When we think of The Twilight Zone, we naturally picture alien contact, time travel and other mind-bending occurrences. But if TZ offered little more than weirdness, would it have become such a classic? Would we be eagerly watching marathons decades later?
I don’t think so. A crucial element beats beneath its supernatural surface, one that helped make it a legend: a heartfelt concern for the little people.
Think of Henry Bemis, the mild-mannered bank teller who just wants time to read. Or Al Denton, the alcoholic gunslinger tormented by memories of a lethal shootout. Or Henry Corwin, the sad-sack Santa who longs to help the people in his poverty-stricken neighborhood.
The list goes on, but they all started with a man who made his debut on Playhouse 90 on October 11, 1956: Harlan “Mountain” McClintock.
Mountain takes center stage in “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” a live TV play that earned Rod Serling his second Emmy. “Patterns” had turned him into the proverbial overnight success, but a few middling follow-up dramas left some critics wondering if he was a flash in the pan. “Requiem” proved he was no one-hit wonder. Read the rest of this entry
The Twilight Zone has made such an indelible mark on our culture that people still use the show’s title 50 years later as a shorthand way of describing just about any weird situation.
Notice something strange? Disorienting? Out of the ordinary? It’s like I’m in the … you know.
But the show also had a strong sentimental side, which surfaced early in its five-year run. “One for the Angels,” the second episode, is a genial fantasy about a little girl who is critically wounded, and an old man who is determined to save her.
Sounds like a standard drama. And it might have been simply that if, say, the old man was a doctor researching a difficult cure. Or if the two of them were stranded in some remote area, far from modern medicine. (Not that either one of those scenarios would make a bad story.)
But this is The Twilight Zone. So the old man, Lou Bookman, is a pitchman – someone who sells odds and ends from a suitcase on the sidewalk. And he’s locked in mortal combat with … Mr. Death.
That grim conductor to the other side shows up one day to inform Lou that it’s his time to go. The intended victim naturally protests.
Lou: “Now just a minute. I don’t want to go!” Mr. Death: “No, they never do.”
Sorry, Lou is told, extensions are rare. The only one he might qualify for is “unfinished business of a major nature.” He explains that he’s never made a really big pitch – you know, “one for the angels.” Mr. Death finally relents, whereupon Lou, thinking that he’s literally cheated death, tells him he’ll be waiting a long time.