Friday, July 31, 2009

"Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in..."

I’m now starting to understand why the people who conceived Facebook don’t issue any warning labels—something like “ATTENTION: This application has been known to cause the user to fritter away oodles and oodles of their copious free time!”—when you sign up at the site. I think the late Sam Johnson should have warned me about this; after all, I accepted his invitation to “the Book” shortly after his passing, just to see what the fuss was all about. And now I’m hooked—hopelessly hooked—on the damn thing. It’s like heroin for guys like me who don’t have normal jobs. Even the people with normal jobs are affected—I present this as Exhibit A. Here was once a healthy, thriving web log containing interesting ideas and refreshing content…and now look at it. The fields have gone fallow, and the web log barn/farmhouse is sorely in need of a lick of paint.

I suppose after careful consideration, I really have no one to blame but myself—most of the time I spend on Facebook is devoted to my thriving FarmTown empire…and even that’s getting pretty old. Mafia Wars, Restaurant City—they’re fun for a while, and then you quickly need to move on to something else. So I make before you today a solemn vow. Facebook will still be the mistress I’m seeing on the side…but I’m going to limit her time with me to evenings only. (Yes, I know this won’t last long—but it’s something the sponsors are making me say.) I will go to Facebook only in the case of a dire emergency (important message in my e-mailbox, as it were) and I’m going to try and cut down every little smile, hug and what-have-you that comes across my way. (Notice that I was smart enough not to mention any refusal of alcoholic beverages—those are always welcome.)

First of all, I want to thank everyone for a successful return eBay go-round, which netted me enough cash to pay for a luxury or two—including the birthday gifts I purchased for my niece Rachel (who turned eight years old on July 29th). One of them was a DVD of Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) but the other I will not mention because I’m was more than a little embarrassed to see it show up on her Amazon.com wish list (her mother swears she asked for it, but I remain highly skeptical). (I’ll give you a hint—it’s a gazillion-selling CD release by a famous celebrity weirdo who cashed in his chips recently.) As for myself, I have been taking advantage of DeepDiscount.com’s 25% off sale—and the sweetest deal to be had so far is that they have the new VCI box set Becoming Charley Chase priced at $21.76…but with the discount, it’s yours at $16.32. (A better buy simply cannot be found…and I am unanimous in that.)

Second, a big thank you goes out to my pal Rodney Bowcock (former proprietor of Rodney Bowcock’s Comics and Stories) who in the course of returning some DVDs I lent him larded up the return box with mounds and mounds of goodies. There were vintage television shows (including My Little Margie and Official Detective, a TV version of the long-running radio series) and series films (the 1943 programmer Crime Doctor) but the biggest catch of all were a pair of Charles Starrett-Durango Kid oaters and a dozen B-westerns with Republic’s The Three Mesquiteers. These will be perfect for gawking at on a rainy weekend afternoon, and I thank him gigantically for sending all of them along.

Tomorrow, I’ll pick up where I left off in that thrill-packed Universal serial saga, Jungle Queen (1945)—and I also hope to have a few other things posted in the meantime…including a new Premier Collections release from the First Generation Radio Archives in which I just happened to have a hand…

DVR-TiVo-Or whatever recording device strikes your fancy-alert!

Before I get on my knees and grovel for forgiveness for having neglected the blog for so long, I thought I’d post this little heads-up concerning some comedy one- and two-reelers which you might want to jot down for viewing and/or taping. (I realize it’s cutting it close, but I didn’t stumble onto this info until early this morning.)

This afternoon, TCM will run the 1948 Joe McDoakes short So You Want to Build a House—scheduled fortuitously before the charming Cary Grant-Myrna Loy farce Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948; no one describes wall colors like Myrna!). A second comedy short treat follows in Neighborhood House (1936), a Charley Chase romp that according to the legend was originally five reels in length but was edited down to two. It has long been accepted as conventional wisdom that House’s re-editing was due to a poor reception from an audience, negating Chase’s foray into features—but Yair Solan, proprietor of The World of Charley Chase, argues that the cutting of the two-reeler was due to a legal battle looming over the horizon over the Roach Studios’ “borrowing” of the “Bank Night” concept in the film. (The original title of the feature was Bank Night, and Mr. R was anxious to avoid a lawsuit, in layman’s terms. The messy fallout of "Chase can't 'carry' a feature" followed.) I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing the short but I’ve heard several of my fellow Chase acolytes offer nothing but praise—including Yair, whom I’d also like to give a hearty handclasp for purchasing some of the items in my recent eBay auction as well.

But I digress. Tomorrow morning (Saturday), it’s Roach’s “female Laurel & Hardy” team’s turn to grab the spotlight at 11:40am EDT (following Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in You Belong to Me [1941]) as Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly star in the two-reeler The Misses Stooge (1935). In this one, Thelma & Patsy are canned from their job as dancers and are forced to take up another occupation—Thelma secures work as “stooge” to a magician (Herman Bing) and Patsy becomes Bing’s assistant. I’ve not seen this short either…but if this is the start of a Hal Roach revival trend (TCM ran L&H’s County Hospital Wednesday night before the 1934 Wheeler & Woolsey musical comedy Hips, Hips, Hooray!) I endorse the idea with endless reservoirs of enthusiasm.

"I see a bathroom on the right..."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Soup’s on!


I know—I’m starting to sound a lot like an abusive boyfriend (“Baby, take me back…I promise you, I’ll blog more often…Facebook don’t mean a thing to me”) but that familiar can of Campbell’s means I’ve got some work projects to complete and so I’ll be a fairly quiet presence, TDOY-wise for the next several days. I had every intention of getting something posted yesterday, but I spent a good portion of the day getting 80% of the swag I sold on eBay ready to take to the post office in about an hour. (I love selling stuff…it’s the completion of the deal that’s a pain in the tucchus.)
So if you want to use the comments section to talk amongst yourselves, feel free—mi blog es su blog, to coin a phrase. Just make sure you straighten up a bit before you leave…and if anybody lays a finger on my Mister Bee potato chips, I’ll kill ‘em.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Treasure of the Sierra eBay

I want to thank anyone who reads the blog on a regular basis—or even a semi-regular basis—and who bought some of my swag on eBay; the auction closed around 5:30pm EST earlier today and I was very surprised at the amount of moolah I took in (one of the items offered was a still-in-the-packaging-security-tape-and-all copy of The Solid Gold Cadillac [1956], which went for around forty-three bucks and change—I had forgotten this little baby had been discontinued). I’ve still got a few items that went unsold, so I’ve re-listed them here…and while you’re certainly under no obligation to purchase anything, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to look, would it? Huh? Bueller?

As for myself, I made a pair of conservative purchases: one was a Region 2 copy of The Mob (1951), a movie I discussed briefly both here and last week…I picked this one up (brand spanking-new) for $9.95, a much better deal than had I purchased it overseas. With it came a used VHS of City That Never Sleeps (1953), a Republic noir that I actually have packed away in the dusty TDOY archives somewhere but since it’ll probably be a cold summer day in Georgia before I ever get to it I figured I’d drop a buck on this copy and see how the DVD recorder works in transferring it to a DVD-R disc. (And if it doesn’t work…well, I’ll have a VHS tape to play anyway.) I hope to have a little something up tomorrow—still deciding between another installment of Region 2 Cinema, the popular TDOY segment that has critics asking themselves with a yawn: “He really needs to get outside and get some fresh air,” or an update on some goodies I grabbed off of On Demand this weekend. I do hope you’ll join me.

“Marple her name, marble her nature…”

I meant to post this yesterday but in the hustle and bustle of watching the first chapter of Jungle Queen (1945) it totally slipped my mind. I got an e-mail from Jonathan Calder yesterday asking if I would point those faithful TDOY readers who are fans of the wonderful British comic actor James Robertson Justice in the direction of his blog Liberal England, where he has a short quiz up with some questions about JRJ. I haven’t seen enough of the man’s work to qualify (I’ve seen him in the first of the Margaret Rutherford-Miss Marple pictures, Murder She Said [1961], Histoires extraordinaires (1968; a.k.a. Spirits of the Dead) and the inaugural entry in the “Doctor” series, Doctor in the House [1954]—in which he played the rascally Sir Lancelot Spratt, but that’s the extent of my education) but I thought some of you might get a kick out of it here.

They're no angels...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jungle Queen – Chapter 1: Invitation to Danger


I gave the decision on the choice of serial for TDOY’s Serial Saturdays a great deal of consideration, and while I really wanted to go with The Green Hornet (1940), I have acquiesced to longtime reader Phillip Schweier’s request that I wait until he gets a replacement copy from the vendor who sold him a defective disc. So, Phil—you’ve got thirteen weeks to rectify this…and then you’re on your own, pal. Without further ado, I’m pleased to present the 1945 Universal chapter play Jungle Queen (1945), courtesy of VCI Entertainment, which boasts on the DVD’s case cover that it contains “1000 Jungle Terrors!” and “13 Chapters of Savage Thrills!”

As our serial opens, an onscreen title announces that the time is 1939—just before the invasion of Poland and the Second World War. We witness stock footage of Nazis goose-stepping on parade and I just have to say—any serial in which Nazis are the villains usually turns out to be wildly entertaining. An anonymous Nazi official (we see only below the neck) absent-mindedly spins a globe and then asks for a report on Africa. His major domo, identifiable only by his shiny pair of heel-clicking jackboots responds: “From Tambosa…our agents there are still vorking to gain the allegiance of the middle jungle tribes…”

The superior officer has now moved over to his desk, where he has the second-largest ashtray I’ve ever seen and a nifty little Swastika paperweight. He then doodles a skull-and-crossbones on a notepad. (I swear I’m not making any of that up.) “How successfully?”

“Until now, very successfully,” Heel-Clicker answers, “but they are vorried about a rumor concerning a mysterious queen of the jungle…”

What follows is ample stock footage of animals and restless natives, followed by another unknown man taking a cigarette out his case (also with a Swastika; the Nazis must have one hell of a gift shop) and taps it…as he puts it to his mouth, the camera pans up to reveal a sinister looking man (Douglass Dumbrille) who answers to “Lang,” with his faithful native lackey Maati (Napoleon Simpson) at his side…

MAATI: Hear that? We’re nearing Tangara now...
LANG: Does that mean the ceremony’s begun?
MAATI: Not yet, Bwana Lang…but it won’t stop Tonga comes…
LANG: Tonga’s a friend of England…is he also a friend of that mysterious girl you’ve been telling me about?
MAATI: The Tongghili talk about the mystery queen of the jungle…but no one has ever seen her…
LANG: Well, regardless of her, Maati…you want to rule the people of the middle jungle, don’t you?
MAATI: I want to take Tonga’s place…
LANG: That’s why I’m here…to help you get it…

Two minutes and forty-eight seconds into this, and we’ve already got the jungle equivalent of The West Wing. There’s a cut to the ceremony which is already in progress, as the wise and all-knowing ruler Tonga (George Reed) has been asked to pronounce judgment upon a captured prisoner (Ray Turner):

TONGA: Godac (Ivan’s note: The audio on this thing is so muddy I thought he said “Kodak” at first)…why do chiefs from all the tribes stand before me?
GODAC: Tonga…judge of all Tongghili…guardian of the Secret Sword of Tongu…this prisoner is of the Bondo tribe…he murdered a warrior of the Lodo…the chiefs of the two tribes do not agree as to his punishment…
TONGA: Bring the prisoner before me!

Okay, here’s something I didn’t factor in when I said this might turn out to a lot of fun—the natives sound suspiciously like they’d be more at home at a lodge meeting of the Mystic Knights of the Sea…and that can’t be good. Outside the temple, Maati makes his way inside by pulling out a sling and knocking out one of the temple guards. Let’s rejoin Judge Tonga for his verdict in “The Case of the Murdering Bondo”:

NATIVE: …and Tongu, that’s why I killed my enemy…I ask for mercy…
TONGA: Tongu…founder of all our tribes…enforce the laws with this sword (holds up sword)…the laws of Tongu will be obeyed…take the test!

The prisoner is taken to a large door by the two chiefs, and the door is opened to reveal one heck of a barbecue going on. Tonga decrees that if the man is innocent, he will be able to pass through the flames without so much as a third-degree burn…although I’m still a little confused by this, since the guy has already admitted he croaked his enemy. The prisoner bolts into the room, and as the door closes we hear his anguished cries of pain (and I don’t think sunscreen would have helped). “Only the guilty perish,” Tonga intones as if we couldn’t determine the bleeding obvious. At that moment, a hidden Maati hurls a spear at the ruler, shutting off that tap of wisdom for good. It is up to Godac (Clinton Rosemond) to deliver the eulogy for a man who will be missed by his people:

Our judges have lived, ruled and died throughout the many centuries…yet no man before now has raised hand against him…
This stirring speech is cut short by the sound of a gong, which either means it’s time to listen to Lights Out or someone of self-importance has decided to rudely interrupt these proceedings instead of clearing his throat or gently tapping on his drinking glass. No—from out of the flames that previously engulfed the guilty native, a vision of white appears! It is Lothel (Ruth Roman), the titled monarch of this rapidly-getting-silly serial!

KYBA: The mystery queen of the jungle! Why does she come?
LOTHEL (her voice a slight echo): I come to help you…enemies have crept secretly into your middle jungle…unknown enemies…they come from across the wide water…they planned this murder…I am called…Lothel…

Again, the soundtrack on this chapter play is as muddied as America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, but the gist of this boils down to two things—a), Queenie is warning the tribesmen about Lang and the rest of his Nazi posse, and b), always make certain to hire an exterminator when you move into the middle jungle. Godac shakes off this whole Lothel incident by declaring: “I am now your judge…you’re my hunters…bring me the murderer!”

The scene then shifts to beautiful downtown Tambosa, where we witness Lang—who’s not so much the brains of this outfit as its pathetically sniveling Karl Rove sycophant—accompanying his boss, Dr. Elise Bork (Tala Birell) to the office of Commissioner Braham Chatterton (Lester Matthews) and being greeted by Chatterton’s toady Rogers (Cyril Delevanti)—the three of them briefly discuss the circumstances surrounding Tonga’s death (Rogers reveals with a perfectly straight face that they “heard it on the jungle drums”). Lang makes a lame excuse to exit the building (probably needs to oversee some registration activities for the Party) while Bork is entertained by his Commissionership:

CHATTERTON: Did you hear anything in the jungle about Tonga’s assassination?
BORK: Strange story about a mysterious woman…according to the natives, she appeared…walking through the fire, just after the murder…
CHATTERTON (chuckling): You know, that’s one of the most interesting things about Africa…you never know when the truth ends and imagination begins…what did she do?
BORK: Warned the Tongghili about foreigners who come into the middle jungle…
CHATTERTON: Oh, I say, that is serious…know anything else about her?
BORK: Only her name…Lothel…
CHATTERTON: Lothel…is that Tongghili?
BORK: Yes…it means “white butterfly”…

So…apparently Lothel’s folks did a few too many drugs back in the day, and they mistakenly left her behind in Africa during a sabbatical from school. But that’s as may be, because Bork and Chatterton’s conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Rogers, who’s propping up a wounded native who makes this pronouncement:

I…I come…bwana…from the...Tongghili…we…need help…I find...Tonga…killer…Lothel…Lothel…
And having significantly padded his part, he falls to the floor dead. After briefly discussing the significance of this event, Chatterton asks Bork to excuse him as he has important work—and upon her departure:

ROGERS: Why dismiss Dr. Bork, sir? She knows more about these natives than anyone, except Alan Courtney…
CHATTERTON: Dr. Bork isn’t English, Rogers…I wish Courtney were here… (Looking down at the native’s closed hand) Rogers! Look there! That man has a message for us!

Oh, please – I’ve seen too many old movies to know what a stiff-upper-lip like Courtney would do…he’d probably suggest they discuss the matter around a cup of tea. Nevertheless, the scene shifts to London, where we witness a young woman (Lois Collier) enter an impressive-looking house and rap on an inside door. A panel in the door opens up to reveal two men inside, one of which who greets her with “Come in, Miss Courtney…” We soon learn that she is the niece of the much-talked-about Alan, and upon entering the room also discover that there are three men present—one of whom (Lumsden Hare) insists on being referred to as “Mr. X.”

MR. X: Any word from your uncle Alan recently?
PAMELA: No…he never writes when he’s in the middle jungle…
MR. X: I thought he perhaps might have come out since I last heard…

I’m not sure I want to hear where this is going…

MR. X: You’ve been there with him, have you not?
Then again…maybe this won’t be so bad

PAMELA: Why, yes…yes, of course…for a safari…but you knew about that before…
MR. X: Well, the question’s just for the record, my dear…did you read the report that I sent you about the trouble in the middle jungle?
PAMELA: Yes, I did…but I still can’t understand why the judge of the tribes was murdered…
MR. X: We think we know…but we have to be sure…that’s why we want your uncle to investigate…
PAMELA: I’m afraid the Tongghili would resent interference in native affairs…
MR. X: The native mentioned in the report is the one who died in our commissioner’s office in Tambosa…had this clutched in his hand…

Mr. X passes Pamela a piece of torn clothing label which reads:

Trellows & Co.
Custom Tailors
New York City
Since X and his people have ruled out the possibility that the natives are now using the internets to order custom-made clothing from the U.S., Pamela’s suspicion falls on the Nazis, renowned for their good taste in haberdashery: “Labels don’t always mean what they say, my dear,” Mr. X begins to bloviate. “Not when another world war is sure to come at any moment…warmongering Nazis…” As X drones on and on, the camera shows us that a bug has been strategically placed in a decorative candelabra hanging on a nearby wall, and there is a brief shot of a man who’s actually managing to stay awake and to transcribe X’s insomnia-curing rant. Then it’s back to X’s domicile for this earth-shattering observation:

MR. X: Almost every foreign office in the world will agree…that the nation which controls Africa…controls all the Southern approaches to Europe
PAMELA: In other words…if the Nazis control the Tongghili…it will help them control Africa

Well, so much for the clumsy, heavily-labored plot. X entreats Pamela to relay this information to her uncle, commenting: “You’re the one person in the world that can go to him openly without creating suspicion.” The ringing of a telephone interrupts this conversation, as one of X’s lackeys answers, speaks some coded gibberish into the receiver…and then hangs up. X informs Pamela that the conversation came from Washington, DC—where the information about the label has been relayed, and which also will allow the writers of this serial to introduce two more characters to the plot, volunteer agent Bob Elliott (Edward Norris) and his auto mechanic pal (and comic relief), Chuck Kelly (Eddie Quillan):

BOB: …a friend of mine in Washington was telling me about a place called Tambosa…
CHUCK: Tambosa? Do you fry it, boil it or bake it?
BOB (chuckling): No, it’s a river town down in Africa…on the edge of the middle jungle…and because of my curiosity; we may be walking into something
CHUCK: Huh?
BOB: I mean—there’s a chance we might not come back
CHUCK: Ah…you don’t think so? (Making a fist) Hmm…Africa, huh? Okay, it’s a deal…what are we hunting for?
BOB: Oh, we won’t know that until we meet an Englishman by the name of Alan Courtney in Tambosa…

The scene then shifts back to our friend, the doodling Nazi receives additional details from his heel-clicking friend that Pamela is en route to her uncle…meaning England has now gotten involved in attempting to stop their nefarious scheme. Herr Heel-Clicker tells his superior that Pamela “will take the night plane to Tambosa” and that their men stationed nearby have “received orders.”

We then cut to the plane, which is starting up and about to get underway on its journey—Bob and Chuck are aboard, with Pamela following shortly after. A mechanic (Edmund Cobb!) known as “Johann” informs a thug (Robert R. Stephenson) answering to “Krantz” that while the motors may purr like a fraulein having her back scratched, one of them will soon konk out, leaving its crew and passengers in a very precarious position…and just when the three travelers were starting to get well-acquainted…

Next Saturday, Chapter Two: Jungle Sacrifice!

The most trusted man in America...

…apparently passed away while I was watching a mini-marathon of Ma & Pa Kettle films last night. That is to say, I didn’t learn of Walter Cronkite’s passing at the age of 92 until I got back online around 2am…there’s something awfully significant about that, but I’m not sure what.

Maybe it’s because—and if I come off as sounding a bit flip here I apologize profusely—when “Uncle” Walter stepped down as the anchor of The CBS Evening News on March 6, 1981, the news as presented on TV had pretty much been laid to its eternal rest. I never really cared much for Dan Rather, Cronkite’s grossly-overpaid replacement (I also didn’t buy into the whole right-wing canard that the man had a “liberal bias”; Rather was spooky but hardly a mouthpiece for the left), or Bob Schieffer, or any of the other wannabes that foolishly tried to continue on in Walter’s shoes. (I know I’ve told this story before, but my father switched his news-watching allegiance to Brian Williams—a corporate tool if ever there was one—once Katie Couric entered the picture.)

Several of my blogging colleagues have already put up remembrances and anecdotes about Cronkite, and rather than parrot their opinions I thought I’d just link to their pieces for your perusal. Toby O’Brien, Tony Kay, Craig Zablo, RGJ at Television Obscurities, Tony Figueroa, J. Kingston Pierce, Greg Ferrara and Mark Evanier (I particularly liked this comment on how no one in Walter’s profession seemed to be able to spell his name correctly) all have first-rate recollections…and I can get behind Evanier’s Twitter observation “Let's all demand that Walter Cronkite's passing get at least a third as much attention and TV time as Michael Jackson's” 100 percent.

The two Cronkite moments that always stand out in my mind are his legendary pronouncement of the death of President John F. Kennedy that fateful November 22, 1963 day in Dallas—the point where his voice breaks almost into a sob has always possessed a poignancy for me, demonstrating that broadcast journalists are capable of being overcome by humanity from time to time. The other is not his editorial on the Tet Offensive (though I did puddle up when I was reminded—thanks to Tom Sutpen at Facebook—of his words: "But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could”) but that spontaneous moment at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention when he remarked after floor reporter Dan Rather got punched in the face: “I think we have a bunch of thugs here, Dan…”

Ol’ Walter always called ‘em like he saw ‘em. And that’s the way it is.

R.I.P, Mr. Cronkite. We have lost an American icon, or in the words of Mike Wallace—“a superb reporter and honorable man.”

They've not yet begun to mock!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A few TV-on-DVD notes and some guest blogging

Things are a bit slow around Rancho Yesteryear for the time being, so there’s not going to be a whole lot of substance in this post (like that’s ever stopped me before) but I did want to take a quick time-out and let you know that Edward Copeland asked me to write a piece for his blog seeing as that today is the 50th anniversary of the release of my favorite Hitchcock film, North by Northwest (1959). I have a tendency to be very critical of what I write, so I was rather stunned to see that this “turned out nice again,” in the words of George Formby—and I not only want to profusely thank Ed for asking me to participate but for also ironing out the kinks in the presentation (he and I have vastly different styles of how we present things on our respective blogs and it’s a particularly tough slog for me to conform…but I’ll get it right one of these days).

Over at TVShowsOnDVD.com, they’ve got the skinny on those defective Route 66 third season discs that an anonymous commenter was kind enough to give me a heads-up on and suggest I avoid like the proverbial flu; my decision to forego a Best Buy purchase, however, rested on two factors: 1) lack of money, and 2) too lazy to go down the road to the near BB (located in beautiful downtown Bogart, GA) and score one. (Update: TVShowsOnDVD.com has a press release up that announces a recall of the Route 66 sets sold.) Messrs. Lacey and Lambert also have a nice press blurb up for next Tuesday’s release of The Lucy Show: The First Season; I’ve preordered the Here’s Lucy: Season 1 set at Amazon (it was listed at $19.99) but I’ll have to remind myself to get the Lucy Show set as well (perhaps if the currently eBay sale goes well, I can make that small dream happen).

And in the “Facebook giveth and it taketh away” department, the old high school chum who accepted my friend request a week ago has since written me off like a tax deduction. Normally something like this would upset me, but as I explained to Doc Quatermass, she was always “a bit cold around the heart”—to quote Chairman Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947). Oh, well—all’s fair in love and Facebook, I suppose. (Maybe it’s my Facebook drinking problem…)

When worlds collide #45

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“Has he been?”

I don’t know whether this will turn up on many weblogs, but since Thrilling Days of Yesteryear has always been interested in comedy and sitcoms from the other side of the pond, it is with deep sadness that I must report the passing of British comedy writer Vince Powell, who’s left us at the age of 80.

Powell—like the equally proficient David Croft (Are You Being Served?, Dad’s Army, ‘Allo ‘Allo, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Hi-De-Hi!)—was one of the hardest working scribes in the television business in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. With his frequent collaborator, Harry Driver, Powell either created or wrote for such memorable Britcoms as George and the Dragon, Nearest and Dearest, Two in Clover, Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, For the Love of Ada, Bless This House and Love Thy Neighbour. After Driver’s death in 1973, Powell continued his streak of writing hits with shows like Spring and Autumn, Mind Your Language, A Sharp Intake of Breath, Young at Heart and Never the Twain.

Adaptations of Nearest and Dearest (which I wrote about previously here), For the Love of Ada and Love Thy Neighbour were all brought to these shores in the 1970s during a time when the U.S. networks were enjoying the success of sitcoms like All in the Family (based on the Britcom Till Death Us Do Part) and Sanford and Son (Steptoe and Son). Nearest, a funny vehicle starring Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewell as a feuding pair of siblings whose dying father left them a pickle factory was transformed into Thicker Than Water, with Julie Harris and Richard Long in the Baker and Jewell roles. Ada—starring Wilfred Pickles and Irene Handl as an elderly couple in love—became a vehicle for the Emmy-winning Shirley Booth (with J. Pat O’Malley as her co-star) in A Touch of Grace, and Neighbour—a controversial comedy in which an upwardly mobile black couple moves next door to an unrepentant bigot and his wife—lost its British “u” in “Neighbor” and starred Harrison Page, Ron Masak, Janet MacLachlan and Joyce Bulifant. (I’ve not had the opportunity to see the original Neighbour but from what I have been told it was far more daring than its American cousin, which was watered down considerably.)

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

In Ravenswood—where the living is good

And there's one stoplight blinking on and off

Everyone knows when their neighbors cough

They roll up the streets when the sun goes down

I'm a midnight girl in a sunset town

-- “Midnight Girl, Sunset Town,” written by Don Schlitz

Those of you who aren’t country music fans may not recognize the lyrics above but if you’ve ever seen the Kim Basinger-Jeff Bridges film Nadine (1987), you’ve probably heard the tune on its soundtrack. It was recorded by Kristine Arnold and Janis Gill, two sisters who—as Sweethearts of the Rodeo—brought back the art of two-part harmony to country listeners in 1986. (For the curious, Janis was married to Vince Gill at that time, until he dumped her for that harlot Amy Grant.) Every time I hear this tune, I can’t help but think of my hometown of Ravenswood, WV because the lyrics describe the sleepy little hamlet to a “T”. Ravenswood is so small—how…small…is it?—(Carson-like) it’s so small; the all-night diner closes at 3pm. (Heeeeyyyyyoooo!)

That having been said, I mentioned in a previous post that I have been spending a lot time on Facebook, and one of the benefits is that I’ve been fortunate enough to get reacquainted with some of my old chums that matriculated (I know it sounds dirty, but it’s not) with back in its hallowed halls from 1977 to 1981. (“Hail alma mater/Of thee we sing…”) Furthermore, two of these people are in the blogging bidness, and as such I have added them to the voluminous Thrilling Days of Yesteryear blogroll. (That’ll teach ‘em—dump a bucket of pig’s blood on me at the senior prom, will you…)

Practical ¢ents is owned and operated by my chum Valerie, a.k.a. “The Practical One”—and offers up good sense advice to those people who simply want to save a buck or two at the grocery store or score some free goodies via mail/internets. I personally enjoyed reading this piece, in which she demonstrates how she was able to purchase $199.51 of non-food necessities for $7.73. (And no, the answer is not “Wear a really big coat.”) There’s something of interest for everyone at her blog, and she comes by her “Practical One” moniker since she politely asked me not to send her anymore Facebook crap because her “computer guy” said the apps are “a teeming cesspool of viruses.” (Think about this—have you ever seen a cesspool that wasn’t teeming?)

I’d also like to give a shout-out to my one-time sidekick Shawn, who somehow finds time to do four blogs—whereas longtime TDOY readers are well aware that I am rarely able to find the motivation to maintain one. (He did admit that not all of them are updated everyday.) My fondest memory of Shawn remains the time the two of us were forced (at gunpoint) to appear in this god-awful children’s play (we were in the same drama class) entitled The Cat Princess. Because the instructor that taught the class had a particularly annoying habit of starting at the very beginning of any play we were rehearsing (instead of concentrating on the scenes we didn’t know), when we performed Princess for audiences it started out great guns but by the end turned into some sort of freewheeling Marx Brothers farce, with each member of the cast trying to out-ad-lib one another. (In retrospect, this might have made the play more entertaining.) Shawn played a sorcerer who had been transmogrified into a statue and I was the king who had been bewitched into thinking he was a butler—so as I swept the forest (“There’s an awful lot of dirt on this floor”) I would use every trick at my disposal to cause him to break character and become the only statue reduced to helpless laughter…and without boasting too much about it, let’s just say I had a particularly high batting average in doing so.

And speaking of batting averages (oh, the segueways in this piece are as smooth as glass!), Shawn’s frequently-updated Cincinnati Reds Blog is the one I chose to add to the blogroll (he also blogs here, here and here) and though I can’t call myself a devoted supporter of The Big Red Machine (I became a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan the day Hank Aaron hit homer #715—and that includes all those years Dale Murphy was hawking milk) it makes for very interesting reading. So, if anyone from the ol' ‘Wood is out and about in the blogosphere and would like me to link to your blog, my e-mail is on the Facebook “badge.” Thanks again to both Valerie and Shawn for sharing their writing with me!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

R.I.P, Dallas McKennon

I just learned from Mark Evanier’s daily must-read (news from me) that actor-voice specialist Dallas “Dal” McKennon has passed on at the age of 89—just shy of his 90th natal anniversary, which would have been this Sunday. Here’s an obit, but for some first-hand revelations about the man, you’ll want to read Mark’s piece and Jerry Beck’s tribute at Cartoon Brew.

I associated McKennon with doing voices for the various permutations of the Archie cartoon series (The Archie Show, The Archie Comedy Hour, Archie’s Fun House) but I learned he had a much wider range after reading Mark and Jerry’s posts. Dal not only voiced the characters of Wally Walrus and Buzz Buzzard in Walter Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker cartoons, but was responsible for the voice of Inspector Willoughby in another Lantz-produced series and “Paw” of Walter’s short-lived Maw and Paw cartoons (based, of course, on the characters of Ma and Pa Kettle). He was also Toughy in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (1955), the talking unicorn in the Three Stooges feature film Have Rocket, Will Travel (1959), and provided the speaking tones of Q.T. Hush, Gumby and Pokey, Bucky and Pepito, and Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse for their respectively named cartoon series. What I was tickled to learn was that Dal created a crowing rooster that became the cartoon mascot for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercials—and in fact, he maintained that that same crow introduced The Huckleberry Hound Show each week during that series’ successful run on TV.

McKennon was also a first-rate character actor whose appearance naturally lent itself to playing old codgers on TV Westerns (he always reminded me of that great character actor, Emmett Lynn); among the boob tube oaters he guest-starred on were Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Laramie, The Virginian and Lawman (just to name a few)—but his television epitaph remains that of his recurring role of “Cincinnatus,” the crusty old tavern-keeper on Daniel Boone (1964-70).

R.I.P, Dal. You’ll never know how much you’ll be missed.

Kibbles and (tid) bits

There’s not much new TV-on-DVD news to report, but TVShowsOnDVD.com does have a heads-up that the Route 66: The Complete Season 3 is currently available at a Best Buy nearest you as part of an exclusive early release. (I’m going out on a Publix run tomorrow, so maybe I’ll swing by and see if one’s available.)

But the big news is that following in the wake of WHV’s cartoon DVD releases—Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 1 and Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Volume 1—two sequels are in the works for release on October 27th:

Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 2

1) Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero – Attack From Outer Space/Rhom, Super Criminal/The Eye of Ramapoor

2) Peter Potamus – Fe Fi Fo Fun

3) The Flintstones – The Flintstone Flyer

4) The Porky Pig Show – Scaredy Cat/Baton Bunny/Feather Dusted

5) Frankenstein, Jr. & the Impossibles – The Shocking Electric Monster/The Bubbler

6) The Adventures of Aquaman – Menace of the Blanc Manta/The Rampaging Reptile-Men/The Return of Nepto

7) The Herculoids – The Beaked People/The Raider Apes

8) Space Ghost & Dino Boy – The Heat Thing/The Worm People/Zorak

9) The Adventures of Superman – The Force Phantom

10) The Jetsons – A Date with Jet Screamer

11) The Road Runner Show – Beep Beep/Satan’s Waitin’/Chili con Carne

12) Magilla Gorilla – Gridiron Gorilla

13) The Tom & Jerry Show – No Bones About It/An Ill Wind/Beach Bully

I don’t have much to comment on here—most of the shows in the above collection have been released in previous sets and I hate when companies double-dip like that. Also: that Tom & Jerry Show was the new incarnation created by Hanna-Barbera in the 1970s (I suspect that if you broke into Thad Komorowski’s place one night and replaced all his animation treasures with prints of that show it would hasten his descent into madness) and not the CBS version which showed (and sanitized) the old theatrical cartoons. I suspect that a press release will come along any day now with a revised list because the artwork on the 1960s prominently displays Touché Turtle and Breezly & Sneezly—and if I bought the damn thing and discovered there were no cartoons starring these characters…I’d be a mite pissed.

As for Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Volume 2

1) Yogi’s Gang – The Greedy Genie

2) The Bugs Bunny Show – Whoa Begone/To Itch His Own/Gee Whiz-z-z

3) Hong Kong Phooey – Cat Thieves/Zoo Story (Note: I have actually heard they’re planning to make a live-action feature film based on this series…R.I.P, imagination in Hollywood.)

4) Pebbles and Bamm Bamm – Gridiron Girl Trouble

5) Scooby Doo – What a Night for a Knight

6) Shazzan! – The Living Island

7) The Jetsons – Jetson’s Night Out

8) The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour – Snow Business/Two Crows From Tacos/Ready, Set, Zoom!

9) Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines – Stop That Pigeon

10) Wacky Races – See-Saw to Arkansas/Creepy Trip to Lemon Twist

11) Banana Splits – Joining the Knights/The Littlest Musketeer/”Danger Island” Episodes 1 & 2

12) The Flintstones – No Biz Like Show Biz

13) The Perils of Penelope Pitstop – The Diabolical Department Store Danger

14) The New Adventures of Superman – The Mermen of Emor

Oh, yeah – there’s definitely a correction coming forth soon (and if not, there should be). Shazzan! premiered in 1967, and though it may have ran in the 1970s in reruns, technically it’s not a 1970s show. The same goes for The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour, Wacky Races and Banana Splits—both of which premiered in 1968 (notice that the Splits will contain two chapters from its narcotics-inspired serial Danger Island, which was directed by some guy named Richard Donner), and Scooby Doo and Dastardly & Muttley first appeared on TV screens in 1969. (And I’m not even going to get into how The Bugs Bunny Show, The Flintstones and The Jetsons qualify…even if they were endlessly rerun in the 1970s.) Again, the box art for this set spotlights images from Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch!, Inch High, Private Eye, Sealab 2020 and Valley of the Dinosaurs—so there’s something hinky about these two releases (though Mr. Lambert does say the artwork isn’t finalized). I’m just glad that the late Sam Johnson is no longer around to witness this kind of atrocity—if he were here, his first words would be…”Are you going to finish the rest of that bacon?”

On the serial front, I sorta kinda promised that I’d tackle one of the wackiest of the Universal cliffhangers, Jungle Queen (1945)—which features the likes of Eddie Quillan, Douglass Dumbrille and Ruth Roman as the title monarch. While I have a good many serials in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives, most of them are being held hostage in my father’s storage area right now, so I’m kind of forced to pick from what I currently have here at Rancho Yesteryear:

Dick Tracy Returns (1938), Dick Tracy's G-Men (1939) and Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. (1941) – The second, third and fourth serials in Republic’s phenomenally successful Dick Tracy franchise.

The Rustlers of Red Dog (1935) and Flaming Frontiers (1938) – Two rootin’, tootin’ shoot-‘em-ups with Saturday matinee hero Johnny Mack Brown. (Cliff Weimer, who sweeps the sticky floors at In the Balcony, jokingly refers to the first one of these as “Rustlers of Wet Dog.”)

The Phantom Empire (1935) – One of the wackiest sound serials on record, and the one that helped catapult Gene Autry to singing cowboy fame and glory,

The Painted Stallion (1938) – Another western chapter play, this one featuring Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Hoot Gibson, Duncan Renaldo and stunt man extraordinaire Yakima Canutt.

Red Barry (1938) – Larry “Buster” Crabbe plays the famous comic-strip detective created by Will Gould.

White Eagle (1941) – Still another tale of the sagebrush, with cowboy great Buck Jones in his penultimate serial appearance.

I’ve also got Lost City of the Jungle (1946) and The Black Widow (1947) on hand, but since I’ve done write-ups on them previously I’m going to eliminate them from the choices. But we do have two late-breaking entries: I was fortunate enough to receive my copies of the two new VCI serial releases, The Green Hornet (1940) and The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941).

So, here’s how this will work – in the comments section, channel your inner Spencer-Tracy-in-Inherit-the-Wind and make a convincing case for which serial you’d like to see me gently mock and ridicule (keep in mind that even though I kid…I kid because I love, as Totie Fields used to say). I’ll tally up the responses on Friday night and decide then and there who’s made the solid argument for the latest sacrificial lamb classic cliffhanger on TDOY’s Serial Saturdays.

When worlds collide #44

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Coming distractions

TCM already has their tentative October 2009 schedule up, and naturally they’ll be supplementing the usual classic movie fare with horror films (which also means that The Retropolitan will soon be roused from hibernation) concentrating on the Val Lewton classics, some Columbia features starring Boris Karloff (The Black Room, The Man They Could Not Hang) and productions by the old schlockmeister himself, William Castle—including the rarely-shown (and there’s a reason for it, it’s unbelievably awful) 13 Frightened Girls! (1963, October 8, 1:15pm EST). I’m particularly jazzed that TCM will feature the pre-Code cult horror Murders in the Zoo (1933, October 31, 10:00pm EST), which I haven’t seen since I sold my VCR.

October 5th will usher in a mini-marathon of Whistler films, based on the popular radio mystery anthology series heard on CBS Radio (mostly on the West Coast); Castle himself directed a few of the early entries--The Whistler (1944, 6:00am EST), Voice of the Whistler (1945, 8:30am EST) and Mysterious Intruder (1946, 9:45am EST) (the remaining Castle “Whistler,” The Mark of the Whistler [1944] is not on the schedule). The other three films scheduled are The Power of the Whistler (1945, 7:15am EST), The Secret of the Whistler (1946, 11:00am EST) and the final entry, The Return of the Whistler (1948, 12:15pm EST). If you’re still able to maintain a pucker after these six films, Turner Classic Movies will continue with Red Skelton’s “Whistling” trilogy starting at 1:30pm EST with Whistling in the Dark (1941). I had planned, once upon a time, to do a post about all the Whistler films but since Vince Keenan beat me to it sometime back (in one, two, three and four parts) I decided I really didn’t need to generate any more paper from the Department of Redundancy Department.

On October 8th, I noticed a couple of rarities that I’ve had on my must-see list for quite some time—one is Black Moon (1934, 3:30am EST), a bizarre voodoo-in-the-jungle melodrama helmed by one of my favorite B-movie directors, Roy William Neill. Neill may or may not be a familiar name to all and sundry but he was generally considered by his peers a talented craftsman capable of transforming low-budget movies into elegant works of art. Among his notable celluloid contributions: the previously mentioned The Black Room (1935) with Boris Karloff, The Lone Wolf Returns (1935), all of the Sherlock Holmes Universal films (with the exception of the first, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror [1942]), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and Black Angel (1946). Neill retired in 1946 and sailed back to his home in England, wanting nothing more than to live the life of a country squire…and dropped dead of a heart attack while visiting relatives (though I’ve also heard that he expired just as he was crossing the threshold of his estate). TCM showed a batch of Columbia pre-Codes last Friday and one of them was The Good Bad Girl (1931), which Neill directed—and which I’ve recorded but have not seen yet.
The other film—which follows Moon at 4:45am—is Oscar “Budd” Boetticher’s The Missing Juror (1944), an extremely rare example of early noir starring Jim Bannon, Janis Carter, George Macready and Joseph Crehan. I’ve never seen it, and was kind of disappointed when TCM left it out of their Boetticher tribute a few weeks ago—so I will definitely have the DVD recorder at the ready for this little gem.

October 14 will spotlight a Lillian Gish film festival in the morning and afternoon hours—if you haven’t seen The White Sister (1923) yet (and want proof that Gish is sexier in a nun’s habit than Ingrid Bergman) it will be shown at 7:00am EST, but I’ll be readying the DVD recorder for La boheme (1926, 9:15am EST), The Scarlet Letter (1926, 11:00am EST) and one of the greatest silent films of all time, The Wind (1928, 12:45pm EST). Then starting at 8:00pm, TCM will do something it rarely finds occasion to do—showcase the woefully underrated comedy team of Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey in The Cuckoos (1930), Hook, Line and Sinker (1930), Caught Plastered (1931) and Peach-O-Reno (1931). (Are you listening, Mr. Brooks?)
The last item on the agenda is probably of interest only to myself, simply because I enjoy offbeat and cult movies—and they don’t come any more offbeat-er when TCM Underground doffs its cap to Robert Downey (Senior, not Junior) on October 23 with showings of his two best-known films, Putney Swope (1969, 2:15am EST) and Greaser's Palace (1972, 3:45am EST). “Rockin’ the boat’s a drag—you gotta sink the boat!”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Region 2 Cinema: The Undercover Man (1949)

Back in August of last year, I got the devastatingly brilliant idea—okay, I stole it from someone else’s blog…happy now?—to institute a weekly feature here at TDOY whereupon I would write reviews of classic films that are not, unfortunately, available here for purchase on Region 1 in the U.S. or Canada. It started out great guns, with posts on The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945), The Fugitive (1947) and Repulsion (1965—which I believe has now been released on Region 1), and then it sort of tapered off to…well, for the sake of argument, let’s just call it “laziness.”

So as part of my new-found devotion to putting something up here everyday (barring famine, floods or a case of the sniffles) I decided to apply the paddles to this feature by taking a peek at the 1949 noir classic The Undercover Man—the reason for which I’ll reveal in a teensy bit. This crackerjack suspense thriller, directed by cult fave Joseph H. Lewis, stars Glenn Ford as a Treasury agent determined to bring down an underworld figure known only as “Big Fellow” with the help of subpoenas and two dedicated partners in James Whitmore (in his feature film debut) and David Wolfe. Ford’s Frank Warren—who’s sort of a Dave Bannion-on-decaf—is supposed to meet up with a man (Robert Osterloh) who’s willing to spill the beans on the mob boss’ operation…but he’s croaked as soon as he leaves the movie theatre where he and Warren palavered. (There’s a nice directorial touch from Lewis as he shows the hand of the dead stoolie clutching a box of Cracker Jack, one of his peccadilloes [the stoolie's, not the director's].) Warren and Company then move on to bookkeeper Salvatore Rocco (Anthony Caruso), who also gets gunned down shortly after reconciling with his young daughter—she and her grandmother (Esther Minciotti, ma to Ernest Borgnine in Marty), however, provide the information needed to break the case (they have possession of a ledger Rocco used to keep Big Fellow’s accounts) and in the end, Big Fellow ends up in a justifiably Big House.
You’re probably wondering how a film that follows the slightly dull proceedings of bringing a mobster down for tax evasion (but hey—that’s how they ended up nailing Capone) could generate much excitement, but it’s a testament to both Lewis’ direction and a taut script by Jack Rubin and Sydney Boehm (who also wrote The Big Heat, which might explain the similarity between Ford’s Treasury agent and hard-as-nails Heat cop) that Man has some truly edge-of-your-seat moments. (The script has some basis in fact, having been inspired by an article, “Undercover Man: He Trapped Capone,” by Frank J. Wilson.) The highlight of the film is when the mob’s crooked mouthpiece, played by Barry Kelley, sells out his bosses to cut the best possible deal for himself and a few of their men follow him and Warren slowly in a car as they’re walking, guns at the ready. (Ford says to Kelley: “I’m just as scared as you are.”) I’ve been a long-time fan of Lewis’, who directed many different types of pictures but seemed to find a niche in film noir with favorites like My Name is Julia Ross (1945) and So Dark the Night (1946)—though his best-known contributions to the style remain Gun Crazy (1950; a.k.a. Deadly is the Female) and The Big Combo (1955). Malvin Wald was also credited with additional dialogue, much of it the hard-boiled variety; I particularly enjoyed when Ford confronts Kelley with a subpoena, saying: “I came here to borrow some books—here’s my library card…”
For a movie that seems to have been filmed on the cheap, Man also boasts superior acting turns from the entire cast; in addition to those already named the film also features Nina Foch (who must have been a good luck charm for Lewis since she starred in Ross, the film that made people sit up and take notice…though she’s relegated to nothing else than the “supportive wife” in Man), Howard St. John, Frank Tweddell, John F. Hamilton and Leo Penn (Chris, Michael and Sean’s old man). You also catch in smaller roles Patricia Barry (billed as White), Kay Medford, Joe Mantell…and John Ireland, who does the brief narration at the beginning of the picture.

I chose to write about Man today because for those of you without region-free players (or you may just not want to pony up the scratch for a copy) can catch it on TCM this evening as part of a festival of “gangster” films being showcased every Monday (it’s a tie-in with Public Enemies [2009], which turned out to be good for something after all) that will kick off in about an hour with Eddie G. and Bogie in Bullets or Ballots (1936) at 8pm, followed by the James Cagney classic White Heat (1949). Man’s on deck at 11:30, with The Mob (1951, an interesting flick endorsed not only by me but by Cultureshark’s Rick Brooks), The Case Against Brooklyn (1958) and Bunco Squad (1950) after that. When I purchased Man on Region 2 (or Relato Criminal, as it says on the cover) I didn’t have TCM so I’m pretty sure I could have waited but it’s a first-rate print (if a bit too dark in places) that also contains a pair of trailers for I Am the Law (1938) and Road to Bali (1952). (I’m still trying to figure that last connection out.)