Twilight Zone Sn1 Ep2 “One for the Angels”

Original Airdate: October 9, 1959

The second episode of this iconic series goes for broke. After a series opener that focused on an isolated character this episode has the protagonist squaring off against none other than Death incarnate. The writing is charming, dark, and full of humor. Herein lies another great strength of “Twilight Zone,” its ability to effectively balance genuine humor with dark material.

Lou Bookman (Ed Wynn) is a sidewalk salesman, a neighborhood man, one who seems to be fairly handy, and a caring man popular with the neighborhood children. Mr. Death (Murray Hamilton) makes an appearance in Bookman’s apartment one day informing him that at midnight he will pass away.

Bookman understandably expresses doubt and disbelief, then tries negotiation. It turns out there is a loophole, if one has unfinished business death can be delayed. Bookman snags himself a loophole, but when he reneges on the deal Mr. Death takes another soul in his place. Now Bookman finds an innocent suffering for his selfishness. The conundrum is: how can he defeat Death when Mr. Death won’t even take him now?

Ed Wynn is fantastic in this role. His initial confrontation with Mr. Death is at times playful, flippant, filled with humor even. As the episode progresses his fear, worry, and anxiety take over. He struggles with his dilemma and eventually embraces his destiny as he confronts Mr. Death when he comes for the young soul.

If there is any weakness in this episode then it this scene, but it is so well written and performed with such aplomb that the silliness is easily overlooked. The escalation is smooth and transitions quickly to a fevered pitch. It is great to literally watch Death sweat. As the minutes tick by and ties become toy robots become spools of thread it becomes a race as to which will run out first, wares or minutes. It is Wynn’s delivery the anchors this scene and keeps it grounded, his dedication keeps us in the reality of the show, for as we watch we buy into it, we believe that Bookman isn’t selling ties and amazingly strong thread, he’s bargaining for a young girl’s soul.

The best “Twilight Zone” episodes, (and isn’t it great to have another one right at the beginning?), have endings that are either ironic or poetic, OR somehow both. Perfecting the delivery of a beautifully written ending is something “Twilight Zone” managed to do time after time and Rod Serling wrote a great ending here for we are literally applauding a man’s death by the time the credits role, now how often does that happen? “One for the Angels” has dark thematic material made much more palatable by the grand dedicated performance of Ed Wynn who easily steals the episode.


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