The Twilight Zone (1961) – It’s a Good Life, Deaths-head Revisited, and The Midnight Sun

Paramount Picture’s The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series starts off with a classic episode this week. So good, it was remade by Joe Dante in the feature film (and it was very much suited to his storytelling style).

Hold onto your happy thoughts as the series creator Rod Serling penned teleplay from a story by Jerome Bixby provides our first stop this week. This episode first screened on 3 November, 1961.

The story is set on the isolated Fremont farm. The family is part of a small town that lives in terror caused by the young Fremont boy, Anthony (Bill Mumy seen in his second Zone appearance, following Long Distance Call). It seems the lad has a unique mental gift, he can have anything he wants, shape the world any way he likes simply by thought.

He creates abominations, changes things he doesn’t like, and keeps everyone living in fear. When everyone gathers for television night, and to celebrate a surprise birthday, things come to a head.

This is a classic episode, and terrifies as the whims of a boy rule over a frightened town. Mumu turns in a pretty good performance, finding a balance between the innocence of youth, and the knowledge of the power he has, and exerts over others.

I quite like this one, but I had been introduced to the Dante segment in the movie before I say this one, so I think, consequently, I will always prefer that version. I think the other reason I prefer it is that it actually has a bit of a resolution for all the characters, especially Anthony.

The episodes extras include a commentary by Mumy, as well as one by Zone historians Marv Wolfman and Marc Scott Zircee. There is also an isolated score, and sponsor billboard.

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Deaths-head Revisited was written by Serling, and aired on 10 November, 1961.

A SS Captain, Gunther Lutze (Oscar Beregi Jr.), returns to Dachau, and the concentration camp he oversaw during World War II. He recalls his power, the things he did, until he is confronted by Alfred Becker (Joseph Schildkraut), one of his victims.

One of his deceased victims.

Becker is there to put Lutze on trial for his actions, and the court is populated by those he has killed.

This is a story of justice, comeuppance, and a bit of wish fulfilment for those who longed to see the architects and executors of these terrible things that were done to people were punished accordingly.

The extras for this stellar episode include a commentary by my favourite author Neil Gaiman, joined by Zircee, a 1978 interview with producer Buck Houghton, an isolated score, billboards, and a radio version starring H. M. Wynant.

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The Midnight Sun was also penned by Serling, and aired on 17 November, 1961.

The story follows two women as they attempt to survive the increasing heat in their abandoned city, as the Earth tumbles out of its orbit and moves closer to the sun.

Norma (Lois Nettleon) and Mrs. Bronson (Betty Garde) are the lone tenants of an apartment building. Most everyone else has fled north, to cooler climes, leaving the two of them alone, with their supply of water dwindling.

Things get even worse for the pair, when someone breaks into the apartment.

The reveal is pretty basic, and not much of a surprise. It’s still a pretty good tale, and it’s executed well, it’s just you wanted something more from it.

The extras for this final episode of the week include a commentary by Nettleton, one by Zone and television historian Gary Gerani, an isolated score by Van Cleave and billboards.

The journeys continue next week, as I delve deeper into the dark corners of The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series on blu-ray available now from Paramount Pictures.

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