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Light and Shadow:
Quint on Twilight Zones 1.10-1.12!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next Light and Shadow, my systematic and possibly suicidal attempt at going episode by episode through one of the best scripted shows to ever be beamed to idiot boxes, THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Sorry for the quite large absence of this column. There are a lot of factors that played into the delay, but the largest was that I lost the damn Season One set. I’m a giant geek, I have stacks of DVDs and Blu-Rays waiting for more shelving and somehow this set got lost in the shuffle. It took me just spending an afternoon going through all my junk for me to find it in a corner, obviously knocked off of the arm of the couch at some point. But all that drama is over and the show goes on! In the previous entries I’ve tried to steer away big spoilers, but there have been many requests to go more in-depth with the twists as those are what readers who watched as youngsters remember the most. So, you’ll notice this one gets a little more spoilery, but I’m trying to keep the twist reveals until the end of each review. This installment features episodes 1.10 (“Judgment Night” starring Nehemiah Persoff), 1.11 (“And When The Sky Was Opened” starring Rod Taylor) and 1.12 (“What You Need” starring Steve Cochran). Enjoy!

1.10 – “Judgment Night”
Directed by John Brahm
Written by Rod Serling
Original Airdate: December 4th, 1959

Her name is the S.S. Queen of Glasgow. Her registry: British. Gross tonnage: Five thousand. Age: Indeterminate. At this moment she's one day out of Liverpool, her destination New York. Duly recorded on this ship's log is the sailing time, course to destination, weather conditions, temperature, longitude and latitude. But what is never recorded in a log is the fear that washes over a deck like fog and ocean spray. Fear like the throbbing strokes of engine pistons, each like a heartbeat, parceling out every hour into breathless minutes of watching, waiting and dreading. For the year is 1942, and this particular ship has lost its convoy. It travels alone like an aged blind thing groping through the unfriendly dark, stalked by unseen periscopes of steel killers. Yes, the Queen of Glasgow is a frightened ship, and she carries with her a premonition of death.
This tale of paranoia centers on a confused amnesiac who finds himself on a British boat traveling the dangerous, U-Boat infested waters between London and America. Well, amnesiac doesn’t exactly describe Carl Lanser (Nehemiah Persoff). He knows his name, knows where he was born and is filled with a sense of dreadful déjà vu. How did this German born man get on the ship? Why does he foggily remember this night? Why does 1:15am fill him with panic? Persoff acts his ass off here, playing confused with complete conviction, brow furrowed and eyes darting back and forth so that we can almost see his mind grasping at memory’s tail as it skirts just out of his reach. He gets to know the crew and the civilian passengers on the ship in a few short scenes. Naturally every American and British person onboard is absolutely kind, generous and trusting. Not one person seriously questions an obvious and admitted German on their boat, even one who claims to have no memory on how he arrived there and for some odd reason has a U-boat commander’s hat in his cabin. I don’t think the secret of the episode is exactly difficult to figure out. The joy, however, can be found in the atmosphere created by director John Brahm and the escalating paranoia, which is absolutely palpable. This is the first Zone to feature an afterlife storyline. In this case, we discover Lanser was a U-Boat commander when Lanser sees himself off the bow of the British ship, dead in the water due to engine repair, standing proudly on the deck of an enemy submarine, enjoying the mayhem caused by her guns as women, children, men and Lanser himself die with the ship. After Lanser finally goes under, still panicking and maybe even a little mad at the realization that he just watched himself kill… well, himself, we join the Nazi Lanser content in his cabin, discussing the victory with a fellow crew member not so thrilled that they just murdered civilians. This young man worries they’ve damned themselves to a special level of hell and postulates that while their victims only died once they could find themselves dying over and over again for all eternity. Lanser laughs at this and then we snap to Lanser on the boat again, just as he was in the very first shot, confusion on his face, his own laughter ringing in his head, doomed to repeat that night. If this episode were created today we wouldn’t get an ending that has one character just magically spelling out the whole conceit of the episode. That said, I thought the moment really put a nice punctuation on the story. This is a really sharp episode, technically. The black and white contrast is fantastic, the atmosphere and tension both thick. Persoff is great, as are the rest of the passengers, who in a few short moments have to really make us feel a loss when the big attack comes. Keep an eye out for one Patrick Macnee as the First Officer. He only has a couple lines here, but in a few years time would find fame as John Steed in THE AVENGERS and later to horror fans in THE HOWLING.

1.11 – “And When The Sky Was Opened”
Directed by Douglas Heyes
Written by Rod Serling, based on the short story by Richard Matheson
Original Airdate: December 11th, 1959

Her name: X-20. Her type: an experimental interceptor. Recent history: A crash landing in the Mojave Desert after a thirty-one hour flight nine hundred miles into space. Incidental data: The ship, with the men who flew her, disappeared from the radar screen for twenty-four hours. The shrouds that cover mysteries are not always made out of tarpaulin, as this man will soon find out on the other side of a hospital door.
If you’re in a Twilight Zone episode and you’ve been to outer space, even for a few moments, you’re fucked. Sorry, Charlie, but I knew from the opening narration from the man-god Rod Serling that things weren’t going to go right for the survivors of an experimental flight’s crash landing. Here you have one of my favorite under-appreciated actors from this time period, Mr. Rod Taylor, Charles Aidman and Jim Hutton as a trio of pilots newly returned from an almost disastrous test flight of an orbital craft. They return as American heroes, but something’s off. When the episode opens Rod Taylor’s going off his rocker. Nobody seems to remember Aidman’s Col. Ed Harrington, even Hutton. Is Taylor going crazy or is something bigger afoot? The episode delves into a flashback where we see there were indeed three men who survived the flight, but when the newly discharged Harrington and Taylor’s Col. Clegg Forbes go out for drinks Harrington feels kinda strange. He feels wrong, like he doesn’t belong there. Harrington calls his parents, who don’t remember him and before Taylor knows it all traces of Harrington ever having existed are gone. Harrington is nowhere to be found, there’s no evidence he ever existed outside of Taylor’s memory. The bulk of the episode focuses on Taylor trying to find anybody who remembers the man in a last, half-crazed attempt to prove his own sanity to himself. The last person he tries to convince is Jim Hutton’s Major William Gart, but when he realizes even Hutton has no idea who Harrington is Taylor finally cracks… or finds enlightenment. It’s hard to tell. Perhaps it’s both, but whatever it is Taylor gets his first real grasp on what’s going on. None of them should have survived that flight. Someone or something messed up and now it’s correcting the mistake. On the surface this sounds exactly like a Final Destination movie, but it’s more than that. It’s more than death trying to collect on outstanding debts. Whatever forces are at work here don’t just kill these men, they erase them from existence. How fucking horrible of a concept is that? Everything you ever were, everything you ever meant, good or ill, to your friends, colleagues and family just wiped clean? Shit, even if you’re killed in a horrible, complicated Rube Goldbergian ways you’d still leave a mark, a memory, a feeling for somebody somewhere. The great Richard Matheson wrote the original short story this episode is based upon, his first credited work in the series and you can feel his imprint on the story. Matheson and Serling together are kind of a dream team and they have a lot of talent to bring their collaboration to life. I found this to be one of the bleaker episodes. There’s a feeling of hopelessness at a certain point here, where you just know there is no way out for these guys. It’s a credit to the actors that you WANT them to find a way out, but there’s no shrouded figure to appeal to or to challenge to a game of chess. There’s no formula to solve and outsmart. Instead we get a snapshot of men who will have never existed… I had the nagging feeling during this episode that either this particular Matheson story or episode of TZ inspired Robert Zemeckis a bit with the fading photograph of Marty McFly’s siblings. I found that concept to be pretty disturbing and whether directly or indirectly I bet its roots can be traced back to this particular 20-odd minutes of television. If you have the DVDs, make sure to listen to the great ‘70s Rod Serling lecture where he and a bunch of writing students deconstruct this episode. Fascinating stuff.

1.12 – “What You Need”
Directed by Alvin Ganzer
Written by Rod Serling, based on a short story by Lewis Padgett
Original Airdate: December 25th, 1959

You're looking at Mr. Fred Renard, who carries on his shoulder a chip the size of the national debt. This is a sour man, a friendless man, a lonely man, a grasping, compulsive, nervous man. This is a man who has lived 36 undistinguished, meaningless, pointless, failure-laden years and who at this moment looks for an escape, any escape, any way, anything, anybody, to get out of the rut. And this little old man is just what Mr. Renard is waiting for.
Originally airing Christmas Day, this episode is all about gift giving. In fact it’s about a magical old man with an even more magical case filled with knickknacks. He’s a kind old man, offering up items people need. Not what they want, mind you, but what they need. The opening scenes follow him around a bar as he gives away seemingly pedestrian items to the down and outs… a bottle of spot remover to a lovely lady, a bus ticket to a burnt out ex-sports star, etc. Of course, all those come into play… the bus ticket to Scranton just before the jock gets a coaching job offer phone call in Scranton. His coat is dirty and in comes the lady with the spot remover and bam, instant sweethearts. All this is noticed by a particularly lowly low life played by Steve Cochran (WHITE HEAT), in a rare leading role. Cochran’s Fred Renard comes on strong, desperate even, but is given what he needs. In this case it’s a pair of scissors that come in handy when his scarf gets caught in the lift to his apartment. Being the greedy scumbag that he is, Renard harasses the kindly magical old man (Ernest Truex) for more and more. Truex plays his character, Pedott, with a touch of whimsy and grandfatherly kindness, but he’s put off by Renard who gets more and more desperate the more the old man gives him what he needs. As you can probably tell, there comes a point where what Renard wants and what he needs are diametrically opposed and Pedott takes on a little more of a mischievous, impish air. Ultimately, what Pedott needs is more important than what Renard wants and one of Pedott’s “gifts” frees him of Renard once and for all. I quite like these little fantasy tales of magical men living among us. I like the idea of someday encountering my own Pedott or Mr. Destiny or John Coffey. All these characters are fantasy creatures in a real, recognizable world, so on that base level I appreciated this episode. The performances are there as well, but the story is pretty light stuff. There’s no real rug-pulling moment or emotionally resonating scene for me to really sink my teeth into as a viewer here, but not every episode has to be a gut-punch. Sometimes they can be just like this one… light, breezy and charming. That about wraps up this installment of Light and Shadow, which marks the 1/3rd mark of Season One! I’ll keep better tabs on my DVDs from now on. I have a ton of travel lined up over the next two weeks, so I can’t guarantee when the next journey into the Twilight Zone will hit the site, but it rest assured it will arrive. -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

Previous Twilight Zone Articles:

Episodes 1.1-1.3
Episodes 1.4-1.6
Episodes 1.7-1.9

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