Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Night Gallery -- "Silent Snow, Secret Snow"


For a period of about four years of my life, Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. found me in a rut.  I was always doing the same thing – watching The Night Gallery. Oh,  I missed a few here and there, particularly when I was in labor and delivery, but always managed to catch up with re-runs. Night Gallery ran on NBC from 1969 to 1973, and it seemed to be famous for three things: (1) many episodes that ran the gamut from outstanding to adequate; (2) many episodes that ran the gamut from tolerable to totally lame; and (3) constant comparison to Serling’s groundbreaking and masterful classic TV series The Twilight Zone.

I never thought comparison to Twilight Zone gave a fair shake to Night Gallery. Such a horror anthology series can only be original once, and Zone had that claim to fame. Zone was, in my mind, consistently better in story and filmmaking. I could name ten times the number of Zone stories that were unforgettable than I could Gallery episodes of the same category. However, out of both of these series, there is one episode I believe to be the best and most beautiful. It has haunted me since the first time I saw it.

October 20, 1971 -- I had returned from my honeymoon and was "making my nest,” as my Mom used to call it. The nest still needed some work, but it was Wednesday, and Night Gallery was on. I missed much of the show, but was on the couch with my husband, the lights off and a candle burning, when a commercial ended and Rod Serling walked into the gallery to introduce this exceptional story.

"For our last offering in the Night Gallery...a painting that brings
to life a legendary classic from the pen of Conrad Aiken.  Fragile,
lovely, haunting.  It's titled Silent Snow, Secret Snow."  (Rod Serling)

Although I usually like to discuss the makers of a film, history behind it and trivia, it is not my intention to do so with this story.  As Serling described, it is a fragile story, and I do not believe will bear too much discussion.  It is significant in three aspects:  the brilliant writing by American poet and novelist Conrad Aiken; the poignant and spine-chilling music by Paul Glass and Oliver Nelson, absolutely essential in creating the mood of this unusual story;  and the mesmerizing narration by Orson Welles.  The protagonist of the story, Paul, is played by young actor Radames Pera, who must also be mentioned for his fine portrayal of a boy descending into madness.


The music sets the stage for the truly hypnotic narration by Welles.  Only a few lines are spoken by characters -- otherwise, the story is told by Welles, the music and the snow. Without these, this fragile story of a young boy's disturbing fate could have been just a typical pedestrian episode of a TV series. With Welles’ narration and the marvelous music, the quietly horrifying journey of young Paul is presented with delicacy and beauty.


Aiken’s story is seen solely from the perspective of Paul. Teacher, parents, doctor, the world itself are seen only through his eyes. Paul is a boy who is becoming obsessed with snow, its pure white beauty, the scouring cold winds that blow in winter, the sparkle of ice. Paul dreams of snow, sees snowy landscapes of great beauty, made more lovely by the music, and he wakes in the morning surprised to find only green grass and trees outside of his window. In a truly inspired technique of storytelling, Paul’s obsession is first revealed in the footsteps of the postman and the double knock he gives on each door as the mail is delivered. At first, as he wakes in the morning, Paul hears the postman’s heavy boots on the sidewalk from far down the street. As the days go on, the postman’s footsteps become muffled, and Paul’s snow dream truly begins.

Soon, Paul’s world begins to shrink.  He lives more and more within himself.  Even parents whom he once loved seem only strange and hostile.  They are strangers who want to separate him from his desire, his fearful yet desperate need for the only thing he sees, the only thing he wants -- the snow:  (Welles) “The snow was waiting. Out of sight, with a voice that said, "Wait, Paul. Just wait till we're alone together. I will tell you something new, something cold, something sleepy, something of cease and peace, and the long bright curve of space…I will be waiting for you.”



I can say no more than I have without spoiling the sense of disquiet and oncoming dread. The story’s ending is as poetic as it is horrifying. For me, quiet horror is the most frightening, and that kind of fright gives me the nightmares that I cannot forget. That Wednesday night in 1971, I was very glad that I did not live alone. It was not only that I was glad for the comforting presence of another person, but also that I was not alone to think and really take in the reality of the fate of the young boy.

Silent Snow, Secret Snow is available to view for free on Hulu. Look up Night Gallery, go to the show page, and find Season 2, Episode 5. It is the last piece for that show’s episode, and is approximately 20 minutes long. (Youtube also has the show, but the clip is blurry and thus loses the artistry – I do not recommend it.)

23 comments:

  1. I read Aiken's short story in college, but I've never seen this episode. Actually, I've never seen ANY episodes of Night Gallery. I will definitely be heading over to watch this one, however. I agree with your statement that "quiet horror is the most frightening" ... the story tripped me out the first time I read it, especially since I was aware of Aiken's background (his father killed Aiken's mother and then himself when the author was a boy); knowing the author's personal pain adds an even deeper layer of meaning to what you're reading (or, in this case, seeing), and makes it feel all the more "real."

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  2. For Christmas a couple years ago my parents got my the complete Night Gallery series. I love anything Rod Serling did. I still have to watch them though!

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  3. constant comparison to Serling’s groundbreaking and masterful classic TV series The Twilight Zone

    ...and that's where people screw up. The reason why comparing the two is complete lunacy is simple: even though Serling contributed scripts to Gallery on many an occasion, it wasn't his baby the way Zone was. He was hired essentially to put his name on the thing. It would be like hiring the Duke to host something like "John Wayne's B-Western Theater" and then getting upset because none of the movies were the caliber of Red River or The Searchers.

    The problems on Night Gallery echo that of another ClassicBecky favorite, one that has recently invaded her household thanks to the generous largess of this commenter (yeah, I'm tooting my own horn--sue me): the 1960-62 anthology series Thriller. The producers never really could make up their minds as to whether it would be a straight horror series or a crime show in the same vein as Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Night Gallery had the same problem after its first two seasons; NBC wanted to make it more like what Serling eventually dismissed as "Mannix in a shroud."

    My typical long-windedness aside, I didn't actually see this episode on Night Gallery originally...I saw it in the classroom when my drama-English teacher screened it for the class. I'm probably not as hugely fond of it as you are, Errolette...but it is an effective episode. Nice of you to write about it!

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  4. I haven't that much of "Night Gallery" (always compared to you-know-what) and didn't see this episode. But, it sounds most excellent. Will soon check it out on Hulu. Very enticing post, Becky.

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  5. Brandie, I can see this story gave you the same feeling it did me when I read it. I believe you would feel the same about the treatment it received on this show. There are few omissions, and nothing that takes away from the quiet horror. I hope you get to see it and if you do, let me know what you think.
    Lobosco, for Pete's sake! If you aren't going to watch that fabulous set, I know someone who would hitchhike to your house to pick it up! LOL! You really should look into it, and see this one for sure!
    Ivan, I agree about the skewed logic of comparison between Zone and Gallery, as well as your remarks about Thriller and Hitchcock. I never heard what Serling said before, and I thought I'd fall off my chair laughing at his remark about NG being "Mannix in a shroud"!
    Eve, this story is well worth seeing. I like that you use the word "enticing" about my post - that's a nice compliment!

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  6. Night Gallery was a tad before my time, Becky, so I obviously haven't seen this episode. I agree with you and Brandie, though, about the quiet horror being the most disturbing. I think it's the dread factor. Nice write up.

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  7. I don't recall "Night Gallery" very well, except for the knot in my stomach I got from many episodes.

    The episode you highlight sounds intriguing and wonderful. Television I must see.

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  8. Kim, "dread factor" is a good way to put it. It just builds on you. If you get a chance, I think you might feel it too! I'm glad you liked my write-up!
    Caftan Woman, you are such a nut! Perhaps all the knots in your stomach affected your brain and caused traumatic memory loss! Or, maybe it's just age! LOL! I can say that without too much fear of being attacked since we are ladies "of a certain age"! I do think you should see this one. It is not a stomach-knotter -- it is a beautiful psychic disturbance...

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  9. This show unfortunately never got a fair chance because it was always compared to Twilight Zone. I personally liked its eclectic approach. Some episodes were mystery, others more thriller/horror, and some futuristic. Sterling even made some campy shorts. It was definitely not your typical show.

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  10. Good to see you here, Gilby! I enjoyed that aspect of NG as well. Some of the shorts were really funny - I remember one I think was called "Miss Lovecraft Sent Me" if I remember right (a nice nod to Mr. H.P. himself), with Sue Lyon as a babysitter "sent by the agency" to the house of a vampire. I may not be remembering it correctly, but the point is, I liked the shorts too!

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  11. I don't recall NIGHT GALLERY either, Becky. Though I know I must have watched some of it because of Rod Serling. Now, TWILIGHT ZONE, I do remember...In fact, you've given me an idea to post about my favorite Twilight Zone episode which involved time travel. I think it was Twilight Zone...I could be wrong.

    Old lady memory is the PITS!!!

    If I get my nerve up I might go watch this episode on Hulu. I'm not big for horror, noisy or otherwise. :)

    And yet, I watched TWILIGHT ZONE. There's no accounting for me.

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  12. Yvette, you can safely watch this one. It is not horror, not in the sense you mean. It is frightening in a very different way than you may have experienced. I hope you do watch it and let me know your reaction. I think you are someone who might, maybe not, but might have the same reaction as I, to its beauty, its delicacy and its sense of the frailty of the human mind.

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  13. Okay, just double-checked and my favorite Twilight Zone episode is actually my favorit OUTER LIMITS episode starring Martin Landau and Shirley Knight.

    Maybe I'll write about it anyway...

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  14. I would love to read an articel about Outer Limits. I think I remember what you are talking about, but I can't think of the episode name. Just off hand, I remember 3 that I loved: "The Sixth Finger", "The Inheritors" and "Demon With a Glass Hand." I think Hulu has Outer Limits. I'm going to watch some over the next few days. I hope you do the post!

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  15. I grew up on THE TWILIGHT ZONE and have seen some episodes of THE NIGHT GALLERY. I always have liked movies and TV shows with snow (living in Fla., we don't see much of it. In fact, one day a few years ago there were some flurries somewhere in the state and it made the local news!) This sounds most interesting and you do your usual great job here Becky.


    John

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  16. I grew up with TZ too, John -- it was a marvel, shows you just never forgot. If you like snow, you would love this Night Gallery. Some of the most beautiful clips of snowy landscapes, snow blowing across fields, and snow in the most unlikely places, as the story reveals. Thanks for your lovely compliment.

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  17. Becky, I've seen episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY. When they're good, they're amazing, and even when they're just "meh," they're still worth a look for one reason or another. I'll admit I've never read Conrad Aiken's work, though I do remember Radames Pera guest-starring on many TV 1970s series when he was young.

    The way you describe this episode makes it sound like a very haunting episode indeed. My only hesitation -- just my own idiosyncrasies, you understand -- is that as a mom myself, as well as being someone who's had seriously mentally ill people in my family, I'm honestly not sure I could watch SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW without crawling into bed and sobbing all day. That said, I'm sure it's an excellent episode, and I hope that others who aren't as overly-sensitive as I am will seek it out and enjoy it!

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  18. Dorian, you may remember Radames Pera as the young Caine in the Kung Fu series with David Carradine.

    I understand what you mean about some things being too difficult to watch. I am a little different about that. If something is done with the poetry and genius of a work like Conrad Aiken's brought to life, I feel so much that I dont' mind -- does that make sense? Well, you know how things are for me, and you know me pretty well, so maybe it does make sense for you.

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  19. Becks, you have to remember that Night was done at the "sausage factory" called Universal City City a place ". for their young "House talent" and some times it shows. Yeah I know Steven Spielberg did some (one with Joan Crawford I think)But I can't compare it to the Zone As for your post EXCELLENT

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  20. Paul, sorry I took so long to get back here! There is no doubt that TZ is the best. But Night Gallery did have a few gems glittering through the debris -- this one, of course. I also liked the Spielberg-directed one you mentioned, "Eyes" with Joan Crawford. I also thought that "The Caterpillar" with Laurence Harvey was excellent -- you may think of that one as everyone does, about the earwig!

    Thanks so much for liking my post!

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  21. I've recently discovered Night Gallery airing on the MeTV cable channel, and almost instantaneously set up a series recording on DVR. There's something so tender and special to me about early 70's TV production values. I get so emotional and weepy for a good cheesecloth effect, or mid-century modern set design. And, I'll be honest, it airs so frequently and my DVR builds up to a level above my liking with Night Gallery episodes, that I find myself deleting unwatched episodes based on the description alone, being almost able to visualize the cringe-worthy episode described in a few short lines.
    But regarding this Silent Snow, Secret Snow...
    It is possibly single-handedly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on television. The words! Orson Welles' mesmerizing and daringly seductive narration. The lilt in his voice reminds me of something distant and forgotten that almost hooks tears up into your eyes. Radames Pera's performance is equally superb. By the time I hear, "We are leaning closer to you", I'm terrified, I'm in rapture, I'm heartbroken, I'm sold. Jesus, it's incredible.
    Needless to say, it's not leaving my DVR any time soon. It's the lone Night Gallery episode that's stayed put for over 2 months now, being watched and rewatched for pure saudade factor.
    Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

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  22. Bryan, welcome! I'm glad you came to see my article. Of course, as you could tell, I am completely in tune with you about this extraordinary little film. I find myself watching it periodically just to experience the beauty. Conrad Aiken's writing is so wonderful, and the screenplay does a wonderful job of sticking to it ... some things are omitted, but nothing that changes anything.

    Thanks again for visiting and sharing your love of this with me. Come again!

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  23. Just read your post on SILENT SNOW SCRET SNOW. I just watched this episode on METV a few days ago. Hadnt seen it in many years. I don't know if you are aware that Gene Kearney had previously directed a version of the story, in black and white a few years earlier. Obviously the story had burrowed inside his head for whatever reason. The black and white version is probably the version that one of your people saw in school, as it was picked up by an educational film distributor. The Night Gallery version is one of the most memorable episodes, for sure. Welles' narration is hauntingly beautiful and foreboding, and the last minute or so really sticks in the mind. Kearney was a very talented guy who died before his time, and he wrote one of the most imaginative TV movies of the 1960's, HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION, directed by William Hale, who directed some great Night Gallery episodes, such as THE DIARY with Patty Duke. I am working on a project about TV directors from the 50's-80's, and I have interviewed several directors who worked on Night Gallery, such as Jeannot Szwarc and William Hale. Some very good episodes of the show are, as you have stated, THE CATERPILLER, THEY'RE TEARING DOWN TIM RILEY'S BAR, THE BOY WHO COULD PREDICT EARTHQUAKES, THE SIN EATER, etc.

    As for SILENT SNOW SECRET SNOW, do you think it is a metaphor for autism, or schizophrenia, or an all-encompassing mental illness that changes one's total perception of reality?

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