IF you’re a subscriber to the Imagine If You Will Podcast then you already know that I put out a pod focusing on the Key Twilight Zone Episode,” To Serve Man”.
I waited months to produce and record this episode of IIYW. There were many factors that played into the delay: An unexpected loss, the plague, and a traitor to the American people, masquerading as the President of the United States- attempted a coup, while doing his best to not implicate himself if the effort, and failed. Oh…and the Holidays. We can’t forget how special THAT was this year. The first year for many to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas alone. For me….just another year. Alone. But don’t let me wallow in my own misery, because this blog post will never end and we’ve got an important Twilight Zone episode to discuss.
As much as I love ” To Serve Man” , I think what we’re seeing is a conflict in ideas from the production team that ultimately led to some massive reshoots and reworking of the final product in post production. This led to an incredibly engaging and fun episode, but I’d say the show doesn’t know if it wants to be a cutting social commentary or comedy spoof of the invader pictures of yester year. ” To Serve Man” ends up being both, and one of the stronger comedic offerings of the Twilight Zone, whether intended or not. If for some reason you HAVE NOT seen this episode…. well. Get your life together and watch it.
Here’s the basic story for those of you who haven’t.
Aliens come to earth, visit the UN and explain they want to bring peace and prosperity to the planet. The aliens, or Kanamits ( It has been said many times that ‘Kanamit’ is a nod to the word cannibal. Damon Knight has gone on record , saying this was not the intention.) are somewhat humanoid in form , but larger than the Humans. Their intellect and technology are more advanced, they communicate almost telepathically, and want to share their knowledge with earth. While at the UN, the ambassador Kanamit leaves a book behind. The book’s title, written in the Kanamit’s language, is decoded by two encryption specialists working for the US government, Michael Chambers ( played by Lloyd Bochner) and Patty( played by Susan Cummings). The title Reads: TO SERVE MAN. [That makes the cheese a little more binding, doesn’t it?] Chambers is convinced of benevolent intentions of the space travelers and even books passage to the new planet. Patty isn’t so sure of the kanamits and continiues her work, decoding the book. ( Another great example of the Twilight Zone, not only putting women in key roles, but also presenting them as the voice of reason and intelligence. This was not the norm for television in the early sixties. The Kanamits open space travel to and from their home planet. However, earthlings have not returned, only letters stating how wonderful the new planet is , and to come join them.
Eventually, Patty decodes the book and realizes….”IT’s A COOKBOOK!” It’s too late Chambers is forced onto the ship, imprisoned, and fed.
Rod Serling adapted the script from a Damon Knight short story. Knight’s story was conceived very closely to the time that Knight found out his wife had been unfaithful. This difficult time in the author’s life most likely contributed to the dark nature of the story. The deceit he experienced is explored through the Kanamits and their “altruistic” intentions. The manipulation of trust is a large part of the story.
Set apart from many other Twilight Zone episodes, based on two major things; the scale and a character breaking the fourth wall, directly narrating a flashback. Through stock footage and borrowed special effects scenes (Originally created by Ray Harryhausen for the 1951 film “THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” and the 1956 film ” EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS”. The Master effect Artist was not credited at the end of this Twilight Zone episode.) the film manages to present a world in the Fifth DiMENSiON much larger than we’ve seen so far. The Director credit went to Rirchard Bare, a Twilight Zone vet who had already given us what would be some of the most well remembered episodes in the series: “Purple Testament”, “Prime Mover”, “What’s in the Box?”, “Nick of Time”, and of course the seminal “Third From the SUN”. But Dick was not the only cook in the kitchen on this show. After viewing what Bare had put together from the script Serling wrote, using Richard Kiel’s voice as the voice of the Kanamit, a different ending from what we know today, and original score, Buck Houghton (producer of The Twilight Zone) and Serling decided to rework the entire project. This included a new opening and closing narration, new ending, and reshoots WITH a different Director.
Serling had been on vacation while Bare had directed this episode at MGM studios. WHen he returned from his five week break and saw what had been put together from his adaptation, Serling wrote to Damon Knight:
” ‘To Serve Man’ turned out piss-poor, a combination of horrible direction and a faithless script bit your back. We’re reshooting some scenes and it’s my hope that we can at least come with in a few hundred yards of your great story.”
Enter James SHeldon. Sheldon would direct the Conference room scene, the spaceship interior with Richard Kiel and Lloyd Bochner, and the new ending. in the original ending, when Pat Yells ” …It’s a cookbook!” There is a zoom in to Chambers face as he realizes the fate of the humans, slowly a large hand pinches his cheek to check the tenderness and slowly pushes him up the sairs on to the craft.AS the ships door closes, Serling’s original closing narration begins :
“The Very explicit and very specific differences in points of view. To the wee ones…the little folk called man…it’s a marvelous adventure, a voyage to another planet. An exciting sojourn in another section of the galaxy. But to the very large, granite faced inhabitants known as Kanamits…it’s nothing more than a cattle car, a very comfortable provisions ship bringing food from the other end of the universe. Like I say…it’s all in the point of view.”
Serling was somewhat pleased with the re-edit. After the Episode aired on March 2, 1962 Damon Knight sent a letter to Serling:
“You have made me a big man around here, and I would hate to try to estimate what your Trendex was in Milford the night you did, ‘ To Serve Man.’ My kids thought there ought to have been more to the story, but I thought it was a dandy show; I loved your line , ‘ dust to dessert.’ I hear the series has not been renewed, which is a great pity if true, but I trust you are busy and happy. May your tribe increase.”
“I’m not at all sure we did justice to your exceptional story but the effort was there and the try was a manly one. Actually, the reactions to the show have been quite incredible. The mail pull, for our show anyway, has been quite phenomenal– and the word of mouth unusually positive and extensive. Actually I think I piddled around with the U.N. too much and was unable to sustain this properly with legitimate production values. If we’d done this as a motion picture, and had a few more dollar bills accesible, it could have been dressed up far more handsomly. But as it it, we’ve done far worse with fewer results. Apologize to your kids for me, and explain to them what are the pitfalls of novice science fiction writers who run their ham fists all over the works of legitimate ones. I hope we have a chance to do it again”
I think Bare had mad a picture that Serling never wanted the Twilight Zone to be associated with. A monster picture similairt to the sci-fi feature romps of the 50’s. I think Serling may have saw it more as an allegory and a spoof on those films that came before. an opportunity to grab some of the fringe audience with something familiar, keep them engaged and intrigued, sneek in some tongue and cheek jokes and lines…Bam that’s Serling.
People, there’s more to say on this episode, but I must be off. We will most definitely revisit “To Serve Man”, especially to talk about the sequel Jordan Peele produced for the second season of the current Twilight Zone Reboot. Tune in to the Pod’s youTube channel this Friday for a livestream commentary on Season 3 Episode 25 ” The fugitive”. Also directed by Richard l. Bare. And don’t forget to leave those 5 star reviews…even though I only deserve 3 😉
Be good , Good People—–