The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Thirteen “The Four Of Us Are Dying”

Original Air Date: January 1, 1960
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: John Brahm

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This notable noir-esque episode features four different actors playing one single character –a remarkable feat! It is about a man who can mold his face to appear in the image of anyone else he wishes. Based on the story by George Clayton Johnson, “The Four Of Us Are Dying” was challenged in pre-production to figure out how to have four different visages appear in one person. The crew attempted to accomplish this through different make-up styles but that plan was soon scratched. It would have required a significant amount time in the make-up chair for the actor. Thus they hired four separate actors.

“His name is Arch Hammer, and he’s 36 years old. He’s been a salesman, a dispatcher, a truck driver, a con man, a bookie, and a part-time bartender. This is a cheap man, a nickel and dime man, with a cheapness that goes past the suit and the shirt; a cheapness of mind, a cheapness of taste, a tawdry little shine on the seat of his consience, and a dark-room squint at a world whose sunlight has never gotten through to him. But Mr. Hammer has a talent, discovered at a very early age. This much he does have. He can make his face change. He can twitch a muscle, move a jaw, concentrate on the cast of his eyes, and he can change his face. He can change it into anything he wants. Mr. Archie Hammer, jack of all trades, has just checked in at three-eighty a night, with two bags, some newspaper clippings, a most odd talent, and a master plan to destroy some lives.”
-Rod Serling

Arch Hammer (played by Harry Townes) is a schemer and a con man with one unique power: he can change his facial appearance to look like other people. In one night he plans to assume the visage of several different people. First, he changes himself into a recently deceased trumpet player named John “Johnny” Foster (Ross Martin) in order to seduce his girlfriend who sings in a hazy nightclub. Next, he changes into a murdered criminal named Virgil Sterig (played by Phillip Pine) in order to extort a gangster hitman named “Mr. Pennell” (played by Bernard Fein who went on to appear in Hitchcock shorts as well as co-create Hogan’s Heroes) but soon mobster thugs chase Sterig down the street until he is cornered in an alley. In a split second he spots the photo of a boxer on a wall. The boxer’s name is Andy Marshak (Don Gordon) and he escapes the mob this time by quickly transforming into the boxer.

The many lives he has exploited start to catch up with him. He becomes embroiled in a familial conflict with the boxer’s father (played by Peter Brocco of Spartacus and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest fame) who is angry at what his son did to his mother and another young girl. Hammer escapes but is soon picked up by the police in connection to the mafia troubles. In a delightful scene, he escapes in a revolving door by transforming back into Marshak. But Marshak’s father is waiting for him on the street. He pulls a gun and shoots, believing he has killed his son. As Hammer dies in an alley, the camera blurs between the four different people until he finally dies as Arch Hammer. Each person’s life is immensely complex, and the thought of mere exploitation always bears a great burden.

“He was Arch Hammer, a cheap little man who just checked in. He was Johnny Foster, who played a trumpet and was loved beyond words. He was Vergil Sterig, with money in his pocket. He was Andy Marshak, who got some of his agony back on a sidewalk in front of a cheap hotel. Hammer, Foster, Sterig, Marshak- and all four of them are dying.”
-Rod Serling

As we find in the writings of Herodotus and Plato (particularly in the story of the “Ring of Gyges”) in “The Four Of Us Are Dying” we are asked to consider the relationship between visibility and justice. If someone can disappear or at least conceal himself by appearing as someone else, can he ever truly face justice? Will he live like a tyrant? Rod Serling seems to suggest that grifters like Arch Hammer will most assuredly become unjust, but Serling also offers a story about how justice, or perhaps at least retribution, will eventually prevail.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • Like many Twilight Zone episodes props and sets were reused from other MGM productions. In this case The “Hotel Real” sign, in front of Arch Hammer’s hotel, is an MGM prop, originally used in a Mexican street setting in their 1953 feature film Take the High Ground!, starring Richard Widmark and Karl Malden.
  • This is the first episode that the narrator, Rod Serling, doesn’t say “…in the Twilight Zone” in the closing narration.
  • “After the first half-dozen stories had been written, part of the hustle was getting an agent. Through those years I found several who would let me use their names, though few cared to sign a contract with me. One of these men, Jay Richards – at the time head of the television department of the Famous Artists Agency, long since absorbed by I.F.A. (International Famous Agency), and since embedded in I.C.M. (International Creative Management), which represents me now in television and movies – agreed to read something. I showed Jay ‘All of Us Are Dying.’ After reading it, he crossed out the title with a ballpoint pen and wrote in ‘Rubberface!’ Then he sent it to Rod Serling, who had a new series that season called The Twilight Zone.” — George Clayton Johnson, writing in the August 1981 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine.
  • The memorable percussive score of this episode was completed by Jerry Goldsmith (Planet of the Apes, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture).

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

1 thought on “The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Thirteen “The Four Of Us Are Dying”

  1. This was the first time I saw Don Gordon before seeing his film work starting with Papillon. It was most interesting to see a story’s lead character played by more than one actor. The way they did a few of Arch Hammer’s face changes in the opening mirror scene was marvelous.

    Liked by 1 person

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