"The Miracle at Camafeo" – Night Gallery S02E49 Review

The fall season gets rolling tonight, at least for me. But I've got at least one more non-new episode to review, and this is it.

Night Gallery is a weird little slice of 70s TV. It was "created" by Rod Serling, best known as the creator of The Twilight Zone. Serling claimed he didn't have a lot of creative input into the NBC show, which he described as the network wanting "Mannix in a shroud". The show was an anthology, but unlike the original Twilight Zone (but like the 80s revival), Night Gallery featured several stories in many of the episodes. The second season in particular would often cram three episodes.

How did they do it? Using comedy blackout skits, which Serling had no involvement in. Many of them featured five-minute tossaway gags. So Dracula visits a blood bank. Or Frankenstein's monster had trouble sleeping and kept crying for his father. Or Dr. Jekyll experimented with making a cocktail. Or the Phantom of the Opera met his true love.

If you notice a lot of the main characters here are from Universal's stable of monsters... well, the series was produced by Universal. And that was another aspect of Night Gallery that was different from Twilight Zone. The show went with a more horror tone than science fiction/fantasy. There were plenty of stories with ghosts and ghouls and vampires and more… esoteric menaces. TZ occasionally had horror, and NG had non-horror. But you could pretty much figure out what show a given episode was from the description.

Serling hosted NG, being a curator of a macabre art gallery where each painting was the basis for the story. After Serling gave a brief spiel about the show, he'd talk briefly about the painting and the story it told, and then he'd disappear as we got the story.

How much was Serling actually involved in NG? He contributed to 28 stories, and some of them were good. Some were very good. And some were... well, not-so-good. Some of them seemed to be Serling trying to recreate his glory days of TZ. "The Different Ones", for instance, is a thinly disguised reverse remake of "The Eye of the Beholder". "The Messiah on Mott Street" is a Messiah/Jewish spin on the Santa Claus/vaguely Christian "The Night of the Meek".

Some stories were attempts at comedy. Some stories featured the "twists" Serling ended many TZ stories with. Some stories featured the allegory that surrounded many of Serling's TZ episodes. And some stories were adaptations of other writers' work. There's "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar", which in many ways is the third story in an unofficial trilogy of Serling stories involving the pressures on businessman (see also "Walking Distance" and "A Stop at Willoughby" from TZ).

For instance, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" is an adaptation of the short story by Conrad Aikens, narrated by Orson Welles. It involves a boy who slowly withdraws from reality, and has been interpreted as an allegory to schizophrenia and autism. It features none of the horror elements of many NG episodes, and doesn't involve Serling creatively.

And then the series went into syndication, and for some reason they decided to mix in episodes of The Sixth Sense. And pad out many of the NG episodes with footage from movies and other TV shows. If you get it, you can catch NG very late-night on MeTV.

Overall, it's hard to tell whether Serling was trying to cover up his own poorer efforts by claiming network interference. And then when he did a good script, he could say he snuck stuff through. There were good episodes that didn't involve Serling, and bad episodes that did involve him as more than just the host. We got an interesting focus on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, both directly ("Pickman's Model") and indirectly ("Professor Peabody's Last Lecture").

Serling adapting other works brings us to the subject of this review, "The Miracle at Camafeo". Serling adapted it from a story by C.B. Gilford. An insurance investigator, Charlie Rogan (Harry Guardino) approaches a woman, Gay Melcor (Julie Adams) in a bar at Camafeo. He tells her a "story" about how a guy named Joe Melcor (Ray Danton) faked paralysis to get a big insurance settlement, claiming a company's bus hit him. Since this is just a 30-minute episode, we realize in about 10 seconds what Rogan is describing is what actually happened.

Joe won his settlement against the company, but now he's stuck with having to act paralyzed the rest of his life. Unless he comes up with a miracle, which is why Joe and Gay have come to Camafeo. There's a shrine there where the paralyzed and the blind are healed. Joe fakes a miraculous cure, and he gets to walk away (literally) with the settlement money.

Gay refuses to testify her husband is committing fraud, since he threatens to beat her if she doesn't play along. Rogan is offended because he's sort of a religious man and Joe isn't only defrauding the insurance company but is committing blasphemy by using religion to further his scheme.

The next day, everyone goes to the shrine. Rogan helps a blind boy get there. Joe is as sleazy as you can imagine, telling the priest he doesn't need help because he'll help himself. In the end, the blind boy is cured and Joe is "cured". Gay tells Rogan she's going to leave Joe but doesn't have the courage to testify against him. Which is a nice touch: she doesn't get all blessed and redeemed. Gay just does what little she can, and the way they present Joe, he's just as likely to hunt her down and beat her as he was before.

However, as Joe walks out he squints in the sunlight. And a few seconds later he screams he can't see. As Rogan and Gay come back, the formerly blind boy gives Joe his glasses, and... that's it. Poetic justice has been served, and we don’t find out if Gay testifies against her blind husband now that he can't beat her. Or if Gay and Rogan end up together. Or anything.

I haven't read the original story, but the end features the Serling "twist": whether he added it himself or it was part of the original work, I don't know. It's pretty predictable: we know Joe is going to get his comeuppance, and juxtaposing him with the blind boy makes it pretty clear what he's going to get.

The story is more traditional TZ than NG. There's no ghosts, no Universal monsters. God Himself presumably exacts revenge, or justice, on Joe, and what we see of him, he gets exactly what he deserves.

We don't see a lot of the Mexican locals in the story. What little we get of them is relatively stereotypical. But hey, it's the 70s. Plus, there isn't much there there. If it was a shrine in Europe, the characters wouldn't be any different. Blind boy, devout priest, mildly disinterested bartender, grateful mother. They could be Eastern European villagers, or English villagers, or Japanese villagers, and it wouldn't really make a difference.

"Camafeo" isn't the greatest episode of NG. I'd recommend "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar", "The Class of '99", and "The Caterpillar". If you're looking for comedy, check out "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Witches' Feast" if you can find the latter. But "Camafeo" is a nice watchable episode that is more of a TZ episode than the stomach-churning "Caterpillar" and the comedy episodes. It's among the closest that NG ever came to being what many people expected: another TZ series.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?

Written by Gislef on Oct 10, 2018

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