The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 33 – The Dummy

Robots, mannequins and ventriloquist’s dummies.  Saints preserve us.

Cliff Robertson is Jerry Etherson, a ventriloquist and Willie is his dummy.  But Jerry’s problem is that sometimes Willie wants to do the talking.  And because of this Jerry has become an alcoholic.  Obviously, nobody believes him including his manager Frank (played by Frank Sutton of Gomer Pyle semi-fame).  Frank warns him that if he doesn’t conquer his drinking problem the delusion about Willie will persist.  Jerry tells Frank that the truth about Willie is what is driving him to drink.

Jerry thinks he has figured a way out.  He switches the act away from Willie by using his other dummy Goofy Goggles.  When Frank asks him why he is leaving early Jerry says he’s leaving for Miami and he’s leaving Willie behind in a locked steamer trunk.  Hearing that Jerry is running out on an engagement Frank ends his association with Jerry and tells him he needs a psychiatrist to solve his dummy delusion.

But when Jerry tries to leave the club, he can still hear Willie taunting him and telling him he won’t be able to get rid of Willie.  He rushes back to the darkened dressing room; rips open the trunk and smashes the mannequin down onto the floor.  But when he opens the light, he sees that he has destroyed Goofy Goggles.  And Willie is sitting on the couch mocking him.  When Jerry implores Willie to explain how a wooden dummy can live, Willie tells him that he did it by putting words into him.  Jerry bows his head in defeat and Willie laughs at him maniacally.

In the next scene we’re in a theater and the master of ceremonies introduces Willie and Jerry and from behind their backs we see the ventriloquist and his dummy going through their patter.  But as the position of the camera turns, we see that the ventriloquist is a living version of Willie and the dummy looks just like Jerry.

I suspect that Rod Serling was an actual time traveling sadist.  He had gone into the future and knew that I existed and if he would only create Twilight Zone episodes about robots, mannequins and ventriloquist dummies that can talk I would suffer horribly.  He must have been a monster.

And what about Cliff Robertson?  He was a reasonably successful and respected actor for what that’s worth.  And yet here he is wrestling with a dummy and being bested in a battle of wits.  I suppose there is a place for talking ventriloquist’s dummies in this wide wonderful world.  But what am I going to do in season five when I reach the second talking ventriloquist dummy story?  Am I supposed to pretend that’s alright too?  Besides this was the inspiration of the Chucky movies and who knows what future dummy abominations.  No, this will not stand.  D+

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War Pig
War Pig
1 year ago

I wonder, did Serling have a phobia about clowns, robots, puppets and other substitutes for humans? They sure figure prominently in negative lessons in his show.

Greg Tyson
Greg Tyson
1 year ago

I think Serling’s stories of mannequins, and robots, and dummies make TZ the great show it is. Serling couldn’t directly address timeless themes like identity and isolation and loneliness (TV circa 1959 largely consisted of safe, inoffensive programming). So, he did it through fantasy, specifically mannequins, and dummies, and robots (among other popular sci-fi/fantasy tropes of the time). I know where you’re coming from: they can be a bit ridiculous. But, they’re not really what the episodes are about. Instead, it’s those aforementioned meaty themes Serling indirectly explored via the fantastic.

War Pig
War Pig
1 year ago

True, but then Serling seemed to be able to deal with such issues quite well without the use of substitutes. He dealt with mortality, loneliness, crimes, heroism, capital punishment, bigotry, etc just fine without using avatars in other episodes.

Greg Tyson
Greg Tyson
1 year ago

You’re quite right Serling’s able to address those themes without the avatars. But he’s still addressing them in a fantasy setting. Serling using any fantastic elements at all kept the censors at bay since they neither took fantasy of any kind seriously nor understood how it might be used as a vehicle for unpacking substantive issues. Take away, for instance, all the fantasy elements in “Deaths-Head Revisited” — i.e. the ghosts of the prisoners Lutze tortured getting revenge on him — and just made it Serling railing against the Nuremburg Trials and the episode would not have seen the light… Read more »