Worst to Best
The Twilight Zone
Season Four

The fourth season of The Twilight Zone was late in finding a sponsor, and so was replaced in the schedules by Fair Exchange. Producer Buck Houghton received an offer elsewhere, and, without the guarantee of the series returning, he accepted. Eventually CBS ordered another season, only this time with changes: the show's name was shortened to just "Twilight Zone", and the episodes were double-length.


by
THE ANORAK
AUGUST
2017


Herbert Hirschman became the new producer for an 18-episode season, while Serling, who had taken up a teaching position with the temporary cancellation of the series, would be far less involved, writing just seven of the scripts and overseeing far less of the production. The season aired from January-May 1963 and is available to buy on Blu-Ray from Amazon. Please join me in ranking the fourth season from worst to best. Please note that while an effort has been made to avoid excess spoilers in this article, some major plot points are inevitably discussed in some of the entries, and seen in some of the screen capture images.

18 I Dream Of Genie

John Furia, Jr. was a much-awarded writer who had great involvement with the Writer's Guild of America and would also act as a Professor of writing at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema and Television. This was his only script for the Twilight Zone, a comedy based around a genie in a magic lamp. Sadly, the "comedy" is more aimed at the Rod Serling model of humour in the series, even down to the fact that Rod had already given us a genie story with season two's The Man In The Bottle.
     Here the genie only grants one wish, meaning most of it is dream sequences of "wishes that could be". While Howard Morris is fine in the lead role, the events that unfold - including the lead character's epiphany that he's happier as himself - are all things that have been done to death at this stage in the series, and feel utterly tired and lifeless. There's also the concept of everyone in an office adoring a female colleague because of her looks, and Morris imaging the genie granting her love to him, situations which can't help but feel a little awkward in 2017. Perhaps the only real humour in the episode is Morris's dog, who always seems a little too excited to see him.
     The bottom three entries here are below-par in quality, and the two after that are dull in the hour format, but none of the season four entries are exactly "stinkers" in the way the worst of previous two seasons were. Sadly, there's also a lack of classic episodes at the top, with pretty much every episode outside of the top five just mediocre.

17 The Bard

A satire on television writing that lampoons corporate sponsorship and possibly even alludes to Rod's own lack of inspiration with the series at this stage. ("Your idea of changing the millionaire into the multi-millionaire and making an hour show of it...") Yet what kills any satirical intent stone dead in this comedy is the "waaah waaah" incidental music by Fred Steiner. His last of seven scores (which included decent entries like Miniature), it's a bouncy, jaunty theme with honks, whistles, taps, and a constant "laugh here" insistence.
     Not that without it, The Bard would have been much better. Although lines like "it's so archaic, language-wise" could easily be self-mockery on Rod's part, it's a loud endeavour. As with Of Late I Think of Cliffordville, there's a bald wig involved that looks horrendous on Blu-Ray definition, though perhaps doesn't jar as badly in such a lightweight story. But there are definite plusses, such as a mid-20s Burt Reynolds sending up the concept of the method actor, or John Williams' inspired performance as Shakespeare.

16 Of Late I Think
Of Cliffordville

It cannot be understated just how good the Blu-Ray transfers of The Twilight Zone are. The detail is so crisp, the clarity so great, that it makes the DVDs look like faded VHS, and all of the episodes like they were made yesterday. Unfortunately, this does have its downside with episodes like this one, where two actors appear in "old man make-up" at the outset. What in other mediums might look like an elderly man, particularly on a 525 line television, today looks like a circus clown.
     While Albert Salmi is fine, if hammy, as the main "old man" William Feathersmith, things get silly 15 minutes in when Julie Newmar turns up in a serious story as a sexy Satan. The most unsettling part of the episode is a sequence where Satan talks about all the people who Mr. Feathersmith has driven to suicide... 27 years after the episode aired, Salmi killed his wife and took his own life after suffering from depression.
     Based on a short story by Malcolm Jameson, this Rod Serling script is more amped-up wit rather than the full on broad laughs of his lowest points, and is more sub-par rather than truly awful. The title has to rank alongside On Thursday We Leave for Home as arguably the most evocative and poetical title of the entire series... it's a shame that it doesn't belong to a better episode.

15 The Parallel

The Parallel takes on the concept of parallel universes, with a pilot who flies into space and crash lands, finding subtle differences in his life. Performed in the first three seasons and it may have been a watchable, average episode. Sadly, made to the season four double length format, every piece of plot is discussed at great length and repeated in order to stretch to the runtime. The overall impression is of actors deliberately pacing their lines in order to pad it out. It's a common complaint with the worst of the season four instalments, and this Rod Serling script makes no real effort to test the new format to its limits, while star Steve Forrest fails to rise his performance above a straight recital of exposition.
     One curious bit of trivia about the episode is that it's the only one to coincidentally name-check its then-unaired rival, with the line "the acceptable outer limits." The Outer Limits (covered on this site) began in September 1963, just two weeks before the premier of the Twilight Zone's fifth and final season.

14 The Thirty
Fathom Grave

Rod Serling had proven he could do a 50-minute length Twilight Zone with the proxy pilot The Time Element. However, this ghost ship story is flat and laborious. Reportedly conceived as a regular-length instalment, it certainly had potential, but with the double-length format it becomes stretched out just to fill the run time. Sole saving grace in amongst a languidly-acted tale is Mike Kellin, whose mumbling, off-beat performance and general mannerisms bring to mind Laurel and Hardy's favourite drunkard Arthur Housman. In fact, that might be unfair, as the production is striking, too, with filming done on an actual US Destroyer.
     Season four was the work of 14 separate directors, and it's a testament to how up in the air the production must have been that six of them had never worked on the series before, and would never work on the series again. These included Walter E. Grauman (Miniature), Ralph Senensky (Printer's Devil), Robert Gist (I Dream Of Genie), David Lowell Rich (Of Late I Think of Cliffordville) and David Butler (The Bard). The sixth man was the director of the first three episodes, including this one: Perry Lafferty. Lafferty's work seems listless and lacking urgency, with the use of Kurosawa-style wipes to break scenes. Although the director of photography remained the same for season four, the general look of the show did seem greyer, rather than the sometimes stark black and white pallet.

13 The Incredible World
Of Horace Ford

Reginald Rose was a much-respected playwright, most famous for the play and later film adaptation of 12 Angry Men. This was his sole effort for the series, though sadly has just one angry man: Pat Hingle as an enraged manchild, furious with his lot. It's easy to mark down episodes of the Twilight Zone based on their plot similarities to other stories, and, indeed, this "man tries to return to his childhood" theme had been done, without sentiment, just the week before in Of Late I Think of Cliffordville. However, while this light-hearted tale has the most similarities to the classic Walking Distance, it was based on Rose's own 1955 teleplay.
     Despite this, it begs the question: should episodes that cover similar ground be downrated as a result, or should they be regarded in and of themselves? It's not one to overly ponder here, as, whether watched as an unintentional retread, or just in isolation, this is, sadly, rather average fare. The 50 minute runtime causes Ford to take a trip down to the streets of his childhood not once but three times, which, if watched with the kindest eye, produces a Groundhog Day effect... though unkind eyes would say it's just pure padding. Hingle is fine as the amped-up Horace, but after 50 minutes in his company you might find yourself rather exhausted. Look out for a nice ending where he finally calms down a bit, and an almost-mystical figure breaks the fourth wall...

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