Exploring The Twilight Zone, Episode #132: "Ninety Years Without Slumbering"
The great Ed Wynn stars as an elderly clockmaker who is convinced that he will keep living as long as he can keep an antique timepiece from dying.
The Twilight Zone, Episode #132: "Ninety Years Without Slumbering" (original air date Dec. 20, 1963)
The Plot: Sam Forstmann (Ed Wynn), 76, is a retired clockmaker who lives with his pregnant granddaughter Marnie (Carolyn Kearney) and her husband Doug (James Callahan). Lately Doug has noticed that Sam is a bit too devoted to the grandfather clock that he keeps in his room, feeling that the older gentleman has become obsessed with maintaining it to an unhealthy degree.
Sam insists that it isn't so, that he simply suffers from insomnia and that working on the clock relaxes him, but he reluctantly agrees to visit Doug's friend, Dr. Mel Avery (William Sargeant), a psychiatrist. Sam reveals his belief that his life is inextricably tied to the life of the grandfather clock that Sam's father completed building on the day that Sam was born; if the clock stops ticking, so will his heart.
The doctor says that the clock must go -- or else Sam should go to a facility for mental health care (i.e. "the loony bin," in Sam's words).
The Goods: Ed Wynn, so famously known as a comic in his heyday, previously starred in the second TZ episode ever, "One for the Angels," as a pitchman who faces Death. Here he again faces Death, but this time he's really coming to grips with his own mortality, rather than a spectral figure.
Broadcast a few days before Christmas, the episode is sweet and positive, and Wynn carries the story along nicely, but it doesn't have the impact you might expect from the premise.
The Trivia: And here's the possible explanation: the teleplay by Richard deRoy was based on a rejected script by George Clayton Johnson, according to Marc Scott Zicree's book THE TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION. The most damaging change to the original occurs in the third act, which would involve spoilers, which I'll not reveal here.
But suffice it to say that Johnson was not happy with the results: "It makes the plot trivial. If you're going to get involved in his problems you've got to believe in his problems, and if he doesn't believe in them you feel cheated."
Writer deRoy had a long career in television that began in the 1950s. Under new producer William Froug, who came on board after the unexpected departure of Bert Granet, new writers were brought on the show, but as Zicree points out, they did not seem to fully understand the TZ formula.
On the Next Episode: A movie star receives a ring from her fan club and makes an impulsive -- and fateful -- decision to visit her hometown.
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.