This post is our contribution to the Dick Van Dyke Show 50th anniversary blogathon hosted by Ivan of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. We adore Ivan for his unending love for classic film and his brilliant way with words (we’re not just saying that for brownie points or anything–though we never turn down brownies), so even though we are, by and large, a movie blog, we’re bending the rules a little just so we can join in the fun. [Besides–to borrow shamelessly from Lesley Gore–it’s our blog and we can deviate if we want to, deviate if we want to, deviate if we … oh, you get the idea.] Make sure to head over to TDOY to see what promises to be a fantastic lineup of contributions!
Let me just preface this post with a confession: my experience with The Dick Van Dyke Show is pretty limited. My parents loved Nick at Nite and, more recently, TV Land (at least, back in the days when those two actually showed TDVDS and other classics … I don’t know what they consider their programming to be these days, but it ain’t classics), so I did watch a few episodes here and there over the years. I found the show to be amusing; however, unlike I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Bewitched, Dick Van Dyke was never “must see TV” for me.
But there is one episode that I remember clearly, one that has stuck with me for lo these many years: the one with those damn walnuts.
[If you’ve never seen this episode, be warned: I’m going to talk about the whole thing from beginning to end, and I’m posting quite a few screenshots as well, because this show is full of visual gems. If you’d like to see it for yourself before reading, it’s available in its entirety on Hulu.]
This popular episode, the season two classic titled (appropriately enough) “It May Look Like a Walnut,” first aired in February 1963. “Walnut” is a parody of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, using the 1959-1964 anthology series The Twilight Zone as inspiration for the story’s set-up. It’s one of a handful of “dream” episodes that TDVDS did over the years (another of which I recall vaguely is “The Gunslinger,” the penultimate episode of the series). While I remember the episode as being somewhat scary when I was a kid (I was kind of a wuss back then), upon re-watching it recently for this post, it comes off rather tame. Still, “Walnut” manages to encapsulate the uneasy tension of Body Snatchers while injecting the premise with enough laughs to offset the horror of that film.
We open on Rob and Laura watching television in their oh-so-realistic separate twin beds one night. Well, Rob’s watching, while Laura cowers under the blanket. Laura pops her head up long enough to ask Rob to turn off the TV or else go watch the show in the living room, because it’s scaring her. And like a dutiful husband, he tells her to go back under the covers.
As the spooky music continues to emanate from the television set, Rob’s reaction slides from fascination to growing dread …
… to utter horror!
From underneath the blankets, Laura exclaims:
“Rob, I can still hear it!”
Rob’s solution? Shove a pillow over her head to block out the noise, while Laura beats against his arm in vain.
The program winds to a close, and Laura bolts upright from beneath her fabric prison, gasping for breath:
“I’m sorry, honey, I was just trying to block out the music. Did it work?”
“Beautifully. But you also blocked out my oxygen!”
Rob begins telling Laura about everything she’d missed when the “crazy music started” and she “went under.” The plot of the movie involved “strange-looking walnuts,” which were filled with some sort of glowing alien object from the planet “Twilo.” The aliens had sent an emissary named Kolak to Earth as a warning.
Laura is initially unfazed:
“Darling, there’s nothing scary-looking about Danny Thomas! I think he’s kind of cute.”
“You wouldn’t think he was so cute if he had four eyes!”
Rob continues telling an increasingly upset Laura the rest of the story: when people open Kolak’s alien walnuts, they turn into Twilo-ites and lose their imaginations …
Laura, now too frightened to sleep, demands that Rob stopping telling her the story. He initially agrees, but can’t resist relating more details about the Twilo-ites, explaining that the aliens don’t breathe air, but must drink water to avoid suffocation. Laura freaks out and sets her alarm for an hour later: “If Kolak and his activated walnuts are going to come after me in my dreams, I’ll be saved by the bell!” Rob grins and says goodnight, but can’t resist teasing Laura once more, imitating the sound of the glowing walnuts as she tries to fall asleep, much to Laura’s disgust.
The next morning, Rob walks out of his bedroom and discovers that the living room floor is strewn with walnuts.
He enters the kitchen to find a still-upset Laura making breakfast and drinking a large glass of water (“Getting your morning breath of fresh air?”). Rob tells her that he’s learned his lesson and she can stop playing with him, but Laura disavows any knowledge of why walnuts were all over the floor. Rich rushes in and grabs his lunch bag (“Oh, boy, a bag of walnuts!”) before heading off to school. In the meantime, Laura begins shelling walnuts for Rob’s breakfast.
Rob still thinks Laura’s playing with him, and leaves for the office in a bit of pique (“Have fun–enjoy yourself!”). When he arrives at work, he tries to explain to Sally why Laura was mad at him in the first place:
“I was pretending I was this guy Kolak who breathes water.”
“Oh, yeah, the four-eyed monster they threw out of the UN. He came from the planet Twilo.”
“You saw that picture?”
“No. They make a picture out of that?”
Rob stares at her in disbelief: “Last night, on television.” Sally pauses. “Ohh,” she finally says. “I was at the UN the day it happened!”
Their conversation is interrupted by a sudden loud noise. They look around for the source–it’s Buddy, who’s just cracked open a couple of walnuts. Rob smiles resignedly, assuming that Laura had put Sally and Buddy up to this.
Buddy claims that the walnuts were given to him by that week’s guest star on The Alan Brady Show. Still, despite Sally and Buddy’s reassurances to the contrary, Rob still thinks Laura is playing a practical joke on him. He proposes that the three of them get to work writing that week’s show (and in the process finds another walnut hidden in his typewriter). Rob suggests they compose a “boy-girl” song-and-dance number, but Buddy corrects him:
Rob is shocked to hear that the week’s guest star is none other than “Kolak” himself. Rob still thinks it’s a joke, accusing them of being “very, very thorough” in trying to trick him. Buddy tells an unfunny one-liner about a nearsighted turtle falling in love with an army helmet, at which he and Sally laugh creepily. Rob angrily tells them to cut it out, and Buddy replies, “Rob, if I didn’t know you any better, I’d swear you’ve lost your sense of humor!” Rob, startled, immediately looks down at his own thumbs, as if to reassure himself that they are still there.
Mel comes in and Rob asks him who the week’s guest star is, and Mel tells him cheerfully that it’s Danny Thomas (brief note of interest: Richard Deacon, who plays Mel, played the uncredited role of Dr. Bassett in Body Snatchers!). Rob is immediately suspicious:
“Did my wife tell you to put Danny Thomas on the show?”
“No, no, as a matter of fact, she was actually against it. She wanted Kolak.”
Rob grows increasingly agitated, and Mel tells him that he doesn’t look too well.
Rob is really freaking out now, especially after he watches the notoriously combative Buddy and Mel walk out of the office with their arms around one another. Sally leaves Rob with one final thought:
After they all leave, Rob tries to figure out what’s happening to him: is he dreaming, is it an elaborate scheme on Laura’s part, or could it be real? He reasons that it can’t be real, because he still has his thumbs. But when he cracks open a walnut Laura had given to him earlier, it’s glowing.
Rob calls home to ask Laura a favor:
“Go in the bedroom, pull down the covers on my bed, and see if I’m there.”
Laura scoffs at him.
Rob finally admits that she’s succeeded in scaring the pants off him. She smiles.
“Have you still got your thumbs?”
“Yes, I have. There’s not much you can do about that, is there?”
Laura lets out a creepy giggle and hangs up on him. Rob wonders aloud why his wife would do this to him, and resolves that he MUST be dreaming, because Laura would never do such a thing. He resolves to get to work to take his mind off the events of the “dream,” but he’s interrupted by the same scary music from the previous night’s television show.
Oh, and Danny Thomas walks in.
This Danny Thomas, however, speaks in a British accent. Rob asks who he is, and the man smiles and tells him to guess. Rob comically mimes a series of alien characteristics, and Kolak nods, to Rob’s chagrin. Rob asks why he’s there.
“I’ve merely come to see what the last remaining earth person looks like.”
Rob throws him out of his office (“You’ll never get me! I’ve still got my thumbs!”), and as he’s walking out, Kolak points out a stain on Rob’s necktie … while facing the opposite direction.
As he leaves, Kolak casually tosses a handful of walnuts behind him. Rob reiterates his belief that it can’t be real:
“I must be dreaming. Either that, or I’m in the Twilo zone!”
He heads over to light a cigarette, but can’t get the lighter to work. He looks down at his hands, and realizes he has no thumbs!
Rob hurries home to wake himself up before the alarm clock can go off. He runs into the house, screaming for Laura. He pulls off his hat and walnuts fall to the floor, to which he hilariously exclaims:
“Danny Thomas put nuts in my hat!”
He opens the door to the closet, and a veritable avalanche of walnuts sending Rob stumbling backwards on his ass.
And then Laura comes sliding down Walnut Hill bearing a huge grin (brief note of interest: this entire scene had to be filmed in one take, because it would have taken far too much time to repack the nuts into the closet!).
Rob asks Laura to hit him to try to wake him up, so she gives him a wallop to the jaw. It doesn’t work, though–Rob’s still missing his thumbs (Laura, curiously, still has hers, though they don’t address this discrepancy). He watches as she drinks down some “fresh air” and accuses her of being a Twilo-ite. She turns her back on him and comments on his stained tie, confirming the existence of her “new eyes.”
And just to drive it home, Laura tells Rob that her name is “Lolak” and lifts up her hair to reveal her second set of eyes.
Rob loses it and run around the house yelling, “I gotta wake up!” Laura laughs evilly as Buddy, Sally, Mel, and Danny Thomas/Kolak enter the living room, all of them cackling. They stand over him as he cowers on the floor …
And the scene dissolves to Rob and Laura’s bedroom. The alarm clock blares as Rob and Laura both toss and turn and call out in the midst of their own nightmares, finally falling on the floor in a heap. Rob tells Laura about his dream, and she tells him she had a bad one of her own:
“I dreamt that Danny Thomas was chasing me and throwing walnuts at me, and every place he hit me, I’d lose a thumb and grow an eye!”
They huddle together for comfort, wishing it were morning.
As the episode ends, Rob and Laura have gone back to their respective beds, but are unable to sleep. Rob proposes that they watch some television. Their only late-night options, however, are an exercise program and something called “The Werewolf from Outer Space.”
“It May Look Like a Walnut” was written by show creator Carl Reiner (who did not appear in the episode in his recurring role as Alan Brady, as that character would not be fully shown onscreen until the fourth season). Overall, it’s one of the most highly entertaining half-hours of television that I have ever seen. Of the roughly two dozen TDVDS episodes I’ve watched in the past, this one is by far my favorite, if only for the smart parodic elements and Van Dyke’s amazing reaction shots throughout the show. The scene where Laura comes out of the closet riding a wave of walnuts is a classic image, and one that never fails to make me smile. Also, the addition of Danny Thomas, who by this point was in the midst of filming the tenth season of his popular sitcom Make Room for Daddy, is a welcome one–his appearance is relatively brief, but he gets some of the biggest laughs of all.
And trust me–once you’ve seen this episode, you’ll never look at a walnut the same way again.