Thursday, December 29, 2011

"The Last Flight"

“The Last Flight”
Season One, Episode 18
Original air date:  February 5, 1960
Flight Lieutenant William Decker: Kenneth Haigh
Major Wilson: Simon Scott
Major General George Harper: Alexander Scourby
Air Vice-Marshall Alexander Mackaye: Robert Warwick

Writer: Richard Matheson (original teleplay)
Director: William Claxton
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
“This is the model of a Nieuport—fighter aircraft, vintage, World War One.  Next week it’s flown on a patrol over France in 1917 and its pilot discovers that time has passed him by.  Kenneth Haigh stars next week in Richard Matheson’s exciting story of ‘The Last Flight,’ on the Twilight Zone.  We hope you’ll join us.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Witness Flight Lieutenant William Terrance Decker, Royal Flying Corps, returning from a patrol somewhere over France.  The year is 1917.  The problem is the Lieutenant is hopelessly lost.  Lieutenant Decker will soon discover that a man can be lost not only in terms of and maps and miles, but also in time, and time in this case can be measured in eternities.”

            Flight Lieutenant William Decker of the Royal Flying Corps is on a routine patrol over France in 1917 when he gets lost and lands on an American SAC base.  Immediately upon landing he is met by American military officials who inquire into who he is and why he has landed on their airbase.  Decker notices that the base and all of its planes and equipment are far more advanced than anything he is accustomed to in Britain.  He is then taken inside for questioning.
            Once inside, Lieutenant Decker is escorted by Major Wilson to the office of Major General George Harper for briefing.  He begins to notice that everyone is eyeing him strangely.  In the General’s office Decker tells the two men that he is a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps and that he landed on their base because he was lost.  Major Wilson asks him what year it is and he says 1917.  The two Americans look suspiciously at one another and then inform him that it is not 1917 but 1959.  It’s clear to Decker that the men do not believe him and that he must look like a lunatic to them.  Decker mentions that the last thing he remembers is being on patrol with Captain Alexander Mackaye and then wandering into a mysterious cloud and getting lost.  The General informs him that Alexander Mackaye is now the Air Vice-Marshall for the Royal Air Force and is in fact on his way to their base for a routine inspection.  Decker tells them that that isn’t possible because Mackaye is dead.
            Later on Decker is being held in a room until Air Vice-Marshall Mackaye arrives.  Major Wilson enters and attempts to grill Decker for more information.  He asks Decker why he believes that Alexander Mackaye is dead.  Decker tells him that the last time he saw Mackaye they were being attacked by German pilots and that Decker ran from the fight and left Mackaye to die by himself.  But Wilson insists that it no longer matters because Mackaye survived the attack.  Decker knows that the reason Mackaye survived the attack is because someone must have saved him, but he realizes that the only person that could have done it is himself.  Somehow he needs to get back to his own time in order to save Mackaye’s life.  He decks Major Wilson across the face, races out of the room, manages to make it back to his plane and then takes off into the clouds, leaving 1959 behind him.
            Later, after Air Vice-Marshall Mackaye arrives at the base, he is greeted by Major General Harper and Major Wilson.  They ask him if he knows a man named William Decker.  Mackaye recounts the story of how they were on patrol one day when they were ambushed by a half dozen German planes.  He says that Decker disappeared into the clouds for a moment as if he were running from the fight, but then came back firing away at the German planes and took out several of them before they destroyed him.  He saved Mackaye’s life.   The General and Major Wilson share a glance between each other before they inform the Air Vice-Marshall that Lieutenant Decker, who died in 1917, left their airbase only hours ago.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Dialogue from a play, Hamlet to Haratio: ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’  Dialogue from a play written long before men took to the sky.  There are more things in Heaven and Earth, and in the sky, that perhaps can be dreamt of.  And somewhere in between Heaven, the sky, the Earth…lies the Twilight Zone.”

            “The Last Flight” marks the first non-Serling script to go into production, although Charles Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream” was the first to air.  As I mentioned before, by the time Matheson began writing for The Twilight Zone he had already established a significant place for himself in the world of popular fiction as a prose writer.  But Hollywood, especially television, was still a predominantly new field for him.  “The Last Flight” was, as far as I am aware, the second television script that Matheson wrote by himself, the first being the 1958 pilot episode for an anthology series called Now is Tomorrow that never aired.  Up until this point, he and Beaumont had collaborated on teleplays for various programs including Buckskin, Have Gun-Will Travel, and Wanted: Dead or Alive.  The two friends had known each other since the early 1950’s and had both recently decided to attempt a career in television after having tremendous success in the prose markets.  Since it was a new medium to both of them, and they knew very little of the intricacies of the television industry, they decided to collaborate on a number of projects.  They joined the Preminger-Stuart Agency in Los Angeles and began pitching ideas to producers on a regular basis.  This would eventually lead them to Buck Houghton and Rod Serling.  In early 1959, in addition to opening submissions to freelance writers, Serling and Houghton held a screening of “Where is Everybody?” for several writers that had already established names for themselves, and Beaumont and Matheson were among those in attendance.  Unlike the shows they had previously submitted scripts and stories to, which were all either westerns or police dramas (two genres that were in abundance in the 1950’s), The Twilight Zone was more suited to their abilities as fantasists.  Since speculative fiction was second nature to both of them they decided that they wouldn’t need to collaborate on their scripts for the show.  After selling Houghton and Serling his two short stories, “Disappearing Act” and “Third From the Sun,” Matheson was unofficially hired to write his own scripts.  At first he wanted to write only original material for the show but later on he would adapt several of his own stories.  Matheson says that he sold Serling and Houghton the idea for “The Last Flight” with one sentence: a British World War I pilot gets lost and lands on an American SAC base in 1959.  He had no storyline other than this simple premise but the idea was peculiar and vivid enough that they bought it immediately.  The thing that sets The Twilight Zone apart from many television shows of this time period is that it was a devoutly writer-friendly program.   Matheson recalls that in all of the fourteen scripts that he submitted to Rod Serling, no word was ever changed.  Serling had already seen many of own scripts rewritten for various reasons (usually to appease the unforgiving scrutiny of oppressive network officials or prudent advertisers) so he handled the scripts of others with the utmost devotion to authenticity (although it should be noted that the title of this episode was changed from “Flight” to “The Last Flight” for unknown reasons).  Everything in this episode was written by Matheson with the exception of the opening and closing narrations which were written by Serling, as was all of the narration from the first season.  I am not exactly sure when Matheson began writing his own narration but I know that for his first few scripts he wasn’t aware that Serling preferred for writers to write their own intro and outro.
            Matheson’s episodes, like much of his fiction, are defined not so much by his characters, but by his ideas.  And while “The Last Flight” isn’t the most original idea he would bring to this program (for the time travel paradox is in fact one of the oldest and most overused plot devices in the field of science fiction), Matheson adds enough mystery and detail to the story to make it interesting.  It was a smart move to set the episode entirely in the present.  When the audience first encounters Decker they know absolutely nothing about him, which makes his past as mysterious to them as it does to Major Wilson and Major General Harper.  Another nice twist that defies the usual time travel paradox is that Decker does not want to return to his own time because he is afraid of being killed by the German planes.  But at the same time he is afraid of remaining in the present because he doesn’t want to face Mackaye.  It is only once he realizes that as long as he remains in 1959, Mackaye will never arrive at the SAC base because he will not have survived the attack.  And he arrives at the understanding that he has the opportunity to become a hero instead of remaining a coward. What he may or may not realize, however, is that he will sacrifice his own life in the process. 
This episode is a great example of Matheson’s skill at being able to adapt easily to the format of The Twilight Zone, a format which, as Matheson has said many times, was one of the key features to the show’s success.  He grabs the audience’s attention at the very beginning (the vivid contrast of a single engine Nieuport airplane from 1917 landing next to an advanced, military jet aircraft from 1959), and holds their interest until the end of Act I where he leaves them with a cliffhanger (Decker saying that Mackaye is dead) and then reveals everything in Act II (Decker confessing his cowardice) and wraps up the story with a logical explanation of the events (Mackaye’s story of how Decker saved his life).  He also knew that time travel should remain purely fantasy and should not be given any kind of theoretical explanation.  This way the audience focuses more on the story than on the science and the writer can get away with more.
While “The Last Flight” isn’t one of Matheson’s more memorable episodes (for he scripted some of the finest episodes that this program has to offer), it remains an enjoyable story with a solid script and fine acting from all four of the major players. 

Grade: B

--This is the first of four episodes directed by William Claxton, who also directed the superb season two episode “The Jungle” and the season three episodes “The Little People” and “I Sing the Body Electric.” 
--"The Last Flight" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Charles Shaughnessy (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

--Brian Durant

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"The Fever"

Franklin Gibbs (Everett Sloan), stalked by the One Armed Bandit

“The Fever”
Season One, Episode 17
Original air date: January 29, 1960

Franklin Gibbs: Everett Sloan
Flora Gibbs: Vivi Janiss
Public Relations Man: William Kendis
Floor Manager: Lee Sands
Sherriff: Arthur Peterson
Drunk: Art Lewis
Cashier: Marc Towers

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Robert Florey
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Specie of machine known variously as slot machine or one-armed bandit.  And if you’ve ever played with one of these things for a while you’ve probably gotten a peculiar feeling that this is a machine with a mind and a will of its own.  This is precisely what happens when Everett Sloan contacts a fatal ailment we call ‘the Fever.’  You’ll be an eye-witness to it next week on The Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Gibbs, three days and two nights, all expenses paid, at a Las Vegas hotel, won by virtue of Mrs. Gibbs knack with a phrase.  But unbeknownst to either Mr. or Mrs. Gibbs is the fact that there’s a prize in their package neither expected nor bargained for.  In just a moment, one of them will succumb to an illness worse than any virus can produce.  A most inoperative, deadly, life-shattering affliction known as…the Fever.”

            Flora and Franklin Gibbs have won an all-expenses paid vacation to Las Vegas for three days and two nights at a lavish hotel casino.  Upon arriving Franklin reminds his wife of his adamant hatred and disgust for gambling and tells her that he refuses to participate in such a degrading sport.  After saying this, however, Franklin is given a silver dollar by a drunk who forces him to put into a slot machine.  He hits the jackpot and the machine pays off.
            Back in their hotel room that evening Franklin can’t sleep.  He fools himself into thinking that he needs to put the tainted money back into the one-armed bandit where it belongs and he hops out of bed and heads down to the casino, leaving his wife in the room.  Some time later Flora comes down to the casino to find her husband in the grips a fevered gambling binge.  He has apparently been at it for hours and has gained the attention of the staff, who eye him suspiciously.  Flora pleads with him to return to bed but he refuses to do so until the machine pays off.  Several hours later, Franklin puts his last dollar into the machine and—as if mocking him—it stops working.  Franklin becomes enraged and violently pushes the slot machine to the ground.  He is apprehended by security and escorted back to his room.
            Franklin awakens several hours later convinced that he hears the sound of the one arm bandit outside of the hotel room.  Flora tells him that there is nothing there but he is in such a state of paranoia that he sees an illusion of a slot machine racing toward him.  He panics and trips over backwards, falling out of the window to his death many stories below.  Afterwards the one-armed bandit appears at the scene of the crime and triumphantly returns Franklin’s silver dollar back to his lifeless corpse.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Franklin Gibbs, visitor to Las Vegas, who lost his money, his reason and finally his life to an inanimate metal machine variously described as a one armed bandit, a slot machine or, in Mr. Franklin Gibbs’s words, a monster with a will of its own.  Four our purposes we’ll stick with the later definition, because we’re in the Twilight Zone.”

            “The Fever” is Serling’s tongue in cheek stance on the debilitation of addiction.  Overall, this is not one of the more memorable episodes of the first season as comedy was not something that The Zone often did very successfully.  But it deserves a viewing or two.  This script’s greatest attribute is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It’s almost a mockery of itself.  Serling said that he got the idea while playing slot machines in Las Vegas when he suddenly realized that there was an urge in him to keep playing until the machine paid off.  I don’t think Serling wanted to comment on gambling in particular, but on how helpless an individual can feel when in the grips of compulsion.  But he knew that overt didacticism wasn’t the way to get his message across.  On the surface “The Fever” is a simple parable about the helplessness of addiction and how completely it can consume a person.  But twenty-five minutes is not enough time to rationally tackle a subject as immensely serious as this one, so Serling  cartoonishly exaggerates Franklin’s neurosis in an attempt to make his point with humor.   Franklin begins the episode as an archetypal curmudgeon who has a distaste not only for gambling but, so it seems, for any sort of unbridled revelry.  And within a matter of hours he is transformed into a shamelessly degenerate gambler, all because of one lucky win.  Finally, after he’s been torn away from the casino floor, his fixation with gambling is so intense that he begins hallucinating that a slot machine is chasing him around his Las Vegas hotel, calling his name.  This is Serling’s attempt to poke fun at his own moralistic viewpoint while articulating his message at the same time, and for the most part it’s effective.  There are several possible endings to this episode but Serling choose to keep the source of Franklin’s tension purely psychological which I think was a smart choice.  The final scene in which the one-armed bandit can now be seen from the audience’s viewpoint, not Franklin’s, is simply Serling’s attempt to lighten the tone and end the story on a humorous note.
            One thing I always notice about this episode is its interesting use of sound.  Director Robert Florey and sound engineers Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino designed a unique voice for the one-armed bandit by mixing an actor’s voice with the sound of falling coins.  The performances in this episode also deserve a nod.  Vivi Janiss is wonderful as the eternally loyal, tolerant wife and Everett Sloane is absolutely remarkable as the maniacal Franklin Gibbs.  Sloane was known primarily as a character actor and years before had been a member of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre, and was featured in many of Welles’s early films including Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai. Sloane was nominated for an Emmy for his flawless portrayal of ruthless corporate executive Walter Ramsey in Rod Serling’s Patterns which aired on Kraft Television Theatre in 1955.  He reprised the role for the film version in 1956.  “The Fever” is his only contribution to The Twilight Zone.

Grade: C
--The great Robert Florey also directed the season one episode “Perchance to Dream” and the season five episode “The Long Morrow.”
--Vivi Janiss also starred in the season two episode “The Man in the Bottle.”
--Serling adapted "The Fever" into a short story for his collection, Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1960).  It was also adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stacy Keach and Kathy Garver (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).
--Everett Sloan also starred in Rod Serling’s Noon on Doomsday which originally aired on The United States Steel Hour in 1956.  He also wrote the seldom heard lyrics to the theme from The Andy Griffith Show.  Reportedly depressed by the onset of blindness caused by glaucoma, the talented actor committed suicide in 1965.  He was fifty- five.

--Brian Durant

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Hitch-Hiker"

Inger Stevens and (in mirror) Leonard Strong as the Hitch-Hiker

"The Hitch-Hiker"
Season One, Episode 16
Original Air Date: January 22, 1960

Nan Adams: Inger Stevens
Hitch-Hiker: Leonard Strong
Sailor: Adam Williams
Gas Station Owner: George Mitchell
Mechanic: Lew Gallo
Counterman: Russ Bender
Highway Worker: Dwight Townsend

Writer: Rod Serling (based on the radio play by Lucille Fletcher)
Director: Alvin Ganzer
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
                "Next week we'll drive with Miss Inger Stevens, who starts out on what begins as a vacation and ends as a desperate flight. She begins her trip next week on The Twilight Zone. And you'll be with her when she meets . . . "The Hitch-Hiker." We hope you'll be alongside. Goodnight."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
                "Her name is Nan Adams. She's twenty-seven years old. Her occupation: buyer at a New York department store, at present on vacation, driving cross-country to Los Angeles, California, from Manhattan. Minor incident on Highway 11 in Pennsylvania, perhaps to be filed away under accidents you walk away from. But from this moment on, Nan Adam's companion on a trip to California will be terror, her route fear, her destination quite unknown."

                After her vehicle has suffered a blowout, Nan Adams is being assisted on the side of the highway by a mechanic from a nearby service station. After telling Nan that she's lucky to be alive after suffering a blowout at highway speeds, the mechanic fashions a spare onto her car and instructs her to follow him into town so that he can get a proper tire placed on her car. It is after climbing back into her car that Nan first sees the figure that will torment her for the remainder of her cross-country trip. He is a late middle-aged man, shabbily dressed, standing on the side of the road, motioning, as a hitch-hiker does, for a ride. Even at this first sight, it is clear that his presence somehow disturbs Nan.
                Once in town, the mechanic puts a new tire on Nan's car. While standing outside the gas station, Nan spies the shabby hitch-hiker in a mirror. He is standing on the shoulder of the highway behind her. She looks quickly away, unnerved by the sight of the man. The mechanic notices the change in Nan's behavior. When prompted, Nan tells the mechanic about the hitch-hiker. When the mechanic looks, he doesn't see a hitch-hiker. The man has inexplicably vanished. Nan manages to shrug this off and drives away from the gas station.
                Nan's panic about the hitch-hiker begins to reach a fever pitch as she continues on her trip. She begins to see him more and more often, always standing on the side of the road, holding his thumb out for a ride. Nan drives faster and faster, panicked by the fact that it is all but impossible for a hitch-hiker to stay ahead of her on the trip. The hitch-hiker is unassuming and never does anything outright threatening but Nan still feels fear at the sight of him. When she is stopped by a highway flag man at a portion of construction, the hitch-hiker appears at her back passenger window, asking if she is headed west. Nan is terrified. She cries out and hits the gas, swerving around the construction site, to the dismay of the flag man.
                Nan's next encounter with the hitch-hiker proves to be the most terrifying. Stopping at railroad tracks for a train to cross, Nan sees the hitch-hiker on the opposite side of the tracks. Once again feeling the pressure of panic rising within her, Nan decides to quickly cross the railroad tracks before the train arrives only to have her car stall halfway onto the tracks. With the train bearing down on her, Nan manages to get the car moving at the last second and backs off of the tracks to the safety of the roadway. It seems to have been the last straw and a terrible burden on Nan's increasingly fragile sanity. She believes the hitch-hiker beckoned her onto the railroad tracks in an attempt to kill her.
                Night falls and Nan attempts to lose the hitch-hiker by taking an out of the way path off the main highway. She runs out of gas on a back road. She runs down the road, frightened and jumping at every tree and shadow, until she reaches a gas station after closing hours. Nan pounds on the door in desperation, waking up the proprietor, a surly man that refuses to provide Nan with the gas she needs until regular hours the following morning. She tries to tell the gas station owner about the hitch-hiker but is unable to say in what way the hitch-hiker is actually harming her. From out of the darkness comes a hand on Nan's shoulder. She turns around, terrified, sure that it will be the hitch-hiker only to find a young sailor on leave. He has been hitching his way back to San Diego to meet with his shipmates. The sailor manages to get some gas for Nan's car and is eager to hitch a ride with her when Nan tells him that she will drive him all the way to San Diego. Once in the car with Nan, however, the sailor quickly changes his mind.
                Nan begins to see the hitch-hiker on the side of the road and this time she is determined to kill the man. She swerves dangerously onto the shoulder twice in an attempt to kill the hitch-hiker. The sailor, now terrified himself, manages to stop the car and tells Nan that there isn't any hitch-hiker on the road, that there wasn't anything there at all. The sailor decides it's safer to hitch his way than to stay in the car with Nan and, despite her frantic pleading, he takes off in the opposite direction, leaving Nan alone once again.
                In a final act of desperation, Nan stops and decides to use a payphone to call her mother in an attempt to hear the comfort of a familiar voice. The call, however, is answered by someone Nan doesn't know, a Mrs. Whitney. This woman informs her that Mrs. Adams, Nan's mother, has suffered a nervous breakdown, brought on by the sudden death of her daughter, Nan, when Nan's car suffered a blowout days before on a Pennsylvania highway.      
                Suddenly, Nan understands everything, the panic, the detachment, the road trip that seems to never end. She drops the phone and returns to her car, where she sees the hitch-hiker sitting in the back seat. Nan knows now that she will go with him when he says, "I believe you're going my way?"

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
                "Nan Adams, age twenty-seven. She was driving to California, to Los Angeles. She didn't make it. There was a detour. . . through the Twilight Zone."

                 The idea of a hitch-hiking ghost has long been a well-known urban legend of American folklore as well as a story treatment in several works of popular entertainment. This episode is an excellent stand-out chiller in what is altogether an uneven first season, as the show was still trying to find its niche. It is one of the show's earliest attempts at outright terror and would form a template for Rod Serling to create a number of other episodes involving a single woman menaced by a supernatural device, such as "The After Hours," "Mirror Image," and "Nightmare as a Child," all from the first season.
              As it moves settings from bright sunshine to dark and lonely night, "The Hitch-Hiker" manages to create a high level of tension very much in the style of classic radio and film thrillers of the 1930s and 1940s. The cast and crew are superb. Inger Stevens provides a credible and sympathetic performance as the emotionally-unravelling Nan Adams. Leonard Strong plays the Hitch-Hiker in a very subdued manner and manages to be quite menacing without actually doing much of anything except showing up very suddenly in some well designed appearances by director Alvin Ganzer. The use of mirror, be it a rear-view mirror or the mirror in a makeup kit, would become the primary symbolic device for the series and is put to excellent and effective use in this episode.
               Rod Serling was already displaying, this early on, his skill in the adaptation of another's work.  His major innovation in adapting Lucille Fletcher's radio play to television was to change the main character from a male to a female, thus perhaps pulling harder at the sympathies of the audience. It is, however, Fletcher's original radio play that truly deserves the credit for story excellence.
                Fletcher (March 28, 1912-August 31, 2000) was most famous for writing the 30-minute radio play "Sorry, Wrong Number," which was originally produced for Suspense and broadcast on May 25, 1943, starring Agnes Moorehead (later the star of the second season Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders"). The radio play was later adapted by Fletcher into the notable 1948 film noir from Paramount starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. Three years earlier, in 1941, she wrote "The Hitch-Hiker" as a vehicle for Orson Welles. 
               There has been much confusion over the years as to the air-dates and venues of the original radio play. Author Martin Grams dispels the errors of earlier authors and sets it straight in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008). As Grams recounts, Orson Welles starred as the protagonist Ronald Adams in all three incarnations of the original radio play, first for Suspense on September 2, 1942. Welles did a repeat performance on October 15, 1942 for Philip Morris Playhouse. The final performance, which many writers have erroneously credited as the first performance, was for The Mercury Summer Theater on the Air on June 21, 1946.
                The radio play was scored by Fletcher's then-husband Bernard Herrmann, a frequent contributor to The Twilight Zone and the composer of the first season's main title theme music. Despite no music credits on The Twilight Zone episode of "The Hitch-Hiker," Herrmann's music from the 1946 broadcast of the radio play was used liberally.  According to Fletcher, as documented in author Marc Scott Zicree's The Twilight Zone Companion (1982, 2nd ed. 1989), the idea for the story occurred to her while driving cross-country with Herrmann and twice seeing an odd-looking hitch-hiker in two different locations. "The Hitch-Hiker" was the only episode of The Twilight Zone to be adapted from a radio play. 
                The effectiveness of the episode is the result of many small nuances placed into the story by director Alvin Ganzer and also in what Rod Serling transposed and transfigured from Fletcher's radio play. The first thing that struck me was the attempt by Serling to incorporate the standards of a radio play into the television film, most notably with the heavy, ongoing use of the lead character's voice-over narration. I can think of one other time when Serling prominently used this device in the first season, episode number 21, "Mirror Image." This later episode is very similar to "The Hitch-Hiker" and involves a woman, played by Vera Miles, being tormented in a bus station waiting area by her doppelganger. The similarity between these two episodes is profound and it is more than evident that Serling borrowed heavily from Fletcher's example when shaping the teleplay for "Mirror Image." A more thorough comparison of the two episodes will be revealed in the commentary entry for "Mirror Image." Serling's script for "The Hitch-Hiker" also injects some morbid humor into the play by dropping some not-so-subtle clues as to the true nature of Nan's plight.  The conversation between Nan and the mechanic at the beginning of the episode features remarks that Nan "should have called for a hearse" instead of a mechanic, and that the new tire for Nan's car is "cheaper than a funeral."
                It is interesting to note, as stated before, that there have been several stories told that greatly resemble the basic plot elements of "The Hitch-Hiker," beginning with an urban legend that is usually told in the form of a man that picks up a female hitch-hiker who is actually a ghost. The man discovers this grisly truth some time after their encounter when he attempts to return a belonging that the ghost left behind in his vehicle. Of the several film and television plays with strikingly similar elements, perhaps the most notable is director Herk Harvey's 1962 cult classic film Carnival of Souls. The film stars Candace Hilligoss as a young woman who seemingly survives a drag-racing accident only to soon afterwards find herself feeling emotionally void and detached from those around her. More disturbing is that she is thereafter perpetually terrorized by a dark-eyed, pale-faced figure (played by director Harvey). At the film's conclusion, the young woman discovers that she is actually a ghost when she joins in with a group of spectral figures for a dance of death at an abandoned seaside carnival. The film is certainly an effectively moody chiller and sure to please any fan of The Twilight Zone in general and especially those viewers that greatly enjoy "The Hitch-Hiker."

Grade: A

- Alfred Hitchcock attempted to purchase the rights to "The Hitch-Hiker" from Lucille Fletcher previous to its appearance as an episode of The Twilight Zone but Fletcher turned down the $2,000 offered. $2,000 happens to be the price for which the story was later purchased for The Twilight Zone.
- According to a press release on the week of the episode's original airing, Rod Serling completed the adaptation of the radio play into television script form in just six hours. 
- Rod Serling named the lead character, Nan, after his daughter Anne. Nan was her family nickname.
- "The Hitch-Hiker" was remade as the 1997 short film "End of the Road" starring Nora Rickert as a college student terrorized by a menacing hitch-hiker played by Matthew Sutton.
-Director Alvin Ganzer also directed the first season episodes "What You Need," "Nightmare As a Child," and early sequences of the disastrous "The Mighty Casey."
-Actress Inger Stevens also starred in the second season episode "The Lateness of the Hour." The talented actress died at 35 years of age on April 30, 1970 from acute barbiturate poisoning.
-Listen to the original radio play, "The Hitch-Hiker," and other classic Suspense radio plays by clicking here: The Old Time Radio Network

--Jordan Prejean

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"I Shot An Arrow Into the Air"

“I Shot An Arrow Into the Air”
Season One, Episode 15
Original air date: January 15, 1960

Corey: Dewey Martin
Col. Bob Donlin: Edward Binns
Pierson: Ted Otis
Langford: Harry Bartell
Brandt: Leslie Barrett

Writer: Rod Serling (teleplay based on a story outline by Madelon Champion)
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
“There’s a Longfellow poem, ‘I shot an arrow into the air.  It fell to the Earth I know not where.’  In our story next week, we shot a spaceship into the air and where it fell only you and I will know.  Starring will be Mr. Dewey Martin and Mr. Edward Binns.  Next week we promise you a most exciting journey into space.  Don’t miss the takeoff.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Her name is the Arrow One.  She represents four and a half years of planning, preparation and training, and a thousand years of science and mathematics and the projected dreams and hopes of not only a nation but a world.  She is the first manned aircraft into space.  And this is the countdown, the last five seconds before man shot an arrow into the sky.”

            The Arrow One, a revolutionary spacecraft, has crashed on what appears to be an asteroid whose surface is a lifeless, desert wasteland.  Most of the ship’s crew is dead except for Colonel Donlin, two flight officers, Corey and Pierson, and a fourth man who is critically wounded.  Stranded on this asteroid with a very limited supply of water—one canteen per man—emotions begin to surface quickly between the men.  It becomes quite clear that Officer Corey cares very little for the wounded man or even for Pierson and Donlin and wants all of the water for himself.  He is openly disobedient towards Donlin and criticizes the Colonel for wasting water by giving it to the wounded man, who will almost certainly die.  Donlin tells Corey that as long the man is alive he’ll get water just like everyone else.  Later in the day, Corey is proven correct and the man dies.  Donlin suggest that the three remaining men split up and search the asteroid.
            Later in the evening Donlin is back at base camp when Corey returns, without Pierson.  Donlin questions Corey as to why he returned alone when he and Pierson were supposed to be searching together.  Corey claims that he and Pierson split up and went in different directions.  But Donlin suspects foul play because he notices that Corey’s water canteen is nearly full even though he has been walking through the desert all day.  He fears that Corey may have murdered the other flight officer.  Holding him at gunpoint, Donlin demands that Corey show him where Pierson’s body is.  They walk for hours and eventually stumble upon Pierson who is critically wounded and taking his last breaths as they reach him.  Unable to speak, he draws a picture in the dirt and points in the direction of the mountains nearby, but his message is unclear.  While Donlin is attending to Pierson, Corey manages to steal his gun.  He shoots the Colonel dead and takes his water.

Rod Serling’s Middle Narration:
“Now you make your tracks Mr. Corey.  You move out and up like some kind of ghostly billy club tapping at your ankles and telling you that it was later than you think.  You scramble up rock hills and feel hot sand underneath your feet and every now and then, take a look over your shoulder at a giant sun suspended in a dead and motionless sky…like an unblinking eye that probes at the back of your head in a prolonged accusation.  Make tracks, Mr. Corey.  Push up and push out.  Because if you stop…if you stop, maybe sanity will get you by the throat.  Maybe realization will pry open your mind and the horror you left down in the sand will seep in.  Yeah, Mr. Corey, yeah, you better keep moving.  That’s the order of the moment.  Keep moving.”

After crawling for hours over the unforgiving stretch of mountains Corey finally reaches the top and is flabbergasted at what he sees on the other side.  In the distance he sees a paved road and telephone poles and a sign that reads Reno, Nevada 97 miles.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Practical joke perpetrated by Mother Nature and a combination of improbable events.  Practical joke wearing the trappings of nightmare, of terror, of desperation.  Small human drama played out in a desert ninety-seven miles from Reno, Nevada, USA, continent of North America, the Earth, and of course…the Twilight Zone.”

              “I Shot An Arrow Into the Air” is Rod Serling’s interpretation of an idea given to him by Madeline Champion.  Champion was a friend of Carol Serling’s and was not a professional writer.  It’s not my intention to start this commentary off on a sour note but I have to admit that I feel that this episode is one of the few sore spots of the first season, although I have seen it appear on several top ten lists over the years and the Internet Movie Database gives it a 7.8 fan rating so maybe I am alone in this opinion.  It feels as if Serling wrote this episode too quickly, and chances are that he did write it rather swiftly given his pressure to keep churning out scripts to fulfill his contractual agreement of scripting 80% of the first season.  It’s little more than an idea with a story draped loosely around it and while the payoff at the end is effective dramatically, it seems very unlikely that these three highly trained astronauts would not know that they have landed on Earth.  This episode also seems like an odd follow-up to “Third From the Sun” considering that the twist is so similar.  The most notable thing about this episode is that it can be considered a precursor to Planet of the Apes (1968) for which Serling wrote the initial screenplay including the twist at the end which is considered one the most iconic moments in the history of American cinema.  The surprise denouement is, of course, taken from this episode, but the reason it works in the film is the fact that millenia have passed since these men left and Earth has almost certainly undergone a complete physical change (hence the talking monkeys).
            As far as the performances stand I think Edward Binns delivers a fairly convincing performance as Colonel Donlin but Dewey Martin hams it up a little too much and I find his character distracting.  I will say that the setup to this episode is a solid one and is interesting enough to grab my attention and make me wonder what is in store for these three gentlemen.  Unfortunately, the predictability of its ending renders this episode from being a memorable one.  Again, these are only my thoughts and, as always, I would encourage anyone curious about this episode to watch it and form their own opinion.

Grade: D

--Edward Binns also stars in the season five episode “The Long Morrow.”
--As he mentions in the trailer Serling took the title of this episode from Longfellow’s poem “The Arrow and the Song.”
--Stuart Rosenberg also directed the season four episodes “Mute” and “He’s Alive” as well as many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables and Naked City, before embarking on a highly distinguished film career.  Cool Hand Luke, The Amityville Horror and The Drowning Pool are just a few of his credits. 
--"I Shot An Arrow Into the Air" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

--Brian Durant