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Old 07-29-2021, 07:14 PM   #18 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Title: “Judgement Night”
Original transmission date: December 4 1959
Written by: Rod Serling
Directed by: John Brahm
Starring: Nehemiah Persoff as Carl Lanser
Ben Wright as Captain Wilbur
Patrick Macnee as First Officer
James Franciscus as Lt. Mueller
Hugh Sanders as Potter
Leslie Bradley as Major Devereaux
Deirdre Owens as Miss Stanley
Kendrick Huxham as Bartender
Barry Bernard as Engineer
Richard Peel as 1st Steward
Donald Journeaux as 2nd Steward

Setting: Earth
Timeframe: Second World War, 1942
Theme(s): Punishment and retribution
Parodied? Not to my knowledge, no
Rating: A-

Serling’s opening monologue

Her name is the S.S. Queen of Glasgow. Her registry: British. Gross tonnage: five thousand. Age: Indeterminate. At this moment she's one day out of Liverpool, her destination New York. Duly recorded on the ship's log is the sailing time, course to destination, weather conditions, temperature, longitude and latitude. But what is never recorded in a log is the fear that washes over a deck like fog and ocean spray. Fear like the throbbing strokes of engine pistons, each like a heartbeat, parceling out of every hour into breathless minutes of watching, waiting and dreading... For the year is 1942, and this particular ship has lost its convoy. It travels alone like an aged blind thing groping through the unfriendly dark, stalked by unseen periscopes of steel killers. Yes, the Queen of Glasgow is a frightened ship, and she carries with her a premonition of death.

A supply ship which has become separated from the convoy steams through the fog of the North Atlantic during World War II, fearing attack from German U-Boats. Carl Lanser, standing out on deck, seems very disoriented and even surprised to find himself here. He seems to know a lot about U-Boats, as he discourses at the captain’s table - not with the sense of someone imparting information he is glad or even arrogant to supply, but as someone who dreads every word that falls from his own mouth. When the captain jokingly remarks that Lanser knows so much about U-Boats he might be a captain of one, Lanser drops his coffee cup and gets very agitated. He hurriedly excuses himself and goes back out on deck.

While there, he talks to Miss Stanley, an officer who is on board, and confides to her that she looks familiar - indeed, they all do: Lanser has the uncomfortable feeling he has lived through all of this before. And it’s not just deja vu - he can’t remember how he got on board and there are other things he can’t recall, or says he can’t. He does confirm he is German, born in Frankfurt, but can’t or won’t say why he was in England, nor what he does for a living. He almost lets it slip, it seems, to Miss Stanley, but either forgets or stops himself revealing his secret.*

He’s called up to the bridge where the captain questions him and asks him to provide his passport, but he says he must have left it in his cabin. While unpacking, the valet finds a German U-Boat captain’s hat, which Lanser snatches off him, only to see his own name stitched into the lining. Up on the bridge, the captain of the ship asks his engineer to increase speed, but is told the engines need to rest. In the bar, Lanser says he can hear that the engines are not in the best, and that something terrible is going to happen at 1:15 AM. He doesn’t know what, but there’s only an hour to go.

When he sees a light out at sea he panics and runs around telling everyone it’s the U-Boat and they must abandon ship, but the people appear and then disappear without a word. Taking the binoculars and looking at the U-Boat he sees… himself, looking back at him as the crew prepare the guns to attack. As the ship goes down he dives into the water and next thing we see is him on the U-Boat, exulting about sinking the British vessel, while his second agonises over killing unarmed men and women, and theorising that perhaps they are now damned, damned to sink the same ship every night, to experience the terror and death of the crew for all eternity. Perhaps, he says, there is a special Hell for people like us.

*(It’s not much of a secret is it? He’s obviously the captain of a U-Boat, one from which he has been mysteriously transported onto this ship, which is now going to be hunted down and sunk by his own crew)

Serling’s closing monologue

The S.S. Queen of Glasgow, heading for New York, and the time is 1942. For one man it is always 1942—and this man will ride the ghost ship every night for eternity. This is what is meant by paying the fiddler. This is the comeuppance awaiting every man when the ledger of his life is opened and examined, the tally made, and then the reward or the penalty paid. And in the case of Carl Lanser, former Kapitan Lieutenant, Navy of the Third Reich, this is the penalty. This is the justice meted out. This is judgment night in the Twilight Zone.

The Resolution

A little predictable, though back then probably quite fresh. Given the man’s name and his admission to be German, or at least having been born there, it’s relatively obvious that he’s the U-Boat captain. If we needed any more confirmation, his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the attack strategies of the wolf pack seals the deal. Sort of interesting that he’s in both places at once; makes the ending a little more cerebral.

The Moral

Defenceless ships should not be legitimate targets, though you can bet that had the positions been reversed the Allies would have had no compunction about sinking German or Japanese supply ships. One of the conceits of war: it’s always the enemy who’s evil, never you. It was a cowardly tactic in the North Atlantic, even with the understanding that Hitler was attempting to starve Britain into submission - the idea of attacking unarmed ships is repugnant, and there doesn’t seem to be much on record from the Kriegsmarine in the way of protests from their crews or captains at these tactics.

Oops!

The lady on board is referred to as Miss Stanley, yet she clearly displays a sergeant’s stripes on her arm, so should she not be addressed as Sergeant Stanley? Is this not a male conceit, to kind of indicate that a woman officer is nothing more than a girl pretending at playing at being in the military? It’s not only Lanser who refers to her as such, but her commanding officer too.

The U-Boat surfaces to shell the freighter, and Lanser has already said the target is usually a convoy. This is true, however I’ve seen in Das Boot that the subs would readily pursue a straggler, and would always take it down with a torpedo, only surfacing when the ship was done for. After all, you never know what might be in the area. So I think Serling’s understanding of U-Boat tactics is flawed here.

Iconic?

Not really; it’s just retreading in its own way the old ghost story of the Flying Dutchman, isn’t it?

And isn’t that…?

Patrick Macnee (1922 - 2015)

Famous British actor, best known for his role as the suave John Steed in the adventure/spy series The Avengers and its later spinoff The New Avengers.

Questions, and sometimes, Answers

Why is it that Lanser does not fall immediately under suspicion? Yes, the captain has his doubts, but fails to act quickly upon them. This is 1942, the height of the Second World War and the Battle of the Atlantic. There’s a German on his ship who can neither account for his reason for being there or what his role is. He seems confused and disoriented but knows a fuckload about U-Boats. Why are they not clapping him in irons right away?

Themes

The main one here is punishment; for having attacked a defenceless freighter the captain is condemned to relive the sinking of that ship - with him on board - throughout eternity. There is also a basic theme that while war itself may not necessarily be wrong, it should be conducted along certain inviolable principles, one of the most important of which should be that civilians should not be considered targets. There is of course a supernatural element to this too, and other than the church bells in “Where is Everybody?” and the vague half-reference at the end of “One For the Angels”, I believe this is the first time God is specifically mentioned.
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