Original Release Date: October 27, 1961
Writer: Montgomery Pittman
Director: Montgomery Pittman
In “The Grave” The Twilight Zone returns to the Old West with a traditional ghostly folktale. A group of vigilantes gun down a notorious outlaw named Pinto Sykes. An old man says, “… and that is the end of that!”
“Normally, the old man would be correct. This would be the end of the story. We’ve had the traditional shoot-out on the street, and the bad man will soon be dead. But some men of legend and folk tale have been known to continue having their way even after death. The outlaw and killer, Pinto Sykes, was such a person. And shortly, we’ll see how he introduces the town, and a man named Conny Miller in particular…to the Twilight Zone.”
The next day a hired gun named Conny Miller (played by Lee Marvin) arrives in town. He was sent to kill Pinto Sykes (played by Dick Geary), but the townsfolk (played by James Best, Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin, and others) suggest Miller might have been a coward. Before he died, Pinto Sykes said Conny Miller deliberately stayed a day behind out of fear, with his final words Sykes cursed if Conny Miller should ever come near it. The curse is as follows: if Conny Miller ever comes near his grave, Pinto Sykes will return and pull Miller downward to death. Sykes’s widow named Ione (played by Elen Willard) reiterates this curse. Shortly thereafter, Miller accepts a bar bet to visit Pinto’s grave and stick a knife in it to prove he is no coward.
That night at midnight, Miller makes the cold journey up to the cemetery. There he finds Ione who tries to offer him some alcohol before laughing and walking away. As the wind howls Miller is suddenly pulled down on top of the grave. The next morning Miller is found dead in the cemetery on top of Sykes’s grave with a knife stuck in him. The men attempt to rationalize what happened, attributing it to the direction of the wind, but Ione corrects them as the wind blows her cloak near the grave and the episode ends on a characteristically atmospheric note as she chillingly laughs at the men.
“Final Comment: you can take this with a grain of salt or a shovel of Earth, as shadow or substance. We leave it up to you. And for any further research, check under ‘G’ for ghosts…in the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This was the only Western-themed episode not written by Rod Serling.
- “The Grave” was one of two episodes shot during Season Two but released during Season Three, the other is George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark.”
- Actor Lee Marvin struggled with alcoholism considerably during this time period, and the scheduled filming had to be canceled for one day when he showed up intoxicated. Marvin issued a formal apology and filming continued as normal but his addiction continued to cause him troubles down the road.
- Several of the actors in this episode Lee Marvin, Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef all appeared in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), which was released six months after this episode was broadcast.
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The Grave could very well be the best western ghost story ever.
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