The Twilight Zone aired from 1959 to 1964. The series stood out in its day for a number of reasons. For one thing, each episode stood completely on its own, rather than being a different story each week following the same cast of characters. This enabled casting to snag some high-profile actors and actresses and those who had not yet become familiar names but would in the future. Some of them made repeated appearances throughout the series as different characters.
It also stood out for the subject matter. Although billed as a science-fiction show, it didn’t have spaceships or Martians (well, not all the time) or laser weapons in a futuristic or outer-space setting. Instead, the show was made up of a variety of stories, often set in a familiar setting for this time, that had something quite usual about it. Most of the time, the show built suspense throughout the episode toward the twist in the last few minutes. Many times, it was of a paranormal nature.
Quite often, the story had a moral to it. Sometimes, these morals went against the general beliefs of the time. He tackled subjects such as racism, women’s rights, nuclear war, and McCarthyism. Couched in a science fiction setting, many people accepted his progressive views. These views might be surprising to some since there is usually an image of a soldier being conservative rather than progressive. It’s also very apparent from several stories that Serling (who was a Unitarian Universalist) had a deep belief in a higher power as well. Just goes to show those stereotypes didn’t hold up then and don’t hold up today. Serling was a U.S. Army paratrooper and demolition expert who served in the Pacific theater during World War II.
Serling drew on his military experience for some of the episodes of the series. This volume features three episodes set in the Second World War, plus one set in a future where a fascist government rules all. The first and last episodes on this disc are both episodes that deal with questions of morality and conscience for what goes on during the war. Those questions haven’t changed in more than fifty years and then, like now, the only ones who can sweep the moral questions soldiers face under the rug are those who aren’t there, They are both powerful episodes that touch upon the humanity that ties us all together. In Judgement Night, a German U-boat captain must deal with the never-ending guilt that comes from what he has done in battle. A Quality of Mercy has a newly-minted Lieutenant arrive on the scene late in the war and hungry for glory, even if that glory is had at the expense of the blood of the soldiers he commands.
Dealing less with morality and more with the supernatural is The Purple Testament where a soldier has the capability of predicting who will die next. Finally, there’s the episode outside of that context, The Obsolete Man. In it, a government decides who and what is “useful” versus “obsolete”. When a librarian is deemed obsolete he outmaneuvers the man judging him.
These four episodes have been restored quite nicely. There is little interference and it’s nice to view them uncut and uninterrupted. However, I’ve long had a problem with how this release has been put together. Each volume ties together the episodes either quite nicely or quite loosely around a central theme. These episodes are across all of the five seasons of the show and in no particular order. In this case, three of the episodes go together nicely, and the fourth fitting in is a bit of a stretch. I can think of other episodes of the series that would have fit in better but were already on other volumes. There are also few true “extras” on this DVD. Most of it is just a repeat of what has appeared in other volumes. It would have been nice to see the series released as season-long boxed sets with some decent extras, especially interviews with any surviving members of the cast and crew.
Still, any The Twilight Zone is better than none. I have been enjoying watching this with my own children for years and they enjoy it on DVD as well as when it’s on television. We had a great time watching them and talking about the meaning behind the events in the show. It’s also an opportunity for me to educate them about the time period, especially when it’s about a war like the three in this volume.
I don’t think I would go out and buy it, but wait for a better release. If you can rent it and watch it, this is truly a timeless series that most will be unable to find a problem with, no matter what their views.
Judgement Night (sic)
On board the ship Queen of Glasglow in the middle of a fogbank in 1942, she’s lost from the rest of the convoy out of Liverpool. A man by the name of Carl Lanser is on board with no idea of how he got there. He is convinced the ship is being stalked by a German U-Boat.
The Captain is suspicious when Mr. Lanser can’t produce a passport and sends a steward down with him to his cabin as he unpacks. What seems to be a “war souvenir”, a U-Boat Captain’s hat, is among his belongings. As Mr. Lanser goes to hang it up, he discovers his own name inside.
When Mr. Lanser walks on deck, he sees the lights from a U-Boat drawing a bead on the Queen of Glasglow. He tries to warn everyone, but he can’t find them and when he does, they just stare at him and won’t listen. The ship is sunk, and the scene cuts to the U-Boat which just sank her. It’s commanded by Captain Lanser. His First Officer questions whether they will be judged for killing women and children on the boat.
Patrick Macnee guest stars.
The Purple Testament
In the Philippines in 1945, Lt. William Fitzgerald can suddenly predict who is about to die during the war. He sees a strange light on the faces of the men who are about to die. This unnerves him and he hates having the power. He confesses the ability to a superior officer, Captain Riker, who doubts him. Lt. Fitzgerald later reveals to the Captain that the light has appeared on the Captain’s face. Riker courageously goes ahead with the mission, nonetheless.
Dick York guest stars in the episode
The Obsolete Man
In the distant future, a man by the name of Wordsworth is put on trial for being “Obsolete”. Since there aer no more books, there is no need for a librarian, just as there are no more Ministers since the state has proven there is no God.
Despite giving the board a good argument, he is still deemed obsolete. Wordsworth is allowed to choose the time and method of his “liquidation” within a 48 hour period.
Burgess Meredith guest stars in this episode, one of four times he appeared on the show during its run. I imagine it was quite a satisfying role since he was once on the Hollywood “blacklist” during the McCarthy era.
A Quality of Mercy
During World War II in the Philippines, a group of soldiers is weary from battle. A new Lieutenant arrives and gives them orders to attack a group of Japanese holding up in a nearby cave. The soldiers know it is a suicidal attack. They argue with the Lieutenant, but he accuses them of being scared and unfit for duty.
Suddenly the Lieutenant is now in the Japanese army. It’s a few years earlier and he and his men are attacking a group of Americans who are holding up in that same cave. As Lieutenant Yamuri, he makes the argument for mercy for the 20 wounded Americans believed to be in the cave.
Leonard Nimoy and (a very young) Dean Stockwell guest star in the episode.
INSIDE THE TWILIGHT ZONE BONUS FEATURES:
• Rod Serling Bio
• History of Twilight Zone
• Season by Season
• Reviews & Credits