As announced recently, here's the first batch of my planned reviews of THE TWILIGHT ZONE's first season (1959-60) to celebrate Rod Serling's classic anthology making its debut on high-definition Blu-ray. I hope these reviews will entertain existing fans, but also draw some newcomers to this acclaimed, pioneering television drama. I'm at the mercy of my LoveFilm rental queue, so I'm not sure how frequent these batch-reviews will be, but I'll be posting reviews covering each disc's episodes as and when...
In many ways this opener encapsulates the embryonic series (strong Americana, a baffled everyman, pervasive atmosphere, a twist-ending), but it's still slightly anemic. The man's dialogue is more for the benefit of viewers than realistic self-comforting talk, and while the twist in the tail's unpredictable it's also quite weak by the show's standards. Still, Holliman performs the material well, there's a terrific camera trick involving a smashed mirror, it's bizarre seeing the "Courthouse Square" set (used as Back To The Future's Hill Valley) in a genuine 1950s context, and its theme of isolation and loneliness obviously haven't dated as badly as talk about microfilms being used to store books on. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Robert Stevens / 2 October 1959
There's a nice idea simmering throughout this episode, but it's unfortunate Wynn isn't terribly convincing as a salesman, which kills an already unconvincing climax where Bookman's super-pitch is supposed to mesmerize Death into missing his rearranged appointment. And for modern audiences, too much feels illogical or daft: could Death really be fooled so easily by Bookman? Why is Death's attention taken with material concerns like neck-ties? Why does Bookman continue to see Death after avoiding his fate? An appealing story in some respects, but a minor chapter in the show's history. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Robert Parrish / 9 October 1959
To be honest, the addition of Fate as a actual character confused me. Why would Denton care about a potion if his aim was seemingly super-accurate without it--as far as he was concerned, unaware Fate was lending a hand from the very start? My guess is that Serling just likes the idea of ordinary people encountering embodiments of existential things, and it's a handy way to impart knowledge with dialogue. There's a lovely twist to the tale regarding Denton's challenger, and the overall moral of the story has a neatness that lingers for awhile. Twilight Zone sometimes feels like adult Aesop Fables, and this episode's strong evidence of that. Factor in a good performance from Western veteran Duryea, who makes for a sympathetic and a plausible drunk, and a fun early appearance by the now-legendary Landau, and you have a good episode with questionable superfluities. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Allen Reisner / 16 October 1959
This is a Sunset Boulevard-inspired episode of mixed success. The performances are good from Lupino as the delusional prima donna and Balsam as her patient agent, but it's essentially an episode that spends the majority of its time reiterating the same points about Barbara's state of mind. And by the time the twist comes, with Barbara's wish to return to the good ol' days, we've had too much time to predict it. Still, the theme's a strong one that's even more relevant today, as nostalgia and "living in the past" has become more commonplace, and the characters are well-drawn. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Mitchell Leisen / 23 October 1959
Time magazine heralded "Walking Distance" the eighth best Twilight Zone episode ever made, and it's certainly a very strong one. Some of its ideas are no longer particularly clever (although I love the moment when Martin suffers leg pain when he accidentally caused his 11-year-old self to fall off a carousel), and there are some noticeable flaws (why doesn't the man in the diner react strangely when Martin's talking about a long-dead janitor who's very much alive?), but there's a beautiful sweetness to this story that takes advantage of nostalgia for childhood innocence. Plus, there's a great score from Psycho composer Bernard Hermann. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Robert Stevens / 30 October 1959
I didn't like this episode, as nothing about it felt logical enough to me. Bedeker's reaction to the arrival of The Devil didn't feel realistic (at least Bookman in "One For The Angels" demanded proof of Mr Death), and it just struck me as ridiculous a reclusive man would spend eternity trying to kill himself as a scam. Added to that, Bedeker wasn't enough of a sympathetic character (he barely batted an eyelid when his poor wife fell to her death!), and the outcome was painfully obvious in a "be careful what you wish for..." sense. Even accepting this must have felt fresh and clever to its original audience, I didn't warm to "Escape Clause" because it now feels built on a shaky, specious structure. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Mitchell Leisen / 6 November 1959
It's silly how Allenby's crew have negligible time to chat with Corry, or that their employers would think it makes sense to keep individual prisoners 9,000,000 miles away on separate asteroids, but it's becoming obvious Zone's finer details can appear strange, naive or occasionally stupid from a 21st-century perspective with modern demands. That said, I rather enjoyed this episode's core idea, although it only really amounted to anything once Corry's asked to give up his artificial companion for his freedom (the rocket can't carry Alicia's weigh, or make a return trip for her.) It's just a pity the ending didn't feel like the best creative option available to Serling. Alicia winds up "killed" by Allenby so Corry can leave the asteroid, which takes the issue completely out of the lead character's hands. It's a sad ending, sure, but it also washes its hands of something stickier. I'd have preferred Alicia being left alone for eternity in Corry's place, effectively inheriting her human friend's punishment. But what do I know, right? / written by Rod Serling / directed by Jack Smight / 13 November 1959