Thursday, January 5, 2012

TZ Promo: “Nothing in the Dark” (1/05/1962)

Season 3, Episode 16 (#81 overall)
Cayuga Production # 173-3662

Her name is Wanda Dunn. She’s an old woman who lives alone in a shabby tenement, afraid to go outside. She’s convinced that Death himself is out there, just waiting to come in and claim her.

The thing is…. well, she’s right.

“Nothing in the Dark” is a moving study of humanity’s fear of its own mortality, and Gladys Cooper’s portrayal of the frightened old woman is one of the greatest performances ever captured on The Twilight Zone. Cooper will (happily) return for appearances in season four’s “Passage on the Lady Anne” and season five’s “Night Call.” She’s fine in both, but “Nothing in the Dark” is where she truly shines.

Unfortunately, young Robert Redford... well, sucks as the wounded cop who finally convinces her to open the door and help him. Oh, sure, he’s pretty to look at, but he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag at this early point in his career (I’m not entirely convinced that he ever became that great of an actor, truth be told). As great as “Nothing in the Dark” is, Redford’s embarrassingly bad performance is a serious blemish. I imagine this is why the episode doesn’t appear in my Top 20 Favorites list (it did make my Top 40 list two years ago, however).


This is Death’s third (and final... I think) appearance in the series. We’ve encountered him twice before, in “One for the Angels” and “The Hitch-hiker” (both from season one) and, once again, he proves less frightening when his quarry stops struggling and acquiesces, a pleasant alternative to the skull-and-scythe depiction we’ve all seen countless times. Here’s hoping the real Death is a nice guy...

Another connection to “The Hitch-hiker” can be found in the stock music used in the episode. During Death’s surprise (well, not really) reveal near the end, the underscore features cues from Bernard Herrmann’s music for the radio production of “The Hitch-hiker” (which was subsequently used in the TZ adaptation). A nice touch for attentive ears.

Lamont Johnson directs a George Clayton Johnson script (no relation, as far as I know). We just saw Johnson’s directorial chops two weeks ago in “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” but, interestingly enough, he directed “Nothing in the Dark” earlier. Like, way earlier. The production number (173-3662) indicates that this episode was actually produced during the show’s second season, but held back until the third (the same is true of “The Grave,” which we looked at back in October). The opening shot of act one does not feature the usual season three title cards (episode title, writer, director)… we simply open on a shot of Wanda slowly unlocking and opening her front door. The title shot above is from the episode’s end credits (the only place the episode title was ever seen during season two).

In his The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic (which you need on your shelf; seriously, go NOW and get a copy), Martin Grams Jr. reports that “Nothing in the Dark” was originally scheduled to close the second season, but was replaced by “The Obsolete Man” and held back until midway through season three. This strikes me as odd…. If the episode was ready to go in mid-June, why was it held in limbo for six months? Was Serling and Company as dismayed by Redford's performance as me? In any case, as much as I love “The Obsolete Man,” I think “Nothing in the Dark,” with its elegiac and meditative qualities, would have been more effective as a season finale. But hey, what do I know?

In 1992, a local theater company called Hellfire Productions presented Tales from The Twilight Zone, which included stage adaptations of three TZ episodes: “The Obsolete Man,” “A Game of Pool,” and yes, “Nothing in the Dark.” It’s been almost 20 years, and my memory ain’t what it used to be, but I recall being quite impressed with their efforts.

"Am I really so bad?" Um... yeah, Bobby, you kinda are.

“Nothing in the Dark” is ultimately an exercise in frustration for me. It possesses all the elements of a truly great episode, but Redford’s awkward mannequin routine hurts it enough to cripple its chances at true legend status. As it stands, it’s a Mona Lisa with a crayon mustache. Too bad.

Next week: The world gets nuked yet again… or does it?

1 comment:

relarion said...

Great site!!

I too adore TTZ

I am a lyricist and jazz singer (my last album was Grammy-nominated in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category). My 2/14/12 release is called Tales of the Unusual and has a song based on "Where Is Everybody?"