The short story by Ambrose Bierce that the film is based on is relatively famous having been included in an anthology of short stories that was ubiquitous in the reading lists of mid-twentieth-century grammar and high school literature survey courses. It was a carefully written story and I think, well worth reading. This episode of the Twilight Zone was not produced by the show. It was an independent short film made in France. It won various film awards and caught Rod Serling’s attention and so it was added to the series.
The opening scene shows a bridge with Union Civil War soldiers guarding a detail of troopers performing a hanging. Peyton Farquhar is being hanged. He is a civilian southerner who was caught trying to destroy this railroad bridge. The soldiers methodically perform the details of the hanging, tying his hands behind his back, restraining his legs at the knees and ankles, and putting the noose around his neck. Farquhar is positioned on a plank that extends out over the river with the weight of a Union soldier on the other end of the plank as the only thing preventing Farquhar from plunging to his death at the end of the noose.
At a signal from his officer the Union soldier steps off the board and Farquhar plunges down. But the rope breaks and Peyton Farquhar plunges into the river. He struggles to escape from his restraints and then swims desperately to avoid the rifle fire from the troops on the bridge. He survives the escape and begins his trek back home to his wife and children. When he reaches home, he sees his wife running joyfully toward him. A slow-motion scene shows us the husband and wife approaching each other and then embracing. But suddenly Peyton cries out and his neck snaps back. The scene shifts back to the bridge where we see Peyton Farquhar fall from the plank and reach the end of his rope and die on the hangman’s knot. The earlier version was just a quick dream in Peyton’s mind before he reached the end of his rope.
I like the story and I like the film. But the soundtrack includes a jazz song called, “A Livin’ Man” which, frankly, is horribly distracting and out of place. If that song were replaced with a simple instrumental melody it would have improved the film immeasurably. This should have been an A. Let’s call it a B+.