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Twilight Zone, Episode 2.12: Dust
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by Chris Parry

"Some Twilight Zone episodes are classics. Others should have been."
2 stars

"There was a village, built of crumbling clay and rotting wood, and it squatted ugly under the broiling sun like a sick and mangy animal waiting to die. This village had a virus, shared by its people. It was the germ of squalor, of hopelessness, opf a loss of faith. For the faithless, the hopeless, the misery-laden, there is time, ample time, to engaage in one of the other pursuits of men - they begin to destroy themselves."

Dust is an episode of the famed Twilight Zone TV series that should have been great. It should have been fondly remembered. Ithsould have been so many things, but a small budget, a quick shoot, and a director with a little too much to say about how actors should act manage to combine to turn this into little more than a couple of good performances and a handful of misguided empathy.

John Alonso (Harold and Maude, Chinatown) is Luis Gallegos, a Mexican immigrant in the old west who got drunk one evening and fatally ploughed his horse-drawn wagon into a young girl. Condemned to death, his father (Vladimir Solokoff) goes on a desperate quest to convince the townspeople to spare his son's life, but the run down people of this berg are simply too washed up and beaten down by life to bother.

With nowhere else to turn, Gallegos Sr looks to a peddler with a mean streak, a round-shaped man called Sykes (Thomas Gomez), who sold the rope that will hang Luis, but now tells his old man that for 100 pesos he can buy 'magic dust' that will prevent the hanging.

Unbeknownst to the grieving father, the magic dust is nothing more than dirt, but he mortgages everything he owns, begs, borrows and somehow raises the cash. Will the magic dust work?

This episode has two great things going for it - Thomas Gomez as the devilish peddler with no conscience at all, and Vladimir Sokoloff as the old man who knows his son has mere hours to live unless he can performa miracle. Gomez, who might be better remembered for his roles on Broadway than the B-movie characters he was offered by Hollywood, is every bit the nasty piece of work. In an era where real acting was hard to find, Gomez brings more reality to this role than just about anything else in the episode - including the clearly painted background.

Gomez was well known in acting circles by the time this episode was filmed, having served on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors for 40 years after entering the profession in 1926 when he answered a Help Wanted ad for a local theater group. According to legend, he used to stay at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and have a newspaper brought to his room every morning, where it would be placed atop a stack of older papers. When he found he had enough time to read a paper (which was rarely), he'd call a bellboy up his room to lift the pile and take out the bottom paper for Gomez to read. Waste not, want not...

Valdimir Sokoloff was a different kind of character, but no less proficient as an actor. A Russian by birth, he moved to Germany seeking better opportunities in the 20's, then fled to France when the Nazis came to power in the 30's, then fled once more to the US when the Nazis took control of France. It was in the US that he became 'the Russian' whenever such a character was required, though he often found himself doubling for Chinese, Italian and Mexican characters, as he does here. Perhaps best known as the Wise Peasant in the Magnificent Seven, or Anselmo the gentle rebel in For Whom the Bell Tolls, this entire episode really hinges on Sokoloff's ability to make you empathize for a child-killer's plight.

Granted, the man on death row never intended to kill the young girl whose life he took, but the idea that any of these white townspeople might find it in their hearts to forgive a murdering Mexican must have been tough for an early 1960's Middle America to swallow. The final actions of the villain Sykes won't help to bring closure to the episode, but they could have if director Douglas Heyes had been on his game.

The background sets in this episode are awful. Was it really so hard to find a little patch of desert somewhere in California that could be used as a wild west town? With bad lighting, cramped location, and actors that reportedly were told by Heyes to act almost comatose, so as to give off a feeling of hopelessness, you might well find that this is among the least effective episodes of Twilight Zone you'll see.

"It was a very small, misery-laden village in the day of a hanging, and of little historical consequence. And if there's any moral to it at all, let's say that in any quest for magic, in any search for sorcery, withery, legerdemain, first check the human heart. For inside this deep place there's a wizardry that costs far more than a few pieces of gold. Tonight's case in point - in the Twilight Zone."

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originally posted: 09/20/03 09:42:41
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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

5/19/19 Jonny Chingsd 4 stars
6/28/18 richard walker dust is the best, if you can't see that then you need a new heart 5 stars
1/17/07 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 4 stars
7/28/06 David Cohen Moving and meaningful (as TZ could often be), Heavy handed (as TZ could often be) 4 stars
11/19/05 BrendaS918 Average, could have been great. 3 stars
11/04/03 steve Lynch very very moving, absolutely great 5 stars
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  06-Jan-1961 (NR)



Directed by
  Douglas Heyes

Written by
  Rod Serling

  Vladimir Sokoloff
  Thomas Gomez
  John Larch
  John Alonso
  Paul Genge
  Andrea Margolis

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