Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"What You Need"


Steve Cochran and Ernest Truex
"What You Need"
Season One, Episode 12
Original Air Date: December 25, 1959
Cast:
Pedott: Ernest Truex
Fred Renard: Steve Cochran
Lefty: Read Morgan
Bartender: William Edmonson
Girl in Bar: Arline Sax
Woman on Street: Judy Ellis
Man on Street: Fred Kruger
Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (Teleplay based on the short story of the same name written by Lewis Padgett (psuedonym of husband and wife Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore) originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, October 1945.)
Director: Alvin Ganzer
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Nathan Van Cleve
And now, Mr. Serling:
"This is the season of gift giving, big gifts and little gifts, and expensive ones and not so expensive ones. Well, next time, the Twilight Zone gives you its own peculiar, oddball brand of gift giving. Mr. Steve Cochran and Mr. Ernest Truex combine talents to tell a story about a little man who has what you need, our next offering on the Twilight Zone."
Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"You're looking at Mr. Fred Renard, who carries on his shoulder a chip the size of the national debt. This is a sour man, a friendless man, a lonely man, a grasping, compulsive, nervous man. This is a man who has lived thirty-six undistinguished, meaningless, pointless, failure laden years and who at this moment looks for an escape, any escape, any way, anything, anybody to get out of the rut. And this little old man is just what Mr. Renard is waiting for."
Summary:
                An old man named Pedott pedals his wares, nicknacks lugged around in a portmanteau, on a particular block in an unnamed, perpetually night-fallen, film-noir city. On that block is a neighborhood bar. The old man goes into that bar, bouncing from customer to customer, trying to interest the patrons in something from his collection of odds and ends. When a woman sitting alone wants to buy some matches, Pedott instead gives her a bottle of stain remover, intoning that "this is what you need." It is the credo of the episode, a resonant statement of Pedott's unique ability of insight into what people will need in their near futures. 
                Pedott provides another patron, a washed-up ex-professional baseball player with a lame pitching arm named Lefty, with a one-way bus ticket to Scranton, Pennslyvania. These items are taken from the old man with a certain bit of reluctance but, thinking the old man feeble-minded but essentially harmless, they take the items anyway. Shortly after these items are distributed, Lefty gets a phone call informing him that one of his former team managers has acquired Lefty a much-needed job, coaching a minor league baseball team in Scranton, Pennslyvania. Lefty asks the old man how he knew about Scranton and the bus ticket but the old man just shruggs it off and advises Lefty not to think about it or question it but to simply take advantage of the opportunity afforded him. It's good advice. Lefty complains about a spot on his only good jacket that he needs to get out in order to look professional for his new job and, coincidentally, is overheard by the woman earlier given the stain remover by Pedott. We are left with the notion that perhaps these two people may begin a change for the better, together. Pedott, meanwhile, has slipped out of the bar, not unnoticed by someone else.
                The seemingly simple magic that he has displayed has drawn the notice of a brutish loser at the bar named Fred Renard. Renard is a man always down on his luck. He has turned all the frustration and anger caused by this run of ill luck inward and has, by consequence, become a sulky, violent character, nearly devoid of all conscience and humanity, living only to scrape by and claw at any cure-all chance that presents itself. He sees his ticket out of his misery in the old man Pedott's uncanny ability. 
                Renard follows Pedott out into the street where the old man sets up his wares on a stand to offer them to passersby. Pedott knows, as unfailingly as he knows what people need, that Renard is an ill-meaning man. The confrontation turns violent when Renard grabs the smaller, more feeble man and demands that Pedott provide him with what he needs. Pedott gives Renard a pair of scissors. At first believing the old man to be playing a trick on him, Renard relents and stalks away. Later, while in a hotel elevator, Renard's long scarf is caught within the door of the moving elevator car. Unable to free himself and halfway choking to death, Renard remembers the scissors and cuts the scarf and lives through the harrowing experience. He laughs, almost maniaclly, at his good fortune, good fortune provided by Pedott's special talent. This, Renard sees, is the opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to fix all the mistakes he's made and to live the rest of his life with guaranteed good fortune. 
                 When Pedott returns home later that night, he finds an unpleasant surprise. Renard is waiting for him. The old man spills his items on the floor and Renard ridicules him and bullies him into a patnership, despite Pedott's unwillingness to enter into any kind of pact with the other man. Pedott, surely hoping to be rid of the bullying Renard, gives the younger man a leaky fountain pen which just happens to dip onto a newspaper listing the name of a racehorse. Renard runs off to place his bet on that horse.
                It wins him a couple hundred dollars but it's not enough. Men like Renard, once reaping the benefits of good fortune, resort to a vicious greediness. He accost Pedott once again, this time on the street, on Pedott's usual corner for setting up his items to sell. Pedott tells Renard that this cannot continue between them and that he, Pedott, cannot provide Renard with what the angry younger man truly needs, this being compassion, humor, an ability to laugh at oneself. Unsatisfied, Renard further threatens Pedott until the old man gestures to a pair of shoes that Renard greedily grabs and puts on. Pedott, meanwhile, has used this opportunity to pack up his items and begin to cross the street. Renard, confused as to the pertinence of the shoes, again threatens to hurt Pedott when Pedott informs him that the shoes are, in fact, what Pedott himself needs and not what Renard needs. Anger outweighing his reason, Renard begins to cross the street after Pedott only to slip on the slick ice that has formed on the street. A speeding car comes around the corner and wipes Renard out, killing him. 
                It was a hit and run and, moments later, the street is filled with curious people, an ambulance, and the press. Two sly jokes, one sweet, the other morbid, ends the show. Pedott provides a man roused from sleep and out into the street from the noise with a simple comb, that later proves useful to straighten out his unruly hair when the press decides to take his picture. We are left with the ambulance, sirens off, carrying the body of Fred Renard and the only thing left on the street at the site of his death is a pair of slippery shoes.
Rod Serling's Closing Narration: 
     "Street scene. Night. Traffic Accident. Victim named Fred Renard, gentleman with a sour face to whom contentment came with difficulty. Fred Renard, who took all that was needed. . . in the Twilight Zone."

Commentary:               
                Although it is an adaptation of an existing piece of short fiction, this serviceable but rather unmemorable espisode feels much more like a Serling original than an adaptation of someone else's work. Much like the previous episode, "And When the Sky Was Opened," Serling used little except for the basic concept from the source material. Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's original short story describes a scientist that invents a machine able to predict an individual's future and prescribe what was needed for that individual. Serling scrapped most everything and created his standard cast of (mostly) loveable losers, including Pedott (Ernest Truex), the meek old man with the ability to see a person's future and give to them what they need to face that future. 
                The entire episode is really just a gimmick plot servicing a twist ending and altough Serling attempts to give the script some dimension of character, the paper thin plot is really what makes the episode unremarkable. The concept is not particularly fresh and wasn't at the time of filming, either. As Martin Grams points out, Kuttner and Moore's short story had already appeared in the authors collection, Line of Tomorrow, and had previously been filmed for the television show Tales of Tomorrow in the early '50s. 
                It was a nice touch for Serling to scrap the science-fiction trappings of the story and turn it into something of a film-noir meets fantasy episode. Even though we recognize, even this early into the show, Serling's stereotypical characters (the washed up man who once had promise, the lonely woman looking for something but not knowing what, the angry man who's certain all his problems are someone else's fault), the character of Pedott is a nice creation and Ernest Truex gives the only memorable performance in the episode. The character of Fred Renard is too heavy-handed, too over the top, and is the kind of one-dimensional villain you don't normally see in The Twilight Zone.
Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore
               It's unfortunate that this is the only piece from either Kuttner or Moore (or both in tandem, as the couple almost always collaborated once they married) that Serling or producer Buck Houghton optioned for the show, and in greatly truncated form at that. Catherine L. (C.L.) Moore is a greatly influential, and, for the time (1930s), very progressive, author of fantasy and science fiction. Before meeting husband Henry Kuttner in 1938, her most influential work consisted of her first published short story, the science-fiction vampire story "Shambleau" from the November 1933 issue of Weird Tales, the Jirel of Joiry stories featuring the first female hero of the fantasy sub-genre commonly known as sword-and-scorcery, and the Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired planetary romance stories starring her character Northwest Smith. Henry Kuttner was mainly known, and is still greatly remembered, for his first published story, the horror classic "The Graveyard Rats" from the March 1936 issue of Weird Tales. The two writers began to do their greatest work, however, once they met and later married. From this point on the two wrote nearly everything in tandem under a number of pseudonyms including Lewis Padgett and Laurence O'Donnell and even the most astute reader will find it difficult to tell where one writer stops and other begins. Together they produced many memorable novels and stories, including "No Woman Born" and "Vintage Season" (the latter included in volume one of the Science Fiction Writers Association's The Science Fiction Hall of Fame) and the oft-reprinted novel Fury. 
                Kuttner was particularly important as a literary mentor to and influence on two writers from The Twilight Zone that also became two of the greatest literary fantasist of the 20th century, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. Bradbury edited and introduced a career retrospective of Kuttner's work for the Science Fiction Book Club, The Best of Henry Kuttner, and Matheson dedicated his most famous novel, the oft-filmed I Am Legend, to Kuttner. His influence, and the influence of his work with Moore on susequent science fiction writers, is profound. 
                 Sadly, what we get with Kuttner and Moore's sole appearance on the show is a rather lackluster and somewhat predictable outing that feels more like a "filler" episode between two really good ones. It is worth seeking out the two writers' work, however, for most fans of the show will find their subject and style appealing.
Astounding Science Fiction Oct. 1945
Grade: C
Notes:
-Ernest Truex also starred in the exceptional third season episode "Kick the Can."
-Alvin Ganzer's other directing credits for the show include "The Hitch-Hiker," "Nightmare As a Child," and some sequences of "The Mighty Casey," all from the show's first season.
--Jordan Prejean

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"And When the Sky Was Opened"



“And When the Sky Was Opened”
Season One, Episode 11
Original air date: December 11, 1959

Cast:
Colonel Clegg Forbes: Rod Taylor
Major William Gart: James Hutton
Colonel Ed Harrinton: Charles Aidman
Amy: Maxine Cooper
Bartender: Paul Bryer
Nurse: Sue Randall

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (teleplay based on the short story “Disappearing Act” by Richard Matheson).
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Leonard Rosenman

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week three men return from a flight into space only to discover that their nightmare has just begun.  Rod Taylor, James Hutton, and Charles Aidman appear in ‘And When the Sky Was Opened.’  What happens to these men once they’re picked up in the desert? [Serling vanishes]  Well, that gives you a rough idea.  You’ll see next week on the Twilight Zone.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Her name: X-20.  Her type: an experimental interceptor.  Recent history: a crash landing in the Mojave Desert after a thirty-five hour flight, nine hundred miles into space.  Incidental data: the ship with the men who flew her disappeared from the radar screen for twenty-four hours.  But the shrouds that cover mysteries are not always made out of a tarpaulin, as this man will soon find out on the other side of a hospital door.”

Summary:
            Colonel Clegg Forbes is having a bad day.  Forbes is an astronaut with the United States Air Force whose spacecraft, the X-20, has crash-landed in the Mojave Desert after it mysteriously disappeared from the radar screen.  He was accompanied on the trip by two others, Colonel Ed Harrington and Major William Gart.  Several days after the crash Forbes visits the hospital room of Major Gart who injured his leg during the crash.  Gart notices immediately that his friend appears to be having a nervous breakdown.  Forbes tells Gart that he fears something is wrong.  He asks Gart if he remembers a man named Ed Harrington who went up in the X-20 with them.  Gart looks at him like he is insane and tells him that, no, he doesn’t know anyone named Ed Harrington, and that he and Forbes went up in the X-20 alone.  Forbes then launches into an outline of the events of the previous day.
            Forbes visited Gart in his hospital room with Ed Harrington just before going out to a bar.  In his hands Harrington held a newspaper with a picture of the three men who had, because of their crash, become temporary celebrities.  The two colonels jokingly mocked Gart’s condition and then left.  Once at the bar, Harrington’s behavior became increasingly erratic.  He told Forbes that he felt as if something was terribly wrong, like he didn’t belong there.  He said that he got the feeling that they weren’t supposed to have come back from their trip, and he felt as if something or someone was trying to take him away.  Attempting to brush it off as a bad case of nerves, Harrington excused himself and walked to a payphone in the corner to call his parents.  A few minutes later Harrington called Forbes over to the payphone where Forbes found his friend visibly distraught.  He told Forbes that he just called his parents but claimed that they told him they didn’t have a son.  Again he told Forbes that he felt as if he didn’t belong; as if he could disappear and no one would even know he existed.  Realizing that something was seriously wrong with his friend, Forbes walked back to the bar to order Harrington a stiff drink.  When he returned, the phone booth it was empty.  Forbes asked the bartender about his friend but the bartender replied that Forbes had come into the bar alone, even though Forbes and Harrington were both talking with the bartender only moments before.  Forbes then noticed the newspaper with the picture of the astronauts on the front cover.  It was exactly the same except now there were only two people in the picture, Forbes and Gart.  Later in the night Forbes’s girlfriend arrived at his hotel room.  According to Forbes, his girlfriend, Amy, had known Harrington for years.  Forbes asked her if she knew a man named Ed Harrington and she said no.  Fearing that he might be losing his mind, Forbes left Amy in the hotel room and wandered around town in a paranoid frenzy for the rest of the night before showing up at Gart’s hospital room in the morning.
            Major Gart looks at his friend with pity and concern and tells him that he doesn’t know anyone named Ed Harrington.  Forbes then tells Gart that he thinks Harrington was somehow erased from existence and that the two of them are next.  He looks at himself in the mirror and suddenly experiences a feeling much like the one Harrington had just before he disappeared.  Trying to withstand the inevitable, Forbes runs out of the hospital room screaming.  Gart chases after him but doesn’t see his friend anywhere.  He asks one of the nurses if anyone has seen Colonel Forbes, but the nurse looks at him with a strange expression and leads him back to his room.  There he sees the newspaper with the picture of the astronauts only now the only man in the picture is Gart, and the paper says that the voyage was a solo mission.  Gart falls back in the bed in horror.
            Cut to a nurse leading a hospital supervisor into Gart’s room, which is now it’s empty because Gart has mysteriously disappeared with the other two men.  Finally, cut to a scene inside of an airplane hangar where the X-20 once rested, but does so no more.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Once upon a time, there was a man named Harrington, a man named Forbes, a man named Gart.  They used to exist, but don’t any longer.  Someone—or something—took them somewhere.  At least they are no longer a part of the memory of man.  And as to the X-20 supposed to be housed here in this hangar, this too does not exist.  And if any of you have any questions concerning an air craft and three men who flew her, speak softly of them…and only in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
     “And When the Sky Was Opened” is Rod Serling’s adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story “Disappearing Act,” although the similarity between the two stories is virtually nonexistent.  Matheson’s story is an epistolary account of a down-on-his-luck writer whose life is made even worse when all of the things important to him (his wife, his mistress, his friends, his house) suddenly start to disappear.  Serling took the premise of this story and wrote an entirely different one with different characters, a different setting, and a remarkably different plot.  Serling chose to rewrite the story because he felt that there was no rationale behind Matheson’s story.  In Serling's story the characters are astronauts who have just returned from orbit around the Earth, so there is at least something to blame: Space.  An audience of today must consider that in 1959 Space was still largely unknown and the idea of it as a forbidden no man's land was something very much in line with the American conscience.  I think Serling was certainly playing with this idea when he rewrote this to be a story about astronauts.  As for Matheson, he is, without question, one of the greatest writers of dark fantasy in the short form that the genre has ever seen, and I believe “Disappearing Act” to be among his finest stories.  However, I will grant Serling’s statement concerning the story’s lack of rationale some validity in that I think it works on the page very well.  If adapted faithfully I don’t think it would have worked on the screen.  But his version is so far removed from the original that it seems curious that he would buy the story from Matheson and credit it as source material.
            This episode introduces two people who would become major figures in The Twilight Zone cosmos: writer Richard Matheson and director Douglas Heyes.  As this episode has very little to do with Matheson I will save a more comprehensive biography of him for later.  However, “And When the Sky Was Opened” marks The Twilight Zone directorial debut of Douglas Heyes, probably the finest director the show ever saw.  Heyes had a visually eclectic style that lent itself to this program brilliantly.  Of the nine episodes he directed, I would say that at least four of them are among the show’s most recognizable (“The After Hours,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “The Howling Man” and “The Invaders”).  His style here is more subtle than the rest of his episodes, but that works to its advantage to create an overwrought atmosphere of paranoia and panic.  This is a character driven story so Heyes simply lets the characters take it away.
It’s the actors that really sell this episode.  Charles Aidman and James Hutton both turn in great performances, but if this episode belongs to anyone it’s Rod Taylor.  Rod Taylor has always been a favorite of mine when it comes to character actors from this period.  He is probably most known for his roles in George Pal’s The Time Machine and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  His performance here as the frazzled Clegg Forbes is brilliant.  He is, at times, so committed to the neurosis of this character that some of his scenes are nerve-racking to watch.
           Despite some errors (like why, for instance, is there caution tape around the neatly folded canvas tarp that was once drapped over the X-20 in the final scene?  Shouldn't the ship's hangar be empty now that eveything from the mission is being erased from existence?) this episode is a solid one in both structure and delivery and has always been one of my favorites from the first season.

Grade: B

Notes:

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
March 1953
-“Disappearing Act” by Richard Matheson first appeared in the March, 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  It also appeared in his collection Third From the Sun (Bantam, 1955) and in his collection Nightmare at Twenty Thousand Feet (Tor, 2002).  It can also be found in the anthology The Twilight Zone: the Original Stories (MJF, 1985) which he edited with Martin H. Greenburg and Charles G. Waugh.
-Charles Aidman also stars in the season three episode “Little Girl Lost.”  He is also the narrator of the first revival of The Twilight Zone, which aired from 1985 to 1987 on CBS.
--"And When the Sky Was Opened" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Barry Bostwick (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

--Brian Durant

"Judgment Night"

Nehemiah Persoff as a doomed passenger with a guilty past.
“Judgment Night”
Season One, Episode 10
Original air date: December 4, 1959

Cast:
Carl Lanser: Nehemiah Persoff
Lieutenant Mueller: James Franciscus
Barbara Stanley: Deirdre Owen
Captain Wilbur: Ben Wright
First Officer: Patrick MacNee
Mr. Potter: Hugh Sanders
Major Devereaux: Leslie Bradley
Bartender: Kendrick Huxham
First Steward: Richard Peel
Second Steward: Donald Journeaux
Engineer: Barry Bernard

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Once upon a time there was a ship sailing from Liverpool, England to New York.  It never got there and one man on board knows why.  Next week we tell this man’s story.  The distinguished actor Nehemiah Persoff plays the role of Carl Lanser, a haunted man in a haunted story called ‘Judgment Night.’  This ship sails next week and we hope you’ll see it off.  Thank you, and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Her name is the S. S. Queen of Glasgow.  Her registry: British.  Gross tonnage: five thousand.  Age: indeterminate.  At this moment she’s one day out of Liverpool, her destination: New York.  Duly recorded on this ship’s log is the sailing time, course to destination, weather conditions, temperature, longitude and latitude.  But what is never recorded in a log is the fear that washes over a deck like fog and ocean spray.  Fear like the throbbing strokes of engine pistons, each like a heartbeat, parceling out every hour into breathless minutes of watching, waiting and dreading.  For the year is 1942, and this particular ship has lost its convoy.  It travels alone like an aged blind thing groping through the unfriendly dark, stalked by unseen periscopes of steel killers.  Yes, the Queen of Glasgow is a frightened ship, and she carries with her a premonition of...death.”

Summary:
In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a black, fog-blanketed night in 1942, the S. S. Queen of Glasgow is making her way from Liverpool to New York.  Onboard is one Carl Lanser.  Mr. Lanser is distraught because he seems to have no recollection of how he came to be on the ship.  He knows none of the other passengers and remembers very little about himself.  But he does know one thing: something terrible is going to happen to the ship at 1:15 am. 
            Lanser wanders around the ship in a distorted haze and eventually makes his way into the lounge where he joins some of the other passengers and crew members, including the captain, at a table for tea.  Still troubled over his situation, his behavior in front of his fellow passengers is noticeably neurotic and aggressive.  Lanser tells everyone that he believes something terrible will happen to the ship at 1:15 am.  He also seems to know a great deal about German U-boats which tweaks the captain’s attention.  After an uncomfortable conversation Lanser awkwardly excuses himself.  Later, the captain has Lanser brought to the bridge where he asks him to provide a copy of his passport.  Lanser says that his passport must be in his room so the captain has the steward follow him there to retrieve it.  In his room the steward notices a German Navel Commander’s hat and asks Lanser if it’s a war souvenir.  Angry for this invasion of his privacy, Lanser grabs the hat away from the steward and notices his name stitched into the inside of it; the hat is issued to him.
            Positive now that something is going to happen to the ship and frustrated at being powerless to stop it, Lanser spends the next few hours in the lounge drinking himself into a state of agitated incoherence.  At 1:15 he finds himself drinking alone.  The bartender and other passengers have inexplicably vanished.  With paranoia clinging to him, Lanser runs out onto the deck and into the spotlight of a German U-boat shining directly in his face.  While the U-boast fires upon the Queen of Glasgow Lanser races through the ship, screaming the names of the other passengers, but no one answers.  Lanser finds a pair of binoculars and peers through them at the U-boat and sees himself on the hull on the German submarine.  He is the German Commander!  He continues to dart through the halls of the ship and then stumbles upon the rest of the passengers standing motionless in the middle of the hallway, glaring at him.  He screams at them to do something but they just stand there.  And then, they vanish.  Knowing the ship is going to sink, Lanser jumps overboard but is pulled under with the current and drowns.
            Cut to the Captain’s barracks of the German submarine.  A young lieutenant comes in to Kapitan Lanser’s room to express his concerns over firing on a ship carrying women and children without warning.  He tells Lanser that he wonders if they are not damned now to suffer the same fate for all eternity.  Lanser casually dismisses the lieutenant’s concerns as those of a religious fool.
            Cut back to the beginning of the story.  Lanser is wandering around the deck of the S. S. Queen of Glasgow, mystified as to how he got onboard, doomed to relive this nightmare that he once inflicted upon others for eternity. 

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The S. S. Queen of Glasgow, heading for New York, and the time is 1942.  For one man, it is always 1942—and this man will ride the ghost of that ship every night for eternity.  This is what is meant by paying the fiddler.  This is the comeuppance awaiting every man when the ledger of his life I opened and examined, the tally made, and then the reward or penalty paid.  And in the case of Carl Lanser, former Kapitan Lieutenant, Navy of the Third Reich, this is the penalty.  This is the justice meted out.  This is judgment night...in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            “Judgment Night” is the first of many episodes concerned with World War II, most of which were written by Serling.  As a paratrooper during the war Serling saw his fair share of combat and these experiences were branded into his conscience.  The war would be a feature of his work, directly or indirectly, for the rest of his life.  This would often prove to be a bad thing for Serling as it was all too easy for him to use Nazis as villains.  But in “Judgment Night” I think Serling hit upon something a little different and this is one of the reasons why I like the episode.  Carl Lanser is, in several ways, the standard Nazi heavy found throughout the popular culture of the 1940’s through the 1960’s; predictable and uninspired.  But what makes him interesting is that Serling has taken him out of his element.  The audience gets to witness the psychology of an archetypal villain as he struggles, unsuccessfully, to prove to himself that he is not losing his mind.  He has to question his convictions, behave in a manner that probably seems totally irrational to him.  By doing this Serling successfully tricks the audience into feeling sympathy for a character that they know—for he makes obvious within the first five or so minutes of the story—is, or once was, an appalling human being.  This is brought vividly to life with an outstanding performance by Nehemiah Persoff.
            Another thing I like about Serling’s script is that he tells the audience within the first few minutes of the episode that something awful is going to happen.  It’s a countdown to destruction, and the viewer is waiting for 1:15 throughout the entire episode.  This adds some much needed suspense to an otherwise predictable story.  “Judgment Night” was Serling’s hybrid variation of the myth of the Flying Dutchman, in which the ghosts of a ship's crew are doomed to roam the seas for all eternity, and Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which a fisherman kills a sacred albatross and is then damned to wear the creature around its neck as an admission of his sin.  The difference here, of course, is that instead of an albatross, Lanser is doomed to continuously relive the nightmare he created for a ship full of innocent people.
            For me, what makes this a stellar episode is John Brahm.  Brahm was the most prolific director the Zone ever employed and also one of its finest.  Not as theatrically daring as Douglas Heyes, Brahm takes a much more subtle approach.  His best episodes have a dreamlike quality to them, such as “Shadowplay” and “Mirror Image.”  “Judgment Night” feels like a nightmare.  When I think of this episode the images that spring to my mind are ones where everything is painted a shade of black, an inevitable doom etched right into them. 
            My favorite part of this episode is right when the tension erupts into panic as Lanser races through halls of the empty ship calling out the names of the dead passengers.  Brahm takes away the music at this point so that every noise is amplified making the ship itself feels like a ghost.  And when he sees the passengers in the hallway just staring at him catatonically it always manages to creep me out.
While it may be somewhat predictable this remains a terrific episode and it comes recommended as one of the better parts of the first season.

Grade: B

Notes:
--"Judgment Night" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).  It was also adapted into a short story by Walter B. Gibson in his book Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (Grosset and Dunlap, 1963) which was a young adult collection that featured adaptations of several of Serling's scripts as well as original stories inspired by the series.

--Brian Durant