|Joan Crawford in a dramatic moment|
Rod Serling's follow-up to The Twilight Zone was a new fantasy-horror series in which Serling introduced each episode from a gallery of paintings, each painting tied in to one of the night's stories. This telefilm was the pilot for the show, and featured three tales of the bizarre. In the first, "The Cemetery," Roddy McDowall murders his decrepit wealthy uncle (George Macready), then freaks out as he sees the old man apparently breaking out of his grave in stages in a painting that hangs on the wall -- is the corpse coming after him with murder on its mind? The manservant, Portifoy (Ossie Davis), figures in an amusing climax. In the second story, "Eyes," filthy rich Miss Menlo (Joan Crawford), who has been blind since birth, pays a poor fool (Tom Bosley) to give her his eyes for money even as her doctor (Barry Sullivan) tells her she'll only have sight for about eleven hours. The story is deliciously ironic if quite improbable. [This was one of Steven Spielberg's earliest assignments; Crawford thought he was the coffee boy!] The third tale, "The Escape Route," is a highly satisfying tale in which a Nazi war criminal (Richard Kiley) in South America dreams of finding peace from "persecution" [!] in a pastoral painting hanging in the local museum, but winds up in a much more fitting scenario. Serling has scripted some fine dialogue for the stories, and gotten some top-flight actors to give their all for the all-important pilot. Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis both deliver the goods in the first segment; Crawford and Sullivan are terrific in the second [with solid support from Bosley]; and Kiley, in an unusual turn for him, is splendid as the Nazi Strobe, with Norma Crane making quite a positive impression as the contemptuous prostitute, Gretchen. Serling is as adept a host as ever and the three directors are on top of things.
Verdict: Easy to see why this went to series. ***.