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 fifth season of this venerated series in a five disc set featuring all 36 episodes. 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 personally seen each episode of the entire series at least 75 times each over the years and that number is only getting bigger as I get older!
For its fifth and final season Serling & company scaled back from the hour long episodes of season four and returned to the previous thirty minute per episode length of seasons 1-3. Incredibly (Especially after the overall “Blah-ness” of season four, this last season featured what were undeniably some of the best episodes of the series entire run. The return to the 30 minute format must’ve felt like a coming home celebration for all involved since there were so many standout episodes here. Sadly the series didn’t return for a sixth season but The Twilight Zone will never really die thanks to fine releases like this one, will it?
What follows is a disc by disc breakdown of what’s included in this great package and my favorite episode on each disc.
Disc One Episodes
“In Praise Of Pip”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Joseph M. Newman. Starring Jack Klugman, Connie Gilchrist and Billy Mumy.
Synopsis: Bookie Max Phillips really doesn’t care that George Reynold lost the $300 he embezzled from his place of work and bet on a long shot. After he learns that his son Pip has been wounded in Vietnam, he realizes that he hasn’t done much with his life. He gets George his $300 but gets wounded in the process. He wishes that he could see his son just one more time…
“Steel”– Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by Don Weis. Starring Lee Marvin, Joe Mantell, Chuck Hicks.
Synopsis: In the near future boxing has been outlawed and is performed by mechanical robots. To replace his broken client, the manager decides to enter the ring and replace him.
“Nightmare At 20,000 Feet”– Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by Richard Donner. Starring William Shatner, Christine White.
Synopsis: A man, newly recovered from a nervous breakdown, becomes convinced that a monster only he sees is damaging the plane he’s flying in.
“A Kind Of A Stopwatch”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by John Rich. Starring Richard Erdman, Herbie Faye.
Synopsis: A man is given a stopwatch that halts time.
“The Last Night Of A Jockey”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Joseph M. Newman. Starring Mickey Rooney.
Synopsis: A washed-up jockey gets his wish while waiting for the results of his race fixing hearing.
“Living Doll”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Richard C. Sarafian. Starring Telly Savalas, Mary LaRoche.
Synopsis: A frustrated father does battle with his stepdaughter’s talking doll, whose vocabulary includes such phrases as “I hate you” and “I’m going to kill you”.
“The Old Man In The Cave”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Alan Crosland Jr. Starring James Coburn, John Anderson.
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic settlement, the inhabitants’ survival is dependent on the advice of an unseen man living in a nearby cave. This dependence is tested when a band of soldiers descends on their town.
Holy crap! The seven episodes featured here on disc one could stand alone as a “Best Of The Twilight Zone” DVD. Each & every one of them are certified classics of the series with episodes ranging in topics as diverse as a broken man looking to reconnect with his son to a town in thrall to a mysterious, unseen old man in a cave. But in between those far flung stories you’ll find a world in which boxing has been outlawed only to be practiced by humanoid robots, a jockey who faces an uncertain future alone on a cheap hotel room, tortured by himself, an annoying little man who becomes the owner of a stopwatch that can stop time, a man who thinks he sees something on the wing of the airplane he’s flying in AND what I consider the scariest 30 minutes ever produced for television, “Living Doll”. The story of a man recently remarried to a woman with a young daughter and the doll she carries around with her constantly. But this doll isn’t like any other doll, this doll demands to be loved and when Erich Streator (Telly Savalas) professes his dislike for the toy it threatens to kill him! I cannot emphasize how much this episode scared the stuffing outta me as a child and I firmly believe that this is why I have a morbid fear of dolls & their ilk to this day (Something that my family and friends never let me forget!). It is the scariest episode of the entire series and it makes me wish that the series had taken a few more excursions into horror. Once seen, it’s never forgotten.
Disc Two Episodes
“Uncle Simon”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Don Siegel. Starring Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Ford, Ian Wolfe.
Synopsis: Caregiver Barbara Polk must take care of her uncle’s robot after his untimely and accidental death.
“Probe 7 Over And Out”– Written By Rod Serling. Directed By Ted Post. Starring Richard Basehart, Antoinette Bower, Harold Gould.
Synopsis: Colonel Cook stranded on another planet with no hope for rescue meets a woman who is the sole survivor from another planet.
“The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Alan Crosland Jr. Starring Ron Foster, Warren Oates.
Synopsis: Three 1960’s Army National Guard soldiers on maneuvers near the Little Big Horn battle site find themselves unwittingly involved in Custer’s last stand.
“A Short Drink From A Certain Fountain”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Bernard Girard. Starring Patrick O’Neal, Ruta Lee.
Synopsis: An aging married man convinces his brother to inject him with a youth serum.
“Ninety Years Without Slumbering”– Written by Richard De Roy. Directed by Roger Kay. Starring Ed Wynn, Carolyn Kearney.
Synopsis: An old man believes that his life will end the moment his grandfather clock stops ticking.
“Ring-A-Ding Girl”– Written by Earl Hamner Jr. Directed by Alan Crosland Jr. Starring Maggie McNamara, Mary Munday.
Synopsis: Movie star Bunny Blake receives a ring from her hometown which is giving her warnings to come home while she flies cross country.
“You Drive”– Written by Earl Hamner Jr. Directed by John Brahm. Starring Edward Andrews, Helen Westcott, Kevin Hagen.
Synopsis: After being involved in a hit-and-run killing a child, Mr. Oliver Pope is haunted by his car.
Disc two might feel like something of a letdown considering how entertaining disc one is but make no mistake, it contains some great episodes featuring an old man pining for his youth to satisfy his far younger wife, A group of soldiers who find themselves fighting alongside General Custer during his famed last stand, an astronaut stranded on a planet with no way to return to earth, an old man who fears that if his grandfather clock stops ticking, so will his heart, a movie star whose ring is frantically warning her to return to her hometown before it’s too late and a man who kills a child in a hit and run who finds that his car might have something to say about his actions. But my favorite episode here is “Uncle Simon”, in which a young woman is beholden to care for her aged uncle who berates and belittles her every chance he gets. But he is wealthy and she is the sole beneficiary in his will so she trudges along. Her uncle spends a lot of time in his basement laboratory and once he suddenly passes away in an accident she realizes that although now she is a wealthy woman, the will demands that she must remain in the home along with the robot her uncle created in his laboratory. A robot programmed with his personality! This episode brings together all of the classic tropes that the show revolutionized and it does it with just the right atmosphere. And it features one of the best twists of the entire series.
Disc Three Episodes
“The Long Morrow”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Robert Florey. Starring Robert Lansing, Mariette Hartley.
Synopsis: Before leaving on a decades long mission, astronaut Douglas Stansfield meets a woman and falls in love.
“The Self Improvement Of Salvadore Ross”– Written By Jerry McNeely. Directed by Don Siegel. Starring Don Gordon, Gail Kobe.
Synopsis: Salvadore Ross has a unique talent where he can trade physical characteristics with other people and will do anything to get the love of Leah Maitland.
“Number 12 Looks Just Like You”– Written by Charles Beaumont, John Tomerlin. Directed by Abner Biberman. Starring Colin Wilcox Paxton, Richard Long, Pamela Austin.
Synopsis: In a future society everyone must undergo an operation at age 19 to become beautiful and conform to society. One young woman desperately wants to hold onto her own identity.
“Black Leather Jackets”– Written by Earl Hamner. Directed by Joseph M. Newman. Starring Lee Kinsolving, Shelley Fabares.
Synopsis: Three leather jacket wearing, motorcycle riding men invade a peaceful neighborhood.
“Night Call”– Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Starring Gladys Cooper, Nora Marlowe.
Synopsis: Telephone calls begin to haunt a disabled elderly woman.
“From Agnes – With Love”– Written by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Wally Cox, Sue Randall.
Synopsis: A computer technician begins to take advice for his love life from Agnes, the computer he works with.
“Spur Of The Moment”– Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by Eliot Silverstein. Starring Diana Hyland, Marsha Hunt.
Synopsis: An engaged heiress is terrorized by a middle-aged woman on a horse pleading with her not to go through with her impending marriage.
Of the five discs included in this package disc three is the weakest. Featuring stories that don’t really illustrate the whole idea of what The Twilight Zone meant to me, it still has a couple of winners and one of the all time classics of the series as well. “The Self Improvement Of Salvadore Ross”, “Black Leather Jackets”, “Spur Of The Moment” and “From Agnes – With Love” are fairly rudimentary entries with nothing to make you want to revisit them at a later date (Especially “Black Leather Jackets”). But famed noir director Jacques Tourneur thought enough of Richard Matheson’s script for Night Call to direct and together the duo do an outstanding job of bringing something distinctly creepy to their episode. You might have seen it done since but never this well and the ending manages to turn the entire episode on its ear and transforms what was (Up to that point) scary into something terribly tragic & sad. But the true standout episode here is Number 12 Looks Just Like You, which is still just as potent a critique of today’s obsession with youth and appearance today as it was then. It strikes each and every one of it’s points dead on and does so with just a touch of humor and pathos. An amazingly prescient and relevant episode and proof that Serling was constantly looking for stories that stirred not only the emotions but the psyche of his audience.
Disc Four Episodes
“An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”– Written by Ambrose Bierce. Directed by Robert Enrico. Starring Roger Jacquet, Anne Cornaly.
Synopsis: A Southern resistance fighter is being executed by hanging in the South at the end of the Civil War by Union troops. Something seems to go wrong and he seems to escape. Will he escape or will the Union soldiers recapture him?
“Queen Of The Nile”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by John Brahm. Starring Anne Blyth, Lee Philips, Celia Lovsky.
Synopsis: A reporter interviews a Hollywood movie queen who has a secret to her eternal beauty.
“What’s In The Box”– Written by Martin Goldsmith. Directed by Richard L. Bare. Starring William Demarest, Joan Blondell.
Synopsis: Philanderer Joe Britt sees his indiscretions shown on his own TV set after it was worked on by a very unique repairman.
“The Masks”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Ida Lupino. Starring Robert Keith, Milton Selzer, Virginia Gregg.
Synopsis: Wealthy Jason Foster is dying and he invites his greedy heirs to a Mardi Gras party where they must wear the masks he specially had made for them or else be cut off from their inheritance.
“I Am The Night – Color Me Black”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Abner Biberman. Starring Michael Constantine, Paul Fix.
Synopsis: The sun won’t rise on a small town where an execution is scheduled to take place.
“Sounds And Silences”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Richard Donner. Starring John McGiver, Michael Fox, Renee Aubry.
Synopsis: Roswell Flemington enjoys loud noises, is an annoyance to others and is suitably punished.
“Caesar And Me”– Written by Adele T. Strassfield. Directed by Robert Butler. Starring Jackie Cooper, Morgan Brittany.
Synopsis: When ventriloquist Jonathan West can not find any work his dummy Caesar suggests he turn to robbery.
“The Jeopardy Room”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Martin Landau, Bob Kelljan.
Synopsis: A defector is trapped in a hotel room and given 3 hours to find a hidden bomb.
Disc four has eight distinctly diverse episodes than run the gamut from mildly humorous (What’s In The Box, Sounds And Silences) to dramatic & tense (The Jeopardy Room, I Am The Night – Color Me Black, Queen Of The Nile) to flat out scary (The Masks, Caesar And Me). But the standout episodes for me are Serling’s I Am The Night – Color Me Black which is an incredible statement on racism and hatred that will still kick you in the head with it’s story and incredibly tragic final scene. Michael Constantine’s final monologue is unforgettable and I don’t think this episode gets the respect it deserves. Caesar And Me takes us back to the land of dolls (In this case a ventriloquists dummy) that are alive and evil. What makes this episode different is that it also features a little girl (Morgan Brittany) who might be even more rotten than the dummy is! This one features an especially nasty ending that must’ve shocked audiences back in 1964 and it’s still rather nasty today! But the best episode here is Serling’s The Masks, which bundles together every single facet of what made The Twilight Zone such a special and unique show and dares the audience to stick with it till it’s depressing and dour final scene. The story of an elderly millionaire who summons his greedy, spoiled and unlikable family to his death bed on New Year’s Eve to give them one final gift before he passes away, it’s an especially slow moving episode but that works in its favor as it gives the audience time to really despise the characters and yet one can’t help but feel a smidge of pity for them on it’s final scene. The power of the script is the way it toys with the audience’s emotions before bringing the hammer down on them. This is one of those episodes that everyone has seen and never forgotten, sheer brilliance!
Disc Five Episodes
“Stopover in a Quiet Town– Written by Earl Hamner Jr. Directed by Ron Winston. Starring Barry Nelson, Nancy Malone.
Synopsis: Young New York married couple Bob and Millie Frazier leave a party after drinking too much. They wake up in Centerville, a small town where no one lives, houses are empty, trees are props, food is plastic, and the only train comes right back to Centerville.
“The Encounter– Written by Martin Goldsmith. Directed by Robert Butler. Starring Neville Brand, George Takei.
Synopsis: A conversation between a WWII vet and a Japanese gardener takes place in the vet’s attic. Trapped together they face off and accusations fly as they have flashbacks and discuss the war. Both reveal how it affected them leading to a violent climax.
“Mr. Garrity and the Graves”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Ted Post. Starring John Dehner, Stanley Adams.
Synopsis: Mr. Garrity comes into town offering to resurrect the dead and reunite the townsfolk with their departed loved ones out of the goodness of his heart. Do the town-folks want these miracles to occur?
“The Brain Center at Whipple’s– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Richard Deacon, Paul Newlan.
Synopsis: A heartless CEO completely automates his factory and lays off almost all of his workers over the objections of his employees.
“Come Wander With Me”– Written by Anthony Wilson. Directed by Richard Donner. Starring Gary Crosby, Bonnie Beecher.
Synopsis: Singer Floyd Burney searches the backwoods for new songs and finds Mary Rachel and much more…
“The Fear”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Ted Post. Starring Peter Mark Richman, Hazel Court.
Synopsis: Charlotte Scott and policeman Robert Franklin seem to be stalked by giants.
“The Bewitchin’ Pool”– Written by Earl Hamner Jr. Directed by Joseph M. Newman. Starring Mary Badham, Dee Hartford.
Synopsis: Two children escape their bickering parents through a portal in the bottom of their swimming pool to a magical land watched over by a kindly old woman the children call Aunt T.
Disc five contains the final seven episodes of this legendary series and ends the collection in a most satisfying manner. “Stopover in a Quiet Town” is one of the most mind bending episodes of the entire series with a man and a woman awakening after a party only to find themselves in an empty town that seems to be devoid of any life whatsoever. And who is that little girl they hear laughing every so often? The ending to this one is another classic jolt to the senses. “The Fear” is a good little episode but far too reminiscent of season two’s classic entry The Invaders to make much of an impact. “The Encounter” & “Come Wander With Me” offer little more than something to keep you busy for 30 minutes if nothing else is available. Both feature off kilter performances (And I mean that in a negative way) and uninspired stories that aren’t quite up to snuff. The Brain Center at Whipple’s is more in line with the type of story you’d find in the series with Richard Deacon offering up a great performance as a manager who’s slowly replacing all his human workers with computers. In classic Zone fashion he fails to see the big picture until the end and by then it’s far too late. One of the scariest episodes of the series entire run was “Mr. Garrity and The Graves”, in which Jared Garrity (John Dehner) comes into a small western town offering to resurrect the deceased relatives of the townsfolk for no charge whatsoever, he only wants to see everyone reunited with their loved ones….or does he? Although it’s played mostly for laughs, it ends on one of the scariest notes of any episode of the series. One that resonated with me for years afterwards! It’s not spoken of often but it’s a keeper in the best sense of the word. The series ended it’s five year run with “The Bewitchin’ Pool”, which plays put as a sort of warning to parents who spoil yet ignore their children whether due to arguments or something else. Here two children escape their parents through a portal located at the bottom of their pool. Once on the other side they meet the lovely Aunt T. (“Auntie” get it?) who just loves children and has dozens of them living with her. All of them living their lives as children should be living them, by having fun with nary a care in the world. But once Aunt T invites the kids to stay, one of them has second thoughts while the other loves the idea of never returning back to their bickering parents ever again. Although hampered by the unexplainable decision to have June Foray dub over the lines of one of the children in a most annoying fashion, it’s a finely tuned effort and a nice, quiet way to end the series, no twist ending here, just a family realizing what’s really important in life. And after this episode aired on June 19th,1964, it was all over for Mr. Serling and The Twilight Zone”. But as we all know, the show lives on in syndication and I really doubt that it will ever fully leave the airwaves. Millions upon millions of people have grown up watching this show and future generations will discover it and worship at it’s altar as we all do today. It’s definitely one of the ten best television shows ever produced!
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! 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 FIFTH SEASON” 5 DVD box set is now available from IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT at a retailer near you.