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The Twilight Zone (Episode #139): “Night Call” (airdate 2/07/64)
The Plot: An old biddy is perturbed by an escalating series of phone calls in the middle of the night.
The Goods: A creepy old house, a storm cracking apart the sky outside, and an old woman asleep in her bed. Suddenly the phone rings and Miss Elva Keene (Gladys Cooper) is awakened from a troubled sleep. She answers it and hears only silence at first, but soon an indistinguishable voice begins to arise faintly from the distorted reception. Elva complains to the operator the next day, but nothing comes of it and the following night is once again disturbed with a phone call.
Someone’s calling Miss Elva, and he’s calling from a very long distance indeed.
“Where are you? I want to talk to you.”
Elva begins to quickly go nuts as the calls continue and the voice grows ever more eerie, and the situation isn’t helped by her disability that keeps her cooped up at home most days and nights. The stress of the calls even eat away at her problem-solving abilities as evidenced by the trouble she has simply unplugging the phone. Meaning she doesn’t even think of it, and instead takes it off the hook then goes nuts listening to the dial tone.
The calls continue, and Elva ends one by telling the man on the other end to leave her alone, but the next day the operator finally follows through with useful information and traces the source of the calls to an address. But when Elva and her housekeeper drive out to the location they’re shocked to discover it’s a cemetery!
And a downed phone line has fallen across a grave!
And that grave belongs to Elva’s long dead fiance, Brian!
It seems Brian died decades ago in an accident after Elva convinced him to let her drive his car. She lost control while reaching for her compact as women drivers are prone to do, and the car slammed into a tree. Brian went through the windshield and was cut to ribbons while Elva lost the use of her legs. Instead of being creeped out by this revelation though Elva is instead ecstatic. She’s lonely and has never stopped loving Brian, but when she stays up awaiting another phone call she instead hears only disappointment.
Brian’s downfall was that he always let Elva ride roughshod over him and tell him what to do, so when she screamed into the phone that he should leave her alone he listened. Her one last chance at companionship came from beyond the grave, and she killed it yet again.
This episode features some genuinely creepy bits including the voice and the play of shadows across Elva’s bedroom, and the graveyard revelation is a phone one even if it is a bit goofy. (Why isn’t the phone company fixing the downed line? How is the dead man dialing? How does he answer when she calls him back? And if he always does what she demands why doesn’t he come back when she tells him to stay?) As with TZ’s last episode though it’s the ending that fails it.
Richard Matheson’s original short story (“Long Distance Call”) ended completely differently and went for the horrific ending rather than the emotional one. His tale never reveals the identity of the caller, only the fact that the calls are originating from a downed line at the cemetery. The final call features the voice saying that he’ll “be right over.”
The adaptation adds in the lost fiance subplot, and while that’s interesting it fails to achieve the amount of emotional punch that’s intended. It would have been better served by letting Elva have this small joy in her own final days. Maybe let her continue these late night conversations long after the line’s been repaired, and let the viewer decide whether she’s simply lost in dementia or actually communicating with a lost love.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Gladys Cooper is my Grandma’s name.
On the Next Episode: “A computer programmer has his life upset when the supercomputer he works with falls in love with him.”
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