As Seen on TV – Twilight Zone – 5th Season

The Twilight Zone – The Definitive Edition,  Season 5
Image Entertainment. Six-DVD box set, $99.99. B&W. Full frame. Dolby Digital 1.

We TV collectors might seem odd in that we collect the series we already know well from having watched countless times before. But seeing something “fresh” isn’t the point, is it? In the case of The Twilight Zone, there’s always more to discover and appreciate in repeat viewings and as a landmark series, it’s certain to continue growing in prominence. To date, the best way to collect the show is in the Image Entertainment series of box sets called The Definitive Edition. Every episode has been digitally remastered and restored using original camera negatives and soundtracks. The episodes have never looked better and some impressive extras have been added. The season one set even includes a copy of Marc Scott Zicree’s definitive history and episode guide, The Twilight Zone Companion.

In its fifth season, the show dropped back to its half-hour format and generally kept up its standard of high quality. Some of its episodes, such as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Living Doll,” have become classics. The same writers were back with some of their most memorable work. They include Richard Matheson (“Steel,” “Night Call,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Spur of the Moment”), Charles Beaumont (“Living Doll,” “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” “Queen of the Nile”), Earl Hamner Jr. (“Ring-A-Ding Girl,” “You Drive,” “Black Leather Jackets,” “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” “The Bewitchin’ Pool”), George Clayton Thomas (“Ninety Years without Slumbering,” story only), and newcomer Martin M. Goldsmith (“The Encounter,” “What’s in the Box”). Rod Serling wrote the rest.  

Classic episodes shared the season with ineffective, misguided ones, just as had been the case for the other seasons. Season five had several lesser quality episodes that had little to do with the overall spirit of the series. These include “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain,” “Black Leather Jackets,” “Come Wander with Me,” “Queen of the Nile,” “Sounds and Silences,” and “The Bewitchin’ Pool.” I never thought The Twilight Zone handled comedy very well, and that’s evident in “From Agnes – With Love,” “Sounds and Silences,” and “A Kind of a Stopwatch.”

Actors appearing in season five’s episodes who had been in previous episodes included Lee Marvin, Jack Klugman, Gladys Cooper, Ed Wynn, John Anderson, John McLiam, Billy Mumy, Virginia Gregg, Don Gordon and Martin Landau.

In January 1964, CBS announced it would not order new episodes for the fall schedule. By March, Serling already had in mind the basis for The Night Gallery (NBC, 1970-1971). He won his sixth Emmy in 1964, not for The Twilight Zone, but for an adaptation of a John O’Hara story he wrote for the anthology series Bob Hopes Presents The Chrysler Theatre.

Among the improvements in this set over the previous ones are the commentaries by June Foray, Alan Sues, Mariette Hartley, and Mickey Rooney that run the full length of their episodes, more of them (seven in all) than has been the case in any other individual box set. On-camera interviews with the show’s writers and actors provide fascinating moments of insight. There are three chapter stops per episode, not including additional ones for Serling’s pitch for next week’s episode and the end credits.

Disc One

“In Praise of Pip” (Sept. 9, 1963) – How far would a man go to make up for having been an irresponsible father? A bookie (Jack Klugman) betrays a gangster and is shot on the same day his son is wounded in Vietnam. The bookie escapes to a closed amusement park, deserted except for him and a little boy, his son somehow made young again. Can the bookie get the forgiveness of his son for being such a poor father? Audio commentary by Bill Mumy. Video interview with Bill Mumy. IS by Rene Garriguenc.

“Steel” (Oct., 4, 1963) – In 1974, androids have come into wide use. Battling Maxo (Lee Marvin), a washed up android, breaks down just before he is scheduled to box a new android. His desperate manager will try anything to get the money to repair him, even disguising himself and taking on the android himself. Video interview with Richard Matheson by Marc Scott Zicree. IS by Van Cleave.

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (Oct. 11, 1963) – A man (William Shatner), flying home after recovering from a nervous breakdown, sees on the wing of his plane a wooly man-like gremlin clearly intent on wrecking the engine. But his wife and everyone else believe he’s delusional. So he takes matters into his own hands. Video interview with Richard Matheson by Marc Scott Zicree. Portions of a Rod Serling lecture at Sherwood Oaks College. IS.

“A Kind of a Stopwatch” (Oct. 18, 1963) – A man (Richard Erdman) comes into possession of a stopwatch that actually can stop time, except for whoever holds it. So he decides to rob a bank. Radio drama starring Lou Diamond Phillips. IS by Van Cleave.

“The Last Night of a Jockey” (Oct. 25, 1963) – Mickey Rooney plays a jockey who has just lost his job and spends a bad night in a seedy hotel room struggling with his feelings of defeat and arguing with his reflection in a mirror. He wishes he could be tall for once in his life and get a fresh start. Then he wakes up eight feet tall. But it’s suddenly not the benefit he always thought it would be. Audio commentary by Mickey Rooney.

“Living Doll” (Nov. 1, 1963) – A talking doll brought home by a little girl has a mind of its own and warns the girl’s abusive stepfather (Telly Savalas) that she’s going to kill him, so he tries to destroy it first. Audio commentary by June Foray. Video interview with June Foray. Radio drama starring Tim Kazurinsky. IS by Bernard Herrmann.

“The Old Man in the Cave” (Nov. 8, 1963) – In 1974, there’s not much of life as it used to be in 1963: a war has decimated the population and small colonies of survivors struggle to continue living. One group relies on a man (John Anderson) who confers alone with an “old man” in a cave about what the colony must do to survive, but when soldiers come to rescue them, the people discover what “the old man” really is, rebel, and face the consequences.

Disc Two

“Uncle Simon” (Nov. 15, 1963) – Uncle Simon (Cedric Hardwicke) has been very disrespectful and ungrateful to his niece (Constance Ford) during the 25 years she has been taking care of him. One day he dies and she inherits his mansion and all his belongings, with one stipulation… (Next week’s episode was delayed a week due to the Kennedy assassination.)

“Probe 7 – Over and Out” (Nov. 29, 1963) – An astronaut (Richard Basehart) lands on a planet much like Earth but a call home reveals a nuclear war is about to wipe out mankind and he’s advised to fend for himself: no help will be coming. And then he meets the planet’s only other occupant, a woman he names Eve…

“The 7th is Made Up of Phantoms” (Dec. 6, 1963) – Three National Guards-men (Randy Boone, Warren Oates, Ron Foster) are on an exercise with a tank near the Little Big Horn when they begin to experience more and more indications that they have in fact returned in time to the moments before the historic battle. Should they leave the area or try to change history? Radio drama starring Richard Grieco.

“A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain” (Dec. 12, 1963) – An elderly man (Patrick O’Neal) made the mistake of marrying a beautiful, young woman (Ruta Lee), who constantly berates him and makes no secret of the fact that she married him just for his money. But when he gets his brother, a doctor, to inject him with an untried youth serum, he gets the last laugh.

“Ninety Years without Slumbering” (Dec. 20, 1963) – An elderly clockmaker (Ed Wynn) is convinced that he will die if his old grandfather clock stops ticking, so he oversees its maintenance with supreme dedication. But is the fear justified? Video interview with Carolyn Kearney and George Clayton Johnson. Video interview with George Clayton Johnson alone. IS by Bernard Herrmann.

“Ring-A-Ding Girl” (Dec. 27, 1963) – A movie actress (Maggie McNamara) receives in the mail the gift of a ring from her hometown with instructions to go back there, which she does. The stone in the ring turns into a kind of crystal ball that directs her to her ultimate destiny. Video interview with Earl Hamner, Jr.

“You Drive” (Jan. 3, 1964) – A man (Edward Andrews) driving home from work hits a newspaper boy with his car and flees the scene. Later that night in the garage, his car takes on a mind of its own and slowly makes clear to him that he must turn himself in. Video interview with Earl Hamner, Jr. by Marc Scott Zicree.

Disc Three

“The Long Morrow” (Jan. 10, 1964) – A former astronaut (Robert Lansing) agrees to one more mission: he will make a journey into space that will take forty years to complete, during which he will be cryogenically frozen to keep him from aging. The woman (Mariette Hartley) he leaves behind waits for him, but he’s in for a surprise. Audio commentary by Mariette Hartley. Radio drama starring Kathy Garver.

“The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” (Jan. 17, 1964) – A boorish young factory worker (Don Gordon) gets injured and hospitalized with an old man with whom he mockingly trades ailments. The next morning, to his astonishment, the effect has taken place. He doesn’t understand how this new power works but plans to make the most of it. Upon his release, he goes about swapping his various qualities to others for things he wants and soon becomes a millionaire. But winning the thing he wants most, an old high school crush (Gail Kobe), will cost him more than he’s willing to pay.

“Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” (Jan. 24, 1964) – In a futuristic society, a young woman (Collin Wilcox) reaches the age of 19, a time when it’s mandated by the state that everyone undergo a full-body transformation that makes them identical to everyone else. But she doesn’t want to do it, citing a need to be her own person, and attempts to run away. Audio commentary by Marc Scott Zicree.

“Black Leather Jackets” (Jan. 31, 1964) – Three mysterious young men ride into town on motorcycles and move in next door to Ellen Tillman (Shelley Fabares) and her father (Denver Pyle). The strangers are the first three of an invading force that plans to destroy the world in the next two days. They communicate with their leader, seen as a close-up of an eyeball, on a computer monitor. But one of them (Lee Kinsolving) falls in love with Ellen and rethinks the whole venture. Video interview with Michael Forest and Earl Hamner, Jr.

“Night Call” (Feb. 7, 1964) – Directed by Jacques Tourneur. An old woman invalid (Gladys Cooper) gets mysterious phone calls the night after a violent thunderstorm, though no one is on the line. Then she begins to hear a distant, ghastly voice… Video interview with Richard Matheson by Marc Scott Zicree.

“From Agnes – With Love” (Feb. 14, 1964) – In a rare comedy episode that doesn’t quite work, Wally Cox plays the programmer of the world’s most advanced computer, named Agnes. He’s worked it out so that he can actually have conversations with her. She speaks through words on her screen. But when she finds out he’s in love with one of the workers in the lab, the jealous computer begins fussing and trying to wreck his relationship.

“Spur of the Moment” (Feb. 21, 1964) – A young woman (Diana Hyland) goes out horseback riding one morning and is chased by another rider who appears to be her exact twin! She returns home badly shaken but has to devote her attention to choosing between two suitors. Video interview with Richard Matheson. IS by Rene Garriguenc.

Disc Four

“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Feb. 28, 1964) – During the Civil War, a spy (Roger Jacquet) is being hanged from Owl Creek Bridge, but then the rope breaks and he manages to escape by swimming away. He makes his way back to sweetheart. IS by Henri Lanoe. Conversations with Rod Serling (Part 1).

“Queen of the Nile” (March 6, 1964) – A syndicated columnist (Lee Phillips) interviews a movie star (Ann Blyth), known as “The Queen of the Nile” after her best film role, at her Hollywood home, which is furnished in an Egyptian motif. His dogged determination to discover her secret of eternal youth, in spite of the dire warnings to avoid the subject by an old woman claming to be her mother, is the worst mistake of his life.

“What’s in the Box” (March 13, 1964) – A mean husband (William Demarest) fights constantly with his wife (Joan Blondell). One day his TV set needs repair and after it’s fixed, he can pick up a channel that shows him meeting his mistress and furious fights with his wife. His wife can’t see anything and urges him to get psychiatric help. Maybe the mysterious channel has something to do with the repairman (Sterling Halloway).

“The Masks” (March 20, 1964) – Meeting at the mansion of their aging relative (Robert Keith) who is near death, some relatives agree to his request to join him in a party by wearing masks he has chosen for them. They care nothing for him and only want his money, so they agree and don the masks. That very night they will get what is coming to them. Audio commentary by Alan Sues.

“I am the Night – Color Me Black” (March 27, 1964) – On the day a convicted murderer is to be hanged, a mysterious darkness envelops a small southern town. Is it a natural phenomenon or is the man innocent and the darkness a warning from above to avoid committing an injustice? With Paul Fix, Michael Constantine, George Lindsay. Video interview with actor Terry Becker, who played the condemned man.

“Sounds and Silences” (April 3, 1964) – An eccentric proprietor (John McGiver) of a model ship company loves noise but when his wife (Penny Singleton) decides to leave him, he begins hearing sounds he can’t bear to hear. Radio drama starring Richard Kind.

“Caesar and Me” (April 10, 1964) – A beaten down ventriloquist (Jackie Cooper) needs money to pay his rent, so his dummy, Little Caesar, comes to life, berates him, and guides him into a life of petty burglary. But his landlady’s nine-year-old niece (Suzanne Cupito, aka Morgan Brittany) overhears their plans and calls the cops.

“The Jeopardy Room” (April 17, 1964) – A man (Martin Landau) who escaped from a Soviet prison is finally tracked down in an Eastern European hotel room by two men sent to kill him. However, one (John Van Dreelen) wants to make a game of it. While he and his partner watch from a window across the alley, the defector must locate and disarm a booby trap within a few minutes. Audio commentary by Martin Landau.

Disc Five

“Stopover in a Quiet Town” (April 24, 1964) – After a night of partying, a couple (Barry Nelson, Nancy Malone) wake up in a strange house and don’t know how they got there. They wander out into the town which is completely deserted, except for the giggling of a little girl they hear everywhere. Video interview with Nancy Malone and Earl Hamner, Jr.

“The Encounter” (May 1, 1964) – The unsettling story of a World War II veteran (Neville Brand), a Japanese lawnkeeper (George Takei), and a mysterious samurai sword that changes their lives one summer afternoon in suburbia.

“Mr. Garrity and the Graves” (May 8, 1964) – When a man (John Dehner) arrives in a small Western town in 1890 announcing that he can raise the dead and brings a dog back to life, the townspeople are at first eager for his scheduled resurrection of their deceased loved ones in the local cemetery, but after some thought they decide the dead should stay dead, for various personal reasons. With Stanley Adams. J. Pat O’Malley, John Mitchum. Radio drama starring Chris MacDonald.

“The Brain Center at Whipple’s” (May 15, 1964) – Wallace Whipple (Richard Deacon) runs his company with a ruthless eye at cutting costs. His greatest pride is a new mainframe computer that will cut tens of thousands of jobs and save him millions. But he what he doesn’t yet know is that computers don’t care who they make obsolete. If you think Richard Deacon’s acting ability was limited to his Mel Cooley role, check out his emotional performance in this one.

“Come Wander with Me” (May 22, 1964) – A young singer (Gary Crosby) wanders to the backwoods in hopes of finding an authentic folk song he can turn into his next hit. He meets a mysterious young woman (Bonnie Beecher) who sings just the song he’s looking for, but someone else lurking there is going to make sure he never leaves. IS by Jeff Alexander.

“The Fear” (May 29, 1964) – A state trooper (Mark Richman) and a woman (Hazel Court) are horrified by a series of lights in the sky and unearthly noises surrounding her mountain cabin. And there’s even more evidence of an alien invasion.

“The Bewitchin’ Pool” (June 19, 1964) – The children (Mary Badham, Tim Stafford) of dysfunctional parents (Dee Hartford, Tod Andrews) discover that they can dive into their swimming pool and come up in a woods where children like them frolic all day, watched over by a motherly Aunt T (Georgia Simmons) in a rustic cabin. Video interview with Earl Hamner, Jr. IS.

Disc Six

“Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval” (83 minutes, 17 chapters) – Produced and directed by Susan Lacy, this was an episode of the PBS series American Masters originally airing Nov. 29, 1995. It has an ingenious and unsettling opening: expressionistically shot in black and white, a team of surgeons and nurses work frantically over a patient as a narrator states that this is June 28, 1975 and the patient is Rod Serling. Then the unthinkable happens. Serling dies on the operating table despite their best efforts to save him. “Mr. Rod Serling, who once said he just wanted to be remembered as a writer is about to get his wish, in a small town called Yesterday, found on any map … in The Twilight Zone.” Thus begins an indepth biography of Serling and his television writing, focusing mainly on his glory years of early live TV and The Twilight Zone. It’s the most detailed and revealing documentary ever done on him. His family, co-workers, and friends provide anecdotes and reminiscences.

I began reviewing this series of box sets noting that the series is my all-time favorite and probably had a greater influence on me than any other series. Television is far richer because The Twilight Zone existed. Serling and his crew showed that at its best the medium could indeed be “a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.”     

Click here to discuss this story and more in the message boards.