Twilight Zone Tuesday – Judgement Night
Carl Lanser – Nehemiah Persoff
Captain Wilbur – Ben Wright
Miss Barbara Stanley – Deirdre Owens
Major Devereaux – Leslie Bradley
Potter – Hugh Sanders
First Officer McLeod – Patrick McNee
Lt. Mueller – James Franciscus
Narrator – Rod Serling
Her name is the SS Queen of Glasgow: Her registry – British, Gross Tonnage – 5,000, Age – indeterminate. At this moment she’s one day out of Liverpool, her destination – New York. Duly recorded on this ship’s log is the sailing time, course to destination, weather conditions, temperature, longitude and latitude. But what is never recorded in a log is the fear that washes over a deck like fog and ocean spray, fear like the throbbing strokes of engine pistons, each like a heartbeat parceling out every hour into breathless minutes, of watching, waiting, and dreading. For the year is 1942, and this particular ship has lost it’s convoy. It travels alone, like an aged, blind thing, groping through the unfriendly dark, stalked by unseen periscopes of steel killers. Yes, the Queen of Glasgow is a frightened ship and she carries with her a premonition of death.
During Rod Serling’s rather lengthy introduction we see the ship in a dense fog and some closeups of a frightened looking man in a trench coat. He’s looking out over the fog-enshrouded water. They’re calling for black-out conditions on deck and the purser comes out to tell Mr. Trench Coat that dinner has been served inside so he’d better come in if he wants to eat before it gets cold. Trench Coat follows the purser inside.
Inside everyone’s sitting and eating. The door lights are on a dimmer for the black out. When the door opens the lights momentarily dim inside. It’s a pretty cool idea. Smart, too.
An American comes over to shake Trench Coat’s hand and calls him Lanser. The American introduces himself as Jerry Potter (I have to confess, when I was watching it I thought he said his name was Harry Potter at first). Mr. Potter says they expected to see Lanser at dinner because his name was on the purser’s list. Must be a ship thing. The Captain won’t be joining them (which, if I’m remembering correctly, it’s a tradition for the Captain to dine with the guests on the first night of the voyage).
Jerry Potter invites Lanser over to their table for dinner. Lanser politely declines. The purser asks Lanser if he’d like a cup of coffee at least. Lanser decides that yes, coffee is what he wants. Lanser seems quite a bit out of it. Sort of dazed looking.
Mr. Potter (I swear I can’t help but hear that in Snape’s voice) wants Lanser to cheer them up because they could do with a bit of merriment. I’m guessing that Lanser is not the best man for that particular job. Mmmmister Potter introduces everyone around. There’s a Major Devereaux and his secretary, Miss Stanley, both from England. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, isn’t Devereaux a French name? Miss Stanley asks Lanser if he’s heading home or leaving home. Lanser very haltingly says that he’s heading away from home. Mr. Potter wants to know what Lanser does. He saw Lanser’s name and he has a little game he plays, trying to match a name with a face. He pictured Lanser as a language professor. Methinks Mr. Potter has too much time on his hands.
The lights dim again as the Captain enters. Everyone stands for the captain except Miss Stanley (which makes sense) and Lanser. Hmmm. A little strange that he isn’t. The Captain says he doesn’t have much time, he just wants to say hello to “some of you”. Since there’s literally only six people it shouldn’t take too awfully long. He’s taking his dinner on the bridge because of all the fog. They still can’t find the convoy and Major Devereaux is a bit worried about German U-Boat Wolf Packs. With good reason. They were pretty bad ass and scary. Mr. Potter doesn’t like the idea of skulking, silent submarines under the water. America used them, too, Mr. Potter.
Lanser tells Mr. Potter (and everyone else) not to be worried. A submarine attack pattern is typically based on a convoy attack, they would rarely attack a single ship (which I’m told is fairly accurate, at least, after they started travelling in convoys).
The Captain says that’s quite correct and looks a little suspiciously at Mr. Lanser. Which, to be honest, I’m a little surprised they’re not suspicious of him already. A German man travelling solo in 1942 would definitely be an object of scrutiny. Especially one who displays an intimate knowledge of the German U-Boats down to what ordinance they would use to attack the ship. Lanser looks jittery and takes a sip of his coffee. He might want to consider switching to decaf.
The Captain says he sounds something like a U-Boat commander and Lanser freaks out and drops his coffee cup. There are some suspicious looks all around. Lanser apologizes for being clumsy and asks Miss Stanley if he got any on her. Then he yells at the purser who tries to help wipe his jacket off. He stands in a very military pose and barks at the purser when the purser offers him another cup of coffee. Somehow I don’t think Lanser needs more coffee. I think a sedative would be much better for him. The Captain asks him to sit back down, please.
The Captain goes on to say the usual polite things. Such as that he hopes they’re all comfortable because the ship wasn’t originally meant to carry passengers. We get to learn more about the passengers. Mr. Potter is from Hogwart’s, um, I mean Chicago and works with the American government. I guess just all the government. The Captain then asks Lanser where he’s from, which I’m thinking was his point all along in starting that particular little chat. Lanser still looks like he’s only half there, mentally speaking. It takes him a bit but he eventually gets out that he was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Mr. Potter immediately asks if he means Frankfurt, Germany. Dude, if you couldn’t tell he was German then you certainly need your crayon sharpened. Miss Stanley breaks the awkwardness by asking how long he’d been in England. Lanser seems to have trouble answering that question as well. As if he really doesn’t know.
Lanser excuses himself from the table, saying he’s not feeling very well. Mr. Potter is bummed. He wanted to play poker. They all “Good night” each other.
Lanser is outside, sitting on the steps, brooding to himself. He sees Miss Stanley. He asks if they’ve met before and she says no. He thought she looked familiar to him, that everyone there looked familiar to him but he can’t place why. He starts to tell Miss Stanley that he has a strong sense of deja vu. He also can’t really remember getting on the ship or anything else. He says it’s as though he were suddenly on the deck of the ship, hearing their voices. She suggests amnesia but he brushes that off. He knows who he is, his name is Carl Lanser, he was born in Frankfurt, Germany and he was in the…something. He trails off and says he can’t remember. Which sounds like at least partial amnesia to me but what do I know.
Miss Stanley suggests some sleep but he says he couldn’t sleep. It feels as though he’s in a nightmare with disaster looming. He feels as though they’re being stalked by a submarine. The First Mate (presumably) asks Lanser if he’d come with him to the bridge to speak with the Captain. Lanser obliges quite willingly.
The Captain is waiting and the first thing he wants is to see Lanser’s passport. He doesn’t have it with him. They’re questioning him but very politely. He tells them pretty much what he told Miss Stanley. He doesn’t remember even getting on the ship. He only remembers odd, disjointed things. His name is Carl Lanser and he was born in Frankfurt, Germany. That’s all he remembers.
They don’t find this very satisfactory, especially since he just demonstrated an intimate knowledge of submarines. They ask him if that rings any bells. Lanser says nope, doesn’t ring any bells and they send him off to bed. That was one of the politest interrogations I’ve ever seen. After Lanser leaves the Captain says to keep an eye on him and wants to see his passport as soon as possible.
Lanser is in his cabin, unpacking is clothes, with a purser’s help. Apparently the only thing he’s packed in his suitcase is twenty white shirts. The purser is unpacking a valise and notices a Naval looking hat. The purser asks if it’s a war souvenir. It’s a German Naval Officer’s Cap. A submarine commander hat, as a matter of fact. Lanser snatches it away. And now the plot thickens. Inside the hat is a tag that reads: Carl Lanser, Kapitan Leutnant, Kriegsmarine.
Up on the bridge the Captain’s getting anxious as well. He wants more power from the engines but they reply that “they just can’t do it, Captain, they don’t have the power!” Um, I may have accidentally quoted Star Trek there but you get the idea. Basically they’re screwed. If they run the engines at max they’ll seize up and then they’ll be sitting ducks. If they go slower he’s afraid the subs that he knows are out there will get them.
Lanser is downing drinks at the bar, trying to calm his nerves. He notices that the engines don’t sound right, that they sound labored. The clock strikes twelve and a realization hits Lanser. Something’s going to happen at 1:15 a.m. The ship’s engines have stopped and Lanser starts freaking out. He says they’re in trouble and they need to abandon ship. The guys in the bar try to calm him down but he runs out on deck.
He sees the light of a U-Boat in the distance and runs through the ship trying to warn everybody. He starts yelling at a group of people who just stare silently at him. Then they disappear. He runs through the ship calling for Potter, Miss Stanley, Major Devereaux and the Captain. He grabs a pair of binoculars to see the U-Boat better. The Kapitan of the U-Boat is standing proudly on deck. Kapitan Leutnant Carl Lanser, commander of the U-Boat to be precise.
The U-Boat officers are preparing for the attack and cannons start firing on the S.S. Queen of Glasgow.
What follows is fairly brutal by fifties television standards. It shows how the passengers die on the Glasgow. Lanser falls overboard.
The submarine submerges and we get a montage of submarine guys doing submarine things. It looks like real footage from maybe a newsreel or something because it looks real and it has that sped up look that they had.
On the sub we see Kapitan Carl Lanser. He’s very pleased with the night’s work. He’s talking with an underling named Mueller. Mueller is not happy that they fired on a civilian ship with no warning. Kapitan Lanser scoffs at the idea of giving them warning as it would give away their position if the Glasgow signaled for help. He says Mueller has sentiment but no brains.
Mueller is finding it hard to reconcile the idea of firing on a passenger ship with men and women on board. He wonders if they’re damned now. Kapitan Lanser thinks this is funny and says in the eyes of the British Admiralty they certainly are. But Mueller’s talking about being damned by God. Kapitan Lanser is still amused and calls Mueller a fool. He wants to know what Mueller thinks a judgement from God would be.
Mueller says he has had nightmares about it. He thinks it will be a special kind of Hell. They’ll be damned to ride the ghost ship, dying as they died. For eternity. The people on the Glasgow could only die once, but they would relive it each night, forever. It appears he’s right.
The S.S. Queen of Glasgow, heading for New York, and the time is 1942. For one man, it is always 1942. And this man will ride the ghost of that ship every night for eternity. This is what is meant by paying the fiddler. This is the comeuppance awaiting every man when the ledger of his life s opened and examined. The tally made and then the reward or penalty paid. And in the case of Carl Lanser, former Kapitan Leutnant, Navy of the Third Reich, this is the penalty. This is the justice meted out. This is “Judgement Night” in the Twilight Zone.
This one definitely has some weighty material behind it. I’m not going to get into the right or wrong of warfare but there is one thing that makes this episode stand out for me in terms of the time it was aired.
The German Submariner at the end that expresses his doubts about firing on a civilian ship could be seen as the proto-type Nazi ideal. Tall, blonde, handsome. Yet he’s the one who voices compassion for the passenger ship. He’s also noticeably absent from the damned ghost ship. And this was at a time when Germans were the popular “bad guys” in movies and television. So to create a character that was sympathetic and German was a pretty big deal.
Thanks for joining me once again on my foray into The Twilight Zone. Come back again for next week’s episode: And When the Sky Was Opened.