Today, December 29, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1961 premiere of "A Quality of Mercy."
Dean Stockwell stars as eager beaver Lt. Katell, a shavetail who arrives late in the Philippine campaign, circa 1945, and is determined to wipe out a small group of cave-bound Japanese. This doesn't sit too well with exhausted non-com Sgt. Causarano (Albert Salmi), who sees the attack as a useless risk.
But Katell is adamant until he drops a pair of binoculars, picks them up, and is suddenly transformed into a Japanese officer with an identical mission, only this time it's to wipe out a group of cave-bound American soldiers on Corregidor, circa 1942.
World War II episodes written by Rod Serling tended to be stripped of any glorified or super heroic scenes, and "A Quality of Mercy" was no different. Sgt. Causarano's men are sweaty, exhausted infantry soldiers on the edge of collapse. That's because Serling saw these men firsthand when he was a paratrooper, fighting in these same Philippines in 1945.
It is said that men who have truly been in combat never talk about it. It's just too hard and painful to discuss. Serling saw horrific scenes in war, and somehow he was able to channel that pain into war stories that were grim and realistic. The idea that Lt. Katell suddenly morphs into a Japanese officer was outrageous for its time and still presents a compelling storyline.
So let us raise a dirty canteen of jungle water to Serling and the extraordinary stories he told about real men in strange situations that can only be found in The Twilight Zone.