The Twilight Zone (Episode #17): “The Fever” (airdate 01/29/60)
The Plot: A man becomes obsessed with playing and winning against a specific slot machine, but after losing his nest egg he begins to realize the machine may be after more than his savings… it may be after his very soul.
The Goods: Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs aren’t the kind of folk you’d typically find in a casino, but a free three-day stay draws them in as a cheap vacation. Franklin (Everett Sloane) has no interest, but his wife Flora (Vivi Janiss) thinks it will be fun so he reluctantly goes along with it. “It’s a miserable waste of time,” he tells her. “But of course it’s what you wanted.”
Of course that’s before he gets coerced into giving a pull to one very insistent slot machine. He wins a handful of coins but as he retires for the night he hears the machine whisper his name… in an incredibly creepy voice. The raspy siren call draws him back to the casino floor where he proceeds to work through his winnings. And then his bank account. And then his sanity.
As is often the case with Rod Serling’s show this episode works on two different levels. Obviously it fits into the world of the Twilight Zone with its unnatural happenings and morality lesson coming at a very high cost, but it also works as a lesson for the real world. Gamblers who reach the point of addiction and obsession often meet bleak ends. Granted, it usually takes far longer than twenty four hours to succumb to the point of death, but Serling’s message remains.
The acting and direction is solid throughout with Sloane making his sickness feel visceral even in this short amount of time. Serling’s script keeps things moving and escalating at an addictive pace and manages to avoid the obvious ending… Gibbs drops in his last quarter, goes mad when the machine jams, and is dragged away only to watch as a stranger approaches to pull the arm and wins the jackpot. That would be a pure Twilight Zone kind of ending, but Serling chose instead to go with one that’s both more painful and dramatic.
What do you think of the episode?
The Trivia: Everett Sloane wrote the opening lyrics to The Andy Griffith Show theme… before the powers at be decided to replace them all with whistling.
On the Next Episode: “A World War I British fighter pilot lands at an American air force base in France 42 years in the future.”
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.