Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Flash: Rod Serling's "Night Gallery"

This is a quickie to remember Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" series on NBC in the 1970s and some of the great stuff that was on it.

Among the episodes that gave me childhood chills were "A Feast of Blood," with the bloodsucking brooch; "The Caterpillar," featuring an earwig crawling through Laurence Harvey's brain; "Pamela's Voice," starring Phyllis Diller as the shrewish late wife of John Astin who just won't shut up; and "Certain Shadows on the Wall," with the shadow of the dead aunt that can't be washed off or painted over. Creepy! And what stars this show had: Sally Field, Gale Sondergaard, Diane Keaton, Edward G. Robinson, Laurence Harvey...the list goes on and on. And one episode featuring Joan Crawford was Steven Spielberg's directorial debut!

Some of the stories were too sophisticated for my preteen mind, but thanks to KDOC-TV here in Los Angeles, I've been able to check them out again. I recently revisited "Silent Snow, Secret Snow," a wonderful mood piece about a troubled youth's withdrawal into a fantasy world with eloquent narration by Orson Welles.

And last night I watched "Sins of the Fathers," starring Geraldine Page, Barbara Steele and Richard Thomas. I remember seeing the episode when I was a kid, but I was too young to admire the astoundingly perverse and grim tone of this story. It goes like this: famine and plague are ravaging the 19th century Welsh countryside. Mrs. Craighill (Steele), whose husband has just died, sends her servant (diminutive character actor Michael Dunn) to find someone to perform the rite of sin-eating, which entails consuming vast amounts of food in the presence of the corpse, supposedly to "take in" the sins of the departed and allow him to arrive at Heaven's gates with a clean soul. Yecchh.

The servant arrives at the home of Dylan Evans, only to be told by his wife (Page) that he is too weak from famine and illness to perform the rite. Instead, she enlists her simple-minded son (Thomas) to go in his father's stead, instructing him, however, to bring the food back for them. Of course, this episode has the good old "Night Gallery" twist, which you can watch here (pardon the commercial interruptions). It's great to see Page and Steele in the same show, even though they have no scenes together, and Thomas is amazing in a role that is miles away from John Boy Walton, whom he'd just begun to play when this episode aired!

If you click on the video window, it will take you to the Hulu site where you can watch it full frame. It's the first story in the program and well worth checking out. Do it!

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