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"I Shot an Arrow Into the Air" is the fifteenth episode of the The Twilight Zone.
"Her name is the Arrow One. She represents 4 and a half years of planning, preperations and training, and a thousand years of science and mathematics and the projected dreams and hopes of not only a nation but a world. She is the first manned aircraft into space. And this is the countdown, the last 5 seconds before man shot an arrow into the air."
A manned space flight with eight crew members crash lands on what the astronauts believe to be an unknown asteroid. Their expectations of survival or rescue are bleak. Only four of the crew survive, one of whom is barely alive. After he dies, the three remaining men, Corey, Donlin, and Pierson decide to trek out into the barren desert to see if there is anything that might improve their chances of survival. When Corey and Donlin reconvene, it seems that Pierson is dead and Corey filched the water supply from his dead body. Donlin, the commanding officer, forces Corey at gunpoint to lead him to Pierson's body.
They find Pierson, still barely alive, who with his last bit of strength draws a primitive diagram in the sand with his finger. Corey then kills Donlin and sets out alone, confident that he will survive longer now that he has all of the water supply.
Now you make tracks, Mr. Corey. You move out and up like some kind of ghostly billy-club was tapping at your ankles and telling you that it was later than you think. You scrabble up rock hills and feel hot sand underneath your feet and every now and then take a look over your shoulder at a giant sun suspended in a dead and motionless sky like an unblinking eye that probes at the back of your head in a prolonged accusation. Mr. Corey, last remaining member of a doomed crew, keep moving. Make tracks, Mr. Corey. Push up and push out because if you stop...if you stop, maybe sanity will get you by the throat. Maybe realization will pry open your mind and the horror= you left down in the sand will seep in. Yeah, Mr. Corey, yeah, you better keep moving. That's the order of the moment: keep moving.
Corey later sees a sign for Reno, and then sees telephone poles, which were what Pierson had attempted to draw before he died. Realizing that they had in fact never left Earth and that he had killed his partners for nothing, Corey breaks down weeping.
Practical joke perpetrated by Mother Nature and a combination of improbable events. Practical joke wearing the trappings of nightmare, of terror, of desperation. Small human drama played out in a desert 97 miles from Reno, Nevada, USA, continent of North America, the Earth and, of course, the Twilight Zone.
Preview for Next Week's Story
Next week, you'll drive with Ms. Inger Stevens, who starts out on what begins as a vacation and ends as a desperate flight. She begins her trip next week on The Twilight Zone and you'll be with her when she meets "The Hitch-Hiker". We hope you'll be alongside. Good night.
- Rod Serling as Narrator (voice only); uncredited
- Dewey Martin as Corey
- Edward Binns as Col. Bob Donlin
- Ted Otis as Pierson
- Harry Bartell as Langford
- Leslie Barrett as Brandt
- Rod Serling (executive producer: Cayuga Productions)
- Buck Houghton (producer)
- George T. Clemens (director of photography)
- Bill Mosher (film editor)
- Millie Gusse (casting; credited: Mildred Gusse)
- George W. Davis (art director)
- William Ferrari (art director)
- Henry Grace (set decorator)
- Jerry Wunderlich (set decorator)
- Ralph W. Nelson (production manager)
- Edward O. Denault (assistant director; credited: Edward Denault)
- Franklin Milton (sound; credited: Frank Milton)
- Jean G. Valentino (sound; credited: Jean Valentino)
- Van Allen James (sound effects editor; uncredited)
- Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1960) (USA) (TV) (original airing)
- United Productions of America (UPA) (animated title)
- The Twilight Zone Companion was highly critical of the science in this episode: "Any astronaut who crash lands on a body within our solar system that has the same atmosphere and gravity of Earth and doesn't immediately realize he is on Earth had better go back to astronaut school."
- "I got 15,000 manuscripts in the first five days. Of those 15,000, I and members of my staff read about 140. And 137 of those 140 were wasted paper; hand-scrawled, laboriously written, therapeutic unholy grotesqueries from sick, troubled, deeply disturbed people. Of the three remaining scripts, all of clearly poetic, professional quality, none of them fitted the show." —Rod Serling quoted in The Twilight Zone Companion
- Despite this, Serling did end up producing an idea from an industry outsider when he paid Madelon Champion $500 for the idea on which this episode was based, an idea that came up in a social conversation between the two. Though Serling was frequently approached with suggestions for the series, such a purchase was never repeated.
- Much of this episode was filmed in Death Valley National Monument (now a National Park), particularly around Zabriskie Point.
- In addition to the usual opening and closing narration, this episode features a rare bit of narration from Serling in the middle of the show—after Corey kills Donlin, Serling narrates Corey's travels through the desert landscape. This was the last use of mid-show narration until season three's "I Sing The Body Electric".
- The title of the episode comes from the opening line of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Arrow and the Song": "I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth I knew not where." Serling also used this title for a prospective Twilight Zone pilot episode that was eventually shot, in modified form, as "The Gift".
- The plot idea of astronauts thinking they had crashed on an unknown planet, only to discover that in fact they had been on Earth all along, would be adapted by Rod Serling in his work on the initial screenplay of the 1968 film Planet of The Apes.
- This is one of several episodes from season one to have its opening title sequence plastered over with the opening for season two. This was done during the summer of 1961 in order to give the re-running episodes of season one the updated look that the show had taken in the second season.