Season 5, Episode 1 (121 overall)
Cayuga Production #2607
Originally aired September 27, 1963
The Twilight Zone returned for its fifth season with a heartbreaking bang: Rod Serling’s “In Praise of Pip” is an aching study of a man’s love for his son, and the lengths he’ll go to save his life.
Max Phillips (expertly played by TZ favorite Jack Klugman) is a low-rent bookie, living in semi-squalor in a boarding house, marking time between drinks and letters from his son Pip, who is serving in Vietnam. When he receives word that Pip has been injured in combat and is hovering between life and death, he revolts against his crime lord boss and gets a bullet for his trouble. Wounded, he wanders down to the locked gates of a nearby amusement park and asks God for the chance to talk --- just talk --- to Pip. This is only the setup; the real story takes place during act two, inside the amusement park, where an unexpected visitor awaits him.
“In Praise of Pip” resides squarely in TZ’s gentle fantasy category (other occupants of this sub-genre include “Walking Distance,” “The Trouble with Templeton” and “The Fugitive”); it’s also one of the series’ subtlest outings. It could be argued that the events in act two are simply hallucinations experienced by Max as he slowly bleeds to death. If we take the episode at face value and accept that God grants Max’s request (actually requests, plural), then we’re moving outside of The Twilight Zone and into fundamentalist Christianity (which my agnostic self refuses to allow for). I suppose that the fact that Max specifically calls on God doesn't necessarily mean that it’s God who answers, so it’s not necessarily a conundrum after all. And ultimately it doesn't really matter: emotion is driving the story, not the entity stimulating said emotion behind the machinations.
There’s a nice montage featuring Max and Pip taking in the assorted pleasures of the amusement park (rides, cotton candy, etc). We’re reminded of the carnival in season one’s “Perchance to Dream”; here, however, the nightmarish aspect is confined to the House of Mirrors, and even that is ultimately more disorienting than frightening.
Max voices regret about all the times he flaked on his parenting time with Pip, which indicates that Pip didn't live with him, but it’s interesting to note that there isn't a single mention of the child’s mother anywhere in the episode. I suppose it doesn't change anything, since we’re really only interested in the father-son relationship, but just a quick reference might’ve been nice. Is she dead? Remarried? We’ll never know.
“In Praise of Pip” features an original music score by Rene Garriguenc (conducted by Lud Gluskin). It’s fairly generic aside from a couple of nice jazzy cues but, overall, it supports the drama well enough (I almost wonder if using stock cues from “Walking Distance” might’ve been more effective…?). You won’t find Garriguenc’s score on any TZ soundtracks; however, it’s conveniently included as an isolated music track on both the Definitive DVD and blu-ray releases on season five from Image Entertainment.
“In Praise of Pip” is Jack Klugman’s fourth and final TZ appearance: he previously headlined season one’s “A Passage for Trumpet” (in which his Joey Crown is something of a dry run for his Max Phillips here), season three’s “A Game of Pool” and season four’s “Death Ship.” Klugman is my favorite actor to ever appear on the series, so I was naturally devastated when he passed away this last Christmas Eve.
Pip is played by Billy Mumy, who attained TZ Legend status with his portrayal of the Godchild Anthony Fremont in season three’s “It’s a Good Life” (he also appeared in season two’s “Long Distance Call”). Observing how much Mumy changed over those three appearances (see pic below) effectively underlines Max’s lament over how quickly his son has grown up.
Several other TZ vets are on display in "In Praise of Pip." Max’s boss Moran is played by John Launer, the Lieutenant Colonel in season one’s “The Purple Testament” (memorable for his unfortunate “War stinks!” line; Launer also provided voice work in “And When the Sky was Opened” and “Third from the Sun,” both from season one). That’s Ross Elliot as the doctor who first examines Private Pip in South Vietnam; he appeared briefly in season four’s “Death Ship” as Kramer, the hunter in Lieutenant Carter’s vision of home (Elliot never crossed screen paths with Jack Klugman, however, who had the lead in that particular episode). And Russell Horton, who we saw in season three’s “The Changing of the Guard,” is effectively twitchy and pathetic here as ol’ black-eyed George (for whom Max takes the fateful bullet).
Kreg Martin is sufficiently menacing as Moran’s silent, unnamed gunman. This is his only TZ appearance; however, he appeared three times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and three times on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. The IMDB only lists acting credits for him in 1962 and 1963, so he evidently came out of nowhere, scored a bunch of TV roles, and abruptly dropped off the face of the earth. I can’t explain why, as I couldn't find anything in the way of biographical info on him. Anyone?
“In Praise of Pip” is probably the single most heart-wrenching (and tear-inducing) episodes of The Twilight Zone, and Klugman’s performance is truly transcendent. There are several episodes that I count among my favorite filmed productions of all time for various reasons (writing, cinematography, performance, etc), but this particular episode is one I identify with on a very personal and visceral level. As a parent who has watched his children transform into adults (in what feels like mere moments instead of years), I experience a nostalgic twinge whenever I see pictures or videos of them when they were small, and… well, I’m reduced to tears every time I watch this. No other episode in the entire series hits me this hard.
Me and my kids, Isaac and Sierra, circa 1995.
Serling’s daughter Anne recently published As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling, an autobiographical account of her relationship with her famous (okay, legendary) father. She reveals that some of the dialogue from “In Praise of Pip” was directly inspired by exchanges between the two of them, adding yet another layer of bittersweetness to the proceedings.
“In Praise of Pip” is Serling’s last truly great Twilight Zone script, on par with the general excellence of his work in the series’ glorious first season. There are a few decent Serling efforts still to come, but they won’t reach the heights he achieves here. Truth be told, I wish this episode had been the final episode to be aired this season (which would've made it the series finale). It would've been a nice bookend to close out the series.
Next week: A three-round bout featuring the original Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Bet a fin, take your seat and tune in.