Original Air Date: February 5, 1960
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: William F. Claxton
“Maybe it wasn’t an accident that I landed here. Maybe I was brought here for a purpose to find out that time was giving me a second chance. You’ve got to let me go!”
The script for “The Last Flight” was entirely written by Richard Matheson (his previous episodes scripts were written by Rod Serling but based on stories by Matheson). This episode is a classic “man out of time” episode that offers an opportunity for one lone World War I pilot to redeem himself and claim the mantle of heroism.
“Witness Flight Lieutenant William Terrance Decker, Royal Flying Corps, returning from a patrol somewhere over France. The year is 1917. The problem is that the Lieutenant is hopelessly lost. Lieutenant Decker will soon discover that a man can be lost not only in terms of maps and miles, but also in time – and time in this case can be measured in eternities.”
It is March 5, 1917. British Royal Flying Corp Second Lieutenant William Terrance “Terry” Decker (played by Kenneth Haigh) flies his plane into a thick cloud before emerging and landing at an airport base. He lands at Lafayette Air Base, an American base in Reims, France many years later in the year 1959. Somehow he has traveled through time. The American military personnel at Lafayette are utterly baffled as to why a World War I era plane has just landed. When questioned, Lt. Decker explains both the time and the place from which he comes. He provides documentation as to his identity.
Lt. Decker had just abandoned his flying partner, Alexander Mackaye, as they were surrounded by seven German aircraft. Leaving his partner for dead Lt. Decker veered into a cloud and disappeared into the future. Lt. Decker now believes himself to be a coward. He learns that Mackaye is scheduled to arrive at Lafayette that same day and he begins to realize that time has offered him a second chance to save his friend. He springs back to his plane assaulting several officers and overcoming his own cowardice.
When Mackaye arrives he is asked about Lt. Decker. To which he responds, “Terry Decker? Oh I should know him – he saved my life.” Mackaye describes how they were out on patrol when seven German planes surrounded them. Mackaye watched as Decker fled and disappeared into a cloud, returning moments later guns ablaze. Decker shot down three German aircraft before being shot down himself. Decker’s actions saved Mackaye’s life but Decker’s personal effects were never recovered. Mackaye is handed Decker’s identification and other personal items. In shock, Mackaye asks where they came from to which the American Major responds with a nickname only Decker would have known, “Maybe you’d better sit down, Old Leadbottom.”
“Dialog from a play, Hamlet to Horatio: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Dialog from a play written long before men took to the sky: There are more things in heaven and earth and in the sky than perhaps can be dreamt of. And somewhere in between heaven, the sky, the earth, lies The Twilight Zone.”
The writings of Plato and Aristotle are replete with examinations of the nature of courage, and it is precisely this question of courage that our British pilot must face in this episode of The Twilight Zone. Some supernatural force has granted Lt. Decker to redeem himself and sacrifice his own life for a friend. However, courage is not easy. Many of us would like to think we would choose the higher path and fly back up into that cloud, but such passion does not waywardly come along.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The vintage plane for this episode was brought in and flown by its owner Frank Gifford Tallman, a veteran motion picture pilot. The plane had been used in a variety of Hollywood productions. George T. Clemens’s cinematography wonderfully captures the distinctions between old and new aviation as a 1917 war plane lands alongside an advanced military jet aircraft in 1959.
- Matheson claimed that he sold Serling and Houghton on the idea for “The Last Flight” with a mere one sentence synopsis: a British World War I pilot gets lost and lands on an American base in 1959.
- This episode was filmed at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, California.
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Fear exists to be conquered. Even if that conquest depends on a miraculous intervention from the mysteries of the universe. That’s why this Twilight Zone message is among the best.
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