A Game of Pool (The Twilight Zone, 1959)
|"A Game of Pool"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Directed by||Buzz Kulik|
|Written by||George Clayton Johnson|
|Featured music||Stock and new music by Jerry Goldsmith (uncredited)|
|Original air date||October 13, 1961|
"A Game of Pool" is episode 70 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on October 13, 1961, on CBS. According to Rod Serling, it is "the story of the best pool player living and the best pool player dead."
|“||Jesse Cardiff, pool shark, the best on Randolph Street, who will soon learn that trying to be the best at anything carries its own special risks. In or out of the Twilight Zone.||”|
It is after hours at Lister's Pool Room in Chicago, and once more pool shark Jesse Cardiff (Jack Klugman) is alone, polishing his game. Jesse bitterly muses that he would be considered the greatest pool player of all time, if it were not for the memory of the late James Howard "Fats" Brown (Jonathan Winters) overshadowing him. He says he would give anything to play one game against Fats, prompting Fats himself to wearily rise from a pool table in the afterlife to respond to Jesse's implied challenge. Jesse is then stunned to find Fats himself standing in the corner of the room. Even though Fats has been dead for 15 years, he has returned from the afterlife to grant Jesse's request and offer a bet. If Jesse wins, he will be acknowledged as the greatest pool player ever; if he loses, he forfeits his life.
Jesse accepts the bet and the two begin to play. Throughout the game, Fats laments that Jesse has done nothing with his life but play pool. Fats explains that although he did indeed play pool and became the best, he did more- he lived a full life. Jesse, on the other hand, has neglected everything but pool. Jesse ignores Fats, convinced that he is just trying to distract him. With one ball left on the table and both men needing to sink it in order to win, Fats misses his shot, leaving Jesse with an easy approach to the pocket. Fats warns Jesse that he may get more than he bargained for if he wins the game, but Jesse disregards this advice and sinks the ball. He revels in his victory, now secure in his status as the best pool player of all time. Fats thanks Jesse for beating him, leading Jesse to angrily call him a sore loser. While he is ranting at Fats, the now-former champion disappears.
Some time later, long after his own death, Jesse is summoned from the afterlife, just as Fats was before him, to travel to Mason's Pool Hall in Sandusky, Ohio, to play against a challenger. Known even in death as the greatest pool player ever, he must spend eternity defending his title against an endless series of opponents, unable to stop until a challenger beats him and relieves him of his title. Meanwhile, Fats has gone fishing, relieved of his obligation.
|“||Mr. Jesse Cardiff, who became a legend by beating one, but who has found out after his funeral that being the best of anything carries with it a special obligation to keep on proving it. Mr. Fats Brown, on the other hand, having relinquished the champion's mantle, has gone fishing. These are the ground rules in the Twilight Zone.||”|
Remake with alternative ending
George Clayton Johnson's script originally featured an ending in which Jesse loses the game and yet finds himself still alive. Seeing this, Fats explains that he will die "as all second raters die: you'll be buried and forgotten without me touching you. If you'd beaten me, you'd have lived forever." With that, Fats disappears with Jesse vowing to keep practicing until he is good enough to face Fats once again.
The episode was remade in the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone. The remade version featured Esai Morales as Jesse Cardiff and Maury Chaykin as Fats Brown. This version used the original alternate ending that Johnson intended for the original 1961 version.
- Zicree, Marc Scott: The Twilight Zone Companion. Sillman-James Press, 1982 (second edition)
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0