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