Monday, February 13, 2012

"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"

Maple Street, in the hour before the monsters came.
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"
Season One, Episode 22
Original Air Date: March 4, 1960

Steve Brand: Claude Akins
Charlie Farnsworth: Jack Weston
Tommy: Jan Handzlik
Les Goodman: Barry Atwater
Don Martin: Burt Metcalfe
Woman: Amzie Strickland
Mrs. Farnsworth: Lyn Guild
Myra Brand: Anne Barton
Man: Jason Johnson
Sally, Tommy’s Mother: Mary Gregory
Pete Van Horn: Ben Erway
Old Woman: Joan Sudlow
Street Vendor: Robert McCord
Space Alien #1: Sheldon Allman
Space Alien #2: William Walsh

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Ronald Winston
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Rudy Butler and Henry Grace
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Rene Garriguene

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week on Twilight Zone, we put you on a front porch—summer evening, tree-lined street, typical small town.  And then we pull the rug out from under your feet and we throw a nightmare at you.  Claude Akins, Jack Weston and Barry Atwater are you neighbors just at that moment when ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.  Don’t chicken out.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
Maple Street, USA, late summer.  A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbeques, the laughter of children and the bell of an ice-cream vendor.  At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely six forty-three PM…
           “This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon.  Maple Street—in the last calm and reflective moments before the monsters came.”

On a quiet, peaceful Saturday afternoon, the residents of Maple Street are going about their usual routine when an unidentified object streaks across the sky.  Assuming it to be a meteor, they continue on about their business. 
Moments later, some of the residents begin to notice that none of their appliances seem to be working.  The phone lines are out, cars won’t start and the entire neighborhood seems to be without electricity of any kind.  All of the residents come out of their houses and huddle together to see if they can get to the bottom of the mystery.  They decide that they need to see if it’s like this everywhere.  Pete Van Horn tells everyone that he is going over to the next street to see if they are having the same problem. He sets out on foot and no one sees him again for several hours.  Steve Brand and Charlie Farnsworth decide to walk into town together to see if they can get some answers.  As they are leaving they’re stopped by Tommy, a young boy who lives in the neighborhood, and he tells them that the object they saw in the sky was an alien spacecraft, and he thinks the aliens don’t want them to leave Maple Street.  They ask him why he thinks this and he says that its just like a science fiction story he read where aliens came to Earth in a spaceship to take over the planet.  They cut off all of the electricity, phones and automobiles so no one could go anywhere.  A few months before they arrived they sent down scouts that looked just like humans and they lived amongst humans so they could understand what humans were like.  Steve laughs playfully at the naïve teenager and his obviously make-believe story but an uncomfortable mumble rumbles across the crowd of onlookers. 
Just then the crowd hears a car engine being cranked.  They walk over to Les Goodman’s house where he is trying to start his car to no avail.  Les steps out of the car and walks away from it.  The car immediately starts on its own.  The crowd becomes suspicious of Les and, under the leadership of Charlie, accuses him of being “different” from everyone else on Maple Street.  One of his neighbors claims that she sometimes catches him in his driveway late at night, just looking up at the stars, as if he is waiting for something or someone.  They suggest that maybe Les Goodman isn’t who he claims to be (in other words, he’s the alien).  Les tries to defend himself as does Steve Brand who soon becomes Maple Street’s rational voice of reason.  Ultimately, this serves no purpose and the crowd grows increasingly more suspicious.
         Several hours later.  It’s dark now on Maple Street.  Still no power.  Les Goodman’s neighbors have stationed themselves outside of his house, hoping he will eventually give himself away as the alien so they can prove themselves right.  Steve Brand is still trying to reason with Charlie Farnsworth and the rest of the crowd.  Charlie gets fed up with this and then turns an accusatory eye at Steve, claiming that Steve’s wife has mentioned offhandedly of some sort of radio that Steve is secretly building in his basement.  What does this radio do? Charlie asks.  Steve defends himself and attempts to point out that the entire neighborhood is beginning to turn on each other and that sooner or later someone is going to suffer because of it.
Just then someone in the crowd notices a figure approaching from a distance.  No one is quite able to determine who it is but it is decided amongst Charlie and several others that it must be the alien monster.  Out of nowhere a shotgun appears from the crowd.  Charlie grabs the gun and shoots the approaching figure; it drops dead in the street.  The crowd rushes over to the figure and discovers Pete Van Horn lying dead before them.  Now it’s Charlie who has to defend himself against accusations from Steve that he just murdered an innocent man.  Instead of admitting his guilt he tells his neighbors that the real monster must be Tommy because he was the one who knew what was going to happen.  Then the lights in several of the homes begin to blink at random.  The entire neighborhood begins accusing each other which leads to them barbarically attacking one another in the street.  Bricks are thrown, shots are fired and lives are shattered.   The sound of fear rings out up and down Maple Street, USA.
On a hilltop not far away, two beings from another world are watching the terrifying events on Maple Street unfold.  They are the apparent source behind the confusion in the neighborhood.  They are on a mission to colonize Earth by letting man destroy one another.  To do this, one of them suggests, all they must do is take away man’s comfort zone and throw in an element of fear and man will simply seek out his greatest enemy: himself.  They climb back into their spaceship and fly away, presumably to their next destination.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout.  There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices—to be found only in the minds of men.  For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy.  And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children and the children yet unborn.  And the pity of it is…that these things cannot be confined…to The Twilight Zone.”


"When the sun came up on the following morning Maple Street was silent. Most of the houses had been burned. There were a few bodies lying on sidewalks and draped over porch railings. But the silence was total."
    -"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," Stories from the Twilight Zone 

            In numerous interviews, Rod Serling stated that the reason he wanted to make The Twilight Zone is because with science fiction and fantasy he could get away with robots and Martians saying things that people could not. There is likely not another episode of the program that better embodies this mission than “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”  A swift, solid script from beginning to end, this thinly veiled analysis of McCarthyism and the communist witch-hunts of the 1950’s became an immediate fan favorite and has undergone many adaptations since its original broadcast in 1960. 
In “Monsters” Serling touched upon several themes that would be used again in later episodes, most notably the senseless, angry mob as a representation of the ignorance and prejudice that hides within everyman. The transformation of an essentially conventional person or group of people into barbaric examples of human beings is a theme that Serling had already explored in some of his dramatic work during the 1950’s and one he would reuse in several episodes of The Twilight Zone, including Season Three’s “The Gift,” in which a benevolent alien being disguised as human comes to a small Mexican village bearing a gift to mankind.  The frightened villagers, now a senseless angry mob, mistake the gift as a weapon and decide to kill their visitor and destroy his present.  The gift, it is discovered afterwards, is actually a cure for cancer.  In “The Shelter,” another Season Three episode, Serling produces a plot that is similar in many ways to “Monsters.” "The Shelter" tells a story in which a family is forced to seek protection in their homemade fallout shelter after the announcement that a nuclear attack is imminent. Their neighbors, none of whom have a fallout shelter, demand to be let inside. But there are only enough supplies for one family. Eventually the neighbors devolve into a senseless angry mob. They begin beating on the door of the shelter with a battering ram just before it is revealed that the previous threat of nuclear annihilation was a false alarm. This misanthropic view of humanity stands in sharp contrast to Serling's lighter material which possesses an almost childlike sentimentality.  Serling seemed to care about the heroes in his stories and didn’t pass judgment on them no matter how flawed they were. Even with his more archetypal protagonists there is always an underlying thread of compassion woven into the story. Clearly, there was a part of Serling that cared deeply for humanity, and it is this concern for the common individual that makes his work remarkable.  But there was also a darker side.  Judging from his writing, it would appear that as he got older he grew increasingly bitter about the world and was constantly trying to reconcile these two parts of his personality.  In “Monsters,” these diverging views of humanity are represented by the rational Steve Brand, who is trying to hold the neighborhood together, and the loudly paranoid Charlie Farnsworth, who succeeds in inciting suspicion and violence among his neighbors.  Steve Brand can be viewed as a thinly veiled representation of Serling and his voice is Serling’s voice. He is the liberal-minded part of Serling that wants to see the best in his neighbors, while Charlie is the downfall that society ultimately succumbs to.  It seems apparent that Serling longed for the Norman Rockwell America of episodes like “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby,” but at the same time he saw through that world and instead sought to expose its weaknesses. 
The other prevailing theme in this episode is its not-so-subtle allusion to the McCarthy era of the 1950’s (or at least the ultra-conservative nature of the era, so different from the rosy images portrayed in the cultural images of the time), which even by 1960 was still a dangerous subject to tackle directly.  Eight years earlier Arthur Miller set the political and literary worlds on fire with his masterful stage drama The Crucible (which earned him both a Tony Award and a subpoena to appear in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee).  While The Crucible was almost certainly an influence on “Monsters,” as Serling acknowledged many times that he was an admirer of Miller, Serling had been an outspoken critic of McCarthyism for many years and had even criticized several national news organizations for supporting the senator. While Miller took a more direct approach to the allusion, with fantasy Serling was free to script it more like a story reminiscent of John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story “Who Goes There?” in which scientist discover a shape-shifting alien which challenges their perception of each other. The theme of that story was resonant enough to inspire at least three feature films. Viewers would see this type of theme again in Season Two’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” though passed through a humorous filter.
Jack Weston and Claude Akins

Although Serling’s script is a solid one, the thing that makes “Monsters” such a memorable episode is the amazing performances from its ensemble cast, particularly in the two leading roles played by Jack Weston (as Charlie Farnsworth) and Claude Akins (as Steve Brand). Weston was already a recognizable fixture in television by 1960 and had featured in many of the live studio dramas of the 1950’s as well as episodes of The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Have Gun-Will Travel.  He also had a regular role on a children’s science fiction show called Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers from 1953 to 1954 with fellow Twilight Zone alumni Cliff Robertson. In later years he would have a successful film career with roles in The Cincinnati Kid, Wait Until Dark, and The Thomas Crown Affair. A versatile character actor, he was known for playing both villains and lighthearted characters, as is evidenced in his portrayal here as the volatile Charlie Farnsworth and in his hilarious performance as the clueless writer Julius Moomer in Season Four’s “The Bard.” Claude Akins was also a widely recognized actor at the time having racked up appearances in such landmark films as Rio Bravo, The Defiant Ones, and Inherit the Wind. Given his tall, broad shouldered stature and his gentle southern accent, he was often cast in westerns as the rational voice of reason, much like his role in “Monsters” and in his other Twilight Zone appearance, Season Three’s “The Little People;” but he was also known for playing rougher characters like the ruthless General Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.  Casting was definitely a key feature in this episode and the reason the characters work so well is because of the excellent chemistry the actors share on screen. Their personalities seem to either mesh or clash perfectly with one another, which is what makes Maple Street seem like an authentic portrait of small town life. This episode also owes a great deal to its direction from Ron Winston.  This is the first of three episodes that Winston would direct. To capture the mob mentality of these characters there are many wide shots of the group who are always huddled close to one another despite the fact that there is a long, empty street surrounding them.  There is one shot in particular where Winston shoots only the legs of the actors, showing the crowd moving together as one unit, one organism, furthering the symbolism of the "hive mind" mentality which drives the mob to violence.
As one of the seminal episodes of The Twilight Zone, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” has seen numerous adaptations over the years including a prose version written by Serling for his 1960 book Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam), a radio drama starring Frank John Hughes, two comic book adaptation, and an effective reimagining for the second Twilight Zone revival series which aired on UPN in 2003. An interesting aspect of Rod Serling's adaptation of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" for Stories from the Twilight Zone is that the author inserts a coda that was not filmed for the finished episode. In it, Serling succinctly demonstrates the alien menace applying their unique method of destruction on a global scale. In the prose story, Serling writes, "When the sun came up on the following morning Maple Street was silent. Most of the houses had been burned. There were a few bodies lying on sidewalks and draped over porch railings. But the silence was total. There simply was no more life. At four o'clock that afternoon there was no more world, or at least not the kind of world that had greeted that morning. And by Wednesday of the following week, a new set of residents had moved into Maple Street." (from Stories from the Twilight Zone, Bantam, 1960). 
      The UPN adaptation, entitled "The Monsters Are On Maple Street" was a modern day remake set at the start of the war in Iraq. It stars Andrew McCarthy in the lead role as the Steve Brand-type character. The general scenario is still the same only now instead of aliens it's terrorists that the residents of Maple Street fear. Also thrown into the mix is the recent arrival of a peculiar new neighbor that none of the residents of Maple Street have yet seen. So, when the power goes out, instead of turning on each other as they do in Serling’s original script, the neighbors focus all of their paranoia on the mysterious new house at the end of the block. By the end of the episode the residents march to the house brandishing torches and bricks and loaded revolvers and proceed to set the house on fire with the homeowners supposedly still inside. It’s revealed, of course, that the cause of their paranoia isn’t terrorists at all but is in fact the United States military conducting an experiment on the possible behavior of Americans if put under the threat of a terrorist attack. While the premise is believable and the twist effective, the rest of the script falls short of Serling’s original and the cast members, with the exception of McCarthy who turns in a memorable performance, aren't as engaging as the original performers and tend to be little more than stock characters.
            Of the 156 episodes of this program, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" is probably one of the most valuable to the show's cultural identity. There is a quality to this episode that resonates with people. And while the McCarthy era is long gone, its basic threat is one people still seem adamantly concerned with. If there is a flaw in the episode, it is that the paranoia begins a little too early and works itself into a frenzy rather quickly. The half-hour format was one of the most important factors in the show's success but it would have been interesting to see this story fleshed out into one of the hour-long episodes. Again, this is only a minor complaint and does not lessen the effectiveness of this episode which, thankfully, has become a classic of American television.

Grade: A

--Notable adaptations of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
            --1960; adapted into short story form by Rod Serling in his collection, Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1960).
--2002; adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Frank John Hughes (Falcon Picture Group).
--2003; adapted into an episode of the UPN revival series of The Twilight Zone by Erin Maher entitled "The Monster Are On Maple Street" starring Andrew McCarthy and Titus Welliver.
--2009; adapted into graphic novel form by Mark Kneece with art by Rich Ellis as part of a series developed by the Savannah College of Arts and Design entitled Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (Walker Publishing Company).
-The alien uniforms and spaceship are borrowed from Forbidden Planet (1956).  So far, this is the third episode which features props or footage leftover from the MGM blockbuster and it certainly would not be the last. The last shot of the episode which shows the spaceship in flight is actually a scene from Forbidden Planet.  This same exact scene is at the end of “Third From the Sun.”
--Claude Akins also appears in Season Three’s “The Little People.”
--Jack Weston also appears in Season Four’s “The Bard.”
--Barry Atwater appeared in both the pilot movie of Rod Serling's Night Gallery as well as in the episode "Doll of Death" from the Night Gallery series.
--Amzie Strickland also appeared in the first Twilight Zone revival series episode "But Can She Type?"
--Mary Gregory also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Different Ones."
--Ron Winston also directed Season One’s “The Big Tall Wish” and Season Five’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town.”
--"The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" 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. 

--Brian Durant and Jordan Prejean

1 comment:

  1. Just a short note on this quoted bit:
    "And while the McCarthy era is long gone, its basic threat is one people still seem adamantly concerned with."

    While Serling was an admirer of Miller's work (and it can also be said of John W. Campbell's and Richard Matheson's works) the reason that people are still adamantly concerned with the threat, is that it was not a threat inimical to the McCarthyism era. You may not have been paying proper attention to the play or managed to forget the subject that The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street highlights. Fear. Sheer unreasoning fear of that which is different. That which is not us. That which lives inside each and every one of us. Fear. Fear leads to Anger and Anger leads to Hate and Hate leads to Suffering as we are reminded by a certain short of stature but long on patience wizened green skinned pointy eared Jedi. The Monsters are ourselves. Fear drives that monster, and it was not a new thing under McCarthyism. That fear has been with us since Cain picked up a rock and slew his brother Able. Serling (and it may be also said Miller) showed that to us monsters on all of our maple streets.