Director: Douglas Heyes
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Joe Mantell and William D. Gordon
Composer: Jerry Goldsmith
Air Date: 10/14/1960
Production Code: 173-3641
While living in a cheap hotel room, petty criminal Jackie Rhoades (Joe Mantell) is visited by a gangster named George (William D. Gordon) and assigned with killing the owner of a local bar. Having been bullied into submission his entire life, Jackie begins contemplating how to proceed when a reflection of his alter ego appears in a mirror and intervenes.
Devoid of the profound substance for which The Twilight Zone is defined, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” is a decent but underwhelming episode. The convincing manner exemplified by Joe Mantell throughout his expository tirades does, however, compensate for an absence of penetrating commentary on the human condition.
Operating on a shoestring budget, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” generates tension from the limited surroundings in which a distraught protagonist is forced to reside. Notably, George’s comments about the insufferable heat and poisonous little creatures inside Jackie’s hotel apartment serve to plant subtle suggestions of claustrophobia, mental anguish, and physical discomfort in the viewer’s mind. A more conspicuous method of psychological manipulation occurs when Jackie gets into a shouting match with a manifestation of his own conscience, thereby drawing attention away from the fact that every scene takes place within the confines of a single room.
It should be noted that the techniques used to accomplish Jackie’s mirror confrontation have held up considerably well after fifty plus years. That being said, there are times when Jackie’s reflection may unintentionally elicit audience laughter despite the serious nature of Rod Serling’s subject matter (the spinning mirror effect in particular comes across as somewhat comical, especially in conjunction with Mantell’s melodramatic response to said effect).
“Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” stresses the importance of commanding one’s destiny, a message that will no doubt resonate with victims of passive-aggressive (and perhaps overtly aggressive) people. Though a tad clichéd, the life lesson contained in this narrative is emphasized with remarkable effectiveness due to the compelling, albeit occasionally overplayed, conversations between Jackie and his mirror image.
A cute episode, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room” will appeal to fans of The Twilight Zone’s simple offerings. Specifically, the budgetary constraints detailed above actually accentuate rather than detract from the poignancy inherent to Serling’s thesis—a surprising, if not exceptional, outcome.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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