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Night Gallery: Rod Serling’s Other Anthology Series
For Your Consideration
In 1969 Rod Serling hosted the pilot for “Night Gallery”. The subsequent TV series ran from December 1970 to May 1973. The series was innovative and went through some interesting changes through the series run. An art gallery is the setting for each show. Rod Serling draws the viewer’s attention to a painting that is about the segment the audience is going to watch. “The Simpson’s: Treehouse of Horror IV” spoofed this opening.[i] This article contains spoilers for some of the stories.
Night Gallery stories are horror stories. The episodes are 1 hour long[ii]. The initial format was three stories of similar length. Later in the series segment length varied from a few minutes, usually these were comedic, to stories that lasted the full hour. Some of the episodes had similar themes to “Twilight Zone” episodes.
[i] Bart Simpson hosts the episode and one of the stories spoofs a Twilight Zone episode.
[ii] This included commercials.
The pilot episode didn’t reveal the painting until after the segment. The first segment, appropriately, was about a painting. Osmund Portifoy (Ossie Davis) has been a butler to a man for many years. When the man was close to death Jeremy Evans (Roddy McDowall), came to the estate. There is a painting of the mansion and its surrounding grounds, including the family cemetery. Evans, alone one night, sees the painting change. The painting changes to show the man coming out of his grave and making his way to the house. Evans accidentally kills himself. Portifoy had switched the paintings with a series of copies in the hope Evans would go insane. Since the man no longer had any living relatives Portifoy gets the estate. One night Portifoy sees the painting change with Evans rising from the grave and approaching the house. Then it changes to Evans knocking on the door. Portifoy hears a knock on the door.
In the second segment, “Eyes”, Miss Claudia Menlo (Joan Crawford) a rich woman who was blind since birth wants an eye transplant. The procedure requires a living donor. The procedure would give her sight for a few minutes to a few hours but will leave the donor blind for life. The donor (Tom Bosley) needs money because he owes the mob. Miss Menlo blackmails the doctor (Barry Sullivan), who performed an illegal abortion on a woman who died during the procedure. Miss Menlo had everything she wanted to see arranged in her penthouse apartment. She was alone when she took of the bandages. In Rod Serling fashion the woman could see momentarily then all went dark. All was dark because of a blackout. The next morning she could see the sun but was losing her eyesight. She fell to her death.
The final segment, “The Escape Route”, is about former SS-Gruppenführer Helmut Arndt (Richard Kiley), who is living in South America. He is living under the name Josef Strobe. He knows he is on the top of the Mossad’s list of fugitive Nazis. In an art museum he sees a picture of a fisherman in a row boat on a lake. He returns to the museum over the next few days. He sees himself as the fisherman. One night, through the wall, he talks to Gretchen (Norma Crane) who lives in the adjacent apartment. She knows his past. He tells her how he would like to be at peace like the fisherman in the picture. Gretchen chides him that for him peace is unattainable. He repeatedly tells her to “go to hell!” She melodically retorts, “After you Herr Strobe.” At night the Mossad agents catch him. He escapes their grasp and runs away with the Mossad agents in hot pursuit. He runs into the closed museum. In the darkness he makes his way to where the picture of the fisherman was. He kneels down and prays to be put in the picture. He looks at the picture and screams. The Mossad agents run into the museum but Helmut Arndt is gone. The Mossad agents run out before the museum’s security arrives. One of the guards looks at the picture. He asks what happened to the picture of the fisherman. It had been replaced by a Picasso type picture depicting the Holocaust. Helmut Arndt was now a tortured soul in a Holocaust picture.
Much of the violence in the series is implied rather than shown. Almost all the segments involve the supernatural or science fiction. An exception is “Room with a View”. It is said there is no such thing as a perfect crime. “Room with a View” gives strong evidence this isn’t correct. Jacob Bauman (Joseph Wiseman) is an elderly, bed ridden man who is married to a much younger woman, Lila (Angel Tompkins). Lila is having an affair with their mechanic. The mechanic’s girlfriend is Frances (Diane Keaton), Jacob’s nurse. Frances talked about an altercation she had with another woman over her man. Jacob watches through a pair of binoculars as Lila goes with the mechanic to his room. Jacob asks Frances to take his gun to her boyfriend so he could clean it. Jacob tells her the gun is loaded and her boyfriend is in his room. Jacob follows Frances with his binoculars as she enters her boyfriend’s room. A couple of shots ring out.
The segment “Last Rights for a Dear Druid” relies on acting and the story rather than special effects. Jenny (Carol Lynley) is shopping with her friend Mildred (Donna Douglas). Jenny sees a life size statue that looks just like her husband Bruce (Bill Bixby) and buys it. Bruce does some research and learns the statue is supposed to be of a Druid priest who, according to myth, had the ability to turn his attackers to stone. They also learned it was one of a set of two statues. The other statue had the character holding a rod of some kind. Something comes over Bruce and he tries to barbecue the family cat. The maid’s scream snaps him out of it. Later he gives Mildred a passionate kiss. When he snaps out of it he tells Mildred she was probably going to tell his wife what happened. She retorts she would only tell his wife if he promised never to do it again. One night the statue comes to Bruce’s bedroom and tempts him to kill his wife. Bruce snaps out of it, gets a crowbar, and in his robe tried to smash the statue. The segment ends with Mildred selling a statue. The statue is Bruce turned to stone. He appears to be the other part of the statue set.
The segment “A Question of Fear” is an example of using the show’s science fiction and horror themes to give the audience a good twist. Colonel Dennis Malloy (Leslie Nielsen) is a mercenary who prides himself on being fearless. Dr. Mazi (Fritz Weaver) tells a story of a terrifying night he spent in a house and how it turned his hair white overnight. Colonel Malloy is unimpressed with Dr. Mazi’s story and attributes the doctor’s experience to cowardice. Dr. Mazi challenges Colonel Malloy to spend a night in the house. If Colonel Malloy does this Dr. Mazi will give him $15,000. There are strange things happening in the house. These range from lines in the dirt basement to a ghostly figure playing a piano. The figure’s hands would burst into flames. Colonel Malloy figured out the ghostly figure with burning hands was all done with animatronics. The next morning Colonel Malloy has a large breakfast waiting for him. Dr. Mazi talks to Colonel Malloy via a closed circuit television. Dr. Mazi explained the flaming hands. Colonel Malloy was fighting with the British Army in North Africa during World War II. His troops captured an Italian soldier, Dr. Mazi’s father. Mazi’s father was an expert pianist but not much of a soldier. Colonel Malloy threatened to burn the elder Mazi’s hands unless he gave Malloy the information he wanted. Dr. Mazi’s father didn’t know the information. Colonel Malloy poured gasoline of the elder Mazi’s hands and set them on fire. This destroyed his hands and the man’s spirit. Dr. Mazi tells Colonel Malloy the breakfast was poisoned and Malloy would turn into a large earthworm like Dr. Mazi’s assistant. This explainsthe dirt tracks in the basement. Colonel Malloy shoots himself to deny Dr. Mazi the sadistic revenge. Dr. Mazi ended by explaining the poison and earthworm scenario was the real hoax.
Leslie Nielsen also starred in the segment “Phantom of What Opera?” This was a comic role 9 years before “Airplane”. He is The Phantom. He warns the woman he is holding captive she must never remove his mask. The woman removes The Phantom’s mask, revealing his disfigured face. He grabs her by the throat and finds she is also wearing a mask. He removes her mask and finds she is similarly disfigured. It’s love at first sight.