Original Air Date: March 4, 1960
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Ronald Winston
“They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find and it’s themselves.
All we need do is sit back – and watch.”
In one of the more consequential Twilight Zone episodes, “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” drops an inspiring bit of horror and science fiction into the safest of American conventions –suburbia. The episode explores Serling’s oft censored wish to address socially relevant concerns, like the self-destructive nature of mankind or the serious dangers of fanatical groupthink (i.e. McCarthyism or Puritanism). No one is ever completely safe from the madness of crowds.
“Maple Street, U.S.A., late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 P.M. on Maple Street…This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon. Maple Street in the last calm and reflective moment—before the monsters came.”
One summer day in the late afternoon a large burst of light appears across the sky above a safe, suburban community on Maple Street. Shortly thereafter the neighbors learn that all of their household machines are rendered defective. One boy explains a theory about aliens and gradually as night falls the neighborhood begins to turn on itself. Charges are leveled as neighbors accuse one another of being an alien until total chaos breaks loose. The denizens of Maple Street are played by Claude Akins, Barry Atwater, Jack Weston and others.
In the end, we pan out to discover a group of bureaucratic aliens watching Maple Street descend into madness from a hilltop. They ominous comment: “[Humans] pick the most dangerous enemy they can find and it’s themselves. All we need do is sit back – and watch.” They return to their spacecraft with plans to bring this strategy of fear and intimidation to every neighborhood in America. Rather than invading and attacking, the aliens simply allow humanity to destroy itself.
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own: for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined… to the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The uniforms worn by the aliens, their spaceship’s ramp, and the shots of the flying spaceship were all originally borrowed from the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. This was the third episode in the series to borrow from Forbidden Planet.
- In 2009, TIME named “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” one of the ten best Twilight Zone episodes.
- This episode was remade in 2003 with narration by Forest Whitaker.
- The set for this episode was shot borrowed from MGM’s Andy Hardy show.
- In The Twilight Zone Companion Marc Scott Zicree claims this episode “may well be the greatest piece ever written about mob violence in any medium.”
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 Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”
Top 5 episode.
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Definitely one of The Twilight Zone’s most crucial reminders of how irrational fears can be the greatest danger for all humanity.
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