It looks to be a stage-play version of the book shot live for television and this kinescope survives.
Greene’s mellifluous baritone voice and his imposing stage presence made him an excellent O’Brien. If it was a less condensed version of the book, he would have done a hell of a job with the role. He does very well with his limited screen time, and I wonder why he didn’t play more villains. He was really good at it. After Bonanza, it was all patriarchs for the rest of his career.
If you pay attention and don’t blink, you may see a familiar face during The Two-Minute Hate…
It’s an impossibly young Martin Landau decades before his brilliant Oscar winning performance in Ed Wood and more than a decade before Mission: Impossible. He just has a bit part in this one, but I recognized him immediately. He looks so youthful and vibrant here. Sort of like a cross between a young Iggy Pop and Robby Benson.
Besides from condensing the book into an hour-long teleplay, the show takes some interesting liberties with the story. Emmanuel Goldstein, the enemy of the people, becomes Cassandra. Maybe Westinghouse got nervous and the writers decided to ply the character with a less ethnic sounding name. Heading back to the classics and giving the character the name of the prophet nobody believed was a sly move. So it didn’t strictly adhere to the book. So what? The eggheads who read the book probably wouldn’t own televisions anyway. No angry letters meant a happy sponsor which meant everybody keeps their jobs. Everybody’s happy. Win-win!
One of the strange things about this production is the depiction of the iconic image of Big Brother. Rather than go with a blown up headshot of some actor from central casting or maybe a halfway decent graphic illustration, they went sort of avant garde, off-off Broadway and somewhat loopy for this image of the most important character in the book.
It’s bad. Real bad. High school cheerleader painting posters for the pep rally bad. This production was probably shot in New York which was crawling with illustrators and artists back in the ’50s. This was the best they could do? What did the guys from Westinghouse think?
Embedded below for your viewing pleasure is this production of 1984
The video is not the greatest quality, and it’s in black and white, of course. I had some Photoshop fun colorizing some of the screenshots above.
If you have difficulty viewing it here, head over to the Internet Archive where you can view a streaming version or download it for FREE. It has lapsed into the public domain so it’s all yours.
Better yet, if you have a Roku, add the Internet Archive and watch it on your TV rather than hunched over a computer. It’s considered a private channel which means it’s either in beta or not quite ready for Roku’s official channel lineup. Go to your Roku account online and you’ll see a link for Adding a Private Channel. Click on it and add this code: NMJS5. You’ll get the Internet Archive channel which is a little clunky, but it’s FREE!
Ironically the broadcast of 1984 ends with this network identification:
Televisions were a relatively new MUST-HAVE item in houses in 1953. A paranoid melodrama just played out where everyone was being monitored from their TV sets, and here’s a big eye watching the watchers at home.