I just received The New York Review of Books on election eve. In this issue is a review of a book about Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. When I was a teenager I sat transfixed each week watching the latest episode.
The Hitch-Hiker episode has been indelibly etched in my mind for over 60 years. Inger Stevens portrays a young woman driving cross country. She is closely followed by a hitch hiker who appears throughout her journey. The end of the story is a total mind bender.
Rod Serling influenced an entire generation of television viewers. His work and this book makes me think on election eve of the book I read earlier this year, “Audience of One. Donald Trump, Television and the Fracturing of America,” by James Poniewozik.
Rod Serling may have been present at the creation of television. Trump helped destroy it.
New York Review of Books – Andrew Delbanco, 11.19.2020 issue
Serling had an incipient sense of women’s craving for freedom in 1950s America.
Here was the keynote of almost everything Serling wrote—soul-killing loneliness—which he embodied in voyagers stranded, astronauts marooned, spouses estranged, clerks doing mind-numbing work while dreaming of a larger life. Loneliness was again his subject in “The Hitch-Hiker,” based on a radio play by Lucille Fletcher that Serling remembered hearing while still in high school. Fletcher’s protagonist was a man, but Serling preferred a woman for the role, casting the delicately vulnerable Swedish-born actress Inger Stevens.
She’s driving alone along unlit roads. Like Janet Leigh in Hitchcock’s Psycho (which opened a few months later), she’s in flight through the night from a transgression—though exactly what sin or crime she has committed goes unsaid. Along the way she encounters one attentive man after another: an auto mechanic, a café proprietor, a naval recruit, and, again and again, a weary hitchhiker with sad eyes who inexplicably stays ahead of her, awaiting her arrival up the road even though she has sped away from him after each previous encounter. Some of these men are menacing, others alluring; some are surly and cool, others wolfish and leering, but she cannot tell who is a hazard and who is an opportunity. There is fear in her eyes but seduction in her smile. It’s unclear to us, and perhaps to her, whether she’s feeling the dread of violation or the rush of freedom.
Following is a Wikipedia link to “The Hitch-Hiker.”