I’ve been in the TWILIGHT ZONE a lot recently – all 5 seasons in fact.
The classic Hollywood connection is the numbers of well known faces in so many episodes of this 1959-1964 TV series.
Names like Dana Andrews, Dan Duryea, Gladys Cooper, Mickey Rooney,Ann Blyth,Richard Conte, Keenan Wynn,Burgess Meredith ,Brian Aherne and so many more.
And directors like Mitchell Leisen,Jacques Tourneur,Don Siegel,Ida Lupino.
The Twilight Zone was the brainchild of writer ROD SERLING who wrote a good number of the episodes. Other writers included Richard Matheson,Reginald Rose,Earl Hamner Jr.
What I like about this show is the diversity of plots – time travel, space travel, robots, mystery,fantasy,comedy, and social commentary.
The Twilight Zone had it all, and it had the use of the backlots of MGM.
There are so many brilliant episodes , only 25 minutes long. (In season 4, they tried an hour format but it wasnt so successful).
The show and the quality of the writing provided a showcase for many performers and I’d like to describe some of my favorites, the only problem being that quite often the final scene is a twist in the tale which I wont reveal.
AGNES MOOREHEAD, in “The Invaders”, has no dialogue and is on her own for the full episode. Playing a lone woman in an isolated farm , she believes aliens have arrived. But what a twist at the end.
Agnes is amazing, conveying her fear only with looks and sounds.
In “The Obsolete Man”, BURGESS MERDITH is a librarian in a future where the State determines he is obsolete and must die. He is brought before Fritz Weaver who tells him he can choose the manner of his death. And again, the twist ending is breathtaking.
Meredith and Weaver are excellent.
In “On Thursday We Leave for Home”, JAMES WHITMORE gives a stunning study of a man who is the leader of a band of survivors who have been living on as asteroid since leaving Earth 30 years earlier.
The group are desperate to get home when a spaceship arrives to rescue them. But the Whitmore character thinks he can go on making decisions for them as if they are children.He cannot lose control but he will.
In “New Exhibit”, MARTIN BALSAM plays the curator of a museum exhibit called “Murderers Row”. When the museum is closed, he can’t bear to be parted from the wax figures and takes them home. They are real to him.
Another stunning ending to this episode.Balsam is so good.
On a lighter note, “The Bard” is the story of screenwriter,Jack Weston who summons the great Shakespeare to help him with his writing!
In “Escape Clause”, DAVID WAYNE is a hypochondriac who makes a pact with the devil,Thomas Gomez, for immortality. When he commits murder, life imprisonment is going to last a very long time!
Dennis Hopper,Ludwig Donath
In “He’s Alive”, DENNIS HOPPER is a neo-Nazi who invokes the spirit of Hitler to advise him. But he has to deal with the fact that the man who has been like a father to him,Ludwig Donath,is Jewish.
In “Queen of the Nile”, ANN BLYTH is a Hollywood star being interviewed by a journalist . She claims to be 38, but the reporter becomes suspicious when he starts looking at her career and talking to her mother, Celia Lovsky. How old is she really.
“The Grave” has a western setting ,with LEE MARVIN,LEE VAN CLEEF and JAMES BEST.
MARVIN is dared by the others to visit at midnight the grave of a man he had been hired to kill.
In “A World of Difference”, HOWARD DUFF plays an actor who begins to believe he is the character in the film he is making.
I love “Will the Real Martian Stand Up”, starring JOHN HOYT,JACK ELAM and JOHN ARCHER in a tale of 6 bus passengers stranded on a stormy night in a small cafe. A policeman comes in to tell them a UFO has been found and footsteps in the snow lead to the cafe!
Another terrific ending !
A very moving episode,”Death’s Head Revisited” has JOSEPH SCHILDKRAUT as the ghost of a concentration camp victim who comes alive again to judge the Nazi (Oscar Beregi), who has come back to the camp where he was a guard.
“I Sing The Body Electric” has to be the most unusual title of an episode, with JOSEPHINE HUTCHINSON as a sort of Mary Poppins to the three children of a widower who needs help bringing them up. She is in fact a robot and the children get to pick the parts which will make up her body. All I know about the title is that it is a Walt Whitman poem.
There’s also BUDDY EBSEN helping DANE CLARK beat the system at the Las Vegas gambling tables ; DAN DURYEA as a washed up gunfighter in the old west; RICHARD CONTE as a man terrified to go to sleep as he fears he will die; GLADYS COOPER, CECIL KELLAWAY and WILFRID HYDE WHITE taking a last sail on the Lady Anne.
And GIG YOUNG, ROBERT CUMMINGS,BUSTER KEATON,RICHARD BASEHART ,IDA LUPINO, JACK CARSON,STEVE COCHRAN , FRANCHOT TONE each have starring episodes.
Even JOHN DEHNER gets a starring role .
And the supporting alumni of North By Northwest appear throughout the series – Malcom Atterbury (the man who tells Cary Grant about the crop duster ) – Josephine Hutchinson ( the supposed owner of the mansion Thornhill was taken to) – Philip Ober ( Lester Townsend) – Nora Marlowe ( the housekeeper who holds a gun on Thornhill at the end) – Edward Binns (policeman) – Ned Glass (train ticket seller) and Martin Landau.
(Wish they had all been in the same episode!)
I am in awe of the standard of writing throughout , and of the performances. Impossible to believe that no acting Emmys were given for this show, though it did win for writing and cinematography.
Great series, still with a lot of fans today.
Gary Merrill, Ben Cooper