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Ranking the Twilight Zone

I’m engaged in a noble project with my twelve-year old daughter: watching every single Twilight Zone episode and ranking them. We watch and run them through a rubric to give them a score from 0 to 7. The episodes are graded in three categories: Concept/Plot/Characters (4 points), Tone (1 point), and The Twist (2 points).

The episodes this time were from Volumes 7 and 28 of the DVD collection.

King Nine Will Not Return (Season Two, 1960)
The opening episode of Season Two. Captain James Embry awakens in the blazing desert amidst the wreckage of his B-25 bomber. His memories slowly come back to him–he was on a mission, taking off in Tunisia to bomb Italy in 1943, and his plane had engine trouble and crash landed. He must have been flung from the plane. But where is his crew? They’re not dead, killed in the crash. They’re just not there. He tries using the radio but all he gets is static. Where is everyone? And for that matter, what are those strange planes without propellers (the audience knows they’re jet aircraft) flying overhead?
Concept/Plot/Characters—The concept is fine here. The problem is the pacing is pretty slow–for most of the episode, Captain Embry is the only character, and we really spend a lot of time with him in the desert as he tries to figure out what’s going on. And there’s some real overacting on the part of Robert Cummings, though possibly he sensed the script was slow and was trying to make up for it. (2 points)
Tone–
Effectively conveys Captain Embry’s confusion and loneliness in the desert, trying to figure out what happened to his crew, and wondering if he’s descended into madness. (1 point)
The Twist-
A solid, though not totally unexpected, twist that does a good job explaining what came earlier, even if it doesn’t quite make up for the earlier slow pacing. (1.5 points)
Theme–
Airplanes, All Alone, Dreams
Total=4.5 points (Okay)

This one reminded me a lot of the pilot episode, Where Is Everybody? That one, though, actually made its lead character’s time alone interesting as he wandered through an abandoned town trying to find another person. In this one, Captain Embry’s just in the desert, so there’s not really much for him to do but ham it up with building insanity. I wouldn’t seek this one out, but if you’ve already started watching it you might as well stick it out as the twist is solid.

Queen of the Nile (Season Five, 1964)
Jordan Herrick is a Chicago newspaper columnist who’s come out to Hollywood to interview beautiful actress Pamela Morris (played by Ann Blyth, a genuinely popular movie actress from the 1940s). Her house is full of Egyptian objets’d arte, including a weird sculpture of a scarab beetle. Jordan also notices a portrait of Pamela dated 1940, and she looks no older now than she did in the painting. After some evasion, she tells Jordan she’s thirty-eight, but Jordan points out that would mean she starred in her first picture, 1940’s Queen of the Nile, at age fifteen. That’s right, she says. When Jordan mentions he’s from Chicago, she mentions she once played at a certain theatre that Jordan knows burned down in the 1920s.

Still, despite the evasiveness over her age, Pamela is charming, even flirtatious, and they arrange to have dinner that night. As he leaves the estate, Pamela’s aged mother warns Jordan not to come back, and not to dig into Pamela’s secret any more. When Jordan asks why, the mother isn’t willing to answer.

Jordan calls his editor to do some more research. Pamela and Jordan have a great time on their date, kiss passionately afterwards, and arrange to meet again. The next day, Jordan’s editor calls back and points out something strange–the 1940 version of Queen of the Nile was a remake of a 1920s silent film–and still shots from both films show the actress is identical. At their next meeting, Jordan is determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious woman who seems never to age. But is pressing for the truth a good idea?

Concept/Plot/Characters—A really fun script by Charles Beaumont, well-executed by Ann Blyth and the rest of the cast. Somehow, I felt the production missed a lot of chances though–could we have seen a movie poster of Pamela from the 1920s? Or a bit of an accent, hinting that Pamela may have originally come from Egypt? (3 points)
Tone–
Does an excellent job of maintaining a tone of mystery around Pamela Morris, where everything seems fine on the surface but a subcurrent of menace flows underneath. (1 points)
The Twist–
Just a bit predictable, but a clever and appropriate twist nonetheless. (1.5 points)
Theme–
Other
Total=5.5 points (Pretty Good)

A fun episode that with a little more work could have been really excellent, but even as is was very watchable.

The Whole Truth (Season Two, 1961)
Harvey Honeycutt is a used car dealer who makes a living convincing people who can’t afford it that the lemons on his lot are good cars. And if he has to stretch the truth to do it, well hey, it’s a living. One day, an old man trades in a Model A and is willing to take a low price for it. When Harvey inquires why, the old man informs him the car is haunted. Harvey laughs and hands over the cash for this steal of a deal.

Only, when the next customers arrive at the lot, Harvey can’t lie to them. He finds himself compelled to explain every defect of each car they look at. And it’s the same with all the other customers that turn up that day, and the next day, too. Harvey can’t tell even a little white lie, or leave part of it out–he has to tell the whole truth every time, and as a result he’s losing money hand over fist. It must be that Model A the old man said was haunted. As long as it’s on the lot, Harvey cannot tell a lie. But how can he get rid of the old junker?
Concept/Plot/Characters—A fun idea, and the characters are well-played. The pacing is snappy, and the dialogue is too. A bit lightweight, but quite watchable. (3 points)
Tone–
A consistent tongue-in-cheek tone makes for a fun episode. (1 point)
The Twist–
Well, the twist here is certainly creative, and I will admit I did not see it coming! It’s also a bit silly and credulity-straining. (1 point)
Theme–
Cars
Total=5 points (Pretty Good)

My daughter and I agreed this was a fun, Pretty Good episode.

3 Comments on “Ranking the Twilight Zone

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