The Last Flight
The Twilight Zone

A cowardly fighter pilot over Flanders fields veers away into a white cloud and enters the present day, jets are on the runway where he sets his Nieuport biplane down at a United States Air Force base in France. The Royal Flying Corps was never like this.

It’s a question for the base commander and his aide-de-camp whether this is some sort of joke or a madman. The wing man left behind to fight the Germans is now a senior RAF officer, he’s summoned.

The pilot looks at all this and figures his part in it, so he breaks out onto the field, a concrete runway, and takes off for the white cloud in the wild blue yonder.

Claxton has this solved from the moment he establishes a POV on the Nieuport just landed at Lafayette Air Force Base (Reims), a shot repeated as it’s taxiing out again to resume the dogfight.


The Case of the Nine Dolls
Perry Mason

It will be seen that this is closely related to Claxton’s film, A Letter to Nancy. Both involve an orphan girl taken, under somewhat different circumstances, into a home and family.

Here, it’s her own family that, years after her birth, is finally persuaded to admit the child, following on some truly Shakespearean machinations to cut her out of the will. Jonathan Latimer’s script keeps these and certain other Gogolian character developments offscreen (the father, for instance, jilts his bride, elopes with her cousin, is divorced by her, and dies in Korea, without ever appearing on-camera).

Claxton’s direction is characteristically touching, sincere and profound. There is a further note for reflection, Mason is booked for a fishing trip to Scotland, but takes the girl’s case instead, travels to Gstaad and the Swiss bank that pays her boarding school expenses, finds her wealthy grandfather (Francis X. Bushman) in Los Angeles, and later determines the man was murdered by his Scottish housekeeper (Jeanette Nolan). The parallel echoes of The 39 Steps make for a cogent and capable analysis on quite remote grounds, after all.


The Jungle
The Twilight Zone

A witch doctor’s curse against the builder of a dam is warded off by his wife, who puts a lion’s tooth in his pocket.

That night, harried by jungle noises, he finds a lion in his bed.


The Little People
The Twilight Zone

A god appears out of the heavens, demanding tribute, promising destruction. He’s just a grousing space jockey who has stumbled on one of the little quirks of the universe. He quarrels with his captain, fires a warning shot that decapitates the life-size statue of the god. The captain departs, the god speaks, “all right, my little friends, comes the new age, the age... the age of Peter Craig! Let us commence to build the statue again, let us commence to begin!”

He’s fed with forests, drinks a river. Only a stop for repairs on this otherwise arid planet, the Miltonic note of demonic worship.

Two astronauts from some other place supervene, sky-high like the god to his people. One picks him up for close inspection and crushes him by mistake.

The tiny body is thrown down amid the desert rocks. The statue, an excellent likeness, is pulled down by many cords like Gulliver, who is mentioned in the teleplay, a character in a famous book nowadays relegated to the children’s shelf.


A Letter to Nancy

A remarkable, little-known masterwork whose key is simply the casting of Ruth Warrick as Mrs. Helen Reed, which allows this central, pivotal part to be played recessively without loss. On this everything depends, because understatement is the characteristic of the whole production in the end, for all the complexity of the argument, the heroism of the acting, and the pastoralism of the diction.

The postwar mind is very much in evidence, though not stated as such. In fact, the position is a wartime film at the outset (The Bells of St. Mary’s), as a point of departure. The actual drama pertains to a well-to-do young woman (Judi Meredith) about to enter the advertising industry in far-off New York. This is a station in life which her mother prefers for her against that of wife to Pastor Bob Allen (Barry Coe) with its vagaries.

The dramatic device is Nancy Lee (Cherylene Lee), a little Chinese girl of the church community, whose mother is in the hospital. Nancy is temporarily taken into the Reed home, without Mrs. Reed’s full consent, and eventually receives the document in the title.

The draft of this letter is written by George Reed (Bill Williams), an attorney who is brought in by the church to clarify its title to a disputed playground. This he does pro bono when a cleric “lowers the boom” on him. George is a skillful lawyer, a good provider, a reasonable man. His friend Ben (Richard Simmons) is a deeply Christian man of the world who speaks freely of the Gospel, and with some enthusiasm. Can you imagine, he asks George, how it would be if we all followed its injunctions? “Sure,” says George, “there’d be missionaries on Mars, and we’d all be broke.”

The static conflicts between his wife and daughter cause him to delve into the New Testament while on a business trip to New York. Mrs. Lee is not expected to recover, and he composes the letter, then hands his manuscript to his daughter for a final edit.

This document is naturally anticlimactic, as it merely expresses the family’s sorrow, adjures little Nancy to accept God’s will, and adds their love. The daughter departs for New York, and the film ends.

Robert Rockwell as the family minister delivers an instrumental sermon. The screenplay is by Frank Ryhlick. There is a certain amount of technical discussion on points of Scripture, which is graduated among the actors so that Pastor Bob speaks from memory, Ben from informed speculation, George in the throes.

The height of the drama is the scene in which Carol in some anguish gathers her mind to set forth the letter at her typewriter, and this in itself is secondary to the revealed drama as described.

Claxton’s direction is marvelous in its modesty. He concentrates on the mechanics of shot/reverse shot, pays close attention to his actors in their demanding, exposed positions, allowing the complicated discourse to eddy and flow around and over the bed of the drama.