Jesse Cardiff is a frustrated pool player. He's very good at his game but his frustration comes from the fact that no matter how well he plays or how often he wins, onlookers always conclude that he's not as good as the late, great James Howard "Fats" Brown. He says he would give anything to have had the chance to play Fats and his wish comes true when the man himself suddenly appears. They agree to a game but Fats warns his eager opponent that winning has its consequences as well. Written by
Mr. Jesse Cardiff, who became a legend by beating one, but who has found out, after his funeral, that being the best of anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it. Mr. Fats Brown, on the other hand, having relinquished the champion's mantle - has gone fishing. These are the ground rules - in The Twilight Zone.
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Given the general nature of "The Twilight Zone", and the fairly broad array of genres that it includes in its repertory, it's easy to miss the point of this episode and dismiss it as a failure - but I think to do so would be a mistake. In some ways, it paraphrases "The Hustler", but then it has some original observations of its own to make. Essentially it boils down to "what's important in life" for any of us, and "will success really bring fulfillment". It's the old apocryphal story about the gunslinger (or fighter or card-sharp or whatever) finding himself faced with the new kid, who happens to be spoiling for a fight. The old pro has seen it all and become god-awful tired of it, but these people keep turning up to try him out. Of course, the Kid wins in the end, but is left with the feeling, "What just happened here? Why don't I feel like the king?" Serling usually does pretty well with old apocryphal stories, and this is no exception. Klugman is dead-on, and Jonathan Winters is a real surprise. Why, I don't know - in that era it was quite the thing to do to give comic actors a chance to demonstrate their dramatic chops, radio did it on a regular basis (if you haven't heard Red Skelton's or Milton Berle's guest appearances on "Suspense", do so at once!), and the funnymen invariably showed what they were made of. Under the heading of "Dying is easy - comedy is hard", a lot of pain and suffering goes into creating all that hilarity, and would be pointless without the inherent communications skills that express what has us rolling on the floor.
In any case, this is a reasonably well-known (and certainly well done!) episodes of TZ. There are better, and there are certainly more famous episodes - but there are rewards here for the attentive viewer.
And if you don't agree, you can always go to the cornfield...
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