The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)
13 user 2 critic

Shadow Play 

Adam Grant is trapped in a recurring nightmare, in which he is sentenced to death by execution. He tries to convince the people around him that they are imaginary and that they will cease to exist if the execution is carried out.



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Episode complete credited cast:
Wright King ...
Paul Carson
William Edmonson ...
Anne Barton ...
Tommy Nello ...
Mack Williams ...


When Adam Grant is found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced he lashes out telling everyone that he will not be murdered again. Grant claims to be having a recurring nightmare where he is found guilty and executed. The characters around him change and so he argues that all of them will vanish if he dies. It leads newspaperman Paul Carson to question what is real and what might just be a figment of someone else's imagination. DA Henry Ritchie visits Grant in jail and decides to try and do something about his claims, no matter how far-fetched his claims might be. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

5 May 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 refers to the ancient art of shadow play or shadow puppetry using opaque figures that cast shadows on clear curtains. Such entertainment is known in countries throughout the world and is presented in theaters and by traveling troupes. See more »


[opening narration]
Narrator: Adam Grant, a nondescript kind of man, found guilty of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. Like every other criminal caught in the wheels of justice, he's scared, right down to the marrow of his bones. But it isn't prison that scares him, the long, silent nights of waiting, the slow walk to the little room, or even death itself. It's something else that holds Adam Grant in the hot, sweaty grip of fear, something worse than any punishment this world has to offer, ...
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Remade as The Twilight Zone: Shadow Play/Grace Note (1986) See more »


Red River Valley
Traditional folk song
[Played on harmonica by inmate Coley]
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User Reviews

Philosophy 101 - Serling style.
23 July 2008 | by (Luoyang, China) – See all my reviews

There are times when I start thinking about strange possibilities and different experiences of existence, such as whether people with different eye colors see the world exactly the same way. Really, if blue eyed people experienced colors one way and brown eyed people experienced them another way, we would really have no way of knowing, because everything would look normal to everyone. That's a rather childish example, but when I start feeling existential I sometimes wonder if we are all part of someone's imagination or if we are some tiny part of an unimaginably bigger world. The religious implications here are pretty obvious, but Shadow Play has nothing to do with them.

The idea that we are all just figments of someone's (or something's?) imagination is not a new proposal, of course, but Serling has taken the premise and turned it into a pretty entertaining half hour story. Dreams and their meanings is an almost endlessly fascinating subject, and has been explored extensively in the annals of psychology, as well as in film, television, and literature. Wes Craven blurred the lines between reality and nightmare in his Nightmare on Elm Street films, and long before that, Serling explored the causes and effects of recurring nightmares more than once here on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.

It doesn't seem that the show is really seeking any answers, but is instead just presenting a situation in which a man is having recurring nightmares in which he has been sentenced to death, and is basically trying to convince the people around him to help themselves by helping him.

It is a brilliantly ironclad dilemma he is in. Imagine being on death row and trying to convince the guards and police around you that if they go through with your execution, they will all disappear. "You're all in my imagination! If you execute me you'll cease to exist!" The feeling of helplessness that he must be suffering is unimaginable! Granted, I've had dreams where I sank like a rock to the bottom of the ocean or fell off a building or something, and I always wake up at the point of death, and while it's scary, it's also an enormous relief when I wake up and realize I'm safe in my bed. Still, the nightly anticipation of electrocution's gotta make it hard to get to sleep at night.

Although personally, rather than trying to convince the guards to cancel my execution, I would just stick my arm through the bars of my cell and say - "Come on, pinch me! See what happens!"

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