The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Fourteen “Five Characters In Search Of An Exit”

Original Air Date: December 22, 1961
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Lamont Johnson

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, and an army major—a collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation; just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we’ll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we’ll only explain it—because this is the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

In a shadowy place we see a man (William Windom) slowly awaken in a dark room with no recollection of how he arrived. He appears to be a military man (“The Major”) inside a round, circular room –perhaps a prison. Also inside the room are a clown (Murray Matheson), a hobo (Kelton Garwood), a bagpipe-player (Clark Allen), and a ballerina (Susan Harrison). None of them remember how they got there, and occasionally a loud ringing knocks them all to the ground.

The group attempts several efforts to escape, until finally they form a human ladder with the Major climbing up to the edge of the sphere but before he can explain what he sees, he plummets far below to the ground. The camera expands and we see a little girl walking along a sidewalk in winter-time. She finds an army doll laying on the ground and places it into a bin for a “17th Annual Christmas Drive.” The twist is that the group of people in the spherical room are actually a collection of sad, lonely toys waiting to delivered to orphan children for Christmas. Nearby a woman rings a bell for the toy collection.

“Just a barrel, a dark depository where are kept the counterfeit, make-believe pieces of plaster and cloth, wrought in a distorted image of human life. But this added hopeful note: perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love. A clown, a tramp, a bagpipe player, a ballet dancer, and a Major. Tonight’s cast of players on the odd stage—known as—The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

In one of the more iconic moments from Season 3, we see The Twilight Zone premeditating the arrival of Toy Story by several decades, only in this circumstance the toys are unaware of their situation and the plot is dark and existential. While I greatly respect this episode, after you’ve seen it once you know the twist is coming. For this reason it is not my favorite in the series.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • This episode combines elements within a play written by Italian writer Luigi Pirandello entitled “Six Characters in Search of an Author” and Jean Paul Sartre’s “No Exit.”
  • Rod Serling converted a five-page idea for a plot twist by Martin Petal, a journalist-turned-television writer.
  • According to cinematographer George T. Clemens, this episode was shot on a round aluminum set.
  • Make-up artist William Tuttle crafted the dolls heads as featured at the end of the episode.
  • The little girl at the end of the episode was played by Buck Houghton’s daughter, Mona.

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

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