The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Three “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”

Original Air Date: October 16, 1959
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Allen Reisner

“How dry I am…”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The beauty of The Twilight Zone is that audiences can be transported anywhere and anything can happen: the possibilities are limitless. In Mr. Denton on Doomsday we are dropped into the old west where a once-great gunslinger has fallen into despair only to be given a miraculous new lease on life. At the time of this episode’s release, Westerns like Gunsmoke ruled the silver screen, however few had seen a science fiction interpretation of the genre.

“Portrait of a town drunk named Al Denton. This is a man who’s begun his dying early—a long, agonizing route through a maze of bottles. Al Denton, who would probably give an arm or a leg or a part of his soul to have another chance, to be able to rise up and shake the dirt from his body and the bad dreams that infest his consciousness. [The camera pans to a figure standing in front of a stagecoach] In the parlance of the times, this is a peddler, a rather fanciful-looking little man in a black frock coat. [A revolver appears on the ground] And this is the third principal character of our story. Its function: perhaps to give Mr. Al Denton his second chance.”
-Rod Serling

A local drunk named Al Denton (played by Dan Duryea) was once the fastest gunslinger in town but now his star has faded. He is mocked and forced to sing an off-key version of “how dry I am…” simply for a drop of liquor. His chief nemesis dressed in black is the arrogant Dan Hotaling (played by Martin Landau) who forces Denton to sing for booze.

Suddenly, a gun mysteriously appears on the ground next to Denton’s hand as he falls into the dirt and he accidentally duels with Hotaling, who is injured both times while an unusual onlooker watches the fight. Filled with newfound popularity and self-confidence following the defeat of his nemesis, Denton gets a shave and cleans himself up. He is now celebrated once again as the fastest gunman in town. He confesses his backstory to a town prostitute (played by television soap opera actress, Jeanne Cooper). Denton claims that he once dueled and killed a sixteen year old boy, causing him to feel tremendous guilt and spiral into alcoholic depression.

Another gunslinger, Pete Grant (played by television western actor Doug McClure) enters the fray. Just before the duel, Denton attempts to flee because his shooting is shaky from years of alcoholism, but he is stopped by a traveling salesman named Henry J. Fate (played by Malcolm Atterbury). Proverbially, fate calls upon Denton.

Mr. Fate offers Denton a potion that promises to improve his shooting, however during his face-off with Pete Grant, both men realize they have each had a drink of the same potion. They both shoot each other’s hands, preventing any future gunslinging, thus breaking the curse for Denton. He is thankful to be freed from either being a drunk or a gunslinger, while Pete Grant has no idea of the gift he has been given. Mr. Fate hitches up his covered wagon and heads out of town.

Mr. Henry Fate, dealer in utensils and pots and pans, liniments and potions. A fanciful little man in a black frock coat who can help a man climbing out of a pit—or another man from falling into one. Because, you see, fate can work that way, in the Twilight Zone.
-Rod Serling

My Thoughts on “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”

Denton is a man who is, quite literally, offered a second chance by Fate. He originally began his life as a famous gunslinger, but then descended into a tortured spiral of alcoholism only to find hope in new life. His is a story of redemption. We (the audience) begin the episode with little respect for Denton, and we end the episode recognizing him as an honored hero who has been given the rarest of gifts –hope. People are not always what they seem in The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone Trivia

  • This is the first Twilight Zone episode to feature a Western setting.
  • This was the only Twilight Zone episode directed by Allen Reisner. He later directed two episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.
  • Rod Serling’s working title for this episode was “Death, Destry, and Mr. Dingle.”
  • This was one of five episodes to include an eye, not a spiral, at the introduction, the others being Season 1’s “A World of His Own,” “The Mighty Casey,” “The After Hours” and “Mr. Bevis.”
  • Another episode with the theme of a mysterious vendor who is inexplicably able to provide what is needed can be found in Season 1’s “What You Need.”
  • Dan Duryea was paid $5,000 for his four days of work on this episode.
  • The harmonica music in the background is an old Russian folksong known as “Stenka Razin”.
  • Martin Landau and Ken Lynch both appeared in scenes with Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959), which was released only 20 days before this episode on September 26th, 1959. Malcolm Attenbury also was in North By Northwest as the man at the prairie crossing.
  • Rod Serling had previously used the name Denton, the real life name of a childhood acquaintance, as the role of a sheriff in a Playhouse 90 production of “A Town Has Turned to Dust.”

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

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