Original Air Date: April 17, 1964
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Richard Donner
“The cast of characters—a cat and a mouse, this is the latter. The intended victim who may or may not know that he is to die, be it by butchery or ballet. His name is Major Ivan Kuchenko. He has, if events go according to certain plans, perhaps three or four more hours of living. But an ignorance shared by both himself and his executioner, is of the fact that both of them have taken the first step into the Twilight Zone.”
In this wonderful Cold War-inspired tale of espionage, Martin Landau plays Major Ivan Kuchenko, a defecting KGB agent who is trapped inside a hotel room in an unknown country. Across a courtyard sits Commissar Vassiloff (John van Dreelen) and his hitman Boris (Robert Kelljan) in a dark room, waiting to assassinate the traitor Major Kuchenko. They are part of the Soviet state, perhaps an agency not unlike Spectre in James Bond (or SMERSH in the Ian Fleming novels).
However, this time Vassiloff decides to play a game with Kuchenko. He confronts Kuchenko in a dramatic scene that leaves Kuchenko passed out on the floor. and claims there is a bomb hidden somewhere inside his room, all he needs to do is find the chord and disable the bomb. If he can do this, he will be allowed to escape the room. We in the audience know the truth: the bomb is linked to answering his phone. When Vassiloff calls him, this time Kuchenko dramatically avoids picking up the phone. While he is being shot at from across the terrace, Kuchenko manages to escape out his door. He later calls his own room from a tollbooth. Boris answers the phone leading to a large explosion, killing both himself and Vassiloff.
“Major Ivan Kuchenko, on his way West. On his way to freedom: a freedom bought and paid for by a most stunning ingenuity. And exit one Commissar Vassiloff, who forgot that there are two sides to an argument – and two parties on the line. This has been the Twilight Zone.”
In The Twilight Zone Companion, Marc Scott Zicree makes note of the absurdity to the finale in this episode, namely the idea that a Soviet agent would enter a room with a live bomb only to accidentally detonate it. Still, I thought “Jeopardy Room” was a notable and uniquely enticing spy thriller.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This episode is one of a small handful of episodes wherein nothing supernatural occurs.
- This was Martin’s landau’s second episode in the series after Season 1’s “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.” He later appeared in an episode of the 1980s reboot entitled “The Beacon.”
- The tape recorder seen in this episode is apparently a Selectron International model TP-411 manufactured by Aiwa.
- Payback (1999) features a similar booby trap as a plot device and a similar twist ending.
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.
I must admit, even though I liked this episode when I first saw it, that the finale does seem rather absurd. It’s certainly worth watching for the superb chemistry between Martin Landau and John Van Dreelen.
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