Twilight Zone Tuesday – Dust

Dust

Luis Gallegos – John A. Alonzo
Gallegos – Vladimir Sokoloff
Estrelita Gallegos – Andrea Darvi
Sheriff Koch – John Larch
John Canfield – Paul Genge
Mrs. Canfield – Dorothy Adams
Peter Sykes – Thomas Gomez

Trigger Warnings: Execution by hanging

Spoiler Tidbit


SERLING:
There was a village built of crumbling clay and rotting wood and it squatted ugly under a broiling sun like a sick and mangy animal wanting to die. This village had a virus shared by its people. It was the germ of squalor, of hopelessness, of a loss of faith. For the faithless, the hopeless, the misery-laden there is time, ample time, to engage in one of the other pursuits of men. They begin to destroy themselves.

You can always tell what kind of episode it’s going to be from Rod Serling’s voice alone, even if you had no synopsis. You can tell from the amusement, the wryness or, in this case, the absolute disgust with humanity.

It’s a dry, dusty town. Exactly as described by Mr. Serling. The horse in the foreground is absolutely pitiful looking. I hope it was taken care of. It’s very skinny and sway-backed. As it stands there in the dust someone comes riding up, yelling that he’s there, Peter Sykes is there. A man in a ail cell looks annoyed and distressed. Sykes is apparently a peddlar but a nasty one. He’s dirty and looks like he’d be stinky. He says that he’s stocked up in St. Louis with everything one needs for the house, kitchen and a parched throat. If the only whiskey he’s got is the one he’s chugging on, thanks but no thanks. He’s leading a pack of four mules (the middle one must not like company because it has blinders and a muzzle on). Sykes takes a swig from his bottle and sidles up to the jailhouse window. He greets the man inside. His name is Mr. Gallegos.

Sykes acts forgetful and says that it’s a very special day today for Mr. Gallegos, isn’t it? Mr. Gallegos just looks at Sykes. Sykes, being the kindly gentleman that he is, suddenly remembers why it’s such a great and special day. Mr. Gallegos is set to be hanged that day. Gallegos turns his back on the window and Sykes. Sykes gleefully announces that today “Young Mr. Gallegos, killer of children, dances on the gallows!”

Who he’s shouting to is beyond me because it doesn’t seem like there’s anybody around. Sykes slides into the jailhouse and asks Sheriff Koch if he needs anything. More rope, perhaps? The Sheriff does not look amused. In fact, he looks deeply troubled at the thought of the day before him. Sykes goes on to tell Gallegos of the fancy, brand-new, five stranded rope that he sold the town for Gallegos’ necktie party. He says it could lift five more of Gallegos so it’s super-strong. He turns his attention away from Gallegos to ask what Sheriff Koch has a fancy for. Sheriff Koch says he has a fancy for taking Sykes’ carcass and his loud mouth out into the open air. He finally raises his head from his hands to glare piercingly at Sykes. Koch says it’s a small room and a hot time of the morning. Failing to get much out of the Sheriff, Sykes turns his attention back to Gallegos. Sykes asks what Gallegos would like, a nice hacksaw, maybe? Sykes says that there’s going to be a burial procession down the street soon. They’re burying the little girl that Gallegos ran over with his wagon. Gallegos looks up at Sykes. Sykes says that now that Gallegos has sobered up he remembers the little girl that he ran over with his wagon while stinking drunk. To be fair, it doesn’t look like he’s forgotten. His depression seems a bit more than just for his own pity. That’s the last straw for Gallegos and he lunges at Sykes and tries to grab him through the bars. Sykes says “uh uh uh, he’ll have plenty of time to move round later that day. Then he laughs and turns away.

Sykes takes another swig of his ‘tonic’ and tells the Sheriff that it will be just the thing to set him up for a hanging-. Eww, I wouldn’t want to drink after him (or anyone else, for that matter). Sykes says that it makes a man strong and firm and then makes a muscle for the Sheriff to feel. The Sheriff tells Sykes that he doesn’t touch dog meat. Sykes looks quite offended. Sykes accuses Koch of talking big while hiding behind a badge. Koch replies that it only sounds big because Sykes is such a midget, Sykes says he always wondered about Koch, how he’s always taken to foreigners and strays but is close-lipped when it comes to his “own kind”. Koch says he’s not any kin to Sykes so kindly stop claiming that. Sheriff Koch tells Sykes that Gallegos has had his trial and will swing for it later that day. Koch goes on to say that there’s nothing in his sentence that says Gallegos has to be tormented by a pig that sells trinkets at funerals. Koch tells Sykes to get out and Sykes huffily snatches up his ‘tonic’ and stomps out. Sykes pops his head back in to ask Koch what he’s hoping to be a zinger: “After today which one will you weep for, Koch?” Koch replies that he has tears enough for both.

Just after Sykes leaves the door a procession appears down the street. It’s a wagon with a coffin on it. It’s followed by a preacher and mourners. Sykes takes off his hat and wheedles up to the Canfields and gives them his condolences. The Canfields are the parents of the little girl. They don’t seem to be listening to Sykes. He tells them that the afternoon would be a lot more cheerful. Sykes goes on to say that the dirty dog who did it is going to be strung up and their little girl will be avenged. He acts like he caught the guy himself and got the whole thing done. Sykes prattles on to say that “they’ll string up that mangler of children” yessiree. How freaking tacky is it to say that to someone going to their child’s burial. Douche. The Canfields don’t seem to be listening to him, at least. The Sheriff stops Sykes from following and bothering the Canfields further. The Sheriff tells Sykes he can act like a brainless ijit some other time but not now.

Looking down the street Sykes sees something that offends his delicate feelings. He says that Gallegos’ old man has a lot of nerve to show his face. yeah, what a jerk, showing compassion for something his son did. He starts to say that somebody ought to horsewhip him but the Sheriff gives him a look that stops him.

As the procession goes by the man and little girl, the old man takes off his hat and kneels to the parents. Speaking for him (I think to show humility and that he doesn’t feel that he has the right to address them himself) the little girl starts to talk: “My gather wishes me to tell you that his heart is broken. That if he could, if he could give his own life in return, he would. He would do so with great willingness.” She starts to say he understands but Mr. Canfield tells her to get out of the way. Not unkindly, exactly, but blankly, I guess. Which is understandable.

Some men are approaching the jail and the father starts to say to them that his son did not mean to do it. That he’s a lover of children. They throw a rock at him. Gallegos tells his father to go, he’s no needed. Sykes breaks in to say “That’s what you say to your own father?” Uhh, yeah, when he’s trying to not get his father toned in front of his sister. I think Sykes was just hoping for more rock-throwing. Luis’ father tries to give his son a coin. A lucky coin that it’s said one can make a wish on it. Sheriff Koch tells Gallegos’ Father to go home and make his prayers and wishes. Father Gallegos asks the sheriff if he’s ever been drunk? If he’s never been so filled with misery that salvation only seemed to look at him from a bottle? Has he never felt such pain that he’s had to ride through the night and not look behind him? He says that his son was so hungry and felt such pain that he felt the need to drink to forget it.

After everyone leaves Sykes tells the little girl to go and get her papa. To tell him that his coin is no good but he, Sykes, has magic dust that turns hate into love. But it’s very, very precious. So he wants her to run home and tell her papa to bring 100 pesos to his room in an hour and he’ll sell him the dust of love and forgiveness. As the little girl runs off he chuckles to himself and takes out a bag of tobacco (I think) and dumps it. Then scoops up a handful of dust out of the street and puts it in the bag. To presumably be ‘magic dust’. What a dick. He’s very pleased with himself over his plan.

There are more people gathering in the town and Luis remarks that it should be a good gathering. Sheriff Koch remarks a bit bitterly “When was it God made people? The sixth day? He should have quit on the fifth.” Luis says they’re tired of hating the town, they need something else to hate. The Sheriff tells the man driving the wagon that just pulled up that it’s a hanging, not a carnival. Mr. Rogers tells Sheriff Koch that he brought the kids because they’ve never seen a hanging before and that it’s a good time to show them what happens to drunks who kill kids. Koch wants to know how he teaches them pain? Shoot them in the arm? Rogers just rolls his eyes and unloads the family, telling them to stay together. One of the little boys marches over to the window and asks if Luis is the man they’re going to hang. Luis says yes, he is. The boy asks if it will hurt and Luis responds “If God wills it”. Koch tells the boy to run along. He asks Luis if he’s ready, it’s about that time. Luis says he’s ready. Sheriff Koch leads him out of the jail, where more people have gathered.  Luis is on the scaffold, with the crowd looking on. Luis kneels down to pray with the priest. People are pissy about it and want to get on with the show. The Canfields are not yelling, just the crowd.

Back at the town, Father Gallegos comes running to see Sykes, who dangles the bag in front of him. Sykes tells the father that the dust is very special, magic and if it’s sprinkled over the heads of the crowd it will make them feel sympathy for his son. Then he asks if Papa brought the money with him. Father Gallegos holds out a handful of gold coins to Sykes. Sykes is astonished to see gold coins and asks where Father Gallegos got them from. Father Gallegos says that all of his friends helped. One sold a wagon, one a horse and some borrowed. They got many pesos and converted them. He asks Sykes if it will work, is he sure it will work? Then he says that Sykes sold the rope that will hang his son and now he’s selling him that which will save him? Why? Sykes says that he’s a businessman. He makes no distinctions, he repeats that the dust will work. Sykes takes the money and Father Gallegos grabs the bag and runs to his son. Sykes is very pleased with his scam.

The onlookers are getting restless. Father Gallegos runs through the crowd yelling at them to wait. He runs to the front of the crowd and says to please wait! They must pay heed to the magic, now, and starts throwing the dust around. The people laugh at him (because there’s nothing funnier than a desperate parent, dontcha know). Father Gallegos keeps throwing the dust around saying “Magic for compassion, magic for his son’s life”. He falls off the scaffold but still tries to throw it. Sykes and the rest of the crowd are highly amused. Father Gallegos is saying the magic is for love, for compassion, for them to be like they used to be.

As he’s begging for his son the gallows doors bang open and the crowd gasps and looks stunned. I’m not really sure why since that’s what they were all gathered for and were just bugging the Sheriff to get on with it. The crowd gasps and the father looks around and gasps in surprise. The rope is broken and Luis fell to the ground, still alive. Sykes is baffled. The rope he sold was awesome and strong and absolutely could not break. There was supposedly a rule that if the rope broke then it meant that the criminal could go free. I don’t know if that’s true or just an urban legend.

Someone in the crowd tells them to go ahead and try it again. Sheriff Koch tells him that there are only two people in the crowd who have the right to ask for an eye for an eye. Sheriff Koch asks the Canfields how about it? Are they ok with Luis going free? Mr. Canfield looks like maybe he does but Mrs. Canfield tells him no. No more. Mr. Canfield says that he killed their child. Mrs. Canfield says that he also killed part of himself when he did so.

Mr. Canfiled tells the sheriff for the rope to break like that there must be another hand in it. Perhaps the hand of Providence. Sheriff Koch asks Mr. Canfield if that’s the end of it then and Mr. Canfield says that this is where it ends. One victim is enough. Everyone wanders off. No hanging today. Sheriff Koch uncuffs Luis and tells him he can go home. Father Gallegos insists that it was the magic dust that brought back the love to the people. It brought back the love to the people. Luis agrees that it was magic and asks to go home now. Luis and his father look happy at the turn of events as they walk off but not overly happy. Just relieved, really.

Sykes wanders over to marvel at the rope breaking some more. Then he clinks his ill-gotten coins in his hand. Three children walk up and look at him. One of them is Estrelita, Luis’ sister. The other two kids are probably the children of the neighbors that helped to buy the dust. Sykes tosses the coins on the ground and tells the kids to go ahead, pick them up. He walks off, laughing at the thought of it being actual magic.

SERLING:
It was a very small, misery-laden village on the day of a hanging and of little historical consequence. And if there’s any moral to it at all let’s say that in any quest for magic, any search for sorcery, witchery, legerdemain, first check the human heart. For inside this deep place there’s a wizardry that costs far more than a few pieces of gold. Tonight’s case in point in the Twilight Zone.


Spread out by a week it’s probably not as noticeable but The Twilight Zone watched back to back can give you whiplash. First there’s a goofy camera, a cute Santa story and…a hanging. I also have to give Rod credit for not taking the easy way out and making the boy totally innocent. There’s a large grey area that leaves a lot of room to talk about. we welcome comments but please keep them polite.


Thank you for joining us and come back for next week’s episode: Back There

Twilight Zone Tuesday – Mr. Denton on Doomsday

Mr. Denton on Doomsday

 

 

Mr. Denton: Dan Duryea
Dan Hotaling: Martin Landau
Liz: Jeanne Cooper
Charlie: Ken Lynch
Henry J. Fate: Malcolm Atterbury
Pete Grant: Doug McLure

SERLING:
Portrait of a town drunk, named Al Denton. This is a man who has begun his dying early. A long, agonizing route through a maze of bottles. Al Denton, who would probably give up an arm, a leg, or part of his soul to have another chance. To be able to rise up, shake the dirt from his body and the bad dreams that infest his consciousness.


SERLING::
In the parlance of the times, this is a peddler. A rather fanciful-looking little man in a black frock coat.

SERLING:
And this is the third principal character of our story. It’s function? To perhaps give Mr. Al Denton a second chance.


A drunk man, whom we can assume to be Mr. Al Denton, stumbles or is thrown out of a saloon. We’re back in the cowboy days y’all. Yee-haw. An asshole bully of a cowboy throws a drink in Denton’s face to wake him up. Seems like a waste of good booze if you ask me. Bully Dan has one of the freakiest smiles I’ve ever see. He looks like The Joker playing cowboy.

Bully Dan says he’ll give Denton a drink if he sings for his drinkage. Bully Dan wants him to sing ‘How Dry I Am’. Which is impossible unless one or all have a time machine. ‘How Dry I Am’ was written in 1919 as part of a piece of music called ‘In the Near Future’ by Irving Berlin. This episode is clearly set before then (even though no exact date is given) so, nope, sorry. You can’t have that music. Of course, we are in the Twilight Zone so I guess anything is possible. As a bonus nitpick Denton’s sweat stain changes drastically between shots.

In the background Mr. Henry J. Fate, peddler, watches the humiliation. The obligatory staple of the western, Hooker with a Heart of Gold, and the Dapper Barman listen from inside the bar. Liz, the HwH, asks the Barman to stop it but he wusses out. Outside, Denton has finished his song so Dan, being the evil bastard he is, breaks the bottle top off and chucks it to Denton. Denton proceeds to do one of my biggest pet peeves ever in movies and television. It usually goes something like this: The person is desperate for a drink (water, booze, whatever) but instead of actually drinking the stuff they pour it all down their face. If it’s water they might douse their heads with it, too. I always want to yell, “Just drink it already! Quit wasting it!”

Liz looks sad at Denton’s lack of pride and Denton looks ashamed.He tries to get a few more drops out of the bottle. Maybe if you hadn’t dumped half of it down your face you would have more, wouldn’t you? A passing carriage roars by, knocking Denton off his feet and leaves him lying on the ground in a daze. As the peddler walks by a gun materializes in the sand beside Denton. Not really sure how a gun will give someone a ‘second chance’ but we’ll see, I guess.

Denton picks it up of course, because everyone picks up a gun on TV or movies (even when they know they shouldn’t) does that. He’s checking it out while Miss Liz Smith comes out to talk to him. Could they have possibly given her a more generic name?

Miss Smith notices the gun and asks if it’s his. He says he found it on the ground. Neither of them seem all that surprised about it. Were there really so many guns in the Old West that they’re literally lying around everywhere? Miss Smith gives us some exposition on how good Denton used to be with a gun. He says he hasn’t held a gun in…a long time. So you know something happened. Probably shot a younger man but I’m just guessing.

Miss Liz asks why he drinks so much. His profound answer is, “I just got into the habit of it.”
Bully Dan comes out and wants to hear Denton sing again. Because he’s just a prick who lives to make Denton’s life miserable, I guess. Miss Liz doesn’t want him to do it, that she’ll buy him a drink instead. Which sort of begs the question of why she didn’t earlier. Denton would rather sing for his drink than take pity from the local saloon gal.

So he does his song again until even Dickhead Dan looks a bit ashamed of himself. As Denton is taking his walk of shame into the bar Dan notices the gun Denton picked up. Just a little observation of a detail that impressed me: Denton is actually holding the gun properly for safety, with his finger along the trigger guard.

It amuses Dan that Denton has a gun and tries to taunt him into a showdown. Denton doesn’t want to and Miss Liz tries to intervene but Dan shoos her away. What cracks me up about this scene is that Dan is wanting a showdown standing right outside the freaking saloon doors. The bartender comes up behind Dan and tells him to take it somewhere else. Dan gives the saloon doors a swift kick and knocks the bartender on his ass.

Dan moves to the street for his big ‘showdown’ with Denton. Denton is still protesting that he only found the gun and doesn’t want any trouble. He’s kind of gesturing with it as he speaks. The peddler gives the gun (and Denton) a Significant Look and the gun goes off. It hits Dan in the hand (or on the gun, it’s not quite clear). Although by all logic it should have hit Dan in the stomach with the angle Denton was holding the gun at. Guess it was Fate.

Dan’s pissed, Denton’s scared and everyone else is insanely excited over what was basically a lucky shot. The bartender wants to give Denton a shot on the house. So, the bartender is willing to give Denton a shot on the house for a good shot (pun definitely intended) but not to prevent Denton’s humiliation. Okey dokey.

They’re all celebrating in the bar when Dan comes in, rubbing his wrist and looking pissy. The peddler looks on from the saloon doors. Dan threatens to kill Denton with a slug to the gut. Denton is still protesting that he doesn’t want trouble and is still gesturing with the gun. After another Significant Look from the peddler the gun goes off again, hitting the chandelier and knocking the gun from Dan’s hand. Again, the angle is way, way off. The actor is trying his best to wave the gun in the general direction of the chandelier but it’s not pointing nearly high enough.

Everyone is all excited now, calling him Mr. Denton. The bartender pours Denton a shot but lo and behold! Denton’s alcoholism is now cured and he doesn’t want it. He figures word will spread fast now that he’s shooting again. He wants to get a shave.

Denton walks outside and Miss Liz follows gushing about how good Denton is and that Charlie says “he’s as good with a gun as he ever was”. Denton scoffs at this and rightfully so. Those two shots were just blind luck (or Fate).

We get some exposition from Denton on how he was so good that once a day someone would ride into town to make him prove it. Which seems like a weird hobby to me. And not a very healthy one at that. Denton says the drinking started a little earlier each day and the one that finished him off was the last ‘man’ who tested himself against Denton’s gun was a 16 year old kid.I’m of two minds about this. I can understand Denton’s guilt. At the same time, though, this ‘kid’ knew exactly what he was getting into with a gunfight. It’s not like they shoot each other, shake and say “Good game.” Eventually the drink took over and since he couldn’t shoot anymore, there were no more challengers.

Denton knows that it will start all over again and he knows that this time he will be the one to die. He wants a shave and to get cleaned up so he can look ‘proper’ on the day he dies.

This might be a bit nitpicky but the obviously too broke to buy a shot of whiskey Denton suddenly has enough money to get a bath, a shave and his clothes cleaned. The peddler, Henry J. Fate, looks on. I think he’s actually achieved Official Lurker status by now.

All cleaned up, Mr. Denton is looking pretty sharp now. As predicted, some mysterious cowboys ride up. Word does travel fast. I mean, really fast because it’s been less than a day. Denton tries to talk them out of it, saying it’s unnecessary. Ultimately he capitulates and nods resignedly.

Denton goes out to murder a couple of buckets but he can’t hit them from ten feet away. So, yeah, he’s screwed. Later that evening he’s packing to run when he bumps into the peddler. The peddler, Mr. Henry J. Fate, stops him for a chat. This also seems to be one of the longest days ever. To recap: Denton sang, drank, sang again, shot Dan, shot a chandelier, gets a shave and general clean-up, accepts a challenge, practices, decides to take off and stops to chat with Fate. The challenge is set for 10:00 that evening so it hasn’t even been a full 24 hours. I guess news really does travel fast.

Fate tells Denton that he shouldn’t run away but Denton isn’t too keen on being shot and killed so he disagrees. Denton curses finding the damn gun in the first place. Fate says he should see it as a blessing, not a curse. He offers Denton a potion called the “Fast Gun Developer” (seriously, that’s the best name they could come up with?). It works for exactly 10 seconds. Short, but in that time the shooter will be the fastest of the fast and the bestest of the best. Fate (very subtle naming there, guys) offers Denton a trial potion whereupon Denton murders a nearby streetlight. They are way off on their count. Yes, I’m anal enough to count it and I came up with almost 30 seconds total. Fate tells Mr. Denton to drink it as soon as Pete (the challenger) walks into the saloon.

Denton asks the price but Henry Fate waves him off. Telling Denton to think of it as a reminder of “the night Fate stepped in”.

Everyone’s hanging out in the saloon, waiting for the showdown. Which doesn’t seem to me to be the best place to be during a shoot-out. Denton is a tad shaky but refuses a drink. Miss Liz is there too, for moral support I suppose.

They hear horses outside and know Peter Grant has come to town. So did Mr. Grant’s henchmen ride ahead to issue the challenge then ride back to Grant? What a wasted trip. Mr. Grant enters the saloon after a round of dramatic close-ups. He’s pretty young. In is early twenties, I’d guess.

They Manly Man chat a bit then start getting down to business. I guess they’re going to have the shoot-out in the bar. Great, shoot up the poor barman’s saloon when there’s a perfectly good road outside they can do this on.

Denton drinks his potion and turns around just in time to see Mr. Peter Grant drinking the same potion. Dun dun dunnnn…

After a few tense seconds they both fire, each hitting the other’s hand. The shoot-out is considered a draw. Their shooting hands are now ruined for life. Denton couldn’t be happier about it and tells the boy he’s “blessed” by having his gunslinger days cut short.

Peter Grant goes outside to his buddies. He tells them it was a draw and the three of them ride away. Fate tips his hat to the boy and Denton and drives off into the night.

SERLING:
“Mr. Henry J. Fate: Dealer in utensils, pots and pans, liniments and potions. A fanciful little man in a black frock coat who can help one man crawling out of a pit. Or another man from falling into one. Because you see, Fate can work that way, here, in the Twilight Zone.”


I like the acting in this one. Everyone plays their parts well. The moral of the story seems to be that nobody wins in a gun-fight. Which may be a bit heavy-handed but nice nonetheless. This is one of the episodes that Stephen King refers to as a “bow-wow” written by Rod Serling. I very much disagree. I like this episode and since the “bow-wow” label is applied to one of my favorite episodes later I take King’s judgement with a grain of salt. A big one.


Please join me again next week for Twilight Zone Tuesday: The 16mm Shrine.