[Nov. 5, 1961] Settling in (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 5-8)

by Gideon Marcus


by Lorelei Marcus

The house that Rod built was showing signs of decay, but, as happened last season, The Twilight Zone has gotten a little better a few episodes in.  It’s not perfect, mind you, but I’m still tuning in on Friday.  In fact, Serling’s show, Andy Griffith, and Route 66 are my strongest bulwark against the “vast wasteland” lying behind the screen of the one-eyed monster (sadly, Route 66 wasn’t on this week, more’s the pity).

Anyway, submitted for your approval are the next four episodes of the Third Season (descriptions followed by commentary by the Traveler and then the Young Traveler):

Jack Klugman returns for a amazing turn in A Game of Pool as a aspiring billiards shark who wants nothing more than to beat the best – a deceased legend called “Fats” (played by comedian, Jonathan Winters in a surprisingly humorless performance).  Well, he gets his chance…since this is The Twilight Zone. 

The writing is some of the pithiest I’ve seen on this show, and Klugman is an absolute scene-stealer. If there’s any kind of downer, it’s the ending.  While logical, it also feels “safest” for the show (I understand no one was really happy with Pool‘s conclusion, and it was shot several ways).  Four stars.

For the past four weeks I’ve watched another four episodes of Twilight Zone with my father!  The first episode we watched was about a wannabe legendary pool player, who had a pool game with the legend of that time.  I won’t spoil the ending or anything, but it was very suspenseful and had great pacing.  I enjoyed it very much, there was just enough mystery to keep it interesting.  It was refreshing after a lot of badly paced and bland episodes.  Three and a half stars.

Up next is The Mirror, featuring a Castro stand-in (played by the decidedly non-Latin Peter Falk) as the paranoid dictator of a Cuba stand-in.  After Falk is notified by the captured Bautista stand-in that he has inherited a mirror that shows him his would-be assassins, the island dictator quickly dispatches his compatriots. 

Did I say quickly?  I meant over the course of twenty minutes of swaggering, tedious, brown-faced, fake-bearded monologues.  Falk may have been nominated for the Oscar last year, but this performance wouldn’t let you on to that info.  On the other hand, while bad, the episode has the virtue of being memorable, at least.  My daughter and I have taken to doing faux-Castro/Falk impressions whenever we see each other in the bathroom looking glass…  Two stars.

Speaking of “badly paced and bland episodes,” the next episode we watched was bad.  It was about a new Cuban leader who ends up murdering all his friends due to mistrust.  It’s as boring as my father makes it sound.  The worst part, is this drags on for 20 minutes!  It’s like they thought of one semi-interesting idea, and decided to stretch it so thin across the run time, that there was practically nothing there.  Please, save yourself some time and don’t watch this episode.  One and a half stars.

The Grave is a Halloweeny piece set in the Old West.  Lee Marvin plays a bounty hunter who has been on the trail of an outlaw for months, never quite summoning the courage to face the criminal down.  The bandit’s demise comes at the hands of his own kin, the people of his town resolving to finish the job themselves.  But with his last gasp, the outlaw threatens to strangle Marvin from beyond the grave.  After a good amount of whiskey-fueled goading, and after a little more whiskey-fueled loin-girding, Marvin visits the outlaw’s burial site…and is found dead the next day.  Was it a heart attack?  Or the satisfaction of a death curse? 

A plodding episode, but with some decent acting.  Two and a half stars.

This third episode was fairly forgettable.  So forgettable that I actually had to get up, halfway through writing this, and ask my father what it was about again.  I found the ending to be the most interesting part, so I won’t spoil it, however getting to there was painfully slow.  There wasn’t a setting change until the very end, and the middle was just people sitting and talking.  I must admit that I almost fell asleep at times; still you may watch this if you like.  As I said before, it has a decent ending, but its a matter of if you want to waste your time getting there.  Two stars.

Last up is the thoroughly unpleasant It’s a Good Life, starring Bill Mumy, a tyke who starred in one of last season’s episodes.  The boy has the psychic ability to do, well, anything.  And, like most 6-year old kids with untempered power, he is a terror.  His fellow rural villagers live in constant fear of being brutally murdered and then “wished into the cornfield.”  One brave soul decides he can’t take anymore and attempts to distract Mumy with an angry outburst, entreating the adults to take the opportunity bash the kid’s head in.  Alas, the townspeople, while they clearly are miserable, can’t overcome their fears.  The rebel is slaughtered, and life, such as it is, goes on. 

As horror, Life is effective if overwrought.  I take it as allegory, however.  Life depicts the discomfort humans will endure to avoid a worse fate, even when these same humans have the power to eliminate the source of their discomfort.  As such, I found it effective.  Three stars.

Finally, today’s episode.  I really don’t have much to say about it honestly.  The story was very straightforward, and there was no real message or conflict.  I kept waiting for something to happen that would change the course of the story, but no, it was just a boy with mind powers who didn’t feel empathy.  I felt it went on a little too long, like most Twilight Zone episodes do, and could’ve used another element to help keep the story interesting.  Two and a half stars.

In total I give all these episodes a mean of 2.5 stars.  They were fairly average, and I really only recommend the first one to watch.  The fourth one might be good to see as well, just to be literate (as I imagine “wishing people into the cornfield” is going to become a popular phrase); however I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off….

…and the less-Young Traveler, also signing off.  Next stop…Japan!  Stay tuned for pictures and articles from the Land of the Rising Sun.

8 thoughts on “[Nov. 5, 1961] Settling in (The Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episodes 5-8)”

  1. Thanks for sharing. Perhaps the Journey ‘s followers have the better deal: we hear the ideas and don’t have to sit through the padding.  Wasn’t It’s A Good Life a good short story by Bixby?  Surely Serling would have given credit.

    The Halloween does sound a disappointing ending to a good plot.

    Enjoy Japan! We look forward to reading you’re having a great time.

  2. I think the show has rebounded once again. Worth noting, perhaps, is that the worst episode was entirely Serling’s and the others all stemmed from someone else. (Serling wrote the screenplay for “Good Life”, but the original story was, as Stephanie said, by Jerome Bixby.)

    “Pool” was certainly the best, helped by two fine actors. Though I must admit I’m always thrown a bit when I see Jonathan Winters being serious or even a bit menacing.

    “The Mirror” had potential, I suppose, and it is a bit topical, but beyond that? Maybe with a longer format, you could better explore the new dictator’s growing paranoia. Half and hour, less commercials and credits, just isn’t time enough for that.

    “Grave” is basically a campfire story. It would likely work better told or written, so the audience could get some of the internal thoughts of the characters. Good actors in this one, but not a lot to work with. (DON’T READ THIS PART IF YOU DON’T WANT A HINT TO THE ENDING. Have you ever crawled under your desk to pick up a pen or something and straightened up only to discover you’re kneeling on your tie?)

    I liked the last episode more than our two reviewers did.  As I said with his last appearance on the show, the child actor makes or breaks a story like this, and young Master Mumy does a bang-up job. It’s that shot of the cornfield that really nails down the “creep” factor for me.

  3. I think that “It’s a Good Life” is absolutely brilliant.  The reason is that it follows the original story very closely.  It would have been easy to tone down the story’s impact and/or give it a happy ending, but Serling didn’t pull any punches in his adaptation.  It may be the best episode in the series so far, in my opinion.

    Otherwise, I’m pretty much in agreement.  “A Game of Pool” is very good.  (The absolutely dead serious performance from Jonathan Winters is amazing, given his usual wild antics as a comic.)

    “The Grave” is OK.  Good performance from Lee Marvin.

    “The Mirror” is pretty bad indeed.  Not much more need be said.

    If the series can continue to provide two good episodes a month, I’ll be happy.

  4. > Route 66 wasn’t on this week, more’s the pity

    [grumble, mumble]

    That sort of thing seems to be happening too often, lately.  Both newspapers have the daily and weekly TV listings, but apparently the stations don’t feel particularly bound by it.

    This last summer it got me well and truly hacked off.  Turn the TV on, wait for it to warm up, go outside and battle mosquitoes while turning the antenna mast as Mrs. TRX shouts instructions through the window, go back in to the living room and turn the fan on to do something about the wash of heat off all those vacuum tubes… and then there’s some other show on, without even a by-your-leave or sorry-about-that.

    At least with fall here, the heat problem isn’t as bad.  We got one of those nifty window air conditioner units for the bedroom a couple of years ago, but Mrs. TRX is agitating for one for the living room now, and one of those color TVs.  I don’t know what she plans to watch on it; most of the broadcasting here is still black and white.  We just finished the installment payments on the current TV… that cost a full five per cent on interest over a three-year payment plan.  She thinks I’m made of money…

  5. I have the deepest respect for Rod Serling, but sometimes when he goes into “preach” mode it can be off-putting. That being said, I will take one of his preachy episodes over most of the junk on television any day. At least you know there is real substance present.

    My mother used to say they wished TZ episodes were longer than 30 minutes, but when they did finally stretch them out it wasn’t what they were hoping for.

    That one about Castro: Hey, he isn’t going to last very long as a dictator anyway, so don’t worry. No need to go into crisis mode about him….

    1. I’m surprised he’s lasted this long.  There’s a lot of American money down in Cuba, and some of those people are bound to be upset by Castro’s for nationalization of property.

      I don’t quite understand why the government hasn’t just sent down a military force and wiped him out.  Doctrine for decades has been to oppose Communist incursion into the Americas, and it’s not like we haven’t deposed regimes we haven’t liked in the past.

      The longer we twiddle our thumbs, the longer he has to get entranched and build foreign alliances.  He’s liable to hook up with the Soviets or Chinese as so many other nations have, and we certainly don’t want *that*…

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