The Twilight Zone: Still Valley

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"Still Valley" Season 3, Episode 11 (1961)

The always reliable Twilight Zone Vortex (which has loads of fascinating biographical detail on the remarkably prolific Manly Wade Wellman, the author of the original short story adapted here by Serling and one of the six authors to whom Stephen King dedicated Danse Macabre, in their review) refers to "Still Valley" as not holding up too well after a first viewing. That's fair. Still, the first viewing is pretty cool, and it is one of the handful of Wellman adaptations so that's worth celebrating.

"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." 

Two Confederate scouts Paradine (Gary Merrill, who had a long career in television) and Dauger (Ben Cooper) discuss the state of ongoing War Between the States. Paradine is grizzled; Dauger is green. When they hear what can only be Union troop movements in the valley below, Paradine insists they do their duty and go and check it out. Dauger suggests they surrender instead. Paradine backhands and scolds him, then rides off on his own.

When Paradine gets into town, he finds the Union army there, all right, but all of them are totally motionless, as if frozen in time and space. 

Not just the soldiers - everyone in town seems turned to organic stone. (If organic stone were, like, a thing.) He eventually meets the only ambulatory denizen of the town, an old man named Teague, who claims to be a "witch-man" who has "fixed" the Yanks. With magic! 

Teague brags that he could stop all the thieving skunks whole Union army in this manner. ("I can open up a path to Washington so that Bobby Lee could ride in there with three Confederate troopers and take over the whole country.") But, Teague tells Paradine, he's dying. He can smell his death on the air as clearly as he can read the spells in the book. He pegs Paradine as his replacement. Paradine takes the book but is horrified to discover this is Prince of Darkness magic. Satan! Old Scartch hisself, yassir!

Looks a little like Mick Fleetwood on the left there, doesn't he? The actor is Vaughn Taylor, who was in tons of stuff, including several other TZ eps.

Teague dies, and Paradine returns to camp to tell his lieutenant and the boys about this powerful new satanic wonder-weapon that could win the war in a week. 

Nobody believes him until other soldiers arrive and report the same story.

The lieutenant admits that perhaps the book is the only way the Confederacy could actually win the war. But to use the book, they must not only invoke the Devil, they must renounce the name of God. Easy call for Black Sabbath 100 years later! Not so much for Paradine and the gang. Rather than do it, Paradine throws the book into the fire. 

"On the following morning, Sergeant Paradine and the rest of these men were moved up north to a little town in Pennsylvania, an obscure little place where a battle was brewing, a town called Gettysburg, and this one was fought without the help of the Devil. Small historical note not to be found in any known books, but part of the records... 
in the Twilight Zone."

That's all she wrote. A few quick bullet points:

- Cool to see time-traveling Wil Wheaton in the scene at the camp: 

Nice fake 'stache, Wil.
Or maybe it's time traveling David Faustino.  Or Frankie Muniz. This actor (Ben Cooper) really lends himself (or rather, his face) to a lot of possibilities.

- The rationale that Paradine uses ("I don't know much about Satan, but this cause of ours is is dying right in front of us. The name of God is all we (the Confederacy) has left. If this cause be buried, let it buried in hallowed ground.") is interesting. It would seem to speak to the whole "Lost Cause" ideology that was popular in the South (and elsewhere) for many years, but it's more than that. I certainly don't think Serling is speaking through Paradine or anything like that. The layers of irony here are the stuff good drama is made of. It speaks to so many of the contradictions of the larger Civil War conflict. 

- That said, perhaps things could have been fleshed out a little. Perhaps just bringing up the irony isn't enough. But, it's so preferable to an on-the-nose reading, i.e. if one of the soldiers stood up and spelled out all the contradictions in Paradine's reasoning and related them all to issues of slavery and statehood. But: maybe Teague could have done so. A few extra lines after he reveals the author of the witch book, maybe? Something like "Won't be the first time you get in with the devil, eh, Paradine?" of some kind?

- And as mentioned in Film School Rejects' review maybe a few scenes of the Confederates wreaking havoc with the book? Accomplished via audio suggestion and headlines? Maybe that'd have made the decision to rid themselves of the book on the eve of Gettysburg all the better. I mean, there has to be more than one freaking paralysis spell in there. "The book is called Witchcraft after all, not Spell, so there’s bound to be more dark wonders within.")



  1. Interesting. Sounds like there's some good tension in terms of how one is being asked to view the Confederate soldiers. On the one hand, they flirt with Satanism, so that's bad; but on the other hand, they ultimately reject it, so that's good. Sounds like a good episode to me.

    I know little about Manly Wade Wellman, but he's got one of the all-time great names.

    Say, did you see the recent "Star Trek Continues" episode that had a Civil War setting? Not bad.

    1. I did not. I haven't seen an episode of "STC" in quite some time. I keep meaning to catch up but you know how it goes.

    2. I sure do. That particular episode is fairly good, but I liked the most recent one ("Embracing the Winds") a lot. It's SJW bait, I guess you'd say; but they try -- and mostly succeed -- to hit it from both angles.

  2. I just noticed that the show misspelled Manly as "Manley." "Manley" would not be a manly way of spelling "Manly."