Sunday, December 24, 2023

Santa in Animal Land

Annie and Horace

Written and Directed by
Stephen L. Sharff
Puppets by Alfred Wallace
IMDB Entry
Youtube version

There was a time in the late 40s-early 50s when puppets were common in children's entertainment. Movies and TV shows for kids were designed for what was perceived as an uncritical audience, and puppets were cheaper than animation, especially the full animation that was the mainstay of animated films. But the results were bizarre to modern eyes, and one major example of this is Santa in Animal Land.

The story is simple. It's Christmas and four animal puppets -- Felix (a frog), Annie (a duck), Horace (a dog), and Kitty (obvious from the name) -- lament that fact that Santa doesn't come for animals.  Kitty and Annie go out to ask why, and meet Santa, who comes up with a solution.

The story line is beyond simple, with only a minor complication along the way that is easily fixed. The animals get their presents and all is well.

The puppets look cheap and their voices are sing-songy and shrill.  They can't change expression, either.  It's bizarre to watch.

The original was in black and white, but in 2021, Jeff Joseph colorized it and it's been used as fill on TCM, where more people have seen it than in its original run. The added garish color only makes it more bizarre. 

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Do Not Adjust Your Set (TV)


Terry Jones, Denise Coffey, Michael Palin, David Jason, & Eric Idle

Written by and staring: 
Denise Coffey, Eric Idle, David Jason, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
IMDB Entry 

The second UK sketch comedy show that gave birth to Monty Python was Do Not Adjust Your Set. While At Last the 1948 Show headlined John Cleese and Graham Chapman, this one featured three of the troupe:  Eric Idle,* Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.

This one was pitched as more of a children's show and featured the same type of skits that were later a feature of Monty Python

The part that interests me the most was the appearance of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. The Bonzos are one of my favorite groups, the Monty Python of rock music. They used creative anarchy on stage, and they performed a song in every episode. Reportedly the TV appearances were toned down from their stage act. Neil Innes, one of the principal songwriters with Vivian Stanshall, later wrote songs for the TV show and for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, performing "Sir Robin's Song" in the movie.

Denise Coffey is not well known in the US, but was very successful in the UK after the show. The same goes for David Jason, who had a major role in Only Fools and Horses, which did make it across the pond. He was eventually knighted.

Jones, Palin, and Idle, of course, became big stars with Monty Python and various other shows. Once they joined forces with Cleese and Chapman, and hired the American animator Terry Gilliam, comedy history was born. But it is interesting to see how it got started.

*Idle appeared in both, though not as a regular in At Last the 1948 Show.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

At Last the 1948 Show (TV)

At Last the 1948 Show cast
 Written by and starring John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Marty Feldman, Tim Brooke-Taylor
Also Starring: The Lovely Amie McDonald
IMDB Entry

 Monty Python didn't come out of nowhere.  All its performers had already had sketch comedy shows on the BBC before then. The next two weeks, I'll be looking at a couple of them, starting with At Last the 1949 Show.

The cast are giants of sketch comedy. John Cleese and Graham Chapman, of course, founded Python and were a writing team throughout it. Marty Feldman -- who started as a writer -- became a surprising movie star, most notably in Young Frankenstein. 

Tim Brooke-Taylor is lesser known, but he starred in The Goodies, a major success in the UK.* In addition, there were small roles for Python's Eric Idle and the Goodies' Bill Oddie.

The show was a series of sketches, with linking material provided by the Lovely Amie McDonald. Yes, that's what she called herself and the played a dumb blonde who was pure ego. She also introduced the line "And now for something completely different."

The sketches covered some of the ground the Python would -- shopkeeper interactions, parodies, etc. They are funny, but not reaching that height.  Pythons did reprise some of them -- the "Four Yorkshirmen, where each of the people kept topping the other to show how miserable they were growing up, was used in their live films.

The show only lasted a season before the actors went their separate ways. As usual, the BBC didn't save any of the tapes, but they have since been uncovered and are available both online (TubiTV) and on DVD. The shows repeat sketches since some of them were compilations. It is a great look at how Monty Python's origins.

*So funny that one of their audience members literally died laughing.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Bodies (TV)


Created by Paul Tomalin, based on a graphic novel by Si Spencer
Starring Amaka Okafor, Kyle Soller, Shira Haas, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Tom Mothersdale, Stephen Graham. Gabriel Howell

IMDB Entry

Time travel is fascinating, and when I heard good things about Bodies, I decided to take a look.  It was a good decision.

It starts out in the present day. Detective Shahara Hassan (Amake Okafor) is called to investigate a naked corpse in Whitechapel in London. The corpse has been shot in the eye and has a strange tattoo on its wrist. She tracks down a man who found it and, to her utter shock, he commits suicide, uttering the words, "Know you are loved." Her investigation leads her to Elias (Gabriel Howell), a troubled teen.

Then we move to 1941. Charles Whiteman (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) in out to investigate the death of the same naked corpse in the same location with the same characteristics. He is also following orders from a mysterious woman who contacts him by phone, ending each conversation with the line, "Know you are loved."

The scene shifts to 1890. A third detective, Alfred Hillinghead (Kyle Soller), investigates another copy of the same corpse. A photo was made of it, with a man lurking in an alley.  He goes to find the man and slowly uncovered a conspiracy that's involved with it all.

One more shift to 2053. This time, it's Iris Maplewood (Shira Haas) who's investigating. She is called by Elias Mannix (Stephen Graham), the nation's leader, who took over the country after an atomic bomb destroyed much of London, using the slogan (Know you are loved or KYAL). He sends Iris to get to the root of the matter.*

The miniseries is based on a comic book by Si Spencer with art by Dean Ormiston, and it seems to be a fine adaptation. They keep the story lines straight by using titles showing the year, and often a split screen to switch from one to another. The mystery is strong and revealed in small chunks, as is the relationship between the various stories. What's especially good is the resolution, which is more an example of the butterfly effect than it is a single event.

The acting is all fine. Especially of note is Amaka Okafor as Shahara, a detective and mother who learns that she must act to save her son and family. The characters are all tormented by the events, and the actors play their parts that make you feel their pain. I especially like the way the narratives are woven together, and the logic of time travel.**

You can watch it on Netflix.


*It tough to write a spoiler-free synopsis of this without giving things away, especially since you have four different stories, all with some connection. 

**Though I will admit that the final scene, while a terrific sting, doesn't make any sense given what was established.