Sunday, May 22, 2022

In the Dark (TV)

(2019- 22)
Created by
Corrine Kingsbury
Starring Perry Mattfeld, Brooke Markham, Morgan Krantz, Casey Diedrick, Rich Sommer, Nicki Micheaux, Calle Riley, Matt Murray
IMDB Entry

In the Dark
The CW has an audience in mind: fans of Superheroes and teen dramas.*  But there is an occasional show that breaks out of the mold and works as straight drama. And one of their best shows is In the Dark.

It’s the story of Murphy Mason (Perry Mattfeld), who went blind in her early teens. She has learned to cope with it, but is aimless, taking comfort in sarcasm and meaningless sex. When Tyson Bailey, a street kid who saved her from a mugging, and someone she had taking a liking to -- is murdered, she gets involved in the case, dragging in her friend Jess Damon (Brooke Markham) and co-worker Felix Bell (Morgan Krantz) into it. Dean Riley (Rich Sommer) is the cop investigating, and who doesn’t believe any crime was committed.  Dean, however, recruits her to help out with his daughter Chloe (Calle Walton), who is also blind.

The show is strongly plotted as things get unveiled and we learn about why Tyson was killed.

The real strength, though is Perry Matfield as Murphy. Murphy is not a good person – she’s manipulative, getting others to help her out, and is more than willing to betray them all to get what she wants.  At the same time, she’s very funny and sometimes clearly vulnerable, even if she is loath to admit it.

Another great character is Nia Bailey (Nicki Micheaux) as a drug lord who speaks softly but who manages to put subtle menace in everything she says. Brooke Markham is great as Murphy’s best friend who is both frustrated and loyal to her.

I loved the show when it first came out, but somehow missed the second season. I picked up the third and finally decided to see what I had missed. The quality of the writing was that there was a certain even that was referenced multiple times the third season, but when I actually saw it happened, I was still surprised.

The show will have a fourth and final
season starting next month, and I’m looking forward to it. It can be found on Netflix.

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*Sometimes both at once.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover

The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover

(1989)
Written and Directed by
Peter Greenaway
Starring Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Alan Howard.
IMDB Entry

Peter Greenaway is not for everyone.* Originally a painter, he brings an artist’s sensibility to the screen, very stylized. He’s also not afraid of taboo concepts, especially sex, violence, and cannibalism. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. Is a fascinating portrayal of his interests.

Richard Borst’s (Richard Bohringer – the Cook) is a chef, whose restaurant is taken over by Albert Spica (Michael Gambon – The Thief), a wealthy and crude gangster who eats there each day. Spica is sadistic, cruel, and intimidating, especially to his wife Georgina (Helen Mirren), who, spotting Michael (Alan Howard – Her Lover) in the restaurant, starts a torrid affair with him in one of the restaurant’s rest rooms. Of course, Spica eventually learns of the affair and kills him in the most humiliating way possible. But Georgina gets revenge.

The story is visually sumptuous, with rich colors and everything staged like it was in a classical painting (sometimes specifically so). There is a theme of colors; as people walk from room to room, their clothing changes to match the color of the room.

Gambon is excellent as a man you want to hate – a crude bully who thinks he can get away with whatever he wants. Helen Mirren is always great and this role lets her show her as a woman who gets tired of her husband humiliating her and turns on him.

The movie is well regarded, and certainly a great on, but clearly not for everyone’s taste.

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*A friend of mine once called Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract as the worst movie he’d ever seen.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Shootout in a One Dog Town


(1974)
Directed by
Burt Kennedy
Written by Larry Cohen (Story and Screenplay), Dick Nelson (screenplay)
Starring Richard Crenna, Jack Elam, Richard Egan, Stefanie Powers, Michael Ansara, Dub Taylor, Arthur O’Connell
IMDB Entry

Back in the day, directors specialized. Some were known for comedies, others for dramas. Burt Kennedy was known for comic westerns like the classic Support Your Local Sheriff! But he could also show his dramatic chops in the made-for-TV movie, Shootout in a One Dog Town.

It starts with a gang of outlaws ambushing some riders. One – Reynolds (Michael Ansara) – escapes and, though shot, makes it to the town of Opportunity, which does only have one dog. Banker Zach Wells (Richard Crenna) agrees to take the strongbox filled with money that Reynolds was carrying, while Reynolds goes for help. Unfortunately, Reynolds dies before he can do anything else.

The outlaws aren’t giving up, of course.  Leader Petry (Richard Egan) is greedy and not one to let that much money* slip through his hands, even after one of his gang is killed. Petry just thinks it’s a bigger share for those who are left.

Shoot Out in a One-Dog Town

Zach enlists the Sheriff and reformed drunk, Handy (Jack Elam) to help him out, while the other townspeople decide it’s best to be elsewhere. Zach’s wife Letty (Stefanie Powers) urges him to just let them have the money, but Zach will have none of it.

The movie gives the impression it’s a comedy,** but it is more of a western drama, with some lighthearted moments. Jack Elam was in the middle of his transition from villainous henchman to comic sidekick, but the character does show a good mixture of drama and comic relief, and veteran actors Dub Taylor and Arthur O’Connell have small roles as townspeople.

Richard Crenna is also quite good as he shows Zach’s resourcefulness holding off the deliciously vicious Petry. Richard Egan makes the character purely evil, without going overboard. Stefanie Powers is OK, but her part really gives her nothing to do.

Overall, though the film is a top-notch western.

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*One minor quibble is that it supposedly contains $200,000 in gold, an insane amount of money for the time (at least $6 million today).

**The first credit card says it was produced by William Hannah and Joe Barbara. Hannah-Barbara did dabble in live-action action films, usually made for TV, around this time.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Egg (Music)

Egg

1968-1974
Dave Stewart (Hammond organ, piano, Mellotron), Mont Campbell (bass, vocals), Clive Brooks (drums).
Wikipedia Entry

There have been several attempts to label a group of musicians after the area they performed in. The San Francisco Sound was the most well known, with several groups from that area becoming major stars. The Boss-Town Sound was far less successful.* And in England, there was the Canterbury Sound.

The name is misleading. It didn’t have much to do with Canterbury; few of the groups performed or lived there. But there was a certain similarity in their music – experimental, progressive, and with a sense of humor. Musicians drifted in and out of the groups, which included Soft Machine, Caravan, Camel, Gong, Henry Cow, and, of course, Egg.**

The members of the band – Dave Stewart, Mont Campbell, and Clive Brooks played together for several years as Uriel. When they signed a record deal, they were advised to change their name, and chose Egg.***

Their first eponymous album was a mixture of prog rock, classical, jazz, and whatever else. They had ambitions: one side consisted of “Symphony No. 2,” a twenty-minute piece, with a title that showed their playfulness.

The album was critically praised, but didn’t sell well. Still it did enough for Deram Records to pay for the recording of a second album. “The Police Force” was recorded, but Deram got cold feet and shelved it. Eventually it was released, also to acclaim, but probably to no money. While they had enough material for a third album, Deram said “no” and wouldn’t be budged.  The group broke up after that, but Dave Stewart managed to get the third album released in 1974 as “The Civil Surface.”

The music is very much reminiscent of Soft Machine, with long meandering melodies and a lot of jazz influence. The lineup is much like Emerson Lake and Palmer, though Stewart’s style is nothing like Keith Emerson, more soft and less bombastic.

Stewart went on to join Hatfield and the North, and Canterbury-like outfit. Campbell moved out of rock and into world music, where he’s a renouned multi-instrumentalist. Brooks joined the Groundhogs, and then became a drum technician for Pink Floyd.

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*It was actually an attempt by MGM records to build hype to match the hype for San Francisco. The groups signed were no where near as good, and people got turned off by the hype, making it a flop that hurt the bands who were being promoted (some of which were quite good, but bad hype can destroy anyone).

**None of the bands got widespread commercial success; they were critical darlings, but the complexity of the music guaranteed it would only be a niche audience.

***Supposedly because “Uriel” sounded too much like “urinal.”

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Abandon Ship

Abandon Ship

(UK Title: Seven Waves Away,
Alternate Title: Seven Days from Now)
(1957)
Written and Directed by
Richard Sale
Starring Tyrone Power, Mai Zetterling, Lloyd Nolan, Stephen Boyd, John Stratton
IMDB Entry

I read a lot about movies, especially in my younger days. As a result, I’ve at least heard of the top films of the era. But when Adam-Troy Castro, a friend of mine who runs a movie blog on Patreon, mentioned Abandon Ship, I had never heard of it, and he spoke so well of it that I had to take a look. It is a true dramatic gem.

The movie starts out with the image of a mine floating free on the water as the credits roll. Then it explodes.

It destroys the ocean liner SS Crescent Star, which sinks in seven minutes, killing nearly all of the 1156 people on board. Executive Officer Alec Holmes (Tyrone Power) finds his girlfriend Julie White (Mai Zetterling) and joins the 25 other survivors rest on the only lifeboat.

The big problem is that the lifeboat is built for twelve. Not everyone can fit on the boat without swamping it, so some of the survivors have to remain in the water, holding on to the gunwales.

Holmes takes charge, given command by the dying captain. And their prospects are dire. They are 1500 miles from land, and the ship’s radio operator, Sparks (John Stratton), was unable to send an SOS. Holmes has to do the unthinkable and sacrifice some of the survivors in order that the rest of them can live.

The lifeboat

The drama is as intense as I’ve ever seen. Everything is life and death, and, as conditions deteriorate, Holmes has to make life or death decisions.

Power is excellent. He has to condemn people to death because logically it is the only choice, but he still manages to project that he hates the course he has to follow, even as he follows it.

John Stratton is also memorable as the radio operator who is clearly suffering from PTSD and guilt over not being able to bring help soon.

One important point is that the film is based on a true story. And while nowadays, that’s usually trumpeted in all the promotional material, this isn’t mentioned until the very end of the file, where they tell the legal fate of Holmes.

Director Richard Sale came up as a screenwriter and switched to directing. Some of the films he wrote had vaguely memorable.* This was his final film.

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*Notably, Suddently, where Frank Sinatra played an assassin. The film was withdrawn from distribution by Sinatra because it was too close to the JFK assassination. But there was a colorized version that became the horrible example of colorization, mostly because “Old Blue Eyes” is shown with brown eyes.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

I Dood It

I Dood It

1943
Directed by
Vincente Minnelli
Written by Sig Herzig, Fred Saidy
Starring Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Richard Ainley,Patricia Dane, John Hodiak, Hazel Scott, Lena Horne
IMDB Entry

Eleanor Powell was one of the great dancers of film. I had seen very little of her, especially not on her own.*  So I happened to stumble upon I Dood It** with Red Skelton, a favorite comedian of mine from his TV days, and finally got a chance to see her in a feature.

She was spectacular.

The movie focuses on Joseph Rivington Reynolds (Red Skelton), a pants presser who becomes enamored of the Broadway star Constance Shaw (Eleanor Powell).  He shows up at every performance and knows every line of her current play, a Civil War romance. Shaw is engaged to her co-star Roy Hartwood (John Hodiak) who is two-timing her with Suretta Brenton (Patricia Dane). Angry, she goes to Joseph, who is following just to get a glimpse of her, too shy to even approach her. Due to a misunderstanding, Constance thinks he’s the rich owner of a gold mine and marries him out out spite.

The movie is based on Buster Keaton’s Spite Marriage and Keaton actually provided gags. Indeed, one of the comic set pieces comes from the Keaton film, when Joseph tries to put Constance into bed after she has fallen asleep.

The plot is slight but serviceable.  What lifts up the film is the musical numbers. Director Vincent Minnelli** stages them all as though they were on stage, and they all give Powell a chance to amaze. She is known for her tap dancing, which is especially good, especially since she does it all in high heels. What really stands out, however, is her cowboy roping dance, where she does thing with a lariat that are extremely impressive (especially at 3:30 of this clip).. 

What is also of note is the appearance of Black performers in the film. Both Hazel Scott and Lena Horne perform major numbers. Butterfly McQueen – from Gone with the Wind – also has a small role as a maid, and there is little condescension toward her.

Skelton is fine. He was always comfortable with slapstick and silent comedy, which puts him in good stead.

Director Vincent Minnelli was near the beginning of a long career, primarily with movie musical. This is one of his lesser-known films.

There’s also a lot of references to World War II, which was going on at the time. There is a subplot involving German saboteurs, and one joke when Skelton mentions butter and an entire room takes notice, because it was rationed at the time.

Powell’s career was surprisingly short. She made only one more movie after this and switched to working nightclubs. She did get some recognition in the That’s Entertainment series, but most of her films tended to be revues; this is one of the few times she played a character.

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*She did once partner with Fred Astaire, and clips of that have been shown in many contexts.

**The title comes from a catchphrase from Skelton’s radio show, where he played the “Mean Widdle Kid,” a Bart Simpson-like boy.

***Yes, Liza’s father.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

(2014)
Directed by
Rob Minkoff
Written by Craig Wright. Additional dialog by Robert Ben Garant
Starring (voice): Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie  Mann, Allison Janney
IMDB Entry

When I was growing up, I had a clear favorite cartoon show:  Rocky and Bullwinkle* and my favorite part of them was “Peabody’s Improbable History.” It had everything I liked and it was always a treat.** When I heard they were making Mr. Peabody and Sherman, I was wary. I didn’t think they could keep up the craziness of the original.*** It took a while for me to catch it, but when I did, I realized it was a pretty good adaptation.

Mr. Peabody (voice of Ty Burrell) is a genius dog who adopts Sherman (Max Charles) as his own.****. He uses his time machine – the WABAC***** – to teach him about history.  In school, however, Sherman contradicts the teacher when she says George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, leading to teasing by Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter), leading to Sherman biting her, ultimately bringing in the Child Protective Services agent, Karen Grunion (Allison Janney). In an attempt to smooth things over, he invited Penny’s parents (Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann) to try to smooth things over. Despite warnings against it, Sherman is goaded into telling Penny about the WABAC, and she ends up in ancient Egypt to be married to King Tut.

That’s the start of various frenetic adventures through time, with some nice animated action sequences, until the entire thing escalates so that Mr. Peabody has to save the day.

The main difference from the original is that they develops the relations between Mr. Peabody and Sherman, turning it into father/son situation. Of course, the original had no time to delve into such things, but when you’re turning a five-minute cartoon into a feature film, something has to be added.

It also changed the structure from the original. Mr. Peabody would go back in time to see historical events and had to act to make things work out as history was written.******

The voice cast is excellent. Ty Burrell manages to make Mr. Peabody into a know-it-all without him sounding like one. And there are quite a few surprising voice cameos.

And, of course, the puns. The original was notable for ending each episode with a terrible pun.******* It probably led to my lifelong love of the form.

There were also some great references to the original, and to other Jay Ward cartoons. I especially liked the final gag, which refers to the original TV opening sequence.

Definitely worth a look. A new take on the characters that shouldn’t disappoint long-time fans.

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*In all its titles:  The Rocky Show, Rocky and His Friends, and The Bullwinkle Show.

**Nowadays, they don’t quite hold up as well as the main Rocky and Bullwinkle segments, but at still pretty good.

***I was also wary of the live action Rocky and Bullwinkle movie, but found it better than I expected.

****Leading to the line taken from the original: “If a boy can adopt a dog, I don’t see why a dog can’t adopt a boy.”  (Though the original used “own” instead of “adopt.”)

*****Also spelled “Wayback,” which is the most common way it’s referred to.

*****Much like Quantum Leap.

*******Just like in Through Time and Space with Ferdinand Feghoot, which may have been an influence.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Virginia Gregg

Virginia Gregg

(1918-1986)
IMDB Entry

Actors are usually noticed. But some actors can have long careers in small roles and still remain anonymous. And one actor who fits this category is Virginia Gregg.

Gregg was born in Harrisburg, PA, but moved to Hollywood as a child. She started getting parts as a voice actress in radio. There were few shows of the time where she didn’t appear. It seemed like whenever they needed a female actress, she showed up. She played all ages, from ingenues to old women. I kept hearing her name as I listen to Old Time Radio broadcasts.

She also was in many films, and when TV came around, she continued to work. Jack Webb clearly liked her work; she was on Dragnet ten times, his movie The D.I, the 1966 revival of Dragnet, The D.A, Emergency! and Adam-12.  It seems like she was in every dramatic show from the mid-50s to the mid-70s. Then she switched to voicework.  Indeed, her best known movie was the voice of Norman Bates’s mother in Psycho – uncredited.

Why isn’t she well known? Well, first of all it was rare for her to play a recurring character.  Her ten performances in the original Dragnet had her playing a different character each time. And though she was fine at what she did, she did not have the distinctive voice that made someone like William Conrad identifiable. I usually didn’t spot her in a show until they announced the credits. In addition, she did not have the Hollywood looks that got you case in a lead role.  Also, she was in her late 30s when TV came in – too old for a leading actress, especially one whose body of work was small roles.

I don’t think she minded – few people can match her for working steadily for over 40 years.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Tenth Man (TV)

(1988)

The Tenth Man

Directed by
Jack Gold
Written by Lee Langley, from a novel by Graham Greene
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Watson
IMDB Entry

Graham Greene had a long and successful career that straddled the genres of thriller and literary novels. The Tenth Man, one of his later novels, was made into a first-class TV movie.

Jean Louis Chavel (Anthony Hopkins) is a comfortable Paris lawyer during the Nazi occupation when he is rounded up by the Nazis to be used as a hostage. When the Resistance kills a German official, the thirty men are given the ultimatum: pick three of them to be killed in retaliation.

Chavel is chosen. Desperate, he offers all his wealth and property to anyone who wishes to switch places. No one is interested until Michel Mangeot (Timothy Watson), who is dying of tuberculosis, volunteers, giving it all to his sister Therese (Kristin Scott Thomas) and mother. At the last minute Chavel tries to change his mind, but Mangeot goes to the firing squad.

Three years later, the war over, Chavel is freed and travels to his house to meet Therese. She hates Chavel, so he gives her a false name and tells her he was in the prison with Chavel and her brother. He offers to help around the house, and ends up as a servant. A relationship develops, which is shattered when and imposter (Derek Jacobi) shows up, claiming to be Chavel.

It is not a surprise that Anthony Hopkins gives a fine performance.  His Chavel is a man haunted by his decision and is brought a bit more toward normalcy by his interactions with Therese, who is played strongly by Kristin Scott Thomas.

Most impressive is Derek Jacobi. The mannerisms that make him a good guy are especially effective in playing the devious imposter. He got a supporting actor Emmy for the role* and it was well deserved.

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*He doesn’t appear until the final third.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Bronco Billy

Bronco Billy
(1980)
Directed by
Clint Eastwood
Written by Dennis Hacklin
Starring Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Geoffrey Lewis, Scatman Crouthers
IMDB Entry

Think of Clint Eastwood, and the word “western” immediately comes to mind. He developed a reputation as a taciturn man of action, a traditional western hero in the untraditional 60s. But Eastwood also had a lighter side, and showed far more depth in his characterizations as time went by. And one of the more interesting characters was in Bronco Billy.

Bronco Billy McCoy (Eastwood) is the owner and main attraction of an old fashioned wild west show, the type that went out of fashion long before the movie was set. He claims to be the fastest gun in the west, and ends each performance with a knife throwing act. When he accidently nicks his assistant, she leaves and he is forced to turn to Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke), an heiress who has been abandoned by her new husband, John Arlington (Geoffrey Lewis). Antoinette is forced to take the place in the act.

His show is not making any money, but Billy continues on, mostly to keep the dream alive, and to provide jobs (rarely paid) for the various misfits, ex-cons,  and alcoholics who make up the crew.

The movie shows a true lover for the imaginary west of movies.* Eastwood shows his softer side, usually avoiding a battle unless provoked.

Sondra Locke – who had a relationship with Eastwood at the time – is good, but Scatman Crouthers is just fine as the show’s ringmaster and announcer. For a short time, Crouthers was in the middle of a career peak, playing notable character roles.

The movie was a modest success, both critically and financially, but Eastwood was looking for more. It may be because he felt it was one of his most personal works.

Definitely worth seeing out.

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*I don’t think it’s coincidence that the character shares his name with Broncho Billy Anderson, one of the first western stars, who appeared in The Great Train Robbery.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Leap Year

(1924)
Directed by
James Cruze, Roscoe Arbuckle
Written by Walter Woods, from a story by Sarah Y. Mason
Starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mary Thurman, Lucien Littlefield, John McKinnon, Harriet Hammond, Gertrude Short, Maude Wayne
IMDB Entry

Leap Year
I’ve been curious about this film for decades.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle* was one of the bigger names of silent comedy. He gave Buster Keaton his start, and was one of Mack Sennett’s biggest stars. Few remember that. They mostly remember the scandal.

To recap, a woman, Virginia Rappe, died after a Hollywood party and a friend of hers claimed Arbuckle raped her, the weight of his body causing her death. It was a sensation. The Hearst papers ran with it,** Arbuckle was eventually acquitted,*** but his career was ruined.

His studio, Paramount had seven films of his in the can and ready to go when the scandal hit. For obvious reasons, they decided not to release them.

I always wondered what the films were like. How would have Arbuckle’s career unfolded if it hadn’t been for the scandal?  I had thought they were lost forever.

Turns out, though several of them were lost, people were able to track down prints of the rest.

Leap Year is the most easily available (on Youtube and archive.org).  It was released in Finland in 1924 so there were prints, and by 1981 it was finally shown in America.

Stanley Piper (Arbuckle) is the nephew of the rich, crotchety Jeremiah Piper (Lucien Littlefield), a hypochondriac who has a full-time nurse, Phyllis Brown (Mary Thurman). Stanley is in love with Phyllis, but through a series of misunderstandings, three women (Harriet Hammone, Gertrude Short, and Maude Wayne) believe that Stanley is proposing to them; all accept. Stanley can’t get them to understand, as well as confusing Phyllis, who is not happy with the situation. The women show up at Stanley’s house and he has to devise ways to break up and keep the women apart from each other.  But every attempt only make them more attracted to him.

How is it? Pretty run-of-the-mill. Slapstick and misunderstanding abound and the plot twists are pretty obvious and contrived. But I’m sure it would have been successful if it could have been released in 1921. On the other hand, I doubt it would be remembered as a classic silent comedy and would not have put Arbuckle up in James Agee’s pantheon.

Arbuckle does make an effective leading man. His weight works against him, but Stanley is basically a decent guy, and he is handsome enough to pull off the role believably.

The film was directed by James Cruze, a veteran silent film director and actor who worked until his 1938, his best-known film these days The Great Gabbo, probably the original evil ventriloquist’s dummy trope.

Arbuckle couldn’t recover from the scandal. He had occasional acting roles, usually in films directed by his friends (who all stood by him during the trials) then switched to directing using the pseudonym William Goodrich. By the late 20s, he directed a series of short subjects under that name for Educational Pictures.**** By 1932, the scandal was far enough in the past for him to get a contract for more short subjects, which did well enough for Warner Brothers to sign him to star in a feature.

He died the day after he signed the contract.

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*He did not like his nickname

**Hearst is reported as saying it “sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the Lusitania."

***The jury saying “Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime."

****Leading to one of the funniest mistranslations I’d ever come across.  I have a French-language film encyclopedia which reported he did “educational films,” not understanding that “Educational” was the name of the film company. The idea that the scandal-ruined Arbuckle would be directing films for schools always seemed absurd. Educational Pictures had nothing to do with education; it was a small, low-budget producer of short subjects. Buster Keaton worked there when MGM dropped him and they also were where many bigger stars got their first roles.  They were out of business by 1940

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong

A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong

(2017)
Directed by
Richard Boden
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Starring Derek Jacobi, Diana Rigg, Henry Shields, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Nancy Zamit
IMDB Entry

A Christmas Carol has been adapted hundreds of times. There are debates as to who played the best Scrooge. But there is nothing to match A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong.

It starts out as a standard adaptation, with Derek Jacobi as Scrooge. But as it gets started, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society abducts the BBC Studios and Jacobi and puts on their own production.

As the title states, everything goes wrong. Marley’s corpse falls out of the coffin, the door to Scrooge’s office won’t open (so he walks around to the side of the set), Diana Rigg (the aunt of one of the actresses) can’t make it on time to narrate, so has to do it on her cell phone. Bob Cratchit can’t remember his lines, so they are written (blatantly) all over the set. Props fail and stagehands struggle to make them work and the camera manages to show them whenever they aren’t supposed to be shown. There is dissention as to who will play Scrooge, ridiculous special effects, CGI failures, and pratfalls galore.

The result is hilarious. If you’ve ever been involved in a theater production, it’s even funnier as the actors try to pretend that everything is fine and they’re not in the middle of a disaster.  It’s pure slapstick, and perfectly done.

It's available on Youtube.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

It Happened on Fifth Avenue

It Happened on 5th Avenue

(1947)
Directed by
Roy Del Ruth
Written by Everett Freeman (screenplay), Vick Knight (additional dialog), Herbert Lewis (original story)
Starring Don DeFore, Charles Ruggles, Victor Moore, Gale Storm, Ann Harding, Alan Hale, Jr., Dorothea Kent
IMDB Entry

Titles are an art. You need to come up with something that’s both memorable and intriguing. It Happened on Fifth Avenue is not an inspiring name for a film, but the result on the screen is a charming little movie.

Aloysius McKeever (Victor Moore) has a sweet setup. Though homeless, he spends his winters in the mansion of Michael O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) when O’Connor boards it up to spend winters in North Carolina. Jim Bullock (Don DeFore) is a war veteran who loses his apartment when O’Connor buys it to tear down to put up an office building. Jim runs into Aloysius, who invites him to enjoy the mansion with him. Meanwhile, O’Connor’s daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) lets herself into the mansion after running away from finishing school. Jim and Aloysius find her and think she’s trying to squat there. Trudy is attracted to Jim, so doesn’t reveal her identity, since Jim hates her father for putting him into the cold. Jim meets a couple of war buddies Whitey (Alan Hale, Jr.) and Hank (Edward Ryan), who join the crew.

Trudy’s father finds her, but she convinces him to pretend to be homeless, too, because Jim would hate her if he knew she was the daughter the man who evicted him.  He joins the crew, as does Trudy’s mother Mary (Ann Harding), who has divorced her father because he was too devoted to making money.

The movie is light and charming and has something of a Christmas theme. You could make a case that Aloysius is Santa Claus, and, in many ways, O’Connor is Scrooge.. One thing I liked about it was that it resolved comic misunderstandings in the situation without dragging it out.

Victor Moore is quite charming. He was a fairly solid star on Broadway before going into films as a career; this is one of his bigger roles. Don DeFore is best known as Mr. Baxter in the 50s sitcom, Hazel. I remember Gale Storm fondly from the TV shows My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show (Oh! Susannah). And Charlie Ruggles was a successful character actor for years.

There are quite a few familiar faces in the movie. John Hamilton (Perry White in The Adventures of Superman) has a few lines, and the great Charles Lane shows up as a prickly landlord. Alan Hale, Jr. is probably best known as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island.

Director Roy Del Ruth was one of the top directors of the 30s and early 40s.

The movie has an interesting production history. It was originally planned by Frank Capra as the inaugural film for his Liberty Pictures, but he dropped it when he saw the script to It’s a Wonderful Life. He sold the rights to Monogram Pictures, a poverty row studio best known for B pictures and westerns.Monogram was trying to improve its reputation and created Allied Artists, making It Happened on Fifth Avenue their first production. It was successful enough to Monogram to eventually rename itself.

The movie was nominated for a best Writing Oscar, but lost to Miracle on 34th Street. The complications of syndication kept it off TV screens for years, but it came back recently.

It’s worth seeing out. It’s not quite a Christmas classic, but it is a very good film.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Beyond the Fringe (theater)

Beyond the Fringe: Bennett, Cook, Miller, & Moore

(1960-1966)
Written and performed by
Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore.
Wikipedia Page

Beyond the Fringe may be the most influential thing I’ve talked about in this blog. It revolutionized British comedy. Without it, there would be no Monty Python, for instance.

The show is a sketch comedy written by the performers. It resembles Python with the absurdity and intellectual depth of the sketches, and also showed a penchant for discussing current events. Much of this is commonplace now, but back in 1960, there were few things that were like it.

Most of the sketches had been used in small revues and college productions. The four writers gathered together the most  successful of their writings and put it together into an evening of theater.

Dudley Moore is probably the most famous of the group. He became a movie star with roles in 10 and Arthur, making him famous all over the world. He also was a first-class pianist* and played music for the revue.

But it is Peter Cook who is recognized as being a genius of comedy. He wrote many of the sketches for the show, and UK sketch comedies are in aw of him. His main talent was his deadpan delivery of mundane lines where he managed to make everything funnier – even lines that were funny to begin with. After the show, he worked as a partner with Moore, and is at his best as the Devil in the original Bedazzled. He was also with Moore in The Wrong Box, where he gets to play off Peter Sellers.

But his movie career never gained notice. Partly because he was a genius at sketch comedy and wasn’t quite the same when he was using other people’s dialog. The only role most people are aware of is his small bit as the vicar trying to run the marriage ceremony in The Princess Bride.

The other two members of the cast also went on the stellar career.  Alan Bennett found his niche as a playwright and won a Tony Award for The History Boys. Jonathan Miller produced and directed several plays as part of the BBC Shakespeare project and directed plays for Broadway.

Beyond the Fringe ran over a year in London and moved to Broadway, with the London version continuing with a different cast. ________________________________________________________
*I saw him perform in a concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Kevin Can F**k Himself (TV)

Kevin can F**k Himself

(2021-2022)
Created and written by
Valerie Armstrong
Starring Annie Murphy, Mary Hollis Inboden, Eric Peterson, Alex Bonifer, Brian Howe, Raymond Lee.
IMDB Entry

Back in the 60s, the gimmick show was king with things like My Mother the Car, Bewitched, The Hathaways*, and others. The concept faded, as the gimmicks were more silly than actual humor. But any genre can be revived, if they know how to handle the genre,  and Kevin Can F**k Himself** shows that you can create compelling TV with the right gimmick.

Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy) is married to her boorish husband Kevivn (Eric Peterson), who takes her completely for granted and is oblivious to her feelings. His father Peter (Brian Howe) and her brother Neil (Alex Bonifer) make her the butt of their unfunny and broad jokes. The setup is much like the man-child husband and smart wife formula for shows like Kevin Can Wait, Everyone Loves Raymond, According to Jim, and that ilk. Allison is stuck in a very bad sitcom.

But once she gets away from Kevin and his friends, it’s a different story. The show turns into a semiserious drama about Allison being at the end of her rope. When a man dies in the town library of fentanyl overdose, she realizes that a way to commit the perfect crime and free herself. With the help of her best friend Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden), she begins to plot the murder. In the meantime,her old high school sweetheart, Sam  Park (Raymond Lee) has returned to town to run a diner – and the flame is rekindled despite the fact he’s married.

The gimmick is how the two parts of her life are shot. When she’s with Kevin, it’s a standard three-camera sitcom – limited sets, and a set up like a filmed play. But when Allison is on her own, it’s a one-camera show, set up like a movie. The switch is a clever idea to show the sitcom world vs. the real one.

The cast (sitcom setup)
Allison is not a nice person.*** She holds our sympathy because we see how badly Kevin treats her. Murphy does a terrific job keeping us on her side even when she’s at her most manipulative.

Eric Peterson’s Kevin is also a tightrope act. He is a lout, but manages to play it so that he doesn’t turn you off completely and, to his credit, tries to do better for himself (though never recognizing how badly he treats Allison).  Mary Hollis Imboden is wonderful as the wisecracking best friend who has problems of her own.

After a cliffhanger, the show was renewed for a second season, which will be a final one. I think it’s a great idea not to continue further; the situation just isn’t sustainable over a long run. But what’s there is fascinating to watch.

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*About a family with three chimpanzees.
**Probably the only TV show whose title was never actually displayed -- there was always something blocking two of the letters.

***None of the characters are.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Four-Sided Triangle

Four Sided Triangle

(1953)
Directed by
Terence Fisher
Written by Paul Tabori (adaptation/screenplay), Terence Fisher (screenplay) from a novel from William F. Temple.
Starring Barbara Payton, James Hayter, Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen
IMDB Entry

Not all  50s science fiction involved monsters. There were some examples that dealt with the possibilities – good or bad – of technology. The Four-Sided Triangle is an example of this.

Bill Leggat (Stephen Murray) and Robin Grant (John Van Eyssen) were close childhood friends, who both get childhood crushes on Lena Maitland (Barbara Peyton). Grown up, Lena falls for Bill, leaving Robin the odd man out, and Robin is deeply disappointed. He and Bill are are scientists, developing the Reproducer, which can make exact duplicates of anything.

Robin comes up with the idea of making a replica of Lena so that he can have her. The woman – called Helen – is indeed a duplicate, but also falls for Bill. Robin comes up with a plan to fix that. Of course, it does not work.

I liked the situation, but also the way it avoids the clichés of the genre. In most movies of this vintage, Helen would go horribly wrong. It does from Robin’s point of  view, but no monster is created.

Director Terence Fisher was a very busy man in the fifties, directing several Hammer horror films.* The cast also appeared in Hammer films.

It’s an intriguing situation and an entertaining movie.

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*The Four-Sided Triangle was an early venture by Hammer, before they made their niche in horror.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Freshman


(1990)
Written and Directed by
Andrew Bergman
Starring Marlon Brando, Matthew Broderick, Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, Bert Parks.
IMDB Entry

The Freshman
Marlon Brando was one of the greatest movie actors of his generation. He’s best known for his iconic dramatic roles, but he did have a penchant for comedy when he needed it. And one of his great comic turns was in The Freshman.*

Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick) is a young man from Vermont who moves to New York City to attend film school. On his first day there, he meets Victor Ray (Bruno Kirby), who proceeds to steal all his belongings. Spotting Victor a few days later, Clark shakes him down for his things, but Victor no longer has anything. He makes an offer Clark can’t refuse: he’ll get him a job with his uncle Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando). Sabatini bears more than a passing resemblance to the most famous of movie gangsters, but Clark, needed the money, goes to work for him.

Sabatini is an importer and runs a special dinner club that charges very high prices to eat endangered animals. Clark is soon caught up in smuggling a Komodo dragon to be the latest meal.

Brando, of course, is riffing on his role as Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather. And the movie doesn’t play that down. Clark sees the resemblance, and sees everything that Sabatini does through the mythology of that movie. The humor comes from Clark’s reaction to being drawn into what looks like a very shady enterprise.

Brando appears to enjoy the chance to vamp on the image. He supposedly told Bergman that he saw Sabatini as the real life person that he based Corleone on. He plays it all very straight, which makes it all the funnier.  Broderick plays his role as a man flustered about what he’s gotten into. Bruno Kirby is also good as the scheming Victor.

One major joke that no one will get these days was the use of Bert Parks. Forgotten today, back in the 50s he took over the job of announcer of the Miss America pageant, and for over 20 years he was known singing “There she is, Miss America” when a winner was announced. He ends up singing the same song, as the Komodo dragon wanders in the dining room ready to be eaten.**

Writer/director Andrew Bergman was a vastly underrated creator of comedy of his era. He had cowritten Blazing Saddles, and moved on to directing.  This was one of several successful films, though his career took a hit when he wrote and directed Striptease.

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*Not a very good title. Not only is is bland, but it competes with Harold Lloyd’s classic silent comedy.

**Parks also sings Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm,” as incongruous a pairing as ever put on film. 

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Kindergarten Cop

Kindergarten Cop

(1990)
Directed by
Ivan Reitman
Written by Murry Salem (story & screenplay), Herschel Weingrod (screenplay), Timothy Harris (screenplay)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Linda Hunt, Carroll Baker, Richard Tyson
IMDB Entry

Arnold Schwarzenegger made his name as an action-adventure hero.  But, when given the chance, he showed a fine talent for comedy.* One of his better comic  vehicles is Kindergarten Cop.

John Kimble (Arnold) is a cop looking for the estranged wife of a LA drug dealer (Richard Tyson). With his partner Phoebe O’Brien (Pamela Reed), he goes to Astoria, Oregon where O’Brien goes undercover as a substitute kindergarten teacher.  When she becomes sick, John is forced to substitute for her, though he quickly finds the five-year-olds are often more wild than the most hardened criminal. School principal Miss Schlowski (Linda Hunt) is skeptical of Kimble’s abilities.

The movie is not breaking new ground. Kimble finds the woman he’s looking for, and the big bad shows up and has to be dealt with. It depends on the acting to make  it fresh.

Arnold was never mistaken for an actor with a lot of range,** but he clearly understands his image, as well  as comedy in general. Many of the jokes play off his tough-guy image as he faced with dealing with children.

The supporting roles are well cast. Linda Hunt plays the no-nonsense boss with a soft interior as well as anyone in film and the kids are a delight. They act very naturally and the effect is charming.  Pamala Reed has been a favorite of mine since I spotted her in Eyewitness, but never seemed to get the breakthrough she deserved. She’s worked steadily, but here she disappears for most of the film.***

The movie was a success. This isn’t surprising. Director Ivan Reitman was the king of 80s comedies, including Ghostbusters, Meatballs, Stripes, Dave, and Junior and was still at the top of his game. Of course, Arnold continued to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

It’s a charming film that’s still fun to watch.

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*It may be a part of his success as an action hero.

**Though his accent probably limits him.

***Oddly, her Wikipedia page lists this as the first role she is known for.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

My Name is Julia Ross

My Name is Julia Ross

(1945)
Directed by
Joseph H. Lewis
Screenplay by Muriel Roy Bolton, from a novel by Anthony Gilbert
Starrring Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready, Roland Varno, Anita Sharp-Bolster, Queenie Leonard
IMDB Entry

These days, the term “to gaslight” is commonly known – an attempt by a manipulative man to make a woman doubt her sanity. It stems from a successful British play Gaslight, which was made into a movie in 1940*  renamed in the US as Angel Street. Four years later came to best-known version, with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Its success led to other stories with a variation same theme, and one of the first was My Name is Julia Ross.

Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is desperately looking for a job and goes to a new employment agency, who immediately hires her to be secretary to Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty). Julia wakes up two days latter in a house in Cornwall, not London, without any idea how she got there.  Ralph Hughes (George Macready) insists her name is Marion and that she is his wife, who had undergone a nervous breakdown and who is trying to recover. Julia can’t convince anyone of the truth; he only hope is to contact her boyfriend Dennis Bruce (Roland Varno) for help. But Mrs. Hughes stays one step ahead of her.

The movie is tightly written with some strong suspense at the end as you wonder what might happen. It’s a slight variation on gaslighting in that they don’t try to drive Julia insane, but merely try to convince others of her insanity, which makes them discount her sincere cries for help as paranoid delusions.

The most striking performance is Dame May Whitty** as Mrs. Hughes. She is sweet and caring and thoughtful on the surface, even while she is planning Julia’s death. Nina Foch is also quite good and Julia is shown to be resourceful and clever – just  not as clever as Mrs. Hughes.

The movie was unjustly obscure and deserves to be seen.

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*Released as Angel Street, and available online.

**Miss Froy from The Lady Vanishes.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Adventures of Spin and Marty (TV)

Spin and Marty

(1955-57)
Directed by
William Beaudine (et al.)
Written by Jackson Gillis based on a book by Lawrence Edward Watking
Starring David Stollery, Tim Considine, Harry Carey, Jr., J. Pat O’Malley
IMDB Entry

Middle class boys and girls in the 50s had one experience in common:  summer camp.* They would go off for a couple of months, a way to keep them busy without their mother organizing activities.The version in the western part of the US was a ranch, where the kids got to play cowboy for a summer. So when Disney looked around for something to fill the time in The Mickey Mouse Club,” they chose the dude ranch concept and came up with The Adventures of Spin  and Marty.”

Marty Markham (David Stollery) was a spoiled rich boy, raised by his grandparents, who decided a dude ranch would be just the thing. Marty didn’t agree, and had nothing but contempt for the camp and was even afraid of horses. The most popular boy in camp, Spin Evans (Tim Considine) goes to take Marty down a peg or two. Over the course of the season, Marty began to drop his airs and became close friends with Spin. Bill Burnett (Harry Carey, Jr.) looks over Marty’s progress, as does Marty’s butler, Perkins (J. Pat O’Malley).

The stories were all rather basic. Since it was aimed at kids, there were few serious complications, but it was one of the few of the era that actually showed character growth, and Marty lost his contempt and became a part of the ranch.

I'm also amused to see the name of William Beaudine listed as one of the directors. Beaudine gained notoriety due to his direction of low-budget horror films where he would shoot every scene once, no matter how badly it was done, though it seems that reputation was exaggerated. But he was known for shooting movies in a minimal amount of time, a practice that certainly was useful when doing a TV series.

It was a success and two more serials were commissioned. There was also a comic book series.

Tim Considine went on to be Mike of My Three Sons. Stollery had been successful as a child actor before the show, but could not make the jump to grownup star.  Harry Carey, Jr. had made many films before and after this, while J. Pat O’Malley was a very successful character actor, appearing in well over 200 films and TV shows.**

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*I went to three:  Pinecrest Dunes (called Camp Kiwanis for a special one-week session sponsored by the Kiwanis Clubs (a service organization like Lions or Rotary)), Camp Momaweta (as a commuter), and Camp Wawokiye (a full year). All were within 20 minutes of my house, so it wasn’t a question of being sent away to new places.

**His most influential role was in Mary Poppins. Though just an uncredited voice actor, Dick van Dyke used him as a voice coach for his cockney accent. The reason it is so ridiculous is that O’Malley – from the Manchester area and used to playing stage Irishmen – really had little idea about what a cockney accent sounded like.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
(1972)
Directed by
Paul Newman
Written by Alvin Sargent, from a play by Paul Zindel
Starring Joanne Woodward, Nell Potts, Roberta Wallach, Judith Lowry
IMDB Entry

It’s a cliché that what actors really want is to direct. Paul Newman managed to get the chance,and made the most of it with films like Rachel, Rachel and the wonderfully titled The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.

It’s ostensibly the story of Matilda “Tillie” Hunsdorfer (Nell Potts), a shy middle school student with an interest in science, which gives her a refuge from her mercurial mother Beatrice (Joanne Woodward). Beatrice is filled with ideas, some sensible, some wildly fantastic,  but never can follow through with them, and often uses Tillie as the subject of her rage. Her other daughter Ruth (Roberta Wallach) is older and trying to form her own identity. The title of the movie* is the description of the experiment Tillie is preparing for the science fair: she exposes marigold seeds to gamma rays to see how they are affected.

The movie is a character study about how toxic Beatrice is her children, without her being aware of it throughout the movie. The title indirectly references this:  how her influence affect her kids.

The Hunsdorfers

Woodward is excellent in the role, managing to develop sympathy for a character that is hardly sympathetic.

Of note is Judith Lowry as Nanny, an old woman in a wheelchair that Beatrice takes in as way to make some money. Lowry was a stage actress who retired to raise her kids, but then returned to play old women. She is important to the plot but manages to give Nanny some personality.

The movie was a family affair. Woodward was married to Newman and had already won an Oscar.  Potts was their daughter, and Wallach was the daughter of Eli Wallach.

The movie was a success, with Woodward gaining a lot of notice. Wallach went on to a minor career in TV and movies and is still working today. But it looks like Potts decided not to pursue a movie career:  This was her last film.

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*From the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Paul Zindel.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Antz

Antz

(1998)
Directed by
Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson
Written by Todd Alcott, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Starring Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman Sylvester Stallone, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Jane Curtin, Danny Glover, Christopher Walken
IMDB Entry

From time to time, two movies come out at the same time with the same general theme. In the early 60s, for instance, there were two biographies of Jean Harlow that came out within a month of each other. Sometimes this is coincidence, but when it is not, and things can get ugly. A prime example of this was Antz.

Z (voice of Woody Allen) is a worker ant who is dissatisfied with his insignificant life. He gets sent out to war by the scheming General Mandible (Gene Hackman), and returns as an inadvertent hero who goes to meet the queen (Anne Bancroft). He also falls for Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) and he has to run from the colony, taking her along as a hostage. Z is looking for Insectopia, a heaven for insects, but General Mandible, seeing Z’s independent thought a threat to his scheme to take over the colony, goes hunting.

The movie does cover some grown-up themes as to the dangers of blindly following a leader, and the importance of individualism. Allen is fine as Z (written for his usual screen persona).*  Hackman makes a great meglomaniac and Stone does a good job voicing Bala.

The main controversy at the time was that Antz was produced by Dreamworks. Jeffrey Katzenbach had been with Disney, and knew that Pixar was also planning an animated film with insects that eventually became A Bug’s Life. John Lasseter of Pixar was appalled that Dreamworks was doing the film, and insisted Katzenbach had stolen the idea, something Katzenbach furiously denied.  The bad blood lasted for years.

I tend to think Antz is the superior film. It was more adult in conception and more edgy**.  A Bug’s Life was more kid-friendly and soft. It’s  not a bad movie (but not one of Pixar’s best), but is less ambitious. Antz*** also uses ant biology in its conception – its ants have six legs.

Ultimately, A Bug’s Life, with the Disney marketing machine and the Pixar name, did far better in the box office. It also helped that it was something kids could enjoy.  Plus Disney can market the DVDs far better.

But Antz is still a fine piece of animation.
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*According to the producers, he came in, knew his lines cold, and recorded it all in five days.

**I note that the images on the DVD soften the characters and make it seem more like  a kids’ movie.

***Like all the best ant movies – Them!, Phase IV.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

She Devil

She Devil

(1957)
Directed by
Kurt Neumann
Written by Carroll Young and Kurt Newman (screenplay) based on “The Adaptive Ultimate” by John Jessel (Stanley G. Weinbaum)
Starring Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker, John Archer, Fay Baker, Blossom Rock.
IMDB Entry

50s science fiction has the reputation of being monsters attacking. That’s generally true, but from time to time a movie was made with a different focus.  She-Devil doesn’t fit that model as all.

Dr. Dan Scott (Jack Kelly) is working to develop a project that could curse any disease. The only thing he needs is a human subject, but his mentor, Dr. Richard Bach (Albert Dekker) blocks the idea as too dangerous. But Kyra Zelas (Mari Blanchard), a young woman dying of tuberculosis, seems a perfect subject and Scott manages to browbeat Bach into trying.

The cure is miraculous. Within a day or so, the TB is gone, and Kyra is able to get out of bed.  Scott and Bach have her stay at their house so they can observe.And they discover that Kyra can do anything in order to adapt:  change her hair color, manipulate people, and seduce them* as necessary.  Dr. Bach wants to put an end to this, but Dan has already been seduced by her and is very reluctant to act. It becomes a moot point as Kyra quickly adapts to thwart their plans. Soon she is nearly invulnerable, so she leaves the house to find more wealthy prey.

The movie is adapted from the story “The Adaptive Ultimate” by Stanley G. Weinbaum.** I’ve talked about Weinbaum before, but, in brief, he wrote one of the most influential  stories in the entire science fiction genre, “A Martian Odyssey.” The movie stays pretty close to the book. It’s also different from most 50s SF in that there is no actual monster. Kyra is manipulative and cruel, but still human in appearance. The grand climax has next to no action, but the point of the movie is the concept and the puzzle of how to stop her.

Jack Kelly became a TV star a few years later as he portrayed Bart Maverick when James Garner had a contract dispute. Here he is a typical 50s leading man – smart and resolute. Albert Dekker was a minor SF icon as the title character of Dr. Cyclops, though you’d be hard pressed to recognize him, since he hasn’t shaved his head and doesn’t wear Coke bottle glasses. He is the scientist who keeps urging Dan to do the right thing. Dekker had a long career in both movies and TV.

Mari Blanchard was busy as an actress, almost always in small roles. He work here shows a lot of range, moving from a woman scared of dying to being a heartless manipulator. She had made quite a few B movies in the 50s, but retired in 1963*** after being diagnosed with cancer. She died in 1970 at age 47.

Of course, those reading the cast list should immediately recognize Blossom Rock. She looks quite different than Grandmama in The Addams Family, but once she speaks, she’s instantly recognizable.

The movie was overlooked. It was rare to see it in discussions of 50s SF.**** I suppose it was because it didn’t fit in the mold for the genre – no action scenes, no giant monsters. It certainly wasn’t successful enough to cause a buzz for a sequel. I found it quite good, if talky.

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*Chastely, of course.  These are the 50s.

**The story was published under his Jessel pseudonym.

***Except for a few small guest starring roles.

****I remember one reviewer (possibly Baird Searles of F&SF) who had no idea it had anything to do with Weinbaum until he saw it and recognized the plot (probably because he didn’t know who Jessel really was).

Sunday, August 22, 2021

King Leonardo and His Short Subjects

1960-63
Starring
Jackson Beck, Allen Swift, Sandy Becker, Kenny Delmar, Ben Stone
IMDB Entry

Saturday morning TV in the 60s was for kids, keeping them busy as their parents slept in. There was a big market for kids cartoons of the era,  and one producer was Total Television, whose biggest success was King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.

King Leonardo (Jackson Beck*) ruled over the kingdom of Bongo Congo, aided by his loyal assistant Odie Cologne,** a skunk (Alan Swift). Leonardo was slightly dimwitted and Odie often had to bail him out from plots by Biggie Rat (Beck), who plotted to get Leonardo’s even more dimwitted twin, Itchy Brother (Swift).

The stories, like the classic Rocky and Bullwinkle, were in serial form, with Odie always saving the day for the king. Nothing was particularly subtle, but it certainly entertained.

There were two other cartoons making up the show.*

  • Tooter Turtle. Tooter (Swift) was friends with Mr. Wizard**** the Lizard (Sandy Becker). Tooter would get enthused about something and ask Mr. Wizard to send him to do it, despite Mr. Wizard trying to warn him against it. Tooter would soon learn that the job or location wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be, and would cry out his catchphrase “Help me, Mr. Wizard.” Mr. Wizard would say the incantation, “Drizzle Drazzle, Druzzle, Drone, time for this one to come home” and Tooter would learn his lesion.
  • The Hunter. This one was my favorite. The Fox (Ben Stone) was a wily crook who committed bizarre and improbable crimes. Once he was done, the local police would say, “This is the work of the Fox. And the one man to catch the Fox is the Hunter (Kenny Delmar).”*****  The Hunter was completely clueless, but his blundering always ended up with the Fox going to jail.

The show ran for several years, the name changing to The King and Odie, and, when it was cancelled, Total Television (now dubbed Leonardo Productions) used the characters (and the episodes) in some of their other shows like Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog).

The show was ignored for decades, along with several other of Total Television. It took awhile to get any DVDs out and they were often published with Rocky and Bullwinkle, which had a similar look, but a much different sensibility.

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*One of the great voice actors, most notable as the announcer of the Superman Radio show (including the iconic opening lines) and as Bluto in many Popeye cartoons.

**I got the pun when I first saw the show.

***Typical of the era, where there were three main cartoons (plus bumpers) to fill a half hour.

****No connection to Don Herbert.

*****The voice Mel Blanc imitates when he voices Foghorn Leghorn.