Fifty years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone took viewers to Mars for the first and only time in its five-year run. Oh, we’ll see Martians in future episodes, but we’ll find them here on earth, either visiting (“Mr. Dingle, the Strong”) or invading (“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”). Tonight, we get to see the Red Planet in all its Forbidden Planet-recycled glory.
In Rod Serling’s “People Are Alike All Over" (adapted from a short story by Paul W. Fairman), two astronauts from earth crash-land on Mars. One is thrilled at the prospect of meeting the Martians… whoever (or whatever) they may be. His co-pilot, meanwhile, isn’t thrilled at all. He’s terrified.
Roddy McDowall is perfect as Sam Conrad, a man whose fear of the unknown is both profound and perplexing (what the hell is he doing going to Mars in the first place?). His fear is amplified when Marcusson, his co-pilot (played by Sam Comi), dies of injuries sustained in the crash. As the story progresses, Conrad will (somewhat) overcome his fear and meet the Martians, who seem surprisingly similar to Earthlings. One Martian of note is Teenya, played by the impossibly gorgeous Susan Oliver.
Genre fans know Ms. Oliver better as Vina, the green-skinned Orion slave girl from Star Trek’s original pilot episode “The Cage.”
Susan Oliver, going green way before it was the P.C. thing to do.
The fairly flat direction by Mitchell Leisen won’t win any awards (especially when compared to some of the more elaborate season one productions), but it gets the job done. The end of act one, in which McDowell cowers in the shadows, gun in hand, as the spacecraft door opens (seemingly of its own accord), is sufficiently tense. And while I strive to avoid spoilers in these episode promos, the surprise ending…. well, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Less than ten years after this episode aired, McDowell would land a pivotal role in Planet of the Apes, a film that plays very much like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone… likely because Serling worked on the screenplay! In fact, the film is essentially an expansion of this very episode (with sentient apes standing in for the Martians), crossed with TZ's earlier “I Shot an Arrow into the Air.”
Roddy McDowall in full makeup. That damn dirty ape.
While the flying saucer from Forbidden Planet is (surprisingly) nowhere to be found here, the “Pac-Man wall lights” from the film’s Krell laboratory can be seen inside the wrecked earth ship. The backdrop paintings that comprise the Martian exteriors are leftovers from the film as well.
Who wouldn't kill to have this thing hanging on their wall?
You know, one could almost devise a drinking game here: every time you see something from Forbidden Planet in a Twilight Zone episode, you have to down a shot. Try it next time SyFy or KTLA does a marathon. You might just end up hammered.
Next week: A down-and-dirty outlaw is about to hang for murder. At the last possible moment… he vanishes into thin air. Where he went isn’t nearly as interesting as when. Drop in and hang around for it.