Friday, September 30, 2011

Darling Deborah Blogathon: The Search for Bridie Quilty

This essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to the Darling Deborah (Kerr) Blogathon, which is being hosted today by Sophie at Waitin’ on a Sunny Day in honor of the actress’ 90th birthday (Deborah’s, not Sophie’s).  For a list of the blogathon’s other participants, mosey on over here.

Lovely Irish colleen Bridie Quilty (Deborah Kerr) sets out for Dublin on the occasion of her 21st birthday in 1944 and obtains an audience with Michael O’Callaghan (Brefni O’Rorke), who works at an art gallery in the city.  O’Callaghan has never met Bridie, but she is well acquainted with him…having heard her father Danny’s stories about how the two fought side by side against the British in the struggle for Ireland’s independence in 1916.  Her head filled with his tales of heroism (that some of the people in her hometown hint possess a bit more blarney than usual), Bridie wants to join the Irish Republican Army and asks O’Callaghan for his help…but with maturity and age, O’Callaghan is no longer fighting that fight (the War of Independence ended in 1921) and as such refuses her request, leaving her disillusioned and disappointed.

Bridie’s salvation comes in the form of a chance meeting with a man named Miller (Raymond Huntley) in a book shop…though it isn’t their first meet-up; they were first introduced to one another during her train trip to Dublin.  Miller is mistaken by Bridie to be an Englishman (and consequently her sworn enemy) but he is actually a Nazi spy, and his presence at the book shop is to meet with another confederate to discuss the recent capture of a third Nazi agent, Oscar Pryce (David Ward)…who is being held by the British.  Pryce possesses information vital to the German cause and Miller’s assignment is to institute a jail break so that will free Pryce and allow him to reveal to the Germans all that he knows.  Miller enlists Bridie’s help by having her get work in a pub in the nearby town of Wynbridge Vale, where she romances a soldier or two in order to get the skinny on Pryce’s situation and the logistics of when he will be moved.  When a young British Army lieutenant named David Baynes (Trevor Howard) arrives in town, Miller identifies him as a counterintelligence officer and has Bridie keep him occupied so that he won’t interfere with Pryce’s escape.

Things do not go smoothly in Pryce’s bid for freedom, however.  Miller breaks his fellow spy out of jail but in a shootout with soldiers in a tunnel, Pryce is recaptured and a wounded Miller barely makes it back to the pub, where he hides out in Bridie’s room.  Upon her arrival, he informs her that he hasn’t long to live and that she must carry out a set of instructions that will take her to the Isle of Man to obtain a notebook belonging to Pryce containing secrets important to German intelligence.  Bridie’s mission is compromised by Baynes, who takes off after her in hot romantic pursuit…and when Bridie does get to the notebook, she finds that its contents could very well change the direction of the war…and not for the better as far as her countrymen are concerned.

The opening credits of I See a Dark Stranger (1946) identify the film as being written (with Wolfgang Wilhelm) and produced by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, the two men best known for the screenplays of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) and its “remake” (yes, I am being facetious) directed by Carol Reed, Night Train to Munich (1940).  Three years after Night Train, the talented duo co-directed their first film, Millions Like Us (1943), which inspired them to form their own company, Individual Pictures, in 1945.  Beginning with The Rake’s Progress (1945), Launder and Gilliat produced at the studio such film classics as Green for Danger (1946) and Wee Geordie (1955)—they would work on a total of forty movies throughout their career, most notably the successful film series based on Ronald Searle’s cartoon creations that kicked off in 1954 with The Belles of St. Trinian’s.

Although Launder and Gilliat collaborated on their screenplays, the two men would often trade off on directorial assignments…with Frank tackling the comedy films and Sidney preferring movies about mystery and suspense.  So Dark Stranger is definitely a curio; it’s a suspense film, as espionage tales usually are…there are some real nail-biting moments including a Hitchcockian sequence in which Bridie must dispose of Miller’s body (she’s placed it in the wheelchair that she uses to push an elderly gentleman around in as part of her pub duties) without attracting suspicion and when our heroine finds the notebook with the classified information a voice behind her cries out “Don’t move!  Stay where you are!  (It turns out to be a photographer taking a still.)

But Dark Stranger is also leavened with many light comedic moments very much in the mold of the previously mentioned Lady Vanishes.  When the film’s narrative takes the characters to the Isle of Man, there are two security officers there—played by Garry Marsh (whose character’s name is Captain Goodhusband) and Tom Macaulay—that are so Charters and Caldicott-like I’d bet dollars to donuts Launder and Gilliat approached Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne to play the parts (but were probably turned down).  Every scene the two officers are in is played for laughs (their assistant, who first enters their shared office blowing her nails in an attempt to dry the polish, is later referred to as “darling” by Goodhusband before he corrects himself with “corporal”), despite the fact that they’re in charge of locating Bridie’s whereabouts when she’s wanted for questioning.  When the proprietress (Joan Hickson) of a Manx hotel says with concern, “I hope this doesn't mean that someone has escaped from the internment camp and is staying at the hotel” Macaulay’s Lt. Spanwick cracks: “If the food I've had here is anything to go by, they're more likely to escape from the hotel and beat it for the internment camp.”

I’d probably use the word “droll” to describe Launder & Gilliat’s style; the material is presented seriously for the most part with just a smidge of that veddy British humor added for flavor.  The film’s only real weakness is that it sometimes goes a bit overboard with the comedy; a sequence where Bridie and Baynes have been captured by Nazi agents isn’t particularly hurt by the blending of some tomfoolery involving a funeral procession that’s really a blind for a smuggling operation…but the climactic fight between Baynes and the bad guys is a slapstick melee stationed around a bathtub in a room at a Northern Island inn and is completely out-of-sync with the serious tone of what preceded it.

At this point in her career, Deborah Kerr—with successful roles in such movies as The Day Will Dawn (1942) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)—was just one more film away from starting a lucrative and longer-lasting livelihood in Hollywood (her agent sold her contract to M-G-M in 1944).  She was 24 at the time I See a Dark Stranger was made (and is not only convincing as the 21-year-old Bridie but even passes for fourteen in an opening sequence where she listens to her father’s blarney from a backroom in the local pub), and to say she was positively luminous in this movie would be an extreme understatement.  I think Dark Stranger is one of her best films and Bridie Quilty one of her finest roles—a fiercely independent (I love the early feminist touches here in that Bridie wants to join up and fight for a political cause in lieu of settling for a married existence) woman who can show her softer side as well; Kerr takes a character that is flawed from the get-go (you have to admit, wanting to help the Nazis simply because you subscribe to the old “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” trope is a little twisted) and makes her endearing (those soulful eyes suck me in every time).  Admittedly, the movie does have to resort to the old romantic cop-out (it is the movies, after all) but even though her hooking up with Howard’s Baynes at the end is a little too storybook (not that I’m against the two of them getting together, mind you—one of my favorite moments occurs when Howard blurts out that he loves her and her reaction is a wonderful blend of both surprise, admiration and regret) the film’s final “gag” suggests that all will not be peaches and cream after the honeymoon.

For her performances in I See a Dark Stranger and Black Narcissus (the movie I was originally going to write about for the blogathon but then I changed my mind at the last minute), Kerr won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress—an accolade that she would capture two more times with her turns in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) and The Sundowners (1960)—both of which featured TDOY god Robert Mitchum as co-star (the acting duo also appeared together in 1960’s The Grass is Greener and the 1985 TV-movie Reunion at Fairbrough).  Though she was nominated six times for an Academy Award she had to settle for a mere honorary statuette in 1994—which is a bit of a shame since I always admired her versatility as an actress (with roles as disparate as those in Julius Caesar, From Here to Eternity, The Innocents and The Night of the Iguana) and still believe she’s never really received her proper due.

Trevor Howard is another favorite of mine—an actor who never really looked like a leading man but was capable of pulling it off (and he’s pretty good in this movie) in flicks like Brief Encounter (1945) and one of my favorites, They Made Me a Fugitive (1947).  (He’ll always be in my mind Joseph Cotten’s nemesis, Major Calloway, in The Third Man [1949].)   He’s very good in this, though he’s got a tough row to hoe in that he’s overshadowed by Kerr for the most part.  The supporting cast isn’t particularly familiar to Yank audiences but Disney devotees might recognize future Mary Poppins pop David Tomlinson as an intelligence officer and future Darby O’Gill Albert Sharpe (in his film debut) as the pub landlord toward the film’s end.  Torin Thatcher, “the poor man’s George Sanders,” plays the cop that Kerr’s Bridie runs into as she’s trying to dispose of Huntley’s corpse and the “little old lady” on the train who turns out to be a Nazi agent is played by Katie Johnson, the indestructible senior citizen in the classic 1955 comedy The Ladykillers.

Dark Stranger was released by Eagle-Lion in the U.S. in 1947 as The Adventuress—shortly before Deborah Kerr’s first two films for M-G-M, The Hucksters and If Winter Comes also made their debuts in theatres in August and December, respectively.  It got glowing reviews but its box office take was relatively modest…which is kind of a shame because it really is one of my favorite films of Kerr’s—I think she does a marvelous job as the spirited Bridie, who reminds me at times of Maureen O’Hara’s Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man.  The movie was seen under its U.S. title for many years (and in a truncated 98-minute version) but even though the Region 1 DVD version is currently OOP it turns up on TCM every now and then in all of its full 112-minute glory…so I’d recommend you catch it the next time it rolls around on TCM (it’s a shame they couldn’t make room for her on the schedule today for her birthday…).

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“Count your friends and you don’t have a care…”

I hope everybody saved room for more cake because we’ve got two additional golden TV anniversaries to commemorate today.  The most important one—well, in terms of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear universe…plus it was the one for which I composed an essay at Edward Copeland on Film…and More—belongs to TV land’s favorite meddlesome maid, Hazel…which premiered over NBC-TV on this date fifty years ago and provided Shirley Booth with the iconic role that would bestow upon her back-to-back Emmy Awards for Best Actress in a Situation Comedy.

Based on the Saturday Evening Post cartoon character created by Ted Key, Hazel featured Booth as the “domestic engineer” in the House of Baxter; the head of the household, George (whom Hazel usually referred to as “Mr. B” and was played by the always spot-on Don “Thorny” DeFore), was a corporate lawyer who liked to think he was king of his castle but usually found himself demurring to the overpowering force that kept it clean.  His wife Dorothy (Whitney Blake, who later co-created One Day at a Time) had been looked after by Hazel since she was a little girl (Hazel affectionately called her “Missy”); poor George probably got the shock of his life when he discovered that asking for “Missy’s” hand in matrimony means he was also getting Hazel in the bargain.  The Baxters had a young son in Harold (Bobby Buntrock)—who I truly thought didn’t have much upstairs despite being a fairly decent sort—and Hazel looked after “Sport” like he was her own son.

Hazel was one of the shows rerun in my burgeoning couch potato days that always seemed to be broadcasting when I turned on the set…but I was positively gobsmacked when the reruns from the show’s fifth and final season on CBS went into rotation in syndication.  The Tiffany Network picked up the series after four seasons on NBC but in looking for “a younger demographic,” wrote George and Dorothy out of the show (it was explained that they went to Saudi Arabia) and kept Hazel and Harold (they apparently couldn’t take “Sport” with them).  (I never could wrap my mind around this—who leaves a kid with their maid, ferchrissake?  Suffice it to say, I made sure I knew where my parents were going at all times.)  Hazel went to work for Mr. B’s younger brother Steve (Ray Fulmer), also married to a hot blonde in Barbara (Lynn Borden) and father to young Susie (Julia Benjamin).  The revamped Hazel lasted just a single season and the reason why the show left the airwaves wasn’t because of poor ratings (or because other members in the audience believed that “Missy” and “Mr. B” hid in the Witness Protection Program just to get away from the overbearing Hazel)…Booth herself threw in the towel (hey, she owned a piece of the series—she was pretty well set) because of complications from her chronic bursitis.

When Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the inaugural season of the show to DVD in August 2006, I lined up to grab a copy…and I watched the first thirty-five episodes (one of which was in color in an attempt to help RCA sell a few TV sets…the show made the switch to full NBC Peacock paint the following season), pleasantly surprised that the show from my TV-obsessed youth still holds up pretty well.  The titular maid played by Booth might be a little hard to take at times but the actress’ warm, sentimental approach to the character will eventually win you over…and her hilarious exchanges with DeFore (who has always impressed me as being talented enough to take a guy who was not one of TV’s sterling examples of fatherhood and infuse him with an endearing likeability) are among the show’s highlights (I love how DeFore’s Baxter never really stays mad too long, human enough to laugh out loud when he’s bested by the housekeeper).  But like many of the shows in the Sony catalog, Hazel’s continued presence on DVD stopped after Season One…and for the past five years I have been kvetching like a madman on this blog trying to get them to resume the releases, with little success.  (Don’t even get me started on Sony’s inexplicable inability to finish up series like The Flying Nun and Here Come the Brides.)  Fortunately, the DVD deity known as Shout! Factory managed to wangle the disc rights away from the disinterested Sony and plan to put the second season of the classic sitcom out this year.  Ain’t that a doozy?

When Hazel premiered in the fall of 1961 it was seen on NBC at 9:30 on Thursday nights…but before audiences would settle in for their weekly dose of the nosy housekeeper’s misadventures they spent the previous hour (starting at 8:30pm) at Blair General Hospital, where handsome and ambitious Dr. James Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) was serving his internship under the tutelage of Dr. Leonard Gillespie (Raymond Massey).  Dr. Kildare, the TV series based on Max Brand’s fictional physician (who had a previous presence in films and on radio…played by Lew Ayres, with Lionel Barrymore as the crusty Gillespie) also premiered on this date fifty years ago…in the same season as ABC’s competing medical drama, Ben CaseyKildare would also spend five years on the air (it went the distance on NBC…though the final season saw a revamping of the format in that two half-hour Kildare episodes were shown each week, creating serialized stories similar to Peyton Place) and you would think that with the popularity of the show (and the M-G-M films in particular) that Warner Home Video (who owns the rights to the series) would hustle this one out on DVD more quickly. But the only trace of the TV Kildare that you’ll find on disc is the inclusion of the Yuletide-themed episode “An Exchange of Gifts” (12/24/64) on the Warner Archive MOD set Classic TV Christmas Set.

One of the other series with an episode on that set (I am positively giddy at how smoothly this segueway is going) is The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, whose first season has just been released to MOD DVD today courtesy of the Archive.  The sitcom, which starred Bill “My Favorite Martian” Bixby and Brandon Cruz as a widower and his entirely-too-inquisitive son, will be welcomed by the show’s fans…but I have to confess, I caught a few of the reruns on the last cable channel it was featured on (I think it was ALN…formerly AmericanLife TV…formerly GoodLife TV…formerly Nostalgia Television…the fact that they changed their name again yesterday to Youtoo TV would seem to suggest they’re on the run from creditors) and I found it sort of banal.  (A co-worker of mine at the Landmark Inn in Savannah when I worked night audit often referred to my mom as “Mr. Ivan’s mother,” which reminded me of housekeeper Mrs. Livingston on the show, played by actress Miyoshi Umeki.)

The news about Courtship came to me through a Warner Archive e-mail but there’s also a blurb about the release at…not to mention a correction on the number of shows featured on the Medic box set that will be released by Timeless Media Video in November.  The collection will contain 44 shows, and not the fifty mentioned in the original post.

Well, I’m going to put nose to grindstone so I can whip up an entry for the Darling Deborah Blogathon that will take place at Waitin’ on a Sunny Day this Friday (September 30) but I did want to give a shout-out to another blogathon (smooth as glass, I tells ya) that’s a way off but one that TDOY will definitely participate in.  Forever Classics has announced a Humphrey Bogart Blogathon for December 23-25, and I thought I’d let the lovely Meredith tell you what it’s all about:

As most of you probably know by now, Humphrey Bogart is my favorite actor.  In honor of his 112th birthday on December 25th, I've decided to host my first blogathon, which will run from December 23-December 25th.  I realize that's it's three months away, but if you'd like to participate, I ask that you let me know by December 22nd.  Your post can be about his films, his life or anything else Bogie-related.

(Putting down sandwich) Sorry about that…I thought the announcement was going to be longer.  Since Bogie is held in such high regard here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, you can betcha bottom dollah that I’ll be good for an essay…I’ll just have to turn a few ideas over in my head and see what I want to come up with.

So let’s close this out with a medley of Richard Chamberlain’s hit…he turned the Dr. Kildare theme song into a Top Ten pop smash in 1962, Three Stars Will Shine Tonight:

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The indisputable leader of the gang…

…celebrates a golden anniversary today—Top Cat, Hanna-Barbera’s successful primetime follow-up to the previous season’s hit series The Flintstones, debuted over ABC-TV on this date fifty years ago, and when Edward “Nucky” Copeland put out feelers a few weeks back looking to see if anyone had something for his blog (he’s been working on reviewing the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and has been sort of busy) I decided to run past him the idea of honoring the denizens of Hoagy’s Alley: T.C., Benny the Ball, Choo-Choo, etc.  If I had to pick a favorite among Bill and Joe’s “kadult” (a combo of “kid” and “adult”) creations, Top Cat would probably get the nod—it’s a wonderfully witty and sophisticated homage (French for “rip-off”) to the classic sitcom The Phil Silvers Show…with a splash of the Bowery Boys tossed in for flavor.

Sometime back on the blog, I told a story about taking my niece Rachel to the Varsity (“The Happiest Place on Earth”) and while Mom and I went to fetch the prime drive-in grub, Rach and my Dad scoped out seats…and she was a little put out because my father waved her away from a section that had its gi-normous TV set tuned to the cable network known as Boomerang.  (“They’re showing the cartoons you like,” she informed me.)  A commenter then lamented that we’re raising a new generation of viewers completely unaware and out of tune with such sublime delights as the Flintstones and Bugs Bunny, and the more I think about that the saddened I become by that, too.  Rach’s cartoon favorites are more along the lines of Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants (SpongeBob fans—I just cannot warm up to this show) and yet I make an effort to sit down and watch with her because…well, because when I was her age my grandfather “Papa Jack” would sit and laugh at the antics of Tom and Jerry with me.  It’s a special thing for a kid to have an adult take time out of their world to share a little something in theirs…so I keep that in mind even when the SpongeBob theme is becoming an earwig in my brain.  (My two-year-old nephew is a big fan of the Olivia cartoon series, whose theme song I like much better.)

Well, no “hey-look-at-this-old-TV-show-I-rhapsodize-about” pointer would be complete without a few tidbits about some vintage boob tube classics coming to DVD soon—and Timeless Media Video will kick things off next month with the release of not one but two DVD sets of the most successful ninety-minute western in the history of the medium, The Virginian.  Season Five is next in the batting order, which introduced movie great Charles Bickford as the new owner of the Shiloh Ranch, John Grainger…with Sara Lane as granddaughter Elizabeth and Don Quine as her brother Stacey.  The 10-disc set will be released on October 25th (containing all twenty-nine episodes of Season Cinco)…and because I’ve seen most of these shows during their run on Encore Westerns I have to say—I think Bickford may have been my favorite of the Shiloh owners (and this coming from a devotee of both OTR gods Mister John Dehner, who had a short stint before Bick as Morgan Starr, and John McIntire, who replaced Bickford the following season—Bickford died in November 1967, shortly after the sixth season got underway—as John’s brother Clay [with the real-life Mrs. McIntire, TDOY goddess Jeannette Nolan, as Clay’s wife Holly].)

But the encouraging news, courtesy of, is that Timeless will also release the ninth season of The Virginian to DVD on that same day—and the reason for this is because Season #9 is not currently in Encore Westerns’ rotation (they didn’t opt to get the rights to the show, which was telecast on NBC in its final run as The Men from Shiloh) and TMV wanted to strike while the iron is hot.  So a separate set of The Virginian: Season 9 gets released that same day—with Stewart Granger as the Shiloh’s new boss, Colonel Alan McKenzie, a post-Big Valley and pre-Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law Lee Majors, Doug “Trampas” McClure (with a hideous moustache) and the Man With No Name, James Drury hizzownself.  Twenty-four episodes will be featured in an eight-disc set.

Also on October 25th, the yearly trek from Missouri to California continues when the classic TV western Wagon Train sees its fourth season released—this would be the last one for veteran character actor Ward Bond (as trail master Seth Adams), due to Bond’s shuffle off this mortal coil in November 1960.  John McIntire, who would replace Charles Bickford on The Virginian seven years later, was pressed upon to take charge of the caravan as Christopher Hale (beginning in March 1961) and would keep that post for the rest of the show’s run (including its move to ABC from NBC in the fall of 1962).  I was not aware (until I did a little research) that the first official season with McIntire also featured five color episodes telecast during the 1961-62 season in an effort to hawk a few of RCA’s color TV sets.  (I thought the only color episodes were the ones telecast in the ninety-minute format in season 7, which has already been released in a separate DVD collection by Timeless).

I’ve already told my Mom about this next release—and I probably should have kept it under wraps, since the result was my Dad’s ragging on her about the show’s star, Dale Robertson (Dad always refers to him as “Dale Roberts”…which really sets her off)—but Timeless Media Video will release on October 25 (where are we classic TV fans supposed to find all this fundage, I ask you?) the first and second seasons of Tales of Wells Fargo.  Fifty-two episodes will be made available on a six-disc set…and I have to confess I approach this collection with a little trepidation.  I previously purchased the company’s Best of set two years ago (released in July 2009) and had I known they were going to get around to putting out “the whole enchilada” I might have waited.  (On the other hand, I refrained from buying the other Best of Wells Fargo set, the one containing the hour-long color shows…so that should count for something.)

TSoD also has a press release up on eOne Entertainment’s honkin’ big It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series collection…which has been moved up from its previous October 11 scheduled release to October 25.  (Classic television fans may have to move some money around.)

But back to Timeless Media.  On November 15th, the company will give fans a real treat with the release of Medic, a six-disc collection that will contain fifty of the surviving shows from the groundbreaking medical drama that aired on NBC from 1954 to 1956.  Before he achieved TV immortality as Paladin, Richard Boone played Dr. Konrad Styner on this medical anthology created by James E. Moser (a pal of Jack Webb’s, Moser wrote many Dragnet episodes and also a few Dr. Kildares as well)—who later went on to write Ben Casey.  Styner was occasionally the focal point of many installments on Medic but he served primarily as the show’s host, and the series soon gained a reputation for gritty realism and rapt attention to the intricate details involved in medical procedures.  (The show’s theme song, Blue Star, also became a pop hit for Felicia Sanders in 1955.)  There were a total of 59 episodes of Medic filmed…nine of which have disappeared into the ether, so the remaining fifty will be spotlighted on this collection—which is thirty-three shows more than I have (I have a few of the P.D. Medic collections, and it’s not a bad little show).  This is a nice find for vintage TV fans, and I may have to roust the couch cushions when it hits the streets in November.

Also on that date is another television rarity from Timeless in The Wide Country, a short-lived TV oater that aired on NBC from 1962-63 that starred Earl Holliman and Andrew Prine as Mitch and Andy Guthrie—a pair of “lusty men” (and I use that in the Nicholas Ray sense) who made the rounds on the rodeo circuit with Mitch (Holliman) as the older, more experienced rider and Andy (Prine) as the “kid brudder” he was trying to discourage.  The show was similar in theme to another series that premiered that same season in Stoney Burke (starring a pre-Hawaii Five-O Jack Lord); Burke only lasted one year and Country’s problem was that it was in a suicidal time slot against ABC’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet/The Donna Reed Show and CBS’ Mister Ed./Perry Mason’s first half-hour.  The eight-disc set will contain all twenty-eight episodes of the series (plus the original show’s pilot, which starred the late Cliff Robertson)…I’ve only seen one of the installments, “Step Over the Sky” (01/10/63), which was released on one of Mill Creek’s TV westerns box sets a while back…but it made me curious to see a few more, so now I’ll get that chance.

In other TV-on-DVD news, I have to hand it to CBS-Paramount: sure, they have very little respect for classic TV fans, particularly with those razzle frazzle ricken racken split-season abominations…but once they’ve announced the release of one volume, the second volume is usually not far behind on the schedule.  (Sorry about that…my arm hit the sarcasm switch.)  Part one of the sixth season of legal drama warhorse Perry Mason will hit the streets next Tuesday…followed by the other shoe dropping a mere seven weeks later on November 22nd.  (I really need to find honest work so I can start replenishing the missing Masons in my collection…rahlly I should.)  The following week (October 11), the first volume in Gunsmoke’s fifth season will be released (this one will soon be on the way, thanks to some birthday largess I scored from sister Debbie—thanks, Snip!)…and Volume Numero Dos arrives in stores December 13th.  (I think in the readers’ reviews section over at for Gunsmoke: Season 5, Volume 1 there was some angry invective from a senior complaining about how long it was taking CBS DVD to release the Gunsmokes and I believe that he posited at the rate the company is going he’d be dead by the time they got around to the hour-long episodes.  I found that…heartbreakingly sad, to be honest.)

But on a lighter note, Lucy fans will be able to rejoice that the penultimate season of The Lucy Show will be released in between Mason and Gunsmoke on December 6.  This will be an interesting release because of the fifth season’s 22 episodes twenty-one have already been released on various public domain collections (including one from Mill Creek that I purchased many years back)—the lone holdout is “Lucy Puts Main Street on the Map,” originally telecast on January 30, 1967.  There are about thirty episodes of The Lucy Show that are considered P.D. material…which is why CBS-Paramount’s releases all feature “The Official (blank) Season” in their descriptions, as if they were saying: “Take that!  You pretenders to the throne!”  I will say this, though.  When the company included the Lucy Show episode “Lucy and the Efficiency Expert” on what appears to be their solo Phil Silvers Show/Sgt. Bilko release (let us all bow our heads) it was a superior print to my P.D. copy, in which the soundtrack is painfully out-of-sync.

No word yet on when MPI is going to resume with the releases for Lucille Ball’s follow-up sitcom, Here’s Lucy…but TSoD has an announcement that the fourth season of The Donna Reed Show (MPI obtained the rights to Donna from Virgil Films & Entertainment/Arts Alliance America…and they’ve also got the fifth season of the family sitcom in the hopper, too) is up for pre-order at, with a release date of December 20th.  (TSoD has no idea what the listing “Lost Episodes” entails…and I don’t think I want to know, unless Jeff and Mary Stone were doing something that would probably have been classified back then as “icky.”)  Now…I’ve kind of ragged on The Donna Reed Show in the past for its stifling conformity, disturbing male chauvinism and bland, white-bread WASP sensibility…and I…where was I going with this, anyway?  Oh…but besides all that I’m pleased to see that MPI is going to bat for this sitcom classic…because when you consider the alternative, I could be shelling out an arm and a leg for a Shout! Factory Select release (*cough* Father Knows Best *cough*).

Well, let’s wrap this up with the best news I’ve heard all week—there’s been no official news on TSoD about this, but Mick Clews of The British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society announced on Facebook Tuesday that Shananchie Entertainment will release the second season of Nat Hiken’s classic creation Car 54, Where are You? to DVD in February 2012.  This will be sensational news for fans of the show, described memorably by my blogging pal Our Lady of Great Caftan as “divided into two types of people, those who revere Nat Hiken and ‘Car 54, Where Are You?’ and Classic Becky!”  Testify!

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Twisted Television #2: The Joey Bishop Show – “Double Time”

There’s an episode of The Brady Bunch—it’s a fifth-season outing entitled “Two Petes in a Pod”—in which middle son Peter Brady (Christopher Knight) meets a new transfer student at his school named Arthur Owens…who, strange as it may seem, is a dead ringer for Peter (Owens is also played by Knight).  The newly-introduced “twins” capitalize on this stroke of unbelievably good fortune by switching identities back-and-forth, pranking their families (those rapscallions!)…until a situation arises where Peter really does need the services of Arthur as he’s unable to break two dates in one evening and so his double is roped into helping him keep up the charade…with the usual wacky complications ensuing.

The Germans describe a doppelganger (“double walker”) as, in the words of Wikipedia, “a paranormal double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune.  In the vernacular, the word has come to refer to any double or look-alike of a person.”  (Ivan’s note: What’s so interesting about the Brady Bunch episode is that Peter’s double is not particularly evil—in fact, he’s just as bland and nondescript as the real article.)  While there have been on occasion instances of people being the victims of mistaken identity in real life, the old saw about “everyone has a double” is rightfully limited to fiction and folklore.  But situation comedies have taken this concept and ran with it on countless occasions as fodder for their shenanigan-stuffed plots…and I never seemed to mind much as a kid, since despite what many of my friends think sitcoms and documentaries are two separate entities.

You wouldn’t think a “normal” series like The Brady Bunch would have to resort to the doppelganger trope…but Brady was created by Sherwood Schwartz, who recycled this three times on his previous Gilligan’s Island: look-alikes for Mr. Howell (“Will the Real Mr. Howell Please Stand Up?”), Gilligan (“Gilligan vs. Gilligan”) and Ginger (“All About Eva”).  As a point of fact, while skeptics were always bitching about how the show was far-fetched because the castaways never could seem to patch a hole in their boat or had enough clothes to last them as long as they did (even though it was a three-hour tour) I pondered the weightier issues considering the astronomical odds of three people also being shipwrecked on the same island as people who looked exactly like them.  (The Brady Bunch did do variations of this, though—“Sergeant Emma” focuses on a cousin of Alice’s who may look like the beloved housekeeper but proves to be a bit more of a hardass in the “domestic engineer” department.)  Another series to explore the nature of doppelgangers was F Troop—the character of Corporal Randolph Agarn seemed to have a reservoir of cousins and family members who strongly resembled him (Lucky Pierre, Col. Dimitri Agarnoff, Pancho Agarnado)…and Captain Wilton Parmenter (“Wilton the Kid”) and Sergeant Morgan O’Rourke (“Did Your Father Come from Ireland?”) also boasted of kin that bore more than just the usual shared family DNA.

The doppelganger trope was best used in safe capacities when applied to people with familial ties: Samantha had a look-alike cousin in Serena (who was, as the French would say, tres smokin’) and Jeannie had an evil sister, too.  The ne plus ultra of all this was showcased on The Patty Duke Show, on which you not only had identical cousins in Patty and Cathy Lane—but there was an episode entitled “The Perfect Hostess” where the characters on the show got a visit from evil southern belle Cousin Betsy (Patty Duke in a blond wig), demonstrating what happens when cousins are three of a kind.  (My head is exploding!)  This notion of someone just stumbling across a person who looks exactly like you (and possibly being evil…eeeevil!!!) is one of the reasons why I love sitcoms as passionately as I do…and the other day, as I was watching a few reruns of The Joey Bishop Show to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of its debut on NBC in 1961, I was able to visit Doppelganger Land again (though what makes this “twisted” is that you’d never expect something like this popping up on such a bland, inoffensive Danny Thomas Show-clone like Bishop’s).

Comedian/talk show host Joey Barnes (Bishop) is entertaining inmates at a state prison…and if you’re expecting the old joke about “a captive audience” you will not be disappointed, though it turns up after he finishes his performance for the incarcerated.  Instead, he’s reduced to gags like “I was a second story man…if the first joke didn’t go over, I told a second story” and because he’s doesn’t receive a shiv in his back during the routine one can safely assume that he “killed.”  At one point during his act, however, he does a routine about what would happen if an old vaudevillian were in “the joint” (a searchlight is shone upon him and he breaks out in a few choruses of Mammy) and as the setup to the bit, we see a shot from back stage, in which a man watches our hero intently…

…and then we’re clued in to the stranger’s identity…

Son of a gun!  The guy could be Joey’s twin “brudder,” providing you remove his Coke-bottle-lens glasses.  (So much for telegraphing the clumsy, heavily-labored plot.)

Joey and his manager/best buddy Freddy (Guy Marks) return to the warden’s office—and the CEO of the prison is played by serial stalwart and TDOY fave Addison Richards.  Joey sends Freddy off to bring the car around, and then mentions to the warden that his suitcase and coat are missing.  Laughing, the warden tells his guest that “the boys” put Mr. Barnes’ effects in his office for safekeeping, and then he takes his leave by telling Joey that he needs to conduct a security check…

…which, as we can see, apparently was successful beyond the warden’s wildest imagination…since faux-Joey has been allowed to enter the office and…

Nowadays, with the popularity of CGI, you'd be able to witness Joey Bishop hitting  himself over the head.  But I kind of like this has sort of a noir feel to it.  ("The black pool opened up at my feet...and I dived in...")
…quickly dispatch our star with a blow to the head.  (You can’t see it in the preceding picture, but faux-Joey—whose character’s name is “Light-Fingered Louie” is carrying a sap-like object, almost as if he knew where and when the real Joey Barnes would be changing back into his street clothes, and allowing him to truncheon him into a stupor.)

So having successfully switched places with the popular talk show host, Louie admires himself in the mirror (and even practices Barnes’ trademark “Son of a gun!”) and prepares to head for sweet freedom.  But there’s a teensy snag…

The guard on the right is actor James Edwards, a TDOY fave from such films as Home of the Brave, The Set-Up, The Phenix City Story and The Killing.  But he's also the guy who lets us know in The Manchurian Candidate that "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."
…two of the guards in the prison are on the alert that there’s a convict missing!  Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle—it looks like the jig is up for Louie…except that these two schmucks are completely fooled by the convict’s ruse, even taking time to ask for autographs…and not batting an eyelash when the imposter signs his name “Joie.”  (Hoo boy.)

Well, you can pretty much guess where this is going—Louie can only keep up the masquerade for so long (he gets as far as Barnes’ apartment but without his glasses, he mistakenly flags down a patrol car instead of a cab) before Joey has been released when the warden realizes there’s been a huge screw-up.  What this episode can’t explain to my satisfaction is why the warden, upon first meeting Joey Barnes, didn’t say to himself “You know, this entertainer bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the men incarcerated here…could I be taking a chance on letting him continue his act?”  I’m also a little fuzzy on just how Joey managed to convince the guy in the first place that he’s not Louie the Convict if the warden and the men in his employ are that dense.  There’s something ironically bittersweet about this—Georgia sends a man who may have been innocent to his death this week, and Joey is set free simply by telling the prison warden: “Boy, do you have a situation on your hands—I’m Joey F**king Barnes!”

I am, of course, reading a bit too much into all this—because the episode does contain some funny stuff…the highlight is when Joey is taken back to “his cell”…

The cell is okay...but it lacks that essential feng shui.
I’ve slept in hotel rooms that were smaller than that.  (Any resemblance between this cell and what they’re like in real-life is purely the scriptwriter’s imagination.)  Now, in all fairness, it may be a tad roomy because Louis has a roommate, played by an actor who I’ll bet was a friend of the producer:

Well, he is a friend of the producer—it’s Sheldon Leonard, of course…though he goes uncredited.  Leonard plays an inmate named Kowalski who responds to a still-disoriented Joey’s queries (“How come I’m wearing a uniform?”) with that trademark “Look-at-me-fellas-I’m-handin’-out-wings” sarcasm (“That shows you made the varsity!”) of his:

JOEY: Who are you?
KOWALSKI: Well, you see…this is a library, and, uh…I’m Marian the Librarian… (Sotto voce) Keep your voice down, people want to study…
JOEY (after looking around): This isn’t a library, it’s a prison cell!  Hey, I don’t belong in here…I didn’t commit any crime!
KOWALSKI: Yes, you did—don’t you remember?  I had ya picked up ‘cause you owed two cents on your library books!  (After a pause) Come on…take a rest, will ya?  Relax…
JOEY: I don’t know about you, but I’m getting out of here… (He tries to open the cell door, with little success) Hey, the door is closed…how come the door’s closed?
KOWALSKI: Well, you see…they do that because when they don’t do that, it’s very drafty in here…

Joey tells Leonard who he is, which prompts the veteran actor-director-producer to crack: “Congratulations, I am Sophie Tucker!”  After a few more choice wisecracks from Leonard’s character, Joey runs to the cell door and yells “Let me out!  I’m Joey Barnes!”  An inmate yells back: “Big deal!  I’m Frank Sinatra!  And I’d like you to meet my roommate, Dean Martin!”  (Thus crossing another Rat Pack in-joke off the list, though Leonard tops it by asserting he’s “Bob Hope” and he’s “just here to entertain the boys in uniform.”)

Only at the end do they decide to splurge with a special optical effect...the old "split-screen" gambit.  (Guy Marks' Freddy says to no one in particular: "He's drank four shots of bourbon and I'm the one seein' double!")

Bookmark and Share