The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Twenty-Seven “Sounds and Silences”

Original Air Date: April 3, 1964
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Richard Donner

“This whole business is simply mind over matter.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Roswell Flemington (John McGiver) is a loudmouth business owner living his life in an absurd nautical fantasy. Everywhere he goes he shouts as if on the deck of an 18th century sailing vessel, while ceaselessly referencing Lord Nelson or John Paul Jones. His business is a model ship company (Motto: “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead…”) and Mr. Flemington runs it like a tight ship, so to speak. He frequently stands at the helm of the office and shouts about “lighting the lamps” and “sailing full speed ahead toward prosperity.” When he leaves the room, his employees throw darts at his portrait and joke that a kamikaze could have hit him during the war.

“This is Roswell G. Flemington, two hundred and twenty pounds of gristle, lung tissue and sound decibels. He is, as you have perceived, a noisy man, one of a breed who substitutes volume for substance, sound for significance, and shouting to cover up the readily apparent phenomenon that he is nothing more than an overweight and aging perennial Sea Scout whose noise-making is in inverse ratio to his competence and to his character. But soon our would-be admiral of the fleet will embark on another voyage. This one is an unchartered and twisting stream that heads for a distant port called the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Later that evening, “Admiral” Flemington stands at attention in his living room listening to a full-volume recording of the Battleship Missouri at the Battle of Okinawa (one of only 100 such recordings in existence). The sheer noise violently shakes the whole house, when the phone rings even his wife (Penny Singleton) cannot hear the other line. In a fit of anger, she shatters his record –an act which Mr. Flemington calls an “abomination” and a “desecration.” He amusingly accuses his wife of being a fanatic (which in face he is the true fanatic) so she angrily declares she is leaving him.

While alone that evening, suddenly sounds are all amplified to an alarming degree for Mr. Flemington: droplets of water from a faucet, a ticking clock and so on. The next day, he is examined by a doctor (Francis DeSales) but nothing is found, and then he speaks with a psychiatrist (Michael Fox) –where we learn that Mr. Flemington was raised in a silent household as a child. The psychiatrist claims these sounds claims Mr. Flemington is hearing are mere figments of his imagination, likely a result of his separation from his wife, and that Mr. Flemington needs to start exercising mastery over his own willpower. Thus, Mr. Flemington starts practicing mind over matter when his wife is around, but he suddenly cannot hear a thing. He tries to blast the volume on his records and shout to the street below his apartment but he can hardly hear a thing.

“When last heard from, Mr. Roswell G. Flemington was in a sanitarium pleading with the medical staff to make some noise. They, of course, believe the case to be a rather tragic aberration – a man’s mind becoming unhinged. And for this they’ll give him pills, therapy, and rest. Little do they realize that all Mr. Flemington is suffering from is a case of poetic justice. Tonight’s tale of sounds and silences from the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

While I still enjoyed this episode, it is quite obviously not The Twilight Zone at its best. It is a comedy story delivering a somewhat fitting punishment for its blowhard protagonist, however all things considered this is also not the worst comedy to appear in the series.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • In May 1961 a script entitled “The Sound of Silence” was submitted to Rod Serling –one of many such scripts– about a man who could not hear sounds around him. The story was never adopted in The Twilight Zone, however two years later Rod Serling completed a similar script entitled “Sounds and Silences.” The original writer immediately filed suit and was compensated $3,500. The suit was still in litigation when The Twilight Zone was put in syndication and thus this episode aired only once.
  • The record shattered in this episode was likely a leftover film prop entitled “You Won’t Believe Your Eyes” by Ina Massine.
  • John McGiver (1913-1975) was a television and film character actor who often played a unique character: a balding, rounded, stuffy British gentleman. He also appeared in a string of commercials including a group of American Express ads where he developed the tagline: “Do you know me?”
  • Penny Singleton (1908-2003) who played Mr. Flemington’s wife was known for her role in the Blondie program and as the voice of Jane Jetson in the cartoon The Jetsons.
  • Director Richard Donner (1930-2021) was a notable television and film director of movies like Superman, The Goonies, Scrooged, and the Lethal Weapon series. He died just last year in 2021.

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

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