Every weekday, we’re going to review an episode of Rod Serling’s classic sci-fi/horror TV series “The Twilight Zone“. We’re starting from the beginning and we will be working our way through every episode the series has offered, including the episodes from the 80’s. You can see all the reviews right here.
“The Four of Us Are Dying” – Directed by John Brahm
Broadcast date: January 1st, 1960
Arch Hammer is a man who can shapeshift his face to match anyone he wishes. It’s a talent he uses to manipulate and take advantage of those around him. To start things off, he impersonates Johnny Foster, a deceased musician so that he can steal Foster’s ex-girlfriend. Then, he shifts into Virgil Sterig so as to steal money from a crime boss. When he’s figured out, he runs down an alley and shifts into boxer Andy Marshak so as to evade the goons that are hot on his tail. But when he leaves the alley, still disguised as Marshak, he runs into a newspaper stall salesman, who is dumbfounded by the sight of him. It turns out that the newspaper guy is the father of Marshak and he is unaware that this isn’t really his son standing in front of him, so perfect is the disguise. It’s clear that the relationship between the two is strained, to put it mildly.
Getting away from Marshak’s father, Hammer returns to his hotel room where he is apprehended by a detective who wants to take him in for questioning. Sneaking away for a second, Hammer reassumes the form of Marshak and steps outside only to be met by Marshak’s father, who shoots him.
As far as the episodes have gone up to know, this is definitely one of the more fascinating concepts. Again, it’s not explained but in this world it doesn’t have to be. As with the stories so far, the character of the person we’re watching is far more important than the power or situation they’re in. Everything revolves around who are watching and now what they are.
The visuals are rather incredible, with plenty of off-camera trickery used in full effect to give the story more magic. By moving and focusing the camera on something off to the side, the actors have time to switch positions so that we truly believe Hammer is shifting into different people. Furthermore, the world he lives in is as disjointed and confusing as he is. Neon signs seemingly hang happenstance out of nowhere and the matte paintings of the city are lushly detailed.
While I have been speaking very positively about the episode so far, there are still issues. I’d like to have learned more about Hammer and when he realized he had this power. I don’t need an origin story but I’m curious how he has used it up to this point in his life (and death). Also, the relationship between Marshak and his father feels very forced and contrived. I have trouble believing that a father would do that to his son for simply leaving them. Obviously there has to be more but with the reasoning given it doesn’t feel enough to merit an execution.
Overall, it’s a wonderfully constructed episode that is very engaging but not without its faults. Were it to come on randomly on TV, I wouldn’t hesitate to watch it again.