The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 37 – The Changing of the Guard

Donald Pleasence plays Professor Ellis Fowler, an elderly literature teacher who has served over fifty years at the same prep school in Vermont.  We meet up with him at the last class before the Christmas vacation.  He chides his students for their lack of scholarly interest in his curriculum but he finishes by wishing them warm good wishes for their vacation.

But when the headmaster calls him into his office he finds out that he has been forced into retirement.  Going home Fowler reflects on the generations of boys he has taught but to his mind, he hasn’t accomplished anything.  He believes that the lessons he taught were of no value to the boys in his classes.  Reflecting on the end of his career to his housekeeper, Fowler considers himself a failure.  Afterward he decides to commit suicide with a revolver he takes from his desk.

He walks over to a statue on campus of Horace Mann that has the motto, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”  He says to the statue that he has won no victory and is ashamed but he will die.  But suddenly the class bell inexplicably starts tolling and Fowler follows the bell to his classroom.

As he stands in front of the empty classroom suddenly spectral forms solidify into young men at the desks.  One by one they walk up to Fowler and he recognizes them as the grown forms of some of his students.  Each of them tells the heroic circumstances of his death (in war or in the interests of humanity) and tells Fowler what lesson he learned from his Literature teacher that inspired him to the courageous actions he took.

Finally Mr. Fowler returns home and his students serenade him with Christmas carols outside his window.  Now Mr. Fowler tells his housekeeper that he is very satisfied to retire, the changing of the guard of the title.

This is a sort of a Twilight Zone version of Goodbye Mr. Chips.  Donald Pleasance does a good job and projects the emotions needed for the transition from despair to happiness.  This is another sentimental story drawing on the traditional values of the old pre-war world surviving into the present.  It’s slightly derivative but I’ll be a little generous and give it a B.