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December 4 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1959 premiere of 'Judgment Night'

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Dec 4, 2017

Today, December 4th, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1959 debut of "Judgment Night."

Nehemiah Persoff stars in this moody World War II episode written by Rod Serling, portraying a passenger aboard a British cargo ship – the SS. Queen of Glasgow – who appears to be suffering from a form of amnesia. He doesn't know how he got on board or who he is. However, he admits to a group of suspicious fellow passengers that he is German and seems to know a lot about U-boat tactics. In reality, he's a German submarine skipper named Carl Lanser, and he suffers from a peculiar – although, in The Twilight Zone, perfectly appropriate – curse.

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Lanser (Nehemiah Persoff, left) is confronted by First Officer McLeod (Patrick MacNee) in "Judgment Night."

Since I am particularly interested in casting, I found this episode full of interesting faces. Future Avengers TV series star Patrick MacNee plays a First Officer on the ship; Hugh Sanders, who plays Potter, an American member of the War Production Board, would return in "The Jungle" (as John Dehner's boss) and he was Cronk the mechanic in "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville."

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Aboard a British cargo ship, American War Production Board executive Potter (Hugh Sanders, right) begins to suspect the mysterious Carl Lanser (Nehemiah Persoff, left).

And keep an eye out for Lanser's U-boat lieutenant – that's youthful James Franciscus who went on to star in Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Ray Harryhausen's Valley of Gwangi, as well as the Longstreet television series. Interestingly, according to IMDb, he was the first choice to play Dr. Kildare, but, due to a scheduling conflict, lost the role to Richard Chamberlain.

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A young James Franciscus portrays a U-Boat officer in "Judgment Night." 

So let's hoist a glass of schnapps to this ghostly episode in the TZ canon, which borrows from the king of nautical ghost stories – the legendary story of "The Flying Dutchman."