Original Air Date: January 22, 1960
Writer: Lucille Fletcher/Rod Serling
Director: Alvin Ganzer
“But terror isn’t formless. It has a form. He was beckoning me…”
“The Hitch-Hiker” is a brilliantly executed and highly disturbing episode of The Twilight Zone. The story was adapted from Lucille Fletcher’s radio play which first premiered in 1941 featuring the voice of Orson Welles. Fletcher’s first husband was Bernard Herrmann, the famous composer who created score for the initial Twilight Zone theme as well as numerous Hitchcock classics. Herrmann also composed the music the 1941 radio version of the “Hitch-Hiker.” Rod Serling heard Fletcher’s original radio play as a child and he never forgot the story.
“Her name is Nan Adams. She’s twenty-seven years old. Her occupation: buyer at a New York department store, at present on vacation, driving cross-country to Los Angeles, California, from Manhattan…. Minor incident on Highway 11 in Pennsylvania, perhaps to be filed away under ‘accidents you walk away from.’ But from this moment on, Nan Adam’s companion on a trip to California will be terror; her route: fear; her destination: quite unknown.”
Nan Adams (played by Swedish-American actress Inger Stevens) is a 27-year old woman on a road trip from New York to California. After her tire blows out in Pennsylvania she continues along the road, but no matter how far she goes, or how fast she drives she keeps seeing the same hitch-hiker. No matter where she goes, she continues seeing this same hitch-hiker and his disturbingly blank expression with outstretched thumb along highways and beside gas stations. Leonard Strong wonderfully captures this haunting yet simple character who simply stalks and stares at his prey.
She takes the backroads to avoid the strange man. When her car runs out of gas in the middle of the night she pulls up to a rest stop where thankfully a sailor (played Adam Williams) offers to help her. We (the audience) feel a sense of safety and security at the sailor’s presence. The two of them begin driving across country together to California, but the sailor grows nervous as Nan continues seeing the hitch-hiker. At one point, she tries to crash her car into the mysterious hitch-hiker, at which point the sailor abandons Nan alone at night in her vehicle. Despite her pleas, she is once again alone. She goes to a public telephone to call her mother, but she informed that her mother is not home following a nervous breakdown -“Nan was killed just six days ago…” when her tire was blown out in Pennsylvania. Drained, she returns to her car and in her drop-down mirror she sees the Hitch-Hiker sitting alone in her backseat. “I believe you’re going my way,” he asks. The Hitch-Hiker is haunting form of Death or perhaps the Grim-Reeper, and Nan is merely a ghost.
“Nan Adams, age twenty-seven. She was driving to California; to Los Angeles. She didn’t make it. There was a detour… through the Twilight Zone.”
“The Hitch-Hiker” bears all the trappings of a Hitchcock film -it carries the unique sense of dread throughout the story, has a haunting recurrence of something seemingly impossible, and of course it features a vulnerable blonde woman as the lead character. In fact Hitchcock apparently tried to buy the rights to the story before Serling acquired it.
The following is a quote from Lucille Fletcher’s “The Hitchhiker”: “Outside it is night – the vast, soulless night of New Mexico. A million stars are in the sky. Ahead of me stretch a thousand miles of empty mesa, mountains, prairies – desert. Somewhere among them, he is waiting for me. Somewhere I shall know who he is, and who . . . I . . . am.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Orson Welles narrated Lucille Fletcher’s original radio play for this episode in 1941. Apparently Fletcher was not consulted about the change of gender for the main character in The Twilight Zone episode and she was displeased.
- Rod Serling changed the original script main character’s name to “Nan” named after his daughter Anne (her nickname was “Nan”). The character was named Ronald Adams in Fletcher’s original radio play.
- “The Hitch-Hiker” was the only Twilight Zone episode derived directly from a radio play.
- Alfred Hitchcock attempted to purchase the story from Lucille Fletcher for Alfred Hitchcock Presents but she turned down his $2,000 offer, even though she later sold it for the same price to The Twilight Zone.
- The lead actress Inger Stevens also appeared in another Twilight Zone episode in Season 2. She later died of barbiturate poisoning at age 35 in 1970.