[26 August 2011]
The fifth and final season of the original Twilight Zone has several classic episodes that first aired in 1963-64, when the show dropped back to half-hour format after one season at an hour. The premiere, Rod Serling’s “In Praise of Pip”, stars Jack Klugman as a man whose son is dying as a soldier in Vietnam, making it one of the first mentions of this topic on American TV.
William Shatner makes a great impact as the frantic airplane passenger who spots a gremlin on the wing in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. Directed by Richard Donner from Richard Matheson’s script, this paranoid masterpiece is so “iconic” it was remade with John Lithgow for the 1983 Twilight Zone feature.
Then there’s the chilling Talky Tina doll in “Living Doll”, who utters such droll phrases as “I’m going to kill you.” The Oscar-winning French-made short film “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, the only outside production picked up for broadcast on the show, is based on the classic story by Ambrose Bierce.
For my money, one of the great episodes of the series is another Matheson script, “Steel”. Lee Marvin plays an ex-fighter who manages a boxing robot. When his star can’t go on, he pretends to be a robot and gets into the ring. This episode isn’t so heralded, perhaps because it’s got no gimmicky twist ending, just a deeply sad, desperate portrait of a struggling nickle-and-dimer in a harsh world—in fact, it’s reminiscent of Serling’s classic study in degradation, the non-fantasy Requiem for a Heavyweight.
In addition to remastering the 36 episodes, the new Blu-Ray edition packs a ton of extras to make this a sweet upgrade for fans. Some commentaries have been on the previous DVD edition but there are 20 new ones. Commenters include directors Donner, Ted Post and Robert Butler; writer Earl Hamner Jr., whose five episodes this season include the bittersweet finale “The Bewitchin’ Pool”, starring the little girl from To Kill a Mockingbird; actors George Takei, Bill Mumy, June Foray (the voice of Talky Tina), Mickey Rooney, Martin Landau and others; and scholars and fans including Gary Gerani, Marc Scott Zicree, and Neil Gaiman. There are also 22 radio dramas, several isolated music scores, and lots of archival material.