Thursday, June 24, 2010

TZ Repeat: "Mr. Denton on Doomsday" (6/24/1960)

Tonight we celebrate something of a milestone in Twilight Zone history. Exactly fifty years ago, the show aired its first repeat. What, not blog-worthy? I respectfully disagree.

Serling and company chose “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” as the first encored episode. It premiered October 16, 1959, which makes it the third episode ever seen. I’ll state for the record that, in my humble opinion, it’s the first truly great TZ episode.

The pilot episode, “Where Is Everybody?” is quite good, but for me it never reaches its full potential, likely because the story doesn’t feature the trademarked wrinkle in reality that would characterize the best episodes. In other words: it could really happen. It’s basically a guy having a really detailed dream. When Serling later adapted the story script into short story form, he added a critical detail that strongly suggests that more has happened. The episode, however, presents it as an isolation-inspired hallucination, nothing more. Interestingly, "Where Is Everybody?" wouldn't be seen again until June 1961, after the show's second season was finished.

The second episode, “One for the Angels,” is competent but ultimately misses the mark. I mean, we’re talking about a life hanging in the balance, and there’s never really any suspense. The “pitch for the angels” that Ed Wynn delivers is hardly compelling. So I dunno, maybe his performance is the problem…? Serling reportedly was unhappy with Wynn's work, but that didn't prevent the episode from being repeated (however, like its predecessor, it wouldn't be seen again until the following year, in August 1961).

Which leaves “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” to take the honors of first Twilight Zone repeat ever, and the episode is just terrific. The acting is top notch: Dan Duryea, a bad guy in so many noir films of the 40’s and 50’s, is remarkable as Al Denton, once a respected gunfighter, now the town drunk. Martin Landau absolutely nails it as the gleefully sadistic town bully who taunts him. It's a western, but not your typical western. Somber, sad, but ultimately optimistic. Plus, it's the first televised example of a Twilight Zone mainstay: the O. Henry-esque surprise "flip" at the end. I won't ruin it for you. Irony is best when left unspoiled.

Here's my original entry on the episode. I hadn't quite figured out my promos yet, so it's pretty sparse.

Next week: Season one wraps up with a Richard Matheson comedy about a writer with a very special gift (and a very powerful tape recorder). Press PLAY and tune in.

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