aka The one Steven Spielberg directed. No doubt Rod Serling was the draw for this movie when it aired, and maybe there were some lingering Joan Crawford fans. But a few years later, Steven Spielberg is the main reason anyone would remember this episode, and he maybe serves as a gateway for the entire series.
Joan Crawford is “a blind queen who reigns in a carpeted penthouse on 5th Avenue. An imperious, predatory dowager.” She has summoned her personal doctor to her apartment building where she is the only resident. It is not clear whether this is by design or just no other tenants would be willing to live this close to her.
She has heard of a new procedure that could possibly restore her sight. It has only been attempted on a chimp and a dog, and restored their sight for just a few hours. The doctor says it is still experimental, but Joan is convinced it will work on a human. And, by the way, she would need a donor willing to give up their sight for the test of their life to provide her a few hours of sight.
Her lawyer has found a man who would donate his eyes for the grand sum of $9,000. The doctor is repulsed by the thought, but Joan blackmails him into performing the surgery.
We cut to Tom Bosley channeling Lou Costello. He is in a playground explaining to the world’s least intimidating loan-shark why he doesn’t have his cash. The knuckle-breaker has him on a kid’s Lazy Susan spinning him around; if he doesn’t come up with the dough, it could result in a Dutch Rub.
Bosley tells him that he has $9,000 coming to him which will exactly clear his debt. Bosley later makes it clear that he will commit suicide after the operation. So he is a real sport to take care of his gambling debt first. Some pricks might have stiffed the bookie and left the cash to a children’s hospital.
Apparently hospitals back then were just like today — hours after having experimental surgery on her eyes, Crawford is discharged and sent home.
She begins unwrapping the bandages and when her eyes are exposed, she is able to see for the first time in her life. This being a Rod Serling joint, that can’t be allowed to stand. In a twist very reminiscent of TZ’s Time Enough at Last, there is a blackout of the city which again plunges her into darkness. NYC had just had a massive blackout four years earlier, so this was not a crazy concept to the audience.
It is possible to be churlish and point out the flaws in what follows. So I will. OK, there is a blackout, but how did it become bottom-of-a-coal-mine-pitch-black? Her apartment has windows. She even stumbles down the stairs and outside, but is stopped by a fence. Panning up a few feet over the fence, a street scene shows plenty of light from the moon and car headlights.
Distraught, she is furious at the doctor as she believes he botched the operation. She makes her way back up to her apartment. She wakes up in the morning, and is able to see the sun rising over the New York skyline. She is enthralled by its beauty, but it is short-lived as her sight begins to fade. Her sight lasted 11 hours and it was stolen by the blackout and squandered on sleep.
In several ways, it is easy to believe this is the work of a 21 year old first-time director — but I mean that in the best possible way. There are shots and camera tricks here that a veteran — including the older Spielberg — might have avoided: Jump cuts, shooting a reflection through a bead on the chandelier, a spinning chair fading into the Lazy Susan, the stark color of Joan Crawford in a red dress stumbling around a totally black background to indicate her blindness, focusing on innocuous items such as a manila envelope or light switch.
My favorite is the scene above where Spielberg allows it to play out with the blind Joan Crawford addressing the doctor at the spot where he had stood earlier, not realizing he has moved. Would Grampa Spielberg have left that in? I’m not sure. I am baffled why artists tend to smooth everything out as they age. Writers seem to think a plot cheapens a novel, composers plod along and never establish a tune, and directors avoid the flair that makes movies fun.
I rate it a 20/20.
- Maybe Joan Crawford considered this slumming after her stellar movie career. But she could have gone out on a high note had she not made one last movie after this one.
- She has great blue eyes and spent 99% of her career in B&W movies. No wonder she was so pissed all the time.
- Crawford plays Claudia Menlo; Thomas Edison was known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park.”
- Steven Spielberg talking about the episode: