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Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

[Automatonophobia] Twilight Zone: The Dummy (1962)

Twilight Zone: The Dummy - Jerry & Willie
Jerry & Willie
Jerry Etherson and his dummy Willie are actually quite a talented duo, but their agent Frank is the first to admit that they are stuck performing in smoky nightclubs instead of living it up at the top of the world because of Jerry's demons. He drinks too much, he has been diagnosed by psychiatrists as schizophrenic, and he also believes that Willie is really alive. In Frank's words, Jerry is a "self-indulgent sot with an overactive imagination," and he gives him 24 hours to clean up his act and get his head on straight, or find himself another agent.

For his next performance, Jerry gives Willie the cold shoulder and tries things out with Goofy Goggles, whom Jerry is quick to point out is just a dummy. The performance goes well enough, and so Jerry decides to make a break for it. Willie, though, despite being locked in his trunk, is not going to allow himself to be replaced so easily.

Now, Jerry is obviously an unbalanced man—he's a drunk, he suffers from nightmares and after a rough
Twilight Zone: The Dummy - Jerry & Goofy Goggles
Jerry & Goofy Googgles
encounter with a showgirl, it becomes apparent that he is always precariously balanced on the edge. What isn't so obvious, however, is if he believes that Willie is alive because he is so unbalanced, or if he is so unbalanced because Willie really is alive. That is to say, is Jerry's madness the cause or the effect?

Jerry's mental state progressively worsens during the short running time of this episode, beautifully demonstrated by the tilted camera-work which becomes more and more severe until it seems as if we have wandered into a funhouse of German Expressionism. Jerry's warped perceptions of reality, as well as the fact that he hears Willie in his head, do seem to lend credence to his psychiatric analysis, but one must remember, this is THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

In the build-up to the episode’s finale, there is a struggle between man and dummy which should be ludicrous, but somehow isn't. It's actually rather sad when we learn that Willie tricked Jerry into "murdering" Goofy Goggles in his place, which says something about the strength of this outing.

Twilight Zone: The Dummy - The Old Switcheroo
The Old Switcheroo
In the bizarre wrap-up, the dynamic duo of Jerry and Willie are back onstage, but there has been what Rod Serling calls "the old switcheroo". The dummy now resembles Jerry and the ventriloquist now resembles Willie. How such a transformation occurred is never explored, of course, but we finally see who has been pulling the strings all along…as if there was ever any doubt.

This was the 33rd episode of the third season, and it originally aired on May 4, 1962. Rod Serling himself scripted the episode (based on a story idea by Lee Polk), and Abner Biberman ably directed it, but the success of it all lands squarely on the shoulders of Cliff Robertson, who plays our man Jerry. Robertson is very convincing as the tortured soul, which should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with his résumé. He had a knack for capturing the quirks and mannerisms of troubled and off-kilter characters. Those of a geekier persuasion may recall that he played the villainous Shame in the 1960s BATMAN series, and many years later, the inspirational Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN trilogy. SPIDER-MAN 3 was the final role he took before passing away in 2011. At least he went out playing a true hero.

--J/Metro

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