Sunday, May 29, 2011

A change is gonna come

Faithful TDOY readers may have noticed that from time to time I’ll link to some of the essays I wrote when Thrilling Days of Yesteryear was living in the Salon Blogs neighborhood from 2003 to 2007…and it was while researching something I wrote there one day that I discovered the Salon blog has a rather irritating habit of transferring the individual to another website whilst in mid-read, namely a page operated by The Old Time Radio Link Society, which the blog used to enjoy an affiliation with at one time.  Since severing my ties with Salon Blogs nearly four years ago, I no longer have access to the inner workings of the blog…which means I’m not able to apply the necessary repairs (namely, remove the OTR Link Society link) to continue allowing curious TDOY readers to sift through the pre-Blogger material.

So yesterday, with some inspiration from s.z. and Scott C. of World O’Crap fame (the famed political snark blog got hacked a year back and the WO’C people were forced to start slumming it with us Blogspot folks)*, I decided to start a second blog…and before you start in with “Geez, you barely keep up with anything new on this one” let me point out that the sequel blog is not set up to spotlight brand-spanking new entries.  It will instead function as the archives for the pre-2007 stuff—and this means that the section here entitled “Thrilling Days of Yesteryear: The Salon Years” will gradually be phased out in order to make room for what I am cleverly (play along with me here) calling Best (and Worst) of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  I spent yesterday and part of this morning transferring some of the material I composed in November 2003 to the new environs and I do not exaggerate when I say that doing so is both a major pain in the arse and will probably be a work in progress for many, many months to come.  But I like the blog’s look (it’s not quite as cluttered as this one, and the library background motive is sort of nifty), and keeping all of what I’ve scribbled down in the Blogger family will pay big dividends in the long run.  (Well, not in any sort of financial sense…as I have discovered since I’ve yet to make my first C-note from Google’s AdSense four years into this thing.)

Not everything I jotted down at Salon Blogs is going to make the move to the new blog for a number of reasons—some of the material is so outdated the links I pointed to no longer exist, and in some cases many of the posts are simply announcements about upcoming DVD or CD releases (aka the work I did at one time for [First Generation] Radio Archives, who apparently dispensed with my services a good while back).  I’ll probably make exceptions if I have a bit more to say beyond “Such-and-such Home Video is releasing such-and-such to DVD, and it’s about damn time” otherwise I’m going to let you play scavenger hunter and look for that kind of info yourself.  There were also some essays I wrote about my exciting existence as a night auditor which I may hang onto and put somewhere else on the site; I’m still wrestling with what to do about those.

Anyway, I invite you to stop by Best (and Worst) of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear if you get a free moment—think of it as browsing around the stacks of a honkin’ big library.  While I’m thinking about it, I noticed this morning that the main TDOY blog has appears to have racked up its 200th Google Friend/Follower, which tickles me to no end.  As always, thanks for encouraging my behavior.

*Those of you familiar with the history of TDOY are probably aware that World O’Crap was responsible for influencing its start, so once again it seems only fitting that it follow in such large and lofty footsteps.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

“Alas, why must I be plagued by yammering magpies on the eve of battle?”

If you’re as big a fan of the cult classic His Kind of Woman (1951) as I am, you’ll no doubt recognize the title of this post as a line of dialogue spoken by ham actor Mark Cardigan, an over-the-top screen thesp who comes to the aid of Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) when Milner is snatched by goons in the employ of mobster Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr).  Ferraro plans to kill Milner and adopt his identity in order to sneak back into the United States (he was kicked out as a result of his naughty ol’ criminal activities) and even if Cardigan is often more bluff than action he does manage to help out Dan in his hour of desperation with the assistance of some reluctant guests vacationing on the same island as the two men.

Cardigan is played by Vincent Price, and though I’m a slavish devotee of many of the man’s film roles (LauraChampagne for Caesar, Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, Witchfinder General…this list could go on for days) I think Woman is my all-time favorite.  Price’s performance in the movie is both endearing and falling-down funny—I love how he reacts to the people who are reacting to his onscreen swashbuckling antics while being held captive watching one of his movies; the unbridled joy on his face makes him resemble a kid at Christmas.  I unspooled the movie the other night in preparation for an essay that you can read at Edward Copeland on Film…and More commemorating the actor’s centennial birthday—an occasion held in such high esteem by Price’s city of birth, St. Louis, MO, that they’ve been hosting a ten-day film festival (May 19-28) deliciously dubbed the “Vincentennial.”

One of the facets of Price’s amazing career that I judiciously left out of the Copeland piece (otherwise, I’d have nothing to talk about here) is that at the same time he was establishing himself as a force in films he also was a frequent fixture on radio.  His silver screen status landed him guest star spots on comedy-variety shows like The Jack Benny Program, The Sealtest Village Store and Duffy’s Tavern while he exercised his thespic chops on dramatic anthologies such as The Lux Radio Theatre, The Philip Morris Playhouse and The CBS Radio Workshop.  He also had memorable showcases on Suspense (“Fugue in C Minor,” “Hunting Trip”) and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (“The Price of Fame Matter”) but some of his best work was done on radio’s Escape—a show not known for being as guest-star heavy as its sister series Suspense, but nevertheless producing such classic broadcasts as “Three Skeleton Key,” “Blood Bath” and “Present Tense” (all three of which were later re-dramatized on Suspense).  Even after radio drama was no longer the force it once was Price continued to actively perform in the medium, headlining such programs as The Sears Radio Theatre/Mutual Radio Theatre (he was the Wednesday night “mystery” host) and the BBC’s The Price of Fear.

Price’s most regular radio gig was playing Leslie Charteris’ famous sleuth Simon Templar on The Adventures of the Saint, which he joined as star in the summer of 1947 on CBS until the “stars’ address” cancelled the program in June 1948.  The show resurfaced on Mutual in July 1949 and then moved to NBC in June 1950; the show’s final broadcast was heard on October 21, 1951 but by that time Tom Conway had taken over as star—Price had bailed on the series in May of that year.(with Barry Sullivan filling on occasion as well).

The story of surviving copies of radio broadcasts being lost to neglect and the ravages of time is a familiar one but in the case of The Saint there was a happy ending: because Price, like so many celebrities headlining radio series, wanted the broadcasts recorded as a keepsake he had saved a goodly number of transcription discs from the show…and was about to chuck them out one day when he fortuitously called someone from the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy (SPERDVAC) and asked if they would be interested in taking them off his hands.  The SPERDVAC rep broke all land speed records rushing over to Price’s house to collect the discs…and the broadcasts that survive today do so because of this phone call.  So happy 100th natal anniversary to you, Mr. Price!!!

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Do we know how to party or what?*

Yesterday afternoon, the ‘rents and I made the 6-8 blocks (my Dad’s not 100% certain on the actual distance) journey from our current House of Yesteryear environs to the Double K Ranch (sister Kat’s house) to celebrate the second natal anniversary of the fun-loving youngster pictured in the photo above, my nephew Davis.  (His birthday is actually a few days earlier but Sunday was the most opportune time for his party…and I also apologize for not announcing the b-day on the blog because now I’m going to hear the “Equal Time” lecture from my sister again.)  A handful of his chums from his pre-school were on hand to scarf up snacks and cupcakes and to fight over yard toys…and honest to my grandma, I’ve never seen that many blonde Aryan kids grouped together in my life.  (For a brief minute I thought I was in a remake of Village of the Damned [1960].)

My favorite of his playmates is a little girl who—bless her heart (buh-less her little heart!)—is so tiny her clothes don’t fit her so she looks like someone caught her in the middle of a striptease.  (I joked to Mom and Dad about how popular the kid would be once she enters high school, and the reaction I received suggested that Rich of Wide Screen World might be in the distinct minority of folks who find me funny.)  I was also responsible for an embarrassing fox paw when I mistook another of his little amigos for a girl, only to be corrected by my father who gently told me: “He’s a boy, dumbass.”  (Well, if he is, the kid needs a haircut.  Freakin’ hippie flower children…) I’ll say this for the manly little fellow—he got such a kick out of Davis’ pretend lawnmower he used it to finish pretend manicuring Kat and Katie’s back lawn…almost to the point where I was worn out from watching him.

Since tomorrow will be a major day of labor for us here at Rancho Yesteryear—we’ve got a mother and daughter team going over to my old apartment in the a.m. to tackle the Herculean labor of cleaning the jernt—I probably won’t be able to get much up on the blog tomorrow…but I did want to take a quick moment to publicize that fellow CMBA compadre Kendra of Vivian Leigh & Laurence Olivier blog fame ( is sponsoring a blogathon in honor of one of the movies’ most romantic couples on July 9-10 of this year:

Rules: This blog-a-thon is open to all film bloggers (and readers) around the internet. You can write about their films, theatrical contributions, your love of their beauty, fashion, etc., any aspect of Vivien Leigh’s and/or Laurence Olivier’s careers or lives. As per the usual blog-a-thon protocol, posts should be made to your own blog on the dates listed above, and a running list of links will be posted here at Note: You do not have to write about a film that starred both Larry and Vivien. If you just want to write about Vivien, or just Larry, that’s totally fine.

One other thing: Although participants are welcome to write about any film or aspect of Vivien and Larry’s lives, it would be great if we can get posts about a variety of films rather than just the ones that are the most popular today such as Gone with the Wind.

Which won’t be a problem for me, since I’ve already told Kendra to deal me in and the movie I plan to cover is Ship of Fools (1965), for the reason that…well, perhaps I should save that for when the blogathon gets underway.  It’s also Kendra’s first blogathon (so please…be gentle) so here’s hoping she gets a nice response and Thrilling Days of Yesteryear will certainly do whatever it can to drum up support!

*In the immortal words of Clu Gulager’s character from Into the Night (1985): “I think this falls into the ‘or what’ category…”

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

I’m going to the LAMMYs!*

Profuse apologies for the recent fallow fields on the blog, but the inactivity at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear can be chalked up to a number of factors—including the ‘rents and my continued efforts to get settled here at the new Rancho Yesteryear, the when-will-this-ever-get-finished attempts to tidy up the old address in order to get our big honkin’ security/cleaning deposit back…and the fact that I have been to known to frequently embrace lethargy as a religion and not just a lifestyle.  Rest assured I am working on some essays for posting and publication, thanks to the generosity of my BBFF Stacia of She Blogged by Night fame, who sent me a fistful of movies that I did not have copies of for the dusty TDOY archives including some pre-Code goodies like Madam Satan (1930) and The Story of Temple Drake (1933).

To reciprocate for her kindness I have also been recording a few gems for her library—one of which features her pretend boyfriend Alan Arkin…and I’m glad I recorded this movie in the time slot I did because there’s something wrong (something very, very wrong) with our cable box in that when I leave it on at night to record movies that are scheduled in time slots well past my bedtime it for some odd reason changes the channel when I’m fast asleep, thereby leaving me with a copy of whatever paid programming happened to be on MSNBC or TruTV or whatever channel my father is slavishly devoted to this week.  This is not a first-time occurrence; it happened at the previous Castle Yesteryear and at first I thought I just absentmindedly forgot to make sure it was on the right channel but when I double-checked this to make certain and the mayhem continued I floated a theory that the house was haunted.  Of course, I quickly discarded that concept and after talking with a CharredHer representative online it would appear that there’s a glitch in the cable box and it needs to be reset.  (Either that or I will have to stay up till four in the a.m. to make sure there aren’t any shenanigans going on with the cable…and I don’t think that can be an option.)

The official nominations for the 2011 LAMMY Awards won’t be up at the Large Association of Movie Blogs blog until Monday…but they are being announced on this week’s LAMBcast, and I was positively gobsmacked to learn that this ‘umble scrap of the blogosphere snagged a nom in the Best Classic Film Blog category.  I know this is going to sound show-bizzy phony, but I really am honored to be in consideration with the four other nominated weblogs for this award, including my fellow CMBA compadre True Classics: The ABCs of Classic Film and longtime friend of TDOY Where Danger Lives (which also got a well deserved nod for Best Design…and it really is the ginchiest).  I haven’t known fellow nominee The Hollywood Revue for quite as long and as for Defiant Success—I’m more familiar with the handle it went by before it went into the Blog Protection Program, The Life of a Cinephile and Bibliophile.  I’m pleased to be in such august company and will be positively thrilled if any of those fine blogs take home the coveted sheepskin this year.

I was also relieved to hear that TDOY chum Ferdy on Films snagged one of the slots for the 2011 LAMMY Award nominations for Best Blog-a-thon Meme—namely this year’s For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon.  I have to admit, I was sort of sweating it because it looked as if it might not get nominated—and honest to my grandma, both Marilyn (who, with her faithful Indian sidekick Roderick Heath, has also been deservedly nominated for the Brainiac Award) and Farran Smith Nehme should walk away with all the marbles for this one because (let’s be honest, folks) without the concept of film preservation none of the other individuals being nominated for film blogging excellence would be doing so in the first place.  (We’d have to blog about flowers or hardware or sugar-free Kool-Aid or crap like that.)  Mark of Where Danger Lives suggested that the For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon should have copped a special Thalberg Memorial-type award, an idea I would certainly have been enthusiastically behind 110%.

The official list of nominations will be up at the LAMB on Monday so I won’t steal any more thunder except to applaud all the blogs nominated…and to single out longtime TDOY amigos like Chuck Norris Ate My Baby (Best Blog Name), Cinema Viewfinder (Best Blog-a-thon Meme for the Cronenberg Blog-a-thon) and The Lightning Bug’s Lair (from the moon, baby! for Best Horror/Sci-Fi Blog) with a collective high-five.  Whatever the outcome for the Best Classic Film Blog Award, I promise to act with the utmost dignity and honor and to avoid doing anything embarrassing like last year (like I was supposed to know there was a limit of five shrimp per person).  Many happy returns to everyone all around and to those who voted for Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, thanks for encouraging my behavior!

*Or as Greg Ferrara of Cinema Styles remarked: "Who's Ivan? He's got a what now?"

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

CMBA Movies of 1939 Blogathon – Charlie Chan at Treasure Island

(The following is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to the Classic Movies Blog Association’s Classic Films of 1939 Blogathon, currently underway from May 15-17 and supervised by ClassicBecky of ClassicBecky’s Brain Food and Page of My Love of Old HollywoodFor a list of the participants and the movies to be reviewed, the CMBA has a list available here.)

1939 is considered by countless film buffs to be a watershed year for movies—even more consider it to be the peak in cinematic history.  The film often referred to the greatest of all time, Gone with the Wind, was released that year…not to mention timeless classics such as Dark Victory, Destry Rides Again, Drums Along the Mohawk, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Only Angels Have Wings, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights.  Just a cursory glance at a list of the releases from that year is sure to turn up a favorite or multiple favorites in any classic movie fan’s library.

But there were also films released that year that may not have had the prestige of the movies I mentioned in the first paragraph yet are every bit as valuable to movie buffs…and most importantly, to us here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  For example, the first and second films featuring Basil Rathbone as “the world’s greatest detective” were seen in theaters that year: The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  W.C. Fields made one of his funniest films—with his radio sparring partners Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy yet—in You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.  Bob Hope starred in the movie comedy that put him on the map, The Cat and the Canary, in addition to a film that’s every bit as funny (and written by Preston Sturges), Never Say Die.  Finally, 1939 marked the debut of the feature that some fans consider to be one of the hallmarks of the long-running film Charlie Chan film series: Charlie Chan at Treasure Island.

Master detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is traveling from his Honolulu stomping grounds to San Francisco aboard the China Clipper with both Number Two Son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung) and a friend of the family who’s been vacationing with the Chans, mystery novelist Paul Essex (Louis Jean Heydt).  Essex receives a radiogram while the plane is still making its way to Frisco—and it contains a mysterious message that reads: “Sign of Scorpio indicates disaster if zodiac obligations are ignored.”  The troubled Essex asks the sleuth when the month of Scorpio is due and Charlie helpfully points out that according to the Chinese calendar, tomorrow will mark the first day.  Come morning, as the Clipper flies over the titular atoll—the site of the San Francisco franchise of the 1939 World Exposition—Essex is found dead in his seat.

Jimmy’s suspicion is that insurance actuary Thomas Gregory (Douglass Dumbrille) is in some way connected to Essex’s death, especially when Gregory makes off with the novelist’s briefcase…which contains a manuscript Essex was working on before his demise.  After Charlie breaks the unfortunate news to Essex’s widow (Sally Blane) and her uncle (Charles Hatton), he hails a cab for the hotel and finds himself in the company of two menacing men (character great Fred Kelsey is one of them) who turn out to be detectives with the San Francisco police force, sent to pick up Chan as a practical joke concocted by Charlie’s pal J.J. Kilvaine (Donald MacBride), the department’s deputy chief.  While reuniting with his colleague, Charlie also has a bit of Old Home Week with newspaper reporter Peter Lewis (Douglas Fowley).  Lewis is hard at work on a story that is determined to debunk phony psychics—none more so than a man mysteriously known as “Dr. Zodiac.”  Zodiac is “person of interest” in connection with a series of suicides (all of whom happened to be his clients) and when Kilvaine suggests that there may have been a connection between Dr. Z and the deceased Essex, Chan, Pete and a mutual friend of theirs—Fred Rhadini (Cesar Romero), a renowned magician who’s assisting Pete in his expose—are determined to pay the medium a social call.

The trio arrives at the home of Dr. Zodiac and after being greeted by his manservant Abdul (Trevor Bardette) are ushered into a séance room to meet the mysterious Dr. Z, who puts on quite a show by apparently contacting the “spirit” of Essex, who “tells” Charlie that his death was not set in motion by foul play.  Zodiac’s presentation is pure con game, much to Charlie’s amusement, and it comes to an end when an angry Pete threatens Zodiac after the fake medium advises him to end his romantic involvement with Eve Cairo (Pauline Moore), who works as an assistant to Rhadini.  Charlie will soon learn that while Zodiac’s act may be hokum Eve is the real deal—she demonstrates remarkable powers of telepathy later that evening during a party Rhadini throws on Treasure Island shortly before someone makes an attempt on Chan’s life.

Charlie heads back to Dr. Z’s crib to learn some answers, with Pete and Rhadini in tow.  In the house, our hero is none too pleased to find that Number Two Son is fulfilling his all-too-familiar role in the series by being more hindrance than help, but after making a search of Zodiac’s surroundings Chan reveals to his accomplices that the good Doctor is indeed a 24-carat fraud, demonstrating the devices he uses in his phony séances.  Further examination of the house reveals a secret room where Zodiac has kept detailed dossiers in various file cabinets filled with incriminating details on a number of prominent figures.  One of these individuals being blackmailed by Zodiac was the late Mr. Essex—who has a secret Charlie doesn’t want his widow to learn, so he gathers up the files and torches all of the blackmail evidence.  Chan justifies this by declaring: “We are destroying web of spider—now let us find spider.”

And find him they will—for Charlie has concocted a scheme to wash the spider out by appealing to Zodiac’s ego and vanity: Rhadini issues a public challenge to Dr. Z, daring him to turn up at the Temple of Magic—Rhadini’s theater at which he performs his magic act—for a showdown.  With a curious audience watching and the suspects in attendance as well, Charlie unmasks Essex’s murderer in one of the series’ most unforgettable climaxes.

The Charlie Chan film series had been a positive gold mine for the Fox studios ever since they committed themselves to making movies based on the exploits of the Occidental sleuth created by Earl Derr Biggers with 1931’s Charlie Chan Carries On.  The actor who took on the role of Chan was Warner Oland, who despite his non-Asian status had previously played onscreen a goodly number of Chinese characters (many of them villains) and slipped into Chan’s sartorial splendid white suit as if it were the part he was born to play.  The Chan films were pretty much Oland’s bread and butter for the rest of his career onscreen, and most fans of the movie series acknowledge that if he wasn’t the best of the Chans he certainly starred in most of the finest entries, notably Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936), Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936) and Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937).  Oland died of pneumonia in 1938 while Fox was making Charlie Chan at the Ringside, and so the studio refashioned it into a vehicle for their equally popular Mr. Moto series (1938’s Mr. Moto’s Gamble) with star Peter Lorre and “Number One Son” Keye Luke appearing as Lee Chan.

The title of the Moto film was sort of a precursor to how 20th Century-Fox approached the Charlie Chan franchise after Oland’s passing—they took a gamble on continuing the series by hiring another non-Asian thespian, Sidney Toler, to wear Oland’s Panama hat.  When Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) became a success at the box office, the studio high-fived itself and continued cranking out Chans until 1942.  Toler then purchased the rights to the character and took the series to Monogram, which continued making the films until 1949.  (Toler died in 1947, and character actor Roland Winters took over until the series came to a close.)

Charlie Chan at Treasure Island may not be my favorite Chan film of all time (that distinction goes to Charlie Chan at the Opera) but it’s far and away the best of the Sidney Toler Chans, who in his dedication to keeping the inscrutable sleuth on movie screens admittedly made some of the weakest entries in the long-running series, particularly after the franchise started picking up a paycheck at Monogram.  And yet, in many ways I prefer Toler’s interpretation to Oland’s because while Oland may have made better Chans his character was a little too gentle for my tastes—Toler’s take on Charlie had a little more bite, much in the way Charlie was portrayed in Biggers’ novels.  (When Oland would utter Charlie’s signature “Thank you so much,” he sounded like he meant it—in Toler’s tones there was a slight sarcasm underneath.) Oland’s strengths lie in the fact that he was fortunate to work in tandem with Luke, who as Number One Son displayed a real rapport with the series’ star, an affection that was still present when Luke would reminisce about Oland in interviews years after the actor’s death.  Toler had the misfortune to be saddled with progeny that didn’t display the same amount of moxie as Luke’s Lee…and on many occasions it’s not hard to comprehend why Charlie’s disposition become sourer with each film that followed.  (Toler’s Chan has one of my all-time favorite lines in Island when he comments after one of son Jimmy’s screw-ups: “If befriend donkey, expect to be kicked.”)

Treasure Island succeeds so well as a great Chan picture because of several factors—a tight script by John Larkin that superbly blends elegant wit and nail-biting suspense; first-rate direction by Norman Foster, who was at the helm of a number of the top Mr. Moto entries, including Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937) and Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937); and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography courtesy of Virgil Miller.  At an economical seventy-two minutes, Island doesn’t waste any time getting started (but by this point in the Chan series, you pretty much knew what to expect once the opening credits had finished) and the film also feels no need to pad itself with a lot of unnecessary comedy relief.  Sure, there are plenty of comic contributions from Sen Yung (I like his magician’s coat bit) and Wally Vernon as Romero’s stooge but they flow with the plot, and never appear to be superfluous for the sake of giving someone a little extra screen time.

The plot of Treasure Island is similar in many ways to the previous Charlie Chan’s Secret (1936) but it improves on the original by making its proceedings faster and funnier.  Romero, Fowley, Moore, MacBride and Dumbrille all lend fine support, and old movie buffs will have a lot of fun picking out some of the uncredited players like Kay Linaker and Mack Sennett veterans Heinie Conklin and Hank Mann.  And if at any point in time you expect the person playing Dr. Zodiac to say “Get this and get it straight—crime is a sucker’s road and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison or the grave…” it’s none other than old-time radio’s Philip Marlowe, Gerald Mohr, in one of his earliest film showcases (though he also appears without credit).  Since the Fox Movie Channel will often find itself besieged by individuals who interpret the Charlie Chan films as insensitive to Asian-Americans (despite the fact that the main character is a positive role model and often the smartest freakin’ guy in the room at any given time) the series doesn’t get the showcase it once did but has for the benefit of fans been released to DVD, and Charlie Chan at Treasure Island is the jewel in the crown of the box set Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 4.  Buy or rent it today!

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Man, what a crazy dream…

…but it all seemed so real.  I remember talking on the blog about how I wasn’t apparently competent enough to hook up a TV, cable box and DVD recorder and then I went on at great length about some blogathons that were going to be scheduled by various friends and colleagues of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And then of a sudden…POOF!  It all vanished.

That’s it for me.  No more chocolate-covered pretzels before bedtime.

(Okay, this is just my way of coping with the fact that the glitch discovered by Blogger during their maintenance yesterday ended up eating Thursday’s post…and though they swear they’re going to make things right I have an unshakable feeling of foreboding doom…)

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Doofus of the Year Award and a few other items of importance…

Saturday I was boasting—boasting, mind you—of my astounding technological prowess because I managed to put together the new Rancho Yesteryear entertainment system (TV, cable box, DVD/VCR recorder and spare DVD player) in a New York minute…but as I have often said (both on and off the blog) cocky will bite you in the ass every single time.  For you see—I made plans to record Working Girl (1988) off the Fox Movie Channel late Sunday night/early Monday morning…and I hit a teensy weensy little snag.

I couldn’t get the darn recorder to…well, record.

When I turn on my DVD recorder, there appears (or should, anyway) on the TV screen a reminder that I own a Toshiba (and I’m surprised it doesn’t editorialize with something like: “And you should be so fortunate”)…and when I switched on the recorder, I wasn’t getting that onscreen welcome message.  So I went back to my handiwork to see if I had hooked up something incorrectly.

As it turns out, I did—one of the connecting cables was missing, but this was not a problem because I knew where they were since I wondered at the time of the hooking up why I had a set left over.  So I secure the cables and turn on the recorder again…nothing!

I have instructions to the Toshiba but the credo of the Shreves has always been: “Never read the directions unless something’s on fire.”  And besides, I’d packed them in a box and didn’t remember where.  (This shouldn’t be too surprising—and for those people who won the Bergen-McCarthy CD sets, let me just state I’m slowly making progress in locating them and hope to have them out to you soon.)  But again, this was just a minor setback—for I simply located a manual for my model online and downloaded the .PDF file, whereupon I carefully scrutinized every inch of the diagram in an effort to figure out what I had done wrong.

But here’s the thing—everything was now connected correctly.  And still, I couldn’t get verification via the onscreen Toshiba “howdy.”  So I decided to hit the hay, reasoning that a little sack time might clear my head and in the morning I could retrace my steps to figure out where I screwed up.

The next morning…no such luck.  I stewed about it a great deal, and of course Mom served her proper parental function by assuring me “You’ll figure it out.”  I had breakfast, and then stewed some more (fortunately I did not have stew for breakfast).  And then all of a sudden it hit me.  The TV set has a “TV/Video” button on its remote…and all I needed to do was to make sure it was on “Video.”  Voila! (French for “There it is!”)  The message appeared onscreen, and the Great DVD Recorder Crisis of 2011 had finally come to an end.

Now, here’s the reason why I’m the frontrunner in the race to be crowned Lord of the Morons…I have experienced this problem before.  I tried to record Keeper of the Flame (1942) off TCM many, many months back and was frustrated because the recorder didn’t appear to be working…and that’s when I first encountered my little remote button nemesis.  What I’m still trying to dope out is why this wasn’t the first avenue I went down when I was stymied by why I couldn’t get anything to work.  (It might have something to do with the fact that I often have to wear head protection around the new place to keep from accidentally hitting my cranium against a wall.)

But enough about my idiocy.  Fellow CMBA member Caroline of Garbo Laughs will be hosting a Queer Film Blogathon (or as I have been taking to call it, “Queer Eye for the Film Guy”) on June 27th in honor of LGBT Pride Month.  The event will focus on films that feature, in her words, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or otherwise non-heterosexual, non-gender-binary depictions or personages in film.”  She goes on to state: “Furthermore, I am not only looking for reviews of films, but also biographies of queer performers and filmmakers, reviews of nonfiction books on the subject of LGBTs in Hollywood, or even photo pictorials! Anything that you can imagine and interpret as applicable to this topic is welcome – and if you’re not sure if what you want to do will fit, just ask me.”

I’ve already e-mailed Caroline to let her know I’d like to be dealt in, and I’ve chosen the definitive “chicks-in-chains” classic Caged (1950) as my entry because I said to myself as I was putting it on one of the myriad shelves scattered about the new Rancho Yesteryear (a pictorial is due to follow in the next day or so), “I need to sit down and watch this again.”  Caroline stressed to me that it wasn’t necessary to limit one’s participation to a single movie so if I can find the energy (and also where the dickens it’s packed) I might also do a write-up on the sleeper hit Different for Girls (1996).

Caroline’s Garbo Laughs blog is one dedicated to classic film and while she’s encouraging all her fellow vintage movie mavens to participate this doesn’t mean bloggers who discuss films of a more modern stripe can’t join in as well.  Suffice it to say, I think this blogathon is going to be a lot of fun and I’m thrilled to be able to kick in my support.

I mentioned the August 6th Loving Lucy Blogathon being assembled by Brandie, Nikki and Carrie at True Classics: The ABCs of Classic Film in an earlier post but after giving the matter a lot of thought I let the True Classics Trio know that I will contribute an essay on the radio sitcom My Favorite Husband in lieu of a Lucy film review.  I picked this because I’d love to revisit MFH and it has been a while since I’ve tackled some OTR on the blog.

And though it hasn’t been officially announced, another CMBA member in good standing will sponsor a Roger Corman blogathon from June 17-19—yes, Nathaniel at Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear is currently finishing up his studies (“Bright boy…very bright boy,” as Mr. Silvers might say) but once he’s done putting a half-nelson on academia he'ill devote his copious free time coordinating a tribute to “the King of the B’s”—and because he’d like to have only one person cover each entry in Rog’s oeuvre I’ve already e-mailed him to put me down for A Bucket of Blood (1959).  As you’re no doubt aware, Mr. Corman looms very large as a major influence here at TDOY so I’m equally stoked about this blogathon as well.  (By the way, I whipped up the banner below because Nathaniel is busy being outfitted for his cap and gown.)

One final note: The Classic Films of 1939 Blogathon sponsored by the CMBA’s own ClassicBecky at ClassicBecky’s Brain Food (“If I only had a brain...”) and Page at My Love of Old Hollywood fame gets underway this Sunday and although you can check out the lineup here I’ll let you know that Thrilling Days of Yesteryear will set sail for Treasure Island with the great detective Charlie Chan (“Number One Son like convenience store…never shut up”) when I review what many consider to be the crème de la crème of Chan mysteries, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939).  (My personal preference is for Charlie Chan at the Opera [1936]—which I did for the Boris Karloff blogathon back in 2009.)  So make sure you allocate enough time after the Sunday paper to tool around to the participating blogs for what will definitely be a blogathon to remember.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“Glad to see ya!”

One hundred years ago on this date in New York, NY—the town so nice they named it twice—Philip Silver was born to Saul and Sarah Silver, making him the eighth and youngest of their brood.  Later on in his career, he’d add an “s” to the end of his surname and shorten the first part of his handle to a friendlier “Phil”…and in doing so became one of the funniest men to have ever set foot on this earth.

On my list of favorite sitcoms, The Phil Silvers Show—his landmark series that may not have been a rating monster during its time on the air (1955-59) but made out like a bandit at the Emmys—usually ranks in the top three, alongside the titular laugh fests of Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith.  Oddly enough, I didn’t get to see the show until it appeared on Comedy Central in its salad days because it then moved to the once-proud TVLand at a time when my cable system didn’t carry the channel.  (One of the reasons why I got a satellite dish at the time, if confession is good for the soul.)  Nowadays, of course, finding repeats of what was originally known as You’ll Never Get Rich is rarer than a steak cooked on the backyard grill of the Double K Ranch—Mike “Mr. Television” Doran will probably interject here to let me know that it does get shown on Sunday nights on MeTV, so I thought I’d save him the trouble.  (By the way, Mike buddy…because you get MeTV I hate you with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns.)

But before I got to know and admire Silvers I had to make do with his many imitators as a kid, namely Top Cat (with Arnold Stang as the indisputable leader of the gang) and Hokey Wolf (the great Daws Butler).  Since that time, I’ve been lucky to catch up with Phil in many of the classic films he made memorable appearances in—one of my favorites being A Thousand and One Nights (1945), which TCM can’t rerun soon enough for me.  I volunteered to scribble down some thoughts on the highlights of his incredible career at Edward Copeland on Film…and More, and if you should happen to be in his neighborhood you’d be doing me a favor if you left him some words of encouragement because he experienced an inconvenient stay in the hospital this past weekend and it would certainly lift his spirits.

Happy centennial birthday to you, Mr. Silvers.  And yes…I’m always glad to see ya.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Life in Movies

Over at Fandango Groovers Movie Blog, a meme has sprouted up that asks interested bloggers to name their favorite films starting from the year they were born to (what I can only guess) last year, 2010.  I decided to take a crack at this one even though I’d have to struggle with two handicaps: a) I don’t watch a lot of recent movies and b) I don’t watch a lot of recent movies.  Surprisingly, I didn’t start to experience any major problems until I got into the aughts, when my movie attendance decreased sharply and I became, more or less, TCM’s bitch.

So what follows is a list of my favorite movies for each year starting from my date of birth until 2009 because a cursory glance at what came out in 2010 revealed that I haven’t seen anything from last year.  If you’re curious to participate, all you have to go is e-mail a link to Fandango Groovers at and I’m sure they’d only be too happy to hear from additional precincts.

1963 – Shock Corridor
1964 – Dr. Strangelove
1965 – The Pawnbroker
1966 – Seconds
1967 – In Cold Blood
1968 – Targets
1969 – Medium Cool
1970 – M*A*S*H
1971 – The Last Picture Show
1972 – The Candidate
1973 – Sleeper
1974 – The Conversation
1975 – Night Moves
1976 – The Front
1977 – Between the Lines
1978 – Who’ll Stop the Rain
1979 – Life of Brian
1980 – Atlantic City
1981 – The Howling
1982 – The Verdict
1983 – The Big Chill
1984 – Blood Simple
1985 – Brazil
1986 – Hannah and Her Sisters
1987 – Raising Arizona
1988 – The Thin Blue Line
1989 – Crimes and Misdemeanors
1990 – Goodfellas
1991 – JFK
1992 – Reservoir Dogs
1993 – In the Name of the Father
1994 – Shallow Grave
1995 – Dead Man Walking
1996 – Fargo
1997 – L.A. Confidential
1998 – Gods and Monsters
1999 – Election
2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?
2001 – Mulholland Dr.
2002 – Bowling for Columbine
2003 – Bad Santa
2004 – Fahrenheit 9/11
2005 – A History of Violence
2006 – Little Children
2007 – Michael Clayton
2008 – In Bruges
2009 – The Art of the Steal

(Hey…Farran Smith Nehme didn’t call me "wonderfully iconoclastic" because it was printed on my T-shirt.)  Interestingly enough, some of the entries above I had already filled out for a meme that Thad Komorowski floated around on Facebook…but in that one, you chose your own fifty-year span of films and picked your favorites.  I chose 1925-1974, so the remaining part of the list would read as follows:

1925 – The Freshman
1926 – The General
1927 – Sunrise
1928 – The Wind
1929 – Pandora’s Box
1930 – All Quiet on the Western Front
1931 – City Lights
1932 – Horse Feathers
1933 – Blood Money
1934 – Twentieth Century
1935 – Man on the Flying Trapeze
1936 – Modern Times
1937 – Way Out West
1938 – Angels with Dirty Faces
1939 – The Wizard of Oz
1940 – His Girl Friday
1941 – Sullivan’s Travels
1942 – Casablanca
1943 – The Ox-Bow Incident
1944 – Murder, My Sweet
1945 – Road to Utopia
1946 – It’s a Wonderful Life
1947 – Out of the Past
1948 – Force of Evil
1949 – White Heat
1950 – Winchester ‘73
1951 – His Kind of Woman
1952 – High Noon
1953 – Stalag 17
1954 – Johnny Guitar
1955 – Kiss Me Deadly
1956 – The Killing
1957 – Paths of Glory
1958 – Touch of Evil
1959 – North by Northwest
1960 – Wild River
1961 – One, Two, Three
1962 – Ride the High Country

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