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“This Way To Escape”: The Exit Avenues of The Twilight Zone

I know the fifth dimension can be a confusing place. But sometimes I hear from fans who don’t even seem to know what the heck happened in a particular episode of The Twilight Zone.

I bring this up because every now and then I hear an alternative theory about Season 1’s “A World of Difference” by Richard Matheson. In it, we meet a man (played by Howard Duff) who’s acting in a movie — only he doesn’t see it that way.

In the opening scene, he’s astonished to discover a film crew next to his business office. (It’s very cleverly filmed, as I discuss in this post.) He insists that he’s not this Gerald Raigan they keep telling him he is. No, he insists, he’s a man named Arthur Curtis — and he has no idea who any of them are!

That earns him some strange looks. Curtis is the part he’s playing in the movie, so everyone around him thinks he’s gone crazy. The bulk of the episode shows him frantically trying to prove that his wife and his agent are wrong — that he really is Arthur, not Gerald (or Jerry, as he’s usually referred to in the episode).

Once we see how unhappy Jerry’s personal life is, though (his ex-wife, Nora — played by Sean Penn’s mother, Eileen Ryan — angrily vows to “bleed” him dry or have him jailed), it all makes sense. He really is Gerald, but his mind has snapped. He’s assumed the identity of Arthur, who has a nice job, a supportive secretary, and a loving wife. Read the rest of this entry

Identity Crisis: Figuring Out the End of Twilight Zone’s “A World of Difference”

There are times when watching The Twilight Zone is something of a Twilight Zone experience itself.

Actually, it’s not the watching that does that. For me, it’s apt to happen when I’m discussing an episode with other fans, and I find that their explanation of an episode differs completely from mine.

Take Season 1’s “A World of Difference”, which stars Howard Duff. I recently took note on my Twitter page of its March 11 anniversary. As always, I gave a brief synopsis: “An actor whose real life is a mess decides that the idyllic role he’s playing is reality.”

I’m used to hearing people say they like or don’t like an episode. But this time, I also got reactions like this:

  • “Wait, he’s the actor? I thought the real guy just fell into the Zone and had to get out.”
  • “I still don’t know how to interpret the ending.”
  • “It always made me unsure which was real and which wasn’t, but I suppose he was only playing the role he believed to be his real life.”
  • “Wait…for real?! He was really the actor all along? I’m so confused!”

At this point, they weren’t the only ones! It honestly never occurred to me before that the episode could be viewed in any other way. Read the rest of this entry

“A Perfect Twilight Zone Opening”: Matheson’s “A World of Difference”

Rod Serling made a point of saying, even before The Twilight Zone debuted, that he wasn’t interested in settling for “second-best”. And it showed. He hired the best people, then turned them loose on some of the best scripts ever to grace the television medium.

World of Difference5

I focused in a recent post on the world-class directors who made their mark on TZ. It was hardly an exhaustive piece, but that was by design. You could fill a book with all the marvelous touches these talented visual storytellers brought to TZ.

So I focused primarily on James Sheldon’s work on “It’s a Good Life,” hoping to come back from time to time to spotlight other directorial highlights. Well, the recent anniversary of Richard Matheson‘s “A World of Difference” made me think of another: the shot that reveals to the lead character that he’s an actor on a movie set. Read the rest of this entry