"You're looking at a tableau of reality..."
Tonight's episode, celebrating its 50th anniversary, is a true gem of the series (it's in my top 40, but not in my top 10.... Hmmm.... that might change after tonight's viewing). One of the recurring themes of The Twilight Zone is the question of identity, and our relative place in what we believe to be reality. "A World of Difference," written by Richard Matheson and directed by Ted Post, features one of the greatest shock moments in the entire series (hell, in the history of television).
Arthur Curtis (well played by Howard Duff, one-time husband of TZ alum Ida Lupino) is a businessman about to embark on a vacation with his wife. Just a few last-minute items to take care of at the office... when a voice suddenly yells "Cut!" and turns his world (quite literally) upside-down. His office has inexplicably become a movie set. His identity --- his name, his memories, his life --- is actually that of a fictional character that he's playing in a movie!
What's truly amazing is that the transition from fantasy to reality is handled with an uninterrupted shot, accomplished with a moving wall built on rails. It's visually perfect, and goes a long way toward sustaining the suspension of disbelief.
The whole thing is ultra-high concept, even for a series notorious for being high-concept. Imagine yourself in this poor bastard's shoes. You can immediately identify with his plight, as impossible as it seems. You aren't who you think you are. You're an actor PLAYING who you think you are. Wait, you mean you actually believe that you're that guy? What are you, crazy?
That's a question we hear frequently on The Twilight Zone, isn't it? What are you, crazy?
Mention must be made of the wonderful score by Nathan Van Cleave. It's reminiscent of his score for the earlier "Perchance To Dream," and achieves a similar dizzying effect (only this time without the Theramin). The protagonist's roller-coaster ride through an existential hell is imbibed with considerably more weight thanks to the music. I've been a Bernard Herrmann fanatic for at least 20 years, but as I revisit each episode of The Twilight Zone, I'm finding that Van Cleave's contributions to the aural personality of the show are every bit as meaningful.
"Please don't leave me here."
On a side note, I REALLY like Arthur Curtis' office (real or fake). If I could work in an office like that (instead of a tiny soul-crushing cubicle), I'd probably enjoy my job a lot more.
Next week: Well, speaking of favorites! My favorite episode of all time celebrates its 50th anniversary. It involves another high concept: immortality, though not in the comedic fashion we saw in "Escape Clause." No, this is something deeper, darker, more tragic. Not to be missed.