A Portrait of the Macabre: Night Gallery (1969)

I’d been threatening 12-year-old Hannah with the pilot movie for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery for awhile now, and last night she finally acceded to the inevitable and agreed to humor the old man by watching it with me.

Rod Serling's Night Gallery is referenced in t...

For those who don’t remember it, Night Gallery was Serling’s follow-up series to the Twilight Zone. It ran on NBC from 1970 to 1973, with the first two seasons made up of hour-long shows with two segments each, and the third season made up of 30 minute shows with only one segment. The series differed from Zone in a number of ways. First, as the title implies, the series revolved around paintings in a supposed art gallery which would be unveiled by Serling as he introduced each one. Second, the emphasis was much more on horror as opposed to the more sci-fi or fantasy bent of Zone. Third, though Serling did create the series and wrote many of the stories, his input was much more limited this time around, and by the time the third season rolled around, his involvement became even more limited. Finally, there is the matter of Serling’s “hosting” duties – though he did  narrate an opening for each segment, he didn’t do the same kind of ending narration for each story that he had done for the stories in Zone, and, in my opinion at least, that made the stories here much less effective, as often it was Serling’s closing remarks in Zone that often added that final perfect nail that made those episodes so memorable.

Anyway, the pilot episode was actually created as a TV movie of the week and aired originally, according to Wikipedia, on November 8, 1969. It’s an anthology which fits neatly into the genre that was quite popular at the time, both on television and in theaters. Consisting of three stories, it’s memorable as both the directorial debut of some kid named Spielberg and as one of the last performances of the late Joan Crawford. It also features, in the opening segment, one of my personal all-time favorite actors, Roddy McDowall, along with the great Ossie Davis.

Okay, so back to last night. As I said at the top, watching this with me was really a case of Hannah indulging her dad since she had no homework that needed to be done and really nothing better to do. Plus she knows, though she’d probably only admit it reluctantly in public, that I’ve got a pretty good record of picking out movies and TV shows from the past that will interest her.

cemetery2Now I’m not going to bother going into much of a recap of the three stories that make up the pilot, as that info is easily available, and they’re not hard to find, either on DVD or online (as a matter of fact, I’ll be embedding the first one at the bottom of this post), but I will say that in my opinion the first one, entitled “The Cemetery” is definitely the best and gets the proceedings off to a good start, and that seems to have been proven out in last night’s viewing. It’s actually a fairly standard monkey’s paw variation that hinges largely on McDowall’s not quite over-the-top performance as the scheming nephew who may or may not be going mad.

As the story began to unfold, both Hannah and I were quite amused by the interplay between McDowall and Davis, who plays the household butler/caretaker to Roddy’s dying uncle, making little quips to each other as things amused us. At one point Hannah even said “I know if I were taking this seriously, I’d probably be pretty creeped out by now, but…” However, as the story continued to unfold, the room kept getting quieter and quieter, and by the end, she was completely drawn in, eventually admitting “Okay, that was pretty creepy.”

night_galleryThe second story, the Spielberg/Crawford collaboration “Eyes”, while still quite effective, does pale a bit in comparison, and unfortunately, the third tale, “Escape Route”, though it does have perhaps the most striking painting of the night at it’s center, simply doesn’t hold up anywhere near as well as the other two. Those are my thoughts. at least, and that was pretty much the girl’s take on it, too, though as is often the case with anthologies, your own mileage may vary.

Nonetheless, the evening was fun for both of us, and the bottom line is that I would definitely recommend watching the pilot, either simply as a stand-alone anthology movie, or as an entre into watching more of the series. For our part. well, I think maybe Gallery will be one of those things we can just watch an episode of here and there when we’ve got a little time to pass and there’s nothing that appealing in the queue. And I suspect maybe next time I bring it up there may not be quite so much reluctance.

Oh, and as promised, here’s that opening segment, “The Cemetery”:

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

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