Season 3, Episode 12 (#77 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4806
“We’ve done nothing wrong. We have nothing to fear, least of all from a bunch of witch doctors five thousand miles away.”
Alan Richards has just returned from Africa, where he is the head engineer on a proposed hydroelectric dam. The project is controversial because the native population, specifically a group of witch doctors, objects to the “wounding of the land” and has placed curses on everyone involved with the project. Richards, being a modern man with modern sensibilities, is unfazed. He discovers a small cache of protective talismans (a severed finger among them) in his superstitious wife’s possession and promptly destroys them. He has sealed both their fates, she believes. He discovers a dead goat outside their door. His long, dark night of the soul begins.
“The Jungle,” written by Charles Beaumont and directed by William Claxton, is an effective exercise in suspense, reminiscent of Jane Randolph’s dread-filled nighttime walk in 1942’s Cat People. Richards finds himself all alone in the city at night, seemingly pursued by --- well, what, exactly? We hear various jungle and animal sounds emanating from various sources (a telephone receiver, a lion statue, tress and bushes), but it’s never really clear if something is actually pursuing him or if he’s just losing his grip on reality. Despite the relative vagueness of the threat, there’s still much suspense to be found, and a few great surprises (the Zulu warrior mannequin in a storefront window is an inspired touch). It’s only at the end of the episode that the curse is proven all too real in an undeniably concrete fashion.
Dehner was last seen in season one’s “The Lonely” as Allenby, rocket pilot and friend to inmate James Corry, and he’ll return to The Twilight Zone in season five’s “Mr. Garrity and the Graves.” Here he’s urbane and sophisticated, befitting the role, and it’s fun to watch his civilized bravado unravel as the voodoo curse (or rather, the fear of it) overtakes him. A solid performance.
Dehner’s friend Chad Cooper is played by Walter Brooke (a prolific TV actor who seems to have appeared in almost every series produced in the 60’s and 70’s; seriously, check out his credits at imdb.com), who is probably best remembered for his immortal “Plastics” line in 1967’s The Graduate. I know him from TV’s The Incredible Hulk, where he had a recurring role as Mark Roberts, roving reporter (and Hulk-obsessed) Jack McGee’s boss. Burke will reappear in season five’s “A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain.”
Beaumont adapted “The Jungle” from his 1954 short story of the same name. It appeared in 1958's Yonder, a collection of Beaumont short stories, which contains two other Beaumont stories that would become TZ episodes: "The Man Who Made Himself" (season four's "In His Image") and "The Beautiful People" (season five's "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You").
When Richards throws his wife’s talismans into the fireplace, there’s a quick eruption of sparkles and a popping sound, augmented with a musical sting (“Shock Chord VIII-44-C” by Lucien Moraweck). This identical effect, sting and all, was first employed in season one’s “A World of His Own” when Gregory West unmakes his characters-come-to-life by burning the Dictaphone tape he “created” them on.
I griped last week about the simplistic plot of “Still Valley,” and it occurs to me that the plot of “The Jungle” is really no more complex. It works, however, as a sustained suspense piece; plus, that payoff at the end just plain rocks (I swear I ain’t lion. Ha, see what I did there?). “The Jungle,” while not a favorite, is absolutely worthwhile.
In two weeks: The Twilight Zone drags me kicking and screaming into the world of vintage silent comedy. Ugh.