A handbill posted on a burnt tree, dated 1862, announces that anyone interfering with bridges, railroads or tunnels will be summarily executed. A bearded Civil War era civilian prisoner, Peyton Farquhar, is readied for death by hanging from a rural railroad bridge; Union troops carry out the preparations. The soundtrack contains only bird noises and brief military orders. As the rope is adjusted about Farquhar's neck, a vision of his stately home, wife and children flashes before him.
As Farquhar falls, the rope breaks, and he drops into the river. In an underwater sequence he frees himself from his bonds, kicks his boots free and swims downstream as soldiers fire volleys and single shots at him. Farquhar is swept through swift rapids and crawls ashore exhausted but laughing with relief. Glimpses of tree branches, clear sky and crawling insects are interrupted by a distant cannon shot which sends him running through an extensive forest, then along an eerily linear and orderly lane. Finally arriving at the gates of his home, he pushes his way through foliage. Farquhar reaches open lawn and runs toward his wife as she walks toward him, smiling and weeping.
Just as the couple are about to fall into each other's arms, Farquhar stiffens and his head snaps back. The scene cuts back to his body hanging from the bridge—his escape revealed to be fantasy experienced in the moment of the drop.
Two years after its production, the film was screened on American TV as part of the fantasy/science fiction show The Twilight Zone. Producer William Froug had seen the film and decided to buy the rights to broadcast it on American television. The transaction cost The Twilight Zone $25,000, significantly less than the average of $65,000 they expended on producing their own episodes; however, Froug’s purchase allowed for the film to be aired only twice (the first airing was on February 28, 1964). Consequently, it is not included on The Twilight Zone’s syndication package (although it is included on Image Entertainment's DVD box set of the original series and on the DVD Treasures of the Twilight Zone).
The episode's introduction is notable for Rod Serling breaking the fourth wall even more than usual, as he explains how the film was shot overseas and later picked up to air as part of The Twilight Zone. The introduction by Rod Serling is as follows:
Rod Serling even provided a closing narration for this adaptation:
Marc Scott Zicree's The Twilight Zone Companion incorrectly states the French film was purchased for $10,000. This mistake has been reprinted in a number of books since the 1984 publication. The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams correctly verifies the purchase price as $20,000 plus $5,000 additional costs for re-editing.
According to Zicree, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" was the last episode of the classic Twilight Zone to be "produced" (presumably referencing the re-editing and the addition of footage of Rod Serling, as production of the series was cancelled afterwards). It was not, however, the last episode of the series to be broadcast.Won first prize for Best Short Subject at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.
Won the 1963 [[Academy Award for Live Action Short Film.