The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Twenty “Showdown with Rance McGrew”

Original Air Date: February 2, 1962
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Christian Nyby

“Some one hundred-odd years ago, a motley collection of tough moustaches galloped across the West and left behind a raft of legends and legerdemains. And it seems a reasonable conjecture that if there are any television sets up in cowboy heaven and any of these rough and wooly nail-eaters could see with what careless abandon their names and exploits are being bandied about, they’re very likely turning over in their graves; or worse, getting out of them. Which gives you a clue as to the proceedings that will begin in just a moment when one Mr. Rance McGrew, a three thousand buck a week phony-baloney, discovers that this week’s current edition of make-believe is being shot on location, and that location is The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Rance McGrew (Larry Blyden) is a whiny, conceited, spoiled Hollywood actor. McGrew is performing on a Western television program as a rough and tough Marshall, but he makes various pampered demands on the set while constantly being replaced by a stunt double. However, Rance McGrew is suddenly transported away from the cameras and into the Old West where he faces down Jesse James (Arch Johnson). However, the notorious determines McGrew is a foolish coward. They face off in a duel and McGrew clumsily drops his gun and falls to his knees begging for mercy. Jesse James finds him disgusting but demands that McGrew behave like a true cowboy in the future. Just then, McGrew is transported back to the set of his Western show. His agent appears on the set, in the form of Jesse James, promising to follow him around to ensure he appropriately plays the role of a cowboy in the future.

“The evolution of the so-called ‘adult’ Western, and the metamorphosis of one Rance McGrew, formerly phony-baloney, now upright citizen with a preoccupation with all things involving tradition, truth, and cowpoke predecessors. It’s the way the cookie crumbles and the six-gun shoots in The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

There is something oddly gratifying about witnessing a pompous Hollywood star experience his comeuppance. This episode amusingly plays on the idea of fraudulent actors portraying stronger characters than they actually are in real life. Rod Serling was apparently inspired to write this episode after watching numerous John Wayne films –Serling, an experienced paratrooper during WWII, was uncomfortable with the idea of an actor portraying a role many times which he had little experience. On another level, Serling uses this episode to mock the hypocrisy of television Western dramas, as well.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • The name listed on the funeral parlor in this episode is “C. Nyby” referring to the director Christian Nyby.
  • Director Christian Nyby asked Ryan Cornthwaite, an actor and a friend, to play the role of a director in this episode as a comical version of himself (Nyby).

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

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