The Twilight Zone (1961/1962) – Five Characters in Search of an Exit, A Quality of Mercy, and Nothing in the Dark

It’s time to dive back into The Twilight Zone with The Complete Series collection from Paramount Pictures.

First up this week is Five Characters in Search of an Exit. Series creator Rod Serling writes the teleplay using Marvin Petal’s short story as his source material. Airing on 22 December, 1961 the tale finds an army major (William Windom) coming to in a room that he has no recollection of arriving in. He’s also not alone.

Four other souls are trapped in the room with him, and while they first puzzle out how they got there, they also try to figure out how to escape. The other characters include the Ballerina (Susan Harrison), the Clown (Murray Matheson), the Tramp (Kelton Garwood) and the Bagpiper (Clark Allen).

From the opening shot, however, I knew exactly what the twist was going to be. It’s still a fun exercise in character studies.

It’s fascinating watching the group try and figure their way out, and who they are. Knowing the reveal, you can see hot it influenced a number of films later on. And it’s always an idea that has fired the imagination of both children and adults forever.

The extras include commentary by William Windom, a 1978 interview with director Lamont Johnson, an isolated score, sponsor billboards and an radio version starring Jason Alexander.

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A Quality of Mercy aired on 29 December, 1961, having been penned by Serling from an idea of Sam Rolfe’s.

Dean Stockwell stars as Lt. Katell in the final days of World War II in the Pacific. He’s determined to be a proven ‘hero’ and take on as many of the enemy as he can, even as the war winds down.

But now, he’s in the Twilight Zone, and he’s going to get a whole new perspective on his actions, and that of the war.

He arrives to take over his platoon, surveying their target and trying to get a tired worn out group of men to respond to his orders. He’s a bit of a tool, and is a bit of a gloryhound, and it’s going to cost him.

It gives a unique perspective on war, a brave thing to do on primetime television at the time, and even though the twist isn’t a surprise, you know it’s going to happen, it’s done well, and Stockwell is always reliable.

The extras include a commentary by Leonard Nimoy who co-stars in the episode alongside Stockwell, an isolated score, and billboards.

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Nothing in the Dark was the first episode of 1962, airing on 5 January, The story was written by George Clayton Johnson, and stars Robert Redford.

Wanda Dunn (Gladys Cooper) has avoided death for countless years. But when a wounded policeman, Harold Beldon (Redford) shows up on her doorstep, she begins to worry that Death has finally found her.

After a shoot out, a wounded Beldon is sprawled in the snow outside Wanda’s slum apartment, he begs for her help until she finally helps him inside.

This is a fantastic episode, Redford and Cooper are wonderful, and this is an episode that, to me, feels like it would be a fantastic little stage show. A little one act play that if properly performed, like in this episode would be simply fantastic.

It is a simple, beautiful story that works wonderfully on The Twilight Zone, and deals with fear and death in a brilliant way.

The extras include sponsor billboards, an isolated score, and a commentary by writer George Clayton Johnson and Zone historian Marc Scott Zircee, and a 1878 interview with Johnson and director Lamont Johnson.

The spookiness continues next week as I continue to plumb the depths of The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series available now from Paramount Pictures!

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