Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"The Passersby"



Lavinia (Joanne Linville) listens to a ballad sung by
a confederate sergeant (James Gregory)

“The Passersby”
Season Three, Episode 69
Original Air Date: October 6, 1961

Cast:
The Sergeant: James Gregory
Lavinia: Joanne Linville
Charlie: Rex Holman
The Lieutenant: David Garcia
Jud: Warren Kimberling
Abraham Lincoln: Austin Green
Wounded Soldier: Bob McCord

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Fred Steiner

“And Now, Mr. Serling:”
“Next week we move back in time to April, 1865, the aftermath of the Civil War, at a strange, dusty road that leads to a most unbelievable adventure. On our show next week: ‘The Passerby.’ This one is for the Civil War buffs, the mystics among you…or any and all who would want a brief vacation…in the Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“This road is the afterwards of the Civil War. It began at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and ended at a place called Appomattox. It’s littered with the residue of broken battles and shattered dreams. [Enter the Sergeant who stumbles upon the home of Lavinia and sees her sitting on the porch in a rocking chair.] In just a moment, you will enter a strange province that knows neither North nor South, a place we call…the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            April, 1865. The Civil War is over. An endless line of soldiers trudge down a long, arduous road. On this road is a Confederate Sergeant. He leg is wounded and he walks with a crutch. He carries with him a worn out guitar. Tired, he stops at the home of a young woman named Lavinia and asks her for a drink of water. She obliges and they began to talk. She tells the Sergeant that her husband, a Confederate Captain, was killed. He rests under the shade of a tree and plays his guitar awhile.
            Lavinia spots a soldier she knows on the road. She runs to him and throws her arms around him. She tells him that there were reports that he had been killed. He appears unfazed by this and continues walking. Later on, a Union Lieutenant arrives at the house. He asks for a drink of water. The Sergeant chats with him a moment and Lavinia disappears into the house. The Sergeant then recognizes the Lieutenant as the man that saved his life. Lavinia appears on the porch with a shotgun in her hand and announces that she is going to kill the Lieutenant. The Sergeant informs her that this man saved his life and pleads with her to spare his. After a struggle for the gun she fires at the Lieutenant at point blank range but does not hit him. The Sergeant then recalls an incident where he thought the Lieutenant was killed when an artillery shell exploded near him. Puzzled, the Sergeant holds a lantern up to the Lieutenant and finds that his face is horribly mangled. The Union officer thanks Lavinia for the water and rides away.
            The next day another soldier stops by the house. It’s Lavinia’s husband, Jud, whom she believed dead. She runs to him and collapses in his arms, crying. Jud tells her that he is not staying. He is to continue on the road. She begs him to stay but he insists on leaving. He tells her he believes the road will take them to the afterlife. Lavinia finally realizes what everyone else seems to know already: that she and Jud, and the Sergeant, are all dead. After Jud leaves, the Sergeant informs her that he is also leaving. Not wanting to accept her fate, she begs him to stay. She does not want to be alone. But the Sergeant bids his farewell. She is then greeted by President Abraham Lincoln, the last casualty of the Civil War, who informs her that he is the last man on the road. Not wanting to be left behind, she runs after Jud as the late president trails quietly behind her.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
            “Incident on a dirt road during the month of April, the year 1865. As we’ve already pointed out, it’s a road that won’t be found on a map. But it’s one of many that lead in and out…of the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            “The Passersby” is the second in a handful of episodes concerning the American Civil War. Serling, who saw extensive combat as a paratrooper during World War II, had deep-seated anxieties of war and the destruction that human beings were capable of bestowing upon one another. As a fantasy program, The Twilight Zone has an unusually large number of episodes with war-time settings, most of which were penned by Serling. He had already explored the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in the Season Two episode, “Back There,” and he would continue to examine the Civil War in Season Three’s “Still Valley,” his adaptation of Manly Wade Wellman’s story “The Valley Was Still.” During Season Five the show aired a French adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s famous Civil War story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” directed by Robert Enrico.
            “The Passersby” is loosely recycled from a script Serling penned for NBC’s Matinee Theatre in 1958 entitled “The Cause.” In this earlier script, set in the months after the Confederacy’s surrender in the Spring of 1865, a guitar-wielding soldier named Jud meets and falls in love with a woman from the opposing side of the war. They agree to leave the past in the past and focus on building a new life together. The woman’s loyalty is tested when a family member expresses disapproval over her relationship. In “The Passersby” Serling restructured this story, keeping the time period, setting, and various character names and combined it with a theme he had already explored several times on The Twilight Zone and would continue to do so time and time again: mistaken self-identity. In this episode the Sergeant and Lavinia are unable to grasp the fact that they are both dead even though death is literally marching in front of them. This episode shares an unmistakable likeness to “The Hitch-Hiker” and “Judgement Night” (both from Season One and both penned by Serling although the former is an adaptation). But the theme of mistaken self-identity is not limited to episodes where the protagonist is unaware the he or she is already dead. “The After Hours,” “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” and “The Lateness of the Hour” all feature characters, usually the main character, that are unaware of or unwilling to accept their identity. It’s an effective device and one that can lend itself to a wide range of stories, both light and dark. Charles Beaumont’s episode “A Nice Place to Visit” also explores this theme as does Richard Matheson’s “A World of Difference” and his Season Four masterpiece “Death Ship.”          

         While the twist at the end of this episode isn’t really much of a surprise to anyone, except maybe Lavinia, Serling and director Elliot Silverstein focus instead on the relationship of these two strangers and the haunting imagery around them. Through well-crafted dialogue Serling explores the psychological scars of war and loss. He also touches upon the dangers of isolation and prejudice. He does this by painting a beautiful dynamic between two very broken people. A story that begins as two strangers casually getting to know one another becomes something much more compelling.
Likely realizing that the audience would foresee the ending Silverstein chooses to use this to the episode’s advantage leaving it obvious that the endless procession of soldiers marching in front of Lavinia’s home are headed to the afterlife. Excluding the Sergeant, the soldiers appear disoriented and disconnected from the world around them. They walk with an almost mindless lethargy not unlike the living dead in many zombie films. The set design, saturated in the southern gothic tradition, also suggests an afterlife setting of some kind. It is this over indulgence of haunting imagery, framing the tender relationship between Lavinia and the Sergeant, which gives this episode such an unusual atmosphere.
Serling’s major blunder in this episode is the highly unnecessary appearance of Abraham Lincoln in the final scene. By the time the late president arrives the twist has been revealed to the audience (several times) and his presence does not accomplish anything. It feels forced and gimmicky and kind of offsets the earlier discourse between the two main characters.
The lead actors take center stage in this episode and they both turn in compelling performances. James Gregory makes his second appearance on the show. His first was a brief role in the pilot episode, “Where is Everybody?” The problem with his role in “The Passersby” is a mistake in either casting or script editing. At one point in the episode Gregory implies that he was young man, a teenager perhaps, when he first left for the war only a few years before. Gregory was fifty at the time of this episode. This is a minor error but one that could easily have been avoided by omitting just one line. Joanne Linville was already a seasoned television actress, appearing mostly in smaller roles. She is convincing and authentic here as Lavinia. She presents a vulnerability that makes Lavinia’s flaws forgivable and makes her a sympathetic and even a likeable character.
While this episode is an enjoyable one, with intelligent dialogue and fine acting and direction, I find it is not one that requires more than a viewing or two. The dynamic between the two main characters is interesting and believable but there are too many gimmicks (the Union Lieutenant, Jud, Lincoln) that remove the audience from the heart of the story. Still, if you have not seen it, it is definitely worth a viewing, but it probably won’t be one that stays with you for years to come.

Grade: C

Notes:
--As mentioned, James Gregory also appeared in the pilot episode, “Where is Everybody?” He also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Stop Killing Me."
--Elliott Silverstein also directed “The Obsolete Man,” “The Trade Ins,” and “Spur of the Moment.”
--The Passersby was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Morgan Brittany.


--Brian Durant

7 comments:

  1. I'd rate The Passersby higher, for the dialogue, more natural sounding than usual for Rod Serling, especially for man/woman scenes; and the haunting march of soldiers, the noirish, almost Val Lewton-like ambiance, elliptical feeling visually,--almost surreal--even as the perceptive viewer has already guessed the "gimmick".

    To be kind, the episode was made around the time when the Civil War had only recently retreated from living memory, and indeed the nation was about to,--I can't say celebrate--honor the centennial of the War Between the States. There were still strong feelings, North and South, and the episode dealt with them fairly and intelligently. The arrival of the recently deceased Abraham Lincoln is corny by today's standards, was even at the time she show first aired, but he's given good lines and the actor who portrayed him did a fine, understated job.

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    1. I admit I was on the fence about this one, John. I almost gave it a higher grade. I think the clues that foreshadow the ending are what disconnect me from the story. And I agree that Elliot Silverstein does a remarkable job here and the atmosphere is one of the best things about the episode. Austin Green does a fine job as Lincoln but there is something about this scene that doesn't work for me. It seems like a forced ending. But maybe this is just a personal preference. Still, it's not a terrible episode and one I would urge people to see at least once. Thanks for the comments!

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  2. Director Elliot Silverstein indeed does a fine job of establishing a Val Lewton-like atmosphere. It was really his greatest strength as a director. In every episode he helmed there is a vivid, dream-like atmosphere that is eerily effective. This is why, I believe, the episode is still successful despite the telegraphed twist ending. I find the dialogue a bit too melodramatic, even for the Twilight Zone. Serling seems to be over-indulging himself here and a lot of the dialogue sounds like prose-poetry ruminations on war.

    Another thing I found interesting about this episode is the prominent use of music. This was unusual for the show and only the dreadful "Come Wander With Me" comes to mind as another episode which features music as prominently. It lends "The Passersby" a unique element of melancholy mood and atmosphere.

    Also, I noticed when re-watching this episode that Serling completely avoids the race issues associated with the Civil War. Instead, the episode focuses on white southern aristocrats. I believe all of the visible soldiers marching in the death line are white as well. This seems odd for a series as progressive as the Twilight Zone. Wasn't the reason why Serling developed the show was to talk about uncomfortable social issues disguised as fantasy? Anyhow, just an observation. Still, a very atmospheric episode despite the flaws in the script. Thank goodness Buck Houghton put Silverstein on this one. I think a lesser director would have turned in a pedestrian episode. I wonder what John Brahm would have done with this, he being the other very atmospheric director on the series.

    Here is an interesting bit of trivia related to "The Passersby." James Gregory played General Ulysses S. Grant in The Wild, Wild West series. He also did a couple of episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour and had another tenuous connection to Rod Serling when he portrayed General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), the sequel to the Rod Serling-scripted Planted of the Apes (1968).


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  3. I remember this episode well, mainly for the atmosphere and the image of the line of soldiers marching "home." I would rate it higher than a C but I know you are hard graders! I'm always happy to see a new TZ post pop up.

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  4. Elliot Silverstein showed much promise in his television work as well as, briefly, in feature films,--notably, Cat Bllou--but he never made the big time.

    What made me a huge admirer of him was an episode of Kraft Suspense Theater, The Wine Dark Sea, set in L.A.'s skid row, it's a character study of an alcoholic ex-college professor, beautifully photographed, with lots of good parts for lesser known actors, first rate production values all the way.

    Okay, a digression, but worth mentioning. Truly, the late 50s through the mid-60s was, in my opinion, the real Golden Age of television, with outstanding anthology series such as the TZ, the Kraft series, Hitchcock's shows, Thriller and The Outer Limits, plus excellent dramatic shows that "played" like anthologies (Route 66, Naked City, The Fugitive, the hour long Gunsmokes).

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    1. I couldn't agree more about that era being the Golden Age. Like you say, the anthology series alone (Zone, Thriller, One Step Beyond, Hitchcock, Outer Limits, Night Gallery) make it easily the best era for fans of this type of show. A long-form drama show fuctions most effectively if each episode can stand alone as a story while still maintaining a larger cohesive narrative.

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  5. Thanks, Jordan. I just watched The Passersby again and was even more impressed than the last time I watched it. The Twilight Zone was seldom poetic,--and when they tried they usually fell short--but this episode is an exception. Let's cut some slack for the Lincoln imagery. He was widely regarded, till well into the 20th century, as our greatest president after George Washington.

    Corny as his late appearance in The Passersby by may seem today, I couldn't help but think this time around that the spirit of Lincoln himself haunts the entire episode; and this would be the case even if he (or his ghost) hadn't turned up. His spirit, I felt, actually raised The Passersby to near the heavens, and I write this as something who rarely resorts to such elevated language.

    A beautifully crafted and perfectly acted piece, the episode made me wonder why the South, with or without the Civil War factored in, was such a great place for "period" horror and sci-fi. The Twilight Zone "went South" only a few times, and not always successfully, but Thriller made more than their share of Southern Gothic horrors, and darn if they didn't damn near all of 'em knock it out of the ballpark.

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