Film Review: Night Gallery (dir by Boris Sagal, Barry Shear, and Steven Spielberg)


Night Gallery was a horror anthology series that aired on NBC in the early 70s.  Each episode featured Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, serving as the curator of a museum where all of the paintings have a somewhat macabre theme.  (One could even say that the museum was a …. wait for it …. night gallery!)  Serling would give each painting a properly pithy introduction and then the audience would see the story behind the artwork.  It was a bit like the Twilight Zone, except the Night Gallery episodes were in color, they were all horror-themed, and, for the most part, they steered away from social commentary.  The series ran from 1970 and 1973 and it still airs in syndication and on some of the retro stations.  (I believe it currently airs on Comet TV.)  Even if it wasn’t as consistently good as Twilight Zone, it’s still a pretty fun little series.

Two Christmases ago, I was gifted  Night Gallery: The Complete Series on DVD.  Though I’ve watched several episodes from the DVD, I recently realized that I have never actually sat down and watched every episode in order.  With the world currently shut down due to the pandemic (a development that, if we’re going to be honest, sounds like something Rod Serling would have used on the Twilight Zone), I figured what better time to watch the entire series then now?

I started out by watching the Night Gallery pilot film.  This originally aired on November 8th, 1969, a full year before Night Gallery became a weekly series.  It features three different stories (all written by Rod Serling) of the macabre.  As with every episode of the subsequent series, each story is introduced by Serling standing in front of a painting.  In the pilot, though, the museum is rather bare and the painting’s are a bit minimalist.  I have to admit that, as a lover of the baroque, I was a bit disappointed in that aspect of the pilot.

But what about the stories themselves?  Read on!

The Cemetery (dir by Boris Sagal)

The first story was The Cemetery, a cheerfully gruesome little tale that featured Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis.  McDowall plays Jeremy, a spoiled young man who murders his uncle so that he might inherit the dead man’s estate.  At first, it looks like McDowall’s plot is a complete success but then McDowall notices a painting of the family graveyard hanging above a staircase.  (To be honest, it seems odd to hang a painting of a graveyard in the foyer but I guess that’s something old rich people do.)  The painting keeps changing.  One minute, the painting looks normal.  The next minute, it features a newly dug grave.  And then something emerging grave.  And then something heading towards the house….

Is Jeremy losing his mind or is the painting warning him that his uncle has risen from the dead and is seeking revenge!?  You’ll probably be able to guess the answer long before poor Jeremy but no matter.  This is a fun little horror story and it benefits from two enjoyably arch performances, from McDowall and, in the role of a butler who may have an agenda of his own, Ossie Davis.

Eyes (dir by Steven Spielberg)

Of the three stories presented in the pilot, Eyes probably gets the most attention from critics because it not only stars Joan Crawford in one of her final performances but it was the professional directorial debut (if you don’t count Amblin’) of 22 year-old Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg apparently had some issues dealing with the veteran crew members, many of whom didn’t like the idea of taking orders from a 22 year-old.  (It probably didn’t help that pictures from that era suggest that Spielberg looked several years younger than his age.  Let’s just say that it’s easy to understand why he eventually grew that beard.)  I’d like to think that Joan Crawford yelled at everyone and defended Spielberg and maybe even Rod Serling came down with Luca Brasi and said, “You’re going to the give this kid the respect he deserves or your brains are going to be all over that union contract.”  I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a nice thought.

That said, Eyes is pretty good.  Even if the crew doubted him, Spielberg proved himself as a director with this story.  It’s about a hateful and selfish woman (Joan Crawford) who happens to be both rich and blind.  She has manipulated a doctor into performing an experimental operation that will allow her to see.  The only catch is that the operation will only be good for 22 hours and a donor (Tom Bosley, as a bookie who is in trouble with the mob) will be required to give up his eyes so that Crawford can have those 22 hours.

On the one hand, this is very-much a Rod Serling-type tale.  It’s easy to imagine Eyes, with its belief in karma and its final macabre twist, as a Twilight Zone episode.  At the same time, Spielberg very much brings his own signature style to the film, livening up dialogue-heavy scenes with interesting camera angles and getting good performances from Crawford, Barry Sullivan, and Tom Bosley.  Eyes is a clever story but, for modern viewers, the most interesting thing about it will be discovering that, even at the age of 22, Spielberg already had a clear directorial style.

The Escape Route (dir by Barry Shear)

The Escape Route is about an Nazi war criminal named Joseph Strobe (played by Richard Kiley) who is hiding out in South America and spending all of his time nervously looking over his shoulder.  One day, he enters a museum where he finds himself drawn to two paintings.  One painting features a man who has been crucified in a concentration camp, which we learn was Strobe’s trademark back when he, himself, was a camp commandant.  The other painting features a fisherman in a peaceful setting.  Even though Strobe imagines himself as the peaceful fisherman, his attention keeps getting redirected to the painting of the concentration camp.  Soon, Strobe realizes that a survivor of the camp (played by Sam Jaffe) is also in the museum and that he is studying the painting as well.

Compared to Eyes and especially The Cemetery, The Escape Route may seem like a rather low-key story but it has a power that sneaks up on you.  Hiding out (as many real-life Nazi war criminals did) in South America, Strobe is full of excuses for his past and he may indeed be sincere in his wish that he had just become a fisherman as opposed to a brutal Nazi.  But, in the end, Strobe can neither escape his past nor his final punishment.  Justice cannot be escaped, no matter how hard Strobe tries to outrun it.  In the end, there is no escape for the wicked.  Richard Kiley and Sam Jaffe both give excellent performances.  The Escape Route will stick with you.

As a series, Night Gallery was a bit uneven but the pilot stands as a classic of its type, featuring three short films that all deserve to be remembered.

As for me, I’m going to try to watch an episode or two a day.  I may review a few more Night Gallery episodes here on the Shattered Lens.  As I said, the series itself was a bit uneven and not every episode is as good as the pilot.  Still, there’s definitely some gems to be found in the Night Gallery and I’ll share them as I come across them.

Bloody Good Show: Robert Quarry as COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (AIP 1970)


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Robert Quarry’s screen career wasn’t really going anywhere by 1970. He had a good part in 1956’s soapy noir A KISS BEFORE DYING , but mostly he was relegated to uncredited bits in movies and guest shots on episodic TV. Quarry kept busy on the stage, until being approached by producer/actor Michael Macready to star in THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA, originally envisioned as a soft core porn flick with horror elements. The actor said he would accept the job but only if it were turned into a straight modern-day vampire tale, and thus was born COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, launching Quarry into a new phase as a 70’s horror movie icon.

The plot is an updated version of Stoker’s DRACULA, with a few changes. Here, the Bulgarian-born Count Yorga is a recent transplant to California, and we first meet him conducting a séance on behalf of Donna, whose late…

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Silk Purse: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (Columbia 1945)


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Columbia Pictures cranked out 52 films in the year 1945, mostly ‘B’ movies with titles like LET’S GO STEADY, I LOVE A MYSTERY, EVE KNEW HER APPLES, ROCKIN’ IN THE ROCKIES, TEN CENTS A DANCE, and THE ADVENTURES OF RUSTY, along with their continuing series featuring Blondie, Boston Blackie, The Crime Doctor, The Durango Kid, and The Whistler. They were programmers, budget jobs, designed to fill a double bill  and a theater’s seats, bread-and-butter movies with no pretenses to reach any artistic heights.

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS was one of those programmers, a quickie cashing in on the success of the previous year’s hit GASLIGHT. Whereas MGM’S psychological thriller boasted stars Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer directed by George Cukor, Columbia headlined their contract players Nina Foch and George Macready , good, competent actors but hardly box office draws. And in place of Cukor, Joseph H. Lewis sat in…

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Halloween Havoc!: ALIAS NICK BEAL (Paramount 1949)


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The worlds of supernatural horror and film noir collided to great effect in ALIAS NICK BEAL, John Farrow’s 1949 updated take on the Faust legend. The film wasn’t seen for decades due to legal complications, but last August the good folks at TCM broadcast it for the first time. I have been wanting to see this one for years, and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s loaded with dark atmosphere, a taut screenplay by hardboiled writer/noir vet Jonathan Latimer , and a cast of pros led by a ‘devilish’ turn from Ray Milland as Nick Beal.

The Faust character this time around is Joseph Foster, played by veteran Thomas Mitchell . Foster is an honest, crusading DA with political ambitions. When he says aloud he’d “give my soul” to convict racketeer Hanson, Foster receives a message to meet a man who claims he can help. Summoned to a seedy tavern on…

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Horror on TV: Thriller 2.4 “The Weird Tailor” (dir by Herschel Daugherty)


On tonight’s episode of Thriller, we see what happens when an aspiring sorcerer (George MacReady) accidentally kills his son.  In order to brings his son back to life, he has to have a special suit made by the weird tailor of the title (played by Henry Jones).

This is one of the better episode of Thriller.  For once, the use of the word “weird” in the title is not a misnomer!  This one was written by Robert Bloch, who adapted his own short story.  It originally aired on October 16th, 1961.

Soapy Noir: A KISS BEFORE DYING (United Artists 1956)


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A KISS BEFORE DYING is part soap opera, part film noir, and 100% 50’s kitsch! Based on the best selling debut novel by Ira Levin (who went on to give us ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE STEPFORD WIVES), it’s also the debut of director Gerd Oswald (who went on to give us AGENT FOR HARM and BUNNY O’HARE !).  Lawrence Roman’s screenplay has some suspense, but his characters are all pretty dull and dumb, except for Robert Wagner’s turn as a charmingly sick sociopath.

Wagner is college student Bud Corliss, from the wrong side of the tracks, dating rich but naïve Dorie Kingship (Joanne Woodward) to get his hands on dad’s copper mine loot. And when I say naïve I’m not just whistling Dixie; this girl’s downright dense! Bud, after learning she’s pregnant, decides the best thing to do is not marry her, but bump her off. He whips up some poison…

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A Movie A Day #189: Knock On Any Door (1949, directed by Nicholas Ray)


Knock On Any Door opens with the murder of a policeman in New York City. Nick Romano (John Derek) is arrested for the crime. Nick is a troubled young man who has grown up in the slums and is fond of saying that his goal is to “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” Now on trial for his very life, Nick reaches out to lawyer Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart), who once unsuccessfully defended Nick’s father in a similar criminal trial. At first, Morton wants nothing to do with Nick but he changes his mind, partially out of guilt over Nick’s father and partially because Morton himself came from the same slums that produced Nick. Even as the district attorney (George Macready) goes for blood, Morton argues that Nick isn’t a menace but instead a victim of a society that left him with little choice but to become a criminal.

Knock Any Door is heavy-handed but, for fans of Humphrey Bogart and Nicholas Ray, this is an essential film. Bogart produced this film himself and the subject matter was very important to him.  Bogart, the classic tough guy with a heart of gold, gives one of his best performances, delivering his closing statement with such conviction that it is impossible not to be moved.  Though Ray’s direction is often heavy-handed and the courtroom scenes are sometimes too stagey, Knock On Any Door sees him exploring the same themes that he would later explore in Rebel Without a Cause and with the empathy that made that later film a classic.

Hot in Argentina: Rita Hayworth in GILDA (Columbia 1946)


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If COVER GIRL made Rita Hayworth a star, then GILDA propelled her into the stratosphere. This 1946 film noir cast Rita at her smoking hot best as the femme fatale to end ’em all. Surrounded by a Grade A cast and sumptuous sets, GILDA gives us the dark side of CASABLANCA , moved to Buenos Aires and featuring star-crossed lovers who are at lot less noble than Rick and Ilsa ever were.

“Every man I knew went to bed with Gilda… and woke up with me”, Hayworth is famously quoted as saying. Who could blame them, as Rita is absolutely stunning in this film. From our first glimpse of her, popping into view with that iconic hair flip…

…to her sultry faux striptease singing “Put the Blame on Mame”, Rita burns up the screen with her smoldering sexuality. Lines like “If I’d been a ranch,  they’d’ve named me the Bar Nothing” leave no doubt…

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44 Days Of Paranoia #20: Seven Days In May (dir by John Frankenheimer)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, let’s take a look at the 1964 political thriller, Seven Days In May.

Directed by John Frankenheimer (who also directed the conspiracy classic, The Manchurian Candidate), Seven Days In May opens with unpopular President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) on the verge of signing a treaty with the Russians.  The chairman of the joint chiefs-of-staff, Gen. James Scott (Burt Lancaster), is opposed to the treaty and feels that Lyman’s actions will lead to the collapse of the U.S.  When Scott’s aide, Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas), thinks that he’s come across evidence that Scott is planning a military coup, he takes his suspicions to the White House.  Working with an alcoholic Senator (Edmond O’Brien) and a cynical political aide (Martin Balsam), the President launches his own investigation into Scott’s activities.

When it was first released, Seven Days In May was very successful with both critics and audiences.  Edmond O’Brien even received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.  When viewed today, however, Seven Days In May feels rather quaint.  A good deal of the film’s suspense was meant to be generated by the question of whether or not Gen. Scott is actually planning a coup.  However, for the modern viewer, it’s really not a question worth asking.  For us, it’s easy to watch this film and shout, “Of course he’s planning on overthrowing the government!  He’s the most obviously villainous character in the entire film!”  The idea of a military conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government was perhaps shocking back in 1964 but today, we take the existence of such conspiracies for granted.

Seven Days In May is definitely a product of its time.  Unlike John Frankenheimer’s other well-known conspiracy film, The Manchurian Candidate, there’s no sly undercurrent of satire or subversion running through Seven Days In May.  Instead, Seven Days In May epitomizes everything that we think of when we think about the early 60s.  The film’s politics are liberal but not radically so.  The President is such an honorable leader that he won’t resort to the politics of personal destruction and reveal that Scott has a mistress.  Casey explains that he disagrees with the President’s politics but that he is bound by duty to reveal Gen. Scott’s subversion.  Indeed, by the end of the film, it’s obvious that we’re meant to condemn Scott not because he might overthrow the President but because he would subvert the democratic process to do so.  Seven Days In May is a film that tells viewers to support and respect their elected leaders, whether they be good or evil and whether they’re played by Fredric March or Burt Lancaster.

When I listened to Casey explain why he was informing on a man who he claimed to admire and agree with, I was reminded of some of the recent political debates that we’ve had deal with her in America.  All of those debates can pretty much be summed up by whether we, as citizens, are obligated to support a law even if we personally don’t agree with it or to respect a leader even if we do not agree with him.  The answer, according to Seven Days In May, would appear to be yes.

While Seven Days In May is often a bit too ponderous for its own good, it’s still a well-made and watchable film.  If you’re a history nerd like me, you’ll enjoy the film as a portrait of its time.  John Frankenheimer directs as if the movie is a film noir and the film’s shadowy black-and-white cinematography looks great.  Finally, if you’re a fan of the old school movie stars, how can you not enjoy a film that features Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, and Burt Lancaster?

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One