[January 16, 1962] Accidents (un)happen (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 13-16)

by Gideon Marcus

It is common practice in statistics to average out data over time in a rolling fashion.  This gives you smoother lines, free of the jagged spikes of noisy data.  For the last several months, The Twilight Zone has shown a definite tendency toward the lower end of the quality scale, at least in comparison with its brilliant earlier seasons. 

But, I’m happy to report that the last month (ending January 5, anyway) showed a distinct and sustained improvement.  I’ll let the Young Traveler do most of the talking this time around since I find I don’t have much to improve upon her insights!

(Once upon a time, written by Richard Matheson and featuring the great Buster Keaton as a janitor who is propelled from the late 19th Century into the world of today…)

by Lorelei Marcus

Going into these four weeks, I was really dreading what was to come. Prior experience had given me doubts about the quality of these most recent Twilight Zone episodes. Thankfully, this time around, you will not have to hear me rant about how awful these past few episodes were!

To start us off, we had a charming little episode about a man from 1892. He goes to the present (1962) and finds a large scientist who just so happens to be obsessed with that earlier time period. I won’t say much more about the plot since I highly recommend you see the episode yourself. It did give us a lot of laughs, and was partly shot in the old, silent movie style. This was definitely a breath of fresh air from the usual grim twilight zone themes.

(Five Characters in Search of an Exit, adapted by Rod Serling from a story by Marvin Petal, whose title is literally descriptive…)

This second episode did return to a darker feel, but this time it was done fairly well. The episode started out with a small group of oddly specific but different people. A soldier, clown, ballerina, hobo and piper stuck in a completely metal prison, but with an open top. Despite guessing the answer at pretty much the beginning of the episode, it still managed to reveal just little enough information to keep it interesting.  At one point I wondered if this was a metaphor for depression, that feeling of being trapped with no exit, accepting the hopelessness of escape, and eventually giving up entirely.  Just to keep you on your toes, I won’t tell you the ending. I do recommend you watch this episode yourself. Even though me and my father predicted many things that happened, it never felt like the episode went on for too long, which frankly, is a real treat these days.

(A Quality of Mercy, adapted by Rod Serling from an idea by Sam Rolfe, in which an American platoon Lieutenant must weigh the virtues of assaulting a beleaguered Japanese position on the eve of V-J day…)

Unfortunately, this batch was not quite four for four. At least this episode was forgettable enough that I could pretend it didn’t happen at all! Alas no, I must do a review on it for you readers, so here I go. As I said before, the episode itself was entirely mediocre, but I did like the message and the effects. “Everyone is human, even if they are the enemy” is a great lesson that I think to be very true. The makeup was fairly impressive at making one of the actors look asian, and the Japanese accents weren’t completely atrocious. I would recommend spending your 20 minutes in a more productive manner, but I will not stop you from watching this episode.

by Gideon Marcus

My problem with this episode was absence of crisis.  Rather than allowing the Lieutenant to learn from his jaunt through the Twilight Zone, and then let the audience judge the wisdom of his actions, instead decisions are made for the protagonist, and the whole plot sort of meanders along without influence by the show’s participants.  More tightly written, and with actual consequences, this could have been a great one.  C’est la TV.

(Intermission, in which the Traveler family detours away from The Twilight Zone by way of The Twilight Zone…)

by Lorelei Marcus

Before we watched this fourth episode, my dad got caught up in the game show, The Price Is Right, where people were bidding on this cool looking soda fountain! When it ended we changed the channel and started watching. The episode had a much different feel this time, being more of a comedy sitcom rather than the usual Twilight Zone format. The twist seemed to be that one of the cast members was a talking horse! Oh wait a minute, we weren’t watching Twilight Zone, we were watching Mr. Ed! Oops.

So Mr. Ed finishes and we go to watch Twilight Zone. Perhaps, we thought, we would be able to catch the end of it, enough to make a review on. We were pretty sure we’d found the right show; it certainly was more true to Twilight Zone in that it had a lot of scientific themes. Still, it was very different, mainly in the fact that it was entirely cast with puppets!  Oops, again! Turns out we were watching Supercar, not Twilight Zone

That’s when we realized were still on the wrong network. So we turn to CBS, and find…The Andy Griffith show. Good enough. I like this show. 

Still, what happened to Twilight Zone? We start getting ready for bed, only then remembering that this was Monday, and Twilight Zone airs on Friday. OOPS. Darned winter break. Made us forget entirely what day of the week it was!

(Nothing in the Dark, by George Clayton Johnson, featuring a return of Mr. Death and the woman whose profound fear of him has kept her alive – so far…)

Well, the Friday after that wild goose chase, we did end up watching the last Twilight Zone episode. This episode was a lot more reminiscent of older Twilight Zone shows, which was really nice to see after all the lousy newer ones. Like the second episode, it had a good theme (“Things in darkness are the same as they are in the light, and should not be feared”) which I really appreciated. The episode was just long enough to tell a full satisfying story, and it was never too predictable. The acting was slightly off, but it was intentionally so, hinting at certain hidden truths, but not all out saying them. Over all it was a well rounded episode that I thoroughly enjoyed.

My episode scores, in order, are 4, 3, 2, and 3.5. This comes out to an average of 3 stars out of 5. I very much enjoyed most of these episodes and recommend you watch the first, third, and fourth ones. With such a good lineup, it’s starting to look a little more promising in terms of episode quality. Hopefully it will continue to be this way for the next few weeks!

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

13 thoughts on “[January 16, 1962] Accidents (un)happen (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 13-16)”

  1. Thank you for these reviews, including the bit about getting the wrong channel. Now you mention it, Mr Ed et al.  could be a TZ, with more plot.

    The first sounds particularly tasty. Buster Keaon, too!

    1. One of the local networks carries “Mister Ed.”  It would have been funny as a B-short, but there’s just not enough schtick there for an ongoing series.

      That Supercars thing, though… that’s downright interesting.  Not that we’ll ever get to see any, of course.  Our local stations won’t buy anything that’s “different.”

      We’re still getting the Flintstones, though.  Season 2 wasn’t quite as good as Season 1, but they never are.  Word is there’ll be a Season 3, which I’m looking forward to, though from the progression of Season 2 it looks like the studio is slowly re-targeting it from an adult comedy to a children’s show.

      1. Hey, there was enough material in the schtick for seven Francis movies. Of course, Alan Young is no Donald O’Connor. Theme tune’s catchy, though.

  2. First off, get word to your typesetter. He’s gone and forgotten to stop using italics again.

    Buster Keaton is one of those silent actors whose career suffered when the talkies came in. Rather unfairly. He’s quite capable of conveying humor with his voice. He seems to be getting some attention again, which is good. My industry sources tell me he was working on a pilot with Ernie Kovacs. With the latter’s unfortunate and untimely death a few days ago, that project may fall through. Also, you can’t go wrong with Stanley Adams, either.

    “Five Characters” bothered me at first. I’m not a great fan of minimalist theater and I thought that was what we were getting. But there was good reason for it and it paid off.

    “Quality of Mercy” was, dare I say it, strained. (I’m sorry, it was stronger than me.) But, yes, it had a lot of potential that was wasted when the lieutenant didn’t get to make the decision himself.

    “Nothing in the Dark” was the best of the set, by far. It was written by George Clayton Johnson, who also wrote “A Game of Pool” from earlier this season. He’s a fellow worth watching.

    So, the two best were again written entirely by somebody other than Rod Serling, the next by Serling based on a short story, and the forgettable episode by Serling based on somebody else’s idea. He’s not a bad writer, but coupled with his work as producer, I think he’s overextended and needs to let others take up more of the writing duties. I know I’ve said this before, but I hope he does so before he causes the show to be canceled.

    1. With an aversion to minimalist theatre, I can see why you were predisposed against “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” But as someone who is just fine with that sort of staging, and didn’t have that predisposition – I thought it was completely on par with “Once Upon a Time” and “Nothing in the Dark.” Three really quite good stories, quite well told, and a fourth merely forgettable – well, I wish more television could be this good.

      I also wish… well, one of my students has been stationed overseas, and couldn’t take his (frightfully expensive!) colour television with him, so I’ve got it on loan for six months ’till he gets back! To be honest, I can’t say that I see why he spent the money – the NBC Peacock is pretty, and the few shows aired in colour are gorgeous, but it’s certainly not five hundred dollars worth of gorgeous.

      I am, though, pleased to report that good old black and white looks just as good in colour.

      1. Here’s hoping you don’t need to call in a TV repairman before you have to give the set back.  What we found out after purchasing ours (over my financial objections…) is that they’re frightfully complicated as well as expensive, and the things get out of adjustment for no reason at all.  The repairman blames it on capacitors and gubbins and whatnots “drifting” from their set values as they age, causing the picture to do strange things.

        Last time he was in we got him to tweak the color settings down a bit so the picture doesn’t look so cartoonish.  The factory color settings are impressive when you see the wall of TVs in synchronization at the store, but when you get the set home you realize that the real world doesn’t have quite so much primary color saturation…

        I also don’t think the picture is as clear as a traditional black and white image, but my wife disagrees.  It might be a difference in how men and women see colors; at least a man’s world doesn’t have colors like “taupe” and “eggshell.”

        The color set also runs the electric bill up some.  Last fall we had to run the window air conditioner more because the set makes noticeably more heat than the old one.  And the old one is still in use; it made its way into the kitchen, and she will sometimes have both of them on at the same time as she moves about the house.

        I’ve already laid down the law on that; the first time the electric bill goes over fifteen dollars, I’m pulling the plug on at least one of those televisions!

  3. George Clayton Johnson proves himself to be a gifted writer with his sensitive script for “Nothing in the Dark,” which I thought was the best of these four.  “A Quality of Mercy” was a little too heavy handed in its message (a typical Serling trait.) Although “Five Characters . . .” was a one-idea story, it was done very well, with fine performances.  Of course, it’s always good to see Buster Keaton.

  4. Even the unevenness, at times, of Twilight Zone was breath of fresh air to the tru blu SF fan.
    Despite Fire Maidens from Outer Space and The Gamma People and other Z-films of 1956 we got Forbidden Planet and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (with a little side helping from X the Unknown, and despite an abysmal story , the FX work of Ray Harryhausen, Earth vs the Flying saucers). We thought, well maybe, our ship had come in; we could abide the crap if there were gems in the time line.
    Well no! 1957 brought us The Brain from Planet Arous, From Hell it Came (and to Hell it can go!) , The Giant Claw (gak!), The Night the World Exploded* (only metaphorically and even that didn’t count). 57 did have the almost decent Quatermass 2 and a couple of not so near miss films. 1958 brought Queen of Outer Space, War of the Satellites, Teenage Cave Man (For crying out loud!) even The Fly was a tomato surprise Johnny-one-note. In 1959 it got worse! Plan 9 from Outer Space (we didn’t see that one coming) , Attack of the 50 ft Woman, and if Plan 9 wasn’t bad enough , zooks!, Teenagers from Outer Space (give me a break). On the Beach , The World the Flesh and the Devil and The Blob were drowned by a title wave of drek.
    Imagine our surprise in October of 59 when Twilight Zone appeared. More Unknown than Astounding, (well good space opera has a price tag). Seeing Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson set our neurons a-thill. TZ did a good job in season 1, there were 36 episodes! Even Serling was top form. By season 2 we noticed that Beaumont and Matheson were prevailing over Serling. What a relief Twilight Zone was 1960 and 1961.

    *There were a string of these self-contradictory movie titles, “It Conquered the World”, it did not! ‘IT’ only conquered a small cave in Southern California and used stock newsreel footage of stuff coming to a halt. Then the giant Salmon Croquet ate death at the business end of a old blow torch. Sez!

    1. I’ve enjoyed many of Nevil Shute’s books, but “On the Beach” wasn’t one of them.  Perhaps the movie was less nihilistic and depressing than the book, but the trailers weren’t enough to entice me pay to watch it at a theater.

      1. On the Beach appeared in 1957, I don’t think the mainstream classified it as a SF novel. However any ‘just before’, ‘during’, or ‘just after’ world 3 was accepted in the SF community as a science fiction.  A number of those appeared on the pages of Astounding, right after WWII , I think mostly as short stories. I do know Kornbluth’s Not This August, I like that novel, appeared in 1955, Red Alert, 1958 and Fail-Safe, 1961, probably were others , tho none really stick out. (I am not counting Far Future post Atomic War novels here). One the Beach seems plodding pedestrian to me regardless of its tone. However as film we SF fans were , well pleased , there in 1959, that it wasn’t another The Killer Shrews! We were grasping at straws.  Arch Oboler’s Five, 1951, was considered by fans as a serious SF film. While Albert Zugsmith’s Invasion USA, 1952, was considered an embarrassment. It is curious that at this time the World-War-III movie is considered serious science fiction, my feelers tell me it won’t remain that way.

    2. Everybody likes to slag off Grade Z science fiction movies.  They’re a shared cultural joke.  But… people keep paying the admission fees to see them.

      So far, nobody seems to know if that’s because the theatergoing public *likes* horrible movies, or if it’s because there are enough SF fans that will watch anything with a whiff of their preferred genre, no matter how bad.  Personally, I think people just like bad movies, and it’s easier to make bad SF than in most genres.

      1. What is interesting , is even with rinky-dink budgets there were enough guileless soft targets out there to actually make a buck? !
        I know we went because we were crazy completists ! 
        God knows why!
        In the 1950’s was the zenith , it really declined after that.
        But man!
        We saw all that MST3K fodder in movie palaces , I mean I saw Plan 9 From Outer Space in spring of 1959 at the magnificent Texas Theater in down town San Antonio.
        I think there was a freakish physical masochism about it . We saw most of those films in Dallas in July and August when it was 105 degrees outside. Always at the matinee about noon, so here was this movie palace all air conditioned cranked down for 3000 warm souls(not there) , sound cranked up for 3000 sound absorbing bodies . In the pitch black our pupils shrank down to micron sized dots.  Sitting through more than 2 hours of this turned us into deaf Popsicles . We reeled out into the frighting summer heat , flash defrosting, eyes dilating in agony , ears ringing, chaos.
        We were happy pointy headed teens!

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