Emmy nominated for “Outstanding Single Program” in 1971 and one of the finest segments ever produced on Night Gallery, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” is reviewed here.
Season 1 Episode 6—aired 1/20/71
“They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” ****
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Don Taylor
William Windom as Randy Lane
Diane Baker as Lynn Alcott
Bert Convy as Harvey Doane
John Randolph as H. E. Pritkin
Henry Beckman as Officer McDermont
David Astor as Mr. Blodgett
Robert Herrman as Tim Riley
Frederic Downs as Randy’s Father
John S. Ragin as the First Policeman
David Frank as the Intern
Susannah Darrow as Katy Lane
Mary Gail Hobbs as Miss Trevor
It’s Sales Director Randy Lane’s twenty-fifth employment anniversary at Pritkin Plastics. What could/should be a cause for celebration is not. Lane (William Windom) is not in the office at mid-afternoon, out on a long booze-filled lunch break. His boss, H. E. Pritkin (John Randolph) wants to see him and it’s not to commend him on a quarter century of service to the firm; he’s not even aware of Lane’s anniversary.
Pritkin wants to see Lane about a client’s account and in Lane’s absence, up-and-coming Harvey Doane (Bert Convey, yes, he of the many game show appearances and hosting duties later in the ‘70s) offers to go over the work that Lane has been handling. Doane’s offer is not altruistic; he is eager to supplant Lane as head of the Sales Department and in Convey’s brief scenes he comes off as appropriately weaselly.
Returning inebriated at 3:00 p.m., Lane is followed into his office by his concerned assistant, Lynn Alcott (Diane Baker). He reminds her that on this day twenty-five years ago he joined the firm fresh out of serving in World War II.
He has spent the last hour standing outside Tim Riley’s bar, now condemned to the wrecking ball to make way for a modern twenty-story bank building which will house a bank. “A year from now, no one will remember that Tim Riley had a bar right on that corner,” he says, a metaphor for his own feelings of being on the way out, about to be replaced.
He meets with his angry boss who complains that Lane hasn’t done much for him lately. Pritkin delivers an ultimatum to Lane: he and Doane will now be equals, Doane no longer reporting to Lane and may the best man win.
Lynn asks Lane if he’d like to come over to her place and join her for a steak dinner to celebrate his anniversary. He refuses her offer, pulls out a bottle from his desk drawer and continues his drinking.
Feeling sorry for himself, he leaves the office and returns again to the sidewalk outside Tim Riley’s bar. A police officer he knows, who is around his age or a bit older, McDermott (Henry Beckman) comes upon him and they share reminiscences. McDermott commiserates that he’s not young anymore either.
Lane begins to walk away then hears “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” being sung by a group of people, the sound coming from inside the condemned bar. He peers through the windows and sees a crowd apparently from 1945. He tried to get in, but the door is locked. He looks in again, and now it’s empty inside.
Back in his office the next day, and sober, Lane again hears “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” being sung by a group. He flings open his office door and dashes out into the hallway, where it is also 1945, his first day at the firm. We cut back to him inside his office where it is the present day; he has imagined this scene from the past just like he imagined the one in Tim Riley’s bar.
Later, drunk, he breaks into the bar, singing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” Two cops come to arrest him then Officer McDermott shows up and gets him off the hook. Finally, his emotions tumble forth and he cries to McDermott, “I’ve put in my time. I’ve paid my dues. I shouldn’t be hustled to death in the daytime and then die of loneliness every night! That’s not the dream! That’s not what it’s about!” He breaks down sobbing on McDermott’s shoulder and for those of us watching with any feelings, we are moved near the edge of tears ourselves.
This seems like a fine spot to mention the superb writing by Rod Serling and tremendous, heartfelt acting by William Windom. That speech quoted above, delivered by Windom *is* what it’s all about as far as dramatic writing and acting for the screen is concerned. When we get to this point in the story, we are all in, taken someplace else by the magic of these words, brilliantly written and acted. It should also be noted the fine, understated performance of Diane Baker as Lane’s assistant, Lynn, who sees in Lane the man he truly is and not what he has become over the years due to personal loss and professional slippage.
Lane wants McDermott to take him to the house he used to live in with his wife. They’re tearing that one down, too, now, to make room for an apartment complex. Grudgingly, he agrees.
There, Lynn shows up, suspecting he might end up at the house. They talk. She makes clear that she is interested in him as more than a boss, but he again declines her overture, saying he is past his prime.
Rain begins to fall, reminding him of the day his wife died. He was at work “selling plastics” he bitterly recalls and was unreachable when she was dying of pneumonia.
The next morning, he arrives late and hungover and Pritkin fires him. Lynn chews out Pritkin, telling him that Lane just needed “one gentle word” to let him know he had worth.
Lane returns to Tim Riley’s again and enters. His father, his wife and scores of other well-wishers are there, singing, well, you know. He basks in the camaraderie. Jackhammer sounds make everyone stop. Dad says “how about that, they’re tearing down Tim Riley’s bar.” His wife sings “Auld Lang Syne.” Lane says he swears they’ll do it again, do it right. Everyone fades to black.
He is jarred back to reality by a construction worker telling him to leave. He walks down the street. The wrecking ball goes up. Again, he hears “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” but this time it’s not in his imagination. It’s being sung from an establishment that’s not shuttered. He enters and it turns out his boss and co-workers are singing it for him. Pritkin toasts him, thanks him for twenty-five years and wishes him well for another twenty-five as the wrecking ball comes down nearby on Tim Riley’s bar.
This ending was somewhat jarring for me as well, as it seems rather abrupt and unexpected and not altogether believable, but according to research done by Scott Shelton and Jim Benson in their book “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour” this is the ending Serling intended and was not tacked on by NBC to avoid a too-downbeat denoument.
Despite that quibble, this is an extremely moving story, atypical for Night Gallery in that there were no supernatural elements, only Lane’s waking reveries of better times passed. It’s the most humanistic and sympathetic thing written for the series and it stands among my favorite of them all.