Twilight Zone Tuesday – Execution



Professor Manion – Russell Johnson
Joe Caswell – Albert Salmi
Paul Johnson – Than Wyenn
Old Man – George Mitchell
Minister – Jon Lormer
Faye Roop – Judge
Bartender – Richard Carlan


Trigger Warning (highlight to see) : A cowboy lynching and a strangling

We pan down to see some manly cowboy men riding down to a tree. They have a guy on a horse and he has a rope around his neck. I’m guessing things aren’t going too well for him. I guess it’s true that bad guys wear black because he is dressed all in black from head to toe. As Serling is talking Mr. Joe Caswell looks a bit amused at the proceedings.

Commonplace if somewhat grim, unsocial event known as a necktie party. The guest of dishonour – a cowboy named Joe Caswell. Just a moment away from a rope, a short dance several feet off the ground and then the dark eternity of all evil men. Mr. Joe Caswell who, when the good lord passed out a conscience, a heart of feeling for fellow men, must have been out for a beer and missed out. Mr. Joe Caswell in the last quiet moment of a violent life.

The minister comes down to read Mr. Caswell his last rites but Joe says to forget it. He’s not interested in his mortal soul at that moment but his mortal neck. Joe yells to a man still seated on his horse that it will be his pleasure to see it stretched a bit. Joe wants to get it over with quickly. The Judge offers to let him say his last words as is his right. His last words are pretty much “The kid I put a hole in had more mouth than brains and he’d call him out again.”

The older gentleman interjects that Caswell shot his son in the back, not exactly fair play. He also mentions that he’d like Joe’s execution to take a while. He wants to see him kick and suffer. Joe promises not to let him down and then asks again if they can get it over with already.The judge calls Caswell an evil man and a disease and it will be a public service to hang him. Then tells the other two helpers (deputies perhaps?) to get on with it.

They give the horse a smack on the butt and the deed is done. However, as Joe is hanging his shadow slowly disappears from the ground and when it shows the noose again, it’s empty. The witnesses are stunned.

Caswell slowly awakens to find that he’s been teleported to Gilligan’s Island! Well, not really, but it is The Professor from Gilligan’s Island and since he seems to be some sort of scientist here I’m just going to keep calling him The Professor.

The Professor tells Caswell not to be afraid, he’ll explain what has happened in a moment. Caswell, very hoarsely (which is a nice touch), asks where he is. The Professor tells him he’s a long way from home. The Professor tells Caswell that he’s in New York City, at least eighty years from when Caswell originally was. Caswell, naturally, wants to know how he got there so The Professor shows him his Time Travel Machine. Which looks something like this:

The Professor reassures Joe that he wouldn’t understand the principles behind how it works. The Professor tells Joe that he doesn’t really care who he was but he has a most distinguished future ahead of him. I’m guessing The Professor plans on exhibiting his real, live cowboy along with his Time Travel Machine. Maybe I’m being a little cynical (blame YouTube and Photoshop) but unless The Professor could actually produce more then I would think that he built a shiny, diamond-shaped box and hired a guy who acts like a cowboy.

Anyways, carrying on, The Professor tells Joe that he’s the first person in the history of the world and The Professor will teach him all about the future (well, present, I guess) and wants Carswell to tell him all about his world of the past. Joe kind of passes out again  and rubs his neck. The Professor takes this opportunity to check Joe’s neck (all the while Joe making owie faces) and sees the rope burn.From what I can tell the rope burn is up too high to give an instant neck snap that would give an instantaneous death. It looks placed just high enough to give Joe the kind of death the murdered boy’s father wanted. It’s actually a good make-up job and shows an attention to detail. In most movies, tv, etc. they put the rope burn straight across which I don’t think would happen if that person were hanging. I may be wrong but in my opinion it’s at least trying to be authentic.

Professor Manion’s Recording:
At 8:15 the subject appeared desperately tired so I put him to bed. After two hours I’ve discovered the following. His name is Joseph Caswell. He tells me he was a trail boss on a cattle ranch in the territory of Montana. His last moment of recollection was November 14, 1880. He says he was riding herd when he suddenly blacked out. He awoke to find himself on the cot of my laboratory. He felt no sensations and only in the last few moments did he seem to have any grasp of what has occurred.

The Professor turns off his recorder and sits brooding to himself for a bit. He looks a bit perturbed so he lights a smoke and goes back to recording.

Professor Manion’s Recording:
There’s one disturbing point. There are the marks of a rop etched deeply into his neck. He has no explanation for this. I have one other observation, hardly scientific, but I don’t like his looks. I don’t like the eyes, the face or the expression. I get a feeling of disquiet. I…I get the feeling that I’ve taken a 19th century primitive and placed him in a 20th century jungle. And heaven help whoever gets in his way.

The recording ends as The Professor hears the door open and Joe enters the room. Caswell wanders through the lab, checking things out as he goes. Finally he makes his way to The Professor. He stares at The Professor’s cigarette until The Professor offers him one. The Professor lights it with a lighter which startles Joe for a minute then says this, “Fire right out of the air”. Ok, I think that’s taking it a tad too far. It might be an unusual device for Joe to see but they did have matches. I kind of doubt he’d go all caveman on seeing a Zippo.

Joe’s already tired of hanging out at the lab and wants to see the new world he’s landed in. He wants to see the buildings and carriages without horses. The Professor opens the curtains, the dangerous kind with the dangly ropes, and Joe sees the present for the first time. Joe gets a little freaked out by all the cars and neon and noise. You should see it now buddy. Although it kind of makes me chuckle that The Professor’s laboratory is on what looks like the 6th floor. Usually they’re in basements or castes and whatnot.

The Professor says that some things don’t change, however, like the concept of right and wrong. Joe says he knows about right and wrong. A Sheriff in Dodge City tried to beat it into him with a wet rope. Ouch. Although I notice he says he knows about them but doesn’t say he knows the difference. Nitpicky or do you think it’s a purposeful writing decision?

While Caswell is still holding his neck The Professor wants to know if Joe knows about justice. Joe asks why should he? The Professor says that justice came at the end of a rope for Caswell, didn’t it? The Professor asks Caswell if he got to him just in time, before his neck snapped. Probably 6 or 8 feet above the ground. Caswell rightly points out that “when you’re dangling at the end of a rope it doesn’t really matter whether it’s 8 feet or a hundred”. Same drop, same ending. The Professor wants to know if Caswell killed someone. Caswell says, yeah, a whole bunch. He stopped counting after twenty.

After this confession he lets Caswell walk right up to him and then tells Caswell that he’ll have to send him back. I see The Professor living a long and healthy life. Not. Caswell wants to know what he means by back. The Professor answers back to where Caswell came from, to that exact moment if he can. Caswell says he already died and went to hell and now he’s back. The Professor wants to know what about the twenty men he killed? They died with no discomfort at all? Caswell just shrugs him off. Something tells me that philosophical argument is not Joe’s strong suit.

He says that The Professor can talk comfortably about justice when he’s in a nice warm room with a full belly and just a few yards from a soft bed. Caswell says they don’t mean much when another man’s bread or jacket is what keeps you alive. As much as I hate to admit it, he does have a slight point. However, did he try asking them to share? Or try working for a bit of money? His clothes don’t look too rough and the fact that he back shot someone doesn’t speak too strongly for his character. Any kind of back attack is a bit cowardly unless it’s an absolute necessity. Again, though, he makes another slightly good point when he suggests The Professor hop in his time machine and go back to where he came from. He might see things a bit differently.

Caswell freaks out and starts tussling with The Professor, knocking him over the desk. The Professor tries to get to something in his drawer but Caswell beans him in the head with a lamp. Then he takes the gun out of the drawer that The Professor was trying to reach for. The recorder starts playing, repeating the last part of what The Professor had recorded and it freaks Caswell out.

Caswell runs out onto the streey and somehow stumbles into the exact same neon jungle from ‘The Four of Us Are Dying’ (first picture). As Caswell pushes his way through the crowd I even see the same club advertising a ‘water show’. And I still want to know what it means. Wet t-shirt contest?

He looks a bit discombobulated and runs out into the street (don’t they all?) He runs into a telephone booth. Weirdly, the telephone is ringing. Looks like the lady who just left stiffed them for a quarter for the call. He fumbles it off the hook and drops it, freaking out at the voice coming out of the phone. The doors have shut, though, and he crashes through the glass trying to get out.

He then pulls out a kerchief to wipe at a scratch from the glass. He crashes into a bar from the street, bumping into a couple of city slickers. The jukebox scares him so he attacks it. The bartender just watches while Caswell goes a few rounds with the jukebox. He even stands there watching when Caswell takes a chair to it. Then he just makes a “Why I oughta!” face. Caswell stumbles to the bar, holding his ears and complaining about all the noise. The bartender tells Caswell that if he doesn’t pay for it then he’ll have to himself. Well, I’m sure the perfectly nice man who just smashed your jukebox will be happy to pay for it.

The bartender tells Caswell that he doesn’t want any trouble so if Caswell has any he’d better take it outside. In response, Caswell takes out his trouble and plops it on the counter. A gun, you guys, get it out of the gutter will ya! Caswell says he wants “one of those” and nods to the whiskey bottles. Even though the gun is on the counter and Caswell isn’t holding it, the bartender obliges him and pours him the bottle instead of calling the police. Caswell wants to  know why the thing won’t shut up and wants to know where the music comes from. The bartender tells him it’s just a jukebox and asks where Caswell has been, a star? Caswell says he just needs some sleep. The horseless carriages are also making him a bit disoriented. The bartender suggests to Caswell that he go home and have a sleep. He even gives him a couple of bottles of whiskey to leave with. Very obliging of the bartender. Caswell doesn’t look, though, he’s staring at a box on the wall. A TV. Caswell thinks it’s a window and the bartender chuckles and offers to giver him a demonstration. The bartender turns it on to show him.

And there just happens to be a cowboy show on! What are the odds? The cowboy on the screen is also walking straight at the camera on the screen and talking to the camera which is weird because that’s a big no-no in television and movies unless they’re intentionally breaking the fourth wall. Caswell thinks the tiny little tv man is talking to him, challenging him to a showdown. Caswell accepts and shoots the tiny tv man. The bartender makes another “Why I oughta!” face and tells him, “You’ll have to pay for that!” I’m sure it will work just as well this time as it did with the jukebox. Caswell looks befuddled (again) and runs out when the bartender starts yelling for the police. So the bartender has a tv in the bar but no phone? By all rights Mr. Joe Caswell shouldn’t even know what the police are. He runs back out into the urban jungle, dodging cars.

Finally he takes a shot at a cab. I honestly can’t tell if he’s hit the driver or if the driver just ducked. As a general clamor arises, he takes a tumble into some dirt. By now he’s looking sweaty and very, very tired. He eventually makes his way back to The Professor’s laboratory. He begs The Professor for help. I guess he doesn’t grasp the idea that he killed the dude so it may not be the best time to ask for help. As he’s begging for help a light is suddenly switched on. In the doorway stands a man with a gun. Caswell puts his hands up (what happened to his gun?) and the intruder says he thought the place was empty. He tells the “cowboy” to take it easy. Really, though, he doesn’t look like a cowboy exactly. His clothes aren’t that peculiar, really. Caswell asks what the intruder wants. The intruder says he wants whatever’s around for the taking.

Mr. Intruder sees the body of The Professor and thinks that Caswell got there before him and saved him the trouble of killing The Professor. He talks to himself a bit, rummaging through the desk. He asks Caswelll if he’s looked for a safe and Caswell just stares at him. Mr. Intruder leans a bit closer to ask again and Caswell tries to grab the gun. They fight a bit and at first Caswell is holding his own but then Mr. Intruder gets the upper hand even though Caswell is supposed to be a roughand-tumble cowboy who’s a bit bigger than Mr. Intruder. Of course, it didn’t sound as though he fought fair so maybe he is at a disadvantage. Mr. Intruder pushes him toward a window and almost knocks Caswell through. Mr. intruder grabs the dangerously dangling blind cords and strangles Caswell to death, delivering the justice that was delayed a bit but couldn’t escape. Mr. Intruder starts ransacking the office, looking for money or…something. What exactly does he expect to find of value in a Professor’s laboratory? Test tubes? He sees the big flashing lights on the wall and, just like most people, can’t resist fiddling with a few of them. The wall thing lights up and he stops fiddling. The large machine catches his eye and he steps inside.

As it starts to glow he bangs on the walls, wanting out.

Back In The Old West:
The shadow of the rope is still in silhouette on the ground but now it’s filled in with the shadow of a man. The men of the necktie party rush over to cut him down but they soon realize  that the man on the end of the end of the rope is not Joe Caswell. They don’t know who the man is and are baffled by his clothing. The deputies take off and the other three are wondering if they hung an innocent man. They hope not.

This is November, 1880. The aftermath of a necktie party. The victim’s name, Paul Johnson. A minor league criminal and the taker of another human life. No comment on his death, save this: Justice can span years Retribution is not subject to a calendar. Tonight’s case in point in the Twilight Zone.

Karma’s a bitch and the story drips with irony. Not really one of the best since most of the people don’t act like normal people would in those situations. If you were The Professor would you tell a murderer to his face that you’re sending him back to be hung? Or would you trry to trick him into the box? Also, wouldn’t the bartender call the police (on the telephone, not just yelling for them) instead of bribing the crazy man with more alcohol to get him to leave?

Join us again next week for another Twilight Zone Tuesday episode: The Big Tall Wish (prepare yourself, the snark is coming).

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