The Golden Age of Television (The Criterion Collection)
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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, 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
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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. Harry Clark plays the sergeant that is his nemesis. This play was the basis for the TV Show "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C" which ran from 1964 until 1969.
A Wind from the South (1955) - Stars Julie Harris.
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956) - Written by Rod Serling with Jack Palance as the slow-witted mountain of a man who suddenly finds his boxing career over and doesn't know what to do next.
Bang the Drum Slowly (1956) - Written by Mark Harris and starring Paul Newman in one of his earliest performances. It's a story of a baseball team that is a thinly disguised version of the New York Yankees whose catcher gets Hodgkin's disease and tries to conceal his ailment.
The Comedian ((1957) - Written by Rod Serling and starring Mickey Rooney as a difficult TV comedian who picks on his brother (Mel Torme) and drives one of his gag writers (Edmund O'Brien) to the brink of insanity by his behavior.
Days of Wine and Roses (1958) - Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie are a couple whose lives are ruined by alcoholism.
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
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.
But the real problem with Criterion's "Requiem", as I said, is the soundtrack: The sound on the Rhino release is fine, but that on the Criterion version is painful to listen to. It's bad. It would be acceptable if there were no other choice, but, judging by the far-superior sound on Rhino's tape, there was no reason to tamper with it. I had them playing side by side for this comparison; every time I heard a particularly bad passage on the Criterion disk, I listened to the same passage on the Rhino tape, and Rhino's sound was always clear, with no drop-outs.
What a shame! Rod Serling's first-produced television plays, "Patterns" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight", are two of the greatest live TV dramas ever, and to have the first and only DVD release of "Requiem" mishandled so badly is a grave disappointment.
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