The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Twenty-Three “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”

Original Air Date: February 23, 1962
Writer: Montgomery Pittman
Director: Montgomery Pittman

“Time? The mid-twenties. Place? The Midwest. The southernmost section of the Midwest. We were just witnessing a funeral. A funeral that didn’t come off exactly as planned…due to a slight fallout…from the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

In a small Midwestern pioneer town a funeral is taking place. for a man named Jeff Myrtlebank (James Best of Dukes of Hazzard fame) –however the procession abruptly ends as the coffin slowly opens and Jeff Myrtlebank emerges alive! The crowd disperses amid a maelstrom of blood-curdling screams. Outside the church, Doc Bolton (Edgar Buchanan of Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies fame) explains he found no pulse in Mr. Myrtlebank, perhaps he contracted a rare condition or is being haunted by an evil spirit. This whips the townsfolk up into a frenzied mob to banish Myrtlebank. They charge with pitchforks and accuse him of being possessed by evil spirits –however Myrtlebank says that if he is in fact possessed by an evil spirit, they should likely proceed cautiously or else he might wave his arm and bring down a plague of locusts, snap his fingers and dry up their wells, or some other supernatural horror. He announces his marriage to his girlfriend Comfort (Sherry Jackson) and they walk off together while the townsfolk show they have changed their minds and now behave kindly toward him. As Myrtlebank walks away, Comfort sees him light a match without striking it on anything. He tells her not to imagine things like that and they stroll off together arm in arm. The ending is left deliberately ambiguous –is he possessed by an evil spirit?

“Jeff and Comfort are still alive today. And their only son is a United States Senator. He’s noted as an uncommonly shrewd politician, and some believe he must have gotten his education…in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Despite addressing certain dark, heavy themes –perhaps even evil topics, like a possessed spirit living among the people of a small town, this episode has a whimsical, playful tone to it. It is amusing but not one of the better episodes in the series in my view.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • A mailbox in the unnamed town in this episode reads “M.Pittman” -a reference to the episode’s director.
  • In this episode, Jeff Myrtlebank dies of influenza or the Spanish Flu, a brutal pandemic that killed 50M-100M worldwide, or 3%-5% of the world’s population. Throughout the 1920s thousands of people continued to die each year from the disease.
  • Sherry Jackson who plays Comfort in. the episode was the step-daughter of director Montgomery Pittman.
  • Producer Buck Houghton’s son, James Houghton, appears in this episode.
  • Unfortunately, this was the last of Montgomery Pittman’s involvement in The Twilight Zone series. Cancer claimed his life a mere four months after the show’s release. He died at age 45. An avid cigar smoker, a large tumor had developed on his neck and the cancer had spread rapidly tragically ending his life.

One response to “The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Twenty-Three “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank””

  1. This is definitely one of the most thought-provoking episodes of The Twilight Zone where we as an audience must determine its rightful impact. I learned to appreciate this kind of ambiguity thanks to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Deliverance. This episode was certainly influential in how many TV and film stories over time would address the imaginable consequences of cheating death and nature.

    Liked by 1 person

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