The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)
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Five Characters in Search of an Exit 

An army major awakens in a small room with no idea of who he is or how he got there. He finds four other people in the same room, and they all begin to question how they each arrived there, and more importantly, how to escape.



(teleplay by), (based on a short story by) | 1 more credit »

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Episode complete credited cast:
The Major (as Bill Windom)
Kelton Garwood ...
Clark Allen ...
Carol Hill ...
Mona Houghton ...
Little Girl


It all starts when an army major wakes up in a small cylindrical room with no way out. The walls are too high to climb and they're too hard to puncture. Trapped inside with him is a clown, a bagpiper, a ballerina, and a hobo. They have all woken up inside there and have no idea where they are, what they're doing there, how long they've been there or even who they are or how long they'll be there. They apparently are unable to feel anything, and every now and then a loud clanging sound makes them all fall down. All of them have tried various ways of finding an exit, unsuccessfully. The army major especially is determined to escape. He tries all sorts of ways to find an exit, but he cannot find one. Even when he hits the walls with his sword, it shatters. The major suggests that they are in Hell, so there IS no way out. Eventually the five characters decide that the only way out is to make a human tower. But then when the ballerina nearly reaches the top, the clanging sound goes again ... Written by almightyone

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Release Date:

22 December 1961 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The title "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" combines those of the play by Italian writer Luigi Pirandello: "Six Characters in Search of an Author," and the play by French writer Jean-Paul Sartre: No Exit. See more »


After they fall from the attempted escape, the ballerina lies with her leg straightened, but in the following shot, is kneeling and facing another way. See more »


The Major: Who are we?
The Ballerina: None of us knows Major. We don't know who we are, we don't know where we are. Each of us woke up one moment and here we were in the darkness.
The Major: How can that happen?
The Ballerina: That's the question we asked ourselves Major, a question with no answer. We're nameless things with no memory, no knowledge of what went before. No understanding of what is now, no knowledge of what will be.
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Referenced in Toy Story 2 (1999) See more »

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User Reviews

One of Sterling's best, inspired by archetype, the era, and classics
7 August 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

For those curious, this episode is based in theme upon Pirandello's play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author" and Jean-Paul Sartre's play, "No Exit" (as indicated most obviously by its title), but, of course, with a Sterling twist.

Five very different individuals find themselves in a round room with no idea who they are other than the indication of their attire. A bell intermittently rings (perhaps also a Hemmingway allusion?), increasing the agony of their incarceration. The newcomer to the group, a Major, is determined to escape, while the others are resigned to their fate.

Unlike Pirandello, these characters don't even have a story. They have nothing other than the experience of the room in their consciousness, and no one to author their nonexistent story, so their position is even more hopeless than the characters in Pirandello's piece. Unlike both Pirandello and Sartre, there is no relationship involved between the characters and therefore no real conflict between them, though the theme of personal responsibility versus apathy is prominent in this story.

Though this diverges significantly from the storyline of the authors alluded to in the title, themes of Sartre and Pirandello (and many other authors of the twentieth century) come through with absolute clarity. This is very obviously a piece which addresses post-modernist perspective in the context of the Cold War era. There is also an emphasis upon issues of personal insignificance.

This is easily one of the best episodes I've seen, and still exceptionally relevant to current experience (as are Sartre and Pirandello). Exactly what makes a good piece of writing into a classic.

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