Exploring The Twilight Zone, Episode 41: "Eye of the Beholder"
Questions of beauty, government intervention, and German expressionism commingle in a memorable episode featuring music by Bernard Hermann.
The Twilight Zone, Episode #41: "Eye of the Beholder" (airdate 11/11/60)
The Plot: A woman lies in a hospital bed, her head completely wrapped up in bandaging. The nurse consoles her: "I've seen worse." But the woman, named Janet Tyler (Maxine Stuart), speaks disconsolately about the way others have always looked at her, ever since she was a little girl. This is her final chance; she's reached the maximum number of experiments allowed by law. All she wants is for her face to be fixed, so she can be "normal," but when the bandages are finally removed, she's in for a shock -- and so is the audience.
The Goods: Multiple viewings -- or having the ending spoiled by a friend -- may reduce the impact of the twist, but the emotions the episode raises remain potent and affecting. Because Janet's face is covered completely, we don't relate to her visually as we would with another person, but we can hear the despair, anger, and desperation in her voice. And we can hear the differing attitudes of the doctor and nurses who attend to her.
The story takes place somewhere "else"; we're not sure where, but there's talk of "The State" and "The Leader" addresses his people on television. We can imagine we're watching a story taking place in a totalitarian state, but that doesn't keep us from empathizing with Janet. (Also, it makes the message preached by "The Leader" about the importance of conformity, really hit home.) Nearly all of us are aware of our own physical imperfections, and can only dread the idea of coping with the challenges -- and discrimination -- faced by Janet.
In hindsight, the incredibly tight and precise direction, lighting, and cinematography is extraordinary, all brooding shadows and nightmare imagery, very film noir. The first time I saw the episode, I wasn't even conscious of it, because I was caught up with Janet's plight. But it's really an extraordinary job by director Douglas Heyes and his crew. Rod Serling's script is empathetic, piercing, and precise. This episode fully deserves a grade of A.
The Trivia: Bernard Hermann provided the music, one of only seven episodes that he scored for the series. Maxine Stuart, the woman under the bandages, never made the leap to the big screen, but remained a very busy television actress into the 90s, with her final role to date coming in 2003. Douglas Heyes directed nine Twilight ZoneRod Serling's Night Gallery, and later helmed Captains and the Kings, one of the first big mini-series in 1976 (and also my favorite of that period, notable for Richard Jordan's extraordinary performance).
On the Next Episode: Stuck in a small town for a few hours, honeymooning William Shatner becomes obsessed by a fortune-telling machine.
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes! Our friends at Film School Rejects have entered the Zone as well, only on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at FSR and feel free to also follow along on Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.