Director: John Brahm
Writer: Charles Beaumont
Cast: Richard Long, Frank Silvera, Shirley Ballard, Julie Van Zandt, Betty Harford, Ed Glover, Michael Keep, Joe Higgins, and John Newton
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 3/23/1962
Production Code: 4829
Upon awakening one morning, David Gurney (Richard Long) is treated like a stranger by his wife Wilma (Shirley Ballard). When his coworkers also fail to recognize him, Gurney goes to extraordinary lengths to prove his identity to the world.
“Person or Persons Unknown” benefits from the disturbed emotional responses of actor Richard Long—known to classic horror buffs for appearing in the original House on Haunted Hill. This offering does, however, struggle to produce the eerie, atmospheric tension that one might expect of a lost identity scenario—likely a consequence of the main character’s idiotic behavior in the first act.
Writer Charles Beaumont leaves open three possibilities that would explain Gurney’s predicament: a mental breakdown resulting in false memories, a conspiracy to make Gurney question his own sanity, or a fantastic/supernatural event (e.g. an overlap between two dimensions)—all harrowing options that compel the audience to sympathize with Gurney, an otherwise foolish and unobservant character.
Despite the serious and horrified reactions of his former acquaintances, Gurney—who for some reason believes that his wife and coworkers are playing an elaborate joke on him—takes an inordinate amount of time to determine the nature of his plight. Viewers may therefore question the intelligence of Gurney, who behaves in a nonchalant manner when unrecognized by his own spouse. (The protagonist in “A World of Difference,” on the other hand, conveys an air of concern upon finding himself in a similar situation, reinforcing the realism of his extraordinary circumstances.)
“Person or Persons Unknown” maintains a hint of unease by exploiting the following concepts: loss of identity, existential uncertainty, and lack of confidence in the anecdotal experiences of oneself—all common, though extremely subtle and well-executed in this case, fear-building tropes within the science fiction genre.
This season-three entry of The Twilight Zone deserves praise for its unnerving plot twists and convincing performances, both of which compensate for the weak characterization of Gurney. Thus, for fans of experimental television, “Person or Persons Unknown” will not disappoint.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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