How to Keep The Howling Man From Escaping
If the Devil were trapped and asked you to set him free, would you do it? Of course not, you reply.
We all like to think we would. But if you’re a Twilight Zone fan, and you’ve watched the classic episode “The Howling Man,” you may not be so sure. Get too cocky, and you could wind up sprawled on the floor, watching him escape through the nearest window.
That was Mr. Ellington’s fate. He didn’t believe Brother Jerome, who insisted that the prisoner was a liar. He probably thought, like any of us would, that he was too smart to be deceived.
So what did he do wrong? Having watched the episode
more than a dozen times once or twice, I think I know. And I have Marc Scott Zicree to thank for it.
Zicree is the author of “The Twilight Zone Companion”, which I’ve read many times. One of the things that makes his book stand out is how often he uses publicity pics to illustrate the episodes (at least at the start of each write-up). Rather than a still from the episode itself, we’ll see the actors in some pose that may or may not reflect anything that happened in the story.
His entry for “The Howling Man”, one of Charles Beaumont‘s best episodes, is no exception. Here is the pic he uses:
It suddenly struck me as I rewatched the episode one time why this pic seemed so … off, I guess you could say. It’s this: You never see Brother Jerome right outside the Howling Man’s cell.
Why? Jerome doesn’t say, but I think I know. He knows how cunning the Howling Man is — how sympathetic he can seem. How nice and normal. So much so that he doesn’t even trust himself, despite knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt who the Howling Man really is.
So although it seems highly unlikely that he, of all people, could be fooled, he stays away from the cell entirely. Mr. Ellington doesn’t — and we all know the rest.
The casting is ideal. No matter how many times you’ve seen the episode, the silver-tongued Robin Hughes comes off as entirely believable. He seems so much like an innocent victim who’s been trapped by some crazed fanatic that you almost want to step past Mr. Ellington and open the door yourself.
Brother Jerome knew better. He didn’t even give the Devil an audience. Try to out-argue the Prince of Lies? Pffft. You may think you can, but it’s foolish to try. Throw him in a cell, and don’t listen to a word.
Mr. Ellington, unfortunately, had to learn the hard way. “You must not under any circumstances go near that door,” he later tells the hotel maid. “You see how important it is that he stay locked up.”
Very important. Alas, as Serling reminds us at the end, “You can catch the devil, but you can’t hold him long.”
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!