This Day in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1961 premiere of 'The Grave'

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Oct 27, 2017

Today, October 27, This Day in Twilight Zone History toasts the 1961 debut of "The Grave."

In this weird western episode, macho actor Lee Marvin plays Conny Miller, a disgraced bounty hunter who has spent months searching for the desperado Pinto Sykes (Richard Geary), only to discover that a posse of townspeople have shot him down. Now some of those loud-mouthed townies (James Best, Strother Martin, Lee Van Cleef) are goading Connie to visit Pinto's grave. They're betting he won't have the nerve.

Actor Lee Marvin, perfectly cast in "The Grave," would soon  move on to a major feature film career, later winning the Oscar for Cat Ballou. 

As always, the cast was picture perfect. Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef played smarmy with a capital S – they would shortly re-team with Lee Marvin for the terrific John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In that film, they would all be on the same side, facing off against John Wayne, James Stewart, and Woody Strode, with TZ veteran Vera Miles on board as well.

Meanwhile, James Best was a regular TZ player, soon to be seen again in "Jess-Belle" and "The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank."

Additional kudos should go to writer/director Montgomery Pittman for fashioning this able addition to the weird western genre.

Strother Martin (left) and James Best play townies who goad Lee Marvin into visiting the grave of a fallen desperado in "The Grave."

Let's hoist a tall, warm beer to Lee Marvin and company, who played their way into our memories and the hot, lonely frontier of The Twilight Zone.

SIDE NOTE: The Twilight Zone was probably the first television series to regularly mix genres. They had weird westerns, weird war stories, and weird comedies. They even had a weird romance (check out "The Long Morrow"). In that way, Rod Serling was way ahead of his time. Mixing genres was also a hallmark of the anthology form, where you weren’t stuck in the same location each week.