Follow TV Tropes


Recap / The Twilight Zone S 3 E 78 Once Upon A Time

Go To

Rod Serling: 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.

Air date: December 15, 1961

The year is 1890. Woodrow Mulligan (Buster Keaton) is a grumpy janitor who likes to complain about stuff—prices are too high, the streets are too noisy, bicycles zoom past at the clearly unsafe speed of 8 mph. It so happens that Woodrow works for a couple of inventors, who have invented a time-travel helmet. Wanting to find someplace where he can escape the hustle and bustle of a rural town in 1890, Woodrow puts on the hat and travels to 1962. He is not pleased by what he finds.


Once Upon a Trope:

  • Actor Allusion: Half of this episode is shot in the style of a Silent Movie as a tribute to Buster Keaton, who plays the protagonist Woodrow Mulligan. More specifically, the chase sequence after Mulligan arrives in 1962 recreates a scene from Keaton's 1920 short film The Garage co-starring Fatty Arbuckle. In both, Keaton's character's loses his trousers and is about to be arrested for public indecency. However, his heavyset partner prevents this when he walks behind him to hide him from a policeman. He then helps him to get a new pair, which Keaton puts on after being lifted up while they are walking.
  • Art Shift: The story partly takes place in 1890, where the format changes to that of a Silent Movie, complete with cutaways to intertitles and an overlaid piano track.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Subverted. Rollo, a scientist from 1962, goes back to 1890 with Mulligan expecting simpler times, only to realize that they also didn't have the simple pleasures of his time such as spring mattresses, TV dinners and bikinis. Mulligan sends him back to 1962 as he has begun to annoy him.
  • Advertisement:
  • Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: Mulligan sees a man on television, which he mistakes for a window, while in Jack's Fix-It Shop. Believing that the man is talking to him when he warns another character that someone can't be trusted, he becomes concerned that the repairman is up to something. Rollo sets him straight, though Mulligan still does not understand what television is.
  • Clucking Funny: A chicken flies into Woodrow's arms right before he travels to 1962. Besides being a funny sight gag, this is plot-relevant as it shows Woodrow that one doesn't have to be wearing the helmet to time travel; holding onto whoever is wearing the hat is good enough.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Rollo expects to find work with Mulligan's employer by travelling back to his time, only to learn that the technology is so simpler he doesn't have the means to resume his usual work and is left confused on what to do.
  • Advertisement:
  • Gag Censor: After Officer Flannagan tells him to watch his step, Mulligan mutters in irritation. The intertitle reads "Censored!" Immediately afterwards, Mulligan is knocked into a pig trough by a man on a penny farthing and shouts something after him. This time, the intertitle is "Also Censored."
  • "Mister Sandman" Sequence: In the first scene, Mulligan is walking through the Harmony town square in 1890 and complains about the high prices of sirloin steak (17c per lb) and ladies' hats ($1.95). The speed limit for bicycles is then shown as being eight miles per hour.
  • Retraux: The beginning and end of the episode, a good half of the running time, are made in the style of a silent movie.
  • Sex Sells: Lampshaded. In 1890, a poster for horse whips is shown featuring a drawing of a pretty young woman in her undergarments (which look conservative by modern standards). When Milligan gets to 1962, he sees a poster featuring a drawing of a woman in decidedly more risqué undergarments, selling spark plugs for cars.
  • Silence Is Golden: There is no spoken dialogue in the 1890 scenes, which emulate a Silent Movie.
  • Symbol Swearing: When Officer Flannagan chastises Mulligan for walking in the street and nearly being hit by a horse and carriage, the first word in the intertitle is represented by a star, an exclamation mark, an asterisk and a lightning bolt.
  • Time Travel Episode: On March 10, 1890, a janitor named Woodrow Mulligan travels forward in time to 1962 using a time helmet invented by Professor Gilbert.

Rod Serling: "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's 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.