Like so many of the best films of the 1950s, this one started out as a teleplay that was broadcast live on television. While the idea of doing live original theater on TV may seem impossibly daunting, there were many wonderful TV shows of the era that did just that--broadcasting brilliant scripts and starring some of the best actors available. Fortunately, some of these still exist, as they were copied using a Kinescope for rebroadcast on the West Coast (due to time zone differences). However, these Kinescopes are pretty ugly copies--but at least they do exist. Oddly, however, very few of these are available on DVD today and I am thrilled that Criterion has released this small collection of the best of these shows.
I have already seen the movie version of "Patterns" and was surprised that much of the cast repeated their roles on film. Aside from a lead change (the TV version starred Richard Kiley and the movie starred Van Heflin), the other two main roles (Ed Begley and Everett Sloane) were reprised--which is fortunate, as both were terrific. Oddly, Begley played a very sad and likable guy--a bit of a departure from his usual parts. As for Sloan, he played a despicable man--and did a great job of it.
The teleplay begins at a corporation. Sloan is the boss and is making various decisions--one after the other. Then, the scene abruptly switches to Kiley--who is preparing for his first day as an executive with the corporation. He's eager but nervous. However, his nervousness soon turns to horror as he watches the boss behave in a cruel and vindictive manner--attacking the sweet-natured guy played by Begley. What has Kiley walked into here?! See it for yourself, as it's a very dark and gritty piece--and one of the best teleplays. In fact, I even think it's a bit better than the subsequent movie. Exceptional acting, writing and direction--this is some production. You'll particularly like watching Sloane's amazing performance.
This show was so well received when it aired that it was re-aired just a few weeks later--something unheard of at the time. In addition, the writer, Rod Serling, received an Emmy for the show and the film version came out just a year later.
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In 1994 there was a series of classic television dramas of the 1950s that were shown in kine-scope versions for the first time in decades. They included the original REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT with Jack Palance, Kim Hunter, and Ed and Keenan Wynn, and THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES with Cliff Robertson. Another of the shows was PATTERNS, starring Richard Kiley, Ed Begley Sr., and Everett Sloan. PATTERNS (with a first rate screenplay by Rod Sterling) would eventually be turned into a movie with Van Heflin in the Kiley part, as well as Begley and Sloan repeating their parts. The two works are equally good, but I'm giving pride of place to the original television version. Done live it was flawlessly performed by the cast. And the script dealt with a central issue of American Business and ethics - indeed if ethics can be found in American Business. For as Sloan's character, the ruthless head of the corporation Walter Ramsay points out, there can be no room for sentiment in high echelon big business.
The plot of PATTERNS is actually quite simple. Walter Ramsay has just hired Fred Staples (Kiley) as a new idea man for his corporate empire. Staples is especially good in getting creative incentives and planning for the employees of the firms he has helped. But this area of corporate - labor planning has been traditionally handled by the senior Vice President of the firm, Andy Sloane (Begley). Sloane's years in the firm goes back to it's founding by Ramsay's father, and he has become a beloved fixture with the employees. He has a paternal touch with them. The problem is, according to Walter Ramsay, it is out of step with current needs for the firm's expansion, and even it's survival.
What occurs is the education of Staples and the destruction of Sloane. The two men actually get to see each other as partners - both admire the other's strengths. But for all their attempts to coordinate their work they find Ramsay getting into the way of an amicable partnership. Ramsay is determined to drive Sloane into retirement, and put Staples in his place. He does not care how beloved Sloane's paternalist approach is - it is more in step with the best corporate planning of say the 1920s or 1930s than the 1950s. The pressure mounts on Sloane, and affects his home life - he has a son, and starts drinking at his office late at night so the boy does not see him inebriated. Staples tries to help, but whenever he offers to adopt some of Sloane's suggestions at meetings Ramsay shoots the gestures down.
Still the two men create a plan for the betterment of the work force, that may create more productivity but still make the workers feel creative and useful. Staples feels that it will reestablish Sloane's self-esteem, and it does have an uplifting affect on Andy. But Ramsay steps again - giving full credit for the plan to Staples, and suggesting Sloane's ideas were the same useless and old retreads of recent years. The final board meeting becomes a killing ground, as the humiliation and pressure leads to Andy Sloane's fatal heart attack.
Staples comes out of this an avenging monster. He confronts Ramsay, and accuses him of "beating" Andy to death. Ramsay is not proud of that result, but he insists that the important thing was to get new ideas and blood into the upper echelons of the corporation for it to survive and grow. In the end, although both men know they can never be friendly or close, both realize that they will have to give their all to keep the corporation strong and healthy.
Sterling was too good a writer to make his characters straw men. Staples is too young and naive at the start, and grows up only when the tragedy hits. Richard Kiley was perfect (in 1955) for that role. Begley's Sloane is a good, decent man, but we see that he has become too soft - his good points have their bad side (culminating in his shot nerves and drinking). As for Sloane's Ramsay, he is Machiavellian in pursuing the destruction of Begley, but he is not actually evil. We see him dining with Kiley and his wife, and commenting on his father's recipe for making coffee (it included using chopped chocolate bits), and later - when Kiley tries to defend Begley's past record - Sloane's Ramsay sighs and points out that Begley once was very good, but then Stanley Steamers were once great automobiles!
PATTERNS was a triumph of television drama - and hopefully available on DVD. With a first rate script and three top notch performances it was a memorable moment in the golden age of television live drama.
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