Thursday, February 28, 2008

Volume, volume, volume…

As of this post, I have just put up 136 items on eBay for sale—the rest of the infamous “clutter” here at the House of Yesteryear. Until we get settled in Athens, this will probably be the last auction I’ll do for a while…so every item listed is starting out a low, LOW bid of ninety-nine cents. You heard me correctly…if you bid on an item, and you’re the only one to do so—you take it away for less than a dollar. I must also point out that though I would very much like to use the “Buy five or more get Media Mail shipping” promotion I’ve used in previous auctions, I can’t do it this time around because of these bargain-basement prices. So anyone who was hesitant about buying something but kept putting it off and putting it off…now’s your chance. ‘Cause if I can’t get rid of this stuff, chances are it’s going down to the curb for the next trash pick-up.

Radio Spirits has another new catalog out, and one of their offerings (on page 25) is a collection of Al Jolson Kraft Music Halls whose liner notes were composed by yours truly. They refer to me as a “radio historian,” which really makes me blush, because they use the same appellation to describe Anthony Tollin…and everyone knows “Texas Tony” will forget more about old-time radio than I’ll ever learn. Still, showing it to the ‘rents made me burst my buttons with pride; RS is also offering three new entries (page 13) in their Radio Spirits Presents series—Mayor of the Town, The Halls of Ivy and The Jimmy Durante Show—and if you purchase all three of these you’ll get a nifty companion guide in which I also had a hand. (Okay, okay…I’ll stop now.)

On the TV-on-DVD front, has announced that the sixth season of Bewitched is coming to DVD May 6th. It ushers in what would come to be known as “the Dick Sargent years,” providing fans and non-fans alike with fodder for an endless series of arguments centering on “Which Darrin was better?” As a Bewitched fan, I never really cared all that much—the show also had two Gladys Kravitzes and two Louise Tates, so that stuff was happening all the time—and I will probably purchase the set all the same. (You already know that I thought I Dream of Jeannie was the better show, anyway.) also has announcements that the cult sitcom Square Pegs is coming to disc May 20th; many viewers loved this short-lived comedy starring a pre-Chicks…er, Sex in the City Sarah Jessica Parker but I kind of approached it with a sort of indifference since I had already seen the program when it was called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Still, if you’re into the music of the 80s you’ll probably enjoy Pegs—though I have a feeling they’re going to do a WKRP-number on this baby due to the music rights. TVShows also has a blurb that a collection of ten episodes of the 1995-98 sitcom Cybill (starring Cybill Shepherd) will wing its way to DVD June 24th…entitled The Best of Cybill. (You have no idea, by the way, how much I want to make a snarky comment about how The Best of Cybill can’t possibly contain that many episodes—but Pam may be reading this, so I won't.) Whatever your opinion of Ms. Shepherd’s comedic prowess, you can’t deny she’s getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop because Seasons One and Two have been available on Region 2 sets for quite some time now, and Season Three is due out May 5th. Nice work if you can get it…but you’ll need a region-free DVD player, too.

And of course, our TV-on-DVD report wouldn’t be complete without hearing from the Public Domain Poster Boy himself, BobH, who told the people at HTF that Mill Creek Entertainment is releasing a third set of public domain TV westerns…one-hundred-and-fifty episodes in all. Mill Creek doesn’t, unfortunately, provide a list of what’s on these bargain sets but from the listing there’ll be the usual suspects in shows like Annie Oakley, The Roy Rogers Show and Sheriff of Cochise…and newcomers like The Outlaws (a 1960-62 series starring Brent McKee fave Barton MacLane), Rango (a 1967 comedy-western in the tradition of F Troop with Tim Conway and Guy Marks) and Tate (which has already seen a full DVD release from Timeless Media). The great thing about the Mill Creek releases is that you can usually pick them up for a song at places like…and when it’s released May 6th, I may put the new Westerns set in my shopping cart.

One more thing before I go…future WTDY program director John sent me a link to this a long time ago, a station in Chicago that seems to have done their homework on what classic television is all about—as opposed to the once-revered-now-reviled TVLand, who apparently wrote the answers to the test on various parts of its body. (Fellas...enough with the “original series” already.) The great thing about WWME is that, as they so beautifully put it, “There’s TOO much classic television for one station!”—so they have a sister station (known as “Me Too”) and here’s the lineup for both. My hat is off to the good people in Chicagoland…you are definitely enjoying an embarrassment of riches.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When I fight authority, authority always wins…

Once again, I want to thank everyone who participated in my last eBay auction—I had put all the DVDs for sale on one of my CD racks and the discs went so fast that there are now two empty shelves (out of a total of four). A gentleman from Brooklyn was nice enough to purchase close to $130 worth of DVDs, so it’s good to know my stuff isn’t too scattered to the four winds.

I’m in the middle of making sure the stuff to be mailed out is all caught up with…but I have to tell you, it’s not easy. I’ve mentioned previously about the hassles I had to endure when mailing stuff to Canada, which is Reason One why I stopped shipping there (and yet, there are still one or two people who will e-mail me during these auctions to ask: “Do you ship to Canada?” I haven’t been able to discern whether they’re just being cute or if their reading comprehension skills aren’t up to par.). Now it would appear that I may not be able to ship to the U.S.

As always, there is a story behind this.

Dad and I went to our Post Office branch this afternoon with about twenty-five packages to mail. Now, every time I attempt to mail out a large number of items like this, I invariably get grief from the people who work there (who apparently don’t have enough to keep them busy) because I’ve went and breached some sort of postal protocol. For example, there’s a guy who works at our branch who tells me he would prefer that I not jam the mailing bin with my packages; instead, I should come around to the side door, ring the buzzer, and he’ll hop out to take the buckets of stuff to be mailed.

But honest to my Grandma, this never works. I ring the buzzer…nothing. I knock on the door…nothing. I don’t know where he is and quite frankly, I don’t care. So, out of frustration and realizing I have better things to do then stand around and wait on these people all day, I (assisted by my trusty sidekick, the Dadmeister) put all of my packages in the bin, taking special care not to jam it. We then beat a hasty retreat.

But as Jack Nicholson so memorably remarks in Terms of Endearment, “I was inches from a clean getaway.” Some officious-looking dame wearing a smock pops out of the side door and asks if I’m the one who put the packages in the bin.

Well, I’m not going to lie to her. “Yes, I am.”

“You’re not allowed to put those in that bin,” she says sternly.

“Well, I would have handed them to someone at the side door but the buzzer seems to be broken. No one answered.”

“This door is not for packages. It’s to be used in the mornings for…”

I interrupted her. “Look…I’m not trying to cause any trouble, ma’am…but every time I come down here to mail something I’m told something different. The last time I was here, I was told to ring the buzzer and someone would pick up the packages. Nobody answered when I did this time,” I said, stressing that last part carefully. “I honestly don’t have time to stand around and wait and I think it’s rude of you to make me do so. That’s why I put the packages in the bin.”

“That bin,” she replies, staring me down, “is for Click-and-Ship customers only. Are you a Click-and-Ship customer?”

“I purchased the labels through Pay Pal,” I replied. “Technically, it’s not Click-and-Ship, but…”

“Then you’re not to use the bin,” she finishes with a flourish.

“Look, when I purchase labels from Pay Pal, it’s done so through USPS. You guys get a record of every label I purchase, because I always specify I want delivery confirmation.”

“That doesn’t matter. If you’re going to purchase labels,” she said, turning toward a machine, “you need to use that machine there. There’s a camera there that will take a picture of you, and your credit card information will be recorded.”

“But Pay Pal gets all that information now,” I responded. “Well, except for the picture…but I don’t photograph that well anyway…”

“You can’t use that bin to mail packages,” she says, returning to her oldie-but-goodie.

“Well, if you don’t mind my asking, why not? I can’t put them in this other bin here,” I pointed to the smaller one on my right, “they won’t fit.”

“Postal regulations,” she replies. She then goes on about some Aviation-something rule, and when she’s finished, I stare at her.

“I have no idea what you just said…try it again in English…”

“We don’t want our customers mailing something like a bomb,” she intones darkly.

“Um…look, when I mail something and put it in that bin—you realize my return address is on that package, right?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Then why the hell would I mail somebody a bomb and put my return address on the package?” My father was doing his best not to laugh, but it wasn’t easy.

I don’t need to relate the rest of this conversation; because you’ve heard it all before (it’s like goddamn Kabuki theater, to be honest). From now on, I’m to go up to the front desk and announce to all the personnel and customers in line that I have packages to mail and need some assistance…and then I’ll probably have to stand and wait an hour, because the line of people usually stretches to Brunswick at that time of the day. (If I were standing in line and some numbnut came in for assistance that would require whatever clerk was waiting on me to drop what s/he was doing, I’d be a bit pissed.) I nearly forgot…while Smock Lady and I are engaging in this predictable badinage, I spot the guy who told me to ring the buzzer in the back and I ask her to bring him out here so we can straighten out just what the rules are supposed to be around here, instead of changing them every time I walk through the door. She says to me—and I swear I’m not making this up: “He does not have the authority to tell you those things, he is only a clerk. "

"Then why did he give me permission to..."

"I will deal with him when I am finished with you.” Kee-rist, it was if I were standing in front of Mr. Harrison’s desk some twenty-five plus years ago at my alma mater, Ravenswood High. Dad must have known that I was about to give this dame a necklace of fingers because he started nudging me toward the door.

You know, I’m practically the easiest person in the world to get along with—but there’s something about these tight-assed officious types that just drives me up the wall…and furthermore, it’s like playing a shell game because they change the rules every time I go in. Ferchrissake, if the clerk isn’t supposed to be telling me this stuff—why the hell is he still working there? I considered asking for a pow-wow with the Postmaster, but then waved the idea off; these government proles stick mindlessly to their agenda regardless of whether it makes sense or not. We Shreves have a long tradition of pissing off the Post Office (ask my sister about her long-running feud with the woman who ran the P.O. in Porterdale, GA sometime) because…well, because we don’t like dealing with stupid people, and my Mom is always worried they’re gonna stop delivering our mail if this keeps up. Fine and dandy with me…the postman brings bills, son!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

“That’s Grandpappy Amos and the girls and boys/of the family known as The Real McCoys…” has the artwork up for the Mannix: The First Season DVD set due out June 3rd, so for Linda and all the Mike “Touch” Connors acolytes, you can find it right here, along with some additional info as to the box set’s extras—like episode introductions from Connors and an interview with the man himself! I know I’ve taken a pledge to cut back on the DVDs, but this is a set I will have to have—particularly since I want to see cleaned-up versions of the four public domain first season episodes already released.

The go-to website for classic television coming to disc also has an announcement that Infinity Entertainment will unleash The Real McCoys: The Complete Third Season to DVD June 17th. At the risk of getting up on a soapbox, I must protest that the McCoys releases aren’t the complete anything, simply because Infinity is using the edited-for-syndication prints for said releases. Still, I keep buying the McCoys sets simply because I don’t know any better…plus the fact that I think Kathleen Nolan is smokin’ and I’ve always been a fan of Richard “Walter Denton/Oogie Pringle/Bronco Thompson” Crenna.

Laughing Gravy at In the Balcony says that the upcoming Popeye the Sailor - Volume 2: 1938-1940 has been retooled into a 2-disc set because Warner Home Video was disappernted with the first set’s sales; says that WHV scaled back the discs because of the amount of time needed to restore the animated shorts. Naturally, I would normally concur with the opinion with ITB’s Wacko Administrator and Quotable Expert—but in this case, whoever’s wrong or right doesn’t matter much in the big picture…I’m just glad that WHV is soldiering on with some of the finest animated cartoons ever produced. Here’s a rundown on what the new release (scheduled for June 17th) will contain.

Finally, the sharp-eyed correspondent known to TDOY fans as “Master of His (Public) Domain,” BobH, alerted me to this Mill Creek Entertainment announcement that the company will be releasing the rest of the forty-seven shows from Alcoa Presents (1959-61), also known to fans as One Step Beyond. I purchased the previous set and while I agree with Bob that many of the episodes were the worse for wear, it’s still nice to have this show completely represented on DVD (though you might want to read HTF’s own Hank Dearborn’s plans for the OSB set that might have been). I used to watch Beyond back in my formative teen years on WGN Chicago, having developed an interest in the program after seeing the updated syndicated series, The Next Stop Beyond (both shows were hosted by John Newland) in 1978. You may already be aware of this, but One Step Beyond’s tales of the paranormal and supernatural predated the better-known The Twilight Zone by several months…and were all alleged to have been based on fact.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Now you see you don't announces that Paramount has "recalled" the My Three Sons: Season 1, Volume 1 release from their schedule.

Missed it by that much...

“Don’t you listen to him, Dan/he’s a devil not a man/and he spreads the burning sands with the water…”

Because my father—a longtime CBS news devotee—is diabetic, he can’t watch Katie Couric, so he’s switched to NBC’s Nightly News…or as we call it, “The Brian Williams Show.” We all had a good chuckle at this story from last night:

You no doubt remember Governor Sonny’s previous attempts to slake Atlanta’s thirst, including this Chinatown-like scenario and, of course, a little old-fashioned revival/tent show. After watching the NBC report, I turned to my father and remarked: “This doesn’t seem very Christian of Sonny to swipe water like that…it's like something out of one of those old Western serials.”

Grinning, my father responded: “I guess it’s true. The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

I had a hunch...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TV news, both good…and not-so-good

Finally found a bit o’ spare time to get something up on the blog…but the window of opportunity is closing fast, so I’ll get right to the important items in the bulletin.

In the “Here I go again, tooting my own horn” department, I have another eBay auction up and running right now, filled with the usual assortment of books and trinkets…and some DVDs that I wish I didn’t have to part with, but I do. Shop early and often, as they say—you can click on the little eBay icon to your right and see if there’s anything you absotively, posolutely have to have. (I have this unshakable feeling of dread that will I may have to take yet another inventory of the DVDs and weed out some undesirables, and that’s going to hurt.)

Friday morning, as my Bombast web page appeared in my browser as if to say: “Hiya! Doesn’t it suck that we’re the only high-speed internet service in town?” I started getting another feeling of dread when I saw Valerie Harper’s picture in one of the boxes in the “Entertainment” section. As it turns out, the man standing beside her was the object of attention: actor David Groh, who played Joe Gerard—the husband of Rhoda Morgenstern (Harper) in The Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off Rhoda—had passed away at the age of 68.

To be honest with you, my memories of Groh’s work on Rhoda are a little fuzzy because apart from the famous wedding episode, I never really watched the show all that much until its later seasons (because our CBS affiliate, WCHS-TV in Charleston for some reason ran them on Saturdays around 6:30 p.m.), when Rhoda and Joe had already called it splitsville and Julie Kavner began to dominate the show as Rhoda’s sister Brenda. The show’s producers forced the characters into a sort of “shotgun divorce” when it became apparent that a married Rhoda just wasn’t as funny as a single (and whiny) Rhoda. But this indignity shouldn’t diminish Groh’s fine acting career. R.I.P., David. You will be missed.

I got the opportunity to watch Ghost Catchers (1944) the other night, which I finally located while digging into already-packed-with-DVDs boxes looking for some discs to put on eBay. As it stands now, Hellzapoppin’ (1941) remains the best Olsen & Johnson on celluloid. I had high hopes for Catchers, especially since Leonard “Two-and-a-half-stars” Maltin gives it three sparklies in his Classic Movie Guide…but to be honest, it’s not all that good—and it suffers from the fatal flaw of Crazy House (1943, an otherwise enjoyable Olsen & Johnson romp): namely a lot of musical numbers that interrupt the comedic momentum, stopping the movie dead in its tracks. There are one or two good funny bits in Catchers (when Ole and Chic are following a pair of dwarves into the basement of the haunted mansion they’re staying in, Ole makes a Snow White reference…prompting one of the dwarves to shout: “Everywhere we go…everywhere we go!!!”), and you’ll get to see Andy Devine and Lon Chaney, Jr. in a horse and bear suit, respectively, along with the song stylings of Kirby “Sky King” Grant. But Gloria Jean’s the female singer in this one (well, along with Ella Mae Morse) and you know what she does to the funny in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941). (Insert sound of screeching halt here.)

There has been a number of encouraging TV-on-DVD announcements as of late, courtesy of One of them I’m really stoked about is the debut of sitcom warhorse My Three Sons, which I mentioned back in July 2007 in my “I’d buy that for a dollar” lists of television programs I’d like to see on DVD. Unfortunately, since there were thirty-six episodes in Sons’ inaugural season, CBS-Paramount will resort to the old “split season” gambit, meaning that when Fred MacMurray and his brood hit the streets on June 3rd it will be as My Three Sons: Season 1, Volume 1. (Well, you can’t have everything, I suppose. I am, by the way, impressed that CBS-Paramount has decided to start at the very beginning with the early black-and-white episodes broadcast on ABC-TV from 1960-65. Growing up, all I ever saw was the color episodes…and I never understood why so many TV reference books mentioned that William Frawley was on the show until Nick at Nite reran the “lost” shows.) I have to be honest…I seriously considered buying this series on “root peg”—so I’m glad I waited.

TVShows also reports that CBS-Paramount will continue with their release of The Fugitive when they roll out The Fugitive: Season 2, Volume 1 on June 10th. (Gad! Will this split season nonsense never end…?) Also on that date, the fourth seasons of both Hawaii Five-O (I love the box art on this one) and The Odd Couple will be released…which makes me wonder if selling off DVDs on eBay isn’t really just an exercise in futility. And finally, the news on the first season of Mannix has definitely been confirmed for release on June 3, though for some odd reason the P.R. people refer to Gail Fisher’s character in the press release (well, technically they screw up by referring to the secretary by the actress’ real name, instead of “Peggy Fair”) when she didn’t join the series until Season 2. Still, I hope to line up with Mannix fans on that date to get the first season on disc.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy belated Valentine's Day

Apologies for not posting anything yesterday regarding the crass commercial holiday that benefits the floral and confectionary industries (Bitter? Do I sound bitter?) but I'm hard at work boxing up DVDs for the move and I have a few that I'm hoping to get up on eBay by Sunday. I just thought I'd take time out to feature a pair of tributes celebrating two of the most beloved couples in the political's the first:

In the words of that Oscar-winning rabbit: "All the woild loves a lover...but in his case, I'll make an exception."

And of course, who can forget:

Not that I have a dog in this race, but if I were with the DNC, every political spot I rubber-stamped would have to have this worked in somewhere.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


My good friend and former Overlord of the League of Savannah Bloggers, Sam Johnson, posted an entry Sunday about how a casual e-mail brought back a flood of memories of a cable access comedy show he and his fellow unemployables directed, wrote and produced called Underground Savannah. (Keep in mind, folks, that Savannah isn’t too far above sea level, and that any real attempt to go underground will result in a big honkin’ tidal wave of salt water.) Apparently one of the people who worked with “Blaxstone” has put the series on DVD and will be shipping him a copy sometime this week.

Now, I’ll come clean and admit that I did get kind of snarky when it came to teasing Sam about this…particularly since if you look at this photo…

…he looks like Alfonso Ribeiro’s twin brother (or, at the very least, a refugee from DeBarge). But since that time, I’ve had my own walk down Memory Lane. (There is a picture involved, but it will not be of me. You’ve seen me in my younger days already, with the infamous “fruit hat.”)

The other evening, I was checking on the huge readership stats for Thrilling Days of Yesteryear when I noticed someone had “Googled” my name…and it wasn’t me. This sort of thing has a tendency to make me nervous, because I can’t for the life of me figure out who would take precious time out of their busy schedule to fill in the missing portions of my life via the Internets. (Honest to my Grandma, folks…I’m one of the most boring people you’re ever gonna meet.) The only conclusion I could come to is that the “Google” came from someone I owe money to…although again, tracking me down in a web search isn’t going to yield anybody any additional funds.

My curiosity having been spiked, I clicked on the Google link to see how I rated. (220,000 hits for “ivan shreve,” in case you’re curious, too.) Most of the links listed are pretty much related to the blog…but this one here stood out—a collection of comments from people who sat in front of a mike at WMUL-FM 88, the student station at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. They invite former alumni to write about their favorite memories working for the "Mighty Mule", and my good friend Jeff Lane contributed some involving him and yours truly:

In 1984-85, Ivan Shreve and I started a Friday Afternoon Country Show on WMUL. We got new releases from Davidson's Record store downtown and played all our country favorites. At the time there had never been a country show on the MUL! Ivan also did an updated rewritten version for radio broadcast of "The Iliad" that featured many of the staff in some small role.

As I do my best Maurice Chevalier impression, “I remember it well.” Jeff and I were bosom buddies during my brief academic career at Marshall (which sort of went south because, ironically, I spent so much time hanging out at the station I neglected my studies) and one memory he left out (which I have since submitted) was an occasion when he and I ventured out to Huntington’s amusement park, Camden Park (“ the sign of the Happy Clown!”), and ran into our student advisor, Keith Spears. Keith was Camden’s promotional director, in charge of booking the entertainment at Camden, which consisted mainly of country music stars.

Keith sees Jeff and me, and he walks with us over to the corn dog stand (Camden Park calls them “Pronto Pups”). He tells the corn dog maitre’d to set us up with some “puppies” and cold drinks, and then pulls out a fistful of ride tickets. “Now, I’m not suggesting this is a quid pro quo,” he admonishes us, “but maybe you two could see your way clear to mentioning Camden Park and how much fun it is to visit…like on that new country music show I agreed to let you guys do.” (Yes, this was my first taste of payola…and since then, my credo has been: “I can’t be bought…but I can be rented.”)

Jeff and his lovely wife Mary Ann stopped Rancho Yesteryear last year on their way down to her mother’s place in Florida, and that visit itself would have made perfect fodder for a sitcom episode. See, what I didn’t tell them at the time was that I sort of overindulged in some Chinese food the night before (and I mean overindulged) and when Jeff called me to let me know he was in town and wanted to take me to dinner, I turned three shades of green. (Sort of like Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley episode, “The Christmas Lunch Incident.”) We all went out to Carey Hilliard’s and I think I remember eating a hamburger along with CH’s best-in-Savannah onion rings; in between bites we reminisced about all the crazy things we did long ago…most of them at WMUL. (We were so inseparable that one day I walked into the station’s “bullpen” and the news director glanced up at me and cracked, “Hi, fellas.”)

Jeff now works as a magistrate in Logan County (yes, I found it difficult to believe, too) and in his spare time moonlights as a wrestling manager (his wrestler has the quaint nickname, “Psycho”) and as a member of a country band, 119 South. He’s the guy with the green shirt in this picture (which I liberated from 119 South’s website):

Somewhere amidst all this junk, I have a photo of Jeff and I that was taken many years ago here in Savannah. If I find it, I’m not going to post it…because Lord knows I don’t need to give Sam any more ammunition in our ongoing feud.

Obligatory Paula Deen Reference #47

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Stealin' those young girls' hearts/just like Gene and Roy..."

What a difference a Fay makes

For reasons I’ve yet to discern, all of the comments posted to the blog are being stashed away in my “Screened Mail” folder of my Bombast e-mail account, so I’ve been having to go in there and tell the system that queries and observations to TDOY are legitimate. If anyone has sent me an e-mail asking for information, though, you might want to give it a second try. has a column—that with the end of the writers’ strike, I’m assuming will soon be retired—entitled “Re-Viewed,” which gives readers ideas for shows to watch on DVD while they’re sitting around waiting for new episodes from their new tube favorites. This essay discusses TV’s landmark medical drama, St. Elsewhere, so if you’re a fan or curious about the predecessor to shows like E.R., House and Grey’s Anatomy, it’s well worth the look (yes, I know you have to put up with an ad barrage—life’s like that sometimes). Fox Home Video has only released the first season on disc, and though I like to think of myself as an optimist, I have a hunch they’re going to bail out on the series unless someone can come up with a way to splice in footage from The X Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

After spending most of my days sifting through clutter, I look forward to the evenings because that’s when I call it quits to settle in and watch a movie. I revisited a couple of flicks that I had previously seen; one of which was Pressure Point (1962), a psychological drama that stars Sidney Poitier as a psychiatrist trying to drum the Nazi influence out of bigoted social misfit Bobby Darin. This one isn’t too bad (the fact that it was produced by Stanley Kramer should tip you off as to its content), but I liked the material better when it was No Way Out (1950)…which also featured Poitier as a man of medicine, as well as Linda Darnell and Richard “King of the Rat Bastards” Widmark as the bigot.

A purchase from eBay imitator netted me a better-than-it-should-be copy of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson’s Crazy House (1943), which was videotaped off of cable channel Trio in what would appear to have been a night when they turned Quentin Tarantino loose on the network. Not only do you have to put up with Trio’s big honkin’ red-dot logo in the right corner while you’re watching House, but you also have to listen to Tarantino talk a mile-a-minute about how Mel Brooks “liberated” House’s plot for Silent Movie (1976). (There are a few similarities, but it’s really not a direct rip-off.) Many Olsen and Johnson fans believe that Crazy House is the best of their films; I’ll admit the movie is falling-down funny (the Shemp Howard appearances—“Wanna buy a stove? It’s hot!”—and the cameo with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson are my favorites) but the comedy stops dead in its tracks with a lot of musical numbers that could (and should) have been trimmed a bit. Until I see Ghost Catchers (which I have around here somewhere) Hellzapoppin’ remains the best Olsen & Johnson vehicle.

Finally, another purchase from a similar eBay knock-off resulted in my watching God’s Gift to Women (1931), a pre-Code comedy that boasts the distinction of having Louise Brooks in its cast. Brooksie plays the girlfriend of the film’s star, Frank Fay, and still gets tenth-billed in the credits—and if you’re looking for her trademark “Lulu” bob…well, she was combing those bangs back at this stage of her career. (Strangely enough, two minor characters continue to flaunt Brooks’ old hairstyle.) I dearly love Brooksie, but she has diddly-squat to do in this film, outside of participating in a catfight between sexy Joan Blondell and Yola d’Avril. Your enjoyment of Women will also depend a great deal on your tolerance for Fay, who in this picture comes off as the love child of Al Jolson and Liberace; the only other film I’ve seen him in is Nothing Sacred (1937) and he wasn’t too impressive in that, either. Fay’s conceit was legendary among his peers—it was Fred Allen who once cracked: “If Frank Fay was acid, he would consume himself.” Fay was also married to Barbara Stanwyck at one time and apparently liked to bat her around a bit; there’s an oft-told story about how Babs was making a movie and in a scene that required her to take a punch, they insisted on doing retakes because the scene didn’t come off right. Finally, a punchy Stanwyck joked: “Why don’t you hire Frank Fay as technical adviser for this scene?”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hey kids…what time is it?

Three articles over at that caught my attention yesterday morning:

1) A follow-up to the My Favorite Martian: Season 3 controversy that I mentioned in this post a while back. To bring those unfamiliar with what’s going on, Chertok Television (the original producer of MFM) grew weary of waiting for Rhino to release the final season of Martian to DVD and farmed out the work to an Australian concern called Umbrella Entertainment. This meant that if you wanted to complete your Martian collection, you had to fork over sixty-eight simolians for the six-disc set.

Several online retailers began to announce that the same set was going to be made available at a much lower price on February 5th, but it would now appear that someone was blowing sunshine up potential customers’ skirts, because the 5th has come and gone and not only has anyone who’s ordered the set failed to receive a copy, but several of the retailers who advertised the product have made those listings vanish via the black hole of the Internets. While I certainly feel a little better about having made the purchase (and I issue a major mea culpa to Peter Greenwood and Chertok TV for getting a little pissy at the time), I sympathize with some of the fine individuals over at the Home Theater Forum who ordered the set thinking they would get a bargain and ended up boned in the process. (I’ll just send my condolences from the safety of the blog, because there’s still a huge dust-up over the Route 66: Season 1, Volume 2 release…and I’m not going in there without someone having my back.) Meanwhile, Umbrella Entertainment has a listing on their site for a re-release of Martian’s first season box set (fancied up with a few extras), tentatively due out March 2008.

2) Shout! Factory is releasing a box set entitled Hiya, Kids!!! A ‘50s Saturday Morning, a collection of twenty-one programs from yesteryear tailored to the exquisite tastes of the cold-cereal-and-footy-pajamas crowd. Among the classic favorites in this set: episodes of Kukla, Fran & Ollie, Howdy Doody, Lassie, Ding Dong School, Time for Beany, The Paul Winchell Show, Winky Dink and You, Andy’s Gang and many, many more. I’m making a concerted effort to cut back on the DVD purchases around here, but if anyone else is interested the collection is due to be released May 6th.

3) The long-running Britcom (in fact, the longest running situation comedy period) Last of the Summer Wine is slowly being released series-by-series on Region 2 DVDs released by Universal/Playback (in fact, series 7 and 8 are due out in March) but unfortunately, Region 1 releases have been rather spotty. BFI Video released a 4-disc collection in March 2003 that contains a handful of episodes from the first and second series, plus the 1983 “Christmas cracker” Getting Sam Home; and Warner Home Video followed this a year later with Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1995 that contains all ten episodes from series 17 (plus a wonderful documentary on the series that’s worth the price of admission.)

So hopefully WHV is making up for lost time with the announcement that Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1976 is headed to stores March 11th. This time, all seven episodes from Series 3 will be available, as well as an interview with actors Brian Wilde, Peter Sallis and Frank Thornton. It took me the longest time to warm up to Summer Wine, because it’s definitely an acquired taste but once I did I found myself completely captivated by the show. (Thanks to Joe Mackey for telling me not to give up on it.)

As I went to press, here’s a couple of other tidbits from The Jackie Gleason Show: The Color Honeymooners: Collection 3 has been announced for release on May 27th (how sweet it is!) and VCI will finally unleash Burke’s Law: Season 1, Volume 1 April 29th. The extras for Law make the set a real temptation (though I’m going to pass, since I’ve already got Season 1 on a Region 2 DVD set), including some penetrating biographic notes written by none-other-than-that-super-suave-Balcony-usher himself, Laughing Gravy.

R.I.P. Roy Scheider

Oddly, I wasn’t greeted with the news of Roy Scheider’s passing at the age of 75 on my Bombast web page (though I will link to it here) because frequent TDOY commenter Pam sent me the sad tidings via e-mail, which was sent around 1:00 am or so. (Nice to see Pam’s keeping an eye on events as they happen on the night shift.)

Practically every obit is going to mention his role as Chief Martin Brody in the 1975 Steven Spielberg blockbuster Jaws...and I suppose it’s only fitting, since it’s probably his best-known showcase. (His Oscar nominations, however, were for Best Supporting Actor in The French Connection [1971] and Best Actor in All That Jazz [1979].) The Bombast article also mentions that his line from the film—“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”—is one of the most oft-quoted movie lines in history, but personally I always find myself spouting “They’re in the YAHd, not too FAH from the CAH” whenever I’m showing off my atrocious New England accent. (I also like the quotes from Scheider in the obit that riff on the fact that the Brody character was actually a bit of a stumblebum, adding much needed comic relief.)

At Rancho Yesteryear, Jaws is known as “the fish movie,” so my Mom was a bit more saddened than I upon learning of Scheider’s death. (Fortunately, I have hidden her DVDs of Jaws and Jaws 2 (1978), otherwise we’d be subjected to an all-day marathon.) Still, I will miss Scheider terribly—he had an admirable acting style that often allowed him to underplay his parts and win me over (even in his turn as evil scumbag insurance company CEO Wilfred Keeley in The Rainmaker [1997]). Among my favorite Scheider performances: as Frank Ligourin in Klute (1971), Harry Hannan in Jonathan Demme’s Hitchcock homage Last Embrace (1979) and studio head George Schaefer in RKO 281 (1999). (Roy will, however, have to do a few hundred years in purgatory for SeaQuest DSV.)

R.I.P., Roy. I just got a line that Last Embrace is available on a Region 2 Netherlands DVD, and I’m going to track down a copy…so you won’t be missed.

Friday, February 8, 2008

“…you’re going out a comedian but you’ve got to come back a Stooge!”

It was during the filming of Half Wits’ Holiday (1947)—the ninety-seventh two-reel comedy that The Three Stooges made for the Columbia shorts department—that on May 6, 1946, “third stooge” Jerome “Curly” Howard suffered a stroke between takes…effectively ending his movie career with longtime partners Larry Fine and brother Moe. (He did, however, make cameo appearances in two later Stooge efforts, Hold That Lion [1947] and Malice in the Palace [1949], though his scene from the latter short was edited out at the last minute and is believed to be lost.) Though Columbia had reservations when Moe suggested that his brother Shemp (who had actually been in the act before their success at Columbia) replace the departing Curly (the studio felt he looked too much like Moe), Shemp was added to the roster and made an additional seventy-seven two-reelers as a stooge—the last four even cranked out after his death in 1955!

Not many people are aware that Shemp was a star in Columbia shorts before being lured back into the Stooges’ fold. The Shempster was working on a pair of Buck Jones westerns at the studio in 1937 when he was also asked to appear in a few Andy Clyde two-reelers playing Clyde's obnoxious brother-in-law (Not Guilty Enough, Home on the Rage). He also turned up in a few of the early shorts in Columbia’s Glove Slingers series (Glove Slingers, Pleased to Mitt You) and by 1944, shorts department head Jules White asked him if he would star in a series of his own after being paired with El Brendel in Pick a Peck of Plumbers (1944). Thus, the Shemp Howard series was born.

I’ve stated on many occasions that I believe Shemp was funnier than Curly, even though that may sound like blasphemy to Stooge fans. “Curly” Howard was a very funny and very talented comedian (who never truly received his critical due) but without Moe or Larry to keep him in check he could be pretty overbearing…and when you give it a good deal more thought, he really wasn’t going to be anything but Curly of The Three Stooges. Shemp displayed a great deal more versatility, starring in a series of bizarre (but funny) two-reelers for Vitaphone during the 1930s and being an effective second banana up against the likes of W.C. Fields and Abbott & Costello. It’s a shame, then, that the shorts Shemp made for Columbia really don’t showcase his talents to the fullest extent—several of them are extremely riotous but the majority of his vehicles are pretty humdrum affairs.

Pick a Peck of Plumbers may be the worst short Shemp ever made at Columbia. I’ve discussed previously that the studio often teamed up comedians with little regard as to whether they had any chemistry, and while Shemp holds his own in Plumbers (thanks to a few choice ad-libs) he’s forced to drag the painfully unfunny El Brendel around like an albatross affixed to his neck. (It also doesn’t help that Plumbers is a vastly inferior remake to one of the Three Stooges’ all-time best outings, A Plumbing We Will Go [1940].) Shemp's first starring short was only a mild improvement; Open Season for Saps (1944) is virtually a scene-for-scene remake of Charley Chase’s The Grand Hooter (1937)—except Shemp doesn’t sing—and while it’s pleasant, it’s not going to make anyone forget the original any time soon...which is no great shakes to begin with. Shemp followed this up with Off Again, On Again (1945), another Chase remake (Time Out for Trouble [1938]) that I have unfortunately not been able to see.

In Where the Pest Begins (1945), Shemp is teamed with Tom Kennedy in a breezy outing that, once again, relies on his ad-libbing to keep it from being too dreadful (he plays Tom’s obnoxious neighbor, who attempts to help Kennedy invent a wartime explosive). But he struck out with another abysmal short, A Hit with a Miss (1945), whose only purpose is to remind viewers how good the original (the Three Stooges’ Punch Drunks [1934]) was. He then rebounded with what many Shemp fans consider his best solo short, Mr. Noisy (1946)—a remake (third time’s the charm!) of Charley Chase’s The Heckler (1940; itself a reworking of a 1932 Mack Sennett two-reeler, The Loud Mouth). Shemp plays an insufferable (well, the guy was typecast—what are you going to do?) sports fan whose grating tones (“Watch him miss it!”) rattle a baseball player into keeping him off his game. Two gamblers decide that Shemp could come in handy in winning a few bets, but on the day of the big game he catches cold and his voice can barely reach whisper status…a visit to the doctor then results in Shemp’s voice sounding like a six-year-old girl. It was one of Chase’s best Columbia shorts, but Shemp improved on the material tremendously with his lovably obnoxious personality.

After Noisy, Shemp started to hit his stride in the Columbia comedies—Society Mugs (1946), a remake of the Three Stooges’ Termites of 1938 (1938), once again paired him with Tom Kennedy and the short works surprisingly well, with both men making a pretty amusing team. (There are some funny lines in this one, too; my favorite is when Christine McIntyre—who’s mistakenly hired Shemp and Tom as college escorts—explains the two men’s advanced ages by remarking: “They’re seniors.”) Bride and Gloom (1947) was the last solo short for the soon-to-be Third Stooge, a sidesplitting two-reeler that cribs a good deal from the classic Charley Chase short Limousine Love (1928) but manages to put an amusing spin on time-tested material (and good direction from Edward Bernds helps, too). (Along with Off Again, On Again I’ve not seen Jiggers, My Wife [1946], a Jules White effort whose all-too-familiar plot has Shemp’s wife suspecting him of hanky-panky.)

With Shemp’s passing, the Three Stooges (or I guess I should say the Two Stooges) soldiered on by adding comedian Joe Besser to the line-up. As luck would have it, Besser also made a handful of shorts at Columbia from 1949-1956…but since I’ve not seen any of them it would be presumptuous for me to comment on his work. Ted Okuda and Ed Watz, however, sit on their hands in appraisal of Besser’s solo vehicles in The Columbia Comedy Shorts by observing: “Like Besser’s Stooge films, his solo shorts benefit tremendously from his spirited performances, although his panache fails to salvage these uninspired, graceless comedies.” (Greg Hilbrich at The Shorts Department has five of the Besser comedies available, but the only one that I have any interest in seeing is Waiting in the Lurch [1949], and it’s apparently missing in action as of this posting.)

When the Stooges were given their walking papers by Columbia in December of 1957 (their remaining shorts, however, were released to theaters up until 1959 due to a hefty backlog), no one could have predicted that two years later—thanks to the television exposure from their old comedies—they would once again be in demand by audiences. Besser had by then left the group (he never really fit in with the team’s roughhouse antics) and “Curly” Joe DeRita replaced him as “Third Stooge.” I guess the roster of former stars in the shorts department provided Moe and Larry with a list of potential hires because DeRita, like Shemp and Besser, had also toiled briefly in Columbia shorts—four, to be exact, produced from 1946-1948. (Just think—if Monte Collins had been alive, he might have gotten the nod.) Whatever you may think of DeRita’s contributions to Stoogedom, let me just say that Moe Howard had more foresight as to Joe’s talent than I because I think DeRita’s Columbia two-reelers are among the worst produced by the studio. Okuda and Watz dub Joe “the poor man’s Lou Costello”; though I think that should be amended to “the homeless man’s Costello” because his characterization in these comedies was indistinguishable from that of the baby-faced comic…except that he stank. DeRita kicked things off with Slappily Married (1946)—a remake of Andy Clyde’s A Maid Made Mad (1943)—it’s so bad even Edward Bernds’ usual top-notch direction can’t redeem it. (In the short, Joe has a verbal confrontation with a tall, thin man with a moustache—and any resemblance to Bud Abbott, of course, is purely coincidental.) Joe’s second effort, The Good Bad Egg (1947), was even worse—once again, they went to the well for an earlier two-reeler for inspiration (Andy Clyde’s Knee Action [1937]) and found the well had run dry.

Wedlock Deadlock (1947)—DeRita’s third vehicle—is the best of a sorry lot, which isn’t saying much. A remake of a 1936 short (Unrelated Relations) that showcased the novelty of Monte Collins going it on his own, Deadlock is sort of amusing in its first half but loses its footing and winds up on a runaway bobsled to Hell in the second. DeRita’s short-lived series ended with Jitter Bughouse (1948), which paired him with a “comic” singing trio called The Nov-Elites. (Again, to demonstrate how difficult it was to create any kind of a character for DeRita in these comedies, Bughouse was also a remake of an earlier Radio Rogues comedy produced at Columbia, Do Your Stuff [1935].)

Once again, my profuse thanks to my pal Rodney Bowcock for giving me the opportunity to laugh at my favorite Stooge…and to scratch my head over how Joe DeRita ever got into the group in the first place. If anyone knows where I can purchase copies of “the Missing Shemps” (Off Again, On Again and Jiggers, My Wife) don’t hesitate to drop me an e-mail.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

“How DARE you look like someone I hate!”

During its twenty-five-year hitch in the comedy two-reeler business, the Columbia Pictures studio worked diligently to find the right combination of comedic talents that might possibly echo the success of the shorts unit’s reigning stars, The Three Stooges. I discussed the short-lived team of Monte Collins & Tom Kennedy in yesterday’s post, but the brain trust behind the Columbia shorts (department head-director-producer Jules White and producer Hugh McCollum) were doggedly determined to generate comedy sparks with a teaming of the studio’s very own. Case in point: Swedish dialect comedian El Brendel, who during his stint with the studio was paired with Kennedy (Sweet Spirits of the Nighter, Phony Cronies), Collins (His Wedding Scare, Boobs in the Night), Shemp Howard (Pick a Peck of Plumbers) and Harry Langdon (Defective Detectives, Pistol Packin’ Nitwits). Langdon, in turn, was teamed up with character actress Una Merkel (To Heir is Human) and acrobatic comedienne Elsie Ames (What Makes Lizzy Dizzy?, Carry Harry). (Ames had even served as a partner to Buster Keaton during his brief stretch with the studio in farces like The Taming of the Snood and His Ex Marks the Spot.) George Givot & Cliff Nazarro, Wally Vernon & Eddie Quillan, Max Baer & Maxie Rosenbloom—no stone was left unturned at Columbia to find the next Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy…or Wally Brown & Alan Carney, even (though Brown did do a funny one-shot at Columbia with Tim Ryan, French Fried Frolic.)

Of all the partnerships created by the Columbia shorts department, the teaming of Gus Schilling and Richard Lane is the only such duo who came close to rivaling—as Ted Okuda and Ed Watz observe in their reference tome The Columbia Comedy Shorts—“the Three Stooges in terms of performance, compatibility, and gag content.” Sadly neglected today, the Schilling & Lane shorts are an absolute joy…even the worst entries are good for a laugh or two. Schilling, a character actor who seemed to be in every film Orson Welles ever made (yes, I’m exaggerating here…but he was in a lot of Orson’s movies) pitted his jittery, coffee-nervous qualities alongside the brash, loud-mouthed stridency of Lane (already a familiar face at Columbia as the no-nonsense Inspector Farraday of the Boston Blackie movie series) for some truly hilarious two-reelers. The team got off to a grand start with the hysterically funny High Blood Pleasure (1945), in which Dick—a legendary traffic scofflaw—is stopped by two highway patrolmen for speeding and in order to get out of the ticket, tries to convince the cops that he’s his twin brother (a world-famous surgeon) rushing Gus to the hospital for an emergency operation. The two patrolmen insist on escorting “Doctor” Lane to the hospital to observe him work his magic in the operating room, much to Gus’ consternation. Pleasure moves along at such a fast pace it’s necessary to run it twice just to catch all the gags, including Lane’s first-rate double-talk recitation of “Little Red Riding Hood.” It would mark an auspicious debut for the duo, and was a remake of the Monte Collins-Tom Kennedy two-reeler Just Speeding (1936). (Gus and Dick would also remake the Collins-Kennedy classic Gum Shoes as Hold That Monkey, their last short in 1950.)

You’re going to find that I’m a little more effusive in my praise for the Schilling & Lane comedies than Okuda and Watz, mainly because I’m convinced that their two-reelers were head-and-shoulders above the other shorts being cranked out at Columbia at the same time, often written and/or directed by the legendary Edward Bernds. The team continued their winning streak with the amusing Hot Water (1947), a short with overtones of Laurel & Hardy’s 1938 classic Block-Heads (in the first half of this one, Gus and Dick accidentally lock a female neighbor in a trunk and must take her back to her apartment before their wives find out), and Training for Trouble (1947)—a remake of the Three Stooges’ A Pain in the Pullman (1936) that I honestly believe is better than the original. Pardon My Lamb Chop is also very good, highlighted by the duo’s reworking of the classic “Pokomoko” routine from Abbott & Costello’s Lost in a Harem (1944). Of course, they would make an occasional misstep with remade material: He’s in Again (1949), a reworking of Charley Chase’s Many Sappy Returns (1938), falls positively flat—Lane, as good as he was, simply could not top John T. Murray’s hilarious performance as the lunatic in the original. Their worst short is probably Ain’t Love Cuckoo? (1946), with Flung by a Fling (1949) not too far behind.

One of the more unusual Schilling & Lane efforts was Pardon My Terror (1946), a two-reeler that was originally conceived as a Three Stooges short…but when Curly Howard was felled by a stroke while making Half-Wits’ Holiday, Gus & Dick were pressed into service to finish the project. Terror is a good example of one of the frailties of the duo’s two-reelers; often there wasn’t much time to fully develop the two men’s characters and so they would be shoehorned into comedies with little regard to any consistency of their characterizations. I actually think Terror isn’t bad (though it is unusual to see Gus & Dick do Stooge-like material), but I can’t deny that the Stooges didn’t approve on it when they remade Terror as Who Done It? (1949)…not only one of the best “Shemp-as-Third-Stooge” shorts, but one of the best Stooges shorts…period.

Wedding Belle (1947) is my favorite of the Schilling & Lane two-reelers; a side-splittingly funny short that features philandering husband Dick (with the reluctant help of bachelor Gus) trying to extricate himself from the overtures of his amorous ex-flame—a circus performer named Zorita (hysterically portrayed by Lynne Lyons) who performs a whip-cracking act. Dick pretends to be laid low with a case of “jungle fever,” while a disguised Gus stands by his bedside as his concerned physician. Two Nuts in a Rut (1948) is also comedy gold: Hollywood producer Dick tries to keep a low profile at a Palm Springs resort in order to get some R&R and not be bothered by wannabe actresses (flunky Gus unfortunately spills the beans to aspiring thespian Claire Carleton, who keeps trying to audition for Lane by trying to seduce him in a sultry fashion: “Come wiz me to the Casaba…”), but his wife (Lyons) and mother-in-law (Symona Boniface) suspect him of hanky-panky when he finds himself in an entanglement with another woman (Christine McIntyre) and her jealous wrestler-husband (Dick Wessel).

I’ve been fortunate to see all of the Schilling & Lane comedies with the exception of Hold That Monkey; Greg Hilbrich at The Shorts Department observes that the reason why Monkey remains elusive is that it was the only Gus & Dick two-reeler not included in Columbia/Screen Gems’ The Hilarious Hundred television package. Greg offers the remaining ten shorts for sale at his website, and I would strongly encourage you to seek them out to experience a comedy team whose reputation becomes more and more (unjustifiably) unknown with each passing year.

Till we Mitt again

Well, Vince Keenan has gotten his wish. Willard Mitt Romney has “suspended” his campaign—which, loosely translated, means “I’m going out of the room for a sec, so don’t anybody touch my delegates.” (I had nothing to do with this, by the way; you all saw me, I was here at the blog the whole time.) I listened to a portion of his “suspension” speech during lunch and the guy’s rhetoric was such that I had to check to make sure I was still in 2008…and not fifty years earlier.

I gotta be honest—I’m not exactly sure what folks like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter see in this guy, other than he’s not John McCain. Romney is a freakin’ weathervane; a man who seem to change his position(s) with each primary loss. As a candidate who would do or say anything to get elected, I remarked to my father: “He’s the Republican answer to Hillary Clinton.” (This, by the way, did not sit too well with my mother.) One journalistic wag observed that Romney was like a Monet painting…the farther away you are, the better he looks.

But enough of Mitt, since I’ve grown weary of his antics (especially the way he would whine that his opponents were using “dirty tricks” when he was the one with the scorched-earth attack ad policy). Instead, I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank all and any of you who helped out with my recent eBay auction. TDOY regular Leonard bought a ton of books, as did many of the usual suspects at In the Balcony…including His Royal Gravyness his ownself. As it looks right now, I’ll probably be taking another look at the DVDs and weeding out a few for an auction next week…but in the meantime I’ll put back up the books/miscellanea that didn’t sell this time around.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The day the chasing stopped

Someone posted a notice over at the In the Balcony bulletin boards that actor Barry Morse has passed away. He was 89.

Growing up, I was more familiar with Morse’s role as Professor Victor Bergman on the syndicated sci-fi series Space: 1999, a show that also starred former Mission: Impossible players Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. Space developed a huge cult following at that time (which hasn’t let up since) but the show was never my cup of tea (I found it kind of silly) and my only wish was that Landau and Bain were well-paid for the work. (Morse was lucky; his character disappeared after the first season.)

No, if Barry Morse achieved any sort of TV immortality it was as Lieutenant Philip Gerard, the Javert-like pursuer of (wrongly) convicted murderer Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) on the 1963-67 adventure The Fugitive. TDOY readers are, of course, familiar with my fondness for what I consider to be one the best dramatic series ever on TV…and Morse was nothing short of fantastic as the long arm of the law. The great thing about Barry and his character was that even when he wasn’t on the show that particular week, his presence was so strong that you were always fearful he was going to step out of the shadows and pinch Kimble right on the spot.

Morse also guest-starred in such classic series as The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, Naked City and The Defenders, to name only but a few.

R.I.P.. Mr. Morse. You most certainly will be missed.

Tom Collins and Monte Kennedy…no, wait…that’s not right…

While opening boxes upon boxes of the movie books that made up close to 85% of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear library two weekends ago, I stumbled across my dog-eared copy of Movie Comedy Teams, originally published in 1970 and revised four years later (and again in 1985). Venerable film historian Leonard Maltin penned this invaluable film comedy reference, and while Mr. M and I don’t often see eye-to-eye on a lot of movies I cannot ignore the fact that Teams was the cornerstone of my comedy education, along with his companion book The Great Movie Comedians. Sure, I was already familiar with and loved the films of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, etc. but it was Leonard who educated me on the delights of lesser-known teams like Wheeler & Woolsey, Thelma Todd & ZaSu Pitts (and Patsy Kelly), the Ritz Brothers and Olsen & Johnson.

One team Leonard left out of his book—and for pretty good reason, no doubt—was Tom Kennedy & Monte (also spelled “Monty”) Collins. If you’re not familiar with them, you need not be ashamed—Collins & Kennedy was the first attempt by the Columbia Studios shorts department to create a comedy team wholly out of scratch. Granted, Columbia already had the Stooges (who would become the studio’s bread-and-butter) and the team of Smith and Dale would join the shorts department’s roster later (the studio had also cranked out a half-dozen shorts in 1934 with George Sidney and Charlie Murray, best known for their teaming in Universal’s The Cohens and the Kellys series) but they were really keen on creating their own comedy duo…oftentimes with little regard as to whether these potential team-ups had any comedic chemistry or not. (At one time, both Kennedy and Collins were paired with practically every solo comedian on the lot, yielding such head-scratching results as Buster Keaton & Monte in 1941’s She’s Oil Mine and Tom & El Brendel in several “scare” comedies like Ready, Willing But Unable, released that same year.)

The first of the Kennedy/Collins shorts to be released was Gum Shoes (1935), an amusing romp that features the two men as inept hotel detectives investigating a series of robberies committed by a trained gorilla. (By the way, I’ve never been able to understand why gorillas were so frightening to movie audiences back then.) This short is singled out as a particular favorite of Ted Okuda and Ed Watz in their book The Columbia Comedy Shorts, and while it is entertaining I personally thought its follow-up, Stage Frights (1935) was far superior—I got the opportunity to see this for the first time via my Columbia shorts connection, Rodney Bowcock. (Frights features our two heroes coming to the aid of a stage actress who’s been receiving threatening letters and the two-reeler’s atmospheric evocation of the behind-the-scenes backstage is simply wonderful.) Ted, Ed and I are, however, all in agreement that Midnight Blunders (1936) is the best of the Collins/Kennedy vehicles: a marvelous short that features the two as bumbling bank guards who assist a damsel-in-distress (Phyllis Crane) by attempting to locate her scientist father (who’s been kidnapped by a powerful Chinatown warlord) and tangling with his half-human, half-robot creation (played by Jack “Tiny” Lipson). As Okuda and Watz note: “Mixing chills with laughs is usually a surefire combination, and Midnight Blunders is no exception. The extraordinary grim depiction of Chinatown after dark is worthy of a legitimate horror film, and provides the film with a properly eerie mood.” (Blunders was recently released on DVD as an extra on the Icons of Horror Collection: Sam Katzman box set.)

In his book The Great Movie Shorts Leonard Maltin has high praise for Free Rent (1936), another comical Collins & Kennedy outing that features some eye-popping stunt work (supervised by Columbia shorts director Del Lord) with a runaway house trailer; Okuda and Watz, however, believe that the despite the stunts the two-reeler is ultimately a disappointment due to its stilted dialogue sequences. In the shorts that Rodney sent me, I also found another neglected gem entitled New News (1937), in which Monte and Tom are mistaken by a newspaper editor for reporters and are sent to try and get a picture of the fiancé of a wealthy dowager by posing as her new cook and butler. (And yes, this short was remade by the Three Stooges as Crash Goes the Hash [1944], canapés and all.) Fiddling Around (1938) closed out the short-lived series, which never caught the fancy of either the public or theater exhibitors; Collins believed that the failure of the Kennedy/Collins shorts was due to anti-Semitism—many people thought he was Jewish due to his rather pronounced “hook-nose” so Collins (who was actually Irish) had his nose bobbed. (This did not sit well with shorts department head Jules White, who felt that the nose job robbed Monte of his comic appeal.) Both men continued to work at Columbia in supporting roles (in addition to his work with El Brendel, Tom also made two shorts with Shemp Howard); Collins was even versatile enough to contribute quite a few scripts to the shorts department, notably the Three Stooges’ Cactus Makes Perfect (1942) and Three Little Twirps (1943).

As of this post, I haven’t seen five of the Collins/Kennedy two-reelers: Gobs of Trouble (1935), Oh, My Nerves! (1935—which was remade by the Three Stooges as Idiots Deluxe), Just Speeding (1936), Bury the Hatchet (1937) and Calling All Curtains (1937). I may be in the minority, but I honestly think that the teaming of Tom and Monte wasn’t all that bad—Kennedy excelled at playing stupefyingly dumb palookas, and Collins provided a nice complement as the scrawny, hatchet-faced, easily-exasperated member of the duo. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at a thrown-together pair that actually worked for Columbia…and for all intents and purposes may be the studio’s best-kept secret.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Today is Super Duper Tsunami Tuesday, and all three of us here at Rancho Yesteryear have gone out and voted on what is turning out to be a beautiful seventy-nine degree day in Savannah….in February.

For anyone else living in Georgia...or the other states particpating today, I strongly urge you to exercise your privilege to vote. If I find out someone didn’t, I will become extremely cross.

We plan to watch the results this evening while scarfing down copious amounts of Chinese food. Democracy is indeed a beautiful thing.

They’ll keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’… has a fistful of TV-on-DVD announcements today, and the one that has me the most stoked is the news that CBS-Paramount is readying a release for the third season of the classic television oater Rawhide (albeit in those still-too-annoying split-season sets). The rumor mill at the Home Theater Forum was that the company was getting ready to close the book on Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood’s yearly cattle drive after the second season, so I’m relieved that the rumors of its demise were greatly exaggerated. Rawhide: Season 3, Volume 1 is scheduled to hit the streets (or dusty trail, if you prefer) May 27th.

Also on that same day, Gunsmoke: Season 2, Volume 2 will be released by CBS-Paramount—and I’m hoping that the company will address the “missing episode” controversy soon because I’d like to put my Columbia House copies of Gunsmoke’s sophomore year up on eBay to generate a little cashola, if you know what I mean…and I believe you do. What happened with the Season 2, Volume 1 set is that they substituted the second season episode “How to Cure a Friend” (11/10/56) with one from the fourth season, “How to Kill a Friend” (11/22/58). You can read all about the mix-up at TVShows here, but until this lulu of a boo-boo is solved I have to hang on to the Columbia House releases (where they got it right the first time).

Finally, everyone’s favorite country-boy Marine—Gomer Pyle, USMC—will be showcased in the fourth season of the popular 60s sitcom come May 20th…a show I wasn’t too concerned about being cut off after a season or two due to the popularity of The Andy Griffith Show releases. I am kind of curious, though, as to whether someone will see fit to considering the Griffith Show’s spin-off, Mayberry RFD, for DVD candidacy; the series is apparently owned by Warner and Hank Dearborn, resident curmudgeon at HTF, is pretty convinced that eventually seeing RFD on DVD will require a great leap of faith in light of their continued disinterest in their vintage TV holdings. Still, hope springs eternal. also has an interesting item that the cult UK sitcom, Spaced, may be coming to Region 1 DVD sometime next year—if you’re a fan of films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Spaced is where it all began (I wrote an essay about the show back in the old Salon days here). This bit of news was apparently gleaned from a podcast interview with director Edgar Wright at the UK version of the website Rotten Tomatoes; Wright nixed the idea of bringing Spaced to American television in the tradition of The Office because “he really doesn’t want to be part of a version of his show centered in Malibu.” (This, by the way, is the cleaned-up version of the quote—the real McCoy can be downloaded here.)

Finally, for all you Walter Lantz fans out there in YesteryearLand, TVShows has the lineup for the Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 that’s scheduled for release April 15th. I bought the first volume despite the fact that I never cared much for Woody—he was a bit too obnoxious for my tastes, and he didn’t have the panache that the Warner characters possessed to cover up for this shortcoming. But I reasoned that if I did buy the first volume, Universal would follow up with a sequel…so it was purely altruistic on my part, thinking of other Woody-maniacs. Sometimes one must make sacrifices in the name of TV-on-DVD.

“She looked at me as if I were a bug.”

Once again, Edward Copeland has done the blogosphere a tremendous service by asking over 120 film bloggers and buffs their picks for the Best Best Actor winners…including yours truly, for which I am justly humbled. I also didn’t do too shabby in the final outcome—I picked four out of the Top Eleven, with three in the Top 10 and two in the Top Five. (Eddie was even kind enough to use my quote on the only one I missed—William Holden for Stalag 17—because…well, apparently I’m the only one who had anything nice to say about him. I’m actually pleased with this…though I knew my choice wouldn’t be a popular one.) So let’s take a look at the winners, ranked in the Top Twenty:

19) James Stewart (The Philadelphia Story) and Paul Scofield (A Man for All Seasons), tied – I’ll be honest; I seriously considered listing Scofield among my Top Five, because he does give one hell of a performance. The problem I have with Scofield is, he was really more a creature of the stage than film and I’ve always felt it was unfair that he received the statue for such a skimpy cinematic resume. (Please don’t interpret this as my not liking Scofield—one of the best performances I’ve ever seen give is as Mark Van Doren in Quiz Show [1994].) As for Jimmy…well, I think my dislike for Story has a lot to do with the fact that I feel he won the Oscar for the wrong performance. (Fast-talking reporter = Jimmy Stewart? Not even Ripley would believe that.)

18) Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend) – I like Weekend, but I don’t think Milland should have won the Big Prize.

17) Humphrey Bogart (The African Queen) – I don’t deny Bogie his due but he gave much better performances. In a sane world, he would have won for In a Lonely Place (1950).

16) Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives) – A great performance in a movie I’ve never really warmed up to.

14) Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry) and Peter Finch (Network), tied. Danny Peary argues in Alternative Oscars that no Lancaster role was ever worthy of an Oscar…which makes me curious as to whether Danny’s ever seen Sweet Smell of Success (1957)…or Atlantic City (1980), for that matter. I took Finch out of the running because Bill Holden is the star of Network.

13) Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) – You can’t deny Hopkins isn’t great in this…but it’s a Best Supporting Actor performance, if you gauge how much screen time he has.

12) Adrien Brody (The Pianist) – Haven’t seen it.

11) Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune) – On my Top Five list.

10) George C. Scott (Patton) – Some other blogger (whose name escapes me) opined that Scott basically recycled his General Buck Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove (1964) in this film. What can I say—he’s absolutely right!

9) Alec Guinness (The Bridge on the River Kwai) – Not to slight Sir Alec, but his best film performance is as Gully Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth (1958).

8) James Cagney (Yankee Doodle Dandy) – In my Top Five, too…I thought he would have ranked a little higher, though.

7) F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) – Haven’t seen it.

6) Marlon Brando (The Godfather) – I wasn’t going to do what so many people did last year with Vivien Leigh and include Brando twice in my Top Five. He does deserve the space, though.

5) Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot) – Haven’t seen this one, either…though my curiosity has been piqued from this comment from Copeland crony the Odienator: “What makes this performance so great is that Day-Lewis never asks for our sympathy; he makes Christy a fully-rounded individual. Plus he drinks your milkshake. He drinks it all up. With his foot!"

4) Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird) – I knew this one would make the Top Five. Had it on my list, too.

3) Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) – Nicholson’s recent downhill slide of parodying himself in any movie role kind of influenced me to leave him out of my Top Five picks. Besides, he’s better in Chinatown (1974).

2) Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull) – Yes, I know…I should have Bobby on my list. Blame Bill Holden.

1) Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront) – In the words of Fox at Tractor Facts: “The glove scene, man, the glove scene!”

Go on over to Eddie’s and check out the list; I know the Best Best Winners comments aren’t nearly as entertaining as the Worst but there are some interesting perspectives from many of the folks who voted (I also liked this, a list of Best Actor Winners who failed to receive any Best votes). Again, my profuse thanks to Mr. C for encouraging my behavior—and I’m counting the days 'til the Best and Worst Best Director contest next year!

Monday, February 4, 2008

“Hey, I love a Holocaust comedy as much as the next gal…” – Susan Merrill

Edward Copeland has the “winners” up in his Worst of the Best Actors competition, and if you’re an Oscar maven you owe it to yourself to go and check it out. (I don’t qualify as a maven; in fact, I think I’m helping with the Bingo tournament at the Golden Age Center that night.) Ed takes a couple of side streets in his survey that I found particularly interesting; here’s a list of contenders who failed to receive any “Worst” votes (oddly enough, I named three of these on my Best Best Actor list) and under “Not Hated Enough” we have the also-rans. As always, Eddie is generous to provide some choice snarky comments with these, and I’ve jotted a few down that made me snicker more loudly than usual:

1) Of Art Carney—who tied for 12th place with Richard Dreyfuss (The Goodbye Girl), Jamie Foxx (Ray), Sean Penn (Mystic River) and Kevin Spacey (American Beauty)—for his role in Harry and Tonto: “EXTRA! EXTRA! Ed Norton whacks Michael Corleone! Quite possibly the greatest true crime in cinematic history." (David Puterbaugh)

2) Spencer Tracy—who tied for 20th with Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond) and Jack Lemmon (Save the Tiger)—for Captains Courageous: “Sometimes it’s good to be out of character. But it’s better to be good at it.” (Veronica Kleist). (NOTE: I had actually expected Tracy to rank higher with this performance, since he seemed to be confused as to the difference between a Portuguese fisherman and Chico Marx.)

3) Ronald Colman, in 27th place for A Double Life: “Didn’t believe him as a Shakespearian Method actor and I didn’t believe him as Othello.” (I must be in the minority; I liked Colman in Life…though I would have given the Oscar that year to John Garfield for Force of Evil.)

4) Lee Marvin—who tied for 28th with Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote)—for Cat Ballou: “Liberty Valance would eat both of his characters for breakfast.” (David Cassan)

5) Paul Muni—who tied for 36th with Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) and Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg)—for The Story of Louis Pasteur: "In one of our collections of New Yorker cartoons, a woman on a radio quiz show says, ‘I don’t know what he did, but Paul Muni played him in the movie.'” (Sally Box)

Of the actors on my "Worst" list, I only had two crack the Top Ten; I’ve already mentioned that Hank Fonda tied at #20 (and Ed was nice enough to quote me on that one…guaranteeing me some hate e-mail within the next week or so) but my choice Nicholas Cage (of who Michael Maccarone jokes, “Chewed more scenery than Godzilla on a Hollywood backlot”) clocked in at #23 and the “King,” Clark Gable, wound up tied for 56th with Adrian Brody (now I know I’m in the minority on this one…either that or it may be that no one else was bothered enough to list him). So without further ado, let’s check the top of the charts:

10) A tie between Denzel Washington (Training Day) and John Wayne (True Grit) – Of Wayne’s performance, Robert Schlueter observes: “He put the reins in his teeth because there wasn’t any scenery available.” I have no quibbles with the choice of Wayne (everyone knows it was a career Oscar) or Washington, particularly since Denzel did much better work before Day and, in fact, already had an Oscar at the time.

9) Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady) - To quote the only funny thing I've ever heard Meg Ryan say in a movie: "I have no response to that."

8) Cliff Robertson (Charly) – “Any idiot could have done what Robertson did here and would have been just as convincing." (James Henry)

7) Jack Nicholson (As Good as It Gets) – “Jack, return this one now, and we'll give you another lead for anything you did from 1970-1974." (Dan Callahan)

5) A tie between Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator) – The only reason why Heston didn’t make my list is because of the honor system, I’ve never actually watched the film the whole way through…so it wouldn’t have been right. And the reason why Crowe didn’t make my tally is because my answer to Peter Graves’ question in Airplane would be “No.”

4) Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) - "A preposterous award for a collection of ticks and actorly tricks with no depth or soul. Tom Cruise actually gave the much deeper and more intuitive performance in this film, which shows just where the Academy's brain is most of the time." (Jeffrey A. Anderson). (NOTE: I don’t know who this Mr. Anderson is, but since he agrees both with me and Toby at Tubeworld re: Cruise giving the better performance he would appear to be a very perceptive individual.)

3) Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) – I knew Tom would make the list with this one. Maybe I should have chosen him instead of picking on Henry Fonda.

2) Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman) – “He’s blind and he yells. Look! He dances the tango! I wish I were deaf.” (Isaac Bickerstaff)

1) Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful) – I knew this performance would win all the marbles (a grand total of 232 points) even though I’ve never watched the movie and probably never will. A “comedy” about the Holocaust seems impossible to pull off; hell, there are still people today who argue that there’s nothing funny about Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (as to Benigni’s comparison to the Little Tramp, Daniel L. cracks: “He ain’t Chaplin, he’s Charlie Callas”) or Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be. The knives come out in the form of suffer-no-Italian-fools-gladly comments for this atrocity over at Eddie’s, so be sure not to be drinking any liquids when reading them—my personal favorite comes from Daniel Fienberg: "Something very weird happened to award voters in the winter of 1998. It's one thing that they became entranced by a mediocre Italian comedian and his grossly superficial and sappy Holocaust comedy, but they also became really amused by what said Italian comedian would do if they kept giving him awards. It was like a psychotic babysitter thinking it was cool to give a six-year-old coffee and Pixie Stix knowing that the kid would be the parents' responsibility later.”