“Maple Street, U.S.A. Late summer. A tree-lined little world of front porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice cream vendor. At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 P.M. on Maple Street….Maple Street in the last calm and reflective moment – before the monsters came.”
The above is the opening narration spoken by Emmy and Golden Globe winner, Rod Serling (Seven Days in May). The “Twilight Zone” creator wrote the teleplay for the classic season 1 episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” which originally aired on CBS Television, on March 4, 1960. The episode was directed by Ron Winston, who would go on to direct two additional episodes of the series, “The Big Tall Wish” (1960), and “Stopover in a Quiet Town” (1964).
On an uneventful Saturday afternoon, the residents of Maple Street are busying themselves with various activities, when a strange noise is heard, and flashes of light appear in the sky. Not much thought, at first, is given to the incident, except for some speculation that perhaps what the residents of the street collectively saw and heard, was a meteor, however, that mindset will not last long. First it seems as if a few people on Maple Street have lost power, but it is soon realized by the residents that all are without electricity; even phones and car batteries aren’t functioning. The denizens of Maple Street assemble together in order to figure out exactly what has transpired. One resident, Pete Van Horn (Ben Erway), lets one of the neighbors know that he is going to walk over to a nearby block to see if anyone who lives there has power. Steve Brand (Claude Akins), and Charlie Farnsworth, portrayed by Golden Globe, nominee, Jack Weston (The Ritz), decide to walk into town, to see if anyone there has answers, but they are stopped by the warning of a boy, Tommy (Jan Handzlik).
Tommy is convinced that what the people of Maple Street saw and heard, in the sky wasn’t a meteor, but instead an alien spaceship. The boy remembers reading about the exact same scenario taking place in a science-fiction story. Tommy states, that the aliens, in the story, disabled all of the electricity and phones, but a few months prior to doing so, had sent four of their kind, who appeared exactly like human beings, to blend into the neighborhood as a family. Steve laughs at the boy’s story, but others in the crowd start to wonder aloud, especially when their neighbor, Les Goodman’s (Barry Atwater) car starts running by itself, with no one sitting in the driver’s seat. Les Goodman, falls under suspicion of being the alien presence Tommy spoke of, especially, and I might add, ridiculously, when he is accused by a woman (Amzie Strickland) of often standing on his lawn, in the early morning hours, staring up at the sky. Les’s rational explanation is that he has trouble sleeping, something that is verified by his wife (Leah Waggner). From that moment forward, Charlie begins to assume the role of accusatorial, ring-leader, in constant opposition to Steve, who attempts to maintain a level-headed, rational approach to the situation.
After day descends into night, the gathered crowd spots a figure walking toward them, but the figure is obscured by darkness, so no one can say who or what it is. Panicked, that the figure could be an alien, a shotgun is produced seemingly out of nowhere, and a bullet is fired toward the figure, which when struck falls down.
Who or what has been shot? What person among the residents of Maple Street will be the next one accused of being in league with the aliens? Are there aliens causing the problems on Maple Street? Is order restored to the residents of the street by Steve? Do people allow themselves to get caught up in their fear, egged on by Charlie, who is whipping them up into a frenzy, over what might just be a simple power outage? For those interested in seeing the episode, it is available for streaming on Netflix, along with the other seasons of the “Twilight Zone” with the exception of season four.
The themes of group paranoia – hysteria – people showing their hidden prejudices and suspicions about their fellow man – and the emphasis on people needing to place the blame on a scapegoat – were themes that would reoccur throughout the five year airing, 1959-1964, of the original “Twilight Zone.” In addition to the competent directing of the episode by Weston, another aspect that made the episode effective was the excellent performances given by the ensemble cast. The chemistry the actors had with one another, especially as tensions mounted, was spot on.
This was a deeply personal episode for Rod Serling; and it seems as if he wrote it from a didactic point-of-view. Serling came up with the idea for the episode, based, in part, on some of his own experiences dealing with anti-Semitism. One incident was when he was rejected from becoming a member of the Theta Sigma fraternity because he was Jewish. In addition, while attending Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, after serving in the army from 1943-1946, Serling met Carolyn Louise Kramer. Carolyn was a Protestant, and her father forbade her to marry Serling, saying words to the effect of – I don’t want you marrying that short, dark haired, Jew. In effort to appease his bigoted, soon-to-be, father-in-law, and because he was completely in love with Carolyn, Serling compromised and converted to Unitarianism. The couple married on July 31, 1948, raised two daughters, Jody and Nan, and were together for close to twenty-seven years, until Serling’s death on June 28, 1975. “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” remains not only one of the best offerings “The Twilight Zone” produced, but contains a potent message, that, sadly, resonates just as strongly in 2017 as it did in 1960.