Night Gallery’s adaptation of Conrad Aiken’s story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” narrated by the great Orson Welles is reviewed here.
“Silent Snow, Secret Snow” ***
Teleplay by Gene R. Kearney, Story by Conrad Aiken
Directed by Gene R. Kearney
Orson Welles as the Narrator
Lonny Chapman as Paul’s Father
Lisabeth Hush as Paul’s Mother
Radames Pera as Paul Hasleman
Jason Wingreen as the Doctor
Frances Spanier as Miss Buell
Patti Cohoon as Dierdre
Conrad Aiken’s classic short story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” is challenging to adapt for the screen as it largely takes place inside the mind of a ten-year old boy as he gradually withdraws from reality. The unusual step, for Night Gallery, was to employ voice-over narration of Aiken’s beautiful prose, and they got the perfect voice to do it, that of Orson Welles. When you hear the cliché “I could listen to him read the phone book,” I’d say just about the only person I’d make that statement about would be Welles.
Insinuating, intoxicating, involving, Welles’ narration is spellbinding and helps to set a mood, aided wonderfully by Gene Kearney’s direction and the musical score of Paul Glass. These elements work wonderfully, while the reasons for the boy’s thoughts and actions remained troublingly mystifying for me upon first viewing. A second viewing proved more satisfying, but a viewer can’t be expected to watch something twice to see if he finds it more enriching upon further viewing. So I have given this a three-star rating, which splits the difference between my two viewings of the story, the first one fairly frustrating, the second more appreciative.
We begin with young Paul (Radames Pera, known mainly for his role just after this in flashbacks as the boyhood version of David Carradine’s Caine on Kung Fu), awakening one morning and realizing that he normally hears the postman’s heavy, clomping steps up the sidewalks, but this morning they are muffled and Paul knows that the reason is because it has snowed. But when he looks outside, there is no snow.
Later, his parents, who do not have the warmest, most empathetic relationship with their son, begin to notice that he’s acting odd, not listening, withdrawn. He gradually imagines the outside snowier and snowier, but every time he looks out the window, the ground is bare. He is afraid to explain to his parents or anyone his “new world” of snow and understandably so as it would seem to be apparently only to him.
Walking home from school one day, he becomes immersed in a wonderful scene of heavy snow as he runs through it joyfully. When he arrives home, the icicles hanging from the roof of his house are beginning to melt and he wonders if “it’s already ended.”
That night, the family doctor (Jason Wingreen, Harry the bartender at Kelsey’s Bar on All in the Family) visits as Paul’s parents have become increasingly concerned about his condition, how he is withdrawing from reality.
As the doctor questions Paul, Welles’ narration as the snow is increasingly commanding and seductive, and somewhat desperate. “I will surround your bed, pile a deep drift against the door so that no one will ever again be able to enter.
Paul tells the doctor and his parents that he just likes to think about snow, as if it’s perfectly normal, and to him, it is.
“Hurry, Paul, hurry, these last few precious hours…” Paul then breaks away from the adults and runs up to his room. When he throws open the door, there is a veritable blizzard happening inside. “Listen to us, Paul, in this white darkness we will take the place of everything.” Welles’ narration here is frightful, smothering, while the visuals of Paul embracing the snow are joyful. He revels in the snow falling on him.
His mother comes in and suddenly there is no snow. Paul shouts at her, “go away—I hate you!” Welles narration then in a low near-whisper asks, “Do you hear? We are leaning closer to you…” Paul’s face then becomes covered in a black shadow and there the story ends.
Again, a challenging, thought-provoking story. I found some of the questions I had upon the first viewing frustrating, then was able to enjoy the tale as it unfolded better the second time. I would very much be interested in hearing what other have to say about this, so if you read this and you watch the story, please send your comments.