50 years ago tonight, a dead man sprang back to life… right in the middle of his own funeral. Oh, snap!
Season three found The Twilight Zone visiting the south multiple times (with varying results), and “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” is arguably the single most successful sojourn. The episode adeptly mixes countrified humor with a profound supernatural mystery and emerges with a winning concoction. The episode is a joy, through and through.
The town doctor attributes Jeff’s miraculous revival to a condition he calls ipso suspendo animation. Others think perhaps an evil spirit has taken possession of Jeff’s body, and pretty soon the men form a posse to force Jeff to leave town. The ensuing showdown plays out beautifully, and it’s only at the very end of the episode do we find out the truth.
Leading the cast is James Best in the second of three TZ roles (all of them good old country boy types; he’d go on to a career-defining role on TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard playing bumbling Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane). Best is marvelous as the recently-deceased (and suddenly quite ambulatory) Jeff, but really the entire cast is spot-on. Sherry Jackson (as Jeff’s fickle girlfriend Comfort) is sure as hell easy on the eyes, and most definitely qualifies as a bona fide TZ babe.
As I’ve reported previously, I used to archive episodes when I was a kid by placing my little portable tape recorder directly in front of the TV speaker (that’s audio tape, folks; VCRs weren’t common items yet). In my original tape of this episode, at the 4:51 mark when Jeff says “Well I’ll be double-dogged,” our family dog Benji could be clearly heard barking, as if on cue. Sadly, both my audio tapes (not to mention Benji himself!) are long lost to time.
“The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” is one of The Twilight Zone’s better comedies, which means Rod Serling most certainly did NOT write it. We have Montgomery Pittman to thank for this one (he wrote and directed it, as he did with his previous “Two” and “The Grave”). Pittman’s contribution to the series may have been relatively small, but he was batting a thousand all the way. Pittman, who undoubtedly had a bright career in front of him, died of cancer in June of 1962, just four months after “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” premiered.
Next week, “To Serve Man” asks the age-old question: if you lead a Kanamit to humans, can you make him eat?