Friday, May 10, 2019
The Eyes Have It
This is my entry in the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by The Pale Writer and The Poppity.
After The Twilight Zone went off the air, Rod Serling tried his hand at a few other projects, including a TV western called The Loner and the screenplay for the first Planet of the Apes film. Eventually he put is hand in the cookie jar that made a name for him with the Zone by developing an entirely new series called Night Gallery. The premise of this series was a private nighttime viewing of some of the more odd paintings in an art gallery, shown to the audience by Serling himself. The two or three segments in each episode stemmed off these odd paintings.
Some of the guest stars were familiar names, not only in TV but in the movies. Joan Crawford, who starred in one segment of the pilot episode was not the only big name. Larry Hagman, John Astin, Imogene Coca and Burgess Meredith, all familiar TV names appeared in episodes, as did Leslie Nielsen, Barry Fitzgerald, Vincent Price, Sally Field... the list goes on and on. And a few future stars from behind the camera made some of their early work on the show. John Badham, director of such classics as Saturday Night Fever, the 1979 version of Dracula and WarGames got his start on the Gallery as did the director of today's entry, Steven Spielberg. (And, BTW, this episode actually predates was it commonly referenced as his debut, Duel, by a year or so.)
Joan Crawford was born in 1906 in my home state of Texas (San Antonio, to be exact), as Lucille LeSueur. She had a remarkable career in film. Starting out as a dancer on stage, she gravitated towards Hollywood where, within 3 years, she was getting star status. Arguably her best early performance was in the film Grand Hotel. She never had to look back after that.
Spoiler alert! By necessity I have to reveal the ending to this episode. If you wish to watch the episode first that's fine.
Night Gallery (episode "Eyes" original broadcast Nov. 8, 1969):
Claudia Menlo (Joan Crawford) is a bitter, selfish woman. She has been blind since birth, but has a lot of money, so she should be happy. But she is not. She wants to see, even if only for a brief time.
As a result, she has made a deal with a poor shlub, Sidney Resnick (Tom Bosley). Resnick is an inveterate gambler who is in debt to a bookie for $9000, and has made a deal with Ms. Menlo: to donate his eyes to her for the money to pay off his gambling debts.
But she needs a doctor to perform the surgery. Fortunately her private doctor, Dr. Heatherton (Barry Sullivan) has the necessary skills. But he refuses to do it. That of course is no obstacle for Ms. Menlo. She has some incriminating evidence against the doctor with which she can blackmail him.
See, some time ago the poor doctor succumbed to that evil temptation that happens to some married men. He had an affair with a woman who was not his wife. The result was that he got the girl pregnant, and then encouraged her to have an abortion. And since he had a reputation and a marriage to protect, and abortion was still illegal at this point in time, the doctor to whom he sent her to perform it was less than reputable and the poor girl died on the operating table.
Ms. Menlo is not above doing anything to get her way. She is a selfish old hag and tells Dr. Heatherton she will ruin his career and his marriage if he does not perform the eye transplant. The doctor reluctantly performs the operation. But not without warning his patient that the procedure may have limited success. At best she can only hope for about 12 hours of sight before the transplant fails. But for this limited time, Ms. Menlo is willing to follow through.
After the operation, Dr. Heatherton warns that she should take it easy and expose herself to light gradually. He then leaves her, intentionally turning on the bright living room light as he leaves. Impatiently, Ms. Menlo removes the bandages quickly, but finds herself staring at the bright light of the chandelier. Then everything goes black.
But this twist is not the final denouement. As she stumbles around in the darkness we are gradually exposed to the truth. There has been a blackout in the city. Ms. Menlo has the misfortune of gaining eyesight only to be plunged into total darkness again by fate.
As day breaks, she does finally get to see. She finds herself gazing at a beautiful sunrise.
But even as she looks at it, the operation's success gradually runs out of time. She reaches out pleadingly as the new eyes go blind again, inadvertently pressing against her penthouse window, which is cracked from the previous night's flailing and tumbles out to her death.
Night Gallery continued in it's tradition of "just desserts", as Ms. Menlo gets a comeuppance that she truly deserves. This proved to be one of Crawford's final appearances on film as she passed away a few years later from a heart attack, but it is one of the better late film portrayals.
Time to fire up the Plymouth for the drive home. Drive safely, folks.