Steven Spielberg, a titan in the world of cinema, has a legacy that few can rival. While his later works have become cultural touchstones, it’s essential to look back at his early career to understand the foundation of his genius.
One of the most pivotal moments in his nascent journey was his directorial role in two episodes of Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery.” Let’s delve deeper into this chapter of Spielberg’s life.
The Prodigy in His Early 20s
Born on December 18, 1946, Spielberg was a mere 23 years old when he directed episodes for “Night Gallery.” At an age when most individuals are still finding their footing, Spielberg was already showcasing his directorial prowess on a national platform. His youth, combined with his undeniable talent, made his achievements even more remarkable.
- Plot: The episode revolves around Claudia Menlo, a wealthy and malicious blind woman played by Joan Crawford. Desperate to see, even if it’s just for a short time, she blackmails a doctor into performing a procedure that would grant her vision for a mere 12 hours. However, the twist is that her sight is restored during a New York City blackout, rendering her newfound vision useless.
- Spielberg’s Touch: The young director masterfully played with lighting and shadows, emphasizing the irony of Menlo’s situation. His ability to capture the desperation and eventual despair of Crawford’s character showcased a maturity beyond his years.
“Make Me Laugh” (1970):
- Plot: Jackie Slater, a down-on-his-luck comedian portrayed by Godfrey Cambridge, is unable to make anyone laugh. In his desperation, he turns to a mysterious individual who grants wishes. Slater wishes to make people laugh uncontrollably, but the wish turns into a curse as he can’t stop people from laughing at everything he says or does, leading to tragic consequences.
- Spielberg’s Touch: Spielberg’s direction brought depth to what could have been a simple tale. He delved into the psyche of the protagonist, exploring themes of validation, desperation, and the dangers of unchecked desires. The episode’s climax is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking, hallmarks of Spielberg’s storytelling style.
The Launchpad to Stardom
Directing episodes of “Night Gallery” was a pivotal moment in Spielberg’s career. It provided him with a platform to showcase his talent to a wider audience and industry insiders. The experience he gained from working on a professional set, coupled with the opportunity to collaborate with seasoned actors and crew members, was invaluable.
Following his stint with “Night Gallery,” Spielberg went on to direct the TV movie “Duel” in 1971, which further solidified his reputation as a promising director. The rest, as they say, is history.