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The Twilight Zone (Episode #27): “The Big Tall Wish” (airdate 4/8/60)
The Plot: A washed up boxer manages a surprising comeback thanks to the wish of a child, but his inability to believe in magic threatens to take the victory away.
The Goods: Bolie Jackson’s (Ivan Dixon) not a man who’s ever really had ‘best’ days, but his better ones are clearly behind him. He’s a boxer who never made it big and is now well past his prime. Bolie can see his history in the ring, and in life in general, in the scars on his face, and while he knows tonight’s fight is a long shot he’s not about to turn down the opportunity. A neighborhood boy named Henry (Steven Perry) tells him he’ll be making a big, tall wish that Bolie wins the match, and when the child’s mom tells Bolie that’s the biggest wish of all the tired boxer shakes his head in sadness.
Little boys with their heads full up with dreams. When do they find out… that there ain’t any magic. When does somebody push their face down on the sidewalk and say to them ‘Hey little boy, it’s concrete, that’s what the world is made out of, concrete.’ When do they find out that you can wish your life away.”
Of course when Bolie finds himself flat on his back and one count away from losing the match the power of a little boy’s wish alters reality and he ends up the winner. He and Henry are the only two that know the truth, but Bolie refuses to believe it possible. “I can’t believe,” he tells the teary-eyed little boy. “I’m too old, I’m too hurt to believe.”
And magic, true magic, only works if you have faith…
The effect of magic and the unknown on those who do and do not believe is a common theme in the series, but it’s far from the only one present in this episode. Boxing is a sport Rod Serling’s visited on multiple occasions in and out of The Twilight Zone including his well regarded and often filmed script Requiem For a Heavyweight. He boxed while in the military and had a pretty sterling record in the ring, and he shows a genuine affection for the bruised and battered men who immerse themselves into the sport with little to show in return.
The episode’s greatest accomplishment though is in its context. It’s one of the first television episodes to feature a predominantly black cast including in the lead role. It aired just five years after Nat King Cole became the first black host on TV and five years before Bill Cosby became first black lead in an ongoing series, and while it makes no blatant case for the civil rights struggle on its face it’s clearly meant to touch on issues of the day all the same. Bolie’s had a hard life, and when he speaks of the scars he earned in the ring he could just as easily be talking of the ones black men and women endured just for walking out their front door. Wishing and praying for the hardships to end was never going to be enough on its own. The only real choice is to struggle through each and every day, to stand up and fight if necessary against the injustices blocking your path. Make the effort, and the magic will come naturally.
But both the will to fight and possibility of a miracle require the same thing… belief.
The Big Tall Wish is probably one of the series’ simplest installments even with it’s social commentary. There’s no big twist or ironic ending, no action or science fiction element, just a sad and straightforward tale about the things we give up when we grow up. Magic is a childhood game, and even those who desperately want to believe in it may not be able to after a hard life in the real world. As Serling’s voiceover states, Bolie suffers from a common ailment, “the strange and perverse disinclination to believe in a miracle.”
What do you think of the episode?
The Trivia: Ivan Dixon’s long career saw him appearing in dozens of different television series, but the only one featuring him as a regular cast member was Hogan’s Heroes where played Sgt. Kinch.
On the Next Episode: “After cop-killer ‘Rocky’ Valentine dies in a shootout, he finds himself in a world where his every wish is instantly granted. But he soon discovers that what seems like heaven may instead turn out to be a living hell.”
Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR
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.