E1 Entertainment // 1954 // 119 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // February 9th, 2010
Major Gaylord: God rest their souls...and God forgive me.
Chaplain: He'll do both, Major. I know he'll do both.
From the makers of Micarta countertop laminates and steam-dry irons comes television drama like never before...with three times the tension of the closest competitor!
Studio One, sponsored by the Westinghouse Electric Company, was an anthology show that debuted on the radio in 1947. A year later, it made the jump to the still-emerging world of television, offering an hour's worth of drama from some of the leading writers of the day. This set collects two episodes of the show written by The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.
In The Arena, newly-elected Senator James Norton (Wendell Corey) arrives in Washington after being appointed to his disgraced father's Senate seat. The junior senator seems to be more interested in seeking political revenge against his father's biggest foe, Senator Rogers (John Cromwell), than actually legislating; however, when he's given information to permanently disgrace Rogers, Norton is left with a choice between seeking vengeance and retaining his human dignity.
The Strike takes place in Korea, 1951, as Major Gaylord (James Daly) struggles to lead a demoralized and battered squadron of 500 soldiers. They're surrounded by encampments of Chinese soldiers and in bad need of supplies. Worse yet, a lapse in judgment by the major has left a small platoon of 20 men stranded behind enemy lines. Now, with the U.S. military preparing to bomb the enemy encampments to kingdom come, Major Gaylord must decide whether sacrificing the lives of 20 soldiers is worth saving 500.
Studio One is some kind of series. On the one hand, it features literary adaptations like Wuthering Heights, the original staging of 12 Angry Men, and the two short films featured in this set. On the other, it's a live broadcast sponsored solely by an appliance company. They really don't make them like this anymore, both commercially and dramatically.
Rod Serling, known mainly for creating The Twilight Zone and penning the screenplay for Planet of the Apes, is, perhaps, one of the best writers ever to hit the picture tube. The Arena and The Strike prove that he's more than capable of applying his wit and complex moral inquiries to drama outside of the sci-fi realm. Both installments are rich with interesting characters, great dialogue, and thought-provoking moral predicaments.
Junior Senator Norton, in The Arena, must choose between the brand of politics his father practiced, and the basic sort of human decency required to get things done in government. The story is paced to perfection, with Norton arriving in Washington to meet his Beltway insider, Feeney (played expertly by Chester Morris), and then running headfirst into battle with Rogers on the Senate floor. It's telling, and rather sad, that much of what goes on in The Arena is still very relevant today. If anything, politics hasn't changed much since this episode debuted in 1956.
The Strike is only slightly less successful out in the field than the suits back in Washington. The story of soldiers cornered in a bunker with a vacillating leader is a great one, and the impossible dilemma presented within is a universal one, but it takes too long to get to the point. The first half of the episode drags, and the claustrophobic set feels stagier than the Senate. It's the ending that really hits home, after plenty of strong speeches by the major's surrounding officers and a perfect closer by the chaplain (Roy Roberts).
Studio One dramas, like just about everything on TV in the '50s, were performed live. The episodes were staged once and then never seen again, which meant TV dramas struggled for legitimacy against the film, theater, and radio industries; it also created some pretty intense, urgent, and creative means of storytelling. Serling's scripts are paced like plays, but the camera work brings the audience closer to the actors. Since it was all happening live, you'll hear the actors deliver imperfect line readings, and the camera will slide around strange walls, all buying time until the next commercial break.
As I mentioned, the show is sponsored by Westinghouse, and each commercial for the latest, and greatest, innovation, presented by Betty Furness, remains intact. At first I wasn't too enthused to sit through a commercial for an old washing machine, but I soon became transfixed. Seeing Furness go on about the various features of the latest Westinghouse air conditioner is fascinating. This lady really knows her stuff! Still, if commercials aren't your bag, you can always skip ahead to the next chapter.
This DVD release doesn't come with any real special features, unless you count the excellent booklet with writing from Rod Serling. You shouldn't expect the best audio/video transfer either. The show was filmed live, so the only way they could record it was through a process called Kinescoping: they filmed a TV screen showing the episode as it was happening. The picture is extremely soft, with purply black levels and plenty of banding in the gray areas. It's pretty ugly, but it's also probably the best they could do. The same goes for the sound, which is imperfect; the volume changes wildly as the actors move around, or even turn their heads. Still, this isn't necessarily a package that needs to be judged by the transfer quality -- we should just be glad someone taped the thing in the first place.
Studio One is a gem from the early days of television. For fans of Serling, this is a great chance to see some of his pre-Twilight Zone stuff. If you can get past the awful Kinescoped transfer and the Westinghouse commercials -- it's like watching a 1950s YouTube video -- you'll be in for some great drama.
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #48
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: The Arena
* IMDb: The Strike