Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tote bag memories

TCM ran a mini-festival of gridiron movies yesterday, and while I had planned to sit down with some of them (many of them are wonderfully entertaining B-pics with casts of great character actors) the only one I really got to look at was Saturday’s Heroes (1937), a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it programmer starring a very young Van Heflin as a college football player who’s booted out of the institute of higher learning when it’s discovered that he’s been “scalping” tickets on the side. Heflin doesn’t deny what he did, but points out that colleges/universities have been using their athletic programs as cash cows to make piles of king-sized dough; all he wanted was his slice of the pie. Heroes, despite its vintage, is still pretty relevant for today’s audiences (I once joked to a friend of my sister Kat’s that the University of Georgia was “a stadium with a college attached”; she not only didn’t find it funny, she failed to recognize that I stole it from Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman [1925]) though it’s hard to stifle a snicker towards the end when a college president proclaims that his school will be the first to implement reforms and that others will follow his example.

Marian Marsh plays Heflin’s devoted girlfriend (whose father, Heflin’s coach, is played by Minor Watson) and Richard “Inspector Faraday” Lane is a supportive sportswriter. Heroes also has appearances from Frank Jenks, Willie Best, Al St. John (Roscoe Arbuckle’s nephew) and Frank Coghlan, Jr.—who’s spent four years warming the bench and gets excited when Watson shouts his name…only to learn the coach wants him to go out and buy him a bag of peanuts. Before Heroes, TCM ran a funny Robert Benchley short—How to Watch Football (1938)—that was particularly risible; while listening to a football game on the radio, Benchley reminisces about the days when he saw games in the stadium…having to deal with obnoxious fans, persistent drunks, and a girlfriend who refuses to be quiet (said tomato is played by Matt Hinrichs fave Joyce Compton).

I then switched to DVD mode to watch Welcome to Hard Times (1967), which I recorded off of TCM earlier this week; it’s an interesting Western based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow about the struggle to rebuild a one-horse frontier town when said hamlet has been burnt to a crisp by one seriously disturbed bad man (Aldo Ray). The town’s “mayor,” easygoing lawyer Henry Fonda, stays behind with dance hall gal Janice Rule (who never lets up on Fonda that his personal cowardice was responsible for the town’s destruction) and orphaned Michael Shea to pull off a Phoenix-like resurrection—aided and abetted by Keenan Wynn and a traveling whorehouse, the twin brother (John Anderson) of the general store proprietor who lit out shortly after the blaze, and an iterant no ‘count played by Warren Oates. Hard Times is an offbeat oater, and probably won’t appeal to everyone’s taste (it was written and directed by Burt Kennedy, who penned a good many of the Scott-Boetticher westerns) but Fonda and company give solid performances, and there’s a lot of familiar character/western actor on board, including Janis Paige, Edgar Buchanan, Denver Pyle, Arlene Golonka, Lon Chaney, Jr., Royal Dano, Paul Fix and Elisha Cook, Jr.

Needless to say, I was sort of movie’d out around 7:30pm, and so I checked CharredHer’s onscreen guide to see if there was anything on worthy of a look-see; my prayers were then answered when I saw that GPTV was going to show Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night at 8:00. Roy, to put it in the simplest way possible, is The Man…and this 1988 music concert is one of my all-time favorites. I remember when I was toiling away at Ball Blockbuster Video in 1989, and when the store was being readied in the mornings for the day’s opening, some of the CSR’s (Customer Service Reps) would beg for permission to put a music video on in the background while they worked (something the franchise for which we worked frowned on, by the way) and that one morning there was so much drama about who was going to choose what that I told them to put a sock in it and we listened to Black and White Night because I wanted to. (My other music of choice was an Everly Brothers concert also available on VHS at the time.) I should probably point out that it was about this time that I became sort of persona au gratin (“Look, we like Ivan—but he rarely listens to any music past 1970”), at least with anybody scheduled to help open up the store in the mornings.

I noticed that GPTV had the Orbison special slotted for ninety minutes, and though I didn’t remember it running that long when I first saw it on Showtime I thought maybe it was just faded memory…but I wasn’t twenty minutes into the darn thing when I realized why they had assigned it ninety minutes—GPTV is having another pledge drive. (Groan.) And that’s when I had a flashback into the past {{{wavy lines}}}, to a time when I was asked to become a filthy public television beggar for a day.

We must travel via WABAC machine to 1982, when I was attending Marshall University and working for “the Mighty Mule,” WMUL-FM 88, the college radio station. The news director of FM 88 asked me and a few other pigeons volunteers if we would be interested in manning the phones for a brief period in the evening and since I had no pressing engagements at that particular time I told her okay-fine. I think the only perk we got out of this was a Rax roast beef sandwich (“I’d rather Rax!”) and a big chocolate chip cookie, which can’t even compare to what they were giving the people hustling for GPTV (they were putting them up in hotels, ferchrissake). (For those unfamiliar with Rax, it was a popular fast-food chain based out of Ironton, Ohio that according to Wikipedia is still in bidness—the first Rax opened up in Wheeling, WV in 1962 in case my fellow Mountaineers are interested.)

They set us up with one of those two-tier phone stations sets, and there’s this terminally cheerful woman who’s instructing us on how to conduct ourselves (she kept stressing the importance of smiling, and she directed most of this to yours truly, Mr. Deadpan) while on the air. So, it’s the first break in and the on-air talent is making the pitch to donate to public TV, and my phone starts to ring.

I pick it up and say, “Thank you for calling WMUL Public Television—how may I help you?” There’s no answer on the other end, so I put the receiver down. The phone rings again, and I go into the spiel a second time. No answer. I hang up.

What the refugee from Up With People neglected to tell me was that they periodically ring the phones manually so as to make viewers think there’s a deluge of individuals desperate to support public television, and that what I was supposed to do was “pantomime” talking to someone. But I did not know this, and in fact I believe I turned to a friend of mine and remarked: “Somebody’s playing around with this goddam phone,” oblivious to the fact, of course, that I was saying this on live television. (As far as I know, no one from the Tri-State area heard me…no doubt because I was off-mike.) Okay, no problem—I know the deal now. (“And smile,” she tells me again for the umpteenth time.)

There were a few more breaks, and while I felt like a schmuck talking to someone who technically wasn’t there, I did get one legitimate call/pledge and the WMUL people were pretty stoked about that. There was, however, a down side to my TV appearance: back in my hometown of Ravenswood, a friend of my Mom’s called her to inform her that Ivan Is On Television! and so the whole fam sat down to watch WMUL in the hopes of seeing me again. Sadly, Mom’s friend got a gander at me just as our shift was coming to an end, so the Shreve household watched nearly three hours of public TV in the process—which may have been the longest amount of viewer-supported television ever seen in our household in one sitting.

Since GPTV has their hand out, this probably puts the kibosh on my parents’ weekly ritual of Saturday night Britcom viewing…which naturally is not going to sit well with Mom, who was complaining to me yesterday (we went on a grocery run) that my father’s viewing tastes are becoming more pedestrian by the minute.

“Do you know what I caught him watching the other day?” she asks me. Cops.”

“Could be worse…and besides, it puts a little true-life drama into his everyday routine,” I replied, trying to defend him.

“If Cops is true-life drama,” she responded, “then professional wrestling is a legitimate sport.”

I just hope my paisan Jeff Lane isn’t reading this.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A lulu of a Boo-Boo

Since posting about the Saturday Morning Cartoon DVD releases being planned by Warner Home Video this past Sunday,—from which I procured the information—has since put forth a major correction…and believe you me, I’m not treading lightly around that “major” part. Apparently there were a few rampant “something’s-not-quite-kosher” rumors that burst through the TV-on-DVD dam shortly after the announcement, with many individuals noticing slight discrepancies (I, for one, thought it was curious that the 1960s set was featuring the Tom & Jerry cartoon show from the 1970s) in the cartoons listed in both volumes (1960s and 1970s). David Lambert has been kind enough to give us the skinny on what’s really on the two box sets…and so in cold-cereal-and-footy-pajamas solidarity, I pass them along to you:

Saturday Morning Cartoons -1960s Volume 1

Disc 1

1)Top Cat – “The Tycoon”

2)The Atom Ant Show – “Up & Atom” (Atom Ant), “Precious Jewels” (Precious Pupp), “Woodpecked” (Hillbilly Bears)

3)The Peter Potamus Show – “Fe Fi Fo Fun” (Peter Potamus), “All Riot on the Northern Front” (Breezly & Sneezly), “The Volunteers” (Yippie, Yappie & Yahooey)

4)The Secret Squirrel Show – “Sub Swiper” (Secret Squirrel), “Way Out Squiddly” (Squiddly Diddly), “Prince of a Pup” (Winsome Witch)

5)The Flintstones – “The Happy Household”

6)The Porky Pig Show - “Often an Orphan”/”Mice Follies”/”The Super Snooper”

7)The Quick Draw McGraw Show – “Dynamite Fright” (Quick Draw McGraw), “Outer Space Case” (Snooper & Blabber), “Growing Growing Gone” (Augie Doggie)

Disc 2

8)The Jetsons – “Rosey the Robot”

9)Marine Boy – “Battle to Save the World”

10)Space Ghost & Dino Boy - “The Heat Thing” (Ghost), ”The Worm People” (Dino Boy), ”Zorak” (Ghost)

11)The Herculoids – “The Beaked People”/”The Raider Apes”

12)Frankenstein, Jr. and the Impossibles – “The Shocking Electric Monster” (Frankenstein, Jr.), “The Bubbler” (Impossibles), “The Spinner” (Impossibles)

13)The Magilla Gorilla Show – “Gridiron Gorilla” (Magilla Gorilla), “Small Change” (Mushmouse & Punkin’ Puss), “Atchinson, Topeka and San Jose” (Ricochet Rabbit)

14) Bonus Episode: The Quick Draw McGraw Show – “Dough Nutty” (Augie Doggie), “El Kabong” (Quick Draw McGraw), “Gem Jam” (Snooper & Blabber)

Sure, I’m sorry to see Wally Gator off the schedule (but then Wally should never perform as a single—he needs Touché Turtle and Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har-Har for backup) but the addition of the Peter Potamus, Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel shows (as well as Frankenstein, Jr. and the Impossibles…Kliph will be pleased about that) is going to make this a must-purchase when it hits the streets May 19th. (This set will also contain featurettes on Quick Draw, Magilla, and Frankie, Jr and Impossibles.)

Oh, I hear you snickering there in the back…something about there being something seriously wrong with a middle-aged man obsessed with cartoons from the sixties. Hey, I’ve got the cojones not only to admit that I own one of these…

…but one of these as well…

Deal with it. And now, on to the 1970s!

Saturday Morning Cartoons -1970s Volume 1

Disc 1

1)The Jetsons – “The Space Car”

2)The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour – “The Pest”/”Tarzan and the City of Gold

3)Hong Kong Phooey – “Car Thieves”/”Zoo Story”

4)Goober and the Ghost Chasers – “Assignment Ahab Apparition”

5)Speed Buggy – “Speed Buggy Went That-a-Way”

6)Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch – “Double Cross Country”/”The Infiltrator”/”The Stunt Show”

Disc 2

7)Yogi’s Gang – “Greedy Genie”

8)The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan – “Scotland Yard”

9)Roman Holidays – “Double Date”

10) Josie & the Pussycats in Outer Space – “The Nemo’s a No-No Affair”

11) The New Scooby-Doo Movies – “The Ghostly Creep From the Deep”

12) Funky Phantom – “I’ll Haunt You Later”

I noticed the 1970s set has a lot more variety—particularly the additions of Goober (the homeless man’s Scooby-Doo), Speed Buggy, Wheelie and the ever-preachy Yogi’s Gang. (The featurettes will focus on Phantom, Josie and the Chan Clan.)

Many thanks to Monsieur Lambert and the rest of the hard-working crew for correcting this info—it was most appreciated!

Is there TV Land on other planets?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

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

Because I’m determined to never…ever…let TCM out of my clutches after suffering from withdrawal for nearly seven years, I make it a point to check the programming schedule from time to time only because they're often a tad tardy in announcing what shorts will be shown after the scheduled main features (in order to keep that train Brad Pitt is riding on running on time). Here’s a couple that I thought TDOY readers might want a heads-up on:

How to Watch Football (1938) – You can’t go wrong with a Robert Benchley short, and TCM will show this little gem tomorrow before Saturday’s Heroes (1937)—a short-but-sweet college football B-pic that features Van Heflin in one of his earliest roles and Richard “Whooooaaa Nellie!” Lane, one half of Columbia’s comedy duo Schilling and Lane. (If you’ve never experienced the sublime pleasures of a Robert Benchley one-reeler, this is a good place as any to start. If you refuse to have anything to do with one of America’s premier funnymen, I may have to get a restraining order to keep you away from the blog.)

So You Want to Play the Horses (1946) – Joe McDoakes (the incomparable George O’Hanlon) is addicted to laying money down on the gee-gees, and drives this point home with a funny parody of The Lost Weekend (1945). This short gets a workout between two chapters of Zorro Rides Again (1937) Saturday morning, sometime around 8:43am.

Torture Money (1937)/’Don’t Talk’ (1942) – The Crime Does Not Pay series is always a welcome treat at Rancho Yesteryear; in Money, police go after a fraud operation that stages automobile accidents to swindle insurance companies—this one will be shown after It Should Happen to You (1954) on Sunday, February 1st. ‘Talk’ is familiar WW2-propaganda (the whole “loose lips sink ships” deal) but is still entertaining—besides, it features Barry Nelson in an early role as a Fed and will be a refreshing tonic after finishing Take a Letter, Darling (1942). (Money nabbed an Oscar for Best Short and 'Talk' was nominated, to bring this all around to the “31 Days of Oscar” theme; I believe ‘Talk’ is also available on the Random Harvest [1942] DVD.)

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM #18

The Hoodlum Priest (1961) – Actor Don Murray, who was so committed to this project that he also produced and co-wrote the script (under the nom de plume Don Deer), is the titled man-of-the-cloth; as Father Charles Dismas Clark he’s a passionate advocate for ex-cons, believing that recidivism can be curtailed if the dignity of the individual is restored (a job, a place to live, etc.) upon their release from prison. His dream is to build a halfway-house (which became a reality in 1959 with the opening of Dismas House) that will help transition “hoods” back into society; civil rights attorney Louis Rosen (Larry Gates) is his staunchest supporter, particularly when Clark talks him into defending young Billy Lee Jackson (Keir Dullea), who’s been railroaded on a disturbing the peace/assault charge. The roadblock in Clark’s attempts to make Dismas House a reality is a greasy newspaper reporter named George MacHale (Logan Ramsey), who earns a steady paycheck turning in unflattering stories about the padre—though our young con Jackson doesn’t help Clark’s cause either: he’s accused of stealing at the warehouse where Clark got him a job and summarily dismissed, then decides to deal with the situation by robbing the warehouse’s safe. (See, Billy…this is what happens when you stop attending the MENSA meetings.) He kills the brother of the warehouse's owner in this melee, and then croaks a cop while lamming it out of there—Clark attempts to get leniency for the kid but no governor is going to commute a death sentence for a cop-killer, and I’m surprised Clark didn’t dope this out beforehand.

Priest is certainly worth a look-see, though a lot of its material will be familiar to anyone who’s watched their share of Warner Bros. 1930s crime films (there are also heavy overtones of I Want to Live!); Murray is a stand-out as the earnest and committed Clark, though he sort of overdoes it with the Father Flannigan act at times (I also think Gates is first-rate, too). There is one particular scene in the movie that stuck with me after I watched it; a lone protester carrying a sign (that trumpets “We Are All Billy Jackson’s Murderers” on one side and “Capital Punishment is Legalized Murder” on the other) is walking back and forth outside the steps of a capitol building when he stops and pulls out a cigarette—but he doesn’t have a light. A cop who’s kept watch all this time obliges him, remarking: “You’re not going to change the world by carrying around that sign, Buddy…”

The protester looks at him and returns: “I’m not trying to change the world, I’m…just trying to keep the world from changing me.”

Shadow on the Wall (1950) – Here’s a genuine curio: a movie in which Zachary Scott plays a likable guy. Scott’s a devoted husband who returns from a business trip with presents for his young daughter (Gigi Perreau) and wife (Kristine Miller)…only to learn that Wifey’s been having an affair with her sister’s fiancé (Tom Helmore). (I hope Zach kept the receipt.) Scott spills the beans about Miller and Helmore’s rendezvous to Miller’s sister (played by Ann Sothern) and later that night, when Scott threatens to shoot Miller over the affair, she conks him colder that last night’s flounder—and then confronts Sothern, who settles the score by shooting her sis. Because Scott has no memory of what transpired, he’s convicted of Miller’s murder and is sentenced to be executed; his only hope rests on child psychiatrist/future First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan)—who’s convinced that Scott’s daughter witnessed what went down and tries to help restore the child's memory.

In a film that comes across as more like a Maisie film gone wacko (Homicidal Maisie?). Sothern’s character is a teensy bit inconsistent at times (she’s supposed to be a mousy young thing, but she certainly went after her sister with relish) but I think she’s more effective that way; her best moment is when she’s at the beauty parlor (she’s about to beat it out of town and has even written a confession for the cops revealing that it was her, and not Scott, who popped a cap into her sister) and is about to be put under the dryer when she fantasizes that she’s actually being strapped into the electric chair. Sothern is clearly uncomfortable with the concept of offing the kid in order to protect her guilt, but she certainly gives it the old college try—first by slipping a mickey into the little girl’s chocolate milk and then attempting to drown her in the hospital. In the end, Sothern’s pretty much the only engaging presence in Shadow; the rest of the cast is white-bread bland (even TDOY fave John McIntire, as Scott’s lawyer/best friend is subdued). But at least I now know another movie Helmore was in besides Vertigo…and classic TV fans will spot the pearl-bedecked Barbara “June Cleaver” Billingsley as a maid.

The Company She Keeps (1951) – A movie with Lizabeth Scott as a parole officer and Jane Greer as her parolee? Now you’re talking! Mildred Lynch (Greer) manages to soft-soap the prison board into thinking she’s on the straight-and-narrow so they grant her parole with the exception of the lone male member (James Bell), who doesn’t bother to vote because he’s outnumbered. (He doesn’t trust Greer…apparently he’s the only one in the group who saw Out of the Past [1947].) Mildred changes her name to Diane Stewart and gets a job as a night nurse in a hospital, but begins to chafe under the rules (she may be out, but she’s still doing time) and decides to repay parole officer Joan Wilburn (Scott) for her support and kindness by stealing her boyfriend. (To demonstrate how desperate Greer’s character is, the boyfriend is played by Dennis O’Keefe.) Things begin to get serious between Diane and her new beau, and Larry Collins (the beau) is so infatuated that he proposes to her. Will Joan maintain a professionalism and recommend to the board that Diane is perfectly capable of handling marriage—or will she stab that conniving little tramp in the back and send her back to The Big House?

As a rule, I try to keep endings murky in order not to spoil the experience for someone who hasn’t seen the movie—let me just say that I wasn’t wild about the direction Company takes because it requires a leap of faith that I wasn’t capable of making. Performance-wise, Greer is the reason to see this film; I like Lizabeth as a rule but she sometimes runs hot and cold with me; TCM showed The Racket (1951) and Dead Reckoning (1947) before Company and while I thought she was very convincing as a nightclub chanteuse in the former she’s simply not all that credible in the Bogart pic. (I was amused, however, by some of Scott and Greer’s scenes together in Company; Liz appears to be flirting with Janie at times.) Sharp-eyed OTR fans and character actor connoisseurs will spot Kenneth Tobey, Erskine Sanford, Snub Pollard, Theresa Harris, Paul Frees (as the judge’s clerk), Kathleen Freeman and Parley Baer (as the guy who offers to buy O’Keefe a drink) in brief bits; Beau Bridges is the obnoxious kid in the train station at Company’s end…and making his film debut is his brother Jeff as the infant Greer baby-sits briefly.

Once again, Georgia leads the way...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ask Bobby Osbo

I got this in the e-mail box about ten minutes ago:

After I took a breather from all the sarcastic possibilities ricocheting through my head like bumpers on a pinball machine, I began to entertain serious thoughts about what question I would ask. I have it narrowed down to: “If Robert Osborne is all powerful, could he create a classic film so big that even he couldn’t lift it?” or “Why did you tell viewers sometime back that Odds Against Tomorrow features Harry Belafonte ‘with nary a song in sight’ when his character sings and plays the marimba/xylophone in a nightclub?”

If you can come up with a question on your own, have at it in the comments section. Or if you’re really serious, here’s the dropping-off point for all Osborne queries.

The dirty secret behind analog-to-digital TV conversion

For your consideration

I finally managed to drag my lazy, sloppy carcass out of bed this morning and stumble to my e-mail, where I found an urgent missive from operator_99, of the ever popular Allure:

I am so honored to have received a Dardos Award, bestowed upon me by my favorite blogger, The Self Styled Siren, who herself was bestowed the award by two other eminent film bloggers, Flickhead and Glenn Kenny.

So what is the Dardos?

Here's the purpose: "The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.”

And in an inclusive break from the award being solely focused on writing, the Siren saw fit to include those whose blogs are primarily image oriented, but fit the overall criteria.

There are rules, however:
1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

To quote Ruth Gordon, as she accepted the Best Supporting Actress Award for Rosemary’s Baby (1968): “I can’t tell ya how encouragin’ a thing like this is...” I can say nothing more than it is a real honor to receive such recognition (thanks again to Allure), and that it will be the first crucial step in what will be a truly obnoxious campaign to finally get Thrilling Days of Yesteryear a little respect around here, starting with a Weblog Award or two.

(Okay, I’m kidding about that last part.)

Choosing which five blogs to pass along the Primio Dardos (loosely translated from the Greek as “surfing weblogs while at work”) was a tremendously difficult task because I really do admire each and every blog in the TDOY blogroll; the authors of which are tremendously talented and, well, let’s face it, damned good at what they do. So in my list I singled out a couple that often soldier on unnoticed without laurels (and hardys) and are worthy of a hearty handclasp (in alphabetical order):

Blog d’Elisson – Elisson maintains to this day that I was one of the first blogs to link to his—something I find incredible only in that I couldn’t possibly have been the pioneer in discovering what a really entertaining kitchen-sink blog his award-winning site has become. He’s also one of the few bloggers I’ve had the pleasure to meet in person, and he’s perzactly the way he is in real life as he is on his blog: gregarious, friendly and my definition of a real “Renaissance man.” Take a gander at his blog sometime…”it won’t kill ya!”

broadcastellan – Anybody can write a blog dedicated to old-time radio, and I’m certainly living proof of that. But it’s a rare and special talent that can examine Radio’s Golden Age (and other pop culture like TV and movies) under a microscope and relate it to the present day without getting all sloppy and nostalgic (okay, I’ll stop talking about me now). An incredibly well-written blog by Harry Heuser, broadcastellan is an everyday must-read.

Cultureshark – Rick Brooks examines popular culture both old and new, and is able to do so with a well-honed wit and a snarkiness that never steps over its boundaries to become tiresome. The best blog you’re currently not reading.

The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio – When I get the occasional e-mail at the home office in Pt. Pleasant, WV asking: “How come you don’t focus as much on old-time radio as you used to?”—I tell these inquiring minds that not only is Jeff Kallman doing it now, he’s doing it better than I ever could. Jeff is nothing if not meticulous in providing fascinating background on the programs he writes about, as well as links to broadcast recordings that can be located for your listening pleasure online. – Matt Hinrichs loves kitsch, and he’s not afraid to admit it. Any topic that would normally produce a reaction of “You really like that? Pleeease…” is fodder for his blog, be it classic movies, retro 70s music, figurines, obscure soda pop and other pop culture remnants and tchotchkes.

Update: I've just learned that I've received another Dardos from the doyenne of classic movies herownself, that Self-Styled Siren...which means I now have bookends (I feel just like Luise Rainer!). I want to thank Campaspe for the recognition, but I'd like to see the extra go to a worthy bloghome.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

“When are you coming to church, Jed?”

Yesterday was washday at Rancho Yesteryear, and no sooner had I started with the washer-dryer duties when I got a call from my mother, inviting me over to dine with her and a man who, when properly leant upon, will confess to being my father.

Always great to get an invitation to dinner, because as we know from the varied Tales of the Half-Assed Gourmand—that means I don’t have to cook. Dinner was superb, as always: baked chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls and salad…and the pizza de resistance, a slice of cocoanut cream cake.

I went over to the ‘rents around 4-ish, and Mom and I had planned to watch some Everybody Loves Raymond repeats but sister Kat had already erased them from her DVR. This is when we discovered that she had, curiously enough, taped the 1962 version of Cape Fear…which we proceeded to sit down and watch. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that my sister reacts to black-and-white movies the way a vampire reacts to garlic bread—so we’re still wondering why she bothered to record the film. (I’m guessing that because many of the movie’s scenes were filmed in Savannah she might have wanted it to show some of her friends.)

When I got home around 8:30pm, I made plans to sit down and revisit Marty (1955), the Academy Award winner for Best Picture that stars Ernest Borgnine (the Best Actor Oscar winner as well) as a Brooklyn butcher who resigns himself to a state of bachelorhood until he meets a shrinking violet of a schoolteacher at the Stardust Ballroom, played by Betsy Blair. (I’m pretty sure it was Blair this time.) Marty has always been a running gag around Casa del Shreve for as long as I can remember, simply because my father and I like to imitate the people in the movie who spring forth with deathless dialogue like “Whaddya wanna do tonight, Marty?” “I dunno—whaddya wanna do?” Now, I like Borgnine’s performance in the film—a schlub who you can’t help but feel an affinity for—but I’ve never thought the movie was Best Picture material, particularly when so many other great movies released that year (Kiss Me Deadly, The Night of the Hunter, Bad Day at Black Rock) weren’t even nominated. Still, it remains a feel-good watch; I always forget that Frank Sutton has a bit part in this picture and it’s refreshing to see him in a role that does not require him to yell at Jim Nabors. (In glancing at some The Big Story scripts that I downloaded from Tobacco, I saw Sutton’s name on a few of them; again, I was completely unaware that he did radio…proving that it is possible to learn something new every day.)

This morning, TCM ran one of my very favorite classic films—the 1950 comedy-drama Stars in My Crown, a wonderful picture that was released to VHS but as of this writing still has not rated a DVD version. I’ve mentioned on TDOY in the past month or so that I’ve been reading John DiLeo’s Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery, and Crown is not only one of the forty mentioned in the book but is discussed in one of those essays you come across every now and then that not only makes the movie absolutely fresh and new, but one you want to see (even if you’ve seen it before) at the earliest opportunity. Here’s a sample of John’s piece; a little something for the classic film buff who needs to have this book on his or her bookshelf.

Before I close up shop for today (hey, it wasn’t my idea to schedule They Won’t Believe Me, I Want to Live!, Shadow on the Wall, The Trial, The Racket, Dead Reckoning and The Company She Keeps on TCM in one swell foop) I wanted to pass along to you a new site created by Douglas DeLong, current curator of The Yesteryear Museum. Some great audio goodies are yours for the asking at The Yesteryear Audio Archive; classic songs of that era and OTR shows like The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet and Dragnet. Keep in mind, however, that because Doug hangs his hat in Okayama, Japan, some portions of this site may feature Japanese subtitles. (Okay, I made that last part up.)

Boy, does this economy really suck...

Monday, January 26, 2009

The distaff side of the Half-Assed Gourmand

Movies I’ve recently stared at on TCM #17

Kind of a spotty weekend, movie-wise…outside projects ate up some of my viewing time and most of the movies I watched were ones I’d already seen: The Bad News Bears (1976), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), Silverado (1985—I remember taking my Dad to see this when it came out, and it’s still as enjoyable as the first time I saw it). I would have watched The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), except I programmed the fershlugginer DVD recorder wrong (and I’m still seething over that). (Oh, and I also took advantage of TCM on Demand and watched the immortal Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) for what is probably the umpteenth time. As Maxwell Smart would say: “And…loving it!”)

The Man Between (1953) – Caught this Carol Reed-directed thriller Saturday night, with Claire Bloom as a British lass who travels to Berlin to spend some time with her brother (Geoffrey Toone) and his wife (Hildegard Knef, who for some reason reminded me of Eve Arden as I watched this). Hildy begins behaving rather strangely upon Claire’s arrival, and it is soon revealed that Knef’s first husband (James Mason) is still hale and hearty and walking amongst us (he was reported as having been killed), making sis-in-law a bigamist. Claire falls for James (I loved Mason in this part, by the way; he’s his usual suave self but adopts the lightest of German accents to make the character believable), who’s being blackmailed by a gangster (Aribert Waescher) to stop undercover agent Ernst Schroeder; Claire ends up kidnapped by Waescher and Mason must get her safely out of East Berlin. There’s a lot of suspense in this one (the last few minutes of Between will have you on the edge of your seat) and it resembles Reed’s classic The Third Man in many ways…I wish I had thought to record this while I was watching it because it’s really a dandy little feature film.

The Garden of Eden (1928) This week’s TCM Silent Sunday Nights offering was a frothy little concoction (directed by Lewis Milestone) that stars “Orchid Lady” Corinne Griffith (who authored Papa’s Delicate Condition, a book adapted as a film in 1963 starring The Great One himself and TDOY fave Glynis Johns) as aspiring Viennese opera singer Toni LeBrun, who is lured to Budapest on the pretext of getting a job singing at a “prestigious” opera house that is in reality nothing more than a cabaret run by Madame Bauer (Maude George). Bauer takes responsibility for introducing naïve young women to the lecherous Henri D’Avril (Lowell Sherman), and when his planned assignation with Toni goes south, she’s invited by the cabaret’s seamstress (Louise Dresser) to take a trip to Monte Carlo. Rosa the seamstress is in actuality the Baroness Rosa de Garcer—she has a two-week blowout in Monte Carlo every year with the pension money she gets due to her husband’s death, and she “adopts” Toni as her daughter…which comes in handy when young Richard Dupont (Charles Ray) comes a-courtin’, intending on asking for her hand in holy matrimony.

Eden isn’t particularly a great silent (it’s got the nutritional value of cotton candy) but I enjoyed it tremendously, particularly Griffith…who relies on her charms and facial expressions (her reaction to eating her first oyster is particularly risible) to put her character across. I was a little less impressed with her co-star, Ray, only because I couldn’t quite reconcile him as a leading man-type (though when the film was released he was quite the silent film star, usually playing a bucolic rube who learns a good deal about life from his misadventures in the big city); he seemed more of a Grady Sutton-character actor to me. There are some really nice moments in Eden; my favorite is when D’Avril attempts to ravish the unsuspecting Toni by turning out the lights in the room they’re in and the only illumination comes from the headlights of cars speeding by…the lights are then turned on, and D’Avril finds himself in Rosa’s embrace. A pleasant diversion, to say the least—and a movie that, I believe, was available on DVD (it’s now out-of-print, but Netflix may have a copy) from the good people at Flicker Alley.

What they didn’t teach me at Walt Whitman High

Rick “Don’t Call Me Sparky” Brooks over at Cultureshark (a very entertaining blog that should seriously be considered a part of any pop culture blogroll) tells an interesting story about, which apparently was offering the upcoming DVD box set of Room 222: Season 1 for the low, low price of $10.99.

Yes. I couldn’t believe it, either, when I came across it. I went ahead and pre-ordered it, just on the off-chance that it might be legitimate. Rick explains that he, too, was lured by the low-price siren song but that because he was loathe to pay the extra s&h, in the time he deliberated on picking something to go with it (to reach the $25 threshold and, as such, pay no shipping) he missed the opportunity to pick up 222 dirt cheap.

I tried to console Rick in his comments section about a similar situation I had with Madame Amazon, though looking back at the actual post I got a few of the details wrong. I had ordered in 2005 a collection of Cheers episodes (Seasons 1-4) that was listed at the e-tailing behemoth for $63.55—one hell of a deal, particularly since the MSRP was twice that. (In addition, they had a five-pack of Frasier box sets for $85.56; again, the MSRP being twice that.) I pre-ordered both collections, dancing a little jig at the bargain I was getting.

My glee, unfortunately, did not last for long. Let’s get in the WABAC machine and see what transpired:

In the wee a.m. hours of this morning, I get an e-mail from telling me, in a matter of words, we f**ked up royally and we’ve cancelled your order. Then they add a lot of other bullpuckey about “in accordance with our posted policies on pricing, we are unable to offer these items for the incorrectly posted prices, blah, blah, blah.” In other words: bite us, yesteryear boy.

Needless to say, I was a bit torqued off by this turn of the professional business world, if a store has mispriced something and you've purchased it at that price, it's your good fortune and their tough luck. I boycotted the company for several years until I was forced to use their services one Christmas to rush some swag to my sister Debbie and her family…and though I don’t buy from Amazon as much as I used to, I still find myself mainlining every now and then.

I told Rick about this earlier experience, and made it clear that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop (i.e., getting another e-mail from Amazon soon, saying in their delightful fashion: “We’re, bitches!”). But as I was trolling this morning, I found the 222 set available from at $11.13. Which started me wondering…could there actually be something legitimate about this?

Well, yes and no. In reading the info on the priced Room 222, I noticed after “Number of Discs” it reads “1.” Uno. What this would seem to suggest is that this particular 222 set is one of those “Season 1, Volume 1” deals frequently released by Shout! Factory—a single-disc release in which you can sample the program before committing to the full enchilada. (I offer up Ironside: Season 1, Volume 1 and Ironside: Season 2, Volume 1 as exhibits A and B.)

So here’s the dilemma: do I go ahead and cancel this order upon learning why it’s been priced this way? Because when I bring up the pre-order at Amazon, it links to the 4-disc full Monty edition. I’ve decided I’m going to ride this out and see where it takes me—surely I can use their “low price pre-order” policy against them…and if push comes to shove, they’ll just stuff a $10 coupon down my shirt like I’m some cheap cooch dancer.

The lesson to be learned in all of this, students…is that if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably’s fault. Caveat emptor and class dismissed!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The days of cold cereal and footy pajamas has an interesting blurb up that I think will appeal to people like the real Sam Johnson hissownself, touting two DVD sets forthcoming from Warner Home Video May 19th. The collections are Saturday Morning Cartoons – 1960’s Volume 1 and Saturday Morning Cartoons – 1970’s Volume 1; both sets will contain a potpourri of favorites from those halcyon days of “Ferchrissake, it’s 6 in the a.m.! Don’t tell me that kid is up already…”

Of the two sets, the first is probably of the most interest (to myself anyway, your mileage may vary) even though much of the material has been previously released. Let’s take a gander at some of the content:

Top Cat – “Hawaii, Here We Come”
Atom Ant – “Up & Atom”
Quick Draw McGraw – “Scarie Prairie”
Wally Gator – “Droopy Dragon”
Secret Squirrel – “Sub Swiper”
The Porky Pig Show – “Often an Orphan”/”Mice Follies”/”The Super Snooper”
The Bugs Bunny Show – “Rabbit Every Monday”/”A Mouse Divided”/”Tree for Two”
The Jetsons – “Rosey the Robot”
Marine Boy – “The Green Monsters”
Space Ghost and Dino Boy – “The Heat Thing”/”The Worm People”/”Zorak”
Top Cat – “The Majarajah of Pookerjee”
Tom & Jerry Show – “No Way, Stowaways”/”The Ski Bunny”/”Stay Awake or Else…”
Quick Draw McGraw – “Bad Guys Disguise”
The Bugs Bunny Show – “Puddy Tat Trouble”/”Wise Quackers”/”Speedy Gonzales”
Magilla Gorilla – “Big Game”

Okay, the Top Cat episodes are already on DVD, as well as Magilla Gorilla, The Jetsons and Space Ghost/Dino Boy material. There was talk sometime back about releasing the Quick Draw McGraw and Wally Gator cartoons to disc but those projects were scotched because of copyright issues (there were also reports that the material they had to work with was not up to snuff). I’d consider a purchase of this set if I knew for certain they were going to include the opening title sequences (something they did not do for Magilla, which is why it’s the crappy box set it is); those people inside my inner circle of friends know that I’ll sing the Quick Draw McGraw theme song at the drop of a hat.

The Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel cartoons are new to DVD, and I have to be honest with you—I’ve never even heard of Marine Boy. But I’d really like to have the Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny shows—again, on the proviso that they give us the full Monty with regards to opening/closing credits (“Who’s our favorite TV star/Who comes on with a wham…”). Incidentally, the Tom & Jerry show that’s listed here is not the 1960s version but an episode of the 1970s revival series produced by Hanna-Barbera (a dismal affair, though it did give us the Great Grape Ape)…and to be honest, if they’re going to mislabel this as a 1960s program that doesn’t bode well for the previous “wish” items I’ve mentioned.

On to the 1970s set—which has the fact that a lot of its material is new-to-DVD going for it:

The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour – “Bewitched Bunny”/”Robin Hood Daffy”/”Tweety and the Beanstalk”
Scooby’s All Star Laff-a-Lympics Hour – “Quebec & Baghdad”
The Jetsons – “The Space Car”/”The Coming of Astro”
The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour – “The Pest”/”Tarzan and the City of Gold”
The Jetsons – “The Good Little Scouts”
The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan – “Scotland Yard”
The Flintstones – “Hot Lips Hannigan”
Roman Holidays – “Double Date”
Josie & the Pussycats in Outer Space – “The Nemo’s a No-No Affair”
The Flintstones Comedy Hour – “The Suitor Computer”/”Yabba Dabba Doosie”/”It Should Always Be a Saturday”
Funky Phantom – “Don’t Fool With a Phantom”

The first two shows are listed as hours even though they’re only thirty minutes each (I’m old enough to remember when the Bugs/Road Runner program really was an hour) and the Jetsons/Flintstones material has been, as mentioned, previously released on other sets (with the exception of The Flintstones Comedy Hour segments). I’m not certain if they ever released the Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle cartoon series to DVD but I know the Batman episode of The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour has been; I never cared much for the Batman animated series but I thought Tarzan was surprisingly good…and unusually mature for its target audience.

I’d love for Warner Home Video to release all the Laff-a-Lympics shows on a DVD set (naturally, a person my age always rooted for the Yogi Yahooeys)—but as for the others here I don’t think there’s any pressing need (though we welcome all dissenters). The Chan series wasn’t bad (an awful lot like Scooby-Doo, though…and Jodie Foster voiced one of the characters) but Phantom was pretty dumb (Micky Dolenz participated, and Daws Butler got the opportunity to revise his Bert Lahr/Snagglepuss voice) and as far as Roman Holidays goes even the talented cast (Butler, Dave Willock, Stanley Livingston, Janet Waldo, Shirley Mitchell, Hal Smith and Pamelyn Ferdin) can’t make anything of that turkey.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Sorry about being away from the blog yesterday. The end of the month usually finds me in busy-beaver mode, and I was working away, putting the finishing touches on a set of liner notes for both Radio Spirits and First Generation Radio Archives—two collections that I unfortunately need to keep mum about for the time being, because I don’t wish to steal anyone’s thunder.

I made a trip to Publix yesterday morning with my mother, and I was distressed in that they no longer apparently carrying Sun Drop at the Atlanta Highway location. A friend of mine from the In the Balcony boards introduced me to this tasty citrus beverage bottled in Tennessee (it has since been purchased by Cadbury Beverages and is in the fold that features 7-Up, A&W Root Beer, Sunkist and RC Cola). (Does anyone even drink RC Cola anymore? The last time I sampled some it tasted as if it were de-carbonated by design.) Apparently I’m the only one whoever purchased this at Publix (along with a 12 pack of Orange Crush); maybe the next time I go in I’ll ask what the deal is.

In the comments section on my Carson-Morgan post, Andrew Leal of Spanish Popeye was good enough to point me in the direction of Tobacco, as well as the script library of the Old Time Radio Researchers Group, who downloaded a lot of the OTR scripts available at Tobacco—some of which I did not have (it would appear that I have some assorted scripts not in the OTTRG archives as well). I was tickled to find, in a routine search at Documents, that they have available for download some television scripts that were sponsored by Pall Mall—among them Make Room for Daddy (which is nice, considering the shows appear to be no longer in syndication or available period), M Squad, Tales of Wells Fargo and Boris Karloff’s Thriller. With the assistance of Tobacco and OTTRG, I was able to beef up and cover some gaps in my Abbott & Costello, Blondie and Durante & Moore collections. (If you have a lot of free time, you should go on over and check it out—fascinating artifacts of history, and since many of these shows no longer exist in recorded form the scripts are the next best thing.)

I haven’t been afforded the opportunity to see too many movies in the past few days, but I did manage to revisit Super-Sleuth (1937) on Thursday (a fun comedy starring Jack Oakie as an obnoxious movie star whose popular movies—in which he plays a detective—spur him on to try and solve a murder) and Border Incident (1949) on Friday: a great film noir directed by Anthony Mann and starring George Murphy and Ricardo Montalban as a pair of Feds trying to bring down an illegal operation exploiting Mexican brasseros (Montalban is first-rate, and even Murphy’s better than usual). Last night I caught a pair of James Earl Jones films that I hadn’t seen previously, the first being The Great White Hope (1970), a boxing flick loosely based on the career of pugilist Jack Johnson (the character is called Jack Jefferson here), which was first presented as a stage play written by Howard Sackler (who also wrote the screenplay). Jones was splendid as a boxer whom the powers-that-be set out to crush (he’s been dating white Jane Alexander, something that did not set well with the PTB at the time), and he’s joined by a sensational cast of supporting character actors including Chester Morris (nice to see him go out with a winner), Lou Gilbert, Robert Webber, Marlene Warfield, R.G. Armstrong, Hal Holbrook, Beah Richards, Moses Gunn, Roy Glenn and Lloyd Gough. (There are also some great performers who unfortunately go uncredited, including Scatman Crothers, Lillian Randolph…and I swear I saw Zara Cully, the actress who played George Jefferson’s mother on The Jeffersons before she passed on 1978.

The Great White Hope is the only film for which Jones ever earned an Oscar nomination, and I don’t know what MPAAS was doing in 1995 (considering their ages, probably napping during the screeners) but how they missed tapping him for another nom for his performance in Cry, the Beloved Country is a question to which I think I might not want to know the answer. I’ve seen Jones in some sensational movies—Matewan (1987) and Field of Dreams (1989) are two particular standouts—but now I’m convinced that Country (an adaptation of Alan Paton’s classic novel) is truly his finest hour onscreen. He was positively amazing as a South African preacher who journeys to Johannesburg in the days of apartheid looking for his lost son…and discovers that his flesh-and-blood is responsible for the shooting death of a man who’s the son of a wealthy farmer/landowner (Richard Harris) in his village. The scenes with Harris and Jones—particularly when Jones reveals to Harris who his son is—will literally tear your heart in two. Country was filmed previously in 1951 (and as a musical, Lost in the Stars, in 1974) and features Canada Lee and Sidney Poitier; TCM will run this rare goodie in March (on the 19th at 2:00am EST) as part of a tribute to director Zoltan Korda.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

“I didn’t get where I am today by not recognizing a bad idea when I see one…”

I got an e-mail a couple of hours ago that alerted me to news from that Shout! Factory will finish out the 1966-71 Marlo Thomas sitcom That Girl on May 5th. (It should be said, however, that no official announcement from the Factory has been released—only that some sharp-eyed TV-on-DVD fan spotted a pre-order listing on Always encouraging to hear the word that a series will be completed on disc (Factory did the same thing last November with McHale’s Navy)—though they’re not entirely pure as the driven snow when it comes to these things (there’s a second season of The Bill Cosby Show that has yet to surface).

I went over to the website to see if there were any more announcements I should know about, and was excited to learn that Infinity will release the third and final collection in their Suspense: The Lost Episodes series March 17th. I have the previous two sets in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives, and they really are must-haves for any fan of the long-running radio series even though they are episodes from t--------n, as my pal Joe Mackey is wont to refer to the glass furnace. Also of interest to classic TV fans: a collection of “lost” Davey and Goliath episodes, due to be re-released April 7th. (You remember Davey and Goliath—it was that series you had to sit through before the real cartoons came on Saturday mornings.) According to the TVShows announcement, this set was actually released back in September of 2007 but quickly went out-of-print (and some reports state the collection never got released at all); fortunately for all of its fans, the series has been restored to its full fortunes.

But the news that really caught my eye is that Koch Vision will be bringing the classic Britcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin to DVD, a most welcome bit of news to those fans who remember watching the series on public television stations during the late 70s/early 80s and discovering what a superb comic concoction it was—with character great Leonard Rossiter as Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, a middle-aged ice cream executive comically experiencing a mid-life crisis. (Perrin also featured several actors who would later go on to bigger and better things, notably Geoffrey Palmer, who co-starred with Dame Judi Dench in the sitcom chestnut As Time Goes By.) The details are still a little sketchy on this one, but as of this posting the set will be due out May 5th (and a week later in our neighbor to the North).

Now, if you have a region-free DVD player this probably won’t seem like a big thing—Second Sight/BBC Worldwide Ltd. released the entire series in a Region 2 set back in October 2003, so it has been available for quite some time. The blurb at TVShows says there were 22 episodes over three series (the 22nd is apparently a “Christmas cracker” [Yuletide special]) but I think that special is a figment of someone’s imagination because all the sources I checked state there were only twenty-one. It’s been some time since I looked at the episodes on the set, but I remember the first and second series as being hysterically funny, while the third series (it has its moments) can’t quite measure up to the previous ones. Perrin was brought over to these shores and adapted in an American version (Reggie) that starred Richard Mulligan in the Rossiter role and lasted about seventeen minutes. (Honest to my grandma, it was that bad.)

No, what intrigued me about the news of this DVD release was a link to this article that announces that the Beeb is doing a new version of the sitcom (to be titled Perrin), starring Martin Clunes as the harried executive…and I’m not certain this is a good idea.

Here are the pluses: the series will be a joint project between David Nobbs (the show’s creator, who based the program on a series of novels he wrote) and Simon Nye, the man responsible for one of the best Britcoms from the 90s, Men Behaving Badly. (This explains the presence of Clunes, who starred in that series.) Clunes is an engaging actor; though I have to admit I’ve only seen his comedic turns in Badly and an earlier BBC series No Place Like Home (Brent McKee has seen Clunes do drama, and if Brent likes him his say-so is good enough for me). The revival series will also feature Fay Ripley (whom I’ve seen in Cold Feet and How Do You Want Me?) and one of the grande dames of situation comedy, Wendy Craig (Not in Front of the Children, And Mother Makes Three/Five, Butterflies). There’s been a real positive buzz generated about the revival; according to BBC-1’s controller Jay Hunt: “It feels as fresh and sharp now as it did all those years ago.”

Now for the minus—and it’s a big one. Leonard Rossiter, the sitcom’s original Reggie, is still dead. Rossiter, who took the role and singularly made it his own (even surpassing his other classic creation, the weaselly Rupert Rigsby from Rising Damp) has provided Clunes with some tremendously big shoes to fill. This idea is nothing new, though; in 1996, the Beeb tried a revival series entitled The Legacy of Reginald Perrin, which reunited most of the original cast in a short-lived comedy that found the titled character deceased and the “heirs” in his will performing acts of absurdity in order to benefit. (I’ve not had the privilege of seeing Legacy but from the accounts that I’ve read, it was a pretty dismal affair.) Author Nobbs, who wrote this series as well, wisely chose to kill off the Perrin character because he knew no one would be able to replace Rossiter; somebody must have opened up a big honkin’ checkbook to insure his participation in this new venture.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was a one-of-a-kind sitcom; a series that broke a lot of the conventional BBC light entertainment rules in that it was one of the first “serializations” of a popular novel that caught on with the public as comedy rather than drama. The BBC article doesn’t state why the decision was made to remake the series, but since I’m hard-pressed to think of any show that became a success by being an update of a former series, I have to assume that there are going to be a great many fans disappointed.

Two guys (and a gal) from Gherkes Corners

Tuesday morning, as part of a day-long tribute to Patricia Neal, TCM ran in the early daylight hours the 1949 musical comedy It’s a Great Feeling, featuring the talents of Doris Day, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan. Warner Home Video, for the curious, is including this irresistible Technicolor concoction in TCM Spotlight: Doris Day, a box set due out April 7th that will also include Tea for Two (1950), April in Paris (1952), The Tunnel of Love (1958) and Starlift (1951).

I’m not quite as gaga over Dodo as some of my fellow classic film fanatics, though I certainly won’t argue that she did some fine work in films like Storm Warning (1951), Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)—as well as sublime truffles like The Thrill of It All (1963), Send Me No Flowers (1964) and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). But Feeling is the kind of movie for which I remember Day best: frothy musicals that weren’t made to address any pressing social issues but are there simply to enjoy. Musicals like Romance on the High Seas (1948) and My Dream is Yours (1949)…both of which, coincidentally enough, feature Jack Carson as Doris’ leading man.

Carson and Dennis Morgan made a total of ten feature films together (I’m including their cameos in 1947’s Always Together and the all-star extravaganzas Thank Your Lucky Stars [1943] and Hollywood Canteen [1944]) between 1942 and 1949, and their pairings were so popular that Warner Bros. used the two song-and-dance men to attempt to duplicate the success of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s “Road” films, beginning with Two Guys from Milwaukee in 1946. They followed Milwaukee two years later with Two Guys from Texas (1948), and by the time Feeling was released the studio had pretty much given up (Feeling would be the team's swan song).

Milwaukee and Texas are entertaining pictures and certainly have their moments, but I’ve always thought it was ironic that their last film, Feeling, was their funniest. Why Carson and Morgan never became a second Hope-and-Crosby is anybody’s guess (I don’t think Bing and Bob really hit their stride until their third film, Road to Morocco [1942]) but I suspect it might have something to do with the two teams’ exposure outside the silver screen; both Hope and Crosby had successful radio shows at the time and frequently guested on each other’s programs, ad-libbing insults in the manor of radio rivals Jack Benny and Fred Allen. Morgan had no such show, but Carson did—a half-hour comedy-variety series that ran from 1943 to 1949; reminiscent of The Jack Benny Program and only intermittingly funny (with the ratings to show for it).

It’s a Great Feeling is a wonderful vehicle for Carson and Morgan; they play themselves and are faced with a dilemma when harried Warners producer Arthur Trent (radio second banana Bill Goodwin) is unable to find anyone willing to take on the assignment of directing Carson in a proposed picture called Mademoiselle Fifi (Raoul Walsh, King Vidor, Michael Curtiz and David Butler are among the studio directors who turn down the proposition)…so it’s decided that Carson himself will assume the directorial reins. This guarantees that Morgan will thumbs-down the picture as well (“I like Carson…he’s a wonderful guy…but he’s such a ham!”) and when he announces his intention of taking a part in a New York stage play, Jack convinces commissary worker Judy Adams (Day) to play the part of Mrs. Jack Carson, who begs Dennis (in a veil and wearing black) to reconsider because Carson faces financial ruin. Morgan agrees to do the picture, but when he learns that his pal told Judy he’d give her a part in the picture to assure her cooperation, he has nothing but contempt for his friend…so Jack reluctantly agrees to team up with Dennis and concentrate on taking control of Judy’s fledgling career and make her the studio’s newest star.

Because it takes place inside the Warner Bros. studios, Feeling takes advantage of some of the studio’s employees and casts many of them in some offbeat—and sometimes hysterical—cameos; this is where Patricia Neal comes in, as she is seen along with Eleanor Parker at a party welcoming Judy’s arrival (who’s disguised as a French movie star, Yvonne Lamour, here to make movies in the U.S.). Other cameos include Gary Cooper, Sydney Greenstreet, Danny Kaye, and Ronald Reagan—as well as then-wife Jane Wyman and daughter Maureen. The funniest bits come from Joan Crawford, who works herself up into a Mildred Pierce-like frenzy when she confronts Jack and Dennis in a dress shop, and Edward G. Robinson, who has difficulty with a studio gate guard who doesn’t realize that his job depends on Eddie G’s tough-guy reputation. But the best one appears at the film’s conclusion (Judy goes back to her hometown to marry sweetheart Jeffrey Bushdinkle), and I’ll keep mum about that one in case you haven’t seen the film. Other individuals character actor fans might pick out include TDOY fave Claire Carleton (as Doris’ roomie), Irving Bacon, Frank Cady, Dudley Dickerson, Buddy Gorman (of Bowery Boys fame), Sandra Gould, Olan Soulé and Nita Talbot.

The game plan was originally to have this post up on Wednesday, but it’s my busy time of the month and I didn’t get it completed until late last night…so I thought I’d supplement it by listening to a broadcast of The Jack Carson Show from December 11, 1946…a Yuletide-themed episode that welcomes Carson’s partner Dennis Morgan as guest star. After being introduced by show announcer Del Sharbutt as “the other guy from Milwaukee” (plugging the 1946 film that was the first of their “Crosby-Hope” teamings), Jack finds himself in conference with his butler, Arthur Treacher, and nephew Tugwell (played by his partner in vaudeville, Dave Willock):

TREACHER: Mr. Carson, I can’t understand why you’re so upset about Mr. Morgan coming over…
JACK: Well, Dennis is a little peeved because I named my rooster, Dennis, after him…
TREACHER: Oh? Well, what if he is peeved?
JACK: Well, this is the whole idea…you see—each year, Dennis and I exchange our Christmas presents two weeks early…because he’s never here for the holidays…and if he’s sore at me…
TREACHER: Yes…that might have an effect on the quality of the gift he gives you
JACK: Yes…yes, it might—and remember last year, we had an argument before Christmas and all he gave me was one bookend
TREACHER: What did you give him, sir?
JACK: Oh, I gave him a very useful gift…a genuine, pearl-handled buttonhook
TREACHER: But, sir…Mr. Morgan doesn’t wear that kind of shoes
JACK: Oh, it wasn’t for his shoes…Dennis told me that when he dresses in the morning he has a hard time fastening those buttons on the back of his underwear…see, the handle was curved and it worked out very well…
TUGWELL: Well, just what are you hoping Mr. Morgan will give you for Christmas, Uncle Jack?
JACK: Well, I’ll tell you, Tugwell…he’s made quite a lot of money this year and being a very generous guy, he might even give me that radio-phonograph I want…
TUGWELL: Gee, some chance of that…when he sees Dennis the rooster; he’ll probably give back the buttonhook you gave him…
JACK: Gee—do you think he might? Oh, no…no…he knows I don’t wear that kind of underwear…
TUGWELL: No…yours doesn’t button in the back…they buckle around the ankle

Jack tells Tugwell to be sure and drop a few subtle hints when Dennis arrives, and upon Dennis’s entrance we learn that Morgan is none too pleased about his partner’s decision to bestow Morgan’s name on his pet rooster (Dennis: “People are beginning to get me mixed up with the rooster!” Jack: “Well, you can’t blame me for that, Dennis—you always did walk that way.”). Upon learning that Jack taught the rooster his signature hit, One Alone, Dennis brightens a bit and while they’re eating lunch, Jack sends Tugwell in for the soft sell:

TUGWELL: By the way, Mr. Morgan—have you finished all your Christmas shopping?
DENNIS: No, I haven’t, Tugwell…it’s so hard to think of what to buy people…
JACK: Oh yes, yes…it is a problem unless you know what they want…
DENNIS: Yes, that’s right…
TUGWELL: Well, if I was giving anybody anything, I’d give him a radio-phonograph…
JACK: Ah, Tugwell…
DENNIS: You would? They’re pretty expensive, you know…
TUGWELL: Well, sure—but you can’t think of money at Christmas time…especially when you’ve made a lot of it during the year…
JACK: Uh, Tugwell…no, that’s…
TUGWELL: Boy…if I went to a fella’s house and saw his radio-phonograph was all broken-down…that’s what I’d get him…
JACK: Uh, Tugwell…
TUGWELL (raising his voice): …especially if he was my best friend…I’d buy him a radio-phonograph!
JACK: Tugwell, you don’t have to shout! (Aside, to Tugwell) He may be dumb, but he’s not deaf…
DENNIS: Yes, Tugwell—a radio-phonograph is a lovely present…and whoever you’re buying it for will be lucky to get it…
JACK: Oh, Tugwell…Tugwell isn’t buying it for anybody…
JACK: He just thought he’d help you in case you couldn’t think of something for somebody you thought a lot of…heh heh…like someone back in Milwaukee (laughing)…you see?
DENNIS (joining in): Oh ho, ho…now I understand…
JACK: It’s about time…
TREACHER: For a minute I thought I’d have to get out the brass knuckles

As you can probably guess, Jack does not wangle a new radio-phonograph out of his pal (which leaves Carson stuck, as he’s given Dennis a wristwatch)…but he does sing a duet with Dennis, The Gal in Calico from their picture The Time, The Place and the Girl (1946)…and a phonograph record of Dennis warbling One Alone. Add appearances by Norma Jean Nilsson, Irene Ryan and Freddy Martin and His Orchestra, and you have a half-hour that’s worthy of its Campbell’s sponsorship—mmm mmm good!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bye bye, BCI

I just received an e-mail from loyal reader-commenter Bob Huggins—or, as he’s oft-referred to here at TDOY, “Master of His (Public) Domain.” With BCI-Eclipse going out of business, is having a clearance sale on some of the company’s TV-on-DVD box sets—you can pick up Wanted: Dead or Alive – Season 1 and Season 3 for $12.95 apiece, and Season 2 for $9.95. (A fine opportunity to snatch up the TV Western that made Steve McQueen a household name!)

Other titles for sale include both volumes of the first season of Ultraman for $9.95 apiece, Season 1 of the childhood favorite New Zoo Revue ($5.95), Space Academy ($8.95), Secrets of Isis ($8.95…and yes, I just put this one in the cart, thank you much)…anything released by BCI-Eclipse, you name it and it’s probably on sale. (I even located a couple of British programs, the first two series of the sitcom Man About the House and the first series of the crime drama The Sweeney on sale as well.)

Probably the biggest deal you’ll latch onto is Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom: Definitive Fifty Episode Collection, which sells for a mere $12.95. Now you can wallow into animal documentary nostalgia with Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler’s long-running series…only this time, you’ll be watching from the safety of your DVD player.

Again, many thanks and kudos to Bob for giving me this heads-up.