One Classic Twilight Zone Episode Was Adapted Into A Movie You've Never Seen

Between 1959 and 1964, there wasn't a more consistently brilliant show on television than Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone" — an accomplishment that's all the more amazing given its anthology concept. Every episode offered a completely new story, often in a completely different genre, from an occasionally different writer. Sure, the rotating staff was a murderer's row of scribes that included Serling, Richard Matheson, and Charles Beaumont, but, good as they were, they didn't have the safety net of writing for the same characters every time out. All they had was their imagination (and, it must be noted, access to first-rate directors capable of accomplishing minor miracles on limited budgets).

Considering Hollywood's risk-averse nature, it's a little surprising that more "Twilight Zone" episodes haven't been turned into full-blown features — at least, not as official remakes. Obviously, "Poltergeist" owes a massive creative debt to "Little Girl Lost" and it's hard to imagine "Child's Play" without the arsenic-laced genius of "Living Doll," but for straight-up adaptations there's Richard Kelly's "The Box" (based on Matheson's "Button, Button"), Shawn Levy's "Real Steel" (loosely drawn from Matheson's "Steel"), and not much else!

Well, there is Steven Schachter's "For All Time" starring Mark Harmon. What's that? You've never heard of this made-for-CBS TV movie that aired in the fall of 2000 and maybe turns up on the Hallmark Channel once every few years? Well, it exists, and it's based on one of the most depressing "Twilight Zone" episodes ever produced.

There's something about Willoughby

"A Stop at Willoughby" is a classic Serling-esque tragedy about a man who feels utterly out of place in the present day. The episode (which Serling cited as his favorite of the series' first season) stars James Daly as Gart Williams, an under-the-gun, unhappily married advertising executive who, while drifting off to sleep one day during his train commute, dreams he's in late 19th century New York and has arrived at an idyllic small town called Willoughby. He returns to the town in a subsequent dream, and, upon awakening, resolves to disembark during his next reverie.

Williams finally follows through, and pledges to the townspeople he encounters that he plans to stay there — and, in a sense, he will because he'll never wake up again. At the end of the tale, we learn Williams leaped from the moving commuter train to his death while shouting "something about Willoughby."

If you asked me to name 50 "Twilight Zone" episodes that might make excellent feature-length films, I would not include "A Stop at Willoughby." It's a perfect short story with a devastating ending that would lose its kick if drawn out to 90 minutes.

How did "For All Time" get around this issue? By turning "A Stop at Willoughby" into a semi-remake of a novel by another "Twilight Zone" writer.

Serling by way of Matheson

Richard Matheson's "Bid Time Return" is probably best known to most people as "Somewhere in Time." Though it's hampered a tad by Jeannot Swarc's leaden direction, the film version of Matheson's book is a swooningly sentimental romance buoyed by a beautifully earnest leading man turn from Christopher Reeve (and one of John Barry's lushest symphonic scores). In this telling, Reeve is a playwright who becomes so obsessed with a photo of an early 20th century that he essentially wills himself back in time to meet and, hopefully, sweep her off her feet.

Schachter's "For All Time" borrows Matheson's time travel conceit (though his iteration involves an antique pocket watch), which allows Harmon's profoundly unhappy character to get off the train in 1888 and fall in love with a lovely and intelligent widower (Mary McDonnell). Since there's a very good chance you've never seen this movie, I'm not going to spoil the ending, but let's just say it's nowhere near as downbeat as Serling's original, nor as crushing as Matheson's variation.

As for where you can watch "For All Time," there are DVDs out there in the ether, but even pre-owned they're awfully pricey! So here's where I'll tell you that while the film is not currently available to stream on subscription services, it's not exactly difficult to track down. If you're a Serling completist, your Willoughby awaits.