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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"A Game of Pool" is one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, in the top half dozen or so. No need to summarize the episode here, others have done that well, but the reasons I favor this episode boil down to three: 1) It has the same simplicity, focus and intensity that made "12 Angry Men" a great movie. The story takes place entirely in one room - a dingy pool hall, in this case (except for a brief glimpse of a rather cheesy afterlife) - and involves an intense competition between two men. The contest is as much a mind-game as it is a game of pool, and the stakes could not be higher. The writing is excellent.
2) Jack Klugman - who also had a role in "12 Angry Men". Although Klugman was known primarily as a comedic actor, he displays real chops as a dramatic actor. Indeed, Klugman showed off his dramatic skills in four excellent TZ episodes, all favorites of mine: A Passage for Trumpet, A Game of Pool, In Praise of Pip, and Death Ship. The man knew how to act.
3) Jonathan Winters - also known primarily as a comedian, Winters, too, put on a fine dramatic performance in A Game of Pool. Interestingly, the episode was filmed not long after he was released from an eight-month stay in a mental hospital, during which he was treated for manic-depression. I don't know whether that experience informed his acting in this episode, but he displays real intensity in the part of Fats Brown. Mr. Winters was a multi-talented guy.
Sadly, as I write this, news has come out that Mr. Winters has died, joining Mr. Klugman in whatever comes after this life. Who knows, perhaps they're engaging in a throw-down match of their own - comedy, I suppose, rather than pool. They were both fine performers, and I miss them both.
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