When I think of the television show The Twilight Zone, one thing that amazes me is how well kids still like it. The first season began airing in 1959. It doesn’t have any of the fancy effects of shows of today; none of the flashy gimmicks or loud soundtracks. The stories don’t usually involve fast-talking comedians or pop-culture celebrities in low-brow humor. Instead, these are often soft-spoken character pieces that make you think of early forays into the science fiction realm. Yet each year on New Year’s Eve, my kids look forward to a day and night of this show in black and white with appetizers. That truly says something about the quality.
In the fourth volume of the series that was released on DVD, there are four stories spanning several seasons that combine elements of strong character writing as well as a bit of science fiction. They are usually lessons about life itself once you get to the heart of the story. These all seem to have a theme of valuing the gifts, whether it is the gift of life itself, the gift of human companionship, or supernatural gifts imparted to a person.
In A Passage for Trumpet, we meet a man who is down on his luck and despondent, intent on committing suicide. It borrows a bit from the theme of It’s A Wonderful Life and shows that life is often how we choose to perceive it. Mr. Dingle, the Strong is the story of a man given the gift of super-human strength and what he does with the gift. In Two we see the tale of a post-nuclear Adam and Eve from opposite sides that have all but destroyed the Earth. A man with an unusual gift must deal with the results of using that gift for less than upstanding purposes in The Four of Us Are Dying.
Each episode stands on its own, and there are no carry-overs from show to show in terms of the cast. Some actors might be seen in two or more different episodes playing entirely different characters, but it’s so well-written that it doesn’t interfere with the flow of the show. It’s not as if you have the same actor showing up on two different seasons of 24 playing two characters who aren’t supposed to be related so you sit there going “huh?”
On this DVD, guest stars include Jack Klugman, Don Rickles, Burgess Meredith, Elizabeth Montgomery, and Charles Bronson. That’s some assembly of talent from the perspective of someone born not long after the series went off the air. For anyone who doesn’t recognize the names, they were pretty much household names during the 1970s.
The quality of the DVDs is hit or miss. The picture is much better than what I remember from viewing the series during the re-runs as I grew up. There’s no snow or interference. At times it doesn’t seem to focus correctly and I don’t think the black-and-white picture is as crisp as it could be, but it’s still a huge improvement and good quality. There are really no extras to speak of on the DVD. What’s here is identical to what’s been on the other volumes.
The episodes also have been assembled with a slight theme, but overall no rhyme or reason. I have to wonder how the “leftover” episodes will be thrown together as I get to the volumes with higher numbers. They span a few seasons and seem to be in no particular order. Still, it’s a great way to watch the show without commercials and without scenes being trimmed or cut out entirely. I would like to see re-releases of entire season groupings together with some decent bonus material from those that are still with us.
A Passage for Trumpet
Jack Klugman guest stars here as Joey Crown, an alcoholic musician. He hocks his trumpet and then steps in front of a truck. When he awakens, he finds people treating him as if he were invisible. He soon figures out that he has died. As he walks around, he visits some of his old haunts and pines for the life he once had. Finally, he runs into someone who can see him. This man is playing a trumpet. He tells Joey that he isn’t dead, but in a place where he can decide whether to go on living or go to the other side.
Mr. Dingle, the Strong
The setting is a neighborhood bar. There are two men arguing over a play during a baseball game. Mr. Dingle is a small man who speaks with a stutter and is often brutalized. Two unseen visitors, aliens from another planet, come into the bar. They observe him being mistreated and decide to give him the gift of extra strength. When they witness him using his strength for pettiness instead of trying to do something better for the world, they take the gift away from him.
Don Rickles and Burgess Meredith guest star in this episode.
In a town where all the humans are gone, a woman wanders through. It has been deserted for six years and looks like it. While she is in a restaurant a man wanders in and assaults her. They have been on opposite sides in the war and wear different uniforms. The two vacillate between anger at “the enemy” and their longing for companionship. Which will win out in the end?
Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson guest star.
The Four of Us Are Dying
This is the story of Archie Hammer, master impersonator. He has the ability to make his face change and become anyone he wants to. He impersonates gangster Johnny Foster to move in on Johnny’s girl. When he reads a newspaper clipping about the gangland murder of Virgil Sterig, he impersonates him to try and squeeze money out of the man who ordered the killing, Mr. Penell.
When Penell sees through the ruse, Hammer must change once again. He sees a fight promotion poster and changes to boxer Andy Marshak. He runs into Marshak’s father who hates his son for deserting his family and a girl he got in trouble.
When he decides to leave town, the police pay him a visit and he again changes his face to Marshak. The only problem is Marshak’s father is looking for him and has a gun…
INSIDE THE TWILIGHT ZONE BONUS MATERIAL:
• Rod Serling Bio
• Season by Season
• History of Twilight Zone
• Reviews & Credits
Categories: Television Reviews, Twilight Zone
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