Thursday, November 10, 2011

TZ Promo: “Deaths-head Revisited” (11/10/1961)

Season 3, Episode 9 (#74 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4804

Two weeks ago, The Twilight Zone gave us a goosebumps-inducing tale involving a vengeful ghost. Tonight, we celebrate the 50th birthday of a different kind of ghost story. However, this time we’ll see more justice than vengeance.

“Deaths-head Revisited,” written by Rod Serling and directed by Don Medford, introduces us to one of the Zone’s most deplorable characters: Captain Gunther Lutze, a former Nazi officer who has the unbelievable gall to visit the ruins of a concentration camp to indulge his nostalgia (does this make him Martin Sloan's evil counterpart?). Playing Lutze is Oscar Beregi (last seen in season two’s “The Rip Van Winkle Caper." He’ll appear again in season four’s “Mute”), and it’s a spot-on performance. He manages to create a vivid portrayal of an arrogant, wicked bastard without even an ounce of scenery chewing.

We are also introduced to one of The Twilight Zone’s most compelling and sympathetic characters: Arnold Becker, a concentration camp ghost, played with convincing frailty (tinged with righteous anger) by Joseph Schildkraut (probably best remembered as Anne Frank’s father in 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank). He'll appear again later this season in another outstanding episode, “The Trade-Ins.”

The two play off one another marvelously. The characters are clearly archetypal, meant to embody larger collectives, but both are nuanced enough that we invest in them as individuals (by contrast, a similar exercise in season five’s “The Encounter” won’t be as successful because those characters are more stereotype than archetype). The whole affair is a bit of a loaded argument, of course: Nazi versus Jew. Who will prevail, especially in a cosmic justice-oriented universe like The Twilight Zone? The episode manages to avoid coming off as a black and white argument for human rights, thanks to the aforementioned performances, plus a great Serling script. Mention should also be made of Medford’s directing… there are several shots that elevate the episode above the standard “talking head” TV approach (the dizzy POV shot with Lutze staring up the somber Dachau ghosts is quite nice). The episode looks particularly glorious on a big screen in high definition (thanks to Samsung and Image Entertainment for making this possible in my living room).

It’s not much of a spoiler to note that Lutze gets exactly what’s coming to him in the end. Watching Becker maneuvering him toward his unfortunate destiny…. well, that’s the fun. Odd using a word like “fun” in reference to such a deadly serious episode, which deals with such deadly serious themes, but there you go. “Deaths-head Revisited” is another one of those episodes in which everything works beautifully, and it’s one of my top 20 favorites.


“Deaths-head Revisited” is another stock-scored episode, which means existing cues from the CBS Music Library were re-purposed (versus commissioning a new, original score). The dominant cue, which appears throughout the episode, is called “Mysterious Storm” by Jerry Goldsmith. This cue, along with lots of other early Goldsmith TV work, can be found on Jerry Goldsmith: The Early Years from Prometheus Records.

Of course, "Mysterious Storm" (along with the rest of the music used in the episode) can also be accessed in isolated form on both the Definitive Edition DVD and more recent blu-ray release of season three from Image Entertainment. Folks, I'm gonna keep plugging these blu-rays till every last one of you caves in and buys 'em.

Next week: Damn, is it hot in here, or what? Hoo-boy!

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