Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Escape Clause"

Walter Bedeker (David Wayne) saying the long goodbye.

“Escape Clause”
Season One, Episode 6
Original Air Date: November 6, 1959
Cast:
Walter Bedeker: David Wayne
Mr. Cadwallader: Thomas Gomez
Ethel Bedeker: Virginia Christine
Doctor: Raymond Bailey
Cooper: Wendell Holmes
Jack: Dick Wilson
Steve: Joe Flynn
Guard: Nesden Booth
Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Stock
Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
                "You're about to meet a hypochondriac. Witness Mr. Walter Bedeker, age forty-four, afraid of the following: death, disease, other people, germs, drafts, and everything else. He has one interest in life and that's Walter Bedeke; one preoccupation, the life and well being of Walter Bedeker; one abiding concern about society, that if Walter Bedeker should die, how will it survive without him?"
Summary:
                Walter Bedeker is an extreme hypochondriac who refuses to leave the comfort of his bed for fear of aggravating or contracting any number of imagined illnesses. His rude manner and the impossibility of satisfying Bedeker displeases his doctor and over-burdens his over-accomadating wife. When Bedeker muses aloud his displeasure at having to suffer sickly through such a short life as a mortal human is allowed, a man appears in his bedroom. The man is fat and dapper, introducing himself as a man of many names but suggesting that Bedeker call him Mr. Cadwallader. He is, in short, the Devil. 
                Cadwallader offers Bedeker a life of immortality free of sickness. All Bedeker need do is sign the contract that has appeared in Cadwallader's hand and Bedeker can live forever with nothing able to physically harm him. At first apprehensive about having to give up the ususal price for such dealings with the devil, his soul, Bedeker reasons that living forever means he beats the devil, for he must die if Cadwallder is to get his soul. Bedeker signs the contract and Cadwallder, before parting, informs him of an escape clause in the contract. Should Bedeker ever grow tired of living forever, all he need do is call upon Cadwallder and Bedeker will be freed from his contractual obligation of immortality. Contract signed, sealed, and delivered, Cadwallader departs and Bedeker begins his life immortal. 
                It is not long after, however, that Bedeker grows tired of his newfound invulnerability. He finds no thrill in life if nothing can harm him. He jumps in front of a bus and drinks poison to no ill effects. Finally, resorting to extremes, Bedeker decides to jump off the roof of his apartment building. His wife, in attempting to stop him, falls to her death. Though he didn't truly kill her, Bedeker sees this as an opportunity to try the electric chair, something that he believes might just be the thrill he's been looking for. He confesses to his wife's murder and is easily found guilty at his trial. The twist in the tale, however, is that Bedeker is not sentenced to death but rather to life imprisonment. For an immortal man, this means an eternity behind bars. 
                Cadwallader appears, offering Bedeker that escape clause in the contract. Bedeker reluctantly agrees and is taken away.
Rod Serling Closing Narration:
            "There is a saying, 'Every man is put on Earth condemned to die, time and method of execution unknown.' Perhaps this is as it should be. Case in point Walter Bedeker, lately deceased, a little man with such a yen to live. Beaten by the devil, by his own boredom, and the by the scheme of things in this, the Twilight Zone."
Commentary: 

"Walter Bedeker was forty-four years old. He was afraid of the following: death, disease, other people, germs, drafts and everything else. He had one interest in life, and that was Walter Bedeker; one preoccupation, the life and well being of Walter Bedeker; one abiding concern about society, if Walter Bedeker should die, how would it survive without him. In short, he was a gnome-faced little man who clutched at disease the way most people hunger for security."
                      -"Escape Clause," Stories from the Twilight Zone 

                "Escape Clause" doesn't have much by which to recommend it. During the first season of production the series simply did not know what type of show it wanted to be other than something under the broad umbrella of science fiction and fantasy. Nearly every type of story under this general label was attempted during the first season, from ghost stories to stories of space exploration to stories of time travel and so on.  
                "Deal with the Devil" stories had already been thoroughly explored in popular culture by the time of this episode's broadcast. By the late 1950s, a television viewer was more likely to see the story motif in the form of a spoof on a situational comedy than in the form of serious drama, which is presumably why Serling chose to wrap the story around moments of broad comedy. It is interesting to note that this would be far from the last time the series would attempt this type of story. The most successful treatments of the theme is Charles Beaumont's second season masterpiece, "The Howling Man." Beaumont also tried the story type in the first season with "A Nice Place to Visit." As late as the fourth season both Serling and Beaumont were still trying the story on for size with "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" and "Printer's Devil," respectably. 
              Rod Serling almost certainly hoped to capitalize on the public's taste for tales of this type, or at least use the worn-out story concept to produce a quick script. That being said, even among tales of this type the episode doesn't satisfy. The one redeeming aspect of it, if there is one, is Thomas Gomez in the role of Mr. Cadwallader. Gomez was a unique casting choice for the role and defied the traditional image of the Devil as attractive and refined with his unusual appearance and quite creepy performance. 
               Martin Grams, in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008), notes that Serling most likely took the idea from an episode of the horror radio show Inner Sanctum Mystery, though, as stated before, tales of this type were old hat by the time this episode aired. Serling's story closely resembles an Inner Sanctum Mystery episode that aired on February 12, 1946, entitled "Elixir Number Four." Serling was pushing himself at the typewriter to provide his contractually required eighty percent of the first season episodes and "Escape Clause" was most likely a quick filler script to give him time to shape his more resonant first season efforts, such as "Walking Distance" and "The Lonely." In all, "Escape Clause" is a rather forgettable episode which still retains the high level of production value that characterized the tenure of producer Buck Houghton, something which is evidently lacking from several episodes in seasons four and five, after Houghton left the series. As a half hour entertainment it's not bad but it lacks a unique concept or even a unique spin on an established concept and therefore feels a little empty and unsatisfying.
              Rod Serling chose to adapt the episode into prose for his 1960 book Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam) and it comes off as one of the dullest stories in that otherwise excellent volume. Typically, Serling's adaptations highlight his talent for comedy which do not always come off well in the filmed episodes. "Escape Clause," however, remains uninteresting and unfunny in prose form. 
Grade: D
Notes:
-Director Mitchell Leisen directed two additional first season episodes, "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" and "People Are Alike All Over."
-David Wayne also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Diary."
-Joe Flynn also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Funeral." 
-Look for the signature of Mr. Cadwallader on a plague in the basement portion of the Walt Disney World ride Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
-"Escape Clause" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama by Dennis Etchison, starring Mike Starr. 
-Rod Serling adapted his teleplay into a short story for Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam Books, 1960). 
-"Escape Clause" was adapted into comic book form for the 1979 book Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam; a Skylark Illustrated Book) by Rod Serling, stories adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer.
--Jordan Prejean

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