Original Air Date: November 6, 1959
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Mitchell Leisen
“You’re about to meet a hypochondriac. Witness Mr. Walter Bedeker age forty-four. Afraid of the following: death, disease, other people, germs, draft, and everything else. He has one interest in life and that’s Walter Bedeker. One preoccupation, the life and well-being of Walter Bedeker. One abiding concern about society, that if Walter Bedeker should die how will it survive without him?”
“Escape Clause” is about a Faustian bargain between a paranoid hypochondriac and an amusing incarnation of the devil named Mr. Cadwallader. In this case, our protagonist-hypochondriac trades his soul to overcome his fear of death, only to discover the true vanity of living an immortal life.
Walter Bedeker (played by David Wayne) is a fearful man who spends his days in bed, bossing around his wife, terrified of contracting various diseases. We first encounter his disagreeable personality as he yells at a doctor, calling him a “quack.” Walter is a hypochondriac, believing even the slightest breeze through a window might kill him. When his wife leaves the room, a strange overweight man appears beside his bed named “Mr. Cadwallader” (a name that bears striking similarity to a 7th century Welsh king), or at least that is the name he goes by today. He is the personification of the devil (played by Thomas Gomez).
Mr. Cadwallader offers Walter Bedeker the opportunity to become immortal in exchange for his soul. Walter, being a vain man, makes one condition –that he not age like a “prune.” The devil laughs and agrees as they sign the compact. Notably, even the devil, who typically dwells in a very hot climate, comments on how warm Walter Bedeker keeps his room! The one opportunity to nullify the agreement is an “escape clause” wherein Walter may summon the devil to kill him.
Immediately, Walter begins a series of dangerous and escalating activities to test his newfound immortality. He burns his hands on a heater, breaks open his window, throws himself in front of a train and so on. He begins collecting insurance checks for his many accidents in a fraud scheme, but he quickly grows bored, so he tells his wife he will throw himself off the roof of his apartment building. In terror, she follows him to the roof and instead it is she who falls from the roof. Walter calmly returns to his room and calls the police –he turns himself in for the crime of killing his wife, believing they will sentence him to death. However, he appears un-remorseful at his trial and, instead, he is punished with life imprisonment.
The prospect of spending an immortal life in prison is too much for Walter to take, so he exercises his “escape clause.” The devil then promptly appears and mercifully grants him a heart attack, killing Walter Bedeker alone in his cell.
“There’s a saying, “Every man is put on Earth condemned to die, time and method of execution unknown.” Perhaps this is as it should be. Case in point: Walter Bedeker, lately deceased. A little man with such a yen to live. Beaten by the devil, by his own boredom, and by the scheme of things in this, the Twilight Zone.”
My Thoughts on “Escape Clause
The theme of this episode explores the meaninglessness of life without end. Walter’s life becomes monotonous absent the threat of pain and suffering. Ironically, at the outset Walter Bedeker desires to live solely in a sanitary room, secluded in his bed, safe from all the dangers of the world, but when he becomes immortal, he begins living inside an equally safe bubble, shielded from any dangers or obstacles, despite being exposed to every single danger known to man. A certain degree of chaos and riskiness is essential to life itself, and Walter Bedeker tragically learned this rare insight all too late in life.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- There was a Welsh king of Gwynedd named Cadwaladr (also known as Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon) who lived in the 7th Century and was rumored to have certain powers of dealing with the dead.
- The title of this episode is in reference to a legal term –a clause in a contract.
- “Escape Clause” was one of the three episodes-in-production mentioned by Rod Serling in his 1959 promotional film pitching the series to potential sponsors, the others being “The Lonely” and “Mr. Denton On Doomsday” (referred to as “Death, Destry, and Mr. Dingle”).
- This episode was directed by Mitchell Leisen, who also was the director of the original Death Takes a Holiday (1934), which contains some thematic similarities to the episode “One for the Angels” aired earlier in the season.
- There is an Inspection plate at Disney’s Tower of Terror ride that is signed by Cadwallader.
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.
Click here to read my reflections on Rod Serling’s short story “Escape Clause.”