Director: James Sheldon
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: John Larch, Cloris Leachman, Don Keefer, Billy Mumy, Alice Frost, Casey Adams, Jeanne Bates, Lenore Kingston, and Tom Hatcher
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 11/3/1961
Production Code: 4801
Having isolated both himself and the community of Peaksville, Ohio from the rest of the world, Anthony Fremont (Billy Mumy)—a six-year-old boy with extraordinary powers—threatens to eliminate those who upset him. Terrified of the “cornfield” (the place where Anthony sends disobedient people), Mr. and Mrs. Fremont (John Larch and Cloris Leachman) and their friends avoid thinking, let alone voicing, any hostile or negative opinions about Anthony. A conflict arises when Dan Hollis (Don Keefer), no longer willing to tolerate Anthony’s abusive hijinks, decides to speak his mind during a birthday celebration.
Combining subtle, creepy tension with a valuable life lesson, this offering deserves its reputation as the quintessential episode of The Twilight Zone. Worth praising in particular is the performance of Billy Mumy (known to science fiction fans for portraying young Will Robinson of Lost in Space), which adds an air of malice to the (admittedly far-fetched) concept of an omnipotent, occasionally telepathic child inflicting unimaginable harm on the residents of a quaint Midwestern town.
Subjecting each protagonist to a perpetual state of fear, paranoia, and isolation, “It’s a Good Life” establishes an environment that, when complemented by the nervous and petrified responses of those acquainted with Anthony, will undoubtedly perturb viewers with sensitive or claustrophobic tendencies. Especially unsettling are the positive clichés (e.g. “You’re a good boy” and “It’s good that you done that”) whereby the main characters attempt to pacify Anthony, indicating that even conversation in its most primitive form must be carefully planned, rehearsed, and articulated simply to prevent unspeakable atrocities from occurring—a horrifying depiction of life under authoritarian rule.
Though no longer state-of-the-art, the special effects featured in this episode serve to accentuate the surreal, nightmarish reality of Anthony’s creation. In one scene, for example, Anthony punishes a “bad man” by attaching his head to a jack-in-the-box—a bizarre, unexpected outcome that will likely shock and disturb the audience.
By choosing to placate Anthony at every opportunity, Mr. and Mrs. Fremont represent parents who, either as a result of cowardice or lack of foresight, refuse to discipline their children under any circumstances. Note that even when presented with an opportunity to end Anthony’s reign of terror, none of the townspeople gather enough courage to confront the little monster and save a man’s life in so doing—possibly a condemnation of authority figures who fail to act as such.
Detailing the potential consequences of coupling great power with emotional or mental immaturity, “It’s a Good Life” employs a horror-themed premise to convey an insightful, harrowing message on human behavior. Rod Serling enthusiasts are therefore advised to view this classic, if mean-spirited, episode of The Twilight Zone.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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