Sunday, November 30, 2008

I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A BIG FAN OF THE BRIBE (1949) and the recent review of the film on the excellent Paleocinema podcast a few weeks ago got me thinking about it once again. And serendipity saw to it that a week after Paleocinema spotlighted the film, TCM aired THE BRIBE so that I could see it once again. THE BRIBE has been thoroughly neglected and is little known. Terry Frost was right in that it doesn't usually appear in reference books; a cursory glance made by yours truly through three film noir reference books found no mention. However, it is definitely a film noir and one of the better ones so this blindspot is particularly puzzling to me. I first became aware of the film back when it was inserted into the pre-CGI Steve Martin comedy DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID in which scenes and actors from classic films noir were made to interact with Steve Martin. That was a fun film I really enjoyed and it relied rather heavily on elements and clips from THE BRIBE. So, when an opportunity came to see the original film years later, I took it and greatly enjoyed THE BRIBE in its original form. The film features a marvelous cast: Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, John Hodiak (of Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT), Samuel Hinds (Peter Bailey in Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE -- this was the actor's final film) and John Hoyt (who liked to shrink people in ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE). It's got a crackling script by Marguerite Roberts (TRUE GRIT as well as uncredited work on the rather good Katharine Hepburn/Robert Taylor/Robert Mitchum noir UNDERCURRENT) and features top notch German Expressionist noir photography by Joseph Ruttenberg (who shot everything from GASLIGHT, MRS MINIVER, ON BORROWED TIME, THE BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940, THE WOMEN, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and the Terry Frost fave THE OSCAR).
The film opens with a federal agent by the name of Rigby (Robert Taylor) brooding in a hotel room being buffeted by a tropical storm. Shades of KEY LARGO! There are a lot of storm and rain scenes in the picture which makes for a wonderful atmosphere. Rigby is conflicted about his secret mission to track down a group of smugglers who are secretly importing airplane engines among scrap metal without paying their taxes. This graft annoys Uncle Sam (in the form of Rigby's boss played by John Hoyt) and Rigby is sent to collar the crooks. Rigby is told that the most likely suspects are married couple Tugwell & Elizabeth Hintten (John Hodiak and Ava Gardner) and the agent is sent to the Latin American island of Carlotta to get the proof. Tugwell is a mess: an alcoholic with a bad heart. Elizabeth is a singer in a club (shades of CASABLANCA and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT) who may or may not be in on the criminal activity. Elizabeth is quite belligerent to Rigby at first but eventually the two fall for each other. There is also a "pie shaped man" named J. J. Bealer (a standout performance by Charles Laughton) who slouches around the joint complaining about his bad feet. Bealer soon offers Rigby a bribe on behalf of the smugglers to look the other way and get the hell outta Dodge. Later, a mine owner named Carwell (a young Vincent Price) that Rigby met on the plane ride south, turns up in Carlotta and goes marlin fishing with Rigby. Accidentally on purpose, Carwell guns the boat engine so that Rigby is propelled into the sea. The young boat owner Emilio jumps in to save him and becomes a shark's lunch. Obviously, Carwell is one of the baddies (why ELSE would you cast Vincent Price?!?) and Emilio's father agrees to help Rigby prove it. Tugwell takes a turn for the worse and is bedridden. This causes the crooks to work on Elizabeth (who has been ignorant thus far of the illegal activities) to get her to take over for her sick husband. Rigby, meanwhile, is wrestling with the offer to take the bribe in order to save Elizabeth from harm or prosecution. The various paths of all the principals intertwine into one messy knot which needs to be solved by the final reel.
THE BRIBE is frankly a rather top notch noir which doesn't deserve to be forgotten like it is. It is, in fact, better than some noirs which routinely get written about in many reference books. The film is practically dripping with style: the humid Central American island location constantly swept by rainstorms alternating with oppressive heat is almost palpable. Much use is made of mirrors and reflections; at one point a ghostly image of Ava Gardner is superimposed over Robert Taylor's reflection in a window. All this and the film ends with a spectacular fireworks-laden climax. Director Robert Z. Leonard (who started in silents and directed Greta Garbo's first screen test) pulls out all the noir stops while DP Ruttenberg's use of chiaroscuro lighting, deep shadows and slashes of horizontal lines (provided by the shadows of blinds and door slats) is textbook noir photography before the style was even codified by later French critics. There is also one particular scene in which our four main protagonists, good and bad, are together in a room brandishing guns when the lights go out during a storm. The room is pitch black but we see a pair of almost glowing eyes floating in the darkness -- I believe they are Robert Taylor's eyes -- and the effect is truly startling and unnerving! This is one slam bang noir which finds lead Robert Taylor actually perfectly cast as the typical deadpan protagonist (with his flat voice perfect for the voice-over narration so prominently featured in THE BRIBE) and impossibly beautiful Ava Gardner perfect as the "is she or isn't she a crook" femme fatale/love goddess. John Hodiak portrays petulance and drunkeness expertly while Vincent Price turns in one more splendid villainous performance. But the main attraction here has to be Charles Laughton who is remarkable as "the pie shaped man". The actor portrays Bealer with many layers; at first you assume he's some pathetic slob (which he is) but Laughton soon reveals there is more to the character. Bealer is no Wilmer in THE MALTESE FALCON; he is no pawn or stooge. Bealer subtly reveals some real intellect amongst his pathetic complaining about his feet; he shows he can twist the figurative knife of the bribe not only in Robert Taylor's back but later in Ava Gardner's as well. This pathetic slob shows himself remarkably capable of putting the screws to people. Laughton portrays his character as more than one-dimensional and it is fascinating to watch the actor roam through this movie.
THE BRIBE is a film noir well worth seeing. It certainly doesn't deserve to be neglected. It is for this reason that I'm adding my voice to Terry Frost in his recent review of the film at Paleocinema; a movie this deserving can't be plugged enough. The next time you see THE BRIBE in your TV listing do yourself a favour and tune in.
DID YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF ON A GREY, WINTERY DAY -- the kind of day that's slightly rainy and mostly misty -- the kind of day which found the world's greatest consulting detective reaching for his persian slipper filled with tobacco while his faithful chronicler Dr. Watson peered out the window of 221B Baker Street at the roiling fog -- the kind of day where the raindrops hang from the bare tree branches with no sign of falling away?
Yesterday I found myself with an entire day stretching before me. I wanted to watch something but I was just not in the mood to watch movies. Can you believe it?!? No, I didn't think you would. So, what's a film nut to do? Something really weird, apparently. Because this is what I did and I found it oddly satisfying and something which I actually recommend. I simply went to the vault -- to the shelf of DVDs starting with "A" -- and I went right down the line grabbing each DVD which contained halfway decent special features and watched all the documentaries about the movie -- without watching the movie itself. Now, I don't know about you but I usually watch the movie and then the special features on the dvd at the same time -- or else, I watch the movie and don't watch the documentaries. But this time I reversed that. Now, I was particularly choosy with which documentaries I watched; I didn't watch any of the delected scenes or any of that other rot. I only watched things that could really be called documentaries. Some were feature length while others could last only 10-15 minutes. However, it had to be something which actually counted as a documentary. And it was quite nice for the day. I enjoy a nice documentary. And this way I got a whole lot of movie talk by a lot of movie people. Not a bad way to spend the day.
There was the episode of AMC's Backstory on the ALL ABOUT EVE dvd detailing all the fun involved with the making of that Academy Awards blockbuster. Remember AMC's documentary series Backstory? Remember when AMC was worth watching at all? There was the enthralling tale of how Claudette Colbert was set to star when she injured her back and the role went to Bette Davis. I mean, seriously . . . who else could have played Margo Channing?!? Then there was the tale of Bette Davis falling in love with her leading man Gary Merrill and marrying him. Or the frosty feud between Davis and Celeste Holm which started when Holm said "Good morning" as Davis walked by. "Oh shit!", sneered Davis, "Good manners!"
Next there was the ASYLUM disc which featured a documentary all about Amicus called "Inside the Fear Factory" in which we're given a run-through of all those horror omnibus films from DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS on out. If nothing else, you've got to admit that studio boss Max J. Rosenberg was a character; given no other evidence than his on-screen interview. THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL dvd sports a feature-length TCM documentary entitled "Lana Turner: A Daughter's Memoir" which takes up the entire second side of the disc. The most startling facet of this doc is that it is hosted by Turner's daughter; yes, the one who knifed her gangster boyfriend Johnny Stompanato. That fact almost escapes you as you see her sitting there perfectly poised and coiffed discussing her mother's career. Classic MGM musical THE BAND WAGON features a nice doc on it's DVD which not only interviews those surviving cast and crew members but also features Fred Astaire's daughter (whom you don't see every day). Particularly nice is Nanette Fabares' recounting of the trouble she had with co-star Oscar Levant who would blame her for every mistake HE made. After new kid Fabares had enough and told Levant to go to hell, she never had another moment's trouble with him.
Then, of course, next on the shelf was the documentary which was the whole DVD itself: BETTIE PAGE: THE GIRL IN THE LEOPARD PRINT BIKINI. Any excuse to see Bettie Page shaking her moneymaker is OK with me! Another doc was the "pseudo-documentary" which appeared on TV during the theatrical release of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT purporting to tell the real legend of "The Curse of the Blair Witch". I still get a kick outta that whole Blair Witch scam which burned up the internet at the time. THE BEAST MUST DIE dvd features a short but interesting doc called "Directing the Beast" in which director Peter Arnett gives a nice reminiscence of his first meeting with the great Peter Cushing. The actor was finishing up on the film MADHOUSE down the road before he was scheduled to start on THE BEAST MUST DIE so Arnett went down to introduce himself. He knocked on the door and who should swing the door open but Vincent Price; heavily slathered in make-up with his face taped up to make him appear younger. Arnett then glanced over and saw Cushing made up the same way. "My God," he thought, "is this what they look like?" But Cushing, seeing Arnett's consternation assured the "dear boy" that they were shooting a flashback sequence taking place 30 years before. No, they didn't go around looking like Norma Desmond, thankfully!
Feature length TCM documentary "Cary Grant: A Class Apart" can be found on the excellent 2-disc BRINGING UP BABY dvd which naturally is a biography of the great actor. I think my favourite moment of this doc has always been Grant's former wife Betsy Drake addressing the "gay" rumours about Grant and Randolph Scott. Drake insists that she would have no reason to think about such things while she and Cary Grant were "busy fucking". The short but entertaining doc "Cole Porter: Begin the Beguine" appears on the BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 dvd focusing mainly on the epochal final dance teaming of Fred Astaire with Eleanor Powell during the showstopping Begin the Beguine finale. It's charming to hear reminiscences about Astaire's nervousness about the prospect of dancing alongside the phenomenol Powell. The BULLITT dvd contains a second disc of two excellent docs: "Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool" which is a feature length bio of the star and "Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing" which is a monumental study of the entire history of film editing. This extremely welcome bonus does a great job demonstrating the different techniques of film editing by the film editors themselves.
The DVD for A CHRISTMAS STORY features a rather fluffy documentary of the film itself (which sadly features director Bob Clark only a couple years before his fatal car crash) as well as a short documentary on the actual Daisy Red Ryder air rifle. The CITIZEN KANE disc includes a second dvd featuring the PBS series American Masters documentary THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE which is extremely well-done. The film parallels the lives and mistakes of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst (whom Kane was transparently based upon) and Orson Welles -- and the two giants' inevitable clash in which neither one won. A second disc on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND also features a rather good feature-length doc on the making of that film. It is particularly fun to see little 3 year old Cary Guffey grown up in his thirties but still able to recall much of the shooting of the film. The strategy used by director Steven Spielberg to get the quality performance from the three year old is remarkable and obviously effective -- since the little boy quickly earned the nickname "One Take Cary".
The second box set of the Humphrey Bogart Collection features short documentaries on each of the disc included; all of which are worth a look. "Hollywood Helps the Cause" appears on the ACROSS THE PACIFIC disc and looks at the propagandistic stance Hollywood took during World War II. ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC features a doc called "Credit Where Credit Is Due" which looks at several little-known directors such as Vincent Sherman while the ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT disc sports "Call the Usual Suspects: The Craft of the Character Actor" which looks at everyone from Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet to Franklin Pangborne and Walter Brennan. A much longer documentary entitled "The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird" looks at the three tries Warner Bros. took filming the classic Dashiell Hammett book before they got it right with John Huston's Bogart version. Finally, the PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES disc includes another short doc examining "The Free French: Unsung Victors" which looks at Charles DeGaulle and the French resistance movement.
A DAY AT THE RACES includes a short doc entitled "On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!" which does a nice job going over the classic Marx Brothers comedy. "Making the Earth Stand Still" is a servicable doc appearing on the old DVD of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (there's a new one coming out almost immediately) which features the late director Robert Wise. Then there's where I ended up: the 2 disc Special Edition of THE GREAT ESCAPE which features an extensive documentary of the film which is disconcertingly split up into multiple parts which each includes an "end credit" roll which you have to sit through between the sections. God knows why they're split up like that because it makes for viewer annoyance. But the docs themselves are quite good. Then there is the real historical version of the escape entitled "The Great Escape: The Untold Story" which relates the real events that were "Hollywoodized" for the movie.
As I say, that's where I left off since today was jam-packed with things to get done and I had no chance to watch any more. However, this evening I suspect I'll continue where I left off because I'm finding this daffy idea very entertaining. Don't worry, I'll be getting back to the movie watching eventually. But for right now, it's all about the docs.

Friday, November 28, 2008

THE NOMINATIONS FOR THE 2008 PENGUIN AWARDS. It is with light heart and timourous beasties that I announce the nominees for the 2008 Penguin Awards: the music industry's most coveted honour since 1990!
  • FUNPLEX - THE B-52's
  • Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - SIGUR ROS
  • 19 - ADELE
  • ONE - MARY J. BLIGE & U2
  • Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - SIGUR ROS
It appears that this year's tightest race is going to be for SONG OF THE YEAR with a particularly strong crop of songs vying for top position this year. For the second year in a row, the DUET OF THE YEAR race is particularly weak; however unlike last year at least there is more than one performer up for the award. You may recall that last year all the DUET OF THE YEAR nominated songs were from the same artists: Robert Plant & Alisson Krauss. At least there will be some mystery about that particular category this year. The COVER SONG race is pretty evenly matched with no particular favourite emerging before the voting while the ALBUM OF THE YEAR contest is no real contest with one album on the inside track and being the one to beat.
As always, the yearly announcement of the Penguin Award winners will take place sometime between Christmas and New Year's. Congratulations to all the nominees.
WELL, THANKSGIVING HAS COME AND GONE SO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS. . .Yes, that time of year has rolled around once again. So watch this space for the announcement of the 2008 Penguin Award nominees. That time of year the entire music industry looks forward to with baited breath -- and they always bait their breath when they're fishin' for compliments. Coming soon. . .VERY soon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL MY GENTLE READERS. And for a special treat while you're lapsing into that turkey coma, I have provided one of the patron saints of this blog -- Vincent Price -- from his album "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL: THE HEART OF AMERICA IN POETRY". Here we have Vinnie telling us all about "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers" and "Thanksgiving Day". Enjoy. And pass the stuffin'.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A VIEWERS' GUIDE TO THE SECOND SEASON OF NIGHT GALLERY: PART THE SECOND. It's time to resume our look at the rest of Season Two and we begin things most auspiciously with the second and final H. P. Lovecraft adaptation of the series:
  • COOL AIR was adapted by Rod Serling from the original Lovecraft story with the ever-reliable Jeannot Swarc directing. The episode is quite justifiably one of the most memorable with nice writing from Serling and some accomplished camera moves by Swarc. Of course, it concerns Dr. Munoz (Henry Darrow of some 97 episodes of HIGH CHAPPARAL) as a fellow who MUST keep cool in his air-conditioned apartment (for scary reasons we will discover) as he strikes up a relationship with Barbara Rush (from IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE). Rush is particularly good in her role. Things really heat up (pun intended) when the Victorian air-conditioning system breaks down -- and so does Dr. Munoz. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • CAMERA OBSCURA is another nice one concerning an old inventor (Ross Martin of THE WILD, WILD WEST) teaching a penurious moneylender (a very young Rene Auberjonois) a lesson. Martin shows the banker his camera obscura (a roof-mounted optical device which projects the outside world onto a viewing table) and then takes him on a winding walk through the walls of his house to a "special" camera obscura -- in which he traps Auberjonois inside a green-tinted otherworldly place of zombie-ghouls who didn't live good lives (a la Jacob Marley in Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL). Beautifully acted by the two leads, the episode also features nice direction by John Badham and some great "zombie" makeup on the vengeful spirits. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • QUOTH THE RAVEN is another of those Jack Laird specialties: a short, comic blackout featuring comedian Marty Allen as Edgar Allan Poe having a disagreement with that raven perched above his chamber door. Master voice artist Mel Blanc quoths for the raven in an unbilled cameo. Dismal and unfunny. My rating: 1 skull.
  • THE MESSIAH ON MOTT STREET is one of the most famous and best episodes of NIGHT GALLERY. And for good reason. This is one that should be dragged out every Christmas and Hanukkah. Don Taylor (who also helmed the nearly-as-good first season episode "THEY'RE TEARING DOWN TIM RILEY'S BAR") directs Rod Serling's superb (and very Twilight Zone-like) script sensitively and serves the teleplay well. That teleplay, of course, concerns a sick old man and his little grandson living in a ghetto trying to hold their lives together aided (as much as he can) by a young doctor. There is some real danger that the boy will be taken away from the grandfather or even that the old man will die from pneumonia. If only, grandpa tells the boy, the messiah would come to Mott Street and make everything better. The old man takes a turn for the worse and the boy takes to the wintery streets searching for the messiah -- and appears to find him. Not only is the episode superbly written and directed but it is beautifully acted by a perfect cast. Screen titan Edward G. Robinson is magnificent as he makes the viewer feel each wracking cough as well as the old man's tenacious reserves of strength and irreverent Jewish wit. Never a fan of child actors, I will say that Ricky Powell as grandson Mikey is really quite good; never saccharine and always watchable. Tony Roberts (veteran of several Woody Allen movies including STARDUST MEMORIES) is also quite superb as Dr. Levine. Then we come to Yaphet Kotto (ACROSS 11oth STREET, FRIDAY FOSTER and ALIEN) who is absolutely perfect as the angelic, could-be messiah. The gravity Kotto brings to his role (as well as the humanity) is truly remarkable. I think the episode avoids any and all sappiness and gets right to the heart of hope; something Serling more often than not could achieve in many a teleplay during his tenure on TWILIGHT ZONE as well as here in this episode of NIGHT GALLERY. Truly, now that it's available on DVD, it should be brought out for the holidays every year to provide a little bit of hope and heart during the dead of winter. My rating: 5 skulls.
  • THE PAINTED MIRROR is quite a comedown from the last episode; but not much WOULDN'T be. Gene R. Kearney directs and adapted the Donald Wandrei short story in which an elderly antiques dealer discovers another world behind an old mirror that's been painted over. This episode follows a long tradition of mirrors in the horror genre and, while not spectacular, if told efficiently. The episode is however betrayed once again by a miniscule budget but I still find the oddly painterly other world behind the mirror to be a nice visual. Also on view are the clawed hands from the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON's costume (NIGHT GALLERY was made by Universal, after all) as well as the usual terrible stock footage of lizards with plastic appliances stuck on their heads doubling for "dinosaurs". Arthur O'Connell (nominated for two Oscars for ANATOMY OF A MURDER and PICNIC) and Rosemary DeCamp (13 GHOSTS) are the elderly couple who exact some satisfying revenge on obnoxious Zsa Zsa Gabor. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • THE DIFFERENT ONES is something of a riff on that classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode "EYE OF THE BEHOLDER" that featured Donna Douglas with a bandaged face. Dana Andrews (NIGHT OF THE DEMON and LAURA) has a teenage son whose face is horribly deformed. This being the future, the authorities decide, since no operation will fix his face, the young man should travel to a newly-contacted planet which has just established contact with Earth. Pretty much by the first 2 minutes, you can write the episode yourself as the "surprise" ending isn't much of a surprise. Rod Serling's clunker of a teleplay basically rips off himself while the direction by John Meredyth Lucas doesn't particularly shine either. My rating: 1 skull.
  • TELL DAVID... finds Sandra Dee lost in a storm and coming upon a strange, futuristic-looking house inhabited by a nice married couple (busy TV actors Jenny Sullivan and Jared Martin). Everything in the house, however, appears odd and unfamiliar (right down to the unknown "Pacific" cigarettes) to Dee. When Dee returns home, she resumes an apparently endless, ongoing fight with her husband (also played by Jared Martin). As Dee keeps returning to the house, she slowly begins to believe that she is somehow going to the future and seeing her own grown-up son (which would explain why the same actor plays both parts) who seems to be trying to warn her about some horrible fate about to happen to her. While nothing special, the episode directed by Jeff Corey from Gerald Sanford's teleplay is kinda compelling and doesn't feel like a waste of time once the viewer gets to the end. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • LOGODA'S HEADS is the voodoo/shrunken head episode which features British explorers Patrick ("THE AVENGERS") Macnee and Tim (ANIMAL HOUSE) Matheson traipsing through Africa to find Matheson's missing brother. They are told to see witch doctor Lagoda (Brock Peters of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) for some answers. While Lagoda denies everything, a native girl (Denise Nicholas of "ROOM 222" and BLACULA) defies the witch doctor and attempts to help them. This is a rather dopey episode adapted from the August Derleth story by Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch and directed by Jeannot Swarc which is still entertaining to watch probably due to these two men. Also the cast makes it all worthwhile -- although the sight of such a superb actor as Brock Peters loudly chanting jungle gibberish while wearing war paint and feathered headdress recalls the similar sight of George Zucco in VOODOO MAN. There is also a brief appearance by Zara Cully (Mother Jefferson on "THE JEFFERSONS" as well as a similiar voodoo woman performance in SUGAR HILL) as an old native woman. However, the dignity of the actor carries it off. Just. Then again, there's also the appearance of one of my all-time crushes: Denise Nicholas! Her mere presence adds to the watchability quotient tremendously. Therefore my rating is quite generous: 3 skulls.
  • GREEN FINGERS is one of those well-remembered episodes that concerns a dotty old woman (Elsa Lanchester) who has such a green thumb she boasts she can grow anything she plants. An unscrupulous developer (Cameron Mitchell) has bought up all the land around her house and the old lady still refuses to sell. Mitchell decides to get the old woman out of the way and hires a thug to scare her off. Unfortunately, the thug is overzealous as he attacks the old woman and cuts off one of her fingers; promising to keep returning and cutting off bits of her until she changes her mind. Delirious from loss of blood, Lanchester plants the finger in her garden and is taken off to the hospital where she dies. But didn't she say she could grow ANYTHING that she planted. . . ? Rod Serling's teleplay is directed by John Badham and makes an all-in-all nice episode. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THE FUNERAL is a daffy comedy segment but not a short vignette which is saved probably because Richard Matheson wrote it and John Meredyth Lucas directed it instead of Jack Laird doing either. It's still dopey, though, but at least one doesn't mind watching it. Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink from HOGAN'S HEROES) is a vampire who never had a good funeral so now he can afford one and wants one. He goes, therefore, to funeral director Joe Flynn (Captain Binghamton on MCHALE'S NAVY) and orders up the best of everything. Unfortunately, he's invited his boisterous monster friends (a witch, a hunchback, assorted vampires, a werewolf...) who turn the respectful funeral service into a monster rally free-for-all! A nice touch finds Jack Laird himself playing Ygor the hunchback in full makeup. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • THE TUNE IN DAN'S CAFE is an odd one which, when finished watching it, the viewer may find himself scratching his head. A separating married couple played by Pernell Roberts (BONANZA and TRAPPER JOHN, M.D.) and Susan Oliver (Vina from the STAR TREK episode "THE CAGE") stop in a deserted late-night diner and find a haunted jukebox which only plays one song which used to be "the song" of a gangster and his moll. A nice, creepy first half of the episode bodes well but by the end it leaves you wishing there was more to it. Film Editor David Rawlins appears to have had his one and only directing credit on this episode and does a fairly nice job. However, the teleplay by tyro Garrie Bateson adapting the Seamus Frazer story doesn't offer up enough to do anything more with. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • LINDEMANN'S CATCH is a really good episode that looks great and fails only in the low budget effects used for the monster. Rod Serling's original script and Jeff Corey's direction are first rate and the cast (led by Stuart Whitman and Harry Townes). Whitman (who appeared in the final and best segment of THE MONSTER CLUB) stars as a ship's captain who nets a real-life mermaid and falls in love with her. Harry Townes (from the Boris Karloff's THRILLER episode "THE CHEATERS") is a local sot who also is a whiz with the tarot cards. Thankfully, the episode is actually shot AT NIGHT! None of the usual "day for night" shooting which mars many a NIGHT GALLERY episode. The fog is laid on nicely as well. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THE LATE MR. PEDDINGTON stars the great Kim Hunter as a widow shopping around for the cheapest funeral for her dead husband. She goes to cut-rate mortician Harry Morgan (best known as Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H*). Unfortunately due to her late husband's distaste for rich widows, Hunter cannot inherit anything until she proves she can live on only $2000 for 2 years. This is a longer comedic segment written rather nicely by Jack Laird and directed well by Jeff Corey. However, it's the performances of Hunter and Morgan which are so superb as to raise my rating to: 3 skulls.
  • A FEAST OF BLOOD features an obstinate Norman Lloyd (of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater and "ST. ELSEWHERE") trying to marry a stuck-up young blonde Sondra Locke (from countless Clint Eastwood movies) but she's having none of it. Lloyd gives Locke a present of a strange, furry brooch called a "vo-do" which represents the rat-like cousin of the bat family. As soon as we see it, we known immediately that that furry brooch is gonna come to life and cause havoc. So, the fun arises from anticipating just that. Lloyd and Locke both play their characters as unlikeable which adds to the fun. Jeannot Swarc directs and showcases the colour red; especially by dressing the pale, blonde Locke in a bright red coat which makes a striking image as well as an echo of things to come. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THE MIRACLE AT CAMAFEO is another story which features of twist ending that you kinda see coming. Harry Guardino plays an insurance investigator shadowing a man (Ray Danton) he believes is faking paralysis from a bus accident in which he won a large cash settlement. The great Julie (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) Adams plays Danton's sympathetic wife in the episode's best performance. The trio finds themselves in a Lourdes-like shrine called Camafeo where the Virgin Mary once appeared and the sick go to be cured. Danton's plan, of course, is to go to the shrine, pretend to be "healed" and walk again; thus getting to keep the money he fraudulently won by pretending to be paralyzed. Of course, the viewer is simply waiting for the crook to get his. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • THE GHOST OF SORWORTH PLACE finds American Richard Kiley wandering through Scotland and coming upon a spooky old house at Sorworth Place owned by widow Jill Ireland. Her husband's ghost is seen from time to time and it's obviously up to no good. A diverting if unremarkable episode that remains oddly unsatisfying. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • THE WAITING ROOM is a very Serling-like script by Rod Serling dealing once again with the Western crossed with the supernatural that seems overly familiar but still quite watchable at the same time. Jeannot Swarc directs this tale of notorious gunslinger Steve Forrest (brother of Dana Andrews who appeared in MOMMIE DEAREST) who stops into a saloon where things get ominous. We know he's walked right into the Twilight Zone -- even if this is the Night Gallery. The saloon is packed with well-known character actors: Buddy Ebsen (Jed Clampett of THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES), silent star Gilbert Roland (Gaucho in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, Dull Knife in John Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN and Juan in THE FURIES), Jim Davis (MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL as well as Jock Ewing on TV's "DALLAS"), Albert Salmi (veteran of 3 Twilight Zones as well as THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV) and former Tarzon Lex Barker (THE DEERSLAYER) in his final role. The sum of its parts add up to more than you actually get but nevertheless the episode remains strangely watchable. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • LAST RITES FOR A DEAD DRUID is another dopey one which finds Carol Lynley (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE NIGHT STALKER) buying a life-sized cursed statue of a druid for her attorney husband Bill Bixby that looks exactly like him. Of course, after the statue is brought home Bixby is having nightmare about the statue moving around and seems to be slowly falling under the druid's hypnotic control. Donna Douglas (Ellie Mae from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES as well as from THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode "EYE OF THE BEHOLDER") plays Lynley's hoyden friend. This Alvin Sapinsley written, Jeannot Swarc directed episode doesn't really work but it does remind me very much of the recent David Tennant DOCTOR WHO episode "BLINK" in which we find those angel statues with the ability to move around when you're not watching them. In fact, it's so similar that I wonder if the creators of the magnificent DOCTOR WHO episode ever saw this NIGHT GALLERY in their younger days. Of course, the episode is worth a watch because it is silly fun. I mean, where else are you gonna get to see Bill Bixby attempt to roast a live cat on a backyard barbecue grill?!? My rating: 2 skulls.
  • DELIVERIES IN THE REAR is a fairly pedestrian retelling (for the umpteenth time) of the Burke and Hare/graverobbing for medical cadavers storyline we've seen so many times before -- and in better form. This unremarkable Serling teleplay is ably directed by Jeff Corey but remains fairly dull. Cornel Wilde (LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN) stars as the surgeon buying up cadavers for his class. The "surprise" ending is all too evident before the opening credits have faded from the screen. My rating: 1 skull.
  • STOP KILLING ME is a short comedy vignette written by Jack Laird and directed by Jeannot Swarc in which a nagging woman (Geraldine Page) goes to the police to report her husband is trying to murder her. James Gregory ("BARNEY MILLER" Inspector Luger) plays the policeman. Another unfunny comedy snippet. My rating: 1 skull.
  • DEAD WEIGHT is another dud which is carried almost completely by the lead actors Jack Albertson (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and "CHICO AND THE MAN") and singer Bobby Darin. Darin is a robber who needs to get out of the country quick and goes to exporter Albertson to do it. Another Jack Laird-penned adaptation which goes nowhere fast; the "dead weight" here is the script. My rating: 1 skull.
  • I'LL NEVER LEAVE YOU - EVER is a big step up from the last few stories. Daniel Haller (THE DUNWICH HORROR) directs this Jack Laird-penned teleplay which finds Lois Nettleton (THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode "THE MIDNIGHT SUN") having it off in the barn with John Saxon (ENTER: THE DRAGON) while her invalid, ill husband Royal Dano (Judge Sternwood in 2 episodes of TWIN PEAKS) wastes away in bed. The lovers are waiting for the husband to die but Nettleton becomes impatient and visits a local witch who carves a voodoo doll of the husband so Nettleton can do away with the guy. The episode boasts really nice production values (for a change) and is superbly acting by the cast. Very moody and atmospheric. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THERE AREN'T ANY MORE MCBANES reminds me very much of Daniel Haller's 1970 film THE DUNWICH HORROR but without the Lovecraftian overtones. Alvin Sapinsley's teleplay is nicely directed by John Newland (who hosted TV's supernatural series "ONE STEP BEYOND" as well as directing several great episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and BORIS KARLOFF'S THRILLER) about a student of demonology (Joel Grey) who conjures up a demonic something which he cannot control. Joel Grey's appearance even resembles that of Dean Stockwell in THE DUNWICH HORROR. A nicely spooky supernatural fun fest that also looks like it got a lot more of the budget up on the screen. Howard Duff plays Grey's rich uncle and first victim while Mark Hamill has a walk on as a delivery boy. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THE SINS OF THE FATHERS is a remarkable episode featuring boffo acting from Geraldine Page, Richard Thomas and Michael Dunn as well as a welcome appearance by scream queen extraordinaire Barbara Steele! Jeannot Swarc directs this Halsted Welles script taking place during a famine in 19th century Wales. The local lord has died and his wife Steele is desperately trying to find a "sin-eater" to prevent her husband's soul from being damned to hell. The old tradition of the sin eater is that someone professionally travels around to dine over a corpse; in so doing he will "consume" all the deceased's sins and take them onto himself. Steele sends her servant Michael Dunn (THE BRIDE) to find a sin-eater but the plague and famine in the area thwarts him. He finally comes to the cabin of a sin-eater who is too ill to venture out; Dunn pleads with the sin eater's wife Geraldine Page by telling the starving woman about all the food which will be available if the sin eater will come. She refuses to rouse her ill husband but convinces her terrified son Richard Thomas (John Boy of THE WALTONS) to go to the corpse, pretend to eat the food after he sends everyone out of the room, and to secrete the food inside his robes to bring back with him. That way, he will get to eat but not eat the sins of the corpse since he's brought the food away with him. Geraldine Page's performance is excellent while Richard Thomas quite remarkably portrays the intense starvation and the horrible temptation to eat the food off the corpse. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • YOU CAN'T GET HELP LIKE THAT ANYMORE is very reminiscent of several TWILIGHT ZONE's which feature robots who can pass for human. This episode concerns robotic servants who are mistreated by a particularly nasty married couple portrayed with lip-smacking glee by Cloris Leachman (Phyllis from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) and Broderick Crawford (BORN YESTERDAY). Leachman is truly delightful as the malicious hag who delights in humiliating and abusing her robot servants. While the eventual comeupance is telegraphed from the start, the performance of Leachman alone makes this one a treat! Jeff Corey directs this Rod Serling teleplay. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THE CATERPILLAR is probably one of (if not THE) most famous NIGHT GALLERY episodes ever. And deservedly so. Rod Serling's adaptation of the Oscar Cook short story "BOOMERANG" manages to improve on the original material while Jeannot Swarc reaches probably the apex of his direction on the NIGHT GALLERY series. All you have to tell anyone is that this is the episode with the earwig and they'll know exactly what one you mean. An arrogant, entitled Laurence Harvey is doing a year of service in rain-soaked Borneo along with 66 year old colleage Tom Helmore (VERTIGO) and his young wife (the delightful 4 time NIGHT GALLERY veteran) Joanna Pettet. Harvey has the hots for Pettet but she rebuffs him. A shady character (busy TV actor Don Knight) offers Harvey a way to get the girl: a local earwig that lives on wax is quite fond of the human ear and, for a price, can be inserted into the old man's ear so that it will eat it's way into the brain and kill him. You see, the earwig cannot turn around or back out so it munches it's way around the brain causing horrific pain and torment for a couple weeks until death occurs. Once this premise is set up, it's really not much of a surprise what happens -- however, it's the WAY it happens due to the script, direction and acting which is so great! The cast is absolutely perfect. Laurence Harvey gives a jaw-droppingly incredible performance while Knight, Pettet and, to a lesser extent, Helmore are all excellent. The sets and production values look the best they've ever looked on the series. Hot, humid Borneo during the unending rainy season is wonderfully evoked. My rating: 5 skulls.
  • LITTLE GIRL LOST is the final episode of season two and should not be confused with the superior TWILIGHT ZONE episode of the same name. This one is definitely an "also ran" and quite unremarkable. A genius working on some secret government project is a basket case after the death of his young daughter; therefore his addled mind has created a still-living imaginary daughter which he thinks is still there. The government, anxious for the genius to continue his work with nuclear fission, attaches an agent to the man in order to humour him, pretend he thinks the girl is there as well, in order that the man will continue his work for the government. William Windom's performance as the insane genius is really the only thing going for this episode; he is almost as heart-tuggingly endearing as he was in the first season episode "THEY'RE TEARING DOWN TIM RILEY'S BAR". Ed Nelson is quite good as the agent but there's really nothing else noteworthy about the episode. Veteran character actor Ivor Francis (father of Genie Francis of GENERAL HOSPITAL'S "Luke and Laura" fame) is also excellent. My rating: 2 skulls.

Well, there you have it: Season Two of NIGHT GALLERY. We made it! I hope these brief little thumbnail descriptions help to illustrate just what the second seasons contains. The release to DVD is a very welcome event and there are enough really great episodes to make it worthwhile to own. Season Two was really the height of the series with more episodes than Season One and the truncated Season Three which saw the series go from an hour programme to a half hour with less episodes produced. Contrary to popular legend, though, NIGHT GALLERY was never a total failure (as Rod Serling himself apparently believed). Also, it's not true that Serling had "nothing to do" with NIGHT GALLERY other than hosting it; over a third of the episodes were written by Serling and that's something. Serling, of course, did not insist on creative control of the series so naturally he was disappointed and bitter; but NIGHT GALLERY as a series is better than it's usually portrayed and well worth seeking out for any fan of horror.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A VIEWERS' GUIDE TO NIGHT GALLERY SEASON TWO (PART 1). THE RELEASE OF NIGHT GALLERY SEASON TWO ON DVD IS SOMETHING LIKE A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION. After all, the First Season was released waaaaaaay back in 2004 and it's been a long wait; especially since Season Two is probably the meatiest of the three seasons. Season One's DVD consisted of 3 discs which contained the original feature length pilot movie and the rather truncated first season. However, oddly the box set also included episodes from seasons two and three as "bonus" episodes -- although we know they were included to pad out the third disc since there simply wasn't enough first season material. This was no debit, of course, but it does make for confusing viewing -- not to mention the fact that we get episodes twice (the stories entitled "The Diary", "A Matter of Semantics", Big Surprise" and "Professor Peabody's Last Lecture") since they appear in their rightful place on Season Two's box set as well. It truly baffles me why the entire series wasn't released as one box set. Season One was basically 2 discs of material while Season Two contains the hour episodes on 5 discs. Season Three, however, was cut from an hour to a half hour program and features less episodes so, if and when it comes out on DVD, it will probably be only 2 discs worth.
But back to Season Two: this 5 disc set is surely the most satisfying since it contains many of the best episodes in the series as well as nice special features: A half hour documentary on Night Gallery including new interviews with many actors and directors who were involved, a short documentary examining the paintings which introduced each story and an interactive tour of the paintings which, when you click on each one, features an audio discussion of each painting by the original artist Tom Wright -- right down to what medium he used to paint each one! There are also several audio commentaries by Night Gallery historians Jim Benson and Scott Shelton as well as 3 by director Guillermo Del Toro: an avowed big fan of Night Gallery. The episodes look and sound great and it's nice to have them finally in their complete, uncut condition rather than the horribly hacked-to-pieces syndicated versions.
As for the stories themselves, Night Gallery was notoriously kinda hit and miss. Especially when encountering producer Jack Laird's usually very UNFUNNY comedy vignettes which Rod Serling objected so strongly to and fought bitterly against. However, the episodes contained in Season Two's box set are surprisingly strong and even the failures are interesting and entertaining. And what are those stories? Here is an extremely cursory thumbnail look at them as well as my rating of each story using the 5 skulls system -- 5 skulls being the best and 1 skull the worst.
  • THE BOY WHO PREDICTED EARTHQUAKES is a nice story that is extremely Twilight Zone-ish. An 8 year old boy (Ron Howard's brother Clint) can predict what's going to happen tomorrow. The boy gets his own TV show and becomes a sensation. Of course, like many Twilight Zones (and many Rod Serling scripts -- of which this is one), there is a twist O. Henry-like ending to this one which works fairly well as a surprise. The story was adapted by Serling from Margaret St. Clair's original story and directed by future movie director John Badham. It co-stars Michael Constantine (Room 222 & My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and Bernie Kopell (Siegfried from "Get Smart" and the ship's doctor on "The Love Boat"). My rating: 3 Skulls.
  • MISS LOVECRAFT SENT ME is one of those unfunny comedy blackouts written by producer Jack Laird which only he seems to have been fond of. Joe Campanella plays Dracula. My rating: 1 skull.
  • THE HAND OF BORGUS WEEMS finds a man's hand being possessed by the vengeful spirit of a murdered man. About average and sometimes silly which features Ray Milland in a supporting role. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • PHANTOM OF WHAT OPERA? is yet another "funny" vignette but this time it's written as well as directed by Gene R. Kearney. However, the only real humour in it derives from actor Leslie Nielsen's ad-libbing and problems with props. Nielsen telegraphs his future comedic side in this little skit as he plays The Phantom of the Opera and is worth watching solely for how the actor deals with malfunctioning props. Nielsen's antics were so much funnier than the script that Kearney left them in. For Leslie Nielsen alone I rate this one: 2 skulls.
  • A DEATH IN THE FAMILY finds escaped convict Desi Arnaz Jr. (surprisingly not too horrendous in the role) breaking into the funeral home of dotty old E. G. Marshall (who at the time was also hosting the CBS Radio Mystery Theater). Scripted by Rod Serling and directed by frequent Night Gallery contributor Jeannot Swarc (later to direct "Somewhere In Time"), this ghoulish little story is a little weak and silly at times but is carried by Swarc's direction and the performance of Marshall presiding in a party hat over a table full of corpses. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • THE MERCIFUL is a short minute-or-so vignette which actually works very well and is one I vividly remember seeing at a very young age. It stuck with me. Jeannot Swarc directs real-life husband and wife Imogene Coca (from Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows") and King Donovan (whose pool table held a pod person in the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"). Coca is walling up her husband a la Poe's "A Cask of Amontillado". Or is she? My rating: 3 skulls.
  • CLASS OF '99 is a stylish, futuristic, very Twilight-Zoney Rod Serling script directed by Jeannot Swarc. In fact, it was this episode that prompted Serling to request Swarc should direct all his scripts from now on. We're in some future time in some clinical-looking university during an oral final exam presided over by Vincent Price. However, the questions and answers do get a bit extreme -- and lethal. Glimpsed among the students are Brandon DeWilde (the young boy in "SHANE" as well as starring in one of the scariest episodes of Boris Karloff's "THRILLER" TV series: "PIGEONS FROM HELL") and a young Randolph Mantooth one year before his starring in TV's "EMERGENCY!". My rating: 4 skulls.
  • SATISFACTION GUARANTEED is a short comedy vignette featuring Victor Buono ("WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?" and as the villain King Tut on TV's "BATMAN") as a ghoulish guy looking to hire a secretary from an employment agency. Cute but nothing special. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • SINCE AUNT ADA CAME TO STAY is a nice witch story featuring one of the best "witch actresses" Jeanette Nolan as Aunt Ada; who has come to live with her niece Michelle Lee and her college professor husband James Farantino. The professor suspects Aunt Ada is a witch (he's right) and she's trying to take over the young body of her niece. Jeanette Nolan portrays witches like nobody else (witness her similar appearances in Boris Karloff's THRILLER). Farantino battles against her ably and Lee is good (if somewhat vapid) as the clueless niece. Jonathan Harris (Dr. Zachary Smith from "LOST IN SPACE") also puts in an appearance as a delightfully dotty parapsychologist. William Hale directs nicely. One of the better ones. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • WITH APOLOGIES TO MR. HYDE is another comedy short starring Adam West (TV's "BATMAN) as Dr. Jekyll and producer Jack Laird himself as his hunchbacked assistant. Totally forgettable and unfunny. My rating: 1 skull.
  • THE FLIP-SIDE OF SATAN is the only "one man show" of the series featuring Arte Johnson ("LAUGH-IN" and "LOVE AT FIRST BITE") as an aging hippy disc jockey transferred to an antiquated, hole-in-the-wall radio station where he's forced to play very unusual records that sound rather satanic. Johnson is actually very good in his role and the episode is better than you'd think. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • A FEAR OF SPIDERS was written by Rod Serling and directed by last minute replacement director John Astin (best known as Gomez in THE ADDAMS FAMILY TV show). The original director was canned and Astin was given the job at the last minute. The episode is quite well directed and acted by Patrick O'Neal and Kim Stanley. O'Neal plays are callous food & living critic who lives downstairs from Stanley who is smitten but jilted by O'Neal. Unfortunately, O'Neal is deathly afraid of spiders and finds his flat being infiltrated by gradually bigger and BIGGER spiders -- the final arachnid is the size of a dog! He runs upstairs to Stanley's apartment but finds her understandably unsympathetic. The episode is slightly let down by the bargain basement special effects; Astin wisely confines the huge spider's on screen time to brief flashes. Stanley improvised much of her dialogue and she's truly wonderful while O'Neal, never the best of actors, is actually very good as well. Astin's direction is first rate with interesting camera angles. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • JUNIOR is an abyssmal comedy short starring Wally Cox awakened in the middle of the night by his baby: The Frankenstein Monster. That's it. That's the whole joke. I can see why Serling was so insensed. My rating: 1 skull (because I can't give zero skulls).
  • MARMALADE WINE is a confusing but highly interesting-looking story which ultimately fails. Director Jerrold Freedman utilized surreal, stage-like sets to heighten visual interest and the episode does look very striking. However, the script (adapted by Freedman from Joan Aiken's short story) doesn't really pull it off. Robert Morse (spectacular as Truman Capote in the play "TRU") is caught in a storm and comes under the sway of rather sinister doctor Rudy Vallee. With good performances and interesting sets, the end result is still kinda "huh?". My rating: 2 skulls.
  • THE ACADEMY stars Pat Boone (yep, that's right) as a father checking out a military school in which to dump his rebellious son. Actor and frequent NIGHT GALLERY director Jeff Corey directs this Rod Serling teleplay very nicely. Boone as the wealthy businessman is actually very good and underplayed while Leif Erickson (Dad from 1953's "INVADERS FROM MARS") is suitably unnerving as the Director of the strange school. Larry Linville (later to portray Frank Burns on TV's M*A*S*H*) has a cameo. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THE PHANTOM FARMHOUSE is the werewolf story and it's quite good if betrayed by rather unconvincing "day for night" photography. Rather atmospherically directed by Jeannot Swarc and adapted from Seabury Quinn's short story by Halsted Welles, this story is rather strong. A psychiatrist (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.'s David McCallum) falls under the spell of a mysterious woman who lives in the forest with her parents. However, their farmhouse isn't supposed to exist anymore. Is there some timeslip at work? And why are these ghostly people strangely wolf-like? David Carradine is excellent as a hippy nutcase who may be in league with the savage family. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW is probably the masterpiece of the entire NIGHT GALLERY series. Expertly narrated like a fairy tale by Orson Welles, this story was adapted (and directed) by Gene R. Kearney from the classic Conrad Aiken short story concerning a dreamy, withdrawn little boy (excellently portrayed by 10 year old Radames Pera) who is slowly retreating from reality. The boy dissolves into a world of snow throughout the story until the end when he's totally engulfed; imagining his bedroom covered in falling snow. The final shot of the boy's face, now fairly catatonic and lying in bed with a single tear on his face, is unsettling and haunting. A jewel in the series and one of the finest TV adaptions ever. My rating: 5 skulls.
  • A QUESTION OF FEAR is a fun frightfest that is actually adequately directed by producer Jack Laird. Adventurer Leslie Nielsen takes a bet proposed by Fritz Weaver to spend the night in a haunted house. Nielsen is assaulted by miriad ghostly apparitions all the time suspecting they are being faked. The story concludes with a twist on a twist ending and is fairly successful. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • THE DEVIL IS NOT MOCKED is a shorter story (but not really a vignette since it goes on longer than they do). The episode is adapted (and directed) by Gene Kearney from Manly Wade Wellman's short story in which the Nazi army advances into the Balkans and take over the ancestral castle of a Count. Guess who the Count is. The viewer knows almost immediately it's Dracula and that the Nazis are going to meet their match. While there is absolutely no surprise to the story, it is still fun to await the inevitable punchline. Helmut Dantine (the young husband in CASABLANCA) plays the Nazi while Francis Lederer (who also played the vampire in THE RETURN OF DRACULA) is great as the Count. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • MIDNIGHT NEVER ENDS is one of my favourite episodes mainly because I vividly remember watching it spellbound as a kid. I saw it in a hotel room during a family trip to the Jersey shore and was totally absorbed into it. This episode written by Rod Serling and directed by Jeannot Swarc is extremely Twilight Zoney (not surprisingly). Susan Strasberg (TASTE OF FEAR) is driving along at night when she picks up hitchhiking soldier Robert F. Lyons and stop in at a late nite cafe. Everyone involved has the overwhelming feeling that they've done this before. Over and over again. Then there's that strange pounding noise coming from overhead out of the dark. I really like this episode (and I'm probably in the minority) and I think it works really well. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • BRENDA is one of the most celebrated stories in NIGHT GALLERY as it concerns a rather willful teenage girl (Laurie Prange) who encounters moss-covered monster (similar to Marvel Comics' Man-Thing) in the forest and develops a strange bond with it. Douglas Heyes adapted the Margaret St. Clair story expertly while Allen Reisnet directs with skill. Somewhat let down again by low-budget special effects to realize the monster, BRENDA is still an extremely enjoyable and oddly unsettling experience. The final scene in which Brenda returns to visit with the monster (after being encased in a pile of rocks for a year) works on many levels: it is bizarrely touching while portending future menace and uncomfortable thoughts. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • THE DIARY is also one of my favourites. Patty Duke plays a malicious hatchetwoman TV gossip columnist who likes to destroy celebrities. Especially aging former Hollywood starlet Virginia Mayo. After Duke rips the aging actress apart for a drunken arrest the previous night, Mayo crashes Duke's New Years Eve party and presents the vicious woman with a gift: a one year diary. Mayo promptly leaves the party and kills herself. Upon glancing into the diary, Duke discovers that it is filling itself in with tomorrow's entry (in Duke's own handwriting, yet) today. Each entry reveals disturbing events which will occur to Duke the following day. And each event comes true -- to her horror. Duke is a wonder is her full tilt vicious, bitchy, heartless mode; however she still manages to reveal her character's brief glimpses of humanity so that the portrayal is not a cariacature. Virginia Mayo appears only briefly but manages to invest her character with incredible pathos and heart; you really feel for her. William Hale directs Rod Serling's screenplay very efficiently. David Wayne is great as Duke's psychiatrist while future "Bionic Woman" Lindsay Wagner has a cameo as a nurse. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • A MATTER OF SEMANTICS is another comedy short this time directed by Jack Laird and written by Gene Kearney. Cesar Romero (who played The Joker on TV's "BATMAN") dons the white face makeup again this time as Count Dracula dropping in to a blood bank to make a withdrawal. Totally predictable and not very funny but cute. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • BIG SURPRISE is a shorter story but longer than one of those comedy vignettes. A group of young boys (led by future teen heartthrob Vincent Van Patten) encounter a scary old man (the superb John Carradine) who tells them that if they go to a lonely field and find a certain lonely tree and start digging where he indicates, they will find a big surprise. The boys take him up on it in hopes of buried treasure but, after digging all afternoon Van Patten is deserted by the other boys and left to continue on his own. As the sun goes down, he strikes a wooden box with his shovel. He does indeed get a big surprise! This is another one which stayed with me after seeing it as a kid. Richard Matheson adapts his own short story beautifully and Jeannot Swarc directs beautifully with just the right balance between suspense, horror and humour. Of course, Swarc and Matheson would team up later on the feature film "SOMEWHERE IN TIME". My rating: 4 skulls.
  • PROFESSOR PEABODY'S LAST LECTURE is a lengthier comedy segment which actually works extremely well and is one of my faves. Carl Reiner portrays the impudent, disrespectful college professor of ancient folklores and religions who is attempting to teach his class about the Great Old Ones. Now, we all know these H. P. Lovecraft elder gods -- and even members of the professor's class seems familiar with their terrible vengeance -- but the professor continues to ridicule and belittle them until they wreak their revenge on him. Reiner is really excellent as Peabody; insolent and dismissive of such silly superstition. This is probably the only Jack Laird-penned comedy segment which is completely successful; it is directed beautifully by Jerrold Freedman. Another nice in joke occurs when each student called upon by the professor features the name of an actual writer who dabbled in the Cthulhu mythos: Robert Bloch, August Derleth and HPL himself. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • HOUSE - WITH GHOST is a rather unfulfilling ghost story starring Bob Crane (later to be murdered after starring in HOGAN'S HEROES) and JoAnn Worley (of LAUGH-IN) as a couple who deliberately by a haunted house in the English countryside. Crane is, of course, fooling around behind Worley's back and is planning on bumping her off and blaming it on the ghost. Below average outing adapted and directed by Gene Kearney from August Derleth's story, it is nice however to see such wonderful character actors as Alan Napier, Eric Christmas and Bernard Fox in small roles. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • A MIDNIGHT VISIT TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD BLOOD BANK is yet another lame comedy segment written by Jack Laird featuring Count Dracula -- this time portrayed by Victor Buono. Contrary to the title, the story doesn't even take place in a blood bank like the previous A MATTER OF SEMANTICS. Very weak joke ending. My rating: 1 skull.
  • DR. STRINGFELLOW'S REJUVENATOR finds Rod Serling once again writing a screenplay combining the Western genre with the supernatural; a trope he used very successfully many times in THE TWILIGHT ZONE series. This time it's slightly less successful as a plot but it's so well-written, well-directed by Jerrold Freedman and well-acted by Forrest Tucker, Don Pedro Colley and Murray Hamilton that it puts it over nicely. In an 1880's Western town, patent medicine hawker Forrest Tucker is approached by a father with a very sick daughter. Tucker prescribes his worthless tonic fully knowing that the daughter is suffering from appendicitis and plans to high-tail it out of town. Typical Serling occurrences occur. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • HELL'S BELLS is a shorter story longer than the usual comedy vignette. John Astin plays a ridiculously old-looking hippie who dies and goes to hell; only to find hell not exactly what he expected. This is actually mildly amusing; owing much to the actors involved. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • THE DARK BOY is quite a nice episode which occurs in 19th century Montana where a widowed school teacher (Elizabeth Hartman) is summoned to take over a one-room school house where a mystery lurks untold. The former teacher was dismissed after reporting seeing a ghostly child and now Hartman experiences the same thing. Sensitively directed by John Astin from Halsted Welles' adaptation of an August Derleth story, this elegiac ghost story is not meant to be that frightening but more poignant. It's a huge treat to see Gale Sondergaard (The Spider Woman herself) along with perpetual biddy Hope Summers as two spinsters who know more then they're telling. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • KEEP IN TOUCH - WE'LL THINK OF SOMETHING is an oddball story which can truthfully offer some surprising moments. Gene Kearney writes and directs this tale of a man (Alex Cord) who reports to the police that a beautiful woman pistol-whipped him. The police can't do much until the man returns and says the same woman has re-appeared and now stolen his car! He provides a description to a police artist and a woman is eventually brought in for questioning (the wonderful and frequent NIGHT GALLERY actress Joanna Pettet). The woman looks exactly like the drawing but protests her innocence. In a police line-up, Cord refuses to identify her, however. Then he reveals he was lying about everything. This incredibly twisting and turning story is quite diverting but nothing special. My rating: 3 skulls.
  • PICKMAN'S MODEL is one of the most famous NIGHT GALLERY stories obviously because it's one of two adaptations of the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. Alvin Sapinsley adapts the story while Jack Laird does a surprisingly good job directing this tale of 1890's Boston in which tormented artist Pickman (Bradford Dillman: the perfect John Wilkes Booth in "THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY") is obsessed with painting flesh-eating demonic ghouls. An art student (Louise Sorel) tries to befriend the mad artist but finds she's gotten more than she's bargained for. A nice (if low budget) monster ghoul features prominently in the finale and there are several Tom Wright paintings featured in the episode (as the works of Pickman). A quite good Lovecraft adaptation with some flaws. My rating: 4 skulls.
  • THE DEAR DEPARTED is a fairly routine Rod Serling script directed by Jeff Corey concerning a group of phony spiritualists (singer Steve Lawrence, former beach movie thug Harvey Lembeck and hoyden Maureen Arthur) who give phony seances to bilk wealthy customers. My rating: 2 skulls.
  • AN ACT OF CHIVALRY is yet one more lousy comedy vignette featuring a skull-faced Death riding in an elevator. My rating: 1 skull.

We're now halfway through this incredibly chunky posting of NIGHT GALLERY's second season. The second half of the season will follow once you recover from the eyestrain and I shake off carpal tunnel! Join us then, won't you?