Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writer: Richard Matheson
Cast: Barbara Baxley, Frank Overton, Irene Dailey, Ann Jilliann, Eva Soreny, Robert Boon, Claudia Bryar, Percy Helton, and Oscar Beregi
Composer: Fred Steiner
Air Date: 1/31/1963
Production Code: 4858
In the year 1953, several people decide to cultivate telepathic abilities in their children. The following decade, Holger and Frau Nielsen (Robert Boon and Claudia Bryar) are killed in a house fire, leaving their daughter Ilse (Ann Jilliann)—unable to communicate vocally due to her upbringing—in the temporary care of small-town sheriff Harry Wheeler (Frank Overton) and his wife Cora (Barbara Baxley). Complications arise when Karl and Frau Werner (Oscar Beregi and Eva Soreny), members of the telepathy cult, arrive in the United States to check on Ilse’s progress.
A commendable effort by science fiction author Richard Matheson, “Mute” operates on an intriguing premise. Nevertheless, this episode is marred by superfluous exposition, uneven character development, and a hackneyed twist in the penultimate scene.
Child actress Ann Jilliann deserves praise for her portrayal of young Cora, the mute protagonist of Matheson’s narrative. Especially remarkable are the nuanced and conflicted facial expressions of Jillian, who, despite playing a silent character, conveys an air of intelligence and understanding through body language alone.
While scolding Ilse for her refusal to speak, a schoolteacher known as Miss Frank (Irene Dailey) indicates that her own parents had forced her to communicate telepathically as a child—a revelation that, in spite of establishing a possible connection between Ilse and Miss Frank, is never addressed in a follow-up scene.
Also worth noting is the psychological state of Cora, who, having lost her own child in a drowning accident, appears to treat Ilse like a replacement daughter—a disturbing implication that, though likely unintentional, partially undermines the poignant nature of Cora’s bond with Ilse.
This episode seems to offer a warning, however ambiguous, for parents who raise their children in rigid, overly strict environments. (That being said, there are times when Cora’s parents come across as more sympathetic than the schoolteacher, who, while attempting to provide Cora with a “normal” education, speaks harshly to the child and humiliates her in front of an entire class.)
“Mute” is a disjointed episode of The Twilight Zone. Sci-fi/horror fans in search of a compelling, well-written telepathy story may therefore wish to avoid this offering, which benefits only from solid performances and a touching, if poorly executed, mother-daughter subplot.
Overall Quality: 5/10
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