The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 5 – A Game of Pool

Jack Klugman plays a small-time pool player named Jesse Cardiff.  He is bitter that even fifteen years after the death of pool master Fats Brown everyone still considered Fats the greatest pool player.  And he rails at a photo of Fats on the wall of his local pool hall and says, “I’d give anything, anything to play him one game!”

In the next scene we see Fats Brown (played by Jonathan Winters), apparently up in Heaven, and he’s being summoned by some kind of celestial appointment intercom.  He heads down to Earth and appears in Jesse Cardiff’s pool room and tells him his wish has been heard and Fats is there to grant it.  The catch is that the stakes for winning and losing are life and death.  Now Jesse is taken aback.  Sure, he’s anxious to prove his skill but betting his life seems nuts.  But Fats goads him and mocks him until he agrees to the bet.

They now engage in a long, skillful and fiercely fought game of pool.  At last it comes down to one ball and it is obvious that Fats has thrown the point and he tries to give Jesse one last chance not to take the crown of being the greatest pool player in the world.  But Jesse sinks the ball and wins.  Fats congratulates Jesse and leaves with a mysterious smile.  Jesse revels in his victory but then seems almost deflated by the anticlimax of having won.

In the next scene we’re back in heaven and Jesse is dejectedly sitting next to the celestial pool table waiting for the next challenge to take.  Being the champ is a grueling existence and Jesse must be envying Fats who Serling announces has gone fishing.

This is one of those goofy fantasy episodes.  Heaven arranges pool rivalries and allows life or death stakes on the outcome?  But who cares!  Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters ham it up to the hilt.

In my family, pool was a bizarre fetish.  My paternal grandfather had a pool table in his basement.  But we, his poor grandsons were anathema and weren’t even allowed to hold a cue near “the felt.”  There was a shrine where an autographed photo of Willie Mosconi presided over the pretty terrible players that my grandfather surrounded himself with.  So, pool had the reputation of being a boring waste of time.  We preferred street football or stickball.  Watching these two pool players agonize over fractions of a millimeter and an invisible degree of angle is strangely familiar in its futility.  Funny thing is there was a full sized pool table in my basement when I bought this house so I make a point of letting the grandsons play on it any way they please.  “The felt” is starting to look less than pristine but I don’t mind and neither do they.

Obviously, I have no objectivity about this subject but I find myself always enjoying this episode immensely.  I’ll call it an A.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 4 – The Passersby

The scene opens on a woman sitting on the porch of a southern mansion that has been devastated by the Civil War.  On the road in front of her home a stream of war veterans from both sides is limping along.  A Confederate Sergeant asks the woman if he can have some water from her well and she graciously agrees.  While he drinks the water, they talk about the war and its aftermath.  He was wounded and has a serious leg injury.  She has lost her husband in the war and was herself recently deathly ill with a fever.  To cheer both of them he asks if he can play his guitar and she gladly agrees.

As we see more of the soldiers who are passing on the road it seems obvious that they are unbeknownst to themselves actually the dead.  One Union officer who had helped the Sergeant when he was wounded is revealed to be an animated corpse that shows no meaningful effect when the woman shoots him with a gun.  She does this at a point when being reminded of the pain of losing her husband she vows to take revenge on the Union soldiers.  After this event the Sergeant knows he must reach the end of the road.  But just as he is leaving the woman’s husband is heard approaching the house singing a song.  The husband tells his wife that they are both dead and there is nothing left holding them to this world.  He says he is headed to the end of the road and if she does not come with him now, he’ll wait for her at the end until she makes up her mind to come.  The Sergeant heads off down the road and the woman’s husband soon after that.  She unsuccessfully pleads with her husband to stay and then collapses on the road in front of the house in sorrow.

Just then Abraham Lincoln shows up walking down the road and tries to persuade her to proceed.  He tells her he is the last man on the road because he is the final casualty of the Civil War.  At first, she refuses but then changing her mind she runs down the road to catch up to her husband.

The story has a sort of melancholy grace to it and the characterization of the woman and the Sergeant are very affecting and natural.  Serling uses Lincoln as a touchstone to represent the tragic consequences of war for both sides.  Although I don’t think it describes the complexity of the psychic wounds that still stalk the land, I recognize that he wants to allow grace for both sides in the conflict and that is admirable.  B.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 3 – The Shelter

This story opens up in the home of Dr. Bill Stockton where his family and neighbors are celebrating his birthday with a cake and some speeches in his honor.  But as they are celebrating, a television announcement tells them to tune into the radio and listen to CONELRAD to hear a bulletin on an emergency situation.  The bulletin tells them that the Distant Early Warning radar has detected incoming objects that may be a missile attack.

The neighbors leave and run home.  Dr. Stockton, and his wife Grace and young son Paul start collecting supplies and fill water bottles before heading into their bomb shelter.  Just before they locked themselves in their neighbor Jerry Harlowe shows up and begs Dr. Stockton to let Jerry and his family share the bomb shelter.  Stockton explains that he can’t because the shelter only has the capacity to provide air for three people.  After a heated exchange Stockton locks the shelter door with Harlowe still outside.

Now the rest of the neighbors who were at the party show up and start panicking and come up with a plan to smash in the shelter door.  But then they start fighting about who gets to be in the shelter.  There are even the obligatory racist and anti-immigrant sentiments from one man against his Hispanic neighbor.

Just as they finish bashing in the door, they hear the CONELRAD announcing that the incoming objects aren’t missiles but a satellite and there is no danger.  The rampaging mob collapses in relief and shame.  They all start apologizing to Stockton and each other for their insane behavior.  When someone says that the bombs didn’t destroy them after all, Dr. Stockton says that maybe they’ve destroyed themselves.

So Serling reveals his liberal bona fides for all to see.  He manages to make a bomb shelter an Un-American abomination and reveals all of our neighbors and families to be racists and hypocrites.  Charming.

I’ll grant that anxiety over impending thermonuclear war might not have us acting like saints but painting us as Nazis is a cheap shot.  F.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 2 – The Arrival

A DC-3 airliner lands in Buffalo NY and when the runway crew arrives at the plane, they find out there’s no one aboard.  No crew and no passengers.  The FAA sends Grant Sheckly their top investigator to solve the mystery.

Sheckly interrogates the airport staff and management and they can find nothing to explain the mystery plane.  But once they start describing the details of the plane inconsistencies start cropping up.  One man says the plane’s seats are blue another brown.  And even with all of the group standing next to the plane they can’t even agree on what number is painted on the tail of the plane.  But Sheckly thinks he knows what’s going on.

His theory is that there is no plane but that mass hypnosis has them convinced that they’re seeing one.  Sheckly says he can prove his theory by sticking his hand into the running propeller.  Enlisting the help of the group, they start the engines and he indeed walks into the propeller.  And just as he thought he is unharmed and the illusion of the plane disappears.  And after the plane disappears the group of people he has been questioning disappear too.

Now Sheckly goes running into the management offices of the airport and there he finds that the people in charge don’t know anything about an empty landing plane.  In fact, the flight he’s interested Flight 107 landed without incident earlier in the day and there was proof because a movie star was aboard and it made the newspaper.

Bu now the airport manager remembers Sheckly and that fifteen years earlier there was a Flight 107 that disappeared while on route to Buffalo and Sheckly had been the investigator.  It was the only case he was never able to solve.  After hearing this Sheckly leaves and walks out onto the tarmac and starts talking to the air asking what happened to Flight 107.  The end.

This episode sucks.  I guess it’s psychological.  But it’s heavy on the psycho and light on the logical.  You know how I feel about episodes where someone is shouting at no one.  Well here’s another exhibit.  Damn it Serling, come on.  Do some work and write an actual story.  D

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 1 – Two

Rod Serling tells us the town we see has been deserted for five years after a war.  He tells us this could be a century in the future or a million years in the past.

A shapely young woman in a military uniform arrives in the town.  Her face is covered in grime and she seems very wary of her surroundings.  Walking down the street she sees a building with a sign that says restaurant.  She walks in and rummages through the shelves until she finds a food can.  She opens it but before she has a chance to examine its contents, she sees a man enter wearing a military uniform different from hers.  She immediately throws a kitchen cleaver at him and follows it up with a frying pan.  He dodges the missiles and attempts to restrain her but she continues to pummel him with kitchen ironmongery so he clocks her in the jaw and knocks her cold.

The man (played by Charles Bronson) walks over to the can of food and starts eating the chicken drumsticks it contains.  On a personal note, the chicken always made me a little hungry but I think I might have hesitated to eat canned chicken that was over five years old.

Now the man goes over to the unconscious woman (played by Elizabeth Montgomery a very attractive actress of the day) and checks to see if he has broken her jaw.  Satisfied that she is intact, he picks up a pot of water and pours it over her face.  This revives her and she cowers at his feet.  Neither speaks the other’s language but he tries anyway to tell her that there is no longer any reason for them to be enemies.  He pushes the can of chicken toward her and leaves the building.

He walks down the street and finds a barber shop.  He gathers a razor and some soap and water and proceeds to give himself a shave.  Meanwhile, the girl has finished her meal and has followed him into the barber shop.  As he finishes his shave, he tosses her a bar of soap and she washes her face.  Now feeling slightly more human they walk out on the street together and inspect the town.  They walk over to the movie theater and see a poster for a war-time romance film which makes them smile but then they both notice two skeletons with rifles.  Each grabs a rifle and points it at the other but the man soon decides to just ignore the threat and walks away with the rifle strapped over his shoulder.  The girl follows behind him and they end up in front of a clothes store and they both look at a mannequin wearing an evening dress.  The girl says something that must mean pretty and the man goes into the window display and takes the dress off the mannequin and throws it to the girl.  He walks to next door and points to it to tell her to go inside and change into the dress.  After hesitating for a moment, she goes inside and he waits across the street on the curb.

Inside she begins to get undressed but the storefront is a recruiting station and there are pictures of the armed forces and they represent her army as the enemy.  This angers her and she runs out the door and fires two energy rounds at the man (so it is not the 20th century anyway).  She misses him with the shots but keeps the rifle trained on him.  He reacts in shocked disbelief but soon walks away and is gone.

In the next scene the girl is sleeping in the barber shop during a rain storm and looking very lonely.  The next day the man is on a second story porch putting on some civilian clothes and gathering some jars of preserved fruit.  When he looks down, he sees the girl’s head poking above a car parked across the street.  He yells to her to go away because, “this is civilian territory.”  But she walks around the car and he can now see that she is wearing the evening dress.  Smiling, he throws her a jar of fruit and walks down the street in front of her.  She hurries to catch up to him and lifts her dress to walk faster and we can see she’s still wearing her army boots.  She catches up to him and they walk on hand in hand.

Bronson and Montgomery are perhaps the least likely couple I could imagine in a love story.  But damned if this isn’t a very affecting and enjoyable teleplay.  It’s especially interesting that Bronson was given all the lines.  He is usually the strong silent type in his movies.  Good Zone.  A.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 29 – The Obsolete Man

Burgess Meredith is the obsolete man of the title.  He is Romney Wordsworth and his self-declared occupation is Librarian.  Unfortunately, Romney lives in a future authoritarian state that has eliminated books and made their possession a capitol crime.  By declaring himself a librarian he has by definition defined himself as an obsolete man and therefore legitimately categorized as requiring termination (death).

The opening scene has Romney entering a cavernous hall where the Chancellor is standing at a raised lectern that is much higher than a long table at which his assistant is seated reading out the charges against Romney.  Romney is forced to step into a glaring spotlight while the Chancellor harangues him and mocks his claims of relevancy and worth.  The Chancellor and his assistant talk of the charges and the needs of the state in quasi-liturgical language and chant the charges and verdict as if they were priests of some fanatical blood-thirsty cult.  Because of Romney’s refusal to recant he is sentenced to death.  But he is allowed to chose the method and location of his death.  As the location, he chooses his own apartment and asks that his death be televised.  And as one of the details he asks that the details of the method not be shared with anyone but himself and the executioner.

On the day of the execution Romney invites the Chancellor to see him at his apartment before the execution.  During this visit we learn that Romney is a deeply religious man and has a Bible hidden in his room and that he is at peace with his approaching death.  Then he tells the Chancellor what the method of his death will be.  A powerful bomb is hidden in the apartment and at midnight it will explode killing everyone in the apartment.  And at this juncture Romney reveals that he has locked the door so that the Chancellor cannot escape the bomb either.

While all of this is being televised, we get a chance to compare the strength and courage of the god-fearing meek, mild, librarian and the atheistic, athletic, brash leader of the state as they both stare down their own deaths.  As the appointed hour approaches the librarian is reading aloud the psalms that comfort the afflicted while the Chancellor becomes more and more panicked until finally, he shouts “for God’s sake let me out.”  And because he implored in God’s name, Romney unlocks the door just in time to allow the Chancellor to escape with his life.  The scene ends with Romney bowing his head in prayer as the explosion rocks the building and the Chancellor cowers at the bottom of the staircase below the door to the booby-trapped room.

In the next scene the Chancellor is walking into the cavernous hall and suddenly he is in the harsh spotlight and his assistant is now at the high pulpit denouncing him for cowardice and declaring him obsolete.  He tries to defend himself but is shouted down and now the mob of agents of the state surround him and drag him to the floor where they exact the penalty for obsolescence right then and there with their own bare hands.

This is a very iconic episode.  Basically, we are looking at the imagery of 1984.  The all-powerful state crushes anyone who defies it and does so in the public eye to make an example that none can ignore.  Burgess Meredith is excellent as a man of integrity and faith who refuses to knuckle under and save his life by betraying everything he believes in.  And the Chancellor is delightfully strident and bombastic.

A.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 28 – Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

This is, I suppose, a science fiction episode but I always look at it as a comedy.

Two state police officers are investigating a flying saucer sighting somewhere in the snow-covered New England countryside.  They observe a hole in the ice on a small pond and also footprints coming out of the water.  They follow the prints back to a diner where they find that a bus is stopped and its passengers are waiting for a small bridge to be declared safe.  The troopers begin interrogating the diner patrons to determine who was on the bus and who entered separately.  In addition to the cook, there is a bus driver and seven people who claim to be bus passengers.  Unfortunately, the bus driver is absolutely adamant that there were only six passengers.  The alleged passengers include a businessman heading for a Boston business meeting, a blonde exotic dancer, a crazy old man played by character actor Jack Elam and two married couples, one older and one younger.

The Boston businessman and the old coot start accusing each other of being the intruder and even the two couples start looking suspiciously at their mates.  The only one who the driver remembers is the good looking blonde for obvious reasons.  While the interrogation is stalled out with bickering the juke box mysteriously starts on its own and everyone panics thinking the hidden Martian is messing with them.  As the businessman continues to complain about missing his meeting the bus driver warns him that he doesn’t trust that bridge and unless the state inspector gives it the all clear the bus won’t be crossing on it.  Once again, the juke box flares up and then all the sugar dispensers on the tables explode.  Eventually, a call comes in from the inspector certifying that the bridge is safe.  The troopers decide to give the bus an escort over the bridge and all the patrons settle their restaurant bills and depart.

In the next scene, the businessman walks back into the diner and asks the cook for a cup of black coffee.  The cook asks the businessman what happened after he left.  The businessman says that both the bus and police cruiser were on the bridge when it collapsed and no one got out.  The cook said, “no one but you.”  But then he notes, “but you’re not even wet.”  The businessman asks, “What’s wet.”  After they sort that out the businessman explains that his dry appearance is an illusion.  And then he makes the juke box start and the phone ring.  Now we see that the businessman has three arms and he tells the cook with great satisfaction that he’s the Martian and he’s waiting for his fellow colonists to invade Earth.

Well, the cook tells the businessman that there are colonists coming but they’re not Martians but Venusians (or Venerians if you like Latin) who had the same idea a few years earlier and have intercepted the businessman’s friends.  Then the cook takes off his cap and we see he has a third eye.  Now the cook is laughing but the businessman is not.

I love this episode.  Jack Elam is great as a crazy coot and each of the passengers and the cook and the troopers do a great job of providing the atmosphere for this goofy sci-fi tale.  I love how Elam analyzes the mystery and declares, “It’s a regular Ray Bradbury.  That’s what it is!”  A+

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 27 – The Mind and the Matter

This one is a pure comedy.

Archibald Beechcroft (played by comedian Shelley Berman) is a misanthropic New Yorker who hates his fellow man because he jostles Archie in the subway, steps on his toes in the elevator and spills coffee on him in the office.  When his boss, Mr. Rogers, finds Archie in the bathroom washing up after a particularly aggravating commute and asks him what’s the matter, Archie says people are the matter and they need to disappear and be decimated.  Later on, when the office errand boy Henry spills coffee on Archie’s jacket he is fit to be tied.  At lunch Henry tries to make amends by holding a seat for Archie and then presents Archie with a book called, “The Mind and the Matter,” which he claims allows people to use willpower to control the world around them.  Naturally, Henry spills some more coffee on Archie before he departs but despite himself Archie starts reading the book.  And he must be interested in the contents because we see him reading it on the subway even while he is jostled back and forth on the subway car.  Later on, we see him reading the book in his apartment and when he finishes, he declares definitively that concentration is the most underrated power in the world.  He is convinced that he can change his environment using only his concentration and will power.  His first application appears almost immediately.  Outside his apartment door the landlady is repetitively and annoyingly knocking on the door and haranguing him that his rent is due and he must pay it now.  Archie wishes her out of existence and sure enough, she disappears!  Opening the door and finding her indeed gone he declares today the landlady, tomorrow the world.

The next day as he is standing at the top of the subway staircase, being pushed and shoved by everyone hurrying by him, he stops and closes his eyes and concentrates.  And when next we see him, he is entering an empty subway station and even though the trains are somehow still running they are empty of people.

He reaches his office building which is also empty and heads up the elevator which is also running without the usual operator.  Now he sits down at his desk and fills out the insurance paperwork which is his normal occupation.  But of course, there really isn’t much point in filling out insurance forms if there aren’t any people to care.  After finishing off the day by flying some paper airplanes across the office he ends up talking to himself in the mirror but unfortunately, his reflection is very dissatisfied with Archie’s current situation.  He berates himself for not realizing that no people is even worse than annoying people.  His reflection continues this discussion with Archie back at his apartment and after admitting that the present situation is worse Archie informs his reflection that he will populate the world with the only people he can stand, people just like himself.

The next morning, he fights his way through the subway, the street, the building lobby, the elevator and his office.  All around him are men and women who all look remarkably like him and are if anything even more misanthropic than himself.  After a few hours of this he admits to his reflection that the original situation was better than the all Archibald Beechcroft version of the population.

When next we see Archie, he is sitting at lunchtime at a table and sure enough Henry spills coffee on him.  But Archie, while not very much sunnier in his disposition seems reasonably content with the normal annoyances of his normal environment.  When Henry asks him what he thought of the book he says it wasn’t believable.

You all know I like the comedies best.  Well, this is no exception.  It’s a goofy episode but I find it very entertaining.  Berman does an excellent job.  A.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 2 Episode 26 – Shadow Play 

Dennis Weaver plays a man named Adam Grant.  The first scene shows Adam sitting in a courtroom where he is the defendant in a murder trial.  The jury declares him guilty and the judge sentences Adam to death by electrocution.  Adam reacts by running toward the bench and telling the judge he can’t make him die again.  He is restrained by the court officers and removed from the room.

In the next scene Adam is on death row and he is interacting with his fellow prisoners.  One of them is particularly amused that Adam believes that the whole situation is actually a recurring nightmare that Adam has every night.  Adam even points out some inconsistencies that wouldn’t actually occur in real life but were playing out here.  For instance, the execution was about to occur directly following the trial and the fact that the inmate has a wristwatch which wouldn’t be allowed in a real prison.  When questioned what electrocution is like he describes the sequence in painstaking detail.

Next, we are in a suburban home where the District Attorney and his wife are about to have a steak dinner when the newspaper reporter who is covering the trial and who also happens to be their friend shows up drunk and begins trying to convince the DA to get a stay of execution.  He goes through Adam’s story and also points out some inconsistencies.  He convinces the DA to go down to the prison to at least talk to Adam.

When the DA meets with Adam, he hears the story direct from Adam and amusingly Adam is able to not only complete the DA’s sentences but also begin them.  This unnerves the DA but he is still skeptical.  And while this is going on Adam is trying to remember where in his real life all the characters of his dream came from.  He recognizes the prison chaplain as a priest in his parish who had died years ago.  He mentions to the DA how he knew him and then remembered what other parts in the drama he had played on previous nights.  Apparently, the dreams differed subtly and allowed characters to switch roles.

When the DA returns home he is very confused but at the very last minute before midnight the reporter convinces him to call the governor for a stay.  But just as he reaches him the current goes through Adam and one of the characters disappears from the room and then everything goes black.

Next, we see Adam back in the courtroom and this time one of the inmates is the judge and reporter is the DA this time.

There is a little bit of yelling at walls and it is a very down beat episode but it’s pretty well done so I’ll go for a B-.