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The Golden Age of Television (The Criterion Collection)

Synopsis: The hugely popular live American television plays of the 1950s have become the stuff of legend. Combining elements of theater, radio, and filmmaking, they were produced at a moment when TV technology was growing more mobile and art was being made accessible to a newly suburban postwar demographic. These astonishingly choreographed, brilliantly acted, and socially progressive “teleplays” constituted an artistic high for the medium, bringing Broadway-quality drama to all of America. The award-winning programs included in this box set—originally curated for PBS in the early 1980s as the series The Golden Age of Television, featuring recollections from key cast and crew members—were conceived by such up-and-comers as Rod Serling and John Frankenheimer and star the likes of Paul Newman, Mickey Rooney, Rod Steiger, Julie Harris, and Piper Laurie.

Renowned dramatist Paddy Chayefsky’s poignant and touching character study of a lonely, middle-aged butcher (Rod Steiger) looking for love helped usher in the naturalistic style of television drama in the 1950s. Marty, directed by Delbert Mann, remains an enduring classic of the age of live television.

Nothing less than a milestone in television drama, writer Rod Serling’s Patterns examines a power struggle between a corporate boss (Everett Sloane), a washed-up company man (Ed Begley), and the young executive groomed to take his place (Richard Kiley). A huge hit when first broadcast, the production was re-aired the following week, which was unprecedented at the time.

No Time for Sergeants
Andy Griffith makes his first television appearance as Will Stockdale, a bumptious Air Force draftee who manages to drive his sergeant (Harry King) and the jokers who share his barracks crazy. No Time for Sergeants is a riotous military comedy and launched newcomer Griffith to stardom.

A Wind from the South
Julie Harris stars as Shivawn, an Irish country innkeeper who finds new meaning in her life when she finally experiences her first love, with a troubled tourist (Donald Woods). Written by playwright James Costigan, A Wind from the South features a typically marvelous performance from Harris and a surprising turn from Merv Griffin, who sings the show’s theme song.

Requiem for a Heavyweight
A punch-drunk prizefighter (Jack Palance) is forced to face life outside the ring in Rod Serling’s searing indictment of the professional boxing underworld. Costarring father and son Ed and Keenan Wynn, the former in his dramatic debut, and directed by Ralph Nelson, the Emmy Award–winning Requiem for a Heavyweight is a moving portrait of a would-be champion.

Bang the Drum Slowly
Paul Newman is the star pitcher of a professional baseball team who helps a terminally ill country bumpkin catcher (Albert Salmi) live out one last season on the diamond. A touching and honest tale of friendship, Bang the Drum Slowly is also considered one of the finest baseball stories of all time.

The Comedian
Mickey Rooney stars as a raging, tyrannical TV star stepping on anyone on his way to the top, including his browbeaten brother (Mel Tormé), despairing wife (Kim Hunter), and washed-up scriptwriter (Edmond O’Brien). Powerfully directed by John Frankenheimer from a script adapted for the screen by Rod Serling, The Comedian is a volatile glimpse behind the showbiz curtain.

Days of Wine and Roses
A young married couple falls into a downward spiral of alcoholism and self-destruction in writer JP Miller’s devastating Days of Wine and Roses. Masterfully directed by John Frankenheimer, this acclaimed production features riveting performances from Piper Laurie, Cliff Robertson, and Charles Bickford.




DVD Review:

Criterion - The Golden Age of Television - Region 1 - NTSC


DVD Box Covers


CLICK to order from:

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 495
Region 1 - NTSC 
Runtime Respectively: 51:34, 52:32, 50:28, 50:44, 52:10, 1:12:51, 1:13:33 + 1:19:36

Disc 1


Disc 2s

Bitrate: Disc 3

4:3 Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1

Average Bitrate:5.81 / 5.14 / 5.5  mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Audio English (Dolby Digital 1.0) 
Subtitles English, none


Release Information:
Studio: Criterion


Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Kinescopes of the live broadcasts of Marty (1953), Patterns (1955), No Time for Sergeants (1955), A Wind from the South (1955), Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), The Comedian (1957), and Days of Wine and Roses (1958)
• Commentaries by directors John Frankenheimer, Delbert Mann, Ralph Nelson, and Daniel Petrie
• Interviews with select cast and crew, including Frankenheimer, Andy Griffith, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Richard Kiley, Piper Laurie, Nancy Marchand, Jack Palance, Cliff Robertson, Mickey Rooney, Carol Serling, Rod Steiger, and Mel Tormé
• 36-page booklet featuring an essay by curator Ron Simon and his extensive liner notes on each program

DVD Release Date: November 24th, 2009
Custom case (see image above)

Chapters: various



This is one of Criterion's most unique release packages - almost befitting the Eclipse label. There is some excellent and worthwhile entertainment here - but there is a payment...


The image quality is best described by the screen captures below. This was taken from a PBS series from the 80's that utilized it's best available process to present the vintage television programs. But still, combing is frequently noticeable on the 3 dual-layered DVDs of the package. Some of the shows are progressively presented while others are interlaced.  The Kineoscope capturing of the 'live' 50's television, ranging from 50-minutes to 1-hour-20 each programs, is fraught with weakness. At times the frame edges distort with a slight concave bending - muddy contrast flickers excessively and the image is hazy with bands of horizontal lines stretching across the screen like a film rendition of a TV screen (this is, actually, not far off). For the most part they are original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but there is often thinning with a black bar on  the right edge and damage and dirt are frequently visible. If this was VCI Entertainment - we could easily dismiss the inferiorities as fault of an compromised source and/or limited transfer - BUT being Criterion and seeing the dual-layering it appears that this may very well be the best and only way, at present, to see these 8 classic dramas. As a positive - I couldn't help thinking how the limitations evoke the feeling of viewing via a very old, small screen, 'Dumont' which is quite possibly how they were when initially broadcast.



The 1.0 channel mono audio doesn't fare much better than the video with plenty of crackling, some hiss and scattering of dialogue - but saying that - it was discernable although I was more comfortable with the optional English subtitles on. There doesn't appear to have been any restoration on the A/V at all.


Aside from the original 80's PBS introductions, or intro-segment input, (lasting about 5-plus minutes each) from the likes of Rod Steiger, Betsy Palmer, Eva Marie Saint, Keenan Wynn, Roddy McDowall, Andy Griffith, Merv Griffin, Cliff Robertson, Jack Palance, Carl Reiner etc. - we also get 4 commentaries - on Marty (by director Delbert Mann), director Ralph Nelson on Requiem for a Heavyweight, a partial commentary (about 45 minutes worth) by Daniel Petrie on Bang the Drum Slowly and John Frankenheimer on The Comedian. While these had nostalgic appeal - they also represented a further understanding of connecting with what we were really watching. They gave solid advancement into my appreciation. There are two John Frankenheimer interviews, lasting about 20-minutes in total, that I hoped would redeem his, rather lackluster, commentary and he does - with the discussion of 'live television' performance being highly interesting. Lastly, we get a 36-page booklet featuring an essay by curator Ron Simon and his extensive liner notes on each program.



Initially, I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about viewing these 'plays' but I began to get more encouraged with each segment - feeling, at times, like I was a fly on the wall at the Actor's Studio. These programs have remarkable value. Days of Wine and Roses, Bang the Drum Slowly, Requiem for a Heavyweight and Marty have always been favorites and seeing them like this was very special indeed, but I also loved The Comedian and Patterns as new experiences. These programs were a pleasure - and, personally, forever lost to me if not for this DVD boxset. It's really worth the time invested and I might even consider it for my top packages of the year in our upcoming Year End Poll. That, my friends, is a recommendation.

Gary W. Tooze

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DVD Box Covers


CLICK to order from:

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 495
Region 1 - NTSC 


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Gary Tooze