The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 13 – Once Upon a Time

I beg the indulgence of any readers under the age of fifty.  This episode is an homage to the age of silent films.  And anyone under the half century mark probably has had no experience with silent films.  So please bear with me if I seem to be doting on an episode that looks like a museum piece and lacks any point of reference for the young.

Buster Keaton plays Woodrow Mulligan, a disgruntled janitor complaining about the high prices, noisiness and high-speed bicycle traffic of pre-automobile 1890 small town America.  He works for an inventor and as he’s walking to work, he is almost run over by a bicycle and falls into a horse trough and has to hang up his pants while they dry on the clothes line.  But even in his boxer shorts he picks up a broom and proceeds to sweep the inventor’s offices.  While sweeping he hears the inventors celebrating their invention of a “time helmet” which will allow its wearer to travel forward and back in time for thirty minutes.  Hearing this, Woodrow thinks it would be a great idea to travel through time to escape the hectic, aggravating life of 1890.  So, he puts on the helmet and heads onto the street to see the future.  As he is preparing to leave a chicken flies into his arms and then he is transported into 1962.  And of course, if he thought bicycle traffic was too fast imagine how aggravated rush hour automobile traffic made him?  Stuck in the middle of the street, he loses his helmet to an accidental passerby’s protruding arm.  Then a little boy on roller skates picks it up and skates away.  Now Woodrow commandeers a bicycle from a sidewalk rack and chases after the boy.  Of course, the cop on the beat sees a middle-aged man without pants chasing a boy on roller skates and immediately pursues on foot.

The boy turns down an alley and collides with a man named Rollo.  The helmet falls off the boy’s head and he skates off without it.  Woodrow rounds the corner and also collides with Rollo.  Woodrow collects his helmet but discovers that it’s broken.  Bewailing his fate, he tells his story to Rollo.  By a coincidence Rollo is a scientist and observing Woodrow’s clothing and other trappings he believes the story and agrees to help Woodrow to repair the helmet before the thirty-minute deadline passes.  They go to an Electrical Appliance Repair Shop and spend most of the rest of the episode trying to explain what needs to be fixed and allowing Woodrow to become confused by vacuum cleaners and television sets.

When the helmet is repaired Rollo steals it saying he wants to go back to the peaceful 1890s.  Woodrow chases Rollo and at the very last second, he leaps onto Rollo and they both are transported back to 1890.  In the next scene Woodrow shows a renewed appreciation for local conditions in 1890.  But Rollo is miserable in the pre-electronic age he sent himself to and pines for modernity.  Woodrow responds rapidly and plants the helmet on Rollo’s head and turns the dial to 1962 and sends him back to his time.

The conceit in this one is that the portions of the story that take place in 1890 are filmed as a silent film with background music and subtitle but no voices.  The 1960s portions were just the typical Twilight Zone era television format.  The episode is a broad comedy to honor and play to the style of the famous silent comedy star Buster Keaton.  In effect, it might as well have been a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  As an aside Rollo was played by Stanley Adams who appeared as Cyrano Jones in the Trouble with Tribbles episode of the original Star Trek series.  He is the salesman who sells a Tribble to one of the Enterprise crew.

So, for this episode tastes will vary greatly but I’ll be (as always) conservative and give it a B.

4 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 13 – Once Upon a Time

  • April 10, 2019 at 10:20 pm
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    Buster Keaton – The Great Stone Face. Between him, the Keystone Kops, Laurel and Hardy an Harold Loyd they filled out silent movies for me. In LA in the very early 60s there was a station that showed silent movies on Saturday nights, mostly one and two reelers. Ancient Tarzan silents, serials, even a few feature movies such as Ben Hur, which starred Francis X Bushman and Ramon Novarro. The silent epics of Cecil B Demille such as Carmen and King of Kings. Charlie Chaplain, Rudolph Valentino, Mary Pickford, Lilian Gish, Clara Bow, a young Greta Garbo, Mack Sennett, Lon Chaney Sr, John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Those were great evenings for a young boy. Mom had gone to bed as had my brother and sister at 9 PM and dad was at work. I was allowed to stay up and watch them so long as I turned the TV off when I went to bed about 2 AM. When Harold Loyd or Charlie Chaplain or Buster Keaton or one of the silent cartoons made me laugh out loud I had to hold a pillow up to my mouth to keep from waking mom and ending my evening.

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    • April 11, 2019 at 7:38 am
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      By the time I was growing up all that was left of silent movie broadcasts was a little bit of Chaplin’s better known movies, a very infrequent showing of the Phantom of the Opera and the pastiche of images in the Fractured Flickers comedy show. Intriguing stuff for a little kid.

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  • April 11, 2019 at 12:22 pm
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    One of my favorites was The General, which was the most expensive silent made, I believe. Buster Keaton made it funny, but the very real story and the chase scenes got a young boy right where it mattered.

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    • April 11, 2019 at 7:07 pm
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      It had such a strong reputation that I’ve always wanted to see it. I’ll have to rent it from Netflix.

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