Today, May 2nd, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia celebrate the 1963 premiere of “On Thursday We Leave For Home.”
This is my favorite one-hour episode from Season 4. James Whitmore stars as Captain William Benteen, the charismatic leader of a group of space colonists that live in caves on an inhospitable planet frequently bombarded by meteor storms and unbearable heat.
For 30 years, Benteen has been their savior – keeping them optimistic about a possible relief ship, keeping them motivated to maintain their meager water and food supply, even explaining to youngsters like Jo-Jo (Danny Kulick) how wonderful the Earth really was. Then, the impossible happens: a relief ship arrives.
Colonel Sloane (Tim O'Connor), the ship's skipper, explains to the 200 ragged colonists that they are going home on Thursday. And thus, suddenly Captain Benteen isn't as important as he used to be... and that's going to be a problem.
James Whitmore was another top-of-his-class character actor who was once groomed by MGM to be the next Spencer Tracy. That didn't happen, but Whitmore was simply marvelous in everything he did, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as tobacco-chewing Sgt. Kinney in Battleground.
Fans of 1950s science fiction films will remember Whitmore as gritty state trooper Ben Peterson, who discovers a nest of giant ants in the desert of New Mexico in Them!. One of Whitmore's final performances was the role of elderly convict Brooks Hatlen in The Shawshank Redemption.
So let's hoist a tin of warm desert planet water to Captain Benteen, his embattled space colonists, and the continuing genius of Rod Serling, always on deck when an excellent episode needed to be written for The Twilight Zone.