The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Twenty-One “Spur of the Moment”

Original Air Date: February 21, 1964
Writer: Richard Matheson
Director: Elliot Silverstein

“Intriguing, isn’t it? To be haunted by one’s own self…”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“This is the face of terror. Anne Marie Henderson, 18 years of age, her young existence suddenly marred by a savage and wholly unanticipated pursuit by a strange, nightmarish figure of a woman in black, who has appeared as if from nowhere and now, at driving gallop, chases the terrified girl across the countryside, as if she means to ride her down and kill her, and then suddenly and inexplicably stops to watch in malignant silence as her prey takes flight. Miss Henderson has no idea whatever as to the motive for this pursuit. Worse, not the vaguest notion regarding the identity of her pursuer. Soon enough, she will be given the solution to this twofold mystery, but in a manner far beyond her present capacity to understand, a manner enigmatically bizarre in terms of time and space – which is to say, an answer from… the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

It is June 13, 1939. An 18 year-old Southern Belle named Anne Henderson (Diana Hyland) decides to take her horse out for a ride across her family’s rural property. On a nearby ridge she spots a fearsome woman dressed in black who shrieks maniacally and chases after her. In terror, Anne quickly races home to find her parents (Philip Ober and Marsha Hunt) waiting alongside her investment banker fiancé Robert “Bob” (Robert J. Hogan, known for his many appearances in television programs including Hogan’s Heroes). It is intended to be her engagement party. Anne’s parents clearly expect her to marry Robert though she feels uncomfortable around him. We soon learn of a love triangle involving Anne’s former fiancé David (Roger Davis), whom she clearly prefers. He pushes his way into the house in an effort to persuade Anne against marrying Robert.

The episode cuts to twenty-five years later as Anne lives a grey and miserable life. She is an alcoholic and dresses in black, while living in the tatters of her family’s once grand estate. She verbally abuses her mother. Surprisingly enough, she has eloped with David, not Robert, but in a plot twist he has become a lazy, arrogant husband who has bankrupted the estate. Anne reflects on her terrifying encounter twenty-five years prior on the day of her engagement party. She now realizes the truth. Anne was attempting to warn her younger self against marrying David. Thus she rides out again and spots her 18 year-old self from the ridge line, but as she gives chase, Anne is unable to successfully warn young Anne against ruining her life. She is always just out of reach.

“This is the face of terror. Anne Marie Mitchell, 43 years of age, her desolate existence once more afflicted by the hope of altering her past mistake – a hope which is unfortunately doomed to disappointment. For warnings from the future to the past must be taken in the past. Today may change tomorrow but once today is gone, tomorrow can only look back in sorrow that the warning was ignored. Said warning as of now stamped ‘Not Accepted’- and stored away in the dead file, in the recording office… of the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

As in other Twilight Zone episodes like “Judgment Night” Anne is trapped in a time loop, in this case she is never fully able to grasp her troubled future nor capable of warning her past self. What if we could communicate with our younger selves? What would we say? The ghostly prospect is at times too terrifying to embrace. In what plays out like a Greek tragedy, Anne Henderson faces this fact: that she cannot change the past no matter how hard she tries.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • This episode takes place in two separate time periods thirty years apart: 1934 and 1964.
  • The lead actress in this episode, Diana Hyland, once had a romantic relationship with John Travolta while he was 18 years her junior. She played his mother in the television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. They remained together until her death at the age of 41 in 1977 as a result of breast cancer complications.
  • Despite playing the same character at both ages 18 and 43, Diana Hyland was only 27 years old at the time this episode was shot.
  • The title of this episode is a reference to the colloquial expression: “the spur of the moment.” It is an acknowledgment of decisions which are made in haste as well as an allusion to spurs on boots which are worn by horseback riders.
  • Marsha Hunt played Anne’s mother in this episode. As of the time that I write this post, she is still alive at 104 years of age (born in 1917). She is known as the oldest living member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, as well as one of the few surviving actresses from the Golden of Hollywood. Her career spanned nearly 80 years –she was once blacklisted during the Mccarthy as a result of her known advocacy of progressive causes such as environmental awareness, human rights issues, poverty alleviation, and support for gay marriage. Throughout her career she appeared in films alongside a young John Wayne, Mickey Rooney, Laurence Olivier among many other classic Hollywood actors. In 1946, she married screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr. (her second husband) who wrote the Season 1 Twilight Zone episode “The Chaser.” They had one child together, a daughter who was tragically born prematurely and died one day later. They later adopted foster children. Robert Presnell Jr. died in 1986 but Marsha Hunt continues to reside in Sherman Oaks, CA to this day (as of April 2022).
  • In The Twilight Zone Companion, Marc Scott Zicree notes that Richard Matheson cited British playwright J.B. Priestley as inspiration for this story, in particular his time-travel story Man And Time. However, Richard Matheson later expressed disappointment in this episode. He felt that Director Elliot Silverstein gave away the twist ending in the opening scene by clearly showing Anne’s older face.

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

1 thought on “The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Twenty-One “Spur of the Moment”

  1. I remember this one feeling like the most impactful episode from The Twilight Zone’s last season. I felt that way at least having finally seen it after somehow missing it for so long. I originally saw all the TZ classics out of sequence. Maybe that’s how they were airing at the time on the channels that I could find them on. But I saw this one at a point where I was mature enough to appreciate how it was meant to educate audiences on unchangeable histories. Sad but with an agreeably appropriate message. Thanks for your review.

    Liked by 2 people

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