Henry Bemis loves to read. The only problem is that he can find neither the time nor the place to enjoy his pastime. At work, his boss has let him know in no uncertain terms that he is not to read during working hours. At home, his shrewish wife won't even let him read a newspaper, let alone a book. One day, he sneaks down to the vault in the bank's basement to read a bit and suddenly, there is a huge explosion above. He emerges to find the world destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. He does find books from the library and he sees a great deal of reading time ahead of him. Except for one small unintended event. Written by
Rod Serling's closing narration for this 1959 episode begins, "The best laid plans of mice and men..." a quote from John Steinbeck's classic novel. Exactly 20 years earlier, actor Burgess "Harry Bemis" Meredith starred in the film adaptation of "Of Mice and Men."
The quote is based on a poem by Robert Burns:
"But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men Gang aft agley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, For promis'd joy!" See more »
Mr. Bemis expects to live "years and years and years" post-attack. In 1959, the effects of nuclear fallout were still under initial study and not widely understood. We see Bemis emerging from the bank vault more or less immediately after a thermonuclear blast (bomb-shelter protocol says to wait at least two weeks for the worst of the radioactivity to decay), eating packaged food that was probably irradiated, etc. So even with his glasses, Bemis would have not lived to enjoy his books for very long. See more »
[Middle narration - While Bemis wanders through the ruins of the destroyed city]
Seconds, minutes, hours, they crawl by on hands and knees for Mr. Henry Bemis, who looks for a spark in the ashes of a dead world. A telephone connected to nothingness, a neighborhood bar, a movie, a baseball diamond, a hardware store, the mailbox that was once his house and now is rubble; they lie at his feet as battered monuments to what was but is no more.
Helen! Helen! Where are you!
Mr. Henry Bemis, on an eight...
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From the first time I saw this episode in its original form to today, the events of this simple tale have stayed with me. I have been an English teacher for 35 years and have used this on numerous occasions to teach irony. Of course, this is the story of a man who is so incredibly unhappy. His adversaries are people who see his fascination with books as a consummate waste of time. His wife, his boss, his customers all see him as a loser. He seems like a delightful man, full of ideas, but in the world of his bank job he is merely inefficient. I love the line "go back to your cage" delivered by his boss. Of course, as most anyone knows, he gets his chance to have everything he wants, except he has one weakness. The reason I give this a nine rather than a ten is that there are some things that just don't fit the post nuclear world. Serling must have been a little impatient; and, of course, he was on an incredibly grueling schedule. Suffice it to say, once you've seen the ending, it never leaves you.
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