Good acting, but a somewhat wobbly script, make this another mixed bag of a Night Gallery story. “Finnegan’s Flight” is reviewed here.
Season 3 Episode 8—aired 12/17/72
“Finnegan’s Flight” **1/2
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Gene R. Kearney
Burgess Meredith as Charlie Finnegan
Cameron Mitchell as Pete Tuttle
Barry Sullivan as Dr. Simsich
Kenneth Tobey as the Warden
Dort Clark as the Third Prisoner
John Gilgreen as the Infirmary Guard
Roger E. Mosley as the Second Prisoner
Raymond Mayo as the First Prisoner
Michael Masters as the Tower Guard
Burgess Meredith brought Rod Serling’s characters vividly to life on several occasions, most notably in the Twilight Zone episodes “Time Enough at Last” and “The Obsolete Man” and in the first season Night Gallery story “The Little Black Bag.” Here, he’s saddled with a lesser script, but still handles Serling’s dialogue wonderfully, perhaps as well as any actor ever did.
He portrays Charlie Finnegan, an aging, longtime prisoner who longs for freedom, freedom symbolized to him while dreamily watching jet airplanes flying high above the prison yard. He marvels at the great advances in aircraft technology since his confinement with fellow prisoner Pete Tuttle (Cameron Mitchell, back for a second strong Night Gallery appearance in a completely different role following his turn as a ruthless, wealthy industrialist in the previous season’s “Green Fingers”).
Tuttle has abilities as a hypnotist and in Charlie he has found a subject who is extremely receptive to hypnotic suggestion. One afternoon in the yard, he convinces a hypnotized Charlie that his hands are indestructible and Charlie attempts to escape by punching his way through the thick brick wall of the yard, resulting in multiple fractures to the bones in his hands.
He is brought to the infirmary and examined by the prison psychiatrist, Dr. Simsich (Barry Sullivan), who has heard of Tuttle’s skill at hypnosis and asks the fellow prisoner to demonstrate on Charlie in the doctor’s office. Tuttle hypnotizes Charlie and at one point convinces him that a cup of drinking water is scalding hot. He tells Charlie to put his fingers into the cup and within a few seconds, he withdraws fingers from the heat his brain convinced him existed in that water.
Dr. Simsich arranges for more extensive hypnosis sessions to be conducted in the infirmary and Tuttle induces Charlie to believe he’s high up in the air flying a plane. For a time, it’s an exhilarating experience for Charlie, but soon things take a strange turn and he begins having difficulty breathing. The doctor recognizes these are the signs of the body running out of air. Suddenly, Charlie’s skin begins to blister and his hair begins to blow in a wind seen only by his mind.
Simsich and Tuttle understand that this hypnotic event has gone horribly wrong and Tuttle tries to “talk him down” to no avail. Charlie attempts to control his “plane” through a too-fast “descent” and without warning, there is a huge explosion in the infirmary. Charlie’s “plane” has crashed and its fiery remains along with those of its pilot are burning to a crisp in the infirmary bed.
As Tuttle returns solemnly to his cell, a prisoner in the cell next to him asks what happened—there have been rumors of a fiery explosion in the infirmary. Tuttle demurs, then wishes his late fellow prisoner a private goodbye. “Tell me, Charlie boy,” he wonders aloud, “how does it feel to be free?”
Despite the fine performances, something about the story keeps the viewer somewhat at arm’s length. We don’t get to know enough about Charlie to fully empathize with him, nor can we quite discern the various motives of Tuttle and Doctor Simsich. Another near-miss in the gallery.