Sunday, December 18, 2011

"The Fever"

Franklin Gibbs (Everett Sloan), stalked by the One Armed Bandit

“The Fever”
Season One, Episode 17
Original Air Date: January 29, 1960

Franklin Gibbs: Everett Sloan
Flora Gibbs: Vivi Janiss
Public Relations Man: William Kendis
Floor Manager: Lee Sands
Sherriff: Arthur Peterson
Drunk: Art Lewis
Cashier: Marc Towers

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Robert Florey
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: Joseph Gluck
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Specie of machine known variously as slot machine or one-armed bandit.  And if you’ve ever played with one of these things for a while you’ve probably gotten a peculiar feeling that this is a machine with a mind and a will of its own.  This is precisely what happens when Everett Sloan contacts a fatal ailment we call ‘the Fever.’  You’ll be an eye-witness to it next week on The Twilight Zone.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Gibbs, three days and two nights, all expenses paid, at a Las Vegas hotel, won by virtue of Mrs. Gibbs knack with a phrase.  But unbeknownst to either Mr. or Mrs. Gibbs is the fact that there’s a prize in their package neither expected nor bargained for.  In just a moment, one of them will succumb to an illness worse than any virus can produce.  A most inoperative, deadly, life-shattering affliction known as…the Fever.”

            Flora and Franklin Gibbs have won an all-expenses paid vacation to Las Vegas for three days and two nights at a lavish hotel casino.  Upon arriving Franklin reminds his wife of his adamant hatred and disgust for gambling and tells her that he refuses to participate in such a degrading sport.  After saying this, however, Franklin is given a silver dollar by a drunk who forces him to put into a slot machine.  He hits the jackpot and the machine pays off.
            Back in their hotel room that evening Franklin can’t sleep.  He fools himself into thinking that he needs to put the tainted money back into the one-armed bandit where it belongs and he hops out of bed and heads down to the casino, leaving his wife in the room.  Some time later Flora comes down to the casino to find her husband in the grips a fevered gambling binge.  He has apparently been at it for hours and has gained the attention of the staff, who eye him suspiciously.  Flora pleads with him to return to bed but he refuses to do so until the machine pays off.  Several hours later, Franklin puts his last dollar into the machine and—as if mocking him—it stops working.  Franklin becomes enraged and violently pushes the slot machine to the ground.  He is apprehended by security and escorted back to his room.
            Franklin awakens several hours later convinced that he hears the sound of the one arm bandit outside of the hotel room.  Flora tells him that there is nothing there but he is in such a state of paranoia that he sees an illusion of a slot machine racing toward him.  He panics and trips over backwards, falling out of the window to his death many stories below.  Afterwards the one-armed bandit appears at the scene of the crime and triumphantly returns Franklin’s silver dollar back to his lifeless corpse.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Franklin Gibbs, visitor to Las Vegas, who lost his money, his reason and finally his life to an inanimate metal machine variously described as a one armed bandit, a slot machine or, in Mr. Franklin Gibbs’s words, a monster with a will of its own.  Four our purposes we’ll stick with the later definition, because we’re in the Twilight Zone.”


"Three hours later Franklin stood by the machine, his tie knot pulled down, his shirt unbuttoned, his coat open. He was unconscious of time or noise or the way he looked or anything else. His whole existence had resolved itself into a simple set of actions. Put the coin in. Pull down the lever. Watch and wait." 
           "The Fever" by Rod Serling, Stories from the Twilight Zone (1960) 

            “The Fever” is Serling’s tongue in cheek stance on the debilitation of addiction.  Overall, this is not one of the more memorable episodes of the first season as comedy was not something that The Zone often did very successfully.  But it deserves a viewing or two.  This script’s greatest attribute is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  It’s almost a mockery of itself.  Serling said that he got the idea while playing slot machines in Las Vegas when he suddenly realized that there was an urge in him to keep playing until the machine paid off.  I don’t think Serling wanted to comment on gambling in particular, but on how helpless an individual can feel when in the grips of compulsion.  But he knew that overt didacticism wasn’t the way to get his message across.  On the surface “The Fever” is a simple parable about the helplessness of addiction and how completely it can consume a person.  But twenty-five minutes is not enough time to rationally tackle a subject as immensely serious as this one, so Serling  cartoonishly exaggerates Franklin’s neurosis in an attempt to make his point with humor.   Franklin begins the episode as an archetypal curmudgeon who has a distaste not only for gambling but, so it seems, for any sort of unbridled revelry.  And within a matter of hours he is transformed into a shamelessly degenerate gambler, all because of one lucky win.  Finally, after he’s been torn away from the casino floor, his fixation with gambling is so intense that he begins hallucinating that a slot machine is chasing him around his Las Vegas hotel, calling his name.  This is Serling’s attempt to poke fun at his own moralistic viewpoint while articulating his message at the same time, and for the most part it’s effective.  There are several possible endings to this episode but Serling choose to keep the source of Franklin’s tension purely psychological which I think was a smart choice.  The final scene in which the one-armed bandit can now be seen from the audience’s viewpoint, not Franklin’s, is simply Serling’s attempt to lighten the tone and end the story on a humorous note.
            One thing I always notice about this episode is its interesting use of sound.  Director Robert Florey and sound engineers Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino designed a unique voice for the one-armed bandit by mixing an actor’s voice with the sound of falling coins.  The performances in this episode also deserve a nod.  Vivi Janiss is wonderful as the eternally loyal, tolerant wife and Everett Sloane is absolutely remarkable as the maniacal Franklin Gibbs.  Sloane was known primarily as a character actor and years before had been a member of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre, and was featured in many of Welles’s early films including Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai. Sloane was nominated for an Emmy for his flawless portrayal of ruthless corporate executive Walter Ramsey in Rod Serling’s Patterns which aired on Kraft Television Theatre in 1955.  He reprised the role for the film version in 1956.  “The Fever” is his only contribution to The Twilight Zone.

Grade: C

--The great Robert Florey also directed the season one episode “Perchance to Dream” and the season five episode “The Long Morrow.”
--Vivi Janiss also starred in the season two episode “The Man in the Bottle.”
--Serling adapted "The Fever" into a short story for his collection, Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam, 1960).  It was also adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Stacy Keach and Kathy Garver (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).
--Everett Sloan also starred in Rod Serling’s Noon on Doomsday which originally aired on The United States Steel Hour in 1956, alongside fellow Zone actors Jack Warden, Albert Salmi, and Philip Abbott. This original drama was one of the more heavily censored of Serling's scripts, as it was based on the murder of Emmett Till.  He also wrote the seldom heard lyrics to the theme from The Andy Griffith Show.  Reportedly depressed by the onset of blindness caused by glaucoma, the talented actor committed suicide in 1965.  He was fifty- five.
--"The Fever" was adapted into comic book form for the 1979 book Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam; a Skylark Illustrated Book) by Rod Serling, adapted by Horace J. Elias and illustrated by Carl Pfeufer.

--Brian Durant

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