Saturday, March 17, 2012


Albert Salmi and Russell Johnson
Season One, Episode 26
Original Air Date: April 1, 1960

Joe Caswell: Albert Salmi
Professor George Manion: Russell Johnson
Paul Johnson: Than Wyenn
Judge: Fay Roope
Reverend: Jon Lormer
Bartender: Richard Karlan
Old Man: George Mitchell
Joe Haworth

Writer: Rod Serling (based on an unpublished story by George Clayton Johnson)
David Orrick McDearmon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: Kurt Neumann
Editor: Joseph Gluck
Sound: Franklin Milton and Philip Mitchell
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"This may look like some kind of kooky greenhouse. Actually, it happens to be a conveyance, a mode of travel, time travel. And next week you'll see Albert Salmi take an extended journey from 1880 to 1960. I hope then next week you'll be able to take another walk with us into
The Twilight Zone. (Serling vanishes from within time machine). Hey, where did everybody go?" 

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:
"Commonplace, if somewhat grim, unsocial event known as a necktie party. The guest of dishonor, a cowboy named Joe Caswell, just a moment away from a rope, a short dance several feet off the ground, and then the dark eternity of all evil men. Mr. Joe Caswell who, when the good Lord passed out a conscience, a heart, a feeling for fellow man, must have been out for a beer and missed out. Mr. Joe Caswelll, in the last quiet moment of a violent life."

    The year is 1880 and on a bleak patch of land a murderer named Joe Caswell is being hanged for shooting a man in the back. Caswell is an unrepentant man with a twisted way of seeing the world. Before he is to be hanged, Caswell is given two opportunities to show his true nature. Even in the moments before his death, he is a mean and bitter man, shunning a preacher's attempt to say a prayer over him and mocking the man he killed. Then comes the time to slap the horse and hang Caswell. Except something extraordinary happens instead. Though the men turn their eyes away from Caswell at the moment of his hanging, when they look again his body has vanished.
    Caswell wakes up on a couch in a dark laboratory. He is greeted by a scientist named George Manion. Manion shows Caswell a large, glass-enclosed structure in the center of the room and informs Caswell that he, Caswell, has been the subject of an extraordinary experiment. Manion has constructed the world's first operative time machine and with it has pulled Caswell out of the past and into the present, which happens to be eighty years in Caswell's future, the year 1960. While looking over Caswell, however, Manion notices the rope burn along Caswell's neck and it is apparent to Manion that he may have made a mistake with the man he pulled out of the past.
    Later, Manion is alone in his laboratory and dictating details into his tape recorder. Caswell has told him a lie about who he is and what he was doing when Manion pulled him into the future. Manion is very suspicious about what Caswell told him because of the rope burns and also because Manion simply doesn't like the look of Caswell. Caswell has the look of a killer.
    When Manion pushes Caswell into admitting that he was at the end of a rope when he was pulled into the future, Caswell reacts violently, attacking Manion and killing him by bludgeoning him with a desk lamp. Caswell panics and runs from the laboratory and into the streets of New York City. There, Caswell is bombarded with the loud sounds and bright lights of the city. He angrily lashes out at everything. He gets trapped in a phone booth and must break through the glass to escape. Caswell eventually stumbles into a bar, empty except for the bartender. There, Caswell is confronted by the sounds of a loud-playing jukebox. As the bartender watches in horror, Caswell smashes the jukebox into silence with a chair. When the bartender starts to object, Caswell brandishes a gun and demands a drink. Then he spies the television mounted above the bar and the bartender reluctantly turns it on. On it, an actor dressed as a cowboy on the set of a western program pulls one of his pistols and fires it at the screen. Horrified, Caswell pulls his own pistol and shoots the television screen. The bartender yells for the police. Caswell flees back out into the street, brandishing his gun, waving it around, and scaring the people on the street. He is nearly hit by a car and shoots into the windshield.
    Finding his way back to Manion's laboratory, Caswell pleads to the dead man to come back to life and help him. In walks an armed hood named Paul Johnson. He has come to rob the office. He thinks Caswell has come to do the same and holds him at arm's length with his gun. Caswell knocks the gun from Johnson's hand and the two men struggle over the weapon. Johnson eventually gets the upper hand and strangles Caswell to death with a length of cord from the blinds covering the window. Johnson then continues what he came to do and attempts to get into a file cabinet but cannot find the right set of keys. He sees a panel of knobs on the wall and turns them. Electrical machinery can be heard turning on and humming idly. Johnson's eye is drawn to the time machine in the center of the room and he cautiously steps inside the structure only to realize too late that he has inadvertently activated the device. The machine seals Johnson inside and he vanishes. He is thrown back to 1880, the exactly moment when Caswell was pulled into the future, putting Johnson's neck into the hangman's noose meant for Caswell. The three men in the hanging party look astonished, unable to figure out what has happened. They say a prayer that they have not killed an innocent man and then they cart Johnson's body away. Justice, of a very strange sort, has been served.

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"This is November, 1880, in the aftermath of a necktie party. The victim's name, Paul Johnson, a minor-league criminal and the taker of another human life. No comment on his death save this. Justice can span years, retribution is not subject to a calendar. Tonight's case in point, in The Twilight Zone." 

    "Execution" is the second contribution from Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson and the episode has a great deal in common, both in theme and style, with his first contribution, "The Four of Us Are Dying." When Johnson originally made his way to California in the late fifties, he broke into film and television by selling short fiction and story treatments. His first sale was the story that became Ocean's Eleven (1960) starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. 
    For The Twilight Zone, Johnson proceeded in much the same way. Through his connection to writer Charles Beaumont, Johnson was able to get his foot in the door at Cayuga Productions and get a few of his story treatments into the hands of series creator Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton. It was Beaumont and fellow friend and Zone writer John Tomerlin that encouraged Johnson to take the leap into writing teleplays. During the second season, Johnson sold a story titled "Sea Change" to producer Buck Houghton. After getting resistance from show sponsor General Foods about the gruesome nature of the story, in which a man's severed hand grows a body and attempts to kill off its double, Houghton asked Johnson to buy the story back. Johnson agreed to do so under the provision that Houghton buy another story Johnson had prepared, "A Penny For Your Thoughts," and that Johnson be allowed to write the teleplay. It took Houghton more than a week to agree but it is doubtful he ever regretted the decision. Clayton Johnson became one of the core contributors to the series, crafting a small number of exceptional episodes over the course of the second and third seasons. For now, however, he was still only a contributor of stories.
      Clayton Johnson falls into the category of science fiction and fantasy writers who are not overly concerned with the explanation of how something may be possible but rather with the consequences were such things possible. This approach is why Johnson fit The Twilight Zone so well, as it is fundamentally a show about ordinary people experiencing extraordinary events. In "Execution," he gives us a time machine and uses it as a plot device for furthering the notion that the battle of good and evil that exists within each human being is timeless. Thematically, the episode functions primarily as a condemnation of senseless violence and is probably the most violent episode to air on the series.
    "Execution" is also the first western-themed episode since "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." The western theme is one which Rod Serling, and occasionally other writers for the show, felt comfortable enough revisiting for it to become its own subcategory within the show's broad range of subject matter, much like the war episodes or the doomsday episodes. Unlike the majority of other western-themed episodes, however, "Execution" is also a time travel episode and affords the audience an opportunity to view the juxtaposition between the past and the present, viewed through the perspective of an unrepentant killer in the form of cowboy Joe Caswell. It is the fable-like quality, and the somewhat simplistic nature of the plot, that lends "Execution" its similarity to "The Four of Us Are Dying." More so than that, it is in the filming techniques of the episodes where the greater similarity lies. Though the episodes were directed by different directors (John Brahm directed "The Four of Us Are Dying" and David Orrick McDearmon directed "Execution"), both episodes posed their respective directors similar challenges. Both required special effects which worked better if the effect was not explicitly shown. As stated before in previous posts, it was important for each episode that required special effects to not overdo the effects for fear of the episode falling into a laughable state. This is also true of "Execution," and the effects are wisely executed in a subtle way. When showing Joe Caswell's body disappearing from the hangman's noose, a shadow is shown on a large boulder disappearing instead of attempting to make actor Albert Salmi disappear. The disappearing effect which had to be achieved later on the character of Paul Johnson within the time machine was a much easier set piece in which to manage the effect.
    The most commanding sequences of "Execution" are the scenes in which Caswell is thrust into the bustling city at night. Like director John Brahm's work on "The Four of Us Are Dying," director McDearmon, and photographer George T. Clemens, use extreme camera angles and frenetic camera movement to convey the mindset of Caswell as the city's noises and lights bear down on him. One of the more recognizable effects reused from "The Four of Us Are Dying" is the image of floating neon signs.
    As stated previously, the primary theme of the episode is the innate urge for violence in each human being and the struggle to control that urge. Early in the episode actor Russell Johnson, as scientist George Manion, states that "I fear that I have taken a nineteenth century primitive and released him in a twentieth century jungle. And God help whoever gets in his way."  Serling chose to highlight this line by repeating it again later in the episode and it perfectly illustrates the theme both writers were trying to achieve.

    Albert Salmi (1928-1990), who went on to appear in two additional Twilight Zone episodes, "A Quality of Mercy" and "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville," is the outstanding actor of the episode and not surprisingly since he is given the meat of the dialogue and nearly all of the screen time. Salmi does an exceptional job in the role and, though he is undoubtedly a human monster, even manages to elicit a bit of pathos from the viewer when describing the hardscrabble existence of a cowboy in the Old West. Salmi was a fine actor who achieved critical acclaim early in his career when he portrayed Smerdyakov in 1958's The Brothers Karamazov. His performance was recognized for its excellence by the National Board of Review. Salmi went on to amass a number of credits on television over the next three decades, appearing in classic genre anthology programs such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, One Step Beyond, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery, in a Rod Serling-scripted western titled "The Waiting Room." After seeing his excellent performance in "Execution," it is easy to imagine that his biggest presence on the small screen would be in westerns. Salmi appeared in classic westerns such as Have Gun - Will Travel, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Rawhide. He guest-starred on several other classic television programs, a few of which include The Fugitive, Combat!, Hawaii Five-O, and Knight Rider. Samli's life ended on a terribly tragic note. Long suffering from clinical depression, Salmi took the life of his estranged wife, Roberta, before turning a gun on himself on April 22, 1990 in their home in Spokane, Washington. Salmi was 68.

    Russell Johnson (1924-2014) achieved television immortality when he portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley (sometimes Hinckley) on Gilligan's Island from 1964 to 1967. Before that, Johnson was a prolific actor appearing in a number of television shows and genre films. In the same way that Albert Salmi excelled at portraying rough and tumble cowboys and soldiers, Johnson excelled at portraying clean-cut intellectuals. His other claims to genre fame are his appearances in films such as It Came From Outer Space (1953), This Island Earth (1955), and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). Johnson also appeared in an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller, "The Hungry Glass," starring alongside William Shatner, Elizabeth Allen, Donna Douglas, and Joanna Heyes, whose husband, Douglas, director of some of the great episodes of The Twilight Zone, was behind the camera. Johnson also logged appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Vicious Circle") and The Outer Limits ("Specimen: Unknown"). Johnson returned to The Twilight Zone a year later for another time travel episode, "Back There," this time playing a man who goes backwards in time without the aid of a time machine. 

    Overall, "Execution" is a capably produced episode, well acted, and containing some good dialogue in the classic Serling style. One of the more memorable moments connected to the episode wasn't in the episode at all but rather in the promotional teaser for "Execution" that originally aired at the tail end of the previous episode, "People Are Alike All Over." In it, Rod Serling stands within the glass-enclosed time machine and, after delivering his preview of the episode, disappears before the viewer's eyes. A similar effect was created for Serling's first on-screen appearance in an episode when he appears and then disappears as a figment of the author's imagination at the end of the season one finale, "A World of His Own."
    Though writer George Clayton Johnson did not contribute as many episodes as his friends and fellow writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, the quality of his work made up for the low quantity. Very little of what he contributed to the series was below average and most was well above. "Execution" doesn't stick in the memory quite like some of Johnson's other episodes, such as "Nothing in the Dark," "A Game of Pool," or "Kick the Can," but it's still a memorable episode and one that packs a pretty good punch. 

Grade: C

--Albert Salmi appeared in two additional episodes of The Twilight Zone, "A Quality of Mercy" from Season Three and "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" from Season Four. He also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Waiting Room."
--Russell Johnson also appeared in "Back There" from Season Two.
--David Orrick McDearmon also directed "A Thing About Machines" and, again with Russell Johnson, "Back There" from Season Two.
--Than Wyenn appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Doll," based on the story by Algernon Blackwood.
--"Execution" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Don Johnson.
--As stated by Martin Grams in his book The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (OTR Publishing, 2008), actor Neville Brand was originally cast in the role of Joe Caswell, even rehearsing with the cast and crew, before calling in sick and having to be replaced with Albert Salmi. Brand would later appear in the controversial fifth season episode, "The Encounter."



  1. I like this episode, but it doesn't stick in my mind quite as much as some of the others. I guess "C" means average for a TZ, which is probably above-average for anything else! Albert Salmi is great, but anything with Russell Johnson is worth a look, if you ask me. I can't wait till you get to "Back There"! This was another excellent commentary, for which I thank you.

  2. Yeah, Jack, a C is average for the show but, like you said, that still puts it high in quality by comparison. "Back There" is also one of my favorite time travel episodes and Russell Johnson is excellent in it, whereas he felt too much like a bit player in "Execution" with too quick an exit. Many thanks for reading!

  3. I agree with the aforementioned comments. Execution lacks the charisma of the best Zones. There's no room for character development. If anything, it seems to be pushing the theme of predestination, not an idea I care for. I thought the ending was poorly thought out and, if you'll excuse the word usage, executed.

  4. I disagree with all my friends on this episode. It is an "A" performance by my standards. Ablert Salmi was the perfect character to cast as Joe Caswell. Acting from all was quite acceptable but utterly amazing from Salmi. He projected every bit of his character to perfection. And I love Serling's script!

  5. Albert Salmi must be the only actor in history to have played a murderer THREE SEPARATE TIMES (in this episode, the movie "The Brothers Karamazov", and the "Murder, She Wrote" episode "Murder Takes The Bus"), who actually ended his life as a murderer. It makes it extraordinarily chilling to watch him in anything, knowing what lay ahead for him. As the critic Stanley Kauffmann so wisely said, about the nature of the film medium's power to keep people alive long after their death: "On television, every day and night, inevitabilities laugh at us all."

  6. I have seen this episode 3x most recently from watching the TZ New Year's Eve Marathon, although I own the box set! This most recent time I thoroughly enjoyed the episode. Joe Caswell, is definitely a 19th century primitive even by those standards and ends up killing the scientist and is stunned when the tape recorder falls to the floor and hears the professor's voice predicting the impending doom of Caswell being transported to the 20th century!. I love the way Caswell breaks into a bar and is is totally clueless what a jukebox is and then proceeds to break it with a chair! Then he moseys up to the bar and the bartender explains what a television is (oddly even in 1961 every one who doesn't live in a cave knew what that box is!), followed by a tv show showing a cowboy looking into the camera and saying "Draw!" prompting Caswell to shoot at the TV. Fittingly, a cheap hood breaks into the professor's lab room and has a confrontation with Caswell over an hidden money may be lying around. The rival hoodlum wraps the curtain string over Caswell's head and pushes him out the window, then falls into the time machine and gets his punishment back in the 19th century by him hanging in the noose that Caswell initially was slated to be executed by, which is kind of the hidden moral. Evil always has to be paid for in this life or the next! I rate it a B+.