Director: John Brahm
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Rod Serling, Nehemiah Persoff, Deirdre Owen, Patrick Macnee, Ben Wright, Leslie Bradley, Kendrick Huxham, Hugh Sanders, Richard Peel, Donald Journeaux, Barry Bernard, and James Franciscus
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 12/4/1959
Production Code: 173-3604
After finding himself aboard the S.S. Queen of Glasgow during World War II, amnesic Carl Lanser (Nehemiah Persoff) suspects that a harrowing fate is awaiting both himself and his fellow passengers. Lanser eventually uncovers the truth about his situation, but not quickly enough to escape a personal hell of his own creation.
Though hampered by languid pacing, “Judgment Night” benefits from a suspenseful atmosphere centered on the ghostly surroundings of a doomed sea freighter. Especially noteworthy is Nehemiah Persoff’s performance, which exemplified the paranoia of a man whose foreboding predictions come to life in a most uncanny fashion.
Despite his occasionally over-the-top antics, Persoff should be commended for his chilling portrayal of Lanser—a tormented individual with nothing to guide him save for a collection of disjointed memories coupled with an ominous sensation that a German U-boat will stalk and destroy the S.S. Queen of Glasgow before the night reaches its final hour. Persoff’s acting is complemented quite remarkably by Rod Serling’s characterization of the mysterious man in question, which generates an air of ambiguity to shroud Lanser’s true identity prior to the final reveal.
Also worth mentioning is the dark and foggy presence that seems to follow Lanser throughout his journey, thus serving as a physical manifestation of the claustrophobia and general uneasiness residing in his own subconscious. A nautical setting further accentuates the ghost-tale-at-sea tropes upon which Serling relied while developing his narrative, which, regardless of their clichéd nature, make for a truly unsettling experience reminiscent in many ways of a classic horror film.
By presenting hell not as a physical location but rather as a haunting state of mind from which one cannot escape, “Judgment Night” earns its reputation as a truly unique and philosophically profound episode of The Twilight Zone. In this case, a personalized version of hell results from evil deeds committed throughout life, which, much to the protagonist’s chagrin, cannot be averted regardless of how desperately one attempts to atone for past transgressions.
An atmospheric episode, “Judgment Night” will appeal to psychological horror enthusiasts and fans of The Twilight Zone alike. In addition, Serling’s penetrating insight concerning the human condition redeems this offering from its inability to produce and maintain subtlety at critical moments.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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