Director: James Sheldon
Writers: Charles Beaumont and William Idelson
Cast: Philip Abbott, Lili Darvas, Patricia Smith, Billy Mumy, Jenny Maxwell, Reid Hammond, Henry Hunter, and Lew Brown
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 3/31/1961
Production Code: 173-3667
On his birthday, Billy Bayles (Billy Mumy) is given a toy telephone by his beloved grandmother (Lili Darvas), who dies shortly thereafter. Much to the concern of his parents, Chris and Sylvia (Philip Abbott and Patricia Smith), Billy claims that his new telephone allows him to communicate with Grandma Bayles.
“Long Distance Call” is a haunting episode of The Twilight Zone. Though produced on a shoestring budget, this installment deserves praise for its realistic portrayal of an extended family in turmoil.
For balancing poignant subject matter with undertones of an ominous variety (a difficult combination that few episodes have managed to achieve), “Long Distance Call” should be commended. On one hand, the opening scene establishes the loving, natural bond that Billy and his grandmother share with each other, thereby tugging the heartstrings of sensitive viewers. Later on, however, the formerly sweet relationship between a young boy and his grandparent adopts a more sinister quality; that is, the now deceased Grandma Bayles communicates with Billy from beyond the grave, implicitly instructing the child to “join” his grandmother in death. The above-described shift in tone is made quite chilling, at least in part, by child actor Billy Mumy, the innocence of whom creates a disturbing contrast to the morbid obsession of his character.
Despite addressing topics of a heavy nature (i.e. the loss of a grandparent and the attempted suicide of a five-year-old boy), “Long Distance Call” struggles to deliver a dramatic impact when necessary—undoubtedly a consequence of the videotape on which it was filmed.
“Long Distance Call” offers a statement on the need for generational boundaries within families, especially where personality clashes are likely to arise. Specifically, Grandma Bayles attempts to live vicariously through her grandson Billy, even when doing so means ignoring the wishes of her daughter-in-law—a convincing depiction of those who, perhaps unintentionally, become overinvolved in the raising of their grandchildren and drive wedges between family members as a result.
The first episode of The Twilight Zone to feature Billy Mumy, “Long Distance Call” will no doubt appeal to fans of the young Lost in Space actor. It should be indicated, however, that a soap opera effect undermines the emotional, character-driven material at the heart of this entry.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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