Original Air Date: February 28, 1964
Writer: Ambrose Bierce (adapted by Robert Enrico)
Director: Robert Enrico
In one of the more memorable and unique episodes of The Twilight Zone, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was created using footage from a celebrated 1961 short French film La Rivière du hibou (“The Owl River”). Directed by Robert Enrico, this brilliant installment was a high point for the fifth season. It is based on Ambrose Bierce’s classic 1890 short story about a hanging during the American Civil War. It is a psychological tale with a characteristic plot twist.
“Tonight, a presentation so special and unique that for the first time in the five years we’ve been presenting The Twilight Zone, we’re offering a film shot in France by others. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival of 1962, as well as other international awards, here is a haunting study of the incredible from the past master of the incredible, Ambrose Bierce. Here is the French production of ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.'”
In this mostly silent dream-like episode, a lone Confederate soldier named Peyton Farquhar (Roger Jacquet) has been captured by Union troops. He stands atop a bridge overlooking Owl Creek as he awaits his hanging –but suddenly the rope snaps! He falls into the rushing water below and miraculously escapes across the shore while Union soldiers fire upon him. He rushes through a nearby wood until he finally arrives at his rural plantation homestead where his ethereal wife stands waiting for him. She reaches out to welcome him home. But the moment he tries to embrace her, his neck suddenly snaps and we are instantly returned to the bridge where Peyton Farquhar’s corpse now dangles over Owl Creek. His escape has been nothing more than a fevered vision, a split-second dream flashing in his mind moments before his own death.
“An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, in two forms: as it was dreamed … and as it was lived and died. This is the stuff of fantasy, the thread of imagination … the ingredients of the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- La Rivière du hibou (1961), the short French film upon which this Twilight Zone episode was adapted, was a winner of the 1962 Palm d’Or (or “Golden Palm”) for short subject at the Cannes Film Festival as well as an Academy Award for Live Action Short Film. Apparently, Rod Serling may have seen the film at Cannes. The Twilight Zone Producer William Froug had also seen the film and decided to buy the rights to broadcast it on The Twilight Zone, in part to lower the costs for the already budget-busting fifth season. He purchased it and made the episode for a total of $25,000, which was significantly less than the usual $65,000 per Twilight Zone episode (apparently Marc Scott Zicree made a minor error in the original edition of The Twilight Companion by quoting William Froug who offhandedly mentioned this episode was purchased for $10,000, although later editions have corrected this error to reflect the true amount thanks in part due to Martin Grams’s research into The Twilight Zone).
- The agreement for this episode only allowed for one initial airing and one subsequent secondary screening. Thus this episode became one of the legendary “lost five” episodes which were not shown in syndication.
- This episode actually shortened the original French film by several minutes though it apparently removed nothing essential. It is a mostly silent episode save for a few words and a ballad which can be heard at one point.
- According to Marc Scott Zicree in The Twilight Zone Companion, this was the last Twilight Zone episode to be produced before the series was canceled, however it was not the last episode to be aired in the scheduled line-up.
- After this episode aired, ABC offered to pick up The Twilight Zone for another season but Rod Serling refused as it became clear he would be running himself ragged producing gothic horror stories.
- Ambrose Bierce’s original short story was published in 1890 by The San Francisco Examiner.
- “An Occurrence At Owl Creek” has been adapted numerous times, including for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1959.
- This episode takes place on April 4, 1862.