"The Twilight Zone": what if you had a tank at Custer's Last Stand?

Jun 17, 2006 (Updated Oct 7, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Four episodes from the Emmy-winning television series, "The Twilight Zone".

Cons:None, unless black-and-white films are something you can't stand.

The Bottom Line: Four episodes from Emmy-winning "The Twilight Zone," ranging from modern soldiers in a tank considering rescuing Custer at the Little Bighorn to a camera that takes photos of the future.


"June 25, 1964 - or, if you prefer, June 25th, 1876. The cast of characters in order of their appearance: a patrol of General Custer's cavalry and a patrol of National Guardsmen on a maneuver. Past and present are about to collide head-on, as they are wont to do in a very special bivouac known as 'The Twilight Zone.'"

That's the opening narration to "The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms," narrated by "The Twilight Zone" host and creator Rod Serling. He also wrote the episode.

In the episode, we find an Army National Guard tank crew in 1964 encountering events from "Custer's Last Stand" in 1876 happening as they go out on maneuvers near the Little Bighorn River.

If you're in a modern Army unit with the firepower of a tank at your disposal, do you try to rescue Custer's command? Or, as one tank crew member believes, is all this a mirage and his tank crew buddies are nuts?

It's typical of Serling's writing, presenting characters in the most unusual of places, his narration prodding the viewer into the story and closing narration that sums up the story at the end ("...look for this one under 'p' for phantom, in a historical ledger located in a reading room known as 'The Twilight Zone'...").

This DVD

"The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms," which first aired December 6, 1963, is one of four episodes of the original "Twilight Zone" series, which aired from 1959 to 1964, that appear on "The Twilight Zone: Volume 19" DVD. This is one of a series of DVD collections released between 1999 and 2001 which are still easy to find at online stores (I bought this through Amazon.Com last week).

The other episodes on the "The Twilight Zone: Volume 19" DVD are "A Most Unusual Camera" (from 1960), "The Jungle" (from 1961) and "Uncle Simon" (from 1963).

The episodes are presented in a ratio a 1:33:1, in digitally remastered original black and white with mono sound. The episodes are unrated, but easily PG by today's standards. The DVD has a total running time of 100 minutes (the series aired in half-hour time slots, but that's with commercials which aren't present here, hence the shorter running time).

The DVD also includes such special features as an "Inside The Twilight Zone" section written by Mark Zicree (author of the best-selling book, "The Twilight Zone Companion") which has biographical info on Rod Serling with a history of the series. Extra features also include reviews of each episode with season-by-season commentary, plus animated menus.

Serling, who wrote 92 episodes of the series, also created "The Twilight Zone" --- it was his baby for five years when network TV still mattered.

Recommendation

The four episodes here are still very interesting, even if you've seen "The Twilight Zone" episodes dozens of times over the years.

When it was a first-run show, my parents let me watch it --- as a kid it was scary; as an adult, I appreciate the variety of stories, the outstanding writing and the great acting presented in the episodes. It's too bad we don't have anything like it on the air now.

The episodes

"A Most Unusual Camera"

Episode 46, which aired December 16, 1960.

It's the story of two criminals (played by Jean Carson and Fred Clark) who find that the camera they stole takes pictures of the future. What would you do with such a camera?

Written by Rod Serling and directed by John Rich (who won Emmy Awards for directing "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "All In The Family").

"The Jungle"

Episode 77, which first aired December 1, 1961.

Starring John Dehner (who played Sy Bennett on "The Doris Day Show" from 1971-73) as Alan Richards. Mr. Richards returns from a business trip to Africa where he plans to build a dam on land that a tribe believes is sacred. He discovers that a witch doctor's voodoo curse is something you can't ignore.

Also in the cast is Emily McLaughlin (Nurse Brewer on "General Hospital") and Hugh Sanders (who appeared in three episodes of "The Twilight Zone" and who also played the sheriff in the "I, Robot" episode of "The Outer Limits" in 1964).

Written by Charles Beaumont (who wrote 21 episodes of "The Twilight Zone") and directed by William F. Claxton (who later directed six episodes of "Little House On The Prairie").

"The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms"

Episode 130, which aired December 6, 1963.

Can a trio of modern National Guardsmen in a tank in June of 1964 save Custer's 7th Cavalry from disaster in June of 1876?

Starring Ron Foster (Dr. Charles Grant on "The Guiding Light" from 1991-95), Randy Boone (he played Francis Wilde on TV's "Cimarron Strip") and future motion picture star Warren Oates as the tank crew.

Louisville-born actor Warren Oates ("In The Heat Of The Night," "The Wild Bunch," "True Grit," "Blue Thunder," "Stripes") is fantastic in this early role, a soldier who thinks his tank crewmates are nuts when they try to convince him that they are reliving the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Future "Mission: Impossible" TV series star Greg Morris appears as Lieutenant Woodard.

Written by Rod Serling and directed by Alan Crosland, Jr (who also directed episodes of "Combat," "12 O'Clock High," "Maverick" and "Gunsmoke").

Trivia note: actor Ron Foster is one of the voices on many a video game, including "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and "Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne."

"Uncle Simon"

Episode 128, which aired November 15, 1963.

Starring Constance Ford (best known for TV soap operas like "The Edge Of Night") as a niece taking care of her Uncle Simon (played by Cedric Hardwicke). Seems that she's had the chore for 25 years and hates her uncle. She's very impatient for the old man to die and leave her some money.

Unfortunately, to inherit her uncle's great wealth when he dies, she has to take care of her uncle's last invention --- a robot with a personality like her uncle's.

Trivia notes: Cedric Hardwicke does the narration in the 1953 film, "War Of The Worlds." The robot, who walks with a cane in this episode, was originally Robby The Robot in the 1956 film "Forbidden Planet" and also appeared in an episode of TV's "Lost In Space."

Written by Rod Serling and directed by Don Siegel (famed director of films such as "Dirty Harry," "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" (the 1956 version) and "The Shootist").

Trivia buffs:

Rod Serling's brother, Robert J. Serling, wrote the best-selling book "The President's Plane Is Missing", which became a 1973 TV movie starring Peter Graves and Buddy Ebsen.

Rod Serling biography

If you just wanted to know about the DVD, consider the review ended. If you would like to learn about the man behind "The Twilight Zone," please read on.

Rod Serling, the man who created "The Twilight Zone" and who wrote 92 of its 156 episodes between 1959 and 1964, was a native of Syracuse, New York. He was born on Christmas Day in 1924 and died June 28, 1975, from complications during a coronary bypass operation.

He may have been only 5-foot-4 in height, but he stood tall in television during his brief life. He's one of my all-time favorites as a television personality and as a writer.

The soldier

Serling enlisted in the Army one day after graduating from high school in 1942 at the age of 17 and was a successful boxer as well in the Army. He later served as a demolition specialist in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U. S. Army's 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific theater of World War II.

While fighting the Japanese, he was wounded by shrapnel in both the wrist and knee. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds and the Bronze Star for bravery in combat.

After leaving the Army in 1946, Serling went to Antioch College in Ohio. He got married in 1948 and while still a college student he began having some success selling radio and television scripts. He also worked for WLWT-TV and WKRC-TV while in Cincinnati.

The writer

After college, Serling saw more than 70 of his TV scripts produced between 1951 and 1955. One live production, "Patterns," which aired on "Kraft Television Theater", won him the first of his six Emmy Awards (he also won numerous other awards, including the first ever George Foster Peabody Award for writing).

His 1956 teleplay "Requiem For A Heavyweight" won Serling the 1956 Emmy Award for "Best Teleplay Writing, One Hour Or More." It also won Emmys for best directing by Ralph Nelson, for "best single performance by an actor" for Jack Palance, and for "best single program of the year." In 1962, it was remade as a feature film starring Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason.

CBS-TV chairman William S. Paley reportedly boasted that Serling's teleplays had moved television a decade into the future.

Censors and television advertisers gave Serling a hard time over his scripts, which attacked a variety of controversial issues including morality, war and racism. Serling discovered science-fiction was a way to address contemporary issues without being transparent about doing so.

Using science-fiction as his canvas, Serling discovered that he could explore any issue he wanted to on "The Twilight Zone" (and again later on "Night Gallery").

As Serling said in an interview, "I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say."

Serling won Emmy Awards for episodes of "The Twilight Zone," "Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theater," "Kraft Television Theater" and "Playhouse 90"). He also received the Golden Globe in 1963 for "Best TV Star - Male" (tying with Richard Chamberlain).

"The Twilight Zone" helped launch the careers of a number of actors, including Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, William Shatner and Dennis Hopper.

Writing "Seven Days In May" and "Planet Of The Apes"

The Writer's Guild Of America nominated Serling as a screenwriter for "Best Written American Drama" in 1965 for the his script for the 1964 film "Seven Days In May" (starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in a Cold War drama about an attempted military coup of the U. S. government). The screenplay was remade as the 1994 film "The Enemy Within" (starring Forest Whitaker, who later hosted a "Twilight Zone" TV series revival).

In between TV series and films, Serling was the narrator of "The Wonderful Of Jacques Cousteau" TV specials.

Among Serling's many film screenplays the most famous may be the 1968 version of "Planet Of The Apes," which Serling wrote with Michael Wilson.

"Planet Of The Apes" (starring Charlton Heston) was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress in 2001, which selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry. Interestingly, Charlton Heston had starred in a 1956 "Playhouse 90" teleplay by Rod Serling called "Forbidden Area."

In his last years before his death in 1975, Serling returned to Antioch College in Ohio to teach. I can only imagine what an inspiration he must have been as a teacher.

On the web

Museum of Broadcast Communications Rod Serling biography (probably the best one online): http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/serlingrod/serlingrod.htm

A PBS biography of Rod Serling: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters//database/serling_r.html

TV.Com bio of Rod Serling: http://www.tv.com/rod-serling/person/9124/biography.html

Another biography of Rod Serling: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Serling

A SciFi.Com biography of Rod Serling: http://www.scifi.com/twilightzone/serling/

The IMDB.Com biography of Rod Serling:

An episode guide to the series: http://www.tv.com/twilight-zone/show/237/summary.html

Another episode guide to the series: http://tzone.the-croc.com/


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