1956 was an epic year in film, from classics like “The Ten Commandments”, “The King and I”, “Giant”, “The Searchers” and “Moby Dick” to smaller but equally excellent work like “The Killing”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, and “Godzilla, King of Monsters”. But like every year before and since, there are films that slip through the classic crack and are all but forgotten. One that I just discovered that began as a teleplay by “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling turned feature film about big business and the complications that come when one’s morals come into play.
“Patterns” begins as Fred Staples (Van Heflin) is pulled from his position at a small town plant into the skyscrapers of New York by the corporation that acquired his plant. It doesn’t take too long for him to realize that his new boss, Mr. Ramsey (Everett Sloane) is grooming him to replace the current Vice President of the company Bill Briggs (Ed Begley). As Staples is given all the company can offer, like a new furnished house, Mr. Briggs secretary Ms. Fleming (Elizabeth Wilson), and an office right next to Briggs he is faced with personal dilemmas. As he also comes to realize that Briggs is a good man who is only slightly past his prime, his genuine abilities clash with his ethics over his certain promotion with the company and dealings with the cut-throat business sense of Mr. Ramsey.
While watching this film it is easy to see why it was forgotten amidst all the black and white classics of the time. There is no major star like Gregory Peck or Cary Grant leading the way, and the director Fielder Cook was early in his directing career who would go on to direct a ton of TV. The reason this should have been remembered and sought out is the tremendous writing by Rod Serling. He wrote “Patterns” as a live TV broadcast which was then tuned into a film and it features some outstanding one-on-ones as people verbally joust in almost every other scene. Plus as dated as the backgrounds and office workspace are, what still feels relevant is the power struggles that occur in big business. The way these guys thunder at each other is something we don’t see enough in modern films, outside courtroom dramas. What also feels timely is the challenge that can be met when your morals come into conflict with company standards. Everyone wants to do well at their job, and since it provides for your livelihood and supports your family one can’t help but devote so much time to it. However the further up you move, the more office politics arise and your decisions in the face of that can determine who you really are and who you want to be as a person.
This film evoked a lot of emotion from me, maybe it was the timing, or the power in the storytelling. Either way “Patterns” is an underrated gem from another time that feels so prescient in our modern culture. While most don’t really have knock-down-drag-outs in the workplace, they still kinda happen in their own PC way. There is always something under the surface and it was certainly relatable to me. If you are a fan of Rod Serling, this is one to see where there is no supernatural, but like his later work still manages to focus on who we are as a species and what we can be capable of in the face of the unfamiliar. Also if you ever watch something like Turner Classics and love being surprised by a film you never heard of, give “Patterns” a chance, there is still some interesting work to be found in this dimension.