Blog Archives

Some Fatherly Advice from the Twilight Zone

“The zenith of this film is when he meets his mother and father,” Serling once said of “Walking Distance,” a true Twilight Zone classic. “That’s when everything explodes.”

Walking Distance2

Indeed it does. But for me, the nucleus of this bittersweet tale is the all-too-brief discussion Martin Sloan has with his “pop” shortly before his journey back in time concludes. So as a Father’s Day tribute, I’d like to bring you that touching scene:

MR. SLOAN: Yes, I know. I know who you are. I know you’ve come from a long way from here. A long way and a long time. But I don’t understand how or why. Do you?

MARTIN: No.

MR. SLOAN: But you do know other things, don’t you, Martin? Things that will happen.

MARTIN: Yes, I do. Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

Fifth-Dimensional Finishes

The Twilight Zone is famous for its twist endings. But for me, the real cherry on top of our inter-dimensional sundaes is Rod Serling’s closing narrations.

Surprisingly, some critics deride them as unnecessary. How dense are we, right? Can’t we figure out the lesson without having it spelled out by an omniscient referee? Perhaps, but that’s not the point.

Rod Serling - The Obsolete Man1

The conclusions aren’t there because we’re slow. They serve an important purpose. Sometimes they tie up loose ends, sometimes they lay on a little irony, and sometimes they make a wry comment on the proceedings.

In short, they’re there to make the stories more enjoyable. Hearing Serling introduce and wrap up each episode, with his trademark voice and poetic language, is the perfect framing device. I’m convinced the show wouldn’t be as beloved without them. Read the rest of this entry

Going the “Distance”: Scoring Serling’s Bittersweet Masterpiece

It’s one of the most vital aspects of any movie or TV show, and one of the easiest to overlook: the score.

Music can make or break a film. Alfred Hitchcock, for example, had planned for the shower scene in “Psycho” to be silent (save for the sounds of running water and Marion’s screams) … until Bernard Herrmann played his iconic shrieking violins for the Master of Suspense, who agreed that it greatly enhanced its effectiveness.

39

Herrmann’s talents also made their way to the small screen. The legendary composer wrote scores for seven episodes of The Twilight Zone (and his musical cues were recycled in many others), including one that leads many top 10 lists: Serling’s bittersweet masterpiece “Walking Distance.” Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Swan Song

When the news broke recently that Rod Serling’s final unproduced screenplay, “Stops Along The Way,” would soon be filmed, I was elated. Big surprise, right?

It’s not just the fact that I’m such a Serling fan. It’s because the project is in the hands of writer/director J.J. Abrams. I’m a long-time fan of his work.

JJ-Abrams-001

Not everybody was so pleased, though. Some of the replies I got on Twitter, and the comments I read on articles about the project, showed a lot of skepticism. For some reason, they don’t trust him with this important undertaking.

But I think Abrams deserves the benefit of the doubt. For one thing, he’s proven himself more than capable of producing compelling TV shows and movies. Even those who don’t care for “Lost” can’t deny that he has an impressive track record. Read the rest of this entry

Trying to Go Home Again: TZ’s “Walking Distance”

It’s a theme that surfaces repeatedly in Rod Serling’s writing. We see it in his teleplays in the 1950s and in episodes of The Twilight Zone (‘60s) and Night Gallery (‘70s). It helped him create some of his best work.

I’m referring to nostalgia. “I have a desperate desire for serene summer nights, merry-go-rounds and nickel ice-cream cones,” Serling told TV Guide in 1972.

This yearning led to the development of two of his most popular Twilight Zone episodes: “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby.” Both came in Season 1. Both feature a harried businessman trying to cope with great stress and a sense of helplessness. Both showcase a longing to escape into the past.

If you’re like most Zone fans, you rate both episodes highly. Pressed to pick a favorite, many opt for “Walking Distance.” But not Serling. Although he seemed pleased with it when it aired, his fondness for it waned as the years went by. “A Stop at Willoughby,” however, he later called his favorite from Season 1. Read the rest of this entry

Serling the Self-Critical

Becoming the best in your field typically takes a big ego. Which isn’t surprising — if you don’t believe deeply in your own ability, you may not even get to the top, let alone stay there.

Unless you’re a genuine ego-maniac, though, self-doubt is always at your elbow. Exhibit A: Rod Serling.

Serling -- typewriter1

Good luck finding anyone harder on his work than he was. Listen to his commentary on the Twilight Zone’s “Walking Distance” sometime. He almost completely trashes one of the most beloved episodes of the entire series. And that was typical; he rarely offered a word of praise to anything he’d written. In other commentaries (excerpts from lectures he gave at Hollywood’s Sherwood Oaks Experimental College), he repeatedly emphasizes what he considers flaws.

Yes, he may have been doing this in part to encourage the students to really take a piece of film apart. But other examples of this self-critical attitude crop up throughout his life.

Even the compliments were severely hedged. Looking back over Season 4, for example (when Twilight Zone had gone to an hour-long format), Serling said only one of the episodes was “really effective”: his own “On Thursday We Leave For Home.” He then added: “Yes, I wrote it myself, but I overwrote it. I think the story was good despite what I did to it.” Read the rest of this entry