I'd love to know how this show differed from Rod Serling's original script.
Back in the 1950s, American television had some amazingly talented writers and directors--often better than the folks in Hollywood. Additionally, many of the best actors of the day abandoned movies in favor of television. The best of these shows were often the teleplays--live plays, usually written for television. Many great movies of the day actually first appeared as teleplays, such as "12 Angry Men", "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight". However, many of these great teleplays are lost. The rest are often very difficult to find. I found this one posted on YouTube. Sadly, it also has a screeching sound that periodically is heard and it just about makes your teeth shatter!
This installment of "Playhouse 90" stars Rod Steiger, William Shatner and James Gregory and it's the first of 3 versions of this story written by Rod Serling. The teleplay was redone just a few years later on BBC and was a cheap film many years later in 1998. Like many of the best episodes of the show, it's directed by John Frankenheimer--one of the best directors of the 1960s, with films like "The Manchurian Candidate", "Seconds" and "Seven Days in May" among his credits.
This story is set in some hellish, god-forsaken town. A guy is being held in jail and a lynch mob (headed by Shatner) is screaming for 'justice'. The sheriff (Steiger) apparently doesn't have a stomach for it and gives the man to the crowd! James Gregory plays a reporter that is on hand to witness the carnage.
While William Shatner is listed second in the credits, clearly this is HIS show. He completely dominates the scenes he's in and the script's a perfect fit for his style of acting. In many ways, it reminds me of one of his other wonderful performances--"The Intruder" (1962) where a rabble-rouser (Shatner) comes to a small southern town dealing with integration. In both cases, he's vicious, loud and very charismatic. It also makes for a really tough message--a film that hits you over the head like a 2x4! Again, this is not a complaint--subtlety isn't needed with a theme like this! And, it plays into a common theme for Rod Serling--who wrote several times about lynch mob mentalities and capital punishment.
And speaking of Serling, apparently the network gutted his script and the finished product was NOT what he'd envisioned. How it differed, I have no idea. Regardless, it's still a powerful teleplay about racism and hatred. The only thing I KNOW Serling wouldn't have liked was that screaming kid (it was WAY overdone)!
As for me, the one thing I didn't like about this well done episode is that it really never knew when to quit while it was ahead. The ending just went on and on and tended to lessen the strong impact that SHOULD have been there. Still, it's well worth seeing despite a few small faults.
FYI: Since reviewing this, I watched a documentary about Rod Serling (who wrote this). According to the film, this was originally supposedly about the horrible murder of Emmitt Till (a black man) was the original plot, but the network and sponsors were too cowardly to take this on.
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