Tag Archives: Rod Serling

A Long Time Till Dawn (1953, Richard Dunlap)

A Long Time Till Dawn is usually able to keep disbelief completely suspended. It’s a television play and Rod Serling’s teleplay is more ambitious than the budget or the constraints of the medium. Most of the sets are interiors and fine–a diner, a living room, a bedroom. They can even get away with a front porch, though it is where Dawn stretches its visible credulity the most.

The porch scenes are also a stretch due to Ted Osborne’s performance. Osborne is just a small town man. His daughter-in-law (Naomi Riordan) has suddenly come to live with him, running away from New York City, back to small town New Jersey. It just happens she leaves New York the day before her husband (James Dean) gets out of a six-month stint in prison.

Riordan’s timing never gets discussed. It’s apparently just narrative efficency, not her trying to hide from Dean. Though when Rudolf Weiss, playing Dean and Riordan’s kindly New York neighbor (a delicatessan owner), tells Dean about Riordan leaving it’s like a) she doesn’t want Dean to know where she went and b) she’s been gone a while.

Weiss tells Dean about Riordan’s departure just after copper Robert F. Simon has stopped by the diner to warn Dean not to become a repeat offender.

So of course Dean has to beat up Weiss to find out where Riordan has gone. Then he heads home to Osborne and Riordan’s dread and hope. Simon follows soon after to investigate Weiss’s assault. Because even though everyone can just drop everything and go to small town New Jersey, Dean and Riordan never did it before Dean’s small time crook phase.

From the dialogue, it seems like that phase was about a sixth of the three years Dean and Riordan spent in New York. Serling’s teleplay has very, very little logic going for it. Ditto Dunlap’s direction (the finale has Osborne talking about some character who was just onscreen but Dawn forgot to take notice).

At its best, Dunlap’s direction is utterly mediocre. More often it’s a problem. Dean’s excellent, Simon’s excellent, Weiss is excellent. Riordan is okay. Osborne is not. He gets these lengthy monologues and he clutches the melodrama heartstrings so tightly their effectiveness withers.

Up until the third act, though, it really seems like Dawn is going to make it. But it doesn’t. The third act set pieces are poorly executed–thanks to Dunlap and the budget–and Serling’s denouement, largely thanks to Osborne, is a fail.

It’s a shame. Dean’s phenomenal, even when the writing is a little weak. When it’s more than a little weak, not even he can do anything with it (not with Dunlap’s direction “aiding” him), but his performance is mostly great. Simon also makes a lot out of his part. Serling gives the characters a lot of texture–except Osborne, which is bad–and Simon takes advantage.

A Long Time Till Dawn needs a better director, a better performance in the Osborne part, and a few rewrites.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Dunlap; written by Rod Serling; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring James Dean (Joe Harris), Ted Osborne (Fred Harris), Naomi Riordan (Barbie), Robert F. Simon (Lt. Case), and Rudolf Weiss (Poppa Golden).


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Patterns (1956, Fielder Cook)

Patterns is a short and simple picture. Van Heflin is the new man at a corporation; he suspects he’s there to replace his assigned mentor, Ed Begley. He has a ruthless boss (Everett Sloane) and a similarly ruthless wife (Beatrice Straight). Will Heflin, called a rising young man (Heflin was forty-eight on release), give in to the temptations of money or will he remain true to his ideals, the ones he got playing football? He was All-American, after all.

The first half hour of the film is spent setting up the rest–there’s no detail to the business, presumably because screenwriter Rod Serling wants Patterns to encompass almost any business. There’s also very little detail to anything else. The one scene Begley gets to himself has his teenage son (Ronnie Welsh) chastising him for not being a better father. The lack of detail gets to be a problem because it helps turn Sloane into a shallow villain, something Serling’s lack of characterization is already enabling.

Heflin’s phenomenal. Regardless of being suspiciously old for the part as written, he glides through it. There’s a lot of talking (Serling adapted the screenplay from a teleplay) and a lot of listening for Heflin, a lot of acting and reacting. He excels at both. Unfortunately, the only person who really holds up against him is Elizabeth Wilson, who plays Begley’s former secretary. She also gets a lot of implied characterization; Straight, unfortunately, gets none.

Outstanding photography from Boris Kaufman. Director Cook doesn’t get in the way of the actors or the screenplay; both are kind of a problem. The lack of personality from Sloane is a real issue. Begley’s pretty good, but his part’s thin. He’s the supporting player in his own story.

Maybe if Patterns offered a single surprise, a single moment not telegraphed in those first thirty minutes (or even if the subsequent sixty minutes followed a similar–no pun intended–pattern of pacing), there might be something to it. But Serling wants to do a particular kind of thing and the film does and it’s thin. Great performances from Heflin and Wilson aside–and Kaufman’s photography–it’s just too slight.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Fielder Cook; written by Rod Serling; director of photography, Boris Kaufman; edited by Dave Kummins and Carl Lerner; production designer, Duane McKinney; produced by Michael Myerberg; released by United Artists.

Starring Van Heflin (Fred), Ed Begley (Bill), Everett Sloane (Mr. Ramsey), Elizabeth Wilson (Miss Fleming), Beatrice Straight (Nancy), Ronnie Welsh (Paul) and Joanna Roos (Miss Lanier).


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Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963, Richard Donner)

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet races. Director Donner and writer Richard Matheson pace out the episode perfectly–though it being a “Twilight Zone” episode means they can also utilize some of the series’s credit formula to great effect.

The episode has a few phases. Introducing William Shatner and Christine White (they’re married, he’s just recovering from his mental breakdown while on an airplane), putting Shatner in the window seat, him seeing the gremlin. Those events all happen in the first phase. Second is him trying to get help with the gremlin, third is him taking it into his own hands. These phases take place inside a three act structure. It’s an intense story, made more intense through the direction and then Shatner’s performance.

Shatner does fantastic work, as the viewer has to believe they’re going crazy with him. There’s a hesitation; Shatner, Matheson and Donner make sure the viewer gets past.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; written by Richard Matheson; “The Twilight Zone” created by Rod Serling; director of photography, Robert Pittack; edited by Thomas Scott; produced by Bert Granet; aired by the CBS Television Network.

Starring William Shatner (Bob Wilson), Christine White (Julia Wilson), Asa Maynor (Stewardess) and Ed Kemmer (Flight Engineer).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE FAVOURITE TV SHOW EPISODE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY TERENCE TOWLES CANOTE OF A SHROUD OF THOUGHTS


Third from the Sun (1960, Richard L. Bare)

Third from the Sun suffers from a far too obvious ending. The episode forecasts it a few minutes early and then it all falls into line. However, it’s an obvious twist ending and it is a “Twilight Zone” after all, so who knows if it’s just predictable now because of the series having such an impact.

Mostly the episode is Fritz Weaver freaking out about coming nuclear war and having to convince his family they need to escape. Weaver does really well during his paranoia scenes, even though he eventually has to start sharing the episode.

Joe Maross and Edward Andrews show up about the same time. Well, Andrews has a long bit at the beginning too; he’s the villain. Maross is Weaver’s sidekick. Once the paranoia ends for Weaver, both Maross and Andrews have a lot more to do.

Bare shoots everything tilted (more obvious foreshadowing), but it’s good.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Richard L. Bare; teleplay by Rod Serling, based on a story by Richard Matheson; “The Twilight Zone” created by Serling; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by Bill Mosher; produced by Buck Houghton; aired by CBS Television Network

Starring Fritz Weaver (William Sturka), Joe Maross (Jerry Riden), Denise Alexander (Jody Sturka), Lori March (Eve Sturka) and Edward Andrews (Carling).