Tuesday, December 1, 2015

From the DVR: Lured (1947)

It’s a familiar story in classic movies: a talented girl, practiced in the terpsichorean arts, is determined to make it big as part of a show…but the production folds unexpectedly, leaving our would-be star stranded and badly in need of work to keep body and soul together.  This is the case for Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball), who has been forced to take a job as a taxi dancer to make ends meet once she’s been left high and dry in the city of London.

One night, a representative for producer Robert Fleming (George Sanders) invites Sandra to audition for a new show that Fleming is producing with partner Julian Wilde (Sir Cedric Hardwicke).  Sandra tries to coax her pal Lucy Barnard (Tanis Chandler) into auditioning as well, but Lucy is determined to quit show business in order to travel with a mysterious individual she’s met through a newspaper personal column.  Not a particular smart move on Lucy’s part; she vanishes from the scene and during a chance meeting with Scotland Yard’s Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn), Sandra and Temple piece together enough suspicion to suggest that Lucy is a victim of a serial killer known only to the gendarmes as “The Poet Killer.”

Sandra is pressed into service to act as bait for the killer—answering various personal ads in an attempt to locate the poet murderer, which brings her into contact with suspects like Charles van Druten (Boris Karloff), a demented dress designer.  As her investigation continues, the finger of suspicion slowly starts to point toward Fleming, with whom Sandra is falling in love.  Qué lástima!

I recorded Lured, a 1947 melodrama directed by future cult director Douglas Sirk and written by Leo Rosten (from a story by Jacques Companéez, Simon Gantillon, and Ernest Neuville), the day The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ scheduled a day of films featuring Thrilling Days of Yesteryear idol Boris Karloff.  I’d never seen the film, and because I had heard a few positive things about the movie I decided to take a peek.  To be frank…other than functioning as a red herring (is Karloff’s character the “Poet Killer”?) Boris isn’t too particularly well-served in this vehicle—which is why I’ve always been curious as to why his presence is as played up as it is (he’s prominently featured on the cover of the DVD release from Kino Lorber).

I didn’t dislike Lured—watching it won’t be a waste of time—but I have to agree with one online reviewer who described the film as “a delicious plum pudding of a cult movie.”  It’s nice if you’re partial to plum pudding…but for those viewers who’d like a little meat to go with their melodrama (after all—how can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?) it’s going to come up a bit short.  For a modest-budgeted independent film (released by United Artists), Lured boasts a sumptuous sheen…and I admire some of director Sirk’s exquisite touches (the faux Victorian look of cobblestone streets and gaslights), particularly the inventive opening credits sequence.  Lured’s raison d'être seems to be to showcase Lucy’s character as a clotheshorse…which I wondered about constantly throughout the film—how does a taxi dancer afford a wardrobe like that?  (Perhaps the tips at the dance hall are better than I thought…)  The clothes in the film come courtesy of designer Elois Jenssen, who was also in charge of the redheaded comedienne’s wardrobe on I Love Lucy until she was unceremoniously pushed out in favor of R-K-O veteran Edward Stevenson, a longtime Ball crony.

The other aspect of Lured that bothered me is that the Sandra Carpenter character is inducted as a member of Scotland Yard’s police force rather quickly; her only qualification appears to be the ability to keenly observe her surroundings (she’s asked by Temple for a description of his office despite not having spent much time in it).  I don’t discount that scrupulous scrutiny is an integral part of police work but I just had trouble buying how easy it was for Sandra to join The Thin Blue Line.  (“You previously worked in a dance hall, eh?  Congratulations—you’ve got the job!  Have a revolver!”) 

I know, I know—it’s nitpicking; Lured is mostly about style than substance.  The strong cast in the film is Lured’s major asset; it’s one of Ball’s best cinematic showcases, and you know I’m up for anything featuring George Sanders (who receives billing over his co-star).  (Sanders, in speaking to one of his girlfriends in the picture, even admits that he’s “an unmitigated cad.”  True dat.)  The list of old pros also includes Coburn, Hardwicke, Karloff, Joseph Calleia, Alan Mowbray, and Alan Napier…but for me, the real joy was having George Zucco on hand as Lucy’s “handler.”  Zucco put the “sin” in “sinister” throughout his film career, so it was a treat to see him in a lighter vein; there’s a running gag throughout Lured in which he asks Lucy for the answer to a crossword puzzle entry…and while claiming she doesn’t know, she inadvertently gives him the solution through a perfectly chance remark.  The duo’s interactions are among the highlights of a movie that midway during its U.S. release became Personal Column because the bluenoses thought Lured sounded too much like “lurid.”

At one time, motion pictures like Lured were known as “women’s pictures” but their dark, melodramatic content has apparently influenced today’s critics to classify them as film noir.  If Lured is noir, it’s a fat-free one; I prefer to watch Lucy in 1946’s The Dark Corner (which might very well be my favorite of her feature films) where she plays a secretary determined to help her private investigator employer (Mark Stevens) beat a murder rap.  (A smart secretary would let her boss fry for criminal blandness…but who am I to judge?)  Be that as it may, Lured is an enjoyable time-passer despite its weaknesses, so I don’t hesitate to give it the TDOY seal of approval.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM #74 (Cinematic Vegetables edition)

The weeding out of movie offerings on the DVR continues apace at Rancho Yesteryear, which is why you might have noticed that I’ve been a bit more prolific with the blog this month.  I also thought, seeing that it’s the Thanksgiving holiday and all, that I’d update a few important bulletins while several of us recover from overindulging yesterday (I tried to refuse that third piece of pie…but I was powerless to resist).

I mentioned briefly in the comments section of this post that my mother had been prescribed a wheelchair to allow her a bit more mobility in dealing with her back problem, and I’m pleased as punch to report that she has taken to the apparatus like a duck to water, as evident in this photo approximation:

The wheelchair has also allowed her to perform many more household tasks that had temporarily become my responsibility (sadly, these chores do not resolve me of grocery duty), and while I am grateful for the workload shift I still find myself cautioning her constantly not to overdo.  Here’s an example: my sister Debbie had made Thanksgiving plans with her in-laws in Franklin, Tennessee—and while there wasn’t room on the itinerary for a brief stop-and-say-hidy, she wanted to do something to help Mom out with the Turkey Day menu so she offered to order a dinner for the three of us from some local outfit like Publix or the like.  My mother simply would not have this; she was perfectly capable of getting the feast together.  She explained to me later that doing the dinner was a matter of pride with her…I, on the other hand, still tenaciously cling to my belief that old people are stubborn.  (Wait a minute…)

While Mom isn’t back to full kitchen capacity, she’s been able to take over enough to allow me to retreat into my boudoir office environs and pick up where I left off with the blog.  However…I’m sad to report that I don’t think Doris Day(s) is going to be returning to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear soon.  (Please…leave us not resort to embarrassing displays of grief.  Or displays of whooping it up with wild abandon, for that matter.)  Truth be told, each weekly Doris presentation takes up a lot of time: first, I have to watch the episode…then I have to spend time wondering why I watched the episode…but there’s also a lot of time spent in transcribing dialogue and gathering up screen captures…it really is a labor intensive process, and it’s just not going to be doable until things return to a sense of normalcy around here.  Despite her initial plans to fight everyone tooth-and-nail on this, Mom has discussed her situation with the surgeon and has agreed to undergo the surgery; this will get underway in the early part of January of next year.  There will also be a brief period of convalescence for mi madre, so don’t be surprised if the blog goes dark again at that time.

So much for the updates at Rancho Yesteryear—here’s some flickage that I sat down with recently:

I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955) – Before winning a Best Actress Oscar for her role in 1958’s I Want to Live!, Susan Hayward had received four prior nominations beginning with her performance as an alcoholic singer in Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947).  There was just something about tackling the roles of singing lushes that appealed to Hayward, because her fourth Academy Award nom came from playing the legendary Lillian Roth in the M-G-M biopic I’ll Cry Tomorrow.

Lillian Roth is a successful Broadway and film star whose career has been propelled a great deal by her ma Katie (Jo Van Fleet), the yardstick by which stage mothers are measured.  When her childhood sweetheart and fiancé (Ray Danton) dies on the opening night of her show, Roth starts a slow march toward depression and eventually the bottle (thanks to a nurse played by Virginia Gregg, which made me cackle to no end).  Her career in show bidness spirals downward, no thanks to her drinking and some really terrible choices in husbands (one of which is played by Richard Conte, who was such a rat bastard I was even repulsed by him…and I’ve seen Conte play some real wankers).  Lillian hits rock bottom, with a suicide attempt and a major case of the D.T.’s before finding redemption with Alcoholics Anonymous and a romance with her sponsor (Eddie Albert, who also appeared with Hayward in Smash Up).

Had I been an Academy voter in 1955, my choice for Best Actress would have gone to Hayward because I thought she gave an incredible performance in Tomorrow—even better than in the film for which she did garner the trophy, I Want to Live!  (Hayward did get a consolation prize in snapping up Best Actress honors at Cannes.)  Sue is positively fearless in Tomorrow, never afraid to show just how ugly alcoholism can become (I was never completely sure how much of it was acting and how much was personal experience), and the supporting cast in this film is also first-rate: Fleet (outstanding as her domineering mother), Conte, Danton, Albert, etc.  (To be honest, though—I have always been bewildered at how Don Taylor succeeded in the moviemaking business; he’s fairly bland as Roth’s first husband.)  I also chuckled at seeing Peter Leeds as an A.A. member (“It’s too piercing, man…too piercing”) and This is Your Life host Ralph Edwards plays himself in a recreation of Roth’s appearance on that program (one of the few times someone was told in advance what Edwards had planned).  I was a little hesitant about watching I’ll Cry Tomorrow, but it was a most exhilarating experience (well, if you can call movies where people are out to destroy their liver exhilarating).

The Long, Hot Summer (1958) – Because I attended college in the South, many of the books I was required to read in English courses placed a heavy emphasis on Southern writers…and as such, I have a rather jaundiced view of a lot of them—case in point, the celebrated William Faulkner.  The Long, Hot Summer is comprised of several of Faulkner’s scribblings; 1938’s “Spotted Horses” (a novella), 1939’s “Barn Burning,” and the 1940 novel The Hamlet.

But to be honest—Hot Summer comes across more as warmed-over Tennessee Williams: the story involves a no-‘count drifter named Ben Quick (Paul Newman) who drifts into the sleepy Mississippi town of Frenchman’s Bend, which functions under the iron fist of Will Varner (Orson Welles), owner of all of the bidnesses in town.  Varner likes the cut of Ben’s jib, and schemes to manacle him to his daughter Clara (Joanne Woodward) because she’s 23 and practically an old maid.  (Will’s not satisfied with running Frenchman’s Bend—he’s got a vested interest in the lives of his family as well.)  The senior Varner hires Ben to be a clerk in his general store…and then later extends an invitation for the ambitious Quick to live in Casa del Varner.  These overtures do not sit particularly well with Will’s son Jody (Anthony Franciosa), who fears being shoved out by the charismatic Ben.

At the Facebook page for my friend Cliff’s classic film website In the Balcony, I jokingly commented that I had spotted character great Byron Foulger in Hot Summer (he’s the farmer who’s a bit miffed that his barn has burned down in a sort of pre-credits sequence), which prompted Cliff to ask if it was necessary to watch anything else beyond that.  I had to be honest: unless you enjoy watching people overacting with fake Southern accents (okay, I will give Joanne Woodward a pass on this because she hails from Thomasville, GA) for two hours you’re probably going to want to avoid The Long, Hot Summer.  I bow to no one in my admiration for Orson Welles, but I was honestly embarrassed for him in this movie.  Orson took the gig because he owed Uncle Sam some back taxes but he later commented: “I hated making Long Hot Summer. I've seldom been as unhappy in a picture.”

I feel your pain, Orson.
In reading the background on this picture, I learned that Newman (who nabbed Best Actor honors at Cannes) spent time in Clinton, Louisiana before filming getting into character by studying the mannerisms and accents of Southern men.  This does not explain, however, why Newman’s accent sounds the same as the one he used in Hud (1963), a movie that takes place in Texas.  Most of the actors in Summer lack an authenticity when it comes to Southern accents (it’s not as easy to do as you’d think) but I think Franciosa was the worst offender.  You can take the boy out of New York City but…well, you know how that goes.

If there was anything good to come out of this movie, it’s notable as the production where Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward met and married, instituting one of the most solid couplings in a town not known for marital longevity.  Hot Summer also jump-started the directorial career of Martin Ritt, who had been blacklisted in the industry for his political affiliations; he’d work again with Newman on five more theatrical films including Paris Blues (1961) and Hombre (1967) as well as helm such TDOY favorites as Sounder (1972), The Front (1976), and Murphy’s Romance (1985).

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968) – I had avoided for many years this adaptation of Carson McCullers’ first novel (yes, I had to read this one, too, because Southern writers in college) since I couldn’t quite see how it was possible to do a movie version.  As it turns out, it’s a difficult task—but director Robert Ellis Miller and screenwriter Thomas C. Ryan do a not-too-shabby job.  Deaf-mute John Singer (Alan Arkin) relocates to a small Southern town in order to be closer to his best friend Spiros Antonapoulous (also deaf and mute, and played by legendary kiddie show host Chuck McCann), who’s been placed in an institution.  Singer unwittingly has an impact on the lives of many of his fellow residents—a young woman (Sondra Locke) painfully transitioning from adolescence to adulthood; a proud African-American physician (Percy Rodriguez) disillusioned with the choices his daughter (Cicely Tyson) has made in life, etc.—but his condition makes it difficult for him to communicate how unfulfilling his own existence really is.

I know this is a biased opinion—but I am a huge (yoooooooge) Alan Arkin fan…and in a world that makes more sense, the actor would spend much of his free time polishing the Oscar that instead went to Cliff Robertson in 1968 for Charly.  (He had to settle for the New York Film Critics Circle honors, which just goes to show that critics based in the Big Apple know the score.)  Arkin gives an incredible performance in Hunter, and I never thought I’d actually write this…but I thought Sondra Locke (who received an Oscar nom along with her co-star) was good as the young woman whose enthusiasm for classical music Arkin determinedly stokes.  (The scene where Locke, confused after losing her virginity to the older brother of a classmate, pushes Arkin away literally tore out my shriveled little heart.)  I jokingly commented to Mom as we watched this: “Just when did Sondra Locke become such a shitty actress?”  (My esteemed blogging colleague and BBFF Stacia has a dissenting opinion—she doubts that Locke was ever good, and being Clint Eastwood’s significant other only helped her career—but she did it with her trademark humor: “She was once passable—now she’s shitty!”)  In all honesty, I think Collin Wilcox (Paxton) would have been a better choice for the part of Mick Kelly (To Kill a Mockingbird’s Mary Badham auditioned for the role but was rebuffed).

I found the backstory of Rodriguez and Tyson to be the most interesting in the film (I would have watched an entire movie of that) and was sorry to see Stacy Keach (his theatrical film debut) depart so early, though I knew it was coming (Keach’s character is a labor agitator in the novel—in the movie he’s mostly just a drifter).  Overall, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a bit dramatically uneven but a most worthwhile film, with gorgeous cinematography from James Wong Howe and an evocative score courtesy of Oscar winner Dave Grusin.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Buried Treasures: The Strange One (1957)

I majored in what was described as “Speech Broadcasting” during my short academic career at Marshall University in the early 1980s, and because I spent a goodly amount of time at Marshall’s student radio station, the student manager asked me to tackle the production of FM 88’s weekly pop culture broadcast, Entertainment ’83.  It was a half-hour show that focused on news from the world of music, television and movies, and one of the perks of the job was that I was given free passes to the local movie theaters to do reviews on the latest film releases.  (To be honest, “I was given” isn’t completely accurate—if memory hasn’t failed me, I had to beg, wheedle and cajole the theatre owners to give us gratis passes.)  People who worked at WMUL-FM and wanted to check out a particular movie need only ask me for a pass, and I would bestow upon them those riches in return for a five-minute recorded review.  (I was a most benevolent producer, to say the least.)

It was early 1983, and for some odd reason the local movie houses hadn’t kept up with the release schedule so there would be times when there was nothing new to review…and to keep the passes from expiring, I would often persuade my paisan Jeff Lane (again, to be truthful—he did not need much persuading) to accompany me to the flickers…where we would sit through such turkeys as Spring Break (1983—from the director of the Friday the 13th movies) and a particularly odious bit of celluloid fromage called Joysticks (1983—from the guy what directed 1977’s Satan’s Cheerleaders).  This last movie is proof positive that Joe Don Baker will be spending a little time in Purgatory once he gets that visit from The Grim Reaper, before he moves on to his greater reward for films like Junior Bonner (1972) and Charley Varrick (1973).

Jeff and I saw Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) ten times on free passes alone.  We also saw The Lords of Discipline (1983) several times, a movie that Jeff positively loved but I found difficult to embrace because of its plot (based on the novel by Pat Conroy) of hellish conditions at a military academy.  I do not mean to disparage such institutions of higher learning, and have no plans to do so provided they tend to their knitting and I to mine.  But those places make me very uneasy, and always have.  The Powers That Be were always threatening to send problem kids to those kinds of places when I was growing up, and my experience (admittedly limited, but still) saw a friend of a friend of mine sent to one and upon doing his time, he was a bigger essobee than ever when he got out.  And besides: Donald Trump went to one (though he seems to have confused his time there with some sort of actual military service).

I didn’t see The Strange One (1957) until several years after watching Lords, but that oh-so-familiar déjà vu came back when I did (I think I originally caught this on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™’s TNT days).  Tee Cee Em showed this one the other night (a double feature with 1961’s Something Wild) as a tribute to its director, Jack Garfein…whose movie career dissipated after only two films.  Strange One is an adaptation of Calder Willingham’s play (and novel) End as a Man, and takes place at a fictional military academy where several cadets are terrorized by a charismatic bully (Ben Gazzara) who answers to “Jocko de Paris.”

Jocko has it in for another cadet, George Avery (Geoffrey Horne)—the son of one of the school’s commanders, Major George Avery, Sr. (played by Larry Gates).  He lays out an elaborate plan to frame George for violating the rules—all under the guise of a “practical joke”—with the help of four other cadets: his roommate Harold Koble (Pat Hingle), Roger Gatt (James Olson), and freshmen Robert Marquales (George Peppard) and Maurice Maynall Simmons (Arthur Storch).  De Paris and his quartet start up a card game after lights out, and while playing poker the liquor starts to flow freely.  When young Avery comes around to investigate, he is beaten up by Gatt and has some of the demon rum poured into him by Marquales and Simmons.

George is found passed out on the quadrangle the next morning, and is quickly drummed out of the academy.  His father is convinced that Jocko is responsible, but he’s unable to pin it on him—and De Paris has skillfully manipulated his accomplices into lying about both his and their involvement (the cadets stand to be expelled as well if anyone confesses).  Though he has a lot to lose—his family is button-popping proud that he was accepted into the school—Marquales eventually realizes they have no other choice but to confront Jocko, which he and an army of like-minded cadets from the school do in a memorable climax.

For a film that had to tap dance around some taboo issues—there’s a strong suggestion of homosexuality in two of the characters, Simmons and a cadet nicknamed “Cockroach” (Paul E. Richards), and at one point in the film Jocko employs a prostitute (Julie Wilson) for the purpose of humiliating Simmons—The Strange One remains a powerful piece of drama since its release over fifty years ago.  Director Garfein was hired by producer Sam Spiegel to take on the project after the initial plans to star James Dean fell through, so Spiegel reworked the idea as a low-budget release that would spotlight the talents of several of the thesps who originated the roles on stage as part of New York’s legendary Actors’ Studio (a number of the crew members who worked on Strange were also affiliated with the Studio as well).

The Strange One marked the film debut of Ben Gazzara, who was simply without peer when it came to playing rat bastards.  (My father doesn’t always notice these things, but he pointed out as we watched Strange the other night that Ben’s character sported a cigarette holder similar to the one he used in the later Anatomy of a Murder [1959].)  Gazzara’s Jocko De Paris is not without his charm (which is why so many cadets fall under his spell) but he’s a truly contemptible douchebag—the kind of individual I always seemed to have the misfortune to run into throughout my high school and college careers.  (I wish I had seen Strange earlier in life—it might have given me pointers on how to avoid these guys.)  And yet, there’s a homoerotic subtlety in that so many cadets regard De Paris as an object of hero worship…a nice example of getting things under the radar.

Actors Pat Hingle (members of the TDOY faithful know how much I enjoy this man’s work, and The Strange One is one of his best acting showcases), Paul E. Richards, (Peter) Mark Richman, and Arthur Storch all reprise their roles from the stage production, with newcomer George Peppard (also his debut) and James Olson taking over the parts originally played by William Smithers and Albert Salmi, respectively.  (I would have loved to see Salmi in this—another actor for which I have tremendous respect.)  The stage version of End as a Man also featured Anthony Franciosa and Harry Guardino, and no one was more relieved than I about Tony not making the cut because I had enough of his faux Southern accent the other night in The Long, Hot Summer (1958—coming to a future post).  The only other vehicles I’ve seen Storch in were an episode of The Phil Silvers Show and a small part as a psychiatrist in The Exorcist (1973), so his teeth in Strange kept bothering me because I didn’t remember them being so pronounced in the Bilko outing.  (I learned after the movie that he asked his dentist to fit him with a special upper plate of buck teeth for his character.)

The Strange One was a first-rate directorial debut for Garfein (who told a few stories about the production to Bobby Osbo on the night it ran on TCM)—but sadly, Jack’s future career behind the camera would eventually crash and burn after his second effort.  The production history tells the tale that Garfein clashed with producer Sam Spiegel on the set (the humid Florida weather played a large role in Spiegel’s irascibility, plus he didn’t care for Willingham’s ending in the play) and that Jack exercised his director’s prerogative by seeing that Spiegel made no more surprise visits.  (In retaliation, Sam took the film from Garfein before the editing was completed and a score added, and allowed the gay subtext of Strange to be watered down by the censors.)  Though it received good notices on the other side of the pond, it wasn’t promoted much here in the States; a shame, really, since The Strange One is a most worthwhile movie despite its flaws (I’m like Spiegel—I think the ending’s a little weak, too).  Just remember: “I'll be back!  I'll get you guys!  You can't do this to Jocko De Paris!”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

From the DVR: The Garment Jungle (1957)

Today’s edition of “From the DVR” can be considered a companion piece to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s previous essay on I Can Get it For You Wholesale (1951).  The Garment Jungle (1957) focuses on a far grittier look at New York’s 7th Avenue garment district…and best of all—no Dan Dailey.

Returning from overseas, young Alan Mitchell (Kerwin Matthews) wants to “learn the ropes” at Roxton Fashions, a dressmaking company founded and run by his father, Walter (Lee J. Cobb).  Alan’s apprenticeship coincides with a sticky situation involving the firm’s status as a “closed shop”; a large percentage of the employees wants an affiliation with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union—represented by organizer Tulio Renata (Robert Loggia)—but Walter is determined that Roxton will not be unionized.  His partner, Fred Kenner (Robert Ellenstein), was amenable to allowing the workers to start a union…and for his efforts, he winds up dead after a twenty-eight floor plunge in a broken freight elevator.

The senior Mitchell’s campaign to keep Roxton non-union has received an assist over the years from Artie Ravidge (Richard Boone), a greasy hoodlum who uses considerable muscle to keep “malcontents” in line with the considerable sums Walt is paying him for protection.  Suspicion that Ravidge participated in Kenner’s murder (the audience is tipped off to his complicity when two of his goons, Paul [Wesley Addy] and Ox [Adam Williams], are the same men who were “repairing” the freight elevator) reaches a fever peak when some of his thugs turn up at an ILGW meeting and start threatening those in attendance.  Later, as Tulio, his friend George (Joseph Wiseman) and three other union members picket outside Roxton, they are visited by Ravidge’s men and in the melee that ensues, Tulio is stabbed and killed by Paul and Ox.  What is not known—George is the only witness, and he’s too scared to talk—is that the other three members are also working for Ravidge, which explains how the mob broke through the picket line so easily.

In the wake of Tulio’s murder, Alan comforts his widow, Theresa (Gia Scala)…and is convinced that unionizing Roxton is the right thing to do.  His father takes a lot of convincing, but when Walter finally agrees…well, every time you think you’re out, someone pulls you back in.

The behind-the-scenes story on The Garment Jungle might actually be more interesting than the movie itself—not that I didn’t think the film was a keeper, you understand.  It was the second of three movies that director Robert Aldrich contracted to do at Columbia Pictures (the first was the 1956 Joan Crawford film Autumn Leaves), and Aldrich had high hopes for Jungle, tagging it the “first pro-labor picture” (I guess Bob never got around to seeing Salt of the Earth, released three years earlier).   Based on a series of Reader’s Digest articles (“Gangsters in the Dress Business”) by Lester Velie, the ambitious screenplay by Harry Kleiner (who also produced) set out to expose how hired goons, working for big business, deliberately intimidate and threaten “outside agitators” in a manner similar to the studio’s On the Waterfront (1954)—though in that movie, the gangsters have already corrupted the union.  The positive slant toward union activity in Jungle was really surprising to me, with OTR veteran Bill Bouchey acquitting himself nicely as one of the ILGW officials.

The experience on Jungle was not a happy one for Aldrich, who later disowned the picture.  He objected to much of the casting, particularly the studio’s insistence on using contractees like Harry Cohn discovery Gia Scala (who’s serviceable but nothing special) and Kerwin Matthews (pretty weak—he looks like he’d rather be voyaging as Sinbad somewhere).  (Aldrich also wasn’t wild about Robert Loggia—though that might be because Loggia was an unknown entity [Jungle was his first credited feature film]; he actually gives one of the strongest performances in Jungle.)  But Bob also had problems with some of the veterans, notably Lee J. Cobb—Lee thought his role in Jungle was a little too much like mob boss Johnny Friendly from Waterfront.

Aldrich also had to contend with Columbia head Cohn’s meddling; Harry wanted more emphasis on the romance between Matthews and Scala (to be honest, this really drags the picture down) and less on the “corruption in the garment district” angle (sounds like a few people got to Harry on this).  When Aldrich missed a day of shooting due to a bout of flu, Cohn pulled him off the picture and substituted him with Vincent Sherman.  (Bob later claimed it was because Harry had finally figured out that the Rod Steiger character in Aldrich’s The Big Knife [1955] was modeled after the man writer Ben Hecht once nicknamed “White Fang.”)

Sherman originally thought he was hired on to get caught up on the shooting that had been halted because of Aldrich’s illness, but he soon found himself rewriting (with Kleiner) and reshooting the movie (Vincent told Cohn it would take him a week—Harry gave him three days).  In his autobiography My Life as a Film Director, Sherman spotted right off the bat the problem with Lee J. Cobb’s character (that, sadly, remains in the finished product): “I pointed out that I was confused by Lee Cobb's character:  if he knew that his partner had been killed by Boone and did nothing about it, he was monstrous and irredeemable.  If he did not know or even suspect Boone, he was stupid.”  Sherman would later clash with the actor when Cobb insisted on doing scenes his way instead of the director’s.  “He was talented but stubborn and filled with his own importance,” was Sherman’s verdict on the star.

Cobb is quite good in The Garment Jungle, even if I did expect him at times to start rambling about having the fattest piers in the fattest harbor in the world.   Loggia, as I mentioned earlier, also gives a standout performance, with solid support from Wiseman and Harold J. Stone as Cobb’s production manager.  (My mother—who tends not to notice these things—remarked that she recognized Ellenstein and Williams as the two assassins in the elevator from North by Northwest; I think her movie education is coming along nicely, don’t you?)  Richard Boone is swell, though he succumbs to a lot of the gangster clichés by the final third of Jungle—in a year that saw The Man Called Paladin play one of the greatest Western villains in movie history (in The Tall T), I would have liked to see Dick tackle the role of Artie Ravidge with similar nuance…but of course, I’m just nitpicking.

With sensational monochrome cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc and a suitably moody score courtesy of Leith Stevens, The Garment Jungle was a most pleasant viewing experience.  I was even willing to put up with the Matthews-Scala romance as long as Dan Dailey didn’t start horning in.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

From the DVR: I Can Get it For You Wholesale (1951)

Harriet Boyd (Susan Hayward) is a dress model…but she has far too much ambition to remain content toiling as a clotheshorse for a company located in the heart of New York’s busy garment district.  She’s persuaded production manager Sam Cooper (Sam Jaffe) to start a dressmaking business with her; Harriet has studied dress design at night school, and several of her creations are judged good enough to be accepted by her current boss, Bettini (Steven Geray), to sell amongst the company’s inventory.

Harriet is getting a good man in Cooper, considered the top “inside man” in the business…but Sam insists that she also take crack salesman Teddy Sherman (Dan Dailey) into their prospective venture, despite Harriet’s reservations (she finds both his brash demeanor and persistent romantic overtures off-putting).  But Teddy is impressed enough with Harriet’s designs to declare “deal me in” and Sherboyco Dresses is soon in business after Harriet dupes her sister Marge (Randy Stuart) into letting her have their late father’s insurance money (their mother [Mary Phillips] is dead-set against the idea).

Sherboyco Dresses is described as a “Ten-Ninety-Five” shop, which refers to the price of their product.  It’s not all smooth sailing for the company: Teddy hasn’t abandoned the idea of marrying Harriet (at one point in the film, he causes a scene at a restaurant where Harriet is entertaining a prospective client); she tells him she won’t be owned by anyone and when Teddy threatens to dissolve their partnership Harriet tells him the partnership contract he’s signed is escape-proof.  This proves to be a double-edged sword where Harriet is concerned; she finds herself in the same position once falls in love with J.F. Noble (George Sanders), owner of an upscale department store chain, who would not only like her to create designs for his stores but is anxious to make her “Mrs. Noble” as well.

The main character in Jerome Weidman’s 1937 novel I Can Get it For You Wholesale is an unscrupulous businessman named Harry Bogen…but in the hands of Vera Caspary (who was asked by 20th Century-Fox to adapt Weidman’s book into a vehicle for their star Susan Hayward), Harry undergoes a change in gender to Harriet.  Harriet isn’t quite the louse that her male counterpart is, but she remains fiercely independent and motivated: she wants to be rich, and she’s determined to obtain that goal while enriching her partners and family in the process.  Female characters who were unapologetic go-getters were a rarity in movies at that time, so Harriet Boyd is a breath of fresh air among the usual sappy housewife portrayals (and is superbly played by Hayward).

Harriet’s ruthless ingenuity is displayed in a sequence where she begs her mother to let her have the insurance money; Mama Boyd is determined that younger daughter Marge will be the recipient, despite Harriet’s not being shy about telling her ma doing so would be most foolish—she doesn’t have a very high opinion of Marge’s fiancé, a lawyer named Ray (Ross Elliott), who will probably “spend the rest of his life almost winning cases in the Court of Small Claims.”  With Mom off to bed and Marge and Ray back from an evening out, Harriet goes into schmooze mode and regales her sis and future bro-in-law of the wonderful opportunity she’s received to start her own business with Sam and Teddy.  When the couple goes out to the kitchen to get coffee, Harriet gets on the horn and asks the operator to ring her number…and by the time Marge and Ray get back, they hear the tail-end of a “conversation” in which Harriet’s business prospects are doomed unless she can raise that money.  Qué lástima!

Later in the film, Harriet gets an assist in her plan to nullify the “unbreakable” partnership from her new beau Noble: after Teddy departs for a sales trip, she starts with siphoned-off funds from Sherboyco a second company specializing in upscale gowns (which will be sold to Noble’s stores) while the current company ceases production on product from the “$10.95” line.  If Sherboyco can’t fill the orders, they will have to declare bankruptcy; Harriet generously offers her partners a “lifeline” in the form of a proposal to recoup those losses by continuing to sell the Company 2 gowns to Noble’s department stores.

Having never seen I Can Get it For You Wholesale (1951), I DVR’d the movie during the Star of the Month feting of Susan Hayward on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ and sat down with it Monday night, accompanied by my mother’s snoring.  (It may still be making the rounds on the Fox Movie Channel—I couldn’t swear to it, because those bastards at Dish make us pay extra for it—but I know it has been released to MOD DVD as part of Fox Home Video’s Cinema Archives.)  But I was also drawn to the film because it was the last onscreen writing credit for Hollywood Ten member Abraham Polonsky (who demonstrated that there’s a fine line between capitalism and organized crime in my favorite John Garfield film, 1948’s Force of Evil) before he appeared before HUAC in 1951.  Polonsky was forced to write under different names and use fronts until 1968, when he received credit for his screenplay of Madigan.  The director of Wholesale, Michael Gordon, was also blacklisted for a time; his career came roaring back in 1959 with the Academy Award-nominated Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedy Pillow Talk.

I probably would have enjoyed the movie more were it not for the presence of the poor man’s George Murphy, Dan Dailey (he just gets on my last nerve—sorry, Dailey fans); it wasn’t easy applying Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s infamous Blind Squirrel Theory of Film™ to find a movie with Dailey that I like…but he is in The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), a truly twisted Larry Cohen film that finds Dailey playing Clyde Tolson to Broderick Crawford’s J. Edgar Hoover.  At the end of Wholesale, when Dailey’s Sherman wins the heart of Hayward’s Harriet, my mother (who had awakened by this time) remarks out loud: “Why is Susan Hayward leaving George Sanders to go back to Dan Dailey?”  The amazing thing is—I was thinking the exact same thing.  (So maybe I wasn’t redopted after all, as I have admittedly speculated on the blog from time to time.)

Thankfully, Wholesale is able to overcome its Dan Dailey handicap with other splendiferous casting: both Sam Jaffe and George Sanders excel in their roles (admittedly, both actors are so damn good it doesn’t take much—but George is at his caddish best), and I enjoyed the “love affair” between Marvin Kaplan (who plays the new company’s office boy) and Barbara Whiting (a receptionist—she’s Jaffe’s daughter).  Amusingly, the Lane Brothers (okay, they’re not really related), Richard and Charles, are cast as Hayward’s bosses (as well as Geray), and there’s also nice contributions from veteran old-time radio announcer/stooge Harry von Zell (as a lecherous buyer), Randy Stuart, and Vicki Cummings.  Keep an eye out for Amzie Strickland as a restaurant patron, and ubiquitous “dress extra” Bess Flowers!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon: Christmas with the Gillis Family

The following essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon, an event sponsored by The Classic Television Blog Association to promote MeTV’s stellar lineup of Yuletide programming airing from November 16th to December 25th (Christmas Day).  For a list of participating blogs and the shows and episodes covered, click here.

Since 1959, TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis has been making fans both old and new laugh uproariously at the misadventures of a bewildered teenager (played by Dwayne Hickman) as he stumbles and fumbles his way through this wacky thing we call life.  Many of Dobie Gillis’ episodes focused on the conflicts in his family (parents courtesy of Frank Faylen and Florida Friebus) and amongst his circle of friends; unconventional beatnik Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver), snooty millionaire Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. (Steve Franken)…and the two most important women in his life: greedy, grasping Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld) and plain, practical Zelda Gilroy (Sheila James Kuehl).

Dobie Gillis always had a bite to its humor…but it also possessed a strong sentimental streak—as Maynard would often say as he dabbed his wet eyes on the cut-off sleeve of his sweatshirt: “Gee, Dob…I’m gettin’ all misty.”  Nowhere is this more evident than in the four episodes the series telecast to celebrate the spirit of Christmas (one for each season).  Three of these installments will be included in MeTV’s holiday celebration of Yuletide and Thanksgiving programming from November 16-December 25, 2015.

The first time Dobie and his family invited us to spend Christmas occurs in the first season (natch), with “Deck the Halls”—which originally aired December 22, 1959.  (This episode didn’t make the MeTV Holiday Programming cut—if the poor quality print of the episode on the Shout! Factory Dobie set is any indication, it’s no surprise they nixed it—still, I thought we’d get it out of the way.)  We find the family patriarch, Herbert T. Gillis, sitting forlornly on Christmas Eve in a cell in what I like to call The Gray Bar Hotel…and even though the police chief (Jack Albertson) and presiding judge (Milton Frome) have told him he’s free to go, Mr. Gillis is determined to stay put until Christmas is over.

Herbert's fellow lockup denizen is played by Alan Carney, best remembered as one-half (the other being Wally Brown) of RKO's attempt to create an Abbott-and-Costello-type comedy team in the 1940s.

JUDGE: Gillis…be reasonable…look at it this way…you’re not really mad at me
JUDGE (clapping him on the back): Or the chief here…
JUDGE: You’re really mad at Christmas!
JUDGE: What was that?
HERBERT: I am not mad at Christmas…I am mad at people!  People at Christmas!

So who are these “people” with whom Mr. Gillis is frustrated?  Well, his wife Winifred is dithering over who should receive a Christmas card from the Gillis’ grocery store.  Son Dobie, in a rare burst of enthusiasm, offers to help out in the store…though soon revealing his motive for doing so is to cadge five bucks from his father so that he can get his girl a Christmas gift: baton-twirling lessons.  The Gillis’ elder son Davey (Darryl Hickman), home from college, also needs a little spending money for the holidays—fifty dollars in order to tip “the help” at an exclusive resort at which he’s vacationing with a college chum.  Mr. Gillis is even agitated at Dobie’s friend Maynard—though it doesn’t take much effort for Mr. Krebs to get on Herbert’s bad side—when he leaves an inflatable raft he bought at the Army-Navy Surplus (a gift for the senior Krebs) and it’s activated inside Gillis’ store.

Dwayne Hickman's brother Darryl in the second of his three outings as Dobie's older brother Davey.  Davey would later succumb to the same fate that befell such boob tube siblings as Chuck Cunningham, Eugene Barkley and Mike Douglas (not the talk show host...the older brother on My Three Sons).

But the individuals who really get on Herbert T.’s wick are his loyal grocery patrons—and having worked in customer service in the past, I sympathize with the man.  Mrs. Muller orders the same salami at Gillis’ Grocery every week of the year, but on Christmas she insists on having one gift-wrapped as a present for her sister-in-law in Detroit (the old dame really just wants to score some free wrapping paper).  Mrs. Kenney has ordered a gi-normous candy cane for her husband to commemorate the first Christmas the couple spent together long ago…only she paid $1.50 for it then, and can’t understand why the price is now $3.00 (to add insult to injury, Herbert even had to have it made special).  But it’s Mrs. Lapping (Verna Felton) who really takes the cake: she won’t need the turkey she bought for Christmas because she’ll be spending the holiday out-of-town with family…so she insists Gillis take back the bird he previously sold her.  She also contends that he’s short-changing her by refunding her the forty-nine-cents-a-pound she paid for the turkey in June (when they were on sale)—why, the sign outside says sixty-nine cents!  Mad as hell, and not willing to take it anymore, Mr. Gillis heaves the turkey through the store’s plate-glass window as a startled Mrs. Lapping begins to shout out loud for the police.

Herbert’s mind is made up: he’s going to channel his inner hermit during Christmas, because he’s fed up with humanity.  But he hadn’t counted on his family—Winnie, Dobie and Davey—showing up to be with him in jail on Christmas Eve; even though the boys had other plans, they insisted on cancelling them to help Winnie with the store.  Herbert realizes that Christmas is all about family, and quietly tells his clan they’re going home.  Later, while trimming the tree inside the grocery, the Gillises are serenaded outside by a group of carolers: the police chief, the judge, Mrs. Kenney and Mrs. Lapping.

In Season Two, Dobie Gillis reworked Charles Dickens’ classic short story A Christmas Carol into “Jangle Bells” (originally telecast December 20, 1960); in fact, the episode begins with Dobie, Zelda and Chatsworth re-enacting the story (Chatsworth is Scrooge, appropriately enough) in front of the class taught by the kids’ favorite schoolteacher, Leander Pomfritt (William Schallert) (“That, my young gluttons-for-punishment, was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol…forgive us, Charlie…”):

POMFRITT: Class, as you have seen…Dickens ingeniously employs ghostly spirits to show Ebenezer Scrooge just how lonely his future Christmases will be unless he changes his ways…now tell me—how would you describe the character of Scrooge at the beginning of the story?
ZELDA: A pitiful creature!
CHATSWORTH: A wretched clod
DOBIE: A miserable wreck…
MAYNARD (entering the classroom): You rang?!!

Honest to my grandma...it never gets old.
By the time Maynard takes off several layers of clothing, class is through for the day (Pomfritt: “Somewhere between the second muffler and the mackinaw”).  Once again, Maynard plays the fool—but Mr. P is going to give him some advice on how to turn it all around:

POMFRITT: Now look, Maynard my boy…has it ever occurred to you that perhaps you’re trying too hard to please everybody by being a clown…a Pagliacci?
MAYNARD: Polly-who?
POMFRITT: Pagliacci…he was a character in an…never mind…what I’m trying to say, Maynard, is that you don’t have to attract attention to yourself by being odd and different…why not just try to be one of the gang?
MAYNARD: How can I do that, Mr. Pomfritt?  I mean…they go out on dates…and they go to dances…and they throw parties and that…I couldn’t do none of them things…
POMFRITT: Who said you can’t?
MAYNARD: Me!  I just said it—didn’t you hear me?
POMFRITT: Maynard…I mean…what’s to prevent you from, say, uh…giving a party…inviting your friends over…giving them some refreshments?  Show them that you, Maynard G. Krebs, are just as good as the next fellow!
MAYNARD: Me?  Maynard G. Krebs throw a party?  Yeah…I could do it!  A swingin’ Christmas party, with popcorn…and a tree…and like (Sings) “Deck the Halls”…and bobbin’ for apples and settin’ off firecrackers…and…and…
POMFRITT: Firecrackers?  At Christmas?
MAYNARD: Yeah…that’s Halloween

So the groundwork on Maynard’s Yuletide bash is underway…but there’s one small problem.  His best friend, Dobie, has been invited to a shindig at Chatsworth’s (Chatsworth: “You know, we aristocratic Osbornes traditionally rub elbows with the peasantry once a year at this outing—something to do with democracy, or some such”) and while his loyalty is with Maynard, Zelda insists the two of them attend the Osborne soiree so that Dobie can make those all-important contacts.

ZELDA: Are you a scholar?  No…are you a businessman?  No…are you talented?  No…are you ever going to be a whopping success?
DOBIE (dejectedly): No…
ZELDA: Yes!  Because you have one hidden quality—people like you!
DOBIE: They do?
ZELDA: I do…and I’m highly perceptive!  Together we will turn Dobie Gillis—the formless blob of mediocrity—into Dobie Gillis…the whopping success!

This means Dobie is going to have to bail on Maynard’s rager, which is being held in his garage.  (Maynard: “I talked to my father…it’s the only part of the house he’ll let me have.”)  Dobie tries to break it gently to his pal, but Maynard is so jazzed about his party that he’s not really listening to anything his buddy is saying.  Dobie’s dilemma: friendship or establishing solid contacts for his future?  He asks his father what he should do, but Father Gillis is of no help, merely spouting forth empty platitudes and clichés.


Taking a nap before the Osborne affair, Dobie is visited by a ghost who looks strangely like Maynard.  As the Spirit of Christmas Past, the Maynard-like apparition shows his friend a distant memory of when they spent Christmas together when they were only four-years-old.  As the Spirit of Christmas Future, the ghost offers up a hilarious peek at Dobie’s future: he’s married to Zelda and the two of them are filthy, stinking rich.  The couple are seated at each end of a comically long dining table, and at one point in their conversation Zelda does her patented nose-wrinkle at Dobie, hoping he’ll reciprocate—but since he’s too far away to see it, she has to send their butler, Tremblay (David Bond), to the other end to nose-wrinkle.  (Actor Bond played “Tremblay” in several episodes of Dobie Gillis…though he was usually in the service of the Osbornes.)  Outside, a pathetic wretch (Maynard) scratches at the window and asks to come in…but the warped Dobie (who cares about nothing but money) has the butler send Maynard away.

Against his better judgement, Dobie goes with Zelda to the Christmas party…while lonely Maynard is forced to entertain himself in his garage…with only an alley cat for company.  Dobie keeps seeing Maynard’s miserable mug on the various party guests (he even see Maynard-as-Zelda, wearing a party dress) and finally decides he won’t sell his soul for a mess of pottage; Zelda also realizes she was wrong to advise Dobie not to go to Maynard’s wingding, and leaves with him.  The two of them—along with Mr. and Mrs. Gillis—turn up at Maynard’s…and then the throng from Chatsworth’s shows up as well.  “You observe how the Christmas spirit overwhelms the average citizen,” Chatsworth explains to Dobie.  “So you can imagine the shattering effect when it strikes an Osborne!”

“Jangle Bells” is probably my favorite of the Yuletide Dobie Gillises, only because I have a tendency to gravitate towards those episodes that feature the entire Dobie cast (I love the characters, and enjoy watching them interact).  There’s only a tiny hiccup: to promote his Capitol Records LP Dobie, Hickman warbles I Pass Your House…and let’s not beat about the bush: the man simply could not sing.  (Granted, this didn’t stop Shelley “Johnny Angel” Fabares…or Paul “My Dad” Petersen, now that I think about it.)  MeTV will air “Bells” on Sunday, November 29th at 5am EST…with an encore performance on Sunday, December 20th at 5:30am EST.

“Have Reindeer, Will Travel”—a punny title inspired by the TV western Have Gun – Will Travel—was Dobie Gillis’ third season Christmas show, originally telecast on December 19, 1961.  It features a simple premise: Maynard, in his capacity as treasurer, is transporting $55.78 raised by his fellow classmates for a school dance…which he proceeds to hand off to a little Mexican boy (Michael Davis) who’s barely eking out an existence shining shoes in the streets of Central City.  Now—I know what you’re thinking: for this episode to work, we have to believe that the students in Dobie and Zelda’s class at S. Peter Pryor Junior College have experienced temporary insanity in electing Maynard the Manchild treasurer.  I spotted this logical flaw right off the bat, but in their defense it is addressed in the episode:

WALTER: How much money do we have in the fund to spend on the dance?
DOBIE: Er…we’ll know the exact money as soon as the treasurer for the Christmas fund gets here…
WALTER: Who’s the treasurer?
DOBIE: Uh…Maynard G. Krebs…and now then…on…
WALTER: I move we get a new treasurer!
ZELDA: Dobie—you appointed Maynard to be treasurer?
DOBIE: Yes—by virtue of the power vested in me as chairman…
WALTER: Well, I move we get a new chairman!
(The group murmurs in agreement)
DOBIE: Now just a minute…
ZELDA: Yeah, just a darn minute…you kids ought to be ashamed of yourselves!  Now, look—we all voted to make Dobie chairman…now let’s stand behind him and back him up instead of picking on him!
DOBIE: That’s right—I’m doing my darndest to do a good job!
ZELDA: And you’re succeeding, Poopsie—you’re doing a fine job…
DOBIE: Thank you, Zelda…
ZELDA: So how come you pulled a lame brained stunt like appointing Maynard treasurer?
DOBIE: Because Maynard’s changed, that’s why!  Now that he’s a college man, he’s mature…grown-up…and resourceful…and self-reliant…and…am I really talking about…
ZELDA (finishing his sentence): Talking about our Maynard…no…

Maynard returns to a hearty welcome from his fellow matriculators…and that’s when they learn he doesn’t have the dough.  Now you and I—because we were not raised in a sitcom—would immediately ring up the gendarmes to have Mr. Krebs detained for theft…but the class gives Maynard a break on that score (Walter: “Of course he didn’t steal the money—he’s too stupid to be a crook”).  What goes unexplained is why Maynard won’t reveal to his best friend—or anyone else, for the matter—what’s happened to the missing cabbage; surely he shouldn’t be embarrassed that he was struck with a sudden case of altruism?  Dobie’s bright idea is for Maynard to secure a part-time job in order to earn the money needed to replace what’s missing…and the first person he thinks of who might employ young Krebs is a man not known for his unselfishness:

HERBERT: Look…he couldn’t carry fifty-five dollars and seventy-eight cents for the class dance across the street without losing it—and you want me to trust my hard-earned cash to him?  You gotta be kidding me…
MAYNARD: Yeah, Dob…you gotta be kidding…
DOBIE: Maynard…
WINNIE: Herbert, I’m ashamed of the way you’ve been talking about Maynard…
HERBERT: So am I—but with a lady present, it was the best I could do…
WINNIE: Dobie…as I understand it, Maynard has done something to let you down…and now he wants to make up for it…
DOBIE: That’s right, Mom…
WINNIE: Well then, Herbert—how can we possibly refuse to help him?
HERBERT: Easy!  (She gives him The Look) Winnie…I hope you understand what you’re letting us in for…it means that Maynard will be here in the store…with us…hour after hour…day after day…week after week…
WINNIE: I understand that perfectly and Dobie—isn’t there some other way that we could possibly help Maynard?

Maynard’s career as an associate with Gillis Mart is a brief one; he does a funny bit of physical comedy where he falls off a ladder and on top of Herbert, but what really tanks his career is that the same Latino shoeshine boy shows up to buy groceries with twelve dollars…and when the bill comes to $11.45, Maynard feels guilty that the little urchin will have nothing with which to purchase Christmas presents.  So he makes the groceries a present, but is oblivious to the fact that his supervisor is watching:

HERBERT: Maynard?!!
MAYNARD: Present…uh-oh…
HERBERT: What’s my name?
MAYNARD: Your name is Herbert T. Gillis, and you’re a veteran of WW2…
HERBERT: Right! Not J.P. Morgan…not John D. Rockefeller…not the Aga Khan…just plain, everyday Herbert T. Gillis…your former employer…

Bloodied but not bowed, Maynard finds another job—more suitable for a man Dobie describes as “a warm-hearted, lovable, human being.”

Like...ho ho ho!

Yes, Mr. Krebs gets a job as a department store Santa and demonstrates that he’s perfect for the job, particularly when he presents a little girl (Debbie Megowan) and her mother (Edith Loder) with some gifts (teddy bear, dollhouse) they don’t have to pay for.  (I think it goes without saying a person like that would be the most popular Santa ever—whether or not this comes out of Maynard’s paycheck is never addressed.)  On Maynard’s last day, Dobie and Zelda arrive to make sure the money doesn’t disappear a second time…and that’s when “Pepe” shows up.  Maynard hands him his paycheck even though the kid is clearly telling him “I don’t want your money” in Spanish (hey, nice to know I retained something from all that Spanish I took in college).  Maynard takes off in the store to elude his friends, and that’s when Dobie and Zelda encounter Pepe:

Maynard in Toyland.
DOBIE: Who are you?
ZELDA: What are you doing here?
PEPE: Por favor, señorita…no comprendo…
DOBIE: Wait…wait…did you see a thin fellow with a beard run past here?
(Pepe looks at him puzzledly)
ZELDA: Dobie, I think he only speaks Spanish…
DOBIE: Yeah…uh…el señor…skinny…avec le beard…?
ZELDA: I said Spanish—not gibberish

Fortunately for the purposes of quickly wrapping up the plot, Zelda speaks Spanish (“Pure Castilian—none of those regional dialects”) and she’s able to communicate with Pepe…bringing The Case of the Captured Coinage to an end.  Dobie, Zelda and Maynard wind up at the home of Pepe’s family, where his mother (Argentina Brunetti) explains that while the family may be down on their uppers they don’t need the class dance money.  Dobie insists that she take it: “I’m a very stubborn caballero—I don’t hear a word you say.”  The dance does go on as planned—it’s held in the same classroom where the kids were holding their meeting earlier, and the soiree is catered by Herbert T. Gillis, “your friendly neighborhood grocer.”  The Latino family also arrive, bringing with them musical instruments to play so that all those WASP kids can get down with their bad selves.  “Have Reindeer, Will Travel” airs tonight (November 17) on MeTV at 9pm EST.

By the time of the fourth and final Dobie Gillis Christmas caper—“Will the Real Santa Claus Please Come Down the Chimney?” (12/19/62)—the show had added a new character in Duncan “Dunky” Gillis, Dobie’s younger cousin.  (Dunky was played by Bobby Diamond, who did a pretty good job as the kid hero of the series Fury…but sadly, possessed none of Dwayne Hickman’s first-rate comedic timing.)  “Real Santa Claus” finds Dunky and his “Uncle Herbie” filled with the Christmas spirit as they sing “Deck the Halls” while trimming the tree.  But Winifred Gillis—the kindly, lovable mother who served as the series’ supportive center—has a simple message for the season: “Christmas? Bah humbug!”

How the gentle, compassionate Mrs. G reach this sorry state?  Well, it all begins with Maynard as the show’s resident manchild stops by the grocery store:

WINNIE: …why don’t you tell us why you’re here before Mr. Gillis forgets he’s filled with holiday cheer…
MAYNARD: I brung you a letter from my mother…
WINNIE: Oh?  From your mother? (She takes a slip of paper from him)
MAYNARD: Or my father…I forget which…they both look alike
HERBERT: Winnie…you do me an injustice…with all this Christmas spirit in the world…forget… (Scoffs) I’m filled with holiday cheer!
WINNIE (after reading the note): Maynard is moving in with us!
HERBERT: I just got unfilled… (Threatening) Maynard…
WINNIE: His folks would like to know if we can take care of him while they’re visiting relatives in Cleveland…
MAYNARD: See how they love me?
HERBERT: They love you?
MAYNARD: Sure!  This is the first time they told me the name of a real place—always before they made ‘em up so I couldn’t find them…ain’t that heartwarmin’?
HERBERT: Oh, that’s just what it is, heartwarming—but you ain’t stayin’ here, boy…
MAYNARD: Name me one good reason…
HERBERT: Because I couldn’t stand to see you around the house…
MAYNARD: Name me two good reasons…
WINNIE: Herbert, dear…be generous…what would be so terrible about having Maynard around with us for a few days?  Joining in the family fun…eating with us…talking to us all day…and all night…Maynard, I just had a wonderful idea—why don’t you go to Cleveland with your folks?

Despite Mrs. Gillis’ reservations, Maynard ends up being a guest at the Gillises—and that’s when the episode’s plot is set into motion: Maynard—despite being free, white, and 21—still stubbornly clings to the belief that Santa Claus is real:

WINNIE: Maynard dear…we all believe in Santa Claus just as you do…we believe in him as a symbol, as a warm, wonderful example of goodness and kindness and goodwill to everyone…
MAYNARD: Santa believes in them things, too!
(Herbert rolls his eyes)
DUNKY: Let me take a stab at straightening the boy out…Maynard—you’ve seen the Santas in all the department stores, haven’t you?

I would hope so—he previously played one in “Have Reindeer, Will Travel”…

DUNKY: He’s just a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit—right?
MAYNARD: Right!  Didn’t you know that—a kid your age?  Dunky, the man in the suit is one of Santa’s helpers…I mean, Santa himself can’t be everywhere…so Santa’s helpers give kids laps to sit on…next question?

Maynard has an explanation for all the Santas on the street corners and in the movies, and for the Santa that showed up at school (Maynard knows that’s Dean Magruder, the major domo at S. Peter Pryor Junior College played on occasion by Raymond “Milburn Drysdale” Bailey).  But as for the real Saint Nick—well...

WINNIE: Then you have never seen the real Santa Claus—true?
MAYNARD: True!  But then I never seen the real Marshal Dillon, neither—and I know he’s real…of course…I’m not too sure about Chester…

Poor Dobie.  He's reduced to being the narrator of his own self-titled sitcom...and modeling terrible Christmas sweaters.
Despite his substantial lack of evidence for the existence of Kris Kringle, Maynard is unshakable in his faith—so much so that he arranges for a construction crew to come in and put in the pipes needed for a new automatic washer and dryer, because he knows Santa is going to bring that for Mrs. Gillis as a present.  (They also work upstairs on a surface suitable for Dobie’s new ping-pong table.)  Herbert is livid, and he wants to introduce Maynard to his pal Louis…short for Louisville Slugger.  But Dobie—who finally turns up in this episode, by the way—convinces his dad that a Plan B is in order.  Herbert will dress up as Santa, come down the chimney and plant Maynard in his lap.  After Maynard tells the old gent what he wants for Christmas, Mr. G will rip off the beard to reveal his true self…and Maynard will be so shocked he’ll stop with the Santa Claus nonsense.

For Herbert to play Santa, there must first be rehearsals down the Gillis chimney…

…well, that could have happened to anybody.  Herbert winds up stuck, and finds himself coughing up more dinero to make the chimney bigger and wider so his ruse to fool Maynard will be a success.  On Christmas Eve, Mr. G successfully navigates the new chimney and Maynard, clad in footy pajamas, hops up on his lap to tell him what he wants for Christmas:

MAYNARD: First…I want a ping-pong table for Dobie…he’s that fellow over there…the one who’s flabby and has a weak chin…I know he don’t look like much, but he’s my good and best buddy…and whatever will make him happy will make me happy, too…and then I want a brand-new sports jacket for Dunky…he’s the little one over there with the weak chin…I know he don’t look like much, too—but somebody he’s going to grow up and be as sweet and lovable and flabby as Dobie…
HERBERT: But what do you want for you?
MAYNARD: An automatic washer and an automatic dryer…
HERBERT: For you?
MAYNARD: No…for Mrs. G…sloshing around in those suds and dirty water all day, the poor old thing…
HERBERT: All right—I’ve got it all now…except…what do you want?
MAYNARD: A fishing rod…
HERBERT: A-ha!  A fishing rod!
MAYNARD: For Mr. G…you know him, don’t you?  He’s that loudmouthed fellow who’s all the time screamin’ and hollarin’…
HERBERT (interrupting): I know him, I know him…
MAYNARD: …but underneath that mean inside there’s a good outside…and maybe if he had a fishing rod he’d take a couple days off from work…and he wouldn’t be so mean no more…
HERBERT (quietly): You know…maybe you got a point there, Maynard…but what do you want?

Maynard wants for nothing, explaining:  “I’m one of them lucky fellows—I got everything I want!  I got the biggest ball of tinfoil in town…I got a petrified frog…and I got a stuffed owl, all paid for and clear!  I also got the best friends in the whole wide world…or anyplace else…so you can skip me this year—but you’re true blue for asking.”

Mr. Gillis is so taken aback that he just can’t shatter Maynard’s illusions—but his family presses him to do it, reminding him it’s for Maynard’s own good.  It doesn’t matter anyway—Maynard knew it was Mr. G the entire time…and as he snuggles into bed, he runs over to the window to see a silhouette of the jolly old guy hisself and his reindeer:

So why was Mrs. Gillis acting like a female Scrooge at the beginning of the episode?  Well, it turns out her husband spent so much money on the renovations to the home and chimney and the presents that he decided to cut his losses by allowing the neighborhood women to use Winnie’s new washer and dryer…for a nominal fee, of course.

“Will the Real Santa Claus Please Come Down the Chimney?” airs on MeTV Sunday, November 29th at 5:30am…with an encore performance on Sunday, December 20th at 5am.  It’s all part of the network’s A Very Merry TV, which will feature such TDOY favorites as The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Our Miss Brooks, Petticoat Junction and many, many more!