Original Air Date: February 7, 1964
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: Jacques Tourneur
“Miss Elva Keene lives alone on the outskirts of London Flats, a tiny rural community in Maine. Up until now, the pattern of Miss Keene’s existence has been that of lying in her bed or sitting in her wheelchair, reading books, listening to a radio, eating, napping, taking medication—and waiting for something different to happen. Miss Keene doesn’t know it yet, but her period of waiting has just ended, for something different is about to happen to her, has in fact already begun to happen, via two most unaccountable telephone calls in the middle of a stormy night, telephone calls routed directly through—the Twilight Zone.”
Elva Keene (Gladys Cooper) is an elderly disabled woman who lives in rural Maine. She prefers to live alone. One night she begins receiving strange phone calls at random hours from an oddly familiar voice. She speaks with Margaret (Nora Marlowe) her hired helper about the calls, while treating Margaret none-too-kindly. Elva also tries the phone company but the calls remain mysterious. One night, with creepy shadows dancing over her bed from a tree outside her window, Elva finally receives another call and the voice says: “Where are you? I want to talk to you…” In terror, she screams “Leave me alone!” and hangs up the phone.
Shortly thereafter Elva learns that the phone calls have been emanating from a nearby cemetery. When she drives out to the cemetery with Margaret, she sees that phone wires have fallen onto the grave of her late fiancé Brian. He died many year prior in a car accident –while still alive, he was a man who diligently obeyed Elva’s wishes until he was tragically killed while Elva was driving a car in an accident that also left Elva disabled. At once a torrent of memories rush back to Elva, she is joyful at the thought of speaking to Brian once again. She quickly returns home, however by the time the phone rings, the voice on the other end says faintly, “You said, leave you alone, I always do what you say.” And then the voice of Brian vanishes leaving Elva alone once again. The solitude she once vociferously demanded now becomes a lonely cage in which to pass her remaining years.
“According to the Bible, God created the Heavens and the Earth. It is man’s prerogative—and woman’s—to create their own particular and private Hell. Case in point, Miss Elva Keene, who in every sense has made her own bed and now must lie in it, sadder, but wiser, by dint of a rather painful lesson in responsibility, transmitted from the Twilight Zone.”
In line with other Twilight Zone episodes like “A Thing About Machines” and “Long Distance Call” (both in Season 2) in which strange supernatural phenomena occur using telephones, “Night Call” is a wonderfully haunting and atmospheric episode. It also shares kinship with an earlier Gladys Cooper Season 3 episode “Nothing in the Dark” which also portrays an elderly woman living alone, in rejection of the outside world. This notion of terrifying solitude is an ongoing theme throughout the series, beginning with the first episode “Where Is Everybody?”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This was the only episode of The Twilight Zone directed by Jacques Tournear. He was known for the classic film noir Out of the Past and a series of low-budget horror films he made for RKO Studios.
- The original 1953 short story by Richard Matheson was called “Long Distance Call” however there was already an existing Twilight Zone episode with that title so it was changed to “Night Call.” The short story ends when Elva Keene finds out the call is coming from the cemetery but the caller is never identified. Instead, the story ends ominously the following night when the phone rings and the voice says: “Hello, Mrs. Keene. I’ll be right over.”
- The premiere of “Night Call” was scheduled for Friday, November 22, 1963. However hours before it was set to air, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. It was rescheduled, as were all the other network shows. “Night Call” late premiered on February 7, 1964.
- The phone used in this episode is a now-vintage Western Electric Model 202. It would have been in production during her life-altering accident in 1932. In the episode Elva’s phone number is KL5-2368.
- On the day this episode aired, The Beatles had arrived in the United States for their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
- This was Gladys Cooper’s third and final appearance in The Twilight Zone series.
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This is one of the stories whose ending you can certainly understand but would have liked to have seen end differently. Knowing how importantly The Twilight Zone can make its statements on the consequences of overwhelming solitude, and how this has influenced so much sci-fi from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend to Craig Harrison’s The Quiet Earth, Night Call could very well be the one episode with the most to say about our elements of responsibility for such circumstances. Thanks for your review.
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