015 – I Shot an Arrow into the Air

Original air date – 1/15/60

Story by Madelon Champion | Teleplay by Rod Serling  |  Directed by Stuart Rosenberg

Starring Dewey Martin, Edward Binns, Ted Otis

Colonel Donlin (Edward Binns) and his officers, Corey (Dewey Martins) and Pierson (Ted Otis), are three astronauts who survive a rocket crash onto what they believe is an asteroid. The asteroid is hot and dry, nothing but a vast desert of mountains and rocks. Donlin and Pierson attempt to recover from the crash by following well-ordered protocol. Corey, however, seems intent only to survive, regardless of procedure, even at the expense of his fellow crew. With only five gallons of water to share among the three men, Donlin orders

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Donlin orders Corey and Pierson to survey the surroundings. The two men leave, but only Corey returns. Donlin assumes the worst, that Corey killed Pierson for his water since his canteen contained more water than when he left on his reconaissance. Donlin forces Corey at gunpoint to lead him back to Pierson’s body. But the two men reach the site where Pierson was abandoned by Corey, they find no trace of Pierson’s body.

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They comb the area and find Pierson barely alive. With a head wound and on the verge of dying, Pierson is unable to speak but tries to communicate something to Donlin. He draws a crosshatch-like diagram in the sand with his finger, but he dies before the men can decipher the picture.

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Corey takes advantage of the situation as a means to selfishly ensure his own survival and grabs Donlin’s rifle as Donlin kneels beside the now dead Pierson. He kills Donlin before trekking to the top of the mountain to find out what Pierson really saw on the other side. Once he reaches the top, Corey stares in disbelief, then breaks into tears and laughter at the same time. The diagram that Pierson was trying to draw was a sketch of a telephone pole – for what lies in front of him now are city signs, roads and telephone poles. Their spacecraft crashed back into earth. He’s not on an asteroid after all. He is in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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I Shot an Arrow into the Air (watch it here on YouTube) was directed by Stuart Rosenberg, a noted director who would go on to make Cool Hand Luke and never to return to television work again. The story credit went to Madelon Champion but in reality, Champion did not write the story. The idea came about during a casual party conversation between Champion and Rod Serling. “Madelon Champion said to me, ‘What would happen if three guys landed on what they thought was an asteroid and it turned out to be outside of Las Vegas? I paid five hundred dollars for that one on the spot. But it never happened again,” Serling supposedly said (quote from The Twilight Zone Companion written by Marc Scott Zicree).

The twist at the end is reminiscent of the classic ending of The Planet of the Apes nine years later. The ending of the film has Charlton Heston’s character discovered the wreckage of The Statue of Liberty, suggesting that what he thought was an alien planet is actually Earth all along. This is by no mean a coincidence since Rod Serling was brought in earlier to write the film script and is credited as a co-writer.
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