Thursday, May 22, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Come Wander with Me" (5/22/1964)

Season 5, Episode 34 (154 overall)
Originally aired 5/22/1964
Cayuga Production # 2641

He said: Come wander with me, love
Come wander with me
Away from this sad world
Come wander with me

He came from the sunset
He came from the sea
He came from my sorrow
And can love only me

Oh where is the wanderer
Who wandered this way?
He’s passed on his wandering
And will never go away

He sang of a sweet love
Of dreams that would be
But I was sworn to another
And could never be free

Singer Floyd Burney, the Rock-A-Billy Kid, arrives in a remote backwoods town in search of a usable folk song. The proprietor of the music store (a barn full of musical instruments, actually) gives him the cold shoulder, but he hears the perfect melody emanating from somewhere in the neighboring woods. Guitar and tape recorder in hand, he sets out to track it down, taking no notice of the black-clad woman watching him... not to mention the nearby headstone with his name on it.

After a fruitless search of unknown duration, he sits down and tries sounding out the melody. Just then the hummer of the elusive song appears, a young woman named Mary Rachel. She refuses to give her song to him, however, stating that it “belongs to someone else” (that “someone else” is Billy Rayford, her fiancĂ©). Burney turns on the charm and, before you can say “redneck seduction,” she’s happily singing the song into his tape recorder.  Act one ends with Mary Rachel in Burney’s arms with his tongue planted firmly down her throat.

Act two opens with the pair listening to the recorded song, Burney enjoying what is presumably a post-coital smoke. He promises to take Mary Rachel to the big city, where he’ll buy her sparkling jewels and unicorns and whatever the fuck else, and she laps it up like the Appalachian simpleton that she is. Just then Billy Rayford arrives, shotgun in hand, poised to take out the competition. Burney dispatches him with a rock to the head, at which point his tape recorder kicks on… but the song has now changed, its lyrics reflecting the murder. 

You killed Billy Rayford
Bespoke unto me
Struck him down in his anger
'Neath an old willow tree

By the lake where our love dwelled
'Neath an old willow tree
You killed Billy Rayford
'Neath an old willow tree

Mary Rachel begs him not to run “this time,” that if he lets her hide him “things might be different.” Burney assumes she’s nuts and flees from the wrath of Rayford’s vengeance-minded kin. When he looks back at her, she's now inexplicably dressed in black mourning garb.

They sought out their brother
And found him alone
The wept by the lakeside
For a boy hardly grown

They wept by the lakeside
And vowed he must die
The wandering stranger---

He makes his way back at the music store, where the proprietor refuses to help him. He clocks him in the head, doubling his body count. He then tries to hide, but the instruments come to life in an accusatory cacophony, leading the Rayford posse straight to him. A gunshot sounds, and we close on a shot of that mysterious headstone….

“Come Wander with Me” was written by Anthony Wilson, who also wrote the pilot episode of my newest sci-fi TV obsession The Invaders (“Beachhead”)… which I will most likely be blogging about when the series turns 50 in 2017 (so if you were wondering if I’d be doing any more of these Silver Anniversary blogs, there’s your answer). Wilson has another (very approximate) Rod Serling connection: he developed the TV spin-off of 1968’s Planet of the Apes, which Serling had a hand in adapting from Pierre Boulle’s novel. Hey, I said it was approximate, didn’t I?

In the director’s chair is Richard Donner for his sixth and final Twilight Zone go-round. “Come Wander with Me," which turns 50 tonight, has something of a proto-David Lynch vibe about it: impressive visual flair with tons of atmosphere, heightened (almost to the point of artifice) acting, and a twisted, near-incomprehensible plot. The episode would sit comfortably next to films like Mulholland Drive and Wild at Heart. I’m a Lynch fan, so it delights me to draw this comparison.

The question must be asked: does Floyd Burney register on the Obnoxiometer™? I dunno. In rewatching the episode recently (twice in fact), I found myself pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t nearly as grating as my memory indicated. In fact, I actually enjoyed him. So I guess… no, he doesn’t. Your mileage (and the readings on your own personal Obnoxiometers™) may vary. It occurs to me that perhaps his personality seems more caustic because of the languid, almost dreamlike surroundings; point another way, would he seem that insufferable in the big city?

In any case, I cannot deny that he is quite dickish, particularly when he chucks a rock at an innocent crow for no reason whatsoever (where’s PETA when you need ‘em?). Oh yeah, and he kills two guys, which doesn’t really help his case (in all fairness, Billy Joe Jim Bob Rayford was about to blow him away, so we can call that one self-defense; the music store guy totally didn’t deserve to die, however). His worst offense of all may be his relentless self-branding: he wears a shirt with his initials on it, plays a guitar with his name on it, and drives a car with --- you guessed it, his name on it. Since he states his own name frequently (“You’re bespoke, I’m Floyd Burney, so what?”), none of this is necessary.

This is the point at which I'd usually dissect the supernatural force(s) at work and poke holes in it/them, but in this case the dreamlike atmosphere more or less defies such analysis. Burney is either trapped in a time loop or, more likely, is eternally reliving his transgressions (like Karl Lanser in season one's "Judgment Night" or, more recently, the E-89 crew in season four's "Death Ship"). I also wonder if the song itself is cursed somehow...? It doesn't matter. This is a dream, or a nightmare, or some half-conscious point in between.

“Come Wander with Me” features an original score by Jeff Alexander (who also scored season two’s “The Trouble with Templeton”), which includes an intriguing original song, (music by Alexander, lyrics by Anthony Wilson), verses of which appear throughout the episode. The song was later featured in the notorious 2003 film The Brown Bunny (notorious because its, um, climatic oral sex scene was not simulated; yes, I’ve seen it, and it’s clearly the real, um, thing); before that, Alexander himself integrated an instrumental version of the song into his score for the 1968 western Day of the Evil Gun. I’ve pieced together the various sections into a semi-cohesive song for your listening pleasure (you’ll notice a drop in quality in the fourth and final verse, since it was heard in the episode as a tinny tape recording; I also didn't include the apocryphal story-specific verses)….

The underscore, fragmented song pieces and all, can be enjoyed (without intrusive dialogue and sound effects) thanks to the isolated music track present on both DVD iterations and the more recent Blu-ray release of season five.

Dutch singer Anneke van Giersbergen covered the song in 2007 under the moniker Agua de Annique. It's every bit as lovely and haunting as the original recording. Enjoy!


Floyd Burney is played by Gary Crosby (yes, Bing’s son) in his only Twilight Zone appearance. Crosby’s other genre credits include The Bionic Woman (“Bionic Beauty”), Wonder Woman (“Light-fingered Lady”), and Project U.F.O. (“Sighting 4003: The Fremont Incident” and “Sighting 4022: The Camouflage Incident”); unfortunately I was unable to procure any usable photos from any of them, so instead I’ll include Crosby’s 1951 Life Magazine cover. That’s right, kids: the Rock-A-Billy Kid made the fucking cover.

Note "The Midnight Sun" there in the upper left corner. It's clearly not a reference to the Twilight Zone episode of the same name (which would air ten years later), but it's a cool coincidence nonetheless.

The role of Mary Rachel was Bonnie Beecher’s first professional acting gig. Her career was short-lived (1964-68) but, in that slight span of time, she managed to land roles on Star Trek (“Spectre of the Gun”), The Invaders (“Beachhead”) and The Fugitive (two, actually: “Ill Wind” and “Ten Thousand Pieces of Silver”). She has the pleasure (maybe, I dunno) of being married to hippie activist Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy.

The zombie-like proprietor of the music store is played by Hank Patterson, who has crossed over into The Twilight Zone twice before (season three’s “Kick the Can” and, more recently, “Ring-a-Ding Girl,” in which he was the cranky high school superintendent who wasn’t having any of Bunny Blake’s consarned nonsense). Patterson has no other genre experience to speak of; most fans of classic TV probably remember him as Fred Ziffel on both Petticoat Junction (1963-66) and Green Acres (1965-71).

“Come Wander with Me” is marvelously schizophrenic: on one hand it’s a disjointed and jarring circle with no resolution and a brash loudmouth at its center; on the other it’s an ethereal mystery operating on the languid logic of dreams. There’s nothing else in the series quite like it; given the fifth season’s frequently derivative nature, it’s both welcome and refreshing. I love it.

Next week:
With only two episodes left to air, Rod Serling offers up his
very last Twilight Zone teleplay. I wish to Christ it was a good one... but alas.


Anonymous said...

Do you know if there was a full length audio recording of the song "come wander with me"?

Jeff Lynn said...

I found the song here, but the lyrics are incomplete. Maybe Bonnie Beecher never sang all of the verses?

Jeff Lynn said...

Anyways, I love your article/blog post about this episode. I found it both humorous and informative. I think my take on the whole story after giving it much thought is a bit darker than most interpretations and I feel it is even more creepy which is a good thing as far as TZ episodes are concerned right?

My theory is that Mary Rachel is a ghost/spirit that has been damned for betraying her lover (Billy Rayford) and ultimately getting him killed. Her punishment is to relive the betrayal over and over again for all eternity. I actually think that Floyd Burney (musician) has nothing to do with any of it other than that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and fell prey to the ghost's plan to seduce him in to her eternal story line like she does to anybody who is foolish enough to come to that town on the night that it happened and who hears her song and follows the music out of curiosity until they are in her trap deep in the forest where the murders actually happened hundreds of years ago perhaps?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Floyd Burney's car was a 1964 Ford Thunderbird Convertible. (approx. year)