“Welcome to a Private Showing”: Night Gallery Debuts

“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way — not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.

“Our initial offering: a small gothic item in blacks and grays. A piece of the past known as the family crypt. This one we call simply The Cemetery. Offered to you now, six feet of earth and all that it contains. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Night Gallery.”

And with those words, Rod Serling gave TV viewers their first glimpse of a unique art display — designed not to be edifying, but to be eerie.

The date was November 8, 1969. Gone were the time-traveling tales and mind-bending sci-fi of The Twilight Zone. Man had finally reached the moon … and found a bunch of rocks. It was the season of high-profile assassinations and campus riots. Vietnam was in full swing.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that, as the host of a made-for-TV movie called “Night Gallery,” Serling served up a three-course meal of poetic come-uppance. Goodbye, reveries. Hello, revenge.

Yes, The Twilight Zone had some scary moments. Who can forget the faces of the doctors and nurses in “Eye of the Beholder“? Or the tiny tyrants of “The Dummy” and “Living Doll”? But you were more likely to take a bittersweet trip to Mars — or the past. Even when little Tina tumbled off her bed and through an errant dimensional hole in “Little Girl Lost,” things ended happily.

Not so in “Night Gallery,” which starts off with “The Cemetery.” Here we have Roddy McDowell playing the part of a black-sheep nephew who’s all too happy to speed up his wealthy uncle’s demise so he can inherit all his belongings. He has second thoughts after his uncle is buried nearby in the family plot, then seems reluctant to stay planted.

Up next: “Eyes” (Steven Spielberg’s maiden directorial effort). Joan Crawford is a blind dowager so determined to see that she pays a down-and-out loser to donate his sight — so that, with the help of a cutting-edge surgical procedure, she can see for a few hours.

Eyes

She gets her sight. Needless to say, she gets a bit more.

Then it’s off to South America, where we trace the “Escape Route” of a Nazi war criminal (played by Richard Kiley, star of the live TV version of Serling’s first big success, 1955’s “Patterns”). The authorities are constantly on his heels. His only relief comes via the local art museum, where he vividly imagines himself in a small fishing boat on a peaceful lake.

Escape Route3

Will he get away? Yes, but not the way he expects.

The Twilight Zone will always be Serling’s crowning achievement. “Night Gallery” may stand in its shadow, but for those who enjoy a good chill, it’s certainly worth a tour.

*The Night Gallery pilot movie is on the first disc of the Season 1 DVD. It’s available through Netflix. (Unfortunately, it’s not streaming yet.) The series that followed is available on Hulu. For a list of some of the best episodes, go here.

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 11/09/2011, in Night Gallery and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. That’s a very intriguing connection between the “Night Gallery” movie and the cultural zeitgeist. Sounds like you’re on to something.

    On the other hand, the Zone was not without its fair share of “poetic come-uppance,” either. “Time Enough at Last” is about a bookish misanthrope who finally gets what he always wanted: no people, just books. You can almost hear the episode saying in the final sequence, “There — hope you’re happy!” “Judgment Night” is all about everlasting retribution for a Nazi war criminal who escaped judgment in life. “What You Need” has a bully finally getting what’s coming to him. See also “The Four of Us Are Dying.” And those are just from the first season!

    I confess, my exposure to “Night Gallery” (the movie and the series) is limited, and I’d agree that, based on what I know, it seems scarier and more in a horror vein than TZ. But I think wrongdoers getting their just desserts may be something Serling’s vision always made room for.

    (And let me shamelessly plug something I wrote recently on a segment of the 1980s TZ that also had a theme of justice being served: “The Shadow Man” — http://thescifichristian.com/2011/10/sfc%e2%80%99s-halloween-tricks-and-treats-october-30-2011/. Sounds it might have been at home in the Night Gallery! Do you think you’ll ever touch on the 80s incarnation of the show in this blog?)

    Thanks again for a fun post!

    • Yes, retribution is a theme that comes up throughout Serling’s career, no question. I’ve even cited “Judgment Night” myself in past discussions of this topic. (Night Gallery’s Season 1 segment “The Lone Survivor,” in fact, is a variation on “Judgment Night.”) I could have said that the cultural zeitgeist I refer to here helped bring this kind of thing to the fore, so that a type of story we got occasionally on TZ became a real fixture on NG.

      Thanks for sharing your post — good piece. As for touching on the ’80s TZ … well, I won’t say “never,” but I’d have to reacquaint myself with it. I recall seeing the show when it first aired, but not since.

  2. I enjoy your posts very much. I’d like to make a pitch for THE SEASON TO BE WARY, Serling’s book that provided most of the material for the Night Gallery pilot but is virtually forgotten itself, to be the subject of a future piece. Best to you!

  3. “Color Scheme”?
    Ironically, some Serling stories should never be shot in “living color”.

    • Hmm. I realize you’re punning here, Joe, but I’m not quite sure how you mean it. Not in a racial way, I hope! If it were “would” instead of “should,” it would read differently, so I’m hoping you’ll elaborate.

      • Not the proper noun name of the past yet popular comedy show, “In Living Color,” but shot in (living) color, which lacks the gravitas that comes with most B&W film noir.

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