Universal // 1971 // 1120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // November 11th, 2008
"Venture into the strange and bizarre world of Rod Serling's Night
Gallery, for 60 unequaled minutes of eerie and ghostly tales."
-- NBC Promo
In its first season, Night Gallery ran in rotation with three other programs as part of an NBC-TV experiment called Four-in-One. Two of the four -- The Psychiatrist and San Francisco International Airport -- died on the vine, but Night Gallery and the fourth program, McCloud, were renewed and received full season orders for 1971-72.
While not a ratings champ or critical favorite, Night Gallery had a few things going for it from the start. The most obvious, of course, was the respect and affection people felt for creator and host Rod Serling. His more famous and successful program, The Twilight Zone, had gone off the air five years before Night Gallery aired its pilot, and it was hoped that this anthology of the supernatural would become a worthy successor to that classic. The pilot featured three strong stories including the classic "Eyes," in which a young Steven Spielberg directed a self-caricaturizing Joan Crawford as a wealthy blind woman who chooses the wrong freakin' night to get an eyeball transplant. The first season of Night Gallery -- which consisted of a mere six episodes -- ended on an up note with the Emmy-nominated "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar."
The ratings were decent, not great, but enough for the renewal order and expansion from six episodes to 22. The Serling name, as identifiable with unusual and spine-tingling television as Hitchcock's name was synonymous with suspenseful movies, ensured an audience, at least at first.
The set-up was always the same: We are touring Rod Serling's "museum of the macabre." Serling shows us a painting that introduces the segment; sometimes, the paintings actually figure into the plots. Each show contained between two and four segments that were suspenseful, scary, and/or comedic, and featured famous-at-the-time names -- not unlike what The Twilight Zone had done and what Spielberg's Amazing Stories would attempt to do a decade and a half later.
Night Gallery: Season Two is a richly mixed bag, its 22 episodes yielding around 60 segments of wildly varying quality. None ever reaches the heights of "Tim Riley" or the better eps of The Twilight Zone; however, there are some memorable moments here, along with a fairly high number of clunkers. The writers often took pains to shock; unfortunately, those shocks were often none too shocking. Usually, so much time and attention was invested in setting up the "surprise" ending, that it was clear there was only way for the episode to go.
For the most part, the comedy here is lame -- as it often was on the The Twilight Zone. In a way, the silly and awkward "funny" Night Gallery episodes are really just descendents of such forgettable TZ efforts as Carol Burnett's turn in "Cavender is Coming" or the misguided tribute to Buster Keaton, "Once Upon a Time."
At its best, Night Gallery was creepy and well-acted. Among the better segments: Patrick O'Neal and Kim Stanley bantering and chewing the scenery in "A Fear of Spiders"; Edward G. Robinson bringing class and pathos to "The Messiah on Mott Street," an ecumenical Christmas-themed segment that tries too hard to be a new classic; Cameron Mitchell giving a terrific performance, with Elsa Lanchester a perfect foil, in the unsettling and entertaining "Green Fingers"; Richard Thomas in the atmospheric medieval drama "The Sins of the Fathers"; and what is arguably the most frightening, disturbing episode that the show ever aired, "The Caterpillar," in which Laurence Harvey's plan to use an insect to eliminate a love rival backfires -- horrifyingly.
This five -disc set is called Night Gallery: Season Two, not "The Complete Season Two." Missing is a segment called "Witches Feast" that starred Ruth Buzzi and Agnes Moorehead. According to the case, another segment, "Satisfaction Guaranteed," is incomplete, but there doesn't seem to be anything missing from the unfunny five-minute vignette starring Victor Buono. This set also contains four segments that were included as bonus material on the first season's set.
Visual quality varies from segment to segment; some look near pristine, while others sport a fair amount of nicks and damage. I'm guessing Universal didn't do any remastering here, which is a shame, as some of this was very shot. Production values were for the most part pretty strong on this show. Audio is a solid 2.0 mono track.
Each disc contains four or five episodes. A show can be viewed all the way through or its segments viewed individually. The menu screen offers a synopsis of each segment (but no cast information, unfortunately). There are commentaries from director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), who was a child when Night Gallery was first broadcast and talks more of its influence, and Night Gallery historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson. These are interesting and offer some nice behind-the-scenes info and trivia.
Also on the set are featurettes looking at the paintings that were used on the program and the artist responsible for them, Thomas J. Wright, and some network promos. The paintings are actually quite well done, and it's good that this set plays them up.
We get a good, half-hour retrospective, "Revisiting the Gallery: A Look Back," which features comments from a number of contributors, including directors John Badham and Jeannot Szwarc, and actors Joseph Campanella, Pat Boone, and Lindsay Wagner. These are generally pleasant reminiscences, nothing too deep or insightful, but it's a fun piece. I know there was a documentary produced, Art of Darkness: A Night Gallery Retrospective, that featured interviews with many of these same people. I wonder if "Revisiting the Gallery" was put together using any footage from this earlier piece.
The documentary touches very briefly on the strife that went on behind the scenes at Night Gallery. Serling was not happy with the show, feeling that the kind of control the he had over The Twilight Zone was not present here. He had actually conceived of the idea of a museum-based horror anthology shortly after the end of The Twilight Zone, proposing it as "Rod Serling's Wax Museum." As the second season of Night Gallery went on, Serling found himself more and more at odds with NBC and Universal, who wanted a more conventional "fright fest" kind of show rather than the ironic, introspective, message-based work that Serling preferred. "Mannix in a cemetery," was how Serling would later describe the evolved Night Gallery. The show limped through a shortened third season of half-hour episodes before being canceled.
It's tough to give Night Gallery: Season Two a flat-out recommendation, but it's even tougher to dismiss it out of hand. The series misses more than it hits, but it's still entertaining; at its worst, in that Love Boat kind of way, and at its best, unnerving and thought-provoking. While the guest stars might not have been actors who've developed rapturous followings, it's still fun to see folks like Leslie Nielsen, Michele Lee, Wally Cox, John Astin, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Robert Morse "back in the day." There's also Rod Serling with a perm, and some serious '70's style clothing, hair, and production. While the technical quality of the episodes isn't great, the supplements are very good.
Fans of Night Gallery will be over the moon about this set. Those new to the Gallery might want to consider a rental first to test the waters.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1120 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentaries from Guillermo Del Toro
* Commentaries from Night Gallery Historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson
* "Revisiting the Gallery: A Look Back"
* "Art Gallery: The Paintings in Rod Serling's Night Gallery"
* "The Night Gallery"
* IMDb: Art of Darkness: A Night Gallery Retrospective
* Jim Benson's "TV Time Machine"