The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Seventeen “The Fever”

Original Air Date: January 29, 1960
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Robert Florey

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“The Fever” is a somewhat farcical episode that explores the issue of gambling addiction as we watch one man driven insane by a Las Vegas slot machine. It was written by Rod Serling based on a trip he took to Las Vegas. At the time of the episode’s production gambling machines were illegal in California. Because of the ban, it was actually difficult for the crew to locate a slot machine for the show -they had to retrieve one from the local police department where it had been impounded. A policeman had to accompany the crew during the shoot to ensure the machine was not taken.

“Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Gibbs, three days and two nights all expenses paid at a Las Vegas hotel, won by virtue of Mrs. Gibbs’s knack with a phrase. But unbeknownst to either Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs is the fact that there’s a prize in their package, neither expected nor bargained for. In just a moment, one of them will succumb to an illness worse than any virus can produce. A most inoperative, deadly life-shattering affliction known as the Fever.”
-Rod Serling

A cold and stingy curmudgeon named Franklin Gibbs (played by Everett Sloane who appeared in a number of classic shows and films including Citizen Kane) and his wife Flora (played by Vivi Janiss) are on an all-expenses paid vacation in Las Vegas because she won a “slogan contest.” While there, Flora decides to quickly play a slot machine for fun, but Franklin protests decrying the frivolity of gambling away money. When she does not win any money he coldly tells her to go back to the room. Along the way, a drunken man forcibly grabs Franklin’s arm to put a coin into the slot machine. He wins a small jackpot.

Later that evening Franklin cannot sleep -he is haunted by the prospect of winning more money from the slot machine (the “one-armed bandit”). He tells his wife that he is going to give the money back to the slot machine downstairs. However, when he arrives at the slot machine he is unable to control himself. He begins obsessively playing the slots for hours as a small crowd gathers. Later, Flora comes down from the room to find that Franklin has gambled away a sizable portion of their money and now he is desperately trying to win it all back. His “fever” grows out of control. He screams at his wife. He puts his last dollar into the machine while growing furious, and the machine suddenly stops working. The casino staff carry Franklin back to his room while the voice of the machine echoes in his head. Later in his room Franklin is stalked by the slot machine. It chases him around the room and eventually out a window where Franklin falls several stories to his death. His last dollar lays flat in his open hand.

“Mr. Franklin Gibbs, visitor to Las Vegas, who lost his money, his reason, and finally his life, all to an inanimate metal machine variously described as a one-armed bandit, a slot machine, or in Mr. Franklin Gibbs’ words, a monster with a will all its own. For our purposes, we’ll stick with the latter definition because we’re in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • In the book Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man, Gordon F. Sander writes, “Serling celebrated the signing of his new show, The Twilight Zone by spending a weekend in Las Vegas. While Carol Serling was having good luck nearby, he became enslaved by a merciless one-armed bandit, an incident he would turn into one of his first Twilight Zone episodes.”
  • The same slot machine in this episode was used in later Twilight Zone episodes.
  • This episode features the unique voice of a slot machine that was created by using speakers near an actor’s esophagus alongside the sound of tinkling coins.
  • Everett Sloane was a noted television actor who previously appeared as a character in a script written by Rod Serling entitled “Noon on Doomsday” on the U.S. Steel Hour in 1956. It was one of the more heavily censored scripts Serling ever wrote because it was about the murder of Emmett Till. Sloane was also the author of the little-known lyrics to The Andy Griffith Show theme. Tragically, Sloane contracted glaucoma at the age of 55 and grew depressed by the prospect of onset blindness. He committed suicide by overdosing on barbiturates in 1965.
  • Everett Sloane also appeared in Rod Serling’s earlier award-winning episode for Kraft Television Theatre entitled “Patterns.”

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

Click here to read my reflections on Rod Serling’s short story “The Fever.”

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