TWILIGHT ZONE: SEASON ONE
DVD / Blu Ray. Shock Entertainment.
you think of classic TV, Rod Serling’s anthology series
The Twilight Zone has to be up there with the
very best. In fact, after watching this first season for the first
time in many years, I wouldn’t feel too inclined to argue
with anyone who suggested this was the best TV series ever. Because
quite honestly, it really is that good – without question
the best anthology series ever made, with a consistency of excellence
that is remarkable.
This first season ran from 1959 to 1960, and while not all the
elements that made the series so memorable are in place –
the familiar theme music is absent, and the opening titles vary
in style – it nevertheless hits the ground running and rarely
lets up in terms of quality. It’s remarkable that a television
show could be so excellent at a time when the medium was still
relatively young and widely dismissed. Yet here is a show that,
in terms of writing and performances from the cast, stands head
and shoulders above not only other TV shows, but also most movies
of the time.
And these short stories have a distinctly cinematic feel –
while the 1980’s revival of The Twilight Zone
suffered, like much TV of the time, from being shot on poor quality
videotape, making it look cheap and nasty, in these original shows,
the crisp black and white film – for the most part looking
beautiful in these remastered versions – the feel is very
much that of a short feature film – you could probably slice
a few episodes together and pass them off as a movie.
The format of The Twilight Zone, for those unfamiliar
with it, is simple – each episode tells a self-contained
short story with a science fiction, fantasy or horror theme. Often,
the stories are morality plays; several are whimsical, possibly
even a little sentimental, while others are paranoid, dark and
unsettling. There is usually a twist in the tail, and while years
of imitations, spoofs and cultural referencing has made a few
of these twists less surprising (and, to be fair, a few are easy
to guess from the start, the ‘shock’ ending being
somewhat telegraphed), others still come as a genuine surprise.
And at least one episode, The After Hours, has a couple of creepy
shocks that made me jump (ironically, the twist in this episode
is one of the sillier in the series).
This first series contains 36 episodes, spread over five DVDs
/ Blu Rays, alongside a sixth disc of extras. I won’t review
then all here, but instead pick a few highlights.
kick off with Where is Everybody?, an interesting
season opener that for the most part features Earl Holliman as
the single cast member – a man suffering memory loss who
finds himself in an empty world, not knowing how he got there,
or where everyone else has vanished to. It’s a brave way
to open a new series, but works well.
One for the Angels is a well-loved episode with
Ed Wynn as Lew Bookman, a street seller who is visited by Mr Death
(Murray Hamilton). Having talked Death into giving his life an
extension, Bookman then has to go all out to prevent a neighbourhood
child from being taken in his place. It’s classic Twilight
Zone – witty, gentle, warm-hearted and funny. While
noted for the scary and paranoid episodes, it could be said that
the heart of The Twilight Zone was in episodes
like this, where sentiment was used without becoming schmaltzy
(a lesson Spielberg singularly failed to take note of when making
the 1982 movie).
Walking Distance sets up a recurrent theme for the series
– the need to escape the modern world for something simpler
(A Stop at Willoughby, later in the series, has
a similar theme). In this case, exhausted businessman Gig Young
returns to his hometown and finds himself back in time, meeting
himself as a child. This is a wonderful, rather moving story,
setting the bar high indeed for the rest of the series.
Time Enough at Last is one of the most famous
episodes, and one of those most frequently referenced elsewhere.
Burgess Meredith stars as the bookish man who only wants to be
left alone to read, but is constantly thwarted by his deeply unpleasant
wife (men in The Twilight Zone rarely had happy
marriages!) and unsympathetic boss. But when the world is destroyed
by nuclear war, he finds himself the sole survivor. The twist
here is well known (I won’t spoil it for anyone who doesn’t
know it) and is especially cruel!
Perchance to Dream is a weird, trippy story with
Richard Conte as a man terrified to go to sleep because sexy carnival
dancer Maya (Suzanne Lloyd) is trying to kill him in his dreams;
And When the Sky Was Opened has three astronauts
slowly being erased from history in one of the series’ most
paranoid tales (based on a story by Richard Matheson who, alongside
Charles Beaumont, was a regular contributor to this first series).
Third from the Sun has Fritz Weaver as a scientist
in a seemingly totalitarian future, aware that nuclear war is
just around the corner, and determined to escape with his family
to another planet. You might see the twist coming here, but it’s
a satisfying and edgy episode anyway. The same is true of I
Shot an Arrow in the Air, where the survivors of a spaceship
crash bicker over their dwindling water supply and survival options.
You guess what’s coming, but the twist is beautifully handled
The Hitch-Hiker is the first episode to take
a turn into full horror, as Inger Stevens finds her road trip
haunted by a sinister hitch-hiker, who turns up everywhere she
goes. No prizes for guessing that this is connected to the car
crash she has had as the episode begins.
The Fever is one of the more cynical episodes
– fervent opponent of gambling Everett Sloane becomes hooked
by a slot machine, convinced that he is moments away from a $10,000
payout. His deterioration into an obsessed, deluded madman is
remarkably convincing and impressive, and only a rather silly
‘monster’ - in fact part of his delusion – spoils
is another well-known story where three astronauts crash on an
asteroid, only to find that it is a replica of earth – only
with people that don’t move. It turns out to be an exclusive
cemetery, where the deceased can forever live out their dreams
– but this is not good news for the three…
The Monsters are Due on Maple Street is one of
the show’s most highly regarded episodes, and rightly so
– an none-too-subtle allegory about the Reds-under-the-Beds
scare that had gripped America only a few years earlier, it sees
a quiet neighbourhood turn on itself after a passing meteor seems
to have shut down all power in the street. It’s a hugely
powerful, remarkable slice of paranoia – grim and angry.
The Big Tall Wish stars Ivan Dixon as the washed-up
boxer who has one last moment of glory thanks to a small boy’s
wish. But Dixon doesn’t believe in wishes, and if you don’t
believe, they won’t be true… with a mostly black cast
– unusual for the time - this is a nice mix of sentiment
A Nice Place to Visit is a humorous tale that
suggests that Hell might be getting everything you want, while
Nightmare as a Child, despite the clumsy title,
is a grim story of a woman being visited by a sombre, rather creepy
little girl who seems to know a little too much about her past.
A Passage for Trumpet has Jack Klugman as an alcoholic
jazz trumpeter who is given one more chance, while Mr
Bevis is a celebration of individual eccentricity over
conformity. And the series ends with a couple of light-hearted
slices of whimsy in for form of The Mighty Casey
(a baseball playing robot) and A World of His Own,
where playwright Keenan Wynn invents the people around him –
including Rod Serling, making his first on-camera appearance in
the show proper.
should be noted that the episodes not mentioned here are no less
interesting - this is a show that rarely dipped in quality. With
the spoken intros and outros by Serling - a man born to narrate
- each story in this collection, even the waekest, could stand
alongside the best of any other series.
This collection is as definitive a release as you could hope for.
Each episode includes Serling’s on-camera previews of next
week’s show and trails for other series, and the episodes
generally look great – a little grain here and there being
the only sign of age. There are commentary tracks – some
freshly recorded, some culled from archive interviews and lectures
by Serling, the other writers, directors and actors. While some
of these are poor quality, they are essential archive material,
and given the age of the show and the fact that most of those
involved are now dead, the best we can hope for. There are also
isolated scores for several episodes. The extras disc includes
the pilot version of Where is Everybody?, footage
of Serling’s other TV shows, and a PDF version of the Twilight
Zone comic book. The Blu Ray has another 19 commentaries
– mostly of the ‘expert’ variety – more
interviews and pre-Twilight Zone Serling episodes
The Time Pilot and Tales of Tomorrow,
plus 18 radio dramas.
IT NOW (UK) DVD
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