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The Golden Age of Television (The Criterion Collection)

4.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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(Nov 24, 2009)
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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The hugely popular live American television plays of the 1950s have become the stuff of legend. Combining elements of theater, radio, and filmmaking, they were produced at a moment when TV technology was advancing and making art accessible to a newly suburban postwar demographic. These astonishingly choreographed, brilliantly acted, and socially progressive “teleplays” constituted an artistic high for the medium, bringing Broadway-quality drama to homes across the country. The following award-winning programs—curated for PBS in the early 1980s as the series The Golden Age of Television, with recollections from key cast and crew members—were conceived by such up-and-comers as Rod Serling and John Frankenheimer, and star the likes of Paul Newman, Mickey Rooney, Rod Steiger, Julie Harris, and Piper Laurie.

  • Marty Patterns
  • No Time for Sergeants
  • A Wind from the South
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight
  • Bang the Drum Slowly
  • The Comedian
  • Days of Wine and Roses
  • The live kinescope broadcasts of Marty (1953), Patterns (1955), No Time for Sergeants (1955), A Wind from the South (1955), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), The Comedian (1957), and Days of Wine and Roses (1958)
  • Commentaries by directors John Frankenheimer, Delbert Mann, Ralph Nelson, and Daniel Petrie Interviews with key cast and crew, including Frankenheimer, Andy Griffith, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Richard Kiley, Piper Laurie, Nancy Marchand, Jack Palance, Cliff Robertson, Mickey Rooney, Carol Serling, Rod Steiger, and Mel Torme
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by curator Ron Simon and his extensive liner notes on each program


Finally, a holdable piece of crucial TV history -- kinescopes of eight of the finest original dramas of the 1950s era of live original television dramas. Many were later made into movies, but these are the initial presentations of Marty, Requiem for a Heavyweight, No Time for Sergeants, Bang the Drum Slowly, Days of Wine and Roses, A Wind from the South, The Comedian, and Patterns, from legendary writers like Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling. Interviews recorded for a 1980s PBS airing offer comments from actors (Rod Steiger, Andy Griffith, Cliff Robertson), directors and others. Added on DVD -- new commentaries from TV-trained directors like John Frankenheimer. There's also a wonderful booklet further exploring their place in TV history. (Set comes out Nov. 24.) --David Bianculli,

If you could somehow imagine an episode of The Office in which all edits and camera moves were done on the fly, the actors romping from set to set completely in character (and never flubbing a line), that s what you get with these minimovies. The appeal was closest to theater, a lineage that television has since traded in for an aesthetic of its own. But these oldies remain superb examples of craft and precision; they are part of the reason for the medium s ascendancy to cultural dominance. Criterion's box of eight of the most successful examples is eye-opening. The image quality is poor (these were shot on early kinescope technology), but amazingly, you won't care. The thrill of pulling off these plays before a rapt, nationwide audience is catching.

There are stars here, actors like Paul Newman and Julie Harris, at the dawn of their careers. But the dominant figure of live television, to judge from this collection, was Rod Serling, a writer who would go on to make a profound, spooky impact on imaginations during the next decade. Patterns, Serling's 1955 corporate indictment, is a still-fresh piece of proto Mad Men tension, with a conclusion that s almost shocking in its cynicism. (An Emmy winner for Serling, Patterns was the first TV program to inspire an encore, performed live a month later.) The following year brought Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight, a boxing drama that includes some of the dramatist's toughest dialogue. The Comedian (1957), starring a sour, egomaniacal Mickey Rooney, is Serling at his most daring. You can see the future work of Scorsese in these plays. --Time Out New York

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Andy Griffith, Myron McCormick, Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair, Van Heflin
  • Directors: Delbert Mann, Fielder Cook, John Frankenheimer, Mervyn LeRoy
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: November 24, 2009
  • Run Time: 478 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002M36R1O
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,868 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Golden Age of Television (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
Early in the days of television, the teleplay was made popular with independent one and two hour segments on shows named after the sponsor, such as "The U.S. Steel Hour". These were early showcases of the excellent talents of young writers such as Rod Serling. Because you didn't have to leave your living room to see a fine drama, they had a huge negative impact on the film industry and led to such innovations as making both the color film and the widescreen film common, since these were two things you couldn't get from television. Up to now many of these early teleplays have been shown only in the public domain if at all, because they only existed on kinescope, and then only for the purpose of rebroadcasting to different time zones. The concept of the rerun and syndication had not occurred to producers at the time these were made - with the exception of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. New digital techniques have allowed these early kinescopes to be transferred and viewed with better clarity than ever before, and this new package by Criterion boasts some fine dramas from the 1950's, many of which went on to be made into acclaimed motion pictures.


Marty (1953) - The motion picture was a Best Picture Oscar winner in 1955. This version has the role of Marty played by Rod Steiger and the role of the girl with which he connects played by Nancy Marchand. Written by Paddy Chayefsky.
Patterns (1955) - Written by Rod Serling. Show starred Richard Kiley as young executive Fred Staples. However, Staples can see his possible distant future in an aging executive (Ed Begley) who is constantly berated and belittled by the boss (Everett Sloane).
No Time for Sergeants (1955) - Andy Griffith is cast as Will Stockdale, a backwoods fellow who is drafted into the army.
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I want to address a specific issue concerning Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight", which is arguably the jewel in the crown of Criterion's "The Golden Age of Television" DVD set.

One of the problems with digital technology is that some people can't resist trying to "fix" older film and television resources. The overuse of clean-up software is a good example: When applied injudiciously, characters waving their arms or walking quickly will have their hands or feet virtually disappear. Over-correction can be worse than none at all, since new errors are introduced and the material is compromised.

Criterion apparently thought that the soundtrack on "Requiem" was too noisy, so they applied a noise-gate. The result is that when a character stops talking, low-level sounds like background conversations or the music score are abruptly cut off or, worse, sputter in and out, sounding like someone jiggling a loose speaker wire. Sometimes even the dialogue is affected. This is too bad, especially since it was unnecessary.

Criterion's source for the kinescopes was the early-'eighties program "The Golden Age of Television". Rhino Records released some of these same episodes ("Requiem", "Patterns", and "The Comedian") on VHS in 1993. I did a direct comparison between Rhino's VHS and Criterion's DVD, and saw that they appeared to derive from the same source: Both pictures are slightly dark on the left-hand side and lack contrast on the right-hand side, for example. But Criterion apparently tried to boost the contrast, which aggravated the left-to-right disparity. So, although Rhino's version has the inherent characteristics of VHS, their picture is more consistent.
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Format: DVD
This set is an enormous disappointment, and an affront to fans of classic television. What is presented in the set is a direct copy of material originally released on laserdisc, using the same kinescope film transfers that were originally done back in the 1980s.

"Requiem For a Heavyweight", for instance, has had minimal corrections made (a slight tint to the original transfer was removed, and the sound was re-synched, that sort of thing.) No serious effort was made to stabilize the image, or to remove considerable dirt and moire artifacts in the old transfer.

Not only would the above-mentioned corrections be fairly trivial to accomplish, there is now a process that has been developed called LiveFeed Video Imaging that restores the "live broadcast" look to programs that were preserved as kinescope films. And since these programs were originally aired as live performances, they're **exactly** the sort of material that the process was invented for! Why on earth would Criterion think people would rather have these shows look like jittery old movies?

When one considers the source of this release, the only words that come to mind are "travesty" and "lost opportunity". While a release of this quality might have been passable in say, 1985, this is the year 2009-- it's inexcusable for a company that heavily trades on its customer's passion for quality presentation to essentially ignore 25 years of advances in restoration technology. (And this from a set that lists 8 different restoration technicians **and** a QC Manager!)

For those who have the original laserdisc sets.. take heart-- there's no need to buy this. For everyone else, please keep in mind that (just as with "The Fugitive" and "My Three Sons"), there's nothing to be gained by encouraging companies to release substandard product, when they're fully capable of providing something vastly superior.
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