Episode #16: The Hitch-Hiker
Directed by Alvin Ganzer. Written by Rod Serling from a radio play by Lucille Fletcher. Starring Inger Stevens, Adam Williams, Leonard Strong.
“Her name is Nan Adams. She’s twenty-seven years old. Her occupation: buyer at a New York department store, at present on vacation, driving cross-country to Los Angeles, California, from Manhattan.”
She also gets to do her own voiceover, giving Mr. Serling some competition. Sometimes Nan Adams (Inger Stevens) goes a bit melodramatic with her external thoughts, but that’s the only complaint I can lodge against this, one of the finest Twilight Zone episodes of the first season. It’s certainly one of the scariest in the show’s history.
The “Phantom Hitch-Hiker” urban legend was already well-known when this episode, and the early 1940s radio-play on which Serling based his script, was released (hell, it predates the invention of the automobile) but I think this is the best examination of this peculiar piece of folklore. What makes the show interesting is how it manages to flip roles into a genuine surprise.
Our young Nan Adams, after having a roadside accident in
The episode contains almost continual tension, and the moment where Nan gets her car caught on the railroad tracks with a train bearing down on her is the equal of many sequences in Hitchcock films. Speaking of Hitchcock, Nan’s desperate run through empty landscapes (all Malibu, by the way; I’ve driven that road many times) feels similar to Psycho… but this can only be coincidence, as Psycho was days away from the completion of principle photography when “The Hitch-Hiker” was first broadcast on 22 January 1960.
The shock finale is perfect, even if astute viewers may have already guessed it from a few hints dropped along the way. It recalls the less-explicable events in “And When the Sky Was Opened” and the later Final Destination series. An episode filled with fear concludes on a note of peace… maybe not the peace most of us would like, but peace nonetheless.
A bleak coincidence about this episode: beautiful actress Inger Stevens, who co-starred with Clint Eastwood in Hang ‘Em High, died in 1970 from a prescription drug overdose at the tragically young age of thirty-six .
Listen carefully to the voice on the other end of the fatalistic phone call: It’s Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty and Madame Leota from the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland! (a.k.a. voice-actress Eleanor Audley.)