Director: Robert Ellis Miller
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Liam Sullivan, Philippa Bevans, Tom Lowell, Russell Horton, Buddy Hart, Bob Biheller, Kevin O’Neal, Jimmy Baird, Kevin Jones, Darryl Richard, James Browning, Pat Close, and Dennis Kerlee
Composer: William Tuttle
Air Date: 6/1/1962
Production Code: 4835
On Christmas Eve, Professor Ellis Fowler (Donald Pleasence)—instructor at a boys’ preparatory school—is given notice of his termination. Feeling useless and unappreciated after decades of teaching, the professor prepares to commit suicide in front of the school entrance—with a poignant twist.
“The Changing of the Guard” deserves praise for combining ghost tale tropes with a touching life lesson. Sensitive viewers in particular should enjoy this episode, which earns its status as the most emotionally compelling entry of The Twilight Zone.
Despite borrowing the premise of It’s a Wonderful Life, “The Changing of the Guard” establishes an original and captivating atmosphere due to the pathos of Donald Pleasence. Notably, Pleasence initially embodies the sorrow of a man driven to suicide over his perceived failure as a human being. The performance of Pleasence in the final scenes, however, provides a more optimistic outlook on the career of Professor Fowler, who, after an enlightening conversation with the spirits of his former pupils (many of whom died heroic and honorable deaths in World War II, inspired by Fowler’s past lectures on courage, ethics, and patriotism), succeeds in appreciating the profound impact of his efforts as an educator.
Similar to A Christmas Carol, “The Changing of the Guard” centers on a character who, upon receiving a visit from the ghost(s) of one or more deceased acquaintances, reshapes his entire attitude on life—with one significant difference in narrative structure. Specifically, instead of merely emphasizing kindness/charity as a path to redemption (the primary focus of Charles Dickens’ novella), this episode demonstrates the necessity of building one’s identity on individual accomplishments—an inspiring message for those who struggle with low self-esteem.
For its haunting performances and sentimental plot twists, this installment should be commended by fans of The Twilight Zone. Especially worth praising is the characterization of Professor Fowler, whose transformation reveals the importance of maintaining perspective in all things.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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