Thursday, April 19, 2012

THE VIEWER'S GUIDE TO NIGHT GALLERY SEASON THREE (PART 2). And so we embark on our final trip down the horror-filled halls of the Night Gallery. I should probably take this opportunity to lament another disappointment in Season Three: the loss of the wonderfully creepy theme music for an inferior, frantic brass theme which is frankly annoying. Yet another bad decision which together with other bad choices no doubt contributed to the end of the series. While the final season was not the best, there were some glimmers.
SHE'LL BE COMPANY FOR YOU - This sadly isn't one of those glimmers. A promising enough premise quickly devolves into a rather silly mess. Leonard Nimoy buries his late invalid wife and suddenly feels freedom. However, his wife's best friend Lorraine Gary bitchily badgers him and then gives him her cat Jennet "to keep him company". Nimoy is tormented by the constant ringing of the bell his late wife used to summon him with as well as the roars of leopards. This David Rayfiel teleplay from an Andrea Newman short story doesn't have much going for it which is perhaps why director Gerald Perry Finnerman utilizes such an odd and delirious style of directing the episode. The off-kilterness is interesting for about 5 minutes but then becomes annoying and almost goofy. While Nimoy does an OK acting job, he spends far too much time wandering around the house in a delirium. The script is simply fatally flawed and there's not much that can save it. My rating: 2 skulls.
THE RING WITH THE RED VELVET ROPES - A boxing story starts off as a big negative in my book; however, this one is a pleasant surprise if not an excellent episode. Gary Lockwood (from the STAR TREK pilot) has just become heavyweight champion of the world. He goes into the shower in his locker room but emerges inside a sumptuous mansion owned by the mysterious Blancos (Joan Van Ark and Chuck Connors). It soon becomes clear that the house is in some otherworldly realm and Lockwood will not be able to leave until he boxes Connors. There is a nice whiff of brimstone in this episode linking it to all the other "deal with the Devil" type of stories but this one is a little different since Old Nick is nowhere to be found. A good solid job is done by all in this Robert Malcolm Young script adapted from an Edward D. Hoch story and directed with a sure hand by Jean Szwarc. My rating: 3 skulls.
SOMETHING IN THE WOODWORK - A horror story by R. Chetwynd-Hayes adapted by Rod Serling indicates we're back on the right track horror/supernatural-wise. Lonely, embittered lush Geraldine Page has a handyman break through the locked door of the haunted attic in her new house in order to get to know the ghost who lives up there "behind the walls in the woodwork". As she makes contact with the restless spirit, she hatches a plan to have the ghost frighten her ex-husband Leif Erickson to death so that he won't have her committed. A marvelous performance by Geraldine Page and some interesting direction by Edward M. Abroms make this a superior episode of season three. My rating: 4 skulls.
DEATH ON A BARGE - Time again for a vampire story. First the bad news: the day-for-night photography is laughable -- it's so obviously bright sunlight though we are meant to believe it's night. Ah well. This isn't a first for NIGHT GALLERY. Lesley Anne Warren is the vampire trapped on a barge in the middle of flowing water so she cannot leave -- vampires can't cross running water, remember. Robert Pratt spies her and falls immediately in love with her. Why he wants he I'll never know -- Warren is very beautiful but her character is the most annoying, needy and mercurial woman since I dumped my ex! Not meant to be taken entirely seriously, this is an OK episode nicely directed by Leonard Nimoy from a teleplay by Halsted Welles (based on an Everil Worrell short story). Warren and Pratt are a little melodramatic in the acting department but able assists are given by Brooke Bundy (Nurse Diana Taylor from the "Luke and Laura" days on GENERAL HOSPITAL) and Lou Antonio (from the delightful THE SNOOP SISTERS series). Some problems with the script concerning internal logic and kind of a weak ending knock a skull off it. My rating: 3 skulls
WHISPER - Sally Field is the young wife of Dean Stockwell who finds herself easily taken over by spirits of the dead; they have compelled her to go to an old Southern town and endlessly search for a "summer house". CAT PEOPLE's Kent Smith also appears as a doctor who nicely sums up the time-lost atmosphere of this episode: "Well, this is old country. Your not just back east in these hills . . . you're back years." The atmosphere is as delicate as a soap bubble and whether or not you fall into is depends on the viewer; as well as your tolerance for breaking the fourth wall which Field and Stockwell do repeatedly. A rather abrupt ending also complicates things for the viewer. David Rayfield adapted the short story by Martin Waddell with Jean Szwarc's sympathetic direction. It all just somehow doesn't hang together. My rating: 3 skulls.
THE DOLL OF DEATH - Delving into voodoo for the last time in the Gallery, this penultimate episode directed by John Badham and written by Jack Guss from a short story by Vivian Meik "designed to lift you from the ordinary" finds us in the West Indies where firebrand Susan Strasberg's wedding to rich Barry Atwater is crashed by filthy ruffian Alejandro Rey. The wedding is called off when it is revealed that she Strasberg has been pledged to Rey from a very young age. Not to be thwarted, Atwater procurs a trusty voodoo doll of Rey and puts the "squeeze" on him. Murrau Matheson (the clown in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit") also appears as Dr. Strang. Oddly, the opening on-screen credits flash the names of Strasberg, Rey and Matheson on the screen whereas just seconds earlier during the "flying paintings" sequence the narrator announces the stars as Strasberg, Rey and Atwater as their images appear on the screen. Presumably this is because of Atwater's recent celebrity following his startling appearance as the vampire in the blockbuster TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER the year before. I would hazard a guess that the onscreen credits came first whereas the narrator/onscreen pictures were altered at a fairly late date in order to showcase Atwater's presence. All in all, a quite servicable episode. My rating: 3 skulls.
HATRED UNTO DEATH - An episode about a gorilla isn't the most auspicious way to end a series but this is perhaps the best illustration of what was wrong with NIGHT GALLERY and why it ultimately failed to reach its full potential. Where are the haunted houses? The goblins? The devil worshippers? No, a guy in a gorilla suit brings the series to an end. With all due respect and love to Bob Burns, there is a time and a place for men in gorilla suits and the NIGHT GALLERY is not the place for it. Anthropologists Steve Forrest and Dina Merrill (from my beloved DESK SET) capture a wild gorilla (against her wishes) and give him to Fernando Lamas for experimentation. The gorilla ain't too happy about it. This episode tries my patience. Whoever chose this story to be adapted for the NIGHT GALLERY ought to be strung up from a hook as an exhibit himself! What on earth is this story doing in a supernatural horror series?!?! Halsted Welles wastes his time adapting this Milton Geiger story for Gerald Perry Finnerman to direct. I feel personally embarrassed for everyone involved. Certainly the worst episode of the NIGHT GALLERY, hilariously inept and an ignominious end to the NIGHT GALLERY. My rating: 1 skull.
HOW TO CURE THE COMMON VAMPIRE - The last word sadly is yet another Jack Laird comedy vignette as the final nail in the NIGHT GALLERY's coffin. The producer wrote it and directed it himself (all too obviously). Richard Deacon (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW) and Johnny Brown go to stake a vampire and tell an unfunny joke. The end. My rating: 1 skull.
And so we've reached the final painting hanging in Rod Serling's Night Gallery. But why is this series compared unfavourably with the classic TWILIGHT ZONE. Well, other than the fact that TZ is undeniably some of the highest quality television ever broadcast and consequently almost ANYTHING would suffer in comparison. Rod Serling made no secret of the fact that he felt duped out of total creative control of NIGHT GALLERY and considered the show a failure. It is perhaps Rod's naive assumption that he would be given creative control when no such thing was ever negotiated which resulted in Serling's petulance and possibly not giving his all. For, despite Serling's protestations that he was little more than a "talking head", a great deal of the scripts for NIGHT GALLERY emerged from his pen; so the success or failure of the show can be lain at his doorstep as well as Jack Laird's or anyone else involved. Then there is the quality of the writing; or more pointedly the failure to adapt more traditional and/or classic works of horror fiction. Lord knows there was enough of it about: from Poe and Lovecraft to Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch and who knows how many others. A show called NIGHT GALLERY required a certain type of story: horror. Whereas stories such as Rod Serling's own "Finnegan's Flight" may have just possibly fit into a TWILIGHT ZONE format, they had no place in a show called NIGHT GALLERY. Season three is a prime example of this monumental failure is following the show's format. Leonard Nimoy chasing around a house after a leopard is not spooky or scary. Ghosts and monsters were what was called for. And a healthy dose of classic horror from adaptations of classic tales by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, R. Chetwynd-Hayes or Fritz Leiber were also highly successful. Sadly the choice of stories never emphasized horror and the supernatural as much as it should have. Of course, this still leaves a place for stories which don't necessarily fit into this category; some of the greatest episodes of NIGHT GALLERY are only tangentially connected to horror or the supernatural i.e. "The Messiah on Mott Street" or "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" which are classic NIGHT GALLERY episodes. The point is that stories like these should only be chosen when they are exceptionally good; when a story not very supernatural was chosen without showing extraordinary qualities . . . that's when NIGHT GALLERY stumbled. So after all is said and done, NIGHT GALLERY is without reservation a worthy watch with plenty of fine episodes from which to choose. I hope that this little handy-dandy viewer's guide will help you avoid the little bombs strewn throughout NIGHT GALLERY's three seasons and steer straight for the jugular. As the master himself would assure you: "Lest you be turned off by the dim light and the somber mean of this place, let me reassure you that there is nobody here but us art lovers."


mntrtodd said...

Another reason Night Gallery is not as well-remembered as the Twilight Zone is that for decades in syndication the show was presented in a butchered format in which a program meant for a half hour was chopped up to fit into half-hour slots.
To make things worse, the series was inexplicably combined with another show called the "Sixth Sense", an execrable series starring Gary Collins as a paranormal investigator. "Sixth Sense" shows were passed off as "Night Gallery" episodes.
A couple of years ago I read the proof of a book of an author who blasted Night Gallery and Rod Serling based on the Collins "Sixth Sense" episodes. I had to write to him and convinced him that Serling had nothing to do with those.
Fortunately, these DVD releases by Universal are finally presenting the series as it was meant to be seen.

Damian B said...

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