The Comedian, Days of Wine and Roses, A Wind from the South – A Review

This post concludes my reviews of The Golden Age of Television (The Criterion Collection).

The Comedian

The Comedian is the most dynamic of all the plays in the collection and Mickey Rooney is impressive as a manic and selfish comedian who uses anyone he comes in contact with. The story follows a comedian as he works to put together his next show for television, and his head writer who is struggling to come up with new material and is quickly realizing that he no longer can write comedy. The characters offer two sides to the conflict between the relentless machine that is entertainment and the individual who is caught in the machine. Rooney’s comedian demands everything from those around him, at times manic, at others desperate and scared, but always demanding that everyone recognize him as the only thing anyone should be paying attention to. On the other hand, O’Brien’s character knows the comedian is the worst kind of human being, one he shouldn’t even be near. Each actor captures the essence of these positions, Rooney with his fast talking, and O’Brien with his noir like voice that suggests a world weary wisdom. In the middle of the two is Mel Torme who plays Rooney’s slavish brother that Rooney uses at ever chance he can. One wants to feel sorry for Torme, but to break free of the Comedian like O’Brien does, takes a will power he does not have. While O’Brien escapes the beast and regains his soul as happens in so many of these dramas, the conclusion, as Rooney leads Torme back to his dressing room, is anything but pleasing. While Requiem for a Heavyweight is the most well know of Serling’s works, the Comedian is probably his best and still feels fresh even though it was shot in 1957.

Days of Wine and Roses

While Days of Wine and Roses is obviously a problem story, a story designed to explain a problem, it is well produced and still interesting. While the framing device, a lecture at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting works to give an over arching thread to the story, it also lends the show an air propaganda, as if the writer wanted to tell everyone how good AA is. While that is not true, addiction narratives so often have a triumphalest endings that celebrate the road to recovery. Days of Wine and Roses charts the well worn path to addiction: at first alcohol is fun; then it begins to interfere; then one looses a job and goes broke; finally, one hits rock bottom and after a few tries, recovers. What makes the story interesting more than the moments of alcoholic madness is the how the use of alcohol is presented. First, the couple is described as a couple who likes to drink. 50 years later and decades into the recognition that of addiction as an illness, to describe yourself as someone who likes to drink is awkward at best. Sure for many people it is socially acceptable to binge drink, but it is really only acceptable to say that you enjoy beer, wine or whatever. It isn’t the act you enjoy, but the beverage, and hopefully understand you should do it in moderation. Alcohol is everywhere. That one could be hired mostly to go out drinking with a client isn’t really acceptable, either. Days of Wine and Roses reflects well the two martini lunches you see in Mad Men or read about in the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. The other thing that makes the story palatable, is the stark ending. Cliff Robertson, whose character battles addiction, finally is sober, but realizes he must give up his wife if she is going to continue to drink. The ending is not soft and though Robertson’s character has refused to be what we would call an enabler, the starkness of it, for its time, is startling and refreshing. Days of Wine and Roses doesn’t tread new ground, but it does show a bleakness that is even now can be difficult to get into a TV program.

A Wind from the South

A Wind from the South covers the 48 period when a young Irish woman in a tourist town realizes that she can be more than a little town lets her. At the same time a middle aged man in a loveless marriage realizes it is over. In an era of separate beds for married couples on TV this was probably ahead of the times. Yet it is also a little silly when the two characters declare their love for each other after a few days. Nevertheless, it does have some nice touches. For example, the young woman goes to the town dance and an old couple see her and report back to her brother how scandalous it was. When her lover asks how long the old couple has been married, she says, oh no, they are brother and sister, which makes her situation with her own brother just as perilous. Over all, A Wind from the South is a melodrama about finding yourself that is certainly enjoyable to watch, but wraps itself in ethereal poetry, such as, a wind from the south carries the scent of freedom,  but in the end feels route.