Monday, April 11, 2011

"Mr. Denton On Doomsday"

Dan Duryea as gunfighter turned town drunk Al Denton
“Mr. Denton on Doomsday”
Season One, Episode 3
Original Air Date: October 16, 1959

Al Denton: Dan Duryea
Henry J. Fate: Malcolm Atterbury
Dan Hotaling: Martin Landau
Liz: Jeanne Cooper
Pete Grant: Doug McClure
Charlie: Ken Lynch
Leader: Arthur Batanides
Man: Bill Erwin
Doctor: Robert Burton
Peter Grant: Doug McClure

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Allen Reisner
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Rudy Butler and Henry Grace
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franlin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Stock
And Now, Mr. Serling
“Next week we invite you to take a walk down a western frontier street at the elbow of a doomed gunman, whose salvation lies in nothing less than a magic potion and a colt .45. Mr. Dan Duryea stars in ‘Mr. Denton on Doomsday’ next week on The Twilight Zone. We hope you’ll be able to be with us. Thank you, and good night.”
Rod Serling’s Opening Narration
“Portrait of a town drunk named Al Denton. This is a man who’s begun his dying early, a long agonizing route through a maze of bottles. Al Denton, who would probably give an arm or a leg or a part of his soul to have another chance, to be able to rise up and shake the dirt from his body and the bad dreams that infest his consciousness. In the parlance of the time: this is a peddler, a rather fanciful-looking little man in a black frock coat. And this is the third principal character of our story. Its function? Perhaps to give Mr. Al Denton his second chance.”

Henry J. Fate (Malcolm Atterbury)

     In a frontier town where dreams have died and turned to hopeless prayers, Al Denton may be the last dreamer in this forgotten place. Once a legendary gunslinger, a quick-draw specialist whose reputation was challenged daily by young men with guns on their hips, each one eager to test Denton’s skill and claim the prize of a killer’s reputation, Denton is merely a shadow of his former self: weak, broken, pitiful, and enslaved by the bottle. He draws the attention of Hotaling, a gunfighter that takes sadistic pleasure in ridiculing Denton for the price of a drink in the local saloon. Denton draws the pity of a concerned woman and a sympathetic bartender but it’s not enough for him to rise above the sad hole he’s fallen into.
    Then comes a day when a traveling salesman rides into town with the name of Henry J. Fate painted across his covered wagon. This peddler of wares makes his first order of business to place a six-shooter in the hand of the downtrodden Denton. With gun in hand, Denton is unwittingly backed into a showdown with Hotaling. By the guiding glances of Henry J. Fate, which have an almost telepathic effect, Denton pulls off two impossible shots and disarms the sadistic bully. Word travels quickly and Denton knows that soon more young gunfighters will be riding into town to challenge him. Once upon a time, Denton took the life of a sixteen year old boy in a duel, a boy who’d rode into town with the intention to kill him simply because Denton was known as the best. Now, Denton fears, the vicious cycle that brought him to this point will begin again.
     After Denton is visited by a couple of tough cowboys informing him of the impending visit of one Pete Grant, a sure-handed gunfighter eager to do away with Denton and make a reputation as the fastest gun around, Henry J. Fate’s covered wagon draws Denton’s attention. Fate tells Denton that he, Fate, stocks a potion that, when a gunfighter drinks it, will make that man unbeatable, the fastest and truest shot anybody’s ever seen. The catch being that the potion is only effective for ten seconds after it is ingested. After giving Denton a demonstration of what the potion can do, Fate passes on a second dose free of charge but with a little advice. Denton’s already made a date to meet Pete Grant later on in the local saloon. Fate advises Denton to drink the potion the second Grant comes through the doors.
     The showdown comes when Pete Grant rides in and makes his way to the saloon where he calls out Denton. Grant is barely more than a kid with his curly blonde hair and cherubic face, but Denton knows that Grant isn’t leaving until the two of them draw down on each other. Without a choice, and doubting his ability to be as good with a gun as he once was, Denton drinks the potion Fate gave him only to look across the saloon and see Pete Grant doing the exact same thing!

     A moment later, the two men draw on each other. Each is as fast as the other, with both men landing a wounding shot to the other’s gun hand, ending their gun fighting days for good. Denton tells young Pete Grant that this is a blessing, that the young man has been saved from the hard life that Denton has endured. The episode fades out on Henry J. Fate riding his covered wagon out of town.
Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“Mr. Henry Fate, dealer in utensils and pots and pans, liniments and potions; a fanciful little man in a black frock coat who can help a man climbing out of a pit, or another man falling into one. Because, you see, fate can work that way, in The Twilight Zone.”


Martin Landau as the bully Dan Hotaling
      “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is one of Rod Serling’s “loser” episodes, where the main character is on the wrong side of luck, struggling daily, and dangling at the end of a rope. Then something “magic” comes along, something unbelievable that intrudes upon the character’s unfortunate reality, the effect of which forever changes their life and their outlook on the future. In every one of these stories there is a pivotal choice to be made by the character. The magic is never free and never without need of human action. “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” exemplifies this theme. Serling’s scripts of this type established the theme by presenting a main character possessed of a singular misfortune that is the root cause of their misery. Some of the most commonly used are alcoholism, seen in "Mr. Denton on Doomsday," "A Passage for Trumpet" and "Night of the Meek," the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, seen in episodes such as "King Nine Will Not Return" and "The Arrival," and cowardice or other self destructive tendency, as in "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" and "The Last Night of a Jockey."
       "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" benefits from its excellent Old West setting. Tales of the Old West were surprisingly common on the series. The best episode dealing with the theme is probably Montgomery Pittman's "The Grave," from the third season, but the Old West crops up in one form or another in such episodes as "Execution," "Dust," "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim," "Showdown with Rance McGrew," and "Mr. Garrity and the Graves."
        Rod Serling originally pitched the idea for the episode on the promotional footage which accompanied the screening of the pilot episode “Where Is Everybody?” held for potential series sponsors. At that time the episode was titled “Death, Destry, and Mr. Dingle.” Serling scrapped Mr. Dingle for Mr. Denton but later used Mr. Dingle for a second season episode in which Burgess Meredith played “Mr. Dingle, the Strong.” Mr. Dingle, in his original incarnation, was scripted to be a teacher in a frontier schoolhouse who daydreams of gun fighting and adventure only to be falsely rumored to be a deadly gunslinger (he is, in truth, terrified of violence). Serling also previously used the name Denton, the real life name of a childhood acquaintance, for the role of a sheriff in the Playhouse 90 production of “A Town Has Turned to Dust.”

        The best parts of “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” are the moments that elevate the episode to a high emotional pitch. Nearly every episode Serling wrote had at least one moment of this emotional intensity. Though “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” does not quite carry the emotional weight of Serling’s best efforts, it does bear a good deal, and the majority of the credit goes to Dan Duryea’s weary performance as Al Denton.
     Duryea (1907-1968), whom Film Noir authority Eddie Muller described as "always the glowing center of attention in any scene," enjoyed a fruitful film career throughout the late forties and the fifties. In his prime, he was an incredibly magnetic actor who made his name playing villains in a number of well-regarded films, mostly in the smoke and fog shrouded land of Film Noir offerings such as The Woman in the Window (1944), Criss Cross (1949), and Too Late for Tears (1949). Duryea had a villainous role in the western Winchester '73 (1950) and a small but memorable role as a Nazi spy in Fritz Lang's 1945 film Ministry of Fear, one of three Lang films to feature Duryea. Duryea landed the occasional redemptive role as well, such as that of a drunken songwriter out to prove his friend innocent of murder in the 1946 film Black Angel, based on the 1943 novel by Cornell Woolrich, which featured a theatrical release poster that screamed: "Duryea! . . . That fascinating tough guy of Scarlet Street." Duryea moved into television by the late 1950's, working with Twilight Zone producer Buck Houghton on China Smith, a series co-written by Rod Serling's Night Gallery producer Jack Laird. He worked right up until 1968, the year of his death from cancer at age 61. 
     The villain of the episode is not Duryea, of course, but versatile actor Martin Landau (1928-2017), making the first of two memorable appearances on the series (the other being Rod Serling's underrated spy thriller "The Jeopardy Room" from the fifth season). Landau is likely best known for his role on the television series Mission: Impossible as well as for his Academy Award-winning performance as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994). Landau also appeared in episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Space: 1999, the 1980's revival series of both The Twilight Zone (season one's "The Beacon") and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and two highly regarded episodes of The Outer Limits, "The Man Who Was Never Born" and "The Bellero Shield." 

     What works against “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” are the moments when the tension is killed by hammy dialogue or stilted action. It is quite unbelievable, for instance, that the hands of both gunfighters are injured so badly that they will never be able to shoot a gun again and yet they appear to be all but unharmed, needing no real medical attention, just a bandage wrapped around an unclean wound. Like using the name of Fate for the magic man in the episode, this sort of fairy tale logic and sly humor detract from the seriousness of the episode's tone. 
     “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is a still a highly enjoyable episode. The Old West setting is excellent and the episode works well as a quick-punching, two-act morality play. The acting is fine and, if nothing else, the episode manages to pull the viewer very quickly into an immediately recognizable dramatic situation.

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement to:

-The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (Silman-James, 2nd edition, 1992)

-Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller (St. Martin's Griffin, 1998)

-"Starring Dan Duryea" by Paul Gaita (; accessed 3/24/2017)


--Director Allen Reisner also directed two episodes of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, "The Nature of the Enemy" and "Brenda," the latter scripted by Twilight Zone director Douglas Heyes under the pseudonym Matthew Howard, based on the story by Margaret St. Clair. 
--Martin Landau also appears in the fifth season episode "The Jeopardy Room."
--Radio and television towers can be seen in the background as Henry J. Fate first rides into town.
--"Mr. Denton on Doomsday" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Adam Baldwin.
--Producer Buck Houghton previously worked with Dan Duryea on Houghton's first job producing a television series with the early 1950's series China Smith. The series was co-written by Rod Serling's Night Gallery producer Jack Laird. 

--Jordan Prejean

1 comment:

  1. Sort of dark...
    A broken drunk has been hassled by people and challenged his life until he has only a saloon girl to care about him.
    The MEDICINE MAN gave him that gun and elixir. The drunk was challenged once again.
    The young man also drank elixir... then shot each others draw hands.
    Our hero is cured of alcoholism and found love...
    The young villain takes his curse...
    LOVE IT, more voodoo stuff.