Features and Columns · TV

Exploring The Twilight Zone #46: A Most Unusual Camera

By  · Published on August 9th, 2011

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

The Twilight Zone (Episode #46): “A Most Unusual Camera” (airdate 12/16/60)

The Plot: Three crooks come across a very special antique camera that takes pictures of the future. Can they turn their bounty into a new fortune? Or will something something far more unexpected develop… in The Twilight Zone.

The Goods: Chester and Paula are a couple of thieves sitting in their hotel room evaluating the booty from their latest robbery only to realize it’s all junky knock-offs. The haul looks to net them no more than a buck or two at best, but as the husband and wife team commiserate they also notice an old-looking camera sure to be of no value at all. Until they take a picture with it.

The photo pops out and shows Paula standing in front of the window wearing a fur coat… a coat she wasn’t wearing when she posed for the pic. Five minutes later though they open a trunk and find that very same coat. It seems the camera takes photos of five minutes into the future, and a second photo showing Paula’s brother before he even arrives proves it. After a brief pause to consider the good that donating the camera to science might do the three of them decide to use it for illicit financial gain. Because they’re thieves.

They make thousands for one day’s work at the races, but a new piece of information turns these partners in crime on each other as is common with suspicious bastards. And this being The Twilight Zone, the morally corrupt discover too late that not only does crime not pay, but that it also has swiftly falling interest rates.

“This thing could come from witches or sorcerers. It could be loaded with black magic!”

This Rod Serling-scripted tale doesn’t really feature much in the way of the unpredictable, but it’s an enjoyable watch all the same. We know the characters’ greed will lead to their comeuppance… it’s just a matter of what minor twist Serling and friends are going to put on it.

The appeal of the episode is in the writing, but it’s specifically with Chester’s character and the camera itself. Veteran character actor Fred Clark makes Chester a likeable schemer even if he does choose wealth over common decency, and you’d be forgiven for hoping he comes out of this all okay. The other characters don’t fair as well with Paula and her brother Woodward being utter fools that seem just a bit too dumb to be believed… and when your story features a prophetic camera it’s not a good thing that your characters are the least believable element.

The episode does hit upon two of Serling’s many recurring themes, namely the idea of wish fulfillment and the inevitability that evil will be punished. It’s a slightly different delivery system than a genie’s bottle or a magical tape recorder, but the idea is similar in regard to an object that offers the ability to warp reality for the character’s pleasure. Even otherwise good people fall prey to the temptation. The difference though is that usually the good ones don’t pay for their weak willpower with their lives.

What do you think of the episode?

The Trivia: The first commercially available instant camera was invented in 1948. It only predicted a quarter of a microsecond into the future though.

On the Next Episode: “After a derelict Santa Claus is fired on Christmas Eve, he finds a mysterious bag that gives out presents. With this bag he sets out to fulfill his one wish – to see the less fortunate inherit the bounties of Christmas.”

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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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.