Thursday, April 24, 2014

"The Odyssey of Flight 33"

Clockwise from left: Paul Comi, Harp McGuire, Sandy Kenyon, Wayne Heffley, and John Anderson

"The Odyssey of Flight 33"
Season Two, Episode 54
Original Air Date: February 24, 1961

Captain Farver: John Anderson
1st Officer Craig: Paul Comi
Flight Engineer Purcell: Harp McGuire
2nd Officer Wyatt: Wayne Heffley
Navigator Hatch: Sandy Kenyon
Paula: Nancy Rennick
Jane: Beverly Brown
RAF Man: Lester Fletcher
Lady on Plane: Betty Garde
Passenger: Jay Overholts

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Justus Addiss
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Philip Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Ethel Winant
Editor: Bill Mosher
Technical Advisor: Robert Serling
Dinosaur Sequence: Jack Harris & Project Unlimited
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week you'll find each of your names on the passenger manifest of this jet aircraft that travels from London to New York City. You'll sit in these seats and you'll go through an experience unique beyond words and tense beyond anything I believe you've ever seen. You'll be departing next week at about this time in a vehicle we call 'The Odyssey of Flight 33.' But be prepared for a stop midway. . . in the Twilight Zone."

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"You're riding in a jet airliner en route from London to New York. You're at thirty five thousand feet atop an overcast and roughly fifty five minutes from Idlewild Airport. But what you've seen occur inside the cockpit of this plane is no reflection on the aircraft or the crew. It's a safe, well engineered, perfectly designed machine. And the men you've just met are a trained, cool, highly effecient team. The problem is simply that the plane is going too fast and there is nothing within the realm of knowledge, or at least logic, to explain it. Unbeknownst to passengers and crew, this airplane is heading into an uncharted region well off the beaten track of commercial travelers. It's moving into the Twilight Zone. What you're about to see, we call 'The Odyssey of Flight 33.'"

            During a routine commerical flight, and only a short distance from arrival at its scheduled destination, Global 33, a jet airliner, catches a sudden and strong tail wind that sends the aircraft careening forward at unsafe speeds. The crew attempts to contact a control tower but is unable to raise anyone on the radio. When a shock wave and blinding flash occur, the crew believe they have broken through the sound barrier. Unable to get their bearings using the instruments on board, Captain Farver decides to descend below the cloud cover in order to establish their location. The crew recognizes Manhattan and the surrounding islands but there is no sign of the city skyline or of human dwellings. As they get lower, the 1st Officer sees something that confirms a horrible suspicion. He sees a dinosaur below, feeding on the leaves of a tree. Global 33 has traveled backwards in time.
            Captain Farver decides that their only option to get back home is to ascend again and pass back through the sound barrier that brought them here. After they pass through, the plane descends and the crew is delighted to see the recognizable buildings of New York below. The Navigation Officer cannot raise Idlewild Airport on the radio and instead manages to contact nearby LaGuardia airfield. There is some confusion as the air traffic controller on the other end has never heard of radar or a jet. Despite the confusion, he clears the plane to land. Upon their further descent, the crew members notice something below, the buildings that comprise the New York World's Fair, an event which happened in 1939, over twenty years previous. They come to the horrible realization that they came forward in time but not forward enough.
            At this point, Captain Farver decides to let the passengers in on the dire situation and makes an announcement on the final course of the aircraft. Dangerously low on fuel, Global 33 ascends a final time to pass back through the sound barrier in the hopes of emerging in its own time.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"A Global jet airliner, en route from London to New York on an uneventful afternoon in the year 1961, but now reported overdue and missing, and by now searched for on land, sea, and air by anguished human beings fearful of what they'll find. But you and I know where she is. You and I know what's happened. So if some moment, any moment, you hear the sound of jet engines flying atop the overcast, engines that sound searching and lost, engines that sound desperate, shoot up a flare or do something. That would be Global 33 trying to get home, from the Twilight Zone."


"They don't talk about the flight much anymore - at least the pros don't. On occasion a vastly theoretical article will appear in a Sunday supplement or mention will be made in a book on air disasters but, by and large, the world's day-to-day catastrophes are sufficient in scope and number to take even the loss of a giant airliner off the agenda."
           -"The Odyssey of Flight 33," More Stories from the Twilight Zone 

            It is apparent in every aspect of "The Odyssey of Flight 33" that it was a particularly important episode for Rod Serling. He brought his brother, Robert, an aviation writer for the United Press, on as an advisor to assist him with the technical aspects of the show and seems, through his manner and words, to be physically willing the episode to be a success. His preview narration states that the episode is "tense beyond anything I believe you've ever seen" and his script and the delivery of his narration quickly inform us that this isn't going to be the usual Rod Serling effort. There is virtually no trace of humor, no heavy moralizing, and no over-worded script weighed down by dense, time consuming conversations, all unfortunate qualities of Serling's lesser efforts on the show. Serling's script for "The Odyssey of Flight 33" is as lean and mean as anything he wrote for the show. Some of Serling’s weaker scripts seem to be filling in the half hour or hour time slots with superfluous sight gags (“Mr. Dingle, the Strong”, “Hocus Pocus and Frisby”) or with endless talking (“Uncle Simon”, “The Fear”). None of this is found in “The Odyssey of Flight 33.”  If anything, the viewer comes away from the episode wanting more, though some of that feeling is certainly our innate need to have a satisfactory conclusion at the end of a story. Serling doesn’t give it to us. He delivers his tale quickly and accurately and then gets out of the way, letting the setup and the excellent acting carry the episode along. With "The Odyssey of Flight 33," he leaves us up in the air concerning the fate of the aircraft, its crew, and its passengers. It's all left to conjecture and it’s really the perfect ending to one of the very good episodes of the show.
            It may seem contradictory to compliment Serling on his ability to create a fast moving episode void of the usual meandering and moralizing, not to mention the broad humor that hideously cropped up repeatedly on the show, and to also fault it for the same reasons, but if there is one aspect of the episode that prevents it from being in the top tier it is that the episode comes off as too technical, too rigidly plot driven, with no time or effort given to establishing that unique quality of the show's best episodes which uses fantasy or science fiction to illuminate some profouond insight into human nature. The episode can feel too thrift and gimmicky. It is interesting to think of how the episode would have played as an hour-long segment of the fourth season, a season during which Serling struggled to produce an episode of real quality.
That being said, "The Odyssey of Flight 33" works best as a quick moving thriller which was produced with Serling's usual workmanlike efficiency and which exists on a threadbare, and somewhat cliche (even by 1961 standards), plot to show off the realistic settings and technical details of an industry which was, in 1961, endlessly fascinating to the average American, not to mention to Serling himself, who served in the airborne division as a young man, was brother to an award winning aviation writer with an international audience,  and created or approved a slew of aircraft based fantasies for The Twilight Zone, such as "King Nine Will Not Return" or "The Arrival," two episodes also scripted by Serling, both of which bear similarities to "The Odyssey of Flight 33."
Richard Matheson, another core writer on the show, had already produced a time travel episode based around an aircraft with "The Last Flight," for the first season, though Matheson used the idea not for displays of a technical nature but in a more traditional manner of exploring an aspect of the human condition through the lens of a fantasy construct. Matheson would return to the theme later in the fourth season to create one of the finest episodes The Twilight Zone would air, the hour-long "Death Ship," and again, unforgettably, with the fifth season’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” both times using a clever plot device to explore broader, humanistic themes.
        Serling doesn't concern himself with this very much in "The Odyssey of Flight 33." Often, when Serling turned his attentions to matters of a dark nature, he fastened onto a clever idea and rode the plot straight through with none of his usual philosophical explorations. When Serling produced an episode like "Mirror Image," "The After Hours," or "The Odyssey of Flight 33," he was simply trying to scare the audience. That isn't to say these episodes or ones like them aren't complex or that Serling wrote none of his concerns into these scripts. Serling was often successful at finding a middle ground between his plot driven thrillers and his Bradburyesque offerings of introspection and/or whimsical fantasy, which became the foundation of the show. With "The Odyssey of Flight 33," Serling became enamored with portraying the world of air travel in a strictly accurate and technically sound manner. In the time after the episode aired, Robert Serling was to boast that the episode was, and remains, one of the most technically accurate offerings ever filmed on the subject of air travel.
            While compiling The Twilight Zone Companion (Bantam, 1982), author Marc Scott Zicree interviewed Robert Serling and learned the genesis of the episode. Rod Serling had received mail from American Airlines in which the airline company was offering, to any production studio on the west coast, a mock-up of a 707 passenger cabin to be used for filming. American Airlines, which had used the item for training and had built a replacement, was now trying to sell off the first one. Rod Serling became fascinated by the idea of filming an episode within such an enclosed set and lit upon the idea of the aircraft traveling back in time after picking up a strong tail wind and breaking through the sound barrier.
            Robert Serling, then a Washington D.C. resident and award-winning aviation writer for the United Press, was visiting his brother Rod on the west coast at the time Rod received the brochure from American Airlines. Though the two briefly discussed Rod's idea at the time, Robert went back to Washington and didn't hear anything more on the subject until about two weeks later when Rod, having moved forward with the idea and now producing it as an episode for the show, called him asking for help in creating authentic dialogue for the cockpit scenes, which would come to dominate the episode. With the help of a pilot for TWA also living in Washington, Robert came up with the technically accurate dialogue heard in the episode. The manner used, according to Robert Serling, was to act out the scenes with the TWA pilot while killing a bottle of bourbon throughout the course of a night. Rod later sent drafts of the script to his brother with Robert sending back corrections and suggestions for additional dialogue. The results were some incredibly tense and accurate cockpit scenes. The surprises and twists in the episode hinged on the dialogue accuracies displaying the changes of a technical nature which the commercial aircraft industry had undergone through its early years.
            The other interesting aspect of the episode's production is the brief dinosaur stop-motion animation sequence which established a visual element for the time travel aspect of the show. Film producer Jack H. Harris was contacted by Cayuga Productions to provide the animation and would return to provide another stop-motion sequence of dinosaur action for the third season episode, "It's a Good Life." Harris scored a huge hit in 1958 with The Blob and, in 1960, financed the dinosaur film Dinosaurus! which featured sequences of stop-motion animation. That film was co-produced and directed by Irvin Yeaworth, Jr., director of The Blob and 1959's 4-D Man, the latter also being a Jack Harris production. Dinosaurus! ultimately inspired the series to contact Harris about providing the needed dinosaur footage.  
           The models created for Dinosaurus! were used to create new footage for "The Odyssey of Flight 33." The animation is the work of an accomplished group of special effects technicians known professionally as Project Unlimited, which was founded in 1957 by artists Wah Chang, Gene Warren, and Tim Baar to provide a multitude of special effects procedures for film and television production. Project Unlimited would produce visual effects, design props and sets, and create makeup effects for some of the most revered properties of mid-20th century science fiction, including George Pal's The Time Machine (1960), the Planet of the Apes film series, and television shows such as The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Land of the Lost, working alongside such Academy Award winning makeup artists as William Tuttle (who provided much of the makeup effects for George Pal's films and for The Twilight Zone) and John Chambers (makeup artist for The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes).
            Producer Buck Houghton recalled the total budget for the animated sequence as $2,500 in an interview with author Marc Scott Zicree, but author and television historian Martin Grams, Jr., in The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR, 2008), a work largely compiled from office records and other material located in the CBS archives, listed the budget for the sequence even higher at $3,940. Proper individual credits for the sequence are likely lost to time. Though no credits are given in the film, stop-motion animation for Dinosaurus! is believed to have been performed by Tom Holland, Phil Kellison, and Don Sahlin, yet it is just as likely that the work for "The Odyssey of Flight 33" was performed by animator Jim Danforth, who joined Project Unlimited for production on 1960's The Time Machine. Danforth provided stop-motion animation sequences for a number of films in the 1960s, including Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).
           The sculptors of the tabletop models for Dinosaurus! were the brothers Delgado, Marcel and Victor, who worked on several features in the 1950s and 1960s with Project Unlimited. Their work on "The Odyssey of Flight 33," while fairly accomplished, is not on par with their previous work alongside stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien, who hired Marcel Delgado to sculpt the models for the 1925 fantasy film The Lost World, the 1931 experimental film Creation, and, most importantly, the original 1933 King Kong, which remains a triumph of ingenuity, skill, artistry, and imagination. The Delgados would subsequently work on the follow-up films to King Kong, the quickly produced Son of Kong, also released in 1933, and Mighty Joe Young, made some time later in 1949 and which featured early work by O'Brien's talented protégé, Ray Harryhausen, an immensely talented sculptor and animator who would come to define and dominate the stop-motion form in such films as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and Clash of the Titans (1981).  Marcel and Victor Delgado also worked on films such as The Wizard of Oz (1939), 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954), Mary Poppins (1964), and Fantastic Voyage (1966). 
            A final note on the production is that Douglas Heyes, the director behind such masterful episodes of Twilight Zone as "The Howling Man" and "Eye of the Beholder," was originally slated to direct "The Odyssey of Flight 33" but was replaced at the last minute with Justus Addiss, presumably for reasons of a scheduling conflict. Though it is interesting to imagine what Heyes would have brought to the production, Addiss does a fine job directing a tense episode on a very claustrophobic set.
            "The Odyssey of Flight 33" remains a technically sound, tense, and thrilling episode which perhaps leaves the viewer with more questions than it does answers but does so fairly by the nature of its plot. The actors and actresses, including Twilight Zone repeat performers, are individually good and collectively great, bringing the fantastical nature of the show off with a cool believability. It deservedly remains a highly regarded and fondly remembered episode of the show.

Grade: B

-Justus Addiss also directed the second season episode "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" and the fourth season episode "No Time Like the Past."
-John Anderson appears in three additional episodes of Twilight Zone, season one's "A Passage for Trumpet," season four's "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville," and season five's "The Old Man in the Cave."
-Paul Comi also appears in the first season episode "People Are Alike All Over" and in the fourth season episode, "The Parallel."
-Sandy Kenyon also appears in the third season episode, "The Shelter" and the fourth season episode, "Valley of the Shadow."
-Wayne Heffley also appears in the fifth season episode, "Black Leather Jackets."
-Nancy Rennick also appears in the first season episode, "The After Hours."
-Betty Garde also appears in the third season episode, "The Midnight Sun."
-"The Odyssey of Flight 33" was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Daniel J. Travanti.
-Stephen King lifted elements of the plot of "The Odyssey of Flight 33" for his novella "The Langoliers," first published in September 1990 in the author's collection, Four Past Midnight. "The Langoliers" concerns a group of airplane passengers that are left in the past where they must find a way back to the present or face the terror of the title creatures, who literally eat past time and space. A character in the novella recalls the plot of "The Odyssey of Flight 33” during the course of the action.
-Rod Serling adapted his teleplay into prose for More Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1961).The Bantam Pathfinder edition of More Stories From the Twilight Zone (1966) features imaginative cover art which takes its inspiration from "The Odyssey of Flight 33." It features an aircraft caught within a mass of gears above a primordial jungle in which a Tyrannosaurus can be seen. See cover below.

--Jordan Prejean


  1. Excellent article, Jordan! I was annoyed at first that you were slamming Serling's writing, but you sure got into the nitty gritty details later on! I always thought that dinosaur sequence was from another movie. I find it hard to believe that Delgado made the models just because they look so dopey. The business about setting a show inside a plane is interesting. I wonder how many shows used this setting before this? We are so used to seeing it now, from Laverne and Shirley to Fringe, to every other show or so it seems.

  2. Yeah I know I can be harsh on Serling's writing sometimes, sorry about that. I don't want to give the wrong impression. I'm a Rod Serling fan. I just think he was obligated to produce so much writing for the show that the law of averages often worked against him but of course he produced some fantastic work and his script for this episode is excellent.

    I found it hard to believe it was Marcel Delgado's work too. It looks hastily done and the footage hasn't aged well at all. But he certainly worked in tandem with Projects Unlimited on several projects, so it stands to reason.

    The question of the setting is interesting but I would guess there weren't many before this episode but I didn't do the research to find out. It is certainly an effective setting and they would later use it masterfully for Matheson's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."