“Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, aging people who slowly and with trembling fingers turn the last pages of a book of life and hope against logic and the preordained that some magic printing press will add to this book another limited edition. But these two senior citizens happen to live in a time of the future when nothing is impossible, even the trading of old bodies for new. Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, in their twilight years – who are about to find that there happens to be a zone with the same name.”
Those words serve as the opening narration, and are spoken by Emmy & Golden Globe winner, Rod Serling, the creator of the “Twilight Zone” and the writer of the season three episode, “The Trade-Ins.” Directed by Elliot Silverstein, the twenty-five minute show originally aired on April 20, 1962. The question being asked at the heart of the episode is – what would someone, who is nearing the end of their days, give up for a second chance at life? In this particular scenario, two individuals are facing that dilemma. Seventy-nine year old John Holt, convincingly portrayed by Academy Award winner Joseph Schildkraut (The Life of Emile Zola), is a man who has a medical history rife with sickness. The viewer learns that he has been suffering from intense pain on a daily basis. John has been married to his wrinkled and frail wife, the seventy-four year old Marie (Alma Platt), for five decades. The couple is very much aware of their mortality, and so they seek out the help of a company known as The New Life Corporation, that could hold the key to the second chance at life that they both yearn for.
While speaking with the congenial, New Life salesman, Mr. Vance (Noah Keen), he explains to the Holts, that his company can guarantee them approximately another one hundred and twelve years together. The business The New Life Corporation deals in, as he tells the Holts, is re-birth. Using bodies, that Mr. Vance refers to as units, the salesman explains that the process is quick and painless; that everything about the Holts, in regard to physiological functions of a human being, their psychological makeup, memories, distinct personality, etc, will remain intact. As Mr. Vance is making his pitch, Mr. Holt once again inquires about the pain, or the lack thereof, that will come from having the transformation procedure. He is assured by Mr. Vance that the pain will be a thing of the past; that the Holts will spend the next century in new, healthy bodies, those of people in their early twenties. The couple will be as close to perfection as can be genetically engineered. Mr. Vance, much like a car salesman, proceeds to show the Holts around the New Life showroom, allowing them to view the different models of units that they can choose from. The couple settle on the set of bodies they feel suits them best. The Holts also receive the assurance from Mr. Vance, that even though New Life has a customer satisfaction rate of 98%, that if they’re not 100% satisfied with their new bodies, that their old ones, which are kept in storage for a week, will be returned to them, and a full refund will be given.
The price of such youth is five thousand dollars per person. The problem facing the Holts, and it is a major obstacle to their new lives together, is that their entire life savings only amounts to five thousand dollars. Of course, Mr. Holt asks the normal questions about financing, and down payments, but no such deal can be given in regard to the miracle of a second life. Per government regulations, in order for a procedure to be performed, the entire five thousand dollar payment must be made before surgery and in cash. With just enough money for one of the Holts to experience youth again, which one of them will it be?
Marie, being the loving wife that she is, insists that it be John that gets the transformation procedure. She knows his pain is taking a vicious toll on his physical well being, and she wants it to stop. John, on the other hand, genuinely loves his wife. In fact, at the beginning of the episode, he is as much states, that she is all he has left in the world that he cares about. Desperate to raise the additional five thousand dollars needed to transform Marie, John becomes reckless. He finds himself in a room where illegal gambling is taking place. He enters a game that is about to begin, one where he needs the rules explained to him. If not for Mr. Farraday, an inquisitive card shark with a heart of gold, played by prolific character actor, Theodore Marcuse, who takes pity on the elderly man, Mr. Holt would have lost every last dime he had. John is allowed to leave the game with the exact amount he came with, but what is he going to do now?
If I was an individual suffering with chronic pain, and every day was a struggle for survival, where my life lacked enjoyment of any kind, what would I do? Would I become selfish in my old age, and cast aside, as in John’s case, a wife, who has been by my side for fifty years? Would I act in a noble manner, and insist that my wife have the procedure done, and that I would not take no for an answer? Would I be the sort of person who takes solace knowing that the person I love most in the world, would get to not only live on, but live over, be given the chance to correct past mistakes? Would I resort to even more desperate measures than Mr. Holt did, and perhaps instead of entering an illegal card game, attempt to rob a bank, or do something else exceptionally dangerous, knowing the chances of my success of getting away with the crime would be astronomically against me? Could any of us, who are thankfully not living in that sort of condition, be certain as to what we would ultimately do?
The answer as to which one of the Holts gets the transformation procedure is made known to the viewer at the end of the episode. For those of you who are perhaps watching the series on Netflix, or have purchased the seasons on DVD, and are making your way through them, I will let you find out for yourself what happens to the Holts in the end. Does a lifelong love conqueror all, or is the chance to be young again and pain free, too much of a temptation to pass up?