After the horrible “The Mirror,” Twilight Zone fans were happily treated to a solid month of excellent episodes. 50 years ago tonight, viewers were offered a good old fashioned ghost story, the first time the series ever offered such a tale. It’s hard to believe it took this long, especially for a show so steeped in the supernatural. We’ve certainly encountered our share of dead folks over the past 71 episodes, but I’m hesitant to label any of them as true ghosts. Tonight, we meet our first true Twilight Zone ghost.
“The Grave” is the second of three third season episodes both written and directed by Montgomery Pittman. The setting is the Old West, but not the brightly lit Old West depicted in the countless western shows that ruled the airwaves in the early 60’s. Here it’s dark and cold, swept by a constant wind, relentlessly ominous. Perfect for a ghost story, wouldn’t you say?
Pinto Sykes is a notorious outlaw and general ne’er-do-well who has successfully evaded bounty hunter Connie Miller (a brooding Lee Marvin), who may or may not be intentionally dragging his feet in the chase due to cowardice. The townsmen, tired of waiting for Miller to do the deed, surround Sykes in the street and gun him down. On his deathbed, Sykes promises that, if Miller ever comes near his grave, he’ll “reach up and grab him.” Miller arrives after Sykes expires, and finds his honor in serious question. To redeem himself, he must visit Sykes’ newly-dug grave.
James Best co-stars as a jittery guitar-strumming local whom Connie bullies. Best, who will also appear in the upcoming “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank,” as well as season four’s wonderful “Jess-Belle,” is best known as Roscoe P. Coltrane, one of Boss Hogg’s bumbling deputies, on TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard. It’s really too bad…. in his three TZ outings, Best displays a talent far above such teledrivel.
The production number (173-3656) indicates that this episode was actually produced during the show’s second season, but held back until the third (the same is true of “Nothing in the Dark,” which we’ll get to in January). In his The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic, Martin Grams Jr. reports that “The Grave” was originally intended to open the third season, but was pushed back to coincide with Halloween (interestingly, the episode chosen to replace it as the third season opener, “Two” was also written and directed by Montgomery Pittman). The opening shot of act one does not feature the usual season three title cards (episode title, writer, director): we simply open on a long shot of Lee Marvin riding up to the saloon on his horse (the title shot at the top of this entry is from the episode’s end credits; the only place the episode title was ever seen during season two).
Next week: Anthony Fremont is just an innocent little boy… right?