A journey through time and space for Serling fans
Submitted for your approval, as the man himself would say at the beginning of each episode of the "Twilight Zone" television series, is "Rod Serling: Other Dimensions," a new UCLA Film and Television Archive series featuring the work of one of pop culture’s most enduring icons.
Starting tonight and running through Sept. 19, Serling fans will have the chance to see a wide range of the prolific dramatist’s work, including the expected ("The Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery") and the not-so-expected ("Planet of the Apes"). Over the course of 10 evenings at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater, the archive will screen some of Serling’s most compelling television and feature film work.
Among these gems is "Patterns" (1956), the film version of a television drama that launched Serling’s career. Starring Van Heflin as a newly hired employee who is horrified to learn he’s part of his boss’ plot to destroy an honorable but ineffectual co-worker, "Patterns" is a prime example of a Serling drama that deals with issues of personal morality.
"It’s funny — Serling attacks this in different ways in different works, but he often is asking the question, ‘Who are we? What are we made of?’ And he’s doing that with apes as much as he’s doing it with science fiction or fantasy or imaginary characters," said Shannon Kelley, head of public programs and co-curator of the archive series. "They are all somehow reflections of us."
"Planet of the Apes" (1968)
The series also includes the sort of topical dramas that Serling excelled at. On Aug. 26, the archive will screen a Hallmark Hall of Fame special from 1970 called "A Storm in Summer," a story about the touching friendship between a Jewish delicatessen owner and an African-American youth from the inner city.
"With material this interesting, it was hard to arbitrarily provide a cut-off point," said Mark Quigley, manager of the archive’s research and study center and co-curator of the series. "We ended up thinking that the series could have been longer in the end, but we’re really happy with everything that we were able to program. The series includes some things that are really gems from the ‘dark corners’ of the archive, which might be the only place where you would be able to see them."
Although Serling wrote several contemporary morality plays, he also produced lighter fare, including "Assault on a Queen," a caper film starring a Rat Pack-era Frank Sinatra in 1966. In the 1963 feature film "The Yellow Canary," Pat Boone stars as a debauched rock musician on a mission to find his kidnapped son, with Barbara Eden playing his estranged wife.
He also wrote the 1958 western "Saddle the Wind," starring John Cassavetes. "When you think Rod Serling, you don’t necessarily think ‘western,’ " said Quigley. "And the pairing of one of the most important independent filmmakers in cinema history, Cassavetes, speaking Rod Serling dialogue in a western — it’s just kind of a forgotten film that’s worthy of a re-look."
The series concludes with "Playhouse 90: Requiem for a Heavyweight," which aired on CBS in 1956 and was one of Serling’s very first important productions. The live teleplay, later adapted as a feature film, tells the story of a small-time boxer (Jack Palance) who suffers untold misery at the hands of his exploitative handlers.
"The constant in Serling’s work, and why he still resonates today, is his timeless humanism," Quigley said. "Thematically, Serling always championed the meek over the mighty, and he wasn’t afraid to hold a mirror up to human frailties to illustrate the potential grave consequences of the wrong road taken."
Special guests are scheduled to introduce several of the films, including Marc Scott Zicree, author of "The Twilight Zone Companion," who will appear tonight (July 27) to introduce "Saddle the Wind." Matthew Weiner, creator of AMC’s "Mad Men," will appear on Aug. 3. Carl Reiner will be on hand to introduce "A Storm in Summer" on Aug. 26, if his schedule permits.