Revisiting childhood, much like foregoing the Space Age for the Old West, is a concept that likely will forever have resonance. If life seems too complicated, think back to the days when everything was simple and carefree. That's at the heart of this episode of the Zone.
We're on a roll with future Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winners, because this story stars Gig Young, who won in 1969, our third Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner in the last three episodes.
But turning the clock back ten years earlier, Young's character, Martin Sloan, a brash and somewhat burnt-out "Mad Man" executive needing a break from New York and the advertising world, pulls his convertible sports car into a filling station (as they used to call them) on a summer Sunday afternoon to get some gas. He tells the mechanic to give him an oil change and lube job too. It'll take an hour, is the response. "I'm in no hurry," states Martin. This, though he was driving down that dirt road at rocket speed.
Then Martin sees a sign that says Homewood, the town he grew up in, was just a mile and a half down the road. He decides to walk over (hence the title of the episode) and see how it had changed.
But, to Martin's surprise, the place wasn't that different than he remembered. The drug store that he bought his three scoop ice cream sodas from as a kid for ten cents still charged a dime for the confection. He started feeling as if he only left town a day ago, not twenty years previous. But what Martin didn't see was that the owner of the place, whom he believed to be dead years before, was taking a nap up in his stockroom.
Next, Martin wanders down his old street he encounters a friendly small boy playing marbles. It happened to be another future Oscar winner, a pre-Mayberry Ronnie(as he was credited here) Howard. Martin points at the house across the street and tells the kid he used to live there. "Sloan House?" The kid asks.
"You still call it that?" Sloan House? That's my name. Martin Sloan."
"You're not Marty Sloan, I know Marty Sloan and you're not him!" The kid runs back into his house.
Martin continues his tour, heading to the park, where he helps a young mother (take THAT, Barbara Jean Trenton from "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine!") who had trouble with her misbehaving son. Martin tells her how he carved his name into the post of the bandstand, when he sees a kid doing exactly that. As he rushes over, the kid is carving the name "Martin Sloan" with his knife.
"You ARE Martin Sloan! That's how I looked!" Martin shouted, scaring his younger self into running away.
Finally, Martin braves a visit to his boyhood home and rings the doorbell. His dear old father and mother come to the door, having no idea who he is; they think he's crazy for claiming to be their son, and say as much as they slam their door in his face.
A neighbor shows off his brand new jalopy, a 1934 car with a rumble seat. Martin finally realizes that he somehow has traveled back through time, some twenty-five years.
That evening, he returns to the house, finds his old baseball glove and as he rings the bell on his bicycle, Dad comes out. "I don't want you to get into trouble," the elder Sloan states, "but if you hang around here, there may be trouble." He sees his mother come to the front porch and tries to convince her of his identity, pulling out his wallet. She slaps it out of his hands and slaps her hand to his cheek.
Martin hears the calliope of the carousel and knows where he needs to go. He dashes to the park.
When he arrives, we know something weird is about to happen, because everything is seen in Dutch angles. Martin spots his younger self on the merry-go-round. He calls out to him, then hops onto the ride. Young Martin starts to run away again, and as the adult Martin chases, the boy falls off, screaming in pain as he injured his leg. At that moment, the adult Martin also screams in pain from a leg injury he didn't have, until that moment.
The ride operator, holding Young Martin gingerly, was approached by his adult counterpart saying, "I only wanted to tell you, this is a wonderful time of life for you. Don't let any of it go by without enjoying it." It's an O. Henry style communication, though, because Martin ruined his enjoyment by attempting to deliver that thought.
Later, as Martin still broods on the motionless carousel, his father comes by. "The doctor says he'll limp some, but he'll be alright." Then he returns the wallet admitting he looked through it. "You've come from a long way, and a long time." He goes on to tell his son he has to leave. "Don't make him share it," Dad says about the adult Martin crowding the child Martin out.
Martin returns to the drug store, it's daytime again, and kids are dancing to Rock n' Roll music on the jukebox. He asks the soda jerk for his three scoop ice cream soda. "It'll cost you extra. Thirty-five cents."
Martin passes on the soda and has difficulty standing up with his "bum knee." "Did you get it in the war?" The counterman asks. And when Martin tells him he got it as a kid falling off the carousel right there in town, Martin is told that the ride was condemned and torn down, years ago. "a little late for you!" the soda jerk quipped.
Sloan hobbled his way back to his car, paying the grease monkey for the job, and pausing to think about what he experienced, before driving back to his life in the city.
The blending of the mystical and human desire here shows what "The Twilight Zone" does best. What would we do if we could go back in time to deliver a message to our younger selves? And what do we want to retain from our childhoods as adults? The best of the Zones are the ones that make you think, like this one.
I give "Walking Distance" an 8.5 out of 10.