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The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Thirty-Six “The Bewitchin’ Pool”

Original Air Date: June 19, 1964
Writer: Earl Hamner Jr.
Director: Joseph M. Newman

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In this final episode of The Twilight Zone, Earl Hamner, Jr. offers a story that was heavily influenced by rising divorce rates and accompanying negative impacts on children. Marc Scott Zicree quotes Mr. Hamner as describing himself in somewhat “puritanical” terms as he was watching growing numbers of affluent people from the East Coast move westward and he also used the growing popularity of personal swimming pools

“A swimming pool not unlike any other pool, a structure built of tile and cement and money, a backyard toy for the affluent, wet entertainment for the well-to-do. But to Jeb and Sport Sharewood, this pool holds mysteries not dreamed of by the building contractor, not guaranteed in any sales brochure. For this pool has a secret exit that leads to a never-neverland, a place designed for junior citizens who need a long voyage away from reality, into the bottomless regions of the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Sport Sharewood (played by Mary Badham who was nominated for an Academy Award as Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird) and her brother Jeb (Jeffrey Byron) are young children living with their parents at a vast palatial Southern California mansion. However, their pugilistic parents have decided to file for divorce, and in doing so ask which parent the children prefer to live with. Sport and Jeb hang their heads in disappointment and walk over to the pool where suddenly a young boy appears in the deep end named Whitt (Kim Hector). Whitt, a. straw-hat wearing farmboy, describes a fantastical paradise for children which is free from troublesome things like parental divorce.

“Introduction to a perfect setting: Colonial mansion, spacious grounds, heated swimming pool. All the luxuries money can buy. Introduction to two children: brother and sister, names Jeb and Sport. Healthy, happy, normal youngsters. Introduction to a mother: Gloria Sharewood by name, glamorous by nature. Introduction to a father: Gil Sharewood, handsome, prosperous, the picture of success. A man who has achieved every man’s ambition. Beautiful children, beautiful home, beautiful wife. Idyllic? Obviously. But don’t look too carefully, don’t peek behind the façade. The idyll may have feet of clay.”
-Rod Serling

As in Peter Pan, Sport and Jeb decide to swim to the bottom of the pool with Whitt and they surface on the other side in a mysterious pond at the edge of an unfamiliar Appalachian wood filled with happy children and a kindly old woman named Aunt T. (Georgia Simmons). However after spending some time here, Sport and Deb decide to return to their parents. When they resurface in the pool, Sport and Jeb’s parents demand to know where they have been. Now, the opening scene repeats and the Sharewoods announce their impending divorce amidst a string of sneers and bickering with one another. Not wanting to deal with this unpleasantness, Sport and Jeb jump back into the deep end and escape to live with Aunt T. forever.

“A brief epilogue for concerned parents. Of course, there isn’t any such place as the gingerbread house of Aunt T, and we grownups know there’s no door at the bottom of a swimming pool that leads to a secret place. But who can say how real the fantasy world of lonely children can become? For Jeb and Sport Sharewood, the need for love turned fantasy into reality; they found a secret place—in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

“The Bewitchin’ Pool” is a somewhat sad and somber fable. It tackles uncomfortable themes involving children and their rather nasty parents who are divorcing. In this episode, there is a noticeable tension between Sport and Jeb’s parents who are unpleasant, wealthy, urbanites whereas Aunt T. is a kindly, warm, and innocent rural cabin-dweller. The latter being preferable to the former. At any rate, “The Bewitchin’ Pool” is a bit of a disappointing episode to conclude the series on –it was plagued by casting, editing, delays among other issues.

This post officially completes my review of The Twilight Zone!

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • This was the final broadcast episode of The Twilight Zone, but not the last episode to be filmed. The last episode to be filmed was “Come Wander With Me” and the last episode to be edited was “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge.”
  • This episode was originally set for release on March 20, 1964 but it was plagued by delays and backroom issues. In fact, “The Bewitchin Pool” was dogged by so many production problems that footage is repeated to pad out the runtime, and Mary Badham’s has her voice dubbed on some scenes by June Foray, the voice of the squirrel from Rocky and Bullwinkle as back-lot noise rendered much of the outdoor dialogue unusable and they were unable to afford the cost of a flight for Mary Badham to return to the studio for voice dubbing recording (she had already flown home to Alabama). The change in Sport’s voice is unfortunately starkly noticeable.
  • Earl Hamner, Jr., developed the idea for “The Bewitchin’ Pool” while living in the San Fernando Valley region of California and witnessing rising divorce rates. Marc Scott Zicree notes that this episode was one of the first shows on television to address the problem of divorce in a unique escapist fable. Mr. Hamner expressed disappointment with the final product of this episode as did Producer William Froug who apparently blamed Director Joseph M. Newman for the episode’s shortcomings.
  • No Twilight Zone episode was broadcast on June 5, 1964. Instead CBS played a program commemorating Dwight D. Eisenhower and the historic events of D-Day. On June 12 a repeat Twilight Zone episode (“Steel”) was played before “The Bewitchin’ Pool” finally aired the following week.
  • The working title for this episode was called “The Marvelous Pool.”
  • The pool set was a re-used MGM lot was also featured in the Season 5 episode “Queen of the Nile” and the Season 2 episode “The Trouble With Templeton.”
  • The bickering parents were played by Dee Hartford and Tod Andrews.

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

The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Thirty-Five “The Fear”

Original Air Date: May 29, 1964
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Ted Post

“Maybe the next place they land, they can be the giants.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A state trooper named Robert Franklin (Mark Richman) arrives at a remote mountain cabin in the woods. He is responding to reports of strange lights which were made by Charlotte Scott (Hazel Court), a New York fashion magazine editor who is recovering from a nervous breakdown at her cabin.

“The major ingredient of any recipe for fear is the unknown. And here are two characters about to partake of the meal: Miss Charlotte Scott, a fashion editor, and Mr. Robert Franklin, a state trooper. And the third member of the party: the unknown, that has just landed a few hundred yards away. This person or thing is soon to be met. This is a mountain cabin, but it is also a clearing in the shadows known as the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Shortly after Trooper Franklin arrives, a blinding light appears and Franklin’s car radio goes dead along with Ms. Scott’s landline. After exhausting all other options, Franklin decides to stay the night and sleep on the couch while strange noises are heard on the roof and enormous fingerprints can now be spotted on the side of his car.

In the morning, Franklin and Ms. Scott discover a giant footprint which leads them to an open plain where they spot a huge, 500 foot tall, one-eyed alien. Ms. Scott screams in terror. However, the alien appears to be unresponsive, thus rather than running away Franklin (a World War II and Korean War veteran) decides to shoot his gun at the creature. The bullets merely pierce the skin of the alien causing its skin to deflate. It turns out the alien was little more than a large, inflatable balloon. Franklin and Ms. Scott then discover a tiny spacecraft parked nearby. Inside are a cohort of terrified miniature aliens who are radioing back to their superiors, notifying them that the humans have failed to be frightened of their ruse and they beg for the chance to return home or else face being crushed. Their ship takes off and departs earth’s atmosphere as Franklin wonders if the aliens’ next destination will allow them to become the giants. Ms. Scott wonders what might happen in the future if truly giant aliens arrive on earth, but Franklin bets she will simply spit in their eyes. The episode ends as they smile at one another.

“Fear, of course, is extremely relative. It depends on who can look down and who must look up. It depends on other vagaries, like the time, the mood, the darkness. But it’s been said before, with great validity, that the worst thing there is to fear is fear itself. Tonight’s tale of terror and tiny people on the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

These scenes of gigantic inflatable aliens have since become iconic images of The Twilight Zone, however this episode clearly shows a fatigued Rod Serling at the end of his signature series. “The Fear” recycles certain themes found in earlier episodes, such as the idea of miniature aliens invading earth as found in “The Invaders” or even “The Fugitive” to an extent. Nevertheless, I thought it was a unique installment despite bearing certain shortcomings.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • This was the last episode Rod Serling wrote for The Twilight Zone marking an incredible run as the lead writer and host for the program.
  • The original working title for this episode was “The Fear Itself.”
  • Mark Richman (1927-2021) was a celebrated television actor who appeared in many different shows such as The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and later Star Trek: The Next Generation. His true name was Peter Mark Richman. He died in 2021 at the age of 93.
  • Hazel Court (1926-2008) was a celebrated horror actress. She was the wife of actor and director Don Taylor (her second husband) whom she met on the set of an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Rod Serling initially met Ms. Court in 1959 (he wrote to his brother about it) with plans to hopefully work together in the future.
  • The police car in this episode was the same prop used in the earlier Season 5 episode “I Am The Night – Color Me Black.”
  • Trooper Franklin’s state is never actually acknowledged, though it is strongly implied to be New York state.

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

The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Thirty-Four “Come Wander with Me”

Original Air Date: May 22, 1964
Writer: Anthony Wilson
Director: Richard Donner

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Come Wander With Me” is a bit of a bewildering episode. It concerns Floyd Burney, or the “The Rock-A-Billy-Kid” (Gary Crosby), a flannel-wearing folk-rock musician a la Bob Dylan. He is in search of authentic folk music which has brought him to a rural backwoods community.

“Mr. Floyd Burney, a gentleman songster in search of song, is about to answer the age-old question of whether a man can be in two places at the same time. As far as his folk song is concerned, we can assure Mr. Burney he’ll find everything he’s looking for, although the lyrics may not be all to his liking. But that’s sometimes the case – when the words and music are recorded in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Burney enters a nearby store and interrogates an old man when he suddenly hears an entrancing song –it is a sad yet haunting ballad. Burney wanders through the woods right past a grave stone bearing his own name (which he fails to notice) until he comes upon a young woman named Mary Rachel (Bonnie Beecher). They play the song together on a guitar and they also play the tune on a strange tape recorder Mary Rachel carries, all the while they are falling in love, even though the song “Come Wander With Me” is apparently forbidden to sing by a local family known as the Rayfords.

Suddenly, Mary Rachel’s betrothed Billy Rayford appears carrying a rifle. Burney and Rayford get into a scuffle until Burney clobbers Rayford with his guitar, killing him. However, Mary Rachel is now dressed in mourning garb and her tape recorder plays the song with new lyrics about Burney being killed! He rushes back to the old man’s shop but he is too late. The Rayfords show up to kill him and the episode closes with a shot of Burney’s grave stone.

“In retrospect, it may be said of Mr. Floyd Burney that he achieved that final dream of the performer: eternal top-name billing, not on the fleeting billboards of the entertainment world, but forever recorded among the folk songs of the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

While I think there are some wonderful Appalachian folkloric ghost story elements infused in this episode, the plot is unfortunately mostly incoherent. It simply has too many vague or incomplete ideas –the circular nature of time, the true identity of Mary Rachel, why she seems to know Burney and that he will die (again), the location and purpose of this strange purgatory, an explanation of why the song is forbidden, and so on. Later, producer William Froug admitted this episode was “too soft” and “just didn’t work” and I have to agree.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • Apparently, Liza Minnelli auditioned for the role of Mary Rachel, but was so nervous during the audition she was rejected. episode director Richard Donner stated he thought Bonnie Beecher “was going to become a very important actress” and asserted that he (not producer Bill Froug) selected Beecher over Minnelli for the role because he thought she was “incredible.”
  • The song “Come Wander With Me” was composed by Jeff Alexander and Anthony Wilson.
  • Writer Anthony Wilson was the creator of Land of the Giants and The Invaders, and he adapted Planet of the Apes for television.
  • Although this was the third-to-last episode broadcast, this was the last episode in the series to be filmed.
  • Director Richard Donner had just seen Sunday in Seville and wanted to emulate a heavy smoke-filled atmosphere in this episode.
  • The grave marker bearing Floyd Burney’s name was re-used from “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” (his name was actually written on the back of the grave marker in “Mr. Garrity and the Graves”).
  • A bridge and several prop guitars in. this episode were also featured in The Outer Limits.
  • This episode marked Bonnie Beecher’s television debut (1941-Present), as of the time of this writing she is still alive. In the 1960s, Ms. Beecher dated Bob Dylan –her voice can be heard on some of his demos and bootlegs, and speculation abounds as to whether or not Bob Dylan wrote the song “Girl From The North County” about Ms. Beecher. She also appeared in an episode of Star Trek –“Spectre of the Gun”– in which she played Chekhov’s love interest. Shortly thereafter, she got married and retired from acting while adopting the name Juana Romney. She and her husband have run a summer camp for children in the performing arts near Mendocino, CA for decades.
  • Gary Crosby (1933-1995) was the son of Bing Crosby. He appeared in a variety of television programs and later wrote a highly critical biography of his father.

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

The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Thirty-Three “The Brain Center at Whipple’s”

Original Air Date: (May 15, 1964)
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Richard Donner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In the wild futuristic year of 1967, Wallace V. Whipple (Richard Deacon) is the pompous owner of a vast Midwestern manufacturing company which he inherited from his father. He frequently strolls about the factory swinging a key while lecturing employees about the need for increased mechanization. In order to save money and increase efficiency, he decides to install a machine named the “X109B14 modified transistorized totally automatic assembly machine,” which will knowingly lead to mass layoffs.

“These are the players — with or without a scorecard. In one corner a machine; in the other, one Wallace V. Whipple, man. And the game? It happens to be the historical battle between flesh and steel, between the brain of man and the product of man’s brain. We don’t make book on this one and predict no winner….but we can tell you for this particular contest, there is standing room only — in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Despite eliminating the employment for many people, Mr. Whipple remains defiant and calloused. He fires his foreman Mr. Dickerson (Ted de Corsia) who is distraught over losing his job so he gets drunk and attacks a machine one night until Mr. Whipple takes a policeman’s gun and fires, but Dickerson survives. Nevertheless, Mr. Whipple is unfazed, and soon his chief engineer Mr. Walter Hanley (Paul Newlan) regrettably resigns before he can be replaced by machines. Soon the machines begin to turn on Mr. Whipple and he begins to panic inside his echoing, empty factory.

Later, a disheveled Mr. Whipple shows up at a local bar. His demeanor has clearly changed. Now, Mr. Whipple somberly speaks with Mr. Dickerson about his pathetic life –he has no family nor children and sees his livelihood as little more than a cog in a machine. It turns out that Mr. Whipple himself has been dismissed by the Whipple Company board of directors! The factory has now been transformed into a fully mechanical factory. In the closing scene the new factory robot (“robby the robot”) is shown whimsically swinging a key on a string, just like Mr. Whipple once did.

“There are many bromides applicable here: ‘too much of a good thing’, ‘tiger by the tail’, ‘as you sow so shall you reap’. The point is that, too often, Man becomes clever instead of becoming wise; he becomes inventive and not thoughtful; and sometimes, as in the case of Mr. Whipple, he can create himself right out of existence. As in tonight’s tale of oddness and obsolescence, in the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

To this day, Mr. Wallace Whipple remains a supremely disagreeable character. Unlike his father before him, Mr. Whipple seems to have no empathy for is employees. In an age where advanced technology has displaced millions of jobs, “The Brain Center at Whipple’s” has shown itself to be a prescient episode. Throughout The Twilight Zone series, we have seen a great number of brilliant little stories bearing skepticism of the fruits of modern technology –and with good reason.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • The robot that ultimately replaces Mr. Whipple in the factory is “Robby the Robot,” a prop originally featured in Forbidden Planet (1956). “Robby the Robot” previously appeared in Season 1’s “One for the Angels” (as a miniature toy) and memorably in Season’s 5 “Uncle Simon.”
  • The machine “X109B14 modified transistorized totally automatic assembly machine” is the same giant computer prop used in the earlier Season 5 episode “The Old Man in the Cave.”
  • The W.V. Manufacturing Corporation has 283,000 employees, however the machine leads to 61,000 layoffs and saves $4M in profit. Eventually, though, all the employees are laid off.
  • Rod Serling’s initial working title for this episode was “Automation.”
  • Apparently, scenes in this episode were featured in a Smithsonian exhibit focused on technology and the information age which ran from 1990-2004.
  • Richard Deacon (1922-1984) plays William Whipple in this episode. He was born in Philadelphia, PA but raised in Binghamton, NY where he first met Rod Serling. After serving as a medic in World War II, Mr. Deacon began his acting career where he appeared in television shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave It To Beaver, and The Jack Benny Program along with minor roles in films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). This was his only episode in The Twilight Zone series. He was known to be a skilled gourmet chef and remarkably charitable as well as a closeted homosexual all his life. He died of cardiovascular issues in 1984.

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

The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Thirty-Two “Mr. Garrity and the Graves”

Original Air Date: May 8, 1964
Writer: Mike Korologos/Rod Serling
Director: Ted Post

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The year is 1890. The place is a little town called Happiness, Arizona. This episode opens with a wooden plaque at the far end of town which reads: “Happiness, Arizona. This plaque commemorates the 128 people killed during the course of its turbulent beginnings.” It is a peaceful old western town, though in the past Happiness has been known by various epithets like “Boothill Village” or “Deadman’s Junction” wherein people in town were always stepping over dead bodies. Shootings were common until the Sheriff eventually enforced the law and put the kibosh on firearms. One day, Mr. Jared Garrity (John Dehner) arrives in Happiness –he is a traveling salesman of sorts. He offers an unusual service: bringing the dead back to life.

“Introducing Mr. Jared Garrity, a gentleman of commerce, who in the latter half of the nineteenth century plied his trade in the wild and wooly hinterlands of the American West. And Mr. Garrity, if one can believe him, is a resurrecter of the dead – which, on the face of it, certainly sounds like the bull is off the nickel. But to the scoffers amongst you, and you ladies and gentlemen from Missouri, don’t laugh this one off entirely, at least until you’ve seen a sample of Mr. Garrity’s wares, and an example of his services. The place is Happiness, Arizona, the time around 1890. And you and I have just entered a saloon where the bar whiskey is brewed, bottled and delivered from the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

A yokel band of townsfolk interrogate Mr. Garrity about his supposed supernatural abilities, so he offers a demonstration by bringing a rogue dog named “Spot” back to life. The credulous townsfolk are shocked! Mr. Garrity claims that all the people buried in “Boothill Cemetery” at the far end of town (128 in total) will soon be resurrected from their graves. However, this begins to make people nervous –one man’s abusive wife lies buried there, as does a vindictive brother, and a town criminal. Mr. Garrity stages a scenario wherein one man’s gimpy brother suddenly appears in the middle of town but when Mr. Garrity is paid off with $750 the man disappears into the ghostly night (this miracle is never explained). The people all clamor to pay Mr. Garrity in order to prevent him from resurrecting their own vindictive relatives and neighbors.

In the next scene we see Mr. Garrity, along with his conman business partner (a former traveling actor), and his dog “Spot” (who was merely playing dead). They chuckle while counting the money they earned while passing “Boot Hill Cemetery” at the far end of town. Mr. Garrity tips his hat facetiously to the graveyard and they head off to Tucson where they plan to scam another town. However once Mr. Garrity departs, all the graves in the cemetery actually do open and the dead emerge ready to exact vengeance on the denizens of Happiness.

“Exit Mr. Garrity, a would-be charlatan, a make-believe con man and a sad misjudger of his own talents. Respectfully submitted from an empty cemetery on a dark hillside that is one of the slopes leading to the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

This episode begins in delightful fashion for a Western-themed Twilight Zone episode, however by the end its flaws become apparent. “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” is an amusing blend of comedy and folkloric horror, but it does not rank highly in my view.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • The story for this episode is apparently based on a true 1873 incident in Alta, Utah in which a stranger arrived in the old mining town and proclaimed his ability to raise the dead. Unsurprisingly it was later revealed to be a con job. Then in the 20th century, a regional sportswriter named Mike Korologos read about the incident in the American Guide Series, and then wrote about it for a 1963 article in The Salt Lake Tribune. The article was then reprinted in the Alta Ski Area where Serling read it while visiting the resort. It was apparently entitled “Alta — Boomtown to Boomtown.” In order to avoid a lawsuit, Mr. Korologos was paid $500 for the rights to the story, which he happily obliged seeing as how Mr. Korologos was a starving sportswriter making about $90 per week at the time. He was also invited to submit future scripts to the show, however The Twilight Zone did not continue after its fifth season.
  • This was the only writing credit Mike Korologos ever received for The Twilight Zone. When the episode aired, he and his family eagerly gathered around their black and white television to watch his name appear in the credits (at the time they thought this would be only time they would see the episode). Mr. Korologos later described seeing this episode as a surreal experience. Interestingly enough, years later Thurl Bailey, a Utah Jazz star and huge Twilight Zone fanatic, eventually tracked down Mr. Korologos and brought him a recorded copy of the episode to keep. Mr. Korologos said he was extremely grateful to be in possession of the program.
  • The original title for this episode was “Mr. Graniety and the Graves.”
  • As Marc Scott Zicree notes in The Twilight Zone Companion, the strange disappearance of Mr. Garrity’s business partner while playing the role of a gimpy brother is never explained at all in this episode. It puts a hole in the story of their con job.
  • Casting Director Larry Stewart made note of how impressive Rod Serling was when it came to cranking out scripts. He would arrive at 9am with a vague idea, and by noon he would have typed up a script.
  • This was the penultimate episode in the series directed by Ted Post.
  • Appropriately, lead actor John Dehner (1915-1992) was known for his many appearances in Westerns, particularly as a con man in both radio and television. He later became a celebrated Hollywood animator for Disney films like Fantasia and Bambi. In this episode of The Twilight Zone, he made note of the rapid shooting schedule and the fact that many scenes were actually shot at night with troubles for the technicians keeping the light generators running.
  • A few notes on the background actors in this episode:
    • J. Pat O’Malley (1904-1985) plays the role of Mr. Gooberman. He was an English character and voice actor perhaps best known for performances in the Broadway stage performance of Ten Little Indians (1944) and the Hitchcock film Dial M for Murder (1954).
    • Stanley Adams (1915-1977) plays Jensen. He appeared in a variety of films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Lilies of the Field (1963), as well as shows like Star Trek (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) and The Andy Griffith Show. In addition to this episode of The Twilight Zone, he also appeared as the time traveling scientist in the memorable Buster Keaton Season 3 episode “Once Upon a Time.” He appeared in the 1962 theatrical film adaptation of Rod Serling’s teleplay Requiem for a Heavyweight. Tragically, Mr. Adams committed suicide in 1977 following a back injury, leaving behind a wife and two children.
    • John Mitchum (1919-2001) plays the role of Ace. He was a television who primarily performed in a many Westerns. Mr. Mitchum’s brother was the celebrated Hollywood actor, Robert Mitchum.
    • Percy Helton (1894-1971) plays the role of Lapham. He was a vaudevillian and World War I veteran who became a recognized television actor.

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

The Twilight Zone: Season 5, Episode Thirty-One “The Encounter”

Original Air Date: May 1, 1964
Writer: Martin M. Goldsmith
Director: Robert Butler

“I’m just as much American as anybody.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

On a hot summer’s day, Arthur “Taro” Takamori (George Takei) arrives at the home of Mr. Fenton (Neville Brand). He has been sent by a neighbor from down the street named Ms. Bowles to help Mr. Fenton mow his lawn for $10 per month. Mr. Fenton, an uncouth working class World War II veteran, invites Arthur up to his attic for a beer while he cleans out some old memorabilia.

“Two men alone in an attic, a young Japanese-American and a seasoned veteran of yesterday’s war. It’s twenty odd years since Pearl Harbor, but two ancient opponents are moving into position for a battle in an attic crammed with skeletons, souvenirs, mementos, old uniforms, and rusted medals. Ghosts from the dim reaches of the past, that will lead us into the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Mr. Fenton reveals himself to be a rather self-loathing man, referring to himself as a “tub of rancid lard” but he was once a well-traveled American soldier fighting the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. He continuously and condescendingly addresses Arthur a “boy,” even though Arthur is an adult man, and Mr. Fenton asks him to read some Japanese script on an antique sword (apparently it reads: “The sword will avenge me”), even though Arthur was born and raised in the United States and he only speaks English. Mr. Fenton has clearly harbored nasty racist sentiments toward all Japanese people after his experiences in World War II. He is also apparently disgusted by foreign immigrants being allowed into the United States –people from Mexico, Portugal, China, and so on. However, there is nuance to Mr. Fenton’s personal history, he is not purely evil. He has been sadly pumped full of racist propaganda for years. As a soldier he was firmly instructed to regard all Japanese people are sub-human, akin to some species of ape, and now all of a sudden he is expected to view Japanese people as morally upstanding and highly cultured. He is as much a victim of the war as is Arthur. In truth, Mr. Fenton respects the Japanese, in particular their steadfastness during the war. Recently, Mr. Fenton has been laid off his blue collar job driving a CAT, his wife has recently left him, and he has been drinking a lot. His life appears to be falling apart.

Next, we turn to Arthur. He was born in Honolulu where he was raised, and he was in fact at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. At first, he claims his father was a war hero who was killed when the first wave of Japanese bombers attacked the harbor, but moments later, after a powerful vision of the past (with some brilliant acting by George Takei), Arthur breaks down and admits that his father was actually a “traitor” who was signaling the Japanese planes to attack the harbor –note: this is an pure fabrication and a remarkable revision of history.

Mr. Fenton and Arthur discuss the sword he picked up off a deceased “Jap” soldier (it is later revealed that he actually killed the soldier), but when Mr. Fenton leaves the attic to grab a beer, Arthur picks up the sword and it seems to have deeply affected him. Now under the mystical power of this sword, Arthur smiles and utters, “I’m going to kill him.” Things grow more and more tense until both men start to attack each other, Arthur with the sword and Mr. Fenton with a smaller blade. The door locks them inside the attic keeping them both trapped. Mr. Fenton finally explodes and calls Arthur a “dirty little Jap” and they struggle over the sword which falls to the floor pointed upward, impaling Mr. Fenton when he falls. Arthur then slowly picks up the sword and shrieks “Banzai!” as he leaps out the window to his death. Slowly, the camera pans over the attic door which gently opens itself.

“Two men in an attic, locked in mortal embrace. Their common bond, and their common enemy: guilt. A disease all too prevalent amongst men both in and out of The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

“The Encounter” is a deeply powerful and justifiably controversial episode, but in my view this is The Twilight Zone at its best especially during the less-than-stellar fifth season. In this episode we are offered a deep and nuanced glimpse of two men who have are facing the deeply troubled and personal legacy of war. Mr. Fenton’s racism is shown to be a mere offshoot of his own personal failings and as a means to feel elevated or superior like he once did as a soldier. However, racism is also exacerbated by the strange, otherworldly forces possessed by his antique sword. The Twilight Zone seems to invite and encourage a conflict between these two men, and perhaps that is in part why it is so controversial. It is a somewhat distinct episode from the supernatural moral fables we have seen in other Twilight Zone episodes.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • “The Encounter” sparked intense critical rebuke from fans, history buffs (primarily for the false claim of a traitorous fifth column of Japanese Americans at Pearl Harbor), civil liberties advocates, and others for its controversial take on the difficult theme of racism. The criticism was so severe that CBS pulled this episode out of circulation and it was not shown on television again for over five decades. It was finally re-run in 2016 during a SyFy channel marathon.
  • Actor George Takei is best known for his role as Lt. Sulu on Star Trek but he also appeared in shows like Perry Mason and Playhouse 90 where he first met Rod Serling and Neville Brand. As a child, Mr. Takei was one of thousands of Asian Americans rounded up and detained in remote prison camps by the United States government during World War II. He was also one of the thousands of former internees who received an apology and a check in the amount of $20,000 during the Ronald Reagan administration. Mr. Takei donated his check to the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles. Like his character in this episode, Mr. Takei was also 4 years old when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred. Mr. Takei is the first actor to have appeared in both the original series of The Twilight Zone as well as the Jordan Peele reboot in the 2020s.
  • Actor Neville Brand (1920-1992) was a highly decorated soldier in World War II (in fact the fourth most decorated American soldier), an experience which influenced many of his later roles in Hollywood. His wartime experiences caused him to develop a stutter, thus a friend initially suggested he start acting to remedy the stutter. Throughout his career he appeared in a variety of celebrated films such as Stalag 17 (1953), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). He often played gruff, alcoholic, morally troubled characters in war films and westerns. Much like his characters, Mr. Brand was an alcoholic himself. During his lifetime he amassed a massive book collection of some 30,000+ books to populate his library in Malibu but many were unfortunately destroyed in a house fire. He was initially slated to appear in the earlier Twilight Zone episode “Execution” but he came down with the flu the morning of the shoot and so he was given another opportunity with “The Encounter.” He died in 1992 of emphysema.
  • Director Robert Butler (1927-Present) is still alive as of the time I write this post. He directed two Twilight Zone episodes, both in Season 5 (“Caesar and Me” and “The Encounter”). He also directed the unaired pilot episode of Star Trek “The Cage” which had scenes which were later prominently featured in “The Menagerie Parts I and II.” During his long career he directed episodes for many other popular television shows, as well.
  • Writer Martin M. Goldsmith contributed two scripts to The Twilight Zone, both in Season 5 (“What’s in the Box?” and “The Encounter”). According to Marc Scott Zicree, Twilight Zone Producer William Froug was so impressed with Mr. Goldsmith’s first script for “What’s in the Box?” that he was invited back for a second episode. However, he was actually out of the country when “The Encounter” aired so he never actually saw it, but he received quite a lot of critical feedback about the episode.
  • Pearl Harbor is discussed several times in this episode. Six years later actor Neville Brand appeared in the epic Pearl Harbor film Tora! Tora! Tora!

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