Reviewed by MIKE TOONEY:

ONCE UPON A TIME.” An episode of The Twilight Zone. 15 December 1961 (Season 3, Episode 13; 78th of 156. Buster Keaton, Stanley Adams, James Flavin, Jesse White, Gil Lamb. Writers: Richard Matheson, Rod Serling. Director: Norman Z. McLeod.

   Thirty-seven years after filming Sherlock, Jr. [reviewed here ], Buster Keaton paid a visit to The Twilight Zone. He plays a curmudgeonly individual, Woodrow Mulligan by name, dissatisfied with the era he’s living in, the year 1890. A store sign says (heavens to Betsy!) that steak is 17 cents a pound, a newspaper headline announces the government has only an 85 million dollar surplus, and street traffic is allowed to proceed at an insane eight miles per hour, causing Woodrow to wind up in a horse trough.

   But quite by accident Woodrow discovers a way to escape this purgatory. Series host Rod Serling’s setup is unusually terse (for him):

    “Mr. Mulligan, a rather dour critic of his times, is shortly to discover the import of that old phrase, ‘Out of the frying pan, into the fire,’ said fire burning brightly at all times in The Twilight Zone.”

   As luck would have it, Woodrow works for an inventor, and his latest invention, again as luck would have it, is a Time Helmet. And guess who, as luck would have it, activates the helmet and it’s off to 1961.

   This first segment of the show is done silent film-style, with title cards and undercranked camera action. When Woodrow arrives in the future, however, blaring sounds of heavy traffic greet him.

   It isn’t long before Woodrow encounters Rollo (Stanley Adams), a guy who is definitely on the make. When he finally realizes that Woodrow and the Time Helmet are for real, Rollo (also “a rather dour critic of his times”) makes plans of his own, plans which involve the helmet—but not Woodrow.

   The final segment of the show takes us back to 1890 and the silent era. As the story winds down, we see a biter get bit — “the best-laid plans” and all that.

   In his closing remarks, Rod Serling sums it up:

   “‘To each his own’ — so goes another old phrase to which Mr. Woodrow Mulligan would heartily subscribe, for he has learned, definitely the hard way, that there is much wisdom in a third old phrase which goes as follows: ‘Stay in your own backyard.’ To which it might be added, ‘and if possible, assist others to stay in theirs’ — via, of course, The Twilight Zone.”

   With all that comedic talent available to it, this episode could have been a lot better, but it does have its moments. Just seeing Buster, at the time sixty-six, very late in his career makes “Once Upon a Time” worth at least one viewing.