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
SPECIAL EDITION THREE-DISC SET FEATURES:
- 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, tvworthwatching.com
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