Thursday, May 31, 2007

1.5 "Walking Distance"

Season 1, Episode 5

Directed by: Robert Stevens
Written by: Rod Serling

An overworked Vice President "in charge of media", Martin Sloan is sick of the rat race and the Madison Avenue lifestyle. "I want to rest," he says, "I want to stop running." Out for a drive, just to get out of the damn city, he pulls into a gas station with rancor and bluster. Asking for a lube job and an oil change, he notices he's only a mile and a half (i.e. walking distance) outside of Homewood, the hometown he hasn't been back to for twenty-five years. Deciding to kill the time there, he walks on down the road, framed in the gas station mirror as though he's walking right through the looking glass. Coming out on the other side, and still shot in a mirror, he enters Homewood's soda shop, asking for a chocolate soda, three scoops. (A lot of Martin's childhood memories seem focused around food.) He's amazed it only costs a dime—I mean, nobody charges ten cents for three scoops no more, to which the soda jerk asks him, "where you from?"

"New York," he answers. Well, go figure! Walking around the rather busy small-town, an impressive set from the MGM lot that was also used for a television remake of Meet Me in St. Louis, he enjoys a leisurely afternoon until it slowly dawns on him that he's traveled back in time to 1934. After an enlightening discussion about marbles with a very young Ron Howard ("the clear ones we called 'clearies'"), he has awkward run-in with his eleven year old self, whom he scares the livin' daylights out of; afterwards, he confronts his parents who, to his implausible confoundment, don't believe that this full-grown, hysterical man is actually their young son, just simply traveled backwards through time. He stalks his old house, trying to get someone to talk to him, until he's informed that eleven year old Martin is at a carnival. A frenetic merry-go-round sequence ensues, every angle canted, as Sloan the Creppy Madman chases Sloan the Little Boy around the carousel until the boy falls off and injures his leg. "I just wanted to tell you this is a wonderful time," he mournfully mutters to no one. Not with you around, it isn't.

Walking Distance, written by Serling, was inspired by a walk through the MGM backlots that triggered some latent longing for his childhood. (Only to Rod Serling could a journey through an ersatz town inspire feelings of nostalgia.) A CBS executive called the script "shit", but that's a bit of an exaggeration; it is a bit slight and a bit sloppy, but it's still pretty effective as a cautionary tale about being too caught up in sweet memories of yesteryear while not living for the future, a source of many a person's misery and the source of this episode's popularity. (Not to mention it's a valuable illustration of why there's to be no horseplay on the carousel!) "We only get one chance," his rather credulous father tells him, after coming to believe his story; it's only when Sloan comes to understand this, and stops lamenting that there are "no more merry-go-rounds [and] no more cotton candy," that he's loosed from the past—in which he was presumably stuck in, literally and figuratively, like a prison—and released back into the present, where some swingin' blues blares on the juke, a chocolate soda costs thirty five cents—some future—and he walks with the limp he got as a kid when he fell off the merry-go-round, a physical expression of the mental handicap that was his yearning for the past, a battlescar from his defeat over crippling nostalgia.

It's become a bit of a banality to say so, but you really can't go home again—not even in The Twilight Zone!

For Netflix purposes:
On Vol. 3 of Image Entertainment's Twilight Zone DVDs.


Anonymous said...

I disagree. This was neither slight nor sloppy. This was the greatest episode of the series.

Anonymous said...

This was one of my all time favorites and I saw a lot of myself in the episode. Gosh, it's great to be a kid and unfortunately, you don't fully realize it until you're all grown up!

Anonymous said...

Easily, this is one of my favorite episodes in Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone". And to top it off, I wasn't even born until April of 1964, a good four-and-a-half years AFTER this episode first aired! How's that for irony?

Anonymous said...

This episode brought tears to my eyes. Amazing performances. Meeting ones parents in the past and having them not recognize you really got to me.

Anonymous said...

This is the greatest Twilight Zone episode ever. From the haunting score of Bernard Hermann, the amazing cinematography, the universal theme and brilliant acting by Gig Young there's just no better. This was Rod Serling's most personal work. To this day I well up whenever I see it from beginning to end.

Anonymous said...

The greatest twighlight zone episode ever

Anonymous said...

Twilight Zone's greatest episode.It's like a beautiul dream.Everyone talks about Eye Of The Beholder.I talk about this one.Zone's greatest achievment.This and Deaths-Head Revisited and Occurence At Owls Creek Bridge have to be television's greatest achivements.Have to be.

J-Man said...

I also believe this is one of the best TZ episodes. Its sad and sweet and really has a message to the story unlike most of what's on nowadays.

onaracs said...

Given Serling's wartime experiences,especially a horrific two week battle on Leyte Island, it is not hard to see what is going on in this episode. Serling wanted, so badly to be a paratrooper, he was so proud of making the grade; and then the reality of war; of jumping into hell. It is no accident that he ends up in 1934; before the war, before his innocence is lost. I believe that Serling wrote in an attempt to exorcise the many ghosts and demons that haunted his life. This episode does that perfectly. It isn't just the theme of "going home again". It is a desire to find the good inside of us that was lost; a chance to go back to a time before Nazis, before Auschwitz, before Hiroshima. Everyone wants to do this at one time or another; hence the reason for our love of "nostalgia", oldies, black and white movies and the current growing craze of "zoot suits". This episode is perfection in every way...Bernard Herrmann, Frank Overton, Gig Young, Ron Howard, the Herschel-Spillman Carousel. It makes me weep like a schoolgirl every time I see it.

Anonymous said...

I seen this episode on the TZ marathon on Sci-Fi. Braught tears to my eyes. Brings one back to a more clean and innocent time. I think we all wish we can go back at one time or another and relive those carefree days of youth. BTW you are never too old for a merry-go-round ride ;-) Great Herschell carousel featured in the episode.

Joe H. said...

I never cry, least of all in front of the TV. "Walking Distance" is the only Twilight Zone episode that made me cry. Not only during the show, but after it was done.

Forget greatest TWZ episode, this is probably the greatest TV episode ever made.

Joe Appio said...

It is a sad episode, especially after you realize that Frank Overton and Gig Young had tragic endings in their real lives. Overton died from a heart attack at 49 and Young who was actually a few years older than Overton took his young bride's life before taking his own over 30 years ago.
It is a personal episode for Serling and for each one of us that get's misty when you find a link to the past.
I am sure 1934 had it's own problems, but to be a kid again and not have to deal with adult-hood issues would be devine every now and then.
Sometimes I think of the innocence prior to 9/11 and wish we can return the to the clear sunny morning of that fateful day and stop the madness.
Young and Overton especially give hauntingly great episodes.
Some things are confusing though.
Did his parents pass away in a tragedy soon thereafter? Why was Homewood so foreign to him when he first arrives ? Did he move right after he turned 10 because of the war?
This doesn't matter much as the nostaglic feelings, terrific Bernard Hermann score and wonderful direction prevail. I particularly love the way the director uses a stage effect at the end by the carousel where time seems to stop and everything around Martin is dark as young Martin is carried off following his injury. It is ironic that older Martin contributed to the injury by scaring the boy.
I am not sure what I would do if I was in his place, perhaps I would speak with the younger version and try to prevent future miscues and convince my parents to buy Microsoft stock and advise the Government that President Kennedy should never travel in a convertible.
But the father's advice about looking ahead and looking for Carousel's in the right places seems to be the solid approach.
It is nice to reflect on the past and folks that may no longer be present, but we can only effect the future so always look ahead , but keep past lessons alive in your mind.
I understand Serlings desire to go back to a simpler time for he was stressed out by network execs and his demand for perfection.

I recently visited my Aunt Jennie's grave in the Bronx. She passed in 1973. Afterwards I visited her old neighborhood by Arthur Avenue and Fordham Roads. Ironically the apartment building has not been repaired in many years so all of the original features it is the same. Knowing that she wasn't behind her door tells me the world is diffent and can never go back to the sixties and the defunct Palisades Park of my youth.
Joe Appio

Anonymous said...

This episde is also one of my favorites. I love the scene with gig young ad his father talking. I think its young's greatest work.

Anonymous said...

Walking Distance and Time Enough at Last the two best

however, Walking Distance wasn't nasty, just rings so true

Favorite thing Gig Young ever did.
And Frank Overton is wonderful
My fave dad was always Ward Cleaver and Frank here was just as great.

dennisk said...

I've loved Twilight Zone since I was a kid. It seemed that the most memorable episodes were always the ones with the surprise twist (or twists) like "Eye Of The Beholder" and "To Serve Man." Now that I'm older, I have to say that "Walking Distance" is my favorite episode. While it resonates with me on an emotional level, I can objectively see that it is a piece of really inspired filmmaking. The writing is first class, the directing is sharp and thoughtful, and the actors one and all give believable performances. And the score by the great Bernard Hermann matches every nuance of the action. Absolutely brilliant from start to finish.