Features and Columns · TV

Exploring The Twilight Zone #104: The Thirty-Fathom Grave

By  · Published on November 22nd, 2011

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 #104): “The Thirty-Fathom Grave” (airdate 1/10/63)

The Plot: A hammering comes from down below.

The Goods: While puttering around the ocean, a Navy Destroyer discovers a strange phenomenon bleeping on its radar. The crew agrees that it sounds like a hammer, but when they reach the source of the sound, there’s no ship to be found…on the surface. With the realization that the noise is coming from deep under the water, some joke that it’s a haunted submarine.

It’s a suggestion that sets one of their own on edge, and on a course heading toward tragedy.

Chief Bell (Mike Kellin) gets the bulkhead of the bluster here, playing a soap operatic seaman who seems haunted even before the mysterious hammering starts. It’s a close cousin to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but the pounding is coming from thirty fathoms down. A little research reveals that the ship below them was one sunken 21 years earlier – a ship that Bell was aboard. A ship whose sinking he blames himself for.

Some of his slow descent into madness is compelling, especially his final speech concluding that the sound is his shipmates calling him to join them in death. Unfortunately, any goodwill the story earns is wiped away from the experimental hour-long format that Season 4 tooled around with. Apparently Rod Serling and company read the memo that some of their episodes were full of padding and decided that they needed more. Here’s another fine example of a tale built around its climax. It’s just a shame that Serling couldn’t make the rest of it work. Had this episode appeared in a normal, half-hour season, it probably would have been far better.

Still, there are strong acting turns here from Kellin and from Simon Oakland as Captain Beecham. There’s a grisly hopefulness in Oakland, playing a character placed in the impossible position of helping someone who can’t help himself. He struggles with his traditional role as commander in a dire situation where he’s truly powerless. As a direct message about military suicide, it’s as powerful as it needs to be.

It’s too bad that power is muted by another half hour of padding.

What do you think?

The Trivia: Kellin died the same month and year (August, 1983) that the ship used in the filming was decommissioned. Plus, look out for a pre-Hulk Bill Bixby on board.

On the Next Episode: A journalist stumbles upon a miraculous small town, but the citizens won’t let him leave.

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.

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