Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Writer: Richard Matheson
Cast: Buster Keaton, Stanley Adams, James Flavin, Gil Lamb, and Jesse White
Composer: William Lava
Air Date: 12/15/1961
Production Code: 4820
In the year 1890, Woodrow Mulligan (Buster Keaton)—a disgruntled, pessimistic janitor—stumbles upon a bizarre contraption that allows him to travel seventy years into the future. Upon arrival, Mulligan encounters a peculiar man by the name of Rollo (Stanley Adams), who, coincidentally, also wishes to escape the present day and venture to a more idyllic period in history.
A delightful homage to the career of silent actor Buster Keaton, “Once Upon a Time” is a cute and quirky episode of The Twilight Zone. It should be noted, however, that modern audiences may fail to connect with or understand the style of humor showcased in this offering.
Character actor Stanley Adams (known for playing Tybo the Carrot Man in Lost in Space’s “The Great Vegetable Rebellion” and Cyrano Jones in Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles”) deserves praise for his portrayal of Rollo, whose animated mannerisms and eccentric tendencies provide an amusing contrast to the dour, overly serious manner of Woodrow Mulligan.
There are times when the slapstick devices featured in this episode border on excessively juvenile, even when considering the zany, low-brow antics of a typical silent comedy film. In one early scene, for example, Mulligan falls into a feeding trough after dodging an oncoming bicycle, thereby ruining his pants and forcing him to expose his boxer shorts for the duration of his visit to 1960—a surprisingly cheap and uninspired gag from science fiction author Richard Matheson, writer of I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, and many classic installments of The Twilight Zone (e.g. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “The Invaders”).
Though light on substance, “Once Upon a Time” offers a clever twist on an oft-employed fiction trope (i.e. one or more characters mistakenly assuming that the grass is always greener on the other side).
“Once Upon a Time” is a nostalgic and mildly humorous entry of The Twilight Zone. Especially well-executed are the hijinks of Rollo and Mulligan, who serve to complement each other with contrasting personality traits.
Overall Quality: 6/10
If you enjoyed this post, please enter your email address in the subscription box to stay tuned for more updates.