Director: Allen Reisner
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Rod Serling, Dan Duryea, Martin Landau, Jeanne Cooper, Malcolm Atterbury, Ken Lynch, Arthur Batanides, Bill Erwin, Robert Burton, and Doug McClure
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 10/16/1959
Production Code: 173-3609
After years of heavy alcohol consumption, famous gunslinger Al Denton (Dan Duryea) is reduced to little more than a town drunk who must earn his booze by degrading himself at the behest of a malicious bully known as Dan Hotaling (Martin Landau). Rendered a pathetic shadow of his former self, Denton prepares to accept his humiliating circumstances when a mysterious peddler appropriately named Henry J. Fate (Malcolm Atterbury) steps in. With his quick draw restored and a revolver at his side, Denton readies himself for a duel that will change his life forever.
“Mr. Denton on Doomsday” pays tribute to the Western genre while maintaining a relatively light emphasis on themes of an oddball nature. That being said, The Twilight Zone enthusiasts should nonetheless enjoy this effort for its detailing of character interactions and emotional states in a most remarkable fashion.
Operating on an unpredictable structure, “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” deviates from the usual Twilight Zone formula by presenting its most impactful plot twist at an early point in Rod Serling’s narrative. Instead of encouraging audiences to root for the underdog in a David-and-Goliath inspired showdown, this episode evens the playing field between the protagonist and his tormentors before Denton accepts the offer of a competing gunfighter. As a result, character development remains a primary focus from start to finish, with any bizarre or supernatural subject matter taking a backseat to more resonating commentary on the human condition.
Upon defeating his aggressors and regaining the abilities that once defined his reputation, Denton accepts the challenge of a rival gunman named Pete Grant (Doug McClure). While an unspoken honor code might have prompted Denton to participate in one last gunfight, his decision may strike viewers as an odd one considering the guilt he already feels over killing a 16-year-old boy at some point in the past.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Though ostensibly an anti-gun commentary, “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” instead seems to draw a striking parallel between the outcome of Denton and Grant’s conflict and the perpetual stalemate facing both world superpowers during the Cold War era. Notably, a great deal of suspense is generated during the events leading into the climactic match, with neither side ultimately overpowering the other due to the intervention of Fate himself—likely a personification of mutual assured destruction acting as a balancing force for the United States and Soviet Union. By utilizing an Old West scenario to provide penetrating insight regarding a then present-day issue, Serling once again revealed his unparalleled genius as a teleplay writer.
A poignant, if occasionally slow-moving, episode, “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” should appeal to fans of The Twilight Zone and Western films alike. Especially commendable is Dan Duryea’s delicate performance as the central character, which will no doubt elicit sympathy from sensitive audiences.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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