Continuing my batch-reviews of The Twilight Zone's first season on Blu-ray (following part 1 and part 2), here are the next eight episodes that all aired in 1960, featuring a strange hitch-hiker, a time-travelling pilot, a gambling addict, scheming aliens, a duplicate of Earth, and a precognitive soldier...
Like many episodes, there are moments that look silly today (Nan's demure reaction to the impossibility of the hitch-hiker's movements, or a misjudged shot when the hitcher breaks the fourth wall), but overall this episode hasn't aged too badly. It works more in retrospect once the twist-ending's revealed, there's no doubt, but Stevens makes for a beguiling protagonist (particularly in the scene where the penny drops about what's going on during a phone call to her mother), there's a fun Hitchcockian flavour to the tale, and the eerie anxiety simmers nicely. / written by Rod Serling (based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher) / directed by Alvin Ganzer / 22 January 1960
"The Fever" doesn't feel like a Twilight Zone episode for the majority of its runtime; more a basic example of how dangerous gambling can be for the weak-willed. This works well, though, despite the slightly implausible speed in which Franklin becomes a slave to the slots. A particularly brilliant effect was to have Franklin imagine his name being called in the jangling sound of dispensed coins, enticing him back to the casino in the dead of night. Unfortunately, despite building a palpable sense of Franklin's desperation to win his money back, the story takes a silly twist when Franklin starts to imagine the slot machine's literally come to life, eventually leading to a fall through a closed window that snaps credibility. It's a shame Serling's added something silly to the end of this story, when there were more realistic options available for a resolution. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Robert Florey / 29 January 1960
Time-travel's my favourite SF sub-genre and "The Last Flight" is a classic example, if unsophisticated by modern standards. But it's still a great "what if?" idea, neatly told and containing fine performances from Haigh as the out of time pilot and Scott as the Major who begins to believe this Englishman's tall story. The resolution is also satisfying and surprisingly poignant, given what we learn about Decker's cowardice, and it's largely impossible to dislike Matheson's tight, flowing story. It's predictable in terms of big surprises, but sometimes you just want to sit back and watch something trot along in an entertaining manner. For me, this is the best episode of The Twilight Zone so far. / written by Richard Matheson / directed by William Claxton / 5 February 1960
Charles Beaumont's script (adapted from his own short story) provides a fun starting point, but ultimately proves how important a mystery's explanation is. "Elegy" doesn't make a lick of sense, turning the whole episode into a wasted opportunity. It's also becoming noticeable how often Zone covers similar territory: how many peculiar towns, creepy strangers, and trios of astronauts have we seen this season alone? Too many. To end on a positive note: it never fails to amuse me when classic SF refers to "future events" that never came to pass in reality, and here it's mentioned that nuclear war almost destroyed the Earth in... um, 1985. / written by Charles Beaumont / directed by Douglas Heyes / 19 February 1960
Sadly, there's no real time or intention to explore what's going on any more deeply than Millicent occasionally catching sight of her twin and screaming and/or fainting—much to the annoyance of the cantankerous ticket agent. That is until a kindly fellow passenger called Paul (Martin Milner) hears her incredible theory, but then the story's allowed to trickle to a pretty disappointing climax. Still, this episode's nicely directed by Brahm, unnerving at times (there's a fun first reveal of Millicent's double in a mirror), and I suppose the lack of any explanation gives you something to think about as the credits roll. / written by Rod Serling / directed by John Brahm / 26 February 1960
Ignoring that absurdity, the intentions behind the tale are strong and interesting, as the people of Maple Street slowly turn on each other as their unspoken prejudices turn into frightened hysteria. The big reveal—that aliens orchestrated everyone's breakdown, intending to slowly destroy humanity by needling the tensions that lie beneath society's skin—was also nicely done. An influential and clever piece of social commentary by Serling (inspired by the era's fear of communism and Soviet spies), but one where you have to swallow a few stupid moments to get the ball rolling. / written by Rod Serling / directed by Ronald Winston / 4 March 1960