“Don’t forget, Rob–thumbs up!”

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.

"Rob, I can still hear that weird music!"

As the spooky music continues to emanate from the television set, Rob’s reaction slides from fascination to growing dread …

On the TV: "Ellen, your eyes--what's happened to your eyes?"

… to utter horror!

On the TV: "No, Ellen, nooooooooooo!"

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.

"It'll be over in a second!"

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.

"He was real scary, and he spoke with an English accent, and he looked like ... Danny Thomas!"

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!”

"All Twilo-ites have two in the front and two in the back!"

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 …

"... and their thumbs!"

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.

"Would you care for a walnut, my dear?"

The next morning, Rob walks out of his bedroom and discovers that the living room floor is strewn with walnuts.

"Honey, guess what I found in the living room?"

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.

"Well, what's for breakfast. darling--fried, poached, or scrambled?"

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!”

"Listen, if this guy hadn't had those four eyes, I'da married him!"

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.

"I always eat walnuts! Doesn't everybody?"

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:

"I don't think the TV world is quite ready for a boy-girl number as sung by Alan Brady and Danny Thomas!"

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.

"Here, this will make you feel better. Take two of these with a glass of air."

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:

"Don't forget, Rob--thumbs up!"

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.

"I've gotta be dreaming!"

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.

"I don't have time for jokes! I have a walnut roast in the oven."

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.

"Do you know where I might find Robert Petrie?"

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.

"I have perfect 20/20/20/20 vision!"

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!

"Oh, no!"

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!).

"What are you doing home from work so early?"

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.”

"I do wish you wouldn't point. It'so impolite."

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.

"I seeeeeeee you!"

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.

"We could sit here and twiddle our thumbs ..."

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.”

Guess which one they chose.

“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.

12 thoughts on ““Don’t forget, Rob–thumbs up!”

  1. I KNEW this episode would make an appearance! It’s nutty, but memorable. I think Danny Thomas was one of the show’s producers, so it was nice to see him on-screen here (always good to see Danny anywhere, actually). As one who watched these shows in “real time” (as a child, I might add), I can’t begin to tell you how much of an impact Rob & Laura made on their audience. They were young, beautiful, funny, successful and living the American Dream.

  2. Brandie, your DICK VAN DYKE post about the episode “It May Look Like a Walnut” was a hoot! I totally enjoyed your detailed review of this episode, and the photos you used were spot-on. It’s been years since I first saw this episode on TV, but you did a great job of making me laugh while still leaving me with a frisson of spookiness from the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Great post!

  3. dick van dyke wil forever be my favorite human. i married a man named rob so i could say “oh rob!” i loved the show so very much. it was and will forever be my favorite tv show of all times. the writters, director and cast were just perfect. the comedy timeless. it does not show on the east coast anymore. so wish it did. thanx for the post.

    • Linda, we live on the East Coast, and we get THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW in our area via the Me-TV Network. Maybe you do, too; check your local listings. Good luck!

  4. The very first time I saw this episode on WGN Chicago in the 1980s, the station was also running The Twilight Zone around the same time…and I had to check the TV Guide to make sure it wasn’t an episode of the Zone. Since that first viewing it’s become one of my all-time favorites (it would probably be in the top three) and when you told me you wanted to do this one for the blogathon I even watched it online (thanks Hulu!) because I wanted to see it again so badly. I think the beauty of “Walnut” is that it takes such a far-out situation and yet does its best to keep it grounded in reality (a great example is when Sally jokes that she has romantic designs on the alien Kolak)…and beautifully mimics what made its source of inspiration, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so freakin’ creepy–the unsettling paranoia of the whole piece.

    Thanks ever so much for agreeing to participate in the blogathon, good people. This is an outstanding entry, and I’m glad you took the time to both write it and share it with everyone in honor of my favorite TV show.

  5. The Twilo Zone! Brandie, this is my #2 favorite. I did an article about #1 for me, Coast to Coast Bigmouth — but I adore this one! The walnuts, Danny Thomas, just everything. Loved your screen grabs and captions, and I feel like I’ve watched it! Great job!

  6. Great post, guys! You had an excellent combination of screencaps and synopsis: I could see the whole episode in my mind’s eye (all four of them). Definitely one of the most inventive and clever Dick Van Dyke episodes.

  7. All this episode needed was Rod Serling showing up to narrate something to the effect of:

    “Submitted for your approval, Mr. Robert Petrie, whose fascination with a motion picture that he had watched knows no bounds. Little does Robert Petrie realize that he is about to land right smack into the Twilight Zone.”

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