There is a fifth dimension…

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Rod Serling had acquired John Collier’s wicked short story The Chaser and made a memorable Twilight Zone episode from it, so I guess they felt entitled to “borrow” another of his yarns, Evening Primrose, and turn it into The After Hours, which isn’t quite as beautiful and complete as its unofficial source, but is still pretty incredible. Chalk it up as a NOSFERATU or FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, one of those examples of plagiarism you can’t help but feel grateful for.

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We start with an intriguing mystery — Anne Francis arrives at a department store with the intention of buying a gold thimble. A slightly odd elevator operator — you know, just slightly odd — takes her to the ninth floor, which is deserted save for one woman and one thimble. The woman sells Anne the thimble. It’s only after this transaction has occurred that Anne questions how strange it all is. Then, on the way back, she notices that the thimble is dented. She tries to return it —

Cut to an entirely different KIND of episode, one of the Zone‘s frequent and seldom wholly comfortable comedies, with a camp floorwalker and hammy manager discussing the strangeness of Miss Francis’ tale. You see, there IS no ninth floor.

The discussion spills out on to the shop floor, where Anne sees the woman who sold her the dented thimble — just as a shop assistant lifts the woman up — she’s a mannequin. Excellent close-up of the figure bobbing along as if walking herself, though we know she’s being carried. Anne faints, is forgotten about, and wakes when the store is closed.

(The director here is Douglas Heyes, who did KITTEN WITH A WHIP but also several very strong TZ episodes, including the celebrated Eye of the Beholder.)

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Now there’s another gear shift, as we learn the truth — the ninth floor is populated by department store dummies, who come to life when no one is looking, Toy Story style. Worse, Anne is one of them, but she’d forgotten this fact while on her annual holiday. She ends up accepting her new, limited half-life, but it’s haunting, melancholic.

This episode is simultaneously completely overwhelming, which means it MUST be good — and totally unsatisfactory in story terms. Where Collier’s yarn (also televised in musical form by Stephen Sondheim with Anthony Perkins) is beautifully self-contained and logical within its own nutty terms, Serling’s is a big plate full of loose ends. Why does Anne Francis think she wants to buy a gold thimble for her mother? How does the other mannequin know this? Why are the uncomfortable comedy characters unaware of the ninth floor? I’m in a troubling place here because I hate plot holes but I love unsolvable mysteries. Serling gets away with this uncharacteristically shambolic construction because the eerie, tragic place he parks us in at the story’s end — “in the Twilight Zone” is so touching, and because the superb Anne Francis expresses the yearning to be alive so well. Somehow the longing to be truly human is a universally recognized emotion, as if we all feel deep down that we haven’t made it yet.

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9 Responses to “There is a fifth dimension…”

  1. John Warthen Says:

    Having not seen this since I was 11, I appreciated your dead-on account of the episode except for one thing left unsaid: seen cold on a Friday night, it scared the bejesus out of me and messed me up good for the weekend that followed.

  2. chris schneider Says:

    The TWILIGHT ZONE series is not, on the whole, terrific with female characters. A notion occurred to me a while back, one that I’m not sure I still endorse, about “The After Hours” being one of several examples of a sharp-edged, non-June Cleaver female protagonist being punished for being just that. Anne Francis learns that she’s not human and gets stowed in the upper floor. A phone-call gets made in “Mirror Image” and Vera Miles gets hauled away by the-people-who-haul-miscreants-away. Phyllis Kirk, in “A World of His Own,” goes up in a puff of smoke (if I remember correctly).

    It’s a simplistic view of the attitudes of Serling and/or his writers. But still.

    Btw, as long as we’re invoking Sondheim, might as well say that the woman selling Anne Francis a thimble — Elizabeth Allen — had the female lead in Sondheim & Rodgers’ DO I HEAR A WALTZ

  3. Heyes was a remarkably talented director, and a good screenwriter, too, but somehow he never developed into a major film artist in the way that Frankenheimer and Lumet did. Most of his Maverick and Thriller episodes live up to the standard of his work on The Twilight Zone.

  4. Female characters: Serling and Matheson were both happy to reach for the harpy stereotype if she suited their purposes. I dodn’t feel Francis’ character was being punished, though, and as a lead character she might just as well have been male — only the environment of the story suggests she should be female.

    Maybe Heyes lacked the ferocious drive of Lumet and Frankenheimer and Schaffner, even though he had the talent. Or maybe he just didn’t catch the breaks. Either way, he found a comfortable niche in TV-land. His name always makes me perk up, and in the Zone, where his name appears at the end, I generally have cause to remark “This one’s well-directed!” long before the credits.

  5. That’s exactly the effect Heyes’s name has on me, whether at the beginning or the end of an episode.

  6. chris schneider Says:

    I haven’t seen the other Heyes-directed THRILLERs, but “The Premature Burial” is quite good. Cast includes Patricia Medina, who seems to thrive in this sort of mortality-and-bad-deeds-done atmosphere.

  7. Who doesn’t?

  8. chris schneider Says:

    Saw this again last night, and was impressed by the last shot of the Anne Francis mannequin. Director Heyes moves the camera closer and closer to the face, until the image becomes distorted. Sorta like young Leaud at the end of 400 BLOWS.

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