Monday, February 20, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Another Day, Another Twilight Zone Tribute

Award-winning author Christopher Conlon returns to the Vortex with a review of a new Twilight Zone book hitting shelves at the end of February. Chris is the author of numerous novels and short stories as well as an accomplished editor. As an editor he's gifted Zone fans with Filet of Sohl: The Classic Scripts and Stories of Jerry Sohl, The Twilight Zone Scripts of Jerry Sohl, and He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson. Chris has also written "Southern California Sorcerers," the definitive account of "The Group," the Southern California based writers who wrote so many influential novels, short stories, films, and television programs during the 1950s and 1960s, including the bulk of Twilight Zone episodes. Chris's most recent book  is Rossum's Universal Replicas: Karel Capek's "R.U.R." Reimagined, a fresh take on a pioneering work of artificial intelligence and the fate of humankind. Chris can be found at his homepage.


Dawidziak, Mark. Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Of all the series from the early black-and-white era of American television, few have been more popular—not to mention analyzed, memorialized, and tributized—than The Twilight Zone. As author Mark Dawidziak points out in his new book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone, Serling’s seminal program keeps “making the jump” from generation to generation in a way that only a single other series from that period, I Love Lucy, has done. “My students no longer know bus driver Ralph Kramden, deputy Barney Fife, or comedy writer Rob Petrie,” states Dawidziak. “But they still have spent some time with the Ricardos and in Serling’s ‘middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.’” The continuing relevance of Rod Serling’s brainchild has led to a seemingly endless outpouring of tributes of all kinds, from books to movies to TV shows, a radio series, comic books, websites, blogs…somehow Twilight Zone just goes on and on, and pretty much everybody, it sometimes seems, wants to tell us all about it.

Into this crowded field of TZ tributes now comes Mark Dawidziak’s tome, subtitled “A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life.” Taking its approach from the world of self-help books, the idea is to discuss various TZ episodes through the “life lessons” they teach, thus guiding us in our daily lives (“Submitted for Your Improvement,” in Dawidziak’s clever phrase). The tone throughout the book is light—clearly we’re not to take these lessons too seriously—and overall the effect is of a kind of easy breeziness. It’s not difficult to keep turning the pages, though for a lightweight project like this, 300+ pages seems a good deal more than anyone could possibly need.

Initially the book is rather fun. It’s divided into fifty distinct “Lessons,” and it’s entertaining to try to figure out from the Table of Contents which episodes the author might connect to which lessons. (The episodes are identified only within the text itself.) See if you can guess which episode(s) these “lessons” refer to (answers appear at the end of this review).

          a)-When nobody else believes in you, keep believing in yourself
      b)-That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
      c)- Share with others
      d)- Nobody said life was fair
      e)-Divided we fall (two episodes)

Despite this relatively promising start, though, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone quickly begins to run out of steam upon arrival at the actual episode discussions. The problem is perhaps inimical to the nature of this project: all the author can do in each lesson is reiterate what is already clear from the title of the lesson itself. Thus in “Beauty truly is in…” we are treated to a summary “Eye of the Beholder,” a few brief quotes from actress Donna Douglas, and a couple of pages explaining how the story fits the “Beauty truly is in…” homily—which must surely be obvious to anyone who has simply watched the episode. It’s certainly true, as Dawidziak argues, that “lurking in almost every episode of The Twilight Zone is at least one guiding rule, one life lesson, one stirring reminder of a basic right or wrong taught to us as children,” but when it comes to Serling’s approach to these “lessons,” few have ever accused him of subtlety. As a result, Dawidziak’s discussions tend to merely rehash and belabor the obvious.

Reading through these many pages it’s possible to wonder who the intended audience is for this book. One might guess it’s for relative newcomers to the series, given the shallowness of the analyses, but no: plot-reveals abound here, as the author acknowledges in his early chapter, “One Giant Spoiler Alert.” A TZ neophyte, then, would only be annoyed by these spoiler-rich discussions. Yet for knowledgeable fans of the show, this book has little to recommend it.

Editing is lax here, as well. Most of these discussions would be better at half their present length, and even the homilies are too wordy: surely “When nobody believes in you, keep believing in yourself” should read simply “Believe in yourself,” while another lesson, “You’re only truly old when you decide you’re old” should certainly read “You’re as old as you feel.” The occasional odd misinterpretation also hinders this book, as when, discussing the ending of “Kick the Can,” Dawidziak claims: “[I]t’s too late for Ben, at least for this night and this summer. Maybe, if the screams of playing children become a lure rather than an annoyance to Ben, there will be another chance to grab the magic…another chance to play kick the can.” But nothing in the episode supports this. Everything we see leads to the conclusion that, while the newly-young Charlie and his friends will play Kick the Can in their youthful heaven forever, Ben has missed his chance; while the magical children are now immortal, he will die old, bitter, and alone. It’s Ben’s fate that lends “Kick the Can” its painful poignancy; Dawidziak’s odd misreading only robs the episode of its meaning.

Finally, a word about the celebrity names attached to this book. On the back cover the publisher has proudly proclaimed the presence within the text of what are billed as “mini-essays” from the likes of Robert Redford and others, but if readers hope for a serious reflection from Mr. Redford on his episode (“Nothing in the Dark”)—memories of the shoot, say, thoughts about the story itself, how the episode affected his career—they are doomed to disappointment. The star’s “mini-essay” is exactly one sentence long. Even then, Redford beats out George Clayton Johnson, whose mini-essay is precisely five words long, and the words don’t even comprise a complete sentence. The ultimate prize for “mini,” however, is taken by writer James Grady, whose “essay” runs exactly one word. (In the interest of avoiding spoilers, that word shall not be revealed here.)

Alas, despite Dawidziak’s obvious love of TZ, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone serves only as evidence that the possibilities of TZ tributes are now most likely exhausted.

ANSWERS: a) “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”; b) “Steel”; c) “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”; d) “Time Enough at Last”; e) “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and “The Shelter.”

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone by Mark Dawidziak is available on February 28, 2017.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

"Showdown with Rance McGrew"

Larry Blyden as Rance McGrew
“Showdown with Rance McGrew”
Season Three, Episode 85
Original Air Date: February 2, 1962

Rance McGrew: Larry Blyden
Jesse James: Arch Johnson
TV Director: Robert Cornthwaite
TV Bartender: Robert J. Stevenson
TV Property Man: William McLean
Cowboy #1: Troy Melton
Cowboy #2: Jay Overholts
Old Man: Hal K. Dawson
TV Jesse James: Robert Kline
TV Stunt Double: Jim Turley
Man in Saloon #1: Chalky Williams (no credit)
Man in Saloon #2: Robert McCord (no credit)
Man on Stool: Alvy Moore (no credit)

Writer: Rod Serling (based upon an idea by Frederic L. Fox)
Director: Christian Nyby
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week we offer you a Hollywood television cowboy who takes in several bills a week for killing bad men. Mr. Larry Blyden portrays one of these phony-baloneys who always wins in the end. But in this little item, he draws from the hip and realizes his opponent is smack dab out of this world. We invite your attention to ‘Showdown with Rance McGrew,’ next week’s stage coach sojourn in The Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 

“Some one hundred-odd years ago, a motley collection of tough moustaches galloped across the West and left behind a raft of legends and legerdemains. And it seems a reasonable conjecture that if there are any television sets up in cowboy heaven and any of these rough and wooly nail-eaters could see with what careless abandon their names and exploits are being bandied about, they’re very likely turning over in their graves; or worse, getting out of them. Which gives you a clue as to the proceedings that will begin in just a moment when one Mr. Rance McGrew, a three thousand buck a week phony-baloney, discovers that this week’s current edition of make-believe is being shot on location, and that location is The Twilight Zone.”


            Rance McGrew is a pampered television actor currently starring in a historically inaccurate Western program in which he portrays a tough local Marshall that routinely brings down famous outlaws. Rance has been spoiled by his success as an actor and thus rebels against any aspect of the production which he doesn’t like. He forces his director to rewrite and reshoot scenes. He consistently requires the use of a stunt double to shoot any physically demanding scene. He challenges the patience of each and every member of the cast and crew with his whiny, tardy, spoiled nature.
            Rance gets the surprise of his life when he is transported to the real Old West, conjured up by the spirit of the famous outlaw Jesse James, who has been viewing Rance’s television exploits with less than pleasing results. James immediately establishes that Rance is a fake and a coward that cannot perform even the most perfunctory actions of a cowboy, such as roll a cigarette or draw a six-shooter from a hip holster. James aims to make an example out of Rance and punish him for all the damage that Rance has done to the good names of James and his outlaw friends.
            When James challenges Rance to a duel in the street, Rance is unable to draw his pistol and falls to his knees and begs for mercy. James shows mercy but warns Rance that from now on his old way of playing a cowboy on television is finished. Rance finds himself transported back to the modern day television set. No sooner has he arrived back than he finds himself with a new agent, none other than Jesse James, who is going to follow from one acting assignment to the next to ensure that Rance gets more than his share of comeuppance.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“The evolution of the so-called ‘adult’ Western, and the metamorphosis of one Rance McGrew, formerly phony-baloney, now upright citizen with a preoccupation with all things involving tradition, truth, and cowpoke predecessors. It’s the way the cookie crumbles and the six-gun shoots in The Twilight Zone.”

            It is not unusual to view "Showdown with Rance McGrew" as Rod Serling's manifesto on the nature of the television drama in the early 1960s, albeit filtered through the lens of a comedy, especially considering the fact that Serling's next television project after the end of The Twilight Zone was to create the unusual Western The Loner (more on that later). Like most of Serling's work, the episode functions on two levels, one simple and one complex. The simple level is as a marginally successful comedy using the tried and true method of a timeslip story, perhaps the most oft used plot device in the entire series. The more complex level, full of interpretive possibilities, is that "Showdown with Rance McGrew" is Rod Serling holding a mirror up to the current state of the television drama, especially the television Western, which had long ceased to resemble any type of historically accurate reality.
            Marc Scott Zicree, author of the essential book The Twilight Zone Companion, dashes the success of the latter interpretation when considering that the "reality" presented in the episode is just as fake as Rance McGrew's television show. Zicree also provides us with an interesting perspective into how the story germinated in the mind of Rod Serling. Even before Frederic L. Fox (a prolific writer of television Westerns in the 1950s-1960s) related to Serling the story idea which developed into "Showdown with Rance McGrew," Serling contemplated the idea of a television actor slipping into the past to confront the real history (or historical figure) he portrays on television. More specifically, Serling was inspired by watching the endless war films of actor John Wayne. Serling, who saw the horrors of war up close as a WWII paratrooper, was uncomfortable with the idea of an actor repeatedly portraying a war hero when that actor had never experienced real combat.
            Martin Grams, Jr., author of The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (ORT, 2008), uncovers correspondence between Rod Serling and Frederic L. Fox which shines further light on how the story idea came to be. Fox related to Serling a story idea about a deceased outlaw climbing out of his grave (it is unclear whether this is meant literally or figuratively) to confront the actor that portrays him on television. Although Serling credited Fox with the timeslip element of the story in an earlier interview (included in Zicree's Companion) this does not appear to be the case. Serling combined his idea inspired by John Wayne war movies and married it with Fox's Western idea of an outlaw and a television actor. Also of note is a rather well-regarded narrative poem by the Scottish poet Robert W. Service titled "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." The poem does not occur in the American West but rather in the Yukon Territory of Canada (Service relocated to Canada as a young man) and concerns a mysterious stranger that arrives in a saloon to seek vengeance against the tough prospector Dan McGrew for an unknown slight. It is unclear whether this poem was an influence on either Fox or Serling (or if it was even known to either man) but it does have an interesting parallel to "Showdown with Rance McGrew" in the idea of the past coming back to right a wrong. The poem was enormously influential and has seen adaptation several times.* Read "The Shooting of Dan McGrew."
            Another interesting aspect (from Grams TZ: Unlocking the Door) is that Serling likely did not need to credit Fox with the story idea for "Showdown with Rance McGrew" considering the alterations placed on the story. Serling was very cautious of charges of plagiarism, something that had dogged him since his launch of the Twilight Zone and an ill-advised attempt to accept unsolicited story ideas. It is unlikely that Fox would have levied such charges against Serling. However, Fox was grateful for the credit and was encouraged to submit another story treatment, "Mister Tibbs and the Flying Saucer," which went before Twilight Zone cameras as "Hocus Pocus and Frisby" later in the third season.
            By the time Serling came to write "Showdown with Rance McGrew" he had developed an affinity for (or at least a fascination with) the Western genre, and one could hardly blame him since the Western was arguably the dominate television genre of the 1950s. Of the many Western episodes of The Twilight Zone, all but one were written by Rod Serling.** In fact, "Showdown with Rance McGrew" functions perfectly well as a reverse (both in terms of plot and theme) of an earlier Serling episode which is both a Western and a timeslip story, "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim." In the earlier episode, Serling juxtaposed the harsh reality of pre-Civil War westward expansion with the relative comfort achieved by Americans in the middle of the twentieth century. Serling likely opted for the comedic approach with "Showdown with Rance McGrew" to avoid the essential grisliness of the reverse of that story, in which a pampered television star suddenly finds himself in the violent West and unable to defend himself. Comedy allowed Serling to say what he wanted about the absurd nature of the television Western without repeating himself or sacrificing the fantasy construct of the series.
            It is perhaps wise to view the episode as Serling's reaction to both the over-saturation of the (specifically) television Western as well as how ludicrous some of these western programs had grown. He took the morsel of a story told to him by television writer Frederic L. Fox and from it crafted a humorous take on what would happen if a historical figure were able to view how they were portrayed on American television.
            As all educated adults know, the West was a rough and violent place, and though the Western film had fully matured as an art form by the mid-1950s with films such as The Searchers (1956) and The Left-Handed Gun (1958), the television Western was woefully immature as an art form. The television Western refused to grow up, and the programs being broadcast to Americans in the early 1960s were little different than the programs of a decade before, especially in terms of character, setting, and historical accuracy. These television programs were not challenging character archetypes or addressing modern social issues as were Western films. Some programs, The Lone Ranger, The Roy Rogers Show, and The Gene Autry Show, were clearly marketing the inherently violent genre to small children. It is easy to imagine Serling's dissatisfaction with the vast majority of the television output of Westerns.
Lloyd Bridges as The Loner
            One of the major problems Serling seems to have had with the television Western is the clear delineation of good guys and bad guys as portrayed on television. Serling well understood that everybody has the capacity for both good and ill within them and used this theme in many of his Twilight Zone scripts, leading to the casual fan label of Serling's "loveable losers." In "Showdown with Rance McGrew" the audience is clearly intended to identify with Jesse James, a known thief and murderer, rather than the petulant television actor Rance McGrew. In the episode it is strictly played for laughs but the idea would stay with Serling and eventually turn into the only series Serling developed for television which featured a recurring character. That series was the unusual television Western The Loner, which ran for a single season of 26 episodes before being pulled from CBS. Serling developed the idea for a different take on the Western as early as the first season of The Twilight Zone but CBS turned it down. It was not until Serling was finished with the Zone that his old producer William Self ("Where is Everybody?") pushed Serling's Western into production without even so much as a pilot film in the can. The Loner starred Lloyd Bridges as William Colton, a Union cavalry soldier who roams post-Civil War America searching for meaning in life. Serling aimed to do for the Western drama what he did for the fantasy drama with The Twilight Zone, namely to explore the human condition though character study and philosophical insight with recognizable genre trapping serving as a buffer against censorship more than anything else. The fact that The Loner was short on shoot-em-up action (not to mention filled with highly controversial and confrontational parallels to current social issues) was a constant point of contention between Serling and the network brass. As a result, the show, despite modest ratings, was never destined to survive. Tony Albarella, editor of the multi-volume Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling, wrote a thorough and fascinating history of the series for the December, 2000/January, 2001 issue of Filmfax magazine. The article can be read here courtesy of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation.
            "Showdown with Rance McGrew" was directed by Christian Nyby, who made his name in the film industry as the editor of director Howard Hawks's To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), and The Big Sky (1952). Nyby moved into directing television programs by the mid-1950s and found a niche at the helm of the numerous Western programs of the era, including The Adventures of Jim Bowie (1956-1958), Zane Grey Theater (1956-1961), Tombstone Territory (1957-1960), Wagon Train (1957-1965), Rawhide (1959-1965), and Gunsmoke (1955-1975), making him a natural to helm "Showdown with Rance McGrew." Nyby is best known today for directing the 1951 science fiction classic The Thing from Another World. For years Nyby battled (mostly unsuccessfully) the idea that Howard Hawks, the writer and producer of the film, was in fact the director of the film as well. The common argument for Hawks as director, besides the stylistic similarities, is that he placed his editor at the helm to avoid the embarrassment of having his name attached to a science fiction film, a derided genre at the time. Nyby ardently denied that Hawks was the director and chalked up the similarities to Hawks enormous stylistic influence on Nyby's own work. An interesting article on Nyby's involvement with The Thing from Another World can be found here. Robert Cornthwaite, who portrays the ever-patient television director in "Showdown with Rance McGrew," also appeared in The Thing from Another World as Dr. Carrington. Nyby would direct another episode of The Twilight Zone but unfortunately it was the disastrous third season comedy "Cavender Is Coming." He died in California in 1993, aged 80.
Pathfinder ed.
            "Showdown with Rance McGrew" was also adapted into prose by Rod Serling for New Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1962). That collection included four adaptations from the second season and one other from the third season, for a total of six stories. "Showdown with Rance McGrew" was the lattermost episode broadcast to see an adaptation in any of the Twilight Zone story collections. After the third season, Bantam Books bowed out of the Serling Zone books, although Bantam would go through more than a dozen printings of the three Serling Zone books and partner again with Serling in the early 1970s for two similar story collections from his Zone follow-up series Night Gallery (Night Gallery (1971) and Night Gallery 2 (1972)). Serling, who was suffering from exhaustion after the third season of the Zone, struck a deal with both Grosset & Dunlap publishers and veteran pulp author Walter B. Gibson (known for his more than 300 Shadow novels under the publishers Street & Smith house name Maxwell Grant) through his production company, Cayuga, to develop new Zone story collections, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1963) and Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Revisited (1964). Only a portion of these latter two collections were adaptations of Zone episodes and the majority of the contents were standard pulp supernatural fare with little to distinguish the titles. Though it remains unclear whether the story ideas originated with Serling, all of the original stories and adaptations were written by Gibson, and of the adaptations, all were of Rod Serling episodes from the first and second seasons. These include: "Judgment Night" and "Back There" for Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, and "The Purple Testament," "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" (as "Beyond the Rim"), "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" (as "The 16-Millimeter Shrine"), "The Man in the Bottle," and "Mirror Image" (as "The Mirror Image") for Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Revisited.
            The Grosset & Dunlap volumes were aimed directly to the emerging young
Pathfinder ed.
adult readers market. The volumes were issued in hardcover, were illustrated, and Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone proclaimed on the cover: "13 new stories from the supernatural especially written for young people." When the books appeared in paperback (in 1965 and 1967, respectively) they were released under the Tempo Books banner, a paperback line created to appeal to young adults. Bantam Books took the cue with their own Zone books, releasing all three titles with new covers as Bantam Pathfinder editions between 1964 and 1965. The Pathfinder editions were similarly designed to appeal to young adults and included selections from both fiction and non-fiction fields. Zone writer Ray Bradbury saw some of his own titles reissued as Pathfinder editions, including R Is for Rocket (1962; Pathfinder ed. 1966), S Is for Space (1966; Pathfinder ed. 1972), and his anthology Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow (1952; Pathfinder ed. 1972). The appeal of The Twilight Zone to a younger audience, especially once the series began its endless existence in television syndication, was immediately apparent from a marketing perspective. A Twilight Zone comic series aimed at younger readers was already in existence since 1961 and would endure, in its first form, until 1979.***  
Pathfinder ed.
            One interesting aspect of the adaptation of "Showdown with Rance McGrew" is that it is the only adaptation of any of the Zone episodes for the story collections to originate from another writer's work (in this case, Frederic L. Fox), further indicating that Serling's credit to Fox for the story was professional courtesy more than any debt to originality. The adaptation offers little in the way of alterations to the broadcast version. There are subtle additions of dialogue and changes to props and setting (Rance drives a red jaguar in the short story and experiences his initial confrontation with Jesse James outside the saloon) but no added scenes or radical changes.
            The adaptation does provide the reader with an alternate version of Rod Serling's opening narration. The story version is as follows: "It might be parenthetically noted here that there was a point in history when there actually were top guns. They were a motley collection of tough mustaches who galloped and gunned their way across the then new West. They left behind them a raft of legends and legerdemains. But heroics or hambone--it can be stated quite definitively that they were a rough and woolly breed of nail-eaters who in matters of the gun were as efficient as they were dedicated. It does seem a reasonable guess, however, that if there were any television sets up in Cowboy Heaven, so that these worthies could see with what careless abandon their names and exploits were being bandied about--not to mention the fact that each week they were killed off afresh by Jaguar-drawn Hollywood tigers who couldn't distinguish between a holster and hoof and mouth disease--they were very likely turning over in their graves or, more drastically, getting out of them."
            "Showdown with Rance McGrew" is an episode which is only marginally successful as a comedy but serves as a fascinating window into Rod Serling's thoughts on contemporary television drama. On the surface it's another failed attempt at comedy on a series with many such failed attempts and, worse yet, another timeslip story, further exploring an already tired theme on the series. It should not be completely dismissed on these terms, however, since it offers much to the analytical among viewers and does not overreach the simple boundaries of the narrative it sets up for itself. Larry Blyden is fun to watch (see our coverage of "A Nice Place to Visit" for more on the actor) and Arch Johnson, though asked to play a ridiculous and highly inaccurate Jesse James, commends himself well to the role. In all, "Showdown with Rance McGrew" is an interesting bit of Twilight Zone silliness with a serious complexity beneath the surface. It is not likely to remain long with the viewer but it is worth a second look.

Grade: C

*William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson list "Dangerous Dan McGrew" on the lengthy dedication pages of their classic 1967 dystopian novel Logan's Run.
**The one not written by Serling is Montgomery Pittman's "The Grave." It is interesting to note that some of the other core writers of The Twilight Zone (Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and John Tomerlin) never wrote a Western episode despite writing for Western television programs, including Have Gun-Will Travel and Wanted: Dead or Alive.  

***NOW Comics brought The Twilight Zone back to four-color form from 1991-1993. In 2014, Dynamite Entertainment brought a new series to comic shops, though this latter series only occasionally made use of the anthology format which worked so well for the Zone brand of publications, preferring to tell over-arching stories across several issues. 

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following:

-Albarella, Tony. “Cowboy with a Conscience.” Filmfax, December, 2000/January, 2001.

-Fuhrmann, Henry. “A ‘Thing’ to His Credit.” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1997.

-Grams, Martin. The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. OTR, 2008.

-The Internet Movie Database (

-The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (

-Serling, Rod. New Stories from the Twilight, Bantam Books, May, 1962.

-Service, Robert W. The Shooting of Dan McGrew

-Zicree, Marc Scott. The Twilight Zone Companion. 2nd edition, Bantam, 1989.

-Christian Nyby also directed the third season episode “Cavender is Coming.”
-Larry Blyden also appeared in the first season episode “A Nice Place to Visit.”
-Arch Johnson also appeared the second season episodes “Static” and (uncredited) “Long Distance Call.”
-Robert Cornthwaite also appeared in the fourth season episode “No Time Like the Past.”
-Robert J. Stevenson also appeared (uncredited) as the radio announcer in the third season episode “The Midnight Sun.”
-James Turley also appeared in uncredited roles in the first season episode “The Lonely,” the second season episodes “Long Distance Call” and “The Silence,” and the third season episode “To Serve Man.”
-Twilight Zone regulars Robert (Bob) McCord and Jay Overholts also make appearances.
-“Showdown with Rance McGrew” was adapted into prose for New Stories from the Twilight Zone by Rod Serling.
-“Showdown with Rance McGrew” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Christopher McDonald.
-Director Christian Nyby has somewhat of a cameo in the episode as a funeral parlor sign comes into view and displays "C. Nyby" as the funeral director.
-It is ironic that Rod Serling takes a shot at Rance McGrew for using a stunt double for scenes which require physicality since The Twilight Zone used the same practice, most evident in the second season episode "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" in which Burgess Meredith is obviously replaced by a much stouter man in order to effect lifting Don Rickles's character above his head. Check the photograph in our coverage of the episode.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017



Review by Brian Durant

In the years following the initial run of The Twilight Zone, there were numerous attempts to bring Rod Serling’s celebrated anthology series to the big screen. Serling himself attempted to get a feature-length project off the ground several times but was never successful. In 1982, Steven Spielberg, fresh off the massive success of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and E.T. (1982), announced that he had secured the rights for a feature-length film adaptation of the series. Of all the names that had been associated with a possible Twilight Zone film or revival series over the years, Spielberg’s seemed the most appropriate. He appeared to have a great admiration for fantasy and science fiction and his first big break into the industry came in 1969 when he directed the “Eyes” segment of Serling’s Night Gallery pilot film. He also directed Serling’s “Make Me Laugh” for the first season of the show the following year. In 1971, he achieved another high point in his early career when he directed a feature-length version of Richard Matheson’s story Duel for NBC. The television special, which starred Twilight Zone alumni Dennis Weaver, was enormously successful and when asked about the film in interviews Matheson always said it was among his favorite film adaptations. Given his unprecedented popularity and the confidence of key figures from the original series like Serling and Matheson, Spielberg seemed the obvious choice to helm such a project.

He enlisted friend and filmmaker John Landis to co-produce the film with him. The film would be split into four half-hour segments. One of the segments would be an original story and the other three would be adaptations of episodes from the original series. Landis volunteered to write and direct the original segment and also an opening prologue. Spielberg chose George Clayton Johnson’s “Kick the Can” for his segment. “It’s a Good Life,” adapted for the show by Serling from a story by Jerome Bixby, was given to director Joe Dante. And George Miller was given the task of directing Richard Matheson’s classic psychological thriller “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Matheson was the natural choice to pen the remainder of the screenplay, sharing screen credit for “Kick the Can” with friend and original writer George Clayton Johnson and E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison (under the pseudonym “Josh Rogan”). The score would be arranged by veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith, whose music for the original series had been an enormous influence on the show. The film would also feature a handful of actors from the original series with the great Burgess Meredith stepping in as narrator, an obvious choice. With what felt like all of the right people for the job, Twilight Zone: The Movie was sure to be a commercial and creative success.

The resulting film is considered one of the most regretful chapters in the history of Hollywood. The accidental deaths of actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) during the shooting of Landis’s segment cast an ominous shadow over the entire production and caused Warner Brothers to severely limit promotion of the film. The film performed poorly at the box office and was generally not a success among critics. The special effects were too extravagant, as was the majority of Goldsmith’s score, and the sets were ridiculously over-the-top in every way, not at all like the modest sets of the original episodes. Many fans also did not care for the drastic changes to “Kick the Can” and “It’s a Good Life.” The silver lining of the film was a handful of great performances especially from Vic Morrow and John Lithgow. While there were good things to be said of the film, it was clear that the filmmakers didn’t understand Serling’s vision for the original series.

A lesser known but more enjoyable version of the film came in July of 1983 in the form of Robert Bloch’s novelization of the movie published by Warner Books. Unlike many film novelizations, which are often assigned to unknown or unsuccessful writers for much less than it would cost to hire an established name, Bloch was a prolific and highly-regarded writer of speculative fiction and a Hugo and Edgar Allan Poe Award winner as well as the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention. Among his many books are the novels Night World (1972), American Gothic (1974), and The Night of the Ripper (1984). His novel Psycho (1959) was the basis for the Hitchcock film and he wrote numerous episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Star Trek, and Night Gallery. Bloch was a close friend of Matheson and of George Clayton Johnson.

Robert Bloch

The novelization is only available as a mass market paperback and would have cost American fans $2.95 when it was first released in 1983. It's not actually a novel-as the title page says it is-but a collection of four distinctly individual stories which have no overlapping characters or settings. It’s roughly 200 pages with each segment clocking in around 50 pages. It features a middle insert containing black and white photographs from the film. Other than that the book is relatively bare bones. There is no introduction or afterword and also no celebrity quotes anywhere on the book with the exception Serling’s opening narration from the second season of the show on the back cover. The book was also released in several international markets.

When first opening the book several changes are immediately noticeable. First, none of the stories contain opening or closing narrations, a trademark of the original series which is also featured in the movie and in both revival series. The stories are also given titles, where as in the film they are referred to only as “segments.” Each story bears the name of its main character. Readers will also notice that the order of the stories is different than it is in the films. The second and fourth segments are switched making the order:

1.) “BILL” (Segment I)
2.) “VALENTINE” (Segment IV)
3.) “HELEN” (Segment III)
4.) “BLOOM” (Segment II)

According to Bloch he was given an early draft of the screenplay and this was the order in which the segments appeared. This order actually shifts the tone of the book with each story slightly more hopeful than the one before it ending the book on a soft note with Bloch’s version of “Kick the Can.” He also said that the version he was given did not contain either the opening prologue—the driving sequence with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks—or the ending gag with Aykroyd in the ambulance.

1.) BILL
As a result of the tragic accident that occurred while filming the opening segment, Landis was forced to rewrite his screenplay. Originally written, Vic Morrow’s character redeems himself by saving the lives of two Vietnamese children from an air strike. Since they did not have all of the footage they needed Landis re-wrote the story the way it appears in the film. Bloch was also asked to re-write part of the first story to reflect how it appears onscreen. “Bill” is pretty faithful to Landis’s screenplay with some minor scenes added to flesh out the story. For instance, the story opens with Bill Conner driving to the bar, agitated and swearing, swinging in and out of five o’clock traffic. We learn a bit more about his character as well, like, for instance, that he is a salesman—no surprise—and that he has a wife—slightly more surprising. The chase montage is also a little longer with Conner briefly returning to the other time periods after the Vietnam sequence before ending up in Nazi Germany as he does in the film. Other than that the story is much the same as its big screen counterpart.

Out of all of the stories this one is probably the most faithful to the screen version. Bloch’s version is almost identical to Matheson’s in terms of action, although he includes a lot of Valentine’s internal monologue at the beginning of the story, something hard to explore on the screen. As I mentioned, there is no ambulance scene. The story ends with the crew noticing the mangled engine. Bloch’s version is highly enjoyable. Valentine comes across as an outlandish but believable and sympathetic character. For fans of any of the previous versions of Matheson’s 1962 story I would recommend giving this one a read. This is probably the best story in the book.

This is probably the worst story in the book. Not terrible but definitely the weak spot of the novelization although this is not so much Bloch’s fault as Matheson’s. Bloch opens with a scene not featured in the film. Helen Foley is attending her mother’s funeral in Homewood, her home town. She has a sister, Vivian, whom she is wildly resentful of because Vivian is ignorant and weak, but also because she is pretty, a trait that has gotten her through most of her life. Helen, a teacher, is disgruntled with her job and no longer feels connected to her home town. The scene is several pages long and ends with her talking to her sister while she waits for her mother’s funeral to end so she can finally skip town.

The next scene features Helen on her way to her new life in Willoughby, punk rock blasting from her car radio. Her internal dialogue races wildly here as she reflects on how despondent kids have become and their obsessions with loud music and video games. This is kind of an early reference to punk rock and to video games, both of which were still relatively clandestine forms of entertainment in 1983. The scene is written well and adds a depth to Helen’s character although the social commentary feels more like Bloch’s than Helen’s.

The rest of the story follows Matheson’s script pretty faithfully. The extra material is interesting and gives Helen, who comes off a bit dull onscreen, a complex personality. Its purpose is likely to explain the ludicrous ending in which Helen says she will teach Anthony how to stop being an omnipotent psychopath and he makes pretty flowers bloom for her on the side of the road. Helen no longer feels joy as a teacher. She doesn’t feel as if she is impacting the lives of her students the way she had hoped. She sees Anthony as a broken child who feels unloved and disconnected from everyone, someone just as lost as she is. In agreeing to be his mentor she hopes to also fix herself in the process. The screenplay has never been commercially released, although there are bits and pieces of it floating around the internet. It would be interesting to see if this material was included in Matheson’s screenplay or if it is Bloch’s invention.

On a side note, at one point Serling intended to adapt Bixby’s story into a feature-length film and even completed a full-length screenplay for it before the project stalled.

This is probably the story which varies the most from the film version. George Clayton Johnson felt that his original teleplay was a bit irresponsible in that it failed to portray the reality of the situation. Who was going to take care of these children now? Where would they live? Who would feed them? After being asked if he would be interested in selling the screen rights to Warner Brothers for a film adaptation of his Twilight Zone episode “Kick the Can,” Johnson submitted a short, three-page outline to Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy of Amblin Entertainment. The outline contained an additional sequence which began where the original story ended, with the kids running off into the woods. It follows the kids on their adventure through the woods, running and laughing and soaking in the joy of youth. As the excitement fades they become hungry and tired and frightened. They begin to realize the consequences of their actions. They stumble upon the rest home, unfamiliar to them now, and climb into the warm beds where they are transformed back into their older selves. Matheson kept Johnson’s idea but condensed it for time, eliminating the scenes of the children in the woods. Unbeknownst to Matheson, after he submitted his final draft Spielberg gave it to screenwriter Melissa Mathison for revision. Spielberg had just worked with Mathison on E.T. and felt that she could give the story a softer, whimsical quality. She didn’t change the plot structure much but she did place heavy emphases on Mr. Bloom’s supernatural abilities. In Bloch’s version—and presumably Matheson and Johnson’s—the magic is still a bit ambiguous although it is assumed that Bloom does have something to do with it. She also rewrote the scene with the children, saturating it with syrupy-sweet dialogue and cheap visual gimmicks. This, in combination with Jerry Goldsmith’s overly-sentimental music, Scatman Crother’s very awkward performance, the archetypal supporting characters, and Spielberg’s unusually whimsical direction, makes this the worst segment of the film. Matheson and Johnson were both unhappy with it.

Bloch’s version also features a dream montage which occurs just before Bloom wakes everyone to go play outside. In it, Bloch goes inside the minds of nearly every character to give the reader a glimpse into their dreams. Mrs. Dempsey dreams of her late husband. Mr. Agee imagines himself as Douglas Fairbanks, fighting crime in Sherwood Forrest. Mr. Mute dreams of mole rats. Mr. Weinstein wonders whether Mr. Bloom is crazy or not but figures it doesn’t matter either way. The sequence is a nice touch and helps to segue into the “magic” scene which follows.

Bloch took an almost unwatchable segment of the film and turned it into a highly enjoyable story. His version feels fresh and full of energy. He keeps the pace lively with his signature brand of tongue-in-cheek humor but manages to hold on to the warm nostalgia of Johnson’s original story. It comes recommended.

It’s not a book that is going to change lives. It has flaws and its share of negative reviews. But after having it on my shelf for several years I finally decided to give it a read and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. So if you are a fan of either the show or the movie I would definitely recommend picking up a copy. It still sells for relatively cheap on Amazon and EBay and finding a copy at a used bookstore or library sale is still fairly common. If you find you don’t really like it you will not have wasted much money and you will own a cool piece of pop culture that any diehard Twilight Zone fan would appreciate.

If you’ve read Bloch’s novelization feel free to comment and let us know what you thought!

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following:

Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Archive of American Television:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"The Hunt"

Hyder Simpson (Arthur Hunnicutt) and his faithful hound dog, Rip,
resting at the end of a very strange day.

“The Hunt”
Season Three, Episode 84
Original Air Date: January 26, 1962

Hyder Simpson: Arthur Hunnicutt
Rachel Simpson: Jeanette Nolan
Gatekeeper: Robert Faulk
Wesley Miller: Titus Moede
Tillman Miller: Orville Sherman:
Reverend Wood: Charles Seel
Angel: Dexter DuPont
Pallbearer: Robert McCord

Writer: Earl Hamner (original teleplay)
Director: Harold Schuster
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Direction: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hollenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Robert McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmonson
Music: Robert Drasnin

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Perhaps no character, in or out of fiction, has had as much notoriety or publicity as the so-called Grim Reaper. Next week on the Twilight Zone, through the good offices of Mr. Earl Hamner, we present a unique story called ‘The Hunt.’ It concerns the demise of an old hunter and his dog…and this one we rather urgently recommend to people who have lost their senses of humor and who’d like to recover same.

“As one of my kids says, ‘there’s a trillion, trillion ways of telling a story.’ But there’s only one way to tell the Chesterfield story and that’s simply to say that great tobaccos make a wonderful smoke. Try Chesterfields. They satisfy.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“An old man and a hound named Rip, off for an evening’s pleasure in quest of raccoon. Usually, these evenings end with one tired old man, one battle-scarred hound dog, and one or more extremely dead raccoons. But as you may suspect that will not be the case tonight. These hunters won’t be coming home from the hill. They’re headed for the backwoods…of the Twilight Zone.”

            Hyder Simpson, now in his twilight years, has lived a quiet life with his wife Rachel in the same peaceful mountain community in which they were born. Simpson adores his wife and the two of them are happy here. At dinner one evening Hyder tells his wife that he intends to take his dog, Rip, raccoon hunting after he eats. Rachel, highly religious and a bit impressionable, tells him that she has recently witnessed several omens and is afraid that something bad is going to happen to him. She asks him not to go hunting. He goes anyway.
While chasing a raccoon, Rip falls into a ravine. When he does not resurface Hyder jumps in to rescue him.
The next morning Hyder wakes up under a tree, having apparently fallen asleep in the night. As he and Rip make their way home Hyder spots his neighbors digging a hole on his property. He attempts conversation but gets no response. He sees that they are digging a grave, presumably for a beloved pet, and he leaves them to their task. When he arrives home he finds Rachel dressed entirely in black. Reverend Wood is also there. He attempts to speak to them but again gets no response. He sees what appears to be a funeral procession exiting his living room. Rachel begins to sob. Hyder follows the procession to the graveyard near his house but a fence, unfamiliar to him, blocks his path. He follows it to see if he can find a way around it.
            After walking for what seems like an eternity, Hyder and Rip reach a driveway with a gatekeeper at the end of it. The gatekeeper tells them that they have died and that this is the afterlife. Not a religious man, Hyder is skeptical of the situation. The gatekeeper tells Hyder that he must leave Rip as dogs are sent to their own afterlife. Hyder refuses and he and Rip keep walking.
          Later, while resting in the shade, Hyder and Rip are approached by a man who says he is looking for them. He claims to be from Heaven. When Hyder tells him about the gatekeeper and his “no dog” policy, the man informs him that they were actually at the gates of Hell. Dogs, highly perceptive animals, are not allowed to enter Hell for fear that they will sense danger. The man says that all creatures are welcome in Heaven. He also informs Hyder that Rachel will be arriving shortly. Feeling at peace, Hyder and Rip follow the stranger to the Great Hereafter to reap their rewards.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Travelers to unknown regions would be well advised to take along the family dog. He could just save you from entering the wrong gate. At least, it happened that way, once, in a mountainous area…of the Twilight Zone.”

            “The Hunt” marks writer Earl Hamner’s arrival to The Twilight Zone where he would remain a regular contributor until the end of the series. Hamner wrote eight original teleplays for the show making him the fourth major contributor after Matheson (14), Beaumont (22), and Serling (92). A native of rural Virginia, Hamner brought a sensibility to the show that was uniquely his own. Episodes like “The Hunt” and season four’s “Jess-Belle” depict a culture that was rarely seen on television at the time. The Andy Griffith Show, one of the first programs set in the rural south, premiered on CBS in October of 1960, sparking a trend that would continue throughout the decade with shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. While situational comedies like these often exploited the eccentric behavior of their characters—as is the purpose of such a show—Hamner was writing about a culture which was important to him and he did so with great affection. Unfortunately, as his first teleplay for The Twilight Zone demonstrates, his vision and the show’s vision were not always compatible.
Earl Hamner, Jr.
(1923 - 2016)
Hamner was born in 1923 and grew up in a small village on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains called Schuyler, Virginia. Hamner’s family made their living from tobacco farming and mining soapstone. He grew up during the Great Depression and his humble upbringing and close-knit sense of family—he was the oldest of eight children—would have an enormous impact upon his writing. His Baptist roots would also hold a significant influence on his writing as several of his Twilight Zone scripts would demonstrate. Hamner realized that he wanted to pursue writing professionally while serving in the Army in France during World War II. He began to submit short stories to literary magazines but soon amassed a large collection of rejection letters.
In 1949, while working as a writer on Cincinnati radio station WLW, Hamner won a scriptwriting contest for Dr. Christian, a nationally syndicated radio show on CBS starring Jean Hersholt which ran from 1937 to 1954. The show was famous for accepting unsolicited manuscripts and proclaimed that it was the only show scripted by its audience. Each year the show held a contest for best script with a grand prize of $2,000 and several subsequent prizes. Hamner’s script, “All Things Come Home,” was one of several winners and he flew to New York to receive his prize money. At the ceremony Hamner met another aspiring writer named Rod Serling whose script, “To Live a Dream,” had also won. The two talked at length about writing and the publishing industry. When Hamner left WLW a few years later to pursue writing full time, Serling, who had recently graduated from Antioch College in nearby Yellow Springs, was hired as his replacement.
James Dean and John Carradine
"The Hound of Heaven" (1953)
In 1952 Hamner moved to New York City where he got a job as a staff writer at NBC. His first major job in television was writing freelance pieces for The Today Show. In 1953 Random House published Hamner’s first novel, Fifty Roads to Town. That same year Hamner sold a short dramatic skit called “The Hound of Heaven” to The Kate Smith Hour, a daytime variety show which ran on NBC from 1950 to 1954. This short three-person play is actually an early version of “The Hunt” and features John Carradine as Hyder Simpson with Edgar Staley as the Gatekeeper and James Dean as the messenger. Aside from a difference in running time—“The Hound of Heaven” clocks in at around twelve minutes—this early version appears to be very similar to its later counterpart.* The scene in which Simpson meets the heavenly messenger, played by an unknown James Dean dressed in white overalls with enormous feathered wings strapped to his back, is almost identical to the same scene in “The Hunt” right down to the dialogue. Dean gives a great performance although his absurd costume prevents us from taking him seriously. Veteran actor John Carradine, who would later appear in Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man,” gives Hyder Simpson a mildly incoherent personality which is actually sort of compelling.
            As the 1950’s drew to a close, live television was becoming a fading art form. Radio’s popularity had become more or less irrelevant. Television was now looking to film as the way of the future. It looked better, it was cheaper, and the technological possibilities seemed endless. So the television industry left New York and headed for Hollywood. And Earl Hamner, Jr. left with it. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1961. Having never written for film, he found himself almost starting from scratch. For many months he lived in a cheap hotel with virtually no income. By this time Hamner had a wife and two children to support as well. Finally, following the advice of his literary agent, Don Congdon, who also happened to be literary agent to Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont, Hamner called the two for advice. Until then he hadn’t considered submitting his material to The Twilight Zone because it was a fantasy program. Upon Bradbury and Beaumont’s recommendations, however, he submitted two ideas to Serling, fully expecting them to be rejected. To his amazement Buck Houghton wrote back just a few weeks later informing him that they wanted to purchase both of them. The two ideas eventually became “The Hunt” and “A Piano in the House.” After a decade of working in television Hamner had finally launched his career as a screenwriter.
            Hamner would write six more scripts for the show including the hour-long “Jess-Belle,” for the fourth season and five teleplays for the fifth season. In 1961 Dial Press published his second novel Spencer’s Mountain which was made into a successful film in 1963 starring Henry Fonda. When Random House published his novel The Homecoming in 1970 Hamner was approached by CBS to adapt it into a feature-length Christmas special. The special did well and Hamner was then asked to expand his novel into a series. So he created The Waltons. It ran for nine seasons and became one of the most celebrated television shows of all time, winning thirteen Emmy Awards. Hamner had finally found an audience for his unique brand of wholesome folklore. The Waltons offered a welcome escape from a decade marked by war and political corruption and an alternative to the increasing cynicism of American television. Similar to Serling’s involvement on The Twilight Zone, Hamner acted as executive producer, head writer, and host of the program, providing the opening and closing narration to each episode. The show ended in 1981 but several television specials aired in the subsequent years. After The Waltons, Hamner created Falcon Crest, a soap-opera style series about the California wine industry starring Jane Wyman. This show was also an enormous success and ran for nine seasons, although Hamner left after the fifth season. He also found success on the big screen scripting the films Palms Springs Weekend (1963), Where the Lilies Bloom (1974), and an adaptation of Charlotte’s Web in 1973 for which author E.B. White chose him personally.
            In an interview with Marc Scott Zicree, Hamner says that Hyder and Rachel were actually early versions of Grandma and Grandpa Walton. Around the time that he wrote the episode he was also writing a series of short stories called “The Old Man and the Old Woman” and he decided to use the two main characters, who were fully-developed already, as the main characters of "The Hunt." He continued to write stories featuring the elderly couple and they eventually ended up in The Waltons.
Although Hamner is remembered mostly for his tales of rural life in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the majority of his Twilight Zone episodes feature urban settings and characters that bear little resemblance to the Walton family. “The Hunt” and “Jess-Belle,” and to a lesser extent “The Bewitchin' Pool,” are his only forays into the backwoods utopia found in his novels. The rest of his episodes possess an overtly modern atmosphere. As a writer largely unfamiliar with fantasy and science fiction, Hamner relied on imitating the style and formula that had been carefully established on the program during the first two seasons. The result is a mixed bag of episodes which range from mildly clever to totally abysmal. The best of these episodes, and the two which feel the most like a typical episode of The Twilight Zone, are probably “A Piano in the House” and season five’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town.” The rest of his urban episodes feel as if they would be more at home on a different show.
This was only further evidence that Hamner was at his best when writing about what he knew. Unfortunately, not everyone on the show seemed to understand what he was trying to explore with his writing. “The Hunt” has good intentions but the finished product is an incredibly flawed episode. The pacing is slow, the direction tiresome, and the premise derivative. Arthur Hunnicutt, a brilliant actor who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1952 for his role in the Howard Hawks film The Big Sky, delivers a performance that is both unconvincing and culturally insensitive. Hamner’s dialogue is also hokey at times particularly during the scene in which Simpson stumbles upon his neighbors burying Rip and in the final scene with Simpson and the angel.
Hunnicutt was a prolific character actor known primarily for his roles in westerns. His film credits include Broken Arrow (1950), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), and Cat Ballou (1965). A native of rural Arkansas, Hunnicutt would have been at least vaguely familiar with southern dialect. His delivery, however, is too simple. He comes across wooden and unsympathetic. Hamner later said that he was unhappy with the performance and suggested that Hunnicutt should have had fun with the character and played him more upbeat.
Jeanette Nolan, however, gives a brief but terrific performance as Rachel. Her pleasant demeanor is so infectious it even excuses her character’s religious idiosyncrasies which could have easily become cartoonish in the hands of a lesser performer. A theatrically trained actress, she made her screen debut as Lady Macbeth in 1948, opposite director Orson Welles. She also appeared in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat in 1953, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (1998). A prolific radio performer, she possessed a talent for accents and peculiar voices. In 1960 she was the voice of Norma Bates in Psycho and later provided the voices to many animated children's films including Disney's The Rescuers (1977) and The Fox and the Hound (1981). Nolan would return to The Twilight Zone the following season to play a witch in Hamner’s “Jess-Belle.”
Another saving grace of this episode is Robert Drasnin’s soft and subdued musical score. Most of the episode features a simple melody played on a single harmonica. It manages to be both somber and warm and it captures the mood of the episode perfectly. Drasnin worked primarily in film and television but recorded his own albums as well. This was his only appearance on The Twilight Zone.
            Despite its flaws, “The Hunt” remains a well-known episode which continues to divide fans of the show. Its critics usually cite many of the same shortcomings mentioned above: casting errors, uninspired direction, stilted dialogue. However, many fans have warm memories of this episode. One such admirer was fellow Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson who regards it as one of his favorite episodes. “With this story, Earl brings a southern country sensibility to The Twilight Zone that is American to the core,” Johnson said in an interview, “which assures us that being simple is not being stupid…The story has such a classic feeling that one is tempted to believe that Hamner may not have made the story up but instead borrowed it from some ancient book of folk tales…It has stuck in my mind like fishhooks.”
            Johnson hits upon the two likely reasons for this episode’s dedicated fan base. The first is Hamner’s affection for “the little man,” a seemingly insignificant protagonist who outsmarts a force much greater than himself. It comes as no surprise that Johnson, who penned episodes like “Kick the Can” and “A Game of Pool,” would feel a connection to a character like Hyder Simpson. He also brings to light the influence of traditional American folklore. Hamner’s arrival to The Twilight Zone happened to come at a time when Serling and Houghton seemed interested in exploring different areas of American literature with folklore being the next logical step. Relying on folklore as inspiration also meant exploring the rural areas in which much of this type of fiction originated including the Midwest and the American South. The third season had already featured Serling’s “Still Valley,” an adaptation of Manly Wade Wellman’s Civil War story “And the Valley Was Still” about a confederate soldier who struggles with the decision to use black magic to assure a victory for the south. Wellman was a highly regarded folklorist and historian who set a great deal of his fiction in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Serling also adapted the free-spirited, fable-like “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby,” from an unpublished story by Frederic Louis Fox about a lovable country braggart who learns the consequences of lying after being abducted by aliens from his sleepy midwestern town. Montgomery Pittman also made his Twilight Zone writing debut during the third season. Like Hamner, he was a native southerner and a student of folklore. His western episode “The Grave” was based on an English folk tale that has had dozens of variations over the years. His final teleplay “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” is about a young man who miraculously returns to life after being declared dead. The episode, which relies heavily on folkloric themes, explores the quirks of small-town life in the midwest at the turn of the twentieth century.
            While “The Hunt” takes its influence from folklore it is not based on an actual folk tale. Hamner says he got the idea from a childhood memory of his father searching for days for his beloved hunting dog which he had accidently shot. His father’s guilt over shooting the animal and his devotion to finding it had a profound effect on young Hamner and he eventually turned the incident into an episode of The Twilight Zone.
            “The Hunt” has some serious flaws but in Hamner’s defense his original script, while far from being a masterpiece, is still more enjoyable than the finished product. Time is one factor. The story has a wholesome quality that has not aged well. The bits of uplifting humor, like the famous line in the final scene in which the angel remarks that “even the Devil can’t fool a dog,” feel dated. But the main reason why this episode is not of the quality that it should be is simply because a lot of the major contributors didn’t seem to understand the culture Hamner was writing about. Fortunately, he had better luck the following season with his hour-long episode “Jess-Belle,” a dark, atmospheric folk tale about witchcraft and superstition. It stars Anne Francis and James Best and was directed by the great Buzz Kulik. This episode is a far better example of Hamner’s ability as a writer than “The Hunt.” It’s a highlight of the fourth season and, without question, Hamner’s crowning achievement on the show.
            “The Hunt” will likely continue to be a topic of debate among Twilight Zone fans for years to come. There are certainly positive things to be said about it. It launched the career of an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning writer and producer and laid the foundation for a much-beloved television program. It also cast a light on a culture many Americans knew little about. And, for some, it became a warm and familiar story to revisit on a crummy day, a factor which gives it an unquestionable validity. So because this is a hit-or-miss episode depending on the viewer, my review is admittedly biased. I have seen this episode numerous times and I have never developed an attachment to it. Hamner was a remarkably talented writer but this is certainly not his best work on the show. Harold Schuster’s direction is slow and uninspired, which makes watching this twenty-three minute episode completely exhausting. Hunnicutt, as I’ve stated several times by now, is wrong for the part and his performance is the fatal flaw of the episode. While not everything about this episode is bad, the few enjoyable elements are outnumbered and overshadowed by the much less enjoyable ones rendering it almost unwatchable. “The Hunt,” unfortunately, does not come recommended.

Grade: D

*I found very little information about this early version. I was unable to locate the full performance anywhere online, only a short clip (which you can check out on our Facebook page), but it was included in a DVD box set called James Dean: The Lost Television Legacy available from Turner Classic Movies. If you've seen it comment below or email us and let us know what you thought!

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following:

The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner by Earl Hamner and Tony Albarella (Cumberland House Publishing, 2003)

Archive of American Television
--interview with Earl Hamner, Jr. conducted by Jennifer Howard (September, 2003)

Earl Hamner: From Walton’s Mountain to Tomorrow by James E. Person, Jr. (Cumberland House Publishing, 2005)

Earl Hamner Official Website

The Twilight Zone Companion Second Edition by Marc Scott Zicree (Silman-James, 1989) “Kate Smith Hour: ‘The Hound of Heaven’ (NBC, 1/15/53)” by Mark Gabrish Conlan. (July 1, 2016). 

--Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote eight episodes of the show including season three’s “A Piano in the House,” season four’s “Jess-Belle,” and the season five episodes “You Drive,” “Black Leather Jackets,” “Ring-a-ding Girl,” “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” and the final episode of the series, “The Bewitchin' Pool.” His story "The Art of the Miniature" appeared in Carol Serling's anthology Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary (2009, Tor).
--Jeanette Nolan also appeared in the season four episode “Jess-Belle,” written by Earl Hamner, Jr. She later appeared in the Night Gallery segments “The Housekeeper” (season one) and “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay” (season two).
--Charles Seel appeared in season four’s “He’s Alive.” He also appeared with Jeanette Nolan in “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay.”
--This episode features yet another appearance from regular Twilight Zone extra Robert McCord, who appeared in dozens of episodes. Here he plays one of the pallbearers.
--As mentioned, “The Hunt” was adapted from an earlier teleplay by Earl Hamner called “The Hound of Heaven” which first appeared on The Kate Smith Hour in 1953.
--Listen to the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring original series veteran Shelley Berman and Karen Black.