Tuesday, February 12, 2008

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.

Salon.com 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 ioffer.com 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?”


Bobh said...

Re: St. Elsewhere

I'd be (happily) surprised if Fox took this further on DVD as Season 1 was released on 11/28/06. I suppose that there's always the possibility that Fox might release more seasons but I doubt it. This, along with "Hill Street Blues" were among the most influential and popular series of the 1980s and "Blues" has seemingly suffered a similar fate, but did manage to get its first two seasons released. With the exception of Paramount, I don't see much in the way of classic/vintage TV-on-DVD releases from the major studios these days. At least the independent releasing companies are plugging away.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Well, that's why I see nothing but defib paddles for Elsewhere...if they gave up on Hill Street after two seasons, there's really no hope for the folks at St. Eligius.

The Baby said...

Hellzapoppin STILL makes me ROTFL, every time. Totally brilliant!

John said...

American Life TV has been airing "St. Elsewhere" on Sunday nights at 8 and 11 p.m.
So far, they have skipped 2 episodes in the second season. I can only guess it's because those were the episodes where Austin Pendleton played "Mr. Entertainment" and performed Gershwin tunes and "Supercalifragilistic..."
from "Mary Poppins" in the hospital elevator. Fox has probably pulled these eps due to music rights issues.
This is disastrous for a continuing drama like "St.E" as other show events are missed. Luckily, I have the 2nd season shows on VHS from back when TV Land was a real channel.
If any more episodes are deleted for music problems, I'm up a creek as I stopped recording "St.E" on TV Land near the start of the third season.
But, at least I'll have more episodes than I'll probably get from Fox's DVD division.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

...back when TV Land was a real channel...

Misty watercolor memories...of the way we were...

Stacia said...

I was so surprised to find St Elsewhere hadn't been released in its entirety, and I suspect it won't be anytime soon. That makes me sad, too, because I'd love to see it again, just not on American Life, known around here as the channel that tries to kill my TV.