I am joining A Shroud of Thoughts’ blogathon and will talk about one of my favorite tv episodes from Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.”
My favorite Twilight Zone episode has to be “WALKING DISTANCE.” It aired October 1959 in Season 1 as Episode 5 of the famed series, and is one of the most poignant episodes I’ve ever seen. GIG YOUNG plays Martin Sloan, a Madison Avenue advertising exec, who winds up near his old hometown when his car needs servicing.
“Martin Sloan. Age 36. Occupation, Vice-President of an ad agency in charge of Media. This is not just a Sunday drive for Martin Sloan. He perhaps doesn’t know it at the time, but he’s looking for something. And somewhere up the road, he’ll find something else.”
While waiting for his car to be ready, he walks into town. He strolls through the old neighborhood, fully expecting it to be changed after twenty-five years. But it hasn’t changed. It’s surprisingly the same; wonderfully the same…eerily the same.
He talks to a neighborhood kid who is playing with marbles. ( Check out the kid above. ) The reveal in this “Twilight Zone” episode is like Easter eggs hidden in plain sight for the first couple of minutes. A fountain soda still costs a dime…passersby seen from the drugstore window have clothes from another era. A 1934 roadster with a rumble seat is brand new…right off the Detroit assembly-line. Martin has gone back in time.
This episode is more than the metaphor of coming face-to-face with your past. [ And it’s really not like going to ‘Willoughby’ either. ] Happens that Martin runs smack dab into his past…literally. He accidentally finds his younger self carving his name into a fence. See, the plot gets trippy now. He has memories of carving his name when he was a kid, but now SEES himself doing just that.
A scene that puts a lump in my throat happens when Martin goes back to his old home and sees his parents. Alive.
This older couple doesn’t recognize this man who calls them ‘Mom’ and ‘Pop.’ They’re confused as to how this stranger knows so much about their family. Martin’s desperation frightens his mother. He has i.d. to prove who he is, but she wants no part of this and slaps him. The door is slammed in his face. I liken this scene to the moment in “It’s A Wonderful Life” when George Bailey visits wife Mary at the library and she has no idea who he is.
Martin doesn’t get a real chance to talk to his younger self. Would a little boy even be developmentally ready to understand what his adult self has to say to him? Is the price of being human such that we must make our own mistakes no matter how much we’re warned? Or is it something more Einstein-y and scientific? Can the past and future NOT operate in the same space, but only exist as ships that pass in the night?
Martin finds himself again, this time on a carousel. He frightens his younger self. When young Martin runs away, he falls off the carousel hurting his leg. I freaked because this accident causes the Adult Martin to buckle in pain as his leg gives way as well. You see, when the future tries to impact the past…it only changes itself.
“No more merry go rounds. No more cotton candy. No more band concerts. I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time. Now. Here. That’s all, Martin. That’s all I wanted to tell you. God help me. That’s all.”
The great Bernard Herrmann scores this episode with music that shreds me. I’ve never heard a better use of his music ( not counting “Vertigo” and his other great film scores ) than with this episode. You can listen to the score HERE though I don’t see the episode on-line. The poignancy grips me when Martin’s father comes to talk to him. The voice and quiet empathetic understanding of Frank Overton as his father moves me.
Martin’s Father: “It says your driver’s license expires in 1960. That’s twenty-five years from now…I know who you are. I know you’ve come a long way from here. A long way and a long time. But I don’t understand how or why. Do you? But you do know other things, don’t you Martin? Things that’ll happen.”
Martin: “Yes I do.”
Martin’s Father: “Martin?”
Martin: “Yes, Pop.”
Martin’s Father: “You have to leave here. There’s no room. No place. Do you understand that?”
Martin: “I see that now, but I don’t understand. Why not?”
Martin’s Father: “I guess because we only get one chance. Maybe there’s only one summer to every customer. That little boy, the one who belongs here. This is his summer, just as it was yours, once. Don’t make him share it.”
It’s poignant when he has to send his grown son away to save the son he has right now. He doesn’t really understand…but he wants to comfort, his son.
“You’ve been looking behind you Martin. Try looking ahead.”
I urge you to check out this Robert Stevens directed episode. You may not be able to change your past, but it may help you appreciate what you have now…and how you may change your future.
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