[February 12, 1962] Out of the Wasteland (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 17-20)

by Gideon Marcus


by Lorelei Marcus

Reading a recent Radio Television Daily, I see that Rod Serling is once again up for an award.  I’m not surprised.  While his latest achievement, The Twilight Zone has flagged a bit in quality this season, it has still been (for the most part) worthy TV.  In fact, the last four episodes do a lot toward watering the “vast wasteland” that has chagrined our new FCC Chairman of late.  Check these out:


by Gideon Marcus

This tale of a ne’er-do-well turned millionaire out to humiliate the elders who once impugned him should be a fairly straightforward story.  Said tycoon invites his former schoolteacher, priest, and senior army officer to a shelter with the intent of convincing them a nuclear attack is imminent.  He wants to hear them recant their criticisms and beg for mercy.  Instead, they stick to their guns, abandon the scoundrel as simulated sirens blare, and the poor fellow has a mental breakdown.

What makes this story interesting is how it’s played.  We only hear of the tycoon’s indiscretions from the sanctimonious authority figures.  The millionaire, in fact, comports himself with dignity and charisma.  One is left with the impression of a story turned on its head.  Was this man really as bad as all that?  If the do-gooders had spared him an ounce of compassion, might he not have been salvaged?  Did he even need salvation?  He certainly seems a better sort that the so-called “good guys.” 

I’ll never know if this depth was intentional, but it did make memorable an episode that, on the face of it, should not have been noteworthy.  Three stars.

by Lorelei Marcus

Ah it’s that time again — I smell another round of Twilight Zone episode reviews! This time I think it’s safe to say the old show has finally gotten its charm back.  Well, let’s dive right in then! Our first episode was more faithful to the old Twilight Zone episodes, carrying that eerie charm it does so well.  This episode was about a man who believed he needed to get revenge on those who humiliated him in the past.  These people were a school teacher, an army officer, and a reverend. It was certainly a very interesting story, given an entire new layer by the acting that I don’t think was intentional.  The story hinges on the fact that he was really a terrible person and deserved all their humiliations, but the character we see never seems like the same person, adding to the whole episode.

DEAD MAN’S SHOES, by Charles Beaumont

by Gideon Marcus

Now here’s one that really sizzled.  An underworld type is rubbed out and left in the alley to rot, but when his shoes are pilfered by a Skid Row resident, the rogue gets a new lease on life as he possesses the bum’s body to take revenge on those that murdered him.  The sparkle all comes from the excellent performance of Warren Stevens, who deftly manages the transition from broken-down hobo to dashing gunslinger.  Four stars.

by Lorelei Marcus

This second episode is fittingly named seeing how it was about a dead man and his shoes.  It was about an old alley bum who happens to come across a dead body with a rather nice pair of shoes.  He puts them on and well, I won’t say anymore to avoid spoiling you.  I will say, however, that this episode was very well done.  The effects were nice and subtle, and the acting was certainly spectacular.  I highly recommend you watch this episode yourself; it was masterfully done and really stays true to that classic Twilight Zone feel.

THE HUNT, by Earl Hamner

by Gideon Marcus

Where do you go when you die, and how will you know you’ve got the right place?  That’s the fundamental question behind this episode, which stars a old man and his dog, two old pals who go off to hunt ‘coon and never come back.  It’s a touching tearjerker of a backwoods tale, the likes of which I’ve not seen on this otherwise urban show, and I found it authentic – very reminiscent of my mother-in-law’s home in Washington County, Maryland, in fact.  I also greatly appreciated the warm relationship between the fellow and his wife; it’s not often that happy married couples are portrayed on TV, especially elderly ones.  Five stars.

by Lorelei Marcus

I would have to say this third episode was my favorite out of this bunch. However, this is to be expected considering it stars not only a dog, but a raccoon too! This charming story starts out with an old fashioned couple eating supper out in their old farmhouse.  The “Old Woman” is worried about her husband going ‘coon hunting that night, but he insists and goes anyway.  Sure enough he gets bested by the animal and drowns with his dog.  He soon passes into the Twilight Zone, taking the rest of the episode to realize he’s a ghost.  There is a twist at the end, but I’d rather you find out what it is yourself.
This was a sweet episode that wasn’t too drawn out or overdone.  It was what it was, and I liked it.  I think you will too if you watch it.

SHOWDOWN WITH RANCE MCGREW, by Rod Serling (based on an idea by Frederic L. Fox)

by Gideon Marcus

You ever wonder how historical figures feel about how they’re portrayed on TV?  Showdown involves a posse of Wild West outlaws sending representative Jesse James to put a certain marshmallowy actor in his place.  McGrew, an insufferable high-rent oater star, has put the black hats in a bad light, James says, and he wants the record set straight.

It’s an episode with some genuinely funny bits, though the joke can only run so far without getting tired – about 18 minutes of the episode’s 22 minute running time.  Like Pallbearer, however, this is another episode with hidden depths.  Jesse James and his gang are not interested in the truth.  Their aim is not to promote historical accuracy for the education of our television audience.  They want to be cast as the heroes.  In effect, they are bushwhacking our entertainment industry to advance their own agenda.  You know, exactly what you’d expect a bunch of last-century criminals to do.

Again, I don’t know if this subtext was intentional, but it is intriguing.  Three stars.

And now I’ll let the Young Traveler finish things off:

by Lorelei Marcus

This final episode was interesting.  It started off in the classic old Western town, which made us do a double take to make sure we were on the right channel!  Soon, the main cowboy drove on screen, telling us that this was indeed, a Twilight Zone episode.  The main cowboy was really an actor playing a cowboy for, you guessed it, a Western.  The only problem is, he was a completely terrible person in every way!  Worst of all, he was giving bad names to the honest men who were chosen to be the villain cowboys in the show.  So, naturally, these tough vigilantes of the past decided to choose someone to go talk to him face to face, in the Twilight Zone of course.  To be honest, I found this episode to be my least favorite out of these four.  This is by no means an insult considering that all the episodes this time around were fine.  This episode had a nice, satisfying, unpredictable ending and certainly got a few chuckles out of me; it just wasn’t as good as the others.  I still recommend you watch it though.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed these episodes. They all had charming qualities and great, satisfying stories. Each were unique in their own way, and really give me hope that we’ll see more of the same in the future. My scores, in order, are 3.5, 4, 4.5, and 3, with an average of 3.75 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend you watch these episodes for yourself, and I hope you have just as good experiences as I did.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

12 thoughts on “[February 12, 1962] Out of the Wasteland (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 17-20)”

  1. I love the Western one, and think it should be kept as a classic, and not only for the Western genre. Maybe the less so as Rance McGrew is so marshmallowy – great word! – but it’s so enjoyable seeing him get his come-uppance.

    It sounds as if the TZ is still getting terrific actors.

  2. I felt the exact same way about “One More Pallbearer.” In a strange reversal of intended audience sympathies, the three figures from the millionaire’s past become the oppressive characters, and seem to be much worse people than the millionaire himself. The ending is bonkers and unsatisfying, though.

    “Dead Man’s Shoes” is one of those supernatural noir tales that the show did well (see “What You Need” and “The Four of Us Are Dying” from the first season). Warren Stevens is fun to watch, especially during his character transitions.

    “The Hunt” doesn’t do it for me but I’d be willing to bet that your favorable reaction is not at all uncommon. I find it way too sugary sweet for both my taste and for the show. I greatly enjoy Jeanette Nolan’s performance but Arthur Hunnicutt (an otherwise excellent actor) misses the mark with his unsubtle characterization.

    “Showdown with Rance McGrew” is one of those comedy episodes which seems to have so much more going on beneath the surface, either by accident or design. It is the only one of the show’s attempts at comedy that actually made me laugh, mostly because it’s fun to watch Larry Blyden as a pampered buffoon.

    Great reviews! I look forward to your thoughts as season three rolls along.

    1. Thanks for visiting my neck of the woods, Jordan! 

      Re: The Hunt, I understand your viewpoint.  However, the story just resonated with me, and it was so different from normal TZ, just very refreshing.

      As for comedies, the Buster Keaton episode made us laugh, too.  Maybe we’re easier to please!

  3. “One More Pallbearer” has already almost faded from my memory, for some reason.  Maybe because it’s a morality play whose morality seems a bit confused.

    “Dead Man’s Shoes” is a memorable supernatural tale.  More good work from Beaumont.

    “The Hunt” (which we call “Hillbilly Heaven” around my house) was a bit too much Li’l Abner for my taste.  Those of us with long memories will notice that this episode is a remake of a skit that appeared on “The Kate Smith Hour” way back in 1953.  Same writer, same main character name,same twist at the end.  John Carradine played the main role (better than Hunnicutt’s lifeless portrayal, in my opinion) and no less than the late James Dean appeared as an angel.

    “Showdown with Rance McGrew” was a bit silly for my taste,

  4. Tell ya, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson were trumping Serling as the series went on.
    A friend of mine who lives in LA told me this.
    He says the story is that Queen of Outer space was not from a drunk joke by Ben Hecht at a party, but that Hecht wrote an outline satire that wound up with Beaumont to script.  It goes that Allied Artists keep giving Beaumont a lot of trouble about it. One Friday Beaumont went to Matheson’s place , they went on a weekend bender and a snockered Beaumont wrote the screenplay that Allied Artists liked. Explains a lot!

  5. Solid stories from Beaumont and Hamner, and the lighter load seems to be having a positive effect on Mr. Serling, too.

    I have to say, I didn’t find the central character of “Pallbearer” all that sympathetic. I saw a small man who managed to achieve economic success, but was still so petty he staged an elaborate scene to force people he felt had wronged him in the past to apologize. He hasn’t amounted to anything, he’s just rich. This is a man who should have taken to heart the maxim that a life well-lived is the best revenge.

    As for Jesse James, he goes through periods of being seen positively. He even got experience some of it when he was retired as “Mr. Howard”. Back during the Depression he had another hero phase, because it was widely believed his gang destroyed all the mortgage papers of the banks they robbed. Next time hard times come around, old Jesse and his ilk will probably be heroes again.

    1. If you assume, for the sake of argument, that what’s going on in “One More Pallbearer” is in fact what it looks like — that the man was never as bad as his antagonists have painted him, and in fact he was the victim of a set of bullies — it becomes nearly tragic.  A lot of abused people harbor fantasies about making their abusers repent; this guy had the means to actually make the attempt. But such attempts almost never work out in real life, because too many times once you’ve been stuck with an Assigned Role, the people who did it will never, ever change their opinion. And indeed that’s what happens here — they sneer at him and walk away, and his Great Victorious Moment turns to ashes. Which is psychologically spot-on, and impressive.

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