“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” (1.22, 4 March 1960)
A Book Review by Ali Moosavi.
Grant states that his aim was to ‘offer the most productive and comprehensive account of The Twilight Zone possible.’ He has undoubtedly succeeded….”
The Twilight Zone, created by Rod Serling, is undoubtedly one of the most influential television series ever made. It preceded and directly influenced series such as The Outer Limits, Star Trek, Lost in Space, The X-Files, Black Mirror, films of M. Night Shyamalan, and many others. It can be argued that The Twilight Zone’s own format of stories with a twist, introduced and ended with a message by its creator, was influenced by the successful Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, which preceded it.
Barry Keith Grant’s monograph, The Twilight Zone, covers just about everything one needs to know about this series. Grant states that his aim was to “offer the most productive and comprehensive account of The Twilight Zone possible.” He has undoubtedly succeeded in achieving this aim. His monograph analyses this groundbreaking series from many angles, including its influence on popular culture, the influence of popular genres of the time such as film noir and western on The Twilight Zone, impact of the major socio-political events such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movements on the content of the series’ episodes, etc.
Grant also provides a bagful of tidbits of information about the series; the show was on the verge of being cancelled twice during its run; with regards to merchandising, it was one of the most profitable shows in history of television; Rod Serling was the only host of a network TV show who was a writer rather than an actor, and so on.
Grant’s monograph is the kind of book that you want by your side when watching re-runs of The Twilight Zone. It would greatly complement a DVD box set of the series. Grant dissects individual episodes discussing their origins, themes, influences, casting and so on.
One of the main appealing things about The Twilight Zone was that although the content of the program veered between science fiction and fantasy, they were set in very realistic environments, featuring ordinary, believable people which made the episodes even more impactful. According to Serling, “the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy is that the former is making the probable possible and the latter is rendering the impossible probable.”
The Twilight Zone was made on tight budgets, often reusing props from earlier productions. As Grant informs, a shot of a stop-motion dinosaur animation at $2,500 was the most expensive special effect ever used in the show (in “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” 2.8, 24 March 1961). Yet, one feels that this drawback probably worked in favour of the show as any elaborate special effects, rather than benefiting the story, may have been a distraction.
Rod Serling was an amazingly prolific artist. As well as executive producing the show and appearing in it, he wrote over half of the scripts. Grant discusses other scriptwriters of note, including Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, whose novels include I Am Legend (made into film on four occasions, including The Omega Man and I Am Legend) and The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Serling often got in trouble with the show’s sponsors over the content of the episodes. A Grant thoroughly covers in Chapter 3: “‘What’s in the Box’: The Twilight Zone and the Real World,” Serling was highly attuned to the socio-political environment around him and often made references to subjects such as racism, religious bigotry, the Vietnam War, and other socio-political issues which the sponsors deemed controversial and shied away from.
One of the reasons for the high quality and amazing consistency of the series during its five-year run, Grant notes in Chapter 1: “‘Once Upon a Time’: The Twilight Zone and Genre,” was Serling’s astute choice of directors for the episodes. They included past and future cinema directors including Jacques Tourneur, Ida Lupino, Don Siegel, Robert Parrish, Richard Donner, Stuart Rosenberg and, most intriguingly of all, the legendary Norman Z. McLeod, director of classic comedies such as Horse Feathers, It’s a Gift, Topper, Road to Rio, The Paleface, etc.
One of the fun things when watching old reruns of shows like The Twilight Zone is spotting actors and actresses who, after the show, achieved fame in cinema and television. The Twilight Zone is packed with future stars. They include William Shatner, Peter Falk, Burt Reynolds, Lee Marvin, Cliff Robertson, Art Carney, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack, James Coburn; as well as Hollywood legends such as Buster Keaton and Franchot Tone.
In 1956 Rod Serling stated, “of all the media, television lends itself most beautifully to presenting a controversy. You can just take part of a controversy and, using just a small number of people, get your points across.” One wonders what Serling would have made of social media. For fans of The Twilight Zone, and those interested in socio-political history of the late fifties and early sixties as it relates to television, Grant’s The Twilight Zone is well worth exploring.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).