The Twilight Zone: Season 4, Episode Three “Valley of the Shadow”

Original Air Date: January 17, 1963
Writer: Charles Beaumont
Director: Perry Lafferty

“Welcome to Peaceful Valley…”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While en route to Albuquerque, a news reporter named Philip Redfield (Ed Nelson) is lost and running out of gas. He pulls up to a gas station in a small town called Peaceful Valley, population 981. However, the gas station attendant struggles to find his gas tank and his dog Rollie runs after a cat so a little girl uses a strange device which makes Rollie disappear entirely. Whereas small remote towns are often portrayed as backwards and toothless, Peaceful Valley is actually shown to be a highly advanced backwoods civilization.

“You’ve seen them. Little towns, tucked away far from the main roads. You’ve seen them, but have you thought about them? What do the people in these places do? Why do they stay? Philip Redfield never thought about them. If his dog hadn’t gone after that cat, he would have driven through Peaceful Valley and put it out of his mind forever. But he can’t do that now, because whether he knows it or not his friend’s shortcut has led him right into the capital of the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

The girl’s father runs around a corner where he uses a device to make Rollie reappear again before returning him to Mr. Redfield. The townsfolk are concerned that Redfield witnessed something out of the ordinary, while Redfield senses something strange in this town –everyone seems to want him to leave. he meets Ellen Marshall (Natalie Trundy) who runs a hotel that is apparently entirely vacant. here Redfield spots a newspaper dated March 1953 with the headline “Stalin Dead.”

Redfield attempts to drive out of town but his car mysteriously breaks down as if hitting an invisible wall and Rollie dies (though he is quickly re-animated by one of the townsfolk). A group of men arrive and offer to take Redfield to a doctor but instead he meets the mayor of Peaceful Valley, Dorn (David Opatoshu). Dorn and two other men relay a fantastical story –a brilliant scientist, perhaps from another planet, once came to Peaceful Valley offering incredible equations the world has never seen before. These equations unlocked a mysterious force of nature used for the benefit of the people of Peaceful Valley. The scientist entrusted this information to the people of Peaceful Valley so long as it not be released to the broader world, or else humanity might meet a more dangerous fate than Einstein’s theories had unleashed.

Dorn shares with Redfield all manner of technological marvels which could solve world hunger and cure rare diseases, he also explains how the dissimulator device works. Redfield is told he cannot leave Peaceful Valley, but he is given a choice between death and assimilation, but when he chooses the latter he is imprisoned in a house with an invisible forcefield. Ellen visits him and they soon strike up a romance. Redfield takes the opportunity to orchestrate an elaborate escape plan in which he animates a gun, steals the secret equations, and runs away with Ellen but when he gets to the edge of town he reads the documents containing the equations, but they are blank. Ellen has betrayed him. She uses a dissimulator on Redfield and he awakens to find the ruse revealed by Dorn. They decide to turn the clocks back on Redfield.

Moments later he awakens back at the gas station with his memory erased. He appears bewildered but once his gas tank is full, he leaves town blissfully unaware of his recent escapade while Ellen watches him drive off.

“You’ve seen them. Little towns, tucked away far from the main roads. You’ve seen them, but have you thought about them? Have you wondered what the people do in such places, why they stay? Philip Redfield thinks about them now and he wonders, but only very late at night, when he’s between wakefulness and sleep in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

In addition to flipping certain commonly-held stereotypes of small town America, Charles Beaumont also challenges our cultural faith in the inherent goodness of technology in “Valley of the Shadow.” In an age of nuclear weapons, should we still continue to develop technology? Will it be good for humanity? Despite these intriguing ethical questions, “Valley of the Shadow” has several glaring plot holes in my view –Why would Peaceful Valley, a place which is capable of creating invisible forcefields, not simply maintain a forcefield around their town at all times? Why would they display a welcome sign if they actually want no one to enter? Why would the gas attendant still feign performing a job when no one has visited the town in some 16 years? If the townspeople have the ability to turn back time and erase someone’s memory, why would they not have simply done so at the outset rather than imprison Mr. Redfield? While still a compelling episode, “Valley of the Shadow” does not rank among the best in the series in my view.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • This episode features stock music from the earlier episode “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”
  • The title of this episode alludes to Psalm 23.
  • There are variety of stop-gap tricks used with the camera in this episode to make people disappear or heal a bloody wound (by playing the film backwards). As explained in The Twilight Zone Companion, Marc Scott Zicree notes that the impressive car crash scene against the invisible wall was created by using two 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertibles –one was damaged and the other was attached to a chain.
  • Several similarities to Star Trek have been noted with this episode –transporters, shields, etc. James Doohan appears as a background character in this episode, of course he was the famous actor who appeared as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the original series of Star Trek. David Opatoshu also appeared in an episode of Star Trek.
  • Perry Lafferty directed the two previous Season 4 episodes in the series.
  • Natalie Trundy had a serious car accident shortly after completing her role in this episode in which she sustained a back injury and put her career on hold. She later appeared in several Planet of the Apes films.

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

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