20 October 2014

Rambling through the Gallery

I’ve evolved considerably viz. Night Gallery. As I think about it, my own history with the matter is peculiar.

I am not sure that I had ever actually watched any of The Twilight Zone; but I had absorbed the awed respect for the show which generally surrounded me. The only Night Gallery story I had seen when growing up was “The Caterpillar,” which made a powerful impression; nevertheless (again, probably by absorption), I had somehow ‘acquired’ the opinion that, as a series, Night Gallery is but a weak shadow of The Twilight Zone.

Having at last seen all of the original Twilight Zone (and much of it twice now), I do not find any of the praise of the series too lavish. Perhaps I was a ‘soft touch’ here, but even the comparatively weaker episodes do not inspire any derision from me. I also read Scott Zicree’s splendidly informative book (in which he shows, probably becomingly, a journalistic impartiality, and he calls some episodes poor with a readiness which may strike some as oddly harsh, for a fellow whose overall tone is greatly laudatory . . . but I suppose that shields him from the charge of hagiography). In a late chapter of that book, he briefly chronicles Serling’s life after Twilight Zone, and while the brace of paragraphs on Night Gallery might require a dose of salt, the fact of Serling’s dissatisfaction with not commanding artistic control of the series, and his eventual disenchantment with the project tended to color my view as I approached Night Gallery.

However, I was keen to revisit “The Caterpillar,” at the least.

Probably I started out with the 2-DVD set of Season Three which is available at the BPL. Probably I watched “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes” first, which I liked very well right off, partly because the cast included John Astin (I suppose); I was curious about a story which had both Vincent Price and Bill Bixby in the case, “The Return of the Sorcerer” – probably not genuinely bad, but I had the feeling of a B-movie vignette; and, curious to see Leonard Nimoy in this context, I watched “She’ll Be Company for You,” a story to which I do not think I was fair, that first time of watching.

Then (because I should need to return the DVD to the Library), I targeted the four stories of Season Three with scripts by Serling. Two are based on stories by other authors: “Something in the Woodwork” (which I think very good, indeed), and “You Can Come Up Now, Mrs Millikan” (which I thought one of a piece with some relatively clumsy attempts at humor). Two seem to be purely original scripts: “Rare Objects,” which is good (could have served as a Twilight Zone episode, in the character of the story, I mean); and “Finnegan’s Flight” . . . which I wanted to like better than I did, as it rejoined Burgess Meredith and Serling, but there was something a little sour about the development of the plot. (Probably, I should give it a fresh viewing). And with that bit of cherry-picking done, I returned Season Three only partly watched, indeed only a minority.

Season Two, I began with revisiting “The Caterpillar,” which I think I have praised earlier. Then, I set myself to watching the entirety of Season Two in order. While the odd Jack Laird miniature is trite enough, a kind of “slapstick Gothic,” that it tends to lower the tone, most of what I saw was very well done, and some of it as good as (or even better than) the top tier of The Twilight Zone. (In Jack Laird’s defense – as a writer, I mean, for clearly he was important to the series as its producer – “I’ll Never Leave You – Ever” rises above the level of his typical “blackout” sketches.)

So, I went back to view the rest of Season Three, and (to be sure) I found that in my haste, I had missed out on some of the best stories of that season (“The Other Way Out,” “The Ring With the Red Velvet Ropes,” “Death on a Barge,” “Whisper,” e.g.)

And here I’ve started in on Season One – or, properly speaking, I have now watched the three stories from the pilot, all of them (of course, since he was the one pitching the show) Serling scripts: “The Cemetery,” with a scoundrelly Roddy McDowall; “Eyes,” featuring one of the last appearances by Joan Crawford (and Tom Bosley in an interestingly ‘against-type’ role: and “Escape Route,” the latest in a number of Serling “revenge fantasies” against surviving Nazis. (I mean, obviously there ought to be, to have been, justice done to them; but I don’t feel comfortable being implicated in a wish to make them suffer cruelly, as retribution. Is it artistically satisfying? I find myself wondering if this third story is as good as the first two.)

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