022 – The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

Original air date – 3/4/60

Written by Rod Serling |  Directed by Ronald Winston

Starring Claude AkinsBarry AtwaterJack WestonAmzie StricklandBurt Metcalfe

Paranoia. A Witch-Hunt. Extra Terrestrials. Tree-lined 1950s suburban neighborhood. Guns. Bullies. Here are the themes that are predominant in The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (watch here on imdb) which took place in the 1950s McCarthy-era, Cold War America. One of THE best episodes of The Twilight Zone, and, in my opinion, one of the best half hours in the entire history of the American television, it was Rod Serling at his best as a social commentator.

It was a one fine afternoon on Maple Street, a peaceful tree-lined American neighborhood in the 50s. Kids are playing outdoors. Moms are cooking. Dads are working on their cars. Neighbors are conversing.

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Suddenly, there are rays and flashes of lights in the sky. Everyone looks up.

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All in the neighborhood assumes that the lights were from a meteor and continue on with their activities, but shortly after this unexplained event, basic services like electricity, telephone lines and the flow of cooking gas cease to function. One of the neighbors named Steve volunteers to go into town to find out what may be behind these strange happenings. Meanwhile Tommy, a neighborhood boy known for his rather wild imagination, suggests that Steve not leave since everything that just happened is caused by aliens and that an alien is embedded covertly among them.

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A few houses down Maple Street around the same time, one of the neighbors, Les (Barry Atwater), is trying to fix his car that he’s unable to start to no avail. But as soon as he walks away from the car, the engine starts by itself. With Tommy’s mention of an alien possibly hidden among them fresh in their minds, the simple-minded neighbors begin to suspect Les as the number one candidate for little green man since his car seems to have strange powers all its own. Someone else points out that Les is often seen in the middle of the night out on the front yard staring at the stars above, a sure sign that he must be a homesick alien.

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Les tries to explain to the mob of neighbors that have gathered to accuse him of strange behavior that he’s an insomniac and nothing more.

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When Steve tries to step in on Les’ behalf to calm the mob and restore some reason to the neighborhood, another neighbor named Charlie calls Steve’s hobby of building a ham radio into question: perhaps Charlie is actually an alien building an instellar transmitter.

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Panic ensues. The neighborhood is reduced to chaos. People run this way and that in the darkness left by the non-functioning street lamps. A shadowy figure approaches, walking down the center of Maple Street. Charlie grabs a rifle and shoots into the darkness at the shadow, certain it must be an alien intruder, and kills what turns out to be own neighbor returning from town.

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From here things get even worse. The whole neighborhood dissolves into a frenzy of accusation, blame and the rule of the angry mob. Slowly the camera pans above and away from the chaotic crowd, pulling back to a hilltop with a clear view of Maple Street. Two human-looking aliens are observing the scene from afar. In front of them is some sort of control panel.

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One says, “Understand the procedure now? Stop a few of their machines and radios and telephones and lawn mowers. Throw them into darkness for a few hours and then sit back and watch the pattern….They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find. And it’s themselves. All we need to do is sit back and watch….The world is full of Maple Streets. And we go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves. One to the other.”

Although Maple Street is distinctly American, the world is full of Maple Streets. And on each Maple Street, there are common fears that everyone shares: the fear of each other, the fear of the unexplained and the fear of the unknown. Fear is what makes humanity it’s own most dangerous enemy.

A side note – the flying saucer at the end of the episode is actually a recycled footage from Forbidden Planet, only that this one is flipped upside down.

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