Night Gallery (1969)

Many months ago, I figured that we would move from watching selections from The Twilight Zone into Rod Serling’s later series Night Gallery, which ran on NBC in fits and starts from 1969-1973, and later had a troubled, albeit very successful life in syndication. In its truncated thirty-minute form, Gallery was seen in what must have been every market in the country for many years, although the slapdash sausage grinding-style editing that was necessary to turn the original presentation – one 90-minute pilot, 28 hour episodes and 15 half-hour episodes – into 100 half-hours was brutal and obnoxious even for the teevee industry.

But I also remembered that Gallery was often a little more frightening than Zone, so I tabled it for quite some time, and told our son tonight that we would watch the pilot and, starting next week, the six hours from season one. If he enjoys them, I’ll pick up the second season. There is, at this stage, very little chance that will happen. Our son absolutely hated the three stories in the pilot, and the first of them scared the daylights out of him and he retreated upstairs, calling down to let him know when the second segment started.

The Night Gallery pilot was shown in November 1969 and features three stories written by our host, Rod Serling. I enjoyed the first of the three, “The Cemetery,” the most, despite an utterly unnecessary last-minute twist. “Eyes,” which of course everyone who plays team trivia knows was the first professional directorial assignment for Steven Spielberg, was also entertaining, but I thought “The Escape Route,” despite its engaging intensity, needed its supernatural element introduced a little sooner and it needed to be introduced as fact rather than as a desperate man’s fantasy.

“The Cemetery” features a battle of wits between an all-business butler played by Ossie Davis and a very unwelcome guest played by Roddy McDowell who has showed his face at a dying man’s estate to suck away the inheritance like a parasite. “Eyes” is kind of a reflection of the Zone tale “Time Enough at Last,” only the cruel and vindictive protagonist of this story, played by Joan Crawford, totally had her nasty twist coming. “The Escape Route” is about one of the Nazis who hid out in Argentina finally coming to the end of his days of freedom after authorities close in and one of the survivors of a concentration camp, played by Sam Jaffe, recognizes him. Richard Kiley plays the Nazi and he is all sweat and desperation. It’s an amazing performance, and I get the impression that it is most viewers’ favorite of the three, but I liked the battle of wits between Davis and McDowell in the first story even more.

As for what’s next, I’m not absolutely sure. Unlike Zone, I never read much of anything about this series and my memories of the show from when I watched several episodes, around age eleven, don’t come with any titles attached. So I really only know about two of the segments in the next six episodes, as I’ll mention as we get to them. I’m looking forward to them… even if our kid really isn’t!

Fickle finger of coincidence alert: This morning, we watched the final episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was made about five years after these segments. The actor Tom Bosley appears in both “Eyes” and “The Sentry,” and so does a location. The elevator lobby of Joan Crawford’s building on Fifth Avenue in New York City was filmed in the same location that served as the lobby of the Merrymount Archive in Chicago. I’m about 99% certain it’s the lobby of Universal’s Black Tower office building in Burbank – it appeared in at least one other Kolchak, “The Energy Eater” – and I can’t help but love that we saw both an actor and a location in two different productions on the same day.