Original Air Date: April 1, 1960
Writer: George Clayton Johnson/Rod Serling
Director: David Orrick McDearmon
“I died once, mister. I’ve been to hell. Now I’m back…”
“Commonplace—if somewhat grim—unsocial event known as a necktie party, the guest of dishonor a cowboy named Joe Caswell, just a moment away from a rope, a short dance several feet off the ground, and then the dark eternity of all evil men. Mr. Joe Caswell, who, when the good Lord passed out a conscience, a heart, a feeling for fellow men, must have been out for a beer and missed out. Mr. Joe Caswell, in the last, quiet moment of a violent life.”
The year is 1880. The place is the Old West. A criminal named Joe Caswell (played by Albert Salmi) is set to be hanged when he mysteriously and spontaneously disappears leaving an empty noose. Eighty years later, a professor named Manion (played by Russell Johnson who most notably played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island) is tending to his subject, a man who traveled through the professor’s newly crafted time machine. Joe Caswell’s life was saved as he became the first person to ever experience time travel. Manion explains to a dazed Caswell how the machine works, and his hopes for accumulating Caswell into a modern, urban setting. However, when Manion sees the rope burn on Caswell’s neck, and hears of his confession to killing at least twenty men, Manion realizes Caswell must be returned to 1880.
Tension builds between the two men until Caswell finally attacks Manion. He then runs out into the city but he is quickly overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of cars, lights, television, and so on. Caswell rushes back to the lab to plead with the now deceased corpse of Professor Manion to return to his own time. At that moment, a thief enters the lab and fights with Caswell. He strangles Caswell and then accidentally activates the time machine sending himself back to 1880. His body is found hanging from the noose intended for Caswell. Each character in the episode has become the hostage to some form of cosmic retribution.
“This is November 1880, the aftermath of a necktie party. The victim’s name—Paul Johnson, a minor-league criminal and the taker of another human life. No comment on his death save this: justice can span years. Retribution is not subject to a calendar. Tonight’s case in point in The Twilight Zone.”
In a fascinating blend of genres, Rod Serling and George Clayton Johnson introduce us to a familiar tale of the old west before it is suddenly interrupted by modern science. Even with the advent of time travel, there is a sense of supernatural justice which has been dealt to each character in the story.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- “Execution” is the second contribution to The Twilight Zone from writer George Clayton Johnson and the episode has a great deal in common with themes found in his earlier episode “The Four Of Us Are Dying.”
- “Execution” is also the second western-themed episode of the series after “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.”
- Actor Albert Salmi appeared in several additional Twilight Zone episodes as well as a string of Hitchcock and Western shows. However, his life ended tragically. Long suffering from clinical depression, Salmi took the life of his estranged wife, Roberta, before turning the gun on himself on April 22, 1990 at their home in Spokane, Washington. Salmi was 68 years old.