The Twilight Zone: Black Leather Jackets

"Three strangers arrive in a small town ... three men in black leather jackets, in an empty rented house. We'll call them Steve, Scott, and Fred, but their names are not important; their mission, as three men on motorcycles, lead us into the Twilight Zone."

Season 5, Episode 18

One of Serling's less inspired intros, perhaps, but the music accompanying is that kind of fantastic orchestral jazz that accompanied so many scenes of this era of TV meant to convey "beatnik" to the audience. This practice seemed already kind of dated by 1965 but would continue into the 70s. And probably 80s, too. (By the 90s, doing such things was fabulously retro.)

Here's how My Life in the Shadow of the Twilight Zone breaks down the plot: 

"Suburbanite Stu Tillman is annoyed by his new neighbors, three leather-clad motorcycle riders whose elaborate rooftop antenna array is interfering with his TV reception."

"Evil ham radio operators have come for your daughter" - AV Club"

"When he goes to bust their chops about it, they telepathically change his disposition. Back at home, he vacantly tells his wife that the new neighbors are 'nice boys.'"

"But they aren't."

"Cool it, daddy-o, or I'll disintegrate you with my ray gun."

"They’re invaders from an unspecified planet, one small cell in a large force planning to eradicate mankind by poisoning the earth’s water supply." 

"The youngest of the three, Scott, starts hanging around Ellen, Stu's daughter and as he gets to know her, he starts thinking twice about their mission. Maybe humans aren't the self-destructive, godless cretins their research has indicated."

"Thank your lucky stars you don't have to depend on buses to get around."
"Stars are lucky?"
"You know that old expression."
"I understand about the constellations, the nature of the galactic structure, but - I mean, I dig stars, but they're lucky? That's a gas."

"The night before the worldwide poisoning, Scott confesses the whole thing to Ellen who, thinking he's off his nut, relays the story to her father. Stu, still hypnotized into thinking the best of the alien thugs next door, calls the police in an earnest attempt to 'get that boy some help.'"

"The sheriff, however, has been replaced with another invader."
Sheriff, seen here helpfully twirling the alien-invasion-force-symbol, played by veteran actor Michael Conrad.
"Scott is apprehended without incident, and the invasion commences."

"Portrait of an American family on the eve of invasion from outer space. Of course, we know it's merely fiction - and yet, think twice when you drink your next glass of water. Find out if it's from your local reservoir, or possibly it came direct to you....from the Twilight Zone." 

The End.

Okay, so the general consensus on this one is that it's a fairly silly slice of the Twilight Zone pie. I can't argue. The actual invasion scheme is - as such things go - perfectly fine, or at least shrugworthy enough. The aliens need more room for themselves, have judged humans to be inferior squatters on the land they intend to occupy, and are ready to aggressively eradicate the infestationThe AV Club (aforelinked) has some fun with the idea of the three bikers going to see a realtor at episode's beginning: "Why an an alien invasion force would want to set up cover in a suburban neighborhood - and why they’d go to lengths to establish that cover via legal means - isn’t answered."

Furthermore, if they're concerned enough about their mission to legally occupy the house, why be so conspicuous otherwise? Confrontational behavior, loud motorcycles, etc. Possibly because we're not meant to realistically appraise them  - as much as such an appraisal as possible - as the vanguard of an invasion force; we're meant only to interpret them (as Serling referred to them in his "Next Week on the TZ" from the previous episode) as "beatniks and raunchy-looking characters."

Is the point that underneath the facade of every beatnik / non-conformist lies an invader who wants to destroy our way of life? I don't think so. I mean, it would be a little odd if, all of a sudden, Serling wanted to deliver an earnest (and ten years too late) sermon on the dangers of beatniks and motorcycle guys. By 1964 all the "daddy-O" lingo was probably dated enough to suggest irony rather than verisimilitude. The irony of the story - slight as it is - is probably more in the vein of when the fascists invade, they won't be wearing conspicuous armbands and marching in lock-step down Main Street; they'll be dating your daughter and dressed in the fashions of the counter-culture.  

Does it burn some of its own internal-logic-fuel to achieve the escape velocity it's looking for? Sure. Not the deepest dip in the pool but refreshing nonetheless.


Apollo (aka Michael Forest) plays Steve. (Tom Gilleran plays the other alien, Fred.)
The Tillmans, l to r: Irene Hervey as Martha, future-Coach's-girlfriend as Ellen, and Uncle Jesse as Stu.
Lee Kinsolving stars as Scott, the alien who develops an anti-colonial conscience after hooking up with one of the natives.

Kinsolving quit acting shortly after production of "Black Leather Jackets." Interestingly enough, another of his last roles was the Outer Limits episode "The Children of Spider County." Both of these episodes (along with another Outer Limits episode, "The Bellero Shield") have been mentioned as the having a suspicious amount of details in common with the alleged alien abduction story Barney Hill gave under hypnosis. (More here for any interested parties.)

Kinsolving also starred in "The Explosive Generation" with one Bill Shatner. He quit the biz and ran a hipster bar/ restaurant in New York for a few years, romancing the likes of Tuesday Weld and Candice Bergen. He sold the bar and moved to Florida, managing a couple of art galleries and sailing exotic locales in his private schooner, before dying of a mysterious respiratory illness in 1974 at the ridiculous age of 36. 

January 31, 1964.


  1. Denver Pyle! I do love with some Uncle Jesse. I betcha I hadn't thought about Uncle Jesse in a decade or so. Got a nice warm feeling from it, sort of a mental smile.

    This does indeed sound like a daffy episode. I wonder, if it was made/remade today, what would the bikers be? Gangbangers, maybe...? ("Gangbangers" is probably already a hopelessly outdated word.) More likely that none of this would fly in 2016.

    The jury seems somewhat out on whether it even flew in 1964. As you point out, the biker thing was already big-time out of date. Maybe not, though; would millions of stuffy middle-aged white folks have thought it still seemed timely? Odds are decent.

    I enjoyed seeing that Michael Forest was in a TZ episode. Does it seem like he should have been a bigger star? I don't think I've seen him in anything except "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and he is terrific in it. And in that unofficial fan-made sequel from a few years back, too.

    1. From what I understand Forest's subsequent career was mostly in voiceover. Which is funny considering the Apollo role relied so much on the actor's physicality. I only ever saw him in the ST:C sequel you mention and in an episode of "The Outer Limits."

      Uncle Jesse refers to the biker-neighbors as "ham radio operators" something like 85 times in 2 minutes in this episode. I hadn't noticed it until i read the AV Club's review, but now that really cracks me up. I wonder if fear of ham radio operators was actually a thing. God I hope so.

    2. Me too. I may adopt that as my new catch-all derogatory term. "Lookit those ham radio operators," I'll say disapprovingly. Nobody will know what I mean, but somehow, they'll all know EXACTLY what I mean.

  2. For my own part, I watched "Walking Distance" tonight. Great episode; threatens to run off the rails toward the end, but never quite does. FANTASTIC Bernard Herrmann score.

    1. I have a feeling I'm going to greatly enjoy vicariously seeing the show again for the first time through your eyes. Please keep the impressions coming. "Walking Distance" is a classic for sure. The TZ returned to that thematic well a few more times in its run.

      I'm also curious to hear which episodes don't appeal to you and why, because I'm betting when the final tally is taken, we'll have most of the same hits and most of the same misses. For my part, some of the more sentimental ones are kinda clunky (like "One for the Angels," of the ones that I believe you've seen.) I appreciate that they were made and all and admire aspects of them. But the show has too many all-out-awesome ones for me to dwell on those.

    2. Absolutely. Like you, I'm from the era when one expected at least a third of any given show's episodes to be dreck. So if "The Twilight Zone" has an occasional misfire, it ain't gonna cross my eyes none.

      Either way, "Walking Distance" certainly was no misfire.