Director: Don Siegel
Writer: Jerry McNeely
Cast: Don Gordon, Gail Kobe, Vaughn Taylor, J. Pat O’Malley, Douglass Dumbrille, and Doug Lambert
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 1/17/1964
Production Code: 2612
Desperate to marry a bright and cultured woman named Leah Maitland (Gail Kobe), Salvadore “Sal” Ross (Don Gordon)—a dim-witted loser with violent tendencies—develops a remarkable and beneficial talent. Specifically, Sal acquires the ability to exchange intangible traits such as age, temperament, and intelligence for anything that he desires—with a tragic outcome.
This effort should be commended for its valuable life message. Also praiseworthy is the acting of Don Gordon, who elicits both pity and contempt for his character of Sal.
In spite of his odious and uncouth behavior, Sal struggles to improve himself due in part to his lack of education and unfortunate life circumstances—factors that compel the audience to feel mild sympathy for the protagonist, who, in his interactions with Leah and her father, comes across as a boorish, arrogant punk with no humility whatsoever.
Providing no origin story for Sal’s extraordinary ability, “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” deserves criticism for its unexplained (albeit still intriguing and well-suited for an installment of The Twilight Zone) main plot device.
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Astute viewers may also take issue with the paradoxical twist at the end of this episode. Notably, Sal—determined to win Leah’s heart through any means necessary—purchases Mr. Maitland’s “compassion” for $100,000. If Leah’s father were truly a selfless and compassionate man, however, he would never sell his most valued attributes to a lowlife bum.
A fantastic tale with a moral lesson, “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” reveals a striking contrast between superficial charm and genuine concern for other people—the latter of which can never be bought, traded, or faked under any circumstances.
“The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross” is a well-acted, smoothly paced, and thought-provoking entry of The Twilight Zone. Nevertheless, this episode suffers from logical flaws and sci-fi/fantasy themes of an unexplored nature.
Overall Quality: 7/10
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