Season 3, Episode 31 (96 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4831
Cayuga Production # 4831
For a series whose stock in trade is suspense and fantasy, The Twilight Zone features a surprising number of stories steeped in sentimentality. Nostalgia and longing are recurrent themes, featured every bit as prominently as time travel, identity crises and alien invasions. A subdivision within said “nostalgia and longing” is the fear of growing old, of death itself. We witnessed a moving exploration of this theme earlier this season with George Clayton Johnson’s “Nothing in the Dark,” in which death is depicted as something to be embraced rather than feared. 50 years ago tonight, Rod Serling presented us with an enticing alternative.
“The Trade-Ins” introduces us to the New Life Corporation, a company in the not-too-distant future that can transfer the minds of the sick and/or old into new, youthful, semi-indestructible bodies. Their latest potential customers are John and Marie Holt, an elderly couple clearly nearing the end of their journey. John is crippled by pain; Marie dreamily imagines starting their lifelong courtship anew. They appear to be perfect clients for New Life; unfortunately, they only have half the money needed to undergo the transformation together.
In his promo for this episode (aired at the end of last week’s “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby”), Serling said the following: “It’s my personal feeling that of the various story areas we’ve tackled in The Twilight Zone, this has the most import, and carries with it the most poignance.” Thankfully Rod was putting his money where his mouth was: “The Trade-Ins” is a wonderfully sweet and moving entry, easily on par with the best from the show’s first (and best) season. You can’t help but love the Holts, particularly their evident and undying devotion to one another. The sacrifice that Marie is willing to make to save John from any further pain is heartbreakingly life-affirming, and the subsequent sacrifice that he makes for her is both devastating and beautiful.
Joseph Schildkraut, who stole the show earlier this season in “Death’s-head Revisited” as a spectral concentration camp custodian, is a revelation here. The age makeup is a bit obvious (particularly in high-definition; see the captures herein), but his interpretation of Holt is remarkable. Watch him as he speaks through pained sobs before the gangster who’s about to clean him out in a poker game, and contrast that with the warm, almost playful tenderness he displays when he strokes Marie’s cheek in the New Life showroom. This is expansive, nuanced work, pretty damned impressive for a three-day quickie stint on a TV show. Schildkraut’s wife died in the middle of production, and it’s a testament to his professionalism that he insisted on completing his scenes (it also makes watching his work here more than a little heartbreaking).
Elliot Silverstein directed “The Trade-Ins” and, for a brief moment, he appears to be giving us a sequel to season two’s “The Obsolete Man,” which he also directed:
Look at that huge dark room. Is there a chancellor on a perch somewhere just off camera…? Nope, it’s the New Life showroom, which houses several inert artificial humanoid bodies, on display.
The entire cast, save for Alma Platt (an endearing Marie Holt), is made up of TZ veterans. Edson Stroll, who played the hideous (by alien pig-people standards) Walter Smith in season two’s “The Eye of the Beholder,” is on hand here as the new-and-improved John Holt. He’s fine and all, but why doesn’t he sound like Holt? Even with new vocal cords, he should still possess Holt’s European accent… right?
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention those stylin’ short shorts; there’s some manly eye candy if that’s your thing (we’ll see Robert Lansing in similarly-minimal trunks in season five’s “The Long Morrow”).
Theodore Marcuse is great as the card shark/frustrated musician Farraday. We last saw him twirling a pencil as Gregori, the Russian ambassador in “To Serve Man.”
Mr. Vance, the New Life rep, is nicely played by Noah Keen, who popped up in “The Arrival” as Bengston, the airline executive who deftly (okay, impossibly) figures out that the entire mystery is nothing more than a guilt-fueled hallucination. Here he's surprisingly effective as a sympathetic salesman.
“The Trade-Ins” is just plain lovely, hitting all the right notes without crossing the saccharine line. Highly recommended.
Next week, “The Gift” tries to tell a sensitive tale of a young Mexican boy and his newfound alien friend. It sounds like E.T. in a sombrero, but it’s actually a stale tortilla. ¡Ay, caramba!