“Wintry February night, the present. Order of events: a phone call from a frightened woman notating the arrival of an unidentified flying object, then the checkout you’ve just witnessed, with two state troopers verifying the event – but with nothing more enlightening to add beyond evidence of some tracks leading across the highway to a diner. You’ve heard of trying to find a needle in a haystack? Well, stay with us now, and you’ll be part of an investigating team whose mission is not to find that proverbial needle, no, their task is even harder. They’ve got to find a Martian in a diner, and in just a moment you’ll search with them, because you’ve just landed – in The Twilight Zone.”
The preceding is the opening narration, spoken by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Rod Serling, who not only created the iconic “Twilight Zone” series, but scripted the season two episode, “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up.” The twenty-five minute episode was directed by Montgomery Pittman, who in addition to this offering, helmed four other “Twilight Zone” shows: “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank,” “Dead Man’s Shoes,” “The Grave,” and “Two.” The episode originally aired on May 26, 1961. (As an aside: Rod Serling holds the record for the most Emmy Awards, for one writer, six in total, two of which he won for episodes he wrote for “The Twilight Zone.”)
Many of “The Twilight Zone” episodes would ask the viewer thought provoking questions on a variety of topics. Issues at a time in history, that might have been considered incendiary, however, when couched in the vein of science-fiction and fantasy, could be discussed openly. This, would not have been, one such episode. At its core, “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?” is meant to look at people and how they deal with paranoia, suddenly thrust upon them. Unlike the more serious themed “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street,” this episode, while still a solid, well written show, doesn’t take itself too seriously. For the most part, except for a piece of information dispensed by a character toward the end of the episode, the show has a more comedic tone, when judged on its overall content.
The episode opens in a place called Hooks Landing, on a snowy evening. Strange noises are heard, accompanied by a crash that is not shown on screen. Investigating the crash site are two state troopers (John Archer & Morgan Jones), who let it be known to the viewer, that they received a phone call from a woman who wanted them to call in the national guard for assistance. The troopers notice that some tree tops have been knocked down, but whatever did crash, landed in the nearby pond, and as one of them makes mention, whatever it is, will not be revealed until spring. The only piece of evidence the troopers have to go on is a set of footprints that are leading away from the pond, toward a place called the Hi-Way Cafe.
Once inside the cafe, the troopers count seven patrons: A man, who has his back turned to them at the counter (Jack Elam); a single woman (Jean Willes); two couples, one is later revealed to be married twenty-three years (Bill Erwin & Gertrude Flynn). The others are newlyweds (Ron Kipling & Jill Ellis); a bus driver (William Kendis); and a businessman (John Hoyt). One of the troopers asks the bus driver for a passenger manifest, which the man laughingly dismisses. The driver states that there were only six people on the bus. The only problem is, that seven people, according to Haley (Barney Phillips), the owner of the establishment, all entered the diner simultaneously. He also states that he hasn’t served anyone else since 11:00 o’clock that morning. The troopers let it be known, as to their suspicions regarding an alien presence being amongst the diner patrons.
The mystery, as to who the Martian is, does not immediately have to be solved. The bus driver is informed by one of the troopers, that the bridge up ahead has been closed, due to dangerous weather conditions, so no one will be leaving until the morning. That is a piece of news that is greeted with grumbling, especially from the businessman, who states that he has to be in Boston by 9:00 a.m. the next day.
During their time in the diner, everyone begins to suspect the other of being the Martian. The couples, both old and new, begin to question if they really know their spouses. The businessman, dismisses every notion of alien life as ridiculous nonsense. Jack Elam, has fun with the whole situation, acting crazy and stirring people up with the things that he says. The fact that his face had such an odd look to it, to begin with, did nothing but help to enhance his nutty performance. The Martian, if that entity really exists, also helps to ramp up the tension. He or she, has the jukebox play music, without anyone having deposited money, it makes the lights flicker on and off, and at one point makes all of the sugar bowls throughout the diner explode. Just when things seem to be reaching the breaking point, the phone rings. Answering it, one of the troopers is informed by the town’s structural engineer that the bridge is now safe for driving on. Even though distrust has been built up amongst the seven people in the diner, as soon as their travel can commence, they all board the bus together. The troopers agree to lead the way for the bus, in their car.
That is not the end of the story, for the real Martian will come walking back into the diner a short time later. “The Twilight Zone,” well known for its great twist endings, gives the viewer a double twist at the end of the show. One, that when I first viewed the episode, I didn’t know was going to take place, and I found it to be a welcome surprise. For those of you, who might be working your way through the series on Netflix, or have purchased the seasons on DVD and haven’t had a chance to start watching them yet, I won’t spoil the ending for you. Suffice it to say, I don’t think you will be disappointed by it.