Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Twenty Two"

Barbara Nichols as the tormented Liz Powell
“Twenty Two”
Season Two, Episode 53
Original Air Date: February 10, 1961

Cast:
Liz Powell: Barbara Nichols
Doctor: Jonathan Harris
Barney: Fredd Wayne
Nurse/Stewardess: Arline Sax
Night Duty Nurse: Norma Connolly
Day Duty Nurse: Mary Adams
Airline Agent: Wesley Lau
Ticket Clerk: Angus Duncan

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (teleplay based on an anecdote in Famous Ghost Stories, edited by Bennett Cerf. ("The Bus-Conductor" by E.F. Benson))
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Buck Houghton
Associate Producer: Del Reisman
Art Direction: Craig Smith
Set Decoration: Arthur Jeph Parker
Technical Director: Jim Brady
Associate Director: James Clark
Casting: Ethel Winant
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“This is room 22 and on the other side of its doors lies an adventure that is as fascinating as it is inexplicable.  It’s a story that comes to us from Mr. Bennett Cerf, who describes it as an age-old horror tale whose origin is unknown.  We have dressed it up in some hospital wrappings and enlisted the performance of Miss Barbara Nichols.  Next on the Twilight Zone, ‘Twenty Two.’  Be prepared to be spooked.  It’s that kind of story.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“This is Miss Liz Powell.  She’s a professional dancer and she’s in the hospital as a result of overwork and nervous fatigue.  And at this moment we have just finished walking with her in a nightmare.  In a moment she’ll wake up and we’ll remain at her side.  The problem here is that both Miss Powell and you will reach a point where it might be difficult to decide which is reality and which is nightmare.  A problem uncommon perhaps…but rather peculiar…to the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
               It is the middle of the night.  Liz Powell, a professional dancer, lies awake in a hospital room, her nerves preventing any sort of sleep.  She reaches over towards the nightstand for a glass of water but it slips from her trembling hand, shattering on the floor.  She gets out of bed, walks down the hallway and into the elevator.  When she reaches the basement, she steps off.  Slowly, she walks down the hallway and stops in front of a double door marked MORGUE.  Above the door is the number 22.  Suddenly, the door is thrown open and a woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform appears and says: “Room for one more, honey.”
Powell screams and races back down the hallway to the elevator.
                The next day Powell is visited by her agent, Barney.  After a conversation about why Barney hasn’t called or come to visit her until now Powell’s doctor enters the room.  Powell insists that her experience walking down to the basement is real.  The doctor, however, believes that Powell is simply having an elaborate dream.  To prove it he brings in the night nurse for the basement floor.  Powell takes one look at her and admits that it is not the woman that she seen in room 22 every night.  To help her break the repetitive dream cycle the doctor suggests to Powell that she change part of the dream.  He suggests that she not reach for the glass of water this time.
                That night as she lies awake in her bed listening to the clock tick, instead of reaching for the glass of water she lights a cigarette but she drops her lighter on the floor.  She reaches down to pick it up, bracing herself on the nightstand and ends up knocking the glass of water to the floor anyway.  The rest of the dream plays out the same way it has every night, with the woman in room 22 telling her that there is “room for one more.”  Back in her room, Powell has to be sedated.
                The next day Powell is being released from the hospital.  The doctor meets her on her way out and insists once more that her experiences were simply elaborate dreams that felt real.  She thanks him and leaves.  In the airport, Powell begins to get the same feeling that she did when she was having her “dreams.”  She learns that she is scheduled for Flight 22.  She buys her ticket and begins to board the plane, feeling in her bones that something is wrong.  Slowly, she walks to the plane as it is beginning to board up for takeoff.  When she gets there the stewardess greets her.  It’s the same woman from her dreams.  “Room for one more, honey,” she says.  Powell screams and runs back inside the airport terminal.  She watches from window as Flight 22 begins to ascend from the runway.  As it takes off the plane bursts into flames.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Miss Elizabeth Powell, professional dancer. Hospital diagnosis: acute anxiety brought on by overwork and fatigue.  Prognosis: with rest and care she’ll probably recover.  But the cure to some nightmares is not to be found in known medical journals.  You look for it under potions for bad dreams…to be found in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
“Twenty Two” is an episode that seems, accordingly to most internet message boards and accompanying rating systems, to have strongly resonated with Twilight Zone viewers over the years. It is usually rated very high (the episode currently holds an impressive 8.0 rating on the Internet Movie Database). This is likely due to the both the familiarity of the story and its inherent cleverness. Though the true origin of the "room for one more" story archetype is likely lost to time, "Twenty Two" is based on the most popular piece of fiction to use that story construct, the Edwardian ghost story, "The Bus-Conductor," by E.F. Benson. The story was first published in the December 1906 issue of Pall Mall Magazine and was reprinted in Benson’s collection The Room in the Tower and Other Stories in 1912. It has since been reprinted dozens of time, often in uncredited form, in numerous anthologies and studies of the supernatural story.
Benson’s story concerns a man who, while visiting a friend in the countryside, dreams of seeing a hearse in the street below his bedroom window. From the hearse emerges an undertaker who makes a beckoning gesture to the man with the uninviting call of “just room for one inside, sir.” Upon leaving the friend's home the following day, the man attempts to board a bus on a street corner. As the doors to the bus open, the bus conductor (who looks exactly like the undertaker from the man's dream) says to him, “just room for one inside, sir.” The man, remembering his encounter the night before, decides against boarding the bus and watches as the bus crashes soon after its departure, killing all on board.
            Benson’s story is a tale that has been told and retold so often and in so many variations that it has virtually entered the cultural consciousness as a piece of folklore rather than a story sprung from the imagination of one writer. Another story with which it shares this similarity is W.W. Jacobs's “The Monkey’s Paw” (1902). These two writers, both of the Edwardian period, are similar in more than one way since both were known in their own time for their humorous fictions and are now remembered as authors of the some of the most startling supernatural fiction of the early 20th century. Besides "The Monkey's Paw," Jacobs wrote a handful of ghost and horror stories, some of which, "The Toll-House" and "The Well," still retain their power to shock and unsettle. Benson wrote several well-regarded horror stories, including “The Room in the Tower,” “Ms. Amsworth,” “Caterpillars,” "The Face," and “The Horror-Horn,” among many more. His fiction is highly recommendable and is available in a collected edition.
It is safe to say that the average viewer of “Twenty Two” or “The Man in the Bottle” (The Twilight Zone’s version of Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”) would be unable to attribute the source of the fiction, yet the stories are instantly recognizable to almost every adult in the English speaking world. The allure of adapting “The Bus-Conductor” is its simplicity, as it reads like a fable and, because of this simplicity, can be reformatted to fit nearly any time period with only slight variation. This is the quality which undoubtedly drew Rod Serling to add an adaptation of the story to his showcase for the uncanny. The most famous adaptation of the story outside this episode of The Twilight Zone is the first segment of the exceptional 1945 Ealing Studios anthology film Dead of Night, an unusual film in that it was a British production of a horror film during a time when that country disdained the form and strongly discouraged the import of Hollywood horror films; not to mention the fact that Ealing was so well known for comedy films (further drawing a parallel between the two genres) that a certain style of film became known as an "Ealing comedy." Dead of Night remains fondly remembered, mostly upon the strength of the final segment of the film, which is a frightening tale of a malevolent ventriloquist dummy (a segment which seemingly takes it material from a number of sources). For more on the film Dead of Night head on over to our discussion of the film. 
        Many young readers were introduced to the story which formed the basis for “Twenty Two” via folklorist Alvin Schwarz, who included it in his 1981 collection Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, under the simple title "Room for One More." Schwarz attributes the story to a folkloric tradition far older than the Benson story but it remains that Benson was the first writer that penned the fiction for a popular outlet.
The episode itself is an enjoyable, streamlined effort from Serling and company but it hardly feels like an enduring episode for reasons other than its gimmick which, to those well read in supernatural literature, was passé even by the time The Twilight Zone put its inimitable stamp on it. The story, which runs seven pages in the collected edition of Benson’s supernatural stories, hardly seems to contain enough to base a twenty five minute episode of the show upon (The Dead of Night version runs a scant 12 minutes). Still, the production crew does a relatively admirable job considering the constraints of the videotape format and the brief material they had to work with. The pleasure of the episode lies in the production design. The hospital, even during the daylight hours when it should be a busy, crowded place, seems somehow vacant and unsettling, giving the episode that indescribable Twilight Zone feel. The production shines in the dream sequences and in the design of the lower level of the hospital. The design is heavily industrial and quite frightening and the effect of the endless corridor beyond the swinging doors to the morgue was a masterstroke. The failure of the design and of the videotape format is when the setting moves out of the hospital. Here the backlot set is unconvincing. Adding to the mess is the fact that the acoustics ring out hollowly in the enclosed environment, betraying the set.
The casting in the episode is fine. Though Serling’s script does not demand much of the actors all perform admirably.  The most inspired bit of casting, of course, is for the night nurse at the morgue in the dream sequences. This was played by actress Arlene Martel (billed as Arlene Sax) and her unique appearance and foreboding manner are unforgettable and lend the episode much of its creepiness.
            Barbara Nichols is probably best remembered for this episode of The Twilight Zone but is also remembered for a number of small roles, mostly on television, essentially playing the same character, the Brooklyn-voiced blonde bombshell. Nichols began her career on stage in the early ‘50s, became a favorite pin-up girl of the GIs, and had her best year in film in 1957 with roles in Pal Joey, Sweet Smell of Success, and The Pajama Game. She landed a regular role in the situation comedy Love That Jill the following year but the show lasted only 13 episodes. In the late 1950s and into the 1960s she found herself taking guest roles on television and in C-grade movies. Her last crowning achievement was on Broadway in Let it Ride in 1961. Complications from two car accidents resulted in liver disease and she passed away on October 5, 1976 at the young age of 47.
Jonathan Harris is deservedly famous for his role as Dr. Zachary Smith on Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space (1965-1968) but managed to amass dozens of credits, mostly in television, from the early 1950s until the early 2000s just before his death in 2002. He has several genre credits including episodes of Lights Out, Land of the Giants, Bewitched, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Space Academy, and Battlestar Galactica. Beginning in the 1980s, Harris became an accomplished voice actor working prolifically in children’s programming. He also featured in a supporting role in the second season episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Silence.”
Fredd Wayne was also a fixture on television going back to the early ‘50s. He featured in the third season episode of The Twilight Zone “The Arrival” and has genre credits in episodes of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, and Wonder Woman, but his forte was certainly in comedy and light drama. He is probably best remembered for his turns as Benjamin Franklin on talk shows and in his one man show Benjamin Franklin, Citizen. Wayne, no longer active in the entertainment industry, was born on October 17, 1924.
         "Twenty Two" is a slight, if memorable, accomplishment for the show and, like most of the videotaped episodes, suffers somewhat from the formatting. It is a simple, derivative episode which sticks in the mind of the viewer and has a suitably creepy atmosphere enhanced by memorable production design. If anything, "Twenty Two" signaled the near-end of the disastrous cost cutting measure that was the use of videotape on the series.

Grade: C

Notes:
-- Jonathan Harris also appeared in the later Season Two episode, "The Silence." He also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay."
-- Fredd Wayne also appeared in the later Season Two episode, "The Arrival."
--Arline Sax also appeared in the Season One episode "What You Need."
-- "Twenty Two" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Andrea Evans.

-- Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant

2 comments:

  1. Nice review! So glad you're back. This is one of these episodes with a deathless catch phrase that pops out of my mouth every so often.

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  2. Thanks, Jack, good to be back. Sorry about the time lapse. Yeah, this is a nice spooky episode that really seems to stay with the viewer. The exploding plane effect at the end is clunky but overall it's a good one. Rewatching these videotaped episodes I realized that, with the obvious exception of "The Whole Truth," they aren't that bad at all. We have "Static" and "Long Distance Call" coming up and I enjoy both of those episodes. Would love to have seen George Clemens' photography for these episodes but I'm glad at least they realized that videotape was a bad idea and cut it out. Thanks for reading!

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