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DVD Review: ‘The Twilight Zone (1959) – The Complete Fifth Season’

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Image Entertainment concludes its episode-only, complete-season DVD releases of The Twilight Zone with The Complete Fifth Season, debuting on a five-disc set for $29.98. Slated for CBS’ 1963/64 schedule, the program returned for 36 episodes at its original length of half an hour.  Commenting on The Fourth Season, series creator Rod Serling said, “The bulk of our stories lacked the excitement and punch of the shorter dramas.”  A sentiment shared by many fans, in my experience. However, with 120 stories already told, the series began to lose some of its luster in the fifth season.  Ideas were repeated and most of stories from new writers brought in to help complete the fifth-season commitment were forgettable.

Serling wrote 16 episodes, four of them teleplays based on other writer’s stories, and even his output was uneven, which he admitted.  “Toward the end I was writing so much that I felt I had begun to lose my perspective on what was good or bad.” His “The Long Morrow” is a touching, futuristic love story with a good twist.  “A Kind of Stopwatch,” based on an unpublished story by Michael D. Rosenthal, takes an idea that must cross everyone’s mind: what if you could stop time?  Overly talkative and borish McNulty is given “The greatest conservation piece in the world…and what does it do? It stops conversation!”  However, the episode offers a twist without a moral.  He also wrote cliched sci-fi stories, such as “Probe 7, Over and Out,” which features a man and woman named Adam and Eve, and “The Old Man in the Cave” where the man’s identity isn’t surprising.

Of the returning TZ contributors, Earl Hamner, Jr. wrote the most with five episodes but they are inconsistent. “You Drive” might be the best, presenting a psychological story about a man dealing with guilt due to a motor accident.  With “Ring-a-Ding Girl,” the twist is just a bit of arbitrary magic.  “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” one of the four by Richard Matheson, may be the most memorable of the season, and arguably the series.  In one of his finest performances, William Shatner is the only person on a plane who can see a monster on the wing.  The story was revisited 20 years later in Twilight Zone: The Movie.  After producer William Froug took over for Bert Granet, who left after 13 episodes, the rewrite he had done to George Clayton Johnson’s “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” disappointed the author so much he used a pseudonym for the story credit. Charles Beaumont’s name appears on three episodes, but they were ghost-written by others because of his poor health.  The most notable was “Living Doll,” written by Jerry Sohl, which featured Talking Tina.

For the first time, the show’s opening remained the same from the previous season. It was a treat to see Serling the narrator appear within episodes again.  Fans of classic films and television should recognize the actors from this season, some of which are returning to the Zone: Mary Badham, Jackie Cooper, James Coburn, Wally Cox, Richard Deacon, Shelley Fabares, Mariette Hartley, Jack Klugman, Martin Landau, Lee Marvin, Billy Mumy, Warren Oates, Mickey Rooney, Telly Savalas, George Takei, and Ed Wynn.

There were no nominations from either the Emmys or the Hugos this season, but there is an Academy Award winner in the set.  Based on the story by Ambrose Bierce, Robert Enrico wrote and directed the French 1962 short “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”.  Buying the film to air and making minor adjustments rather than paying to produce an entire new episode allowed the series to come in under budget for the season.

Although uneven, the storytelling heights achieved during The Twilight ZoneThe Complete Fifth Season more than balance out the lows, making it well worth adding to anyone’s TV-on-DVD collection.

I have also reviewed The Complete Second Season and The Complete Third Season and The Complete Fourth Season. Thanks to Image Entertainment for allowing me to take this “journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination,” and the invaluable assistance from Marc Scott Zicree’s very informative The Twilight Zone Companion. 

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS