In the early 1960's, small-time bookie Max Phillips (Jack Klugman) hates his life. His only pride is his son, Pip, then serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam. When a young bettor uses... See full summary »
In the early 1960's, small-time bookie Max Phillips (Jack Klugman) hates his life. His only pride is his son, Pip, then serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam. When a young bettor uses company funds to bet with Max, then loses everything, Max returns his money, angering Max's bosses. Written by
The script originally had Pip stationed in Laos, but the network had Rod Serling change it to Vietnam. See more »
Very little comment here, save for this small aside: that the ties of flesh are deep and strong, that the capacity to love is a vital, rich and all-consuming function of the human animal, and that you can find nobility and sacrifice and love wherever you may seek it out: down the block, in the heart, or in the Twilight Zone.
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Beautifully Acted Episode Right In Serling's Wheelhouse
One of Rod Serling's strengths as a writer was his ability to relate to the underachiever, and his desire for redemption. These teleplays -- "Requiem for a Heavyweight", "Mr. Denton on Doomsday", "The Big Tall Wish" -- shy clear of the pedantic tone many of his "message" scripts would take. In many ways, "In Praise of Pip" ranks with them at the top of Serling's work because (1) the redemption is earned by the underachiever's standing up for what is right, (2) the redemption is not without cost, and (3) the story is grounded in superb writing and a heartbreaking performance from Jack Klugman -- the definitive portrayer of good-hearted underachievers.
Bookie Max Phillips, who has essentially sacrificed his life to booze and to being a shill for a sleazy boss, takes pity on one of his clients, a young man who has embezzled the money to bet on a nag recommended by Max. At the same time his boss confronts him, Max learns his son is dying in Vietnam, and decides to take a stand. His actions give him an hour with his son as a 10-year old boy in a nearby amusement park -- the best memories of his life. Max's self-awareness of how he has screwed up this relationship makes the moments in the amusement park poignant without being cloying, and the finale makes its point gently, noting that we remember those who taught us by the small lessons, rather than the grand plans.
Serling's teleplay -- one of his last great ones -- is as good as anything he had written for the series. It is clear he knows Max Phillips, and that he's less interested in making a grand political point than in telling a story about a man's love for his child, and the awareness that we sometimes sacrifice the importance of these relationships for our own petty wants and needs. Likewise, Joseph Newman's direction and the cinematography shifts from the spare, desolate shooting of Max's roominghouse and his boss' lair, to the warm light bathing his son (Billy Mumy) and the amusement park, beautifully realizing what each of these means to Max. Newman also wonderfully cites Orson Welles' "The Lady from Shanghai" and an elegantly spooky final shot of Max.
Above all, however, is Klugman's superb performance. He is utterly believable as the jaded bookie, and equally believable as the father desperate for reconciliation with his son. He was clearly one of the favorite actors on "The Twilight Zone", delivering four great lead performances (only Burgess Meredith would provide as many). "In Praise of Pip" shows why Serling and the shows producers held him in such regard.
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