Original Air Date: November 27, 1959
Writer: Charles Beaumont
Director: Robert Florey
“Perchance to Dream” obscures the line between dream and reality. George T. Clemens’s extraordinary cinematography stands out in this episode as we see towering skyscrapers, oblong carnival angles, and haunting scenes from inside a children’s fun house which are reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This episode is based on a short story by Charles Beaumont originally published in Playboy in 1958.
“Twelve o’clock noon. An ordinary scene, an ordinary city. Lunchtime for thousands of ordinary people. To most of them, this hour will be a rest, a pleasant break in the day’s routine. To most, but not all. To Edward Hall, time is an enemy, and the hour to come is a matter of life and death.”
We meet Edward Hall (played by Richard Conte who played the elder Don Barzini in The Godfather), a psychiatric patient who is visiting his doctor, Dr. Eliot Rathmann (played by John Larch). In his appointment Hall explains vivid dreams which he has experienced in chapters, growing ever closer to the conclusion. In his dreams he is visited by a seductive temptress named Maya (played by Suzanne Lloyd). She continually lures him into a frightening madhouse or onto a roller coaster -she is seemingly trying to kill him with a heart attack. He believes that if he falls asleep again he will experience heart failure and die. In a moment of panic, Edward Hall tries to leave the doctor’s office but he spots the receptionist who is a dead ringer for Maya in his dreams. He dashes back into the doctor’s office and leaps out the window to his death.
The twist is that Edward Hall has been asleep the whole time. He initially fell asleep at the beginning of the episode and was carried into Dr. Rathmann’s office where he died. The whole misadventure with Maya was merely a phantasm, a strange product of the mind, but we are left to wonder which the true when reviewing The Twilight Zone Series? The key to the episode lies in the fact that dreams have significance -art and reality are not wholly separate planes of being. “For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…”
“They say a dream takes only a second or so, and yet in that second a man can live a lifetime. He can suffer and die, and who’s to say which is the greater reality: the one we know are the one in the dreams, between heaven, the sky, the earth . . . in the Twilight Zone.”
The psychology of cinema allows to gain a unique perspective into the mind of a man who is quite clearly on the edge of sanity. The playful vacillation between sleep and wakefulness is well-crafted in this episode. Whereas most stories ending with “…and then I woke up” would elicit groans and eye-rolls from an audience, “Perchance To Dream” manages to instill both fear and wonder at its short but complex narrative.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This was the first episode to air that was not written by Rod Serling, it was instead written by frequent collaborator Charles Beaumont based on a short story he wrote.
- The title of the episode derived from Shakespeare’s “To Be Or Not To Be” soliloquy in Hamlet.
- This episode was somewhat autobiographical as writer Charles Beaumont also often experienced strong, vivid dreams.
- Robert Florey also directed the first Marx Brothers movie The Cocoanuts, co-directed Monsieur Verdoux, and co-scripted Frankenstein).
- “Throughout the TV filming, Florey strove for quality. It might have been the most expensive MGM feature. He rooted out the meanings of certain lines, frequently surprising me with symbols and shadings I’d neither planned nor suspected. The set was truly impressionistic, recalling the days of Caligari and Liliom. The costumes were generally perfect. And in the starring role, Richard Conte gave a performance which displays both intensity and subtlety.” -Charles Beaumont in 1959
- It has been speculated that this episode, and the novella which spawned it, served as Wes Craven’s inspiration for the Nightmare on Elm Street series, particularly since both Craven (who himself directed several episodes of TZ during the 1980s) and Beaumont deal with a common theme: fear of sleep, over something which literally kills in one’s dreams. Craven, however, insisted that his work was never inspired by Beaumont’s.
- This was the first episode to feature the iconic Twilight Zone theme song.
- The opening skyscraper scene appears to be taken from an earlier MGM classic The Crowd (1928).
- The woman the patient thinks is trying to kill him is named Maya –which comes from the Hindi word for supernatural powers by gods and demons to produce illusions.