A high-strung radar operator is convinced that UFOs are following the test rockets he monitors at a secret facility in Pecos, New Mexico. His kids' new playmate, an odd little girl who ...
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A high-strung radar operator is convinced that UFOs are following the test rockets he monitors at a secret facility in Pecos, New Mexico. His kids' new playmate, an odd little girl who feels no pain, causes him to jump to conclusions; he's sure the child and her family are spies from outer space. Written by
Jay Phelps <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"The Strange People at Pecos," a color episode from "Science Fiction Theatre," offers a subtle critique of the paranoia that was fueling anti-communism and alien invasion movies of the time. It's about how "normal" Americans are primed to react when they encounter someone or something they consider "different." If this had been a "Twilight Zone" episode made five years later, Rod Serling would have hammered the message home a little too hard and pumped up the sci-fi trappings a lot more. Here, the nuanced portrayal of the "strange" neighbors and the studied ambiguity of the ending make the whole piece much more effective, if you ask me. It all comes down to a carefully modulated confrontation between someone who rushes to judgment and someone who understands all too well the forces of misapprehension. The acting is superb on all counts, with Arthur Franz as the worker at the rocket base and Doris Dowling as his dependable wife, Dabbs Greer as the "odd" neighbor, Mr. Kern, and Beverly Washburn as his almost ethereal young daughter. There is an otherworldly quality about Greer's and Washburn's portrayals that lends some weight, at least initially, to Franz's perceptions. And look for Paul Birch, a regular in the more sensational sci-fi drive-in movies of the time (THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES, NOT OF THIS EARTH), as the wise sheriff.
Regarding the previous reviewer, who specifically requested feedback, I would argue that he might have overreacted a bit. The show does not appear to be taking the side of the "ugly and abusive" rocket base worker or his "Nazi-in-training" children. It's simply showing how an average family of the time might have reacted in such circumstances to outward behavior that strikes them as peculiar, especially given the tenor of the times, in which conformity was prized and individuality was tagged as "rebellious" and "antisocial." Fear of both communist and alien infiltration was a constant undercurrent in popular culture of the 1950s. The "other" could turn up next door and must be rooted out when and wherever possible. This episode, on the other hand, advocates a more temperate response. I found this program on YouTube and I urge interested readers to seek it out for themselves.
From a historical standpoint, this episode first aired at a pivotal moment when things were starting to change in the larger culture. Rock 'n' roll was taking hold and Elvis was just around the corner; James Dean's posthumous cult was growing (he'd died only two weeks before this episode's premiere) and his signature film, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, was two weeks away from opening; and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which got the burgeoning Civil Rights movement up and running, was less than two months away.
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