Welcome to my Night Gallery episode guide. Thank you for finding your way here.
Night Gallery, later officially titled Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, was Serling’s “follow up” series to his groundbreaking The Twilight Zone, which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964, and which still airs regularly in reruns. Everyone knows about The Twilight Zone. But far too few people know much about Night Gallery. My hope is to do some small part in remedying that. For many, what little they know of Night Gallery is that it was the poor cousin, the weak sister of The Twilight Zone, and ultimately a failure for Serling. Without a doubt, The Twilight Zone deserves all its fame and accolades. But Night Gallery, too, deserves attention. No, it’s not as good overall as its predecessor. But on its own merits, it stands as an outstanding achievement. If you liked The Twilight Zone, if you like well-written dramas with varying tones of science fiction, the supernatural, the occult, horror, gothic romance and general eeriness, you are cordially invited to step into the Night Gallery.
As on The Twilight Zone, Serling introduces each episode of Night Gallery. Rather than a bare black background, the setting for his introductions is a large gallery of paintings and sculptures, or as Serling put it in more than one episode opening, objects d’art. His prose is purple as it was in his Twilight Zone introductions (no museum or gallery docent, would speak in this way, but it is pure Serling) and with each episode, a painting or sculpture is used to illustrate the story we are about to see. With this, the tone is set for something macabre, even if the results were sometimes less than satisfying.
The original two hour pilot episode aired on NBC November 8, 1969, a Saturday, which at that time was not the television graveyard it is today. It was a big night for tv viewing—in the early 70s M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, All in the Family and The Carol Burnett Show all garnered huge ratings Saturday evenings on CBS.
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-four minute “blackout” sketches that were meant as comic relief to the otherwise mostly “heavy” longer stories. I can understand the thinking behind this, but to my mind, most of these shorts were dreadful and are largely forgettable.
For its second season (1971–72 and in the same time slot), Night Gallery earned its only full slate, with 22 hour-long episodes, each again featuring multiple tales including the occasional would-be comedic blackout sketches. This in many ways was the “classic” Night Gallery season, with a number of these stories among the series’ best.
For its third and final season (1972–73), Night Gallery’s time slot was cut to a half-hour and the show was moved to Sunday night. These changes may have lead to the ratings decline which resulted in its cancellation after fifteen episodes. Even more sadly, little more than two years after the end of Night Gallery, Rod Serling suffered a series of heart attacks and died on June 28, 1975. He was just fifty years old.
A bit of my own Night Gallery viewing history: I have vague recollections of seeing snippets of the show in its original incarnation. I would have not been quite nine years old at the final episode, but considering in those days there were just the three networks and a couple of independent stations available on tv, it’s possible I would have stumbled upon the show, or walked into the tv room when my parents were watching (my mother confirms they did watch the show) though I would certainly not have been encouraged or even permitted by my them to watch something like Night Gallery at that age.
In the 80s, due to re-runs on WGN locally in Chicago, then later on cable, I became a huge fan of The Twilight Zone. If I have the time and energy, perhaps I will delve into that show to write an episode guide, though it has been covered excellently and ubiquitously in many places. So unless I really have the time, I likely won’t tackle that.
In recent years, Night Gallery has been airing on local Chicago independent station “MeTV” which also airs on some cable and satellite systems nationally. This is what piqued my interest in the show. However, this syndicated version of Night Gallery leaves much to be desired. Universal Studios, which produced the series for NBC, edited the first 28 hour-long episodes down to 30 minutes. This explanation from Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, from their indispensable website nightgallery.net, follows:
“Since the show had numerous stories of various lengths per hour, many of the shorter segments had to be expanded in the re-editing with superfluous, meaningless footage, serving only to confound the narrative. Conversely, many segments longer than the half-hour time slot were severely trimmed of key scenes, making them even more perplexing than their shorter counterparts. Some segments were missing half their original length in syndication.
To confuse the issue further, 25 episodes of an entirely different series, the ESP snooze-fest The Sixth Sense, were grafted onto the syndication package with the addition of new Gallery-type introductions by a well-paid Serling. If an episode stars Gary Collins as psychic researcher Dr. Michael Rhodes, then it’s not a true Night Gallery segment.”
I could not have put it better.
After watching a number of the syndicated episodes on tv, often finding them intriguing but also confusing and dissatisfying, I decided to investigate Night Gallery’s existence on DVD. And very fortunately, I found what I was looking for at my local library in Naperville, IL. Each of three seasons has its own DVD. If your local library does not have them, request them. Otherwise, they are available on Amazon. If you are interested in Night Gallery, I highly recommend you seek out the DVDs and watch the episodes as they were originally broadcast. You won’t be disappointed. And now, on to the episode guide.
“The Cemetery” ***1/2
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Boris Sagal
Roddy McDowall as Jeremy Evans
Ossie Davis as Osmond Portifoy
George Macready as William Hendricks
This very first Night Gallery story is a solid, eerie tale, if a bit perplexing and disappointing in its unnecessary final act. It was an original Serling script and the director was tv veteran Boris Sagal (father of Katey as well as twins Liz and Jean—remember the mid-80s sitcom “Double Trouble”? If you were born after, say 1977, you probably don’t). Sagal had previously directed a combined five episodes of Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and would go on to direct the 1971 post-apocalyptic feature film classic The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston.
Roddy McDowall plays Jeremy Evans, the ne’er-do-well nephew of old, rich and stroke-enfeebled William Hendricks (George Macready). He’s recently come to live with his uncle and his uncle’s butler Portifoy (Ossie Davis). Although it’s not explained, Jeremy’s existence, though he seems to be in his mid-thirties, has come as a surprise to his uncle. Apparently Hendricks and his sister didn’t keep in very close touch because his sister has died and Jeremy stands to be the sole heir of his uncle’s estate.
The staircase walls (and this set appears to be re-used in several subsequent episodes) contain paintings made by the old uncle. The scenes painted are dark in nature, including one of the cemetery which lies just outside the house. There is also a glowering self-portrait hung at the top of the stairs.
Jeremy pays a visit to his uncle’s room. The old man is wheelchair-bound, unable to speak and now unable to hold the paintbrush that Jeremy hands him as the man has an unfinished canvas he’s been working on. The British-born McDowall excels, employing an ingratiating southern accent and “charms” to great effect in creating the type of character one loves to hate. And he cements the viewer’s disgust when he wheels his uncle to an open window and locks the chair, preventing the man from moving from that spot where a strong, cold draft hastens his death hours later.
The uncle is buried in the adjacent cemetery and afterward, Jeremy is definitely not in a state of mourning, rather of boozy celebration. He is jolted from his feelings of self-satisfaction when he notices the painting of the cemetery now shows a dug grave which was not there previously. He points this out to Portifoy who responds, “I see nothing wrong.”
Later, the painting has a casket partly in the grave, causing Jeremy to erupt in a fury, yanking the painting off the wall and tossing it into the fireplace, where it burns. He goes upstairs, relieved, then sees the painting is again on the wall, this time showing a man, his uncle, in the open casket, leading to a scream of horror from Jeremy.
The next morning, the painting is back to its original state. Still agitated, Jeremy has an argument with Portifoy, knocking a tea service set out of the butler’s hands causing some hot tea to burn him. This is the last straw for Portifoy, who does not want to remain in the employ of Jeremy rather than his uncle. He quits and leaves the house.
Awake in bed that night, Jeremy hears the sound of a door opening and closing in the supposedly empty house. He gets up out of bed, calling “Portifoy, is that you?” On his way down the stairs, he sees that the painting now shows his uncle walking toward the house, thus setting off a thrilling, terrifying sequence. In a panic, he desperately searches for Portifoy and sees the figure of the uncle in the painting getting closer to the house. A window is open and footsteps are heard outside. The painting next shows the uncle getting closer still. There is a knocking at the door and sure enough the next shot of the painting shows the uncle knocking.
Delirious with fear, Jeremy runs up the stairs, grabs his uncle’s self-portrait off the wall, screaming at it. The framed painting is quite heavy, causing him to fall backward down the stairs to his death.
The story could have ended here with this excellently handled climax, but there is unfortunately a sort of coda.
Immediately after Jeremy’s fatal fall, Portifoy returns, thus explaining the noises outside. Then we have a scene sometime after we see a different side of Portifoy. No longer in his butler’s attire, the brandy-drinking Portifoy carries the air of someone who owns the place—which he now effectively does as he is next in line after Jeremy in the old man’s will.
He has a visitor, a man he pays for painting the numerous variations of the cemetery scene. As the man leaves, we detect he feels perhaps not so well-compensated by the now wealthy man who corrects him from addressing him as simply Portifoy. “It’s mister Portifoy,” he says with the air of a man talking down to someone.
When (Mr.) Portifoy glances at the picture, he sees that it now shows two graves. We have the same progression as before, but much more quickly, this time with Jeremy rising from the grave and approaching the house. The door opens, Portifoy screams and we fade to black.
Overall, this segment is an excellent introduction to the series. However, the ending falls flat and is simply unnecessary. Incidentally, in the syndicated version of the show aired on tv, the endings often are dissatisfying, but this is usually due to the heavy editing the stories underwent to put it into the 30-minute package. Still, the occasional original version suffers from the same weakness, and this is one of them.
When it is made clear that Portifoy was changing the paintings on the wall in order to drive Jeremy insane, it provides a deflating real-world explanation to what seemed like a frightening dose of occult-style justice.
Then, when Portifoy experiences his version of changing paintings, there is no way that the painter, or anyone else, could be changing them that quickly, thus forcing us to conclude that in this case, it was indeed a case of the supernatural. However, why those in charge of dispensing otherworldly comeuppances would deem Portifoy’s transgressions to be more deserving of their wrath than Jeremy’s, well, there is no real-world explanation I can think of for that.
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Joan Crawford as Claudia Menlo
Barry Sullivan as Dr. Frank Heatherton
Tom Bosley as Sidney Resnick
Just as a piece of cinematic history, this segment is noteworthy. It was the first directorial assignment for 22-year old Steven Spielberg and it was one of the last roles for 63-year old screen icon Joan Crawford. The crossing of their paths could end up leading to over a century of work combined. Crawford began her film career during the late silent era in the mid-1920s. And Spielberg is still going strong today at 67, with no reason to believe he won’t still be active a decade from now. Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood are still active at 77 and 83 respectively.
As far as the results of this collaboration of once and future legends went, it’s somewhat of a mixed bag.
“Eyes” tells the story of Claudia Menlo, a rich, isolated, selfish, ruthless, domineering tyrant who has an entire floor of a New York City penthouse to herself. Blind from birth, she has summoned her doctor, Frank Heatherton (Barry Sullivan), to discuss an experimental new surgical procedure where a functioning optic nerve can be transplanted into sightless eyes. Heatherton scoffs at this due to the fact that the procedure has only been tested on animals, never humans, that the prospect of finding a living donor would be extremely remote and that even if one was found, he wouldn’t perform the operation on moral grounds. The operation would only give the donor 11 hours of sight and it would leave the donor permanently blind.
The moral grounds are not an issue for Menlo, of course, and she surprises Heatherton by informing him she has found a donor willing to give up his eyes for $9,000. She then uses blackmail to force him to perform the operation by threatening to expose some long-ago medical transgression that could ruin his career.
The reluctant donor is Sidney Resnick (Tom Bosley), a down-on-his-luck gambler who owes $9,000 to the kind of guy or guys who don’t take credit cards or have an installment plan. He figures that it’s better to live blind than to face the repercussions of not paying his debt. The future Mr. Cunningham on Happy Days pulls out all the stops as far as milking the pathos of his predicament goes and if he overplays his role, it’s as much the fault of Serling’s script as it is Bosley’s.
The episode really slows to a near halt in the overly long sequence with Resnick meeting with Heatherton and a surgical colleague to sign his consent to the surgery and receive his payment. The scene tugs, yanks and gloms on to the heartstrings and would have been more effective had it been substantially trimmed.
Spielberg’s direction, which up to this point had been fairly straightforward, although there had been a number of interesting shot compositions, becomes especially creative in the next two scenes, showing us glimpses of what would come in the very visually interesting films he would soon direct, such as Duel, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Leading up to the operation, Crawford’s and Bosley’s characters are shot from above being wheeled down a corridor on gurneys when quick cutting between their eyes dissolves into one shot of both sets of eyes. An inspired way to film this scene, indeed.
Later that night, back in her apartment after the operation, she dismisses Dr. Heatherton to experience the moment of removing the bandages from her eyes without anyone else present. When she does, we see a blurry image of a chandelier and just as it begins to come into focus, the screen turns black. Enraged, she goes into a fury blaming Heatherton for botching the job as she was expecting to have sight for 11 hours. Spielberg created a highly memorable shot during this sequence where Crawford stumbles around against a completely black background, with only her figure lit. It’s an excellent and frightening visualization of the frustration and terror she is feeling as she has been plunged back into blindness again.
She leaves her apartment, manages to navigate her way down the stairwell and emerges outside her building. As car horns are honking amidst stalled traffic and a mounted policeman approaches a man in a car, we get the moment of grand irony of the episode as he informs the motorist that the blackout that’s hit the city may last awhile.
Once the “wow factor” of this reveal fades, one begins to wonder why she can’t see outside? It’s by no means pitch black out there with all the vehicle headlights on. Also, why schedule her eleven hours of sight for nighttime? Not that one would anticipate a blackout, but there are a lot more interesting things to see during daylight hours than at night. These are major problems of the episode.
A minor problem occurs next when we see Menlo back in her apartment the next morning asleep in a chair. How did she get back there? She couldn’t have done it herself. If she was helped, it would have been an interesting scene to see how she would have had to admit to another human being her helplessness. Perhaps such a scene was cut due to the episode’s length.
As she blinks her eyes open, Spielberg gives us her point of view as we see the rising sun coming into focus. Excitedly, she begins to stand, but the sun then dims and fades from her view, which has again gone black as the 11 hours have concluded. Desperate and in denial, she moves closer to the window in hopes of restoring her vision of the sun, but she moves too close, breaking the window and falling through to her death in another highly imaginative shot where the camera zooms downward with the glass shattering on the pavement below, making us feel that we, too are falling.
For Joan Crawford, this was undoubtedly one of her finest later efforts. She is completely believable as the chilling, heartless Claudia Menlo, a characterization that would later seem to many to be less an acting job than a glimpse of the real-life Crawford, as portrayed by her step-daughter Cristina in the tell-all memoir, “Mommie Dearest.”
In his directorial debut, Steven Spielberg acquitted himself well with a difficult-to-film script. Suffice it to say, he would go on to bigger and better things.
“The Escape Route” ****
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Barry Shear
Richard Kiley as Joseph Strobe
Sam Jaffe as Bleum
Norma Crane as Gretchen
The pilot episode’s trilogy of stories concludes with its strongest entry, “The Escape Route.” Richard Kiley is outstanding as a former Nazi concentration camp commander living in Argentina, on the run from Israeli agents and from his own inner demons.
Walking on a Buenos Aries sidewalk, Strobe notices that he is being followed a car. He hops on a bus to evade pursuit and gets off outside an art museum, which he ducks into. He comes up behind an old man, Bleum, who is very moved by a painting of a crucifixion which features a horrible, painful look on the victim’s face. Bleum tells Strobe it reminds him of a friend’s grueling two-day order on a cross at a concentration camp during the war. Regarding Strobe’s face, Bleum detects a familiarity and asks Strobe if they’ve met. Strobe lies that he’s not German, he’s Hungarian.
In another of the gallery’s rooms, Strobe comes upon a painting of a peaceful, tranquil scene of a man in a rowboat, fishing on a river in the mountains. He is clearly intrigued by this image. He looks away, looks back again and what we then see is his face on the fisherman, which understandably surprises him.
Strobe returns to the gallery the next morning and again sees his face in the painting. He seems to be visualizing himself there, to escape his reality, his guilt, his running away, his looking over his shoulder.
Later, back at his squalid apartment, he confides this to his next door neighbor, Gretchen, a prostitute who knows his true identity. She tells him that he is “number two on the list after Eichmann.” (Adolph Eichmann, one of the main organizers of Nazi Germany’s deportation of European Jews to German concentration camps, was captured by Israeli Mossad agents in Argentina in 1960. This would seem to take place later than that, so in essence, she is saying that Strobe is number one on the list of those they wish to bring to find.)
Strobe tells her he wants God’s compassion. He thinks that if he concentrates hard enough, he could have willed himself to become that fisherman in the painting. Gretchen laughs at this. Strobe explodes and tells her to go to hell. To which she replies, “after you, Herr Strobe” and cackles.
It should be noted here that while the thought of a high-Nazi deserving God’s compassion is laughable to her, and likely to you reading this, to see Richard Kiley’s performance as Strobe, he does to a degree elicit our sympathy. This is no small task, and that is why, to my mind, his acting job here is at or near the top of all the performances in the entire series. The degree of his sins may make true sympathy impossible, but we can all identify with the desire to put the past behind us, to be absolved of our sins, to have a fresh start.
The next day, Strobe is back again at the gallery looking at the painting and still sees himself in it. Bleum appears. From Bleum’s point of view, the painting is as we originally saw it (without Strobe’s face). Bleum calls Strobe by his real name (Arndt) and says he remembers him from Auschwitz, says he recalls Strobe (Arndt) with a riding crop and that his job was to indicate “which of the incoming Jews would die and which would temporarily stay alive.” Sam Jaffe’s performance as Bleum is also a strong one. Strobe denies this was he and when he looks at the painting again, he how sees images of himself in the boat, content (these scenes from Strobe’s imagination are filmed scenes, not a painting).
That night, at a bar, a band is playing. Strobe, drunk, likely in part due to his frustrating inability to will himself into that bucolic scene in the painting, begins to loudly sign a German anthem, then approaches the band, takes the guitar player’s instrument and smashes it, causing a scene.
Bleum is also in the bar, and follows Strobe as he staggers drunkenly outside. Bleum speaks to Strobe from behind in German, and in his inebriated state, defenses down, Strobe replies to him in his native tongue. Realizing it’s futile to continue denying, he admits that he is who Bleum thinks he is. Bleum picks at Strobe’s guilt, unleashing Strobe’s fury which results in his hands around Bleum’s throat, strangling him to death.
Attempting to leave town by bus, the Israeli agents who were following Strobe in the car at the beginning of the episode, catch up with him. He manages to escape and a chase ensues, leading to the art museum. Inside the darkened gallery, Strobe finds the spot where his idyllic painting hung, wills/prays himself into it.
We find out that the painting of the fisherman had been moved and in its place now hangs the painting of the crucifixion scene, this time, as the camera zooms in on it, with the terrified face of strobe on the man on the cross.
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.
Larry Hagman, just after his I Dream of Jeannie run ended, and with a beard (maybe a false one), stars in the Night Gallery story “The Housekeeper,” reviewed below.
“The Housekeeper” **1/2
Written by Douglas Heyes (using the pseudonym Matthew Howard, maybe he was modest and didn’t want to assume too much credit after writing and directing the episode’s previous segment)
Directed by John Meredyth Lucas
Larry Hagman as Cedric Acton
Jeanette Nolan as Miss Wattle
Suzy Parker as Carlotta Acton
Cathleen Cordell as Miss Beamish
The second segment of the first episode of Night Gallery’s first season is also one that has its merits, but doesn’t quite achieve success.
It’s an often comic episode, thanks to Larry Hagman’s fine performance. For those of you who remember the recently deceased Mr. Hagman from his portrayal of the villainous J.R. Ewing on Dallas, he was a fine comic actor, his gifts excellently on display during the five-year run of Jeannie.
The story begins with Cedric Acton (Hagman) at an employment agency, seeking an old housekeeper with a good heart (reverse ageism that would be forbidden today, but apparently in 1970 was not a problem). Miss Wattle (Jeanette Nolan, who would appear again memorably in the next season as the title character in “When Aunt Ada Came To Stay,” only in her late fifties here but appears to be at least ten years older) is brought in.
In more job interview banter that would be later outlawed, Acton asks her if she has friends. No. References? No again. He asks her when she sees young, attractive women, “do you ask ‘why her, not me’”? She sheepishly admits that she has, but “it don’t change the price of potatoes,” a salt-of-the-earth reply that delights him.
Acton takes Miss Wattle out to dinner in a fancy restaurant. There, his beautiful young wife is having dinner with a man who is obviously “romantically” interested in her. Acton says that his wife is selfish and ungrateful. She’s also worth $7 million. He asks Miss Wattle what she would give to change places with his wife. He wants her goodness, at least that which he has deigned during a brief and no longer legal job interview, in his wife’s attractive body.
Later, he proposes a personality transplant where she would inhabit the young, beautiful woman’s body, and be in line for half the $7 million should things not work out as his wife. He injects Miss Wattle with a serum and brings a frog to his wife to complete the act. The transformation is successful.
Afterward, Miss Wattle (in his wife’s body) is not interested in Acton’s advances. Three days later, she emerges from her room and says that she’s turning in her notice and wants the full $7 million. Acton brings the frog out again, she asks “oh, dear, how many times?” To which Acton replies, “Until we get it right.”
There is some amusement here but the episode’s ending feels a bit rushed. Fine performances from Hagman and Nolan help quite a bit.
Season 1 Episode 2—aired 12/23/70
“Room With A View” **1/2
Written by Hal Dresner
Directed by Jerrold Freedman
Joseph Wiseman as Jacob Bauman
Diane Keaton as Nurse Frances Nevins
Angel Tompkins as Lila Bauman
Larry Watson as the Chauffeur
Jacob Bauman (Joseph Wiesman) is a bedridden invalid, played largely as a stereotype of the late-middle-aged Jewish man. Think a slightly more restrained version of Eugene Levy’s Sid Dithers character on SCTV. Through his bedroom window, with his ever-present binoculars, he spies two young lovers kissing by a car. The man is his wife’s chauffeur and the woman, we find out in a moment as she enters his room, is his nurse, played by a young Diane Keaton.
This was one of her very first film or television roles and she plays her character in a slightly less-polished manner than she would later play the title character in Annie Hall—optimistic, friendly, flighty, and trusting. The segment is worth watching if just for her interesting early performance.
Bauman surprises her by asking what her plans are with the young man. She says they plan to marry. Bauman suspects his much younger wife is also romantically involved with the chauffeur. We then see from his binoculars’ point of view that his wife is touching the bare chest of the driver. Keaton’s character confesses her tendency to fly into jealous rages by recounting a time when she caught her chauffeur boyfriend kissing another woman in a bar and beat the woman up.
Bauman then sees his wife and the chauffeur climb a flight of stairs together, which is the building where the chauffeur resides. Inside a window we see them kissing.
Bauman gives his nurse a gun and asks her to have the chauffeur look it over to make sure it works. He adds he just saw him go up the stairs to his apartment. “Why don’t you go surprise him,” he suggests. She does and we hear shots fired.
A servant enters with Bauman’s breakfast and offers to butter his toast. He refuses, saying “there are still some things I can do for myself.” This whimsical final note to the story recalls many similar endings on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
A medical bag from the future is found in an alleyway trashcan by a down-on-his luck former-doctor, changing his life forever. A powerful performance by Burgess Meredith in “The Little Black Bag,” reviewed here.
“The Little Black Bag” ****
Teleplay by Rod Serling, Story by C. M. Kornbluth
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Burgess Meredith as Dr. William Fall
Chill Wills as Hepplewhite
George Furth as Gillings
E. J. Andre as Charlie Peterson
Arthur Malet as Mr. Ennis
Eunice Suarez as the Mother
Marion Val as the Sick Girl
Johnny Silver as the Pawnbroker
A bag with futuristic medical supplies is mistakenly sent back in time from the future. The first scene takes place in this future, which we later learn is 2098, in a sort of time travel room, where a worker, Gillings (George Furth), discovers this error and lets his supervisor know the bag can’t be returned.
In 1971, two hobos find the little black bag in a dumpster while they’re searching for something they can pawn for liquor. William Fall (Burgess Meredith) is a former M.D., his time as a practicing physician twenty years in the past as he now spends his days in the streets and alleys with his pal Hepplewhite (Chill Wills) trying to score booze before heading off to a men’s shelter at night.
Fall is fascinated by what he sees inside the bag, he realizes it contains some great medical advances since he last practiced but can’t imagine how the field could have leaped so far ahead in the years since he’s been out of the game.
Hepplewhite is a strong advocate for taking the bag to a pawn shop and getting a few bucks for it immediately. Fall agrees.
At the pawn shop, they are approached by a highly distressed woman who sees them with the bag and asks for their help as her daughter is very ill. The pawnshop owner is willing to pay $8 for the bag, but Fall declines, saying with the kind of pride he has not likely honestly felt in years, “I have need of my instruments. I have a patient who requires my services.”
The men follow the woman to her tenement apartment where they find her daughter has strep throat. Fall follows instructions in the bag, there is a matching card and needle labeled “lymphatic infections”; he gives her a shot and within seconds she has recovered completely. Meredith excels in this scene expressing the wonder he feels at these tools and realizing this can serve as his re-entry into the medical profession. Hepplewhite still just wants to pawn the bag and get the $8. The mother says “God bless you, doctor” which gratifies Fall immensely.
Fall again is amazed how medicine could have advanced this far in just twenty years. Then he notices the bag has a date on it—2098.
He goes to a flophouse where a friend has terminal cancer and is able to use a scalpel to remove his tumors, without blood or pain, and without even knowing how to do it—the scalpel guides his hand. A man there with arthritis then asks Fall to cure him and he does.
In their room that night, Hepplewhite is becoming impatient and angry—he wants to make money off this bag, and now he can see there may be much, much more than $8 to be made. Fall practices a speech he plans to give to the medical community introducing the bag and its supplies and instruments. He’ll start with this attention-getter:
“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, before I begin this demonstration, I’d like to pose to you an academic question. If I were to take this scalpel and I were to imbed it in my throat and then cut to a depth of, perhaps, three centimeters, what would your professional estimation be of my chances of surviving?”
He realizes with delight that “they’ll be aghast!”
Before he is able to make that speech and discover all the far-reaching implications for improving global human health, Hepplewhite’s turn to the sinister will end that dream. Chill Wills was a very large man and often played the “gentle giant” but his size and grizzled looks made it completely believable for him to play a heavy, and Chill is quite chilling in this scene as he takes a blade from the bag and murders Fall.
The next scene is that presentation before the medical community, made my Hepplewhite. But at the moment his is about to plunge the scalpel into his throat, when he says “”Then gentlemen, watch this!” we cut to the 2098 time travel room where Gillings says a murder has been committed by one of the instruments; he is ordered to deactivate the bag, which he does immediately.
Back in 1971 shaken doctors ponder why he would have chosen to commit suicide in such a manner. One is not so sure it was a suicide, asking “did you catch the look on his face just before he dropped? I’ve never seen anyone look quite so surprised.”
The bag, with its contents smoldering, is deemed junk and is tossed into the garbage chute.
All the way around, this Serling-written episode works beautifully, as it would have on Twilight Zone. Good pacing, excellent performances by Meredith and Wills (who does a lot simply with an open-mouthed stare) and fine direction for the first time from the man who would go on to direct the most Night Gallery episodes, 22, Jeannot Szwarc.
A lunar crash-site investigation reveals a surprising inhabitant in “The Nature of the Enemy,” the third story on Night Gallery Season 1 Episode 2, reviewed here.
“The Nature of the Enemy” **
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Allen Reisner
Joseph Campanella as Simms
Richard Van Vleet as the Astronaut
James B. Sikking as the First Reporter
Jason Wingreen as the Second Reporter
NASA has sent a team to the moon to investigate the crash of a previous mission. An additional ship sent there is missing. The astronauts on the rescue mission see no signs of life despite a communication from the previous mission’s men.
Joseph Campanella plays Simms, the team leader at NASA’s mission control. He gives a statement to the reporters gathered there, telling them that what sounded like a distress call most assuredly was not. He has to cut the briefing short because another transmission is coming in from the rescue craft’s crew. The astronaut reports that he is looking at a huge metal platform but he can’t figure out why the previous flight’s crew would have built it. Then he seems to realize just before perishing as we hear him say “It can’t be. It just can’t be.” Then a scream and the signal cuts out.
For some reason, the film of this is then run, sight unseen, for the assembled members of the press. One observes that the platform mentioned by the astronaut looks like a giant mousetrap. Then the live transmission resumes and we see something moving near the platform. A close-up reveals…an enormous mouse lumbering around the lunar surface, raising to its hind paws, to which Simms, and Campanella must be given credit here for not giggling, exclaims, “The enemy! That’s the enemy!”
The sight of giant mouse terrorizing the human colonists of the moon is an unintentionally hilarious one and ruins what had to that point been an intriguing enough story with a certain amount of tension over what the rescue mission would find on the moon. It harkens back to the many cheap-o sci fi movies from the 1950s. Night Gallery can and would do much better, but it’s clunkers like this one which helped to mar the series in the minds of many.
One could do worse than sharing a ride in a convertible on a warm, sunny afternoon with the 28-year-old Joanna Pettet. Review of the Night Gallery episode “The House” is here.
Season 1 Episode 3—aired 12/30/70
“The House” **1/2
Teleplay by Rod Serling, Story by André Maurois
Directed by John Astin
Joanna Pettet as Elaine Latimer
Paul Richards as Peugot
Steve Franken as Dr. Peter Mitchell
Jan Burrell as the Nurse
“The House” is a pleasantly haunting, atmospheric episode that ultimately made me go “huh” rather than “wow.” Directed by actor John Astin (who does not appear in this), it was his television directorial debut and the first of three stories Night Gallery stories he would direct.
“The House” begins with the idyllic scene described above. Elaine Latimer (Pettet, in the first of her four Night Gallery appearances) drives through a sunlit countryside, her long blonde hair billowing in the wind. With a slight sense of déjà vu, she comes upon a lovely two-story house, pulls up its driveway and approaches it. Astin shoots this in slow-motion and as Pettet walks to the house, her long dress billows just as her hair does. It is an enchanting, inviting scene.
The house gives her a feeling of welcoming and a sense of peace, serenity and permanence. She knocks at the door but no one answers, until she drives off and the door opens a crack.
It turns out she is describing this scene to a psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Mitchell, at the sanitarium from which she is being discharged the next day. She says she has had this recurring dream the last ten years.
Upon her release, she drives through a countryside much like the one she has dreamed of and arrives at, you guessed it, the house. Coincidentally (or not), a real estate agent, Peugot, happens to be at the property and informs Elaine that the house is for sale. Inside, she knows the layout even though her dreams only involve the house’s exterior. The asking price is surprisingly low, and apparently the realtor’s moral (or legal) code was strong back in 1970 because with just a little prodding, Peugot reveals that the house is haunted.
But haunted in a non-violent way. No bloody crimes have been committed here; Peugot thinks the “haunting” is psychological inside the previous owners’ heads. Not dissuaded in the least, Elaine agrees to buy it.
While sleeping there, she has the recurring dream again. She hears a car come up the driveway, goes outside, but no one is there. Peugot then pulls up but swears he only just arrived. She phones Dr. Mitchell at the sanitarium to share with him the news that she’s found the house of her dreams (literally). While on the phone with him, there is a knock at the door. She puts down the phone to see who it is, then returns to tell the doctor “I am the ghost.”
She drifts off to sleep, again hears a knock at the door, hurries downstairs (note: the stairwell here looks very similar to the one in “The Cemetery” from the pilot episode; it’s possible the same set was used) and catches a glimpse of her red convertible driving away, thus concluding the story.
This segment was certainly not leading up to a big scare, but still, I found this ending unsatisfying, yet enjoyed the journey well enough.
A long-ill sister dies but her spirit lingers in the Night Gallery story “Certain Shadows on the Wall,” reviewed here.
“Certain Shadows on the Wall” **
Teleplay by Rod Serling, Story “The Shadows on the Wall” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Directed by Jeff Corey
Louis Hayward as Stephen Brigham
Agnes Moorehead as Emma Brigham
Rachel Roberts as Rebecca Brigham
Grayson Hall as Ann Brigham
Emma Brigham (Agnes Moorehead) lies in bed, deathly ill. Her physician brother, Stephen (Louis Hayward), ministers to her after giving up his practice, including nightly readings to her of works of her favorite author, Charles Dickens. Her spinster sisters, dour, pragmatic Ann (Grayson Hall) and sweet Rebecca (Rachel Roberts) live with Emma.
Note: once again, the stairwell in this house looks quite familiar, I would not be surprised if it was the same one used in “The House” and “The Cemetery.” The set design department certainly got their money’s worth out of that staircase.
Stephen shares Emma’s prognosis with Ann and Rebecca, telling them Emma has but days to live. They are startled by a crashing sound and Emma has died, knocking over a table while reading Dickens’ “Bleak House” in her final moments.
Soon thereafter, that well-used staircase becomes the focal point once again as an image of what looks to be the late Emma sitting up in bed appears on the wall of the staircase. It is a silhouette, seemingly a shadow, yet on closer inspection, it is not a shadow, but rather an image directly on the wall.
Stephen, initially in denial, insists it is a stain or discoloration. After the siblings return from Emma’s funeral, the image is still on the wall.
The funeral home phones asking for the cause of death and Stephen says it was dyspepsia and, becoming agitated and defensive, says that there is no need for them to verify.
Stephen becomes nearly obsessed with finding an explanation for Emma’s image on the wall and when Rebecca finds a bottle of sedatives, she apparently makes a connection that we would not have expected her to make, given her seemingly sunny outlook on people and life.
As Stephen continues cataloging the many possessions in Emma’s home, possessions which he is now imagining enriching the three surviving siblings, Rebecca convinces him he needs some rest and to that end has prepared him a cup of hot tea. “Drink your tea, you’ll feel ever so much better,” she coos.
Rebecca confides to Ann that she ground up some of the sedatives and put them into Stephen’s tea. Ann seems slightly surprised, but not alarmed. It is a lethal dose. His death is ruled accidental and he is buried alongside Emma.
When we next see the staircase wall, Emma’s shadow has been joined by one of Stephen, reading to her, now one would surmise, forevermore.
For me, “Certain Shadows on the Wall” largely falls flat. The potential chills of Emma’s accusatory shadow on the wall don’t particularly materialize and the irony of Rebecca’s and Ann’s indifference to that bit of the supernatural is downplayed to the point of having no impact. Strong acting from the three leads makes it watchable, but it comes off as too slow and stifling (there are no locations other than the house) to be enjoyable.
A failed standup comic has his wish to make people laugh at everything he says granted to less than satisfying results—for him and for us viewers. Review of the Night Gallery story “Make Me Laugh” is here.
Season 1 Episode 4—aired 1/6/71
“Make Me Laugh” *1/2
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Godfrey Cambridge as Jackie Slater
Jackie Vernon as Chatterje
Tom Bosley as Jules Kettleman
Al Lewis as Myron Mishkin
Sidney Clute as Theater Producer
John J. Fox as the Heckler
Gene R. Kearney as the Second Bartender
Tony Russel as the Theater Director
Sonny Klein as the First Bartender
Michael Hart as Miss Wilson
Georgia Schmidt as the Flower Lady
Jackie Slater (Godfrey Cambridge) bombs onstage at a seedy nightclub. Club owner Al Lewis (best known as Grandpa Munster) cuts short his planned engagement there and Slater’s longtime agent (Tom Bosley) dumps him as a client.
Drowning his sorrows in a bar, a man in a turban appears and introduces himself saying “Chatterje’s the name. Miracles by profession.” Jackie Vernon (the voice of Frosty the Snowman in the classic Rankin/Bass specials) is for some reason cast as a South Asian although no attempt is made to make him look Indian. I found this to be confusing and actually quite distracting during his scenes.
Chatterje tells Slater that he must perform a miracle by midnight or he will lose his powers. Slater asks the swami to make is so that people laugh at everything he says. Chatterje makes it so but warns that his miracles have “small imperfections.” That’s what’s known in the business as foreshadowing.
Initially, things go spectacularly for Jackie S. He becomes a huge star and his manager reunites with him, knowing a meal ticket when he sees one.
Eventually, Slater tires of people laughing at his every utterance and longs to be taken seriously. An audition for a dramatic role is predictably disastrous as the producer, director, a fellow actor and everyone in the theatre guffaws uproariously at his words. He is literally laughed right out of the theatre.
Later, on the street, he runs into Chatterje and tells him he no longer wants to make people laugh; he wants to make them cry. Slater then begins to cross the street to tell a joke to a flower vendor but before he can make it to her, he is run over by a car. The flower vendor approaches his lifeless body and, yes, cries. Wish granted.
The script for this tale, an original Serling, is not all bad, and in fact, I think a decent episode could have been made out of this “be careful what you wish for” story. But the casting of not just Jackie Vernon, but more importantly, Godfrey Cambridge, is all wrong. In order for “Make Me Laugh” to work, we have to feel some compassion, some empathy, for what Jackie Slater is going through. He starts off at rock bottom, in desperation gets a wish granted, rises to the top, yet still feels unfulfilled. Unfortunately, Cambridge mostly comes off as annoying and irritating throughout so we never really hope things get better for him and at the end we can’t share a tear with the flower vendor over his pedestrian death on the dangerous streets of 1970 New York City.
I haven’t even mentioned that Steven Spielberg directed this mess and he’d probably prefer this flop be erased from his list of directorial credits forever.
A tyrannical big-game hunter forces his son to make a “clean kill” or lose his substantial inheritance in “Clean Kills and Other Trophies” reviewed here.
“Clean Kills and Other Trophies” ***
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Walter Doniger
Raymond Massey as Colonel Archie Dittman
Tom Troupe as Pierce
Barry Brown as Archie Jr.
Herb Jefferson Jr. as Tom Mboya
Colonel Archie Dittman (Raymond Massey) explains to his dinner guest, family attorney Jeffrey Pierce (Tom Troupe) that his butler Tom (Herb Jefferson, Jr.) is “quite a specimen” and “a pagan savage” because he still carries amulets and “fervently believes in black magic.” Tom is one of many things, and the only living thing, the Colonel has brought back from Africa. The walls of his study are filled with the stuffed and mounted heads the game he his killed, his “trophies.”
Pierce is there to discuss Dittman’s son’s inheritance. Archie Junior has just graduated college and does not share his father’s passion for hunting. The Colonel wants to modify the legal documents so that his son must kill and animal, by himself and with a gun, within fifteen days or he will receive no inheritance.
The Colonel clearly despises his son whom he views as an unmanly coward. “A dish of jelly consommé,” as he refers to him. Apparently no one calls Archie Dittman, Jr. jelly consommé because this latest in a long monologue of insults delivered by his father spurs the son to grab a loaded rifle and point it at his father, only to have Tom knock the barrel away.
Pierce takes Archie Jr. aside and tells him he could sue his father for this highly unusual legal document modification and probably win. But the son actually has a bit of admiration for this father as a kind of prototypical twentieth century man. “He’s a whole lot closer to the norm than I’ll ever be,” Archie Jr. says wistfully and grudgingly agrees to go on a deer hunt the next morning.
Pierce wonders why Tom has remained with the sadistic Colonel for so many years and Tom explains he has stayed for the son. The Colonel “wants to give him his manhood, but he will strip him of that if he gives him a gun and makes him use it,” Tom has concluded. Tom explains to Pierce that growing up in Africa he killed “for food, to live, never for pleasure.” That night, Tom prays to his gods for “the hunter to know what it is like to be the victim.”
In the woods the next morning, the Colonel spots a deer in a clearing. He explains to his son how to shoot the rifle and where to aim and when Archie Jr. is slower than the Colonel would like as far as pulling the trigger, the elder Dittman loses his patience, shouts “Shoot! What are you waiting for?” and hits/bumps/pushes him as he fires, causing the shot to hit the deer in the lung, not a clean kill, which will require them to track the deer for hours before finally finishing it off.
Back home, the Colonel is apoplectic, despite the fact that he bumped his son when it was time to shoot, causing the misfire. In the study with Tom, the Colonel’s head begins to get warm, then hot. He asks Tom to open a window.
Tom leaves the study and finds Pierce, who is looking for the Colonel. Tom warns Pierce not to enter the study, but Pierce doesn’t heed the warning and leaves the study as quickly as he entered it, looking shocked. “There are gods, Mr. Pierce. Gods of the bush, of the Congo, of the rain forests. And with them, vengeance is an art.”
As Pierce and Archie Jr. leave, we re-enter the study and the camera cranes up to reveal the latest trophy mounted on the wall: the head of Colonel Archie Dittman.
This is a strong, if heavy-handed Serling script, solidly directed by Walter Doniger. Raymond Massey is perhaps a bit long in the tooth for the role of the Colonel, but what he may lack in terms of a physical intimidation factor, he makes up for by projecting a mean, disdainful, dismissive, cruel man.
The role of Archie Jr. is not acted as successfully, however, and that is to the detriment of the episode. Barry Brown is not given many lines, which may have helped, but in the opening scene where Massey dresses the kid down as basically being a callow wimp, that’s basically how he seems. One can sympathize with this twist being added to his ability to inherit his father’s fortune, but Brown is not able to make us empathize. Still, a fine episode, with a macabre ending.
An eternity spent listening to Phyllis Diller harangue you…even with two billion of us, could this be any man’s idea of heaven? “Pamela’s Voice” reviewed here.
Season 1 Episode 5—aired 1/13/71
“Pamela’s Voice” *
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Richard Benedict
Phyllis Diller as Pamela
John Astin as Jonathan
The best thing that can be said about the first installment in episode 5 is that it’s mercifully brief (nine minutes).
Jonathan (John Astin), alone in a funeral parlor, lights a cigarette in a kind of relieved celebration over the death of his wife Pamela, whom we hear in his spoken aloud narration was quite the annoying nag, with a voice the opposite of honey.
Suddenly, that leather-lunged voice is heard in the flesh, belonging to Jonathan’s late wife. In casting Phyllis Diller in this role, the “perfect” actor has been hired, but to what end? Pamela/Diller demonstrates to us exactly what drove Jonathan to push his spouse down the staircase to her death and I suppose Serling wrote this script intending it to be a comedy, but director Richard Benedict simply gives us two unpleasant people (one with a braying voice) arguing with each other.
Jonathan expects the funeral home will be taking Pamela away soon but she points out that she was buried months ago. She has him open the casket and look inside and he sees himself in it. He realizes that they are both ghosts. She is in heaven so she can do whatever she pleases and he is in hell, and so she will annoy and harangue him forever.
Did I mention how mercifully brief this episode is?
We’ve had a number of dogs reviewed in the last few but they are going to get better soon, I promise.
A Halloween post of the chilling Night Gallery story “Lone Survivor” is here.
“Lone Survivor” ***1/2
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Gene Levitt
John Colicos as the Survivor
Torin Thatcher as the Captain
Hedley Mattingly as the Doctor
Charles Davis as Wilson
Brendan Dillon as the Quartermaster
William Beckley as Richards
Terence Pushman as the Helmsman
A ship at sea in 1915, the Lusitania, comes upon a shipwreck with a lone survivor (let’s just get the meaning of the title out there right away). The crew sees, to its astonishment, that the ship in question is the Titanic, wrecked three years earlier.
The crew brings the survivor aboard, who is dressed in women’s clothing. But this person is not a woman, but rather a man. He explains that he was terrified and took the cowardly way out by dressing as a woman (the old “women and children first” get to go to the lifeboats was not such a cliché apparently).
He tells the ship’s doctor that this ship will be hit by a torpedo and sunk in 18 minutes. The doctor is naturally stunned at this prognostication. The survivor says he’s “beginning to understand that I’m a flying Dutchman…damned and doomed…an eternity of lifeboats, rescues, then forever being picked up by doomed ships” as a punishment for his cowardice aboard the Titanic.
Then, just as predicted, a torpedo hits the Lusitania. The scene then shifts and we are aboard a different ship, but the action is just like that in the first scene where the Lusitania rescued a lone survivor from the Titanic. This crew sees that the wrecked ship is the Lusitania, which in their time was sunk 40 years ago. A zoom in on the cap of a crewman reveals the ship’s name: the Andrea Doria (famously sunk off the coast of Massachusetts in 1956).
This is a taught, well-directed (by Gene Levitt) episode, that keeps up the level of stress and anticipation in the viewer. John Colicos, who plays the survivor, really gives it his all, nearly overplaying it, but he seems genuinely terrified of the fate he realizes has befallen him. This makes up for the fact that the budget did not apparently allow for much in the way of sets, but this adds to a sense of claustrophobia that works here.
Before there was Chucky, there was “The Doll.” Rod Serling’s terrifying Night Gallery story is reviewed here.
“The Doll” ****
Teleplay by Rod Serling, Story by Algernon Blackwood
Directed by Rudi Dorn
John Williams as Colonel Masters
Shani Wallis as Miss Danton
Henry Silva as Pandit Chola
Jewel Blanch as Monica
Than Wyenn as Indian Messenger
The story is set around the turn of the twentieth century, during the British era of colonialism. It begins with Colonel Masters (John Williams, excellent as always portraying a classic stiff-upper-lip British gent) returning home after some time away. He is greeted by his housekeeper, Miss Danton (Shani Wallis) who asks how long he’ll be home to which he replies “that will depend on the whims of the general staff at the colonial office.”
His young niece Monica also lives here and she greets her uncle and excitedly tells him that she has a new doll, which she has with her. When Col. Masters’ eyes glance downward to the doll, his expression changes to one of shock and fear. When we see the doll, the viewer’s face may do the same, even before hearing the doll’s back story.
It’s a little girl doll, but it looks not a bit innocent. It looks terrifying, all black around the eyes as if a lunatic had applied eye-liner and applied false eye lashes, deep red lips and skin that looks like blood vessels are showing, topped by an unruly mop of dingy blonde hair.
The colonel suggests replacing the doll, dismisses Monica and asks to speak with Miss Danton privately where he starts off by asking her why she allowed such a grimy, unpleasant doll to become Monica’s. She replies that she thought it was sent by him as it arrived from India where he had just been posted. He asks if she has “reason to doubt the harmlessness of Monica’s doll.” Relieved to be allowed to speak what she had been keeping inside, she blurts out that it’s “unwholesome. There’s something terribly evil about it” and realizes how ridiculous it sounds to speak aloud what she has been thinking.
She relates that Monica has the doll with her at all times. The colonel informs Miss Danton that he didn’t send it. He says they’ll have to get it away from Monica “but mention nothing of our intentions in the doll’s presence.” Miss Danton is incredulous at that last part. He explains that the doll was a “gift” to him.
A new doll is purchased for and given to Monica but shortly after its arrival, Monica tells her uncle that she has to give back the new doll because the old doll told her that she hates the new arrival. Monica suspects the evil doll (let’s just call it that) is jealous. The colonel wants her to give it another go with the new doll. Later that night, Monica is crying in her room and her uncle and Miss Danton rush to her and between sobs, Monica says the “hateful thing” tore the new doll apart as we see its severed remains.
Later, a man arrives (Henry Silva) to see the colonel. He says he is the brother of a man recently executed in India. The colonel explains that this man led a series of raids against British outposts and he was tried and executed for these acts. The man explains that he is a “shudra,” a believer in magic. He says he is the one who sent the doll and says it will come back “until it has fulfilled its mission.” It can’t be destroyed until it has done its work. “The doll has teeth and there is no medicine on earth to save you” he warns the colonel as he leaves.
The colonel picks up a hot poker from the fireplace and heads up the stairs. We get a big scare as the next shot shows that the doll is waiting, sitting at the top of the stairs. We then hear the colonel scream and we hear the sound of tiny feet running away. Miss Danvers comes and he tells her he was bitten by the doll and asks her to fetch the doll, which she does and he throws it into the fire. “Now it’s destructible. It’s done its job” he says with a measure of relief and resignation.
He knows he will die soon and he struggles to complete his final act. He instructs Miss Danton to get a sealed envelope from his dresser addressed to an Indian man. “See that it’s delivered to him immediately and tell him the thing has happened. He’ll know what to do,” he says. He explains that he has substantial life insurance and tells her to “look after Monica, take her where there are children to play with. Buy her things. A new doll for starters.”
Next we see an Indian man come to the apartment of another Indian man. The messenger carries a box about 18 inches long and tells the man inside that it’s a gift from the late colonel. “You gave him a gift. He reciprocates,” he says, and leaves.
The man in the apartment opens the box, drops it and looks ashen. In the final shot, we see that inside is a doll that looks like the colonel. Its eyes open and it smiles. Eeeeeeek! A great, scary ending and one that the original writer of Child’s Play must have seen.
This is one of finest, scariest stories ever to appear on Night Gallery and it is one of my top recommendations for the entire series. See this one if you want to be creeped out!
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.
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 ending.
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.
Two four-star segments in a row? It must be time for a clunker. “The Last Laurel” is reviewed here.
“The Last Laurel” *1/2
Teleplay by Rod Serling, Story “The Horsehair Trunk” by Davis Grubb
Directed by Daryl Duke
Jack Cassidy as Marius Davis
Martine Beswick as Susan Davis
Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Armstrong
After a fantastic, long (40 minute) segment, Night Gallery had to pad out the hour-long time slot and so we have the 9 minute conclusion to the final episode of Season 1, “The Last Laurel.” Interestingly, on the initial broadcast, this segment aired first, followed by “Tim Riley” which makes more sense, having this one as the “warm up act” before the main segment but on the DVD the order is reversed.
Jack Cassidy, almost always very interesting on screen, even in subpar material, here overplays his part as ex-star runner/athlete Marius Davis, who is now a middle-aged shell of his former self, confined to a bed from a crippling automobile accident.
He summons his doctor to accuse him of “robbing me of my wife and I have every intention of dealing with it.” Privately, his wife tells the doctor that Marius is convinced she is having affairs with many men, not just him and she also adds that she thinks she saw her husband walking out of her room one recent night, which would be impossible given his current physical state.
Then we get an overly long segment of Marius narrating how he has honed the mental acuity to leave his body thru sheer force of will (astral projection). We see a ghost-like image of him, in less than convincing special effects walking about. He then picks up a heavy candlestick in the hallway in a driving rainstorm in order to do away with the doctor who is supposedly cuckolding him. He enters a room, strikes the sleeping figure in bed, enjoys a moment of satisfaction, then sees the trophies in the room and realizes he mistakenly went into his own room and killed himself. When his astral projection will expire is not explained as the episode ends here with this “shocking” conclusion.
Not sure how much more could have been done with this story in the brief time they had; if this one had been twice as long, it may have proven to be a good one; as it is, it’s just another misfire.
Thus concludes the first season of just six episodes (if you read the introduction to this, you may recall that Night Gallery was part of a “Four in One” experiment where four different shows were rotated in the same time slot. The ratings were good enough that it was given its own non-shared weekly spot in a second season of twenty-two episodes, the one “full” season of the program.