019 – The Purple Testament

Original air date – 2/12/60

Written by Rod Serling  |  Directed by Richard L. Bare

Starring William Reynolds, Dick York, Barney Phillips, Warren Oates

The Purple Testament (watch it here on imdb) is about a man who can see an aura around the faces of certain people that portends their imminent death. Set in the World War II in the Philippines, Lieutenant Fitzgerald (William Reynolds) one day confides to his friend Captain Riker (Bewitched‘s Dick York) that he has discovered that he is suddenly gifted with the macabre ability to predict death. Whenever he looks at anyone whose face appears to have a strange glow – we can’t tell if it’s really purple since it’s a BW show – that person meets an untimely death.

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Riker consults the troop’s doctor who figures Fitzgerald’s visions as fatigue and recommends that he take a leave to recouperate. But when a soldier dies shortly after Fitzgerald tells Riker that he sees the glow on a particular soldier’s face, Riker wonders whether the doctor’s diagnosis is correct.

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Later that night, Fitzgerald sees the glow on another face, this time on the face of his friend Riker. 

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When Fitzgerald tells Riker of what he has seen, Riker decides to leave behind some of his personal mementos before going off for combat.

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The next day, Riker is killed by a sniper. Later that day, as Fitzgerald is preparing to take the leave prescribed by the doctor, he notices a glow in the mirror. This time it is from his own face.

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When his jeep arrives for his scheduled R & R, Fitzgerald accepts his destiny, knowing that his end is near. This is further confirmed when he and the jeep driver were told to be careful of the land mines on the road.

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As the driver gets into the car, he tells Fitzgerald to relax because they are going to have a four-hour ride back to the headquarter. Looking over at him, Fitzgerald sees the glow on his face and he can only reply, “I doubt it.”

Shortly after the men drive off, the soldiers at the camp hear an explosion in the distant…

This poignant story was written by Rod Serling who, having served in the World War II, witnessed first hand the fragility of life. Some of his war experiences must have inevitably shaped him and his work. One of those experiences which were told often was the loss of his friend Melvyn Levy. Levy was crushed when a large crate of rations fell directly on top of him after it was dropped by a supply plane. Serling was there and witnessed his friend’s death. There are several versions to this story. One has Levy doing a standup monologue when the supply crate crushed him. Another one has all the soldiers running for cover, while Levy didn’t and consequently crushed. Whatever version actually happened, the memory of Levy’s death stayed with Serling, and the bizarre circumstances along with the fragility of human life most likely influenced several themes in The Twilight Zone.

If you watch this episode, try to spot director Paul Mazursky as a young man who appeared briefly in a scene as an orderly in the hospital.

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