Few lessons on The Twilight Zone come through with more clarity than “be careful what you wish for.”
Want more time to read, Henry Bemis? You may want to rethink that. Hoping for a little immortality, Walter Bedeker? Check the fine print on that diabolical contract. Feeling lonely, Corry? A female robot will seem like an answer to a prayer — at first.
But sometimes TZ gave us a more literal form of wishing. In the case of “The Man in the Bottle”, we even get a genie. Too bad that didn’t mean a better result for Arthur and Edna Castle, the antique-shop owners at the center of this particular tale.
I’m not a huge fan of this episode. Oh, it’s not bad — in some ways, it’s quite good (which I’m about to get to). But it doesn’t quite stick like the more classic episodes. In a series often defined by clever twists, “The Man in the Bottle” gives us exactly what we expect. Read the rest of this entry
Think of your favorite Twilight Zone episode. Can you imagine a different approach to the story? Alternate dialogue? How about a new ending? Probably not. The best TZ scripts are so perfect, it seems as if they were conceived exactly as they were filmed.
And yet, even some of our favorite episodes went through some changes along the way. Some are fairly cosmetic, but others … well, consider how Serling originally planned to end “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
Oh, it was still the same who-is-it, everybody-perishes-but-the-two-aliens story we have now. But as I read the version of the script printed in Volume 9 of “As Timeless As Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling”, I noticed a very interesting change: Serling had planned to show us that the two aliens were actually working together.
The lead-in to that final scene is familiar: the bridge is declared safe, everyone leaves, then Ross (the impatient man late for an alleged meeting in Boston) comes back, and tells Haley, the counterman at the diner, that everyone went into the water. Read the rest of this entry
“Television night tonight. I’m gonna make television for everybody.”
Little Anthony probably wasn’t thinking about The Twilight Zone when he made that announcement to his terrified family and friends. Luckily, we live in another dimension — one where we can enjoy a full slate of fifth-dimensional fun.
So if you’re planning to tune in to the Syfy Channel’s annual Fourth of July marathon, grab a glass of “Instant Smile” and peruse this year’s schedule:
July 4, 2017
12:00am – Hocus-Pocus and Frisby
12:30am – The Fugitive
1:00am – The Gift
1:30am – Black Leather Jackets
2:00am – The Long Morrow
2:30am – Once Upon a Time
3:00am – The Incredible World of Horace Ford
4:00am – Ninety Years Without Slumbering Read the rest of this entry
You know, there’s actually something of a drawback to The Twilight Zone being such a well-written series. Sometimes there are so many good lines, you can overlook a few gems.
Take a scene in my all-time favorite episode, “Eye of the Beholder“. It occurs just before the famous unveiling, so I’m not surprised it tends to be overshadowed.
The doctor has just finished explaining to Janet Tyler that if this final operation to make her beautiful isn’t successful, not to worry — she can still live “a long and fruitful life” among other people who are similarly, well, afflicted. Read the rest of this entry
If you’re like most Twilight Zone fans, you’ve seen your favorite episodes more than once. Several times, most likely — perhaps a dozen or more for the real classics. But they never feel stale. Indeed, they seem to almost improve with each viewing.
And yet many of the episodes involve very simple stories. Name a favorite, from “Time Enough at Last” to “Eye of the Beholder“, and it’s almost guaranteed you can explain what happens in a sentence or two.
This, for me, illustrates just how creative the writers behind the show truly were. I mean, why should a couple feeding pennies into a table-top fortune teller (“Nick of Time”) turn out to be such compelling television?
Or take another fan favorite from Season 1: “The Hitch-Hiker”. Rod Serling adapted it from a radio play written by a woman named Lucille Fletcher — one that debuted almost 20 years before it became a Twilight Zone episode. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve written about Twilight Zone’s writers. I’ve written about its directors. So how about TZ’s only writer-director?
I’m referring to Montgomery Pittman. Don’t know him? I can guarantee you know his work. That is, if you’ve heard of a TZ episode called “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
No, Pittman didn’t write that one. Everyone’s favorite extra-terrestrial whodunit was penned by the incomparable Rod Serling, of course. Pittman also directed one other TZ ep scripted by a writer other than himself (Charles Beaumont’s “Dead Man’s Shoes”).
But the other three episodes he helmed were his own stories — memorable tales that many TZ fans list among their all-time favorites:
Season 3, Episode 1 – September 15, 1961
At a time when TV scripts tended to be pretty talky (many early TV writers, after all, had gotten their start in radio, Serling included), this near-silent look at the aftermath of what appears to have been an all-out nuclear war shows the power of pictures. An American male soldier and a female Russian one somehow manage to put aside their suspicions and find peace amid the rubble.
For anyone who thinks of Charles Bronson only as a violent vigilante in “Death Wish”, or of Elizabeth Montgomery as a button-cute witch in “Bewitched”, this episode is an eye-opener. Pittman showed they were capable of much more.
No list of iconic Twilight Zones is complete without “To Serve Man”. Even people who have only a passing familiarity with the series know what Michael Chambers found out when the book that gives the episode its title was translated.
Among the elements that stand out — besides that legendary twist ending, of course — are how the Kanamits look, and how they sound. Regal. Benevolent. Trustworthy.
Getting the right voice was crucial. Richard Kiel, who was filmed in such a way that he could play every Kanamit, had a chance to do it. But like David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, Kiel was destined to be only seen and not heard.
“They had it in the contract that they could use someone else’s voice,” Kiel said, “but I was given a chance at it. I remember being very tired after hours and hours of makeup and filming, and I guess I didn’t do that great a job at it.” Read the rest of this entry
No wonder The Twilight Zone is such a classic. Most of the time, you were getting scripts written by the master himself, Rod Serling. And when it wasn’t him, it was often someone like Richard Matheson.
So I hardly think it’s a coincidence that “Third From The Sun” is such a highly rated episode. After all, you have the talents of both men at work here.
That’s not to say they collaborated in the conventional sense. I mean that, as he did with “And When The Sky Was Opened“, Serling adapted one of Matheson’s short stories.
He took the title and the basic idea — and added all the usual Serling touches to turn it into a Zone classic. As Stephen King later said of what was only the 14th episode of the first season, “It marks the point at which many occasional tuners-in became addicts.”
(Spoilers ahead, naturally. The episode can be watched on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. It’s also on DVD and Blu-ray.)
Matheson’s story, which had first appeared in the October 1950 issue of Galaxy, is a marvel of economy. Virtually no extraneous details decorate this taut tale of a man and wife (and neighbors) determined to make their getaway from a world on the brink of all-out war.
We really got spoiled last time around, didn’t we?
Fans of the Syfy Channel’s New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon were used to getting a solid two and a half days of the classic show — a random mix of about 87 episodes. But we got to ring in 2016 with all 156 of them, shown in high-definition and in their original broadcast order.
Alas, Syfy won’t be doing that again for 2017. But it’s still a longer marathon than we’ve come to expect: 120 episodes. And no more breaks for wrestling or other “paid programming” to interrupt the fifth-dimensional flow.
Sure, I have some misgivings about the marathon, as I explain here. I don’t like the ads, and I *really* don’t like the way they’ve edited many of the episodes to accommodate those ads. For the best TZ experience, I strongly recommend watching it on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or iTunes. Better yet, buy or borrow it on DVD or Blu-ray. Read the rest of this entry
The Grim Reaper’s been busier than usual in 2016, alas. And recently, he caught up to someone that every Twilight Zone fan knows well: Fritz Weaver.
Weaver, of course, had many notable roles throughout his career. But no list of his best work is complete without the villainous Chancellor in “The Obsolete Man” and sympathetic Will Sturka in “Third From The Sun”. The fact that he could so credibly portray a good guy in one episode, and a bad guy in the next, certainly shows his range.
So I thought that fans mourning his passing might enjoy some excerpts from an interview that appears in Stewart Stanyard’s “Dimensions Behind the Twilight Zone“:
Q: What was your first experience with The Twilight Zone?
A: I was in New York, and my agent called me and said, “They want you to do a Twilight Zone,” and I said, “Do a what?” Because I hadn’t heard of it – I had been on the stage for about nine years. So I went out to do this “Third From the Sun” program, and it was my first film, in fact. And I had to learn the hard way; I had assumed it was all the same. I mean, acting is acting, right? It didn’t turn out that way. Read the rest of this entry