The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
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NIGHT GALLERY (1969) ***

The Twilight Zone creator, Rod Serling introduced tales of the macabre to a whole new generation of television viewers with this pilot for his hit series.  Although the series didn’t quite live up to it’s predecessor, Night Gallery was still a lot of fun.  Whereas the Zone was in atmospheric black and white, Gallery looked more or less like your average made-for-TV movie.  What this series had that Twilight didn’t was Serling’s acerbic on camera introductions of each story, all of which revolved around an ominous painting.  His prologues were sometimes better than the stories themselves and made Night Gallery a cut above what was on the tube in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  The pilot is mostly notable today because it features the first directing gig for Steven Spielberg, but it still ranks as one of the finer examples of anthology horror ever produced for television. 

 

Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis star in the first story, “The Cemetery” (***) about a dying millionaire who does a painting of the cemetery next to his house.  His greedy nephew (McDowall) is after his loot and causes his uncle to get pneumonia and when he dies, McDowall inherits the house.  After his uncle’s death, the painting slowly changes:  First, his uncle’s grave is dug up, then his casket is opened, and then he rises from his grave.  The closer his uncle gets to the house, the crazier McDowall gets, until he accidentally falls down the stairs and breaks his neck. 

 

The story is predictable, but nevertheless it’s quite entertaining.  McDowall’s performance is easily the best thing about it and it’s fun watching him go over the top while brandishing a hammy southern accent.  Director Boris (The Omega Man) Sagal keeps things moving in an efficient, workmanlike manner and even though the outcome seems like a foregone conclusion, it’s still wholly satisfying.  McDowall gets the best line of the episode when he tells his lawyer, “Take care of the burial.  Put it on the bill!”

 

The second story, Eyes (*** ½) is directed by Spielberg and it’s about a despicable wealthy blind woman (Joan Crawford) who blackmails her doctor into performing an experimental eye transplant to restore her sight.  The catch is that she’ll only be able to see for twelve hours.  The donor (Tom Bosley from Happy Days) owes money to the Mob and gladly offers up his peepers in exchange for the cash to pay his debts.  The operation is a success but unfortunately for Crawford, she decides to open her eyes during a blackout. 

 

Supposedly during the making of this segment, the older union crewmembers were indignant to working with the wet behind the ears Spielberg and he had to struggle to get what he wanted, but it doesn’t show in the least.  This tale is filled with directorial touches that would become Spielberg trademarks (the sequence where the lights get turned out on the old biddy is especially stylish) and is anchored by an excellent performance by Crawford.  She may get all the flashy scenes, but it’s Bosley who is given the story’s best line:  “What’s it’s going to be like when it’s midnight all the time and no one’s paid the electric bill?”

 

Barry (Across 110th Street) Shear’s Escape Route (**), the third and final episode, finds a scarred Nazi war criminal (Richard Kiley) who becomes obsessed with a painting in an art museum.  He visits it daily from open to close and begins to envision himself inside the painting.  When he tries to outrun the authorities, he hides in the museum and wishes himself into the picture.  It sucks for him because the gallery took down that painting and replaced it with a portrait of a concentration camp.

 

The trick to anthology horror is the placement of the stories.  This segment is more leisurely paced than the others and is a lot less sensational, so it kinda ends things on a down note.  It also doesn’t help that concentration camp horror is a tough thing to effectively portray on television in the 60’s.  If Escape Route had been the first or second story, it might have worked better, but coming after the first two chilling tales, it’s more than a little depressing.  Kiley is good though and gets some great, bitter dialogue like “You must learn to live with a little pain my dear.  It’s what the world is made of, so get used to it!” 

Tags: anthology, horror, n, spielberg
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