We watched a pretty entertaining little slice of Cold War paranoia written by Rod Serling this afternoon. I picked this one because Martin Landau is in it. He plays a Soviet defector who’s been tracked down by a dandy of an assassin played by John Van Dreelen. Landau’s trapped in a shabby hotel room with a bomb somewhere in it, and a sniper across the alley ready to gun him down if he tries to flee. This is a fun little game of psychology and desperation, and our son really enjoyed wondering along with Landau where the bomb could be.
We paused early on to give him a little more to understand, since we picked up on the context of the accents and the wardrobe and the character names. We did get one bit quite wrong, though. I thought Landau was playing a spy; the defection angle hadn’t actually occurred to me before the adversaries actually meet face to face!
As with last night’s viewing, you might make the argument that six years old is also a little too young to catch the nuances and subtleties in The Twilight Zone, but I think our son is mature enough. I think that there are some very important moral lessons to be found among the frights and the fun. I was in middle school when I read the screenplay to “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” and it made a lifelong and positive impact on me. I don’t think six years old is too young at all to be taught the lessons of that important story.
My brother-in-law gifted me with the “Complete, Definitive Collection” edition two Christmases ago. The set is downright amazing, with beautifully restored prints that include many of the sponsors’ messages and “stay tuned for The Danny Thomas Show” spots that were all chopped out for syndication. So I sat down with an episode guide and selected about fifty episodes that we’ll watch for the blog, including old favorites like “Maple Street” and “The Invaders” along with many that I didn’t know but which have some great old guest stars. “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is one of these. It features Martin Landau and Doug McClure in supporting roles. McClure doesn’t have a great chance to shine, but Landau is brilliantly unhinged and believably dangerous.
But the episode belongs to Dan Duryea, who plays the town drunk, a former gunslinger who grew to hate his life, and Malcolm Atterbury, in the role of a traveling salesman called Henry J. Fate. The name’s a bit on the nose there, but I like how Rod Serling, who wrote this installment, anticipated the way that audiences would be looking for a twist and, gently, subverted it just a little bit. It’s a story about how guns probably aren’t the answer and, as our son will hear when he meets Yoda next month, “wars never made anyone great.”
No, the way the world’s been acting lately, six isn’t too young to hear this.
Anyway, I’ve picked fourteen episodes from the first season of The Twilight Zone and we’re going to watch them in two batches over the next three months. I won’t claim that this first episode was a big thrill – he hasn’t seen much in the way of westerns, and so the world presented in this installment was quite removed from his experience and took a little getting used to – but he enjoyed it, and so did I.