Director: Robert Stevens
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Rod Serling, Gig Young, Frank Overton, Irene Tedrow, Michael Montgomery, Ronnie Howard, Byron Foulger, Sheridan Comerate, Joseph Corey, Buzz Martin, Nan Peterson, and Pat O’Malley
Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Air Date: 10/30/1959
Production Code: 173-3605
Hoping to escape the banalities of his white collar existence, a vice president of an advertising firm returns to his hometown for the first time in many years. Before long, a pleasant Sunday drive in the countryside results in 36-year-old Martin Sloan (Gig Young) taking a wondrous trip to a simpler time and place, thus allowing him to relive his childhood through a retrospective lens.
A poignant episode, “Walking Distance” will appeal to viewers who prefer The Twilight Zone’s gentle efforts over more macabre offerings. Likewise, those old enough to remember the 1930s time period in which Martin’s journey takes place should appreciate this episode for its high nostalgic value.
From 10¢ malt shakes to bandstands and carousel rides, practically every aspect of an American town circa 1934 was replicated in amazing detail. While the paradise in which young Martin lives would seem to undermine the Great Depression’s economic impact, an idealistic setting allows adult Martin to relive the glory days of his childhood without being reminded of any hardships that he or his family may have endured while growing up (this could also be the result of Martin viewing history through rose-colored glasses and therefore choosing to overlook potentially negative factors that were present during his formative years).
A number of weak performances from supporting actors hamper the credibility of an otherwise convincing narrative. Notably, Martin’s father (Frank Overton) reacts with indifference rather than astonishment upon finally realizing that his son had traveled through time simply to experience the joys of youth once again. Also peculiar are the reactions of many 1930s townspeople who initially encounter Martin, whose anachronistic behavior seems to have no effect on them. That being said, attitudes such as the above could make sense in light of the fact that a visitor moving from the 1950s to the 1930s would not seem entirely conspicuous given the relatively slow rate at which cultural and technological advances were made in decades past.
Similar to “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine,” “Walking Distance” teaches a valuable lesson on why good memories should be cherished, but never to the point of obsession. Unlike the deluded central character from the prior episode, however, Martin manages to accept such a concept with grace and poise instead of making futile efforts to connect his identity with a past version of himself.
Proving that Serling was fully capable of branching out from bizarre subject matter when necessary, “Walking Distance” should make for a delightful viewing experience. While a sad ending is present, this episode nonetheless succeeds by adhering to an uplifting central theme.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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