TV Review: Night Gallery 1.5 “Pamela’s Voice/Lone Survivor/The Doll”


The fifth episode of Night Gallery originally aired on January 13th, 1971.  It featured three stories, each one of which was introduced by Rod Serling walking through a darkened museum.

Pamela’s Voice (dir by Richard Benedict, written by Rod Serling)

Jonathan (John Astin) kills his wife, Pamela (Phyllis Diller), because he’s sick of listening to her shrill voice.  However, it turns out that not even death can stop Pamela.  While Jonathan is staring at a coffin, he starts to hear Pamela’s voice.

At first, you might think that this is going to be one of those stories where it’s going to turn out that the murderer has been driven made by his crimes and he’s imagining being taunted by his victim.  But then Pamela makes an post-death appearance herself and the story reveals it’s final twist.

For the most part, Pamela’s Voice is entertaining.  Both John Astin and Phyllis Diller give such eccentric performances that their fun to watch even if the majority of the audience will be able to guess this segment’s big twist.

Lone Survivor (dir by Gene Levitt, written by Rod Serling)

This wonderfully atmospheric story opens in 1915, with the crew of the Lusitania discovering a man (John Colicos) floating in a lifeboat.  The lifeboat is from the Titanic and the man, who claims to be a crewmember of that doomed ship, is wearing a dress, leading the ship’s doctor to assume that the man survived the sinking of the Titanic by pretending to be a woman and stealing someone else’s rightful spot in the lifeboat.

At first, his rescuers are skeptical.  If the man was indeed a survivor of the Titanic, that would mean that he had spent the past three years floating in that lifeboat?  How could the man have survived?  And, assuming that he is telling the truth about the ship that he came from, what has now brought him to the Lusitania?  Could the man possibly be a German spy?  After all, World War I has just broken out and the sea is no longer as safe as it once was….

Lone Survivor is an example of this often uneven show at its best.  It’s a genuinely creepy short film, one that ends on a frightening and rather sad note.  Lone Survivor is the tale of man trying to escape both his own guilt and the whims of fate and discovering that neither can be easily conquered.  In the main role, John Colicos gives a wonderfully intense and haunted performance.

The Doll (dir by Rudi Dorn, written by Rod Serling)

“Our painting is called The Doll,” Rod Serling says as he introduces this one, “and it’s one that you better not play with.”  Truer words were never spoken!

In this one, British Col. Hymber Masters (John Williams) returns home from India and discovers that his niece (Jewel Branch) has a new doll.  Someone mailed the doll to her.  Everyone assumed that Col. Masters sent the doll but he actually had nothing to do with it.  Masters is not happy to see his niece carrying around that doll and it makes sense when you consider just how ugly the doll is.  I mean, this is one creepy doll!

It turns out that the Masters was correct to be concerned because the doll was sent by Pandit Chola (Henry Silva), who holds Masters responsible for the death of his brother.  The doll has been sent to take revenge….

The Doll is another triumph, largely because the doll itself is so creepy that it looks like something that sprung straight out of a nightmare.  John Williams does a good job playing the well-meaning if somewhat stuffy colonel and Henry Silva is well-cast as the villain of the piece.  This segment deserves a lot of credit for taking a fanciful story and playing it totally straight.

The fifth episode of Night Gallery is a triumph.  After a run of uneven episodes, this episode is consistently creepy and entertaining.  For this episode, at least, Night Gallery lived up to its potential.

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

TV Review: Night Gallery 1.3 “The House/Certain Shadows on the Wall”


The third episode of Night Gallery aired on December 30th, 1970.  While Americans were undoubtedly finalizing their plans for a wild New Year’s Eve (because, after all, Nixon was president and every day was a party), NBC and Rod Serling invited viewers to take a tour through a darkened museum, one where every painting told a story.

This episode of Night Gallery featured two stories:

The House (dir by John Astin, written by Rod Serling)

The House opens with Elaine Latimer (Joanna Pettet) talking about a recurring dream.  She’s driving her car through the countryside when she comes across a large house.  Though she’s never seen the house, she finds herself drawn to it, as if she somehow belongs in the house.  As Elaine describes her dream, we come to realize that she’s talking to a psychiatrist (Steve Franken) and that Elaine is recovering from mental breakdown.  Her doctor tells Elaine that the dream is nothing to worry about.

However, when Elaine is driving home, she realizes that the countryside looks familiar.  Soon, she’s pulling up in front of the house from her dreams!  When Elaine gets out of the car, she’s greeted by a real estate named Peugeot (Paul Richards) who asks her if she’s interested in buying the house.  As Peugeot gives her a tour of the estate, he mentions that the house is thought to be haunted….

I liked The House.  It was an atmospheric little tale and, from the minute that Elaine started talking about her dream, the story captured my attention.  (I should admit that I also have recurring dreams about a house that I’ve never actually seen before.)  Admittedly, the story does play out at a very deliberate pace and requires a bit of patience but the dream sequences are effectively surreal and Joanna Pettet gives an empathetic performance in the lead role.

Certain Shadows On The Wall (dir by Corey Allen, written by Rod Serling)

This segment features Agnes Moorehead as the sickly Emma, who is poisoned by her own brother, the despicable Stephen (Louis Hayward).  After Emma’s death, Stephen is shocked to discover that, even though Emma is gone, her shadow remains on the wall.  While Stephen is trying to make sense of that, his other two sisters (played by Grayson Hall and Rachel Roberts) have plans of their own for how to deal with their duplicitous brother.

Like The House, Certain Shadows On The Wall is appropriately atmospheric.  The ending is a bit weak as Stephen gets what he deserves but the shadow itself doesn’t have much to do with his actual fate.  Just when you’re waiting for Agnes Moorehead to make a sudden, ghostly appearance, the story comes to an end.  Still, this is an effective segment and it features excellent work from its ensemble.  I especially liked the performance of Grayson Hall, which features one of the most frightening glares that I’ve ever seen.

The third episode of Night Gallery was a definite improvement over the two that came before it.  Both segments tell intriguing stories, though it’s obvious that the show was still better at coming up with good premises than effective endings.

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

An October Film Review: The Night America Trembled (dir by Tom Donovan)


Today is the 79th anniversary of Orson Welles’s infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.

In 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air performed a radio adaptation of H.G. Welles’s War of the World.  Presented as a live news program, it was one of the first mockumentaries.  It also caused a panic.  How big the panic was is open for debate.  Some say only a few people took it seriously.  Other sources say that it was a nationwide crisis.  But, regardless, Welles made history on that night.  Not only did he illustrate the power of the media but he also scared the Hell out of a lot of people.  All in all, a pretty good night…

Filmed in 1957 for a television program called Westinghouse Studio One, The Night America Trembled is a dramatization of that night.  For legal reasons, Orson Welles is not portrayed nor is his name mentioned.  Instead, the focus is mostly on the people listening to the broadcast and getting the wrong idea.  That may sound like a comedy but The Night America Trembled takes itself fairly seriously.  Even pompous old Edward R. Murrow shows up to narrate the film, in between taking drags off a cigarette.  (I enjoyed the show but, whenever Murrow showed up, I was reminded of a grumpy old teacher complaining that none of his students cared about the Spanish-American War.)

Clocking in at a brisk 60 minutes, The Night America Trembled is an interesting recreation of that October 30th.  Among the people panicking: a group of people in a bar who, before hearing the broadcast, were debating whether or not Hitler was as crazy as people said he was, a babysitter who goes absolutely crazy with fear, and a group of poker-playing college students.  If, like me, you’re a frequent viewer of TCM, you may recognize some of the faces in the large cast: Ed Asner, James Coburn, John Astin, Warren Oates, and Warren Beatty all make early appearances.

As I said, it’s an interesting little historical document and you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #25: West Side Story (dir by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins)


West_Side_Story_poster

Nearly two weeks ago, I started on something that I call Embracing the Melodrama, Part II.  For the next month or so, I will be reviewing, in chronological order, 126 examples of cinematic melodrama.  I started things off by reviewing the 1927 classic Sunrise and now, 24 reviews later, we’re ready to start in on one of my favorite decades, the 1960s!

And what better way to start the 60s than be taking a look at the 1961 best picture winner, West Side Story?

Being a lifelong dancer, I have to admit that I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen West Side Story.  If you love to dance, this is one of those films that you simply have to see.  Of the various musicals that have won best picture, West Side Story is arguably the best.  Based on a hit Broadway show (which was itself rather famously based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), West Side Story was co-directed by the great choreographer Jerome Robbins and it features some of the greatest dance numbers ever filmed.  If you don’t get excited while watching the Sharks and the Shark Girls arguing about America, then there’s really no hope for you.  Tonight Quintet, Somewhere, A Boy Like That, Maria … even Gee, Officer Krupke, has there ever been another musical score that just leaves you wanting to sing as much as West Side Story does?

(I mean, I’ll be the first admit that I absolutely love the theme song from Santa Claus Conquers The Martians but it can’t even compare to West Side Story!)

What’s funny is that, in between viewings of the film, I always seem to forget just how good West Side Story actually is.  (Fortunately, this also means that I’m pleasantly surprised every time I watch the movie.)  In theory, this is an easy film to joke about.  It tells the story of street gangs who are apparently just as good at dancing as they are at fighting.  The all-white Jets snap their fingers and tell us that when you’re a jet, you’re the best.  The Puerto Rican Sharks are moving in on the Jets’s territory.  The two leaders of the gangs — Riff (Russ Tamblyn) and Bernardo (George Chakiris) — want to settle thing with a “rumble.”  And it’s easy for contemporary audiences to laugh because “rumble” is such an old-fashioned way of saying things that it’s now one of those terms that’s only used when one is trying to be ironic or snarky.

(For instance, I was with some friends at the movies and the people sitting behind us kept talking.  One of my friends told them to shut up.  One of the loud people replied that we were the ones who need to shut up.  As the insults escalated, I finally said, “Y’all — do we really have to have a rumble right now?”  Unfortunately, everyone was too busy arguing to appreciate my pitch perfect delivery.)

Riff’s best friend is Tony (Richard Beymer).  Tony was a co-founder of the Jets but now, he wants to move on from the gang.  He meets a girl named Maria (Natalie Wood) and the two of them fall in love.  However, Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister.  Her best friend, Anita (Rita Moreno), is Bernardo’s girlfriend.  Loving Tony, in other words, is prohibido.

And, since West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, you can probably guess to what type of tragedy all of this leads.

Now, before I heap too much praise of West Side Story, I do need to admit that, in the role of Tony, Richard Beymer does not exactly radiate charisma.  He’s handsome enough but you never quite buy that he was former member of the Jets.  Since Tony’s singing voice was dubbed by Jimmy Bryant, you do believe everything that he sings.  But otherwise, Richard Beymer comes across as being stiff and rather awkward.

And it doesn’t help, of course, that he’s acting opposite Russ Tamblyn who, in the role of Riff, is a whirlwind of unstoppable energy.  Tamblyn is the one who you remember at the end of the film, followed by George Chakiris.  Compared to those two, Richard Beymer’s performance is just dull.

Fortunately, there’s Maria (played by Natalie Wood with Marni Nixon doing the singing).  Natalie Wood is one of my favorite of the classic Hollywood actresses.  She’s certainly one of the actresses with whom I most idenitfy.  With Richard Beymer sleepwalking through the role of Tony, it falls on Natalie to provide some true emotion to the film’s love story and that’s exactly what she does.  Every time I see West Side Story, I want to be Natalie Wood and I want to have a best friend like Rita Moreno and I want to meet someone like Riff…

Sorry, Tony.

West Side Story is one of the best musicals ever made.  If you’re not dancing and then crying and then dancing while crying as you watch West Side Story, then you’re doing it wrong.