Wednesday, April 2, 2008

R.I.P. Jules Dassin

I just learned from Vince Keenan that director Jules Dassin--who directed such landmark noirs as Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), Thieves' Highway (1949) and Night and the City (1950)--has shuffled off this mortal coil. What terrible news to hear.

Paul Panzer over at In the Balcony once posted that Dassin was one of his least favorite directors because he thought the characters in Jules' films didn't ring true, particularly in City. He's wrong, of course, but he's entitled to his opinion.

R.I.P., Mr. Dassin. You will be missed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

At the corner of 14th and Oak

It’s the first of April—and you know what that means! Well, other than the endless string of lame “your shoe’s untied” jokes, it’s time for another Premier Collection, courtesy of the fine people at First Generation Radio Archives. This month, another volume (number five in the series) of Fibber McGee & Molly: The Lost Episodes—broadcasts from the 1953-56 run of the series, which were presented in a five-day-a-week, quarter-hour form. The liner notes were written by yours truly, and I cannot even begin to describe the tremendous kick I get listening to these rare episodes—with Jim & Marian Jordan still at the top of their form and laugh-out-loud moments from their supporting players, Bill Thompson and Arthur Q, Bryan.

For this month’s notes, I shined the spotlight on one of the show’s utility players, Robert Easton (who plays the McGees’ next-door neighbor, Lester Nelson); you probably won’t recognize the name but as soon as you hear his voice and/or see his face you’ll know him right off the bat. Easton specialized in playing slow-witted country hicks, and his best remembered role is in an Abbott & Costello picture entitled Comin’ Round the Mountain (1951), in which he has a recurring line: “I’m tetched…I got kicked in the haid by a mule!” My father wouldn’t know Robert Easton if Easton bit him on the inner thigh, plus he thinks Bud & Lou are the Anti-Christ of Comedy—but I’ll bet not a week goes by when he’s not quoting that phrase.

First Generation Radio Archives also has a new Radio Legends collection out this month, a second volume of Have Gun, Will Travel broadcasts starring John Dehner (or as my friend the Chief always interjects, “Mister John Dehner”) as the man called Paladin. Boomer TV fans, of course, remember that the tube version featured Richard Boone as the cultured gun-for-hire, but Travel is one of but a handful of television shows that transitioned to radio instead of the other way around (you can read a little about it here). I like the radio version of Travel—it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of, say, Gunsmoke or Frontier Gentleman (or Fort Laramie, for that matter) but it still makes for entertaining listening.

If you purchase the new Fib & Molly or Have Gun collections—or anything at all from the Archives this month, the “Voice” of FGRA (none other than Harlan “Low Overhead” Zinck his ownself) has whipped up one of his patented freebies: a bonus CD containing two broadcasts from the Archives’ previously released Mr. President collections (Volumes 1 and 2 also containing liner notes from the pen of this humble blogger). President—a dramatic anthology that had a healthy run on ABC Radio from 1947 to 1953—is another example of some truly fine old-time radio that doesn’t receive the critical kudos it should. I’d heartily recommend these collections to the history scholar or buff in your family, and because the “hook” of Mr. President was that the identity of the Commander-in-Chief went unmentioned until the final minutes of each episode, I’ll provide a couple of “hints” to help you determine which great man’s life is being dramatized. (If the president has a predilection for corned beef and cabbage, it’s Grover Cleveland. If the president has sons that appear to have been raised by wolves, it’s Teddy Roosevelt.)

On a personal note, I’d like to use up a tiny bit of bandwidth and thank Harlan and the rest of the FGRA gang for allowing me to flex my writing muscles and conjure up the notes for these fine collections on a regular basis. I e-mailed Harlan the other day to ask if there was any utility work to be done shoring up the Premiers and he was gracious to throw a little work my way while the ‘rents and I sit around Rancho Yesteryear and wait for the real estate agent to call. Everyone at First Generation are fine people; individuals completely dedicated to the worthwhile cause of “preserving radio’s past for the future”—and I’m prepared to step outside with anybody who thinks otherwise.

We’ve lost our lease! We’re selling to the bare walls! No reasonable offer refused!

Good news, everyone! We sold so much stuff at the yard/garage sale this weekend that we were able to pay off all our debts and the mortgage, which means we’ll be able to stay in Savannah for the rest of our days.

Yeah, you got it…April Fool’s.

The moving sale was not the success we had hoped for, unfortunately. This could be due to any number of factors, but I think Factor Numero Uno might be that my father scheduled the sale at the same time as the big junque (junk) sale being sponsored by the Savannah Morning Snooze…er, News. Kind of hard to compete with that, particularly since that sale got talked about a lot in the paper…which I’m sure was just a coincidence.

Sister Kat had a garage sale in Athens the same day and made out like a bandit—sold $500 worth of stuff. So either she had a better class of crap to hawk or a better class of clientele. She told Dad that she promoted the sale on Craigslist, which prompted my mother to confront me with “Why didn’t you think of that?” I told her that I had heard too many anecdotes about people using the non-commercial classified ad service to rob people and that I would be concerned if I came home and found both of them tied to a chair; the house having been looted. “If they took half of that stuff that’s out there,” my father retorted, “I could handle being tied to a chair for a while.”

Now, I know in the past that I’ve often joked on this blog about how I have a tendency not to throw things out, cementing my status as one of the world’s biggest packrats. But, folks—I’m an amateur compared to the old man. My mother comes back one day from having gone to the storage area that my father rents each month, and she can do nothing but shake her head. “He’s got two storage area filled to the rafters with crap,” she wails. “We’re never getting out of here.” Her current fantasy is to back up one of those huge trucks with the trash bins to the edge of the garage and start shoveling the stuff in with a pitchfork…and I wouldn’t completely dismiss something like this as never happening.

Longtime TDOY supporter/reader Philip Schweier made a cameo appearance at the moving sale earlier Saturday morning; we gabbed a bit about sundry topics and Philip got to see my father’s non-existent organizational skills in action (proving the acorn doesn't fall too far from the tree). But other than that, it was mostly an exercise in watching people walk up the driveway, stare at the crap Dad was trying to unload…and walk back down again. Then you have the individuals who ask about the stuff we have inside (we're trying to get rid of things like a sewing machine, entertainment center, etc.) just as an excuse to see what's inside (nosy parkers...) I think things may be a little different for the old man once we move to Athens…but as to how we’re going to get a garage full of stuff (not to mention the two storage areas) transported up in that direction is a post for another day.