Thursday, March 31, 2011

Subject to change

Turner Classic Movies kicks off a brand new month of classic movie programming tomorrow and even though I gave you a taste of what to expect back in January they reserve the right to make last-minute changes…some of which, I might point out, displeased some folks (there were more than a few fans disappernted because they canceled a scheduled showing of the 1935 film The Public Menace, if the comments section here at TDOY is any indicator).  Well, they’ve tweaked the April schedule and the only change for me that ranks as a true bummer is that they’ve switched an April 23rd showing (4pm) of Telefon (1977)—which I regret not grabbing when they ran it during the Summer Under the Stars nod to my pretend girlfriend Lee Remick—with Bhowani Junction (1956).  (I think Bobby Osbo had something to do with this decision—I just don’t have the proof to convict him.)

They’ve also yanked Let’s Do It Again (1953), a musical remake of 1937’s The Awful Truth, from their Star of the Month fete for Ray Milland—Irene (1940), originally scheduled at 4:30am, moves up to the vacant 2:45am slot and will then be followed by The Bachelor Father (1931; 4:30am) and Polly of the Circus (1932; 6:15am).  To return the schedule to normalcy, the channel will show Dancing Lady (1933) at 7:30am—a film that I’ve always thought could unite chick flick fans and devotees of lowbrow comedy because it features both Joan Crawford/Clark Gable and The Three Stooges.

Doris Day fans that had planned to savor one of her all-time worst films in Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968) during her April 22 birthday tribute will have to make do with The Tunnel of Love (1958), which will replace Lights at 4:30pm.  (If it’s any consolation, both films would appear to have a connection with darkness.)  A positive addition to the TCM schedule is The One That Got Away (1957), which has been substituted for Breakout (1959) at 12 midnight on April 15 (following the POW-themed The Wooden Horse and The Colditz Story); Leonard Maltin gives Got Away 3 stars and there were several enthusiastic comments made about the film in its entry in the TCM Database.

Other changes that weren’t noted in my original post but that are of some interest:

April 1, Friday: The TCM Underground showing of Joseph Losey’s These are the Damned (1963) is out and Daughters of Satan (1972) will take its place at 4am.  This seems kind of silly seeing as Losey’s Secret Ceremony (1968) is still on the schedule at 2am…it throws the double feature slightly out-of-whack.

April 8, Friday: Another TCM Underground switch—the 1988 remake of The Blob will bow out gracefully to make room for The Green Slime (1969).  “Hey, they’re both about out-of-control ooze…who’s gonna know the difference?”

April 15, Friday: Same title, different movie—the originally listed version of Reno (1930) with silent serial heroine Ruth Roland is in actuality a 1939 film with Richard Dix about Nevada divorce lawyers.  (Personally, the Roland film sounds like it would be a tad more interesting and far rarer.)

April 17, Sunday: Instant Love (1964) will be replaced by The Tales of Hoffmann (1951) at 9:45pm.

While we’re on the subject, I’d just like to go on record and state that I’m none too fond of the changes made to The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™’s website.  Change may be good sometimes but when it produces unforeseen consequences the old bromide of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a bromide for a reason.  The bookmark I have set up for TCM’s future schedule is no longer in working order (I either get some messages about zombies eating the page or it defaults to the latest lineup)…and I have a sneaking suspicion that the tremendous popularity of the Coming Distractions feature at TDOY might be the reason for the website changes.  In an independent poll that I cobbled together shortly before composing this post I asked the question: “Is Robert Osborne getting tired of my snarky comments about the upcoming movies on TCM from month-to-month?”  (Unofficially, 89% of the respondents voted yes.  Curse you, Osborne!)

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This is (not) your FBI

I don’t know why knowing that the Warner Archive will be releasing the inaugural season of TV’s classic The F.B.I. to DVD on May 24th of this year as a MOD (made-to-order) 4-disc set has got me so riled because I mentioned that the Warner folks had planned to do so last November 30 when I gave the show’s star, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., a birthday shout-out (he was turning the ripe old age of 92 that day).  The only possible explanation for my ire might be that WA is putting a double whammy on the show’s fans by turning Season Numero Uno into the bane of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s collectible TV-on-DVD existence: you guessed it, the split season.  According to the website, the first sixteen episodes of the greatest recruiting tool the Federal Bureau of Investigation ever knew can be had for the “we’re-giving-it-away” price of $39.95.  (Well, if you pre-order the sucker, you can save 10% and it will only cost you $35.95.)

I know, I know—I’ve heard all the arguments: "we have to do it this way because of the downturn in the economy, and the public won’t support classic television on DVD releases, and we have to sell x amount of sets to break even, blah blah blah"…but seriously, people—do you honestly mean to tell me that you can’t offer something like this at a more affordable price?  There could be a market for sets of this nature if a bit more effort was put into reaching into TV’s rich past and showing more of its programming heritage instead of expending all that energy into creating “new” series with people like Betty White (yes, TVLand—I’m talking to you!).  I may be wrong but I don’t think the way to get people to buy releases of this nature by jacking up the price of a set that’s really not any better quality than just recording it off a TV broadcast with a DVD recorder (I offer these two sets as Exhibits A and B--$31.45 apiece for split seasons of a show that only cranked out twenty episodes that year?).  Why not just hand the project over to an outfit like Timeless Media Video, who doesn’t seem to be the teeniest bit timid about making obscure shows accessible to consumers with a little gitas to spend?

The Archive is also planning to release the first and only season of TV’s The Yellow Rose, a boob tube oater that many people had hoped would revive interest in TV westerns but because the series premiered on ratings cellar dweller NBC (in the fall of 1983, before the network lucked onto The Cosby Show) it went belly up.  Rose featured an impressive cast of TV and movie veterans: Cybill Shepherd, Sam Elliott, Deborah Shelton, David Soul, Susan Anspach, Edward Albert, Ken Curtis, Noah Beery, Jr., Chuck Connors—hell, I’d get the set just to watch those last three actors alone.  But not for $39.95 (again, $35.95 if you pre-order) I won’t…though you have to admit you’re getting a slightly better deal here than on the The F.B.I. set.

Now here’s some Warner Archive news to make my friend Kliph Nesteroff at Classic Television Showbiz happy: according to, WA has a release of the Saturday morning cartoon fave Frankenstein, Jr. & the Impossibles in the hopper.  I don’t get as righteously indignant about the cartoon shows being released as MOD by the Archive as I probably should because a good many of them—like recent releases Jabberjaw and Valley of the Dinosaurs—aren’t really my meat; I prefer the older Hanna-Barbera material like Huck and Yogi and Queekstraw to the later 70s stuff.  That having been said, I wouldn’t object to winning a DVD copy of something like Jabberjaw and even though this might jeopardize my chances of snagging a freebie I’ll point out to interested parties that Marc Eastman at Are You Screening? is giving one away and all you have to do to enter is enter a comment.  (At the time I was writing this, I appear to be the only one who’s entered…I can’t be the only one who finds a shark that sounds like Curly Howard amusing.)

Is there any good news on the classic TV-on-DVD horizon?  Well, there’s a good-news-bad-news scenario in store for Rawhide fans courtesy of CBS DVD-Paramount come June 7th: the pleasant news being that the company has jump-started the season-by-season releases of the legendary TV oater starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood with a Season Four offering scheduled for June 7th—the last time we saw Gil, Rowdy, Wishbone and the rest of the drovers was in December 2008.  The bad news is…well, I can see some of us have already skipped ahead in the book; it’s a split-seasoner, kids—fifteen episodes for a SRP of $39.99 (Amazon has a pre-order listing of $27.99).  (When I mused out loud on Facebook to Cultureshark’s Rick Brooks of how I envisioned a world where CBS-Paramount repented for their past DVD sins by putting an end to split-season releases he channeled his inner Florence Jean Castleberry by retorting “When donkeys fly!”)

And finally…it may have come to an end last August but to paraphrase a line from Casablanca, “We’ll always have reruns.”  Another Last of the Summer Wine release is due out from BBC/Warner Home Video on July 12th and will feature all ten episodes from Series 12 (the release is titled Vintage 1990) including the Christmas cracker “Barry’s Christmas.”  The two-disc collection has a SRP sticker of $34.98.  (Pretty pricey wine, wouldn’t you say?)

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“Don’t you know that she’s just my style/Every thing about her drives me wild…”

One of my favorite lines from the classic 1974 film Chinatown comes from the monstrously inhuman Noah Cross (John Huston), who answers the claims of detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) that Cross is respectable with: “’Course I’m respectable—I’m old…politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last enough.”  That line kind of flashed through my brain when my good friend Toby at 50 Westerns from the 50s let me know that he was bestowing upon me a Stylish Blogger Award because…really?  Stylish?  I associate stylish with classy, and I don’t think I’d have to pass out any paper ballots to get a consensus that classy is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of this humble scrap of the blogosphere.  Let me put it this way: this is a blog who would drink right out of the milk jug, leaving a backwash of chocolate chip cookie crumbs in the container.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was tickled as all get out that Toby thinks so highly of my work here, so I want to thank him profusely for the honor…and, as is the case with all such blogging awards, there are rules to be followed.  You must thank the person for the award (tell the band to shut it, I won’t take much longer) and link to their post while holding up the award for everyone to see.  The hardest part comes next: you must reveal seven secrets previously unknown to the readership, thus exposing yourself in a moment of emotional vulnerability…and I think we can all agree the last thing you want is me exposing myself.  So I’ll try to come up with some Tiger Beat trivia that you can brag about to your friends when the need arises:

1)      For years I wore a clip-on tie to work because I can’t stand having a regular tie around my neck.  And no, it has nothing to do with the time they mistook me for the guy doing all that cattle rustling; it’s because I had to wear a tie as part of my school uniform when I went to Catholic school as a kid and I loathed every single solitary minute of it.

2)      I can’t eat any pasta thicker than vermicelli, thin spaghetti or angel hair.  Pasta produces a gag reflex in me that’s a little unpleasant to witness.

3)      I won’t put steak sauce on a steak because a) it is a sacrilege and b) I’m afraid my grandfather will come back from the dead and haunt me.

4)      I’d love to be able to keep a dog here at Rancho Yesteryear since they are my favorite kind of pet.  However, the $300 pet fee required by my landlord kind of tones down that favoritism a tad.

5)      My favorite way to spend an evening is a splendid meal with friends and/or family…and the conversation must be rewarding and thought-provoking.

6)      I knew the bride when she used to rock ‘n’ roll.  (Oh, half a tick—that’s a song by Nick Lowe.)

7)      People think that the lesson imparted in It’s a Wonderful Life—“No man is a failure who has friends”—is awful corny but I’ve bought into it 100%.

Now that the true confessions portion of the awards ceremony is over and done with, let’s carve up this bad boy and dole it out to some blogs that I respect and admire: – You’ve probably heard me use the term “Renaissance man” a time or two on my blog, and I use it to describe individuals who have a smattering of info on every subject under the sun but who can talk about it without being pompous or overbearing.  My friend Lloyd is one of those rare people, and I really think his blog is swell.

Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Blog – Bill and I share a lot of the same interests: pulp novels, B-westerns, country music, etc. and while he has a tendency to chastise me, Tony Randall-style, on Facebook whenever I slag Gwyneth Paltrow (“Ivan, Ivan, Ivan…”) without his blog I wouldn’t know who’s passed on or in what neighborhood the giant alligators will show up next.  (Just make sure you stay off his lawn.)

Cultureshark – I don’t know why more people aren’t reading this funny pop culture blog by Rick Brooks, but I really enjoy the DVD reviews (of movies I’ll never see) and features like “My wife reads People so you don’t have to…”  (If the only thing he ever came up with was nicknaming TCM “The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™” he’d be a god in the blogosphere.)

Saturday Morning Archives – This offshoot of my friend hobbyfan’s The Land of Whatever is my favorite trip into the WABAC machine to those halcyon days of cold cereal and footy pajamas.  He writes about my favorites…and my unfavorites, cartoons I never watched and probably wouldn’t want to but I enjoy hearing his thoughts on them.

Inner Toob – For those of you convinced that I’m a little too obsessed with classic and vintage television, I can assuredly take a back seat to Toby O’Brien, a blogger and friend known as “The Man Who Viewed Too Much.”  (This man has a serious jones for the cathode ray tube.)

Silent Volume – Chris Edwards’ blog tribute to silent cinema reviews films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and makes them come alive again…and whets my appetite to view the ones I haven’t. 

She Blogged by Night – And of course, no awards ceremony would be complete without a nod to my BBFF Stacia…and what I enjoy most about her blog is how she’s able to post breathtakingly marvelous photos with very little to no commentary.  (I wish I had such restraint.)

Congratulations to every lucky recipient – the first round’s on me!

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The passings parade

The classic movie blogosphere is abuzz this morning upon learning that actor Farley Granger, who starred in such films as Rope (1948), They Live by Night (1949) and Strangers on a Train (1951), has taken his final bow at the curtain at the age of 85.  Granger died on March 27th of natural causes at his home in Manhattan.

I’ll go on record as saying that while I liked many of the movies Granger appeared in—in addition to the ones mentioned in the first paragraph I’m also a fan of Side Street (1950) and Edge of Doom (1950)—he always seemed to me to be more of a matinee idol than as an actor.  If this seems a little harsh, Granger himself thought the same thing and walked away from the height of his fame in films to focus on learning his craft, studying in NYC with such greats as Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner.  At the risk of being booed and hissed in the comments section, however, it should be pointed out that despite this teaching Farley didn’t really do anything on the big or small screens that matched his earlier success; I used to see him as Earl Mitchell on TV’s As the World Turns (he also worked on such sudsers as The Edge of Night and One Life to Live, the last one for which he received a Daytime Emmy nom) and wonder if daytime drama is what Stella and Lee had in mind when they took him on as a student.  (Okay, Pam—stop shaking your head…I know, a man’s gotta eat.  And he did do an impressive amount of work on stage, appearing in such productions as Deathtrap.)  The last thing I caught him in was an episode of Wagon Train on the Encore Westerns channel, “The Charles Avery Story.”

My favorite Granger movie is probably Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night; I think he was aces as the bewildered, frightened fugitive whose love affair with Cathy O’Donnell (they would later re-team for Anthony Mann’s Side Street, my other favorite of Farley’s films) is doomed pretty much from the get-go; I’ve often told people (there goes that booing and hissing again) that I’d much rather watch Night than the overrated Bonnie and Clyde any night of the week.  Granger’s work in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Strangers on a Train isn’t quite as impressive because he sort of comes across as wooden in both venues…though this could also be due to the fact that he’s upstaged by the more flamboyant (and I mean that in a positive sense) John Dall in the former and Robert Walker in the latter. 

We also bid a fond fare-thee-well to these other celebrity notables who passed on within the past two weeks:

Warren Christopher (March 18, 85) – Former Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, lawyer, diplomat and Bela Lugosi look-alike

Jet Harris (March 18, 71) – English rock ‘n’ roll bass guitarist who before forming The Diamonds with drummer Tony Meehan was a member (along with Meehan) of The Shadows (formerly The Drifters, though not the famed R&B group of the 50s/60s), the backup band for teen idol Cliff Richard

Lanny Friedlander (March 19, 63) – Publisher and founder of the libertarian magazine Reason

Dorothy Young (March 20, 103) – Actress and the last surviving member of magician Harry Houdini’s touring show (she was his assistant)

Ralph Mooney (March 20, 82) – Nashville session steel guitarist (ask your parents what a steel guitar is, kids) who was one of the architects of “the Bakersfield Sound,” helping to create the signature audio stamp of artists like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard; Mooney also co-wrote the country music standard Crazy Arms, a #1 hit for Ray Price in 1956 (and for many other artists afterward)

Loleatta Holloway (March 21, 64) – R&B/soul vocalist who achieved a great deal of success on the dance/disco music charts with hits like Hit and Run and Love Sensation

Joe Wizan (March 21, 76) – Former 20th Century-Fox executive who headed up that studio’s motion picture division between 1983 and 1984 and who produced and/or executive produced such films as Junior Bonner, Jeremiah Johnson and …And Justice for All

Joseph William “Pinetop” Perkins (March 21, 97) – Legendary Mississippi blues pianist and musician who shortly before his death became the oldest living artist to win a Grammy Award (beating out the previous record holder, TDOY comic idol George Burns)

Helen Stenborg (March 22, 86) – Stage, screen and television actress who was married to TDOY actor fave Barnard Hughes and occasionally worked alongside him in stage productions like Waiting in the Wings; among her vehicles are the films Three Days of the Condor, Starting Over and a stint on the TV soap Another World (as evil housekeeper Helga Linderman)

Leonard Weinglass (March 23, 77) – Criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist whose clients at one time included the Chicago Seven (along with William Kunstler), Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo, Angela Davis and Detroit, MI White Panther Party chairman John Sinclair, whose trial resulted in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision (United States v. U.S. District Court) that prohibited the government’s use of electronic surveillance without a warrant

Richard Leacock (March 23, 89) – Documentary filmmaker and one of the pioneers of the Direct Cinema and Cinema vérité methods of documentaries; worked on such films as Louisiana Story, Toby and the Tall Corn, Primary, Crisis and Monterey Pop

Lanford Wilson (March 24, 73) – Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a major force in Off-Off-Broadway stage productions; his plays include Burn This, The Hot L Baltimore (which was adapted into a TV sitcom in 1975 by Norman Lear) and the “Talley trilogy” of Talley’s Folly, Fifth of July and Talley’s Son (which won the aforementioned Helen Stenborg an Obie Award for her performance)

Geraldine Ferraro (March 26, 75) – Former U.S. Congresswoman from New York (and later U.S. Ambassador) who in 1984 became the running mate of Democratic Party Presidential candidate Walter “Fritz” Mondale and as such the first female veep candidate on a major political party ticket (there have been a number of nice tributes written about Gerry but I really liked this one by former ABC News correspondent and author Lynn Sherr)

Harry Wesley Coover, Jr. (March 26, 94) – Inventor of Super Glue

Paul Baran (March 26, 84) – Inventor and engineer whose work was responsible for your being able to read this right now (he laid the foundation for the Internet)

Roger Abbott (March 26, 64) – Canadian writer-comedian who co-founded the CBC Radio and Television comedy troupe The Royal Canadian Air Farce

James M. Roberts (March 28, 87) – Longtime executive for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; he served as AMPAS’ executive director from 1971 until his retirement in 1989

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

Encore Westerns has a pair of reruns coming up in their Classic TV Westerns rotation tomorrow that might be of interest to fans of both the Lawman and Gunsmoke series because they introduce new regulars to the shows—one of which stayed for the rest of the show’s run and the other who wasn’t quite as fortunate.  First up, B-movie queen Peggie Castle joins Lawman as Lily Merrill, proprietress of Laramie’s Birdcage Saloon, in an episode appropriately titled “Lily.”  Lily’s arrival in town is not entirely welcomed by Marshal Dan Troop (John Russell), who believes that an establishment like hers will jeopardize his peacekeeping mission…and when a crooked gambler played by Ray Danton kills a customer outside in the Birdcage’s alley it looks as if Merrill’s going to have to relocate in a hurry.  But hey—it all works out in twenty-five minutes, and Troop (who at one point is referred to by Lily as “The Great Stone Face”) begins to soften up…which is good for him, because she’s pretty much going to be his girlfriend for the remaining three seasons Lawman was on the air.

When Lawman first premiered in the fall of 1958, the Troop character sort of made time with a woman named Dru Lemp (Bek Nelson), who ran the town café…but what I did not know (since I missed the first ten episodes when Lawman came to Encore Westerns) was that Dru was the widow of the man who marshaled Laramie before Troop—which kind of makes Danny Boy a bit of a hound, to be honest.  But I guess the romance between the Widder Lemp and Troop wasn’t going anywhere (Dru was sweet but a bit colorless) because she soon disappeared; Troop then flirted in a couple of episodes (well, “flirting” is sort of a generous use of the word because Dan Troop really had a stick up his butt when it came to the romance thing) with Julie Tate (Barbara Lang), the editor of the town newspaper.  Julie was introduced in an episode entitled “The Big Hat” which is kind of a sad outing in that in order to bring in her character they had to kill off the previous editor in her dad Harry (Jon Lormer)—a likable guy who was also Troop’s most vocal advocate, not to mention a lot more interesting than his daughter.

With the arrival of Lily the town’s previous watering hole, the Blue Bonnet, sort of receded into the background (and that also signaled the departure of its proprietor, a jovial cuss named “Hank” who was played by character great Emory Parnell) and the man who tended bar at the Birdcage was a feisty Irishman named Timmo McQueen (Clancy Cooper) who appeared in a number of episodes and even had one built around him in which he must face the fact that his son Mark is a bit of an evildoer (“The Prodigal”).  Timmo is introduced in the first minutes of “Lily” talking to a trapper character…

…and because I wasn’t aware of it the first time I watched the actor playing the trapper (“Barney Tate”—no relation to Julie or Harry) is actor Dan Sheridan…who takes over as Lily’s bartender, Jake Summers, in Lawman’s third and fourth seasons.  Sheridan was a busy beaver on the Warner Brothers TV lot; you’ll spot his bald cranium in episodes of Cheyenne, Maverick (he’s the doc in the classic “Duel at Sundown”), The Rebel, etc. and in addition to his non-Jake appearance in this episode he was in an earlier Lawman outing entitled “The Senator.”

The addition of the Lily character might not have done much for Marshal Dan Troop’s love life—his romance with Merrill was as chaste as the twenty-year hookup between Matt Dillon and Kitty Russell on Gunsmoke—but it did lighten the somewhat previously somber tone of the series; many of the later episodes adopted a lighter, comedic flair and Castle’s character got to warble a barroom ballad from time to time.  What’s interesting about Castle’s first appearance in this episode is that even though her character becomes a regular and the gambler played by Ray Danton draws his rations by the end of the episode…

…he gets billed before her in the credits.  (He really is a wanker!)  You can watch “Lily” tomorrow (March 30) on Encore Westerns at 9am EDT on Lawman.

Later that day, the titular character of the Gunsmoke episode “Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood” comes to Dodge City in search of four drovers—whose leader is an uncompromisingly nasty Jack Elam, who appeared in so many Gunsmoke episodes (the IMDB credits him with fifteen) he practically got his mail there—who are indirectly responsible for the death of his father (Paul Fix), a retired Tulsa, OK lawman who was living out in retirement running a general store and being paid $5 a month to keep the peace in a town so small the all-night café closes at 3pm.  Young Greenwood (his last name is sort of a tip-off) is a bit of a novice when it comes to law enforcement because Dodge’s resident peacekeeper (James Arness) informs the youngster that the warrant for the quartet (filled out by his pa before he kicked it) is not enforceable in Kansas; so Thad starts to shadow the four bad men, constantly watching their every move in an effort to psyche them out.  Because the drovers are involved in a bit of cattle rustling (they’re swiping calves by staging a series of attacks that look as if they’re being carried out by wolves but are in actually a pack of trained killer dogs) they are swiftly dealt with by Dillon and by the end of the episode Matt offers Thad a job as part-time deputy (at the generous salary of $8 a month…which is a king’s ransom compared to the $1 a month he was making as his old man’s sidekick).

Playing the part of Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood is actor Roger Ewing, who even though he’s trumpeted in these credits as “introducing” was no stranger to the veteran TV oater—he appeared in an episode the previous season entitled “Song for Dying.”  The character of Thad was brought in because Dillon’s previous second-string deputy, half-breed blacksmith Quint Asper (Burt Reynolds), left the show after three seasons (Gunsmoke fans know, of course, that Quint was introduced as a part-time substitute for Dennis Weaver’s Chester Goode).  The Thad Greenwood character was a boyish, heartthrob addition to Dodge but he wasn’t a particularly interesting or memorable presence (my Dad and I were watching a Gunsmoke rerun on TVLand one afternoon and when he saw Ewing in the credits asked: “Who the hell is that?”) and so he left in the fall of 1967, replaced by Buck Taylor’s Newly O’Brien…who had a great deal more staying power in that he not only finished out the series’ lengthy run (it might have helped that Newly had a regular job in town, as Dodge’s gunsmith) but got to be Dodge City’s marshal in the 1987 reunion movie Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge.  (Thad is on hand for the third episode of Gunsmoke’s thirteenth season, “The Prodigal,” but that’s because that outing had been filmed the season before.)  I liked Thad but I admit he didn’t bring much to the table as far as the show went…though he does do some funny physical comedy in one of my favorite Gunsmoke episodes, “Which Dr.”  You can see how it all began on Encore Westerns tomorrow (again, March 30th) at 7:06pm (approximately) EDT.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

When you’re here, you’re family…so get ready to be somewhere else

Last August, a black wreath was hung outside the doorstep of Rancho Yesteryear when the BBC axed the longest-running situation comedy in television history, Last of the Summer Wine.  So with the news that the Beeb has put another one of its sitcom veterans on the chopping block, My Family, the florist may be a little busy:

The BBC have confirmed today that the next series of My Family, one of the longest-running sitcoms in British TV history, will be the show's last.

Series 11, which was filmed at the same time as last year's episodes, will be shown later in 2011, but new BBC One boss Danny Cohen has now made it clear that he will not be ordering any further series. He says: "Now that all the Harper children have fled the nest we feel it's time to make room for new comedies on BBC One. I can confirm that the eleventh series, coming to BBC One later this year, will be the last."

My Family, which has been running on BBC One since September 2000, has notched up over 100 episodes - one of just 12 British sitcoms to pass this milestone.

Now, I should probably come clean here and admit that while I liked My Family in its early years, it’s a program (programme) that should probably have called it quits much earlier in its run (around Series 4, the last one to feature Kris Marshall as eldest son Nick).  I have about eight of the show’s series on Region 2 DVD and I think the only reason why I continued to collect and watch it was that I really enjoyed the performance of star Robert Lindsay, a Britcom veteran whose other shows include Get Some In!, Citizen Smith and the underrated Nightingales.

This article at The Guardian posits that it was only a matter of time before the Harpers moved out of the TV neighborhood because the kids on the show got older with each passing year and with all of them out of the house finding ways to involve them in the show’s scenarios proved to be a difficult chore at best.  One of them, youngest son Michael (Gabriel Thomson), started out as a precocious (if geeky) little brainiac but by the time he got to the age when red-blooded males start chasing women he kind of became…well, creepy, if you want to know the truth.  I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t confess that I developed a bit of a crush on actress Daniela Denby-Ashe who played daughter Janey; I liked her character because she realistically played a shallow, self-centered individual who never really matured even after she became a single parent in Series Five.  (She’s a bit too young for me, though, so maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to criticize her creepy brother.)

It’s a rare animal for any Britcom to reach more than one hundred episodes because usually the custom across the pond is that shows are generally written by one or two individuals who write all the programs in a series; the American model goes against this by employing a team of writers or having writers submit scripts that are then shaped to fit the show by the program’s creative consultants.  My Family was an attempt to emulate the American style and was created by writer Fred Barron, best known for writing the story and screenplay for TDOY fave Between the Lines (1977) and creating TV’s Caroline in the City (he had also previously worked on such TV hits as Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show and Dave’s World).  Family followed the Caroline mold in that while both shows featured funny lines and humorous situations there wasn’t much substance to the characters; the show was a highly-rated one with UK viewers but many boob tube critics seemed repulsed by its longevity and popularity.  Barron’s other UK creation, After You’re Gone, suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Beeb a few years back (cancelled even though the show was still a ratings winner) but remains an unknown quantity to me even though I do have the first series on disc around here somewhere (I just haven’t had an opportunity to open it up).  Linda of Yet Another Journal fame has mentioned to me in the past that My Family aired often on cable’s BBC America, a channel for which my cable company insists I cough up extra cash.

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Hold on tight—you know she’s a little bit dangerous

I’m only speculating here, but I have a feeling that the reason for TCM’s showing of Mildred Pierce (1945) on The Essentials Saturday night was to cash-in on the 2011 remake that’s currently in progress on HBO (which I have not seen, but because the good people at Hobo are nice enough to send Ed Copeland free screeners he has the skinny here).  This is not, of course, necessarily a bad thing because it gave The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (ka-ching!) carte blanche (as in “But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair!”) to round out the rest of the evening with some post-Mildred Joanie flicks: Daisy Kenyon (1947), This Woman is Dangerous (1952), Goodbye, My Fancy (1951) and The Damned Don’t Cry (1950).

I’d never seen Dangerous so I surgically attached myself to the TV couch where I was held in rapt attention for an hour and thirty-seven minutes of pure sudsy Joanie melodrama, directed by journeyman Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride, The Threat), co-scripted by Daniel Mainwaring (as "Geoffrey Home") and co-starring Dennis Morgan, David Brian, Richard “Captain Midnight” Webb, Mari Aldon and Philip “Captain Parmalee” Carey.  Okay, I’m probably exaggerating about the “rapt” part but even though it’s far from Crawford’s best work (it’s basically just a retread of some of her earlier WB films like Flamingo Road and Damned) I didn’t feel as if it were a colossal waste of time.  But after the movie, TCM oracle Bobby Osbo offered up this little trivial tidbit—Crawford considered Dangerous the worst film of her career.

I couldn’t hold back a heartier-than-usual snicker after I heard this, and I think I said to myself: “Now, was that before or after Trog (1970)?”  As it turns out, it was after; Crawford apparently made the observation at the 1973 “Legendary Ladies” show at Town Hall—but this just goes to show that we often aren’t the best judges of our own work.  I suspect Joan’s animosity towards the movie was due to it being her last film for the Warner Brothers studio rather than any blight on the cinematic arts.  She’d have to make strong arguments for the redeeming values of dreck like The Ice Follies of 1939 and Berserk (1967) to make a believer out of me.

In Dangerous, Crawford plays Elizabeth “Beth” Austin, moll to mobster Matt Jackson (Brian) whose gang has just ripped off a casino of $90,000 and is having to lie low in order to avoid detection by the police.  Beth has been struggling with blinding headaches, and a trip to her friendly neighborhood oculist reveals that unless she seeks an experimental operation at a prestigious Indiana clinic all she’ll have to worry about from then on is the “blinding” part.  Her boyfriend Matt is convinced that Beth is cheating on him (egged on by his brother Will, played by Carey) but she manages to talk him into letting her travel to the Hoosier State for the operation and she asks him to continue avoiding any confrontations with the cops.  This promise lasts just about as long as it takes for Matt, Will and Will’s wife Ann (Aldon) to be pulled over by a highway patrolman (Fred Graham) after a drunken Matt chucks a whiskey bottle out of the window of the trailer he and Will are riding in (with Ann at the wheel of the car towing them).  Matt ends up croaking the highway cop and the three of them really have to find a place to hide.

The clinic in Indiana is run by Dr. Ben Halleck (Morgan), one of those handsome doctors so common to movies of this type who successfully performs the necessary operation on Beth so that it won’t be necessary for her to stand on a street corner with pencils and a tin cup.  Halleck takes an unusually attentive interest in his patient, instructing her that she needs to undergo a long period of convalescence in order that his fine work not be undone…but we later learn that the length of her recuperation has been dictated solely by the fact that he has fallen in love with her.  (I should also point out that at no time in the movie is Halleck lectured on his ethics.)  It’s bad enough that Beth has to fend off the amorous advances of Dr. Horny, but she’s also having to deal with a skeevy private eye (Ian MacDonald) hired by Jackson to keep tabs on her and a team of FBI agents (headed up by Webb) who are watching her every move in order to locate Jackson’s whereabouts. 

Beth feels that she’s not worthy to be Mrs. Halleck because of her checkered past (she did a stretch in the women’s pen) and fearing that Jackson will air condition the doc with a .45 agrees to go back to her man…who by this time has tracked Halleck down with the intention of icing him.  The entry for Dangerous at Wikipedia says “The FBI steps in before any violence is done” but considering Jackson gets shot and falls through the window of an operating room observation deck and Beth takes one in the shoulder I would venture to say the Feds didn’t step in quickly enough.  Beth will have to serve out a short sentence back in stir but optimistically will be able to resume her life with Halleck upon her release, providing he’s not squidding around with some other female patient by then.

I think This Woman is Dangerous would have been a better picture if they had taken the trouble to show a little bit of Joan’s character’s former life (as in The Damned Don’t Cry) because Beth Austin is supposed to be a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who was rescued and made “respectable” by gangster Jackson.  I just don’t buy it, and what’s worse is Joan goes through all of this perfectly coiffed and stunningly wardrobed, like she’s just some society dame who’s had the misfortune to go slumming with the criminal element.  There is a nice scene, however, that alludes to Joan’s previous life in the jernt when she and Morgan make a stop at a women’s prison (Morgan is treating a patient there) and she witnesses a group of female inmates being shaken down by a screw who wants to know which one of them was breaking the rules by smoking in the transportation van…

Because this is a Joan Crawford movie she’s pretty much the entire show—none of the other female characters really stand out (I like Aldon but I associate her more with TV appearances such as Bachelor Father and Shotgun Slade) and the male contingent all seem to have graduated from the George Brent School of Dramatic Arts (though I did tee-hee whenever Carey started overacting with the tough criminal shtick).  Dangerous was Dennis Morgan’s penultimate workout at Warner’s; he’d do one more film, a western entitled Cattle Town (1952) that also stars Carey, Amanda Blake and Rita Moreno before moseying on.  But since I’ve always been partial to Morgan’s silver screen partner Jack Carson I think Dangerous would have been a far more livelier picture if Carson had played the medico who falls for Joan (“There's something about the sound of my own voice that fascinates me!”).  If you missed This Woman is Dangerous on TCM the other night, it’s available in an MOD release from the Warner Archive.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

The best laid plans…

Even though I’m not a big devotee of child actors I’d cast the two kids in the above photo in one of my pretend motion picture projects…though modesty dictates that I reveal their identities to be my niece Rachel and nephew Davis.  (Okay, so there’s a lot of nepotism at my studio.  Just call me Carl Laemmle.)  The picture was snapped during Rach’s spring break visit a couple of weeks ago, and we had, as the younger folks used to say, the keenest time.  I regret that my evil scheme to indoctrinate Rachel into the joys of falling anvils and explosions was stymied by my arch-nemesis Mom-Lady…but that’s only because my niece doesn’t “travel well” as some folks—whenever she’s away from her home base and eats foods different from her normal menu she gets an oopsy tummy and so Mom thought it would be prudent if she stayed away from Rancho Yesteryear and its admittedly unhealthy cuisine.  (I believe that much of Rachel’s maladies are brought upon by stress, however—and you can trust my expert opinion on this because…well, I did grow up with her mother.  I just hope she’s not reading this.  D’oh!)  I feel kind of sheepish admitting all this—like a movie villain who explains in meticulous detail just how he plans on vanquishing the hero…and then it all blows up in his face.

So the sleepover was a no-go, but that didn’t prevent me from moseying over to the Double K Ranch where I spent a night or two…and before Rachel had to leave on St. Patrick’s Day (her parents were flying back from their Puerto Rico vacation to Atlanta; the family then spent the night there and completed their journey back to Iowa the next morning) Mom, Dad and I took her to the happiest place on Earth.  Oh, sure—in Anaheim and Orlando it’s Disneyland and Walt Disney World (respectively)…but ‘round these parts it’s the one-and-only Varsity, the Mecca of decadent drive-in grub.  Kudos to the ‘rents for agreeing to spring for lunch there for the four of us (especially since my mother remarked after our last sojourn there: “That food is going to kill me for the next three days”); the idea for the Varsity excursion came about because Rachel told Mom that there was nothing that compared to McDonald’s and when I asked her what her opinion was of the Varsity she stopped to weigh her words before replying: “Well, Uncle Ivan…the Varsity is in an entirely different category…can we go there again?”

While we were in the restaurant Dad and Rachel went to find us a seat while Mom and I went to order our food and when I located where my niece and father were sitting (carrying a tray of grub) she crooked a thumb toward a room that had a big screen TV showing cartoons…and I recognized Yogi Bear from a sideward glance.  “That’s where I wanted to sit,” she explained, slightly annoyed at Dad.  “They’re showing the cartoons you like.”  I mention this only for two reasons: first, my previous efforts to treat Rachel to the finer things of life (classic cartoons) have often been for naught because she’s a 21st century kid (she told me in the car that she liked the Johnny Deep version of Willy Wonka better than the 1971 original) who’ll look at me when I suggest we switch over from Nickelodeon to Boomerang as if I’ve grown an additional head.  Secondly, yesterday was the centennial natal anniversary of animation legend Joseph Barbera and as tribute to him I wrote up a little essay on his behalf which you can read at Ed Copeland’s blog.

This sort of brings me to the subject of this blog.  I really do regret the inescapable conclusion that a great deal of the formerly prolific activity here has sort of went South—in fact, I think I posted more during my convalescence.  There have been a few outside factors of a personal nature (I’ll spare you the details ‘cause they’re a bit on the frowny face side) that have been distracting me of late, but I’m seriously working on trying to step up to the plate and hitting a few more doubles again.  (And who knows…I may be successful one of these days in applying the paddles to Mayberry Mondays.)  I had a checkup at the doc’s on Wednesday and he’s continuing to monitor my vitals in an effort to make sure that nasty old tumor doesn’t poke its ugly head again—he did, however, suggest that I look into some outpatient surgery to restore my voice, which never did make a full recovery after last April’s surgery and has left me sounding like Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.  (“My my my!”)  So for those of you still with the blog I just want to say thanks for encouraging my behavior and I’m going to do my darndest to get things back into full-speed-ahead mode soon.

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