Sunday, September 25, 2016

Big Business Back When: Rod Serling and Fielder Cook's PATTERNS comes to Blu-ray

While screen- and television-writer Rod Serling, below, was best-known for creating and writing the TV series The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, his best work may very well have been the script he wrote for the 1955 "live" television special aired on the Kraft Television Theater and the following year was made into a motion picture (yes, they used to do that sort of thing), both of which were titled PATTERNS. The movie version -- which makes its Blu-ray debut this week -- is now 60 years old. It holds up astonishingly well.

Featuring not a trace of Serling's now hallmark creepy/other-worldly plots and tone, Patterns is a tale of big business and Capitalism in the middle of the last century, as it appears to move from something benign and reasonable into the beginnings of the kind of dog-eat-dog free-for-all exemplified by today's Big Pharma, Monsanto, and Donald Trump.

This is a myth, of course. Big business and Capitalism have always been dog-eat-dog. It just depended on who was running the particular show. In this tale, the man who owns and runs the company, Mr. Ramsey (played by Everett Sloane, shown standing at left, below, and at left again, three photos down), is nothing like the kindlier, gentler man who was his father, a fellow who knew and cared about his employees.

Ramsey fils is cut-throat and he expects his underlings to be so, too -- including his newest hire, Staples (no relation to the current office behemoth), played by Van Heflin., below, left.

The pivotal character here, however, is an older man, Briggs (the superb Ed Begley, above, right: Watch him in the scene in which he crushes the eggshell), a man left over from the father's regime, who tries to keep the company on its former course. Ramsey is determined to rid the firm of Briggs, while Staples attempts to prevent this.

The supporting distaff side is performed very well by Beatrice Straight (as Mrs.Staples, above, right) and Elizabeth Wilson, below, left, as Briggs' and then Staples' kindly secretary. Other familiar faces (Andrew Duggan, for one, shown left, two photos below) fill out the rest of the able cast. Serling's writing is first-rate -- smart, real and avoiding the melodramatic, even when voices are at their highest decibel level. When one character tells another by way of a compliment -- "You admit mistakes. You don't pass the buck" -- one can only marvel at how far down we've come that so many Americans now believe in a man like Mr. Trump who is unable to ever admit a mistake and always passes the buck. (Note his recent handling of his Obama "birther" nonsense: Refusing to admit he was wrong, he now blames it all on Hillary's 2012 campaign.)

Serling's writing, the direction by Fielder Cook and all the performances are simply terrific -- moment to moment gold from everyone on screen. The Blu-ray transfer here is also very good, the best I've seen so far from The Film Detective. The movie also reminds us -- unconsciously, of course -- of the place of women in our society back in the mid-20th Century. Even so, it also takes us back to a time when people -- employees -- still mattered. And when decent employment was available for so many. (Except, of course, people of color. We don't see a whole lot of them here.)

The movie's final scene is simply dynamite, as Ramsey and Staples face off. The outcome must have seemed amazing in its own era. In fact, it still is. If you've never seen Patterns, now's the time. And if you have, back in its day, you'll probably want to take a look again. From The Film Detective and running just 83 minutes, the Blu-ray arrives this coming Tuesday, September 27, for purchase, and I hope (somewhere, somehow), rental.

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