The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Twelve “Ninety Years Without Slumbering”

Original Air Date: December 20, 1963
Writer: George Clayton Johnson/Richard deRoy
Director: Roger Kay

“When my clock stops ticking I’ll die…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Based on an unfinished story by George Clayton Johnson entitled “The Grandfather Clock” (later expanded into “Tick of Time”) and adapted into a teleplay by Richard deRoy, “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” is an inspired episode in The Twilight Zone series featuring a uniquely splendid score by Bernard Herrmann. This episode receives high marks from me in part for sentimentality, even though it does not necessarily fit the typical formula of strange, cosmic wonder as found in earlier Twilight Zone episodes.

“Each man measures his time; some with hope, some with joy, some with fear. But Sam Forstmann measures his allotted time with a grandfather’s clock, a unique mechanism whose pendulum swings between life and death, a very special clock that keeps a special kind of time—in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Born on the same day as his prized grandfather clock (in 1887), Sam Forstmann (played by Ed Wynn) lives with his pregnant granddaughter Marnie (Carol Kearney) and her husband Doug (James T. Callahan). Sam stays up all hours in the night fiddling with his grandfather clock. He has convinced himself that his life is intimately connected to the clock, that if the clock winds down he will surely die. At Marnie’s insistence, Sam visits a psychiatrist and as a result Sam reluctantly sells his clock to a neighbor under the condition that Sam may wind the clock every other day to keep it functioning. However when the new owners unexpectedly leave on a vacation, Sam attempts to break-into their home and he is arrested. His mania now becomes apparent to all parties –including himself.

That night Sam lies awake in bed while the clock winds down down the street and he solemnly awaits his death. Suddenly, his spirit rises out of his body –in a delightful scene reminiscent of folkloric ghost stories– and it stands before the edge of the bed: “Sam old friend it’s been a good life but now it’s time to go,” but Sam finds the strength to reject this superstitious apparition and the spirit disappears. Sam now realizes what is most important in life. He forgets about the clock and embraces his granddaughter, pledging to help raise her child. This was a bit of a rare twist in The Twilight Zone because there was no strange supernatural horror, simply an old man overcoming his superstitious fear.

“Each man measures his time; some with hope, some with joy, some with fear. But Sam Forstmann measures his allotted time with a grandfather’s clock, a unique mechanism whose pendulum swings between life and death, a very special clock that keeps a special kind of time—in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • The title of this episode is a reference to Sam’s father whom he says also struggled with insomnia before he died at the age of 90. It is also a reference to a popular song “Grandfather’s Clock” famously sung by Burl Ives.
  • This episode features Bernard Herrmann’s final score for the series.
  • “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” was a drastic reworking of an original script by George Clayton Johnson “The Grandfather Clock” later expanded and retitled as “Tick of Time.” Most notably, in “Tick of Time” the main character died when the clock stopped thus confirming the cosmic angle often featured The Twilight Zone. George Clayton Johnson was greatly upset as he did not approve of the changes made to his story, and thus he was credited onscreen in the episode under a pseudonym “Johnson Smith.” He never again contributed to The Twilight Zone.
  • Unbeknownst to many at the time, Ed Wynn was losing his hearing. Marc Scott Zicree recounts a charming story in The Twilight Zone Companion told to him by fellow actor William Sargent who appeared with a minor role in this episode in which Mr. Wynn privately requested for an adjustment to his performance to accommodate Ed Wynn’s hearing loss. Ed Wynn died three years after this episode was released.

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

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