Director: Roger Kay
Writer: Richard De Roy
Cast: Ed Wynn, Carolyn Kearney, James Callahan, Carol Byron, Dick Wilson, John Pickard, and William Sargent
Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Air Date: 12/20/1963
Production Code: 2615
Tinkering with his grandfather clock to the point of obsession, the elderly Sam Forstmann (Ed Wynn) begins to upset his granddaughter Marnie (Carolyn Kearney) and her husband Doug Kirk (James Callahan). While visiting psychiatrist Mel Avery (William Sargent), Sam reveals the disturbing reason for his connection to the clock.
“Ninety Years Without Slumbering” is a very sweet and emotionally stirring episode of The Twilight Zone. This effort may, however, evoke criticism for its many similarities to “One for the Angels,” a first season entry about a quirky, stubborn character of advanced age (also portrayed by Ed Wynn).
Though paranoid and downright pitiful at times, the elderly protagonist will endear himself to those of a sympathetic nature. Notably, by treating his dire circumstances with a sense of levity and good humor, Wynn’s character earns a fighting chance to live beyond his expiration date—much in contrast to Lou Bookman of “One for the Angels,” who comes across as extremely selfish in his desire to prolong the inevitable.
A story about an old man in a precarious position, this episode should realistically build a dramatic, suspenseful narrative around the near-death encounters of its main character. Nevertheless, “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” fails to generate an air of tension at any point within its twenty-five minute running time—even when depicting Sam’s apparent heart attack following a momentary clock malfunction.
In addition to its anticlimactic presentation, “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” offers a satirical approach to the subjects of aging, death, and coming to terms with mortality—a stylistic choice that, as in “One for the Angels,” may prevent the audience from viewing Sam’s predicament with a serious, empathetic outlook.
By using logic and reason to conquer his superstitious beliefs, Sam Forstmann should be commended by skeptics everywhere. (The aforementioned Lou Bookman, in contrast, fails to react incredulously when confronted by death personified, perhaps to his own detriment.)
Combining character antics with important commentary on life and death, “Ninety Years Without Slumbering” may appeal to series enthusiasts. Casual fans of The Twilight Zone, on the other hand, will likely struggle to reconcile Wynn’s amusing, tongue-in-cheek performance with the somber message that underlies this episode.
Overall Quality: 6/10
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