TV Review: Night Gallery 2.1 “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes/Miss Lovecraft Sent Me/The Hand of Borgus Weems/Phantom of What Opera?”

The second season of Night Gallery premiered on September 15th, 1971.  Once again, Rod Serling led viewers through a darkened museum, inviting them to look upon macabre paintings and imagine the story behind image.

The first episode had four — that’s right, four! — different stories!  Apparently, the show’s producers demanded that, for the 2nd season, each episode feature shorter stories along with some light-heated segments.  From what I’ve read, Rod Serling was not particularly happy with the directive and it’s perhaps significant that, after writing every story featured in Night Gallery‘s first season, he only wrote one of the stories featured in the second season premiere.

The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes (dir by John Badham, written by Rod Serling)

Herbie (played by 12 year-old Clint Howard, younger brother of Ron) is a little boy with a very special gift.  He can see the future.  He seems like a normal child, the type who rambles about random subjects except that, at random, he’ll suddenly stop and ominously predict the future.  After Herbie correctly predicts both the rescue of a missing girl and an earthquake, Herbie is given his own TV show.  For a year, Herbie makes predictions, all of which come true.  Then, suddenly, Herbie refuses to shares his latest prediction and says that he doesn’t want to do the show anymore.  What has Herbie seen and is it a good thing or a bad thing?

The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes gets the second season of Night Gallery off to a good start.  Centered by a natural performance from Clint Howard, The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes is an intelligently written and thought-provoking story.  Not only does it examine the burden of being able to see the future but it’s also a provocative look at how society exploits the gifted.  With the exception of Herbie’s grandfather (William Hansen), the people around Herbie are less concerned with what he predicts than that people keep watching.  The segment ends on an appropriately dark note, one that will keep the viewer thinking.

Miss Lovecraft Sent Me (dir by Gene Kearney, written by Jack Laird)

A gum-chewing babysitter (Sue Lyon) show up for her latest job.  It’s at a castle!  And the owner of the castle (played by Joseph Campanella) has gray skin, is wearing a cape, and has a Transylvanian accent!  What could it all mean?

This is a short comedic segment.  Apparently, the producer of Night Gallery, Jack Laird, had the idea to liven things up with sketches like this one.  Serling was apparently not a fan of the idea but Miss Lovecraft Sent Me isn’t that bad.  It’s silly and insubstantial because Joseph Campanella and Sue Lyon handled their roles well.  It’s impossible not to laugh when the babysitter reads aloud the names of the books that Campanella has sitting on his bookshelf.

The Hand of Borgus Weems (dir by John M. Lucas, written by Alvin Sapinsley)

Peter Lacland (George Maharis) sits in a doctor’s office and asks Dr. Ravadon (Ray Milland) to remoe his right hand.  Peter explains that his right hand has a mind of its own and that it keeps trying to kill everyone who Peter comes into contact with.  Peter explains that his hand has been possessed!

There’s a surprisingly large number of stories out there about possessed hands.  The Hand of Borgus Weems doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre and it gets a bit bogged down with its flashback structure but it’s still an enjoyably creepy little segment, featuring good performances from George Maharis and Ray Milland.  Possessed hands are also creepy, no matter what.  Like The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes, it also has an effective ending, which is quite a contrast to the often insubstantial conclusions of Night Gallery’s first season.

Phantom Of What Opera?  (written and dir by Gene Kearney)

This is a short, 4-minute comedic story — a skit really — featuring Leslie Nielsen as the Phantom of the Opera and Mary Ann Beck as Christine. This version starts out like a typical Phantom segment, with the Phantom kidnapping Christine, taking her down to the dungeon, and telling her never to remove his mask.  Christine, of course, removes his mask while he’s playing the organ just for him to then discover that she’s also wearing a mask.  It all leads to love and a happy ending!  It’s kind of a sweet segment, actually.

So the 2nd season of Night Gallery got off to a pretty good start!  Would future episodes continue the trend?  We’ll find out soon as I continue to watch Night Gallery.

Previous Night Gallery Reviews:

  1. The Pilot
  2. The Dead Man/The Housekeeper
  3. Room With A View/The Little Black Bag/The Nature of the Enemy
  4. The House/Certain Shadows on the Wall
  5. Make Me Laugh/Clean Kills And Other Trophies
  6. Pamela’s Voice/Lone Survivor/The Doll
  7. They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar/The Last Laurel

Gang Related (1997, directed by Jim Kouf)

LAPD vice detectives DiVinci (Jim Belushi) and Rodriguez (Tupac Shakur) have a pretty good racket going.  They sell cocaine to drug dealers and then, once they get their money, they murder the dealers and take their drugs back so that the cocaine can be resold.  The murders are written up as being “gang-related” and because no one cares about dead drug dealers, Divinci and Rodriguez don’t have to worry about anyone actually investigating their crimes.

This all changes when they kill the wrong dealer.  It turns out Lionel Hudd (Kool Mo Dee) was actually an undercover DEA agent and now that he’s been murdered, his partner (played by Gary Cole) is investigating the murder.  Needing a patsy to take the fall, they arrest a homeless man who is known as Joe Doe (Dennis Quaid).  Joe can’t even remember what his real name is and, because he’s intoxicated when he’s arrested and interrogated, it’s easy for DiVinci and Rodriguez to talk him into believing that he killed Hudd.

At first, it seems like a perfect plan because the only people that the citizens of Los Angeles care about less than gang members and drug dealers are the homeless.  But then it turns out that Joe Doe is actually a wealthy surgeon and his family hires a prominent attorney (played by James Earl Jones, so you know he’s good) to defend him.  Meanwhile, the stripper (Lela Rochon) who DiVinci and Rodriguez coerced into identifying Doe as the murderer is having second thoughts.  And so is Rodriguez.

The plot of Gang Related may be convoluted and sometimes difficult to follow but that works to the film’s advantage as Divinci and Rodriguez find themselves plunging further and further down the rabbit hole of their own lies.  The audience may be confused but so are they so everyone’s the same page.  It seems like no matter what scheme DiVinci comes up with to try to cover for his own crimes, there’s always an unforeseen complication and most of the film’s narrative momentum comes from watching two corrupt cops go from being cocky to being desperate to save their own lives as their maze of deception becomes increasingly difficult to navigate.  Neither DiVinci nor Rodriguez is a likable character (though Rodriguez is, at least, troubled by what he’s become) so there’s a lot of pleasure to be had by watching these two finally face justice.

Gang Related was Tupac Shakur’s final film and it was released over a year after his death.  It’s a B-movie but it’s a well-made B-movie and Shakur gives a good and complex performance.  So does Jim Belushi, whose mounting desperation is really something to see.  Gang Related may be a B-movie but it’s portrayal of two criminal cops being empowered by a corrupt system is still relevant today.

Scenes That I Love: Marilyn Monroe in Don’t Bother To Knock

Marilyn Monroe would have been 94 years old today.

Unfortunately, Marilyn died when she was just 36 years old and also when she was only starting to get a chance to reveal what she was truly capable of as an actress.  It’s a shame, because I would have liked to have seen what type of roles she would have played in her 40s and her 50s.  Would she have eventually become a respected, award-winning character actor or would she have ended up like Bette Davis, doing cameos in films that weren’t particularly worthy of her talents?  Who knows but it’s a shame that the world will never get to find out.

For her birthday, I’m going to share a scene from one of her earlier films, 1952’s Don’t Bother To Knock.  In this film, Marilyn plays an unstable woman who is staying at a hotel.  Her cousin (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) gets her job as a babysitter but is shocked to find out that Marilyn has been trying on her employer’s clothes.  After getting admonished by her cousin and pretending to be sorry, she proceeds to then summon another gust (played by Richard Widmark) over to her room.

It’s a simple scene but it’s wonderfully played by Monroe.  This was one of her first truly dramatic roles and she does a good job with it.

From Don’t Bother To Knock, here is a scene that I love:

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Morgan Freeman Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is Morgan Freeman’s 83rd birthday!

Morgan Freeman is one of my favorite actors but then again, I think he’s one of everyone’s favorite actors.  He’s an icon, not just for that famous voice but also because he’s a damn good actor.  Though he seems to get cast in a lot of mentor roles, he’s shown that he’s capable of playing a wide variety of roles, from heroes to villains to Gods.

(I have to admit that I would be so intimidated if I ever met Morgan Freeman, if just because I know that if I accidentally said something stupid, he’d probably give me a look of such utter disappointment that it would probably haunt me for the rest of my life.)

Here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Seven (1995, dir by David Fincher)

The Dark Knight (2008, dir by Christopher Nolan)

Invictus (2009, dir by Clint Eastwood)

Now You See Me (2013, dir by Louis Leterrier)

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #1: The Public Enemy (dir by William Wellman)

For this month, I’ve decided to review movies about mobsters.

There’s no specific reason for that, beyond the fact that I just happen to love mobster movies.  Of course, a good gangster film is rarely just about crime.  Anyone who has ever seen The Godfather can tell you that.  At their best, American gangster films are about the American dream and the lengths that some will go to achieve it.

Plus, they’re just a lot of fun to watch.  Some of the greatest actors of all time made their mark in gangster films.

Take 1931’s The Public Enemy, for instance.

Produced during the final days of prohibition and the early years of the Great Depression, The Public Enemy tells the story of three boys who grew up poor.  Tom Powers (James Cagney) and his friend, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) pursued a life of crime, rising through the ranks of organized crime before eventually meeting a tragic end.  The third, Mike Powers (Donald Cook), stayed on the straight-and-narrow path.  He went into the Marines and he rebuked his brother, Tom, when he discovered that Tom’s money was due to “blood and beer.”

The film opens and closes with a title card that basically tells us that Mike Powers has the right idea but, when you watch the film, you can’t help but wonder if maybe Tom had a point about his brother being kind of a sap.  Mike might be a decent citizen and he might have a chestful of medals as the result of his wartime heroics but what else does he have?  Tom Powers, meanwhile, has no education and, it would appear, no conscience, no real friends, and no one that he really loves and yet he becomes a rich man who is acquainted with powerful figures.  While Mike stays at home with their mother, Tom lives in an ornate penthouse.  When his first girlfriend (Mae Clarke) gets on his nerves, Tom shoves a grapefruit in her face and then gets an even more glamorous girlfriend, Gwen (Jean Harlow).  (Meanwhile, even dumb old Matt is doing okay for himself, marrying a woman played by Joan Blondell.)  It’s hard not to imagine that the film’s original audience — who were still reeling from the Stock Market Crash of 1929 — looked at Mike and Tom Powers and quickly decided that they’d much rather be a part of Tom’s life than Mike’s.  Even if Tom is destined for an early grave or a lifetime behind bars, at least he appears to be having fun.  Speaking for myself, I’d much rather go out with the guy who has nice clothe and his own luxury apartment than with the self-righteous dud who is still living at home with his mother.

Of course, another reason why we gravitate towards Tom Powers is because he’s played by James Cagney, who was one of the most charismatic of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age and whose performance still holds up today.  Cagney gives a ferocious performance, snarling out his lines and always moving like a caged animal, even when he’s just preparing to have breakfast.  He’s full of an energy that’s both dangerous and exciting to watch.  Cagney also brings a very powerful anger to the role of Tom Powers.  As played Cagney, Tom Power is not just a criminal because he’s greedy.  He’s also a criminal because he has no use for a society that he feels has rejected him since birth and which has never given him a fair chance.  He becomes wealthy not just because he wants money but because he wants to taunt everyone who ever said that he wouldn’t amount to anything.  He’s every crime is more than act of greed.  It’s also an act of rebellion, a joyful to a society that wants to tell people what they’re allowed to believe and do.  He’s the ultimate 1930s rebel, giving the the finger to not only the two Hoovers (Herbert and J. Edgar) but also to the good government leftists would be soon be swept into power with FDR.  Despite the fact that The Public Enemy was made nearly 90 years ago, there’s nothing creaky about Cagney’s performance.  It still feels vital and powerful today and it elevates the entire film.

The Public Enemy holds up surprisingly well.  The film may be close to 90 but Cagney’s ferocious performance still feels fresh and powerfully alive.


Music Video Of The Day: I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace (2003, dir by Steve Gainer)

Back when we were both in college, my friend Evelyn and I would often greet each other by loudly exclaiming, “I hate everything about you!”  That always got us a few weird looks but you have to understand that, at the time, we were both making a point about avoiding easy sentiment and …. well, we also liked getting weird looks because we felt like that was a sign that we were bringing down the establishment in some sort of way.  That may sound silly now and, to be honest, it sounded silly back then.  But still, we had fun and that’s the important thing.

Anyway, I Hate Everything About You is one of those songs that’s really appealing when you’re trying to be a rebel and you want the world to know how pissed off and disillusioned you are.  At the same time, it’s also a song that lends itself to all sorts of parody.  (Who knows how many people sang, “I.  Ate.  Everything.  About.  You!” back in the day?)  It’s a catchy song.  You can kind of dance to it.  You can play it really loud when you’re trying to freak out your mom.  The lyrics are fun to write inside your diary whenever you’ve had a bad day.

The music video features three people who hate everything about someone else.  One guy is being cheated upon by his girlfriend.  One girl is going out with the type of smirkey douchebag who has been killed in countless Lifetime films.  Another teenager has to deal with an abusive father.  They all go to a hill where they destroy stuff.  It’s kind of like how you’re supposed to set your lover’s pictures on fire if you break up.  Personally, I say keep the pictures and get a voodoo doll.  Just a few pokes from a sharp pin and you’ll have all the revenge you want!  And you won’t have to go to some ugly old hill either.  Voodoo is a revenge that you can practice from the safety of your own bedroom.  Voodo?  You do!

The music video was directed by Scott Winig.  The cinematography was done by Steve Gainer, who was also one of the credited cinematographers on Movie 43.  I mean, goddamn, you want to talk about hate.

Anyway, I hope that you’re not hating anyone right now.  I used to hate my neighbor because his dogs were always barking but then I remembered that karma is harsh and unforgiving.  This is indeed a disturbing universe, one that is perhaps ruled by the blind and dumb Azathoth.

Just a reminder: In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.