Review of first story of first regular episode, “The Dead Man” posted here.
Season 1 Episode 1—aired 12/16/70
“The Dead Man” **1/2
Teleplay by Douglas Heyes, story by Fritz Leiber Jr.
Directed by Douglas Heyes
Carl Betz as Dr. Max Redford
Jeff Corey as Dr. Miles Talmadge
Louise Sorel as Velia Redford
Michael Blodgett as John Fearing
More than a year after the pilot movie aired, Night Gallery premiered as a series. From my Introduction to this episode guide:
After the ratings success of the pilot, the first season of six 60-minute episodes was ordered as part of NBC’s “Four in One” experiment where four different series were alternated in the same time slot (Wednesdays at 10:00 Eastern, 9:00 Central), the others being The Psychiatrist, McCloud, and San Francisco International Airport. McCloud would later be re-rotated into NBC’s Sunday Mystery Movie umbrella, sharing time with Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Quincy, Banacek and other lesser-known shows.
These 60-minute episodes consisted of two, three or four separate stories, sometimes including brief one-to-two minute “blackout” sketches that were meant as comic relief to the otherwise mostly “heavy” longer stories.
This first episode contains just two longer stories, both with their virtues, but both with their problems as well.
First up is “The Dead Man” which begins with Dr. Max Redford (Carl Betz) welcoming his older colleague, Dr. Miles Talmadge (Jeff Corey, acting here, but who would go on to direct nine Night Gallery segments), to his home to demonstrate how he can use a form of hypnosis to make a well man appear ill then back to well again, employing a cue of tapping. Different series of taps (of a pen on a desk) represent different types of conditions the patient is made to have.
The particular patient, or perhaps subject would be a better description, John Fearing (Michael Blodgett) originally came to Redford ill and Redford cured him. Then he came back with a different illness and Redford cured him again. The pattern continued, making Fearing perhaps the first recidivist medical patient. Now, Fearing is the ultimate male specimen for the surfer crowd: young, muscular, tanned, exceedingly handsome with flowing blonde curls atop his head.
From Fearing’s family history, Redford realized that due to Fearing’s parents’ hysteria, Fearing used his emotions to make himself become ill. Redford thinks he can apply this technique of hypnosis to eradicate disease and even death.
At dinner that evening, the three men are joined by Dr. Redford’s younger, very attractive wife, Velia (Louise Sorel). After dinner, Redford confesses to Talmadge that Velia is obviously enamored with Fearing, likely his lover. “I’ve created the perfect rival,” he realizes.
The next experiment Redford conducts is to make Fearing die, then bring him back to life. He dies, then something goes horribly wrong—the tapping signal devised to bring Fearing back fails. Velia comes in and becomes hysterical that her husband has killed him.
Months after Fearing’s funeral, Talmadge pays a visit to the Redford residence. Velia answers the door and she seems insane. Disheveled, distracted, she makes little sense. Dr. Redford gives his colleague audio tapes of his hypnosis work with Fearing to review. Redford feels guilty because he thinks that subconsciously, he meant to kill him and not bring him back.
Reviewing the tapes, Talmadge notices that the sequence of the tapping signal worked out to revive Fearing is not quite the same as the one Redford used during the actual experiment. Three taps, then two taps was the signal, but Redford gave three taps and then only one, Talmadge recalls. So his unconscious mind did give the wrong signal. Velia overhears this, runs off screaming to the cemetery and at Fearing’s gravesite, she gives the correct signal. Her husband and Talmadge follow and what we see in the closing shot is Velia looking like a terrified bride of Frankenstein and Dr. Redford dead with the emaciated hands of Fearing’s skeletal corpse around his throat.
This episode does not quite rise above the mundane, the performances are only so-so, but the ending packs quite a punch.