Friday, January 23, 2015

Adventures in Netflix

Well, it did not take long for my resolution to be more productive here on the blog in 2015 to blow away into the fierce four blogosphere winds; my inactivity is due to many factors: pure dagnasty laziness, my mother’s crossword puzzle obsession, and a battle currently raging with the alleged competency that is customer service at AT&T U-Verse.  (I will talk about this another time when there aren’t quite as many swear words.)  But if I had to lay the blame for my sloth at the feet of someone, Netflix would be the clear winner.

Here’s the straight dope (from a straight dope): you may recall in 2014 that I revealed my diabolical scheme to purchase a Blu-ray/DVD player for the TV in the living room so that I could watch some of my expanding Blu-ray collection—not to mention offerings from the once-healthy-now-depleted dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives—in the comfort of Count Comfy von Chair.  The player that I procured with some Amazon gift card largesse (thanks to sister Debbie and company) is also equipped with WiFi, and when the player was delivered by the skilled and proficient USPS (I say that with a heavy dose of sarcasm, by the way) no one was more surprised than I when it proved to be a breeze to set up.  This might be due to the fact that I glanced at the instructions beforehand…but I will neither confirm nor deny this.  (Also, too: the player did not come with a USSB cord…fortunately I had prepared for such emergencies.)

So I have the player…I hook it up…and naturally, I want to test out my new toy, so I decided to sign up for a free month at Netflix.  I’ve been a Netflix customer a couple of times in the past, and I never had any controversial issues other than the fact that I rarely got around to watching some of the rental DVDs, and thusly had difficulty justifying the expense.  With the streaming, there’s no problem: I watch the movies I want, and there’s no envelopes to return or any of that hassle.  I can see why Netflix, Hulu Plus and the other services available on the WiFi portion of the player are an attractive option to folks who are declaring their independence from cable (and good for them, I say).  Los Parentes Yesteryear cannot exercise that option because they enjoy sportsball too much…and if my Dad were to suddenly be separated from his cable news I can’t promise you things wouldn’t get ugly.

So in addition to some Radio Spirits assignments and some ClassicFlix stuff (here’s a review of 1928’s A Lady of Chance that’s just gone up recently) the rest of my time has been spent watching movies on Netflix.  What do I have to report?  Let’s find out.

Fantasia (1940)/Fantasia 2000 (1999) – Previously, I was oh-for-three in attempting to watch what many people consider Walt Disney’s greatest animation achievement: the 1940 classic Fantasia.  I bought the VHS in 1991 and tried to watch it on two separate occasions, falling fast asleep within the first half-hour every time.  The videocassette eventually got sold and I later purchased the 2000 DVD release…only to start snoring a third time, again around the thirty-minute mark.  (That bit o’DVD Sominex later got sold as well.)

I thought it might have just been me; maybe I was just lethargic due to lack of rest.  But, no—while I was successful on the fourth try (though I did nod off a couple of times) to see all of Fantasia, that movie is a sure fire cure for insomnia.  I know it’s heralded for its innovations in animation; I know it made great strides in stereophonic sound; I know it’s an acid trip for some.  But honest to my grandma, I think this film may be one of the most overrated I’ve ever watched.  Maybe it’s the classical music that puts me to sleep, but I’m pretty sure it’s the repetitive nature of the segments in the movie that does the trick.  With the possible exception of the Dance of the Hours ballet (the one with the hippos, gators, etc.), every sequence in Fantasia follows the same pattern: a period of tranquility…then upheaval…then tranquility again.  You could argue that this is due to the nature of music chosen, and I probably wouldn’t offer up too much of a rebuttal except for a yawn.

This is not to say there aren’t entertaining moments in Fantasia: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Mickey Mouse (the cartoon that laid the groundwork for the feature) is always fun, and I like the Night on Bald Mountain sequence (though I’ll admit I giggle when I hear the music, knowing it was the theme for radio’s Escape).  But the movie as a whole is way too long for my attention span…and you’re going to think me positively mahd but I actually preferred Fantasia 2000 (1999; which I also watched) more.  (I loved the shorter running time and variety of the segments in that—my favorite is probably the Al Hirschfeld-inspired Rhapsody in Blue number.)

Canon City (1948) – This classic semi-documentary film noir had been on my “must-see” list for a long time: Canon City tells the tale of a daring prison break at the Colorado State Penitentiary in 1947, masterminded in the movie by TDOY fave Jeff Corey (one of his best onscreen turns).  Scott Brady plays the lifer who’s reluctantly dragooned into going along with a dream cast of cons that includes Whit Bissell, Stanley Clements, DeForest Kelley, Henry Brandon and Charles Russell.  Actual Colorado State Pen warden Roy Best plays himself (and was smart to keep his day job), and silver screen Dick Tracy Ralph Byrd plays a screw who’s taken hostage.  If you didn’t know this one was written and directed by Crane Wilbur you’d swear it was an Anthony Mann noir…no doubt due to the superb cinematography that’s the work of the incomparable John Alton.  You can hear Great Gildersleeve announcer John Wald as a radio commentator (the ubiquitous Reed Hadley is the narrator), and City also features appearances by John Doucette, Howard Negley and Mabel Paige as the elderly hostage who waits patiently for Corey to be distracted so that she can introduce him to the business end of a hammer.  Definitely in the running as one of the best “new” classic movies I’ve seen so far this year.

Down Three Dark Streets (1954) – Federal man Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey) is working three separate cases: he’s on the trail of a bandit named Joe Walpo (Joe Bassett, who guns down gas station attendant William Schallert in the first few minutes of the movie); investigating a hood (Gene Reynolds) who’s taking the fall for the participants in a stolen car racket; and looking into the matter of a woman (Ruth Roman) who’s being blackmailed by a thug for an insurance settlement of $10,000.  Stewart gets a phone tip from a woman named Brenda Ralles (Suzanne Alexander) about one of the cases…and is gunned down by an assailant when he and supervisor John “Rip” Ripley (Broderick Crawford) pay Brenda a visit.

In order to solve Stewart’s murder, Ripley will have to close each of the cases in this better-than-you’d-think procedural that also features good performances from Martha Hyer, Marisa Pavan, Casey Adams (I swear that guy’s been everywhere lately), Claude Akins and Harlan Warde.  (OTR veteran William Johnstone plays Brod’s boss, and Myra Marsh is also on hand.)  I decided to watch Dark Streets after recently seeing director Arnold Laven’s Without Warning! (1952—hopefully the review will be up on the CF site soon); the killer’s identity is pretty obvious but I liked the movie as a whole (film noir fans should definitely check it out).  (Incidentally, Laven has a bit part as a reporter in the aforementioned Canon City.)

Cop Hater (1958) – I was hoping for a hat trick with this one; I’ll dispense with the details since it was previously reviewed by TDOY cub reporter Philip Schweier on the blog.  I wanted to see it because of its 87th Precinct origins but to be honest I thought Cop Hater was a boring talkfest that only really comes to life in the final few minutes of the film (and even I thought that plot resolution strained credibility).  It was fun to see Jerry Orbach as a teenage hood named “Momzer” (those of you familiar with Yiddish will get the joke) and Vincent Gardenia has a nice role as a gimpy (and sweaty) informer.  Still, I definitely thought the short-lived TV show was better.

Carry On Cleo (1964)/Carry On Cowboy (1966) – Because there are a few movies from Britain’s “Carry On” franchise that I haven’t seen, I’ve been DVR’ing as many as I can when The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ runs them on Saturday mornings.  These two haven’t come up in the Tee Cee Em rotation yet so I gave them a look-see: Carry On Cowboy is one of the weakest I’ve seen, and I think that’s because the jokes that are often featured in these films—some so old they’re collecting pensions—are funnier because they’ve been filtered through a British accent.  Cowboy is supposed to be a Western spoof, and since most of the characters use exaggerated “Western” drawls the threadbare verbal gags just fall flat.  Here’s a quick synopsis: Johnny Finger (Sid James), a.k.a. The Rumpo Kid (which may have been the only thing I laughed at, since it reminded me of “Ramblin’ Syd Rumpo” from the BBC radio comedy Round the Horne), terrorizes the citizens of Stodge City until sanitation engineer Marshal P. Knutt (Jim Dale) comes in to “clean up the town” (yes, he’s mistaken for a lawman).  Cowboy showcases the usual members of the troupe: Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey (funny as a fey Indian), Joan Sims, Angela Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw (it was the first Carry On film for the latter two).

Carry On Cleo is considered by many devotees to be the funniest of the series…but I’m not sure I can agree with that, even though Cleo has its moments.  Sid James plays Marc Antony (“Blimus!”), Kenneth Williams is Julius Caesar, and Amanda Barrie makes a lovely Cleopatra—but the focus is on Hengist Pod (Kenneth Connor) and Horsa (Jim Dale), two Britons captured and taken to Rome to be sold into slavery.  (I did guffaw heartily at some early scenes where Romans Caesar and Marc Antony go on about England’s beastly weather.)  Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey are also in this one, as are future Doctor Who Jon Pertwee and The Rag Trade’s Sheila Hancock (who exits the movie far too soon) as Hengist’s wife Senna.  (No, the jokes don’t get any better.)

The Panic in Needle Park (1971) – My Facebook compadre Kingo Gondo and I were having a conversation about the DVD inavailability of this second directorial effort from Jerry Schatzberg (TCM had recently run his 1973 film Scarecrow) and even though I recorded it off Fox’s movie channel (back in their pre-commercial interruption days) I’d been remiss in giving it my undivided attention.  Al Pacino (who’s also in Scarecrow) has this one to thank for landing him the plum role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972); in The Panic in Needle Park he plays a drug dealer who falls for a young girl (Kitty Winn) and proceeds to transform her into a heroin addict (and by that token, a prostitute).  It’s controversial, to be sure—though it’s a bit tame today in light of movies that have followed; I found myself fascinated by the film (you can’t help but like the couple even though they walk on the seamy side) and enjoyed seeing future stars Raul Julia (as Winn’s ex-boyfriend) and Paul Sorvino, not to mention The Rockford Files’ Joe Santos and Hill Street Blues’ Kiel Martin.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) – And speaking of seamy couples…this heralded drive-in classic was one I also hadn’t seen (though I remember seeing television ads for it when it was first released): Peter Fonda (he’s the crazy one) and Adam Roarke are a pair of NASCAR hopefuls who rob a grocery store (the manager is an uncredited Roddy McDowall) of $150,000 in order to finance their auto racing ambitions.  They’re unable to shake loose hitchhiker Susan George (the dirty one), and must elude unorthodox cop Vic Morrow—who’s following in hot pursuit with all weaponry and vehicles at his disposal.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry features mucho muscle cars and many vehicles running into things and each other; this sort of thing isn’t really my movie preference but its reputation was such I felt obligated to check it out.  Its rep is puzzling; with the exception of Roarke (and even he can be a pill at times), there’s not many sympathetic personages among the main characters…and the chemistry between Fonda’s Larry and George’s Mary is such that I kept hoping he’d run over her with that damn car.  (Any movie with Vic Morrow in it is generally going to feature him as a dirtbag, no question.)  Some folks will find the ending of this one tragic…but I sighed a sigh of relief, knowing it was all over.  (Directed by John Hough, who also did The Legend of Hell House—which might explain why McDowall is in this one.)


Unknown said...

Looking at the COP HATER poster, I see that the screenplay was written by Henry Kane, who wrote a few dozen novels about private-eye Peter Chambers. He also wrote (and maybe directed and produced) CRIME AND PETER CHAMBERS, a short-lived radio show that I've heard a few times on my XM receiver. said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one bored by Fantasia. I saw it as a kid and was practically snoring; I saw it as an adult and understood my earlier reaction.:) Leah

Mike Doran said...

About Down Three Dark Streets:

This was based on one of a series of novels about FBI Special Agent Ripley, written by The Gordons (Mildred and Gordon Gordon, the latter a retired G-man).
At least two other Ripley novels became movies: Experiment In Terror and That Darn Cat!
So if you want a sure stumper for your next movie trivia night:
What movie role was played by Broderick Crawford, Glenn Ford, and Dean Jones?
... believe it or not (pardon the expression) ...

Stephen Winer said...

You're probably right about Carry On Cleo, and yet I've seen Kenneth Williams' "Infamy! Infamy!" gag get laughs in the film, when excerpted from the film, or just re-told by some fan in a room. (And no, I won't give the punch line -- even the Carry On gang deserve that professional courtesy.)

Stephen Bowie said...

Sorry to see you of all people jumping on the Netflix streaming bandwagon, Ivan!

(THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK is on DVD, by the way.)

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Bill Crider yelled at me to get off his lawn:

He also wrote (and maybe directed and produced) CRIME AND PETER CHAMBERS, a short-lived radio show that I've heard a few times on my XM receiver.

I'm familiar with the show, but I honestly have never listened to it. Thanks for the info, though, Bill!

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Leah rapped the podium for attention:

I'm glad I'm not the only one bored by Fantasia. I saw it as a kid and was practically snoring; I saw it as an adult and understood my earlier reaction.

To me, the test of a great film is: can it hold up to multiple viewings? I don't think Fantasia can ace that exam. I'm not sorry I watched it, because it's sort of a "cinematic vegetable"...but I can't comprehend why parents would insist their kids see it.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Stephen Winer coughed out loudly:

You're probably right about Carry On Cleo, and yet I've seen Kenneth Williams' "Infamy! Infamy!" gag get laughs in the film, when excerpted from the film, or just re-told by some fan in a room.

Thanks for bringing my attention to one of the better gags in the film. I definitely liked Cleo better than Cowboy, but I think my "Carry On" preferences extend to the earlier films in the series (I re-watched Carry On Cruising the other night, which was the first film in the franchise I ever saw...and it still holds up pretty well).

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Stephen Bowie cornered me in the library to point out:

(THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK is on DVD, by the way.)

It is, and thanks for pointing out my omission; I knew it had been released on Region 2 at one time and when I pointed this out in the Facebook discussion it was gently shoved to the side as others revealed its availability on Netflix. I regret the error.

Rest assured, however, that my temporary flirtation with Netflix boils down to one simple fact: I'm not paying for the month, and truth be told I probably won't extend past the free trial. I'm still singing from the physical media (DVD) hymn book (and if anyone is confused by this, I urge you to check out Stephen's past writings on the subject) because I am a collector at heart. (That's my mother saying, "You're not just whistlin' Dixie, brother...")

Rick Robinson said...

The Only one here that WOULDN'T send me right to sleep are the Fantasia movies, but then I love animation.

B. Goode said...

"Dirty Mary Crazy Larry" was great fodder for the Drive-In Theater along with many other "car chase/crash movies", but unfortunately when I've re-watched these at home, they didn't have the same impact. I guess without some fresh air, Slim Jims, and Hi-Fi Peach Wine things can never be the same!

Rick29 said...

I'm with you on FANTASIA, but I thought that Susan George's performance (her best, in my opinion) redeemed DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Billy reminisced:

I guess without some fresh air, Slim Jims, and Hi-Fi Peach Wine things can never be the same!

Amen, Br'er Goode!

And Rick29 added:

I thought that Susan George's performance (her best, in my opinion) redeemed DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY.

In the Susan George sweepstakes, I'd go with Mandingo. Kidding...I'm just kidding...I prefer her in Straw Dogs, a movie admittedly not for all tastes.

Hal said...

Carry on Cleo and Cop Hater are both in my queue. Thanks for reminding me I need to get around to them. :)

rnigma said...

"Carry On Cowboy" may be a prelude for Jim Dale's Disney comedy "Hot Lead and Cold Feet."

Stacia said...

I just double checked and THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK is still in my "saved" section of Netflix, has been for months, if not years... but now there's a PLAY button right there! I have no idea how long it's been on streaming but I'm tickled that it is, I've wanted to see that film for years. (Missed it on Ye Olde Encore Channel lo these many years ago.)

And I don't hate FANTASIA, but I'm not a big fan of it, either. Saw it on the big screen once and won't be watching it again, unless it's on TV and I'm rendered immobile with the remote just out of reach. My mild distaste for all things Disney doesn't help, I'm sure.

ClassicBecky said...

Like Stacia, I also am not a fan of a lot of Disney work, particularly their ridiculous movies based on classic novels. When I saw ads for The Hunchback of Notre Dame that spotlighted happy, dancing gargoyles, I knew I would hate it and didn't have to watch to know that. However, unlike you guys, I love Fantasia -- I've been a classical music lover since I was a kid -- and thought it was very special. However, also unlike you, Ivan, I HATED Fantasia 2000. I thought it was ridiculously generic, except as you say the wonderful Rhapsody in Blue section. It was a mistake for Disney to insert the oridinal Sorceror's Apprentice into Fantasia 2000. It just pointed out clearly the difference between hand-drawn, excellent animation compared to the smooth-looking, boring 2000 version. Oh, and I liked the rest of your article too........