In common with 'Where is Everybody', 'Judgment Night' features a main character who cannot remember the details of his own life but this time he has more pressing matters to consider. Aside from being the only German on a ship of Brits during WW2, Carl Lanser is also sure that there is an enemy submarine stalking the ship but he can't explain why he is so sure of this fact. The terrible truth is that he was once the commander of that enemy submarine and he is now in hell, reliving the fate of the passengers on a ship he sank for eternity.
The script, despite having some impact, drops in too many obvious clues pointing to what is going on so the twist comes as little surprise. The first half is slow and full of tedious nautical dialogue and most viewers will have probably worked out what is going on by the end of the first act. Despite this, the second act is executed brilliantly with Lanser becoming more and more frantic in his attempts to save those around him. The image of the ghostly crew staring blankly at him as he yells at them to get to the lifeboats is the most enduring moment of the episode and the actual attack is a thrilling little action sequence. However, Serling lays it on a bit too thick with the scene that follows in which a camply evil Lanser discusses damnation with James Franciscus, an actor in possession of the least convincing German accent in the world. Franciscus's dire performance drags down an already unnecessary, time-filling scene which is the equivalent of Serling with a megaphone yelling "Do you get it? It's hell! He's in hell!"
Despite its shortcomings, 'Judgment Night' is still an effective episode, Lanser's chilling fate of an eternity of confusion and death proving a hard-hitting climax despite its predictability. Nehemiah Persoff turns in one of the most over-dramatic performances I have ever seen but thankfully John Brahm's slick direction of everything else overcomes this sometimes hilarious problem. 'Judgment Night' is an episode that sometimes drags and is dogged by poor performances but when it comes to life in its second act all this is easily forgivable. It is an old fashioned ghost story crossed with a war film that works a treat once it quits toying with the viewer and gets to the meat of the story.
Beautifully mounted cautionary tale that must have cost the producers a bundle, since the effects are much more elaborate than usual. In fact, it's the attention to shipboard detail that lends additional impact to the story line. We believe those aboard are actually at sea and in mortal danger from U-boats. Suspense builds nicely as Persoff's disoriented passenger wanders frantically around the decks in search of own identity. Persoff delivers an energetic and persuasive performance, however, coming close at times to going over the top. The atmospheric touch comes from director John Brahm, who was perfectly at home with fog-shrouded mists as his Gothic-movie career proved. Upshot comes as perhaps no surprise (especially since IMDb has broken their own rule with an Episode List spoiler), but is a satisfying one, nonetheless. This is one of the real winners from that magical first year.
(Why has the site sponsor forced a warning on this blurb when in no way have I implied the ending?)
Another excellent episode. This is the kind of thing I had been expecting when I first started with 'The Twilight Zone': an eerie, moody tale that unfolds with a twist that catches the viewer in surprise. Well acted by Nehemiah Persoff, to the point that even when overacting it still comes around as fun instead of amateurish.
If 'Time Enough at Last', another great episode, was an adaptation of the Tantalus myth, 'Judgment Night' skillfully adapts yet another Greek myth; the myth of Sisyphus.
Sisyphus was punished for his acts by the Gods, by being forced to roll a giant rock up a mountain; only for, when reaching the top, the rock to fall back to the base, forcing him to repeat the task for all eternity.
This eternal cycle of repetition as punishment is more used than the Tantalus one, and I liked the way this episode further enhances the metaphor with the 'hunter becomes hunted' trope it also employs. A great, surprisingly intelligent little plot.
Seeing this episode made me remember a recent film, another Sisyphus-based, hunter/hunted duality, twisted mystery/horror that is one of my favorites. If you enjoyed this, check out 2009's 'Triangle' as well.
"Judgment Night" is an engaging episode of The Twilight Zone" with the story of a man doomed to relive a tragic night for the eternity. The plot is based on the myth of King Sisyphus, punished for trickery and forced to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill; but before he reaches the top, the rock would always roll back down. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Além da Imaginação: Judgment Night" ("Beyond Imagination - Judgment Night")
The others find Persoff's tentative stumbling around, his eyeballs bulging, his stuttering premonitions of impending doom, a little exotic. Then, too, every once in a while when someone makes a remark about the threat of U-boats, Persoff seems to switch to personality B and make some curt correction regarding submarine doctrine.
He has a right to be worried. A blinding searchlight engulfs the ship. It's a U-boat. The last thing Persoff sees as he rushes frantically to the rail is the captain of the submarine giving the order to fire on the ship. And the Ka El of course is Persoff himself.
When the ship is blasted to bits and everyone -- man, woman, and child -- are dead, the scene switches to the wardroom of the U-boat where a troubled young man confesses to Persoff, now the captain, that he feels guilty about killing these people without warning. He wonders if there is a special place in hell for people like the U-boat's crew, where they may be doomed forever to make the same voyage aboard the doomed ship for all eternity. Persoff scoffs.
Considering that it's a half-hour television show and everything must be hurriedly sketched in -- the characters and settings -- without becoming to expensive, it's rather gripping. As the anxious passenger, Persoff gives off a convincing odor of sour fear. (When he snaps into his Kapitan Leutenant role, he overplays it and barks out his lines.) The English woman aboard is Dierdre Owens and she's unusually sympatico. Patrick Macnee is the Executive Officer whose career as Mr. Steed, one of "The Avengers", was just about to be launched.
It's a thought-provoking story, as well as a spooky one. Yes, the submariners may be doomed to go through the agony of their victims for all eternity. Fortunately, our bomber crews who blitzed places like Hamburg and Nagasaki will not go to the same place, will they?
If you've ever seen the fine British film Pursuit Of The Graf Spee you know that some captains of surface vessels gave quarter gave quarter to the enemy. But Germany practiced unrestricted submarine warfare in World War I and Hitler saw no reason to change.
Poor Nehemiah he seems to know what is going to happen and that alarms all the other passengers on the British vessel. It all becomes clear to him when he sees himself giving orders to fire on the British ship.
I'm not sure what kind of message Rod Serling was trying to say other than we make our own special hells given what we do in life. I have to consign this one to one of the lesser Twilight Zone stories as it even doesn't quite come to grips metaphysically speaking.