Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Twilight Zone Christmas

Celebrate the holidays with these essential episodes of The Twilight Zone for the winter season, in order of original air date.

1.) "What You Need," season one, episode 12 (12/25/59)

           -This episode, which aired on Christmas, concerns a fantastic form of gift-giving. A meek old man helps strangers by giving them things they "need" but falls prey to an angry man who wants to use the old man's talent for personal gain. Adapted by Rod Serling from a story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, the episode eschews the original story's science fiction trappings in favor of the wintry atmosphere of a gritty urban noir. It is an effective treatment of the theme that no one should know too much about their own destiny.  

Here's Our Look at "What You Need."


2.) "A Passage for Trumpet," season one, episode 32 (05/20/60)

          -This episode marks the first of four appearances by veteran actor Jack Klugman on the series and is often viewed as Rod Serling’s version of It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic Christmas fantasy film from 1946. “A Passage for Trumpet” is essentially a retelling of Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift,” which formed the basis of It’s a Wonderful Life. In that story, a man contemplating suicide is shown what life without him would be like and decides to backtrack on his attempt to take his own life (life being the greatest gift of the title). Joey Crown, from “A Passage for Trumpet,” is shown the ugly side of the afterlife after a suicide attempt and decides to remain in the land of the living. Despite its derivative nature, the episode is an uplifting fable and features strong performances from Zone regulars Klugman and John Anderson (as Gabriel, the horn-playing herald who shows Joey Crown the error of his ways).

Read our commentary on “A Passage for Trumpet.” 

3.) “The After Hours,” season one, episode 34 (6/10/160)

          -Nothing says Christmas like the rush of holiday shopping, and Rod Serling puts a truly unique spin on the tradition in this exceptionally creepy episode starring Anne Francis. Francis portrays a young woman seeking a gift for her mother who instead discovers a shocking secret about department store mannequins. The journey to a secret level of the store is a particularly disturbing highlight. Francis gives an underrated performance and the unsettling atmosphere of the episode is second to none on the series. It comes highly recommended.

Read our thoughts on “The After Hours.” 

4.) “The Night of the Meek,” season two, episode 47 (12/23/60)

          -The most overtly Christmas episode of the series certainly has its flaws but remains one of the more uplifting episodes due to a strong performance by Art Carney as another of Rod Serling’s “lovable losers.” Carney plays an alcoholic department store Santa Claus who gets a chance at redemption when he discovers Santa’s magical bag of toys and uses it to spread Christmas cheer throughout the city. “The Night of the Meek” is essential Christmas viewing and remains a fan favorite.

Read all about “The Night of the Meek.” 

5.) “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” season two, episode 64 (5/26/61)

          -Two state policemen and a group of bus passengers face off against a harsh winter storm and a hidden adversary at a roadside cafe in this hugely entertaining episode. Another atmospheric gem from Rod Serling heralds the arrival of director Montgomery Pittman to showcase perhaps the finest group of Serling characters created for the series, especially in the form of John Hoyt as a grouchy businessman and Jack Elam as a boisterous eccentric. The twisty narrative and wacky makeup effects are certain to delight those in search of macabre winter fun.

Find out more on “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” 

5.) “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” season three, episode 79 (12/15/61)

          -Another Christmas tradition is the ringing of donation bells and Rod Serling delivers an imaginative twist on the tradition. Working from a story idea by journalist Marvin Petal, Serling draws on his exceptional skill at characterization to craft one of the more unusual and haunting offerings from the series. The playful title clues the viewer in on the existential nature of the play and fine performances enhance the strange fantasy. The final twist is perhaps overly-familiar now but remains one of the more memorable created for the series. Highly recommended.

Explore the secrets of “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” 

6.) “Nothing in the Dark,” season three, episode 81 (1/5/62)

          -Bundle up for this frosty bit of dark fantasy. This episode is arguably the finest work from three of the most talented creators on the series, writer George Clayton Johnson, director Lamont Johnson, and actress Gladys Cooper. Cooper gives a heartrending performance as a woman who has shut herself away from the world in fear of meeting “Mr. Death.” The fable-like story has a strong winter atmosphere and features some of the finest camera work of the series. It comes highly recommended.

Here's our review of “Nothing in the Dark.” 

7.) “The Changing of the Guard,” season three, episode 102 (6/1/62)

          -Veteran actor Donald Pleasance gives an emotionally powerful performance in this Christmas episode. It is simultaneously a melancholy and uplifting episode in which an aging professor forced into retirement is confronted by Christmas spirits in order to remind him of his value as an instructor to generations of students. This one has a uniquely haunting quality and directly confronts the subjects of depression and suicide during the Christmas season, a time of reflection and contemplation. It remains a strongly affecting episode from Rod Serling. 

Read our full review of "The Changing of the Guard." 

8.)  “Living Doll,” season five, episode 126 (11/1/63)

         -What says Christmas more than children and their toys? When little Christie brings home a Talky Tina doll, her mean stepfather will pay the price. Telly Savalas is excellent in this creepy classic as a temperamental stepfather who meets his match in an indestructible killer doll. This episode served as the inspiration for numerous subsequent tales of killer dolls and remains an all-time classic from the series. 

Here's our thoughts on “Living Doll.” 


Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Dead Man's Shoes"

Warren Stevens as Nate Bledsoe
"Dead Man's Shoes"
Season Three, Episode 83
Original Air Date: January 19, 1962

Nate Bledsoe: Warren Stevens
Dagget: Richard Devon
Wilma: Joan Marshall
Chips: Ben Wright
Sam: Harry Swoger
Ben: Ron Hagerthy
Dagget's Woman: Florence Marly
Jimmy: Joe Mell
Maitre d': Eugene Borden

Writers: Charles Beaumont and OCee Ritch
Director: Montgomery Pittman
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
"Next week, through the good offices of Mr. Charles Beaumont, we take a walk in some 'Dead Man's Shoes.' It's the story of a hobo who takes some shoes off a recently deceased hoodlum and then discovers that if the shoe fits you have to wear it. And, in this case, you have to do as the shoes do, go where they tell you to, and then perform some services above and beyond the norm. I hope we see you next week for 'Dead Man's Shoes.'"

Rod Serling's Opening Narration:

"Nathan Edward Bledsoe of the Bowery Bledsoes. A man once, a specter now, one of those myriad modern-day ghosts that haunt the reeking nights of the city in search of a flop, a handout, a glass of forgetfulness. Nate doesn't know it but his search is about to end. Because those shiny new shoes are going to carry him right into the capital of The Twilight Zone."

            In the early night hours, a dark sedan pulls into an alleyway and dumps a dead body beneath a tenement staircase. The sound of the car awakens Nate Bledsoe, a homeless man sleeping on a bed of newspapers. Nate spies the dead body and proceeds to turn out the pockets of the corpse. Then he sees the nice pair of shoes on the corpse and switches them for his own worn-out shoes. Walking down the street, he is accosted by two fellow homeless men who inquire as to where Nate came upon the nice shoes. But Nate seems confused and much gruffer than his usual meek self. Nate shrugs off the two men and heads to an apartment building on the nicer side of town.
            There he walks in on Wilma, a beautiful woman alone in a top floor apartment. She demands to know who he is. When she sees the shoes on Nate’s feet she recognizes them as belonging to her boyfriend Dane, now a shoeless corpse in an alley across town. Dane may be dead but he’s still pretty lively when Nate’s wearing his shoes.
            Nate comes back to himself when he takes off Dane’s shoes. He doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. Wilma points a gun at him and demands that Nate leave the apartment. When Nate puts the shoes back on, Dane resumes control and easily takes the gun away from Wilma. He kisses her furiously like Dane used to kiss her. Wilma goes into hysterics and Dane slaps her across the face. He’s got business to attend to and Wilma better be there when he gets back.
            Nate/Dane makes his way to a nightclub where he sits close to a table of gangsters and orders tequila with a lump of sugar. Dane’s signature drink. That gets their attention. They don’t recognize Nate so they call him over to the table and ask him who he is and what he’s up to. Nate/Dane tells them that he’s a messenger and he has a private message for Dagget, the leader of the little group.
            Alone in Dagget’s office, Nate/Dane openly talks of Dane’s murder at the hands of Dagget and his goons. Nate/Dane pulls out a hidden gun. One of Dagget’s men springs from a hidden panel in the wall but Nate/Dane gets the drop on him. “You didn’t think that would work twice, did you?” Dane asks. Another of Dagget’s men shoots Nate/Dane though a space in bookcase that conceals another hidden panel.
            “I’ll be back,” Dane warns as he lies dying on the floor of Dagget’s office for the second time that night. “I’ll be back again and again until I get you.”
            Dagget and his men dump Nate’s body in an alley. One of Nate’s fellow homeless friends takes the shoes from Nate’s body and puts them on.      

Rod Serling's Closing Narration:
"There's an old saying that goes: 'If the shoe fits, wear it.' But be careful. If you happen to find a pair of size nine black and grey loafers, made to order in the old country, be very careful. You might walk right into The Twilight Zone."

            “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a breezily entertaining but undistinguished offering from the otherwise exceptional duo of writer Charles Beaumont and director Montgomery Pittman. It is largely derivative in style and subject, bearing a resemblance to the plot and structure of the earlier episode “The Four of Us Are Dying,” along with a number of other film noir offerings on the series. Like “The Four of Us Are Dying,” it also features a jazzy, interpretive musical structure better suited to a crime drama than a fantasy series. 
Charles Beaumont had help scripting the episode from his friend and occasional collaborator OCee Ritch, who does not receive credit on the episode and was previously a contributor to the series as the source (via unpublished story) for Beaumont’s second season offering “Static.” In fact, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a clear reversal of the process that created “Static,” the latter of which concerned OCee Ritch’s idea adapted by Beaumont whereas “Dead Man’s Shoes” concerns Beaumont’s idea adapted by Ritch. The episode was originally to concern a cowboy hat instead of a pair of shoes. This approach leaned heavily toward comedy but Ritch managed to combine the lighter material inherent in Beaumont’s original idea with an urban edge populated by standard, underworld-type characters. This approach was similar to the method by which Rod Serling adapted Henry Kuttner's and Catherine L. Moore's story “What You Need” for the first season.
Beaumont had yet to display the symptoms of the terrible degenerative disease which would claim his life just five years later but he remained a freelance writer unwilling to turn down an assignment. Beaumont was frequently overworked and under pressure of deadlines. He’d long assumed the occasional practice of farming out his ideas for his writer friends to flesh out in television assignments to which he was contractually obligated. This practice became more frequent as Beaumont began to succumb to the disease (generally believed to be early-onset Alzheimer’s) that would ultimately take his life at the young age of 38.
            OCee Ritch and Charles Beaumont initially bonded over their shared loved of automobiles and automotive racing. Ritch authored several manuals on motorcycle repair for the Chilton series of publications in the 1960's, and also contributed to a volume of sports racing material compiled and edited by Beaumont and William F. Nolan (The Omnibus of Speed: An Introduction to the World of Motor Sport, G.P. Putnam's, 1958; "The Golden Days of Gilmore"). Beaumont and Ritch soon discovered a mutual love of nostalgia and collaborated (under Beaumont's name) on nostalgic essays for Playboy and other magazines ("The Bloody Pulps," "The Golden Age of Slapstick Comedy," "Don't Miss the Next Thrilling Chapter!"). Ritch's talent for dramatic writing was also apparent to Beaumont and, besides their two episodes on The Twilight Zone, the two writers produced collaborative efforts (under Beaumont's name) for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour ("The Long Silence," with William D. Gordon, based on "Composition for Four Hands" by Hilda Lawrence), Boris Karloff's Thriller ("Guillotine," based on a story by Cornell Woolrich), and Channing ("Gate to Nowhere"). Ritch also appeared in director Roger Corman’s 1962 adaptation of Charles Beaumont’s 1959 novel The Intruder (along with appearances by George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, and Beaumont himself). Ritch published an article on the making of the film in the December, 1961 issue of Rogue magazine. 
            Director Montgomery Pittman graced the series for a brief time from the end of the second season through the middle of the third season and brought with him both a distinguished style and the distinguishing characteristic of being a director that often wrote the episodes he directed. Pittman wrote three of the five episodes he directed (the exceptions being Rod Serling’s “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Dead Man’s Shoes”) and, like many of the series directors, was adept at infusing an episode with a distinctive film noir aesthetic.
            Two areas in which the series shines is in its variety and its outstanding stable of directors. Much like the varieties of writing on the series, Rod Serling and producer Buck Houghton encouraged individual directors to work against any type of “house” style to present unique visions on the series. This practice was aided by the presence of cinematographer George T. Clemens, a man adroit at adapting to the individual styles of the show’s many directors.
            The Twilight Zone is often seen as a science fiction series primarily concerned with the recognizable tropes of the science fiction genre. Though the series did attempt several recognizable forms of science fiction, from time travel to robots to dystopian futures to interplanetary travel to alternate dimensions, the show took great efforts to attempt virtually every form of popular storytelling. Beyond the experimental episodes (including a couple of virtually silent episodes and one in which the faces of the principle cast remain hidden) the series attempted everything from romance to ghost stories to westerns to tales of war to screwball comedy. One style frequently staged on the series was that of film noir, a style distinguished by shadowy lighting and camera effects to illustrate tales of detectives and criminals. 
            It should come as no surprise that the series would approach such subject matter considering the unique type of urban fantasy the creators returned to time and again, evident in such offerings as “What You Need,” “The Four of Us Are Dying,” “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” “The Prime Mover,” “A Nice Place to Visit,” and some half dozen more. It is even less surprising when one surmises the talented directors Serling and company brought to the show, several of whom made their reputations in film noir or in the earlier, formative mode of expressionism, including Ida Lupino (also notable for both acting and directing on the series as well as being the only female director to helm an episode), Jacques Tourneur, Robert Florey, and John Brahm.
            Montgomery Pittman can be placed in that company as well if one looks to his small but varied output and recognizes the noir-influence style he brings to tales as diverse as “Two,” “The Grave,” and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank.”
            “Dead Man’s Shoes,” however, is also part of a smaller subgenre occasionally seen on the series which changes the tonal dynamic of the episode. It is a “magic item” episode and, like its counterparts “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” “A Piano in the House,” and “A Kind of Stopwatch,” there is a liberal sprinkling of levity into the episode’s graver moments (the notable exception being the generally grim episode “What You Need”). One of the more amusing moments in the episode is also the best scene, that in which Nate/Dane (Warren Stevens) returns to Dane’s apartment and is confronted by Wilma (Joan Marshall), Dane’s girlfriend. The moment in which Nate alternately removes the dead man’s shoes and puts them on again is very amusing and played relatively straight. Pittman chooses to focus on the facial expressions of the two principle actors with effective medium shots. One method by which Ritch and Pittman tamper the comedic impulse of the story is in the high level of abrupt violence which ends the second and third acts. Most shocking is the level of domestic abuse which Wilma sufferd under Dane as Nate/Dane both threaten to break her arm and both strike her across the face in the space of a few minutes.
            The pleasingly deadpan style of prolific actor Warren Stevens perfectly illuminates the gallows humor characteristic of the material. Stevens saw Broadway early in his acting career before moving into film and television, the latter medium providing him with more than 150 credits, including plenty of genre material. Stevens had a memorable role (and death) in the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet. On the small screen Stevens appeared in episodes of Inner Sanctum, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Science Fiction Theatre, One Step Beyond, Star Trek, and a long-running association with producer/director Irwin Allen, appearing in such Allen productions as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and The Return of Captain Nemo (also known as The Amazing Captain Nemo).
            Joan Marshall, who portrays Wilma and shares the best scene of the episode with Stevens, has provided even more unique contributions to genre film and television. Marshall used the stage name Jean Arless to portray the dual characters which are climatically revealed to be singular in William Castle’s 1961 film  Homicidal, which was largely an imitation of and attempt to cash in on the success of Alfred Hithcock’s Psycho (1960). As was Castle’s style, the budget was lowered and the shocks were ramped up to create a movie that got a surprising amount of positive buzz at the time of release but is largely considered inferior material by posterity. Homicidal does continue William Castle’s tradition of mounting a novelty marketing campaign in a memorable way. The film was given a 45-second “Fright Break” before the climax, allowing those viewers not brave enough to finish to film to be released from the theater to sit in a “Coward’s Corner” in the lobby.
Marshall is also remembered by genre fans as the first matriarch of The Munsters. In the original, unaired, color-filmed pilot episode, “My Fair Munster,” Marshall portrayed Phoebe Munster, a character replaced by Lily Munster portrayed by Yvonne De Carlo. It has been suggested that the character of Phoebe was too similar to the character of Morticia Addams as portrayed by Carolyn Jones on the ABC series The Addams Family. Another Munsters character that was altered along with Marshall’s Phoebe was the character of Eddie Munster, originally played in a comedic, ferocious style by Happy Derman in the unaired pilot before being re-imagined and replaced by Butch Patrick for the series proper.
            “Dead Man’s Shoes” was re-imagined in an effective episode of the first Twilight Zone revival series, “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode concerns a timid thrift store worker (Helen Mirren) who puts on a pair of donated high heeled shoes which allow the spirit of a murdered woman to assume control of her body in an effort to exact revenge on her husband (Jeffrey Tambor). The episode was adapted by writer Lynn Baker and directed by Peter Medak. Several key scenes from the original are mirrored in the update in interesting ways. “Dead Woman’s Shoes” largely shies away from the violence of the original episode (with the notable exception of a scene in which a woman is slapped across the face) and exchanges the dark, urban landscape of the original for a bright, Beverly Hills setting which does not detract from the effectiveness of the story. Mirren is particularly good in the episode and it features a truly unsettling scene in which the dead woman telephones the husband to announce her return. One other interesting aspect of the adaptation is that a mirror is used in a number of quick edited shots to reflect how the dead woman looked in life. You will notice in the original episode that the character of Nate, after he puts on the dead man’s shoes, looks into a mirror situated on top of a scale but the opportunistic moment is wasted. The new Twilight Zone episode comes recommended for those curious to see an effective updating of the material. "Dead Man's Shoes" was also nominally the inspiration for an episode of the second revival Twilight Zone series titled "Dead Man's Eyes," in which a window discovers that her deceased husband's eyeglasses reveal the final moments of his life, including his murderer.
            “Dead Man’s Shoes” seems the very definition of an average episode, notable neither for its high or low quality. It contains interesting connections to other aspects of the series but the setting is generic, the characters stereotypes, the story predictable (with requisite twist ending), and the performances vary from memorable to forgettable. Ultimately, “Dead Man’s Shoes” fails to ignite the imaginative power of the third season’s strongest offerings.     

Grade: C

Grateful acknowledgement is made to The Work of Charles Beaumont: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide by William F. Nolan (2nd edition, Borgo Press, 1990)

-Montgomery Pittman directed four additional episodes of the series, of which he also wrote three. Use the “Montgomery Pittman” label on the sidebar to access the episodes he wrote/directed.
-Warren Stevens also appeared in the first Twilight Zone revival series episode "A Day in Beaumont," which originally aired April 11, 1986.
-Ben Wright also appeared in the first season episode “Judgment Night” and the third season episode “Deaths-head Revisited.”
-OCee Ritch also wrote the story upon which the second season episode “Static” was based. “Static” was scripted by Charles Beaumont.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was remade for the first Twilight Zone revival series as “Dead Woman’s Shoes.” The episode starred Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor, was adapted by Lynn Baker, and directed by Peter Medak. It originally aired on November 22, 1985.
-“Dead Man’s Shoes” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama, starring Bill Smitrovitch.

-Jordan Prejean

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"One More Pallbearer"

The great Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), shortly before his demise.

“One More Pallbearer”
Season Three, Episode 82
Original Air Date: January 12, 1962

Paul Radin: Joseph Wiseman
Mrs. Langford: Katherine Squire
Reverend Hughes: Gage Clark
Colonel Hawthorne: Trevor Bardette
Speaking Electrician: Josep Elic
Silent Electrician: Robert Snyder
Policeman: Ray Galvin

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: George R. Nelson
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next on the Twilight Zone we let you in on an extravagant practical joke: a man who wants to convey an illusion that the world is coming to an end. Now there are jokes and there are jokes, but this one stands all by itself as an exercise in the very different, and the very bizarre. Our play is called ‘One More Pallbearer’ and we commend it to you as something quite special.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric, and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive. How eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…the Twilight Zone.”

            Eccentric millionaire Paul Radin is making the final preparations for the most important night of his adult life. Sound technicians are placing audio equipment in the underground bomb shelter several hundred feet beneath a New York City skyscraper which bears Radin’s name. Once they are finished Radin bids them goodbye. And waits.
           Later in the evening his three guests arrive, each completely unaware of why they have been summoned to this place. It is revealed that each of them has been the cause of profound mental anguish for their host at various points in his life. Mrs. Langford was Radin’s grade school teacher and once embarrassed him in front of the class after he was caught trying to frame another student for cheating. Colonel Hawthorne was Radin’s commanding officer in the Army and had the young soldier court martialed after his cowardice cost the lives of dozens of men. Reverend Hughes once publicly slandered Radin after he drove a woman he was in a relationship with to suicide.
            Radin reveals to his guests that they are about to witness the end of the world. Nuclear war is imminent and the bunker is their only salvation. He will allow them to seek refuge here if they agree to apologize for the years of emotional anguish they have caused him. He plays a phony government emergency announcement to give his claim authenticity. To his dismay they all choose to leave and risk death rather than stay with him. They shuffle into the elevator and are gone.
            Devastated that his revenge has been ruined after a lifetime of resentment, Radin launches into a fit of rage, smashing things around him, as the sound of thundering explosions fill the tiny bunker. After the explosions stop Radin goes to the surface. To his horror New York City is in ruins. His building demolished. Was it real or had he made it up? He could no longer remember. Alone and broken, Radin crumbles to the ground, sobbing.
           A New York City police officer spots Radin weeping into a water fountain outside of his Manhattan high rise, pedestrians going about their business around him, the city totally unharmed by Radin’s imaginary nuclear attack. The officer attempts to engage him in conversation but his effort is wasted. Paul Radin has abandoned this world for the cold familiarity…of the Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. Paul Radin. A dealer in fantasy, who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on Earth, doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin. Pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in the Twilight Zone.”

            “One More Pallbearer” is one of only a handful of blemishes on an otherwise remarkable season. It is an episode marred by a clumsy plot, over-the-top performances, recycled themes, and a noticeable surplus of unnecessary dialogue. These inconsistencies, however, do not occur independently of one another and all stem from the fact that the premise of this episode simply wasn’t strong enough to support a fully realized dramatic interpretation.  
            The threat of nuclear annihilation in the wake of World War II was a very real fear for much of the world during the middle of the twentieth century. The uneasy relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two world powers at the time, left both nations, and numerous others, in a state of perpetual anxiety. The United States had already demonstrated its nuclear capabilities in 1945, dropping wide-range explosives on two densely-populated Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands and effectively soliciting Japan’s surrender. The Soviet Union, bitter at being kept in the dark about these weapons during the war, began manufacturing its own nuclear weapons once the war was over. The panic that arose in the following years was real and pervaded virtually every aspect of American culture for decades.
            In the years after the war the science fiction and fantasy genres experienced a massive hike in popularity in almost every medium. As the world began to heal from unprecedented devastation writers of every genre sought social commentary through their work. Some wrote epic nightmares warning of dystopian futures ruled by fascists and communists while others exploited social paranoia to warn against things like McCarthyism and prejudice. By the early 1960’s, however, many of the themes and tropes common in post-war science fiction, including and especially stories about the end of the world via nuclear fallout, were stale and laughable and often exploited merely as plot devices. Within a few short years this trend would become altogether extinct as America moved into a Vietnam-war era mentality. Serling had already touched on the threat of nuclear war on a more serious note earlier in the season in “The Shelter” and also several times during the previous seasons. So it is fair to assume that by this time he had grown as tired of the idea as his audience had.
            The plot of this episode is problematic from the very beginning. In the opening scene Serling reveals what would normally be the twist ending, that the nuclear attack is simply a hoax orchestrated by Radin. This shifts the viewer’s attention from the impending attack to Radin and his three victims. The audience believes what Radin presumably believes: that they are about to witness an intimate moment as each of Radin’s victims struggles to choose between their loved ones and their instinct for preservation. Instead, none of them show the slightest hesitation in their thought process and immediately abandon the safety of the bomb shelter for a few extra moments with their loved ones, leaving Radin emotionally blindsided and the audience wondering whether that awkward plot twist was intentional. Serling answers this twist with another in which the audience is briefly lead to believe that the nuclear attack actually occurred—even though rational thought quickly reminds them that it did not—and that the three victims, along with the rest of New York City, are now dead. But before they can began to analyze the dozens of possible interpretations this scene has to offer they are derailed once again when Serling reveals that the bomb was a hoax after all and that the previous scene, featuring a totally demolished New York City, was simply a glimpse into Radin’s deteriorating mind which is now completely disconnected from reality.
This episode can be interpreted a number of ways, none of which make it any more enjoyable. Repeat viewings suggest that Serling likely meant this as a character study of an unlikable person and that the continuous plot twists are intended to give the audience the same sense of shock that Radin is experiencing. The episode begins with the audience believing that Radin will be at least marginally successful. By the final scene, however, they should have abandoned what little faith, and compassion, they may have held for him. His intended objective, or so it would seem, is the importance of distinguishing fantasy from reality and the dangers of obsession.
This is a reasonable premise but it proves unsuccessful for a number of reasons. First, the rapid succession of twists are a bit disorienting, at least upon the initial viewing, mainly because several of the twists conflict with one another instead of each naturally building upon the last. The result is an awkward ending which feels as though it is comprised of the endings to several different episodes all rolled into one.
Radin’s mental collapse during the final scenes is also handled poorly. Serling touched on mental health issues quite often in his writing and usually approached the subject from a thoughtful point of view. He most likely intended for the audience to believe that Radin’s mind has simply snapped after such a monumental disappointment. He may also be suggesting that Radin has simply escaped back into his fantasy world where he is the eternal victim. Given his closing narration, however, the former explanation makes more sense. Either way, the sequence simply does not work. It happens far too abruptly and the contrasting visualization between the real New York and Radin’s fantasy world is too severe to be believable. It feels lazy and inappropriate. Wiseman’s absurd over-acting here doesn’t help this scene any and suggests that if he isn’t taking any of this seriously then neither should we.
            Another problem is that the audience isn’t really given a chance to know the characters. It is obvious from the start that Radin is the villain here and that our sympathies are supposed to lie with his three victims. However, none of them seem like redeemable people either. Our impression of them is based solely on their words and actions while they are on screen. Within this short time frame we see a school teacher who publicly humiliates a child instead of addressing the actual problem and a Christian minister who also exploits his public platform in order to slander Radin, an act that seems contrary to the beliefs of his religion. The only punishment that seems appropriate is Radin’s discharge from the Army as a result of his cowardice. However, the colonel’s remark about having him shot, while not totally unwarranted, immediately removes any empathy the audience may hold for him. And the three continue to degrade and insult Radin, Mrs. Langford in particular, even after it becomes clear that he is emotionally disturbed. Likewise, the audience never witnesses Radin doing or saying anything onscreen that is particularly unforgivable. All he wants from his victims is an apology. Just two words. The audience is supposed to form an opinion of him based on the testimonies of the other characters but their cold, unlikable personalities render them unreliable judges of character.
            Finally, Serling’s dialogue is out of control in this episode. As we have stated numerous times, one of Serling’s strongest attributes as a writer was his gift for dialogue. His words had a unique crackle about them, full of emotion and swift consonant sounds that had a mesmerizing quality. His dialogue was very intense and very specific to his personality as a writer. In suitable doses, and in the appropriate context, his words were magic. However, if a script seemed weak, as this one likely did, Serling would flood it with dialogue which often gave it the balance it needed. Unfortunately, it does not seem to help this episode any and the verbose dialogue gives it a bloated quality.
            Lamont Johnson, the stalwart of the third season, delivers the fourth of his eight total episodes—only one of which, season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne,” appears in a season other than this one. His direction here is quieter than in a lot of his episodes but still effective. A former theatre director, he is adept at using minimalism to his advantage. The majority of the episode takes place in a single room which Johnson chooses to leave open, letting high contrast lighting frame most of his shots. Serling’s on-screen appearance deserves a mention as well. Johnson pans the length of an elevator door until it chimes and the door opens revealing our host, complete with Chesterfield.
            While certain aspects of this episode are interesting, “One More Pallbearer” is a weird, clumsy story which leaves its audience slightly confused and highly dissatisfied. It was probably not destined to be a masterpiece but could have possibly been more effective had Serling the time to flesh out the plot. A demanding writing schedule due to contractual commitments is likely the demise of this particular script. This one, unfortunately, does not come recommended.

Grade: D

--Lamont Johnson directed a total of eight episodes of the show including the George Clayton Johnson episodes “Nothing in the Dark,” which aired the previous week, and “Kick the Can.”
--Joseph Wiseman also appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Room With a View." 
--Katherine Squire also appeared in season four’s “In His Image.”
--Josip Elic also appeared in the season two finale “The Obsolete Man.”
--Check out the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Chelcie Ross.

--Brian Durant

Monday, November 21, 2016

Entering The Twilight Zone on Public Radio's Selected Shorts

Robert Sean Leonard
             The Twilight Zone recently made an appearance on Selected Shorts, the public radio program which features live readings of short fiction presented by well-known performers. The program is part of Public Radio International and comes recommended due to the high quality of the performances and the unique aspect that accompanies a live audience. The program is, with some exceptions, recorded live on Broadway at Symphony Space in New York City and later broadcast on public radio stations on Friday evenings.

            The Twilight Zone program was hosted by actor Robert Sean Leonard with three short stories that formed the basis of three episodes of the series. This was presumably done in an effort to offer something outrĂ© during the Halloween season. The selections were eclectic and unusual. The three stories featured were “Four O’clock” by Price Day, “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont, and “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” by Henry Slesar. Though Selected Shorts typically devotes an entire one-hour episode to a single short story, the program decided to select very short stories from The Twilight Zone in order to fit more than one story into an episode. Oddly enough, Rod Serling is only directly connected to one of the stories, other than as creator of the series, of course, as he adapted Price Day’s “Four O’clock” for the series. It would have been nice to see the program devote an entire episode to one of Rod Serling’s many story adaptations from one of the three Bantam paperbacks he wrote in the early 1960s, and perhaps the program will do so in the future. Alas, the Serling stories proved too long for current consideration and Selected Shorts opted instead for shorter material connected with the show.

            The three Twilight Zone stories were spread out over two programs. The original broadcasts were as follows: On Friday, October 28, Selected Shorts featured “Four O’clock” by Price Day, read by Zachary Quinto, “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont, read by Zach Grenier, and “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl, read by Sam Underwood. On Friday, November 18, Selected Shorts featured “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” by Henry Slesar, read by Robert Sean Leonard, “Head Over Knees” by Eric Schlich, read by Robert Sean Leonard, and “Dornicka and the St. Martin’s Day Goose” by Helen Oyeyemi, read by Colby Minifie. These episodes can currently be downloaded free on iTunes or another podcatcher but those interested should hurry as Selected Shorts only features the last dozen or so episodes available for download at any given time. The October 28 episode can be found under the title “Entering the Twilight Zone” and the November 18 episode under the title “Fateful Encounters.”

            The readings offered an opportunity to revisit the source material in comparison to the finished product on the series. Zachary Quinto’s reading of Price Day’s “Four O’clock” is serviceable. The actor, best known for his role as Spock in the current Star Trek films, chooses to read the very short story in a subdued, almost monotone, fashion. Though this method produces an overly long build-up, it works well when delivering the story’s memorable final line. “Four O’clock” was originally published in the April, 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Incidentally, we will soon see that this Selected Shorts program had as much to do with Alfred Hitchcock as it did with The Twilight Zone, beginning with Price Day’s story, illustrating the vast common ground shared by Hitchcock's and Serling's programs as well as the permanence of Hitchcock on literary culture then and now.  

              “Four O’clock” was adapted by Rod Serling and directed by Lamont Johnson for the third season of The Twilight Zone. The story is very short and it is interesting to see how much Serling added when crafting his adaptation. A lot of what he added was necessary as Serling painted the main character, Oliver Crangle, as a much viler person than in Day’s story. In the story, Day only hints at Crangle’s true nature in an effort to keep the shock ending unexpected, although a reader is left wondering if Crangle truly deserved his awful fate. Serling leaves no doubt of this by clearly displaying Crangle’s warped sense of justice.

               The standout reading of the program is Zach Grenier’s performance of Charles Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream,” which received raucous applause from the audience once the devastating final line of the story was delivered. The manic story of a sleep deprived man’s attempt to explain his plight to a sympathetic psychologist is perfect for an energetic reading and that is exactly what Grenier delivers. One forgets how terrifying a story it is, especially the scenes in which Phillip Hall, the afflicted man, is the victim of a recurring nightmare in which he steadily climbs a high wooden roller coaster. “Perchance to Dream” was first published in the October, 1958 issue of Playboy, the magazine to which Beaumont would contribute a large amount of his published work. The story was the first Beaumont’s first contribution to The Twilight Zone, produced for the first season from Beaumont’s own adaptation under the direction of Robert Florey. Beaumont changes little in his adaptation, allowing Florey free reign to display his excellent, German expressionist-inspired, directing style. “Perchance to Dream” remains one of the most nightmarish and frightening episodes of the entire series. Florey was an accomplished French director who is primarily remembered by horror fans for developing an adaptation of Frankenstein in 1930 for Universal Studios with Bela Lugosi in the role of the Monster before the project was scrapped by the studio. Universal quickly hired director James Whale to develop the project instead. Whale “discovered” Boris Karloff for the role of the Monster and the resultant film is a classic. The compensation prize for Florey and Lugosi was the 1932 shocker Murders in the Rue Morgue.

            The first program also featured an inspired reading of Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady” by Sam Underwood. The reading was recorded at a comedy club and Underwood relishes and heightens the humorous aspects of Dahl’s story to a great degree. “The Landlady” was adapted for the sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and boast one of the finest pedigrees of any episode of that series, as it was adapted from the Dahl story by Robert Bloch and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Dahl later presented the story for the first season of his 1970s era television series Tales of the Unexpected. 
           Robert Sean Leonard, host of the program, reads the final Twilight Zone story, Henry Slesar’s “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross.” Leonard’s reading is fine and even, not given to the broad melodrama presented in Jerry McNeely’s adaptation of the story for the fifth season of The Twilight Zone. Revisiting the Slesar story greatly illustrated the failings of the adaptation. In the original story, Salvadore Ross is a pitiable figure nowhere near the selfish villain of the adaptation, which makes the surprise ending that much more shocking. In the adaptation, Ross is presented as a cruel bully of a man and his relationship with Leah is borderline abusive. This turns the story into a one-dimensional twist ending tale which unfortunately became very common by the fifth season of the series. Slesar’s story was first published in the May, 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Slesar was a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so much so that in 1989 appeared a volume dedicated solely to Slesar’s contributions to Hitchcock’s show titled Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar’s Alfred Hitchcock Stories.

                In all, it was a delight to see Selected Shorts feature Twilight Zone stories on their program. It stands as proof of the high literary quality of the series. Here’s hoping the program continues to feature not only material from The Twilight Zone but other crowd-pleasing genre material from that Golden Age of the 1950s-1970s.

-Jordan P.     

                                                    Selected Shorts from PRI

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"Nothing in the Dark"

Gladys Cooper as Wanda Dunn, a woman hiding from Mr. Death
“Nothing in the Dark”
Season Three, Episode 81
Original Air Date: January 5, 1962

Wanda Dunn: Gladys Cooper
Harold Beldon: Robert Redford
Building Contractor: R.G. Armstrong

Writer: George Clayton Johnson (original teleplay)
Director: Lamont Johnson
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: Henry Grace, H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week an excursion into the shadowland of the hereafter. Ms. Gladys Cooper and Mr. Robert Redford combine sizable talents to bring a script by George Clayton Johnson entitled ‘Nothing in the Dark.’ The dark in this case being the little nooks, crannies, and closets of those regions presided over by Mr. Death. I hope you’ll be with us next week for ‘Nothing in the Dark.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“An old woman living in a nightmare. An old woman who has fought a thousand battles with death and always won. Now she’s faced with a grim decision. Whether or not to open a door. And in some strange and frightening way she knows that this seemingly ordinary door leads to the Twilight Zone.”

            On a cold winter day, Wanda Dunn, a very old woman, is awakened from an afternoon nap within her dilapidated apartment. She sees movement through a space in a boarded window. A police officer is on the street outside the window. Suddenly, he sounds a whistle and a gunshot is heard. Alarmed, Wanda moves to her front door and peers though a small opening, careful to leave the chain lock fastened.

            The police officer is injured and lying feebly in the snow near her doorway. The young man tells her that his name is Harold Beldon and he needs help lest he should die. The old woman is reluctant to help because she believes the injured man is not who he says he is. “I know who you are,” she tells him. “I know what you are.”
            Confused and in pain, the man continues to beg for help until Wanda cannot bear his pleading any longer. She unlocks the door and moves slowly toward the injured man. She touches him tentatively. “I’m still alive,” she says, clearly astonished. She pulls the injured man inside her apartment.
            The old woman situates the policeman in a comfortable space and serves him tea. When the injured man reiterates his need of a doctor, the old woman explains that calling a doctor isn’t possible. She has no telephone and couldn’t risk letting a doctor into her home even if she had. When she sees the look of confusion on the young man’s face, she explains her plight.
            For many years she has remained within this apartment, never venturing out or letting anyone in for fear of coming into contact with Mr. Death. Years ago, she saw a young man touch an old woman’s hand. When this old woman died shortly afterwards, it became clear that the young man who touched her was Mr. Death. Wanda has been hiding from Mr. Death ever since.
            Again, there is movement from without the apartment followed by an urgent knocking at the door. The policeman encourages Wanda to answer the door. She reluctantly opens the door. On the other side is a contractor who has scheduled Wanda’s apartment building to be torn down and whose job it is to ensure the old woman vacates the premises. Wanda resists, terrified at the prospect of leaving her apartment. The man forces his way into the apartment and knocks the old woman unconscious upon the floor.
            When Wanda awakens, she is lying upon her bed and the contractor is leaning over her with an expression of relief. He is holding her hand. Again, the old woman is amazed to still be alive after being touch by this stranger. She has mistaken him for Mr. Death.

The building contractor explains that he isn’t trying to be cruel but that the building is clearly unfit to live in. The city has condemned the dwelling and charged him with tearing it down. Wanda stands and pleads with the young policeman to help her explain to the contractor why she can’t leave the apartment. The contractor doesn’t seem to notice the policeman and gives Wanda an ultimatum to gather her possessions and vacate the premises.
After the man leaves it dawns on Wanda that the contractor couldn’t see the young policeman. The policeman is Mr. Death and has tricked Wanda into bringing him into her home. Wanda is terrified at this revelation but Mr. Death convinces her that he isn’t going to cause her pain and that death is not an end but a beginning. He implores her to take his hand and make the journey to the afterlife. She does so reluctantly. Together they walk from the apartment.  

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“There was an old woman who lived in a room, and like all of us was frightened of the dark. But who discovered in a minute, last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on. Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us, in or out of the Twilight Zone.”


            George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark” is a haunting and evocative fantasy with individual characters of clear delineation and a refreshingly optimistic view of a fundamentally bleak subject. It stands in the absolute first rank of the series. The simplicity of both the concept and its execution work entirely in its favor. The Twilight Zone often presented character-based fantasies that focused on story and performance and thus required little in the way of setting or design (at least in the way these things are noticed by the average viewer), presenting the viewer with essentially a filmed stage play, harkening back to the earlier days of the medium and the Golden Age of live television drama, an area in which many of the major creators on the show got their starts. “Nothing in the Dark” could serve as a model of this type of production as it utilizes a single setting to evoke a feeling of dilapidation, claustrophobia, and imprisonment without sacrificing the Emmy Award-winning cinematography for which the series is renowned.
            “Nothing in the Dark” was originally intended to be the closing episode of the second season and was filmed during the second season production schedule, evidenced by the way in which the credits are displayed on the episode, as it followed the method used during the second season in which all credits, including the title, were displayed following the episode. For the third season, the title and primary credits were displayed at the beginning of the episode, after Rod Serling’s opening narration, with the remainder of the credits following at the end of the episode. “Nothing in the Dark” retains its second season formatting to this day.
            This means that “Nothing in the Dark” was the debut episode of director Lamont Johnson. As it happened, two of Johnson’s other episodes filmed for the third season (“The Shelter” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”) arrived in front of viewers before “Nothing in the Dark,” which was pushed back to the middle of the third season.
            After the departure of director Douglas Heyes from the series, Lamont Johnson stepped in as a director who could lend a distinctive stylistic touch to his episodes and one who fundamentally understood the versatility inherent in the advances in television cinematography. Johnson’s directing style is smooth and accomplished, with one fluid camera motion connecting to another via effective low-angle framing shots. Of course, accomplished cinematographer George T. Clemens is equally responsible for much of this excellent camera work but Clemens was a photographer who tended to adapt his style to that of the director with which he was working. If the director had a very staid style, Clemens’s camera was likewise content to simply cut from one framing shot to the next. The camerawork here is marred only once by a fairly obvious jump cut to achieve the effect of Mr. Death’s lack of reflection in a mirror on a wall.
            A more interesting aspect of Johnson’s direction and staging is the heavy use of symbolism in the episode. There is the obvious symbol of Wanda Dunn’s dilapidated dwelling as a physical representation of her own crumbling existence. There is also the obvious symbolism in the character of the building contractor, brought to life by a fine performance from veteran character actor R.G. Armstrong, whose occupation (the razing and construction of buildings) is a parallel to the life/death process in the natural world. A more subtle use of symbolism is that of imprisoning bars as a symbol of the nature and effects of Wanda’s psychosis. We first view Gladys Cooper’s sleeping form through the latticework of a chair back. She pushes this away as though opening a door when she is awakened by noise in the street. Later, when she awakens from the fall caused by the building contractor, Lamont Johnson chooses to film Gladys Cooper clutching the iron bars of a bed frame, giving the distinct impression of an imprisoned person (see photo in summary section above).  
            Johnson’s choice of filming the exit of Wanda and Mr. Death is also interesting. He chooses to follow the two completely out of the apartment, up the tenement steps and along the street until they disappear from the frame. Johnson’s camera never leaves the interior the apartment and the two characters stop briefly in the street for a final framing shot, reinforcing the optimistic tone of the episode. It would have been interesting to film the two characters leaving the apartment and then not reveal them on the outside, defying the viewer’s expectation of seeing them through the partially boarded window and suggesting a passage beyond. 
            After working in radio as an actor and announcer, Lamont Johnson began his directing career on the New York stage before moving into television drama. He specifically desired Gladys Cooper for the role of Wanda Dunn based on her long and varied career on the stage. Cooper was a beauty of the London stage and of silent films since before the start of the First World War. She began appearing on Broadway by the 1930's and moved gracefully into middle and late age in a variety of film and television roles, amassing three Academy Award nominations along the way for performances in Now, Voyager (1942), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and My Fair Lady (1964). Cooper would appear twice more on the series and was always exceptional in her performances. Cooper also had the fortune of working with the three principle writers of the show not named Rod Serling. She worked with George Clayton Johnson here on “Nothing in the Dark,” with Charles Beaumont on the fourth season episode “Passage on the Lady Anne,” and with Richard Matheson on the fifth season episode “Night Call,” exceptional episodes all.  
In “Nothing in the Dark,” she elicits pathos in her performance in a manner that is perhaps unmatched by any other performer on the series. There was, however, some reluctance when Cooper, a highly refined British actress, was cast in the role of the poverty-stricken Wanda Dunn, many believing the actress would struggle to bring herself low enough to achieve verisimilitude in the performance. Though Cooper had to work with Lamont Johnson during pre-production in order to achieve the most effective accent and manner, she eventually hit upon a flawless method of bringing Wanda Dunn to life as a once highly refined and beautiful woman brought low by old age and an incapacitating fear of death. The moment in which Wanda remembers the beauty of her youth and passes her aged hand through a band of sunlight upon the floor remains one of the more poignant moments from the series.
            Lamont Johnson was also involved in the selection of Robert Redford as the young policeman Harold Beldon. Redford has, of course, gone on to a highly successful career as both an actor and director but was still working his way up the acting ranks via character work at the time of filming this episode. He had, however, a previous connection to Rod Serling in that Redford performed the role of a Nazi soldier in Serling’s Playhouse 90 episode “In the Presence of Mine Enemies,” which originally aired on May 18, 1960. That final regular episode of Playhouse 90 was one of Serling’s more effective plays and featured an outstanding cast including Charles Laughton, Sam Jaffe, Arthur Kennedy, and George Macready. Redford’s performance in “Nothing in the Dark” has been lamented in some critical circles as leaden and unfeeling but this seems to have missed the point of both the character and the performance. Redford is essentially performing as the human form of an elemental being and can hardly be expected to turn in a highly charged or emotional performance. This would be highly out of character, especially for so melancholy a character as Death. Redford presents Death as a calm, rational, inevitable force, much like Death’s other two appearances on the series, in the first season episodes “One for the Angels” and “The Hitch-Hiker.” Though Redford was primarily cast for his pleasing appearance, his performance is an effective foil to Cooper’s highly emotional turn.

           George Clayton Johnson's original story treatment for the episode, entitled "There Is Nothing in the Dark That Wasn't There When the Light Was On," presents a very different set of events. Although the setup of the story is fundamentally the same, with Harry Beldon shot by a hoodlum and seeking help at the door of Wanda Bloor, the rest of the story differs considerably. In the original story treatment, Beldon is actually a wounded police officer. Wanda takes him into her home and promises to shield him from Mr. Death. Three characters come knocking at the door in succession, a worker from the gas company, a real estate agent, and another police officer. To Wanda, all three men look exactly the same, justifying her fears that it is Mr. Death trying to get inside to get at her and Beldon. Beldon, sensing Wanda's madness, calls out to the police officer, who pushes his way inside, inadvertently sending Wanda reeling backwards to avoid his touch. Wanda falls through a hole in the floor of her dilapidated apartment and dies. All three of the men who came knocking at the door are then shown to look completely different. The similarity in their appearances was all in Wanda's fractured mind. The story ends with Beldon seeing the driver of the hearse who has come to take Wanda's remains away. The hearse driver has the same face as seen on the three men through Wanda's eyes.
            It ends: "Beldon peers at him uncertainly. 'Don't I know you?' 'No,' says the driver, with a strange smile. 'But you will.'"              
           The genesis of Johnson's story lies in a Ray Bradbury story published about a year before production began on the episode. Bradbury was a strong influence on the core writers on The Twilight Zone. As such, his work was occasionally borrowed from in order to create a variance on a theme. It’s all the more astounding and frustrating that Bradbury was only able to place a single workable script with the series, the troubled third season episode “I Sing the Body Electric.”
            George Clayton Johnson, like his Twilight Zone co-writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, was mentored to a large degree by Bradbury while in the early stages of his professional career. Johnson clearly idolized Bradbury, going so far as to tell author Matthew R. Bradley in an interview for Filmfax magazine that through Bradbury’s work he (Johnson) was shown that perfection in writing could be achieved. Johnson would point to “Nothing in the Dark” as his own stake to the claim of perfection, an irony considering its close association with the Bradbury story titled “Death and the Maiden.”
            The similarities between the stories are unmistakable and Johnson admitted as much to author Matthew R. Bradley. When asked about the relationship of "Nothing in the Dark" to Bradbury's "Death and the Maiden," Johnson stated: "It's a perfect Bradbury forgery, too, when you stop to think. He's got a story called 'Death and the Maiden,' in which Death comes up to a castle where there's a beautiful maiden, sings to her about the glories of going off to his kingdom, finally lures her down from the castle, gets her onto his charger, cuddles her close, and races off, and she is then happy as can be. He has not lied to her, he's been very sincere and hasn't used any tricky language to get her to do it. So, you can see that the idea of Death as an innocent person, which is the soul of that story, has got its roots in Bradbury, and I freely admit it."  
            The opening of Bradbury's story, shared from my copy of The Machineries of Joy (1964), illustrates the close relationship between the stories, as it essentially offers the entire setup for "Nothing in the Dark." "Death and the Maiden" begins:

            "Far out in the country beyond the woods, beyond the world, really, lived Old Mam, and she had lived there for ninety years with the door locked tight, not opening for anyone, be it wind, rain, sparrow tapping or little boy with a pailful of crayfish rapping. If you scratched at her shutters, she called through: 
            "God away, Death!" 

            One can reasonably assume that Johnson read Bradbury’s fiction as it was published and so came upon “Death and the Maiden” in the March, 1960 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It is fair to note here that although Johnson all but certainly took the germ of “Nothing in the Dark” from Bradbury’s “Death and the Maiden,” he subsequently crafted an emotionally effective story from that initial inspiration and included enough of a variation of the theme to make the story his own. 
            Bradbury’s story concerns a woman who lives far out in the country and is known in the nearest town by the name Old Mam. Like Wanda Dunn in “Nothing in the Dark,” Old Mam has shut herself away for many years in her home for fear of Death, which has tried many times to lure her out and seal her fate. It is here that the two stories diverge somewhat. “Nothing in the Dark” is about facing the fear of the unknown and the inevitability of death. “Death and the Maiden,” though also approaching these themes, concerns itself more with the idea that one is not truly alive if all the effort of life is spent avoiding death, though Johnson does include a major theme in the Bradbury story: the mournful remembrance of a youth long gone.
In Bradbury’s story, Old Mam is confronted by a young man carrying a vial of bright green liquid. She immediately recognizes the young man as Death and the young man soon acknowledges this as well, claiming that the green liquid contained in the vial is the essence of Old Mam's life at eighteen years old. Death appeals to the vanity of her younger self, when she was a beautiful, energetic woman using her real name, Clarinda. Death offers her a glimpse of her lost youth. He tempts her to taste of the green liquid and promises her twenty-four hours as herself at eighteen years old in exchange for an eternity in the afterlife. Like Wanda Dunn, Old Mam agrees to take the frightening journey hand-in-hand with Death. “Death and the Maiden” was first published in book form in Bradbury’s 1964 collection The Machineries of Joy.
            Bradbury previously approached similar material in a far more ghoulish manner with his story “There Was an Old Woman” from the July, 1944 issue of Weird Tales. This darkly comedic and highly entertaining story concerns a woman who is unwilling to proceed to the afterlife after dying. She is tricked by an ever-patient Death and must doggedly pursue her physical remains before an autopsy is performed. After hounding the mortician, the old woman interrupts her own autopsy and is allowed to reenter her physical body. The story ends with her proudly displaying her autopsy scars. “Not bad sewing, for a man,” she intones. The story is far different in tone from either of the later tales as it was written at the height of that wonderful 1940s period in which Bradbury was firmly committed to crafting his unique style of weird tale, a style of story that would be highly influential to William M. Gaines and Albert Feldstein, the primary architects of the EC line of horror comics Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. Feldstein adapted “There was an Old Woman” for Tales from the Crypt #34 (Feb/March, 1953) and the story was illustrated by the supreme master of horror art “Ghastly” Graham Ingels. The Feldstein/Ingels adaptation was included in the 1965 Ballantine paperback The Autumn People, which collected the best of the EC adaptations of Bradbury’s weird tales. The story was first published in book form in Bradbury’s first book, Dark Carnival, from Arkham House publishers in 1947, as well as in Bradbury’s famous collection of weird tales The October Country from 1955. 
               Charles Beaumont, another acolyte of Bradbury and an early mentor to George Clayton Johnson, crafted a story similar to "Nothing in the Dark" but of a more humorous cast. It is also possible that Johnson took his inspiration from Beaumont's story as it was published some years before. The story in question is "The Customers," first published in 1957 in Beaumont's collection The Hunger and Other Stories. It concerns an elderly couple who hide away in their home in fear of a visit from Death, whose form they see in every person who comes knocking upon their door. When they are visited by a young man dressed all in black they resign themselves to let him in and get it over with. The humor stems from the fact that the reader understands that the young man is selling cemetery plots and the elderly couple believe him to be death itself. Beaumont's story also contains a strong element of the cold of winter. 
            It is important to remember that these writers were part of a collective group of writers, the Southern California School, who were very close personal friends and frequent collaborators in which the exchange of ideas was constant. One telling example of this is the story of Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont driving along one day in the early 1950's and both noticing a sign on the side of road advertising "free dirt." From this sprung one of Beaumont's most acclaimed short stories, "Free Dirt," published in 1955 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. More than forty years later Bradbury tried his own hand at a story titled "Free Dirt," sparked from the same memory of that sign on the side of the road. It appeared in his 1996 collection Quicker Than the Eye. All of this is a way of saying that the exchange of ideas among this group of young writers was frequent and perhaps not beholden to common views on plagiarism, although Bradbury did take exception to "Nothing in the Dark."
            Unfortunately, Rod Serling, who was only a peripheral member of the Group, was not given as much leeway when his work crossed thematic lines with the work of the other writers on the series. As a result, "Nothing in the Dark" became a focal point for the slow dissolution of the relationship between Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury. It was a relationship which began in 1958 but began to dissolve as Bradbury struggled to get his work produced on The Twilight Zone while also coming to believe that Serling was freely lifting his story ideas for his own episodes. With "Nothing in the Dark," both Bradbury and Charles Beaumont warned Clayton Johnson about the similarities between his story and Bradbury's "Death and the Maiden." Bradbury did not want the script produced. When the episode finally aired and was seen to be such a moving and memorable episode, Bradbury largely held Serling accountable for knowingly producing a plagiarized work.
            Despite its debt to similar works of fiction, “Nothing in the Dark” remains an episode that rises far above the novelty of its surprise ending and contains enough thematic and symbolic material to appease even the most demanding viewer of the show. It also showcases the debuts of Lamont Johnson (in production, not broadcast), one of the three or four finest directors for the series, and Glayds Cooper, who must be counted in the absolute front rank of performers on the series. It is a justifiably famous episode that manages to perfectly capture that unique blend of melancholy and optimistic that distinguished the series from similar television material.

Grade: A+

-Lamont Johnson directed seven additional episodes for the series, including the exceptional season three episodes “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” and “Kick the Can.”
-Gladys Cooper appeared in two additional episodes, “Passage on the Lady Anne” from season four and “Night Call” from season five.
-“Nothing in the Dark” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Marshall Allman and Roz Alexander. The adaptation is by M.J. Elliott and is one of the finest offerings of the series. It includes an interesting opening sequence in which Wanda suffers a recurring nightmare where she is lost outside in an unfamiliar place. There, she meets a man who soon reveals himself to be a terrifying incarnation of Death.
--Grateful acknowledgement to George Clayton Johnson's Twilight Zone Scripts and Stories for information on the original story treatment of the episode.

-Jordan Prejean