Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A VIEWER'S GUIDE TO NIGHT GALLERY SEASON THREE (PART 1). Well, it's only taken them (Universal) 4 years to finally released the third and final season of Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY. Back in 2008, I wrote a "viewer's guide" of thumbnail reviews of the second season (you can read it by clicking here) and now here I am proposing to do the same for the third. One of these days, I need to do a viewer's guide to Season One, dontcha think? Anyway, the third season of NIGHT GALLERY is, of course, something of a letdown; there were not as many high points as in the previous season and the show was cut from an hour to a half hour. Now, this latter problem shouldn't be THAT much of a problem since Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE was only a half hour (not including the single "hour" season which wasn't that successful storywise) so this in itself shouldn't be a fatal flaw. However, there seems to be something less of a spark to season three; possibly Serling himself was becoming totally disheartened and the writing was on the wall that NIGHT GALLERY was not going to see a fourth season. And that's a pity since NIGHT GALLERY, warts and all, was quite an enjoyable trip to the macabre dimension and could've been tops in TV entertainment. Be that as it may, there are some really nice flashes of foetid fear in this final season. As before, I plan to provide little thumbnail reviews of each episode and utilize my skull rating system: 5 skulls being the best of episodes and 1 skull being the dog's dinner! As you may have surmised from this post's title, I will be writing this NIGHT GALLERY viewer's guide in two parts (like last time). So as Rod lights up his cigarette, let's take a stroll through the horrific halls of . . . . the Night Gallery.
THE RETURN OF THE SORCEROR - Things open extremely well with this occult-dripping adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft acolyte Clark Ashton Smith's short story of the devilish black arts. The episode was originally filmed 4th but producer Jack Laird decided to use it for the season opener; some good judgment from Laird (you didn't get that often) since this is one of the best episodes of the entire season. This is a particular favourite of mine not only because it stars the beloved Vincent Price but also because it vividly puts on display that early 70's fascination and popularity of the occult which was everywhere at the time. Tom Wright's wonderful painting of the "horned one" really sets the mood for this episode; drenched in blood-red paint, it obviously gave its look to the episode. There is a lot of red in this one; from the red candles and the deep-red carpets to the actual red lighting which floods most of the sets (with an occasional eerie purple lightbulb for magical contrast). Bill Bixby is the translator summoned to sorceror Vincent Price's sanctum sanctorum in order to translate an early Arabic passage from the Necronomicon which previous translators have refused to do. Price is aided by his gorgeous witch disciple Fern (a beguiling performance by Patricia Sterling) and his deceased father who has come back in the form of a goat; the dinner scene is particularly delightful as Price introduces Bixby to his father the goat (seated at the table) as "The Falling Tower" -- and Bixby goes along with it! Price has also previously murdered his more-powerful mage brother, chopped him into pieces and thrown him in the oak grove! The script is adapted by Halsted Welles and directed by NIGHT GALLERY stalwart Jeanne Szwarc with all the occult atmosphere they could muster and, despite some silliness (unintentional as well as intentional), I'm giving this one high marks simply because it's so goshdarn lovable. My rating: 4 skulls.
THE GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES - Nicely directed by John Badham and adapted by Robert Malcolm Young from a Fritz Leiber short story, this is another rather strong entry. A photographer finds his "perfect model" as a mysterious woman suddenly appears in his studio at the exact moment he needs her for his new account at Munsch Beer. The woman has no name and forbids the shutterbug from ever following her. There is, of course, more to her than meets the eye . . . the . . . hungry eyes. Especially when men start being found in the vicinity dead of . . . what? James Farentino as the photographer quite good while "the grand lady of NIGHT GALLERY" Joanna Pettet is absolutely superb as the mysterious and deadly woman; her performance is particularly strong as she's simultaneously alluring and threatening. John Astin is somewhat out-of-place as beermeister Munsch in a smaller role. The performances and deft direction elevate this episode. My rating: 4 skulls.
RARE OBJECTS - I am definitely no fan of Mickey Rooney but I've got to hand it to him in this episode; he plays an Al Capone-type racketeer who has a contract out on him. Mickey manages to play him unlikeable while still remaining oddly likeable; and he does it without resorting to stereotypical Hollywood gangster acting. It's really one of the few times I can watch him without thinking he's just being Mickey Rooney. Mickey is given the choice of getting bumped off before the week is out or else giving all his money to a strange man who offers him a long-life in ultimate safety. This Rod Serling script is a little thin but it's once again carried by the performances of Rooney and "strange man" Raymond Massey as well as tight direction from Jean Szwarc. My rating: 3 skulls and a bowl of fettucine.
SPECTRE IN TAP-SHOES - Another pretty good episode. Sandra Dee comes home to her spooky old house to find her twin sister has hanged herself in the attic. She is then tormented by the sound of her sister tap-dancing to ragtime piano and leaving her lipstick-smeared cigarette butts and empty apple sauce jars lying about the place. Is the ghost out for retribution or is it trying to warn her of something? The story is by Jack Laird and adapted by Gene Kearney and also stars Dane Clark and Christopher Connelly (BENJI, anyone???) who are barely noticeable in their performances. The show really belongs to Dee who is also surprisingly effective as the woman scared of her own shadow and approaching catatonic stupor alternating with hints of ghostly possession. This one reminds me a little bit of WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? for some reason. Another thin script which is saved by Sandra Dee's performance and the tight direction of Jean Szwarc. My rating: 3 skulls.
YOU CAN COME UP NOW, MRS. MILLIKAN - This Rod Serling-script adapted from a short story by J. Wesley Rosenquist is just marking time. With a "shock ending" which is evident almost from the start, there's not much going on despite rather surprisingly good acting from Ozzie & Harriet Nelson and yet another superb set. Ozzie is the inventor who can never seem to do anything right; from his perpetual motion machine which only ran for 12 seconds to his alchemy experiment which failed to turn a rock into gold. Somehow he and his wife then think that his serum to bring the dead back to life will work as well. How'd they arrive at that conclusion? Who knows but it doesn't really matter in this weak entry directed from nothing by John Badham. My rating: 1 skull.
SMILE, PLEASE - The first of Jack Laird's unfunny "comedy blackouts" which the producer was so fond of and nobody else was. This minute-long vignette features Cesare Danova inviting a pre-Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner to photograph an actual vampire. Guess what happens. You will almost immediately. Abysmal. My rating: 1 skull (only because I can't pick zero skulls).
THE OTHER WAY OUT - A step up from the previous episode (what WOULDN'T be) finds Ross Martin receiving a blackmail letter accusing him of murder -- and threatening exposure if he doesn't bring $10,ooo to a deserted old house. But what he finds there is much more lethal than he bargained for. Burl Ives also stars in this rather good if unremarkable entry written and directed by Gene Kearney from a story by Kurt Van Elting. Again the performances and direction save it. My rating: 3 skulls.
FRIGHT NIGHT - Probably one of the best-remembered of season three's programmes if for no other reason than that spectacular Tom Wright painting! Stuart Whitman and Barbara Anderson are quite good as a couple who inherit yet another spooky old house which is shunned by the local townsfolk. No one will approach it other than housekeeper Ellen Corby (of THE WALTONS) who has worked for deceased uncle Zachariah (BATMAN's Alan Napier) for 20 years. There is a mysterious trunk in the attic which must not be moved or opened until "someone calls for it". Sadly, the trunk has a habit of "moving about" and causing all sorts of terrifying antics. Blacklisted actor Jeff Corey shows once again on NIGHT GALLERY what a talented director he is on this superior third season episode. Robert Malcolm Young adapts another story by Kurt Van Elting. My rating: 4 skulls.
FINNEGAN'S FLIGHT - This episode features an example of the least successful aspects of Rod Serling's writing. Set in the uninspiring location of a maximum security prison (not really what NIGHT GALLERY fans are looking for), this script finds Serling going to the same old well once too many. Burgess Meredith is a life term prisoner who can only escape by allowing fellow inmate Cameron Mitchell to hypnotize him. Burgess is incredibly suggestible and whatever he believes is happening to him actually happens to his body i.e. when he is told a dixie cup of cold water is actually boiling, Burgess blisters his fingers on it. There is really nothing here for director Gene Kearney to work with as the concept is not particularly engaging or original. Barry Sullivan (yay for PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES) and Kenneth Tobey (monster fighter extraordinaire from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD et. al.) can't save this turkey either. My rating: 1 skull.
And here endeth part one of "The Viewer's Guide to Night Gallery Season Three". As you can see, it's not all bad news. There are some bright spots and some dull spots but, for the most part, worthwhile viewing. Please join us again for part two as we ring down the curtain on Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY.


wellyousaythat© said...

Cor Blimey those paintings are somewhat frightening! Night Gallery wasn't very big here in Blighty; generally tucked away at a late late slot. We had Tales of the Unexpected at prime time. I shall catch up on this vaguely remembered show

Cerpts said...

Over here we had reruns of NIGHT GALLERY all through my growing-up years. However, I do recall briefly seeing TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED for a little while on . . . wait for it . . . late late night TV! That was Roald Dahl, wasn't it? With the merry-go-round intro??? I seem to dimly recall an episode that had something to do with an ornate carpet with something or other evil in it? Ring any bells???

wellyousaythat© said...

I found Tales of the Unexpected a bit like Tales of the Expected and yes it had the merry go round silhouette dancer at the beginning Those Porte manteu shows all blended a bit to my young eyes. Pity there's not a modern equivalent now with actors of commensurate quality