Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time – Twilight Zone episode starring Buster Keaton

In a very funny episode of The Twilight Zone, Buster Keaton stars as Woodrow Mulligan, a grumpy janitor living in the year 1890 – as Rod Serling says in the introduction to the episode:

Mr. Mulligan, a rather dour critic of his times, is shortly to discover the import of that old phrase, ‘Out of the frying pan, into the fire,’ said fire burning brightly at all times in the Twilight Zone.

Buster Keaton in the Twilight Zone episode, Once Upon a TimeWoodrow Mulligan, complaining of the high prices and noise, dreams of moving somewhere quiet … and while working for his boss, Professor Gilbert, he has his chance.  The Professor has finished work on a “time helmet” and Woodrow uses it to escape to the future — only to find that 1960 is far more noisy and busy than his own time.

Stranded in the future, with the time helmet broken, he makes the acquaintance of a scientist (Stanley Adams) who believes his strange tale and takes his to a fix-it shop where a handyman, played by comedy veteran Jesse White, attempts to fix it.  The scientist, however, plans to hijack the time helmet for himself, and escape to the idyllic 1890’s himself.  All turns out well, however, as Woodrow jumps ‘on board’, and the two are back in the 1890’s.

However, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and the scientist is soon miserable in the past — and the compassionate Woodrow sends him back to his own time with the helmet.  As Rod Serling says in his closing remarks,

‘To each his own’ – so goes another old phrase to which Mr. Woodrow Mulligan would heartily subscribe, for he has learned, definitely the hard way, that there is much wisdom in a third old phrase which goes as follows: ‘Stay in your own backyard.’ To which it might be added, ‘and if possible, assist others to stay in theirs’ – via, of course, the Twilight Zone.

In short, Once Upon a Time is simply a hilarious vehicle for Buster Keaton, with the sequences in the 1890’s silent with talking conveyed by slides.  It’s simply hilarious, with Buster Keaton turning simple activities such as crossing a street, opening a door, or drying his pants into comic gold.  Even more so are the scenes set in the 1960’s, where he interacts with the ‘technological wonders’ of the ‘future’, such as a television (”the fellow in the window”), a vacuum cleaner, etc. as well as having a comedy partner in the overweight scientist, making for some comedy highlights as he tries to avoid being arrested for not wearing any pants, since he left them behind in 1890.

All in all, Once Upon a Time is a comedy treat, that I recommend highly.

Trivia for Once Upon a Time – episode of The Twilight Zone starring Buster Keaton

  • Leslie Goodwins was uncredited for writing the fix-it shop episode more than a month after production of the episode had ended and the bulk of the photography was finished. He came down to do the pick ups.
  • The old-fashioned clothes wringer that Buster is using to wash his pants in the beginning is the same kind of wringer that crushed his right forefinger when he was 3 years old. A curious little boy, he got his finger caught in the rollers and a doctor had to amputate it at the first knuckle. In this episode, he gets the same finger caught in the wringer for laughs.
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