Although The Twilight Zone is celebrated for the talented group of writers who created such memorable stories for the series, the show excelled in every aspect of production, from direction and Emmy Award-winning cinematography, to unforgettable music, set design, and makeup. The series was also a showcase for some of the finest acting presented on television at the time. This list was created to celebrate what we think are the 20 finest performances from the series. Choosing only 20 performances from 156 episodes was extremely difficult. There were many standout performances which missed the list, especially from ensemble casts, such as in “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” “The Shelter,” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” as well as excellent turns from child actors in episodes such as “The Big Tall Wish,” “It’s a Good Life,” and “Mute.” If I’ve missed your favorite performance I apologize. Let me know in the comments which are your favorite performances from the series.
Grateful acknowledgement to The Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) for the use of images.
Continuing our countdown:
Continuing our countdown:
#15 – Joseph Schildkraut, “The Trade-Ins” (Season 3)
Schildkraut was a classically trained actor from a proud acting family who turned in two great performances for the series, first for the third season’s “Deaths-head Revisited” as the ghost of a concentration camp victim, and again later that season for “The Trade-Ins” as a man nearing death who is given the chance to be young again. It is in this second episode that Schildkraut presents his stand-out performance on the series. The empathy his performance elicits is due in part to a real life tragedy the actor was undergoing at the time of filming. His wife died after the first day of filming and Schildkraut proudly kept filming with the pain of the ordeal evident in his performance. It remains a powerful piece of acting captured forever in one of Rod Serling’s most moving scripts.
#14 – Jack Warden, “The Lonely” (Season 1)
The versatile Warden was one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous first season episode, “The Mighty Casey,” but earlier that season presented one of the more moving performances of the series as a prisoner on an isolated planet who becomes emotionally attached to a beautiful female robot. It is a wonderful illustration of the human need for companionship and Warden brings Rod Serling’s story to life wonderfully. Read our full episode review here.
#13 – Earl Holliman, “Where is Everybody?” (Season 1)
Holliman’s performance in the pilot episode of the series set an acting standard for the entire show. It is easy to underestimate the enormous task set for Holliman, not only in terms of his episode-carrying performance as an amnesiac who finds himself alone in the world, but also in terms of selling the series to the network and potential sponsors. It is Holliman’s convincing and sympathetic performance which by-and-large sold the series and established the tone and content which was to follow. Find our episode review here.
#12 – Inger Stevens, “The Hitch-Hiker” (Season 1)
Like Holliman, Stevens is largely given the task of carrying an entire episode alone, and one which features an adaptation of a famous and beloved radio play at that. Stevens carries it off brilliantly, as a sunny young woman drawn into the darkest depths of despair and realization. The final scene in which Stevens phones home and learns of her fate remains one of the most affecting and melancholy scenes form any episode. Stevens later appeared in the second season episode, “The Lateness of the Hour.” Read our full review of “The Hitch-Hiker” here.
#11 – Rod Taylor, “And When the Sky Was Opened” (Season 1)
The strongest aspect of Taylor’s excellent performance in this episode is his restraint. He could easily have taken the performance over-the-top but instead chose to play it as a man desperately trying to hold onto his sanity against all odds and the performance is all the better for it. Taylor was a criminally underrated actor in general and his sole contribution to the series was a gem. Read our review here.
Check back tomorrow for our picks for #s 10-6.