Tag Archives: The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone S3 E5: A Game of Pool

“A Game of Pool” is an episode of The Twilight Zone that has become one of my favorites. I admit I ignored it at first, mostly because I wasn’t interested in an episode that centers around the game of pool. But once I checked the episode out, and then watched it several times, I realized it’s a particularly good entry in the series and one that I needed to write about.

The thing with “A Game of Pool” is that its premise is a little difficult to figure out at first. On the surface, this episode appears to be a clear-cut case of “be careful what you wish for.” Pool shark Jesse Cardiff (Jack Klugman), tired of continually being compared to the late legendary pool player ‘Fats’ Brown (Jonathan Winters), makes the mistake of saying he’d give anything to play one game with Brown to prove who is the best. This being the Twilight Zone, Brown appears to accept the challenge.

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So in a sense this is “be careful what you wish for” but it’s also something more. As the episode plays on and Jesse eventually agrees to a game with Brown, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that something else is in play. While the episode acknowledges that there’s nothing wrong with becoming the best at something, it does remind the audience that this shouldn’t be done at the expense of having a life outside of that something. Jesse openly acknowledges that his entire life has revolved around pool for years, to a disturbing degree:

Do you know how many hours, how many years I’ve put of myself into this game? How many nights I slept on that table right there? Yea, I did that. I made a deal with the owner so I could practice after the place closed. I haven’t been to the movies in years, I haven’t dated a girl, read a book, because it would take time away from the game.

Jesse is so obsessed with being the best at pool that he’s literally withdrawn from life. If they were to remake this episode today, they’d probably replace pool with video games, because to hear Jesse talk reminds me of stories of gamers who shut themselves in for days at a time, relentlessly playing a game to hone their skills. It’s frightening to think about: he’s spent all this time working to perfect his skills at pool, even Fats Brown didn’t go that far, and he tells Jesse as much, but the pool shark doesn’t listen.

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And that’s the other thing about “A Game of Pool.” If you listen to Fats Brown’s dialogue closely, it’s clear that there’s a lot more to the stakes than what he’s telling. Given the stakes of the game seem to include Jesse “dying” if he loses, Fats tries several times to get Jesse to lose the game, right down to the last shot actually. But once he sees Jesse really won’t listen, he gives up and lets fate take its course. As with all Twilight Zone episodes, this one has its own doozy of a twist. When Fats said the pool game would be a matter of “life and death” he wasn’t speaking literally. Because Jesse won the game, he will now live forever (after death), until someone else can beat him the way he did Fats. If he’d lost, he would’ve “died” in the sense that he wouldn’t be a legend and would simply pass on once his life ended.

I suppose Jesse Cardiff’s fate isn’t the worse thing that’s ever happened to a character in The Twilight Zone. After all, Fats Brown was beat eventually, one would assume someone would beat Jesse in time also. But the way Jesse talked at the end about never letting anyone take the title of “being the best” away from him, I suspect it will be a long time before Jesse is allowed to “rest.”

Let me know what you think about “A Game of Pool” in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Twilight Zone S3 E 9: Deaths-Head Revisited

I’ve wanted to write about this particular episode of The Twilight Zone for a long time, but I hesitated because I was thinking about the right way to do it. Finally I decided to just dive in and have at it.

So here we are with Deaths-Head Revisited, one of the most powerful episodes of The Twilight Zone ever created in my opinion, not least because it deals with the aftermath of an event that was very much in living memory at the time: the Holocaust. The episode is set in Dachau (both the town and concentration camp of the same name), and sees Gunther Lutze (Oscar Beregi Jr.), a former SS officer once in charge of the camp, returning to visit its ruins and gloat over past memories. But of course, this being the Twilight Zone, Lutze is far from alone, and it’s long past time he received punishment for the crimes he committed.

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I said before that this is one of the series’ most powerful episodes and I meant it. Even Rod Serling’s introduction has a touch more bite in it than usual. Of all the despicable characters that have populated this show, Lutze is surely the worst. From the moment he enters the camp (at least until he meets a certain someone), the unrepentant Nazi is clearly in his element, strutting around as if tens of thousands of people didn’t die on the ground he’s walking on.  Every time I see this episode, I have to think that this is what Hell looked like for everyone responsible for the Holocaust.

And how Lutze’s punishment plays out is just…so fitting it’s hard to describe. The presence of their former tormentor is enough to rouse the ghosts of the dead and serve Lutze up with more than a taste of his own medicine. It would be frightening, actually, if the person at the center of it all weren’t absolutely deserving of everything he got. I should note that Oscar Beregi Jr. is absolutely brilliant in this episode, just oozing arrogance and a firm denial that he is at fault for anything.

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The biggest clue that something unnatural is going on comes the moment Lutze meets Becker (Joseph Schildkraut), a former prisoner at the camp. That Lutze doesn’t notice the following issues shows just how unrepentant and clueless he really is. First, Becker is still wearing his camp uniform, even though 17 years have passed since the war ended and there would be no logical reason for him to keep it on. Second, and more importantly, Becker hasn’t changed or aged a day since Lutze saw him last. It isn’t until nearly the end of the episode that Lutze remembers a very important truth: he killed Becker right as the war was ending, and he’s been talking to a ghost the entire time. That Lutze could ever forget that he killed the person he’s been talking to is just mind-blowing and indicative of how evil he is.

On a final note, while it might seem strange that the ghosts don’t kill Lutze, what happens instead is just as bad, if not worse. In his new condition, Lutze can’t do anything, he can’t enjoy life, he can’t talk, he certainly can’t run and hide. All he can do is be strapped to a bed in a hospital, pumped so full of sedatives he’s practically comatose. And that’s just what happens in this life, there’s so much more hinted to come once he enters the afterlife.

Everyone should see Deaths-Head Revisited at least once. It’s powerful, it’s intense, and its message is just as important today as it was then. Let me know what you think of the episode in the comments below and have a great day.

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The Twilight Zone S2 E4: A Thing About Machines

When I started reviewing episodes of The Twilight Zone, I mentioned that my favorite episodes were those that showed some rotten person getting their comeuppance. The season 2 episode “A Thing About Machines” is a prime example of this trope, as well as being a really fun episode to watch.

The premise is simple: Bartlett Finchley is a snobby critic with a peculiar eccentricity, that being he hates, despises, and loathes any and all types of machinery. More than that, Finchley is convinced that the machines in his home are out to get him. It sounds crazy, but this is The Twilight Zone, so we know better. I should also say that Richard Haydn does a great job as the arrogant Finchley, proclaiming his dominance over machines until almost the end of the story.

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It’s interesting how Rod Serling and company chose to play this episode out. Given the premise involves machines “rising up” against a human, it would have been easy to present this story in more of a horror style, playing up the victim’s increasing fear and terror. Instead, the story first makes Finchley so unlikable, that you feel inclined to cheer when the machine revolution begins in force.

And really, the way Finchley acts, he brought it all on himself. His hatred of machines is so extreme it borders on the absurd. For example, note Finchley’s reaction at the end of the introductory scene when his clock begins chiming the hour. The clock isn’t doing anything wrong, clocks are supposed to chime the hour, but Finchley’s reaction is to command it to stop, and then SMASH it when it continues to chime. That reaction is not only unreasonable, it’s practically insane, and it makes you wonder just how “together” Finchley was before this episode takes place.

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The plot device of the machines rising up one by one is pretty well done: the phone rings when it’s not connected, the television randomly switches on, the clock rings when it’s not supposed to, the typewriter types with nobody at the table, and those machines that are capable of sound have one message in common: Get out of here Finchley! As if that weren’t enough, things step up a notch further when other, more random objects come in for the attack. My particular favorite is when Finchley’s electric razor literally comes snaking down the stairs and rises up to attack (if you look close, you can se the wire manipulating the razor). As with all of The Twilight Zone episodes of this type, things build to a climax where Finchley does indeed “get out”…permanently.

I don’t say this often, but given the subject matter this is one episode of The Twilight Zone that I wouldn’t mind seeing a modern remake of. Given how the technology all around us has increased tenfold from fifty years ago, it would be most interesting to see a retelling of this story by someone who’s surrounded by iPhones, smart TVs, computers everywhere. Hopefully the rebooted series that’s on CBS All-Access will run with this idea in a future episode.

Overall, “A Thing About Machines” is a good example of what makes The Twilight Zone so enjoyable to watch. Let me know your thoughts regarding “A Thing About Machines” in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Twilight Zone S1 E28: A Nice Place to Visit

When it comes to the original run of The Twilight Zone, I have many episodes that I consider to be my favorites. But if I had to pick just one episode to go back and watch for the first time all over again, it would have to be the season 1 episode “A Nice Place to Visit.” Not only is it a well done episode, I also feel like it has the most memorable “wham” line in the entire series (feel free to correct me if you feel otherwise). But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take a look at the episode.

“A Nice Place to Visit” is notable for starting off with a bang, literally, as the lead character, a hardened thief named Rocky Valentine gets shot and killed while fleeing a robbery. Soon after, Rocky meets Pip (Sebastian Cabot), who introduces himself as Rocky’s “guide” to this strange, new world he finds himself in. Larry Blyden is quite convincing as the hardened-beyond-redemption Rocky, playing the character in just such a way that you can’t feel any sympathy for him.

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And where exactly is Rocky? Well, it takes the gangster some time to work it out, but he eventually does realize he’s not on Earth anymore (though you’d think being accompanied by a mysterious figure dressed in white would’ve been a big clue, but then again Rocky’s not that smart). Rocky then decides that since he’s dead and not burning up in flames, well then he must be in Heaven! You really can’t blame Rocky for jumping to this conclusion, as the gangster has found himself in very plush surroundings: he’s in the penthouse of a posh hotel and casino, he has beautiful girls waiting on him hand and foot, a brand new car to drive whenever he wants, and he always has the best luck at the gaming tables. It’s an absolute Paradise for someone like Rocky…or is it?

See, if you pay attention, there are clues seeded from the beginning that indicate Rocky isn’t where he thinks he is. For example, observe how Pip interacts with Rocky, particularly when he’s trying on his new clothes. While his “guide” is full of flattery, he’s not exactly sincere in his compliments. And then there’s the fact that no one else is in “Heaven” with Rocky. You don’t need a Masters in Theology to know that Heaven isn’t meant to be an empty place. There’s also the telling look at Rocky’s “file” in the Hall of Records (during the gangster’s brief doubts that he’s ended up in the correct place), where it’s revealed that Rocky had quite the sinful life, with no redeeming moments whatsoever. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how wonderful Sebastian Cabot is in his role as Pip throughout the episode. The way he plays the character, you can tell he’s more than happy to guide Rocky throughout his “domain” but he’s also visibly holding quite a deal back (as we’ll see shortly).

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The biggest clue of all to what’s going on can be found in Rocky’s unnatural luck. What seemed to be a heavenly blessing is actually a curse, because try as he might Rocky can’t stop winning, no matter what game he plays! That might not sound so bad, but think about it: imagine you’re playing a game and all you do is win, time after time for DAYS at a time. That would get boring wouldn’t it? Well, after a month in “Heaven” that’s exactly what happens to Rocky; the gangster is bored out of his skull because he’s getting everything he ever wanted with absolutely no risk involved, an intolerable situation for someone like Rocky, who’s thrived on risk his whole life. Rocky can’t stand being in a place, no matter how nice, where there isn’t any risk to him.

As a result of this boredom, while Rocky still believes he’s in Heaven, he finally decides he’s in the wrong place after all, and asks to go to “the other place (Hell).” And that’s when it happens, that’s when Pip delivers the immortal line that turns everything you thought you knew about this story on its head:

“Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!

How I wish I could go back and relive the first time I heard that line over again, because it really is a game changer. The idea that such a nice place could really be “the other place,” it really blew my mind. I think of all the series’ twists, this is the one that hides itself the best, right until the end anyway. Of course, in hindsight, given The Twilight Zone’s known history of unexpected twists, maybe a lot of people saw it coming after all. Regardless of whether you expected it or not, Rocky’s reaction to finding out where he’s been all this time is priceless. It’s amazing how quickly you want to leave when you find out your “Paradise” is actually a gilded cage in the middle of Hell itself.

Let me know what you think of “A Nice Place to Visit” in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Twilight Zone S5 E25: The Masks

The Twilight Zone is noted for telling stories about a wide variety of characters, many of whom end up suffering a twisted punishment through bizarre means. “The Masks,” another 5th season episode, is an exemplar of this particular story-type. The story is set in New Orleans in the home of Jason Foster, a ridiculously wealthy, and notably blunt old man who is also dying. In any other story, you might think Jason was the one fixing to get what’s coming to him, but that thought disappears the moment you meet his relatives, who are all the very definition of “pieces of work.”

Let’s see now, there’s Emily, Jason’s daughter, who is an eternal hypochondriac (and unwitting hypocrite), always believing she is on death’s door suffering from some malady. There’s Wilfred, Emily’s husband, who only cares about money. And next to those two are the grown children Wilfred Jr., who apparently used to like torturing small animals if Jason is to be believed, and then there’s Paula. Paula is an interesting case because at first her only “sin” appears to be that she’s obsessed with her own appearance. Don’t let her fool you; later in the story she goes into a tirade about the miserable time she’s having waiting for her grandfather to die. In short, there’s little to no redeeming value in any of Jason’s kin, and the dying millionaire knows it.

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Instead of simply cutting them out of the will, however, Jason decides to inflict his own punishment, perfect for the Twilight Zone. Since it is the night of Mardi Gras, everyone in the family must wear masks. But these aren’t any ordinary party masks. These are grotesque, disturbing things to look at. I often find myself wondering what color those masks were (since the episode was filmed in black and white it’s impossible to say for certain), since the colors might have added to their disturbing nature. But I digress…

You’ll also note Jason says they were made “by an old Cajun” which should be a big clue to the audience that something supernatural will happen eventually if you put them on. But Jason includes a fool-proof catch: if anyone in the family refuses to wear the masks, then all any of them will get from his estate is train fare back home. Jason knows full well his relatives are far too greedy to pass up on his fortune. So they all put the masks on (even Jason, he wears a death’s head), and they wait for midnight, when Jason says the masks can come off.

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This next part is, for me, the saddest part of the episode, because as midnight approaches all of Jason’s family beg him to let them take the masks off, saying how stupid this is and how they can’t bear it. Jason then turns to them all and says:

“Have you all had your say?….is there nothing else you have to say to me?”

Having read between the lines, I’m convinced that Jason is giving his family one final chance to show him that they have at least one redeeming quality about them. If just one of them had shown some spark of caring, I really think Jason would have called it all off and let them take the masks off. But the chance is wasted on these people, and as midnight strikes, Jason finally passes away. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence he died at the stroke of midnight either. Earlier in the episode, Jason mentions that there’s a “ritual” to the wearing of the masks. While he describes it in some detail, I think he leaves a crucial detail out. I suspect, that for the ritual to take full effect, someone has to wear the death’s head and sacrifice their life at midnight. It makes sense if you think about it, most stories involving magic will tell you that powerful magic requires some form of sacrifice. And since Jason was dying anyway, it follows that he would choose a relatively quick death over suffering who knows how much longer. And if he can punish his relatives at the same time…so much the better.

And what a punishment! The reveal of what the masks have done make this one of my favorite episodes to this very day. And to those who might say “Well can’t they just get plastic surgery to fix their faces?” That’s just it, they can’t! You see, going for surgery would mean revealing their problems and flaws for all the world to see. And you saw how they all act, they’d never be able to do that. So they’re stuck with their punishment for the rest of their lives.

Let me know what you think about “The Masks” in the comments below and have a great day!

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The Twilight Zone S5 E27: Sounds and Silences

The Twilight Zone is memorable, and rightly so, for creating an anthology full of memorable stories, nearly of which have a shocking twist at the end. For me personally, the reason I love this series so much is because Rod Serling proved to be a master of “watch this obnoxious individual get what’s coming to him.”

“Sounds and Silences,” produced late in the 5th and final season, is one such episode. The episode details the demise of Roswell G. Flemington, owner of a model ship company, and described by Serling himself as “two hundred and twenty pounds of gristle, lung tissue and sound decibels.” He’s not the worst character to get his comeuppance on this show, but he comes awfully close through sheer obnoxiousness.

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Flemington is a man obsessed with the Navy, to the point that his company office is modeled after the interior of a ship’s cabin. That, in and of itself, wouldn’t be so bad, except Flemington is also obsessed with noise. I’m not just talking about blaring records as loud as he can (which he does throughout the episode), I’m talking about slamming doors, stamping feet, and yelling whenever he talks. One harried staff member mutters aloud that “someday all of that noise is going to come back and bite him” and boy does it ever!

The downward spiral begins when Flemington’s wife of 20 years finally has enough and decides to leave him. The one part of this episode that I find difficult to accept is that a man like Flemington was able to find a wife at all! I absolutely love the scene where she tells Roswell off and proceeds to inform him, in no uncertain terms, that their marriage is over. This is also the scene that completely destroys any final scrap of sympathy you might have for this character, as Flemington describes, in sneering detail, how he had to put up with a hypochondriac mother and THAT is why he’s so obsessed with noise. You might feel bad for him, were it not for the fact that the man is clearly talking down to his soon-to-be-ex-wife. It’s made plain that this guy deserves everything he’s about to get.

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It’s after Flemington’s wife leaves that the fun really starts. I have to imagine the sound people had a lot of fun with this episode, when they had to simulate Flemington hearing noises louder than they actually are. It’s slightly surreal, hearing all of the sound effects, but it goes a long way toward showing how Flemington is rapidly losing his grip on reality. In fact, the conclusion comes not long afterward, when Flemington, having convinced himself that all of this is “mind over matter” finds he cannot hear at all.

Now, I have two thoughts on the ending of this episode. On the one hand, it’s implied that Roswell simply took “mind over matter” too far and accidentally made himself deaf. On the other hand, when you spend day after day listening to records at ear-splitting decibel levels…really, he was bound to lose his hearing sooner or later. In either case, this is one of the most suitable punishments presented in the show. Flemington, a man obsessed with noise, is now forced to live in a world with none at all.

Let me know what you think about “Sounds and Silences” in the comments below and have a great day! From now on, I’ll be working in reviews of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, so I really hope you enjoy them.

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