The Twilight Zone 5.30 – Stopover in a Quiet Town

The problem with figuring out a Twilight Zone twist immediately – and I mean before Rod Serling’s introduction immediately – is that you spend the whole half hour just watching events confirm your suspicions. “Stopover in a Quiet Town” was written by Earl Hamner, Jr., and if I had been watching this by myself, I’d have been annoyed that the episode was so incredibly obvious. But I didn’t watch it by myself, and so the experience was a little more fun.

Our kid had no idea what weird fate had befallen the inhabitants of Centerville, where a married couple played by Nancy Malone and Barry Nelson – the screen’s first James Bond – wake with foggy memories. Of course, he was approaching the problem from the wrong angle. The question is what weird fate had befallen the couple. So he grimaced and worked at it and said “Huh?” a few times, and, wide-eyed, said “This is so weird! Where is everybody?” at the commercial break. The episode may be obvious for grown-ups, but is a terrific mystery for kids.

One minor point that the writer and director could not possibly have predicted: at the precise moment where the characters comment about the lack of birdsong in the town, the cicadas outside our house erupted in the noisiest cacaphony of the summer. Ah, well! These things just can’t be helped.

There were six more episodes of The Twilight Zone after this one, and then the show was axed. It’s been revived a few times since, including a feature film along with more TV episodes. A second Zone ran on CBS from 1985-87 and continued in syndication with new episodes until 1989. A third Zone ran on UPN from 2002-03. A fourth series is apparently coming to CBS’s streaming service All Access sometime in 2019. We’re not presently planning to watch the eighties Zone (Note: that changed) – but we will look at a little of Rod Serling’s later series Night Gallery down the road when our son’s a little older. Stay tuned!

The Twilight Zone 5.13 – Ring-a-Ding Girl

This is really quite strange. I have no idea why I picked “Ring-a-Ding Girl,” a fifth season Twilight Zone written by Earl Hamner Jr., for our blog. I am unfamiliar with any of the actors, and the episode doesn’t seem to have any real fame or notoriety. I’m very glad I did, though, especially because after the last two disappointing installments, I was ready for a winner, and this was a good one.

The episode stars Maggie McNamara as a Hollywood starlet who comes roaring back to her small hometown after receiving strange visions from a ring that her fan club has mailed her. She seems to be showing off, acting like a stage brat – maybe “diva,” with all the negative connotations that word used to have – and suggesting that everybody cancel the annual picnic to come see her in the high school auditorium instead.

I didn’t see where this was going until very near the end. I was curious why she didn’t try to share her premonitions with her sister, but it all ends with a wonderfully inevitable finale. It reminded me of some earlier Zone installments that had their origins in old stories, like “The Hitch-Hiker” and “Twenty-two.”

I was sad to read that Maggie McNamara retired from acting less than a year after this episode aired. She moved to New York and worked as a typist in temporary jobs for another fourteen years while occasionally trying her hand at screenwriting. Sadly, she ended her life in 1978. That’s a shame, I really enjoyed her in this. She was in Otto Preminger’s 1953 film The Moon is Blue, which was extraordinarily controversial at the time and was banned in several cities because the characters used shocking, rude words like “virgin” in it.

That’s all from The Twilight Zone for now, but we’ll continue looking at a few more stories from season five in July. Stay tuned!

The Twilight Zone 4.7 – Jess-Belle

Did it just not occur to this girl’s parents that naming her Jess-Belle was asking for trouble?

A couple of nights ago, our son got intrigued by the preview for tonight’s story, which was written by Earl Hamner Jr., because it mentioned witches and showed a big jungle cat. I was interested because the jezebel in question is played by Anne Francis. If it’s 1963 and Anne Francis wants to buy a love spell and bewitch me, then I’m totally fine with her turning into a big jungle cat from midnight until dawn.

Hamner is best remembered as the creator of The Waltons and Apple’s Way, and he worked on the cartoon adaptation of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. He seemed to enjoy telling stories of folklore from the Appalachians and the Ozarks, or much farther away and and just set in an electricity-free Blue Ridge Mountains. These are God-fearing people, and they practice a faith that I believe is rarely seen on contemporary television, and as such, they are not likely to be very sympathetic to witchcraft. That said, it might seem a little odd that everybody simultaneously knows all about Jeanette Nolan’s character’s spells and potions and yet gets very concerned about the right way to kill witches. That’s the way in northeast Georgia. People will drive to church and buy salves from the wart witch in the gravel lot after the sermon. It’s only when people actually turn into leopards that there’s a problem.

James Best is fairly awesome as the fellow who’s been bewitched, and I really enjoyed seeing this story unfold and, like the last one we saw, stretch out and breathe and not follow the strict Zone formula, but our son felt a little bit betrayed. There was a whole lot less of people shooting at wild animals than he hoped, and a whole lot more smooching. The embraces, the kisses, the talking of marriage, the dancing… we’re lucky he sat as still as he did!