Sunday, December 4, 2016

"One More Pallbearer"

The great Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), shortly before his demise.

“One More Pallbearer”
Season Three, Episode 82
Original Air Date: January 12, 1962

Cast:
Paul Radin: Joseph Wiseman
Mrs. Langford: Katherine Squire
Reverend Hughes: Gage Clark
Colonel Hawthorne: Trevor Bardette
Speaking Electrician: Josep Elic
Silent Electrician: Robert Snyder
Policeman: Ray Galvin

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: George R. Nelson
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next on the Twilight Zone we let you in on an extravagant practical joke: a man who wants to convey an illusion that the world is coming to an end. Now there are jokes and there are jokes, but this one stands all by itself as an exercise in the very different, and the very bizarre. Our play is called ‘One More Pallbearer’ and we commend it to you as something quite special.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric, and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive. How eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
            Eccentric millionaire Paul Radin is making the final preparations for the most important night of his adult life. Sound technicians are placing audio equipment in the underground bomb shelter several hundred feet beneath a New York City skyscraper which bears Radin’s name. Once they are finished Radin bids them goodbye. And waits.
           Later in the evening his three guests arrive, each completely unaware of why they have been summoned to this place. It is revealed that each of them has been the cause of profound mental anguish for their host at various points in his life. Mrs. Langford was Radin’s grade school teacher and once embarrassed him in front of the class after he was caught trying to frame another student for cheating. Colonel Hawthorne was Radin’s commanding officer in the Army and had the young soldier court martialed after his cowardice cost the lives of dozens of men. Reverend Hughes once publicly slandered Radin after he drove a woman he was in a relationship with to suicide.
            Radin reveals to his guests that they are about to witness the end of the world. Nuclear war is imminent and the bunker is their only salvation. He will allow them to seek refuge here if they agree to apologize for the years of emotional anguish they have caused him. He plays a phony government emergency announcement to give his claim authenticity. To his dismay they all choose to leave and risk death rather than stay with him. They shuffle into the elevator and are gone.
            Devastated that his revenge has been ruined after a lifetime of resentment, Radin launches into a fit of rage, smashing things around him, as the sound of thundering explosions fill the tiny bunker. After the explosions stop Radin goes to the surface. To his horror New York City is in ruins. His building demolished. Was it real or had he made it up? He could no longer remember. Alone and broken, Radin crumbles to the ground, sobbing.
           A New York City police officer spots Radin weeping into a water fountain outside of his Manhattan high rise, pedestrians going about their business around him, the city totally unharmed by Radin’s imaginary nuclear attack. The officer attempts to engage him in conversation but his effort is wasted. Paul Radin has abandoned this world for the cold familiarity…of the Twilight Zone.


Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Paul Radin. A dealer in fantasy, who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on Earth, doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin. Pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:
            “One More Pallbearer” is one of only a handful of blemishes on an otherwise remarkable season. It is an episode marred by a clumsy plot, over-the-top performances, recycled themes, and a noticeable surplus of unnecessary dialogue. These inconsistencies, however, do not occur independently of one another and all stem from the fact that the premise of this episode simply wasn’t strong enough to support a fully realized dramatic interpretation.  
            The threat of nuclear annihilation in the wake of World War II was a very real fear for much of the world during the middle of the twentieth century. The uneasy relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two world powers at the time, left both nations, and numerous others, in a state of perpetual anxiety. The United States had already demonstrated its nuclear capabilities in 1945, dropping wide-range explosives on two densely-populated Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands and effectively soliciting Japan’s surrender. The Soviet Union, bitter at being kept in the dark about these weapons during the war, began manufacturing its own nuclear weapons once the war was over. The panic that arose in the following years was real and pervaded virtually every aspect of American culture for decades.
            In the years after the war the science fiction and fantasy genres experienced a massive hike in popularity in almost every medium. As the world began to heal from unprecedented devastation writers of every genre sought social commentary through their work. Some wrote epic nightmares warning of dystopian futures ruled by fascists and communists while others exploited social paranoia to warn against things like McCarthyism and prejudice. By the early 1960’s, however, many of the themes and tropes common in post-war science fiction, including and especially stories about the end of the world via nuclear fallout, were stale and laughable and often exploited merely as plot devices. Within a few short years this trend would become altogether extinct as America moved into a Vietnam-war era mentality. Serling had already touched on the threat of nuclear war on a more serious note earlier in the season in “The Shelter” and also several times during the previous seasons. So it is fair to assume that by this time he had grown as tired of the idea as his audience had.
            The plot of this episode is problematic from the very beginning. In the opening scene Serling reveals what would normally be the twist ending, that the nuclear attack is simply a hoax orchestrated by Radin. This shifts the viewer’s attention from the impending attack to Radin and his three victims. The audience believes what Radin presumably believes: that they are about to witness an intimate moment as each of Radin’s victims struggles to choose between their loved ones and their instinct for preservation. Instead, none of them show the slightest hesitation in their thought process and immediately abandon the safety of the bomb shelter for a few extra moments with their loved ones, leaving Radin emotionally blindsided and the audience wondering whether that awkward plot twist was intentional. Serling answers this twist with another in which the audience is briefly lead to believe that the nuclear attack actually occurred—even though rational thought quickly reminds them that it did not—and that the three victims, along with the rest of New York City, are now dead. But before they can began to analyze the dozens of possible interpretations this scene has to offer they are derailed once again when Serling reveals that the bomb was a hoax after all and that the previous scene, featuring a totally demolished New York City, was simply a glimpse into Radin’s deteriorating mind which is now completely disconnected from reality.
This episode can be interpreted a number of ways, none of which make it any more enjoyable. Repeat viewings suggest that Serling likely meant this as a character study of an unlikable person and that the continuous plot twists are intended to give the audience the same sense of shock that Radin is experiencing. The episode begins with the audience believing that Radin will be at least marginally successful. By the final scene, however, they should have abandoned what little faith, and compassion, they may have held for him. His intended objective, or so it would seem, is the importance of distinguishing fantasy from reality and the dangers of obsession.
This is a reasonable premise but it proves unsuccessful for a number of reasons. First, the rapid succession of twists are a bit disorienting, at least upon the initial viewing, mainly because several of the twists conflict with one another instead of each naturally building upon the last. The result is an awkward ending which feels as though it is comprised of the endings to several different episodes all rolled into one.
Radin’s mental collapse during the final scenes is also handled poorly. Serling touched on mental health issues quite often in his writing and usually approached the subject from a thoughtful point of view. He most likely intended for the audience to believe that Radin’s mind has simply snapped after such a monumental disappointment. He may also be suggesting that Radin has simply escaped back into his fantasy world where he is the eternal victim. Given his closing narration, however, the former explanation makes more sense. Either way, the sequence simply does not work. It happens far too abruptly and the contrasting visualization between the real New York and Radin’s fantasy world is too severe to be believable. It feels lazy and inappropriate. Wiseman’s absurd over-acting here doesn’t help this scene any and suggests that if he isn’t taking any of this seriously then neither should we.
            Another problem is that the audience isn’t really given a chance to know the characters. It is obvious from the start that Radin is the villain here and that our sympathies are supposed to lie with his three victims. However, none of them seem like redeemable people either. Our impression of them is based solely on their words and actions while they are on screen. Within this short time frame we see a school teacher who publicly humiliates a child instead of addressing the actual problem and a Christian minister who also exploits his public platform in order to slander Radin, an act that seems contrary to the beliefs of his religion. The only punishment that seems appropriate is Radin’s discharge from the Army as a result of his cowardice. However, the colonel’s remark about having him shot, while not totally unwarranted, immediately removes any empathy the audience may hold for him. And the three continue to degrade and insult Radin, Mrs. Langford in particular, even after it becomes clear that he is emotionally disturbed. Likewise, the audience never witnesses Radin doing or saying anything onscreen that is particularly unforgivable. All he wants from his victims is an apology. Just two words. The audience is supposed to form an opinion of him based on the testimonies of the other characters but their cold, unlikable personalities render them unreliable judges of character.
            Finally, Serling’s dialogue is out of control in this episode. As we have stated numerous times, one of Serling’s strongest attributes as a writer was his gift for dialogue. His words had a unique crackle about them, full of emotion and swift consonant sounds that had a mesmerizing quality. His dialogue was very intense and very specific to his personality as a writer. In suitable doses, and in the appropriate context, his words were magic. However, if a script seemed weak, as this one likely did, Serling would flood it with dialogue which often gave it the balance it needed. Unfortunately, it does not seem to help this episode any and the verbose dialogue gives it a bloated quality.
            Lamont Johnson, the stalwart of the third season, delivers the fourth of his eight total episodes—only one of which, season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne,” appears in a season other than this one. His direction here is quieter than in a lot of his episodes but still effective. A former theatre director, he is adept at using minimalism to his advantage. The majority of the episode takes place in a single room which Johnson chooses to leave open, letting high contrast lighting frame most of his shots. Serling’s on-screen appearance deserves a mention as well. Johnson pans the length of an elevator door until it chimes and the door opens revealing our host, complete with Chesterfield.
            While certain aspects of this episode are interesting, “One More Pallbearer” is a weird, clumsy story which leaves its audience slightly confused and highly dissatisfied. It was probably not destined to be a masterpiece but could have possibly been more effective had Serling the time to flesh out the plot. A demanding writing schedule due to contractual commitments is likely the demise of this particular script. This one, unfortunately, does not come recommended.

Grade: D

Notes:
--Lamont Johnson directed a total of eight episodes of the show including the George Clayton Johnson episodes “Nothing in the Dark,” which aired the previous week, and “Kick the Can.”
--Joseph Wiseman also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Room With a View." 
--Katherine Squire also appeared in season four’s “In His Image.”
--Josip Elic also appeared in the season two finale “The Obsolete Man.”
--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross.

--Brian Durant

3 comments:

  1. This one must have been such a stinker that I forgot all about it! I don't remember anything but the title.

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  2. You aren't missing much, Jack. It's certainly not the worst episode of the show but one I need not ever watch again.

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  3. I recently listened to the radio drama version of this one and it plays much better in that format. The Reverend and the Colonel come off much better but the school teacher still comes off in an unsympathetic manner. I highly recommend the radio dramas in general because they are written by Dennis Etchison (who was a writing student under Charles Beaumont at UCLA) and Etchison is a fine writer who adds a lot of great additional material to the radio dramas in order to fit them into the 40 minute run time.

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