Over the five seasons of his anthology series The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling never failed to deliver cautionary tales. Oftentimes he would remind the viewers that despite all the luxuries and distinctions that wealth and power could bring…deep down, every one of us is human, and who we choose to be, can be an incredibly important choice.
With the Season 3 episode One Last Pallbearer, Serling once again chose to enter into the mind of a wealthy eccentric, with some particular plans of his own design.
As the camera fades in, we see Mr Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman), taking an elevator to a bomb shelter in the basement of his personal office building. Speaking with an electrician, he is assured that the installation of a large projection-screen television and sound system, have just been completed.
Radin then tests the system. As we see a large metropolitan city disintegrated in a few moments by an atomic blast on the screen, the sound of the explosion reverberates off the walls. He then tells the curious electrician, that the installation is for “three special guests,” who will be visiting him on this very night.
After their exchange, we see the elevator doors open, revealing Rod Serling. He then delivers his opening monologue:
What you have just looked at takes place three hundred feet underground, beneath the basement of a New York City skyscraper. It’s owned and lived in by one Paul Radin. Mr. Radin is rich, eccentric and single-minded. How rich we can already perceive, how eccentric and single-minded we shall see in a moment, because all of you have just entered…The Twilight Zone.
When the show continues, we see that Radin’s guests have arrived via elevator, curious as to being summoned urgently to this place. Radin does not meet them personally, but addresses them via an intercom system. As the heavy metal door of the bomb shelter opens “theatrically,” they enter into the special room. The door closes behind them, and Radin is revealed, sitting placidly before them.
He then identifies his guests by name:
– Colonel Hawthorne (Trevor Bardette), whose command Radin once served under while in Africa
– Mrs Langsford (Katherine Squire), who was one of Radin’s high school teachers
– Reverend Hughes (Gage Clarke), who one can assume was probably associated with a church Paul attended as a young man
Starting with Hawthorne, Radin jogs the Colonel’s memory, when he reminds him how he (Radin) was court-martialed after serving under his command.
Hawthorne recalls, and explains it was because Radin refused to follow a direct order to lead an assault charge, which could have cost the lives of a number of men under the Colonel’s charge. The court-martial that followed, saw Radin “dishonorably discharged.” However, the Colonel claims that if it was up to him, Radin would have been shot for his insubordination.
Radin next turns his attention to Mrs Langsford, claiming that when he was her student, she flunked and humiliated him in front of her class. However, the teacher tells the others that there were reasons behind her actions.
She explains how Paul was caught cheating, and rather than take responsibility for his actions, he tried to frame another student in her class. She then called him out before the entire class regarding his actions. Given what she has seen so far, she still considers Paul “a devious, dishonest troublemaker.”
The Reverend Hughes is finally addressed, with Radin claiming the holy man placed a scandal over his head, which destroyed his reputation. Hughes claims it was due to Radin’s actions causing a girl to commit suicide, and his feelings that the young Mr Radin did not hold honor in high regard.
This final blow against his character causes Radin to angrily retort that his guests can “go to the devil,” claiming none of them showed him the compassion or understanding that he feels was owed to him in these past situations.
It is then that Radin tells his guests about the room they are in: a specially-designed fallout shelter that has generators, electricity, and a warehouse full of food and supplies. Being a man of high importance and knowing people in powerful places, he claims that tonight, an overseas power is planning to attack the country, which will set off a nuclear war. Unseen by the group, he presses a button.
A few moments later, air raid sirens are heard over the speakers, and an announcer’s voice tells people to take shelter. Radin smugly smiles at the worried looks on his guest’s faces and mocks them, asking for words of comfort or wisdom.
He then offers them a deal: they may stay in his elaborate shelter to survive the coming attack…on the condition that they beg his forgiveness, and get down on their hands and knees to do so.
“Pretty please with sugar on it,” says Mrs Langsford, only the request is not to beg for Radin’s forgiveness, but to open the door, claiming she’d rather spend her last moments with total strangers above-ground.
Hawthorne and Hughes also demand to leave the shelter, and Radin’s smug expression falters, realizing his scheme is not bearing the fruit he had expected to pluck.
“All you have to do is to say a sentence,” he says, a trembling in his voice. “Just a string of silly stupid words like a command, Colonel, or like a lesson, Teacher, or like a prayer, Reverend. All you have to say is you’re sorry!”
But there comes only silence, leading Radin to give in to their demands and open the metal door, but loudly proclaiming that they’ll be back soon enough.
As the three board the elevator, Radin desperately rushes at it’s door, claiming they’re throwing their lives away if they leave.
“Life is very dear, Mr Radin,” says the Reverend Hughes, “infinitely valuable. But there are other things that come even higher. Honor is one of them…perhaps the most expensive of them all.”
“Amen,” says the Colonel, quietly backing up the holy man’s words.
Mrs Langsford attempts to offer some form of help to the desperate man, telling Paul to counter the loneliness in the shelter by putting up mirrors.
“Then you’ll have the company of a world full of Radins,” she promises. “It’ll be a fantasy of course, but then, your whole life has been a fantasy: a parade of illusions. Illusions about what people have done to you, illusions about what justice is, illusions about what is the dignity of even the lowest of us. A fantasy, Mr Radin…and now you can have it all to yourself.”
No it’s not a fantasy!!” Radin bellows as the doors close…when suddenly, the sirens and defense announcer’s voice ring out, but not by his pushing of a button! As he wanders back into the main room, the shelter’s large screen shows the city, rocked by a nuclear explosion!
“THAT’S QUITE ENOUGH!!” he yells, smashing the speakers and destroying the screen. However, a few moments later, he panics and rushes outside.
Emerging from the building, his eyes go wide with shock as around him, his building and the city have been reduced to rubble!
As he breaks down in heavy sobs, the scene dissolves to what has really happened: Radin’s grip on reality has snapped, and the world has not been obliterated…just in his mind.
As he sobs at the fountain outside of his building, an officer tries to help him, but Radin’s mind is trapped in it’s own world of desolation, and he doesn’t hear the officer or the people around him.
“I didn’t want it this way,” he babbles. “Anybody, won’t somebody listen to me?”
It is then that we hear Serling’s voice over the closing scene:
Mr Paul Radin, a dealer in fantasy who sits in the rubble of his own making and imagines that he’s the last man on earth. Doomed to a perdition of unutterable loneliness, because a practical joke has turned into a nightmare. Mr. Paul Radin, pallbearer at a funeral that he manufactured himself…in The Twilight Zone.
Written by Serling, One More Pallbearer is probably not one of his stronger episodes, but there is something intriguing to me about the characters within it.
Broadcast on January 12, 1962, it would be the second episode during the show’s third season, to utilize a fallout shelter. However, unlike that episode where desperate neighbors turned hostile to get into a shelter, the people in Pallbearer are desperate to get out of one, and willing to risk death if it will bring them some form of human compassion above-ground.
Joseph Wiseman’s portrayal of Paul Radin would come just months before he would be seen as an eccentric villain in the first James Bond film, Dr No. Wiseman’s voice and demeanor definitely give the air of a pompous businessman who feels he can have anything, and make anyone do anything. However, it shows just how twisted Radin is that he tries to “scare” an apology out of these three people. Then again, one wonders if this plan had succeeded…maybe there would be others he would have attempted to scare as well?
Given how Radin shrugs off not following orders, cheating, and even driving a woman to suicide as being nothing more than character assassination, Serling shows us how twisted the man is. This is someone with an inflated sense of self-entitlement, and most importantly, one who has been unable to mature and move beyond thinking of these people that he feels have wronged him (or even felt the need to better or improve himself after these events).
It is rather satisfying to watch Radin’s demeanor crack, and we get to see what a pathetic little man he really is when his plans fall apart. He tries to mock and bully his guests into staying, even claiming that just saying they are sorry would be nothing more than “silly stupid words,” when in truth they’re fool’s gold to pay off his desperate ego.
In the end, the guests prove to be much stronger than their host. The Reverend Hughes tells how important honor is, while Mrs Langsford seems to try and offer a shred of pity to Radin, though it sounds like she doesn’t hold out much hope that he can be saved from what he has become. They may not chew the scenery as much as Wiseman’s character, but their resolve holds in the face of their captor’s demands.
When Paul snaps and actually believes in the illusion he’s created, this is where I feel the episode gets a little “wobbly.” Given that the final scene takes us back inside Radin’s mind, I can’t help but feel this was a late addition to drive home just what he was seeing in his head, maybe revealing to the viewer why he isn’t acknowledging the people crowding around him in reality.
Once again, One More Pallbearer is definitely food-for-thought when it comes to some episodes of The Twilight Zone that don’t crack the shows’s Top 10 best episodes lists, but still have something important to say.
It’s lessons about sticking to integrity and basic moral principles, are important takeaways to remember in this day and age.
Over the years, we’ve seen a number of cartoon characters make a comeback.
In the 1980’s, Ross Bagdasarian Jr, ushered in a revival of his father’s creation, The Chipmunks. Starting in 1983, RBJ would bring Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, into the 1980’s, placing them and their father Dave Seville, into the California lifestyle. Along with singing Chipmunk versions of famous hits, the boys would get into a number of adventures.
Watching Alvin and the Chipmunks was a staple of my Saturday Mornings growing up. After the show went off the air, several cable channels picked up the episodes, and I soon found myself watching them in re-runs. Out of many of the episodes I remembered, there was one from the sixth season, that I always kept an eye out for.
An episode called: The Wall.
As the show starts, the boys are awoken by Dave, who informs them that they have been invited to play at the Wall of Iron Concert.
Alvin (naturally) is excited at the prospect of rubbing shoulders with plenty of big-name acts there, but Dave puts things in perspective, telling him that the concert is very important.
Soon they are flying over the host city, and view a long span of wall. It is here that Dave tells the boys (and us) that the wall was built after a war divided the country. The concert the Chipmunks will play at, is set up so that those on the concert side, can send the music across the wall to those on the other side, where a number of freedoms are encroached upon…including the ability to listen to our play rock music (which shocks the heck out of Alvin).
After landing in the (nondescript) city, Dave checks on the staging area, while the boys head over to check out the wall.
They soon encounter a little girl named Caterina, who is waiting for her brother Erik to send a message over the wall.
The message comes taped to a soccer ball, along with some drawings he did. The boys agree to take some pictures with Caterina to send back over the wall…and only after taking the pictures, does she recognize them(?). Her brother is a big fan of rock and roll (as well as the Chipmunks), but when the family was forced to flee, her brother did not make it to their side of the city.
Wanting to help reunite the siblings, Alvin attempts to use his star-power to try and reason with the guards on the other side of the wall’s entry-point. However, they assume the three boys are there to ‘defect,’ and one guard orders that the trio be taken to ‘the rock pile.’
Dave hears their cries for help, but is unable to get to them in time. He then attempts to scale the wall, but before he can make it over, Erik’s soccer ball hits him, and he falls back down.
Caterina intercepts the ball, which has a note saying that Erik has seen the Chipmunks being carried off, and is going to try to help them escape during the concert that night. Naturally, Dave takes Caterina’s word to wait (instead of going to the US Embassy to try and get the boys released).
Erik ends up infiltrating the boy’s room as a bellboy(?), and brings along some towels to tie together, allowing them to escape out the nearby window. He then takes them to a tailor, who disguises the boys. Before they leave, the old man gives them some items to give to his granddaughter, who is also on the other side of the wall.
However, the group doesn’t get far, when the boys are recognized, leading to them being recaptured, along with Erik.
As night falls, the boys are led to ‘the rock pile,’ with Alvin emotionally trying to drag out his expected death.
“Give him, ‘the ax,” says the man in charge.
Alvin braces for the worst…but is surprised when he is handed an electric guitar! Simon and Theodore are also surprised, when they are also given instruments.
It is then, that the commanding officer reveals that he and his men (who I guess have chosen to defect against their superiors!), want the boys to play rock and roll!
“Show our people, it should not be forbidden any longer,” he says.
On the other side of the wall, Dave has waited long enough, when he suddenly hears Alvin’s voice, singing a song that carries over the wall.
Soon, people on both sides of the wall are listening to the song. As they join in the chorus, the wall begins to form cracks, and soon a portion of it crumbles to the ground! Once the song ends, Caterina is reunited with Erik, the tailor with his granddaughter, and Dave with the Chipmunks.
The image then wavers, and we see Alvin and his brothers, asleep on an airplane. It is at this point that Dave wakes them up, and points out the wall through the plane’s window.
“It was just a dream,” says Alvin, “But it doesn’t have to be.”
As the episode ends, we get one more image of Caterina and Erik, standing next to the open wall.
While Alvin and the Chipmunks did have some emotional episodes, something about The Wall always stuck with me. It was when I went looking around online for more information on it some time ago, that I was surprised to find others also had fond memories of the storyline as well!
One reason the episode stuck in my head, was probably due to the song that Alvin and the boys sing.
For much of their career, the Chipmunks have mostly sung their renditions of popular songs. In the case of this episode, the song that was sung was an original piece of music (just who wrote it, I have no clue).
While there have been a number of albums of Chipmunk music released over the years, this song still has never had a proper release. Of course, if you look around Youtube, you’ll find audio copies people have gotten off the episode.
At the time, episodes of The Chipmunks usually consisted of two 10-12 minute stories. The Wall was the first part of the episode, that aired on December 17, 1988. However, some believe it’s story may have been inspired by several events.
During the late 1980’s, there was already growing resentment towards the Berlin Wall, that had divided East and West Berlin since 1961. In 1987, former President Ronald Reagan had given a speech, in which he had requested that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, “tear down the wall.”
The Wall of Iron concert in the episode, may have been inspired by several artists who played near the Berlin Wall. In 1987, David Bowie performed there during his Glass Spider Tour, and in 1988, Bruce Springsteen and his band followed suit (which could explain Alvin’s Springsteen-like vocals!).
And then, on November 9th, 1989, the unthinkable happened.
It was on this day, that the gates separating East and West Germany were thrown open. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I can still recall NBC News footage with reporter Tom Brokaw in the foreground, reporting on the event. Plus, word is that the weekend after the event, NBC re-aired The Chipmunks episode featuring The Wall in it.
Cartoons have often found ways to insert real-world notions or thoughts. Most of the time, they go over the heads of their younger audiences.. In the case of The Wall however, there was just something about it’s message about unifying families who had been separated under horrible circumstances, that I think stuck with many who saw it…and still see the episode today.
Growing up in the 1990’s, I still remember when NBC ruled Thursday nights, with their Must-See-TV lineup.
Thanks to the involvement of Jurassic Park alumni Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg, I soon had another show to watch along with Seinfeld and Frasier, when E.R. debuted in 1995.
Like millions across the country, I was soon deeply engrossed in the interconnected lives of the staff of County General Hospital, in Chicago, Illinois. The constantly-roving cameras, along with the hyper-kinetic scenes when the doctors would have to contend with emergency situations, soon had me sucked in.
All these years later, there’s been a few episodes that I can still recall parts of from memory. One of them came out twenty years ago this week, and I thought it fitting to do a Retro Recap on it.
As the episode starts, we find John Carter (Noah Wyle) and several of the E.R. staff, working on a little girl named Corinna Nelson (Nicolette Little). While her father Sawyer (John Thaddeus) only has a gash on his forehead from the vehicular accident they were involved in, Corinna has a ruptured spleen. Med student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) takes Sawyer to be stitched up, before returning to Corinna.
Doctors Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) and Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle) soon enter the room to examine the little girl, when her eyes close and her blood pressure spikes! A blood transfusion has been set up, but her body does not seem to be taking it. Lucy is sent to ask Sawyer if his daughter has any special conditions, but upon checking on him, she finds he has disappeared.
Sawyer had given Lucy some information, including the phone number for Corinna’s mother. Upon calling her, Lucy is given some shocking news: Sawyer’s name is actually Keith, and he kidnapped his daughter a few weeks prior!
Things don’t get better when they find out that Corinna has a very uncommon blood type, and the blood draw taken from Keith after the accident, confirms a match with his daughter. Carter inquires to the nearest blood banks, but finds nothing. Meanwhile, Lucy’s shift ends, and she attempts to follow the street address Keith gave her, even though Carter feels he just gave her false information.
Carter is soon relieved by Dr Greene, and takes off with a woman he knows named Roxanne Please (Julie Bowen). However, he also is informed by a member of the Chicago Police Department, that they found Keith’s totaled car came from a dealership in the Chicagoland area.
Carter attempts to spend the afternoon with Roxanne, but his mind is still on Corinna, and he heads off for the dealership, hoping to find information on Keith. There he finds out that Keith is a bookie, and the salesman tells Carter to check with a Bellhop at the Delaware Hotel downtown for more information.
Carter does so, and is surprised to find that Lucy is already there. The address Keith gave her was a former place he lived, and some locals in the area directed her to the hotel. A bellhop tells them that a guy named Toby knows Keith, and recommends they check out a meat-packing plant.
Back at the hospital, Corinna’s mother has arrived, but her daughter’s condition has worsened. With the lack of blood (her mother’s blood type does not match), her kidneys are in danger of shutting down.
It is then that Dr Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) gives the team some hope. The rare donor program has found some frozen units of Corinna’s blood type in Nashville. The blood is soon on the way, and Corinna is prepped for surgery for her ruptured spleen.
Meanwhile, Carter and Lucy have gone from the meat-packing plant, to a dilapidated neighborhood looking for Toby. Lucy manages to find a relation who says he may be at a market nearby. However, as she glances up at the nearby El train platform, she sees Keith on it!
Carter quickly rushes across the street and jumps the turnstile. Unfortunately, he is accosted for not paying the fare, and he watches as the train leaves with Keith on it. Carter and Lucy then find Toby, who claims he doesn’t have Keith’s contact information, but suggests talking to a guy named Uncle Joey at Soldier Field.
Back at County General, the blood has been received, but there’s bad news. Several small holes have been found in the bag, which could mean the contents may have been exposed to bacteria. This leads to Dr Benton and the others to performing a “blood-less surgery,” attempting to repair the girl’s spleen, while trying to keep her from losing what little blood she has left.
Taking Uncle Joey’s advice, Carter and Lucy head to another address on the south side of Chicago. As they wander around some dilapidated buildings, they both begin to question each other’s motives in looking for Keith. Carter claims he went looking because he wanted to help. Lucy on the other hand, feels responsible since Keith walked away when her back was turned (which Carter had berated her for earlier).
“I shouldn’t have made you feel that way,” admits Carter. “Truth is, you’re the only med student I had that showed any promise.”
Things don’t get better when Carter ends up taking a fall, and dislocating his shoulder. The two decide to leave, but find that someone has torched Carter’s Jeep!
They then take off on foot, and soon come to a payphone. Lucy decides to call Toby back to see if he can provide more information, but Carter feels that they’ve reached a dead-end.
Surprisingly, Toby comes through, and provides them with an address that leads them to a small wooden shack along some train tracks. They find evidence that Keith and Corinna had been living in the shack, along with a phone message.
Playing back the message, they hear Keith’s voice telling someone named Inga that he’s across the street, and to check on Corinna at the hospital.
This sends Lucy and Carter headed back to the hospital to look for Inga, when Lucy thinks of Keith saying the words, “across the street.”
The two end up rushing into a restaurant called Doc Magoo’s across from County General, and sure enough…Keith is there!
Keith is quickly rushed over to the hospital, where Lucy draws his blood. He’s then wheeled into the room with his daughter and ex-wife, but it is then that Dr Greene explains Corinna’s condition. The spleen surgery came out successfully, but given how much time has elapsed since she first needed the blood transfusion, Corinna has slipped into a coma. She’s had multiple seizures, and her kidneys have shut down.
“But his blood will make her better, right?” asks Corinna’s Mom.
“A lot of damage has been done,” says Dr Green, quietly.
After getting his arm in a sling, Carter goes up on the roof, and finds Lucy there. While they were able to get Corinna the blood she needed, Lucy is upset that they couldn’t have saved her from her current condition.
“Some patients get to you more than others,” says Carter, sitting down next to her. “I know. But when you do everything that you can…sometimes, even more than you though you could, you got to walk away knowing you fought the good fight. You fought the good fight, Lucy. Tomorrow, you’ll fight another one.”
When it came to E.R., the general format for an episode, usually involved weaving multiple stories together like a hospital-based soap opera. Sometimes however, the show writers would give their multiple plot-threads a break, and focus on a singular event like this one.
In the E.R., the fight to save Corinna ends up being an event that touches almost every regular character on the show (even George Clooney’s Dr Doug Ross shows up for a few minutes). However, it feels almost like the secondary story arc, with the main focus being on John Carter and Lucy Knight’s quest to find Corinna’s father.
For the show’s fifth season, Lucy Knight was a newcomer to the hospital staff: a third-year medical student, but one that had some difficulty asking questions and getting a handle on certain elements. This led to a series of mishaps that soon ended up with her and John Carter at odds with each other.
With this episode, we both got to see each of them being strong-willed and caring people, who just want to help. The storyline isn’t too different from those we’ve seen before, where two characters who don’t get along, are forced to find common ground to achieve a goal.
The episode also had the two sharing some personal information about themselves. At one point when the topic turns to Keith “abandoning” his daughter, John and Lucy begin to divulge a bit about their own fathers. Carter admits that a father should stick around for his kids, only to find out from Lucy that her father wasn’t around when she was young.
The episode worked to bridge the communication gap between them, and going forward, the two ended up becoming a fan-favorite “pairing” that is still talked about to this day.
Looking back on the episode now, the storyline of the two looking for Keith Nelson seems a bit ridiculous. I doubt any medical drama today would use such a storytelling device, but the concept of doing whatever it takes to try and save someone definitely spoke to me. There’s even an added “emergency beat” when Carter comes across a woman in a housing complex, who is suffering from tuberculosis.
The final moment with John and Lucy taking a beat after their adventure, is still one of my favorite moments from the series. Carter’s speech about “fighting the good fight,” is one that I sometimes think about in my quieter moments.
For those of us who grew up in the 1990’s, there was one commercial ad campaign that you couldn’t ignore.
Beginning on October 27th, 1993, the Got Milk ad campaign officially began showing up on TV. Soon it would be in print magazines, on billboards, and many other places.
For many like myself who watched a lot of television in the mid-1990’s, there are many commercials that were made for the campaign, that are still stuck in my head. There were so many, that I decided to compile my (personal) Top 5 favorites from the Got Milk ad campaign (hint: most of them are from the early days of the campaign).
And so, here’s my little stroll down memory lane.
A nervous man enters a convenience store, and picks up three boxes of cereal, including Trix. At the register, the old woman chastises him for this.
“Don’t you know Trix are for kids?” she laughs, ringing him up, as he bolts out the door.
Once returns to his apartment, the man empties the cereal into a bowl, before suddenly, unzipping his skin(!), revealing that he is the Trix rabbit in disguise!
The rabbit is finally about to enjoy his cereal, when he realizes…that he’s out of milk!
Over the years, the Got Milk campaign would often bring some star-power into their commercials. After all, how else to get the kids’ attention, than to use characters and icons they were familiar with? Additional iconic characters used over the years, included The Powerpuff Girls, and Mario from Nintendo.
Personally, I felt that the Trix rabbit commercial was the stronger of these concepts, given that it played with the topic of desperation, and then trips up the main character right before he can achieve his goal…which was often a staple of many different Got Milk commercials.
Of course, if one looked at the commercial logically, the rabbit could simply eat the cereal without milk (plus, four years before this commercial came out, a promotional campaign had let kids across America, vote to let him eat the cereal during a Trix commercial).
As the clock strikes six, an old woman prepares to feed her cats. Unfortunately, she quickly realizes she’s all out of milk.
Looking for a substitute, she finds some non-dairy creamer in a cupboard.
“Oh look,” she says to herself. “Just like milk.”
Mixing the creamer with water, she then proceeds to feed the cats…but one lick, and they turn on her.
Next thing we see, are paws closing the blinds, locking the doors…and turning off the power to the house!
This was one of those commercials where someone tries to get out of a bad situation, but as we soon see, their fate is sealed.
Most likely thanks to a number of Stephen King-based films, we know that when you mess with cats, things aren’t going to turn out well. Though as the commercial begins, I don’t think anyone expected the final outcome, making the final moments both humorous…and a little uncomfortable.
As the commercial starts, we see a businessman firing someone over his cellular phone…before nonchalantly walking out into the middle of a street, and getting hit by a truck!
Next, we see him in an all-white world.
“Welcome, to eternity,” a female voice says, as the man notices a pile of huge chocolate-chip cookies on a table.
“Heaven,” he murmurs, taking some bites, before going to the nearby fridge, and finding it filled with milk cartons.
However, as he picks one up, he finds it empty. Pretty soon, he realizes that all of the cartons are empty!
“Wait a minute,” he murmurs, “where am I?”
Growing up, I often felt that Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had some important lessons. The most important lesson of all? Don’t be a jerk!
The businessman and his joy over someone less-fortunate than himself, seems very much in line with Twilight Zone characters who realize too late, what their selfishness has wrought upon themselves.
The kicker for this commercial, is we don’t even need to be told where this guy is spending “eternity.” It’s spelled out for us in the Got Milk logo we see at the end of the commercial…which is on fire!
In a boardroom, we see a number of men sitting around a large table, trying to name a familiar black-and-white sandwich cookie.
As the men dunk their cookies in milk and play with them, all sorts of names are thrown out, from “twist-o-cookie,” to “choco-lama.”
The head of the company (named C.W.), doesn’t feel any of these names are winners.
“What do you think, Hurley?” he asks, to a man with his mouth full of cookie.
At this point, Hurley attempts to pour himself a glass of milk, but finds the carton empty. Addressing the boss, he shrugs his shoulders, and mutters through his mouthful of cookie: “Or-eo (aka ‘I don’t know’).”
“Hurley,” say C.W., his eyes opening wide, “you’re a genius.”
I’ve always been a fan of word-puns, and the way the writers come up with the punchline for this commercial, has always been one of my favorites! It’s still funny to see Hurley’s “accidental genius” moment.
While we have seen other cookie-related Got Milk commercials, the Oreo sandwich cookie has often prided itself on being an accessory to milk. This was one of the few times where we had a food product referenced by name in one of the commercials, rather than the nondescript chocolate-chip cookies in a number of them.
As the commercial opens, we see a man sitting at a table, making a peanut-butter sandwich. As he stuffs the sandwich into his mouth, the radio program he’s listening to, begins it’s daily contest.
“For $10,000,” says the announcer, “who shot Alexander Hamilton, in that famous duel?”
The young man’s eyes go wide…as he’s sitting amongst all sorts of Hamilton-related historical items!
Just then, the phone rings. The man picks it up, and hears the announcer’s voice!
However, his mouth is still crammed full of sandwich, and he is unable to clearly say, “Aaron Burr.”
Grabbing the carton of milk nearby, he finds it to be empty…just as the radio announcer says his time has run out, and the phone-line goes dead!
I don’t think it’s any surprise that this, the first Got Milk commercial, ended up being my favorite.
What is surprising to a lot of people, is when they find out who directed this commercial: Michael Bay!
Bay’s kinetic filming and editing style is on display here, as the scenes cut fast-and-furiously all around the room. We get all sorts of information that the guy in the commercial is a huge fan of Hamilton and Burr, though when one stops to question things a bit more, it can make your head hurt (as most of Bay’s feature films have done).
The commercial went on to win several awards, and in 2015, was parodied in a promotional commercial, related to the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.
Over the years, the Got Milk slogan would also end up being mentioned in a number of shows and films, cementing it’s place in America’s pop-culture. It would also be used in a number of other slogans (such as Got Jesus).
The campaign also branched out into advertising for chocolate milk, and even had a Hispanic outreach with the slogan, Familia, Amor y Leche (“Family, Love and Milk”).
In 2014, there was an attempt to change the Got Milk slogan to Milk Life. However, in the Summer of 2018, Got Milk officially returned, to try and give the dairy products a boost, in the face of 21st century offerings like almond and soy milk. Plus, just like the big to-do over the years regarding the health benefits/risks of “the incredible edible egg,” dairy-based milk may not be the be-all/end-all to strong bones, and prevention of osteoporosis.
It’s interesting to think about what has happened to the world of milk-based products over the past 25 years, and if the current attempts to steer people back towards the dairy aisle, will work as well in the early 21st century, as it did on people’s consumer tastes in the late 20th century.
Along with it’s introspection and sometimes humorous observations on topics like religion over the years, The Simpsons’ writers also had no problems skewering a common, everyday thing that many adults often find themselves wrapped up in: Politics.
Whether it was aliens Kang and Kodos invading Earth during an election year, or Homer rallying Springfield’s brainless slobs with a bunch of crazy promises, they often found ways to think up the most ridiculous political concepts that today, seem to have become (terrifyingly) prescient!
Most often say that when it comes to political figures, they want someone that is honest, has integrity, and will lead by good example. Sadly, that doesn’t usually happen to be the case most of the time. In the season 6 episode Sideshow Bob Roberts, the writers not only brought back an entertaining supporting character, but spun a story about how the manipulation of facts and truth, could make people vote for a man against their basic principles.
As the show opens, we find Homer and a number of other people in Springfield, listening to Conservative talk show host, Birch Barlow.
Barlow quickly begins checking off a number of constants that Springfield seems unable to do anything about, including it’s 6-term Mayor, Diamond Joe Quimby.
Barlow claims that a bunch of ‘tie-dyed tree-huggers’ are to blame for the town’s ‘Quimby Quagmire,’ and that the time supporting the Mayor, could be better spent ‘locking up the homeless.’
Later on that day, Homer and Lisa are out for a drive and listening to Barlow (mainly at the insistence of Homer). Barlow soon begins taking calls, and a man named Bob calls in.
“Thanks for putting the ‘public’ back in the Republican Party,” cites Bob. “It’s time people realized we conservatives aren’t all Johnny Hatemongers and Charlie Bible-Thumps or even, God forbid, George Bushes.”
The deep tone of the caller’s voice suddenly hits Lisa, and she realizes that Birch is talking to Sideshow Bob!
Sometime afterward, we see Mayor Quimby visiting the Springfield Retirement Castle, trying to get the Seniors there (including Grandpa Simpson) to support his new expressway plan. Naturally, the Seniors won’t support such a proposal, unless there’s something in it for them. Upon hearing about what they like, the Mayor suggests calling it The Matlock Expressway, and the Seniors quickly warm to the proposal.
We then hear Bob call back to Birch’s show, and claim that he was falsely imprisoned (“‘attempted murder,'” sneers Bob over the phone, “now honestly, did they ever give anyone a Nobel prize for ‘attempted chemistry?'”).
Barlow claims that this is another example of liberal bias against intelligent conservatives, and incites a number of his local listeners to protest for Bob’s release.
Mayor Quimby is soon overwhelmed by protesters, and wanting to avoid further negativity from his constituents, fully pardons Bob.
We then cut to a meeting at the Republican Party Headquarters (held in an ancient castle!). With the Springfield mayoral election coming up, a number of the party’s local members (including Mr Burns, Birch Barlow, and even actor Ramier Wolfcastle!), are seeking a proper opponent for Quimby.
“We need a candidate with name-recognition and media savvy,” says Mr Burns. “A true leader…who will do exactly as he’s told!”
It is then that Birch introduces everyone to Bob, with Ramier Wolfcastle claiming that he ‘likes the human touch’ that Bob brings to the group.
After Bob is confirmed as a viable candidate, he and Mayor Quimby do a press appearance with the kids at Springfield Elementary, concerning education. However, Bob puts on a show attempting to make Quimby look incompetent, and most of the kids just eat up his act.
Bart and Lisa attempt to steer attention towards Quimby, claiming they heard him say that ‘kids are the most important natural resource we have.’
“Even more important than coal?” questions news-anchor Kent Brockman.
Seconds after the ‘publicity stunt,’ Bart is thrown into a limo with Bob and some henchmen, and whisked away.
“Oh, that was a big mistake, Bart,” growls Bob. “No children have ever meddled with the Republican Party and lived to tell about it.”
It looks like Bob may have Bart eliminated right then-and-there, but his men simply put ‘Vote Bob’ paraphernalia on him, and return him to the Simpsons’ home.
Even with the threat of Bob possibly coming after him, Bart works with Lisa to help Mayor Quimby’s election, despite Quimby’s own rickety track-record.
“This time, he’s the lesser of two evils,” says Lisa, as they attempt to hand out bumper stickers and pins.
Just like Quimby, Bob also attempts to win over the Seniors at the Retirement Castle. He sweetens the Matlock Expressway deal, promising to build it, AND, spend the afternoon listening to the Seniors’ ‘interminable anecdotes’ (a move he quickly regrets).
Next, Bob and Quimby have a televised debate. While Bob seems confident, Quimby has caught a cold and has taken medication to combat it. However, his unkempt appearance and drowsy demeanor, makes the effervescent Bob quickly win over the audience.
When it comes time to vote on the candidates, some are willing to forgive some of Bob’s more glaring crimes.
“I don’t approve of his Bart-killing policy,” notes Homer. “But I do approve of his Selma-killing policy.”
“Well, he framed me for armed robbery,” thinks Krusty, “But man, I’m achin’ for that upper-class tax cut.”
Final election results are soon released on the local news, showing Bob winning 99% of the votes, and Quimby just 1% (“and we remind you there is a one-percent margin of error,” adds Kent Brockman).
After he wins, Bob makes good on (quickly) fulfilling his promise to build the Matlock Expressway…which is re-routed to go right through where the Simpsons’ house is, with Bob giving the family 72 hours to vacate.
Bart is also affected by the election, when Bob has him sent back to kindergarten (much to the delight of Mrs Krabappel).
As the family faces the loss of their home, Lisa begins to question the final election results.
“I can’t believe a convicted felon would get so many votes, and another convicted felon would get so few,” she thinks aloud.
Going to the Hall of Records, Lisa pores over the election results, but soon falls asleep. When she wakes up, she finds a letter telling her to go to a parking garage that evening.
Lisa brings Bart along, and the two come across a shadowy figure, who refuses to reveal who he is….until Homer turns on the car’s headlights, revealing the secret informant to be Mr Smithers!
The Simpsons then drive Smithers home. On the way, he mentions his misgiving about some of Sideshow Bob’s ‘ultra-conservative views,’ claiming they ‘clash with his choice of lifestyle.’
Wanting to help, he tells them to look for the name, Edgar Neubauer.
The kids check the phone books and the public library, but find no trace of Edgar. However, they are soon surprised when Bart sees the name on a tombstone in the local cemetery.
“Oh my God,” he exclaims. “The dead have risen and are voting Republican!”
Lisa tells Bart that in truth, Bob most likely solidified his win by rigging the election, and having a number of dead persons vote for him.
The list even uses names from the local Pet Cemetery…including Lisa’s dead cat, Snowball 1!
“Alright Bob,” she angrily cries out. “Now it’s personal!”
“Hey! He did try to kill me,” notes Bart.
With the information the two have obtained, Bob is put on trial, but attorney Lionel Hutz seems unable to get Bob to confess.
Lisa and Bart then step forward. Playing to Bob’s ego, Lisa claims that Bob was nothing more than a pawn in a scheme, run by Birch Barlow.
Bob’s hubris gets the better of him, and his calm demeanor breaks! He confesses to not only rigging the election, but also provides documents (that he conveniently carried in with him!) that tell of his plans.
“But why?” asks the judge, looking over the files.
“Because you need me, Springfield,” says Bob, grandstanding before the jury and the rest of the courtroom. “Your guilty conscience may tell you to vote Democratic…but deep down, you long for a hard-nosed Republican to raise taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That’s why I did it: to save you from yourselves! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to run.”
However, Bob’s verbal outrage is enough to have him placed under arrest, and Quimby wins the election by default.
This also means construction on the Matlock Expressway is halted, sparing the Simpsons’ home (but angering the seniors at the Retirement Castle). Bart is also returned to the fourth grade.
As Bob reads the headlines, he vows to escape from his prison…which should be relatively easy, since he’s been placed in the Springfield Minimum Security Prison. Unlike a regular prison, it has no no fences, and it’s own rowing team of Ivy League educated prisoners.
Sideshow Bob Roberts marked Bob’s third major appearance on the show, and seemed to cement him as a constant thorn in Bart Simpson’s side, as each new season was rolled out.
Given the political nature of the episode, the show writers really play around with the absurdity of campaigns. In one television ad, a narrator tells how Mayor Quimby let Sideshow Bob out of prison, before telling the viewers to vote for Bob.
Even back in the early 1990’s, I and a lot of other people were often surprised when the show would poke fun at it’s own network.
This comes across during a debate, hosted by Larry King (voicing himself).
“Even though we’re being broadcast on…Fox,” he grumbles, “there’s no need for obnoxious hooting and hollering.”
And just like telling a child ‘not to do something,’ the audience takes the warning and just completely ignores it.
The Simpsons was often known for making film and pop-culture references in their episodes, and with this one, they also made reference to a real-world event.
The investigation into Bob’s rigging of the system, is largely inspired by the Watergate Scandal, which was exposed by Washington Post writers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Lisa even mentions them by name in the episode). Their work was shown in the film All the President’s Men, and several scenes in the episode mimic ones from that film. Even two of Bob’s henchmen that are constantly seen by his side, are based on Nixon staff members at the time: John Ehrlichman, and H.R. Haldeman.
The episode’s title is also a reference to a film from 1992, titled Bob Roberts.
Tim Robbins wrote, directed, and starred as that film’s title character: a conservative who sings folk songs, and attempts to run for public office in Pennsylvania. However, he seems to be hiding a number of political secrets, let alone trying to slip subversive messages into his numerous public song performances. At one point, he even goes on a popular late-night television show, and goes off-script to deliver his own message.
There are also references to Citizen Kane, A Few Good Men, the Kennedy/Nixon debate of 1960, and strangest of all: Archie Comics!
The Archie reference really has nothing to do with the overall political scope of the episode. We first see several of the characters dump Homer on the front lawn, and warning him to “stay out of Riverdale.” This is later followed by a scene of Homer angrily reading an issue of Archie, while Bart and Lisa meet their mysterious informant.
Why the writers included this reference in the story…I’ve never been able to figure out.
Word was at the time of the episode’s release in October of 1994, a number of Conservative persons felt the show was painting them in a very negative light. Even so, it is noted on the audio commentary included on the Season 6 DVD, that the writers claim that the episode pokes fun at many across the political spectrum.
It is notable that at the time of the commentary recording in 2005, several of the writers felt certain elements of the episode seemed to feel very similar to the political climate at that time.
I guess it’s the sad truth about politics: As much as people want things to change, it’s a neverending struggle to make things better for people.
When it came to films released in the early 1990’s from Walt Disney Pictures, the studio really seemed to look at their 1992 feature film Aladdin as a major cash-cow.
Following it’s release in the winter of 1992, the film became the first animated feature to gross over $200 million at the domestic box-office (largely buoyed on by Robin Williams’ supporting role as the Genie of the lamp).
The studio had had some success expanding on The Little Mermaid in television form (albeit set before the events of the film), and seemed to think they could have similar luck with Aladdin. And so, in the fall of 1994, the film’s characters found themselves appearing in the company’s new television series!
New locales were introduced, as well as a host of new characters. In terms of villains for the series, most seemed pretty set in their ways, except one: a young woman named Sadira.
Much like Aladdin’s introduction in the 1992 film, the character of Sadira is first seen evading Razoul and the Palace Guards in her introductory episode, Strike up the Sand.
Seeing her leaping and jumping to evade the guards, Aladdin sees a kindred spirit in the girl, and steps forward to cover for her. Unluckily for Al, his kindness and good looks instantly cause Sadira to develop a crush on him. However, she is soon saddened to hear that she has just been saved by Princess Jasmine’s future husband.
Sometime later, Sadira accidentally stumbles onto a hidden chamber under the city. The abandoned locale turns out to be the inner sanctum, of the long-forgotten Witches of the Sand. After going through a number of magic scrolls in the sanctum, Sadira soon gets to work learning the ancient magic, and thinks it can get her what she desires most.
Using a magical amulet, she conjures up a sand creature and commands it to bring Jasmine to her. it is notable that the sand creature tells Sadira that he could easily ‘smash’ Jasmine (destroying things brings him much joy!), but Sadira refuses to allow this, showing she is not as vengeful as her creation.
We soon see Sadira hasn’t fully thought through her magical actions. Once she has Jasmine kidnapped, Aladdin and the others show up, and the sand creature wants to smash them as well. Sadira isn’t sure what to do, leading to the creature getting angry at her indecisiveness, and taking the amulet away from her. Without Sadira’s control, it sets out to finish them all off.
Needless to say, Sadira feels remorse for getting everyone caught up in this mess, but Aladdin helps them formulate a plan to get back the amulet. Once it is destroyed and the sand creature disintegrates, Sadira apologizes for her actions.
Aladdin claims that while he likes her, his real love is for Jasmine. Jasmine even shows a willingness to forgive Sadira, and invites her to come to the Palace. However, the young woman declines, claiming she wants some time to be alone.
After they leave, she looks through some more sand-magic scrolls, and finds one about ‘shifting the sands of time,’ proving that she still harbors thoughts to try and snare Aladdin.
Shortly after her introductory episode, Sadira attempted to get Aladdin again…this time, with a more intriguing sand spell.
In the episode Sandswitch, she uses a special “memory sand,” allowing her to switch places with Jasmine, making everyone believe Sadira to be the Princess of Agrabah, and Jasmine a lowly ‘street rat.’ However, the spell only works on Genie and the humans of the city, leaving Iago, Abu, and Rajah as the only ones who realize what’s happened.
It is notable that even though she is again trying to fulfill her own wants and desires, Sadira continues to not be totally vindictive towards others. When she realizes Rajah did not fall under the sand spell, she decides to use some magic on him, but apologizes for what she is trying to do. Fortunately for Jasmine’s pet tiger, Abu and Iago help him to escape.
There’s even a little ‘continuity payback’ Sadira gets, when it comes to the head of the Royal Guards, named Razoul. In Strike up the Sand, Razoul was leading the guards in trying to capture her. Here, he is made to bow and give in to her demands. They also make a joke about his name, as Sadira keeps confusing it with other things that sound familiar to it.
In the end, Aladdin and Jasmine’s love is strong enough to break Sadira’s spell. However, even though she’d been thwarted a second time, she wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
Sadira next appeared in the episode, Dune Quixote.
Running into Aladdin in the marketplace again, she invites him back to her place for some pomegranate juice. Aladdin tries to politely decline, but when Sadira claims that Jasmine “has him on a short leash,” Aladdin won’t let this slap against his masculinity stand!
Once at her place, Sadira quickly puts Aladdin under a sand-spell, wherein she makes him believe he is a Dragon Slayer, who must ride forth to vanquish a dragon, rescue his beloved Princess, and give her a kiss.
However, before Sadira can finish her spell (with her as the beautiful princess in the story), Jasmine and the others show up to stop her. Despite Genie’s protests, Jasmine has him use his ‘genie-magic’ to stop Sadira’s ‘sand-magic.’ This altercation messes up the spell, leaving Abu trapped as a monkey-type horse, and Aladdin still believing he has to slay a dragon.
Sadira claims that because of the spell, the final parts of the story have to play out, which means Aladdin has to slay a dragon and kiss her. Jasmine doesn’t believe her, but thanks to his magical knowledge, Genie confirms that Sadira is correct.
As the story goes on, we see Sadira and Jasmine put aside their animosity towards each other, and try to get Aladdin and Abu back to normal. With Genie’s help, they manage to whip up a false dragon, and upon ‘defeating it,’ Aladdin kisses Sadira (much to Jasmine’s ire).
Once everything is fixed, Sadira apologizes to Jasmine for how she has acted, and it seems she is willing to give up on her obsession over Aladdin.
The episode ends with the two girls going off to peruse the marketplace, leaving Aladdin confused as to why he kissed Sadira (with Iago eager to spill the beans!).
Now that it seemed that Sadira had given up her obsession with Aladdin, the show’s main cast (almost) seemed willing to hang out with her.
This is revealed in the episode, Witch Way Did She Go. However, while Jasmine seems to believe Sadira has changed, Iago and Aladdin still have some doubts about her. Things don’t get better when Sadira serves her friends some soup, and her sub-par cooking skills accidentally turn Iago into an hourglass.
The spell eventually wears off, but the group grows more suspicious when a large sand snake menaces Iago and Abu!
Sadira is immediately the prime suspect, but Jasmine rushes to her defense. Unfortunately, her attempts to explain why the others suspect Sadira, ends up sounding like she’s accusing Sadira.
Angered at being accused, Sadira storms out of the palace and returns to her sanctum, only to find three ancient sand witches there (the ones who conjured the snake). The trio (Shakata, Razili, and Farida) have returned to their former home from The Realm of Mists, and are intent on taking control of Agrabah, and the Seven Deserts!
They attempt to get her to help them, but Sadira rushes back to the palace, to warn the others. Unfortunately, she overhears them once again claiming she’s bad, and returns to the witches, seemingly willing to help them take over the kingdom.
The others return to Sadira’s place (intending to apologize), but find the witches at work! Surprisingly, Sadira stops them from attacking the trio. After a scuffle that almost stops the witches, Sadira recommends that Aladdin and his friends be banished to the Realm of Mists.
The three witches open a portal to the ancient realm, but Sadira attempts to double-cross them! Razili and Farida end up being shoved in easily, but Shakata grabs hold of Sadira, attempting to drag her down with them!
Aladdin and the others rush to her aid, but Sadira falls into the mists below, and the pit disappears!
Everyone feels remorse for ever doubting Sadira…but a few moments later, she manages to escape, sealing off the witches for good! The others quickly embrace her, and it seems all traces of doubt about her character are gone.
After Witch Way Did She Go, Sadira never appeared again on the series. However, like many characters in the show, she was given a small ‘curtain call’ appearance in 1996’s direct-to-video film, Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
During the scene where Aladdin and Jasmine walk past a number of guests, one can see Sadira dressed in pink (see screenshot above).
While her character was not as memorable as the show’s more villainous characters like Mozenrath or Mirage, Sadira was definitely noticeable for being a very “gray-area” character.
Most of the time, she did things out of selfish desire, but it was interesting to see that she still held some moral principles. A good example is that she could have had Jasmine offed in one episode, but she was never that vindictive.
My guess is that after four episodes, the showrunners felt there was little more they could do with her, story-wise. It did feel like three episodes was enough for them to play out the “magical stalker” characterization (I’ve seen some anime series that would gladly stretch that type of character arc out over multiple seasons).
Over the years, I have questioned the scene where she falls into the Realm of Mists, wondering if they had originally meant for her to “disappear” from the series forever in this manner. It would have been a very dramatic end, given the others realizing how wrong they were to judge her as they did. Plus, in several episodes, the showrunners actually did have a few characters die!
Sadira’s storylines also expanded on the series’ ‘lore,’ by introducing ‘sand-magic.’ What Genie can do was soon classified as ‘genie-magic,’ and it was soon established that to mix the two magic-types, was very dangerous (as demonstrated in Dune Quixote).
Unlike Linda Larkin’s more ‘regal’ vocal tones as Jasmine, Sadira’s voice had a more bubbly, all-American girl vibe, courtesy of actress Kellie Martin (see right).
Most probably know Martin’s voice work from A Goofy Movie, where she voiced Max’s crush, Roxanne. She brings a bit of that tone to Sadira, but she gets to play a wider range of emotions as Sadira.
Of course, Sadira wasn’t the first reluctant villain the studio created. There was also the character of Bushroot in the Darkwing Duck TV series. After being turned into a plant-duck hybrid, Bushroot would sometimes be involved in evil schemes, but most of the time, he just wanted a friend, or to be accepted.
By the end of Aladdin, it seemed being accepted was all Sadira wanted as well. It is a shame that they never found a way to bring her back and assist the group with her sand-magic on another adventure.
Throughout the years, the concept of love and relationships has popped up in many shows, often as Valentine’s Day approaches.
In February of 1963, it just so happened that the broadcast date for a new Twilight Zone episode, fell on that fated day. And with it, brought the tale of an Appalachian love triangle, between flaxen-haired Ellwyn Glover (Laura Devon), the handsome Billy-Ben Turner (James Best), and the raven-haired Jesse-Belle Stone (Anne Francis).
At the Glover’s annual barn dance, Luther Glover (George Mitchell) praises the bountiful harvest that he and his neighbors have collected, along with an announcement: his daughter Ellwyn Glover, is to be wed to Billy-Ben Turner.
However, not everyone in attendance is happy for the couple, notably Jess-Belle Stone, who quickly leaves. Billy follows her outside, where Jess claims that she still longs for the time when they were together. She feels that Billy is only marrying Ellie for her family’s wealth, but Billy claims that isn’t so.
Before he returns to the dance, Jess asks Billy to tell his bride-to-be, not to start making her wedding dress just yet.
“Why should I tell her a thing like that?” replies Billy, curiously.
“She ain’t married you yet, Billy-Ben,” says Jess, sternly. “Maybe she never will.”
It is then that Rod Serling’s voice is heard, as we see Jess watch the lovers embrace, before storming off:
The Twilight Zone has existed in many lands in many times. It has it’s roots in history, in something that happened long, long ago and, got told about and handed down from one generation of folk to the other. In the telling the story gets added to and embroidered on, so that what might have happened in the time of the Druids is told as if it took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Such stories are best told by an elderly grandfather on a cold winter’s night by the fireside, in the southern hills, of the Twilight Zone.
Jess-Belle is next seen at the home of a woman named Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan), whom the locals claim to be a witch. Granny just laughs this off, and inquires why the girl has come to her.
Jess claims she wants the old woman to help her make Billy-Ben love her again, but upon being asked for money for the old woman’s services, the girl claims she has none…but is willing to pay ‘any price.’
With those words, Granny pulls out a small bottle from a covered shelf. Jess drinks it’s contents, but suddenly flinches! After a few moments, her eyes open, and Granny Hart claims that once Billy sees her, he’ll never have eyes for another.
Jess-Belle then returns to the barn dance, where she interrupts a dance-circle, and catches Billy’s eye. Just as Granny Hart promised, he becomes enchanted by her, and as Ellwyn and the others watch, the two walk out of the barn!
Ellwyn’s mother and father immediately have harsh words for Billy turning his back on their daughter, but Ellwyn claims she knows what happened: “Jess-Belle bewitched him.”
Some ways off, Jess-Belle and Billy lay in a field, talking of their future together. Suddenly, Billy notes the moon overhead going down, causing Jess to suddenly claim she has to get home.
Once there, she rushes for her room, ignoring the entreaties of her mother. As the clock tolls The Witching Hour, Jess collapses to the floor of her room, and in a puff of smoke, turns into a leopard.
Some time later, Billy comes to Jess, and gives her the ring he had given Ellwyn, claiming it now belongs to Jess. He also speaks how he has made plans with a preacher, and how her mother will make her a wedding dress, but Jess seems perturbed by all this.
She claims she needs to go away, but as Billy grabs her arm not wanting her to leave, she lashes out a hand at him…leaving three claw marks raked across the side of his face!
She then rushes back to Granny Hart, claiming she feels an emptiness inside. It is then that Granny claims that she really is a witch, and reveals the price Jess paid for Billy-Ben: her soul. Granny also reveals that because of this, Jess has also become a witch!
“You paid the price,” she tells the girl. “Take what you paid for.”
After several days of doubt, Jess puts aside her fears, and decides to heed the old woman’s advice, soon giving in to Billy’s request to be wed soon.
Sometime later, Jess-Belle comes across Ellwyn Glover picking wildflowers. The two trade ‘quiet barbs’ with each other, before Jess tells Ellwyn to watch out for a wildcat that’s been seen in the area.
However, Ellwyn claims her father is rounding up a number of men (including Billy) to take care of the creature, before morning the next day.
Jess returns home, where her mother works to hem her wedding dress. When she claims she saw Ellwyn out in the fields looking ‘sickly,’ her mother thinks maybe she should take the girl some tonic.
“You and your tonics,” laughs Jess. “You’re worse than Granny Hart-”
The slip of her tongue causes an awkward silence between mother and daughter. When Jess’ mother finds out her daughter has knowledge of the old woman, she soon deduces what her daughter has done in getting Billy to love her again.
When the girl reveals the price she paid, her mother says they should pray for her, but Jesse claims that will do not good. Instead, she asks her mother to lock her room door, so that she cannot get out until morning.
Though her mother does as she wishes, Jess (in her leopard form), escapes out her bedroom window, and ends up in the Glover’s barn, spooking the horses, and scaring Ellwyn.
The girl’s screams attract her father and the men hunting the cat. Billy and another man fire at it, and are surprised as the creature vanishes in a puff of smoke!
“A witch,” exclaims Ellwyn’s father. “That cat, was a witch!”
Billy examines where the wildcat disappeared, and finds the ring he had given to Jess. As the other men leave, Billy begins speaking to Ellwyn…a sure sign that his connection with Jess-Belle has been severed.
A year passes, and Ellwyn and Billy are set to be wed. As Billy prepares for the wedding, he is visited by Jess-Belle’s mother, who gives him her daughter’s silver hairpin as a gift…along with a warning.
As talk turns to Jess-Belle, her mother claims that she does not believe her daughter is dead. Though Billy claims one of his bullets hit the wildcat in the Glover’s barn, Mrs Stone tells how she saw a toad in her daughter’s room, and upon trying to kill it, it turned to smoke, and flew away!
Billy tries to put this thought out of his mind, but at the wedding, he notices a spider crawling on Ellie’s veil. Plucking it off and holding it in his hand, it then disappears in a puff of smoke, leading Billy to believe that Mrs Stone was right.
After the ceremony, the newlywed couple returns to Billy’s house, where strange things begin to happen. Ellie finds herself attempting to slap Billy, and a clock in the room suddenly falls to the floor! Billy then gives Ellie their Bible, and tells her not to leave the house, as he rushes off.
Billy seeks out Granny Hart, wanting to know how to kill a witch. She asks for a lock of his hair as payment, but Billy instead pays her in coins. Hart then tells Billy that he needs to make a figure of the girl, wearing something she wore, then stab it in it’s ‘heart’ with something of silver.
Billy then goes to Jess-Belle’s home, where her mother gives him the wedding dress she hemmed for her daughter. before he leaves, she tells Billy that she is sure her daughter would appreciate what he is trying to do.
Billy returns to his house, where he finds Ellwyn standing outside. He tells her that he knows how to be rid of Jess’ spirit, but is shocked when Ellie starts speaking, with Jess-Belle’s voice!
Billy rushes into the house and locks the door (with the possessed Ellwyn pounding on it from the outside). Putting the dress on a seamstress’ mannequin, he then stabs it in the heart-area with the silver pin. Suddenly, Jess-Belle materializes, before the figure crumples to the ground and disappears, leaving behind the empty dress.
Billy then finds Ellwyn outside, having no recollection of what happened since her wedding. As he embraces her, the girl’s eye is drawn to the heavens, where she witnesses a star, streaking through the sky.
My mama says when you see a falling star,” she tells Billy, “that means a witch has just died.”
“So I’ve heard tell,” replies Billy, sure that he and Ellwyn are now safe, and that Jess-Belle is truly gone, but also finally at peace.
I’ve often been a fan of stories with a “be careful what you wish for” storyline. Of course, this wasn’t the first Twilight Zone episode to handle the concept of love and potions.
In Season 1, there was the modern-day story called The Chaser, where a young man gets a love potion to get a girl he lusts after, to love him. In the end however, her constant fawning over him gets to be too much, and he ends up paying for something called, “the glove cleaner,” to fix his dilemma.
Writer Earl Hamner Jr, wrote eight episodes during the last few seasons for The Twilight Zone, and in one interview, he claimed that Jess-Belle was his favorite one to write.
It was also done relatively quickly. When another script fell-through, Hamner pitched, wrote, and finished Jess-Belle in a week’s time (with no time for revisions!).
There was also an issue with the kind of cats considered for Jess-Belle’s nightly transformation. The original idea for a tiger was dropped, when the producer Herbert Hirschmann claimed they were hard to work with. After this, there was consideration for a black leopard (to match the color of Jess’ hair), but none could be found, leaving the production to settle on the spotted leopard in the episode.
Along with writing the episode, Hamner also wrote the lyrics to several musical interludes throughout. As the story progresses, a female voice sings bits of a small ‘ballad,’ about the story. It is notable that in place of a closing narrative by Serling, we get a reprise of part of the ballad, heard in the beginning of the episode:
Fair was Elly Glover, dark was Jess-Belle.
Both they loved the same man, and both they loved him well.
Hamner also uses some creative wordplay, when it comes to Jess and Ellwyn. They never get into a shouting match over their love of Billy-Ben (being decent young women), but Earl gives them a small moment of trading barbs, through wordplay.
This comes when Jess-Belle finds Ellwyn in a field by herself.
“Lots of wildflowers around here,” notes Jess. “Saw a patch of ‘old maid’s fern’ up on the mountain.”
A few moments later, Ellwyn responds with: “I notice a lot of ‘vixen-wort’ around here m’self.”
Buzz Kulik, the director, also was a Twilight Zone alumni, directing nine episodes during the show’s run.
In several of his episodes, he had a way of having the camera play among people’s faces, having the actors say plenty with just their expressions.
This type of storytelling is seen in the opening scene especially, when we see Billy-Ben looking a bit nervous, locking eyes with Jess-Belle, after his and Ellwyn’s engagement is announced.
It’s the look of a young man who seems to have possibly made a snap-decision, without telling the other party.
The overall story plays out almost like an Appalachian ‘fairy-tale,’ but it does feel like it stretches the story a bit long for the hour-long format of Season 4. Some areas feel a little repetitive, though one wonders if maybe there could have been more of Jess-Belle in her leopard form, and how her late-night presence affected the locals.
Word is that Earl Hamner was also planning to adapt the story into a musical at one point. When Anne Francis (who played Jess-Belle) heard this, she told him she’d love to play the role of Granny Hart in it…only for him to say he didn’t feel she would have been right for the role. However, this venture was never completed (as far as I know).
Out of all the characters in the episode, it is Jess-Belle and Granny Hart that stand out the most.
The character of Jess-Belle could easily have been a vindictive and over-the-top girl who is willing to knock aside anything and anyone in her way. One can easily see the girl’s name is a take on the word ‘jezebel’ (meaning ‘an impudent, shameless, or morally unrestrained woman,‘ according to Merriam-Webster), but the character here is crafted to be little more than a young woman, whose yearnings end up being her downfall. She thinks all her troubles are behind her once she has Billy-Ben, but it feels like everyday after, she is stuck living with the consequences of her actions, making her a tragic figure.
Jeanette Nolan seems to have the more ‘fun’ role in the episode, as she plays Granny Hart as a witch with a spirited personality. There is a devilish mischief Nolan imbues on the old woman. She seems to delight in causing mischief, and a naive young woman who wishes for a man’s love, gives her some entertainment. It doesn’t help that she seems to smile a great deal, a Cheshire grin that makes one wonder what is going on in her mind.
There is even an interesting juxtaposition, as we first see her in black robes conjuring something, before she pulls the robes away, and simply looks like a kindly old woman, expecting company.
Jess-Belle is not one of the more popular episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it feels like it was somewhat ‘experimental’ in it’s execution. And for that, it sticks out in my mind.
It’s cautionary tale about how love can sometimes blind people to the consequences of their actions, proves to be an intriguing story that the episode’s cast and crew, wove together, all those years ago.