The pitchman Lou Bookman is unexpectedly visited by Mr. Death that tells him that his time has come. Lou appeals to live more to make a big pitch as he has always dreamed on. Mr. Death accepts the request but tells him that he has to take someone else with him. When he selects the girl Maggie Polanski, who is Lou's neighbor, the old man has to take a decision. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In consideration of Ed Wynn's advanced age, the night-time scenes were filmed during the day, with tarpaulins pulled over the set to give the illusion of night. See more »
Street scene: Summer. The present. Man on a sidewalk named Lew Bookman, age sixtyish. Occupation: pitchman. Lew Bookman, a fixture of the summer, a rather minor component to a hot July, a nondescript, commonplace little man whose life is a treadmill built out of sidewalks. And in just a moment, Lew Bookman will have to concern himself with survival - because as of three o'clock this hot July afternoon, he'll be stalked by Mr. Death.
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Pilot episode 'Where is Everybody' was a good script hampered by a poor performance. 'One for the Angels' features some very good performances but is hampered by just about everything else.
This light and fluffy, child-friendly fantasy was an odd choice for a second episode. Serling should have been trying to grab people at this point, hook them with a more dramatic offering. Instead he plumped for this lightweight fare, which did serve the purpose of showing an audience the diversity of which the series was capable but risked alienating new viewers who took the tone of the episode to be representative of the entire series. The lighter episodes of 'The Twilight Zone' were often genuinely sweet and ingenious but 'One for the Angels' collapses under the weight of its own ridiculous premise. Lew Bookman, an aging pitchman convinces Death to spare him until he has made a truly great pitch, "one for the angels". But when Death tires of waiting and decides to take the life of a neighbourhood child in place of Bookman's, it is left up to the hapless pitchman to save the child.
The two main performances are both fine. Ed Wynn is extremely lovable as the quirky Lew Bookman and Murray Hamilton is determined and business-like but basically sympathetic as the deadpan Death, a figure not unlike Serling's narrator character. The highlight of the episode is the pair's initial meeting and Bookman's pointless attempt to evade Death by running away, only to find him waiting at every turn. Unfortunately, these scenes are spoiled by the necessary inclusion of the plot in which Death allows Bookman to slip through a gaping loophole in their deal.
It is possible that the episode could have worked if the final pitch had been truly inspiring. Unfortunately, having awaited it for the whole episode, there can be few viewers who don't feel disappointed when it comes. Ed Wynn's kooky, deliberate way of speaking prevents the necessary fast talking charisma of a great pitch from surfacing and so we are presented with little snippets of the pitch interspersed with images of the dying poppet that Wynn is trying to save. Death, for some reason now looking desperate and bedraggled, ends up coming across as the sort of guy who'd pass up crucial duties if the fabric store was having a sale. He is duped into buying items he'll never need with ridiculous ease. It's in sharp contrast with the authoritative character Murray Hamilton has created earlier in the episode. Sadly, this final scene crushes the two enjoyable performances which were the only thing keeping the show together.
'One for the Angels' is an attempt at a charming comedic fantasy about self-sacrifice but it emerges as a badly fumbled, inconsistent and basically ludicrous episode. Its flashes of charm come courtesy of the actors but they can do little to save the script and in the end the episode's failure is entirely down to Serling.
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