The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Nineteen “The Purple Testament”

Original Air Date: February 12, 1960
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Richard L. Bare

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There is a fascinating little backstory to this episode. Both the star (William Reynolds) and the director (Richard L. Bare) almost died in a plane crash the night the episode was supposed to air. They were on their way back from shooting a pilot episode for the The Islanders when their plane crashed into the ocean. The wreck killed one person and several others were injured. Both Reynolds and Bare suffered broken legs, however when their plane crashed they were only a few miles off the coast of Jamaica so they decided to swim for it. This episode of The Twilight Zone was quickly pulled off the air out of respect (though some of these facts are disputed). Nevertheless it was an ironic twist of fate considering the subject matter of the episode: a supernatural ability to foresee one’s own death.

“Infantry platoon, U.S. Army, Philippine Islands, 1945. These are the faces of the young men who fight, as if some omniscient painter had mixed a tube of oils that were at one time earth brown, dust gray, blood red, beard black, and fear – yellow white, and these men were the models. For this is the province of combat, and these are the faces of war.”
-Rod Serling

The setting is 1945. We are introduced to a band of U.S. troops stationed in the Philippine Islands. Lieutenant Fitzgerald (played by William Reynolds who took the role at the last minute) has just returned from a battle where four of his men were killed. His friend Captain Phil Riker (played by Dick York of Bewitched fame) sees something changed in Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald confesses that somehow he knew the men were going to die in advance of the battle. He describes a certain power he has been granted which shows a vague glow on men’s faces before they are about to die. He then sees this glow in Riker -and pretty soon word gets out among the troops about Fitzgerald’s unique power. Riker dies shortly thereafter, just as Fitzgerald had predicted.

In the end, Fitzgerald is given a few of weeks of medical leave. However, before he can depart he looks in the mirror sees the faint glow over his own face. He then sees the glow on the face of his driver and he knows they are about to die. A few moments later we hear an explosion as his car strikes a landmine.

“From William Shakespeare, Richard III, a small excerpt. The line reads, ‘He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.’ And for Lieutenant William Fitzgerald, A Company, First Platoon, the testament is closed. Lieutenant Fitzgerald has found the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • In his closing narrative, Rod Serling mistakenly quotes Shakespeare’s Richard III when it was actually a quotation from Richard II.
  • Dean Stockwell was originally cast in the lead role, but was unable to appear so William Reynolds was added at the last minute.
  • The house in which Fitzgerald confronts Gunther and Riker is a redress of the set used in “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine.”

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

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