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The Twilight Zone 3.5 – A Game of Pool

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.

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