Rough week! Last night, Nazis; tonight: end of the world. Before passing the alternating baton of exploration to our friends at Film School Rejects, we have time for a very hot episode -- as in solar heat, baby!
The Twilight Zone, Episode #75: "The Midnight Sun" (original air date November 17, 1961)
The Plot: The Earth has inexplicably moved off its orbit and begun moving toward the Sun. The temperature has been rising every day. As the episode begins, the forecast is for the thermometer to hit 110 degrees. Everyone who has transportation is fleeing the big cities; interruptions to power are becoming more frequent, the supply of fresh water is running out, and the thought of remaining in a hot apartment in New York City without air-conditioning, or maybe even a fan, is unbearable.
Norma (Lois Nettleton) and her next-door neighbor and landlord Mrs. Bronson (Betty Garde) wave goodbye to the last of their fellow apartment dwellers as they drive off in hopes of finding slightly more temperate weather. A radio announcer reads a warning from the authorities that looters and crazy people are roaming the streets, before breaking down into hysterics himself.
Norma and Mrs. Bronson can't quite bring themselves to accept the reality that they're doomed: there is no stopping the Earth's movement toward the Sun.
The Goods: This summer was the second-hottest on record in the U.S.; in Dallas, Texas, where I live, the temperature soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 70 out of 90 days. And we've all experienced incredibly hot days, the kind where your clothes stick to your body, sweat crawls its way across your face, and you just can't cool down.
The episode, written by Rod Serling and directed by Anton Leader, effectively captures that desperate feeling, making you sweat until it arrives at the twist ending.
This is not an exceptional episode; it lacks the straightforward morality lesson that was one of the hallmarks of the original series, which might have given an extra kick to the concluding moments.
Still, the twist makes this one of the "cool" episodes (if you can forgive the pun after you've seen it), the ones that you remember fondly many years after your first viewing.
The Trivia: Lois Nettleton, who gives a nicely understated performance here, never became a big star, but she certainly was a familiar face, making dozens of appearances in TV shows and movies. At the time she appeared in this episode, she was married to Jean Shepherd, of A Christmas Story fame.
During the episode, one of Norma's paintings melts; the effect was created by reproducing it in wax and mounting it to a hotplate. The episode was shot during the summer on a set without air-conditioning; the director reportedly turned up the heat in certain scenes to add to the heated atmosphere.
Two characters in Serling's original teleplay -- a police officer and a refrigerator repairman -- were cast, but cut from the finished product.
In Val Guest's The Day the Earth Caught Fire, the U.S. and the Soviet Union secretly test nuclear weapons on the same day, shifting the Earth's axis and moving it closer to the Sun, resulting in worldwide disasters, and vividly sweltering conditions in Britain. The film was released in the UK in November 1961, the same month this episode was first broadcast, but did not premiere in the U.S. until March 1962.
On the Next Episode: "In the last days of the Civil War, Confederate soldiers come across a witch who can help bring victory to the Southern cause." Check in with our friends at Film School Rejects on Monday evening as we continue exploring "The Twilight Zone"!
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes, 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 and feel free to also follow along on Twitter accounts @ScreenAnarhcy and @rejectnation.