Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The Chaser"

Patricia Barry as Leila and George Grizzard as lovesick Roger Shackleforth
"The Chaser"
Season One, Episode 31
Original Air Date: May 13, 1960

Cast:
Roger Shackleforth: George Grizzard
Leila: Patricia Barry
Professor A. Daemon: John McIntire
Homburg: J. Pat O'Malley

Crew:
Writer: Robert Presnell, Jr. (Based on "The Chaser" by John Collier)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Set Design: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
"In this library, a certain professor sells things. Ointments, salves, powders, sovereign remedies, nectars, concoctions, decoctions, and potions, all guaranteed. Next week he'll sell one to a lover boy so that he can slip an affectionate mickey into the champagne of his lady love. It sets up a most bizarre and very unexpected chain of events. On The Twilight Zone next week, 'The Chaser.'

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Mr. Roger Shackleforth. Age: youthful twenties. Occupation: being in love. Not just in love but madly, passionately, illogically, miserably, all-consumingly in love, with a young woman named Leila who has a vague recollection of his face and even less than a passing interest. In a moment you'll see a switch, because Mr. Roger Shackleforth, the young gentleman so much in love, will take a short but meaningful journey into The Twilight Zone."

Summary:
            Roger Shackleforth is madly in love with a beautiful woman named Leila, a woman that wants nothing to do with him whatsoever. Roger spends most of his time swooning and attempting to see Leila. When he holds up a line at a public telephone attempting over and over again to successfully get Leila to pick up the phone on the other end, a man waiting to use the phone for an emergency forces Roger out of the booth. The man says that he understands Roger's dilemma perfectly and then gives Roger a business card. The man tells Roger that the namesake belonging to the business card can solve Roger's problem. Though not believing his problem can be solved so easily, Roger heads over to the address on the business card.
George Grizzard and John McIntire
            What Roger finds is a house with a front door that opens itself to visitors and reveals a large entryway leading to an even larger room crammed floor to ceiling with endlessly high shelves crammed to the brim with books and other assorted items. Here Roger finds a grumpy, older man named Professor A. Daemon. The professor's abode is an apothecary where he offers all sorts of potions and elixirs designed for different purposes. He initially attempts to sell Roger glove cleaner, for $1,000, a liquid with no odor, no taste, and no trace, guaranteed to work. Roger, who still doesn't know why he even bothered to come here and doesn't yet understand how the professor can help him, turns down the sale of the glove cleaner and turns to leave. The professor manages to get Roger to admit his own dilemma and, to the professor's great disappointment, it is a simple need for a love potion, what the professor calls "the simple parlor trick" of his profession. The love potion will only cost Roger $1. Though he doesn't believe for an instant that it'll work, Roger is willing to try anything for Leila's love and buys the potion.
            Roger shows up unannounced at Leila's apartment with two glasses and a bottle of champagne. He begs his way into her apartment with the promise to leave her alone if she will just have one drink with him. Leila reluctantly agrees. While Leila is in the other room getting dressed, Roger pulls from his pocket the small bottle of love potion and empties it into Leila's glass of champagne. Leila returns and quickly empties her glass of champagne in order to get Roger out of her place and Roger watches eagerly to see if the potion will work. At first, it appears that it won't work at all as Leila's feelings toward Roger show no transformation. Then, after she reluctantly agrees to give him one last, small kiss to remember her by, she stops Roger at the front door, obviously feeling a change come over her. Then the change comes on full blast and she leaps into Roger's arms.
            Flash forward through six months of marriage and Roger is miserable. The love potion worked only too well and Leila's affections are suffocating Roger. She dotes upon him every waking second, an annoyance which becomes insufferable. Roger reaches the breaking point and manages to pry himself away from Leila's clutching hands to return to Professor Daemon's apothecary. The professor tells Roger that he's been expecting the young man to return and again offers him the "glove cleaner," reiterating that there's no odor, no taste, and no trace, guaranteed to work. Only one thousand dollars. Roger at first plays like the love potion has worked perfectly and his marriage to Leila is a dream come true. But it's obviously a sham and the professor has seen it a thousand times or more. They always come back some time later and want a solution to the problem caused by the love potion. Roger finally breaks down and admits the problem. The solution only cost a thousand dollars and it so happens that Roger already has a check made out in his coat pocket. The professor gives Roger the glove cleaner, snatches the check from his hand, and sends the young man away on his grim errand with only this advice: give Leila the glove cleaner immediately because if he doesn't do it right away, Roger will never have the courage to do it later.
            Roger returns to Leila with two glasses and a bottle of champagne, a mirror situation to when he first applied the love potion. This time, however, he will give Leila a dose of death in the form of a tasteless, odorless, traceless liquid. Roger manages to get Leila out of the room for long enough to dump the deadly liquid into her champagne. When Leila returns, however, she tells Roger that she has great news for him. She then holds up a tiny knitted sock, signifying the coming of a child and Roger, holding both glasses of champagne, drops the glasses, spoiling the chance to administer the "glove cleaner." Roger, in a state of shock, mumbles that he couldn't have done it anyway. Outside, the professor lounges in a patio chair, smoking a cigar. When he blows a puff of smoke, it is in the shape of a heart.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Mr. Roger Shackleforth, who has discovered at this late date that love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a six-alarm fire in a bamboo and canvas tent. Case history of a lover boy who should never have entered The Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
                Though simple in concept and execution, "The Chaser" works as an episode whereas so many other comedic attempts from The Twilight Zone do not greatly because of the excellent performances of the three principal actors, the expert direction from arguably The Twilight Zone's greatest craftsman, Douglas Heyes, the wonderful set design, and the source material, John Collier's slight, yet unforgettable, vignette.
                The episode is fable-like in its simplicity and can seem, when viewed today, to be cliché and rehashed from a thousand other fictions of the good-intentioned wish gone bad. The Twilight Zone itself would delve again into this fictional pool with other light fare, such as season four's "I Dream of Genie," and darker fare as "The Man in the Bottle" from season two. The viewer must remember, however, that the story, and much of Collier’s other work, were the initial seeds for fictional constructs that would be borrowed from and added upon for years to come.
"The Chaser" succeeds because the episode doesn't stray too far one way or the other, too dark or too light, and comes off as a perfectly executed black comedy. The ending is really the only weak part of the episode as it seems anticlimactic to the preceding action yet still works as a darkly humorous closing to the play. It is interesting to note that "The Chaser" is the only episode from the show’s first season that is not scripted by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, or Richard Matheson, three writers that dominated the overall output of scripts for the show. It was filmed from a script by writer Robert Presnell, Jr. and, as a script, dates back nearly a decade before its production for The Twilight Zone. Pesnell's script first aired on February 20, 1951 for Billy Rose's Playbill Theater. For its production on The Twilight Zone, the story rights were bought from John Collier for $2,000. Producer Buck Houghton bought the film script from Presnell but did not hire Presnell to make any further changes to the script for its production on The Twilight Zone. It is almost certain, however, that Rod Serling had a hand in tweaking the script from its initial form as changes were necessary to accommodate the differences in set design and the natural narrative flow dictated by such changes.
John Collier
                Writer John Collier (May 3, 1901-April 6, 1980) was a highly influential British writer of novels, short fiction, poetry, and screenplays. Along with Saki, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, and Arthur Machen, Collier is a chief member of a group of British fantasists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that would influence generations of fiction writers working in the weird mode on both sides of the Atlantic, including H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Michael Chabon, Gerald Kersh, Roald Dahl, and Neil Gaiman. Collier himself was most noticeably influenced by Saki (H.H. Munro) and the two writers separated themselves from the other British fantasists through the vein of irreverent humor coursing through nearly all of their fictions. Collier, like Roald Dahl after him, published most of his off-beat and macabre short fiction in the pages of the American magazine The New Yorker. "The Chaser" was first published in the December, 1940 issue of that magazine and was later collected in Collier’s first collection, Presenting Moonshine (Viking Press, 1941), a book which also contains some of Collier's greatest stories, such as "Green Thoughts," "Evening Primrose," "Thus I Refute Beelzy," "Another American Tragedy," and "Bottle Party." It is difficult to convey the scope of Collier's influence on subsequent writers of fantasy and weird fiction, and to the formation of shows such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as to say that, even though it has gone relatively unnoted and unremarked upon, only perhaps have Poe and Lovecraft had as profound an influence. Whereas the latter two gentlemen worked within a Gothic mode which often seems steeped in antiquarian trappings, Collier worked to bring the macabre and the weird into the realm of the everyday, signifying a thematic trend which would see its culmination in the writings of Americans Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown, and Henry Kuttner, as well as British writers such as Roald Dahl and Gerald Kersh. In his introduction to the New York Review Books reprint of Collier's seminal collection Fancies and Goodnights, Ray Bradbury stated that when Rod Serling visited him with the idea to begin a fantasy television program, a program that eventually became The Twilight Zone, Bradbury heaped upon the young Serling books by excellent writers of short fantasy fiction. Upon the top of the pile Bradbury placed John Collier. Bradbury also stated that he eventually sought work on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television program because of the producers' taste for the stories of John Collier. Though "The Chaser" was, unfortunately, the only Collier story adapted for The Twilight Zone, it should be noted that some of the adaptations of Collier's work on Alfred Hitchcock Presents are today considered classics, including "Wet Saturday," starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke, "De Mortuis," and "Back for Christmas," starring Sir John Williams. Among Collier's other noted creations are the famous novel His Monkey Wife, about a man who marries a chimpanzee, and his screenplay accomplishments which include unaccredited work on the script for The African Queen (1951), starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and an unproduced screenplay adaptation of John Milton's Paradise Lost.
                Director Douglas Heyes, who at the time of filming of "The Chaser" had only one previous credit on The Twilight Zone, "Elegy," would go on to direct some of the most memorable episodes of the show, including "The After Hours," "The Howling Man," "The Invaders," and "Eye of the Beholder." Hayes and the production crew, especially photographer George T. Clemens and set designers Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason, do an exceptional job with "The Chaser." Working with only three main sets, their designs nonetheless dictate the brisk pacing of the episode and in the process create an unforgettable and instantly recognizable set in Professor A. Daemon's apothecary. The narrow yet expansively tall set is awe-inspiring and was impressive enough for Serling to use it as the setting for his filmed trailer on the previous episode.
                Other than his subsequent appearance for The Twilight Zone, the excellent season four episode "In His Image," George Grizzard (April 1, 1928-October 2, 2007) also starred in the pilot episode for the underappreciated anthology show Thriller (a.k.a. Boris Karloff's Thriller). Grizzard was a theater trained actor from age 7 who made his initial mark on the Broadway stage in plays such as "The Disenchanted" (1958), "Big Fish, Little Fish" (1961), and Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1962), nabbing a Tony Award nomination and an Outer Circle Critics Award in the process. Grizzard further made his mark on anthology television with roles in episodes of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Playhouse 90, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents besides finding roles in traditional television fare such as Dr. Kildare, Rawhide, Ironside, Marcus Welby, M.D., Hawaii Five-O, The Cosby Show, and Murder, She Wrote. Later in life Grizzard found roles in films such as Wonder Boys (2000), Small Time Crooks (2000), and in his last credited role for Flags of Our Fathers (2006).
                Actor John McIntire (June 27, 1907-Jan 30, 1991) has over 140 credits to his name, usually portraying tough, authoritarian figures such as policemen and judges, in films ranging from The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Far Country (1954), Psycho (1960), and Rooster Cogburn (1975) to family fare such as Lassie: A New Beginning (1978) and voice-over work in Disney's The Rescuers (1977) and The Fox and the Hound (1981). McIntire also made his mark on television throughout his career, most noticeably with his long tenures on Naked City (1958-59) and Wagon Train (for 1959-65). McIntire also starred in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
                Actress Patricia Barry (b. November 16, 1921) should be a recognizable face to fans of The Twilight Zone as she also starred in season four's "I Dream of Genie" and in the Joe Dante directed segment of Twilight Zone: the Movie, the third of four segments, which is a remake of the Jerome Bixby short story "It's a Good Life," co-starring fellow Twilight Zone alum Kevin McCarthy. With over 135 credits to her name, Barry made her mark with appearances on the soap operas Days of Our Lives, All My Children, Guiding Light, Knot's Landing, and Dallas. She made her initial breaks in bit roles as a pretty face in films in the forties before becoming recognizable on the live anthology programs in the late forties and fifties. With intermittent work in film, Barry was mostly a mainstay on the small screen throughout the rest of her career, with some of her credits including Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1962), Rawhide (1960, 1963), Perry Mason (1960, 1963), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1963, 1965), Columbo (1975), and Charlie's Angels (1977).
                "The Chaser" is a quaint episode with not so much complexity but with a great deal of charm, some humorous innuendo, and some great dialogue. It is also the only offering on the show from the works of writer John Collier, a writer whose style seems to have permeated the majority of the show's output. This, in itself, marks it a rare and valuable episode. It also sports an excellent cast and shows director Douglas Heyes beginning to find the creative magic that would lead him on to create the most memorable episodes of the show. All in all, it's a darkly humorous pleasure and almost certainly the show's finest comedy episode of the first season.

Grade: B

Notes:
--As stated above, George Grizzard also appears in the fourth season episode "In His Image," scripted by Charles Beaumont from his own short story and directed by Perry Lafferty.
--Patricia Barry also appears in the fourth season episode "I Dream of Genie" scripted by John Furia, Jr. and directed by Robert Gist.
--A very similar story to "The Chaser" appeared three years after the story's original publication in the famous and influential comic book Tales from the Crypt. In issue #25, cover dated Aug-Sept 1951, the third story offering was titled "Loved to Death!!" Hosted by the Cryptkeeper, plotted by publisher WIlliam M. Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, and scripted by Al Feldstein with art by Jack Kamen, the story follows the narrative course of the "The Chaser" very directly until culminating in a much grislier end. Not wanting her lover to drink from a dirty glass, the woman, affected by a love potion, accidentally gives the man the glass with the poison that was meant for her, thus killing him. When the man awakens in the afterlife, he is overjoyed at finally being free from her suffocating affections. Until, that is, the woman kills herself and finds him in the afterlife. To the man's increasing horror, she is now a horrifyingly mangled corpse and still very much obsessively in love with him. This story was later adapted for the Tales from the Crypt television program and originally broadcast on HBO on June 15, 1991.

--Jordan Prejean
               

Friday, May 4, 2012

"A Stop at Willoughby"

Gart Williams (James Daly) longs for escape into the fantasy world of Willoughby
"A Stop at Willoughby"
Season One, Episode 30
Original Air Date: May 6, 1960

Cast:
Gart Williams: James Daly
Jane Williams: Patricia Donahue
Mr. Misrell: Howard Smith
Young Conductor: Jason Wingreen
Old Conductor: James Maloney
Helen: Mavis Neal
Man on Wagon: Max Slaten
Boy One: Billy Booth
Boy Two: Butch Hengen
Trainman: Ryan Hayes

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Robert Parrish
Producer: Buck Houghton
Photography: George T. Clemens
Music: Nathan Scott

And now, Mr. Serling:
"This old-fashioned railroad car is about as extinct as the dinosaur but next week it takes us to a little village that is not only a place but a state of mind. It's the transportation to what we think is one of the most unique stories we've ever presented. Next week, Mr. James Daly stars in 'A Stop at Willoughby.' We hope you stop with him. Thank you and good night."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"This is Gart Williams, age thirty-eight, a man protected by a suit of armor all held together by one bolt. Just a moment ago, someone removed the bolt and Mr. Williams' protection fell away from him and left him a naked target. He's been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliation, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him, landed on target, and blown him apart. Mr. Gart Williams, ad agency exec, who in just a moment will move into The Twilight Zone in a desperate search for survival."

Summary:
            Advertising agency executive Gart Williams, a tense-looking, middle-aged man, sits at a table in the conference room of a high rise office suite surrounded by other tense-looking, middle-aged men. Gart, however, looks incredibly nervous, his hands always moving in dreaded anticipation. At the opposite end of the table from Gart is an older, rotund gentleman, the presumed owner of the agency, Mr. Misrell, smoking a large cigar and looking preturbed. The men sit for a moment in silence until Mr. Misrell breaks it. He demands to know where another advertising man is, a young protégé of Gart's named Jake Ross that Gart has put in charge of a very important and lucrative account. Ross is already over half an hour late to the meeting. Gart attempts to make a phone call to find out where Ross is but to no avail.  Moments later, a letter arrives. It is a communication from Jake Ross tendering his resignation with Mr. Misrell's agency and taking the important and lucrative account with him.
            Mr. Misrell nearly explodes at this bad news. He berates Gart for his lack of sound judgment and lectures him on the nature of the advertising business until Misrell's voice grows in power and force. Gart, at the breaking point, tells Misrell to shut up and storms from the room. Gart grabs at his chest, a sign of stress-induced pain, and, ignoring the curious and concerned stares of the women of the office, closes himself off in his own darkened office where he sits and stews.
            While taking the train out of New York City, Gart talks briefly with the usual conductor on the train and then falls asleep. He soon finds himself awakened by the conductor, a different, older, and curiously dressed conductor, announcing the train stop at a town called Willoughby. Gart is terribly confused by this because, firstly, it doesn't feel like a dream and, secondly, everything has changed. Where it was winter it is now summer. Where it was 1960, it is now 1888. The friendly conductor tells the incredulous Gart these things as Gart stares out the window at the town Willoughby, a town in a simpler, slower, more innocent and less stressful time. Gart looks again for the conductor and sees that the man has moved down to the further cars on the train. Gart then gets up and frantically chases after the man. As he is about to step off the train, he finds himself jerked viciously back to reality, the reality of stressed out ad agency exec. He asked the conductor, his normal conductor, about a town called Willougby and the conductor tells Gart that he's never heard of such a town. Gart writes the experience off as a dream.
Patricia Donahue and James Daly
            At home, it is apparent that Gart is not only vicitim of an unhappy career situation but also of an unhappy marriage situation. His wife, Jane, is a high-society, mocking, and unhappy woman with a large appetite for the best that money can buy. Her initial fear upon hearing that Gart had a breakdown at work was whether or not it cost him his job. Gart then tells her about his "dream" of Willoughby and his wishes to return to a simpler, slower time like that which was depicted in the town of Willoughby. But Jane isn't listening, not really. When her fears are alleviated, she first berates Gart for being a boy that has never grown up and then walks out of the room.
            The next evening, on his way home, Gart again falls asleep on the train and gets a glimpse of Willoughby. He again runs after the conductor, yelling. He is instead awakened by the regular conductor when the man hears Gart calling out in his sleep. Unperturbed, Gart makes a promise to himself that he is going to get off at the stop at Willougby next time.
            After another harrowing day at the office in which Gart is assaulted by multiple calls concerning multiple accounts with an angry Mr. Misrell to top it off, he takes off for home. On the train he becomes aware that this is his only chance to truly escape from the horror that is his life. He lowers the blind on his window, closes his eyes, and goes to sleep.
            When Gart again opens his eyes he sees that the train has stopped at Willoughby. At the encouragement of the conductor this time, Gart does indeed step off the train and into town. There Gart is greeted by the townspeople as though they've known him all his life. Smiling happily, Gart walks off toward the center of town.
            Meanwhile, Gart's dead body lies in the snow below the train tracks. According to the regular conductor, Gart said something about a town called Willoughby and then stepped right off the moving train, falling to his death. As a final twist, Gart's body is taken away by a funeral home with a car marked Willoughby and Son.
            We close on the image of Gart having fully escaped into his fantasy town, walking toward the bandstand that sits at the center of Willoughby.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"Willoughby? Maybe it's wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of man's mind, or maybe it's the last stop in the vast design of things, or perhaps, for a man like Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it's a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of The Twilight Zone."

Commentary:
            "A Stop at Willoughby" is generally thought of as one of the finer offerings of the first season of The Twilight Zone. Show producer Buck Houghton went so far as to identify it as Rod Serling's finest teleplay of the first season. Here at the Vortex we don't feel quite that strongly about the episode but it is certainly enduring among viewers and, in a broader sense, essential among episodes that play on a theme (an escape from an undesirable reality into a past or imagined paradise) that nearly every major writer for the show would tackle at one time or another. None of the show's writers, however, took on the subject more than show creator and producer Rod Serling. Serling had, in fact, already written a very similar, first season episode, "Walking Distance," and another, "The Time Element," which aired on Desilu Playhouse before the series premier of The Twilight Zone but is generally considered by fans of the latter show as the unofficial pilot episode. Though "The Time Element" is an episode squarely focused on the terror of the inevitable and ironic nature of time travel, "Walking Distance" presents a theme and subject matter very similar to "A Stop at Willoughby." You can read our full coverage of "Walking Distance" here.
            Serling publicly stated that he felt "Walking Distance" was an all-around failure of an episode. Though he had the general plot of "A Stop at Willoughby" in mind at the very genesis of The Twilight Zone’s creation, he undoubtedly pushed the script into production so soon after the airing of "Walking Distance" because he felt the first episode had inadequately conveyed the theme he was attempting to bring across. "A Stop at Willoughby," however, simply doesn't have the resonance that the first episode did and, mostly because of a cheap, twist-in-the-tale ending tacked on by Serling, simply comes off as flat and rehashed.
            The major problem with the episode is that it's stereotypically over-the-top and though James Daly is excellent in the main role, both his boss and his money-grubbing wife are simply cartoonish archetypes. The entire episode is the equivalent of watching James Daly bounce like a pinball from one stress inducing obstacle to another with intermittent scenes of his gradual passage into a somewhat ludicrous fantasyland that feels artificial and bizarre. Serling would have been better off portraying a fantasy that had no such immediately recognizable place within American history. Sure, show the simple nature of an idealized time in the past but there was no need to label it so strictly as a small town in the summer of 1888. It also seems a strange choice of escape for the main character that seems to have no rhyme or reason to his chosen fantasy other than it is a time that moved slower and in which a man can live his life to the fullest. "Walking Distance" worked much better in this regard as the fantasy of its main character, also an advertising executive, is firmly grounded as it is, though idealized, a fantasy construct built from the character's own past. The character of Gart Williams, in “A Stop at Willoughby” has not even a tenuous relationship to his fantasy. He couldn’t possibly have lived within the time and the viewer is given no reason for such a fixation upon the past. “Walking Distance” is also much more uplifting and I only mention the point because I feel that both episodes were trying to uplift the viewer and it is useful to make such a comparison. Martin Sloan, in "Walking Distance," realizes that the solution to his problems do not lie in a simple escape into fantasy. The lesson learned is that he controls his own existence and if he needs to slow down then he can take control of his own life and do so. Serling's mood by the time he brought "A Stop at Willoughby" into production seems to have changed completely as the character is now the victim of such a powerful onslaught that he has lost all control and is left with no choice but to cling to the fantasy and to escape into it even though it may, and does, cost him his real life.
            "A Stop at Willoughby" is certainly informed by Serling's interactions with advertising executives as he had been in television long enough by this point to have several times run into the roadblock that was sponsor-supported television programming. What is interesting is that though Serling turns the general industry of advertising into a villainous leach upon the lifeblood of the working man, he is still able to identify with the alienated individual and use that to examine his own set of moral and existential dilemmas.
            The episode does have some great dialogue from Serling and fits the half-hour time slot accorded it quite perfectly, with excellent pacing from director Robert Parrish. It's interesting to note here that Serling originally conceived the script as a one-hour play for possible sale to one of the popular anthology "playhouse" programs of the second half of the 1950s. It seems to me that had he actually produced the play as a one-hour program, the believability of the fantasy construct and the patience of the viewer would both have been stretched to the breaking point.
            A quick note on the only aspect of the production side of the episode that I felt was lacking and this concerns the music from composer Nathan Scott. Scott's score seemed to flourish whimsically during moments of grave seriousness and then mutedly pulse during the moments of pure fantasy where the whimsical flourish would be most appropriate. Scott's music was used only one other time for the show, in season three's "Young Man's Fancy." It is interesting to think what a composer with more skill, or at least one that better fit the show, such as Bernard Herrmann, Nathan Van Cleave, or Jerry Goldsmith, would have done with such a fantasy-rich episode.
            The ending of the episode is where most of the fault in the script lies. Many times The Twilight Zone was guilty of tacking on a twist ending that had little to no logical merit being there and, unfortunately, "A Stop at Willoughby" is one of those times. It must be generally assumed that viewers enjoy twist endings if for no other reason than the memorable nature of the sudden and ironic change. According to the dialogue in "A Stop at Willoughby," the character of Gart Williams got up and stepped off the actual moving train when he decided to get up and step off the fantasy stop at Willoughby. This didn't work for me for two reasons. First, earlier in the episode Gart did get up and walk to the end of the car and onto the deck looking out over Willoughby yet in his real existence he never moved from his seat. Wouldn't it stand to reason that what Gart did in the fantasy world, what he said, how he moved, would inform what he did in the real world? We were also shown scenes of Gart speaking the same words in both realities. It would have made more sense for Gart to have simply disappeared into the fantasy world, for the conductor to have walked down the aisle and found Gart's seat empty. Second, the addition of the name Willoughby and Son to the back of the hearse makes no sense at all other than to so serve as a sly, albeit confusing, wink to the viewer. Yes, we know that Gart has gone to Willoughby but the attempt to have that literal translation in the world of his previous existence is nonsensical. The twist in the episode should always flow logically from the events preceding it. Serling excelled at this in other episodes. "Eye of the Beholder" and "The Dummy" comes immediately to mind. Unfortunately, he doesn't pull it off convincingly in "A Stop at Willoughby."
            Prolific character actor James Daly, admirably portraying the role of Gart Williams in "A Stop at Willoughby," began his career on television, usually on anthology programs, and, in the 1960s, had roles in some of the most fondly remembered of all television programs, including Combat!, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, Star Trek, Ironside, and Mission: Impossible. He also co-starred in the classic 1968 science-fiction film Planet of the Apes, playing the role of Honorious. He died on July 3, 1978 in Nyack, New York. Roots: the Next Generation (1979) is his last credited work.
            Director Robert Parrish began his career as an actor while still a child, appearing unaccredited in such films as the Academy Award winning All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the classic Charlie Chaplin film City Lights (1931). He worked on All the King’s Men (1949) and won an Academy Award for editing the 1947 film Body and Soul before moving into the director’s chair with 1951's Cry Danger. He went on to direct several more mid-budget thrillers including the cult-classic A Town Called Hell (1971) starring Telly Slavalas and Robert Shaw. He died on December 4, 1995 on Long Island, New York.
            Veteran actor Howard Smith, portraying villainous Mr. Misell in the episode, made a career playing supporting roles, usually as a police officer or some other authority figure. His film credits include Kiss of Death (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948), The Street with No Name (1948), and A Face in the Crowd (1957). He was a fixture on television from the late 1950s onward with appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Naked City, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Perry Mason, Green Acres, and Bewitched. He died on January 10, 1968 in Hollywood.
            Actress Patricia Donahue appeared on a number of mystery and western television programs during the 1950s and '60s, including The Thin Man, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Peter Gunn, Philip Marlowe, Bat Masterson, Michael Shanye, Bonanza, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Perry Mason, The Saint, Rod Serling's Night Gallery, The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, and an episode of Little House on the Prairie.
            Despite its faults, "A Stop at Willoughby" is an enjoyable episode that embodies much of the enduring themes of The Twilight Zone in general and Rod Serling's writings in particular. It has achieved classic status among many fans of the show, evidenced by its impressive 8.6/10 rating on the Internet Movie Database. Serling and producer Buck Houghton certainly felt that it was one of if not the strongest script produced during the generally high-quality first season and, like nearly every episode from that inaugural season, "A Stop at Willoughby" is graced by good acting, directing, and a general high quality of production.

Grade: C

Notes:
--Robert Parrish directed two additional episodes of The Twilight Zone, "One for the Angels" and, sharing credit with Alvin Ganzer, "The Mighty Casey," both from season one.
--Producer Buck Houghton noted in an interview with Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion (second ed., Silman-James, 1989) that the Willoughby sets for the episode were on the MGM back lot and were originally constructed for the Judy Garland musical Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).
--As reported by Martin Grams in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR Publishing, 2008), the made for TV movie For All Time (2000) reuses and revises Serling's script to present a modern retelling of "A Stop at Willoughby."

--Jordan Prejean