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Twilight Zone, Episode 1.03: Mr Denton On Doomsday
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by Chris Parry

"An average-looking house, constructed by inspired artisans."
4 stars

“Portrait of a town drunk named Al Denton. This is a man who’s begun his dying early - a long, agonizing route through a maze of bottles. Al Denton, who would probably give an arm or a leg or a part of his soul, to have another chance, to be able to rise up and shake the dirt from his body and the bad dreams that infest his conscience. In the parlance of the times, this (a man waiting in the wings) is a peddler, a rather fanciful looking little man in a black frock coat. And this (a gun) is the third principal character in our story; it’s function, to perhaps give Al Denton a second chance.”

One of the real joys of watching the Twilight Zone is in seeing great actors back when they were hustling bit parts on TV, trying to make a name for themselves. In this episode, Dan Duryea, who starred in such feature films as Woman in the Window, Ministry of Fear, Scarlet Street, and Lady on a Train, portrays a staggering drunkard in an old western town, perpetually tortured by a young gunslinger named Dan Hotaling, played by the unparalleled (even at this age) Martin Landau. When a thin peddler of wares comes to town and starts meddling with ‘fate’, Mr Denton finds he might just have more man in him than he though he did.

A veteran of such classic and modern films as North By Northwest, Cleopatra, Ed Wood, and X-Files, Martin Landau is simply on fire in this early role, injecting venom and bravado with a touch of pity and vulnerability. Granted, this was a time when the James Dean’s and Marlon Brando’s of the world were showing what real acting consisted of, and Landau was certainly one of the ‘new breed’, but it’s almost startling to observe the obvious difference in technique, enthusiasm and believability between Landau and any of his older more established contemporaries. He quite simply gives it his all here, as he has throughout most of his often-brilliant career. When Landau took on this role, he was relatively unknown, having only appeared in a handful of TV westerns, and but the appearance led to several roles in feature films and kicked off a career that has spanned decades.

Duryea, opposite Landau, looks pedestrian in comparison, as does a young Jeanne Cooper (Young and the Restless), playing Liz, the local ‘madam’. Cooper’s role is clearly only put out there as eye candy, and she was certainly worthy of that pigeonhole, but even though Landau isn’t the focus of the show, he chews up the scenery like Godzilla with the munchies.

Also playing a huge part in proceedings is director Allen Reisner, who brings an assured, cinematic touch to this, only the third episode of the entire Twilight Zone series. Back in the early days, nobody was sure if Rod Serling’s vision would translate to the screen, but Reisner’s helming of Mr Denton on Doomsday can certainly lay claim to being one of the tent pegs that kept the series alive through that first season. And it’s little surprise when you discover that he continued to direct groundbreaking TV series’ right into the 80’s, when he handled four episodes of Murder She Wrote. Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Untouchables, Ben Casey, I Spy, The Green Hornet, Ironside, It Takes a Thief, Hawaii Five-O, Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, Kung-Fu, Shaft, Kojak, Petrocelli… stop me when you get the point.

Allen Reisner was a TV director extraordinaire in an era when TV directors did more than cue the laugh track and switch between camera 1, 2 and 3 from the control booth, and with Mr Denton on Doomsday he laid out a standard for all other Twilight Zone directors (and TV directors in general) to try to follow.

All in all, Mr Denton on Doomsday is not the most exciting, eerie, scary or thought-provoking episode of Twilight Zone that Rod Serling ever wrote, but as a piece of well made television, outlining the rise of one of modern cinemas great character actors, this is a must-see for any fan of the series, or cinema in general.

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originally posted: 07/10/02 09:31:26
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This episode of Twilight Zone has been reviewed as part of an ongoing retro TV series. For more in the Twilight Zone Episodes series, click here.

User Comments

3/08/08 Pamela White wonderful episode 5 stars
7/28/06 David Cohen A clever take on the gunfighter legend 5 stars
8/27/02 Mark Diggs Very Good 4 stars
7/17/02 Klute A damn fine episode, all the way. The direction alone makes it a standout. 5 stars
7/10/02 Kilmore Trout Great episode, though could have been spookier. 4 stars
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  16-Oct-1959 (NR)


  16-Oct-1959 (G)

Directed by
  Allen Reisner

Written by
  Rod Serling

  Dan Duryea
  Martin Landau
  Jeanne Cooper

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