The Shelter
The Twilight Zone

Serling’s Noah has built a bomb shelter, and the construction of the teleplay allows the revelation of his neighbors’ characters in the face of the great disaster, which Serling calls off, having made the point.

As directed by Johnson, this often looks as if it were filmed live with two or more cameras, with such striking dramatic immediacy that the force of the argument all but carries itself to a conclusion resembling that of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and with attendant ironies (including Serling’s famous call for submissions, which proved unworkable and inundating in the last analysis).

One of Serling’s greatest compositions, an example of his fearless surrealism and at the same time of his hocus-pocus, you have to go back to Nabokov’s plays in the Thirties to find something quite like this.

The suburban doctor is feted with a surprise party, something he loathes, and a “sloppy, sentimental speech” from “a dirty dog” in his own home. He’s cared for these people over the past twenty years, the sudden shift is registered on his psyche as a missile attack, they clamor at him for room in his basement shelter, they should have built their own he tells them, a battering ram opens the steel door of his defenses, the missiles are only satellites, their bonhomie returns more or less, he is shattered.

The Ibsen healer in a plague spot, the equation drawn up for all to see. The famous meeting of Robert Lowell (“sometimes I feel too full of myself”) and Robert Frost (“I think how little good my health did anyone near me”).


Five Characters in Search of an Exit
The Twilight Zone

Beckett’s The Lost Ones similarly conceives a cylindrical universe. Twice the inhabitants try to escape by standing on each other’s shoulders, first in a Statue of Liberty play with the ballet dancer on top (she cannot reach the rim), the bagpiper, the hobo, the clown and the major, then with the major on top and the clown on the bottom (the injured ballerina sits this one out). The major hooks his saber over the rim, climbs up and falls out into the snow, where a little girl picks up the little doll he is and replaces him in the sidewalk barrel of the Viewpark Girl’s Home 17th Annual Christmas Doll Drive, cf. Earl Hamner, Jr.’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town” (dir. Ron Winston) inter alia.


Nothing in the Dark
The Twilight Zone

Serling goes so far as to parody Eliot, “what you feared would come like an explosion, is like a whisper. What you feared was the end, is the beginning...”

As often happens with Serling, this is mistaken for something else, Albee’s The American Dream.

The insidiousness of a wounded policeman demanding succor from an old woman whose tenement home is threatened with imminent demolition is revealed after twenty minutes or so when he announces himself as Mr. Death, and after four decades or so by the legislated sale of television airwaves to accommodate police and fire communications. “There’s nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on,” Serling warns us.

No useful bids were actually offered by police and security services at the FCC auction.


One More Pallbearer
The Twilight Zone

The destruction of New York, “the end of the world”, to provide a savior and a refuge to his bêtes noires, “the hydrogen bomb is not an illusion.The details of the construction are absorbingly concentrated and of the utmost interest, the hill not taken in 1942 is from Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, for example. “How incredible all this is...” Coward, cheat and foist, “not a man who held honor in very high regard” and now quite wealthy, still bristling at his “humiliations” over the years since his school days. “All you have to say is you’re sorry,” a lesson learned in Catch-22 (dir. Mike Nichols), “watch the world being shoveled into a grave.Thus Nabokov,

because honor and life I weigh

on Pushkin’s scales and dare prefer


Rejected even at the very cost of life (cf. Jack Shea’s The Monitors), the ruins of his mind are all his compass, the man in the bunker.

Cf. most vividly “Time Enough at Last” (dir. John Brahm), “Nothing in the Dark” furthermore, and of course “The Shelter”. Serling’s artistic economy regards a thing from every angle, to leave no stone unturned.


Kick the Can
The Twilight Zone

This highly complex piece of writing by George Clayton Johnson merits the fullest analysis.

As a study of melancholy, it takes the divine inspiration of Dürer and directly applies it to the mystery of Nicodemus. And there is the drollery of its central image, the game in the title.

Yeats need perhaps not be mentioned, among the moribunds at Sunnyvale Rest Home.


Four O’Clock
The Twilight Zone

Rod Serling takes the tiger of lunatic aspersion, propels the story into the Twilight Zone and having already achieved the impossible, drops the varmint neatly. A man obsessed with evil dreams of a world where all such are cut off at the knee, and finds himself the tiny gnome of his imaginings, looked down upon by his pet parrot. “They won’t be able to handle delicate scientific instruments,” he gloats over the victims of his would-be two-tier plan. Theodore Bikel simply rises to this occasion, and so does Linden Chiles as the FBI agent called in to cooperate.


Hocus-Pocus and Frisby
The Twilight Zone

This great work spins a tale about a cracker-barrel Munchausen who’s damn near abducted by aliens, only his harmonica scares them off, just the way his stories beguile away the melancholy of a small town outside of nowhere.

The genius of it is, his friends surprise him with a birthday party after his adventure, it’s just another tall tale to them.

This is Whitman’s personal universe inhabited by the great disciple of W.C. Fields, Andy Devine. Aesop is mentioned, but it’s closer to Cool Hand Luke (dir. Stuart Rosenberg) than anything else, probably. Dwight David Eisenhower on June 6th, 1944 received counsel of Frisby this side of the French coast. Pitchville Flats is where the story is laid, bringing to mind the author firing ideas at sponsors and executives.

The alien craft is taken for a “movie prop”, their intentions recall “To Serve Man” (dir. Richard L. Bare), after a salutary punch in the face their true likeness is revealed as that of the doctors and nurses in “The Private World of Darkness” (“Eye of the Beholder”, dir. Douglas Heyes), or the heirs and heiresses of “The Masks” (dir. Ida Lupino). The harmonica defense resembles the desperate end of Coppola’s The Conversation.

“The perfect limit,” Frisby gets called.


Passage on the Lady Anne
The Twilight Zone

An ornate, opulent steamer of honeymoon couples now aged, on her last voyage (New York-Southampton).

Two quarreling American marrieds book passage, find romance and are put overboard in a lifeboat, well-provisioned, their longitude and latitude sent out to rescue ships.

These are the terms of the understanding conveyed.


A Covenant with Death

The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. “Now will you tremble before the majesty of the law?” A fine tribute to John Ford’s The Rising of the Moon, that. “So much for Old World gentility and so much for Old World ethics.After the Great War, not long a State. “All you ever do is make me nervous!Johnson’s City of Soledad (seat of Soledad County) has the precision of a dream.

Gli occhi di Venere.” Emilio Fernandez calls his book-learned 22-year-old “princess” a virgin in disdain, “you better be.” An early radio announces the death of Pancho Villa, “have you ever heard such stupidity?”

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “studiously frittered away... a fine idea, instead of tightening into a hangman's knot, slackens disappointingly.” The very voice of the lynch mob, that.

Assorted funniment in reviews. TV Guide, “it's an interesting premise but director Lamont Johnson, helming his first feature, is unable to pull it off.” Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “lackuster production lets an intriguing moral-ethical-legal premise get lost in side issues... morally offensive.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “dreary moral melodrama”.


The Execution of Private Slovik

A drill sergeant literally winks at his marksmanship ability and sends him off to the front line, where he deserts and is shot for it, “with musketry.”

So a civilian in battle, a sad sack with the first break in his life Stateside, uncomprehending, inoffensive, useless.

Philip French of the Observer sees Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Losey’s King & Country in this, it’s a situation familiar from Richard Brooks’ Take the High Ground! and Jack Webb’s The D.I.

The exigency is wartime, the executioners are very loath, almost to a man.



A terrible judgment is the mise en scène, the dead arise and ask in various tones, “why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?” There is only the living soul to speak for a man or a woman, and that is how the performances are defined.

Seward, Washburne, Stanton, Grant much, Chase some, Douglass, Scott, Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln and the President, whose Gettysburg Address is an urgent call to arms.