Monday, February 13, 2012

"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"

Maple Street, before the monsters came.
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"
Season One, Episode 22
Original Air Date: March 4, 1960

Steve Brand: Claude Akins
Charlie Farnsworth: Jack Weston
Tommy: Jan Handzlik
Les Goodman: Barry Atwater
Don Martin: Burt Metcalfe
Woman: Amzie Strickland
Mrs. Farnsworth: Lyn Guild
Myra Brand: Anne Barton
Man: Jason Johnson
Sally, Tommy’s Mother: Mary Gregory
Pete Van Horn: Ben Erway
Old Woman: Joan Sudlow
Street Vendor: Robert McCord
Space Alien #1: Sheldon Allman
Space Alien #2: William Walsh

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Ronald Winston
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: Franklin Milton and Jean Valentino
Music: Rene Garriguene

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week on Twilight Zone, we put you on a front porch—summer evening, tree-lined street, typical small town.  And then we pull the rug out from under your feet and we throw a nightmare at you.  Claude Akins, Jack Weston and Barry Atwater are you neighbors just at that moment when ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.  Don’t chicken out.  Thank you and good night.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
Maple Street, USA, late summer.  A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbeques, the laughter of children and the bell of an ice-cream vendor.  At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely six forty-three PM…
           “This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon.  Maple Street—in the last calm and reflective moments before the monsters came.”


        On a quiet, peaceful Saturday afternoon, the residents of Maple Street are going about their usual routine when an unidentified object streaks across the sky.  Assuming it to be a meteor, they continue on about their business. 
Moments later, some of the residents notice that none of their appliances seem to be working.  The phone lines are out, cars won’t start, and the entire neighborhood seems to be without electricity.  The residents of Maple Street come out of their homes and huddle together to see if they can get to the bottom of the mystery.  They decide that they need to see if it’s like this everywhere.  Pete Van Horn tells everyone that he is going over to the next street to see if they are having the same problem. He sets out on foot and no one sees him again for several hours.  Steve Brand and Charlie Farnsworth decide to walk into town together to see if they can get some answers.  As they are leaving they are stopped by Tommy, a young boy who lives in the neighborhood, and he tells them that the object they saw in the sky was an alien spacecraft, and he thinks the aliens don’t want them to leave Maple Street.  They ask him why he thinks this and he says that its just like a science fiction story he read where aliens came to Earth in a spaceship to take over the planet.  They cut off all of the electricity, phones and automobiles so no one could go anywhere.  A few months before they arrived they sent down scouts that looked just like humans and they lived among humans so they could understand what humans were like.  Steve laughs playfully at the boy and his make-believe story but an uncomfortable mumble spreads across the gathered residents of Maple Street. 
Just then the crowd hears a car engine being cranked.  They walk over to Les Goodman’s house where he is trying unsuccessfully to start his car.  Les steps out of the car and walks away from it.  The car starts on its own.  The crowd becomes suspicious of Les and, under the leadership of Charlie, accuses him of being “different” from everyone else on Maple Street.  One of his neighbors claims that she sometimes catches him in his driveway late at night, just looking up at the stars, as if he were waiting for something or someone.  They suggest that maybe Les Goodman isn’t who he claims to be.  Les tries to defend himself, as does Steve Brand, but the other residents don't want to listen to reason and the crowd grows increasingly more disturbed.

        Several hours later.  It is dark now on Maple Street.  Still no electricity.  Les Goodman’s neighbors have stationed themselves outside of his house, hoping he will eventually give himself away as the alien from Tommy's story.  Steve Brand is still trying to reason with Charlie Farnsworth and the rest of the crowd.  Charlie gets fed up with this and turns an accusatory eye at Steve, claiming that Steve’s wife has mentioned offhandedly of some sort of radio that Steve is secretly building in his basement.  What does this radio do? Charlie asks.  Steve defends himself and attempts to point out that the entire neighborhood is beginning to turn on each other and that sooner or later someone is going to suffer because of it.
Someone in the crowd notices a figure approaching from a distance.  No one is able to determine who it is but Charlie and several others decide that it must be the alien monster.  A shotgun appears in the crowd.  Charlie grabs the gun and shoots the approaching figure; it drops in the street.  The crowd rushes over to the figure and discovers Pete Van Horn lying dead.  Now it’s Charlie who has to defend himself against accusations from Steve that he just murdered an innocent man.  Instead of admitting his guilt he tells his neighbors that the real monster must be Tommy because he was the one who knew what was going to happen.  Then the lights in several homes begin to blink on and off at random.  The entire neighborhood begins accusing each other which leads to them barbarically attacking one another in the street.  Bricks are thrown, shots are fired, and lives are shattered.   The sound of fear rings up and down Maple Street, USA.
On a hilltop not far away, two beings from another world are watching the terrifying events on Maple Street.  They are the source behind the confusion in the neighborhood.  They are on a mission to colonize Earth by letting mankind destroy itself.  To do this, one of them suggests, all they must do is take away human comforts and throw in an element of fear and humans will seek out their natural enemy: themselves.  

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout.  There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices—to be found only in the minds of men.  For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy.  And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children and the children yet unborn.  And the pity of it is…that these things cannot be confined…to The Twilight Zone.”


"When the sun came up on the following morning Maple Street was silent. Most of the houses had been burned. There were a few bodies lying on sidewalks and draped over porch railings. But the silence was total."
    -"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" by Rod Serling, Stories from the Twilight Zone (1960)

            In interviews, Rod Serling stated that a reason he wanted to create The Twilight Zone was that with science fiction and fantasy he could get away with writing about contemporary social issues without the worry of constant interference from networks and sponsors. There is likely no other episode of the program which better embodies this notion than “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”  A swift, solid script from beginning to end, this thinly veiled commentary on McCarthyism and the communist witch-hunts of the 1950’s, and the larger issues which gave birth to these, became an immediate fan favorite and has undergone many adaptations since its original broadcast in 1960. 
In “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” Serling touched upon several themes which were used again in later episodes, most notably the senseless, angry mob as representation of the ignorance and prejudice that hides within every person. The transformation of an essentially conventional person or group of people into barbaric examples of human beings is a theme that Serling had already explored in some of his dramatic work during the 1950s and one he revisted in several episodes of The Twilight Zone. These include “The Gift,” a third season episode in which a benevolent alien being disguised as a human comes to a small Mexican village bearing a gift to mankind.  The frightened villagers, having devolved into a senseless, angry mob, mistake the gift as a weapon and decide to kill their visitor and destroy his present.  The gift, it is discovered afterwards, is a cure for cancer.  In “The Shelter,” another third season episode, Serling produced a plot which is similar in many ways to “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” "The Shelter" tells the story of a family that is forced to seek protection in their homemade fallout shelter after the radio warning that a nuclear attack is imminent. Their neighbors, none of whom have a fallout shelter, demand to be let inside. But there are only enough supplies for one family. The neighbors eventually resort to beating on the door of the shelter with a battering ram just before it is revealed that the previous threat of nuclear attack was a false alarm. 
This misanthropic view of humanity stands in sharp contrast with Serling's lighter material which possesses an almost childlike sentimentality.  Serling cared deeply about the heroes in his stories and didn’t pass judgment on them no matter how flawed they were. Even with his more archetypal protagonists there is always an underlying thread of compassion woven into the story. Clearly, there was a part of Serling that cared deeply for humanity, and it is this concern for the common individual that makes his work remarkable.  But there is also a darker side to many of Serling's scripts.  Judging from the course of his writing, it appears that as he grew older he grew increasingly bitter about the world and was constantly trying to reconcile these two parts of his personality.  In “Monsters,” these diverging views of humanity are represented by the rational Steve Brand, who is trying to hold the neighborhood together, and the paranoid bully Charlie Farnsworth, who succeeds in inciting suspicion and violence among his neighbors.  Steve Brand can be viewed as a thinly veiled representation of Serling and his voice is Serling’s voice. He is the rational, compassionate part of Serling that wants to see the best in his neighbors, while Charlie is the paranoia and the hatred and the prejudice that ultimately brings about the downfall.  Serling longed for the Norman Rockwell America of episodes like “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby,” but at the same time saw through that world and aimed to expose its weaknesses. 

The other prevailing theme in the episode is its allusions to the McCarthyism of the 1950s (characterized by ultra-conservatism, paranoia, and a general fear of the "other"), named for Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) and defined as the practice of making accusations of subversive or treasonous behavior without proper regard for evidence.  Even by 1960 this was still a dangerous subject to tackle directly.  Eight years earlier Arthur Miller set the political and literary worlds on fire with his masterful drama The Crucible (which earned him both a Tony Award and a subpoena to appear in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee).  While The Crucible was almost certainly an influence on “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (Serling acknowledged many times that he was an admirer of Miller), Serling was an outspoken critic of McCarthyism for many years and even publicly criticized several national news organizations for supporting the senator. While Miller took a more direct approach, setting his drama during the infamous Salem Witch Trials, Serling tackled the theme in a manner more reminiscent of John W. Campbell’s famous story “Who Goes There?” (1938) in which scientists at an isolated research station discover a shape-shifting alien which challenges their perception of one another. The theme of that story was resonant enough to inspire at least three feature films. Viewers would see this type of theme again on The Twilight Zone in the second season episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?,” though staged in a more humorous manner. This type of science fiction story is related to a style of mystery story in which a group of people are gathered in a place (typically a secluded mansion) only to discover that one among them is a murderer. This type of mystery is typified by Agatha Christie's famous novel And Then There Were None (1939). 
Jack Weston and Claude Akins

Although Serling’s script is highly accomplished, the element which makes “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” such a memorable episode is the performances from its ensemble cast, particularly the two lead roles played by Jack Weston (as Charlie Farnsworth) and Claude Akins (as Steve Brand). Weston was already a recognized fixture on television by 1960 and featured in many of the live studio dramas of the 1950s as well as episodes of The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Have Gun - Will Travel.  He also held a regular role on the children’s science fiction program Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers from 1953 to 1954 with fellow Twilight Zone performer Cliff Robertson. In later years he had a successful film career with roles in The Cincinnati Kid, Wait Until Dark, and The Thomas Crown Affair. A versatile character actor, he was known for playing both villains and lighthearted characters, as evidenced in his portrayal here as the volatile Charlie Farnsworth and in his performance as the clueless writer Julius Moomer in the fourth season episode “The Bard.” 
Claude Akins was also a widely recognized actor at the time of "Monsters," having racked up appearances in such landmark films as Rio Bravo, The Defiant Ones, and Inherit the Wind. Given his tall, broad shouldered stature and his gentle southern accent, he was often cast in westerns as the rational voice of reason, much like his role in “Monsters” and in his other Twilight Zone appearance, the third season's “The Little People,” but he was also known for playing rougher characters like the ruthless General Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.  Casting was definitely a key feature in the episode and the reason the characters work so well is because of the excellent chemistry the actors share on screen. Their personalities seem to either mesh or clash perfectly, which is what makes Maple Street seem like an authentic portrait of small town life. This episode also owes a great deal to Ronald Winston's direction.  This is the first of three episodes that Winston directed for the series. To capture the mob mentality of these characters there are many wide shots of the group huddled close to one another despite the fact that there is a long, empty street surrounding them.  There is one shot in particular where Winston shoots only the legs of the actors, showing the crowd moving together as one unit, one organism, furthering the symbol of the "hive" mentality which drives the mob to violence.

As one of the seminal episodes of The Twilight Zone, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” has seen numerous adaptations over the years including a prose version written by Serling for his 1960 book Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam), a radio drama starring Frank John Hughes, two comic book adaptations, and a re-imagining for the second Twilight Zone revival series, which aired on UPN in 2003. An interesting aspect of Rod Serling's adaptation of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" for Stories from the Twilight Zone is that Serling inserts a coda that was not filmed for the episode. In it, Serling demonstrates the alien menace applying their unique method of destruction on a global scale. Serling writes: "When the sun came up on the following morning Maple Street was silent. Most of the houses had been burned. There were a few bodies lying on sidewalks and draped over porch railings. But the silence was total. There simply was no more life. At four o'clock that afternoon there was no more world, or at least not the kind of world that had greeted that morning. And by Wednesday of the following week, a new set of residents had moved into Maple Street." 
      The UPN adaptation, entitled "The Monsters Are On Maple Street" is a modern day remake set at the time of the start of the war in Iraq. It stars Andrew McCarthy in the lead role as the Steve Brand-type character. The general scenario is still the same only now instead of aliens it's terrorists that the residents of Maple Street fear. Also thrown into the mix is the recent arrival of a peculiar new neighbor that none of the residents of Maple Street have yet seen. So, when the power goes out, instead of turning on each other as they do in Serling’s original script, the neighbors focus all of their paranoia on the mysterious new house at the end of the block. By the end of the episode the residents march to the house brandishing torches and bricks and loaded revolvers and proceed to set the house on fire with the homeowners supposedly still inside. It is revealed that the cause of their paranoia isn’t terrorists at all but the United States military conducting an experiment on the possible behavior of Americans if put under the threat of a terrorist attack. While the premise is believable and the twist effective, the rest of the script falls short of Serling’s original and the cast members, with the exception of McCarthy who turns in a memorable performance, aren't as engaging as the original performers and tend to be little more than stock characters.

Uncredited illustration from a 1968 textbook
"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" first appeared in American textbooks in the early 1960s and has been presented in the American classroom in numerous publications since that time. Many of these presentations of Rod Serling's script, or his short story adaptation, included illustrations in which different artists interpreted the madness which unfolded on Maple Street. To see these illustrations, and much more art related to The Twilight Zone, stop by the Vortex Art Gallery. 

            Of the 156 episodes of the series, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" is one of the most valuable to the show's cultural identity. There is a quality to the episode that resonates with people. And while the McCarthy era is over, its basic threat is one people are still adamantly concerned with. If there is a flaw in the episode, it is that the paranoia begins a little too early and works itself into a frenzy rather quickly. The half-hour format was one of the most important factors in the show's success but it would have been interesting to see this story fleshed out into one of the hour-long episodes. Still, this does not lessen the effectiveness of the episode and it has become a classic of American television.

Grade: A

--Notable adaptations of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
            --1960; adapted into short story form by Rod Serling in his collection, Stories from the Twilight Zone (Bantam).
        ---1979; adapted into comic book form by Horas J. Elias with illustrations by Carl Pfeufer (Skylark Illustrated Books (Bantam)).
--2002; adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Frank John Hughes (Falcon Picture Group).
--2003; adapted into an episode of the UPN revival series of The Twilight Zone by Erin Maher entitled "The Monster Are On Maple Street" starring Andrew McCarthy and Titus Welliver.
--2009; adapted into graphic novel form by Mark Kneece with art by Rich Ellis as part of a series developed by the Savannah College of Arts and Design entitled Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (Walker Publishing Company).
-The alien uniforms and spaceship are borrowed from Forbidden Planet (1959). So far, this is the third episode which features props or footage from the MGM film and it certainly would not be the last. The last shot of the episode which shows the spaceship in flight is actually a scene from Forbidden Planet.  This same exact scene is at the end of “Third From the Sun.”
--Claude Akins also appears in Season Three’s “The Little People.”
--Jack Weston also appears in Season Four’s “The Bard.”
--Barry Atwater appeared in both the pilot movie of Rod Serling's Night Gallery as well as in the episode "Doll of Death" from the Night Gallery series.
--Amzie Strickland also appeared in the first Twilight Zone revival series episode "But Can She Type?"
--Mary Gregory also appeared in the second season episode "The Lateness of the Hour" and the third season episode "The Shelter," as well as an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Different Ones."
--Ronald Winston also directed Season One’s “The Big Tall Wish” and Season Five’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town.”

--BD and JP

1 comment:

  1. Just a short note on this quoted bit:
    "And while the McCarthy era is long gone, its basic threat is one people still seem adamantly concerned with."

    While Serling was an admirer of Miller's work (and it can also be said of John W. Campbell's and Richard Matheson's works) the reason that people are still adamantly concerned with the threat, is that it was not a threat inimical to the McCarthyism era. You may not have been paying proper attention to the play or managed to forget the subject that The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street highlights. Fear. Sheer unreasoning fear of that which is different. That which is not us. That which lives inside each and every one of us. Fear. Fear leads to Anger and Anger leads to Hate and Hate leads to Suffering as we are reminded by a certain short of stature but long on patience wizened green skinned pointy eared Jedi. The Monsters are ourselves. Fear drives that monster, and it was not a new thing under McCarthyism. That fear has been with us since Cain picked up a rock and slew his brother Able. Serling (and it may be also said Miller) showed that to us monsters on all of our maple streets.