Mr. Mulligan, a rather dour critic of his times, is shortly to discover the import of that old phrase, 'Out of the frying pan, into the fire' - said fire burning brightly at all times - in The Twilight Zone.
Woodrow Mulligan (Buster Keaton) is a grumpy janitor in 1890, dissatisfied with his time and place: a backwater town called "Harmony" with seventeen-cent cuts of meat, two-dollar hats, livestock freely roaming the streets, and penny-farthing bicycles that knock him down while going the speed limit (eight miles per hour). He works for Professor Gilbert (Milton Parsons), who has just invented a time helmet.
Pouncing on the opportunity, Mulligan uses the helmet to transport himself to 1960, which of course turns out to be a surprise with even higher prices and more noise. He meets Rollo (Stanley Adams), a scientist and authority on the 1890s, which he regards as "charming."
Rollo tries to go back alone, but Mulligan jumps on him and they go back together. The 1890s turn out to be not entirely what Rollo thought of them. Mulligan, however, is relieved, and when he hears Rollo griping ("This guy sounds worse than my mother-in-law," Mulligan observes through an intertitle), he sets the helmet for 1960, puts it on Rollo's head, and sends him back to his own time.
'To each his own' - so goes another old phrase to which Mr. Woodrow Mulligan would heartily subscribe, for he has learned - definitely the hard way - that there's much wisdom in a third old phrase, which goes as follows: 'Stay in your own backyard.' To which it might be added, 'and, if possible, assist others to stay in theirs' - via, of course, The Twilight Zone.
This episode was one of the Twilight Zone's comedy episodes. The parts set in the 1890s have no sound, silent film intertitle cards (except, of course, for Rod Serling) and a saloon piano. Much is made of the fact that Mulligan shows up in the 1960s with no pants due to his getting run over by a "high speed" bicycle. A running gag involves a helpless Mulligan being chased by a policeman in both the past and the present.
Buster Keaton was one of the biggest stars of the silent era, starring in and devising elaborate stunts and gags for such classic comedies as The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr.. His career suffered with the advent of sound films, and he spent decades struggling in Hollywood. This episode was intended as an homage to his early work.
^"I met Buster Keaton through Bill Cox...and I thought "Gee, that would be wonderful to get Keaton into a Twilight Zone"-Richard Matheson.Zicree, Mark-Scott (1982). The Twilight Zone Companion. Bantam. pp. 260–261. ISBN0-7607-5634-1.