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The Twilight Zone (Episode #149): “The Jeopardy Room” (airdate 4/17/64)
The Plot: Russian agents check in, but they don’t check out.
The Goods: Major Ivan Kuchenko (Martin Landau) sits in a hotel room mere hours from a planned defection to the West, but while he believes he’s alone in his thoughts he’s actually being monitored by two KGB agents sent to stop him. He discovers the truth when the two men make contact and tell him there’s a bomb in his room. He’ll be dead by dawn unless he can find and disarm the explosive.
“I am the last of the imaginative executioners.”
The two agents assigned to Kuchenko’s elimination, Commissar Vassiloff (John Van Dreelen) and Boris (Bob Kelljan), have set up shop in the building opposite and have an unobstructed view into their target’s room. After a brief phone call they convince him to meet face to face in the room, and one drugged bottle of alcohol later Kuchenko awakens alone. A tape recorder left on a table informs him that a bomb has been placed in the room, and that the Commissar’s love of games has led him to give the man a chance. If Kuchenko can find and disarm the bomb the KGB will let him leave alive. If not, he blows up at dawn. And if he tries to leave he’ll be shot in the head.
A tense and suspenseful act two begins with Kuchenko forced to search the room, inch by inch, for the device that may end his life. The two KGB agents watch from through the window as he works his way about the room, but while Boris keeps his itchy trigger finger ready in case the man succeeds or tries to leave Vassiloff seems secure in the knowledge that his planned explosion will not be deterred.
But Kuchenko’s desire to not only survive but to continue his life in freedom is strong. And if he’s smart enough to want to leave the Soviet Union he just may be smart enough to escape this deadly situation. He may even turn the tables on his captors.
This is a rare episode for the series in that there are no science fiction or fantasy elements to be found. No aliens or genie in a bottle granting wishes here. Instead we have a story birthed from the Cold War that suggests the West is better than the East and that the smarter Soviets will make a run for the border.
Even without elements of the fantastic this episode is one of the most suspenseful of the series. The panic and intensity are evident in Landau’s performance, and the ticking of the clock is palpable throughout. The ending is a bit to swallow, especially knowing how good Vassiloff is supposed to be, but it works in the confines of a twenty-five minute show. It’s nice to see Rod Serling and friends deviate from the norm of the series once in a while, and to see them manage that with such a strong episode so late in the game is especially impressive.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Life has imitated art as Landau has outlived both Van Dreelen and Kelljan.
On the Next Episode: “A married couple wake up alone in a deserted strange town after leaving a party the night before.”
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.