“The Obsolete Man” (6/02/1961)
Season Two, Episode 29 (65 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3661
“There is no God. The State has proven that there is no God!”
The Chancellor bellows pro-State sentiments from his impossibly high lectern. A meek librarian stands below, the reality of the situation sinking in. He has been found obsolete. He is to be executed.
TZ alums Burgess Meredith (“Time Enough at Last,” “Printer’s Devil,” and, sadly, “Mr. Dingle, the Strong”) and Fritz Weaver (“Third from the Sun”) return as the librarian and the chancellor, respectively, and both turn in excellent performances. When we meet them, the chancellor is vicious and predatory, while the librarian is weak and fearful. By the end of the episode, the tables aren’t so much turned as flipped over and smashed.
The first half of the episode takes place in a futuristic courtroom, which looks like something out of a German Impressionistic nightmare (was director Silverstein channeling Fritz Lang?). The door that Meredith enters through is impossibly tall, for no apparent reason other than to amp up the ominousness quotient.
Rod Serling’s “The Obsolete Man,” directed by Eliot Silverstein, is an absolute classic. This is one of those episodes in which every component operates at maximum greatness, and the combined result is transcendent. “The Eye of the Beholder” is frequently cited as the all-time greatest episode of The Twilight Zone but, for my money, “The Obsolete Man” trumps it. I recently revised my Top Ten Favorites list to include it, and I can’t wait to watch it tonight, on its 50th anniversary, in glorious high definition (thanks, Image Entertainment!).
In 1995, a local theater company called Hellfire Productions performed “The Obsolete Man” (along with “A Game of Pool” and “Nothing in the Dark”), complete with an actor performing Rod Serling’s narration. I was fortunate enough to attend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I still have the program:
TZ trivia contest. As I recall, one of the questions asked which two actors starred in the most episodes. The answer is, of course, Jack Klugman and Burgess Meredith, which I’m happy to say I answered correctly (I don’t recall getting a prize, however). After the play, I got myself on their mailing list. They produced nine more episode adaptations over the next 3 years... but for some unfathomable reason, I never saw them. I still have the postcards they sent me advertising each production, which I'll scan and post sometime soon. In fact, I'm hoping to track down somebody connected with the production for an interview...
The music in “The Obsolete Man,” is sourced from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the CBS Radio Workshop’s 1956 adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” This score (like much of Herrmann’s radio work) was subsequently added to the CBS Music Library, and its various cues found their way into several TZ episodes. The score was released on vinyl in the early 80s by Cerberus Records (Bernard Herrmann: Music for Radio and Television), and on CD in 2003 by Prometheus (Bernard Herrmann: The CBS Years Volume 2: American Gothic).
Next week: The summer rerun season kicks off with a bang. We return to where it all started: Earl Holliman stars as a lonely man with no memory, wandering through an empty town and wondering… say it with me now… “WHERE IS EVERYBODY?”