Naturally, Rod Serling’s legacy resides in the “Twilight Zone,” one of television’s triumphs even if it has been bowdlerized by the popular imagination. Yet this show’s format – about 22 minutes without commercials – didn’t allow room for Serling’s elegant voice to flourish in the episodes he scripted. For the full effect we should turn to one of the writer’s features, like “Patterns,” which began as a teleplay in 1955 and was produced again in 1956 before coming to the big screen that year. The longer scenes let Serling’s voice unravel, proving him to be a wordsmith before a visionary of the small screen.
His characters are men in full: Briggs (Ed Begley Sr.) is a long-timer with a large firm, while Fred Staples (Van Heflin) is the newcomer who learns he was brought in to replace the other. Fred wants loyalty and ethics first, wishing for a situation where they can work side by side. But he soon realizes that his boss (Everett Sloan of “Citizen Kane”) has already mapped out their fates. Sloan’s boss, cold but logical in his decision, creates passive-aggressive obstacles for Briggs that mean good favor and posturing for Fred, even if hardly welcomed by him.
The script follows a series of causal events, leading to a dark development that draws the story to a close. We feel Serling working through an economic structure – even if he expanded his teleplay – but one that blossoms with lyrical dialog for its subjects. They occasionally get trapped by the histrionics of director Fielder Cook, who doesn’t seem to trust the power of his script – likely why many fans prefer the barer, live Kraft Television Theatre versions. Still, the theatrical “Patterns” depicts a call of humanity caught in a competitive world – realized through an elegant, distinctive voice.