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"The Hitch-Hiker" is the sixteenth episode of the first season of the original The Twilight Zone television series.
"Her name is Nan Adams. She's twenty-seven years old. Her occupation: buyer at a New York department store, at present of vacation, driving cross-country to Los Angeles, California, from Manhattan.... Minor incident on Highway 11 in Pennsylvania, perhaps to be filed away under accidents you walk away from. But from this moment on, Nan Adam's companion on a trip to California will be terror; her route--fear; her destination--quite unknown."
The story begins with Nan Adams, whose vehicle gets a flat tire on a cross-country road trip from New York City to Los Angeles. A mechanic puts a spare tire on her car and directs her to the nearest town to fix it properly. Just before she leaves, Nan notices a strange-looking man hitchhiking. Unnerved, she drives away quickly. As she continues her trip, Nan sees the same hitchhiker thumbing for a ride at several other points on her journey. She becomes increasingly frightened of him, and when she is stuck on a railroad crossing and nearly hit by a train, she becomes convinced that the hitchhiker is trying to kill her. She continues to drive, becoming more and more afraid, stopping only when necessary; but every time she does, the same hitchhiker is there. When she ends up stranded in New Mexico, she meets a sailor on his way back to San Diego from leave. Eager for protection from the hitchhiker she's been seeing, she offers to drive the sailor to San Diego herself. However, she is still paranoid about the hitchhiker, and when she sees him on the road she tries to run him over. The sailor, who can't see him, begins to fear for her sanity and leaves her. In Arizona, Nan stops to call her mother. The woman who answers the phone, Mrs. Whitney, says that Mrs. Adams is in the hospital; she had a nervous breakdown after finding out that her daughter, Nan, was killed in an auto accident in Pennsylvania six days ago, when the car she was driving blew a tire and overturned. At this point, Nan realizes the truth: the hitchhiker is not a man who wants her to die, but is rather the personification of death, patiently and persistently waiting for her to realize that she has been dead all along. Nan returns to the car and sees the hitchhiker sitting in the back seat through the reflection of the vanity mirror on the visor. "I believe you're going...my way?" he inquires, almost friendly. As Nan accepts her fate, Rod Serling narrates the final lines.
"Nan Adams, age twenty-seven. She was driving to California, to Los Angeles. She didn't make it. There was a detour through the Twilight Zone."
Preview for Next Week's Story
Specie [sic] of machine known, variously, as slot machine or one-armed bandit, and if you've ever played with one of these things for a while, you've probably gotten a peculiar feeling that this is a machine with a mind and will of its own. This is precisely what happens when Everett Sloane contacts a fatal ailment we call "The Fever." You'll be an eyewitness to it next week on The Twilight Zone.
- Rod Serling as Narrator (voice only); uncredited
- Inger Stevens as Nan Adams
- Leonard Strong as The Hitch-Hiker
- Adam Williams as Sailor
- Russ Bender as Counterman
- Lew Gallo as Mechanic
- George Mitchell as Gas Station Man
- Eleanor Audley as Mrs. Whitney; uncredited
- Mitzi McCall as Waitress; uncredited
- Dwight Townsend as Highway Flagman; uncredited
- 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)
- Rudy Butler (set decorator)
- Henry Grace (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)
- Image Entertainment (2004) (USA) (DVD)
- United Productions of America (UPA) (animated title)
Home media release
- The production of this episode cost a total of $47,721.63.
- Alfred Hitchcock tried to purchase the rights to the radio play for his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, for $2000 but his bid was rejected. Nevertheless, Cayuga Productions was able to obtain rights to Lucille Fletcher's script for $2000 and $1100 for each episode re-run.
- Gasoline price at the first station was 32.9 cents/gallon (equivalent to $2.60 in 2013 dollars.)
- In the original story, the character of Nan was a male, Ronald. Rod Serling believed that a female in the situation would be reacted to with more feeling by audiences.
- The protagonist's voice-over narration references the radio-play source of the episode.
- The original radio play was originally produced for a summer replacement series called "Suspense" on September 2, 1942 and starred Orson Welles. The program was so popular that Welles restaged the same script for "Philip Morris Playhouse" on October 15, 1942 and "Mercury Summer Theater on the Air" on June 21, 1946.
- Musical cues Bernard Herrmann composed for the 1946 radio production were re-scored for this episode.
- The Hitch-Hiker only has a total of two lines.
- When Inger Stevens goes to the gas station after her blow-out, some pumps are branded "Magnum" oil company. This is the same brand of oil-company truck from the famous biplane scene in North by Northwest.
- The character of 'Nan' was named after Rod Serling's daughter.