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
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 »
Rod Serling - Narrator:
[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!
Rod Serling - Narrator:
Mr. Henry Bemis, on an eight...
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Time. Such a precious commodity. And a universal concern. We all wish we had more of it. More time to do the things that we want, or need, to do.
All Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) wants is to read. His passion is the printed word. When he gets desperate, he'll even read the printing on condiment packages. His passion does get him in trouble at work, because his nagging wife (Jacqueline deWit) refuses to let him read at home. She thinks he should be practicing the art of conversation a lot more.
Ultimately, Henry gets his wish - in a way. A nuclear holocaust decimates life and property as far as the eye can see. Henry was spared because he was tucked away in a bank vault doing what he does best. Despairing and lonely at first, he soon realizes that now he has all the time in the world to devote himself to books. That is, until a cruel twist of fate.
Director John Brahm ("The Lodger", "Hangover Square") masterfully directs this legendary, beloved (for good reason) eighth 'Twilight Zone' episode. Those who see it, don't forget it. Not only is there a brilliant, endearing performance by Mr. Meredith, but the visuals are extraordinary. Brahm and a talented crew truly do make it look like the end of the world has come. Part of the visual appeal, of course, are the oversized glasses that Meredith wears, an interesting stylistic choice.
Meredith receives very capable support from Ms. deWit, and a perfectly cast Vaughn Taylor (who played Marion Cranes' boss in "Psycho") as Bemis' boss, who dislikes seeing his employee not concentrate on his work.
The haunting finale is justly praised. After all, delivering a potent twist or revelation was something that this series always did so beautifully.
This episode comes highly recommended.
10 out of 10.
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