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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 3 Discs
FEATURES
  • The live kinescope broadcasts of Marty (1953), Patterns (1955), No Time for Sergeants (1955), A Wind from the South (1955), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), The Comedian (1957), and Days of Wine and Roses (1958)
  • Commentaries by directors John Frankenheimer, Delbert Mann, Ralph Nelson, and Daniel Petrie
  • Interviews with key cast and crew, including Frankenheimer, Andy Griffith, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Richard Kiley, Piper Laurie, Nancy Marchand, Jack Palance, Cliff Robertson, Mickey Rooney, Carol Serling, Rod Steiger, and Mel Torme
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer

The Golden Age of Television


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Delbert Mann, Fielder Cook, Alex Segal, Daniel Petrie, Ralph Nelson, John Frankenheimer
Starring: Rod Steiger, Nancy Marchand, Everett Sloane, Richard Kiley, Ed Begley, Andy Griffith, Julie Harris, Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, Kim Hunter, Paul Newman, Mickey Rooney, Edmond O'Brien, , Cliff Robertson, Piper Laurie
2009 | 478 Minutes | Licensor: Sonny Fox Productions

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $49.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #495 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: November 24, 2009
Review Date: November 10, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

The hugely popular live American television plays of the 1950s have become the stuff of legend. Combining elements of theater, radio, and filmmaking, they were produced at a moment when TV technology was advancing and making art accessible to a newly suburban postwar demographic. These astonishingly choreographed, brilliantly acted, and socially progressive "teleplays" constituted an artistic high for the medium, bringing Broadway-quality drama to homes across the country. The following award-winning programs-curated for PBS in the early 1980s as the series The Golden Age of Television, with recollections from key cast and crew members-were conceived by such up-and-comers as Rod Serling and John Frankenheimer, and star the likes of Paul Newman, Mickey Rooney, Rod Steiger, Julie Harris, and Piper Laurie.

Forum members rate this film 8.3/10

 

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PICTURE

Criterion presents a box set of The Golden Age of Television (a program that appeared on PBS during the early 80ís), presenting a selection of live television broadcasts from the 1950ís, including the programs Marty, Patterns, No Time for Sergeants, A Wind from the South, Bang the Drum Slowly, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Comedian, and Days of Wine and Roses. They are all spread over three dual-layer discs and are presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.33:1.

Because of how these programs were ďrecordedĒ the transfers are severely limited. These television episodes were broadcast live on the east coast and then recordings were then played for the west coast three hours later. Video recording was not available yet so the broadcasts were preserved using the ďKinescopeĒ process. The basic idea behind it was that a film camera (16mm or even 35mm) was placed in front of a television monitor as the program was being broadcast, recording it. With some adjustments in frame rates and other areas they could preserve a somewhat decent recording. Of course this opens up all sorts of problems that cannot be helped. The image can be blurry, the curvature of the monitor can distort the image, there may be still frame rate issues, interlacing issues, contrast can be off, and then the monitor could also possibly have a glare or even dirt on it, or the framing could be incorrect and you see monitor edges.

All things considered the transfers found here arenít as bad as one would probably think but theyíre still not pretty. Iíll first state the digital transfer itself looks fine. There are some blocking issues noticeable occasionally throughout and some noise and contrast varies wildly (though that has more to do with the source.) Also half of the episodes are interlaced while the other half looks to be progressive. Basically the image is limited by the problems fairly common with materials recorded using Kinescope. The image is never all that sharp and detail is non-existent. The image can look distorted but this has to do with the curvature of the monitor the broadcast was being displayed on. The image can look washed out at times, with contrast pumped up to extreme levels in certain instances. A couple of episodes (most notable in Patterns) are jittering effects from quick movements. You can also make out debris on the monitors throughout entire programs, and then sometimes you can make out the corners of the monitor, which are quite noticeable during A Wind from the South.

The broadcasts were also recorded on film and little has been done in cleaning up the prints. There are plenty of scratches, hairs and marks, along with vertical lines. This aspect is a little disappointing but considering all the other problems with the source I guess I canít blame them for not feeling a thorough restoration was worth it.

Iím not a real expert on the Kinescope process so Iím not sure how much things could have been improved. The transfers are acceptable, though, and more than likely about as good as theyíre going to get.

5/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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Marty

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Marty

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Marty

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Patterns

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Patterns

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Patterns

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No Time for Sergeants

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No Time for Sergeants

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No Time for Sergeants

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A Wind from the South

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A Wind from the South

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A Wind from the South

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Bang the Drum Slowly

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Bang the Drum Slowly

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Bang the Drum Slowly

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Requiem for a Heavyweight

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Requiem for a Heavyweight

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Requiem for a Heavyweight

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The Comedian

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The Comedian

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The Comedian

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Days of Wine and Roses

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Days of Wine and Roses

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Days of Wine and Roses

AUDIO

All eight programs are presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. They all vary in quality though none of them sound exceptional in any way. They can sound distorted and harsh (specifically the music) and dialogue can be incredibly hard to hear at times, even washing out. I had to turn on the subs during parts of Marty, the beginning of which I found nearly unintelligible. Otherwise the rest are adequate enough and you can make out the dialogue, despite it being a tad edgy. There was also very little done in the way restoration here, with cracks, pops, and scratches still present.

4/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterionís release almost mirrors two early laserdisc releases from Image Entertainment, also called The Golden Age of Television except this release includes A Wind from the South in place of The Defender. While I canít confirm first hand since I havenít seen the laserdisc, looking at the supplements I suspect the supplements have been ported over for the similar programs.

Disc 1 contains three programs: Marty (52-minutes), Patterns (53-minutes), and No Time for Sergeants (50-minutes).

Marty first features an audio commentary by director Delbert Mann, running the whole program. It does sound as though he is watching the film. In it he talks a lot about screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and the script, the whole era of live television dramas, what it was like to shoot one, and even talks about the film version that followed. Itís quite informative in its entire running time and Mann makes a great commentator, making this probably the best one on the set.

All of the programs on the set also feature introductions with various participants, these interviews recorded in 1981 for the PBS broadcast of The Golden Age of Television (the 1981 date will also explain the cheesy wipes and effects that occur.) They played as introductions to the program and featured members of the cast and crew. For Martyís 6-minutes we get director Delbert Mann, and actors Rod Steiger, Nancy Marchand, and Betsy Palmer. Mann repeats his comments in the commentary about getting the script from Paddy (which he quickly needed after turning down another script) while Steiger, Marchand, and Palmer only get brief time recalling the shoot and being recognized after the airing (Steiger disappointingly gets very little time.) Eva Marie Saint hosts this intro.

Patterns only gets an introduction hosted by Keenan Wynn, and featuring actor Richard Kiley and director Fielder Cook. It runs 6-minutes.

Wynn talks a bit about his work in live television and then gets on to Patterns with the Kiley and Cook recalling getting the script and then getting Rod Serling to punch it up and trim it down. It also mentions (as it does in the booklet that comes with the set) about how this particular teleplay was actually broadcast live twice. Its first airing was so successful that the network decided to put on another live broadcast of it later. Itís unfortunate this version isnít available here, though I donít even know if it exists anymore.

No Time for Sergeants also only comes with an introduction running 5-minutes. This one is hosted by Roddy McDowall and features Andy Griffith with Matlock hair. Griffith recalls reading for the play and how he got the part primarily because of a Hamlet monologue he would perform at night clubs. Itís a charming interview and I actually wish there was more of him on the set.

Disc 2 presents A Wind From the South (51-minutes), Bang the Drum Slowly (52-minutes), and Requiem for a Heavyweight (73-minutes).

A Wind from the South again only presents an introduction, this time hosted by Merv Griffin and featuring actors Julie Harris and Donald Woods, and writer James Costigan. It runs 5-minutes. Griffin of course talks about the ďgolden age of televisionĒ, his part in it, and then moving on to the play in question. Costigan takes up most of the feature, talking about the script, casting, and filming, while Harris and Woods recall the shoot (Woods almost not getting the role because of his agent.)

Bang the Drum Slowly comes with an audio commentary by Daniel Petrie. It doesnít run the full length of the film, stopping at the 47-minute point. That chapter index for the commentary also indicate this. In it he talks a lot about working with actor Paul Newman, rehearsing, shooting, and the general process of doing a live broadcast. While it is maybe the driest of the commentary tracks it probably has the most interesting section during the tail end, where Petrie talks about working in the era of the ďblack list.Ē For this aspect alone its worth listening to.

And again we get an introduction, this one hosted by Cliff Robertson, and featuring Albert Sami, director Dan Petrie, writer Arnold Schulman, and actors Rudy Bond and George Peppard. It runs 7-minutes. Like the others the members reflect on the broadcast and the whole process of a live broadcast.

Requiem for a Heavyweight features another audio commentary, this one by director Ralph Nelson. This sounds to be an interview. This one is shortest, running only 24-minutes of the broadcast. There is a slight error. Criterionís index for the commentary actually lists 5 chapters for it but the commentary only spans the first three. I donít believe anything is missing as all the subjects in the index titles are covered in the track. So even though it says the commentary spans 5 chapters it actually only spans 3. Nelson talks about his work in broadcast television and then talks a bit about Requiem for a Heavyweight specifically. A good chunk of it involves talking about problems they were having with actor Ed Wynn, and then it concludes with him briefly talking about the advent of video. Itís short but quite interesting.

Yet another introduction is present, featuring Nelson, producer Martin Manulis, actors Jack Palance and Keenan Wynn, and then Carol Serling, Rod Serlingís wife. This one of the longer ones, running 15-minutes, and is hosted by Jack Klugman. Thereís a great section that further expands on the problems with Ed Wynn (with Keenan doing a killer impersonation) that almost led to everyone dropping out. Probably the best of the intros.

Disc 3 then closes with the two John Frankenheimer broadcasts, The Comedian (73-minutes) and Days of Wine and Roses (80-minutes).

The Comedian features the final audio commentary, this one featuring Frankenheimer. This was actually the most disappointing one. While he is certainly energetic and the most technical of all of the commentaries, there is unfortunately a lot of dead space, and likes to point out a problematic camera man (that I found tiring anyways) and commercial breaks. Thereís some good technical details, nice information about Serling, and great tid bits about this type of filmmaking, but I guess I expected a little more from Frankenheimer.

Carl Reiner hosts the introduction for this one, which features Frankenheimer and actors Mickey Rooney, Mel Torme, and Kim Hunter. The longest of the intros, running 17-minutes, covers the technical difficulties of the broadcast and the energy that went in it, almost sounding like it was a Michael Bay set. Thereís also a bit about Rooney and his ways with women.

Thereís also an extended interview with John Frankenheimer that appears to be either excerpts from the interview that appeared in the intro, or are made up of outtakes. Running 9-minutes it does repeat things covered in the commentary and intro (technical difficulties, Rooney, etc.)

Days of Wine and Roses features an introduction hosted by Julie Harris and featuring Frankenheimer, writer JP Miller, and then actors Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie. It runs 10-minutes. Itís actually disappointing that Frankenheimer didnít do a commentary for this one since it sounds like it had its issues getting to the screen from the script to the rehearsals, to Frankenheimerís concern over Robertsonís performance.

The set then concludes with another solo interview by John Frankenheimer, running 10-minutes. In it he talks more about live television and then getting ready for making the play. It expands a little more on the introduction and is worth viewing.

The set then comes with a wonderful booklet pretty much written by Ron Simon. The booklet opens with a great essay about this period in television and then he offers notes on each episode that appears on this disc. The booklet then concludes with a short note on the Kinescope process.

And thatís it. It may not sound loaded but they are a decent collection of supplements offering some fine insight into this period of American television. Sure, thereís more material out there that probably could have been included but the material here covers its subjects fine enough.

7/10

CLOSING

While based on the scores it may not sound like a promising set I am actually quite fond of it and do give it a hearty recommendation. The transfers are problematic, no doubt, and Iím sure many will complain, but this may be as good as it gets. Itís a lovely set, though, and one any fan of this era in television should certainly consider picking up. A nice package from Criteiron.


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