Original Air Date: May 13, 1960
Writer: John Henry Collier/Robert Presnell, Jr.
Director: Douglas Heyes
“The Chaser” recycles a well-worn popular cliche: “be careful what you wish for.” It is a charming little drama but admittedly it is not The Twilight Zone at its best.
“Mr. Roger Shackelforth. Age: youthful twenties. Occupation: being in love. Not just in love, but madly, passionately, illogically, miserably, all-consumingly in love – with a young woman named Leila, who has a vague recollection of his face and even less than a passing interest. In a moment, you’ll see a switch, because Mr. Roger Shackelforth, the young gentleman so much in love, will take a short, but very meaningful journey into the Twilight Zone.”
A young man named Roger Shackelforth (played by Emmy and Grammy Award winner George Grizzard) is obsessively stalking a woman named Leila (played by Patricia Barry). We first meet him hogging a public payphone desperately trying to speak with Leila while she ignores him on the other end of the line. A large and impatient man cuts to the front of the line and gives Roger a card instructing him to pay a visit to a certain man who can help solve all his romantic troubles.
Roger heeds the man’s advice and visits the residence of A. Daemon (note: “Daemon” is an old spelling of “demon”). It is a strange home with a massive library -one of the best scenes in the episode occurs when the walls part and we first meet the cantankerous yet professorial A. Daemon (played by television Western actor John McIntire). He reluctantly sells a love potion to Roger which promises grave results. Roger then brings the potion to Leila. She initially refuses to let Roger into her home, but he begs her to have just one drink with him and his wish is granted. He slips the potion into her drink and moments later she falls madly in love with him. In fact, she is wholly obsessed with him.
Six months later, Roger and Leila are married and by now he cannot stand her smothering affections. He revisits the home of A. Daemon only to discover that there is no antidote to the love potion, only a “glove cleaner” which is actually a poison intended to kill its victim. Roger reluctantly buys it and he nearly goes through with the deed until she shares some news -she is pregnant. In shock, Roger drops the poisonous drink on the floor. He tells himself he never could have gone through with it anyway. Outside on the veranda we see a brief clip of A. Daemon slyly smoking. He puffs a smoke ring into air shaped like a heart and then he vanishes. Whimsical music plays as we have just witnessed a dark comedy in The Twilight Zone.
“Mr. Roger Shackelforth, who has discovered at this late date that love can be as sticky as a vat of molasses, as unpalatable as a hunk of spoiled yeast, and as all-consuming as a six-alarm fire in a bamboo and canvas tent. Case history of a lover boy, who should never have entered the Twilight Zone.”
The saving grace of this episode is the wily and entrancing acting of John McIntire and his eccentric character: Professor A. Daemon. He offers an terrific performance, certainly memorable in the series even if this episode is not among the greatest.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This was the only episode of the first season not written by either Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, or Richard Matheson.
- “The Chaser” was based on a script by Robert Presnell, Jr. which was, itself, based on a John Collier short story. The Presnell script dates back nearly a decade before The Twilight Zone episode as “Duet for Two Actors” which debuted on February 20, 1951 for The Billy Rose Show (a.k.a. “Billy Rose’s Playbill Theater”). For its production on The Twilight Zone, the story rights were purchased from the original author John Collier for $2,000.
- Regarding his experience directing “The Chaser” Douglas Heyes is quoted as saying, “That was one of the great things about The Twilight Zone. I had total freedom. Sometimes I would think of an idea that would make the episode more Twilight Zone-y [but] that would require some expense. I remember one episode, ‘The Chaser’, in which I devised a huge bookcase that must have doubled the budget, but [Serling and Producer Buck Houghton] never blinked an eye. They just said, ‘Okay, great!’ I didn’t have to argue with anybody over the money—they’d argue about the money and let me have it! I knew that they were having problems with Jim Aubrey, but they kept them away from me. My responsibility was to get the job done.”