Original air date – 1/22/60
I don’t know how many times I have seen this iconic Twilight Zone episode, but after watching The Hitch-Hiker again last night (watch here on imdb), I must admit that when I closed my eyes to go to sleep, I saw the image of that mysterious man in the hat smiling serenely at me in the rearview mirror. This is probably the reason why I do not want to go on a cross-country drive by myself. Well, this and Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first feature length film about a seemingly unstoppable demonic truck, which was written by Richard Matheson, another TTZ writer who wrote more of its episodes than anyone save Rod Serling.
In this episode, we follow Nan Adams (Inger Stevens), a young New Yorker who is driving cross-country alone to California. When we meet her, she is waiting by the side of the highway waiting for a mechanic to fix a flat tire. The mechanic comments, referring to the accident that caused the flat, that instead of calling a mechanic, someone should have called a hearse, that she’s lucky to survive unscathed.
After the tire is changed, Adams hits the road again. Before driving off, she notices a man in a suit standing by the roadside hitch-hiking, the first in a series of sightings of this same mysterious man.
After a few days of driving and seeing the hitch-hiker again and again, Adams becomes petrified. At her stops along the way, she asks passersby if they have seen the hitch-hiker in the dark suit and hat, but no one but her seems to see the man.
Desperate for a company to allay her fears of this ubiquitous hitch-hiker who is seemingly stalking her, Adams offers a sailor at the end of his shore leave a ride to San Diego. But when she sees the hitch-hiker yet again, she swerves her car in an attempt to run over the hitch-hiker. Shaken and assuming Adams is crazy, the sailor demands to get out the car and leaves her.
An unfamiliar voice picks up the phone. She tells Adams that her mother is not there, rather she’s in the hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown since the death of her daughter six days ago.
All of a sudden, everything comes together. The swerve off the road that required a tire change caused her her life. Now Adams is weirdly not afraid anymore.
Accepting her fate, she gets back into her car, looks into the rearview mirror and sees the hitch-hiker who smiles at her and says “I believe you’re going my way?”
The first time watching this episode I thought the hitch-hiker was a dead soul needing a ride to wherever dead people were heading, but apparently he is Death, waiting for her to cross-over with him.
This short story was originally written for a radio play by Lucille Fletcher. In the original story, Nan Adams’ character is a man named Ronald Adams which was voiced by Orson Welles for The Orson Welles Show in 1942 and The Mercury Summer Theater in 1946 (listen to it here or read the transcript here). Another difference between the original radio play and this episode of TTZ is at the end in the radio play, Death disappears after Adams makes the phone call. Could the phone call defying the boundary between death and living makes Adams forever living in a limbo? If that’s the case, it will make this TTZ‘s ending relatively a happy one, I’d say.