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(1956) *** 1/2 Unrated
83 min. United Artists. Director: Fielder Cook. Cast: Van Heflin, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley, Beatrice Straight.


On its face, Rod Serling's 1955 "television play" Patterns—first aired live in January 1955 on Kraft Television Theater—and its big-screen adaptation by director Fielder Cook the next year scathingly critique corporate culture and ruefully consider where its march of "progress" is taking America. But Serling himself averred, "Patterns was not at all conceived as a big-business opus...It is not an indictment of our capitalistic system nor an expose of the evils of big money. It is the story of ambition and the price tag that hangs on success. If it professes actually to have a message, it is simply that every human being has a minimum set of ethics from which he operates."

Of course, by specifically pointing out, in 1957, that there was "nothing Marxist in the message," Serling may simply have been playing Cold War defense against the McCarthyism the motion picture and television industries so recently faced. Yes, Patterns is a Shakespearean study of power that could have taken place in a royal palace or been "a war story, a political story, or the story of a foreman on an assembly line." But Cook's film does begin, pointedly, with urban church bells as people stream into the Ramsey Building, an unholy cathedral of business that houses the industrial corporation Ramsey and Co. On the 40th floor, the elevator opens onto an ornate "excutive corridor," off of which new employee Fred Staples (Van Heflin of 3:10 to Yuma) finds his office ("furnished," he's told, "in Early American"). Later, Fred's boss will ironically explain, "I just happen to feel that the atmosphere of a large corporation cannot be constantly cathedral-like."

Patterns takes Staples' outsider-invited-in perspective on the workings of Ramsey and Co. Though ostensibly paired with vice president Bill Briggs (Ed Begley of 12 Angry Men) to learn the ropes, Fred quickly discovers he's meant to replace his brittle but kindly mentor. It is the will of company president Ramsey (Everett Sloane of Citizen Kane), and Fred begins to see the patterns, the "queer undercurrents and tensions" of Ramsey's strategy to drive Briggs out by an accumulation of unpleasantries and humiliations. Briggs has developed a bad heart and an ulcer, which are "par for the executive course," according to loyal secretary Miss Marge Fleming (Elizabeth Wilson). The biggest pattern is that, just as in the scheme of the universe, everyone is expendable in corporate culture. Anyone can be replaced.

Meanwhile, Bill sadly neglects his teenage son Paul (Ronnie Welsh), who mostly glimpses his dad over hasty breakfasts. Paul knows how long he can linger without being late for school.:"I just got it figured to how far I have to go and how long it's going to take me." Bill responds, "Well, if you've found that out, you found out a lot." An in-joke to himself, the retort reveals the V.P.'s ongoing ethical struggle to balance work and family, income and pride. Bill's worries become Fred's. Of late an engineer who ran a plant in Mansfield, Ohio, Fred's company was acquired by Ramsey, and Fred with it. Now he's in "industrial relations," and healthily skeptical about what gets Briggs hopping mad: Ramsey's ruthless disregard for the personal consequences of buying up smalltown America and harnessing it to his corporate yoke.

Patterns boasts cinematography by Oscar winner Boris Kaufman (On the Waterfront, 12 Angry Men) and art direction by Richard Sylbert (Chinatown, The Graduate), as well as focused performances from a fine ensemble (including Network's Beatrice Straight as Fred's wife Nancy). But of course the main draw remains Serling, whose story seems every bit as relevant—indeed, more so—today. There is efficiency but also music in his theatrical language, and he deserves the last word: "If...any indictment is suggested, it is simply the indictment of the imposed values of a society that places such stock in success and has so little preoccupation with morality when success has been attained...The patterns of which this piece speaks are behavior patterns of little human beings in a big world—lost in it, intimidated by it, and whose biggest job is to survive in it."

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Aspect ratios: 1.66:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Street date: 9/27/2016

Distributor: The Film Detective

The Film Detective offers up another interesting public-domain title with Patterns, making its Blu-ray debut. Although the disc is, per the company's strategy, a bare-bones BD-R and not a pressed disc, the feature is excellent and the A/V transfer is quite good. BD-Rs are controversial among home-theater buffs; they are widely thought to be less durable and to have a shorter shelf life, although proper storage and handling can mitigate those concerns.

At any rate, the source print and transfer are pretty good looking for Patterns, with a proviso: the last three and a half minutes go soft, hazy, and dark, with film grain spiking. Obviously, this is an issue with the source print or prints, and it's reasonable to assume this was the best Film Detective could do (the disc is billed as "digitally restored from original 35mm film elements," but it's possible that print damage necessitated using a 16mm source for the last few minutes). While distracting, the issue is relatively minor.

Most of the 1.66:1 transfer looks gloriously filmlike, with natural grain and some light dust, dirt, and scratches that simply remind us of seeing film projected in theaters (remember that?). With excellent contrast for the black-and-white image, we get a sense of depth, and the image is nicely detailed and, therefore, textured.

Sound comes in a highly satisfactory DTS-HD 2.0 track that sounds pleasingly like other films of its vintage, with clear dialogue and effects, as well as strong music. (I could not discern any distracting hiss or the like.)

No bonus features are included on the disc (understandably), which happily maxes out disc space for picture and sound.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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