I picked up two collections from the cheapie bin at the Best Buy - The Twilight Zone Fan Favorites and The Twilight Zone More Fan Favorites. How it was determined what were "fan favorites" or not, I have no idea.  One thing I noticed from watching these is that I'd forgotten that episodes were only twenty-five minutes long. (I gather the show went to longer stories eventually, dunno if any of those are included in these.) One gets so used to the idea of comedies being a half-hour and drama being a whole hour, that one forgets that it wasn't always thus. (Although I don't remember ever seeing a comedy that was a whole hour.)

 

Anyway, I thought I'd take a look at it, and see how the episodes came across.  I'm pretty sure I've seen some Twilight Zone before, but so long ago that it's effectively like I'm seeing most of them for the first time.

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The first episode of Disk One is "Night of the Meek", Episode 47, by Rod Serling, first broadcast December 23rd, 1960. It features Art Carney as an alcoholic department store Santa, with the ubiquitous John Fiedler as his boss.  Also look for Burt Mustin in a small part as a pal of Carney's character - he's a very distinctive-looking old guy who was in about a million TV shows from the 50's to the 70's.

 

The story itself is a somewhat by-the-numbers "true meaning of Christmas" story in which Henry Corwin, a poor broken-down drunk laments his poverty, and the loss of the true Christmas spirit. Fired for drinking on the job, he wishes he could bring just one good Christmas to the poor children of his neighborhood. His wish is granted, and he finds a magic sack from which he can produce whatever present anyone wants.  There is a brief kerfuffle with a cop who supposes that he has stolen the stuff, but in the end our hero gets his own wish - to become the real Santa Claus full-time.

 

It's an OK episode - watchable, but somewhat heavy-handed and schmaltzy. Typical of alot of "Christmas episodes" that shows do.

Next up is "The Invaders", Episode 51, written by Richard Matheson, first broadcast January 27th, 1961. It features Agnes Moorehead as a somewhat deranged old woman living alone in a remote farmhouse - give Moorehead credit, she's not at all afraid to look extremely unglamorous. A flying saucer lands in her attic, and she finds herself beset by tiny, unconvincing aliens. (Seriously, I have a toy of one of these aliens and it looks about as convincing as the actual prop.)  At any rate, she finds herself playing a cat-and-mouse game with the two hostile little creatures, finally destroying them.  The final reveal is when we see on the side of the saucer the legend "U.S. Air Force Space Probe No.1", so that one wonders if this was the same planet that Land of the Giants was set on. This is a very "50's sci-fi short story" ending, this "the aliens turn out to be us" stuff is common in many of the stories I've read from this period.

 

Unconvincing aliens aside, this is a very suspenseful story, a real tour de force for Moorehead, who manages to carry the whole story pretty much by herself.

Closing out Disk One is "Nothing in the Dark", Episode 81, written by George Clayton Johnson, first broadcast January 5th, 1962. It features Gladys Cooper as an older woman, living alone in a condemned building, so terribly afraid of dying that she refuses to interact with anyone for fear that one of them will be "Mr. Death" come to take her.  Her isolation is tested when a wounded policeman (played by a young Robert Redford) falls at her doorstep, begging for her help.  At first, she refuses, fearing that he is Death, trying to trick her. The twist is that he is Death trying to trick her, but not in a mean way, but only to show her death is a natural thing, part of life (the last part, to be sure) and not something to live in terror of. (One of the older ladies here opined that death probably would be less terrifying if it came in the form of a young Robert Redford. ;) )

 

In the end, this episode is actually kind of sweet, an interesting meditation on how everything has its time, and how the old eventually must make way for the new.

I think I have probably seen every TZ episode at least once. When I was in junior high school, my local PBS station ran them from 10:30-11:00P. That was past my bedtime, but I’d set my alarm, watch an episode and go back to bed five nights a week. This past January I bought 13 sets (65 episodes) of TZ adapted for radio. I’m about halfway through listening. It strikes me how many of the shows are visual, and how well the radio directors translate those visual elements to radio. Both “Night of the Meek” and “Nothing in the Dark” have been adapted for radio, but speaking of visual elements, IIRC correctly, “The Invaders” doesn’t even have any dialogue, does it?

Well, Moorehead never speaks. At the end, as part of the reveal, we hear one of the astronauts reporting back to Earth that they've encountered a planet of powerful giants. That's the only speech in the episode, apart form Serling's narration.

Twilight Zone's fourth season were hour long episodes. Despite some very good entries, most of them seemed padded needlessly and they went back to half-hour ones for the fifth.

Night of the Meek--Christmas in the Twilight Zone. This was one of several episodes shot directly on video-tape for budgetary reasons but it was very limiting. Carney's talent stops it from becoming too sappy.

The Invaders--One of the best. Despite having lasers (?), the scariest scene is where one astronauts stabs her with a huge (to him) kitchen knife! NASA was hardcore then!

Nothing In the Dark--a good episode highlighted by Redford's early appearance.

 

First up on Disk Two  is "Time Enough At Last",  Episode 8, written by Rod Serling from a short story by Lynn Venable, first broadcast November 20th, 1959. This is one of the more famous episodes, featuring the great Burgess Meredith as Henry Beemis, a near-sighted bank teller who is obsessed with reading, but who never finds the time to read, because his oppressive wife and boss never let him.  While he is down in the bank vault reading on his lunch hour, World War Three happens and he emerges to find himself the sole survivor. (This is sort of plausible, I've read about a guy who was only 1,500 feet away from ground zero for the Hiroshima bomb, but who survived because his boss sent him down to the vault to get something right before the bomb went off.)  After a period of shock and despait where he even contemplates suicide, he realizes that since he's alone in the world, he can finally do as much reading as he likes.  As he reaches for a book, his glasses fall off and break! This is particularly resonant for us super-mega myopic types - I'd be in deep if my glasses broke and I had no way to ever get a replacement.

 

This episode was good, maybe not quite as good as I remember it. The characters are drawn with very broad strokes. Beemis' boss is a total tyrant, his wife is an utter shrew. (There's a touch of "This guy is so henpecked, he lets his wife tell him what to do" to this.) Beemis himself seems a touch deranged - I'm an obsessive reader myself, and even I don't read as compulsively as he does! There's also no attention paid to things that only horrible nerdboy types like me worry about - there's no concern about radiation or fallout, or what he's going to do if he needs a root canal or things llike that. Of course, none of those things are necessary here - this is essentailly an extended "shaggy story", really, building to the punchline. For me, the most moving part of the story is in the middle, in the part where he is dealing with the concept of being alone in the world, and deciding whether or not he wants to go on.  (Would there be any point in going on, if you were literally the last person left?)

 

All in all, it's a good story, if not a perfect one, and helped along by Meredith being such a good actor.

 

 

 

 

The Invaders--One of the best. Despite having lasers (?), the scariest scene is where one astronauts stabs her with a huge (to him) kitchen knife! NASA was hardcore then!

 

Yeah, the astronauts in these don't seme to make any attmept to communicate with her - although, to be fair, she doesn't seme to be too open to - possibly not even capable of - communication.

For many years, the 4th season was never seen in syndication. However, in this day and age where it's more common to run TWO half-hour episodes of anything back-to-back than not, I'd say it should be much easier to slot those hour-long episodes. After all, chances are, the show is ALREADY taking up an hour of the schedule, so... WHY NOT???

The 80's revival, by the same thinking, should be made to be part of a SINGLE a package, intended for an hour time-slot, so the varying story lengths (some of which were LONGER than a half-hour) would be able to be rerun in their ORIGINAL format.

And then again... why doesn't some really ambitious distrubutor offer not only all 8 seasons of THE TWILIGHT ZONE as a single package, but the 3 seasons of NIGHT GALLERY as part of the SAME package? If I were running a TV station, I'd wanna run that!  (11 seasons worth of episodes) Any late-model specials made since then could also be added to the package to make it even more attractive.

I keep waiting for some distributor with a little imagination to do something like that with ALL of Gerry Anderson's shows. As I said, since it's become so common to run 2 30-min. shows back-to-back, that should make it easier to mix 30-min. and 60-min. shows together as a single package.  (A couple years ago, I dug out ALL my Gerry Anderson tapes and watched them as ONE big marathon. I started with the earliest I had-- STINGRAY-- and watched straight thru to SPACE PRECINCT. Which, in this case, meant the best was saved for last!  It was getting thru those damned SPACE: 1999s in the middle that was the most painful.)

“Time Enough at Last” may well have been the first episode of The Twilight Zone I ever saw. (It was either that or “To Serve Man.”) The part of Henry Beemis was played on radio (very well, I might add) by Tim Kazurinsky.

Speaking of Night Gallery (as Henry was, above), although I didn’t watch The Twilight Zone until later, I watched Night Gallery first run when I was younger. I still remember certain episodes quite vividly, although I have not an episode in 40 years. I loved the hook of the show: that each story was represented by a painting. (I seem to remember some of them being offered as posters in comic books of the day.) Those paintings would make a really good trading card set, with a summary of the episode on the back.

I'm pretty sure I saw Night Gallery first, too.

Next up is "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street", Episode 22, first broadcast March 4th, 1960, and written by Rod Serling.

It features Claude Akins in the story of how various power outages and other odd phenomena cause the people of a neighborhood to turn against one another and dissolve into a lawless mob. The reveal is all this is being orchestrated by aliens who, rather than invade militarily, are simply using people's fears and paranoia to mainpulate them into attacking their neighbors. 

 

It's an interesting little story - thank goodness it has no application today, modern Americans are far too sophisticated to fall for that sort of tactics... 

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