“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”: The Twilight Zone

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Welcome to day eight of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! I’m having fun, and I hope you are, too, because today we’re taking a look at the 1961 Twilight Zone episode “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” starring Cliff Robertson where H stands for a Hundred Yards, which may seem trivial when the word stands alone, but when you are the one standing in the vast desert surrounded by sand and cactus without another person in sight, a hundred yards seems to go on forever.

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Cholla buds in the setting sun of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

This is one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes for many reasons. First, it takes place in New Mexico, where I now live and have lived in the past on numerous occasions. I love the high desert. It is a beautiful place with spacious skies, strange wind storms and a mystical feel that is difficult to explain, but it certainly is portrayed well in this episode.

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Sandy hilltop in the high desert of New Mexico near Albuquerque. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I also like this episode because it is a Western, and I love Westerns! I write about the American Old West in my blog Wild West History. As I walk through the desert with my dogs admiring the tall Cholla cactus trees with their masses of pink flowers and listening to the coyotes howling in the distance I often imagine what it would be like to be a pioneer traveling through this area in the 1800s, and this is the topic of “A Hundred Yard Over the Rim.” The story also deals with time travel, one of Rod Serling’s favorite topics, and mine, too, since I am constantly daydreaming about being a pioneer!

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Flowering Cholla tree in the New Mexico desert. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

I also like the title, which captures the emotion of this episode so perfectly. A hundred yards. It seems like such a short distance, but when you’re traveling in the desert everything seems so vast.

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New Mexico sandstorm. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Sometimes it feels as if you can see from Alaska to Mexico, and it all looks so familiar, and yet, different enough that if you walk too far away from your source of transportation you will easily become lost, especially if the spring winds are blowing and the sands are slamming into you like a wall. It is so very easy to get lost in the desert at any time of year, and this is what happens to Cliff Robertson in tonight’s episode, “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”

The Wagon Train

In “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” Cliff Robertson is Christian Horn, the leader of a wagon train. As the story opens, we see the train of wagons moving over the hot sand with mountains in the distance. The wagons stop. Robertson leaves the front of his wagon and walks around to the opening in the back of the canvas cover. to check with his wife. She is caring for their young son, who is extremely ill. The child has been sick for 11 days.

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Conestoga Wagon on the Oregon Trail. Photo by National Park Service. 

Robertson is wearing a dusty black overcoat and top hat and looks beyond exhausted, as well. He dampens a cloth with a bit of water and hands it to his wife, who looks frantic. “He just can’t take anymore, Christian,” she tells him, and she’s probably right, eleven days of fever in the 1800s is a long time, especially when traveling through the hot desert. Christian, however, tells her the boy will take more, just like the rest of them. He isn’t showing much sympathy, but perhaps he is trying to show strength, to help her prepare for what he believes will happen to the child.

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John Astin from Operation Petticoat, 1977. (Since we’re time traveling, I thought we’d take a leap forward, too!)

The other pioneers are climbing from their wagons. Another pioneer, Charlie, played by John Astin, stops to check on the child. Charlie tells Christian, or “Chris,” that the rest of the pioneers are concerned that they are in Apache country. In fact, that area of New Mexico was populated by a number of different Native American Indian tribes and Charlie is correct, they are in potential danger. The rest of the men have discussed turning back, trying to find a town to resupply and help the sick child. The men point out that they are nearly out of water and food, but Chris insists they must push forward. Christian’s wife, Martha Horn, played by Miranda Jones, agrees that they should turn around. She is frightened for their son.

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Cliff Robertson from an episode of The Outer Limits. 

Christian tells the men to bunch up the wagon. He is determined to find water. He nods his head forward and tells them he is headed for the rim, “Maybe a hundred yards over the rim I might find water, or a canyon.” Chris grabs his gun and heads for the rim, a hundred yards over the rim in search of salvation.

Rod Serling in the New Mexico Desert

Suddenly, Rod Serling appears beside one of the wagons in his suit and tie. I love his sudden appearances in the past. They feel so…supernatural! One minute your heart is breaking for this poor, sick boy in 1800s New Mexico and the next you are chatting with Rod Serling. You would think his appearance would break the suspension of disbelief of the audience, but this is a supernatural show, and the fact that he suddenly appears in the middle of any scene, at any time in history, fits with the theme.

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 Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone creator, director, and writer of many episodes,                                                                      including “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.”  

 ”It is 1847 in New Mexico,” Serling explains.  ”A handful of men and women in search of a dream. Eleven months ago they started from Ohio and headed West. Someone told them about California, a land of riches and blue skies. After all this time, they’ve found neither. He has a dying son and a scared wife. Mr. Chris Horn, going a hundred yards over the rim to find water and sustenance, in a minute will enter the twilight zone.”

Suddenly, Nothing Looks the Same…

and this is the way it is in the twilight zone! Chris Horn walks over the rim and sees the foothills of the Sandia Mountains and a road, giant electrical towers that look like horrific beasts, houses. He runs back over the rim and the small train of wagons has disappeared. He shouts out for his friends and no one answers. He has no choice, but to move forward, over the rim, to the town, seeking help.

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The Sandia Mountains. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

Chris Horn sees nothing but desert and mountains. He holds his rifle tight and stares at the nearby railroad tracks. “What’s going on here?” he shouts in confusion as he stumbles down the sand on the other side of the rim. He sees fences, posts, roads where moments before there was nothing but sand. A truck races past and nearly runs him over. He dives into a ditch, terrified, dusts himself off and starts running down the road.

He finds a sign. “Joe’s Airflite Cafe and Gas Station 1 Mile Ahead.” He continues down the road to the cafe, a typical Route 66 truck stop. He stares at the gas tanks, then notices a cowboy staring at him, laughing. “Did you see it?” he asks the cowboy, pointing toward the truck. “That monster that almost hit me?” The cowboy removes his sunglasses. “Do you mean the truck?” he asks. Chris is confused. He’s never heard of, or seen, a truck.

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A 1950s semi-trailer truck. 

Chris begins to explain to the stranger about the wagon train. He tells the man they are desperate for food and water. The man notices Chris accidentally shot himself in the hand when he fell to avoid the truck. He leads Chris inside and tells a woman behind the counter that Chris needs help. She is afraid of him, of the way he looks and is dressed, and his confusion. The man offers Chris a glass of water and the woman brings a first aid kit from the kitchen. The cowboy introduces himself as Joe (John Crawford) the cafe owner.

Joe comments on the rifle, “a real antique!” and reaches forward to take a look, but Chris pulls back–in the 1800s a man would never hand over his gun to a stranger. Joe’s wife, Mary Lou (played by Evans Evans, the second wife of director John Frankenheimer) gently removes the injured hand from the gun and tends to the wound. Chris asks about Indians and she laughs. “No, we don’t see them around here, at least not hostile ones,” she says, which is probably true as most Native American Indians in New Mexico were moved onto reservations in the late 1800s.

The Confused Pioneer

Cliff Robertson does a remarkable job of portraying Chris Horn, a man lost in time. Looking at his face you can feel his fear. He is confused, disoriented. He asks how long Joe and Mary Lou have been in the area and they tell him a couple of years, but Chris and the wagon train just moved through this same area and no one was there! As he listens to Joe explain how they bought the cafe he wanders over to the jukebox and stares in shock, then to the table. Joe follows him and asks where he is really from, and Chris tells him the truth–he’s from Ohio.

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Vintage juke box. Photo by Joe Mabel.

Then Joe mentions that there is a natural spring nearby and Chris is stunned–he knew there was water! Mary Lou hands Chris a glass of water and a handful of penicillin to help avoid infection. Chris asks where she found it and she tells him at the drugstore. Chris is beginning to realize there is hope for his family and the rest of the pioneers. Mary Lou tells him it is good for all kinds of sickness and Chris tells her his son is sick back in the wagon, then he turns around and sees a poster on the wall, a poster of the Old West, of a wagon train moving down the mountain. Then he notices the date: September, 1961. “How can that be?” he asks. “It’s 1847!” and Mary Lou drops the glass of water on the floor. Chris begins to panic. “Where am I?” he asks, and he starts to back toward the door.

And of Course, a Doctor’s Exam

In the next scene we see a doctor (Edward Platt) leaving the back room with his black bag. He sets down the bag and pours himself a cup of coffee. He tells Joe that Chris looks fine except for malnutrition. Joe is confused. How can Chris be fine? The doctor reminds Joe that he’s not a psychiatrist, but tells him Chris seems perfectly rational. The doctor tells Joe and Mary Lou that the fillings in Chris’s teeth are not modern, and they agree that Chris’s gun must be at least 100 years old. “He may be having a delusion of some kind,” the doctor agrees, “but it is so pure, the way he describes the wagons, and his son!” The doctor explains that Chris’s description of his son’s illness sounds like pneumonia, that the boy could be dying. The doctor decides to call the sheriff.

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Sheriff’s car. Photo by Youngwiseman. 

Just then, Chris walks out of the back room. He has a book in his hand. It’s an encyclopedia. He shows the book to Mary Lou and tells her he has found his son in the book. She reads it out loud. “Christian Horn, Jr., M.D. Famous for his early work in pioneering vaccine research. Born in Ohio in 1849, died in 1914. Chris Horn’s story matches the entry in the encyclopedia exactly!

“That’s my son, that’s Chris,” Christian Horn tells Joe and Mary Lou. “I may be crazy, or the world’s turned upside down, but I know I was put here for a reason,” Chris says. He takes the penicillin and places it in the pocket of his jacket. “Thank you,” he says. “You’ve been kind and gracious and I appreciate it.” He takes his rifle and tries to leave, but the doctor stops him. He tells Christian he has sent for the authorities. Joe tries to grab his gun.

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Bottle of pills. Photo by Ragesoss.

Chris ducks through the open doorway and starts running down the highway, back the way he came. The police are driving down the road. They see Chris and start after him, driving over the sand. Chris keeps running, running toward the rim. He falls and drops his gun and penicillin. He grabs the medication, turns around to face the police, turns back to the rim, stumbles over the top with the medication in his hand, then stops and stares. There before him is the wagon train, just as he left it.

He walks back to the top of the rim. He sees nothing but sand where the police were moments before. He looks at the bottle. He still has the pills. He looks at his hand–it has healed. He walks to the wagon and asks his wife where she went. Now she is confused. He tries to explain, but can’t. Instead, he hands her the bottle and tells her to give him two pills, that it will save his life.

“Short trip, Chris. Not much on the other side, was there,” Charley asks. “You’d be surprised,” Chris replies. “There’s a whole lot on the other side of that rim.”

The police drive Joe back to the cafe and tell him not to worry, that Chris doesn’t seem like a threat. Apparently he was with them in the car. Joe walks inside with the rifle and shows his wife. He tells her he picked it  up right where Chris dropped it. It is falling apart, as if it was lying in the desert for a hundred years. It falls apart in Joe’s hands. Mary Lou is still holding the encyclopedia. “Where did he come from?” she asks. “Wherever it was, I think he went back, he says

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Prairie Schooner wagon. Painting by Newbold Hough Trotter (1827-1898).

Once again, we are at the wagons with Chris Horn. “Let’s go boys,” he shouts to the rest of the pioneers. “There’s water up ahead, and we’re going to California!’ He looks back in the wagon where his child is now sitting on his wife’s lap. “And my boy has a whole lot to accomplish there,” he says.

And once again, we hear the voice of Rod Serling. “Mr. Christian Horn,” he says. “One of the hardy breed of men who headed West at a time when there were no highways or signs of civilization. Mr. Christian Horn and his family of pioneers, heading West after a brief visit through the twilight zone.”

Source:

  • “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim.” The Twilight Zone. Dir. Buzz Kulick. Writer Rod Serling. Perf. Cliff Robertson, John Astin, John Crawford, Evan Evans. First aired April 7, 1961. Columbia Broadcasting System. Running time: 25 min.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Misha says:

    There are some beautiful landscape pics.

    I love the desert, and really wish I could spend some time there.

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  2. DarlaSueDollman says:

    Thank you! I love the desert so much I take around 200 photos a day of wildlife and landscape pictures. Thank goodness for digital cameras! Lol!