Peter Corrigan – Russell Johnson
Jonathan Wellington – John Lassell
William – Bartlett Robinson
Millard – Raymond Bailey
Jackson – Raymond Greenleaf
Whittaker – John Eldredge
A snazzy looking building proclaims itself as The Potomac Club. Inside are the men of the club, doing what guys do there. Reading newspapers and chatting. Maybe I’m anti-social but I’d rather be comfy at home reading a paper than have to walk somewhere to do it. We see a table with four men chatting and playing cards. Three older men and The Professor from Gilligan’s Island and this episode. They’re apparently talking about time travel. The Professor (in this episode his name is Corrigan but he’ll always be The Professor to me) is asking another man about his theory that “if a person were to travel back in time there would be nothing at all to prevent him from changing history”. I wouldn’t exactly call that a “theory”, more like a thought. The other man gives him an example: If The Professor were to go back in time to Black Friday (the real one, not the Thanksgiving one) the man points out that with his prior knowledge of the stock market collapse then he could take steps to protect his investments. I’m a little puzzled, though. Unless he had actually had stocks at that time then he would have had to purchase them before the crash. In other words, it’s a crappy example. The Professor points out that he’d be an anachronism, he really wouldn’t belong Back There. The other man says that The Professor could sell out at a profit and escape the crash unscathed. The Professor asks what if he did and instigated the crash to happen one day earlier? Somehow he goes from that (which would be a history changing event) to arguing that on October 24th, 1929 the stock market crashed. It’s a fixed date that can’t be altered. Which is weird because he just gave a prime example of changing history.
Witness the theoretical argument, Washington D.C., the present. Four intelligent men talking about an improbable thing like going back in time. A friendly debate revolving around a simple issue: Could a human being change what has happened before? Interesting and theoretical because who ever heard of a man going back in time? Before tonight that is…because this is The Twilight Zone.
The Professor says he’s going to leave time travel to H.G. Wells. He’s too tired for metaphysics. Isn’t metaphysics things like ghosts and stuff? I thought time travel was at least (theoretically) scientifically possible. Since no one has ever gone back in time then it’s just too darned theoretical for the Professor to bother thinking about. He says his goodbyes and tells the group that he’ll see them that weekend. One of the group jokes “don’t get lost back in time” to which The Professor replies that “he certainly shall not”. Since we’re watching The Twilight Zone we know that he certainly shall. As he walks out of the club he passes a bust of Abraham Lincoln (which I actually never noticed until just now) and runs into the club’s butler, knocking the tray in his hands. The butler apologizes profusely but The Professor shrugs it off, no harm done. From the angle it looked to me like the butler would have gotten doused, not The Professor. They chat a bit about the season and spring and what day is it anyways? William tells The Professor that it’s April 14th.
Things get a little fuzzy and The Professor grabs his head like he’s dizzy. I guess we’re going Back There. Looking to the left we see a lamp change from an electric light to gas lamp. His clothing has changed as well. At least Back There is thoughtful and gave him matching clothing. Although, really, the suit he had on previously wouldn’t have looked all that out of place. Men’s suits hadn’t changed much. It’s starting to weird him out. Like Dorothy he thinks “there’s no place like home” and decides that’s the best place to be to get rid of the weirdness. But the creepity crawly music tells us theres no escaping…dun dun dun…Back There! That and all of the carriages and whatnot. They dressed up the set in period stuff and dammit they’re going to use it so we get a good, long look at it. He knocks at presumably his house. Which is apparently twenty steps from the club. An older lady answers the door and he excuses himself, asking what the number is. She confirms that it’s his number and he says he used to live there. It used to be the oldest building in the neighborhood. At least he’s being semi-smart and not running around yelling “This is my house!” Apparently he catches on quick. Well, The Professor always was smart, that’s why he got all the coconuts. She’s confused and he pardons himself saying he was just thinking out loud. She tells him she can’t be bothered standing there all night jabbering about which is the oldest building. I’m guessing it’s a boarding house because he asks for a room and she says she has one for ‘acceptable’ boarders.
She asks if he’s from around there and if he’s a war veteran. He says yes to both (by his age I’m guessing World War II or the Korean War, possibly). She then asks what business he is in and he says he’s an engineer, which she’s very impressed with. As they’re chatting two people come downstairs all dressed up, saying they’re ready for the play. Dinner, a play and don’t forget to applaud the president. Hmm, a play and a president. This is isn’t going to end well. The Professor mulls it over and something strikes him. He asks what she meant by applauding the president. The lady asks what his problem is and the officer wants to know what’s wrong with applauding the president? What side was he on anyway? The Professor, quick on his feet, says “The Republic, of course!” and even looks a bit offended. The fancy dressed lady tries to pull her husband away to get into the carriage so they can get going. I really, really hope that they’re not the Wrathbones. The Professor asks what play they’re seeing. Why, it’s Our American Cousin, of course.
The Professor asks if it’s April 14th, 1865. The officer comments that The Professor’s actions are most strange. To which The Professor says “It is April 14th, 1865!” stares at them for a second and then jets out of the door. Nope, not strange at all. The Professor rushes to Ford’s Theatre, to the stage door and tries to get in but it’s locked. He pounds on the door yelling that the president’s going to get shot tonight.
The next shot is of The Professor getting dragged into the courthouse and before the bench/counter? I’m not sure what it is. The Professor tries to tell the guy in charge about the president and the officer rolls his eyes and says that’s what he was yelling outside of Ford’s Theatre and that’s why the door guard clocked The Professor in the head . Ah, that’s why he was rubbing his head when they came in. They go back and forth about President Lincoln being shot and, of course, they don’t believe him. The Guy in Charge asks if he’s clairvoyant or something. The Professor says that if he told them how he knows they wouldn’t believe him. He says he doesn’t care what they do to him but make sure the president is ok. The Guy in Charge tells the officer to throw The Professor into a cell to sleep it off. One of the policeman looks like he might at least listen but doesn’t go after him. They drag him off, still yelling about how President Lincoln will be shot by a man named John Wilkes Booth. A man enters with such a flourish he might as well have a neon sign above his head saying who he is.
He introduces himself to the desk sergeant (Guy in Charge) as John Wellington. Somehow, even though he just entered the room, he somehow knows The Professor’s name and what he’s been saying. The Desk Sergeant says yes, he was drunk. Wellington says perhaps, but perhaps he was ill. And taps his temple knowingly. Wellington asks if The Professor may be remanded into his custody. He’d hate to see a war veteran jailed when he may only be mentally ill. This seems a little anachronistic to me as I don’t think there were many alienists who would be all that concerned with veterans at the time. The Sergeant is a bit hesitant but Wellington says that he’ll take full responsibility for The Professor. I don’t know a ton about men’s fashions of the era (except suits and such) but…this outfit strikes me as a bit weird. A little stage-dressing, dare I say? The Sergeant orders the younger policeman to bring The Professor back. Apparently it’s Adopt-a-Prisoner day at the D.C. jail. He says he will wait to collect The Professor outside if they would be kind enough to bring him out to Wellington. If you want him so bad you wait for him, Wellington! Oh lord. Even back then…sigh. As Wellington goes to leave two “Ladies of the Evening” that are obligatory in every police station scene are brought by the camera. I have to admit, I cackled. It’s a long-standing tradition, I see.
After Wellington leaves, the younger policeman tells the Sergeant that maybe they should listen to The Professor and at least post a few extra guards around the theatre. The Sergeant is unreasonably stubborn about it. What could it hurt, really? It seems sensible enough to me. The Sergeant says that President Lincoln has the Federal Army at his disposal and if they’re happy then he is as well. Unless he has the entire Army crowded in there with him they’re not going to be much good at their job. Since my mentality is even more immature than my son’s today I couldn’t help giggling at the younger policeman’s badge (hat?) number – 69. Told you I was immature. The younger policeman, not looking as satisfied as the Sergeant, walks away and watches The Professor walk by. He keeps watching as the older policeman sends The Professor out to Wellington. He looks a bit worried.
Wellington is pouring The Professor a glass of something (I’m guessing sherry or brandy, it always seems to be one or the other) and tells him it will help. I’m sure it will. You’ll be lucky to wake up in the morning with both kidneys. The Professor is not suspicious at all and gulps it down in one shot. The Professor finally asks who the man is but he dodges the question and says at the moment he is The Professor’s benefactor and only friend. He takes off his capelet with a flourish (I can’t help it, he flourishes all over the place) and tells The Professor that he is with the government. Uh-huh. Wellington says that while he was in school he dabbled in medicine of the mind. The Professor calls him a psychiatrist but Wellington says he doesn’t know the term (it’s Alienist, Professor). The Professor then asks about his symptoms. Wellington admits that they do interest him exceedingly. Particularly his story about the president being assassinated that evening. This reminds The Professor about it and he asks the time. Wellington tells it to him and reassures The Professor that the play doesn’t start for another three quarters of an hour. Ok, unless Wellington was eavesdropping on The Professor from the beginning he shouldn’t know that. Unless they’re trying to let us know that Wellington knows too much about it. It’s not very clear here.
We get a zoom in on Wellington’s face as he asks whatever gave The Professor the idea that the president would be assassinated? Ok, since everyone has probably figured out already, Wellington is John Wilkes Booth. They might as well have painted it on his forehead. The Professor says he just knows, that’s all. Wilkes/Wellington asks if The Professor had a premonition. The Professor says he has more than that, he knows for a fact…blah blah, you know the rest. Wellington says that he’d be happy to help if The Professor can convince him that he’s not crazy. The Professor lays it out…again, this time adding the name of John Wilkes Booth. He’s not sure what time, though, that’s something he can’t remember. So why was he freaking out over the time a minute ago?
The Professor is getting a little woozy. Must be the liquor, I’m guessing, or an additive. Wilkes gives The Professor a handkerchief and tells him to apply it to his head, it hasn’t been properly looked at. The Professor says he feels odd, faint. He says he feels weak, as though he’s suddenly drunk, or…some way he’s never felt before. He looks up at Wilkes and Wilkes chuckles evilly. The Professor finally figures out that he’s been drugged. He tells The Professor that he had to. He’s a very sick man that doesn’t belong in jail, he needs rest to regain his reason. He lowers The Professor to the sofa and tells him to rest. The Professor (and I’ll give him a bit of leeway since he’s been drugged) still hasn’t figured out who the guy is and begs Wellington/Wilkes to believe him. Wellington/Wilkes snatches up his cape and says a really weird line, “And that’s odd. Because I’m beginning to believe you!”. If it were a spur of the moment plan and Wilkes was waffling on it then it might make sense but since history shows that it was planned in advance so you’d think Booth would believe him thoroughly from the start.
We get a brief clip of people applauding at the play and it’s back to The Professor, just now waking up from his ‘rest’. Looking very shiny. He’s still quite woozy and almost falls in the fire. After trying to stand (unsuccessfully) a few times he gives up on it and starts to worm crawl to the door. He finally gets to the doorknob but it’s locked. He calls for help and then finally passes out again, more or less convincingly (his eyelids are a bit fluttery). Some time later the landlady opens the door for the younger policeman and they find The Professor lying on the floor. The Professor asks what time it is. The younger policeman shakes him and wants to hear what he has to say. He doesn’t know if The Professor is mad or drunk but he doesn’t care, he’s convinced. The younger policeman says he’s been everywhere, trying to get a special guard for the president with no success. The Professor tells him to go himself, then. Then he gives the younger policeman all of the details he can. Rather than rushing off the younger policeman helps The Professor get up off the floor. Cause that’s the critical thing.
They get him to a couch and The Professor gives a few more details about what will happen and the escape route and everything he can. He then asks the landlady (not the same as earlier) where the man is who brought him there. Wellington. The lady looks confused and says there is no one there by that name. The Professor insists there is, the landlady insists there isn’t. As he’s arguing he finally looks at the handkerchief he’s been shaking in his fist and sees the initials J.W.B. Shock! Gasp! Of course, the landlady remembers who lives there finally, a Mr. John Wilkes Booth. The Professor angrily squishes the handkerchief at having been tricked. Even during all of this the young policeman is still there. Um, don’t you have somewhere to be?
As he’s telling the young policeman to stop it there is a cry from outside saying “The president’s been shot!” Outside there’s a large group of people. The young policeman looks stunned and tells The Professor he was right. The landlady weeps. They walk out, leaving The Professor sitting on the couch. He rants to the crowd outside and bangs on the window saying, “Why didn’t you listen to me!” As he bangs on the window it turns into a door and his clothing becomes normal again. I guess we’re back from Back There. A butler comes to open it and asks The Professor if he forgot something. It’s not the same butler as before. The Professor is mightily confused. The Professor asks where William is but the butler says that there’s no William on duty there. The Professor walks back to the same room, passing the bust of Lincoln very slowly. Seriously, how the heck did I miss that before??!!
The men at the table greet him and go on talking about their new subject – money. There is also now a new man at the table with his back to the camera. The Professor tries to tell them about what happened. His head’s a little wavery and one of the other men, concerned, asks if he’s all right. When The Professor says that he’s ok the other man tells him to pull up a chair and “listen to the palaver of self-made swindlers”. At least they’re honest. He tells The Professor that William has the best way. It shows the new man at the table, William the butler. Now he’s looking quite a bit un-butlery and rich. Going on with his joke he says his method is the best and most secure…inherit it. Ok, I’ll do that right away! William goes on to say that he was just happening to tell “the boys” that his great-grandfather was on the police force in D.C. the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Huh. Imagine that. He went all over the place trying to warn everyone that something might happen. No one seems to know how he got the information. Geez. He could at least have given The Professor credit for it. Apparently he got in the papers about it and eventually went from policeman to Chief of Police to Councilman, bought a little land and…poof! Millionaire. They start to get back to their bridge as William counts some cash (got it, he’s rich!). Do people bet in bridge? The Professor asks William if used to work there as an attendant. I like butler better. It’s more dignified. William looks mightily offended and tells The Professor that he was a member of the club while The Professor was still in prep school. He is “Certainly not a snob but, well sir! An attendant? I really must protest!” I dunno, that sounds snobbish to me.
The Professor pronounces his final view on time travel. Some things can be changed. Others can’t. They say okey dokey, and get back to their game. As he walks away from the table and their game he rubs his head again. Behind him they talk about him looking ‘peaky’ and acting very strangely. Can anyone tell me what the actual description for ‘peaky’ is? I run into it a lot in older books and stuff. I always had a notion that it meant pale and hollow-eyed but I don’t know. Anyways, looking ‘peaky’ The Professor wipes his brow with a handkerchief. He looks at it, it says J.W.B. So we know it really happened.
Mr. Peter Corrigan (The Professor) lately returned from a place ‘Back There’. A journey into time with highly questionable results. Proving, on one hand, that the threads of history are woven tightly and the skein of events cannot be undone. But, on the other hand, there are small fragments of the tapestry that can be altered. Tonight’s thesis to be taken as you will…in The Twilight Zone.
Ah, time travel. It’s an irresistible plot device but also one that can create plot holes you could drive a Mack truck through. Shouldn’t The Professor’s memories have changed to forget that William was ever a butler and remembered him as a club member? It also seems to be a common theme (and I admit I haven’t read many/watched many time travel movies) that you cannot change history. This episode seems a bit more realistic in that the larger event could not be changed but it affected the fortunes of a smaller player in history. That would seem more consistent to me. This is what I’ve always thought, and I doubt that it’s original: Perhaps larger events cannot be changed because it would cause too large a change and alter everything to such an extent that time would essentially ‘break’. But smaller events can be because it’s a much smaller shift in the timeline. I dunno, what do you guys think? Let me know down below!
They do a fairly decent job on the setting and period details. It’s more successful because they keep it on a much smaller scale. It’s also one where the switch in film isn’t as noticeable. I don’t blame Mr. Serling for being upset with the film downgrade. In the previous episode ‘Dust’ there are some tracking shots that are a bit blurred.
Thank you for joining us for this week’s Twilight Zone Tuesday and apologize fr missing last week’s due to technical difficulties. Join us again for next week’s episode: Night of the Meek.
GracieKat was the first co-host of Sci-Fi & Scary, Lilyn’s partner-in-crime, and sub-head of the Kali Krew. She reviews horror books, movies, and games for the site. She also does a weekly Focus on the Frightful feature, and is the site list-maker. She is also in control of the Sci-Fi & Scary podcast which will relaunch soon.