Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dead of Night (1945)

U.S. release poster

          Dead of Night is a 1945 anthology (or portmanteau) film from Ealing Studios which remains one of the most influential and highly regarded horror films of its era. The film inspired a host of imitations, including multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone and several other horror or ghostly anthologies in both film and television, notable among which is the series of anthology films from Amicus Productions (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Asylum, From Beyond the Grave, etc.), an English outfit founded by the Americans Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky.

"The Framing Narrative"
         Dead of Night consists of five short tales of terror (and comedy) connected by a framing narrative which sees an architect named Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) visit a country house which mirrors the setting and situation from a recurring nightmare he has been experiencing. When Craig reveals this odd coincidence (as well as an uncanny ability of precognition) to the members of a small gathering at the house, it spurs each guest in turn to recount a strange incident from their lives. 
          Dead of Night is notable for being the first supernatural horror film to emerge from post-war British cinema. In the wake of such American horror films as Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932), James Whale's Frankenstein (1931), and other Pre-Code Hollywood offerings, the British Board of Film Censors, like its American counterpart the Production Code Administration, began actively discouraging the production and distribution of horror films by instituting such restrictive measures as the "H" certificate, introduced in 1932, which barred anyone under the age of 16 admission to horror films. Beyond the increasingly gruesome and sexualized content in Pre-Code (before July, 1934) horror films, there was also the perception that horror films produced a negative effect on the national psyche, a particular concern during the horrors of WWII. Universal Studios was eventually encouraged to continue its successful series of Frankenstein films, beginning with Son of Frankenstein (1939), after viewing the high returns from a triple feature re-release of Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and Son of Kong (1933) at the Regina Theater in Los Angeles in the summer of 1938.
          In the UK, beyond drawing room thrillers, supernatural comedies and dramas, and occasionally gruesome Tod Slaughter melodramas, a return to the production of supernatural horror films would not occur until immediately after the war with Dead of Night. Ealing Studios was noted for producing patriotic (and often grim) war films and, later, the “Ealing Comedy,” a type of darkly satirical film exemplified by Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955). Dead of Night was a way for Ealing to move away from the grim realism of their war-era output and approach subjects which were both recognizably British and something in a new direction. WWII, only very recently ended, is not mentioned a single time in Dead of Night and is conspicuous by its absence. A year before, in 1944, Ealing produced The Halfway House, in which a collection of people experiencing personal crises converge on a supernatural Welsh inn which is lost in time and which allows the characters to reexamine the course of their lives. The war is an ever-present specter in the film. The Halfway House was directed by Basil Dearden (director of "The Framing Narrative" and "The Hearse Driver" sequences in Dead of Night) and co-scripted by Dead of Night co-writer Angus MacPhail, both regular production members at Ealing. Ealing returned to the anthology format with 1949’s Train of Events, a drama with dark undercurrents but nothing approaching the outright terror of Dead of Night. The film shared two directors, Basil Dearden and Charles Crichton, and two writers, Angus MacPhail and T.E.B. Clarke, with Dead of Night. 

          Notable subsequent examples of the anthology horror film include Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror (1962), based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1964), the previously mentioned Amicus series of films (1965-1974), and Creepshow (1982), Stephen King's and George Romero's homage to the EC Comics of the 1950s (A course earlier taken by Amicus with Tales from the Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973)). Dozens more appeared across the years, including numerous television efforts which have utilized the format in different and interesting ways. In 1945, the horror anthology film was still in its infancy and there was little precedent for the success of a film like Dead of Night. Though there were anthology films which contained horror elements before Dead of Night (silent German cinema produced Richard Oswald’s Eerie Tales (1919), Fritz Lang’s Destiny (1921), and Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924)) the Ealing film set a standard for format and quality which still influences filmmakers today. 

E.F. Benson
          Dead of Night was written by Angus McPhail and John Baines, with additional dialogue by T.E.B. Clarke, deriving its subject and tone from the literary tradition of the English ghost story. The film credits two literary sources, E.F Benson and H.G. Wells. E.F. Benson provides the inspiration for the framing narrative, directed by Basil Dearden, with his story “The Room in the Tower” (1912), which relates how a man’s visit to a country house causes a recurring nightmare to become horrifying reality. Benson's “The Bus-Conductor,” first published in the December, 1906 issue of The Pall Mall Magazine, inspired the first of the film's story segments, “The Hearse Driver,” also directed by Dearden. This tells of a race-car driver (Anthony Baird) who sees a deadly portent in the form of a hearse driver while recuperating in hospital following an accident on the track. Benson’s original story, particularly its haunting refrain, “room for one inside” (often reinterpreted as "room for one more"), has its roots in the folkloric tradition of tales concerning deadly premonitions. An earlier example in English can be found in In the Wrong Paradise and Other Stories by Andrew Land (1886). Benson's story inspired several other properties, including Rod Serling's second season Twilight Zone episode "Twenty-Two" (February 10, 1961). Benson (1867-1940) was a prolific author now best-known for the Mapp and Lucia series of novels (six volumes, 1920-1939), social comedies which inspired two television series. He is also known for having written many of the most chilling horror stories of the early twentieth century, including “Caterpillars” (1912), “The Horror-Horn” (1922), and “Mrs. Amworth” (1922), the latter of which was filmed in 1975 with Glynis Johns (daughter of Dead of Night's Mervyn Johns) and broadcast as part of the British/Canadian television series Classics Dark and Dangerous in 1977.+ Benson’s ghostly tales were collected in The Room in the Tower and Other Stories (1912), Visible and Invisible (1923), Spook Stories (1928), and More Spook Stories (1934). His Collected Ghost Stories appeared in 1992. Another, lesser-known Benson story, "The Chippendale Mirror" (1915), may have provided the inspiration for the film's third segment. More on that later. 
          H.G. Wells nominally provided the material for the film's only comedic offering, “The Golfing Story,” the frequently derided fourth segment of the film directed by Charles Crichton. This darkly humorous play resembles the comedies for which Ealing later became known. It concerns two golfing friends who make a wager of life and death over the hand of a shared romantic interest. The loser, having taken his own life, returns to haunt the winner by spoiling the latter's efforts at golf and romance. The segment is nominally taken from Wells' “The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost” from the March, 1902 issue of The Strand Magazine. It is a segment most enjoyed by those open to a dose of black comedy with their horror and least likely to be enjoyed by those who feel that such a comedic intrusion spoils the carefully built tension of the film's preceding segments. "The Golfing Story" and "The Christmas Party" segments were excised from the initial U.S. theatrical release print of the film. See Notes at the bottom of the post for more information. 

         Besides the credits to Benson and Wells, the film presents the rest of the stories as original to the screenplay, although a closer look suggests additional source material. 

Playing Sardines at "The Christmas Party"
          The second segment, “The Christmas Party,” directed by Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti, is told by a teenage girl, Sally (Sally Ann Howes) and concerns a Christmas party, a game of Sardines (a sort of reverse Hide-and-Seek in which one player hides and are sought out by a group), and the ghost of a long-ago murder. This segment was inspired by a real-life murder and very likely also by a popular ghost story of the time. The real-life murder was that of three-year-old Francis Kent by his sixteen-year-old half-sister Constance Kent in 1860 in the village of Road in Wiltshire (now Rode in Somerset). Francis was first discovered missing from the main house and later found in an outhouse with severe lacerations about his body, including a deep throat wound. Constance was not initially brought to trial because of class differences with the working-class detective who identified the girl as a suspect. Five years later, Constance made a confession to an Anglo-Catholic clergyman describing how she abducted young Francis from the house and then murdered him in the outhouse using a stolen razor. Constance was subsequently prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to death but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, of which she served twenty years before immigrating to Australia, changing her name, and living to 100 years of age, dying one year before her crime was reworked for Dead of Night. Elements of this infamous murder were incorporated into many contemporary works of popular literature, including Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret (1862), Charles Dickens' unfinished final work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), and Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (1868). 
Constance Kent
          “The Christmas Party” also bears resemblance to the short story “Smee” by English author A.M. Burrage (1889-1956), first published in the December, 1929 issue of Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine. Burrage was a prolific writer specializing in short fiction for the crowded magazine market of the day, covering everything from boy’s adventure fiction to a scathing antiwar memoir (War Is War) to many of the creepiest ghost stories of the time. “Smee,” one of Burrage's most oft-reprinted tales, was included in Burrage’s 1931 collection Someone in the Room (as by "Ex-Private X"), an excellent volume of supernatural tales which also contains “The Waxwork” (later adapted for the Lights Out television series and Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and two more of his finest stories, “The Sweeper” and "One Who Saw." Dennis Wheatley included “Smee” in his 1935 survey A Century of Horror Stories where, if it indeed provided the germ of the tale, the writers of Dead of Night likely encountered the story. It was reprinted in the U.S. in Alfred Hitchcock’s Fireside Book of Suspense Stories in 1947.
Alfred McLelland Burrage
“Smee” concerns a Christmas party, a variation of Hide-and-Seek, and the story of a young girl who previously died in the house by falling down a staircase and breaking her neck. The guests at the party decide to play “Smee,” the word being a degeneration of “it’s me.” Since the object of the game is to roam around a large, dark house attempting to find the player labeled “Smee,” it is easy to imagine how the story ends, especially when one considers the girl with the broken neck and how that sort of nasty accident might produce a ghost. Burrage's work regularly found its way onto television in the early days of the medium. His 1927 story "Playmates" was adapted no less than three times, for Gruen Guild Theater and The Schaefer Century Theatre in 1952, and for The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse in 1954.     

Peter Cortland (Ralph Michael) peers into "The Chippendale Mirror"
          Dead of Night's third segment, “The Chippendale Mirror," or, as it is more commonly known, "The Haunted Mirror,” directed by Robert Hamer, is considered by many to be the jewel of the film. It concerns an antique mirror which reveals a room from the past and suggests a malevolent occupant of the room who seems always hidden from view. The hidden occupant, a murderously jealous husband, begins to bodily possess the new owner of the mirror, a recently married man. The segment bears resemblance to another E.F. Benson story, also titled "The Chippendale Mirror." First published in the May, 1915 issue of Pearson's, it tells of a man who purchases an antique mirror from a junk shop only to discover that the mirror has recently become available since removed from a room in which a woman was horribly murdered. The mirror has recorded the murderous act and reveals the murderer to be someone close to the purchaser of the mirror. Benson's story remained uncollected until anthologist Hugh Lamb included the tale in Forgotten Tales of Terror (1978). 
From Beyond the Grave: "The Gatecrasher"

"The Chippendale Mirror" segment, with its idea of an antique object that visually reveals a horrible hidden past, was perhaps an influence on the 1974 Amicus anthology film From Beyond the Grave, based on four stories from English author R. Chetwynd-Hayes. That film contains two segments suggestive of the Dead of Night story. The first, entitled “The Gatecrasher” and based on Chetwynd-Hayes' story from The Unbidden (1971), concerns a man (David Warner) who purchases an antique mirror which houses an evil entity (possibly Jack the Ripper), played to eerie perfection by Marcel Steiner. After an impromptu séance awakens the spirit, it demands blood sacrifices before freeing itself from the mirror. The final segment of From Beyond the Grave, “The Door,” based on Chetwynd-Hayes' story from Cold Terror (1973), tells of a young man (Ian Ogilvy) who installs an antique door in his home only to discover it inexplicably opens onto a very old room that once belong to an evil sorcerer (Jack Watson) who remains trapped within.
         
Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) and Hugo, "The Ventriloquist"
The final segment of Dead of Night, “The Ventriloquist,” or as it is more commonly known, "The Ventriloquist's Dummy," is directed by Alberto Cavalcanti and is likely familiar to most horror film fans, even those who have never seen the film, such is its reputation as a frightening segment and its influence upon subsequent cinematic treatments of the theme. A ventriloquist named Maxwell Frere (Michael Redgrave) is convinced that his dummy, Hugo Fitch, is alive and intent on causing him harm. When Hugo tricks the ventriloquist into shooting an American ventriloquist, Sylvester Key (Hartley Power), Maxwell snaps and destroys the dummy. Hugo gets the last laugh, however, as the confrontation has destroyed Maxwell’s mind in a most disturbing way.
          Though the intrinsically creepy quality of the ventriloquist dummy has been mined by horror writers since the emergence of the technique as performance art, this segment of the film was likely inspired by two sources. The first is the 1929 film The Great Gabbo, a melodrama concerning a ventriloquist (Eric von Stroheim) who becomes increasingly dependent on his dummy, Otto, for expression as he descends into madness. The Great Gabbo was adapted from the short story “The Rival Dummy” by Ben Hecht, first published in Liberty Magazine on August 18, 1928. Although The Great Gabbo is not a horror film, it is of interest to horror film fans as it is likely the origin of the sub-genre of the possessive ventriloquist's dummy. “The Rival Dummy” was adapted for radio on the Mollé Mystery Theatre for November 1, 1946, starring Walter Slezak, and for television on Westinghouse Studio One on September 19, 1949, starring Paul Lukas and Anne Francis, the latter of whom later appeared in Rod Serling's memorable first season Twilight Zone episode "The After Hours." 
Eric von Stroheim and Otto (The Great Gabbo)
          “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” segment from Dead of Night received its own radio adaptations, as well. “Dead of Night,” which utilized only the “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” segment of the film, was a one-off episode of Out of This World for February 28, 1947 and was performed again as the pilot episode of Escape! for March 21, 1947. Both shows featured Berry Kroeger and Art Carney, the latter of whom later appeared in Rod Serling's Christmas-themed Twilight Zone episode "The Night of the Meek."^
         
Gerald Kersh
The film segment may also owe its genesis to Gerald Kersh’s 1939 story “The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy.” Kersh’s story concerns a ventriloquist driven mad by a dummy he believes to be alive and possessed by the spirit of his dead father, an overbearing taskmaster. Kersh’s story was first published in Penguin Parade #6 and was included in the author’s 1944 collection The Horrible Dummy and Other Stories. It was twice adapted and performed as “The Whisper” for the Lights Out television series, first on September 23, 1949 and again on July 3, 1950. Though some publications have claimed that the film segment's similarity to Kersh's story is coincidence, Kersh scholar Paul Duncan uncovered correspondence between the screenwriter of the segment and Kersh which finally establishes the truth of the film borrowing from the Kersh story. In "Dead of Night - The Mystery Solved," from the December 22, 1998 installment of Kershed, an online Gerald Kersh newsletter, Duncan writes: "The screenwriter sent his script to Kersh, saying that Kersh's story was his inspiration, but he had changed the story whilst retaining the spirit - would Kersh object?" Kersh, Duncan writes, "proceeded to grant the film writer permission to go ahead and use the script, saying that he would not sue and did not require screen credit." Duncan concludes: "Once again, the myth turns out to be the truth."  


             Additional works of interest include Margery Lawrence's "The Occultist's Story: Vlasto's Doll," which originally appeared in The Tatler for November 25, 1925. The story was collected in Lawrence's Nights of the Round Tale: A Book of Strange Tales (1926), an excellent collection of ghost stories which languished in obscurity until rescued by editor and bibliographer Richard Dalby in the late 1980s. Ash-Tree Press reprinted the book in 1998 (electronic book: 2013). Lawrence's book of stories (many of which were based on the author's own experiences with the supernatural) adopts a similar structure to that echoed in Dead of Night, in which a group of gathered guests recount strange events from their past experiences. 
             H. Russell Wakefield's 1940 short story "Nimbo and Nobby's Farewell Performance" (often reprinted simply as "Farewell Performance"), concerns a ventriloquist's dummy that exposes a murder committed by its operator. The story leaves unclear whether the dummy is actually imbued with supernatural life or is simply a conduit for guilt-transference. The story was first published in the author's collection The Clock Strikes Twelve (Herbert Jenkins, 1940), a volume reprinted in the U.S. in 1946 by Arkham House. Twilight Zone actors John Hoyt ("The Lateness of the Hour," "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?") and Alan Napier ("Passage on the Lady Anne") were joined by Joan Shawlee in a television adaptation of  Wakefield's story for Pepsi-Cola Playhouse on January 22, 1954. The story was adapted by writer W.J. Stuart and director John English, and re-aired as an episode of the mystery/thriller anthology series Moment of Fear on July 20, 1965.
         There have been a number of variations on the tale of a ventriloquist's dummy that is alive and either trying to take over the body of the ventriloquist or spur the ventriloquist to some nefarious action. One memorable example is “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy!” from issue #28 of the EC Comics title Tales from the Crypt (Feb/Mar, 1952). Written by Al Feldstein and illustrated by Graham Ingels, it tells of a ventriloquist whose dummy is imbued with life not by a supernatural source but rather through a hideous birth defect. The tale was adapted for the second season of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt series with Don Rickles as the ventriloquist and Bobcat Goldthwait as an unfortunate admirer. It aired on June 5, 1990.
          Related to the Dead of Night ventriloquist dummy story are segments of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which approached similar material in 1956 and again in 1957. Ray Bradbury, a frequent contributor to the Hitchcock series in its early seasons, adapted his 1953 short story “And So Died Riabouchinska” (The Saint Detective Magazine, June/July, 1953) for the first season of the series, broadcast on February 12, 1956. Bradbury previously sold the story as a radio play to the CBS radio series Suspense in 1947, where it was adapted by writer Mel Dinelli and broadcast on November 13th of that year.* Bradbury subsequently adapted the story for the second season of The Ray Bradbury Theater on May 28, 1988. The third season opener of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “The Glass Eye,” which aired on October 6, 1957, was another memorable excursion into the world of ventriloquism. Based on a John Keir Cross story from 1944, from The Other Passenger, it concerns a woman (Jessica Tandy) who becomes obsessed with a ventriloquist (Tom Conway) who harbors a disturbing secret concerning his identity.
         
Cliff Robertson and Willy (The Twilight Zone: "The Dummy")
The third season Twilight Zone episode “The Dummy” (May 4, 1962), written by Rod Serling and based on a story idea by Lee Polk, features a manic Cliff Robertson channeling his inner Michael Redgrave and can almost be viewed as a remake of the Dead of Night segment. The episode remains highly effective, however, and ups the ante on the horror of the final twist in the tale with disturbing makeup effects from Academy Award-winner William Tuttle. The series revisited the theme, far less effectively, in the fifth season episode “Caesar and Me” (April 10, 1964), based on a script by Adele T. Strassfield, the secretary of the show's final producer, William Froug. 
Anthony Hopkins and Fats (Magic)
          The 1964 British horror film Devil Doll features an evil ventriloquist and his dummy named Hugo. Anthony Hopkins starred as a troubled ventriloquist in the 1978 psychological suspense film Magic, adapted by William Goldman from his 1976 novel. Goosebumps author R.L. Stine has derived a lot of mileage from the concept beginning with Night of the Living Dummy in May, 1993 and continuing on through a slew of sequels and spin-offs. 

          Dead of Night concludes with an expressionistic sequence in which Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) journeys through the nightmarish elements of each story, tying all of the tales into one whole, only to begin anew with the closing credits (allegedly created when the projectionist accidentally loaded the first reel again). The theme of the recurring dream as a deadly omen has also been borrowed from the film. Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont used the concept for two of his finest contributions to that series, the first season’s “Perchance to Dream” (November 27, 1959), starring Richard Conte and John Larch, and the second season’s “Shadow Play” (May 5, 1961), starring Dennis Weaver and Harry Townes. “The Overnight Case,” the tenth episode of the excellent but short-lived 1961 anthology series ‘Way Out, features a woman (Barbara Baxley (Twilight Zone's "Mute)) who is unable to wake up from a nightmare within a nightmare. One of the frequent story elements of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (1959-1961) was the dream or vision of premonition, much like that experienced by the architect in Dead of Night. Perhaps the most famous example of such a tale is the 1910 story "August Heat" from William Fryer Harvey. The story was collected in Harvey's Midnight House and Other Tales and has been reprinted numerous times. "August Heat" was adapted for television on four occasions, for Danger (1950), On Camera (1955), The Unforseen (1959), and Great Ghost Stories (1961). Other writers have approached the subject with success, including Agatha Christie ("In a Glass Darkly") and Daphne du Maurier ("Don't Look Now").
Dead of Night remains a horror film which casts a long shadow of influence and one which can be repeatedly examined to reveal new layers of insight. The numerous horror anthology films which followed in its wake owe the film a debt of inspiration. It has set a standard which has rarely been equaled.   

-JP


UK release poster; art by Leslie George Hurry

Dead of Night (UK release: 09/04/1945)
(U.S. release: 06/28/1946)
 Ealing Studios (production), Eagle-Lion (J. Arthur Rank; distribution)                           Universal Studios (U.S. distribution), 105 minutes

Producers: Michael Balcon
                  Sidney Cole (associate)
                  John Croydon (associate)
Directors: Basil Dearden (framing narrative & "The Hearse Driver")
                 Alberto Cavalcanti ("The Christmas Story" & "The Ventriloquist")
                 Robert Hamer ("The Chippendale Mirror")
                 Charles Chrichton ("The Golfing Story")
Editor:      Charles Hasse
Screenplay: John V. Baines, Angus MacPhail, T.E.B. Clarke
Sources: -"The Room in the Tower" by E.F. Benson  
               -"The Bus-Conductor" by E.F. Benson 
               -"The Inexperienced Ghost" by H.G. Wells  
Photography: Douglas Slocombe
Art Direction: Michael Relph
Music: Georges Auric (comp.), Ernest Irving (cond.), Frank Weir and his Sextet
Sound: Eric Williams
Costumes: Marion Horn, Bianca Mosca
Makeup: Tom Shenton
Visual Effects: Lionel Banes, Cliff Richardson
Featuring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, 
                  Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, 
                  Robert Wyndham,  Judy Kelly, Miles Malleson, Michael Allan, 
                  Barbara Leake, Ralph Michael, Esme Percy, Basil Radford, 
                  Naunton Wayne, Peggy Bryan, Allan Jeayes, Michael Redgrave,
                  Elisabeth Welch, Hartley Power, Magda Kun, Garry Marsh, 
                  Renee Gadd
                  
*Grateful acknowledgement to:

Michael Felsher for his article on the film from the liner notes on the 2003 Anchor Bay DVD release of the film.

Jack Seabrook for his article, "Ray Bradbury on TV Part Two: Alfred Hitchcock Presents 'And So Died Riabouchinska.'"Bare Bones E-Zine (barebonesez.blogspot.com), August 23, 2012. Accessed: May 6, 2016. 

 +There is little reliable information about Classics Dark and Dangerous, with some sources citing a production date as early as 1971. Date of production used herein was taken from Un-Dead TV: The Ultimate Guide to Vampire Television by Brad Middleton (Light Unseen Media, 2012). Broadcast information was taken from tvarchive.ca (an information database of classic Canadian television programs). 

^The Digital Deli Too provided information concerning the radio adaptations of "The Rival Dummy" and "Dead of Night" 


The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org) provided bibliographic details.

-"The 'H' Certificate" by Michael Brooke (BFI Screenonline) 

-"Remembering Dead of Night," documentary feature on the Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. 

-A special thanks to Ramsey Campbell. 

Notes:   
 -The initial U.S. theatrical release print of the film was edited down from 105 minutes to 77 minutes, not, as some sources have suggested, to make the film less frightening or to remove implied sexuality. The U.S. print was edited for a more manageable running time, customary for a period in which U.S. audiences were believed to have less patience for a longer and more deliberately paced film. The two mildest segments of Dead of Night, "The Christmas Story" and "The Golfing Story," were cut from the initial U.S. print. Some commentators have pointed out the essential error in editing Dead of Night, particularly in removing entire segments, and this is that the final sequence will not make sense to the audience. 

-“Dead of Night,” or some variation of, is the title of several other horror properties, most notably a 1972 BBC2 horror anthology television series, a 1974 horror film more commonly known by the alternate title Deathdream (directed by Bob Clark, written by Alan Ormsby, and featuring the first professional makeup work of industry legend Tom Savini), and the 1977 television anthology film directed by Dan Curtis and written by Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson.


Australian release poster

Saturday, June 4, 2016

"It's a Good Life"

Little Anthony Freemont (Bill Mumy). He's a real good boy.
You had better not think bad thoughts about him.
“It’s a Good Life”
Season Three, Episode 73
Original Air Date: November 3, 1961

Cast:
Mr. Fremont: John Larch
Mrs. Fremont: Cloris Leachman
Anthony Fremont: Billy Mumy
Dan Hollis: Don Keefer
Ethel Hollis: Jeanne Bates
Aunt Amy: Alice Frost
Pat Riley: Casey Adams (Max Showalter)
Thelma Dunn: Lenore Kingston
Bill Soames: Tom Hatcher

Crew:
Writer: Rod Serling (based on the story by Jerome Bixby)
Director: James Sheldon
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
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week we borrow from the exceptional talent of author Jerome Bixby. It’s an adaptation of what has been called one of the most terrifying modern fantasies ever written. What you’ll see is, in a sense, a portrait of a monster as a young boy. Next week’s very special excursion into the Twilight Zone is called ‘It’s a Good Life.’ I hope we see you then.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Tonight’s story on the Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village has somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines, because they displeased him. And he moved an entire community back into the Dark Ages, just by using his mind. Now I’d like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville, Ohio. This is Mr. Fremont. It’s in his farmhouse that the monster resides. This is Mrs. Fremont. And this is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day she forgot. She began to sing aloud. Now, the monster doesn’t like singing, so his mind snapped at her, turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you’re looking at now. She sings no more. And you’ll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio have to smile. They have to think happy thoughts and say happy things because, once displeased, the monster can wish them into a cornfield or change them into a grotesque, walking horror. This particular monster can read minds, you see. He knows every thought, he can feel every emotion. Oh yes, I did forget something, didn’t I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He’s six years old with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you better start thinking happy thoughts because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone.”

Summary:
Don Keefer as the unfortunate Dan Hollis
There is trouble in the town of Peaksville, Ohio. There isn’t enough food. There are no telephones and no electricity. There hasn’t been any contact from outside of the town in months and the population is dwindling. There is no way to leave town and the inhabitants live under a constant cloud of fear and hopelessness. Except for one particular resident who feels just fine.
Little Anthony Freemont has a special talent: the ability to do anything he wants simply by thinking about it. He can turn a person or animal into anything he wants. Or if he wants them gone he just wishes them into the cornfield and they never return. He can make it rain or snow. He can move things with his mind. He can also read thoughts so the townsfolk have to be extra careful to think happy thoughts around Anthony.
            Anthony doesn’t like barking dogs. He doesn’t like machines, telephones, radios, or automobiles. He is especially cross about singing. He also doesn’t like when people think or say bad things about him. And for those unfortunate souls who make the mistake of thinking bad thoughts about Anthony, time is severely limited. But everyone in Peaksville loves little Anthony. He’s a real good boy and he does real good things.
            Except for Dan Hollis, of course.
 Dan doesn’t care for the way Anthony has been treating everyone. So one night after too many drinks at the Fremont house he tells him so. He begins to scream at Anthony, who simply stares back at him with unchecked rage. Everyone in town is present and Hollis pleads with them to kill the boy while his attention is focused elsewhere. But to his horror no one moves. And he realizes that he has written his death sentence. Anthony turns Hollis into a jack-in-the-box right there in front of everyone. His father pleads with him to wish the horrifying spectacle away. So he does.
It begins to snow outside. Concerned for the summer crops, Anthony’s father asks him if he is responsible for the snow and the boy admits that he is. Baffled by annoyance and rage his father almost loses his temper but catches himself. Snow is a good thing, he tells his son. A real good thing. And tomorrow is going to be a real good day.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“No comment here. No comment at all. We only wanted to introduce you to one of our very special citizens: little Anthony Fremont, age six, who lives in a village called Peaksville in a place that used to be Ohio. And if by some strange chance you should run across him, you had better think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk. Because if you do meet Anthony you can be sure of one thing. You have entered the Twilight Zone.”

Commentary:

“The men on the couch whispered and whispered to Ethel Hollis, and when they took their hands away, she mumbled too.
            While Anthony sat on top of the set and made television, they sat around and mumbled and watched the meaningless, flickering shapes far into the night.
            Next day it snowed, and killed off half the crops – but it was a good day.”

                                    -“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby 

            “It’s a Good Life,” Rod Serling’s adaptation of Jerome Bixby’s exceptional short story, is an unapologetic horror story set in a bleak, hopeless world full of bleak, hopeless people who live in constant fear of their lives from an omnipotent, unpredictable monster who feels no sympathy for others and no remorse for his actions. It begins on a grim note and then gets worse. There are no happy endings or morality lessons and there isn’t a single moment of optimism anywhere in the episode. It’s only a glimpse into the miserable lives of very unfortunate people.
“It’s a Good Life,” the short story upon which the episode is based, is arguably the best-known work of author Jerome Bixby. It was first published by Frederick Pohl in volume 2 of the uniformly excellent Star Science Fiction series in 1953 and later included in the 1960 volume Star of Stars, gathering the best stories from the Star series (seven volumes, including Star Short Novels, 1953-1959). The story was translated as early as 1957, quickly recognized for its excellence in artistry and originality of concept, arriving at a time in English language literature in which the child as an instrument of violence was gaining traction as a sociological subject among fiction writers. The following year would see the publication of two pivotal, and highly regarded, mainstream works approaching the topic with William March’s The Bad Seed (adapted for stage in 1954 and filmed in 1956) and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (filmed in 1963 and again in 1990).
Serling’s adaptation remains faithful to Bixby’s story with only a handful of noticeable changes. In the original story Bixby implies that Anthony is capable of teleportation although he never describes it extensively. Dan Hollis's fate is also different. Instead of turning him into a jack-in-the-box he turns him into “something like nothing anyone would have believed possible.” The most significant change was switching Anthony’s age from three to six which gives him a more developed personality. This switch is interesting because it paints Anthony as a different kind of villain. Fans and critics have often speculated as to whether Anthony is truly a psychopath or simply a child that has not learned how to empathize with others. Bixby’s version leans towards the latter and features Anthony performing acts of charity for various characters. Serling’s Anthony is colder and more controlling. He seems to function completely for his own enjoyment and destroys anything that doesn’t bring him pleasure.
If Bixby’s story was not initially as well received as the novels of March and Golding it is due less to literary craftsmanship and more to the limits of genre publications at the time. It has since become a classic in the subgenre of the science fiction horror story, greatly due to Rod Serling’s excellent adaptation for The Twilight Zone, and was awarded inclusion in the 1970 volume The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, which was compiled in an attempt to retroactively honor exceptional science fiction stories published before the establishment of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1965.
Notable reprints include Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories for Late at Night (1961), an excellent volume of horror stories ghost-edited by Robert Arthur, co-creator of The Mysterious Traveler radio program and creator of The Three Investigators series of mystery novels for children, the latter of which was initially published with the participation of Alfred Hitchcock. Arthur also included Bixby’s 1964 short story “The Young One” in the 1965 anthology Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum, a volume of horror stories aimed at younger readers. In October of 1966, Isaac Asimov reprinted “It’s a Good Life” in the anthology Tomorrow’s Children not long after Asimov, in March of the same year, published the novelization of the film Fantastic Voyage, which was based on a short story by Bixby and Otto Klement. “It’s a Good Life” has since become a standard of both science fiction and horror anthologies and seen republication in dozens of volumes. It is also included in the 1985 anthology The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories edited by Richard Matheson, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. Rod Serling’s teleplay adaptation of the story was initially published in the Nov/Dec, 1983 issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine and can also be found in As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling, Volume 8 (ed. Tony Albarella, Gauntlet Press, 2011).
Jerome Bixby was born Drexel Jerome Lewis Bixby in Los Angeles on January 11, 1923 and enjoyed a long and fruitful career working in various capacities within the science fiction field. He sold his first science fiction story, “Tubemonkey,” to the pulp magazine Planet Stories, an early market for fellow Zone writer Ray Bradbury, for the Winter, 1949 issue. Two issues later, in the summer of 1950, Bixby assumed editorship of Planet Stories, a position he held until July, 1951. Bixby found additional editing work in the dying days of the pulps, guiding Jungle Stories from the Fall, 1949 issue to the Spring, 1951 issue, Stories of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle for the Spring, 1951 issue, and Two Complete Science Fiction Adventure Novels from the Winter, 1950 issue to the Summer, 1951 issue.
Bixby soon began to write a series of regular columns detailing movements in science fiction fandom. For Startling Stories he wrote “Review of the Current Science Fiction Fan Publications” from January, 1952 until March, 1953, and supplemented this with “The Frying Pan: A Commentary on Fandom” in Thrilling Wonder Stories from December, 1951 until February, 1953. Bixby began to fully concentrate on writing short fiction in 1953, culminating in the excellent 1964 collection Space by the Tale.
            Bixby began writing for feature films with 1958’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space, an independent, low-budget offering from producer Robert E. Kent and director Edward L. Kahn, which featured Ray “Crash” Corrigan in an alien suit designed and created by Paul Blaisdell terrorizing a group of astronauts inside a claustrophobic spacecraft. The film is generally considered to have influenced Dan O’Bannon when writing the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien, a film which also concerns a hostile alien stowaway which begins killing the crew aboard a spacecraft. Bixby wrote two additional science fiction films in 1958, Curse of the Faceless Man, again for producer Robert E. Kent and director Edward L Cahn, and The Lost Missile.
Bixby contributed significantly to the television program Men into Space, a series which fumblingly attempted a more accurate and realistic depiction of manned space travel. The series lasted only one season, thirty-eight episodes, from September, 1959 to September, 1960. Bixby was one of several science fiction writers who found work on Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (1966-1969), along with Zone writers Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Jerry Sohl. He contributed to four episodes of the series ("Mirror, Mirror," "By Any Other Name," "Day of the Dove," and "Requiem for Methuselah") and is credited with creating the “mirror universe” concept used in subsequent episodes, originating from his Hugo Award nominated teleplay, “Mirror, Mirror,” the fourth episode of the second season, which was an adaptation of his 1954 short story originally published in Future Science Fiction for August, 1954, with additional elements used from his 1953 short story "One Way Street" (Amazing Stories, Dec, 53/Jan, 54). Another of Bixby’s highly regarded episodes, “Day of the Dove,” the seventh episode of the third season, was adapted and published as #10 in the Star Trek Fotonovel series in August, 1978.
Bixby, with writer Otto Klement, wrote the story treatment upon which the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage was based. The film concerns a crew of scientists that are reduced to microscopic size in order to enter the body of a dying scientist and alleviate a blood clot in his brain. Bixby and Klement originally envisioned the film as a period piece inspired by the scientific romances of Jules Verne. Screenwriter David Duncan adapted the story to a futuristic setting and provided a structured context which was written as a screenplay by Harry Kleiner. As stated before, Isaac Asimov was hired to write the novelization of the film, a book which inadvertently appeared in bookstores six months before the film’s release, creating the impression that Fantastic Voyage was an original novel from Asimov. The story was previously serialized in two parts as “Fantastic Voyage: Into the Human Brain” in the Saturday Evening Post issues for February 26 and March 12, 1966. The book, published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin, subsequently became a bestseller.
Bixby’s final work was a screenplay titled The Man from Earth, about an ageless man who has survived since primitive times and eventually reveals his true nature to a group of friends. Bixby completed the screenplay shortly before his death in 1998 and the film was realized in 2007 (alternately titled Jerome Bixby’s The Man from Earth) by Bixby’s son, Emerson Bixby. Emerson Bixby, along with Jean Marie Stein, also collected a number of his father’s best science fiction stories for the 2014 book Mirror, Mirror: Classic SF by the Famed Star Trek and Fantastic Voyage Writer (Strange Particle Press). Jerome Bixby died on April 28, 1998 in San Bernardino, California, age 75.
“It’s a Good Life” was one of three original Twilight Zone episodes, along with “Kick the Can” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” chosen to be reimagined for Twilight Zone: The Movie, a 1983 Warner Brothers film. The film was spearheaded by John Landis and Steven Spielberg, each of whom directed a segment of the film, who recruited Joe Dante, following his successful werewolf film The Howling (1981), and George Miller, following his successful post-apocalyptic film The Road Warrior (1981), the second film in the Mad Max series, to direct the two additional segments that comprise the film.
Landis directed the first segment of the film, “Time Out,” the only segment which was not a remake of an original series episode. The segment concerns a racist (Vic Morrow) who discovers himself transported into times of civil oppression as one of the oppressed. The segment is now infamous for the deaths of Morrow and two child actors resulting from the disastrous staging of a special effects shot, which saw an explosion engulf a helicopter which subsequently fell on top of Morrow and the two children who were unable to move to safety due to being partially submerged in water below.
Spielberg chose to remake George Clayton Johnson’s third season episode “Kick the Can” and George Miller took on Richard Matheson’s unforgettable “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the final segment of the film. In between these two segments was Joe Dante’s version of “It’s a Good Life.”
Original series writer Richard Matheson was brought on to adapt “It’s a Good Life,” going back to the original episode as well as Jerome Bixby’s story. The result was a special effects bonanza with a superficial happy ending tacked onto what is naturally a very bleak concept. Backlash from viewers was immediate due to the happy ending, which stood in stark contrast to the original episode, one of the bleakest episodes of the original series. He also includes glimpses into the world outside of Peaksville which provides a possible escape scenario for his captives and waters down the feeling of isolation that is so present in the two previous versions. In his book, Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes (McFarland, 1991), film historian Tom Weaver prints his interview with Richard Matheson in which Matheson states that the happy ending was a conscious attempt to alter the harshness of the story, one which he admitted was not very successful. Still, Matheson rates Dante’s segment as the best of the film.
The segment’s numerous special makeup effects were handled by Rob Bottin. Bottin was a protégé of makeup artist Rick Baker, who first brought Bottin on as an assistant for the 1976 version of King Kong. Bottin also worked with Baker on the 1978 film Fury, whose makeup effects were supervised by Twilight Zone makeup artist William Tuttle. Rick Baker was initially set to provide the makeup effects for Joe Dante’s The Howling when John Landis received funding for a long-gestating project, An American Werewolf in London, on which Baker had previously agreed to provide the effects. Baker left the production of The Howling and Bottin was subsequently left in charge of providing the effects. The resultant effects were impressive enough to ensure Bottin a long career in Hollywood, where he would provide exceptional work on films ranging from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), Legend (1985), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and Total Recall (1990), for which he was part of team of visual effects artists that won a Special Achievement Academy Award.    
The film segment stars Kathleen Quinlan as a traveling young school teacher named Helen Foley, the name an homage to an original series character from the first season episode “Nightmare as a Child,” which was itself an homage to Rod Serling’s favorite school teacher, who encounters, and ultimately educates, the powerful boy Anthony Fremont, played in the film by Jeremy Licht. The segment is notable for containing a number of actors with ties to the original Twilight Zone series, including Kevin McCarthy (“Long Live Walter Jameson”), Patricia Barry (“The Chaser” and “I Dream of Genie”), and William Schallert (“Mr. Bevis”). Bill Mumy, star of three original series episodes and the original Anthony Fremont, also makes a brief appearance in the segment as well as original series producer Buck Houghton. The cast is rounded out by Nancy Cartwright, Cherie Currie, and Dick Miller.  
"It's a Good Life" was also the (partial) inspiration for an episode of the first The Twilight Zone revival series titled "The Toys of Caliban," which originally aired on December 4, 1986. "The Toys of Caliban" concerns also parents who live in fear of their son, who possess the unusual and frightening powers of a deity, able to bring into existence anything he can imagine. It was based on a story by Terry Metz, adapted for the series by George R.R. Martin, and directed by Thomas J. Wright.
“It’s a Good Life” was given a sequel over forty years later with “It’s Still a Good Life,” an episode of the second Twilight Zone revival series, which ran for one season (twenty-two episodes) from 2002-2003 on the UPN Network. The series was hosted by Forest Whitaker and followed a one-hour format typically comprised of two thirty minute segments. Upon original broadcast, “It’s Still a Good Life” was paired with “The Monsters Are on Maple Street,” a reimagining of Rod Serling’s classic original series episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”
*SPOILERS* “It’s Still a Good Life” finds Bill Mumy and Cloris Leachman reprise their roles from the original episode as Anthony Fremont and his mother, Agnes Fremont. Anthony still controls Peaksville with his terrifying powers and remains the spoiled, petulant, easily angered boy he was despite forty years of physical aging. It is suggested that Anthony has sent his own father into the cornfield, that metaphor for the nothingness into which those that anger Anthony are cast. At some point Anthony married and had a child, Audrey, but Anthony’s wife angered him and she, too, was eventually sent away into the cornfield. Anthony is displeased when it becomes apparent that Audrey does not possess his awesome powers yet it is revealed that Audrey’s powers are both latent and much stronger than Anthony’s. One particular aspect of Audrey’s power is that she can bring things back, things that Anthony has sent away, including objects and people. This is something that Anthony cannot do.
When Agnes discovers Audrey’s power she is elated. Since Audrey appears to resent her father and his behavior, Agnes believes the girl can be the savior of the people of Peaksville and finally end Anthony’s reign of terror. When confronted, however, Audrey cannot bring herself to harm her father and instead sends everyone in Peaksville away, including her grandmother.
When this saddens her father, who quickly becomes lonely with no more people to control, Audrey brings back everything that Anthony had sent away, all the countries and cities and people and objects. The two then set off to explore the world, comfortable in the knowledge that anyone or anything that gets in their way will quickly be dealt with.
“It’s Still a Good Life” was written by series executive producer Ira Steven Behr, who wrote three additional episodes of the series, and directed by Allan Kroeker, who directed two additional episodes of the series. It is both a faithful and effective sequel to the original series episode, managing to retain the feeling of nervous tension that permeates the original episode while introducing an engaging subplot concerning Anthony’s daughter and the townspeople’s willingness to believe there could be an end to Anthony’s terrible reign of power. It comes recommended to those that enjoyed the original episode.
           An interesting comparison to this episode of The Twilight Zone is the second aired episode of the original series of Star Trek, "Charlie X," which bears a striking resemblance to Jerome Bixby's story. Scripted by Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana, from a story idea by series creator Gene Roddenberry, it concerns a teenage boy named Charles Evans who has survived on an isolated planet since he was a small child (he was the sole survivor of a crashed transport ship). Charles (or Charlie) is picked up by the Antares and hastily passed on to the USS Enterprise so that Captain Kirk and company can transport Charlie to his nearest relatives. It soon becomes apparent that Charlie possesses God-like powers just by using his mind, powers he is only too willing to use to coerce others to do his bidding. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are thereafter pitched into a battle of wills against an all-powerful adolescent boy who can destroy them all with a single thought. Charlie transforms crew members into animals and hideously transforms others (erasing one woman's face and severely aging another young female crew member) when he is not sending crew members away into nothingness. Anyone who resists Charlie is severely punished. It is finally revealed that Charlie was given his powers by the Thasians, a powerful alien race, in order that the young boy may survive on an isolated planet. The Thasian commander appears on the bridge of the Enterprise and takes Charlie away at the end of the episode, freeing his hold on Captain Kirk and his crew. It is likely that Roddenberry either viewed or read "It's a Good Life," especially considering that Jerome Bixby was one of a number of successful science fiction writers Roddenberry brought on to write for the series. Wikipedia sources the original version of D.C. Fontana's script as bearing the original working title or "Charlie's Law,"  a law which consisted of: "You'd better be nice to Charlie . . . or else!" This was left out of the final episode for obvious reasons. It is interesting to consider what Bixby thought of the similarities, or if he perhaps encouraged the exchange of ideas. It is similar to the way in which Rod Serling occasionally borrowed from the writers he brought on to write for his series (the striking similarity between "A Thing About Machines" and Richard Matheson's 1953 short story "Mad House" comes to mind). This is not intended to stand as a judgment of any sort but only to illustrated the unavoidable exchange of ideas within the relatively small community of science fiction writers.
        Star Trek approached similar material with the second of Roddenberry's proposed pilot episodes, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," scripted by Samuel Peeples. The episode concerns two crew members gaining extraordinary mental powers after suffering shock received when the Enterprise passed through a strange electrical field. As their mental powers grow, so does their God complexes, and they begin to view all human life as weak and insignificant. It is clear that "It's a Good Life" was an enormously influential story and developed an idea (the corrupting influence of a God-like mental power) which has had a wide-spanning impact on the genre. 
           While Serling delivers a solid adaptation of Bixby’s story, it is the performances that take center stage in this episode. Bill Mumy returns here for his second appearance on the show, the first being in the second season episode, “Long Distance Call.” He also appears in the premiere episode of the fifth season, “In Praise of Pip.” He is the only child actor to appear in more than two episodes. It is largely his performance that fuels the debate as to whether Anthony is biologically a psychopath or a product of his circumstances. In his episode commentary to The Twilight Zone, The Definitive Edition DVD (Image Entertainment) Mumy says that Anthony believes he is helping people and that he approached his performance with this in mind. Regardless of the reason Anthony does what he does it is no question that he is one of if not the most terrifying monster ever featured on the show and Mumy delivers a genuinely unforgettable performance. The episode seems to have made a tremendous impact on the actor and he has stated in several interviews that it was one of his favorite projects. He even named his radio show, The Real Good Radio Hour, which air on FM station KSAV, after the episode.
             But it's the performances of the rest of the cast which give “It’s a Good Life” such an intense atmosphere. Because of the nature of the plot no character is ever really allowed to say or express their true feelings, except of course for Don Keefer who plays Dan Hollis. So the performer have to be able to express feelings of dread and misery through the guise of happiness. Cloris Leachman, who plays Anthony’s mother, was no stranger to television in the early days of the medium and would go on to become one of the most prolific actresses in its history, winning eight Primetime Emmy Awards. She also won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Peter Bogdanovitch’s The Last Picture Show (1971). John Larch, who plays Anthony’s father, was also a prolific television actor, appearing largely in westerns. Don Keefer gives an amazing performance in this episode and the moment when he realizes that all of his friends have abandoned him to ensure their own survival is probably the best scene in the episode.
An atypical offering, “It’s a Good Life” has become one of the most recognizable episodes of the show. From Serling’s unusually long opening monologue to its overtly bleak storyline, it’s an episode that has encountered its share of criticism over the years. But despite this it’s one that has become a fan favorite. It has helped solidify a place for Jerome Bixby in the science fiction community and has become a notable mark on the resumes of its cast. A genuinely flawless episode, it has managed to stand the test of time and has deservedly become an immortalized piece of American popular culture.

Grade: A+

Grateful acknowledgement is made to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org) for images and bibliographic information, and to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) for filmographic information.  

Notes:
--James Sheldon directed five additional episodes for the series: “The Whole Truth,” “A Penny for Your Thoughts,” and “Long Distance Call” for the second season, and “Still Valley” and “I Sing the Body Electric” for the third season.
--John Larch also appeared in the first season episode “Perchance to Dream” and the third season episode “Dust.”
--Don Keefer also appeared in the fourth season episode “Passage on the Lady Anne” and the fifth season episode “From Agnes-With Love,” as well as in "The Time Element" episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Keefer appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Millikan."
--Bill Mumy also appeared in the second season episode “Long Distance Call” and the fifth season episode “In Praise of Pip.” In 2002 he co-wrote an episode of the second Twilight Zone revival series with Frederick Rappaport called “Found and Lost.” It originally aired on the UPN network on November 27.
--Alice Frost also appeared in the first season episode “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine.”
--Cloris Leachman also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore."
--“It’s a Good Life” was adapted as part of Twilight Zone: The Movie, released by Warner Brothers on June 24, 1983. The segment was directed by Joe Dante, written by Richard Matheson, with special makeup effects by Rob Bottin. The segment starred Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy, Patricia Barry, William Schallert, and Nancy Cartwright.
--A sequel, “It’s Still a Good Life,” was produced for the second revival series and was originally aired on the UPN Network on February 19, 2003, starring Bill Mumy, Lilana Mumy, and Cloris Leachman.
--“It’s a Good Life” was produced as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Mike Starr.
--The proper title of the original Jerome Bixby story is “It’s a Good Life,” which places an emphasis on “Good,” something which is decidedly represented in the episode’s dialogue.
--The beginning portion of Rod Serling's opening narration, "Tonight's story on the Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This as you may recognize is a…" is reused for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at Disney's theme parks. The remainder of the narration is custom to the ride and perfomed in a Serling imiation by Mark Silverman.
--The song that Pat Riley (Casey Adams) is playing during the birthday party scene is “Moonglow,” written by Will Hudson, Irving Mills, and Eddie DeLange and originally recorded by Joe Venuti in 1933. The song eventually became a jazz standard with notable version by Benny Goodman, Doris Day, Billie Holiday, and The Coasters.

--Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant