|Joe Mantell as nervous man Jackie Rhodes|
“Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room”
Season Two, Episode 39
October 14, 1960
Cast:Jackie Rhodes: Joe Mantell
George: William D. Gordon
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Douglas Heyes
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Ethel Winant
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Charles Scheid
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week we take you into this eight-by-eight hotel room and we watch a penny-ante crook make a decision. You better ask the room clerk the number of this room and then come on up. Mr. Joe Mantell is the ‘Nervous Man in the Four Dollar Room.’ That’s the Twilight Zone, next week, and we’ll be waiting for you. Thank you and good night.”
“This is Mr. Jackie Rhodes, age thirty-four. And where some men leave a mark of their lives as a record of their fragmentary existence on Earth—this man leaves a blot. A dirty, discolored blemish to document a cheap and undistinguished sojourn amongst his betters. What you are about to watch in this room is a strange mortal combat between a man and himself. For in just a moment Mr. Jackie Rhodes, whose life has been given over to fighting adversaries, will find his most formidable opponent in a cheap hotel room that is in reality the outskirts…of the Twilight Zone.”
|Joe Mantell and William D. Gordon|
Panic sets in. He knows he can’t do the job but he also knows he has nowhere to run. And if he doesn’t kill this man then he will be the one who gets killed. Rhodes catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Remarkably, his mirror image begins to talk back to him. Frightened, and fearing that he might be losing his mind, Rhodes tries to escape his reflection. But he cannot escape himself for he finds his reflection in mirrors in the bathroom and in the closet. His reflection tells him that he is tired of struggling and always listening to everyone else and never himself. He wants a better life for himself and he wants it to start now. The real Rhodes is dumbfounded and the two argue late into the night.
Early the next morning George drops by. He is hip to the news that the bar owner is still alive. And he plans to take it out on Jackie Rhodes. Rhodes looks up at George and instantly a change can be seen in his expression. He punches George in the face and throws him out of his room. Then he calls the front desk and tells them that Mr. John Rhodes is checking out.
Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
The heroes of this episode are leading man Joe Mantell and director Douglas Heyes. This is the first of two appearances by Mantell who also has a role in Season Five’s “Steel.” He had a knack for playing nervous, fumbling characters and here he breathes life into an otherwise stale protagonist. Jackie Rhodes’s personality spills out onto the screen via the naturally spastic mannerisms of Mantell. His anxiety is genuine and the audience sees this in the inflection of his voice and his frantic, disheveled physical appearance. If there is a down side to his performance it’s his portrayal of the “other” Jackie Rhodes, the confident Jackie that wants to take control of his life again. He turns in a believable enough performance but in contrast to the nervous Jackie it comes off as slightly predictable, but this is a minor flaw and Mantell is still the most enjoyable thing about this episode. Mantell first garnered attention in Hollywood when he starred alongside Ernest Borgnine in Marty (1955) for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Years later he would star alongside Jack Nicholson in Chinatown (1974). On the small screen he appeared in episodes of Inner Sanctum, Lights Out, One Step Beyond and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
For his first episode of Season Two director Douglas Heyes flexes his creative muscle for a script that would be an enormous challenge for most directors given that the entire episode takes place in one room. To emphasize Rhodes’s cramped living quarters there are several crane shots shown from directly above the room including the shot for Serling’s intro in which his image is superimposed over video footage. For the scenes which feature mirror images of Jackie Rhodes’s alter ego Heyes choose not to use split screen and instead used rear projections screens for Mantell to play off of. To accomplish this Heyes shot all of the footage of Mantell’s mirror image first. So when it came time to shoot the footage of Mantell speaking directly to his alter-ego, all of the mirrors seen in the hotel room were actually rear projection screens with pre-recorded footage playing back on them. So when the viewer sees Mantell speaking to his other self in the mirror they are seeing exactly what was filmed and not footage spliced in later. This allowed both Heyes and Mantell more freedom to move about the set and is aesthetically more pleasing for the viewer. Heyes went on to direct five episodes during the show’s second season including “The Howling Man,” “Eye of the Beholder” and “The Invaders,” all three of which are among the best known episodes of the program, particularly for their unusual direction and skillful camera work.
While the theme here is classic Serling the story isn’t quite up to par with some of his other episodes. The idea is interesting but at times the story feels stagnant and the dialogue repetitive. It’s unique enough to grab the viewer’s attention but ultimately it feels as if it’s stretched too thin over a half-hour segment.
--William D Gordon achieved pop culture immortality when he appeared as the Doctor in another Season Two episode directed by Douglas Heyes, “Eye of the Beholder.”
--Director Douglas Heyes was also at the helm for the classic episodes "The After Hours," "The Howling Man," "Eye of the Beholder," and "The Invaders." Heyes wrote and directed the first episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "The Dead Man" (based on the story by Fritz Leiber), as well as scripting the second segment of that first episode, "The Housekeeper" under the pseudonym Matthew Howard. Under the Howard name, Heyes also scripted the episode "Brenda," based on the story Margaret St. Clair.
--"Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Adam Baldwin.
--There is a moment in this episode that is eerily similar to the famous scene in Taxi Driver (1976) when Rhodes first encounters his mirror image and utters the lines “Are you talkin’ to me?”