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The Twilight Zone (Episode #76): “Still Valley” (airdate 11/24/61)
The Plot: Confederate soldiers in the final days of the Civil War find a warlock whose magic may be strong enough to help the South rise again.
The Goods: Sgt. Joseph Paradine (Gary Merrill) is fed up with the Civil War. It’s bad enough he picked the losing side, but now as the Confederacy moves quickly and inexorably towards defeat Paradine finds himself stuck with a weak-willed and whiny fellow soldier at his side. The duo are out on scout duty when they hear the tell tale sounds of Union soldiers rabble rousing through a town at the base of the hill. Paradine heads down to scope out the enemy and finds something surprising.
The soldiers are frozen where they stand… almost as if the film has been paused!
“What do we call them? Damn yankees. That’s the phrase isn’t it? Damn yanks. If I read aloud from this book it’ll be the Confederacy that’s damned.”
Paradine walks amidst the immobilized soldier with no clue as to what could have caused it to happen. Which is when he meets a giddy old man who happens to be a witch. Sure sure, he should pull up his britches and declare himself a warlock, but he’s apparently secure enough with his manliness to go with ‘witch’ instead so we’ll accept it too. The old witch offers up a book creatively titled Witchcraft and explains that he’s the seventh son of a seventh son. This of course is a reference to the classic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers about a young witch who uses his powers to become a professional dancer in order to woo a young lass.
That’s probably not true.
But the old man does pass the book and the power over to Paradine and offer him the chance to single-handedly bring success to the Confederacy. The war weary soldier is tempted, but is the cost of victory a bit too steep?
Rod Serling’s script, from a story by Manly Wade Wellman, does a fine job with the setting and initial hook, but it bungles the resolution. The idea of winning a war with magic is an interesting one, especially when set in the 1800s, but somehow the rushed third act just hangs there like a limp Confederate soldier.
Should they refute their Christian values and harness the power of black magic if it means defeating the oppressive Union? The possibilities are endless here… they can begin casting spells and turning the tide in the South’s favor. The book is called Witchcraft after all, not Spell, so there’s bound to be more dark wonders within. They can alter the course of history, newspaper headlines can flash across the screen in a montage. But we never see any of it. Instead the soldiers make a decision after a couple minutes of chatter, and the episode ends.
It’s bland and blah, but worst of all it speaks to a moral high ground that soldiers fighting for the right to own slaves most likely never possessed.
What do you think?
The Trivia: The North eventually won the Civil War.
On the Next Episode: “A businessman who has recently returned from Africa is stalked by the superstitions and warnings of a witch doctor.”
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.