Television Reviews

DVD Review – The Twilight Zone: Volume 1 – Starting Off With A Bang

One of my family’s traditions is that on New Year’s Eve we sit around and watch the Sci-Fi Channel’s Twilight Zone marathon and eat appetizers. It’s something the whole family enjoys together and we can come and go as we please while the day goes on. When DVDs first were being released, I saw various volumes released of the series on DVD, and I was excited. However, these are not collections that have been put together with any real rationale behind them. Each disc contains three episodes, usually not even from the same season.

The Twilight Zone was created by Rod Serling as a way to get around the censors of the day. He figured that the sponsors and network censors would dismiss the stories as fantasy and science fiction and not get that he was commenting on current issues. This worked just as he thought it would.

What made the show so special besides the fantasy/science fiction tone to it was that Serling would always put in a sort of twist at the end that on first viewing I didn’t necessarily see coming. It’s something we enjoy and sometimes there’s a little bit of a lesson to learn as well. I enjoy watching it with the kids to see if they can figure out exactly where the story is going.

The first volume contains the episodes Night of the Meek, The Invaders, and Nothing in the Dark. The last is by far one of my favorites as it has a young and virtually unknown Robert Redford starring in it. I think seeing this as a re-run is what made me swoon for him. The episodes on this DVD seem to have been restored fairly decently, although some are better than others. The black and white picture looks fairly good and is not blurry with minimal interference or snow in the picture. I have to wonder if the technology has advanced in the years since this was first restored to be able to make it even clearer now, or if the prints have deteriorated way too much to get that very crisp black-and-white picture.

Each episode is a self-contained story with different actors in different roles. Anyone who grew up watching the television shows of the 1960s and 1970s will recognize a lot of character actors by face, if not by name.

Night of the Meek

This is the only “Christmas Story” that The Twilight Zone did during its entire run, and was done only because Serling had pictured Art Carney playing Santa Claus. However, his depiction of a drunk Santa Claus didn’t sit well with all the viewers and prompted letters to CBS.

Art Carney (The Honeymooners) is Henry Corwin, who once a year is a department store Santa. When he’s fired for showing up drunk on Christmas Eve, he wanders around and finds one of Santa’s magical bags with presents. He begins doling out presents to those around him, and soon finds himself arrested after his boss at the store decides he must have stolen all the merchandise.

The episode is sweet without being overly so at Christmas time. It’s a story of wanting to do better for those around you. Even though Corwin is an unemployed bum, his greatest desire is to make others happy, not accumulate more material wealth for himself. We could all learn a lot from the Henry Corwins of the world.

Carney is excellent in the role. He brings the Ed-Norton-like comedic moments to the character while at the same time giving him a dramatic and possibly somewhat tragic side. I could easily empathize with Corwin and that’s largely because Carney makes him inoffensive in his depiction.

4 1/2 stars

The Invaders

A farmhouse out in the wilderness is the setting for an invasion by creatures from outer space. An old woman (portrayed by Agnes Moorhead, Bewitched) lives there alone and must fend them off. She battles to survive the invaders, without uttering a word while she’s doing so.

The effect of her doing so in this script is terrific, and I give Moorhead a lot of credit. She conveys the terror and strength of this woman, who viewers never know by name. She is so convincing in battling these spacemen that are much smaller than her but pose a threat of some sort. While another actress might have had a hard time convincing viewers that a 1-foot high spaceman would pose a threat to a woman five times his size, she does it beautifully while at the same time being crafty in how she’s battling them.

The effects are good for the time. Although the spacemen move rather stiffly in their bulky suits, they are convincing in looks. It’s hard to believe they can maneuver around the house as easily as they do, but that’s also part of the fear in this episode. The spaceship they travel in looks like what was in the dime-store novels of the era, a definite saucer or pie-plate shape.

4 stars

Nothing in the Dark

Definitely one of my favorites, if not my absolute favorite. Gladys Cooper is Wanda Dunn, an elderly lady who holds up in her abandoned tenement fearing that if she opens the door or ventures out, “Mr. Death” will come for her. Robert Redford guest stars as police officer Harold Beldon who is shot outside her door and turns to her for help. Still as paranoid as ever, she is reluctant to bring him in and care for him until help arrives. Finally, she relents and brings him in to care for him until help arrives. When a contractor hired to demolish the building shows up, Wanda is as terrified as ever. It is Beldon who must teach her that there is nothing to fear in his own special way.

I just loved Robert Redford in this role and if that’s what’s waiting for me on the other side, I can’t get there fast enough. Redford had appeared in only a few roles prior to this and was a virtual unknown. His performance here is early in his career and it shows at times, although he is bolstered by Cooper’s excellent performance and a terrific script. There are really no effects to speak of, just a great story, driven by some great characters in a setting that many people viewing could picture themselves in.

5 stars

These three episodes are pretty good and a great way to start the series collection. At the time, there was no option for a comprehensive season-by-season boxed set. The extras on the DVD are lacking too, with no interviews or anyone really talking about what went into making these episodes. Of course, now many of the actors and actresses are no longer with us, but I would think that there was something that could have been put together.

This first volume represents some of the best that The Twilight Zone ever offered and it’s terrific to watch this and appreciate that such excellent writing was taking place at the same time The Beverly Hillbillies were on the air.

Inside the Twilight Zone Special Features:

• Rod Serling Bio
• Season by Season
• History of Twilight Zone
• Reviews & Credits

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