Patterns (1955)

Wow, that was kind of vicious, more so than I would’ve expected for mid-50s American TV; indeed, the first network Rod Serling tried to sell it to refused to run it, and even now it’s kind of bracing as a depiction of corporate culture. Although Serling denied it was specifically about big business as such, and said it was really a story about power that just happened to be set within a large firm, but it’s hard not to read it as an attack on corporate “ethics”. The story is essentially a three-hander; Fred Staples is hired by Ramsie, the head of the company, to replace Andy Sloane, who’s been with the company for nearly a quarter century, he’s the last of the original executives and Ramsie wants him gone. Sloane’s past it, but he takes Ramsie’s bullshit because at his age he doesn’t have a lot of options. Staples will find himself on a difficult path between wanting to fulfil his own ambition but not at the expense of someone he comes to view as a friend, and it’ll be complicated by the ambition of others, including Rumsie himself; in the play’s not entirely expected climax, Rumsie seemed to me to imply that not even he was indispensable as long as the company itself thrived, the production’s most striking statement about the relation between business needs and human needs (and that the former truly are everything). The production was so successful another presentation of it was staged just a few weeks later; Robert Kiley (Staples) opines in the introduction that the second version was slicker and perhaps lacked an edge the first one possessed. While I can’t compare and contrast the two, I could see what he meant about the first one (the version on the DVD), there’s a particular energy to it that’s probably only enhanced by it having been done live. Great.

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