Twenty-Two is markedly different from most other Twilight Zone episodes, in part due to the film quality (ironically video tape, used for budgetary reasons). The film quality greatly enhances the story, making the acting & score more surreal which makes the atmosphere even more unsettling. In fact, if not for the film quality (which gives everything an unusual realism), the episode might be utterly unremarkable in the context of the series. Of course, that'd be overlooking the stellar performances by Barbara Nichols and Jonathan "Doctor Smith" Harris with a humorous support by Fredd Wayne.
Even though the viewer is bound to know the ending, as this story has been retold many times in horror anthologies and in television, he is guaranteed to still be unsettled by the presentation.
We are introduced to the character of Liz Powell(BARBARA NICHOLS), a professional nightclub dancer who has been hospitalized for nervous exhaustion and fatigue brought on by overwork. She has been experiencing a recurring nightmare for the past six nights, which she claims is not a dream, but an actual waking occurrence. Her Doctor, played in a suitably creepy and sardonic manner by JONATHAN HARRIS, refuses to allow that it's anything more than a bad dream caused by her fatigued mind playing tricks on her.
This "dream" unfolds in an exact chronology each time. She is in a fitful, restless semi-slumber and awakens feeling very thirsty. The bedside clock is ticking loudly and as she reaches for a glass of water, the glass slips out of her hand and shatters on the floor. She then hears the sound of squeaky footsteps outside her door, such as that made by a nurse in rubber-soled shoes. She goes over to the door, opens it and sees a nurse in the elevator across the hall as its doors close. The nurse is standing motionless, her face in shadow and her hands clasped at her chest. The elevator goes to the basement and Miss Powell follows it down. She does this in fear and trepidation, knowing what she's going to see. But she appears unable to resist the compulsion that seems to be drawing her there. She exits the elevator in the basement and walks down a corridor, which branches off to the right. She stops in front of a room- Room 22- which is the hospital morgue. The doors are swinging shut as if someone had just gone inside. All of a sudden, the door swings open and a nurse appears. The inference is that it's the same nurse who was in the elevator. The nurse is beautiful but has a sinister air about her. Definitely not Florence Nightingale. Beautiful but spooky. She is played by ARLENE MARTEL, billed herein as ARLINE SAX. She looks right at Miss Powell and utters five words. Five words which cause Miss Powell to run screaming in fright. MARTEL is only seen on screen three times for a few seconds each. And each time she says the same five words. The way she says it and the look on her face will send chills down your spine. Her voice sounds like it's coming from the grave.
Now the 'red herring" in this episode occurs when the Doctor is speaking in private with one of the staff nurses. Although convinced up to that point that Miss Powell had been dreaming the whole thing, he is nonetheless puzzled over the fact that she mentioned going down to the basement to Room 22 and identifying it as the morgue. Since patients are not allowed down there and do not have access to it, how would she know what room it was and what it contained?
It is MARTEL's performance in this episode which helps to make it so memorable. Even though BARBARA NICHOLS received top billing as the lead actress, it was MARTEL who stole the episode. And she did it with style. She was absolutely perfect. In her brief time on screen, she definitely proved that less is more. I remember being badly frightened by this episode when I originally saw it. And all these years later, it still frightens me. It's not until the end, in the last scene, that we are given to realize who this nurse really is. Serling at his best. Definitely a nail-biter. 10 out of 10.
This episode is like one of those time travel stories where events in the past find a way to unfold just the way they originally did despite the best attempts of someone to alter an outcome. This one however directs the viewer's attention to something about to happen in the future, even though we're not anticipating it at the time. The creepiest part of the story is the way Martel's character shows up at various points, and simply utters those five chilling words as if inviting one to their doom. That it turns out to be a warning is revealed in the finale, leaving one subliminally afraid of elevators and swinging doors.
Though it's not one of the best Twilight Zone episodes, 'Twenty Two' ranks up there as one of the most memorable ones. It has that haunting quality that stays with you because of the characters and situations. And a nagging fear that someday you might be booked on Flight 22.
TV production of that era had a certain necessary art to it, created on- the-fly and halfway between filmed stage drama and true cinema, an acquired taste, to be sure. This episode had many lovely two-shots and a few absolutely gorgeous three-shots that are under-appreciated today. I have much the same feeling about the durable Marilyn Monroe lookalike Barbara Nicols, who starred in the episode. And then there was morgue nurse Arlene Martel...
The choice of videotape and other production shortcuts were almost certainly dictated by financial constraints, but I prefer to consider this episode a case of making lemonade.
Barbara Nichols is Liz Powers, a successful nightclub dancer-performer, whose agent Barney (Fredd Wayne) has just signed her up for a nice new gig in Miami. But she is suffering from overwork, and needs bed rest. While in the hospital she starts having a recurring nightmare where she is aware that it is dark as night, but the clock reads 8:10 P.M. She hears nothing. She reaches for a glass of water and it falls and breaks. No nurse comes in so she goes out to investigate. She sees a nurse all the way down the hall going into a room. She follows and finds it is the hospital morgue. The nurse (Arlene Martel) reappears and faces her with an attractive but sinister face. "Room for one more honey?", she says. Nichols feeling she is confronting great evil lets out a piercing scream, and the next thing she knows she is being held down by another nurse and the hospital doctor (Jonathan Harris) on her bed.
This happens three nights in a row. Harris tries to reassure Nichols that there is no reason for her to have this fear - he shows her the night nurse (Norma Connelly), who does not look at all like the figure in the dream. Nichols really is not convinced, and finds that her agent is not really good in helping her feel any sense of relief either. Then Harris suggests something to Nichols. In all three of her dreams the pattern remained the same - vary it: Don't reach for the glass of water.
Nichols, still dubious, goes to bed, and again, at 8:10 P.M. she wakes. She almost reaches for the glass, but remembers what Harris suggested. Instead she decides to smoke a cigarette instead. But in putting the lighter down on the table, she knocks over the glass again. She decides to see if her varying the situation has any effect. She walks down the hall, and again the entire dream plays out with the sinister nurse. She is seen screaming as Harris gives her a sedative injection. But in the course of her screaming she does say something that Harris is puzzled about. She mentions "22", and Harris knows of a Room 22 that the patients never see.
SPOILER COMING UP:
Nichols leaves the next day. She is looking forward to the Miami gig. She reaches the airport and is given her ticket, and then learns that she is booked on flight 22. This is unsettling, as is the fact she notices the time is now 8:10 P.M. She walks somewhat unsteadily and knocks into a woman carrying a vase with flowers, which she causes to fall and break. Suddenly Nichols is really getting frightened, as key events of that dream seem to be reoccurring in a different setting. An airport employee points out that her plane is getting ready to leave. Nichols stumbles down to the ramp up to the plane's entrance, and a stewardess is there - it is Martel, and smiling the same way she asks, "Room for one more honey?" Nichols screams and runs down the ramp and back to the main building of the airport.
A moment later the plane bursts into flames before a horrified Nichols and the others in the building.
TWENTY TWO was one of six TWILIGHT ZONE episodes that were shot on video tape, and it certainly adds an "odd dimension" to the viewing pleasure of it. Because of the fuzzy quality of the episode's appearance it makes the turmoil of Nichols' apparent mental breakdown more effective. But it also reminds us of the live television that was so much a part of the 1950s, and of which so much is now lost or missing. In particular watching Nichols deepening fears get realized, and the growing uncertainty of the intelligent skeptical Harris, we are lucky to see them almost as if they were freshly performing in front of us. Wayne too is good as a nice fellow who really can't make out what is going on with his client and friend, but blunderingly keeps trying to move on. And Martel does the most with her limited appearances in the episode.
The episode was based on an anecdote that Bennett Cerf put into one of his anthologies. But it may seem familiar to viewers of the film DEAD OF NIGHT, when in the first episode of the film a racing car driver is recovering in a hospital and has a recurring nightmare where he awakes at a given time, looks out the window and sees a hearse driven by Miles Mander dressed as an undertaker, who looks up at the patient and says, "Only room for one more, Sir!" In the end the racer, after he leaves the hospital, almost boards a double decker bus and sees the conductor is Mander, repeating, "Only room for one more, Sir!". Wisely he does not board, and watches in horror as the bus (in avoiding a collision) falls off a bridge. I have seen the anecdote appear in collections of "odd but true" books frequently. I don't care if it is really a false story - it is a damned good one.
At any rate, the show is well-written, to a certain extent, although also has its share of script blunders. At one point early in the episode, Liz's doctor (a wonderfully subdued performance by Jonathan Harris of Lost in Space fame) is explaining the dream to her dirtbag agent, describing how she "believes the nurse in her dream is one of our night nurses here at the hospital." "How should I know what any of your nurses look like?" she replies indignantly. Why does she argue? He's only repeating her own words. It's like she's arguing with herself.
On the other hand, this could just be a reflection of her fragile state of mind. The majority of the episode is purely brilliant and genuinely frightening.
I developed an intense fear of hallways from watching The Shining when I was a kid, and that fear was brought back as Liz wanders down the hall, turning a corner just in time to see the elevator doors closing on a weirdly stolid nurse, standing rigid with her head in shadow, bringing to mind those two twins in the Shining. Unbelievably creepy in both cases.
The way the elevator is followed using the dial on the wall is a brilliant device for creating real tension, and Arlene Martel is almost bizarrely effective as the nightmare nurse, creating truly chilling moments despite the filming format and obviously cheap sets (seriously, did anyone believe that hallway behind her?).
But what I really love about the episode is the sense of powerlessness that Liz suffers from as we are taken through the dream for the second time. Her doctor suggested not reaching for the water glass, thus breaking the chain of events in the dream and hopefully changing the rest of it.
The line between reality and dreamland is blurred with amazing effectiveness as we watch Liz wake up in her dream, still clearly remembering the conversation from reality and bringing it into play in her dream by resisting the glass of water and reaching for a cigarette instead. And by the way, notice that when we see a shot of the night nurse just before the beginning of the second dream sequence, the clock on the wall reads 12:10. Get it? Get it? It's always interesting to consider the films that appear to have been inspired by twilight zone episodes, in this case possibly the disappointing Jim Carrey thriller 23, and definitely the outstanding teen thriller Final Destination (not necessarily the two disappointing sequels).
One IMDb user mentions that this episode has one of the worst special effects in recent memory. I'm hoping they are referring to the bad backdrop (which itself is clearly nothing more than a painted hallway a few feet behind the actor, but still adds to the surrealism of the dream sequences) and not the plane exploding near the end of the episode, which was a remarkably impressive effect, given the time period. Another interesting blunder is the badly botched dubbed correction of Serling's introduction of next week's story, clearly added in years later and not even remotely matching the rest of the monologue.
A bigger problem I had with the sequence was the lack of thought put into how people behave. I imagine in an effort to hasten toward ending the episode, when Liz bumps into the woman and causes her to drop her vase, which shatters across the floor, the woman turns without a word and walks away. Maybe she wasn't getting paid much and wanted to get out of there. It reminds me of movies where cars come within inches of a catastrophic collision, and immediately after slamming on their brakes, they hit the gas and continue on like nothing happened.
Nevertheless, this is an exemplary episode of the show, and works on more levels than can be described in a single review. I love how it ends without really concluding the whole problem of reality vs. dreamland, making you think over the episode and what happened, that's one of the reasons that this episode will really stay with you. Bravo!
Oh, and I realize that Citizen Kane was also in black and white. Thanks for reading all the way to the end of my review!
Partly, sound is used to really eerie effect. The bit that gets me the most is when Barbara Nichols leaves the room, sees the shadowy figure of a nurse standing in the elevator with the door closing, and then follows to the room she dreads. There is something incredibly frightening about that, and it works every time, no matter how many times you might have watched this episode.
The part that everyone always talks about is the strange nurse, whose startling beauty and welcoming smile are in utter contrast to whatever ghoulish, ghastly creature one might imagine would come out from behind the door to beckon "Room for one more, Honey". Arline Sax aka Arlene Martel, appears in a number of late Fifties to mid-Sixties television shows, including Perry Mason, The Outer Limits, and even The Monkees. Her exotic looks usually saw her cast as a sinister temptress of some kind, but one of her best roles is a sweet, blonde seamstress working in a decrepit building, where she ends up with Robert Culp hiding from pursuing aliens. ( "Demon with a Glass Hand"), Outer Limits.
She lacks the imperious, coldly seductive manner of Barbara Steele, but I find a certain kinship between them, in that both were stunningly beautiful women almost always cast as evil sirens.