Lest Darkness Fall
Twilight Zone - Season Four (DVD)
Member Name: Jake Speed
Twilight Zone - Season Four (DVD)
Advantages: Some great episodes and some very good ones
Disadvantages: Longer running time doesn't always work, a few duds
The Twilight Zone Series Four (first broadcast in 1963) contains eighteen episodes of the classic and highly influential fantasy series spread over six discs. By 1962 The Twilight Zone was one of the most famous and popular shows on American television but when it was late arranging a sponsor for its fourth year a strangely ruthless CBS put the series into limbo and replaced it with a new show called Fair Exchange. Fair Exchange proved to be an ironic title. It failed miserably and so CBS suddenly decided to bring back The Twilight Zone instead. By now Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling was on a television sabbatical and teaching media and writing at Antioch College (must have been amazing to have Rod Serling as your teacher) while the legendary Twilight Zone producer Buck Houghton had departed from the show. Serling still recorded his opening and closing monologues and contributed several scripts but they were often far from his best work and he stayed well away from the production of the fourth series. Not only that but the episodes for the new season were expanded from the usual thirty minutes to an hour in order to fill the time slot left by the cancellation of Fair Exchange. The Twilight Zone was always designed to be the perfect thirty minute series. Set up an outlandish situation right from the start and then give the audience a "flip" (twist) about twenty minutes later at the end. It was unavoidably much more difficult to come up with stories and situations that could sustain themselves for an hour and not feel as if they were treading water (quite literally in the case of The Thirty-Fathom Grave). Some of these sixty minute episodes try to compensate by giving you three or four twists and others don't seem to have any twists at all. When The Twilight Zone returned for a fifth series it was restored to its thirty minute format and so this fourth season is a genuine one-off in the history of the show. Despite the many difficulties though there are actually four or five classic episodes here as great as any they made in the five years of The Twilight Zone and an equal number of very good ones. If several weaker episodes were further sunk by the much longer running time (and are consequently more of an ordeal to get through) others seemed to relish the broader canvas and became truly special.
The first episode is In His Image - written by Charles Beaumont and directed by Perry Lafferty. This is regarded by many to be the best of the hour long episodes and it serves as a strong start to this collection. It begins with an apparently ordinary man named Alan Talbot (George Grizzard) leaving his New York hotel and entering a subway where a religious fanatic won't leave him alone and keeps trying to thrust a leaflet in his hand. "And I'll tell you how I know.... It was on a Sunday. I was ironing if you please. And that's when it came, out of a clear blue sky! Oh, the Good Lord's own sweet breath, and his voice like an electric shock! I was revelated! Oh, praise him, Mister and praise his good works! Do you read the book? We may be a mile underground, Mister, but he hears EVERY word." Suddenly hearing strange noises in his head, Talbot snaps and pushes her in front of a speeding train. An hour later, he arrives at the home of his finance Jessica Connelly (Gail Kobe) with no memory whatsoever of the murder he has just committed. Strange. Talbot is taking Jessica to his home town of Coeurville to visit his Aunt Mildred. When they reach Coeurville though Talbot is in for a series of disturbing surprises. There are many brand new buildings he doesn't recognise, his key doesn't fit the lock of Aunt Mildred's door and a stranger answers and says he is unaware of anyone called Mildred ever living there. The university where Talbot works is an empty field and his parents' graves are gone - replaced by the tombstones of people he's never heard of before. What in the name of Rod Serling is going on?
In His Image is a classic episode and set a standard that the fourth series of the Twilight Zone was rarely able to repeat. This is one of the most thoughtful contributions to the show by the eccentric but often brilliant Charles Beaumont and an exciting and ultimately poignant story about the nature of identity and memory. While the hour long format was a problem for many of the episodes here and made them feel padded and long winded, In His Image successfully maintains the intrigue and suspense over the duration of its running time and always holds your attention. Talbot's unsettling experience of finding his home town changed beyond all recognition (in what seems an impossibly short space of time) is merely the first of a series of big twists and revelations that send the episode heading towards a cliff-hanger final act. Beaumont's dialogue is superb at times and much credit must go to George Grizzard who supplies a skilful and nuanced piece of acting (to elaborate too much on why Grizzard is so good here would be to give the biggest twist away). Gal Kobe is superb too as Jessica. Her responses to are always believable and she never allows her character to slide into hysteria. This is a great start to series four.
"You've seen them. Little towns, tucked away far from the main roads. You've seen them, but have you thought about them? What do the people in these places do? Why do they stay? Philip Redfield never thought about them. If his dog hadn't gone after that cat, he would have driven through Peaceful Valley and put it out of his mind forever. But he can't do that now, because whether he knows it or not, his friend's shortcut has led him right into the capital of the Twilight Zone." Valley of the Shadow was written by Charles Beaumont and directed by Perry Lafferty. This is a relatively entertaining episode with a great premise but it never quite takes off and becomes as good as you want it to be. Phillip Redfield (Ed Nelson) is a journalist on his way to New Mexico for an assignment. Out of gas, he stops off at a small out of the way town called Peaceful Valley where everyone seems a bit odd and wary of him. When his dog jumps out of the car to chase a cat, a little girl seems to use some sort of device to make the dog disappear. His dog is eventually returned and the locals insist it merely ran around the side of a house. When he drives away though, Redfield crashes his car into what seems to be an invisible barrier erected around the town. He is taken taken to the town chambers and told by the town's elders that he has stumbled across their secrets and now poses a problem. One hundred years ago Peaceful Valley was visited by a stranger (presumably an alien) who gave them miraculous technology - atomic disassembly/reassembly devices that can teleport human beings and bring dead people back to life. They were instructed that they could use the technology for their own benefit but must never share it with governments or anyone outside Peaceful Valley until there is world peace. Redfield is given a choice. He can either live in Peaceful Valley for the rest of his life in luxury and harmony or he can be executed to prserve the secrets of the town. No prizes for guessing which one he goes for but as you can imagine he's soon plotting to escape.
The central premise of Valley of the Shadow is fun and there is always something enjoyable about episodes that maroon a central character in an eccentric middle of nowhere town but this episode does lack some nuance and background detail. I love the reverse footage special effects for the technology though. You wonder if Star Trek picked up on the teleportation device used here and ironically enough Scotty himself James Doohan makes an appearance near the start. Ed Nelson is ok as the trapped journalist and Natalie Trundy is fine as Ellen Marshall, the hotel worker he forms a friendship with. David Opatoshu adds some gravitas as Dorn, the chief town elder. One problem with the episode besides the slightly unsatisfactory ending is that they obviously shot this on some old studio outdoor sets and there are few extras. Peaceful Valley is supposed to have a thousand inhabitants and be in possession of highly advanced technology but it looks like a ghost town in the old west and we only ever see a handful of the locals. A bigger budget would have improved this. Valley of the Shadow is nowhere near being a classic I quite enjoyed it all the same.
He's Alive was written by Rod Serling and directed by Stuart Rosenberg. This is arguably the worst episode in series four and never really works despite what seems on the face of it a mildly intriguing premise. Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper) is the leader of a small group of American neo-Nazis and gives what are meant to be rabble rousing speeches on street corners but is only met by jeering and ridicule. One night he is particularly crestfallen and visits the home of Ernst Ganz (Ludwig Donath), a concentration camp victim who despises Vollmer's views but has known him since he was a child. Ernest is a father figure to Vollmer and the "...only thing in he world I've ever loved." This friendship is one of a number of things in the episode that don't ring true and loses the viewer. Would a concentration camp survivor and an ambitious neo-Nazi really be friends? Anyway, Ernst takes pity of Vollmer after lecturing him on the error of his ways and allows him to stay the night. Vollmer is awakened by someone outside the window. A shadowy man who says he shares his beliefs and values and wants to help him. The man has a German accent and is very bossy and decisive. Yes, it's the ghost of Adolf Hitler, come back to give Vollmer a few tips and pointers. Vollmer is enthralled and soon under the spell and when Hitler, sorry I mean the mysterious German accented man, suggests murder would help the cause he is happy to go along with that too.
He's Alive is a strangely boring episode chock full of characters you never really believe in. Even a young Dennis Hopper fails to inject any energy into the part of Peter Vollmer and lacks magnetism when the would be neo-Nazi icon gives his big speeches. You never really believe he'd attract any followers. Rod Serling fared much better with his other Twilight Zone foray into Nazism, Deaths Head Revisited. That was a powerful and moving episode but He's Alive is too editorial. The obvious intention was to expose the banality and immorality of those that follow extreme such ideologies but despite the worthy intentions this episode ends up feeling oddly pointless and flat. He's alive is encapsulated in the moment when Curt Conway as the mysterious mentor steps out of the shadows and reveals he is Hitler. He looks like someone at a fancy dress party who barely resembles Hitler and the illusion is shattered. This lack of a sense of reality is a problem throughout.
Next is Mute - written by Richard Matheson and directed by Stuart Rosenberg. This is an interesting and watchable episode but one that doesn't completely satisfy and remains somewhat controversial. The premise has a group of people in Germany in the fifties who form a community that has developed telepathic powers and have children that do not speak. A family from the community moves to the United States but both parents are killed in a house fire. Their last act is to use their mental powers to warn and save their young telepathic mute daughter Ilse (Ann Jillian). The orphaned Ilse is taken in by Sherriff Harry Wheeler (Robert Boon) and his wife Cora (Barbara Baxley) while they try to locate any relatives she might have. Not understanding the true nature of Ilse, the pair are appalled that she doesn't seem to be able to speak or read and enroll her in a school where a strict, insensitive and sadistic teacher named Edna Frank (Irene Dailey) becomes determined to make Ilse just like everyone else. While Sheriff Wheeler tries to make contact with any family the mute orphan might have in Germany, he is unaware that his wife is burning the letters and doing everything she can to make sure that Ilse never leaves. Their own daughter drowned in an accident and Cora is maniacally determined to maintain possession of Ilse - who she is irrationally believes is her own daughter somehow returned to her. In the middle of all of this is Ilse, marooned, alone and isolated in her own mind, and unable to communicate with anyone.
Mute doesn't exactly sound like a barrel of laughs and for good reason. It isn't. Aside from Ilse, none of the characters are very sympathetic, even the Sheriff and his wife (who comes across as somewhat hysterical and weird although I'm not even sure this was supposed to be the intention as she is clearly meant to be the nicest person here). The ending is troubling (they really took the wrong option I think) and the theme of talent and individuality being beaten out of one is handled in too vague a fashion. The story never really gives us the impression it thinks this is necessarily a bad thing. It seems bizarre that Richard Matheson would deliberately write a story that celebrated conformity but you leave Mute with the impression that this is the overriding message. Maybe something was lost in the translation. Despite the puzzling messages that Mute seems to project, the episode itself is actually not bad at all. Child actress Ann Jillian is excellent in the central part of Ilse and although she can only use facial expressions and voiceovers she brings a depth and empathy to the part. We get a sense of how adrift she is in a world where everyone speaks and she is mute and telepathic. Voices are booming and scary to her and her own speech is just a garble. Irene Dailey certainly brings gusto to her part as the battleaxe teacher who has it in for Ilse. "We're going to work with her until she's exactly like everyone else!" Look for an appearance by wonderful Twilight Zone regular Oscar Beregi Jr too. Mute is hardly a classic and eschews the usual Twilight Zone twist but it's a solid episode even if the moral compass and message of the story seems hard to understand at times.
"Picture of the spaceship E-89, cruising above the thirteenth planet of star system fifty-one, the year 1997. In a little while, supposedly, the ship will be landed and specimens taken: vegetable, mineral and, if any, animal. These will be brought back to overpopulated Earth, where technicians will evaluate them and, if everything is satisfactory, stamp their findings with the word "inhabitable" and open up yet another planet for colonization. These are the things that are supposed to happen . . . Picture of the crew of the spaceship E-89: Captain Ross, Lieutenant Mason, Lieutenant Carter. Three men who have just reached a place which is as far from home as they will ever be. Three men who in a matter of minutes will be plunged into the darkest nightmare reaches of the Twilight Zone..." Death Ship was written by Richard Matheson and directed by Don Medford. This is a classic episode. The crew of the spaceship E-89 are on the hunt for samples of life to take back to Earth and set down on a planet that seems a likely suspect for success. However, on touchdown, their attention is drawn to something very large and metallic partially hidden by bushes and when they investigate they find an inert spaceship. The really strange thing (this is The Twilight Zone!) is that this spaceship is identical to their own - right down to the tiniest detail. The bemused crew decide to venture inside the derelict craft and make a truly shocking discovery. Inside the spaceship are three dead crew members who look exactly like them. Are they being manipulated by aliens with spooky hallucinogenic powers? Are they dead? Have they been given a glimpse into the future? Captain Ross (Jack Klugman) has no time for these unsettling theories though. He insists they are all very much alive and there must surely be a logical course of action that will avoid the terrible fate that the doppelganger ship seems to indicate for them. Is he right?
I really love the old fashioned flying saucer effects here (I think they used props from Forbidden Planet) and there is an enjoyably retro atmosphere permeating the drama with the electronic beeps and pings of life on the E-89 and the whooshing buzz that signals the ship is taking off or landing. Death Ship is a fun mystery - although it was probably a lot more original when Matheson conceived it. I've lost count of how many science fiction doppelganger/are we or are we not dead? capers there have been since. The crew start to think they are indeed dead but the stubborn Captain Ross won't hear a word of it. His attempt to formulate a plan to escape the fate of the identikit ship is very sixties Star Trek puzzle solving (and remember The Twilight Zone was made before Star Trek) and fun. You generally KNOW that a Twilight Zone episode is going to be good if Jack Klugman is in it. He was best at playing working class losers but brings his usual energy to the part here. Death Ship works well too I think because it's very talky as the crew bicker over this pesky dilemma. It becomes quite dreamlike too, as if they are being beckoned to accept a fate. Ross reasons that if they don't take off they can't crash. Is there a way they can get off the planet though? You do find yourself wondering what you would do. Death Ship is excellent.
Jess-Belle was written by Earl Hamner Jr and directed by Buzz Kulik. This is a more whimsical episode but one of the best acted and produced stories in this collection. In the Blude Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Billy-Ben Turner (James Best) proposes to farmer's daughter Ellwyn Glover (Laura Devon) but the jealous Jess-Belle Stone (Anne Francis), a poor but beautiful girl who Billy-Ben once secretly romanced, is determined the wedding will not take place. Jesse-Belle seeks out the lonely cabin of the mysterious Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan) who legend has it is a witch. Granny Hart offers Jess-Belle a love potion but how can she pay for it? Granny Hart declines her offer of a silver hair pin and says there will be another price that Jess-Belle will find out about soon enough. Blinded by the jealously and envy she feels about him marrying another woman, Jess-Belle doesn't worry about these cryptic words and drinks the potion. When Billy-Ben next sees Jess-Belle it works like a charm. He is in love and can't bear to be parted from her for one second. Jess-Belle has successfully bewitched Billy-Ben and got exactly what she always wanted but there will be a heavy price to pay and she'll find out what that price is at the stroke of midnight. Jess-Belle is arguably the greatest contribution to the Twilight Zone by Earl Hamner Jr and one that perfectly captures his own sensibility and interest in folklore and backswoods stories featuring the type of rural people he grew up with. Hamner later created the television series The Waltons (who were based on his own family) and the characters here speak with what always feels like a wonderfully effective and charming authenticity. "Every minute I'm away from you is suffering and torment," declares Billy-Ben, unaware he is under a spell. "All kinds of torment in this world I reckon," sighs Jess-Belle. "Torment comes from buying something, finding out the price is dear." Jess-Bell is sort of like The Waltons, Bewitched, Cat People and Faust all blended together and the end result is certainly pleasant and enjoyable.
There is a remarkably clever layer of double meaning in the script which is all the more remarkable for the fact that Hamner Jr apparently wrote his draft in a few days because they needed a story to film as quickly as possible. Even so, in the hands of the wrong cast Jess-Belle could easily have been dull and rather tiresome in the longer format but the cast is a delight. Anne Francis was a beautiful blonde actress who had already featured in the classic Twilight Zone episode After Hours as a prim and innocent shopper who gets more than she bargained for in a spooky department store. She is unrecognisable here with a black wig and a much more vampish part (it is to the credit of Anne Francis that we also feel some sympathy for Jess-Belle despite her scheming and dishonesty) and James Best is superb too as Billy-Ben. The chemistry between them as actors makes it easy to accept that the characters had a past together. Jeanette Nolan though probably steals the show as Granny Hart. When we first see her she is cloaked and hovering over a bubbling pot like your stereotypical witch. When Jess-Belle knocks on the door she suddenly seems to change as if by magic into a more presentable figure but her true nature is never too far way. "Why child, there ain't much I don't know," she tells Jess-Belle and we know that the title character is unwisely meddling with things she doesn't understand all because she wants someone to love. I don't think Jess-Belle is quite a classic but I do think it's very good indeed.
"To the average person, a museum is a place of knowledge, a place of beauty and truth and wonder. Some people come to study, others to contemplate, others to look for the sheer joy of looking. Charley Parkes has his own reasons. He comes to the museum to get away from the world. It isn't really the sixty-cent cafeteria meal that has drawn him here every day, it's the fact that here in these strange, cool halls he can be alone for a little while, really and truly alone. Anyway, that's how it was before he got lost and wandered into... the Twilight Zone." Miniature was written by Charles Beaumont and directed by Walter Grauman. One could make a strong case for this being one of the greatest Twilight Zone episodes ever made. Robert Duvall is Charley Parkes, a painfully shy thirty-something bachelor who still lives at home with his mother (Pat Kelton). Charley is the ultimate outsider and is just not comfortable with other people or the world in general. One day, during his lunch break from his office job, he visits the museum to go to the cafeteria and becomes caught up in a tour group who bustle him into another part of the museum. When he is alone he finds himself looking at a beautiful and intricate nineteenth century dollhouse. He peers inside and is astonished to see a lifelike doll (Claire Griswold) that looks like a real woman playing Mozart's Piano Sonata A Major on a miniature harpsichord. He asks the museum guard about the house and the doll and is puzzled when the bemused employee tells him the doll is made from wood and certainly can't play music! The meek Charley is fired from his office job and is forced to go out and look for work. But while his mother and sister Myrna (Barbara Barrie) - who are both worried about his solitary tendancies and inability to ever engage with the real world - think he is out looking for a job Charley is secretly visiting the museum every day instead. He is completely entranced by the dollhouse and has fallen in love with the doll - who appears inanimate to everyone else but is anything but to Charley.
Miniature is a beautiful and highly unusual love story and one of the best stories that Charles Beaumont ever wrote for the Twilight Zone. The episode is wonderfully made too. Each time Charley visits the museum he witnesses an elegant pantomime as the woman in the dollhouse is served tea by her maid and then visited by a male suitor who may not have the most noble intentions (Charley of course is most disturbed by this latter development). A full size replica of the dollhouse was constructed so that Claire Griswold could act these scenes and the care and expense that went into Miniature always shines through. Key to it all is the fantastic performance by Robert Duvall as Charley, an intelligent and decent man who just can't face reality. He is not comfortable in his own skin nor with other human beings. Duvall gives a wonderfully understated performance that is both moving and believable. Great scene where Charley is sent on a blind date by his sister with a more worldly woman named Harriet (Joan Chambers). It ends in disaster when Harriet makes a pass at Charley and the terrified bachelor has no idea what to do, his frozen unresponsive hesitancy interpreted as a snub by the furious woman. Miniature comfortably maintains its gentle and delightfully strange spell over the course of its 60 or so minutes and has a fittingly touching and offbeat ending that doesn't disappoint. A great episode.
Printer's Devil was written by Charles Beaumont and directed by Ralph Senensky. This is an excellent episode. The story begins with Douglas Winter (Robert Sterling) - the editor of a struggling small town newspaper called the Danzburg Courier - at his wits end. The much richer and vastly more professional Danzburg Gazette has moved into town and practically bankrupted his newspaper. His few remaining staff have quit too, aware that they are part of a sinking ship. Winter drives his car out in the middle of nowhere and drunkenly contemplates throwing himself off a bridge until a stranger named Mr Smith (Burgess Meredith) stops him by telling him that the fall probably wouldn't do the job. Smith asks for a ride back into town and tells Winter he will give him a loan to save the newspaper. Not only that, but he is also an expert linotypist and news reporter and persuades Winter to give him a job. Business is soon flourishing at the Courier, not least because Smith seems to always get the scoop on disasters, bank robberies and fires before they actually happen. Who is Mr Smith and where does he get his remarkable powers of precognition from?
Charles Beaumont contributed many memorable episodes to the Twilight Zone and Printer's Devil is probably one of his best. It perhaps wraps itself up at the end a little bit too neatly and it isn't perfect by any means (Winter is a bit slow to cotton onto the fact that Smith always had a front page headline about something ten minutes before it actually happens) but it is genuinely interesting and not without an air of menace. Burgess Meredith particularly enjoyed playing Smith because the role was a departure from his usual put upon little man and enabled him to be fiendish, clever and wicked for a change. Mr Smith seems too good to be true in the manner in which he talks Winter out of suicide and then saves the newspaper and he is. What is nice here is the way that Smith seems like an eccentric old man who is trying to do the paper a favour but gradually ends up taking more and more control, especially as he is the only person who can make head nor tail of the strange old fashioned printing presses he has set up, these machines spookily able to predict the future. Whatever Smith types as a headline seems to happen. What is his diabolical secret? It's fairly obvious but fun all the same. The two leads here are well served by Beaumont's dialogue in what becomes a battle of wits between them. The relationship between Winter and Smith gradually shifts over the course of the story until Smith seems to be holding all the cards. Has Winter left it too late by not realising just how dangerous this little old man is? The cost will be far greater than his newspaper if he doesn't come up with a solution. Perhaps the best scene here for the actors is one where Smith asks Winter to amuse him by agreeing to a new contract between them. Smith will promise to keep the paper flourishing and all Winter has to do is promise his eternal soul to him. It's a good moment as Smith goads Winter about being reluctant to sign the contract with hesitation over such ridiculous notions as souls and the Devil. The Twilight Zone had explored such themes many times before in a whimsical fashion but there is an underlying menace to Printer's Devil.
No Time Like the Past was written by Rod Serling and directed by Justus Addiss. As you'd expect from a science fiction fantasy series, the Twilight Zone returned to the time travel well more than once but this was a case of there not being a huge amount of water left. Dana Andrews plays Paul Driscoll, a brilliant scientist who is sick to death of the path the world has taken and the threat of nuclear obliteration. Driscoll has created a time machine and intends to seek out three key events in the past to alter the future. Hiroshima, Adolf Hitler and the Lusitania. However, Driscoll will discover that altering the past is not as simple as it appears in theory. This episode never really works and even Rod Serling admitted they had done time travel to death by this point. The story is full of plot holes and things that don't make any sense. Driscoll has Adolf Hitler in the cross hairs of his sniper rifle but then declines to shoot because it is apparently a test run for when he shoots him later. Eh? If your mission is to shoot Adolf Hitler wouldn't you just shoot him the first chance you got in case you never got another opportunity? He also arrives at Hiroshima just hours before the atomic bomb is due to be dropped. If I wanted to prevent atomic armageddon and save people I'd probably give myself more than a few hours to do it. As Driscoll has a TIME MACHINE it doesn't really make any sense. It's merely a plot contrivance to create tension but there is precious little tension here. No Time Like the Past never becomes very engrossing or exciting. The best scene in the whole episode actually comes when Driscoll lands in 1881 and ends up debating military policy with a gung-ho hotel guest. This is a brief moment of inspiration from Serling. Dana Andrews is fine in the lead but this is a story that really struggles with the longer format and begins to drag long before it reaches the end.
The Parallel was again written by Rod Serling with Alan Crosland directing. This is another average episode that doesn't do much with what is a relatively interesting central concept. Major Robert Gaines (Steve Forrest) is an astronaut orbiting the Earth. His space capsule inexplicably vanishes from radar screens and he is later found fifty miles from the lift off site with his ship undamaged. This is merely the first of many puzzling events that await Gaines on his return. His house has a white picket fence that he doesn't remember and everyone insists he is a Colonel when he knows he is a Major. His wife Helen (Jacqueline Scott) and daughter Maggie (Shari Bernath) soon begin to sense there is something different about him. He is not the husband and father they remember. It appears the astronaut has either gone mad or (gulp) entered a parallel world. The Parallel is sunk by both the extending running time of this fourth season and by the flat acting. With more energy it might have made a decent thirty minute episode but the premise is stretched out for far too long and becomes tiresome in the end. There is no great twist here as the title of the episode gives away what is fairly obvious to us about ten minutes in anyway. They had actually intended Mr and Mrs Gaines to become aware there was something slightly different about each other after they went to bed for the first time since his return but to even hint at this was ultimately considered too risque in the censorship climate of the era.
The Thirty-Fathom Grave was written by Rod Serling and directed by Perry Lafferty. A US Navy destroyer is on duty off Guadalcanal. This routine patrol is interrupted though when the ship sonar picks up a persistent and creepy metallic banging sound coming from somewhere in the depths below. The crew - under Captain Beecham (Simon Oakland) - contact naval command to report this strange occurrence but are told there are no reports of any activity or sinkings in the area. Attempts to make contact with any nearby submarine are not successful but the eerie clanging sound continues. Captain Beecham gives orders that the ship's expert deep sea diver McClure (John Considine) should be sent down to see if he can find anything but this spooky mystery becomes even spookier when a crew member named Chief Bell (Mike Kellin) starts to exhibit paranoid and hysterical behaviour and see ghosts who beckon him to follow. As the strange noises from beneath the waves continue, McClure makes his slow descent to the bottom of the sea. The Thirty-Fathom Grave is not quite at the top table of Twilight Zone episodes but is a solid nautical ghost story that is better than its general reputation would suggest. Stephen King actually gave this a mention as one of his favourite episodes in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre. The ghostly atmosphere is fun I think. The sonar beeps and background hums and noises of the ship (even footsteps on the bridge are wonderfully atmospheric for some reason) and the unsettling clanging noise that the ship picks up and is rather unsettled by. It's always enjoyably creepy when the metallic thumps begin again from beneath the waves, sounding exactly like someone methodically tapping on a metal door with a hammer from the inside. The Thirty-Fathom Grave is just a good solid Rod Serling mystery where you might see the ending coming but have a lot of fun getting there anyway. You can become immersed in the spectral aquatic ambience of the story and feel like you are on the ship with Captain Beecham and his men as things become ever stranger. Criticisms? Well, the expanded running time of this series is a problem here. The deep sea diver McClure goes down to the bottom of the ocean not once but THREE times! These sequences are fun at first in a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea type fashion but drag in the end. It was clearly just something they repeated to pad out the story and fill the sixty minutes. I like The Thirty-Fathom Grave but (like several episodes here) it would definitely have been better as a thirty minute story.
I Dream of Genie was written by John Furia Jr and directed by Robert Gist. This is a rather tiresome comedy episode that reminds me a bit of the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore film Bedazzled. George Hanley (Howard Morris) is a sappy nobody who life treats without deference. Waiters serve his soup cold and elevator doors close in his face. After deciding to buy a birthday present for Anne (Patricia Barry), the sexy secretary who works in the same office, he buys an old Arabian lamp for $20. When another office worker, the smug and handsome Roger (Mark Miller), gives Anne a revealing negligee George becomes too embarrassed to offer his present and takes the lamp home. You can probably guess where this is going. After polishing the lamp a very modern genie (Jack Albertson) appears and grants him one wish. As he only has one wish George has to think very carefully about this and we are presented with a series of scenarios that he daydreams as he ponders this difficult question. Should he wish for love? For money? Power? Each of the scenarios (again very much like the film Bedazzled) feature Anne and Roger in various guises. What will George wish for in the end? You probably won't care an awful lot to be honest if you make it to the end of this one. The four different tableauxes are mildly diverting but seem rather loosely strung together (the ending feels like a desperate attempt to give a vague and rambling episode a twist) and the script is never terribly inventive or amusing. For an episode like this to work you probably need more charm and a shorter running time. Also, the genie at the start tells George not to wish for wealth or love because neither of those wishes work so it doesn't make much sense anyway. Howard Morris is ok in the lead role but I Dream of Genie is not an episode you will feel a great yearning to return to much if at all.
"Martin Lombard Senescu, a gentle man, the dedicated curator of murderers' row in Ferguson's Wax Museum. He ponders the reasons why ordinary men are driven to commit mass murder. What Mr Senescu does not know is that the groundwork has already been laid for his own special kind of madness and torment found only in the Twilight Zone." The New Exhibit was written by Charles Beaumont and Jerry Sohl and directed by John Brahm. I'm always bemused by the fact that this episode doesn't seem to be very highly regarded because I think it's great fun and a wonderfully enjoyable Twilight Zone foray into horror. Martin Senescu (Martin Balsam) works as a guide at a wax museum and is mortified when told by his boss Mr Ferguson (Will Kuluva) that the museum is to be demolished to make way for a supermarket. Martin has worked there for thirty years and five wax figures in particular mean a lot to him. Jack the Ripper, Albert W Hicks, Henri "Bluebeard" Landru, Hare and Burke. All famous murderers. Martin begs to be allowed to save the five figures and take them home with him so that they can be used if he fulfills his dream of opening his own museum. He is granted this request although his wife Emma (Maggie Mahoney) isn't too thrilled to have these creepy artifacts in their basement where the air conditioning electricity bill to keep them cool is soon bankrupting them. Emma confides in her brother Dave (William Mims) and he suggests she secretly disconnect the air conditioner. However, these famous killers from the past do not take kindly to this or any intervention at all and the body count at the Senescu house soon begins to pile up. Are these inanimate wax figures really coming to life to sate their bloodthirsty tendencies or is Senescu completely bonkers? The New Exhibit is an excellent episode I think and always gripping and very entertaining. The wax figures (played by real actors) are very creepy and there are one or two genuine moments of tension and horror that remain effective. Martin's love for the figures is probably the creepiest thing of all and his increasingly desperate efforts to protect them supply the drama and give the story impetus and a certain amount of intrigue. It reminds me a little bit of a more light hearted Psycho which is ironic as Martin Balsam was in that film. Balsam is fine here as the murderous wax figure obsessed Senescu and gives an effective performance. Some have been critical of the apparent ambiguity and and muddle over who the real killer is but I think that's just part of the fun. Make your own mind up. I really enjoyed this episode and love the somewhat daft but very Amicus horror ending.
"Witness a murder. The killer is Mr. William Feathersmith, a robber baron whose body composition is made up of a refrigeration plant covered by thick skin. In a moment Mr. Feathersmith will proceed on his daily course of conquest and calumny with yet another business dealing. But this one will be one of those bizarre transactions that take place in an odd marketplace known as the Twilight Zone." Of Late I Think of Cliffordville was adapted by Rod Serling from a short story by Malcolm Jameson and directed by David Lowell Rich. This is a forgettable episode that again drags over the longer format. Not terrible but not very memorable either. Bill Feathersmith (Albert Salmi) is an aged and incredibly pompous and ruthless businessman who has just destroyed another businessman named Diedrich (John Anderson) with another devious piece of trickery that he happily crows about to his unfortunate rival (who like everyone else hates him). But Feathersmith is bored with his success and unfulfilled. He yearns to be young again and experience the thrill of acquisition and building an empire from scratch. One night when he leaves his office the lift takes him down to the floor of a travel agency he had no idea was there. A slinky young woman with horns on her head named Miss Delin (Julie Newmar) offers him a unique proposal. She will put him back in his home town of Cliffordville as a young man in 1910 and he can make his fortune all over again just like he dreamed. The price is not his soul but his money. As Featherstone plans to make his fortune all over again he happily accepts and is transported back to the Cliffordville of the past as a 30 year old man rather than the seventy something one he really is. But Cliffordville is not quite as he remembers and he soon learns that making his fortune again is not as easy as it appears. This is another episode that suffers from some illogical developments and never really goes anywhere terribly exciting. It might have been a decent 30 minute story but you have to wait far too long to get to the twist here. Twilight Zone regular Albert Salmi gives one of his least effective performances (he's a bit over the top) and doesn't look very convincing in the scenes where he's made up to look like a seventy-five year old man. You do get Catwoman star Julie Newmar I suppose but it can't really save Of Late I Think of Cliffordville.
The Incredible World of Horace Ford was written by Reginald Rose and directed by Abner Biberman. This is a highly regarded episode but one that I personally find a bit tedious to be honest. Horace Ford (Pat Hingle) is a toy designer in his late thirties who has never really grown up and remains little more than an oversized child. He lives with his wife Laura (Nan Martin) and mother (Ruth White) and drives them crackers with his constant reminiscing about his childhood which he remembers as a perfect time that was all play and no work or stress. Horace can't seem to live in the present as an adult and it seems he would love nothing more than to go back to being a child again and running around the streets with the friends he so fondly recalls. One night, he takes a nostalgic walk to his old neighbourhood and is astonished to find it exactly as he remembers right down to the man selling hot dogs from a cart. Some boys rush past and bump into Horace. He is astonished to see one of them is Hermy Brandt (Jerry Davis), one of his childhood friends. How can Hermy still be a child? Something strange is going on and Horace soon realises he is part of a recurring pattern that seems to be taking him into the past. The Incredible World of Horace Ford is competent on every level but never quite moved me in the way it should have done. The theme of the story is selective memory. Horace remembers his childhood as an idyllic time and yearns to go back there but he'll realise that it wasn't quite as perfect as he remembers. His mind has filtered out the bad things that happened and left him with ridiculously romantic and cherry picked memories. He must put the past behind him so he can finally live in the present. This is another story I feel that might have been better as a thirty minute episode. Pat Hingle's performance as the Horace Ford was widely praised but he's maybe a little over the top as man who never grew up. Very whiny. Some poignant moments here if you stick with it but this is not my favourite episode.
The fantastic On Thursday We Leave for Home was written by Rod Serling and directed by Buzz Kulik. This is an absolutely brilliant episode. The story is set on a far distant planet where a colony of humans who left Earth looking for a new Eden have been stranded for thirty years. It was not Eden they found. The planet had two suns and terrible meteor storms. A lonely, barren place that they've been trapped on for as long as they can remember. They are down to 187 survivors and that is mostly due to the energetic leadership of the self-appointed "Captain" Benteen (James Whitmore). Benteen has maintained order and kept them going by telling stories about the wonder and beauty of Earth and how they'll all return one day. One day though, a rescue ship really does arrive under the command of Commander Sloane (Tim O'Connor). The colonists are saved at last and begin the preparations for when the meteor storm will allow the ship to safely take off again. But Benteen begins to realise that the absolute power he exerted over his "people" is slipping. They now look to Commander Sloane for leadership and instruction and when they return to Earth will all split up and have their own lives. Benteen can't bear the thought of losing his authority and suggests they will all live together on Earth under his leadership. When discontent is grumbled at that suggestion he begins to become more and more embittered. He begins telling them Earth is actually a terrible place and even considers sabotage.
This is easily Serling's best contribution to series four and one of the best Twilight Zone stories he ever wrote. On Thursday We Leave for Home works on every level. It looks expensive, the acting is superb and the dialogue is great. James Whitmore is superb as Benteen and one of the greatest Twilight Zone characters ever created. At the start we see that he has kept them all alive. He's gentle, shrewd, commanding. But when the rescue ship arrives and his authority starts to wane we see he is self-centred and driven by rage. It was rage against the terrain at first but now it is rage against the colonists who are turning their backs on him. Some of the best scenes involve Benteen huddling with the others in a huge cave during meteor storms and telling the children about Earth. "I remember it as... a place of colour. I remember that in the autumn the leaves changed, turned different colours - red, orange, gold. I remember streams of water that flowed down hillsides, and the water was sparkling and clear. I remember the clouds in the sky, white, billowy things, floated like ships, like sails, and I remember night skies. Night skies. Like endless black velvet, with stars, sometimes a moon - hung as if suspended by wires, lit from inside..." On Thursday We Leave for Home is a great episode and second only to Miniature as my favourite one in this collection.
Passage on the Lady Anne was written by Charles Beaumont and directed by Lamont Johnson. This is a pretty boring episode to be honest and a bit of a struggle at sixty minutes. Hard nosed businessman Allan Ransome (Lee Phillips) has to go to England on business and his wife Ellen (Joyce Van Patten) demands that she go too. She wants to make one last attempt to save their marriage and in order to force him to spend time with her books them a place on a ship rather than a plane. The Lady Anne is the "slowest ship" on water according to the travel agent so she chooses that one. However, when they go on onboard the are immediately met by the elderly McKenzie (Wilfred Hyde-White) and Millie (Gladys Copper) who attempt to persuade them not to travel on the ship and even offer $10,000 for their tickets. Annoyed at this, Allan brushes off the offer. Once the journey begins though they notice that everyone onboard apart from them is about eighty years old. What is the secret of the Lady Anne? This is more of a gentle, sweet episode but dreadfully slow and talky. There is no major twist (the ending is rather cryptic) and it's really about a couple trying to save their marriage in unusual circumstances. This really only of interest for the presence of many veteran British actors who are all very polished and charming and make the episode watchable if nothing else. Look for Alan Napier (Alfred the butler in the Adam West Batman television series). "You've just witnessed opportunity, if not knocking, at least scratching plaintively on a closed door. Mr Julius Moomer, a would-be writer who, if talent came twenty-five cents a pound, would be worth less than car fare. But, in a moment, Mr. Moomer, through the offices of some black magic, is about to embark on a brand-new career. And although he may never get a writing credit on the Twilight Zone, he's to become an integral character in it."
The final episode is The Bard, written by Rod Serling and directed by Herbert Hirschman. This is another (slight groan) comic episode but not a bad one. Jack Weston is a terrible writer named Julius Moomer full of ideas but no talent. His agent Gerald (Henry Lasco) is so desperate to get Julius out of this office he asks him to write a pilot for a black magic series and says he'll submit it if he writes it by Monday. Julius buys a book about black magic for research and ends up summoning the spirit of Shakespeare (John Williams) who he enlists as his ghost writer! He's soon a big hot shot in the world of television but Shakespeare becomes increasingly unhappy with not getting any credit AND the changes being made to his scripts. The Bard is sort of fun. Jack Weston is great, Williams is good, Serling enjoys himself poking fun at the world of television (which he of course knew as well as just about anyone alive). Some decent jokes and situations but I never really feel that Serling's strong point was humour and so tend to prefer his more dramatic and far out science fiction episodes. Look by the way for Burt Reynolds here.
This digitally remastered DVD collection has a smattering of enjoyable (though hardly extensive) extras. Rod Serling promos for the following show each week, a Serling writing school promo, photo galleries, music cues from the series, radio spots, a few television clips, and a (DVD-ROM) Twilight Zone graphic novel. The Twilight Zone graphic novels are not bad at all and a nice way to introduce the work of Rod Serling to a young audience. The series itself looks good here and is still a must buy if you have the other collections. While several episodes are weak and far too drawn out in the longer format there is enough good stuff here to make this a worthwhile purchase. At the time of writing you can buy Twilight Zone Series Four for about £20.