Puneet Varma

The Shelter (The Twilight Zone)

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Episode no.  Season 3 Episode 3
Written by  Rod Serling
Production code  4803
Directed by  Lamont Johnson
Featured music  Stock
Original air date  September 29, 1961

"The Shelter" is episode 68 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on September 29, 1961 on CBS.

Contents

Plot

It is a typical evening in a typical suburban community. At the residence of physician Bill Stockton, he enjoys a birthday party being thrown for him by his wife Grace and their son Paul. Also at the party are Jerry Harlowe, Bill's brother-in-law; Frank Henderson and Marty Weiss, Bill and Jerry's former roommates; and the wives and children of Jerry, Frank, and Marty. Bill is well known and liked by this gathering; he attended the State University with Marty, Frank, and Jerry. Moreover, Bill has repeatedly administered to the health and well-being of each one of said guests and/or delivered their children. Everyone is especially friendly and jovial, even when mention is made of Bill's late-night work on a fallout shelter which he has built in his basement. Suddenly, a Civil Defense (CONELRAD) announcement overheard by young Paul is made that unidentified objects have been detected heading for the United States. In these times, everybody knows what that means: nuclear attack.

As panic ensues, the doctor locks himself and his family into his shelter. The same gathering of friends becomes hysterical and now wants to occupy the shelter. All of the previous cordiality is now replaced with soaring desperation; pent-up hostility, searing racism, and other suppressed emotions boil to the surface. Stockton offers his basement to the guests, but the shelter itself has sufficient air, provisions, and space for only three people (the Stocktons themselves). The once-friendly neighbors do not accept this; they break down the shelter door with an improvised battering ram. Just then, a final Civil Defense broadcast announces that the objects have been identified as harmless satellites and that no danger is present. The neighbors apologize for their behavior; yet Stockton wonders if they have destroyed each other without a bomb.

Cast

  • Larry Gates as Dr. Bill Stockton
  • Jack Albertson as Jerry Harlowe
  • Sandy Kenyon as Frank Henderson
  • Peggy Stewart as Grace Stockton
  • Michael Burns as Paul Stockton
  • Joseph Bernard as Marty Weiss
  • Jo Helton as Martha Harlowe
  • Moria Turner as Mrs. Weiss
  • Mary Gregory as Mrs. Henderson
  • John McLiam as Man
  • Context

    The episode aired after a summer in which the fallout shelter had loomed large in national discourse, due to the Berlin Crisis of 1961. Meeting with U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Vienna, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev insisted—not for the first time—that NATO troops withdraw from Berlin, handing over the city to an independent, Soviet-aligned East Germany. Khrushchev explicitly threatened thermonuclear war if the United States refused to relent. Kennedy responded publicly seven weeks later in a televised address on July 25, 1961. During the speech, Kennedy stated his intention to ensure access to shelters in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. In the aftermath of the speech, numerous companies began producing such shelters, and products were sold with explicit reference to the shelters; for instance, Foam-Ettes toothpaste tablets boasted that they could be used "wherever you are—even in a family fallout shelter." Rod Serling saw an opportunity for urgent social commentary and "rushed into production" an episode that would comment on prevailing anxieties. Two weeks after the episode aired, the crisis escalated and construction of the Berlin Wall began.

    References

    The Shelter (The Twilight Zone) Wikipedia


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