Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Man from 1997

Directed by
Roy Del Ruth
Written by James Gunn (screeenplay), Alfred Bester (story)
Starring Jacques Sernas, Charlie Ruggles, Gloria Talbott, James Garner
IMDB Entry

Full Show on Youtube

The 50s were dubbed “The Golden Age of Television” for many reasons. Now, there was plenty of bad TV back them, but only the good shows are remembered, and the worst have been lost. But the one major difference from today was the number of anthology shows. They were quite common, often with one or two every evening. And among them are some surprising finds like The Man from 1997,” which aired on the short-lived series, Conflict.

Johnny Vlakoz (Jacques Sernas) is a Polish immigrant who’s working to learn English. He buys several books at a bookstore to study, but just after he leaves, a strange little main in a white suit (and with self-lighting cigarettes) named B.O. Boyne (Charlie Ruggles) appears, wanting to retrieve one of the volumes. Johnny takes it back to his apartment and discovers one particular book is titled Almanac of 1997,* including racing results. Johnny is romancing Maurine Donnelly (Gloria Talbot), whose ne’er-do-well brother Red (James Garner) is an inveterate horseplayer. Johnny asks Red to place a bet on a major longshot. When it comes through, gamblers decide to figure out his secret.

The writing, which would have fit right in as one of the more lighthearted episodes of The Twilight Zone has a great science fiction pedigree. The story was by future SFWA Grandmaster Alfred Bester, best known for his classic The Stars My Destination.

Jacques Sernas was originally from Lithuania, and started out in Italian films before trying his hand on American TV. Charlie Ruggles was a character actor who worked steadily from the silent days until the 1960s, usually playing a somewhat befuddled character.**

This was a major turning point of James Garner’s career. He was supposed to play Red as a lowlife, but Garner gave him a surprising amount of charm. A producer saw him in the role and thought him the perfect actor for a new show he was developing:  Maverick.

Director Roy Del Ruth was reaching the end of a long career, where he was best known for directing for Warner Brothers in the 30s, with some musicals and gangster films under his belt.

Like most 50s shows, Conflict and “The Man from 1997” faded away. It appears to have been recorded on film, but only twenty episodes were made,*** not enough to be shown in syndication, and in ten years, obscure black and white shows were hard to find. But it is an entertaining hour.

*Always a mistake to put near-future dates on things in science fiction story.

**His most notable role was as the voice of Aesop in the Aesop and Son cartoons, but he was in plenty of TV and movies. One of his credits was in the film Ruggles of Red Gap, but, alas, not at Ruggles (not that he would have been right for the role).

***It ran on alternate weeks with Cheyenne.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Albert Brooks -- Comedy Minus One (comedy)


Comedy Minus One
Albert Brooks is now a comedy legend, but like all comedians, he started out in standup.  And one of the earliest recorded examples of his work was the impressive Comedy Minus One.

Brooks had been called the comedian’s comedian, mostly because it’s a nice joke. His father, Harry Einstein, had a nice career in the 30s and 40s under the name Parkyakarkus. His son Albert went into the family business, though changed his last name to Brooks for reasons that should be obvious.*

He started doing guest spots on various variety shows and eventually got a recording contract. Comedy MInus One was his first effort.

It was definitely a strange mix. In the middle is a straight standup act about him as an opening act for Richie Havens, the crowd chanting “Richie, Richie, Richie” throughout his routine. There’s also an interruption where he asks “What do you think of the Record?” and the introduction where he brings in a notary public to prove that the album was in front of a live audience.

But it was the second side is where it takes off. “Comedy Minus One” is a standup act – only you’re the comedian. A script was written inside the album cover, and the listener could read it and have Brooks – and later Georgie Jessel (a legend of vaudeville comedy) – play the straight man.

The cover even showed what was going on. There was the legend, “Introducing the comedy team of Albert Brooks and . . . (over).”  When flipped over, there was an aluminum foil “mirror” with the word “You” above it.

Like many of Brooks’s comic idea, the idea was offbeat and played straight.

I remember when it came out. I was program director of the college radio station, and put out a warning that no one was to try to take the part. It was difficult to make it work over the air because you needed to get the timing right. But, of course, I broke my own rule. Since I had rehearsed it a bit, there were no awkward pauses and I think it came off pretty well.

Brooks did a second comedy album before branching out into short films and full-length comedies.** He always had a slightly different view of life, which made him so much fun.

*Brooks said that his father claimed to have never heard of Albert Einstein, but that he was probably pulling Brooks’s leg.

**His brother, Bob Einstein, carved out a niche for himself as Super Dave Osborne.