Sunday, December 4, 2011

"I Shot An Arrow Into the Air"

“I Shot An Arrow Into the Air”
Season One, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 15, 1960

Corey: Dewey Martin
Col. Bob Donlin: Edward Binns
Pierson: Ted Otis
Langford: Harry Bartell
Brandt: Leslie Barrett

Writer: Rod Serling (teleplay based on a story outline by Madelon Champion)
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Jerry Wunderlich
Assistant Director: Edward Denault
Casting: Mildred Gusse
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“There’s a Longfellow poem, ‘I shot an arrow into the air.  It fell to the Earth I know not where.’  In our story next week, we shot a spaceship into the air and where it fell only you and I will know.  Starring will be Mr. Dewey Martin and Mr. Edward Binns.  Next week we promise you a most exciting journey into space.  Don’t miss the takeoff.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Her name is the Arrow One.  She represents four and a half years of planning, preparation and training, and a thousand years of science and mathematics and the projected dreams and hopes of not only a nation but a world.  She is the first manned aircraft into space.  And this is the countdown, the last five seconds before man shot an arrow into the sky.”

            The Arrow One, a revolutionary spacecraft, has crashed on what appears to be an asteroid whose surface is a lifeless, desert wasteland.  Most of the ship’s crew is dead except for Colonel Donlin, two flight officers, Corey and Pierson, and a fourth man who is critically wounded.  Stranded on this asteroid with a very limited supply of water—one canteen per man—emotions begin to surface quickly between the men.  It becomes quite clear that Officer Corey cares very little for the wounded man or even for Pierson and Donlin and wants all of the water for himself.  He is openly disobedient towards Donlin and criticizes the Colonel for wasting water by giving it to the wounded man, who will almost certainly die.  Donlin tells Corey that as long the man is alive he’ll get water just like everyone else.  Later in the day, Corey is proven correct and the man dies.  Donlin suggest that the three remaining men split up and search the asteroid.
            Later in the evening Donlin is back at base camp when Corey returns, without Pierson.  Donlin questions Corey as to why he returned alone when he and Pierson were supposed to be searching together.  Corey claims that he and Pierson split up and went in different directions.  But Donlin suspects foul play because he notices that Corey’s water canteen is nearly full even though he has been walking through the desert all day.  He fears that Corey may have murdered the other flight officer.  Holding him at gunpoint, Donlin demands that Corey show him where Pierson’s body is.  They walk for hours and eventually stumble upon Pierson who is critically wounded and taking his last breaths as they reach him.  Unable to speak, he draws a picture in the dirt and points in the direction of the mountains nearby, but his message is unclear.  While Donlin is attending to Pierson, Corey manages to steal his gun.  He shoots the Colonel dead and takes his water.

Rod Serling’s Middle Narration:
“Now you make your tracks Mr. Corey.  You move out and up like some kind of ghostly billy club tapping at your ankles and telling you that it was later than you think.  You scramble up rock hills and feel hot sand underneath your feet and every now and then, take a look over your shoulder at a giant sun suspended in a dead and motionless sky…like an unblinking eye that probes at the back of your head in a prolonged accusation.  Make tracks, Mr. Corey.  Push up and push out.  Because if you stop…if you stop, maybe sanity will get you by the throat.  Maybe realization will pry open your mind and the horror you left down in the sand will seep in.  Yeah, Mr. Corey, yeah, you better keep moving.  That’s the order of the moment.  Keep moving.”

After crawling for hours over the unforgiving stretch of mountains Corey finally reaches the top and is flabbergasted at what he sees on the other side.  In the distance he sees a paved road and telephone poles and a sign that reads Reno, Nevada 97 miles.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Practical joke perpetrated by Mother Nature and a combination of improbable events.  Practical joke wearing the trappings of nightmare, of terror, of desperation.  Small human drama played out in a desert ninety-seven miles from Reno, Nevada, USA, continent of North America, the Earth, and of course…the Twilight Zone.”

              “I Shot An Arrow Into the Air” is Rod Serling’s interpretation of an idea given to him by Madeline Champion.  Champion was a friend of Carol Serling’s and was not a professional writer.  It’s not my intention to start this commentary off on a sour note but I have to admit that I feel that this episode is one of the few sore spots of the first season, although I have seen it appear on several top ten lists over the years and the Internet Movie Database ( gives it a 7.8 fan rating so maybe I am alone in this opinion.  It feels as if Serling wrote this episode too quickly, and chances are that he did write it rather swiftly given his pressure to keep churning out scripts to fulfill his contractual agreement of scripting 80% of the first season.  It’s little more than an idea with a story draped loosely around it and while the payoff at the end is effective dramatically, it seems very unlikely that these three highly trained astronauts would not know that they have landed on Earth. This episode also seems like an odd follow-up to “Third From the Sun” considering that the twist is so similar.  The most notable thing about this episode is that it can be considered a precursor to Planet of the Apes (1968) for which Serling wrote the initial screenplay including the twist at the end which is considered one the most iconic moments in the history of American cinema.  The surprise denouement is, of course, taken from this episode, but the reason it works in the film is the fact that millenia have passed since these men left and Earth has almost certainly undergone a complete physical change (hence the talking monkeys).
            As far as the performances stand I think Edward Binns delivers a fairly convincing performance as Colonel Donlin but Dewey Martin hams it up a little too much and I find his character distracting.  I will say that the setup to this episode is a solid one and is interesting enough to grab my attention and make me wonder what is in store for these three gentlemen.  Unfortunately, the predictability of its ending renders this episode from being a memorable one.  Again, these are only my thoughts and, as always, I would encourage anyone curious about this episode to watch it and form their own opinion.

Grade: D

--Edward Binns also stars in the season five episode “The Long Morrow.”
--As he mentions in the trailer Serling took the title of this episode from Longfellow’s poem “The Arrow and the Song.”
--Stuart Rosenberg also directed the season four episodes “Mute” and “He’s Alive” as well as many episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables and Naked City, before embarking on a highly distinguished film career.  Cool Hand Luke, The Amityville Horror and The Drowning Pool are just a few of his credits. 
--"I Shot An Arrow Into the Air" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

--Brian Durant


  1. I liked this one better when I first saw it as a child. As an adult, I find that it fails to hold up. For one thing, it's too much like too many Zones in which a man or men shot into space go crazy, or crazy things happen to them. Heck, this was already happening in the first episode.

    Ed Binns was certainly a capable actor but the acting chores in this one go mostly to Dewey Martin, and his work is not impressive. His character seems to have gone off the deep end before the ship hit the ground. This may not be the actor's fault. Could George C. Scott or Rod Steiger done any better? Probably not. Not a total misfire, but definitely TZ in at best second gear, if that.

  2. What drives this episode is a powerful drama current, as would Nightmare As a Child, and like the later episode, it lacks a fantasy element, but Nightmare at least makes the bonus offering of imagination as a representative theme. Arrow is straight-up drama arrow, and that might be a lot to sustain it, but is it? The trained astronauts are too pillaged by a questionable lack of knowledge as to their whereabouts, and the more ravaging privation that of so much water left between them. A nightmare, and not much more than that. The drama holds this one together, and at lrast it has that, if nothing much more.

  3. This ought to be called the "Twilight Zone"'s "Gilligan's Island" episode. An "uncharted asteroid" only a short flight time away, with a solid surface, breathable air, positive gravity, and a single sun, AND THESE TWERPS CAN'T FIGURE OUT THAT THEY'RE STILL ON EARTH. Right up there with that "uncharted island" only a few miles from Hawaii, from which there was No Escape, despite the presence of plenty of trees with which to build a raft, a brilliant professor, two experienced seamen, and a fully workable radio. "The Lord of the Rings" is less of a fantasy.