Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"A Quality of Mercy"

Albert Salmi and Dean Stockwell
“A Quality of Mercy”
Season Three, Episode 80
Original Air Date: December 29, 1961

Lt. Katell/Lt. Yamuri: Dean Stockwell
Sgt. Causarano: Albert Salmi
Watkins: Rayford Barnes
Hanachek: Ralph Voltrian
Hansen: Leonard Nimoy
Sgt. Yamazaki: Dale Ishimoto
Japanese Captain: J.H. Fujikawa

Writer: Rod Serling (based on an idea by Sam Rolfe)
Director: Buzz Kulik
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Phil Barber
Set Decoration: H. Web Arrowsmith
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Stalmaster-Lister
Editor: Jason H. Bernie
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week Mr. Dean Stockwell makes his journey into the Twilight Zone, playing the role of a platoon lieutenant on Corregidor during the last few hours of World War Two. What happens to him provides the basis of a weird and yet we think haunting excursion into the shadowland of imagination. On the Twilight Zone next week Mr. Dean Stockwell stars in ‘The Quality of Mercy.’” *
*In his preview narration Rod Serling clearly states the title of the episode as “The Quality of Mercy” rather than “A Quality of Mercy,” the latter of which is the title of the play as displayed during its broadcast. The Shakespeare quote from which Serling borrows the title begins “The quality of mercy. .  .”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“It’s August, 1945, the last grimy pages of a dirty, torn book of war. The place is the Philippine Islands. The men are what’s left of a platoon of American infantry, whose dulled and tired eyes set deep in dulled and tired faces can now look toward a miracle; that moment when the nightmare appears to be coming to an end. But they’ve got one more battle to fight and in a moment we’ll observe that battle. August, 1945, Philippine Islands. But in reality it’s high noon in the Twilight Zone.”

            It is August 6, 1945, and on the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay a group of war-weary American infantrymen are positioned on a ridge overlooking a cave in which some two dozen sick and wounded Japanese soldiers are holed-up. The American infantry is observing for a mortar company that is attempting to force the Japanese soldiers into surrender by use of explosives. It is not going well. The war is all but decided in favor of the Allied Forces and still this group of Japanese soldiers refuses to give up. The infantrymen fervently hope they will not be called upon to storm the cave on foot and risk senseless bloodshed.

            Lieutenant Katell soon arrives to take control of the situation. Katell is young, clearly inexperienced, and overly eager to prove his worth as a commanding officer through the unnecessary killing of the Japanese soldiers trapped in the cave. Katell is unsympathetic to the weariness of the other American soldiers and quickly puts together a plan to storm the cave and kill the Japanese soldiers despite the protestations from the infantrymen. His bloodthirst and foolish eagerness borders on lunacy at this point in the conflict, and Sargent Causarano informs Katell that they could easily bypass any conflict with the Japanese soldiers in the cave without it affecting the outcome of the war in the least way. Katell does not care to hear about avoiding conflict with the Japanese. He is going to treat this day as though it were the first day of the war.
            Katell drops his binoculars. A subtle change is felt and he stoops to retrieve them. Katell discovers that it is now daytime and he is surrounded by Japanese soldiers. What Katell cannot see is that he too is a Japanese soldier by all appearances. He panics and takes off running toward an open area near the mouth of a cave. Gunfire halts his progress and he hides behind a rock. He sees an American firing at him from the entrance of the cave.
            Katell is told that he is Lieutenant Yamuri and that it is May 4, 1942. The Japanese are preparing to storm the cave and overtake the group of wounded Americans that have taken refuge there. The commanding officer believes
Katell/Yamuri has lost his nerve when the young lieutenant attempts to dissuade the captain from attacking the weakened Americans trapped in the cave. The captain tells Katell/Yamuri the same thing Katell told the American soldiers. There will be no mercy.
          Again, Katell/Yamuri drops his binoculars and finds himself back in 1945 with the American company. The company receives word that the Americans have dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. There is now no need to attack the Japanese soldiers in the cave, much to Katell’s relief in light of his newfound perspective.        

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’ Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice. But applicable to any moment in time, any group of soldiery, to any nation on the face of the Earth. Or, as in this case, to the Twilight Zone.”


            It is obvious to regular viewers of the series that Rod Serling found the theme of war well suited to exploring the particular type of moral allegory he found appealing as a writer. Stories of war were a constant and integral part of the series and the theme was explored in a wide range of efforts from the Civil War (“Still Valley,” “The Passersby”) to tales of futuristic warfare (“Two”). Though other writers for the series dabbled in war themes (Richard Matheson’s “The Last Flight” and Montgomery Pittman’s “Two”), the vast majority of war episodes were penned by Serling. The Second World War in particular was the conflict of most concern, being fresh in the minds of both the viewing audience and the show’s creators, many of whom found themselves thrust into military service at the time of the conflict.
            “A Quality of Mercy” is the second Rod Serling episode to explore the Pacific Theater of the Second World War and, more specifically, to examine the emotional and physical toll war takes from a soldier. The first season episode “The Purple Testament” was another Serling offering with a similar setting and theme which was boosted by a haunting performance from William Reynolds as a lieutenant that can foresee the deaths of other soldiers by way of a ghostly light which illuminates their faces shortly before death.  With “A Quality of Mercy,” Serling is exploring much of the same ground in a new and interesting way, one which connects his efforts in this mode all the way back to his 1958 play “The Time Element.”  
            “A Quality of Mercy” is boosted by an excellent cast, especially in the form of Albert Salmi as the war-weary Sargent Causarano who desires nothing more than to see the end of the conflict, and Dean Stockwell as the brash young lieutenant. Salmi is the avatar for Serling himself in the episode. Serling was a strong supporter of the war effort while still in high school and immediately enlisted upon graduating, going against the advice of one of his teachers. It would quickly become apparent to his commanding officers that Serling was too sensitive a person to be considered a “good” soldier (i.e. a soldier that could put his emotions away long enough to kill without thought of the action).
            Serling spent three years in the 11th Airborne Division of the Army, from 1943 until his discharge in 1946. Serling took up the hobby of boxing while training in Georgia as part of the 511th Parachute Infantry. His company headed to the Pacific Theater aboard the U.S.S. Pike in 1944. Serling saw combat in November of that year not as a paratrooper but as a member of light infantry. Serling was transferred to the demolition platoon of the 511th due in part to his commanding officer’s belief that Serling’s temperament was unfit to make a good soldier. It was while serving in this capacity that Serling experienced the horrifying accidental death of a close friend when a supply crate fell upon the unaware soldier. It was an incident which clearly illustrated to Serling the absurd and senseless nature of a death in war.  
            Despite the image of Serling as an unsuitable soldier, he was twice wounded before deploying to Tagaytay Ridge in 1945 to march on Manila. After a month, the Americans reclaimed the city and began a celebration with local inhabitants. It was during one such celebration that the celebrants came under fire from Japanese artillery which Serling braved in order to save a performer. Serling’s cumulative actions while serving would yield him the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Philippine Liberation Medal by the time of his discharge in 1946.  
            Serling clearly related to both the William Reynolds character from “The Purple Testament” and the Albert Slami character in “A Quality of Mercy” in that both characters are emotional and weary soldiers that paint a completely opposite image from the largely propaganda-based image of a trigger happy, cigar chewing American soldier of the time. Serling’s soldiers are sensitive, intelligent, and possess individual personalities. An air of doom surrounds all of Serling’s war episodes, undoubtedly influenced by Serling’s own harrowing experiences during the war. It is interesting to note as well that both of the aforementioned episodes are stories of transition, and not only from life to death or from war to peace. They are stories about internal transitions and transformations in which one is forced to see within another and experience the world through another's eyes. The war was a time of ultimate transformation for Serling, from a child into a man, from innocence to experience, and it signaled the death of childhood in many ways. When Serling came home from war, his father, Stanley, was gone, dead of a heart attack in 1945. Once opportunity his stint in the armed forces did afford is the opportunity to get an education. Serling enrolled in Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio on the G.I. Bill and, after briefly studying for a career in physical education, refocused his attentions on writing and literature. Serling had written since an early age and wrote dramatic material for the Armed Forces Radio Network during the war. 
            Albert Salmi, here portraying Sargent Causarano, has become a recognizable face from the series, having previously appeared as a murderous cowboy in Rod Serling’s adaptation of George Clayton Johnson’s “Execution” from the first season. Salmi would also have a meaty role as a ruthless and jaded business tycoon in the fourth season episode “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville,” Rod Serling’s adaptation of Malcolm Jameson’s short story “Blind Alley.” Salmi began acting on stage, making it to Broadway by the mid-50s, and would establish himself as one of the more prolific character actors of his generation. Salmi suffered from alcoholism and clinical depression and tragically killed his estranged wife before turning the gun on himself in 1990 at the age of 62.
            Of course, the star of the episode is Dean Stockwell, well-known to science fiction fans as Al Calavicci from Quantum Leap (1989-1993), an engaging time-travel series which owes much to The Twilight Zone in general and episodes such as “A Quality of Mercy” in particular. A Hollywood native, Stockwell has been acting since he was a child on contract to MGM. For many years he retained a youthful appearance which leant itself to his portrayals of inexperienced characters which find themselves in over their heads. Earlier in 1961, Stockwell starred as just such a character in one of the finer offerings of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the sixth season episode “The Landlady,” scripted by Robert Bloch from the story by Roald Dahl and directed by Hitchcock himself.
            Ironically, Stockwell was initially considered for the lead role in “The Purple Testament” and was forced to bow out due to a scheduling conflict. Producer Buck Houghton and Serling thought highly enough of Stockwell to bring him back for “A Quality of Mercy,” an episode very similar in tone and content. In the latter episode, however, Stockwell would be required to play an entirely different type of character from William Reynold’s emotionally weary lieutenant. Stockwell brought an effective verisimilitude to his portrayal of the inexperienced, brash young lieutenant eager to prove his worth by inflicting pain and death. The story is almost too big for the constricted time frame of the episode and both Salmi and Stockwell are forced to established believable characterizations in a very short amount of time.
            A greater challenge to Stockwell was to portray a Japanese soldier, which he accomplishes with surprising sensitivity due in part to the subtle yet effective makeup which completes his transformation. Stockwell’s character goes back in time through a non-mechanized mode of time travel (similar to that seen previously in the Civil War-era episode “Back There”) to May 4, 1942, the day before the Battle of Corregidor, a battle which allowed the Japanese to take control of the island in order to have access to the harbor at Manila Bay. The purpose of Stockwell’s trip is, of course, to allow the bigoted American lieutenant to experience a situation not only from the other side of the conflict but one which elicits an emotional response within him. By displaying passion to save American lives he learns the lesson that all life, even in war, is of value. Serling was never one to shy away from a controversial topic and this episode much have struck a chord with audiences of the time.
            Having learned his lesson, the lieutenant is brought back to August 6, 1945 and news that the Americans have dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, effectively ending any need of further engagement with Japanese soldiers. America would drop another atomic bomb, this time on the city of Nagasaki, on August 9. The Japanese surrendered six days later. It is interesting that Serling chose to have the decision of whether or not to attack the helpless Japanese soldiers taken out of the lieutenant’s hands. Though it is clear he has a newfound outlook on life after his time travel experience, it would perhaps have been more impactful for the lieutenant to call off the attack rather than be saved by the deus ex machina ending Serling chose to cap the episode. The unusual choice doesn’t spoil the effectiveness of the episode, however.
            One aspect of the episode that is highly effective is the setting, a lush jungle that is convincingly vast in scope. According to multiple sources, the jungle set on “A Quality of Mercy” was filmed at the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California. The studio was torn down just a couple years after the filming of the episode. Roach was a producer from New York who moved to Hollywood in 1912 and used an inheritance to begin a film production company during the silent era. Roach became famous as the producer of the Laurel and Hardy and The Little Rascals series of films.
            Sam Rolfe, who provided Rod Serling with the idea for “A Quality of Mercy,” was an accomplished screenwriter beginning in the early 1950s who soon moved into television, co-creating the long running western Have Gun-Will Travel (1957-1963) and contributing both conceptually and in actual script production for the first season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).
            It has been suggested in some writings that “A Quality of Mercy” was the basis for “Time Out,” the first segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. The segment was directed by John Landis and concerns a racist (Vic Morrow) who is sent back in time to experience the plight of the oppressed in areas such as Nazi Germany, the American South, and Vietnam. Although the two segments contain similarities, there is no evidence that Landis, who scripted “Time Out,” was directly influenced by “A Quality of Mercy.” No credit to Rolfe is given in the film and it is the only segment of the film which is not a direct remake of an episode of the original series. As is well documented, Vic Morrow, along with two child actors, was killed while filming “Time Out.” The scene was to show the racist character save two Vietnamese children and thus redeem himself. An explosive special effect ignited a close-flying helicopter which then spun out of control and crashed down into the water on top of Morrow and the children, killing all three. The accident resulted in a prolonged trial which eventually exonerated John Landis from any wrongdoing. Landis used a more downbeat ending from existing footage which changes the tone of the segment.
            In all, “A Quality of Mercy” may be the finest war episode produced on the series, with its sensitive script, strong cast, and excellent sets, it remains a reminder that the show still had some gas left in the tank when it came to producing original and engaging content. It would be remiss to not mention Leonard Nimoy’s part in the episode. Nimoy is seen here in an early role as Hansen, the radio operator, who is given a single line of dialogue. Nimoy will forever be famous for his portrayal of science officer Spock on the original series of Star Trek (1966-1969).

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement is made to Military.com for information on Rod Serling's military career. 

Thanks also to authors Marc Scott Zicree and Martin Grams, Jr. for the information on the connection to the Hal Roach Studios. 


-“A Quality of Mercy” was directed by Buzz Kulik, who also directed d 8 additional episodes, including “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” and “A Game of Pool.”

-Albert Salmi also appeared in the first season episode “Execution” and in the fourth season episode “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville.” He appeared in the episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Waiting Room."

-J.H. Fujikawa also appeared in the third season episode “To Serve Man.”

-Dean Stockwell also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Whisper."

-Leonard Nimoy also appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "She'll Be Company for You." 

-“A Quality of Mercy” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Robert Knepper.

-The title is taken from William Shakespeare's 1599 play The Merchant of Venice. The quote can be found beginning on line 184 of Act IV, scene i. The dialogue is delivered by the heroine of the play, Portia. 

--Jordan Prejean          



  1. Thanks for the interesting overview. I did not recall the details of Serling's war service. Have you seen Carol for Another Christmas? It also gets into the atomic bomb issue, though (to me) it really goes off the rails after a good start.

  2. I haven't seen it but I'll certainly put it on my ever-growing list of things to watch. I'm generally behind on Rod's non-Zone output (with the exception of Night Gallery) but it looks like some fantastic people worked on Carol for Another Christmas so maybe I'll try to watch it before the end of the holidays and get a review up.

    Like I said in the review, I feel like the most perplexing thing about the A-bomb in "A Quality of Mercy" is that it takes the obvious moral choice which the character needs to make out of his hands.