by Patricia Grandjean
May 4, 2011
09:01 AMBox Office
My "Twilight" Chronicles—No, not THAT "Twilight"
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6. "Miniature." Blessed with the dreamiest of dream casts—Pert Kelton ("The Honeymooners"' original Alice Kramden), Barbara Barrie ("Barney Miller") and Robert Duvall (!), this little fairy tale, also penned by Beaumont, is as charming as they get; I imagine it's the main reason most fans will be buying the Season 4 Blu-ray. This was Duvall's first star turn on television—he'd go on to be a reliable small screen guest-star for several years until his breakthroughs in True Grit and The Godfather—and he plays it like an actor who knows this is the first day of the rest of his career. Gentle, shy and funny, his Charley Parkes is also a textbook misfit, alienating and unknowable, so when it's revealed that he's fallen in love with a miniature wooden doll in a museum exhibit—who he thinks is alive—naturally, his overbearing mother and meddling sister have him committed to a mental hospital. True love wins out, of course, and to this day, every time I see the "softer side" of Duvall in a movie I think of Charley—and I'd bet he thinks of him, too.
7. "The Trade-Ins." When it comes to a consideration of old age, TZ is perhaps better known for the third season episode "Kick the Can," a poignant but ultimately upbeat fable (by regular contributor George Clayton Johnson) about a group of rest homers who, through the powers of the titular game, win themselves a second childhood. (An inferior remake was churned out for Jon Landis' 1983 "Twilight Zone" movie by Stephen Spielberg, who should have done better given that the tale was right up his sentimental alley.) The "Trade-Ins," contributed by Serling as the Zone's third-season finale, is the flip side of "Can": more dour and fatalistic in its outlook, perhaps, but also winningly romantic thanks to the performances of Joseph Schildkraut and Alma Platt as the elderly couple John and Marie Holt (sadly enough, Schildkraut's wife of 29 years died during the filming, but being a trouper from a theatrical family, he insisted on finishing the show before going into mourning). Supporting actor Theodore Marcuse, as the soft-hearted hustler Farraday, is also a standout; he previously appeared in a funny turn as obnoxious Russian "Citizen Gregori" in "To Serve Man." Though it never really gets spelled out, this is one of umpteen episodes in which Serling's contempt for conformist "youth culture" comes into play.
8. "The After Hours." Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. The inexplicably eerie never lets up in this first season episode, which features easily the most absurd premise of the entire series. We've always wondered what Freud and/or Jung would have made of the "woman isolated in empty rooms of a deserted department store, looking for a solid gold thimble for her mother, which she buys scratched and dented" theme. Anyway, we love the vibrant feistiness of Anne Francis, whose character may not know what's going on, but hangs tough anyway (the Zone often featured strong women characters, but few quite as likable as her Ms. White), the fab set shots by TZ's genius cinematographer George T. Clemens (remember when department stores looked like that?) and the needle-sharp tension provided by of one of TZ's go-to directors, Douglas Heyes.
9. "The Dummy." Like a lot of shows in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, TZ got a fair amount of mileage out of the "evil doll" scenario (another obvious example of this is the fifth-season episode "Living Doll," with Telly Savalas), which explains why most baby-boomers irrationally fear Raggedy Anns and Andys and ventriloquist acts to this day. The premise here isn't especially original—unbalanced, second-rate voice thrower Jerry Etherson (Cliff Robertson) becomes convinced his dummy Willie is a real, live, malevolent boy—and actually, Serling's script is a rewrite of an unpublished story by one Lee Polk, to which he added a fabulously disturbing, didn't-see-it-coming "twist" ending. (I'm betting that he had the Michael Redgrave story from the 1945 Ealing Studios film Dead of Night in the back of his mind.) Incidentally, this was just the beginning of a long and still active career for ubiquitous bit player George Murdock (he was Yuri Testikov in the "Marine Biologist" ep of "Seinfeld" and Elder #2 on "The X-Files"). We wonder, did that makeup job as Willie after the "old switcheroo" give him nightmares? And here's one for the "What's Up with These People?" files: Reportedly, Willie the dummy currently resides with a family in Connecticut.
10. "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." I'd call it the Zone's greatest overlooked episode. This first-season Western starred Dan Duryea against type—in '40s and '50s films, he was usually the slimiest punk this side of Richard Widmark—as the pathetic good guy and Martin Landau (in a grinning, maniacal mood) and Doug McClure (barely old enough to shave) as the black hats. Al Denton allowed his rep as an infallible gunslinger to drag him down into drink and despair. But when a peddler named Henry J. Fate toddles into town, suddenly Denton's old skills make a mysterious reappearance. It isn't long before another young gun (McClure) rides into town to challenge Denton, prompting Al to accept Fate's offer of an elixir that will make him unbeatable for 10 seconds. But just as he gets ready to face off, he notices his opponent drinking the same potion . . . Some Internet TZ fans have gone way deep with interpretations of this ep; I've seen one that claims it's Serling's commentary on the Cold War "Mutual Destruction Policy" of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. One thing's for certain: Rod was a big believer in the metaphorical power of Westerns. He later attempted a whole series around that concept ("The Loner," with Lloyd Bridges)—now, there was a sad TV story.