Original Air Date: February 9, 1962
Writer: George Clayton Johnson
Director: Lamont Johnson
“It’s a special summer ritual. Did you ever stop to think of it? All kids play those games, and the minute they stop they begin to grow old. It’s almost as if playing kick the can keeps them young.”
“Sunnyvale Rest: a home for the aged. A dying place. And a common children’s game called kick the can that will shortly become a refuge for a man who knows he will die in this world if he doesn’t escape…into the Twilight Zone.”
I found this episode to be nothing short of pure delight –a melancholic exploration of similar themes found in “Walking Distance”, “A Stop At Willoughby”, and “Static.” At Sunnyvale Rest Home for the Aged (located at 478 Tranquility Lane) an elderly man named Charles Whitley (Ernest Truex) is excited because his son is coming to pick him up, however when his son arrives he leaves his father behind at the rest home. Distraught, Whitley walks back into the rest home while a group of children play “kick the can” outside on the road.
Later, he reflects on aging with his lifelong friend Ben Conroy (Russell Collins, a frequenter of Hitchcock Presents) –what if age is merely a perspective? If only we can act young, then maybe we can become young again. “Maybe, the fountain of youth isn’t a fountain at all. Maybe, it’s a way of looking at things – a way of thinking,” he says. Whitley convinces the other elderly people at the rest home to play kick the can with him while Conroy remains skeptical. Whitley yearns for the “magic” of being young again. That night, the elderly people all run out into the street playing kick the can. However, when Conroy alerts the caregiver Mr. Cox (played by John Marley who famously appeared in The Godfather) the elderly voices of Whitley and the others fade into children’s voices. When Conroy and Mr. Cox step outside all they see is a group of children playing together and Conroy spots a young “Charlie” Whitley. Aware that something otherworldly has taken place he longingly pleads with Charlie to make him young again, to take his old friend “Benny” Conroy with him, but the boy runs off into the bushes. Mr. Cox rushes after the children, but Conroy solemnly picks up the can on the ground and says, “Look all you want, Mr. Cox. You won’t find them.”
“Sunnyvale Rest. A dying place for ancient people who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity, and old age are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking to visit… the Twilight Zone.”
“Kick The Can” is a beautiful and somber meditation on growing old and the longing to be young again. George Clayton Johnson delivers another masterful episode with this script, sadly it was his last in the series. However, after The Twilight Zone Clayton Johnson continued writing successful works like the first aired episode of Star Trek “The Man Trap” as well as co-authoring the 1967 novel Logan’s Run (previously he wrote an episode of Hitchcock Presents as well).
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This was one of three episodes remade for The Twilight Zone movie in 1983 –this segment was directed by Steven Spielberg though it widely regarded as inferior to the original episode.
- This episode title is a reference to the children’s game of “kick the can.”
- Much of the score for this episode was borrowed from Bernard Herrmann’s music from the Season One episode Walking Distance (the two episodes also share considerable themes in common -namely the potent desire to return to long-lost youth).
- Ernest Truex’s true son, Barry Truex, plays his character’s fictional son in this episode.
- This was the last teleplay for The Twilight Zone written by George Clayton Johnson. He work appeared again the program during the fifth season but it was an unpleasant experience –his teleplay in the fifth season was significantly revised, so much so in fact that Johnson requested that his name be removed from the episode.
- Despite themes of aging and death, George Clayton Johnson was only 32 at the time of writing this script.
- The idea for this episode came to George Clayton Johnson when he tried to remember how to play kick the can but could not. He began to think of a story about memory and aging.
- Ernest Truex famously also appeared in the earlier episode “What You Need.”