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The Twilight Zone (Episode #57): “The Prime Mover” (airdate 3/24/61)
The Plot: A gambling addict finds out his best friend his telekinetic powers, which, as it turns out, could be incredibly useful while gambling.
The Goods: Somehow, the abomination that was yesterday’s entry (Static) was also written by the same writer as today’s playful episode. Charles Beaumont churns out a winner here that’s smart even while it’s plot stays obvious.
Ace Larsen (Dane Clark) is kind of a jerk. He runs a diner, but he’s so obsessed with gambling that he can hardly keep his quarters out of the one-armed bandit he keeps near the door. When he’s not losing spare change, he’s betting the customers double or nothing on their tabs. What’s worse – he’s rude to waitress/girlfriend Kitty (Christine White) and bosses orders at the eternally sweet Jimbo Cobb (Buddy Ebsen).
But there’s more to this character than meets the eye. It doesn’t take the supernatural to see that, but when Ace finds out that Jimbo can move things with his mind, he has a chance to take his obsession to its breaking point.
This story is good-natured through to the end. Ace has a dark cloud hanging over him, and while it’s easy to see that he wants to gamble his life away, he’s not exactly addicted as much as he’s desperate to have more money. He sees gambling as the easiest way to get to where he wants to go, even though all evidence points in the other direction.
From the very first sequence where he 1) falls apart at the slot machine 2) gambles away a free meal to a customer and 3) watches that customer take his quarter and win the slot machine jackpot, it’s clear that the story will be too cartoonish to be evil.
In fact, even before the fantasy conceit comes into play, we get to see the greater side of Ace when he selflessly (and futilely) tries to save some people who have been in a car crash. Without thinking, he jumps into action, but it’s Jimbo with his magical mind that can actually save him.
Fast-forward a bit, and they’re in Vegas living it up. Every dice roll is a winner, every roulette ball lands where they want it. Jimbo is a bit unenthusiastic, but he’s doing his part to make his friend richer. Yes, the success goes to Ace’s head. He grabs a random cigarette girl once Kitty storms out, and he challenges a big time gangster to a few dice rolls.
Of course, the true joy of this episode is Buddy Ebsen. He’s a simple mind here, but his good heart more than makes up for it. He plays more like a man who understands the heavy consequence of holding great power more than an idiot without aspirations. He wants Ace to be happy, but he knows the path that will take him there might have a few detours.
When Jimbo fails to move the final dice throw (for all the marbles), the greatest moment of the episode lands on a hotel mattress and starts laughing. Instead of losing his mind (like some gamblers are wont to do), Ace finds the humor in all of it immediately. Easy come. Easy go. Something snaps inside of him, and he appreciates the life he has more than the life he thought he wanted.
It’s a happy ending for some relatable characters in an extraordinary position.
What do you think?
The Trivia: The title is both the name of the propulsion system in transportation (like the locomotive on a train) and the name of a philosophical concept – a being that is the cause of all things, including itself.
On the Next Episode: A little boy, a toy telephone, and an impossible connection.
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.
Related Topics: Exploring The Twilight Zone, The Twilight Zone