"Patterns," another preserved live drama from the "Golden Age of Television" series, holds up more for its performances than for its Rod Serling script. The matter of cold-bloodedness in business has hardly become irrelevant in the 27 years since the play first aired on the "Kraft Television Theater," but "Patterns" never quite lands the punch it aspires to. Perhaps the key propblem is length; the Kraft show, unlike "Playhouse 90," was only an hour long.
Like many other TV plays of this period, "Patterns"--to be seen at 10 tonight on Channel 22--is set in a man's world and deals with male relationships (the women tend to be peripheral; a young Elizabeth Montgomery can be seen in an early scene as a gossipy secretary). The world in this case is Ramsie and Co., a New York manufacturing firm whose product is not made specific but whose politics are conducted along Machine-Gun-Kelly lines by the company president, Everett Sloane, who on this kinescope recording seems to sum up all the anxiety of the '50s in one magnificently furrowed brow.
Sloane's performance is both subtle and ferocious, a neat trick, and Richard Kiley's, as the innocent young exec brought out from Cincinnati, is razor-sharp, but the real centerpiece of the drama is Ed Begley as a 56-year-old executive--"the last of the original bunch" present at the company's creation--for whom the bell is deafeningly tolling. The boss wants him out, humiliates him at board meetings, and the young newcomer is startled to find he was hired as the older man's replacement.
"The bigger the job, the more desperately you try to hang on to it," moans Begley. There are fireworks in the board room and a provocative denouement in which the Kiley character must reconcile ideals with ambition, an easy trick for anyone who works in television or government, but not for this particular guy. It's all oak-solid, and directed in tough, gritty '50s style by Fielder Cook, who, with Kiley, is seen in badly edited interview snippets before the play, and who says he wrote the first quarter of the play himself when Serling's rewrites failed to jell.
What does remain impressive in retrospect is how serious and grim these '50s TV plays could be; that the Kraft Co., and U.S. Steel, and other big sponsors, would underwrite plays so uncompromised in their outlook, although there are many stories about corporate cold feet undermining controversial works of the time. Still, considering the fluff level maintained by most prime-time TV today, it suggests sponsor-controlled television was superior to the network-controlled television we have now.
Channel 26 will not air this play until next month. Channel 22 will precede it tonight with--but, one desperately hopes--not interrupt it for, fund-raising bleats. If it's any consolation to Washington viewers, the ghastly creatures who raise money on Maryland public TV seem even more idiotic and inane than those seen on WETA.