Exploring The Twilight Zone, Episode #125: "The Last Night of a Jockey"
Mickey Rooney gives a towering performance as a little man with big dreams. Did we mention that he's corrupt and this is a straight dramatic episode?
The Twilight Zone, Episode #125: "The Last Night of a Jockey" (original air date October 25, 1963)
The Plot: Grady (Mickey Rooney) is a jockey whose career has been tainted by corruption over and over again. Finally, the racing commission has had enough, and he's been banned for life.
He is absolutely miserable. All he wanted in life was a little respect, but he never got it, he says, because he was short in stature. That drove him to do things he now regrets. He's crazed with anger and pain and despair. And then a stranger with a familiar face appears in his tiny apartment, a stranger who speaks to him from within a mirror, and then jumps to another reflective surface, and another.
More crazed than ever, almost positive he's losing his mind, Grady expresses his most fervent wish: If only he could gain the respect he craved ... if only he could be big, and not little like he's always been ...
The Goods: It's a bravura one-man show by Rooney. He may be best remembered for singing and dancing with Judy Garland, but he was an experienced thespian who was fully capable of unleashing the hounds of hell from within his soul.
As an example, in 1957 Rooney starred in "The Comedian," a dramatic episode of groundbreaking TV show Playhouse 90. Rod Serling wrote the teleplay, based on a novelette by Ernest Lehman. And in 1962, one year before the TZ episode under consideration, Rooney appeared in Requiem of a Heavyweight, the film version of Rod Serling's award-winning 1956 teleplay that was an episode of -- ta da! -- Playhouse 90.
Undoubtedly, Serling was confident that Rooney could handle the requirements of the script. And that script is unusually pitiless, pinpointing Grady's specific sins, and his refusal to accept personal responsibility for his actions. Thus, it's not an easy episode to watch; the twists drive a screwdriver into Grady's guts, and then rip him open. We feel Grady's pain, even as we observe his own culpability for his situation.
The Trivia: This is the only episode of The Twilight Zone featuring just one character.
On the Next Episode: Coverage will resume next Monday at Film School Rejects, as Telly Savalas does battle with his step-daughter's new talking doll, who is very ... expressive.
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes, and we're not doing it alone! 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.