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 fourth season of this venerated series in a five disc set featuring all 18 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 get bigger as I get older!
As the series chugged into it’s next to last season one big change was made in an attempt to woo viewers back to the flagging franchise. Episodes were now running 60 minutes long as opposed to the 30 minute running length of the previous seasons episodes. Some season four episodes used this to their advantage by fleshing out characterizations and adding depth to their central stories. But most of them seemed to be a bit confused by the new running length required of them and a lot of the episodes feel like there’s a great deal of filler added to them and start to drag a bit.
But we’re not talking any old series here are we? We’re talking The Twilight Zone! And because of this (And Serling’s commitment to produce serious drama for television) it was still unlike anything ever seen on TV at the time. And quite frankly, it still is.
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 His Image”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Perry Lafferty. Starring George Grizzard, Gail Kobe.
Synopsis: A young man grapples with an urge to kill and confusion about his origins.
“The Thirty Fathom Grave”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Perry Lafferty. Starring Mike Kellin, Simon Oakland.
Synopsis: In the early 1960’s, as a U.S. Navy ship cruises near Guadalcanal in the South Pacific, its sonar detects muted hammering on metal undersea. The eerie sounds emanate from a submarine on the ocean floor, maybe there since World War II.
“Valley Of The Shadow”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Perry Lafferty. Starring Ed Nelson, Natalie Trundy and David Opatoshu, James Doohan.
Synopsis: A reporter stumbles into a peaceful town where miracles seem to occur due to technology and the townsfolk won’t let him leave.
“He’s Alive”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Starring Dennis Hopper, Paul Mazursky.
Synopsis: A tiny Neo-Nazi organization struggles pathetically to succeed in a big city. A mysterious figure begins to ruthlessly guide a young, insecure U.S. Nazi leader, and the group slowly begins to draw more attention.
Disc one has a few of the weaker episodes of season four telling stories featuring ghostly submarines, a small town with technology unseen by the rest of humanity and a human who discovers that he’s actually an android but it ends with one of the strongest episodes of the entire series. Starring a very young Dennis Hopper, “He’s Alive” tells the story of Peter Vollmer who is the head of a fledgling Neo Nazi organization trying to recruit new members and spectacularly failing. But at the point where Vollmer is about to quit, a mysterious stranger begins to advise him and Vollmer’s movement begins to grow. This episode was obviously based on George Lincoln Rockwell and his American Nazi Party which made some noise in the first half of the decade by clashing with protesters, much like the fight at the beginning of this episode. Hopper gives a frenzied performance here that runs an emotional gamut from strong and confident to scared and helpless. Although the identity of the stranger should come as no surprise to anyone, it’s still pretty potent and must’ve been a real shocker back when this episode first aired.
Disc Two Episodes
“Mute”– Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Starring Barbara Baxley, Frank Overton.
Synopsis: The orphaned daughter of telepathic parents must learn to speak and deal with a world she cannot communicate in.
“Death Ship”– Written by Richard Matheson. Directed by Don Medford. Starring Jack Klugman, Ross Martin, Fred Beir.
Synopsis: An interplanetary expedition from earth finds an exact duplicate of their ship and themselves crashed on the planet they were surveying.
“Jess-Belle”– Written by Earl Hamner Jr. Directed by Buzz Kulik. Starring Anne Francis, James Best, Laura Devon.
Synopsis: Jess-Belle can’t bear to lose the object of her passion to the local rich girl, so she turns to the local witch for aid. The results bring unexpected and tragic consequences.
“Miniature”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Walter Grauman. Starring Robert Duvall, Pert Kelton, Barbara Barrie.
Synopsis: Misfit Charlie Parkes finds the world unfolding before him in a museum doll house to be more real than his boring job and overbearing mother.
Disc two finds the series becoming more comfortable with the change in format. The episodes featured here feel more thought out and complete while lessening the “Drawn out” feeling that plague disc one’s entries. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a turkey hiding in the straw here either, “Mute” is the weakest entry here. A story about a young girl with a remarkable gift, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants it’s ultimate message/moral to be and it’s the slowest episode on the disc as well. The other three entries feature a space mission that lands on a planet only to find an exact replica of their own ship waiting for them, A supernatural love story with a wicked sting attached to it as a woman desires a man so much she gives him a love potion to guarantee his amorous attention and another love story with a lonely man falling in love with a doll in a dollhouse. And that episode, “Miniature” is my personal fave on this disc. Starring a very young Robert Duvall it’s a slow episode but it becomes all the more involving because of it’s languid pace. And while the ending should be obvious to anyone whose ever watched the show, it’s so well written/acted that you really won’t mind.
Disc Three Episodes
“Printer’s Devil”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Ralph Senesky. Starring Burgess Meredith, Robert Sterling.
Synopsis: A man sells his soul to the devil to save his failing newspaper and gets more than he bargained for.
“No Time Like The Past”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Jus Addiss. Starring Dana Andrews, Patricia Breslin.
Synopsis: A scientist attempts to use a time machine to prevent tragedies, both in world history and in his own past.
“The Parallel”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Alan Grosland Jr. Starring Steve Forrest, Jacqueline Scott.
Synopsis: Astronaut Robert Gaines returns from space to a world that is not exactly the one he left from.
“I Dream Of Genie”– Written by John Furia. Directed by Robert Gist. Starring Howard Morris, Patricia Barry, Loring Smith.
Synopsis: A wiseacre genie appears from a lamp to a meek man, George P. Hanley. Hanley is so used to bad luck, he imagines how each of three possible wishes could go very wrong – but the genie will grant him only one wish.
Disc three is the strongest one of the collection and features a return to one of the favorite topics of the series, time travel. But it also contains stories dealing with parallel worlds, genies with ulterior motives and my favorite episode on the disc, “Printer’s Devil”, which tells of a struggling newspaper owner who’s on the verge of going out of business before a man named Smith comes looking for a job. Mr. Smith takes no pay either! He just wants to be a newspaper reporter and after a few days, the newspaper’s circulation increases and it’s popularity grows exponentially. But as always in the world Serling created, all is not what it seems and Mr. Smith isn’t exactly who he says he is…he’s Satan! Burgess Meredith is one of the most memorable faces ever to appear on the show and he’s starred in some of the most popular episodes in it’s storied history like “Time Enough At Last”, “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” and “The Obsolete Man”. His appearance here is no less memorable either. Maybe the fact that he’s not a physically imposing individual is the reason why his interpretation of the devil is so sinister & frightening…I dunno. What I do know is that he gives a towering performance here that doesn’t get the due it deserves if you ask me. I never hear much talk about this episode and that saddens me because it’s the best of the hour long entries and one of the very best of the series as a whole.
Disc Four Episodes
“The New Exhibit”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by John Brahm. Starring Martin Balsam, Will Kuluva, Margaret Field.
Synopsis: A wax-museum employee fights to preserve five figures of famous murderers.
“Of Late I Think Of Cliffordville”– Written by Rod Serling, Malcolm Jacobsen. Directed by David Lowell Rich. Starring Albert Salmi, John Anderson.
“The Incredible World Of Horace Ford”– Written by Reginald Rose. Directed by Abner Bieberman. Starring Pat Hingle, Ruth Martin.
Synopsis: Horace Ford longs for his childhood which was not as idyllic as he remembers it.
Disc four only has three entries but they’re all strong ones! Here we find two episodes dealing with time travel with one of them tossing in the never well thought out “Deal with Satan” to spice it up a bit! But my favorite episode on this disc has to be “The New Exhibit” which is one of the very few episodes of the series that can be classified as an all out horror tale. Martin Balsam stars as Mr. Senescu, the owner of a wax museum that has seen better days and is about to be demolished to make way for a supermarket. But Senescu has a soft spot for five wax figures of famous murderers he has in his basement and he intends on protecting his “Friends” no matter what. I remember first watching this as a child and completely misinterpreting who the actual killer(s) were but I can chalk that up to the simplicities of a child and his rampant imagination. On a future viewing I realized what was really going on but it only made the episode scarier than ever! Balsam is perfection as the embittered old museum owner who might just be a madman, or is he…? This episode is just pure terror and a must see!
Disc Five Episodes
“On Thursday We Leave For Home”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by Buzz Kulik. Starring James Whitmore, Tim O’Connor, James Broderick.
Synopsis: For thirty years, a colony has barely survived on a sparse planet baked by two suns only because of their megalomaniac leader William Benteen, who treats them like children. A conflict arises when a rescue ship arrives and offers them a new life back on Earth, threatening to end Benteen’s leadership.
“Passage On The Lady Anne”– Written by Charles Beaumont. Directed by Lamont Johnson. Starring Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Cecil Kellaway.
Synopsis: A young American couple, the Ransomes, who are trying to salvage their troubled marriage, insist on booking passage on an old trans-Atlantic cruise liner. But other passengers try to persuade them to disembark immediately.
“The Bard”– Written by Rod Serling. Directed by David Butler. Starring Jack Weston, John McGiver.
Synopsis: Julius Moomer, a talentless self-promoting hack who dreams of becoming a successful television writer, uses a book of magic to summon William Shakespeare to write dramatic teleplays that Moomer will pass off as his own.
The fifth and final disc of the collection features a hoary love story with a very ambiguous ending (Passage On The Lady Anne) and two brilliant examples of the artistic leeway the series offered writers. The first, On Thursday We Leave For Home, is a bracing and dramatic allegory for how dangerous totalitarianism can be with a stellar performance from James Whitmore as a man who, as leader of a colony of people left to “Pioneer” an inhospitable planet for the last 30 years, finds his grip on the people loosening when word arrives that a rescue ship is coming to bring them back to earth in 24 hours. It’s a story of power ingrained and power lost that never fails to make me think when I watch it. It’s inherent power lies in a brilliant script by Serling himself and as directed by Buzz Kulik, it has an oppressive and overwhelming air of depression hanging over it that helps make the story far more effective and thought provoking. Serling also wrote the other episode on this disc, The Bard, which is a funny (& prescient) story of a man (Jack Weston), who wants to become a television script writer but just doesn’t have the talent to make it in the business (Reminds me of someone I know…). So, with the help of some dodgy black magic, he conjures up William Shakespeare himself (John McGiver) and has Willie do all of the heavy lifting which he then translates into successful scripts! But Shakespeare has some doubts after awhile and it all ends as things usually do in The Twilight Zone. This episode has been unfairly maligned in my opinion although some of the criticism is valid. It’s extremely silly and features some way over the top performances along with some ridiculous sound effects but that’s what endears it to me. It doesn’t feel like your proto typical TZ episode yet it’s a refreshing change of pace from all of the serious drama of the series. It’s just a nice change of pace story that just happens to be silly and over the top as well. Keep your eyes open for a young Burt Reynolds doing a great imitation of Brando here also!
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 FOURTH SEASON” 5 DVD box set is now available from IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT at a store near you.
TV Review: The Twilight Zone: The Complete Fourth Season (1960-1964)