Wonderful Westerns: 12 “Twilight Zone” Western Episodes, Part 2

In this edition of Wonderful Westerns, we’re taking a look at the rest of the 12 Western-themed episodes of The Twilight Zone. (Read the first part of this list here.) Let’s go ahead and get stared.

7) “Still Valley” (Season 3, Episode 11)

still valley“The time is 1863; the place, the state of Virginia. The event is a mass blood-letting known as the Civil War, a tragic moment in time when a nation was split into two fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation. This is Joseph Paradine, Confederate cavalry, as he heads down toward a small town in the middle of a valley. But very shortly, Joseph Paradine will make contact with the enemy. He will also make contact with an outpost not found on a military map — an outpost called the Twilight Zone.”

Based on a short story by Manly Wade Wellman, this is one of those episodes where the mystery is what immediately grabs you. While scouting, a Confederate cavalry soldier (Gary Merrill) discovers a whole regiment of Union soldiers frozen in time.

What caused this? Well, I’m not telling. But I will say this: I think what Serling was trying to convey was that even though war is hell, even the most anti-war advocates among us would not make a deal with what caused this event. Give it a watch, and you’ll see what I mean.

8) “Showdown with Rance McGrew” (Season 3, Episode 20)

rance mcgrew“Some 100-odd years ago, a motley collection of tough mustaches galloped across the West and left behind a raft of legends and legerdemains, and it seems a reasonable conjecture that if there are any television sets up in cowboy heaven and any of these rough-and-wooly nail-eaters could see with what careless abandon their names and exploits are being bandied about, they’re very likely turning over in their graves — or worse, getting out of them. Which gives you a clue as to the proceedings that will begin in just a moment, when one Mr. Rance McGrew, a 3,000-buck-a-week phoney-baloney discovers that this week’s current edition of make-believe is being shot on location — and that location is the Twilight Zone.”

This is, without a doubt, one of the strangest Twilight Zone episodes I’ve ever seen — and I realize that sounds bizarre, given that this is The Twilight Zone we’re talking about, after all. But the plot of this episode is so strange and out of the box that I’m not even sure what Serling is trying to say.

Rance McGrew (Larry Blyden) is the star and title character of a Western television show, in which he plays a lawman who faces off against legendary Old West gunmen, including the likes of Jesse James and Billy the Kid. During the production of one of these episodes, McGrew finds himself transported through time to the actual Old West, where he is confronted by the real Jesse James (Arch Johnson). Apparently in the afterlife, these Western legends sit around and watch Western television — and they aren’t too happy about this show’s portrayal of their stories.

Um… I’m not necessarily what this episode is trying to say. I guess it could be about the falsehood of television or show business or something, but I’m not sure. It is a creative episode, though, I’ll give it that.

9) “The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms” (Season 5, Episode 10)

7thJune 25, 1964 — or, if you prefer, June 25, 1876. The cast of characters in order of their appearance: a patrol of General Custer’s cavalry and a patrol of National Guardsmen on a maneuver. Past and present are about to collide head-on, as they are wont to do in a very special bivouac area known as… the Twilight Zone.”

This episode features three Army tank soldiers (Ron Foster, Randy Boone and Warren Oates) who are in the middle of their regiment’s war games near Little Big Horn. Much like the last episode I mentioned, these men mysteriously find themselves in the Old West. Given how they’re near the site of one of the Army’s most infamous battles I think you can probably assume what happens. My guess is that with this episode, Serling is trying to convey that regardless of the time period or how advanced the technology has become, war still has the same results.

10) “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Season 5, Episode 22)

occurance“Tonight a presentation so special and unique that, for the first time in the five years we’ve been presenting The Twilight Zone, we’re offering a film shot in France by others. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival of 1962, as well as other international awards, here is a haunting study of the incredible, from the past master of the incredible, Ambrose Bierce. Here is the French production of ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.'”

Technically, this isn’t a Twilight Zone episode; it’s a short film made by French director Robert Enrico, but Serling aired it on the show so I’m counting it anyway. This short film won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film of 1962 and, as Serling said in the narration, it won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Based on one of the most well-acclaimed short stories of all time by Ambrose Bierce, this actually does fit in really well with the overall theme of the show. A Southern man named Peyton Farquhar (Roger Jacquet) is about to be hanged by Union soldiers for his involvement in trying to sabotage a railway bridge. When the execution takes place, the rope breaks and he begins his escape. Despite this not being created by anyone associated with The Twilight Zone it still has the same vibe as the actual episodes; and, like so many of the great ones, it has a twist. Give it a watch.

11) “Mr. Garrity and the Graves” (Season 5, Episode 32)

5mrgarrityIntroducing Mr. Jared Garrity, a gentleman of commerce who, in the latter half of the 19th century, plied his trade in the wild and wooly hinterlands of the American West. And Mr. Garrity, if one can believe him, is a resurrecter of the dead — which, on the face of it, certainly sounds like the bull is off the nickel. But to the scoffers amongst you, and you ladies and gentlemen from Missouri, don’t laugh this one off entirely, at least until you’ve seen a sample of Mr. Garrity’s wares and an example of his services. The place is Happiness, Arizona, the time around 1890. And you and I have just entered a saloon where the bar whiskey is brewed, bottled and delivered from the Twilight Zone.

In this story, a traveling peddler named Jared Garrity (John Dehner) arrives in the town of Happiness, Arizona and says that he can raise the town’s dead. Obviously, no one believes him — but that all changes after he revives a dog that was killed by a wagon. Later on, he starts talking about bringing back other late citizens who died under rather mysterious circumstances, and citizens of Happiness will do whatever it takes to prevent this from happening.

Why? Watch the episode and see for yourself. Message of the episode: you can’t escape the past, no matter how much you might try.

12) “Come Wander with Me” (Season 5, Episode 34)

“Mr. Floyd Burney, a gentleman songster in search of song, is about to answer the age-old question of whether a man can be in two places at the same time. As far as his folk song is concerned, we can assure Mr. Burney he’ll find everything he’s looking for, although the lyrics may not be all to his liking. But that’s sometimes the case when the words and music are recorded in the Twilight Zone.

For my final entry, I have something that doesn’t fall into the traditional lines of a Western; it’s really a story of a guy being transported into an a old Western-like story. The singer Floyd Burney — played by Gary (son of Bing) Crosby — arrives at an old shop in search of an original song to perform, although many people oppose him doing this. As the story moves along, the lyrics of his song start to reveal some chilling details that sound a bit too close to home. To divulge why this particular episode falls into the Western category I’d have to give away the whole plot, so all I can say is watch and enjoy.

What are your thoughts on these Western Twilight Zone episodes? Tell us in the comments!

About John Hamilton 41 Articles
John Hamilton is a lover of classic cinema from Southern Ohio and has been since he was a tiny little lad growing up on the farm. He's a fan of every type of film out there, especially Westerns and movies from the '60s and '70s. John is also a blogger and freelance writer.
  • re: “Showdown with Rance McGrew”

    In terms of Sterling’s message, his main point was how bad Westerns on television were. McGrew’s the embodiment of every bad trope television Westerns were guilty of before that time (and for a good deal of time afterwards, sadly).

    The best way to get a handle on Sterling’s thoughts about TV Westerns is to look at his follow-up series to TWILIGHT ZONE. He sold a Western to CBS starring Lloyd Bridges, THE LONER, which ran one season (1965-66), where he tried to tell more realistic, nuanced stories set in the west. Unfortunately, the network was unwilling to stand by Sterling (the same way they tinkered TZ out of existence for its last two seasons) and the show never had a chance to find an audience.

    There’s an especially good account of the series at this link:

    http://www.rodserling.com/TAloner.htm