Night Gallery – The Waiting Room (S2E18)

ngwaitingroom07Gunslinger Sam Dichter comes a-riding into town.  He stops for a moment to check out a man who has been hanged from a tree that overhangs the road.  He could have stolen the corpse’s spurs, or maybe his fine pin-striped gray coat, but he already has one like it.  The exact same ensemble — awkward!

He hitches his horse outside the local saloon, enters and orders a whisky.  I’ve always wondered about that.  When cowboys came in off the dusty trail, is whiskey really the first thing they order?  Seems like just water would be a good start, then maybe some lemonade.  Which is why I would have been beaten to a pulp in 19th century saloons . . . a fabulous citrussy pulp.

He sarcastically asks the bartender if the place is always this busy.  Seeing as there is only one table, and it is filled with four guys playing cards, this is really an overflow SRO crowd for this establishment.

He walks to the table and is quite happy with himself that the men recognize him as Dichter, a gunslinger with “lightning draw and deadly devilish aim.”  Maybe he recognized the card players also — there was Jed Clampett, Jock Ewing, former Tarzan Lex Barker, and Danny Noonan’s father.

ngwaitingroom12When the clock strikes 9 pm, Tarzan reluctantly stands up from the table.  Dichter recognizes him as a fellow gunslinger.  He walks out of the saloon and seconds later a gunshot is heard.  The men at the table say they know what happened — Tarzan got his head blown off just as Dichter had heard that he died years earlier.

He sits down to play the dead man’s hand.  Soon he recognizes Mr. Noonan as another gunslinger he saw killed at high noon in Monterey.  Dichter decides these strange events are the result of “fever crawling into my mind”.  Because drinking straight whisky after a long ride could have nothing to do with it.  I begged him, have the lemonade.

Just as Dichter and Mr. Noonan are about to draw on each other, the clock chimes at 10 pm.  Noonan knows the bell tolls for he, so he is next to walk out of the saloon.  A few seconds later there is the sound of another gunshot.

Very soon, the clock chimes at 11 pm.  I can see why people come to this joint — time really flies here.  This time it is Jock the bank-robber’s time to step outside.  He tells Dichter where he is going and how is is going to die.  Another gunshot.

Jed tells Dichter that he wasn’t a criminal, but a doctor.  He patched up the bad guys so they could go on stealing and killing.  I’m sure it would horrify most actors now, but he makes a pretty good case for the death penalty, and against leftie criminal-lovers.

The clock strikes midnight — which I really expected Serling to save for Dichter — and it is Jed’s turn to walk out the door.  Years ago, in despair over the lives he had enabled to be taken, he killed himself.  Exit exit.  Bang bang.

Dichter — no steam engine scientist — still hasn’t quite cracked the code.  He demands the bartender tell him what this place is.  The bartender tells him it is a waiting room where people await their ordained fate — Hell.

The clock strikes 1 AM and it is last call for Dichter.  He exits and is back where the segment started.  This time, he when he stops at the hanging man, he reaches up and takes the sack off the dead head and sees his own face.

Terrified, he runs to the saloon where the quartet are playing cards again and the bartender already has a whiskey waiting for him.  The last minute of the episode has no dialogue.  In slow motion, the clock chimes 9 pm again, Mr. Noonan knows it is his time, and they all stare at the clock (whose second hand is the only thing not in slow motion).  Very effective.

Nothing startlingly original here, basically one set (although they did spring for a horse), yet it is one of my favorites so far.  I’m always a sucker for a Hell / Purgatory story. And the veteran cast was perfectly . . . er, cast.  Most of the heavy lifting, though, is done by Steve Forrest as Dichter.  His cockiness, lack of understanding and fear are well-conveyed.


  • Twilight Zone Legacy:  Albert Salmi was in three episodes, Steve Forrest and Buddy Ebsen in one each.
  • Buddy Ebsen is playing Doc Soames.  It was also a Doc Soames that patched Nick Andros up in The Stand.
  • This was Lex Barker’s last IMDb credit.

7 thoughts on “Night Gallery – The Waiting Room (S2E18)

  1. I agree that Steve Forrest did much of the heavy lifting. I would submit, that Buddy Ebsen really shines as the voice of reason as well. An excellent episode.

  2. This was my favourite episode. You quickly knew what was going on, but it didn’t matter. It was a Rod Serling story, with lots of long-winded speeches and almost poetic phrases that most cowboys and gunslingers would never have uttered. It all happens on one set, the actors are great, the mood is dark, direction is on, etc. I never get tired of watching this one.

  3. One of the top five episodes. The writing and acting are top notch. Favorite line:
    “For twenty dollars I risked a life, and took a life. Cheap mornin’, all around.”

    • John: Here’s a great exchange between Dichter (Steve Forrest) & Bristol (Albert Salmi):

      Dichter: I’ll make the assumption you don’t know who you’re talking to.

      Bristol: That’s a dead wrong assumption. I thought we made it clear we know who you are. You’re Sam Dichter, who fancies himself lord of the gun!

      • John:

        Here’s the full exchange between Dichter and Bristol, where Dichter realizes that something very wrong is going on.

        Dichter: Patience, brother. I gotta make damn sure who I’m playing poker with.

        Bristol: Old acquaintances. And don’t call me brother! There’s no flesh tying us, for which I’m grateful, as I’d rather be kin to a vulture bird.

        Dichter: I’ll make the assumption you don’t know who you’re talking to.

        Bristol: That’s a dead wrong assumption. I thought we made it clear we know who you are. You’re Sam Dichter, who fancies himself lord of the gun! The trouble with you is that you have no memory of things! Fast hands, slow brain! Now dig into that muddy swamp you call a brain and conjure up a few recollections!

        Dichter: Bristol! You’re Joe Bristol!

        Bristol: At your service.

        Dichter: I gotta be dead drunk! Or crazy! I saw you gunned down in Monterey! I SAW IT!

        Bristol: Maybe you were dead drunk then.

        Dichter: The hell I was! It was mid morning, hot sun. And that kid, Auburn! Max Auburn was his name! He called you in the street…and took you by a second and a half! YOU WERE A CORPSE BEFORE YOU HIT THE GROUND!

  4. After seeing the comments, I gave it another watch. It is a good one. I don’t know if it could be made today. That leisurely pace would not be tolerated. And the Hollywood bench is pretty thin on rugged western character actors like these.

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