I confess I blinked a couple of times when I sat down and looked at IMDB a few years ago and decided which Twilight Zones I wanted to watch. Robert Redford! You catch a lot of rising stars watching television from the early sixties, but it’s always a treat to find somebody of Redford’s caliber doing a very low budget half hour with two other speaking parts and one set.
And then what’s really funny is that Redford’s character is introduced on his back and upside down to us. He plays a policeman in George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark” who has been shot and fallen down to the basement apartment of an old tenement, and we meet him in this unflattering angle from the POV of the woman who lives in the apartment. Since I made my list of episodes years ago and stopped thinking about who we might meet when we got around to watching them, I completely forgot that Redford was in this one. Since he was upside down and so darn young, I actually thought he was Van Johnson for a minute.
But this is just like a man, yammering about the famous guest star when the episode is owned by Gladys Cooper and Redford just sits back and lets her dominate the story. She is amazing in this, an old lady who has become convinced that Death is a real person stalking her, and has consequently spent years in hiding, avoiding anybody who might be Death in disguise. When she pours out her soul to the wounded policeman, our sympathy is naturally with her because she’s given herself a horrible, hardscrabble existence to fuel a delusion… but then again, this is The Twilight Zone and she might be right.
This was the first of three Zone appearances for Cooper, who lived and worked in the US from about 1960 to 1966. Before and after that, she acted regularly in the UK, where her very long career began in short subjects prior to World War One! In fact, we’ll see one of her British television performances in something I’ve selected for next year. Her final role was as the Grand Duchess Ozerov in a wonderful episode of The Persuaders! in 1972.
Time once again to take a journey into The Twilight Zone. For season three, I’ve picked eleven episodes. These include my all-time favorite story from the series, a classic that I’ve never actually seen, and several, like this one, which have really great actors in them. George Clayton Johnson’s “A Game of Pool” may have been commissioned as a lower-priced entry to shore up the budget. It only has two sets, one fellow offscreen to make some of the trick pool shots, and two speaking parts.
The speaking parts, however, go to a pair of incredibly great actors: Jonathan Winters and Jack Klugman. Winters plays Fats Brown, who died fifteen years ago but has a legend that haunts Klugman’s Jesse Cardiff. The poor man is very good, but he’s chosen to live his life in Fats’s town, in Fats’s pool hall, where he can’t win anything without being compared to Fats. Because I’m stupid, I supposed he must really like the chili dogs in this pool hall, otherwise he could get out of Chicago and play someplace where they’ve never heard of Fats. It took me a second to realize that wouldn’t work. Somebody else’s legend would always precede him.
Our son probably started getting incredibly skeptical when he figured out that’s all this episode was going to be: one high-stakes game of pool between two tense men, one of them dead but with a long shadow. He was pretty restless, and he also didn’t understand the ending at all. I admired the end for its quite elegant simplicity; it didn’t need to hammer the point home, except perhaps to six year-olds, it was telegraphed ahead of time and the whole theme of living up to a legend made it an inevitable conclusion given the rules of this world and its depiction of an afterlife.
As for me, I was more satisfied by Winters’ excellent performance than by the script. I’m so used to seeing Winters in comic parts that the intelligent and nuanced character he played here was a real treat. A later production of The Twilight Zone remade this story in 1989, with Maury Chaykin (Nero Wolfe) as Fats. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.