Friday, October 30, 2009

TZ Promo: "Walking Distance" (10/30/1959)


Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of the fifth Twilight Zone episode ever aired, "Walking Distance." A moving study of one man's desperate longing for his childhood, the episode is frequently counted among the series' finest offerings (in fact, a poll over at the Twilight Zone Cafe web forum found the episode ranked at #1). Infused with biographical details from writer Rod Serling's own life, this take on the recurring Zone theme of notalgia is handled much more gently than its thematic cousins ("The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine," "A Stop at Willoughby," "The Trouble with Templeton," "The Incredible World of Horace Ford," etc). The lush, strings-only musical score by Bernard Herrmann solidifies this gentle approach. The finished episode is pure beauty, tinged with melancholy, and it maintains its brilliance half a century after it was made.


Gig Young plays Martin Sloan, a New York advertising executive (he'd fit right in on Mad Men) who's fed up with the rat race. He gets in his car and flees the city ("I just had to get out of New York," he tells a gas station attendant), ending up a mile or so outside the city limits of his childhood hometown. His car needs servicing, so he's got some time to kill. He walks into town (it is, after all, within walking distance) and, while I won't disclose what he finds there, you can be assured that his life will never be quite the same again.

Sloan's fictional hometown is called Homewood, but it mirrors Serling's own hometown of Binghamton, New York, in many ways, most notably the carousel that features prominently in the episode's climax (Binghamton's carousel is graced with a plaque commemorating Serling). The town celebrated the show's recent 50th anniversary in style: among other Serling-specific activities, they screened "Walking Distance" on outdoor monitors all day long in Recreation Park (the location of the carousel) on 10/03/09. See here and here for more info.

The carousel today.

While I don't count "Walking Distance" among my absolute favorite episodes, I do have an enormous amount of respect for it. And who knows? Maybe tonight's 50th anniversary viewing will serve to push it up higher on my list. Watching the series, particularly the nostalgic episodes, with older eyes will likely be a new experience for me....


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