Some hidden TV treasures from the 1950s are just waiting to be re-discovered.
by Martin Hafer
Back in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, television was an exciting new medium and America was hooked. Some of the TV shows from this period are a bit weak when you see them today. However, there are also a lot of gems—many of which you can download for free at archive.org—a site that hosts zillions of public domain TV, radio and movie files. My favorites, though, are their TV teleplays. Some can also be found at this site as well as in DVD sets, such as Koch’s Studio One Anthology (which features 17 of these broadcasts) and Criterion’s The Golden Age of Television (featuring seven of these productions).
What exactly is a teleplay? Well, in the wild and wonderful early days of the medium, tons of made for TV plays were broadcast. Many of them, such as with Playhouse 90 and The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, were even broadcast live! To make things more interesting, these productions were often written, directed and acted by the top undiscovered talent of the day. Paddy Chayefsky (Marty) and Rod Serling (Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight) were among the great writers who made their mark in these productions—and folks like Charlton Heston, Andy Griffith, Julie Harris and Joanne Woodward got their starts in these teleplays. Fortunately for us, although the films were often shown live, the networks sometimes saved kinescope copies of the productions in order to show them on the West Coast—so we have access to a few of the best teleplays.
Believe it or not, for some time the best American entertainment was not coming from Hollywood but from New York. Don’t believe me? Well, many of the best of these original TV productions later were remade by Hollywood—and in some cases they became classics and made millions. Marty was originally shown on TV in 1953. Remade in 1955, it went on to earn four of the top Oscars—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor! While 12 Angry Men did not make much impact on TV or in films when it came out in the 1950s, it’s now considered to be one of the very best American films of all time and is currently the eighth highest ranked film on IMDb. Several other great films began on TV—such as Days of Wine and Roses, No Time for Sergeants (actually, it first debuted on Broadway, then on TV and finally as a film) and The Comedian.
Influx will soon be running a small series on these teleplays where I will review both the original teleplay as well as the Hollywood remakes. In some cases, the remakes are definitely better but in others, the teleplays are absolutely brilliant and are definite must-sees. And, in most cases, both are clearly worth your time. Stay tuned…