Thursday, May 6, 2010

TZ Promo: "A Stop at Willoughby" (5/06/1960)

His name is Gart Williams. Ad man. The Don Draper of his day. Assailed from all sides by the pressure to perform, to succeed, to blaze a path upward to financial and social heights, needled relentlessly by his boss, his peers, his wife... and yes, even himself.

The tension in the opening scene is palpable. A big account is on the line. Willaims sits, tapping his pencil nervously as Mr. Misrell, a boss from hell if there ever was one, stares at him expectantly. Something goes wrong. The account is lost, and the blame rests squarely on Williams' shoulders.

After a verbal tongue-lashing from Misrell, Williams rides the train home. He dozes off while gazing at the November snow falling outside. When he awakens, the car is filled with sunlight. Where is he? More to the point, when? The conductor calls it Willoughby, and it looks a lot like the late 1800s...

Serling's "A Stop at Willoughby," which first aired 50 years ago tonight, is considered one of the finest episodes of the first season, if not the entire series. It's a more bristly affair than its thematic cousin, "Walking Distance," right down to the musical score by Nathan Scott. Where Bernard Herrmann's "Walking Distance" score was soft and wistful, Scott's "Willoughby" score is brassy and intense, the perfect soundtrack to accompany a man born half a century late, and who finds himself coming unhinged because of it. James Daly effectively conveys Williams' growing turmoil and rising need for escape. Mention must also be made of Howard Smith's portrayal of the loathsome Mr. Misrell. I've had less-than-friendly bosses in my day, but nothing like this guy. When Williams finally tells him off (in a manner of speaking), the viewer can't help but wish he'd feed the bastard a knuckle sandwich too. I probably would. But not Williams: he's just a nice guy who's losing his footing in the modern world. As his bitchy wife observes, his "big dream in life is to be Huckleberry Finn."

The stop is Willoughby. Escape? Maybe. But at what cost?

Yeah, I know. This is a total spoiler. But come on, anybody reading this blog has seen this episode a dozen times. This dissolve is just way too cool not to include.

Next week: A love story with a twist. Spray on some perfume and join the party.


rhuneke said...

Hi Craig. I love the ZONE and the way Serling wrote. You don't see stuff like this anymore! I actually have started writing some short stories that are very similar in nature to the ZONE. It's a small collection, but I think people who are looking. Would you consider checking the page out over at And if you like it, would you consider adding a link to it to your own page. I will surely add you link to my page, and to my blog.

Best Wishes


Geoffe said...

I love this blog and am a HUGE TZ fan and a bit of a scholar on it. One question I have for you, it's mentioned in A Stop at Willoughby,is why do you think Serling refers so often to the old days and especially "a band concert". I have no idea how many times exactly a band concert is mentioned in the series but quite a few. Was he a visionary that predicted the future boredom of humanity with the present? Or was he starved for more simple times in his own life?

Craig Beam said...

I imagine Serling saw lots of band concerts growing up in Binghamton, so he connected them with his own childhood. Serling operated under enormous amounts of stress, so of course he longed for the simpler days of his youth. Band concerts are one of his shorthand elements to quickly evoke a time and place.

For me personally, the original Star Wars takes me back --- quite powerfully at times --- to my childhood. We all have our nostalgia triggers.

Mat Black said...

The song the band plays when Gart finally gets off at Willoughby is called "Beautiful Dreamer". I love that little detail.