'Escape Clause' is, for some strange reason, one of the least respected episodes of the early 'Twilight Zone' episodes. This is a baffling notion seeing how entertaining, disturbing, and well written it is. The episode, which is quite definitely one of the darkest of the series, features a fantastic performance by David Wayne ('House Calls') as Walter Beddeker, the self-absorbed hypochondriac who can't get through a day without his doctor by his side treating his nonexistent illnesses. His world is changed when Cadwaller (Thomas Gomez) appears in his room offering the ultimate gift: Immortality. The only stipulation? Beddeker must forfeit his soul to an eternity in Hell.
Beyond the fine performance David Wayne and the solid direction by Mitchell Leisen, Rod Serling's telescript is extremely interesting. Perhaps the only real issue comes from something beyond the control of the crew. Due to the short runtime and limited resources, it is a bit disappointing not to have a larger scope of the story or more focus on the deaths & legal proceedings. Perhaps as a feature-length film, the story would have been able to fully show the great story and experiment more with the pacing. However, as a single television episode, it is still very entertaining, very thought-provoking, and very well done.
"Escape Clause" is a dark episode of "The Twilight Zone" with lots of black humor. The question about whether immortality is worthy or not could be better resolved since Walter wanted to go to the electric chair to challenge the authorities because he would not die. But what would have happened if he had been sentenced to the electric chair. Shouldn't he be sentenced to life in prison later? My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Além da Imaginação - Escape Clause" ("Beyond Imagination - Escape Clause")
So you would think that someone with immortality would use it to try to get rich and live his life in luxury with lots of friends for 1000's of years right? No... not Walter. Instead he tries over and over again to kill himself. Of course none of it works. The ending is pretty predictable. It baffles me why someone with immortality would continually try to kill himself, even after he has proved that it won't work? How can anyone be bored when you are able to meet new people all the time and get new technology. The only downside to immortality is the world will eventually end and be destroyed. Watching the Earth be demolished isn't something I'd want to see. Roaming out in space until eternity probably wouldn't be fun either.
The hammy Gomez is a good choice for Lucifer, furnishing some needed color. But I worried when the matronly Virginia Christine went over backwardsdid that mean I wouldn't get my morning cup of Folgers. And old-timers like me may recognize the distinctive voice of Wendell Holmes from radio's classic Mr. District Attorney.
Cast members aside, the premise raises an interesting question, but fails to do much with it. Then too, the ending's not very plausible when you think about it. After all, Walter is indestructible giving him all sorts of options. Still, I get Serling's idea that risk is what makes life interesting. Remove it, and boredom likely results. Interesting thought. Anyway, premise aside, it's not one of the TV host's better-thought-out screenplays.
Concerning a hypochondriac named Walter Bedeker who makes a deal with the Devil to obtain immortality in exchange for his soul, Serling's script immediately comes a cropper by taking too long to explain its premise. Over half the episode is spent outlining the ins and outs of the deal and it makes for a pretty tedious first act. The characters play their parts with broad, cartoonish strokes as demanded by the script. These are all two dimensional roles: Thomas Gomez is suitably sleazy and suspicious as the Devil and Virginia Christine is clucky and despairing as Bedeker's long suffering wife. David Wayne is the undoubted standout in the role of Bedeker. Although he has little to work with, he seizes the few great moments with both hands. The highlight of the episode is when his wife falls off the roof to her death and Wayne calmly lights a cigarette, glances over the edge and muses "I wonder what it felt like."
Having taken so long in its set-up, 'Escape Clause' fails to capitalize on its concept. On a quest to find something exciting in a life without danger, Bedeker throws himself in front of trains and buses, drinks ammonia and finally claims the accidental death of his wife as his own doing so he can experience the electric chair. In a neat twist, Bedeker's lawyer manages to get him off with imprisonment for the rest of his natural life, which of course will be forever. This is where the episode should have ended but instead Bedeker is allowed to utilise the escape clause of the title, which manifests itself in the form of a fatal heart attack. For me, the ending would have been much more memorable had Bedeker just been left trapped in his immortality and stuck behind bars.
There are other weaknesses in 'Escape Clause'. For instance, Bedeker is horrified when he is given life imprisonment but exactly what was he expecting to happen after the electric chair didn't work? Did he really think they would let a self-confessed murderer walk free simply because he wouldn't fry. Still, with a simple comedy like this it's best not to dwell on the details and just allow the show to entertain you. Sadly, for the most part 'Escape Clause' is not particularly funny and the episode ultimately fails on most counts.
David Wayne plays a terribly neurotic man who is completely wrapped up in himself and his supposed impending death. He's perfectly healthy and young but is obsessed with every little ache and pain. As a result of this obsession, the Devil appears to him and offers him a contract--he can live a million healthy years just for the cost of his soul. This deal leads to some very dark and twisted humor (my favorite type)--and shows him doing many dangerous things just for kicks (such as jumping in front of a subway train). Naturally, since this is Satan we are talking about, it all comes with a wonderful twist. I won't say more, as it would ruin the suspense, but thanks to a great script it's a real keeper.
As much as I love this episode for it's great performances, morbid humour, and cool twist, I can't help feeling that, with its theme of escaping death/achieving immortality, it's just a little too similar to several of the previous tales in the first season, most notably 'One for the Angels' (and this being only the 6th episode, that's not a great thing).
The story also suffers from one glaring plot hole that it is hard to ignore: just what did Walter Bedeker think would happen to him when he survived the electric chair? Wouldn't life imprisonment be the obvious alternative?
Which brings me to another point. Cadwallader (Thomas Gomez) convinces Bedecker (David Wayne) that he'll never know his soul is gone. Doesn't that sound a lot like our current members of Congress?
As I watch my newly acquired set of the 'Twilight Zone' Definitive Edition in series episode order, it strikes me that this was the first one that didn't feature a name celebrity in the cast, at least with the perspective of hindsight. One could argue that a number of the feature players in the first five episodes weren't significant names at the time, but they acquired further notoriety as their careers progressed. David Wayne (Bedecker) had a relatively distinguished career considering his credits, but I don't recall him much beyond his work as a character actor. Which is not meant to disparage, I thought he did a fine job here, especially the way he reacted to poor Ethel (Virginia Christine) going over the balcony.
Well you can see the outcome of this episode from a mile away, but that's the beauty; it never even crossed Bedecker's mind that things might not go according to HIS plan. Life has a way of working like that, but when you come right down to it, so does death.
In fact Thomas Gomez as a really broadly expansive and somewhat hammy devil offers him an escape clause. He can opt out of the immortality at any time. What would want to make him do it?
David Wayne is the hopeless hypochondriac who probably could have endowed a whole medical school with what he pay in doctor bills. He's driving his patient wife Virginia Christine to her wit's end.
When Wayne gets his immortality he goes full blast, jumping off buildings, diving in front of subways. Now this former bedridden complainer is living life to the limit.
Wayne, Gomez, and Christine are fun to watch in this sardonic episode from The Twilight Zone.
In many ways, "Escape Clause" reminds me of the show's second episode, "One for the Angels" which was a light-hearted tale about an aging man's confrontation with Death and his gradual acceptance of his life reaching its expiration. "Escape Clause" however, is much darker, and this is evident in the tonal shift from pure comedy to dark comedy. The episode begins with the bedridden, but perfectly healthy protagonist, paranoid about his health and his constant agitating of his loyal and receptive wife is amusing to watch. His encounter with the Devil is amusing and when the deal is made that he will achieve immortality in exchange for his soul, the episode takes a rapid turn. The protagonist no longer has cause for the paranoia that had previously consumed his every thought. The fear of death and illness is eliminated with this fortuitous offer that had come his way and he now exercises his liberation by performing death defying 'stunts' that ultimately ends with the accidental murder of his wife.
Where that goes with the protagonist landing in prison, only to reveal that his next ambition in his immortal life is to reach the electric chair is another example of the episode's fine sense of dark humour. It was written by Rod Serling, no doubt one of the great minds of the television medium and his script here is very sharp. Even today, near six decades after the episode first aired, it holds up almost perfectly and it is a testament to Serling's unhinged imagination as well as his great control in his writing. No element of the script appears dated and that is quite an accomplishment.
The performances of David Wayne and Thomas Gomez, even if the latter has only a short appearance in this episode, are fantastic and both performances and on-screen chemistry reminded me of "One for the Angels" which paired Ed Wynn and Murray Hamilton even if this particular episode, in my opinion, does not reach the earlier heights.
"Escape Clause" was an immensely satisfying experience for me and watching the episode evolve from a broad comedy to a dark comedy suited the narrative of the episode as one about life and death. An exceptionally well-paced, wonderfully well-acted and superbly written episode, "Escape Clause" is one of my favourites in the few episodes of the show so far.
Then enters this episode's version of the devil with the ability to grant Walter's wish on not dying, of course with the big catch of giving up his soul. Walter: "my soul!!?" Devil: "you won't even know it's gone". How many times have we heard that line in this particularly themed plot? A near parallel exchange was spoken in "Bedazzled" between Brendan Frasier and Elizabeth Hurly's devil. I've noticed how there are different character traits though between different film or TV show episode's versions of death or the devil. Like in TZ episode "A pitch for the angels", Death came across as a more plain, straight laced serious type of character, where here, the devil is sort of a wise cracking, 'blabbering cheerfully but with a bargain' type of character. Well, either way, they suddenly appear in the main character's bedroom ready to present their proposition.
Once Walter has signed the deal, he throws all his medications out the window and is suddenly a changed man. No more of the whiny, hypochondriac Walter which is good, but a little later on though, he really sinks low. Walter for a while becomes bulletproof and starts living a life of scamming for money such as jumping in front of buses, trains, etc., and then suing them for settlements. Then, after failing to kill himself by drinking bleach and cleanser in the bathroom, he finally explains to his wife what is really going on with him. Walter's wife here, I believe is the same actress from "The fever", as the wife of the husband with the slot machine addiction on their free Las Vegas trip. After that, the episode really takes a turn for the worse, he pushes his wife off the top their 20 story apartment building, kills her, and doesn't even feel remorse for it or even sorry for what he did. All he cares about is wanting to give the electric chair a whirl because he still can't find any excitement in his life. That whole deal just did not sit well with me. This episode set up the main character to be a hypochondriac who was scared of dying who wanted to find a way for eternal life, they did not set up a character to be a thoughtless killer who would kill his wife just because he was bored and then just shrug about it. I guess there was one line I found semi amusing. Walter's wife to Walter: "Why don't I make you some potato pancakes". Walter: "You're a potato pancake, you're as tasteless as a potato pancake".
I would go further than that. When he is in cell and he realizes that he will have to spend eternity in jail, why he acts like this ? He is eternal and invulnerable so why does he not smash everybody to get free ? It's stupid. Point.
I gave a 3 because it was made in 1959 and thanks to the Twilight Zone, science fiction won acclaim and people feed from it (I think about Groundhog Day with the idea of testing deaths... and to be bore of it).
Director Mitchell Leisen keeps the entertaining story moving at a quick pace and maintains a neat tongue-in-cheek tone throughout; it's a riot to watch the selfish and irritating Bedeker take initial greedy advantage of his new found immortality by doing stuff like jumping off train platforms so he can collect insurance claims before he eventually gets bored with his indestructibility. Rod Serling's clever script bristles with sharp witty dialogue and has a spot-on solid central message about accepting mortality as a necessary part of human existence. Virginia Christine lends sound support as Walter's worried wife Ethel. The nicely ironic ending wraps things up in a satisfying way. A real hoot.
Walter is a really deplorable, rancid character but Payne makes the rube bearable. Christine plains down for the role of put-upon spouse contending with an irksome husband. I asked myself what on earth made him attractive to her. Thomas Gomez as "Cadwallader", the conman from hell, is a real hoot, nailing that mischievous grin and twinkle-eyed glee as he attempts to notch another soul on his belt. He talks a good game, too. So Walter winds up getting the life without parole sentence and a trusty escape clause is designed by Gomez to capitalize on that one mistake certain to gain him his desired soul...In other words, Walter gets what's coming to him.
Enter Mr. Cadwallader. He has an offer that will be very difficult for Mr. Bedecker to refuse. Immortality in exchange for his soul. After some back & forth haggling, Bedeker agrees. But he finds it's not all it's cracked up to be. No thrill in it for him.
David Wayne plays Walter Bedeker as an whining, overbearing blowhard, which suits the character pretty well. Thomas Gomez does an excellent job as Mr. Cadwallader. He plays his devilish role as something of a sleazy salesman who knows just what to say to make the deal. He also gets the last very hearty laugh at Bedeker's expense. As Rod Serling showed us many times during the run of the show, the grass really isn't greener on the other side.
Willing to give anything to stay alive forever up pops out of the mist Cadwallader, Thomas Gomez,really to no surprise to those of us watching but Walter is the one and only, thank God for that, Devil offering him eternal life only for the exchange of his soul that he doesn't seem to have any use for anyway. After the mutual exchange, Soul for Eternal Life, Walter goes on a rampage trying to get himself killed and collect the insurance on his failed efforts. This leads to his wife Ethel in trying to stop the psycho from jumping off the roof of his apartment building to fall to her death with him looking forward to get executed for her murder, which he in fact didn't commit, as his next big kick.
****SPOILERS**** It was just too bad for Walter that his lawyer got him off on a life sentence, he successfully used the insanity defense, that prevented him from getting the shock of his life while being strapped into the Sing Sing electric chair but like they say in the big house life is a long long time and in Walter's case that a lot lot longer! It's then that Walter gets Cadwallader to "execute" the escape clause in his contract that will finally get him back down to earth as well as into an early grave.
Wayne, who has confined himself to his bed, and who has done nothing but insult his wife, Virginia Christine (Mrs. Olson, the Folger coffee lady) and the doctors, is a new man. He presses his palms against the radiator. Nothing! So far, so great. He throws himself under a subway train and sues the company for a lot of money. The same with the bus company. But he's getting bored. Life is losing its zest. Even drinking a bottle of iodine doesn't help. It tastes like weak lemonade. He's about to throw himself off the roof when his wife, in a desperate attempt to stop him, falls to her death. Wayne decides to try out the electric chair and see if he can extract a volt of excitement from the experience. He gets "life without parole" instead and can only look forward to thousands of years behind bars. "Boredom is the root of all evil," as Kierkegaard observed. Wayne exercises the escape clause.
We usually think of David Wayne, if we think of him at all, as an ensemble player (the effete reporter in Billy Wilder's "Front Page") or as a second lead (Frank Sinatra's pal in "The Tender Trap"). But, given a chance, he's pretty good on his own, as he is here -- fussy, arrogant, sly. Likable and ironic story with some clever lines and good acting.
Dark humour rules the day in this delicious, if not that memorable, 'Twilight Zone' episode. It's especially amusing, the way that Bedeker "kills" himself over and over again in order to pull off insurance scams. Wayne is a real hoot in his irascible performance. Gomez is equally engaging as a very jovial man who just might be Satan himself. Excellent support is also provided by Virginia Christine as Bedekers' long suffering wife, and Raymond Bailey as the doctor in the opening minutes.
There's a solid twist late in the episode when a tragedy occurs, and Bedekers' attempts to manipulate the situation don't go as planned.
Mostly, this episode is worth watching for the acting by Wayne and Gomez.
Seven out of 10.
Alright if taken with a pinch of salt. I prefer the theme played straight later in series one in 'Long Live Walter Jameson'.
It is short and overacted, but in a fun way; it is also not very well thought at certain aspects, especially the main character and his motivations, but that seems to stern more from the time contrivance than a poor screenwriter.
Its originality comes from its seemingly light-hearted approach, which combined with a rather naive but very black humor and a deceptively dark concept, make 'Escape Clause' almost eerie. It is quite thought-provoking, as are most stories of this kind.
What good is immortality? What price are we willing to pay for it? And, what happens when we achieve it, what else can we do now?
It could be better drawn-out, but overall for a 25-minute episode it was very good. I would not mind a feature film with this take on the 'immortality' morality play.