Director: Lamont Johnson
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Larry Gates, Joseph Bernard, Jack Albertson, Peggy Stewart, Sandy Kenyon, Michael Burns, Jo Helton, Moria Turner, Mary Gregory, and John McLiam
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 9/29/1961
Production Code: 4803
Following an emergency broadcast, Dr. Bill Stockton (Larry Gates) prepares to enter a fallout shelter with his wife Grace (Peggy Stewart) and son Paul (Michael Burns). Unprepared for a nuclear attack, neighbors Jerry and Martha Harlowe (Jack Albertson and Jo Helton), Frank and Mrs. Henderson (Sandy Kenyon and Mary Gregory), and Marty Weiss (Joseph Bernard) and his family—all longtime friends of Jack—attempt to invade the shelter, despite knowing that only three people can survive inside.
A classic episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Shelter” contains a disturbing, insightful commentary on the human condition. Fans of Rod Serling should therefore appreciate this episode, dated subject matter (i.e. a community crisis resulting from Cold War paranoia) notwithstanding.
Opening with a panoramic view of an idyllic 1960s neighborhood, “The Shelter” wastes no time in establishing the friendly, harmonious environment occupied by Bill and his acquaintances. Moments later, the sound of laughter and casual conversation can be heard coming from a nearby house, wherein more than half-a-dozen people celebrate the birthday of a cherished and highly esteemed companion—a display that, when preceded by the perky, cheerful music of an unknown composer, generates a most ironic contrast with the violence, hysteria, and vicious name-calling that occurs almost immediately after the Civil Defense announcement.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Operating on a misanthropic premise (i.e. that the majority of people remain civilized only when afforded the comforts of an artificial society), “The Shelter” employs a Cold War theme to explore the selfish, if not thoroughly savage, qualities of the human animal. (Note, however, that even when turning on each other, the neighbors continue to care for the wellbeing of their own families—likely a statement on the tribal nature of man.)
Despite forgoing elements of a bizarre and supernatural variety, “The Shelter” deserves its reputation as a haunting, well-made episode of The Twilight Zone. Especially praiseworthy are the characters featured in this episode, the sudden but realistic transitions of whom will surely perturb those of a sensitive inclination.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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