blood."



 
 

It's entirely possible this is the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone, which would make it the most famous episode of one of the most famous series in television history.  So why am I not more enamored of it?
 

It's fine and all; if nothing else, it's got a crackerjack performance from Meredith.  But his character is entirely unlikable, in my opinion, and that keeps me from sympathizing with him.  The fact that everyone around him is even more unlikable does not enhance his likability; I think it's supposed to, but it doesn't work on me.  At the same time, he's not unlikable enough that his ultimate fate makes me feel as if he's gotten a good comeuppance.
 

Anyways, I gather that I'm something of an odd man out when it comes to this episode.  It's good, and some of the effusiveness our culture feels for it has rubbed off on me.  Still, it just doesn't quite work on me ... and I'm a guy who sometimes wishes he could have the world all to himself, so really, I'm kind of the target audience, wouldn't you say?
 

The Blu-ray has a good commentary track by Marc Scott Zicree, plus an audio track consisting of an interview with Burgess Meredith conducted by Zicree in 1978.  A radio-series adaptation rounds out the features for this episode.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** / *****


"Perchance to Dream"
  
  
(season 1, episode 9)
  
airdate:  November 27, 1959
written by:  Charles Beaumont (based on his own short story)
directed by:   Robert Florey
  
...time is an enemy, and the hour to come is a matter of life and death.
  

Edward Hall visits a psychiatrist and tells him a whale of a tale: he dreams serially, each night picking up where he left off the night before.  Lately, he's been dreaming of a carnival dancer, Maya, who wants nothing more than to literally scare him to death.  And with the heart condition he's had since childhood, that might not be too difficult for Maya to manage...
 
   

   
 

This is a terrific episode, top to bottom.  Written by Charles Beaumont (who, The Twilight Zome Companion leads me to believe, was quite a character), it is haunting, creepy, surreal stuff.  Is there a twist ending?  Of course there is!
 
If you're interested in reading what it is, this post at Dog Star Omnibus has you covered.  He's got lots of killer screencaps, too.
 

Of especial worth here: the lead actor, Richard Conte; Suzanne Lloyd (who is dynamite walking) as Maya; and the unsettling score by Van Cleave.
 

The Blu-ray isn't quite as loaded as one might wish when it comes to special features, but this episode is a special enough feature.  The visuals really pop on Blu-ray; you will appreciate the cinematography of George Clemens like never before.  But there is a solid ten-minute interview with Suzanne Lloyd, plus an isolated-score track and a radio-drama version starring Salem's Lot actor Fred Willard.
 
Bryant's rating:  ***** / *****
 
 
"Judgment Night"
  
  
(season 1, episode 10)
  
airdate:  December 4, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  John Brahm
  
For one man, it is always 1942... 


A man named Lanser finds himself aboard a British tramp steamer during the Second World War, unaware of how he came to be there.  But he has the strangest feeling that a German U-boat is stalking them...
 
 

 
 

I liked this episode just fine when I first saw it last year.  I enjoyed it even more the second time, and that makes sense, given the Hell-is-repetition theme of the story.  The main role is played by Nehemiah Persoff, who is excellent.  He was an Israeli actor, and here, he plays a Nazi.  That must be a tough few days at work, but he commits to it, and does quite well.
 
Supporting roles are filled by Patrick Macnee (just a couple of years before he made it big with The Avengers) and James Fanciscus (who, among other things, would play the lead in the first sequel to the Serling-scripted Planet of the Apes).
 

The Blu-ray has no bonus features of any kind for this episode, which is a shame.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** / *****


"And When the Sky Was Opened"
  
  
(season 1, episode 11)
  
airdate:  December 11, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a short story by Richard Matheson)
directed by:  Douglas Heyes
  
They used to exist, but don't any longer... 


Rod Taylor plays an astronaut, one of a trio of military men who survived a recent crash after going on a trip into outer space.  One of the astronauts has gone missing, all traces of him removed from the world and the minds of the people living in it.  Will the other two be next?
 
 


 
 
 
This is a terrific nightmare of an episode, with a great performance from Rod Taylor and a general sense of sweaty existential horror.  What's going on in this episode?  Not a clue, but it terrifies me.
 

The Blu-ray has some good stuff on this one, including a commentary track by Rod Taylor (who is engaging and Australian, the latter of which I did not know), an isolated audio track featuring Leonard Rosenman's score, a very good interview between Douglas Heyes and Marc Scott Zicree, and an unsurprisingly-awesome bit of audio from Serling about the episode.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****


"What You Need"
  
  
(season 1, episode 12)
  
airdate:  December 25, 1959
written by:  Rod Serling (based on the short story by Lewis Padgett)
directed by:  Alvin Ganzer
  
This is a sour man... 


A guy in a bar watches as an old man comes in and gives several patrons "what they need" (as he says).  He then observes the needful things actually pay off, and insists that the old peddler give him what he needs, too.
 

He'll get it.
 

 
 

This is a Jim-dandy episode, anchored by a terrific performance by Steve Cochran as Renard.  I don't think I've ever seen him in anything else (he seems to have never quite broken through), but he's menacing as all get-out here.  As played by Cochran, Renard has genuine menace, almost as if he were about to turn into a werewolf and begin eating the faces right off peoples' heads.  It's an important quality to the episode: without that threat, I'm not sure the episode works.
 

Cochran's Wikipedia page is worth checking out.  The phrases that stood out to me:
 
  • "Mamie Van Doren later wrote about their sex life in graphic detail in her tell-all autobiography Playing the Field: My Story."  I mean, that's kind of a legacy, right?
  • "On June 15, 1965, at the age of 48, Cochran died on his yacht off the coast of Guatemala,
    reportedly due to an acute lung infection. His body, along with three
    female assistants, remained aboard for ten days since the three women
    did not know how to operate the boat. It drifted to shore in Port Champerico, Guatemala, and was found by authorities. There were various rumors of foul play and poisoning, but reportedly no new evidence was found."  Tell me there's not a movie waiting to be made based on that...!
 

The episode aired on Christmas Day, 1959, and explains the reason why I kept hearing a few bars of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" in Van Cleave's score.
 

My only problem with the episode is that I just didn't need (a) to have the whole thing explained to me right at the end or (b) to hear the phrase "what you need" spoken as often as it was.  Like ... I got it.  The concept made sense.  You put it in a spoon and then fed it to me, and then shoved the whole spoon right down my gullet.
 

Apart from that, this one is fantastic.
 

The Blu-ray special features are limited to two things: an isolated score track and a Tales of Tomorrow episode of the same title from 1952.  It is unaffiliated with Serling or The Twilight Zone (obviously), but is adapted from the same Lewis Padgett story.  It's similar in a few key areas, but is mostly very different; and also mostly very bad.  You want need to see bad early-fifties live-television acting?  Brother, here it is.
 

But it's pretty sweet to have it there on the Blu-ray for reference.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** / *****
 
 
"The Four of Us Are Dying"
  
  
(season 1, episode 13)
  
airdate:  January 1, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on an unpublished story by George Clayton Johnson)
directed by:  John Brahm
  
This is a cheap man, a nickel-and-dime man... 


A man who can change his face into any face at will gets up to shenanigans with a torch singer, a mobster, and a news vendor.
 
 

 
 

If I learned one thing from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it's that most shapeshifters are sumbtiches.  This episode only proved that axiom to be correct.
 

Unfortunately, it did so in a illogical and not particularly entertaining manner.  It's not much of an episode, and we'll speak of it no further here.  (If you feel moved to defend it -- or to pillory it further -- put the comments section to use.)
 

The Blu-ray has an interview with Beverly Garland (the torch singer), a commentary track with Garry Gerardi (who gives us a lot of background information about the actors), and an isolated audio track featuring Jerry Goldsmith's score (which is a far cry from Poltergeist or Alien or Star Trek: The Motion Picture).
 
Bryant's rating:  * / *****
 
 
"Third from the Sun"
  
(season 1, episode 14)
  
airdate:  January 8, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a short story by Richard Matheson)
directed by:  Richard L. Bare
  
...hanging invisible over the night is a horror without words. 


A scientist and his test-pilot friend enact a plot to steal an experimental spaceship and remove their friends across the stars to safety in the calm before an impending nuclear storm.
 
Of this episode, King in Danse Macabre says: "It was the episode which marks the point at which many occasional tuners-in became addicts.  Here, for once, was something Completely New and Different."
 
 

 
 

I can't swear that this is still the case, but when I was coming up in the world, the thing people thought about an average episode of The Twilight Zone was that it ended with a plot twist.  By no means is that true of every episode, but it's true more often than not; I'd say that of the fourteen episodes I've covered so far, it's true of nine of them to one degree or another.
 

This is one of the twistier ones so far, and the twist will either work for you or it won't.  It works like a charm for me, but your mileage may vary.  The good news is that it's a fine episode regardless of the twist; the episode may even gain in impact once you know the twist.
 

This is the story of a bunch of people who are very, very afraid that the end of the world is one the way; not a hypothetical one, either, but the genuine article.  The tension they feel hangs over the episode like a pall, and that's entirely appropriate.  This is a subject that should be dark as night, palpable and cutting.  It still plays in 2017, but in 1960, it must have given any viewer with half a brain a case of the shivers.
 

The Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Marc Scott Zicree and a fellow TZ fan (Warehoue 13 producer David Simkins); it's pretty good.  So is a Zicree interview with the episode's director, Richard L. Bare.  Finally, there's an isolated-score track.  I haven't listened to any of those (the scoring is a bit too spare, meaning that the track would consist largely of silence), but I really dig that they are there.
 
Oh, and the episode stars Fritz Weaver, who would later co-star in a segment of Creepshow for screenwriter Stephen King.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"I Shot an Arrow into the Air"
  
  
(season 1, episode 15)
  
airdate:  January 15, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a story by Madelon Champion)
directed by:  Stuart Rosenberg
  
She is the first manned aircraft into space and this is the countdown. 


A spacecraft launches and is promptly lost by their mission controllers.  They crash land ... somewhere.  With some of the crew dead on impact and the others in danger of dying of thirst in the arid wasteland where they find themselves, tempers soon flare, and instincts soon take over.
 
 





Another episode with a big-league plot twist, one that is similar to (but crucially different from) that in last week's episode ("Third from the Sun").  It's also similar to a future Serling-penned feature film (and made me think of this).
 
This one doesn't work as well for me, though, partly because the episode seems to be engineered to make the plot twist work; it offers some decent dramatic moments, but once you know the twist, you -- if you're anything like me -- might find yourself thinking, "Did none of them think of that possibility?!?"
 

So it's not a bad episode, and I can imagine that other TZ fans might hold it close to their heart; but for me, it's a mid-level episode at best.
 

The Blu-ray has an isolated score track and the radio adaptation.
 
Bryant's rating:  *** / *****
 
 
"The Hitch-Hiker"
  
  
(season 1, episode 16)
  
airdate:  January 22, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher)
directed by:  Alvin Ganzer
  
Her route: fear.  Her destination: quite unknown. 


A woman on a cross-country driving trip has a blowout, and shortly thereafter sees a hitch-hiker.  She ignores him, but sees him again farther up the road ... and again ... and again ... and again ...
 
 


 

This is a terrific episode, based on a 1946 Mercury Theatre radio play that starred Orson Welles.  I have not listened to that yet, but anecdotal evidence indicates that apart from the gender-swapped lead role, it's a very close adaptation.  Serling added a button to the end that took it from being memorable to being a classic, though, so don't get the feeling that this was mere transcription-work on his part.
 

A few things:
 
  • I was tempted to have this episode's segment consist entirely of screencaps of Inger Stevens, who is ridiculously attractive.  To me, at least.  Possibly to you, too, but definitely to me.  Apart from that, she's phenomenal in this episode.  She sells every bit of her character's awkwardness, but also has moments of confidence and resolve.  
  • Stevens died young, but appeared in the film A Guide for the Married Man, which is notable to me -- though I've never seen it -- for having a good early score by John Williams.
  • Stephen King wrote a story outline for a short called "The Hitch-Hiker," which George Romero scripted as part of Creepshow 2.  It's a riff on the concept of continually encountering a hitch-hiker, and was clearly inspired by this episode (or perhaps by the radio play), but goes in very different directions.
  • The creepiest moments might be the ones involving the sailor, who shows no explicit signs of threatening behavior toward Inger Stevens' character, but sure does seem to have something extra on his mind.  
 

The Blu-ray features a commentary by Marc Scott Zicree, as well as a modern radio version starring Kate Jackson.  It's decidedly inferior to the television version, which is no surprise.
 
There's also an isolated-score track featuring the music, which was not actually credited to Bernard Herrmann but surely must have been his work, since it reuses elements of the original Mercury Theatre score that he wrote.  Incidentally, Herrmann was married to Lucille Fletcher at the time, and the story was allegedly inspired by an actual incident that happened while the two of them were out for a drive.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****
 
   
  
"The Fever"
  
  
(season 1, episode 17)
  
airdate:  January 29, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Florey
  
In just a moment, one of them will succumb to an illness worse than any virus can produce... 
  
A husband and wife have won an all-expenses-paid trip to a casino.  The husband is staunchly opposed to gambling, but will find his mind changed on that subject, rather intensely.
  
  
  
  
A tedious, nightmarishly overwrought episode.  I can see how it might work on a soul who's struggled with a gambling problem, but that's like saying I can see how a foot fetishist might enjoy an episode where nobody wore shoes and the camera never went above the waist: it's true, but so what?
 

The performances are good, but otherwise, there's nothing here for me to recommend at all.
   
I can almost guarantee that this will be in contention for title of Worst Twilight Zone Episode when I put such a list together.
 

The Blu-ray doesn't have a lot here: an isolated score track and a radio version.  Good for it!
  
Bryant's rating:  * / *****
 
 
"The Last Flight"
  
(season 1, episode 18)
  
airdate:  February 5, 1960
written by:  Richard Matheson (based on his short story "Flight")
directed by:  William Claxton
  
...a man can be lost not only in terms of maps and miles, but also in time... 


A British airman lands at an American airbase in France forty years after he too flight.
 
 

 
 

A very solid episode, one that treats time-travel in a very fatalistic manner that appeals to me.  The idea her is that whatever happened always happens.  You might have the ability to choose to behave otherwise.  But will you?  Probably not.
 

Good stuff.
 

The Blu-ray has an isolated-score audio track and a decent radio version.
 
Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"The Purple Testament"
  
  
(season 1, episode 19) 
  
airdate:  February 12, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Richard L. Bare
  
These are the faces of the young men who fight. 


In the Pacific during the second World War, an officer suddenly develops an unwanted talent: the ability to read in the faces of his fellow soldiers that they will soon die.
 
 

 
 

This is a fine anti-war episode; not necessarily a home run, but nevertheless effective and haunting fashion.  The performances are strong, and you can tell that everyone involved took the subject matter -- and the message -- seriously.
 

The Blu-ray is host to a commentary track by one of the cast members.  I can't remember which one, and I'd look it up, but I honestly don't care.  Whoever he was, he had very little to say; if you ever want to listen to a commentary that consists mostly of a guy silently watching the episode, this is the one for you.
 

There's also a brief interview with Ron Masak and an isolated-score track.
 
Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"Elegy"
  
  
(season 1, episode 20)
  
airdate:  February 19, 1960
written by:  Charles Beaumont (based on his short story)
directed by:  Douglas Heyes
  
Three men sharing the common urgency of all men lost: they're looking for home.


A trio of astronauts, lost in space far from Earth and nearly out of fuel, land on a planet that seems to be Earth.  There are farmers, and fishermen, and dogs, and a marching band, and a beauty pageant ... all frozen in place, unmoving, unblinking, mute, unhearing.  What sort of planet is this, anyways?
 
 


 
 

This is a decent enough episode (and was well-covered in this post at Dog Star Omnibus), but I'd say it's only mid-level TZ.  The concept at the episode's core doesn't entirely persuade me, and some of the specifics -- check out the comments of that DSO post for some thoughts on the weird beauty-pageant scene -- make me do a squint/brow-furrow combination.
 

The Blu-ray only has an isolated-score track.  Van Cleave's music is atmospherically science-fictional in some places, but also has several moments of what I'd describe as inappropriate jauntiness.  It's a very mixed bag, and is therefore an odd choice for an isolated-score treatment.
 
Bryant's rating: *** / *****
 
 
"Mirror Image"
  
  
(season 1, episode 21)
  
airdate:  February 26, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  John Brahm
  
Young woman waiting for a bus on a rainy November night... 


Vera Miles -- who I love in both The Searchers and Psycho -- plays a professional-type lady waiting in a bus station.  The bus is running late, and she asks the attendant for an update.  He tells her it's the same update he gave her ten minutes ago: no update available.  Problem is, she didn't go up to the counter ten minutes ago.
 

So if she didn't ... who did?
 
 

 
 

A terrific episode, one not entirely dissimilar to several others from the first-season.  But what of it?  What works about these episodes is the degree to which they are able to make us temporarily believe in the absurd or patently impossible.  Rod Serling knew something: we want to believe in this stuff.
 

Dog Star Omnibus has a great review of this episode; you should go read it ASAP.
 

The Blu-ray has a commentary track (which consists of very sparse observations by co-star Martin Milner), an isolated-score track, and a radio version.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street"
  
  
(season 1, episode 22)
  
airdate:  March 4, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Ronald Winston
  
At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 P.M. on Maple Street... 


It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  Everyone is a-warshin' their cars, or a-mowin' their lawns, or a-fixin' up their houses.  The American dream in action, one might say.
 

Suddenly, something passes by overhead, and there is a simultaneous roar of noise and flash of light.  Soon after it passes, everyone notices that the power is out; not just electrical power, either: cars won't start, lawnmowers won't mow.  A couple of men decide to walk downtown and see what's what, and a young boy tells them not to: they (he says, pointing into the sky) might not even let them.
 
 

 
 

An acknowledged classic, but I've got a confession to make: I struggled to embrace this one.  I certainly think aspects of it are great, but the whole thing feels like a case of Message coming first and Story being concocted to bolster it.  I think the effort shows, too.
 

Thing is, I have no fundamental disagreement with that Message.  Shit, moreso: I wholeheartedly endorse the message, and the fact that it remains relevant nearly sixty years later says something.  That makes it impossible for me to write the episode off; even if the story was complete garbage, it'd be hard to do so.
 
The story isn't garbage; it's a bit ham-handed and obvious, and the timeline for how quickly these people fly off the handle seems exaggerated.  Maybe that's the point, though; maybe Serling's moral here is that we remain illogical savages, in need only of a slight push in the wrong direction to spin rapidly back into savage tribalism.  A push might not even be required; we might require only a suggestion and a thin excuse.
 

I feel, watching the episode, as if Serling is painting with too broad a brush, taking shortcuts that allow him to stand on his soapbox and deliver the righteous dressing-down he feels we deserve.  I feel, looking around me in 2017, as if he might have been even more right than he knew (or would have wanted to know).
 

The Blu-ray has a Marc Scott Zicree commentary -- which makes up in some small fashion for the near-nothing he has to say about the episode in The Twilight Zone Companion -- as well as an isolated score track and a radio adaptation.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"A World of Difference"
  
  
(season 1, episode 23)
  
airdate:  March 11, 1960
written by:  Richard Matheson
directed by:  Ted Post
  
You're looking at a tableau of reality: things of substance, of physical material; a desk, a window, a light.


A businessman has trouble making a phone call one afternoon in his office, so he gets up from his desk to go talk to his secretary about the problem.  Suddenly, he hears somebody yell "Cut!" and turns to find that one wall of his office has disappeared.  In its place: a camera crew, looking exasperatedly at him, waiting on him to continue the scene.
 

Is he a businessman who has fallen into a world where he is an actor, or an actor who has had a disassociative split and has begun believing he is the character he is supposed to be playing?
 
 

 
 

A fantastic fever-dream of an episode, written by Richard Matheson.  To answer the question that I posed moments ago is impossible, at least for me.  Rationally, you'd think it must be the latter scenario; but this is the Twilight Zone we're in, so rationality is not necessarily the rational approach.
 

Among the episode's virtues are expert direction by Ted Post; a terrific lead performance by Howard Duff; and a creepy-as-hell score by Van Cleave.
 

The Blu-ray has an isolated-score track and a commentary track by Post.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"Long Live Walter Jameson"
  
  
(season 1, episode 24)
  
airdate:  March 18, 1960
written by:  Charles Beaumont
directed by:  Tony Leader
  
In the view of this man, Professor Samuel Kittridge, Walter Jameson has
access to knowledge that couldn't come out of a volume of history, but
rather from a book on black magic...


A professor suspects that a colleague's sheer skill at lecturing means that he's actually much older than he looks.  And you know what?  He's right.  When he confronts him, he finds out just how right he is.
 
 

 
 

A simple premise, executed perhaps a step or two beneath the level that would make this episode a classic.  It's got virtues -- strong performances, a memorably grim conclusion -- but also has a bit too much contrivance.  Two people figure out that old fellow's secret and confront him on the same night?  That's a bit much.
 

Still, it's a good episode, at the very least.
 

The Blu-ray has two commentary tracks: one by lead actor Kevin McCarthy and one by TZ historian Gary Gerani.  Plus, a radio version (starring Lou Diamond Phillips) and an isolated-score track.
 
Bryant's rating:  *** / *****
 
 
"People Are Alike All Over"


(season 1, episode 25)
  
airdate:  March 25, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling, based on "Brothers Beyond the Void" by Paul W. Fairman
directed by:   Mitchell Leisen
  
They're taking a highway into space, Man unshackling himself and sending his tiny, groping fingers up into the unknown.
 
 

A two-man expedition to Mars ends in a crash-landing and a surviving human force of one.  He finds that Mars is far from uninhabited, and learns that his deceased comrade's feelings about life beyond Earth -- that people are alike everywhere -- is pretty much true.
 
 

 
 

This is a strong episode that has a very good lead performance from Roddy McDowall, who would, years later, be a crucial figure in Serling's Planet of the Apes.  It's also got an appearance from Susan Oliver, perhaps best known these days as Vina in the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage" (which shares a few similarities with this Twilight Zone episode).
 

When people think about The Twilight Zone, it's this kind of episode they think of.
 

The Blu-ray is light on bonus features, but does have an isolated-score audio track as well as a good radio-drama adaptation starring Blair Brown.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** / *****
 
 
"Execution"
 
 
(season 1, episode 26)
  
airdate:  April 1, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling (based on a story by George Clayton Johnson)
directed by:  David Orrick McDearmon
  
Retribution is not subject to a calendar.
  


We begin in a Wild West type setting, with a black-hat sort of fellow about to be the guest of honor at a necktie party.  Just as he is hanged, he disappears, which -- understandably -- confuses everyone in attendance.  He wakes up eighty years in the future, having been yanked forward through time by a scientist for obscure reasons.  Things don't go well for anyone from that point.
 
 

 
 

I get the sense that this one is sort of unheralded among Twilight Zone episodes, but I think there's a lot here to love.  Admittedly, the plot is a bit daffy; but you get accustomed to rolling with a certain amount of daffiness if you're a fan of sci-fi movies and television, so that don't confront me none.
 

Among the virtues: lead actor Albert Salmi, who is dynamite.  This guy seems tough as nails and hard as granite, with a thick veneer of fuck-you coated on for good measure.  You do NOT want to get on the bad side of a guy like this ... and you sense that it's almost impossible not to.  But Salmi is just as good at playing Caswell's panic, and that's where the episode really works for me.  This is a man for whom ideas like traveling into the future do not exist; take you or I and put us in that sort of situation, we might be able to cope based purely on having been exposed to such ideas in venues like The Twilight Zone.  No bets on that score, but it's possible.
 

Caswell is another type of person altogether, and he simply doesn't have a frame of reference for much of what he's seeing.  This is a sheer nightmare for him, so much so that we almost feel sorry for the snake.
 

It's also fun to see Russell Johnson pre-Gilligan, doing pretty well in a serious role.
 

All the Blu-ray has on this episode, sadly, is an isolated-score track.

Bryant's rating: **** / *****
 
 
"The Big Tall Wish"


(season 1, episode 27)
  
airdate:  April 8, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by : Ron Winston
  
Mr. Bolie Jackson, who might do well to look for some gentle magic in the hard-surfaced glass that stares back at him.



A kid who lives in the apartment downstairs makes a wish for a down-and-out boxer, who is well past the point of believing in magic. 
 

 
 

This is a near-miss of an episode, and it misses almost entirely as the result of a poor performance from the actor who plays the wisher of the titular wish.  The lead characters are all played by black actors, which was -- and boy here's an understatement -- a rarity for early-sixties television.  The actor playing the boxer is good, but the child actor cast opposite him is a disaster.  He does okay in some of the less challenging moments, but when a crucial scene toward the end hinges on his ability to emote, the episode comes crashing to earth and goes up in smoke.


You've got to appreciate the production giving quality roles to black actors, though; even if it didn't result in a classic, it must have given many a viewer a thrill of hope for better things to come someday.
 
In that sense, the episode itself is a big tall wish; and that makes it difficult for me to write off.
 

The Blu-ray has an isolated score track (featuring the excellent music of Jerry Goldsmith) and a radio version starring Blair Underwood.  As he was in "People Are Alike All Over," Underwood is quite good; but this radio drama version suffers from the same deficiency as did the televised original (i.e., a child actor who isn't firing on all cylinders).
 
Bryant's rating:  ** / *****
 
 
"A Nice Place to Visit"


(season 1, episode 28)
  
airdate:  April 15, 1960
written by:  Charles Beaumont
directed by:  John Brahm
  
His name is Henry Francis Valentine, but he calls himself "Rocky",
because that's the way his life has been – rocky and perilous and uphill
at a dead run all the way.


A man in the process of committing a robbery is shot dead, and finds himself in a place where his every wish is granted.  Hey, it's a nice place to visit!
 
 


 
 

Spoiler alert: he's in Hell.
 

If you don't see that twist coming, you must have slept through the entire episode.  And here's the thing: I'm not sure Beaumont or Serling or anyone involved actually thought anyone would be fooled into thinking anything other than that was going on here.  I think maybe that's the point: you and I aren't cretins like Rocky Valentine, so we immediately understand what's going on, whereas he has to kind of figure it out as he goes along.
 
I don't think this is a great episode, exactly, and it may not even be a good one.  I was actually quite down on it when it ended.
 
But then I remembered that McMolo had a review of it at Dog Star Omnibus a while back, so I trotted over there to check it out.  And as I read through it, I realized I'd probably been a bit harsh toward it.
 

There are definitely things to like.  Foremost among them may be Larry Blyden, who plays Valentine with disgusting verve.  Rocky is perhaps one of the most loathsome characters I've ever seen, certainly in sixties television; you WANT this guy to go to hell, or to Hell.  And hey, you gets ya wish!  You won't enjoy watching Blyden, perhaps, but it's an excellent performance.
 

Sebastian Cabot is also quite good as "Pip," who doesn't seem to actually be THE devil, but is clearly on a low-degree-of-separation basis with him.
 
There are some good visual flourishes, as well, and the episode is memorable for how nimbly it dances up to the line of vulgarity (always charming to see in television shows from this era).
 
The Blu-ray is light on supplements, possessing only an isolated-score track.  I think the music is Bernard Herrmann's, but don't hold me to that.
 
Byant's rating:  ** 1/2 / *****
 
 

"Nightmare as a Child"
  
  
(season 1, episode 29)
  
airdate:  April 29, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Alvin Ganzer


A little girl will lead her by the hand and walk with her into a nightmare.


A woman comes home after a long day of teaching schoolchildren and finds a little girl from the Village of the Damned (not really) sitting outside her apartment.  Things get weird.
 
 

 
 

From what I can gather, this isn't a particularly well-loved episode, but I thought it was okay.  The little girl playing the creepy little girl isn't exactly the best actor you've ever seen in your life, but she's sufficiently weird and gets the job done.  The episode doesn't call upon her to deliver emotional monologues (as "The Big Tall Wish" did with its child performer), so there's that.  There are a few effective moments, and while you will almost certainly see the twist coming from a mile away, it's still okay for 1960 television.
 

The sole bonus feature on the Blu-ray is an isolated-score track of Jerry Goldsmith's music.
 
Bryant's rating:  *** / *****
 
 
"A Stop at Willoughby"
  
  
(season 1, episode 30)
  
airdate:  May 6, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:   Robert Parrish
  
He's been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His
insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with
humiliation, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in
on him, landed on target, and blown him apart.
 
 
A harried advertising executive discovers while taking a train ride home that he may have the ability to will himself into another world: Willoughby, an idyllic town where life moves at a slower pace, where one is not always beset by worries.
 
 

 
 
It's hard to discuss this without getting into the spoilers of what happens at the end.  So go read this post at Dog Star Omnibus; it'll tell you all about it, and in entertaining fashion with un beaucoup de screencaps.
 

All I'll say about it is that I think it's a moving and vital episode, one which is a standout of the first season of this standout series.
 

The Blu-ray has a Gary Gerani commentary that is insightful and goes to some movingly personal places.  There's also an all-too-brief interview with Buck Houghton, plus an isolated-score track.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"The Chaser"
  
  
(season 1, episode 31)
  
airdate:  May 13, 1960
written by:  Robert Presnell Jr.  (based on the short story by John Collier)
directed by:  Douglas Heyes
  
Case history of a lover boy, who should never have entered The Twilight Zone.
 
 
A lovelorn man buys a love potion and then has to deal with it actually working.
 
 

 
 

If there's a worse episode of The Twilight Zone than this one, I'm not sure I want to see it.  Everyone in it is despicable, and not in an interesting or a cathartic manner.  The performances are mostly grating, and the only thing I enjoyed was seeing the gigantic shelves of library books; I would love to have a setup like that.
 
And that's it!  This episode is even worse than "The Fever," which is an achievement.  Not a good one.
 

The Blu-ray has an interview with director Douglas Heyes by Marc Zicree, who says "mm-hmm" and "hmm!" quite a lot.  (To be fair, this was a self-recorded interview Zicree conducted in researching his book The Twilight Zone Companion; still, it's annoying.)  Heyes sounds a bit like Wilford Brimley, which is a good thing to sound like.  There's also an isolated-score track.
 
Bryant's rating:  * / *****
 
 
"A Passage for Trumpet"
  
  
(season 1, episode 32)
  
airdate:  May 20, 1060
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Don Medford
  
Joey Crown, musician with an odd, intense face, whose life is a quest
for impossible things like flowers in concrete or like trying to pluck a
note of music out of the air and put it under glass to treasure.


A down-on-his-luck musician decides one day to step off a curb, under the wheels of a truck and out of this disappointing life.  But his story's not over there.
 
 

 
 

This is a terrific episode.  I think it would have been a strong one with any competent actor in the lead role, but in this instance we have Jack Klugman doing what might well be career-best work.  He's a marvel, tragic and comic and pitiable and admirable all at the same time.
 

Almost as good, though not in as flashy a manner: John Anderson (who I know best from "The Survivors," a top-notch episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation).  He's playing ... uh ... a fellow musician.  And he's wonderful.
 

The Blu-ray has two commentary tracks plus an isolated-score track featuring the music of Lyn Murray.
 
Bryant's rating:  ***** / *****
 
 
"Mr. Bevis"
  
(season 1, episode 33)
  
airdate:  June 3, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  William Asher
  
In the parlance of the twentieth century, this is an oddball.


A doofus who likes things like stuffed squirrels and bowties has a lousy day and then receives a visit from his newly-appointed guardian angel.
 
 

 
 
Nobody's perfect, not even Rod Serling, which is why I -- nearly sixty years after the fact -- forgive him for writing both "The Chaser" and "Mr. Bevis" in such close proximity that they aired only a few weeks apart.
 

This is an awful episode; I'd argue that it's not AS awful as "The Chaser," but if you argue the reverse, we won't have much of an argument; I'll just nod and make an indistinct "mm-hmm" noise and we'll get on with our days.
 
Bryant's rating:  * / *****
 
 
"The After Hours"
  
(season 1, episode 34)
  
airdate:  June 10, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Douglas Heyes
  
Miss Marsha White on the ninth floor, specialties department, looking for a gold thimble.


A young lady in a department store has a spooky series of encounters with deserted sales floors, passive-aggressive customer service, dented thimbles, elevators, fake sailors, and, of course, creepy mannequins.
 
 

 
 

Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet, and also in this episode of The Twilight Zone, and ho-LEE GOD is she beautiful in it.  Great performance in general, but -- and I apologize for this to anyone who thinks an apology is warranted -- she's just stunningly gorgeous.  In the first-season-Twilight-Zone babe-off, it's Francis and Inger Stevens in the final round, and all of humanity is the winner.
   
It's a very fine episode, one of the scariest in the first season without a doubt.  It must have flat-out terrified some viewers upon its initial airing, and probably a fair number in the years (and many repeat airings in one venue or another) since.
 

There's a great review of it at Dog Star Omnibus, and I like one of the comments I left there sufficiently that I'm going to paraphrase it here (beware spoilers!):
 

"I'd say that to me -- based, admittedly, on only a single viewing -- the episode is pure existential horror.  Marsha is staggering around looking at the mannequins as if horrified by the notion that they might be coming to life; but in actuality, it's likely that the real horror for her is that she knows she is one of them.  Which makes it more horrifying for a viewer the next time she sees an actual mannequin!  I love that."
 

Yes indeed I do.
 

The Blu-ray is pretty good for this one, with a fine Marc Scott Zicree commentary, Zicree interview s with Anne Francis and Douglas Heyes, an isolated-score track, and the radio-series adaptation, which is pretty good considering that the lack of visuals hamstrings what is by definition a visually-dependent story.
 
Bryant's rating:  **** 1/2 / *****
 
 
"The Mighty Casey"
  
(season 1, episode 35)
  
airdate:   June 17, 1960
written by:  Rod Serling
directed by:  Robert Parrish and Alvin Ganzer 
  
What you're looking at is a ghost, once alive, now deceased.


A cellar-dwelling major-league baseball team perks up a bit when they hire a robot to be their pitcher.
 
 

 
 
The story behind this episode's production is more interesting by far than the episode itself: the lead role (the team's manager) was originally played by Paul Douglas, who died of a coronary two days after production wrapped.  According to Rod Serling -- who tells the story in very frank fashion in an audio clip that can be found on the Blu-ray -- the performance Douglas gave was utterly unusable.  Serling paid for the part to be recast and refilmed (CBS having refused to pay for it), and got Jack Warden.
 

The money was probably worth it.  I'm not a fan of the episode overall, but Warden is magnificent, as humorous here as he had been heartbreaking in "The Lonely" earlier in the season.  I also quite like Abraham Sofaer as the robot's inventor, and Robert Sorrells is good as the robotic Casey himself.  Sorrells would, much later in life, he sent to prison as a convicted murderer, so there's that.
 

Between that and the plot, I can't help but think of Stephen King's novella "Blockade Billy," which is about a phenom who comes out of nowhere to help a languishing baseball team, only to eventually be outed as being not quite what he seems.
 
The Blu-ray has that terrific Serling intervew I mentioned earlier, as well as an isolated score track, and a fairly awful radio-drama adaptation.  The actor playing the scientist is just dreadful, especially when weighed against Sofaer.  I'd also say that Paul Dooley is no Jack Warden, but he's at least not horrible.
 

Weirdly, the musical score for that radio version lifts bits of one of John Williams' Lost In Space scores (specifically, a Williams cue titled "The Weightless Waltz"); or if not, it's such a flagrant lift that someone ought to have sued.
 
Bryant's rating:  ** / *****
 
 
"A World of His Own"
  
(season 1, episode 36)
  
airdate:  July 1, 1960
written by:  Richard Matheson
directed by:  Ralph Nelson
  
Mr. Gregory West: shy, quiet, and, at the moment, very happy.


A noted playwright is spending quality time with his mistress one day when his wife shows up unexpectedly. Unexpectedly for the playwright and the mistress, at least; the wife finds exactly what she expected...
 

...at first.
 

 
 
The first-season finale ends with a joke so good that it could quite easily have made for a great finale to the series itself.  Luckily, that didn't happen; but if this had been a one-and-done series, it could have done a LOT worse than to end like this.
 

The rest of the episode is kind of so-so.  It's got some cool concepts, and Keenan Wynn is very good -- both sympathetic and creepy -- as the playwright.  Phyllis Kirk is also good as the wife, although her makeup is so hideous that I almost couldn't focus on the performance.
 

The Blu-ray has an audio interview with Richard Matheson that doesn't amount to a whole heck of a lot, as well as an isolated-score track (which similarly amounts to little).
 
*****
 
And that is that for season one.
 

But wait...!  There's more!
 

The final disc of the first-season Blu-ray also contains a Serling-penned episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, "The Time Element."  It aired on November 24, 1958 (a bit less than a year before the debut of The Twilight Zone); Allen Reisner directed, and while it's obviously not an episode of The Twilight Zone, it is of interest to any fan of the series, both historically and in terms of the story and tone.
 
  
 

 
 

It's about a man who walks into a psychiatrist's office one day and tells the doctor about a recurring dream he's been having in which he finds himself in Honolulu on December 6, 1941.  He tries to explain to the people he meets there that something terrible is going to happen on the next day, but -- unsurprisingly -- finds no sympathetic ears.
 

It's not at all difficult to imagine this hour-long script being pruned down to half its length and airing as an episode of The Twilight Zone.  And indeed, the two shows do have a connection.  Serling had already pitched to CBS the concept of an anthology series with fantastical and science-fictional elements, but the network had shown no real interest.  "The Time Element" itself had been pitched to the network, and when there was a need on short turnaround for a completed screenplay to serve as an episode of Desilu Playhouse, it was rescued from the mothballs.  Viewer response to the produced episode was strong, and this got CBS executives to reconsider their feeling that a Serling-led anthology series was a stiff.
 

As we know, it was most definitely NOT a stiff.
 
So while "The Time Element" cannot actually be counted as an episode of The Twilight Zone, I would personally recommend that anybody with the ability to do so view it as a de facto pilot episode, and watch it prior to beginning the series proper.  It's a very solid (though overlong) drama, with excellent performances from William Bendix and Martin Balsam.  (I'd award it a *** 1/2 out of *****.)  And it looks every bit as good on these Blu-rays as the TZ episodes do, so I award a pair of thumbs up to whoever put in the work to remaster it in high definition.  There's also a great commentary track by Marc Scott Zicree which gives you the pre-production history of the episode.
 
We'll end with a Worst To Best ranking of the first-season episodes, as curated by yours truly:
  
 
#36 -- "The Chaser"  (*)
#35 -- "The Fever"  (*)
#34 -- "Mr. Bevis"  (*)
#33 -- "The Four of Us Are Dying"  (*)
#32 -- "Escape Clause"  (* 1/2)
#31 -- "The Mighty Casey"  (**)
#30 -- "The Big Tall Wish"  (**)
#29 -- "Mr. Denton on Doomsday"  (** 1/2)
#28 -- "A Nice Place to Visit"  (** 1/2)
#27 -- "Nightmare as a Child"  (***)
#26 -- "Elegy"  (***)
#25 -- "Long Live Walter Jameson"  (***)
#24 -- "A World of His Own"  (***)
#23 -- "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air"  (***)
#22 -- "Where Is Everybody?"  (***)
#21 -- "The Last Flight"  (*** 1/2)
#20 -- "The Purple Testament"  (*** 1/2)
#19 -- "What You Need"  (****)
#18 -- "Execution"  (****)
#17 -- "Time Enough at Last"  (****)
#16 -- "One for the Angels"  (****)
#15 -- "Judgment Night"  (****)
#14 -- "The Lonely"  (****)
#13 -- "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine"  (****)
#12 -- "People Are Alike All Over"  (****)
#11 -- "The Monster Are Due on Maple Street"  (**** 1/2)
#10 -- "Mirror Image"  (**** 1/2)
#9 -- "And When the Sky Was Opened"  (**** 1/2)
#8 -- "A World of Difference"  (**** 1/2) 
#7 -- "A Stop at Willoughby"  (**** 1/2) 
#6 -- "The After Hours"  (**** 1/2) 
#5 -- "The Hitch-Hiker"  (**** 1/2)
#4 -- "Third from the Sun"  (**** 1/2)
#3 -- "Perchance to Dream"  (*****)
#2 -- "A Passage for Trumpet"  (*****)
#1 -- "Walking Distance" (*****)





See you soon for season two!  Or if not soon, then eventually.  After all, everything's eventual.

9 comments:

  1. 1 I think "Mirror Image is a fine bit of paranoia when you get right down to it. An interesting way of looking at it is to wonder if it's set in a universe where the collective human mind is suffering from a sever, and dangerous case of schizophrenia.

    ...I'll go take my meds now.

    2. I've heard the radio version of the "After Hours" and it really pails in comparison to the TV version. The writers seem to want to imply that the floor manager is somehow in back of it all, in a way that is never elaborated upon. I suppose such a twist could have worked if an end scene were included showing him to be aware of it all. Instead, it just comes off as lazy writing.

    I said that the episode could be about the loss and commercialization of identity. If there's any truth to this reading, then the episode also implies the manager is just as much a victim at the mercy of larger forces as the protagonist. Indeed, maybe one day he'll join here. Anything is possible in The Twilight Zone.

    3. Am I the only one who wonders if Serling didn't hand a young King the plot and villain for "Needful Things", and the inspiration just bubbled up from his subconscious?

    4. While we're at it, was anyone else reminded of "Brazil" while watching "A World of Difference"? Maybe it's just me.

    Speaking of alternate dimensions, I found another level of the Tower. Evidence for it can be seen here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab-pU7cXFAs

    here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAboGO9MDsQ

    also here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmTpOQrqoO0

    and here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUPDuQq9GsM

    5. "Maple Street" will always be one of the top-tier episodes for me. I actually heard it first as a narrated short story from a book on tape.

    While reading this post, my mind made a mental switch where I could imagine Mister Rogers playing the Claude Akins role. Just imagine an episode of "Neighborhood", where everything starts normal and then tilts into "Zone" territory.

    ...Yeah, yeah, MEDS.

    6. I never found anything wrong with the wife's looks in "World of his Own". Then again, I usually put visuals as second.

    I admit, I always mentally fit this episode as the ultimate series finale. It just somehow fits as capper on a light-hearted, yet solidly weird note.

    ChrisC

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    1. I almost forgot. I found an actual full-length documentary on Chuck Beaumont. It's called "Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone's Magic Man". A preview can be found here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0ezeb32CcA

      The best part about this Doc is that it helps fill in a missing gap in the history of American Fantastic literature and film.

      Beaumont is shown in relation to his cultural and creative milieu. In particular, he is shown as part of a collective of writers called "The Group". It included Matheson, Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, and William F. Nolan.

      What united them was a shared love for the writings of Ray Bradbury, and their desire to write the kind of stories that made RB famous.

      A good article on "The Group can be found here:

      https://www.rodserling.com/csorcerers.htm

      The best part is that a line of descent is traced from Bradbury to "The Group" and from the group directly to the likes of Steve King, Peter Straub, Dean Koontz etc.

      Technically, this is stuff you can pick up from works like Danse Macabre, yet its so subliminal, even when King spends an entire book talking about his influences, you're just never made the necessary connection.

      The documentary firmly helps establish that connection by stating flat-out, in a way the viewer is sure to remember (at least if it's a viewer that cares for that sort of thing, anyway).

      ChrisC.

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    2. That's a great documentary.

      You mentioned "Brazil." I watched that maybe 4 years ago with a mind of maybe blogging it up, but man: that one's a challenge. A worthy one - and a helluva film - but I freely admit I think a lot of it just goes over my head. That's not a bad thing. In fact, a mystery that pulls me back to it every so often is actually a very desirable and sought-after thing, so I hope I never actually fully figure it out.

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    3. @ Chris:

      1. An interesting question. A (hopefully) interesting answer: might it be argued that that's what the (near-)entirety of "The Twilight Zone" itself is? If so, that's a perfectly valid reason for its occasional lapses in logic and rationality.

      2. Yeah, the radio series is mostly pretty shabby. I want to like it, but mostly don't. I wonder if I'd feel any differently if I wasn't comparing the episodes to the television versions. I suspect not; the motivation to listen wouldn't be there in the first place.

      3. If not on this level of the Tower, on some other level, for sure.

      4. Those premakes are pretty good. Kudos to the "Empire" one for using Holst music! As for the "Brazil" comparison, it's been too long since I saw that movie to comment. But I betcha Gilliam was/is a Twilight Zone fan; just seems right, doesn't it?

      5. No, no, that's kind of an interesting idea. I think that's kind of what Akins is going for, in a way. I could see Tom Hanks from a decade or two ago playing that role in a big-screen remake.

      6. Maybe it's because I was watching on Blu-ray. She just looks ... yuck. Glad I'm not the only one to get a series-finale vibe off that episode!

      I don't know that I'm motivated enough to look up the full Beaumont documentary, but I will definitely check out that article on the Group. For scientific purposes!

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    4. @ McMolo:

      I was a huge Gilliam fan for a little while there. Only fell away from it because of being a huge fan of too damn many things. As I recall, "Brazil" is arguably his magnum opus; my memory of it is kinda hazy, but it's a movie I had an awful lot of affection for at one point in time, for sure.

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  2. (1) Man, I like thinking about the Twilight Zone. I thank you for all the shout-outs to Dog Star Omnibus and the kind remarks. I'm loving the fact that you'll be doing this for each season! Can't wait to read 'em.

    (2) Re: "The Lonely:" "does it seem likely that any government would be willing to commit the financial resources to imprison one man on an asteroid?"" It's certainly a good point. The logistics make no sense. Enough for the metaphor, sure, and I think there's that remote exile/ Robinson Crusoe type background in historical memory that was more or less just transposed unto space, here. Most space travel shenaigans make little sense, when we come right down to it and roll up our sleeves. But yeah: the better ones crowd out that part of your brain that thinks about the logistics involved.

    (3) Nice to see some love for Howard Duff in "A World of Difference." That's a great performance. If I was up to the task I'd try and do some kind of top 50 TZ performances. I'm confident Duff would be in the top 10.

    (3.5) I think I'd rather almost do a Least Favorite TZ Performance list, though. I'm having trouble organizing my thoughts around either task, but if I had to pick one, it'd be more fun to line up 25 performances that annoy me (even in great episodes) and why and bowl.

    (3.75) Ditto for TOS. Say! That's an idea. "Most Irritating Guest Performances in TOS."

    (3.8) Three more blogs for the Robot McMolo, because THIS one ain't getting to 'em anytime soon, alas.

    (4) I've got to check out "The Time Element!"

    (5) A top 3 finish for "Perchance to Dream." It's a terrific episode - happy to see it place so highly. I'm not sure that one gets its due, but all that dream/Sandra Warner stuff gets headier and heavier every year since it aired. Great stuff.

    (6) I haven't actually seen "The Hitch-hiker" in forever. I need to watch that again.

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    1. (1) I hope to not have it be TOO too long between installments, but you know me. My viewing rate is likely to be an episode or two per week, tops. So we might see the next post in mid-summer or so.

      (2) The argument could be made that precisely zero of these stories are meant to be "really" taking place anyways, even in-universe. So to some degree story/plot logic need not be at all logical. I guess all I really need from an episode like "The Lonely" is to be able to believe that such a thing COULD happen. WOULD it happen? Almost certainly not. But maybe in this future, spaceflight is incredibly inexpensive. Boom, there ya go, Bryant, problem solved. Anyways, I don't really much mind; and I think I might have rated that episode a half a point too low.

      (3) Boy, that list would be murder to try to curate. I'd struggle to come up with a top ten just from the first season that didn't cause me agony.

      (3.5) THAT I could do with very little agony at all, I think, although a solid #1-worst contender fails to leap immediately to mind. Whereas...

      (3.75) ...Melvin Belli, with a bullet. Not sure anybody else even comes close. And frankly, I'm scared to think about it lest somebody come to mind.

      (3.8) I hope Robot Bryant will read 'em for me.

      (4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aHWCHU4xsw

      (5) It sure is. I read your post about it prior to seeing the episode, and was still unprepared for how intense it is. I initially had zero episodes from this season rated at a full five stars, but realized that was a mistake, and in looking around to see which ones I thought earned it, that was was a no-brainer for me.

      (6) I nearly went five stars on that one, too.

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    2. Thanks for the youtube link - watching it this morning with my pre-work coffee. Good stuff. Some random things:

      - this protagonist is rather disagreeable. Which keeps the story going/ viewing. He has the distinct disadvantage of not having grown up watching stuff like THE TWILIGHT ZONE, so he doesn't know what behavior/ remarks to avoid when traveling in the past. (Or THE SIMPSONS: https://frinkiac.com/meme/S06E06/638837/m/IElmIHlvdSBldmVyIHRyYXZlbCBiYWNrCiBpbiB0aW1lLCBkb24ndCBzdGVwIG9uCiBhbnl0aGluZyBiZWNhdXNlIGV2ZW4gdGhlCiB0aW5pZXN0IGNoYW5nZQ==)

      - Take for example, the "who is the president.' How would he screw this up? He knows he's in the past; he's freaking trying to warn people about Pearl Harbor! Yet he comes up with Eisenhower. And thinks out loud about Truman,etc. These are rookie mistakes! Why is he trying to get these newsmen of 1941 ("what's a matta with you guys?!") to remember events of the 50s, anyway?

      - When I see this stuff, I think, I bet the garden variety dude of 1950 was a real pain in the ass.

      - Man, they treated bartenders like crap in the past, eh? This is such a consistent feature of things set, say, pre-1970 (or maybe even later than that) that I wonder what the deal is with that. They're always getting slapped around and insulted.

      - This is a good accompaniment to the blu-ray; it's a definite "sneak peek at the TWILIGHT ZONE to come.

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    3. "this protagonist is rather disagreeable." -- Yeah, he's a freakin' hemorrhoid, I'd say. The implication might be that he is only behaving that way as a result of these bizarre experiences. I'm guessing that's how contemporary audiences would have taken it.

      "Take for example, the "who is the president.' How would he screw this up? He knows he's in the past; he's freaking trying to warn people about Pearl Harbor!" -- Yeah, that rang hollow for sure. To me, it felt like a studio note got given at some point that insisted Serling remind the viewers at EVERY POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY that this was a man out of time. Or maybe it was Serling himself, playing the LCD card.

      "When I see this stuff, I think, I bet the garden variety dude of 1950 was a real pain in the ass." -- Oh, man, don't you just know it? Imagine working some customer-service-oriented job -- barman, for example (you're way ahead of me on this one) -- and having to deal with mopes like that day-in/day-out. Kill me.

      "Man, they treated bartenders like crap in the past, eh?" -- Ain't much of a crime, whackin' a surly bartender.

      "This is a good accompaniment to the blu-ray" -- It really is. I hope those sets sold well enough to justify their investment in having given them the royal treatment. They were super expensive for a long while, and were worth every penny.

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