Exploring The Twilight Zone #98: The Dummy

With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?

The Twilight Zone (Episode #98): “The Dummy” (airdate 5/4/62)

The Plot: A ventriloquist is convinced his dummy is plotting against him, so he locks him in a trunk, but it doesn’t stop the voices.

The Goods: Dummies are scary. Their cold, dead eyes staring back at you filled to the brim with the potential to move at any moment. Their perverse version of life plastered across cheap children’s clothing. The way they talk to you even when you’re not making their mouths move.

Jerry (Cliff Robertson) is one of the best voice-throwers in the business, but he’s still working the second-rate clubs because he can’t get his mind straight (and probably because he’s a ventriloquist). After getting off the stage at a particularly successful night club show, he’s bitten by his dummy and continues back into his dressing room to stare shifty-eyed at the inanimate piece of wood.

Like the best tales of confusing sanity, The Dummy puts not only a snort of whiskey into the hand’s of our hero but the question of his past experiences with psychologists telling him that he’s schizophrenic into his head. Also like the best tales of confusing sanity, it can be viewed in at least two ways. Is Willy the Dummy really alive? Is Jerry simply unhinged?

These answers never come, even in an ending that seems like a closed case. It’s an ending which, coincidentally, saves the story from its own fluff. Jerry’s slow crawl is aided by the rich acting presence of Robertson (who did just as wonderful a job in A Hundred Yards Over the Rim), but the ending is the true eyebrow-raiser here.

As Jerry screams through the streets, accosts a young woman (for fear of being alone), and succumbs to the smirk of his silent, sentient companion, he winds up on stage transformed into the thing he feared the most. He has become the dummy, and Willy has become human. It’s a shocking conclusion that the rest of the story maybe doesn’t deserve.

Again, this isn’t conclusive proof that Willy was real. The perspective of the story weaves in and out from Jerry’s consciousness so much so that he might have looked that way all along. He could have transmitted his self-reflection onto the wooden face of his nemesis while we saw an outer reflection of the emptiness inside of him made real. Perhaps he feared he was nothing without his dummy, that he couldn’t find success without the “help” of another figure. Perhaps he was scared to go on alone. Or perhaps he simply felt a distinct lack of control over his own life – echoed all too loudly in the thousand yard eyes of the humanoid carving siting on his knee.

What do you think?

The Trivia: Sadly, Cliff Robertson passed away this year, but he’ll be remembered for these roles as well a many others (including his Uncle Ben in the modern Spider-Man movies).

On the Next Episode: A young newlywed returns to his childhood home (and into his childhood).

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.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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