The Twilight Zone, Episode #11: "And When the Sky Was Opened" (airdate 12/11/59)
The Plot: On its maiden flight, an experimental manned spaceship disappears from radar for 24 hours and then crash lands in the Mojave Desert. But something has happened to the men who flew the ship ...
The Goods: Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the U.S., was well underway by the time the very first TZ episode aired in September 1959. Five months before that, the Mercury Seven had been presented to the public, giving very human faces to the program. So no wonder TZ's first season was populated with episodes about the possible effect of space flight upon astronauts (Episode #1), the prospect of asteroids serving as the ultimate penal colonies (Episode #7), and our episode, which borrows the concept of "astronaut anxiety" to embellish a tale of paranoia.
Forbes (Rod Taylor) visits Gart (Jim Hutton), who is still in hospital recuperating. Gart is calm and stable, but Forbes is nervous and upset; he is 100% positive that a third man named Harrington flew in the ship, but no one else, including Gart, remembers him. Is Forbes losing his mind? A flashback introduces issues of fate, personal identity, and universal alienation, which spreads across the remainder of the episode.
Oddly enough, this episode could have served as inspiration for Final Destination. On its own, "And When the Sky Was Opened" leans toward a pedantic exercise in obviousness, but it's made extremely watchable thanks to the 1-2 punch of Taylor and Hutton, the former wonderfully hysterical, and the latter believably frantic in just a few minutes of screen time, justifying a solid grade of B.
The Trivia: Episode #11 was originally broadcast exactly one week after the first non-human (a Rhesus macaque) was shot into space. Taylor had been working steadily in film and TV for several years; his star turn in The Time Machine would come the following year. This was only the second credited performance by Hutton, who would team up with Paula Prentiss for the first of several films in 1960's Where the Boys Are. Maxine Cooper, who played Forbes' girlfriend, made a mark as Velda, Mike Hammer's Girl Friday, in Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly. The episode was based on "Disappearing Act," a short story by Richard Matheson that was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in March 1953; Matheson would end up writing more than a dozen episodes.
On the Next Episode: A small-town peddler knows exactly what a thug with illusions of grandeur needs, but is reluctant to give it to him.
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we're not doing it alone! Our friends at Film School Rejects have entered the Zone as well, only on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at FSR (click, specifically, here) and feel free to also follow along on Twitter accounts @ScreenAnarhcy and @rejectnation.