“Judgement Night”: The Twilight Zone

J

Welcome to day ten of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Thank you for returning to my blog, and thank you for reading! Tonight we will discuss one of my many favorite episodes of the supernatural anthology The Twilight Zone. It is a dark story, intense, fearful.

The Twilight Zone was so popular it has now appeared on television three times. It began in the 1960s, the masterpiece of Rod Serling, one of the most skilled radio and television writers in America. Serling wrote tonight’s episode. “Judgment Night” was Episode 10 in the first season of the show. It aired on December 4, 1959.

This is a supernatural war story, one of many Serling wrote for The Twilight Zone. Serling joined the U.S. Army during World War II and served in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. He once wrote that he was disappointed to be fighting Japanese as he was more concerned with stopping Hitler. Eventually, Serling was transferred to the 511th’s demolition platoon. His platoon was named “The Death Squad” because it was often sent into the most dangerous areas and suffered heavy losses. After serving in Manila, Serling’s regiment suffered a 50% casualty rate. For his service, Serling received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

When I watch this episode, I often wonder if this was Serling’s way of coping with the trauma of war, his way of coming to terms with his experiences in various battles where eventually, 50% of his fellow soldiers were killed. Perhaps this is how he coped with his anger and frustration over a situation he could never change, perhaps still living in his own Hell on earth as do all who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. So tonight, J is for Judgment.

Rod_Serling_photo_portrait_1959Rod Serling was the creator and writer of many episodes of the 1950s/1960s version of The Twilight Zone. He also wrote tonight’s episode, “Judgment Night,” which first aired in 1959.

Carl Lanser is a nervous man. A bit confused, perhaps even frightened. It is 1942. Lanser is standing on the deck of a British ship, the S.S. Queen of Glasgow, one day out of Liverpool, destined for New York. It is night, and the ship’s steward (Richard Peel) is calling him to dinner–and that is all Lanser knows. He does not remember who he is, or what he does, except for his name. He does not remember how he came to be on board a British ship in the middle of the ocean. Carl Lanser has reason to be nervous. Carl Lanser has entered the Twilight Zone, and unlike other characters in The Twilight Zone episodes, Lanser knows he is in the twilight zone. He senses it, and his heart is filled with terror.

Nehemiah Persoff

 Actor Nehemiah Persoff stars as Carl Lanser in the episode “Judgment Night.” 

Carl Lanser is not the only man who is frightened on this ship. In the words of Rod Serling, the ship itself is consumed with fear, for the S.S. Queen of Glasgow is traveling has lost its convoy, traveling alone in the dark while the captain records her longitude and latitude in the Captain’s Log, but in the words of Rod Serling, “what is never recorded in a log is the fear that washes over a deck life fog and ocean spray, fear like the throbbing strokes of engine pistons, each like a heartbeat parceling out every hour into breathless minutes of watching, waiting, and dreading.”

In this episode, we do not see Serling enter the scene as in later episodes of the show. He narrates the show at the beginning and end, and his introduction is like poetry, writing so fearful it is reminds one of Edgar Allen Poe. Serling speaks of the ship traveling through without its convoy, how it “travels alone like an aged, blind thing groping through the unfriendly dark, stalked by unseen periscopes of steel killers. Yes, the Queen of Glasgow is a frightened ship, and she carries with her the premonition of death.”

Lansing answers the call to dinner. He enters the dining room. He crosses the room and retrieves a doll that a child has dropped. It is a friendly group of passengers, a kind gathering eager to comfort Mr. Lanser. A stranger introduces himself, Jerry Potter (Hugh Sanders), and apologizes for not waiting for Lanser before beginning dinner, but invites them to join them for dessert. Lanser is not hungry, but accepts coffee.

Kewpie_doll

It is an interesting moment when Lanser picks up the fallen doll. It is a moment of compassion from a man who we later learn lacks compassion, as if he is doing more than helping a child retrieve her toy. It is as if he is apologizing for what he senses will happen in the near future. Photo of Kewpie Doll by Lara.

(The coffee is an interesting issue in this episode. Of the 17 episodes Serling wrote for CBS, this particular one was the only one where he had a conflict with CBS, and it was over coffee. Serling knew the British drank tea. He insisted that the serve tea in the dining room as he wanted to emphasize that this was a British ship and Lanser would have been out of place asking for coffee, but CBS wanted Lanser to have his coffee, because one of the sponsors of the show was Sanka.)

Lanser joins Potter and other passengers at their table. He is introduced to Major Devereaux (Leslie Bradley) and his secretary, Barbara Stanley (Deirdre Owens). Potter asks Lanser what he does for a living. He saw his name on the list and thought he might be a professor. Lanser does not answer.

The lights go out, then Captain Wilbur (Bill Wright) enters the room and the lights come on again. (I’m not sure why the lights are turned off when the door is opened, but I have a feeling this has to do with ship safety during war time). Captain Wilbur tells the passengers that it is still foggy outside. The Major says he would feel better if they were still with their convoy, that he can almost feel “those wolf packs” converging upon them.

Lanser’s response is shocking. “There will be no wolf packs converging on a single ship, Major,” he replies. “The principle of a submarine pack is based on a convoy attack.” The captain agrees, but looks at Lanser with a bit of suspicion in his expression. Potter comments that he’d rather be attacked by a ship than a skulking piece of tin and Lanser becomes defensive and tells them that they will see the U-boat if they are actually being followed, that in the thickness of the fog the U-boat will likely rise out of the water and “shell us with impunity and sink us at will.” Now, clearly, everyone is uncomfortable. The captain asks to be introduced to Mr. Lanser, then comments that “you sound rather like a U-boat commander.” Lanser drops his coffee, then becomes irrationally angry when others try to help him.

The captain asks Lanser to sit back down so they can become better acquainted. He apologizes for the fact that the ship was not built to carry passengers. He asks the passengers to introduce themselves and Mr. Potter tells them he is with the War Board, but from Chicago and cannot wait to get back home. Lanser repeats the word home and Barbara Stanley asks him where he’s from. He replies that he was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He wants to tell him more, that is obvious, but this is all that Lanser can remember.

ship

German ship in the fog, 1966. Photo by Eigene Dateien.

Lanser steps outside for some air, but the atmosphere is so thick with fog it is claustrophobic. He sees Barbara Stanley on deck and stops to speak to her. He tells her she looks familiar. “I know that feeling,” she says. “As if you have been in this place before.” Lanser tells her she is familiar, that he knows her somehow. She asks if he is okay and he replies that he has this “crazy feeling” of doing and saying things before. He tells her he felt as if he knew everyone in the dining room before he met them. Stanley tells him, “I know that feeling, I’ve had it before, being in a room somewhere and you’d swear you’d been there before. Even the conversation seems identical to a time before.” Lanser is even more disoriented. “And the people?” he asks her. “Yes, the people, too!” she replies. “How odd,” Lanser replies. Oh, Barbara, if you only knew!

Lanser tells Miss Stanley that he is not okay, that he still cannot remember how he got on the ship, or anything else, as if he woke up and was standing on the ship. And yet, he knows who he is, he knows he is Carl Lanser, he knows where he was born, he knows he is in the…then he stops. She asks him to continue, but he will not do so. He holds his fingers to his lips as if he is keeping a dark secret held inside. He tells her he doesn’t remember. She suggests that he try to rest so he returns to his cabin, but he replies that he feels he is living a nightmare, he feels a sense of doom, as if they are being stalked.

Lanser does return to his room. A second ship’s steward (Donald Journeaux) is helping him unpack. The steward finds a captain’s hat and asks Lanser if it is a war souvenir. “It’s a Captain’s hat. A submarine captain, to be exact,” the steward tells him. Lanser grabs the hat and tells the steward it doesn’t concern him. The steward apologizes. Lanser looks inside the hat. There is a label sewn onto the silk lining. It reads, “Carl Lanser, Kapitan Lieutenant Kriegsmarine.”

The captain is back in the bridge. The ship is not running well. The tension is building. The captain orders his crew to reduce speed and give the engines a break. He, too, is nervous as he stares out the window . He is concerned about the fog. “They’re out there,” the captain says. “God knows they’re out there, waiting like vultures.”

Lanser is now in the ship’s bar. The bartender (Kendrick Huxhum) reminds Lanser that it is late. Lanser suddenly stares at the floor and tells the bartender that then engine doesn’t sound right. The bartender tells him it’s an old ship, according to the engineer, and they’re probably giving her a break since it’s after midnight. We see the clock on the wall like the Gary Cooper classic High Noon, reminding us of the coming doom. Suddenly, Lanser remembers. Something will happen at 1:15 a.m. and he knows it will be something truly horrible.

clock

Lanser looks at the clock and remembers that something horrible is about to happen!

First Officer McLeod (Patrick Macnee) enters the room and asks for a tray to be sent to the bridge. The bartender tells him it will take a few minutes to prepare…coffee! For a British Captain! Gasp! The bartender and McLeod lean on the bar. Lanser is visibly upset. He begins to rant about how the engines have stopped. McLeod tells him there is a problem. Lanser shouts at McLeod that the problem with the engines have left them defenseless. Lanser walks over to the clock on the wall and touches it as if he is checking to see if it is real.

Patrick Macnee

Actor Patrick Macnee who became famous in The Avengers plays the First Officer in “Judgment Day.” 

We see the engine room. The pistons are moving slowly. We see the captain gazing out into the fog. We see Lanser finish off his drink, then begin to rant once more about how the passengers must get off the ship. “Yes! They must abandon ship!” he shouts.

He looks around. The bar is suddenly empty. He runs onto the deck and he sees no one. He looks out to sea and in the distance, the light of the U-boat is shining. He runs back inside, runs through the halls, bangs on the doors, shouts for the people to leave. “I saw it! It is going to sink us!” he shouts. He turns and sees all of the passengers huddled together in front of a door. They appear to be in a fog. Then they disappear and all he can see is a door.

Lanser falls against the wall. The look of terror on his face is nauseating. He runs to the deck, shouts for Potter and Mrs. Stanley, the Major. He runs down the deck, sobbing, shouting for the captain. The U-boat is shining its lights on the deck. Lanser reaches for binoculars and looks at the deck of the U-boat. He sees himself.

U-Boat

U-Boot Truppentransporter by Altes Gemalde von Willy Stower (1864-1931). The painting was on a postcard and the text reads “Sinking of a hostile armed troop carrier by German submarine in the Mediterranean Sea.” 

The U-boat fires on the ship. The engineer (Barry Bernard) is trapped in the engine room. Mrs. Stanley tries to climb out of her window. Her room is on fire and she is slowly consumed by the flames. It is a horrific sight. She is screaming, her arms flailing as she tries to put out the fire that is burns her clothing. Lanser watches as passengers climb from their cabin windows and leap into the ocean. Potter is trying to make his way down the hallway of the sinking ship when a burning log falls and traps him. Two other men struggle in the dark as they try to escape by life boat, but the U-boat fires on the boat and it crashes into the sea. The captain walks into the flames. Lanser also falls into the ocean and is pulled under by the waves. A lifesaver ring marked U.S.S. Queen of Glasgow is shown floating in the water.

Now we are in the captain’s cabin on the U-boat. The hat, Lanser’s hat, is on his desk. He is writing in his log. Lt. Mueller (James Franciscus), Captain Lanser’s second in command, enters the room. He is wringing his hat in his hands. He is clearly upset. Captain Lanser sees that he is upset and laughs.

James_franciscus_longstreet_photo

James Franciscus, known for his many appearances in films and television shows, including Longstreet, plays the German soldier with a conscience, Lt. Mueller, in “Judgment Day.” 

 Captain Lanser asks Mueller what is bothering him and Mueller reminds the captain that there were passengers on the boat they just destroyed, innocent passengers, civilians. Mueller is upset that there were women on board, children, and that they destroyed the ship without giving them warning. Lanser reminds him that warning the captain would have given him time to call in their coordinates and the British would therefore also know the location of the U-boat.

Then Mueller asks Lanser if he believes they will be judged, in some way, for what they have done. “It makes me wonder if we are not damned now in the eyes of God.”

Lanser is a different man on his own boat. He is calm, and sympathetic toward the younger man, but he understands his duty. He shakes his head. “You are a religious fool now? Perhaps even a mystic?” he says. “Suppose we are damned? What will happen then?” he asks.

Mueller explains that he has dreamed of this before. “Perhaps there a special kind of Hell for people like us,” he replies. “Perhaps to be damned is to have a fate like the people on that ship, to suffer as they suffered, to die as they died.” Captain Lanser tells Mueller that he is a mystic. Mueller will not be deterred. “We ride the ghost of that ship every night,” he tells his captain. “Every night, Herr Kapitan, for eternity. They could die only once, just once, but we could die a hundred million times. We’d ride the ghost of that ship every night, every night into eternity, Herr Kapitan. A ghost of that ship.

There is a look of fear, once again, on the face of Carl Lanser. Lanser is no longer in his quarters on his ship. He is standing on the deck of the S.S. Queen of Glasgow staring out to sea, and once again, we hear the voice of Rod Serling.

“The S.S. Queen of Glasgow, heading for New York. And the time is 1942. For one man it is 1942.” Someone calls out in the distance, “Light in the salon. Let’s blackout down there.” Serling continues. “And this man will ride the ghost of that ship every night for eternity. This is what is meant by ‘paying the fiddler.’” The steward steps onto the deck. We assume he is telling Carl Lanser that dinner is being served. Serling continues to speak. “This is the comeuppance awaiting every man    When his life’s ledger is examined, the tally made, and the reward or the penalty paid. In the case of Carl Lanser,  former Kapitan Lieutenant of the Navy of the Third Reich, this is the penalty. This is the justice meted out. This is judgment night in the twilight zone.”

Source:

  • Serling, Rod. “Judgment Night.” The Twilight Zone. Dir. John Brahm. Perf. Nehemiah Persoff, Dierdre Owens, Patrick Macnee, James Franciscus. Columbia Broadcasting Systems. Running Time: 25 min.  

 

Comments

  1. I enjoy ALL of the versions of the Twilight Zone ~

    Popped by as an AtoZ Mighty Minion.

    thriftshopcommando.blogspot.com

  2. DarlaSueDollman says:

    Oh I do, too, Tami. Some shows have episodes that are just plain bad, but I haven’t found one on The Twilight Zone, although I have noticed that the 2008 version revised themes and episodes from the 1960s versions. This particular episode has stuck with me for years, though. I get an odd feeling when I watch it, as if Rod Serling was trying to make a point about war. The acting is stellar, too.