Tag Archives: Roddy McDowall

A short review of the pilot for “Night Gallery” (1969)

In some ways, I’m a poor excuse for a horror fan.  I haven’t seen any episodes of some of the classic anthology series that my friends regard as biblically important.  Such was the case with “Night Gallery” — at least until a couple of nights ago.  (You can find it online, if you look hard enough.)

I checked out the 1969 feature-length pilot for the series, and I’m glad I did.  It was good stuff, despite the now lamentable 1960’s music and camera effects that were occasionally distracting.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

There were three half-hour tales comprising the made-for-television movie: “The Cemetery,” “Eyes,” and “The Escape Route.”  “Eyes” was by far and away the best written and performed, but they were all quite good.  The twists for all three tales were quite satisfactory, and the tone was nice and macabre.  And the cast was terrific — Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis starred in the first segment; Joan Crawford and Tom Bosley appeared in the second.  It was weird seeing such youthful versions of actors that were familiar to me in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The format, along with Rod Serling’s unique narration, was engaging, if a little quaint.  It’s easy to see how this went on to become such a popular television show.

Here’s an odd trivium -in the establishing shots for the second segment, which takes place in New York City, the Twin Towers are missing.  That’s because construction had only just begun on the first tower in 1969, when this pilot was released.  The entire World Trade Center was completed three years later.



“Planet of the Apes” was a live-action television show?!

Why, yes.  Yes, it was.  It ran for a single season in 1974.

Was it any good?  No.  No, it wasn’t, judging from its pilot.  I at first typed “Planet of the Peas” in the headline you see above, and that typo was more entertaining than the actual program.

What we’ve got here is a poorly scripted, milquetoast rehash of the famous films, which (let’s be honest) were themselves high on camp and low on brains.

We have little of the charm of the movies, yet all of their cheesiness.  A spaceship is not designed to travel through time, but still helpfully features an ostentatious “chronometer.”  Our astronauts never suspect their real location until it is revealed to them — despite the fact that the apes speak modern, Americanized English.  Then our square-jawed heroes react minimally to the news that everyone they know or love is dead, along with their civilization.  Solving this central mystery is helped by an ancient, plot-convenient textbook, which thoughtfully contains pictures of both human-built machines and apes in cage.

Other flaws are more egregious.  Roddy McDowall and Booth Coleman both return as apes.  Confusingly, however, they do not reprise their film roles — they are actually different ape characters.  The humor falls flat.  (McDowall’s ape is a … nepotist?  Or something?)  And continuity with the movies is either clumsy or nonexistent.

I’d rate this short-lived program at a 3 out of 10 for three things that were neat.  One, the ape makeup and costuming is still fun.  Two, McDowall is always fun to watch and was a superb actor, even under all that makeup.  And, three, this really can scratch your nostalgia itch for popular 1970’s science fiction.  (Let’s dress up and play low-budget make-believe in the Southern California desert, shall we?)