Whenever anybody compiles a list of what they consider to be the best episodes of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone,in almost every case It's A Good Life is included. Having first seen it in childhood,I've never been a fan of that episode. For the longest time,I couldn't figure out why. After years of Twilight Zone marathons,I believe I finally have the answer.
For those of you unfamiliar with it,it tells the story of a small town in Ohio that plays home to a little boy named Anthony (Billy Mumy) who seems to have limitless godlike power. He can seemingly do or create anything just by thinking of it. Because he has no concept of right or wrong,he's isolated his town from the rest of the world and is now in total control of the few people living there,including his parents. In this village,nothing electrical will work,and supplies are running low. Because Anthony's powers include the ability to read minds,everyone is forced to "think happy thoughts"...otherwise,Anthony will "wish them into the cornfield",suggesting either death or a banishment to another realm.
The inhabitants gather to celebrate a neighbor's birthday,but they can't sing "Happy Birthday" (because Anthony doesn't like it) nor can he listen to the Perry Como record he's been given as a gift. He gets drunk,starts to complain bitterly about their miserable existence and tries to goad the others into killing Anthony,thus ending their imprisonment. No one else works up the courage to act,and Anthony ultimately wishes the neighbor away. Anthony then causes a snowfall which will kill the meager crops growing and thus subject the town to starvation. Still,out of fear of Anthony,no one complains about it,forcing "good thoughts" into their minds. End of story.
First off,this was a great idea for an episode. Although it came one year after Village Of The Damned,a British horror movie with a similar plot,this is definitely one of the greatest,and certainly one of the most original premises for a Twilight Zone story. Unfortunately,ultimately,that's all it is...a premise. They set it up,but don't explore it as much as they could,even for a half-hour TV show. The "story" ends with the characters in exactly the same state they were when we first meet them. What's the point? Serling ends the episode by suggesting there was none to begin with,but then ends with an obligatory caution for anyone who might meet Anthony. I say again............what's the point?
I actually prefer the version Joe Dante directed in the 1983 Twilight Zone movie. In this retelling,Anthony seems to be every bit as omnipotent as his TV predecessor,but he's not interested in ruling the world...he just wants to be loved. To that end,he has forced a quartet of people to be his new family (after presumably killing off his real one),but the other main character,a young woman on her way to a new job as a schoolteacher,makes Anthony see the error of his ways and offers to help him find his true potential. The story ends with the pair driving off through a vast field of flowers Anthony has created.
This is just a suggestion,but perhaps the TV original could've ended this way: all the adults under Anthony's thumb finally go mad with their imprisonment,and are determined to end it,even at the risk of their own deaths. They band together to kill Anthony,and we see,not some sort of carefully conceived act (because Anthony would know of it anyway),but a mass desperate act of an insane mob. For all the detachment of an undisciplined little boy that he feels,Anthony is horrified to see his own family...his own mother...display such murderous hatred towards him and,in an act that is more of desperation than annoyance,wishes them all away.
After a few minutes of being alone,Anthony realizes what he has just done,and tries to bring them back...only to discover he can't. This is apparently the single limitation of his powers. And he has just condemned himself to a lifetime of isolation.
If this seems unnecessarily cruel,even to someone like Anthony...I remind you of two other episodes. In one,Burgess Meredith is a book-loving bank teller,the sole survivor of a nuclear war. Unable to cope with the prospect of loneliness,he contemplates suicide,but then discovers the public library and realizes he now has time to read as much as he wants. But before he can do this,he breaks his reading glasses.
In the other,Telly Savalas is an infertile man who has just married a woman with a young daughter. The wife gives her daughter a talking doll,but the husband,angered by his inability to have a child,balks at this. Alone with the doll,he hears insults,and then threats from the doll. Believing his wife to be playing some sort of joke on him,he takes it away from his tearful stepdaughter and tries to destroy it,but can't. When his wife threatens to leave,he sees the error of his ways and returns the doll...but later that night,the doll kills him,then reveals its true nature to the horrified widow.