Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Still Valley"

Joseph Paradine (Gary Merrill) is offered a wickedly
tempting gift from an elderly witch doctor (Vaughn Taylor).
“Still Valley”
Season Three, Episode 76
Original Airdate: November 24, 1961

Joseph Paradine: Gary Merrill
Teague: Vaughn Taylor
Dauger: Ben Cooper
Lieutenant: Mark Tapscott
Mallory: Jack Mann
Sentry: Addison Myers

Writer: Rod Serling (based on “The Valley Was Still” by Manly Wade Wellman, originally published in the August, 1939 issue of Weird Tales.)
Director: James Sheldon
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: Jack Swain
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Editor: Bill Mosher
Story Consultant: Richard McDonagh
Sound: Franklin Milton, Bill Edmondson
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Music: Wilbur Hatch

And Now Mr. Serling:
“Next week we move back into time, back to 1863. A distinguished actor, Mr. Gary Merrill, plays the role of a Confederate scout who goes off on a patrol and winds up smack dab in the center of the Twilight Zone. Our story is an adaptation of a strange tale by Manly Wade Wellman called “The Still Valley.” This one is for Civil War buffs and students of the occult. I hope you’re around to take a look at it.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“The time is 1863. The place: the state of Virginia. The event is a mass blood-letting known as the Civil War. A tragic moment in time when a nation was split into two fragments—each fragment deeming itself a nation.

“This is Joseph Paradine, Confederate cavalry, as he heads down towards a small town in the middle of a valley. But very shortly, Joseph Paradine will make contact with the enemy. He will also make contact with an outpost not found on a military map. An outpost called the Twilight Zone.”

            Two Confederate soldiers sit quietly on a hilltop gazing out on the Channow Valley. Their purpose is to scout the location of a Union Army regiment in the area. Paradine, the elder of the two men, hears sounds coming from the town below and decides to ride into town and have a look around. As he approaches he becomes aware of an unsettling silence in the valley and begins to wonder if the town has been abandoned. He quietly makes his way through the town until he stumbles upon something that brings his investigation to an abrupt halt. Dozens of Union soldiers stand in formation only yards from him, guns drawn. They could kill him in an instant but they do not. After several minutes of silence Paradine carefully approaches. The troops stand in a marching formation but they remain utterly and completely motionless. Paradine walks through the fleet of soldiers, gazing into cold, empty eyes, screaming at them to wake up. Nothing happens.
            Then he hears a noise. An old man peers out from behind the front door of a house and makes his way onto the front porch. He says his name is Teague. He tells Paradine that he used black magic to freeze the Union troops. He motions to a book in his hands that bears only a single word on the cover: Witchcraft.  Paradine warns the old man that witchcraft is the tool of the Devil and whoever uses it will be damned in the eyes of God. The old man tells Paradine that in impossible situations, such as war, sometimes you have to do the unthinkable in order to survive. Fearing that he is close to death he gives Paradine the book and sends him on his way.
When Paradine meets up with his regiment he tells them about the Union troops and the old man. He shows them the book and tells them that he successfully attempted one of the spells on a group of Union soldiers. They look at him like he is insane until another scout confirms his story. The soldiers argue over the moral consequences of using black magic. Paradine opens the book and begins to recite a chant but stops when the spell calls on them to revoke the name of God. After a heated argument they decide to burn the book. Then they pack up their belongings and make their way to what history will call the Battle of Gettysburg.

Rod Serling’s Closing Monologue:
“On the following morning, Sergeant Paradine and the rest of these men were moved up north to a little town in Pennsylvania, an obscure little place where a battle was brewing, a town called Gettysburg…and this one was fought without the help of the Devil. Small historical note not to be found in any known books, but part of the records…in the Twilight Zone.”

            “Still Valley” is the second Civil War episode in a still young third season (11 episodes). Its historical predecessor, Rod Serling’s “The Passersby,” focused much of its energy on the devastation of war and how survivors cope with the results once it is over. Instead, “Still Valley” is more of an examination of the culture and traditions of the American South during the middle of the nineteenth century. It combines Gothic folklore with a historical setting and attempts an accurate representation of the region. It doesn’t totally avoid the human condition, however, and the struggle over whether or not to use witchcraft to win the war can be seen as a metaphor for the moral dilemma over the cost of winning—although the message here is a bit unclear as the soldiers decide not to use “the Devil’s magic” and are presumably killed later at the Battle of Gettysburg. But, perhaps, this is still better than being damned in the eyes of God for all of eternity.
Weird Tales
August, 1939 
Serling’s teleplay is an adaptation of Manly Wade Wellman’s story, “The Valley Was Still,” which originally appeared in Weird Tales in August of 1939 and later in his career retrospective Worse Things Waiting (Carcosa Press, 1973), which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection at the inaugural World Fantasy Convention, held in the fall of 1975 in Providence, Rhode Island, home of influential Weird Tales writer H.P. Lovecraft. In the opening credits Wellman’s named is spelled “Manley” instead of Manly, a mistake the author encountered often throughout his career. An incredibly prolific talent, Wellman published over three hundred stories and essays and dozens of books in a career that spanned over five decades. Among his numerous accolades are the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award, two World Fantasy Awards, The British Fantasy Award, and the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award (1946) which he won for his story, “A Star for a Warrior,” which famously beat out William Faulkner’s “An Error in Chemistry.” Faulkner was furious about losing and made his opinion quite public. Wellman’s nonfiction Civil War history, Rebel Boast: First at Bethel, Last at Appomattox was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. Stephan King dedicated his 1981 horror retrospective Danse Macabre to Wellman along with horror masters Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Jorge Luis Borges, Donald Wandrei, and Frank Belknap Long.
Manly Wade Wellman
1903 - 1986
Wellman’s life story is a fantastic one and his enthusiasm for people and culture are directly reflected in his fiction. Despite his fondness for the region to which he dedicated so much of his writing, Wellman was not a native southerner. He was actually born in 1903 in Kamundongo, a small village in Portuguese West Africa (now Angola) to a British medical officer. He grew up speaking the native dialect and listening to renditions of African history and folklore—a background far removed from the American South. His mother was American, however, and she reportedly named Wellman after an uncle who fought in the Civil War likely contributing to his fascination with the subject. His family moved to the states when he was a boy and eventually settled in Wichita, Kansas. He attended Wichita State University where he played football and graduated with a degree in English. He later attended Columbia Law School.
While supporting himself as a journalist for The Wichita Eagle and The Wichita Beacon Wellman sold his first short story "When the Lion Roared" to Thrilling Tales in May of 1927. In November of that same year he sold his story "Back to the Beast" to Weird Tales. This began a long relationship with the celebrated pulp magazine and Wellman would become one of its last regular contributors before it ceased publication in 1954. Although he would actually contribute significantly more to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, his name and legacy would be forever associated with Weird Tales and its close-knit circle of writers. Wellman also became a regular name in the pages of Startling Stories, Astounding Stories, and Planet Stories among many others.
            After college Wellman married horror writer Francis Garfield and the two moved to New York City in 1934 to be closer to the literary world. He joined Solar Sales Service, the first speculative fiction-based literary agency, managed by celebrated comic book and magazine editor Julius Schwartz. The short-lived agency also represented Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Leigh Brackett, and Stanley G Weinbaum. Wellman increased his short story output and also tried his hand at writing novels, usually space operas or time travel stories which he sold to Startling Stories. His acclaimed time-travel novel featuring Leonardo De Vinci, Twice in Time (1940), originally appeared there as did his Captain Future novel The Solar Invasion (1946). He also published several mystery novels during this time. He became the Assistant Director of the New York Folklore Project for the Works Progress Administration. To supplement his income he took side jobs including a stint as a writer for comics, a relatively new medium at the time. During World War II he was part of a revolving door of writers who ghost-wrote issues of Will Eisner’s The Spirit while Eisner was on active duty. He also worked for Fawcett Comics and helped launch their Captain Marvel’s Adventures series. In 1941 National Comics (now DC Comics) famously sued Fawcett over accusations that Fawcett plagiarized their Superman character when creating Captain Marvel. Wellman was called to testify that Fawcett had openly encouraged their writers and artists to imitate the Superman comics when creating Captain Marvel. After a lengthy legal battle National won the suit and Fawcett Publications agreed to cease publication of all Captain Marvel titles. They subsequently sold the rights to the majority of their characters and dissolved their Fawcett Comics division. DC later bought the rights to the Captain Marvel character.
While living in New York, Wellman began writing stories that featured recurring characters and ongoing story lines. Likely influenced by his close friendships with many of the regular Weird Tales contributors, including Malcolm Jameson and Henry Kuttner—both of whom saw stories adapted into episodes of The Twilight Zone—Wellman began constructing his own literary mythos, fusing American folklore with the occult. He would occasionally include characters or artifacts created by other writers and even incorporated actual literary figures into several stories including H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Fritz Leiber, and Robert Bloch. This was a tradition among the Weird Tales writers and Wellman participated as a polite nod to his friends and literary predecessors but his characters and the world they occupied were uniquely his, not simply an extension of an already established universe. Among his most popular protagonists are occult detectives John Thunstone, a wealthy New York playboy, Professor Nathan Enderby, and Judge Keith Hilary Pursuivant, a retired judge and author. All three characters are featured together in several stories, although the Judge Pursuivant stories were written under the pseudonym Gans T. Field. All of his occult detective stories were later collected in Lonely Vigils (Carcosa, 1981), fully illustrated by famed E.C. Comics artist George Evans. He also wrote a popular series of stories about a prehistoric superhero named Hok the Mighty.
In 1951, Wellman moved to North Carolina, eventually settling in Chapel Hill where he would live the rest of his life. While living in Wichita in the late 1920’s Wellman became friends with folklorist Vance Randolph and folk musician Obray Ramsey (they would also make occasional cameos in his fiction). Randolph was a historian of the Ozark Mountains and he and Wellman frequently took trips through the Arkansas countryside, hiking the mountains and conversing with the natives. Randolph and Ramsey were tremendous influences on Wellman and their decades-long friendship likely contributed to his fascination with folklore and his adamant appreciation for the people and culture of the south. While in North Carolina, he immersed himself in the history of the region penning numerous geographical essays, biographies, and Civil War memoirs. His 1954 true crime collection Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Fact Crime Book.
First edition of Who Fears the Devil? (1963)
Cover art by Lee Brown Coye
He continued to write fiction of varying lengths, much of it dedicated to his new home. His most popular fiction series features a protagonist named John—commonly referred to by fans as Silver John or John the Balladeer—a mythic folk hero who wanders throughout the Appalachian Mountains playing a silver-stringed guitar and saving his people from evil conjurers and such. The stories are heavily derived from regional folklore and most feature witchcraft or other occult phenomena. They have an almost dream-like quality and Wellman’s acute attention to dialect and cultural affectations give them a very distinct personality. An avid musician and songwriter, Wellman incorporates traditional folk ballads as well as original pieces in many of these stories. A 1972 anthology film, The Legend of Hillbilly John, written by Melvin Levy and directed by John Newland (host and director of Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond), was loosely based on his first Silver John collection, Who Fears the Devil? (Arkham House, 1963). This collection contains his Hugo Award-nominated story “Nine Yards of Other Cloth” which originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (November, 1958). Wellman eventually wrote nineteen short stories and five novels featuring his famous balladeer.
Worse Things Waiting first edition. (1973)
           Illustrated by Lee Brown Coye.
While living in Chapel Hill, Wellman formed close friendships with fellow North Carolina writers Karl Edward Wagner and David Drake. In 1973, through their small publishing venture Carcosa Press, the two chose as their fist book to publish Worse Things Waiting, a massive, fully illustrated collection of stories from throughout Wellman’s career. The collection won World Fantasy Awards for Wellman and for veteran illustrator Lee Brown Coye (also a close friend and illustrator of many of Wellman's stories as they originally appeared in Weird Tales). The book renewed interest in Wellman’s work, which had diminished since leaving New York, and helped to restore his legacy.
            Wellman’s later work includes dozens of young adult novels, five Silver John novels, two John Thunstone novels, numerous nonfiction books, several volumes of poetry, and dozens of stand-alone novels. He co-wrote a popular series for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with his son, Wade Wellman, called Sherlock Holmes’ War of the Worlds, which tells of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in London during the alien attack depicted in Wells’ novel. It was published as a novel in 1975. He also wrote several stories featuring amateur detective Lee Cobbett. His last finished work was the final Silver John story “Where Did She Wander?” He died in 1986 at the age of 83. His friend and publisher, Karl Edward Wagner, was chosen as the executor of his literary estate.
Despite enjoying a fairly successful career during his lifetime Wellman’s name isn’t as recognizable today as many of his contemporaries. This may be attributed to the fact that his work was rarely adapted for film or television. At a time in Hollywood when science fiction and horror titles were being produced in droves for the big and small screens, Wellman’s work oddly enjoyed very little screen time. Aside from “Still Valley” he has only four other television credits. In 1951 his story “Larroes Catch Meddlers” was adapted for the third season of the horror anthology series Lights Out (as “The Meddlers” starring John Carradine and E. G. Marshall) and his story “School for the Unspeakable” was adapted for season four the following year. In 1971 his World War II vampire tale “The Devil is Not Mocked” was filmed for the second season of Night Gallery. In 1988 his story “Rouse Him Not” was adapted for the first season of the syndicated anthology series Monsters. The aforementioned The Legend of Hillbilly John is the only feature-length adaptation of his work to date.
            “Still Valley” is unquestionably his most well-known screen adaptation and because of this it’s probably his most well-known story. Serling remained relatively faithful to Wellman’s story, making minor changes here and there for nuance. In the story, the conversation at the beginning between Paradine and the younger man, Dauger, is much shorter and less confrontational. In the story, Teague’s book bears the title: John George Hohman’s Pow-wows or Long Lost Friend. This book appears in several of Wellman’s stories. Also in the original story, Paradine decapitates Teague to avoid having to sign a blood oath. The biggest change is probably Serling’s ending. In Wellman’s ending there is no "on-screen" dialogue between Paradine and the rest of the cavalry. Paradine refuses the Devil’s help by reciting a chant and then burning the book before reporting back to his regiment. "Off-screen," the Union troops are then released from their spell and end up slaughtering the Confederacy in battle. Paradine manages to escape and lives to be an old man, occasionally trying to recount his story for people but always being dismissed as crazy.
            “Still Valley” is one of five episodes to feature real actors portraying characters that are either frozen or meant to be a facsimile of a person. The season one episode “Elegy,” directed by Douglas Heyes, season three's "The Fugitive," directed by Richard L. Bare, season four’s “The New Exhibit,” directed by John Brahm, and season five’s “A Kind of Stopwatch,” directed by John Rich, make up the other four. Filming real people standing perfectly still is next to impossible because human beings are not capable of being perfectly still. At the same time, however, manikins and wax facsimiles look too artificial. Even in “The New Exhibit,” where the actors are actually playing wax figures, Brahm knew that the only way to achieve the desired effect was to use real actors. He manages to make it work even though the episode called for more screen-time of the motionless actors and far less manipulation of the camera. Instead he makes no attempt to mask the actors’ movements which gives the wax figures a disturbing quality and actually plays into the audience’s fear as they see the episode from the viewpoint of Martin Balsam who believes that the figures are real. Douglass Heyes achieves this effect to a certain extent in “Elegy” and the audience experiences the same sense of unease the three protagonists are experiencing upon encountering a foreign world inhabited by motionless people. Unfortunately, the actors can be seen moving a little too much in certain scenes. But to his credit, Heyes had more actors than the other three episodes and highly elaborate tableau scenarios to coordinate. John Rich used a combination of still photography, video stills, and live actors to portray a frozen New York City in “A Kind of Stopwatch.” While the stock footage video stills haven’t aged well, the scenes featuring live actors are remarkably well done. Rich uses fluid camera movements during the frozen scenes to hide any unwanted movements. Also, Richard Erdman is constantly poking and prodding the frozen figures, making any physical movement seem completely natural. There is a short scene in "The Fugitive" in which two of the characters have been frozen by alien beings. It is unclear whether they are frozen in time or if they are simply prohibited from physical movement. This gives director Richard L. Bare and the two actors some breathing room as it does not matter as much if the audience notices them breathing or moving. Bare chooses to shoot this with a single mounted camera in order to capture the movement of the other non-frozen characters in the scene. In “Still Valley” James Sheldon relies mostly on real actors with a few photographic stills. The stills are fairly unnoticeable and don’t hurt the direction. The shots of live actors are also done well. Sheldon moves the camera around as much as possible and Merrill stays in constant motion while walking through the fleet of soldiers to hide any physical movements. There are a few sustained shots of soldiers in the process of loading a supply wagon that are really impressive. He also holds several steady shots of Merrill after he is frozen by the old man that are convincing.
            Gary Merrill was a good choice for Joseph Paradine. Rough physical features and a gravelly voice awarded Merrill regular roles in westerns, war films, and detective dramas. During the 1940’s he was the voice of Batman in the Superman radio series. Although he plays a confederate soldier and sympathizer here, Merrill was actually a prominent civil rights activist. Veteran stage and screen actor Vaughn Taylor appeared in a total of five episodes of The Twilight Zone and is almost unrecognizable here as old man Teague in contrast to the tall, bookish characters he plays in other episodes. He plays a similar straight-laced type in Psycho (1960) which is probably his most well-known role. His character here is interesting but ultimately he’s too absurd to be likable. Given Taylor’s quirky performance and Serling’s simple, almost satirical, black magic book title, Witchcraft, it almost feels as if the scene is striving for a campy sensibility in an otherwise serious Civil War story. Whether played straight or with tongue-in-cheek, it does not fit well with the rest of the episode.
            “Still Valley” is an enjoyable episode with a decent script and a solid performance from Gary Merrill but unfortunately it does not survive past the first viewing or so. It has the feeling of a filler episode, one made simply to satisfy a seasonal quota, and given that it is an adaptation that is likely just what it is. It’s not a bad episode and is certainly worth a viewing or two but ultimately it’s one that doesn’t make much of an imprint on the legacy of the show and is more or less forgettable.

Grade: C

Grateful Acknowledgement is made to the following:

--Vaughn Taylor also appeared in Season One’s, “Time Enough at Last,” Season Three’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” Season Four’s “The Incredible World of Horace Ford,” and Season Five’s “The Self-Improvement of Salvador Ross.”
--James Sheldon directed a total of six episodes of the show.
--Jack Swain was director of photography for six episodes during Season Three.
--“Still Valley” was adapted from Manly Wade Wellman’s story, “The Valley Was Still,” originally published in the August, 1939 issue of Weird Tales. It later appeared in his World Fantasy Award-winning collection, Worse Things Waiting (Carcosa, 1973), and in The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories (MJF Books, 1985) edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Richard Matheson, and Charles G. Waugh and in The American Fantasy Tradition (Tor, 2002) edited by Brian M. Thomsen.
--In 2001 Night Shade Books collected the majority of Wellman’s short fiction in five volumes. “The Valley Was Still” appears in Sin’s Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, Volume Four.
--Listen to the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Adam West.
--Wellman's son, Wade Wellman, his brother, Paul Iselin Wellman, and his wife, Francis Garfield, were also successful writers.
--Manly Wade Wellman's 1973 retrospective volume Worse Things Waiting (Carcosa Press) was dedicated, in-part, to Wellman's fellow writer from the pulps Malcolm Jameson, author of the story "Blind Alley" (1943), which was adapted for the fourth season of The Twilight Zone as "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville." 

--Brian Durant


  1. I have just a vague memory of this episode but your article is excellent, especially all of the detail about Wellman. I don't think I've ever read anything he wrote.

  2. Here is an address to read or download a bunch of Wellman's pulp stories.

  3. Thanks, Jack. I wasn't that familiar with Wellman before writing this post but he was a really interesting guy. I'm surprised he isn't anthologized more with the amount of stuff he wrote.

  4. I agree that the Still Valley episode of The Twilight Zone is only about average, though I do like it and find that it plays well upon repeat viewings. The eerie subject matter of "conjuring" combined with the "epic" Civil War raging about,--though not seen or truly heard much (at all"?)--in the episode lends it a larger than life quality that for me actually grows as the action proceeds. I wish old Teague's book had been titled something other than "Witchcraft". It looks like it came from the same publisher as "To Serve Man" (there should be an LOL emotion here,--alas,--not such luck).

    Such seemingly small details are of the sort The Twilight Zone often failed at, especially as compared to Thriller, which tended to get those small "touches" right. Another small criticism is that there was, especially when compared to the other Civil War themed episode, The Passersby, not much of an attempt to evoke the period in which the action takes place. It looks like it could be an episode of The Rifleman or any number of other western shows of its era. Nor does does the dialogue contain any memorable lines, turns of phrase. The script gets the job done. It's efficient for what it is. Gary Merrill's performance lingers in my mind, is maybe the single best thing about Still Valley.

  5. I agree about Thriller. That show definitely got the Gothic touches just right, for the most part. The Zone tried over and over to achieve success in the "Country Gothic" type of episode and it never really worked out. I agree that the production on this one feels pretty stale and, like it says in the commentary, seems sort of a routine episode kind of effort, which is a shame because it could have been something special. I think the fact that the majority of the episode takes place in broad daylight also works against it. Imagine if he'd come across those Union soldiers in the dead of night.

  6. I agree with the Rifleman comparison, John. This was obviously a set used for westerns and it looks more like New Mexico than Virginia. And Merrill saves this episode. If they had gotten a lesser actor this one would have probably been a total disaster.

  7. Rod Serling was a definite progressive in his social and political beliefs, which leaves me wondering: why are the three episodes of "The Twilight Zone" that deal with the Civil War ("The Passersby", "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", and this one) so markedly pro-Southern? I have no trouble at all with any treatment of this era that says, in effect, "Never forget that, wrong as these people always were, and hateful as they often were, they are still, at the end of the day, our brothers and sisters"; but these three episodes are simply too lopsided in their sympathy for my taste. Also: HOW I wish that the book with the magic spells didn't have the title "WITCHCRAFT"! All I can ever think of when I watch "Still Valley", and see that title page, is the book that Gene Wilder, Teri Garr, and Marty Feldman find in the laboratory in "Young Frankenstein": "HOW I DID IT, BY VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN".