The Twilight Zone's Execution premiered on Friday night, April 1, 1960. Russell Johnson stars as Professor Manion, a scientist whose time machine transports a convicted Old West killer to his lab in New York City. Albert Salmi plays the 19th century killer Joe Caswell, with host Rod Serling, Than Wyenn, George Mitchell, Jon Lormer and Fay Roope also in the Zone.
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1959-64), which introduced viewers to "a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man," was the big daddy of TV anthology series. The 1960 episode "Execution" features Russell Johnson as Professor Manion, a scientist whose time machine grants a reprieve to a 19th century murderer.
The Twilight Zone's Execution: Cast & Credits
"Execution" is based on a story by George Clayton Johnson. Rod Serling penned the teleplay for his own Cayuga Productions Inc., with David Orrick McDearmon directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:
- Narrator (Rod Serling)
- Joe Caswell (Albert Salmi)
- Professor Manion (Russell Johnson)
- Paul Johnson (Than Wyenn)
- Old Man (George Mitchell)
- Minister (Jon Lormer)
- Judge (Fay Roope)
- Bartender (Richard Karlan)
- TV Cowboy (Joe Haworth)
Albert Salmi as Joe Caswell, left, in "Execution" - CBS-TV
Execution: Episode Synopsis
The story begins in 1880, with Montana trail boss Joe Caswell about to be hanged for murder. A minister is present along with other judicial dignitaries as Caswell's neck is placed in the hangman's noose. Just as the rope begins to tighten Caswell mysteriously disappears, leaving the surprised necktie party without a victim.
Professor Manion, who has been working on his time machine, has inadvertently saved Caswell from the hangman's noose, plucking the convicted killer from the Old West and depositing him in his 20th century laboratory in New York City. The bedraggled Caswell is exhausted from his ordeal, with the professor putting his subject to bed following a brief interrogation. He learns that Caswell was a trail boss in Montana Territory, with his last recollection coming on November 14, 1880.
Professor Manion notes the strange rope burns gracing Caswell's neck, something the latter is unable to explain. Caswell's entire appearance produces a marked "feeling of disquiet" for Manion, who now thinks of the man before him as some kind of 19th century primitive let loose in a 20th century urban jungle.
Manion's instincts prove to be correct, with he and Caswell getting into a fight after the professor informs old Joe that he's sending him back to his own time period. The stronger Caswell overpowers the professor and bludgeons him with a heavy lamp. The Old West killer then escapes from the lab, where he wanders into the nighttime bustle of New York City. Overwhelmed by the light and noise, Caswell returns to the safety of Manion's laboratory where he later struggles with cat burglar Paul Johnson. The two men fight, with Johnson getting the upper hand and strangling Caswell with a cord.
Execution: Air Date & Network Competition
"Execution" was telecast over CBS on Friday night, April 1, 1960, in the 10-10:30 (ET) time slot. Network competition that evening was The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (ABC) and The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (NBC).
Execution: Analysis & Review
Time travel is a popular theme in science fiction. The Twilight Zone employed the time travel gamut in several episodes, including the spooky "Execution," first aired on April Fool's Day 1960.
Russell Johnson, perhaps best known for his role as The Professor a.k.a. Roy Hinkley on the sitcom Gilligan's Island (1964-67), plays a scientist who finally produces a functioning time machine. His invention, however, still has a few bugs, inadvertently transporting a vicious 19th century killer to his lab in New York City.
Albert Salmi (1928-1990) plays the reprieved murderer Joe Caswell, whose neck was about to be stretched into eternity by an Old West hanging party. The leering, rough-looking Salmi was a familiar face on episodic television in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, often playing the heavy/villain in a number of shows. "Execution" marked Salmi's first appearance on The Twilight Zone, with the World War II vet later returning to the Zone in "A Quality of Mercy" (12/29/61) and "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" (4/11/63).
Salmi has a field day as Joe Caswell, the violent Montana cattle hand who would no doubt be a killer in any century. Salmi garners his best scenes after his character escapes the professor's lab. Fleeing into the wild streets of the Big Apple, Salmi's Caswell is met by culture shock as his 19th century brain tries to assimilate the frightening sights and sounds of an urban jungle. The confused Caswell has a rather comic encounter with a Manhattan bartender, destroys a blaring juke box (hey, it was playing rock 'n' roll!) and shoots out a television screen after a TV cowboy draws his six-shooter.
As with many TZ episodes the famous Rod Serling twist is present. After the diminutive cat burglar Paul Johnson kills Joe Caswell with a Venetian blind cord (poetic justice, eh?), the thief accidentally activates Professor Manion's time machine. The hapless Johnson is then transported back to 1880 where he replaces Caswell at the end of the rope. And there Johnson is hung, with his confused executioners wondering who the strangely-attired man is now dangling from their noose.
"Execution" comes from The Twilight Zone's banner first season and is episode #26 of 156. "Execution" can be found on The Twilight Zone The Definitive Edition - Season 1 DVD. Or, you can wait for it to come back in TV rerun form, most notably on the SyFy Channel.
- Albert Salmi, left, and Russell Johnson in "Execution" - SyFy Channel
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.