Rod Serling’s seminal anthology series focused on ordinary folks who suddenly found themselves in extraordinary, usually supernatural, situations. The stories would typically end with an ironic twist that would see the guilty punished.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE remains television’s most treasured anthology program. The brainchild of writer and narrator Rod Serling — inspired by the pulp comics, novels and sci-fi films of his youth — the series introduced its own special brand of weirdness to viewers on October 2, 1959. As a program that correctly billed itself as one “of shadow and substance, of things and ideas,” The Twilight Zone left indelible tracks — not to mention unforgettable theme music — and created stars both on-screen William Shatner and off-screen — directing vets include Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry), Richard Donner (The Omen, Lethal Weapon) and Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker).
Now from IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT (An RLJ ENTERTAINMENT brand) comes an episode only release of the complete second season of this venerated series in a five disc set featuring all 29 episodes of the second series. There’s absolutely nothing negative I can possibly say about this series at all and I’m not even going to try. It’s a family tradition here in the mausoleum to watch the annual “TWILIGHT ZONE” marathon that comes at the end of the year and it’s gonna remain that way! I’ve seen each episode of the entire series at least 75 times each over the years and that number is only get bigger as I get older! What follows is a disc by disc breakdown of what’s included in this fine package and my favorite episode on each disc.
DISC ONE EPISODES:
“King Nine Will Not Return” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Buzz Kulik. Starring Robert Cummings.
Synopsis: A pilot of a downed WW II bomber comes to in the African desert and desperately tries to find out what happened to the rest of his crew.
“The Man In The Bottle” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Don Medford. Starring Luther Adler, Vivi Janiss.
Synopsis: A luckless couple stumbles upon fortune when a genie materializes from a bottle in their antique shop. The genie grants them four wishes but warns them, prophetically, to be careful what you wish for.
“Nervous Man In A Four Dollar Room” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Douglas Heyes. Starring Joe Mantell.
Synopsis: Small time criminal Jackie Rhoades must face both his past and his conscience while waiting for his next assignment.
“A Thing About Machines” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by David Orrick McDearmon. Starring Richard Haydn.
Synopsis: Bartlett Finchley’s paranoia about the machines around proves true.
“The Howling Man” – Written by Charles Beaumont & Rod Serling. Directed by Douglas Heyes. Starring John Carradine, H.M. Wyant.
Synopsis: Seeking refuge from a storm, traveler David Ellington comes upon a bizarre hermitage of monks, who have imprisoned a man who begs for his help. When David confronts the head monk Brother Jerome, he is told that the man is the devil, and David must decide who to believe.
“Eye Of The Beholder” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Douglas Heyes. Starring Maxine Stuart, William D. Gordon.
Synopsis: A young woman lying in a hospital bed, her head wrapped in bandages, awaits the outcome of a surgical procedure performed by the State in a last-ditch attempt to make her look “normal”.
Disc one features some of the most intense episodes of the entire series! Although it starts off with one of the weaker entries (King Nine Will Not Return) it ends with one of the all time classic episodes (Eye Of The Beholder) and in between those two are some true gems of the series. My favorite episode on disc one is also one of the scariest ones, The Howling Man. Telling the story of David Ellington (H.M. Wyant) a weary traveler who comes upon a monastery and upon being granted shelter for the evening discovers an imprisoned man who tells him that the monks are mad. When he confronts the lead monk, Brother Jerome (John Carradine), he’s told that their prisoner is no ordinary man. Their prisoner is the devil himself and as long as he’s kept prisoner the world will be a better place. Will David believe Brother Jerome or the imprisoned man whose howls echo throughout the monastery every night? Incredibly impassioned performances from all and one of the all time classic finales of the series make this one for the ages and a personal favorite.
DISC TWO EPISODES:
“Nick Of Time” – Written by Richard Matheson & Rod Serling. Directed by Richard L. Bare. Starring William Shatner, Patricia Breslin.
Synopsis: A pair of newlyweds stopping in a small town are trapped by their own superstition when playing a fortune telling machine in a local diner.
“The Lateness Of The Hour” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Jack Smight. Starring Inger Stevens, John Hoyt.
Synopsis: The daughter of an inventor objects to their “perfect” home where they are waited on by mechanical servants.
“The Trouble With Templeton” – Written by E. Jack Neuman & Rod Serling. Directed by Buzz Kulik. Starring Brian Aherne, Pippa Scott.
Synopsis: A nostalgic actor revisits his late wife and friends at their old haunt, only to find that he is now out of place there.
“A Most Unusual Camera” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by John Rich. Starring Fred Clark, Jean Carson, Adam Williams.
Synopsis: When three dum-dum crooks get hold of a camera that takes pictures of the future, they set out to make a quick fortune with their new toy.
“The Night Of The Meek” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Jack Smight. Starring Art Carney, John Fielder.
Synopsis: After a derelict Santa Claus is fired on Christmas Eve, he finds a mysterious bag that gives out presents. With this bag he sets out to fulfill his one wish – to see the less fortunate inherit the bounties of Christmas.
“Dust” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Douglas Heyes. Starring Thomas Gomez, John Larch.
Synopsis: In a tragic, western town, a desperate father begs for clemency as his son is slated to die for an accident he could not have prevented. As the son’s final hour draws near, the father is approached by a despicable salesman, who offers to sell him ‘magic dust’ that will evoke the townsfolk’s sympathy.
Disc two is the weakest disc of this collection but that doesn’t mean that the episodes within aren’t any good. Most of them just pale alongside some of the other entries in this collection although there is one classic entry here as well! It’s called “Nick Of Time” and it’s another one of those amazing entries that always made me wonder “What if?” and features William Shatner in one of his two appearances on the show (The other being perennial favorite “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). It tells the story of a newlywed couple who stop off for lunch at a local diner as they’re getting their car attended to. On the table they sit at is a small fortune telling machine with a devil’s head bobbing on top of it. They put a penny into the machine and get a small card telling their fortune but incredibly the little machine is right and they slowly fall under it’s sway as it’s answers begin to destroy their relationship and their lives. It’s testament to Serling’s writing that such a seemingly mundane idea can still carry so much emotional heft to this day. To think that a pair of grown adults would actually allow themselves to listen to what a small metal box tells them is incredibly prescient, especially in today’s age (Hello iPhone 5 with SIRI)! And although it all ends happily for the couple in question it still has a bittersweet sting waiting for another couple. Good performances and a silly idea that ends up carrying some real emotional heft make this one of the best episodes of the series and another personal favorite.
DISC THREE EPISODES:
“Back There” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by David Orrick McDearmon. Starring Russell Johnson, Paul Hartman.
Synopsis: At a prominent club in Washington, D.C., a socialite argues about whether it would be possible to change history by traveling back in time. When he leaves the club he finds himself in 1865, on the night that President Lincoln will be shot.
“The Whole Truth” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by James Sheldon. Starring Jack Carson.
Synopsis: A used car salesman buys a car that dooms him to tell only the truth!
“The Invaders” – Written by Richard Matheson & Rod Serling. Directed by Douglas Heyes. Starring Agnes Moorhead.
Synopsis: When a woman investigates a clamor on the roof of her rural house, she discovers a small UFO and little aliens emerging from it. Or so it seems.
“A Penny For Your Thoughts” – Written by George Clayton Johnson & Rod Serling. Directed by James Sheldon. Starring Dick York, June Dayton.
Synopsis: Gaining telepathic abilities when his coin lands on its edge bank clerk Hector B. Poole learns about the difference between other people’s plans and fantasies.
“Twenty Two” – Written by Bennett Cerf & Rod Serling. Directed by Jack Smight. Starring Barbara, Jonathan Harris.
Synopsis: While in the hospital recovering from overwork, Liz Powell keeps dreaming about going down to the hospital morgue.
“The Odyssey Of Flight 33″ – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Jus Addiss. Starring John Anderson, Sandy Kenyon, Paul Comi.
Synopsis: Passing through the sound barrier a commercial airliner inadvertently travels back in time.
Disc three features not one but two episodes that deal with time travel (“Back There” & “The Odyssey Of Flight 33″), one about a nightmare that is coming true (“Twenty Two”) and a couple of light hearted ones about ordinary men gaining extraordinary powers (“The Whole Truth” & “A Penny For Your Thoughts”) and as good as they are the standout episode here is “The Invaders”, featuring Agnes Moorhead (In one of the best performances ever featured in the series) as a woman living alone in a cabin that’s suddenly under siege by pint size aliens. The denouement of this episode is one of the best examples of Serling’s talent for pulling the rug out from underneath the viewer and changing everything that took place beforehand. It still kicks me in the ass each and every time I watch it, it’s that amazing. And Moorhead’s wordless performance (She does moan a bit) is a 30 minute masterclass in acting. It’s truly one of the crown jewels of the series.
DISC FOUR EPISODES:
“Mr. Dingle, The Strong” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by John Brahm. Starring Burgess Meredith, Don Rickles.
Synopsis: A timid vacuum-cleaner salesman is given the strength of 300 men by some experimenting aliens.
“Static” – Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Buzz Kulik. Starring Dean Jagger, Carmen Mathews.
Synopsis: An old radio is taking bitter bachelor Ed Lindsay back to a happier time before what he considers worthless tripe on television when he starts picking up radio programs from the 1930’s and 1940’s.
“The Prime Mover” – Written by Charles Beaumont & Rod Serling. Directed by Richard L. Bare. Starring Buddy Ebsen, Dane Clark.
Synopsis: A compulsive gambler cajoles his friend to use his telekinesis to affect the results of the gambling tables in Las Vegas.
“Long Distance Call” – Written by Charles Beaumont & Bill Idelson. Directed by James Sheldon. Starring Billy Mumy, Philip Abbott, Lili Darvas, Patricia Smith.
Synopsis: A toy telephone becomes the link between a young boy and his dead grandmother.
“A Hundred Yards Over The Rim” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Buzz Kulik. Starring Cliff Robertson, John Crawford.
Synopsis: A pioneer from a wagon train in 1847 sets off to find something for his ill son and stumbles into present day New Mexico.
“The Rip Van Winkle Caper” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Jus Addiss. Starring Simon Oakland, Oscar Beregi Jr.
Synopsis: After successfully stealing a gold shipment, a group of criminals and their scientist accomplice put themselves in suspended animation in a remote desert cave. When they awaken decades later, complications ensue when their truck is destroyed.
Disc four of the collection features two more time travel tales (“A Hundred Yards Over The Rim”, “The Rip Van Winkle Caper”), one that leans in that direction (“Static”), two light hearted ones (“Mr. Dingle, The Strong, The Prime Mover”) and one frightening episode that picks on the fears of parenthood and losing a child (“Long Distance Call”). All of them are excellent but the stand out here is “Mr. Dingle, The Strong” featuring Burgess Meredith as a timid, mild mannered man who’s constantly harangued at the local bar he frequents. At least until he’s chosen by a pair of aliens who are experimenting with humans and make him the strongest man in the world for a few days. Meredith starred in four episodes of the series (Including “Time Enough At Last”, “The Obsolete Man” & “Printer’s Devil”) and all of them are rightfully considered classics of the form and are beloved by all who’ve seen them. Meredith was so connected with the series that he even narrated the feature film based on it, “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983). This episode is funny yet bittersweet as well since just when Mr. Dingle thinks it’s all over, he finds that it’s only just begun and he might just be the one human who is perfect for aliens to experiment on.
DISC FIVE EPISODES:
“The Silence” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Boris Sagal. Starring Franchot Tone, Liam Sullivan.
Synopsis: Annoyed by a club member’s constant chatter, a man bets him he cannot remain silent for a year, living in a glass enclosure in the club basement.
“Shadow Play” – Written by Charles Beaumont & Rod Serling. Directed by John Brahm. Starring Dennis Weaver, Harry Townes.
Synopsis: When Adam Grant is found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced he lashes out telling everyone that he will not be murdered again. Grant claims to be having a recurring nightmare where he is found guilty and executed. The characters around him change and so he argues that all of them will vanish if he dies. It leads newspaperman Paul Carson to question what is real and what might just be a figment of someone else’s imagination. DA Henry Ritchie visits Grant in jail and decides to try and do something about his claims, no matter how far-fetched his claims might be.
“The Mind And The Matter” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Buzz Kulik. Starring Shelley Berman, Jack Grinnage.
Synopsis: Using the power of mind over matter, Archibald Beechcroft remakes the world to his own specifications.
“Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Montgomery Pittman. Starring John Hoyt, Jack Elam, Jean Willes.
Synopsis: Following a frantic phone call about a crashed spaceship, two policeman try and determine who among the passengers of a bus at a snowed-in roadside diner is from another world.
“The Obsolete Man” – Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Eliot Silverstein. Starring Burgess Meredith, Fritz Weaver.
Synopsis: In a future totalitarian society, a librarian is declared obsolete and sentenced to death.
The fifth and final disc of the collection features a dystopian future in which a librarian finds he is no longer necessary, A group of stranded bus passengers who find themselves questioning whether or not one of them is human, a man who is being tortured by a nightmare that just won’t end, two men who agree to a most bizarre wager and an episode featuring a man who decides that he hates everyone and desires to be all alone on the planet. It’s called “The Mind And The Matter” and it’s the standout episode on the fifth disc for me although disc five contains three other episodes that are better known (“The Silence”, “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up” & “The Obsolete Man”). But since I identify with Mr. Beechcroft and his utter disdain for everyone around him, “The Mind And The Matter” is my fave on the disc. It’s played for laughs but it’s actually a fairly nightmarish scenario as Mr. Beechcraft (Comedian Shelley Berman in a good performance) finds out. It’s another “Be careful of what you ask for. You just might get it” episodes that Serling is so identified with and it’s incredibly entertaining.
The package also contains the original interstitials that originally aired with each episode. It gave all of them a bit of variety for me as I’ve never seen Serling give a preview of the next episode during any of the myriad views I’ve had of this series. Picture quality is gorgeous and the sound is as good as I’ve ever heard it as well. There are no extras to be found on any of the discs but does it really matter? It’s the friggin’ TWILIGHT ZONE people! Over five hours of some of the best entertainment ever produced for television and at a great price to boot! You just can’t go wrong with this package so don’t miss out on it!
“THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON” 5 DVD box set is now available from IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT at a store near you.
TV Review: The Twilight Zone: The Complete Second Season (1960/2013)