Original Air Date: October 16, 1959
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Allen Reisner
“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.“
Mr. Denton on Doomsday originally aired on October 16, 1959. It was directed by Allen Reisner, and it was written by Rod Serling.
The beauty of The Twilight Zone series is that the audience can be transported anywhere and anything can happen: the possibilities are limitless. In Mr. Denton on Doomsday we are dropped into to the old west. At the time of its release Westerns like Gunsmoke ruled the silver screen.
“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 up to a figure standing before 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 mysteriously appears on the ground next to Denton] And this is the third principal character of our story. Its function: perhaps to give Mr. Al Denton his second chance.”Rod Serling
A town drunk named Al Denton (played by Dan Duryea) was once the fastest gunslinger in town but now 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 and he gets into two accidental duels with Hotaling, injuring Hotaling both times while an unusual onlooker watches. Filled with newfound popularity and self-confidence after defeating his nemesis, Denton gets a shave and cleans himself up. He is now celebrated as the fastest gunman in town. He confesses his backstory to a town prostitute (played by television soap opera actress, Jeanne Cooper). He confesses that he once dueled and killed a sixteen year old boy, causing a 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 Denton.
Fate offers Denton a potion that promises to improve his shooting, however during the face-off of Pete Grant, both men realize they each drank the same potion. They 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 – Pete Grant has no idea of the gift he has been given.
“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
Denton is a man who is offered a second chance, quite literally, by Fate. He originally began as a famous gunslinger, then became a tortured alcoholic only to find hope in rebirth. It 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 is given a new lease on life. 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.
- 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 inexplicably able to provide what one needs is 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 earlier on September 26th, 1959. Malcolm Attenbury also was in North By Northwest as the man at the prairie crossing.