Friday, October 31, 2008

“L'horreur… l'horreur…”

First off, I want to point out that my critical take on Kaidan (1964) and Histoires extraordinaires (1968; Spirits of the Dead) might be clouded by the fact that I stayed up late to watch both of these movies in an venue that is gradually becoming known around Rancho Yesteryear as “Insomniac Theatre.” So if it seems like I was unduly harsh—it’s only because I’m cranky.

TCM scheduled Kaidan at 2am, and while the horror anthology—based on Japanese ghost stories adapted from books written by novelist Lafcadio Hearn, an American who settled in Japan in 1880—is well scripted (Yako Mizuki) and directed (Masuki Kobayashi), the stories are a bit on the Poky Little Puppy side. I thought the best of the four was Segment #2, “The Woman in the Snow”—about a young woodcutter (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is rescued by a snow witch (Keiko Kishi) from a devastating storm and is allowed to live provided he tells no one of his experience. (Interestingly enough, this tale was edited out when Kaidan was released in the U.S. in 1965.) “Hoichi the Earless” is also pretty fun; a blind servant is painted with religious symbols to repel evil spirits—but the priests neglect to paint his ears…

Following Kaidan, Spirits of the Dead is another anthology (but with three stories instead of four) that I preferred over the previous film only because the source material (based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe) was more familiar to me. If you catch this one on DVD, skip the first segment because it’s definitely the weakest; in “Metzengerstein,” Jane Fonda plays a libertine countess whose infatuation with her cousin (and there is a substantial ick factor here, since he’s played by brother Peter) is not returned—so she sets his stables on fire and he’s killed in the blaze while rescuing a prized horse. A wild stallion shows up later on Jane’s estate, and the implication is that it’s the equine form of the reincarnated cousin…which Jane spends the rest of the segment trying to seduce. (I’m not making this up.) If you go for Jane in the sex kitten phase of her career (her then-husband Roger Vadim directed this segment, which sometimes resembles a blueprint for Barbarella [1968]) this might be your meat—but honestly, Jane looks pretty bored throughout and I know exactly how she feels.

The best segment in Spirits is “Toby Dammit,” directed by Federico Fellini and starring Terence Stamp as a wasted English film actor who’s invited to Italy to make a film about Jesus Christ (as a revisionist western) and finds himself in a nightmarish Hell of fawning press, producers and other film industry wannabes. If you’re not familiar with Fellini, this mesmerizing horror tale might just be the perfect introduction to his work; his trademark humor and grotesque characters are on full display here, except in a smaller dose. The final segment (though it’s actually in the middle) is “William Wilson,” starring Alain Delon as an accomplished cad/wanker who finds himself constantly bedeviled by his doppelganger. Brigitte Bardot is also in this one, as a woman who engages Delon in a game of cards and loses (she also gets flogged, in case you need to be further sold). It’s directed by Louis Malle, and what I found most interesting about the story is that Malle takes us to a boys’ school in the beginning, which is highly reminiscent of his latest Oscar-nominated Au revoir les enfants (1987). (Though I should point out that Au revoir does not feature a scene where a gang of bullies torture a kid by lowering him into a tub of rats.)

I’d give Kaidan two and a half stars and Spirits three (on the strength of the Fellini material alone).

Another Top Ten list

Bill Crider is the man who usually keeps tabs on these inventories but since he can only do so much I’ll kick in and do my share: here’s another “Top Ten terrifying movies of all time” compendium, courtesy of Andrew O’Hehir at (which he describes as “from the totally obvious to the obscure and obnoxious”). Technically, I guess you would call this a Top Twenty list…since he makes two lists of ten. But I’m beginning to wonder why The Shining (1980) keeps showing up in these catalogs—I think the movie is as subtle as a Warner Brothers cartoon. (Your mileage may vary.)

Okay, last one...I promise

Thursday, October 30, 2008

“The horror…the horror…”

“I love October on TCM,” asserts Stacia of She Blogged by Night—a statement with which I heartily concur. TCM kicked off a bodacious horror film fest (one, I’m thankful to say, does not include every third-rate Halloween sequel like the once-proud AMC is heckbent on spotlighting) this a.m. with The Thing (From Another World) (1951) and it looks like they’re not gonna quit until the wee insomniac hours of Friday the 31st. (I seriously need to consider getting a DVR from CharredHer.)

I didn’t get to sit down with any of the films they showed this morning—Mad Love (1935), The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and Curse of the Demon (1958)—only because I was up late with a mini-noir festival (Out of the Past, They Live by Night and On Dangerous Ground)…but this isn’t any big loss: I have Love, Zombie and Demon on disc and I’d already seen Fingers (which, sadly, doesn’t live up to its reputation). There’s some good offerings this afternoon, including The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) and The Tingler (1959) but what I’m really considering is getting a good-sized nap later on so I can be fresh as a daisy to catch both Kwaidan (1964) and Spirits of the Dead (1968)—two foreign horrors that I’ve never gotten around to seeing.

I called Mom this morning around 11:00am to let her know of the tremendous horror largess now playing on TCM, only to have her snap at me: “I know that already! In fact, you just interrupted me in the middle of one!” (My fault, really—I should know by now not to come between my mother and her horror movies.) She’s been starving for horror movies for some time now, and even rare AMC showings of Son of Frankenstein (1939) and House of Frankenstein (1944) have done nothing to satiate that hunger.

TCM will wrap things up with a pair of offerings on their TCM Underground segment late this Friday: a double feature of Blood Feast (1963) and Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), both helmed by “The Godfather of Gore”, Herschel Gordon Lewis. I have both of them on my watch list—but I have to be honest: I’ve heard Feast is pretty disgusting and Maniacs isn’t much better, so I’m having second thoughts about investing the time. Anyone who wants to convince me of the merits of seeing these two cult classics is welcome to submit their proposals in the comments.

The worship of false pumpkins

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I’m a Georgia voter

So says the little orange decal they gave me as I walked out of the Board of Elections in Athens this crisp Wednesday morning. The ‘rents and I got there about ten-after-nine and I don’t think we were in the jernt for more than a half-hour. Took much quicker than we had expected.

As a rule (and really, it’s broken so often around here it’s more of a guideline), I try not to get into politics too much on the blog…but I saw things a bit differently this time around. After being on the fence for a good while, I decided that I’d vote for change that I need…and I’ll only be too happy to explain why.

When Senator John Sidney McCain III ran against George W. Bush for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, he had just racked up a phenomenal win in New Hampshire and had—as the Senior Bush once termed it—“the big mo.” McCain enthusiastically charged into South Carolina, intending to duplicate his NH success—but was cut short by a smear campaign that accused the candidate of being gay, cheating on his wife Cindy (who was also accused of being a drug addict), and of being some sort of “Manchurian Candidate”—alleging that he had been brainwashed during his incarceration as a POW during the Vietnam War. But the real muck tossed around had to do with McCain’s adopted daughter Bridget, a Bangladeshi orphan brought back to the U.S. by Mrs. McCain and later adopted by the family. Rumors were spread that Bridget was not adopted but was actually McCain’s daughter, conceived out of wedlock with a black prostitute. As a result of these stomach-churning tactics (courtesy of Bush and company, who straight-facedly maintained that they had nothing to do with it), McCain lost to his rival in South Carolina.

But in 2008—everything had changed. McCain hired many of the scumbags responsible for his defeat (including Tucker “I leave a trail of slime wherever I go” Eskew) to work on his own campaign. When asked by the media how he was able to summon up such a reservoir of forgiveness, McCain simply remarked it was time to “let bygones be bygones.” The fact that McCain was so willing to do anything and everything—despite the fact that any normal human being would have hired a pair of no-neck goombahs to introduce the foreheads of the people responsible for smearing his daughter (his own daughter, ferchrissake!) into the business end of a brick wall (with a little kneecapping for good measure)—to become President immediately turned me off. Despite my reservations about Barack Obama, it was safe to say that John McCain was out of the running as far as I was concerned. (I do, however, get a chuckle out of the fact that these clowns would have appeared—if the present polls produce a winner in Obama—to have screwed McCain a second time. Hey—you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.)

If anything, John McCain made my decision to support Barack Obama for me. Whenever I would watch the news and catch up on the latest sleazy tactics being rolled out by Team McCain, I would giggle when any talking head would intone: “McCain continues to use these tactics and they’re not working.” Well, they worked for me—I decided not to go anywhere near the McCain campaign unless I was wearing a HazMat suit. Any pretense that McCain had to that "honor" he endlessly burbles about vanished about the time he and Governor Gidget decided they couldn't win on the issues and that smearing their opponents was the quickest route to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I’m still not entirely certain that Barack Obama can win this election. There are an awful lot of undecideds out there, and if past is prologue, they have a tendency to break towards the underdog when the sand in the hourglass starts to run out. I’d like to see Obama get a surprise win in Georgia, but despite it being as close as it is right now I’m not convinced it will happen. I do know that I feel secure with my vote, and for all those individuals who have had to put up with the political stuff here at TDOY you can rest assured that this will be the last politically-themed post for a while. The fact that I don’t espouse sentiments like those in the following Scott Bateman video assures me that I can look at myself in the mirror each morning:

Yes, we can

The 'rents and I are heading out to capitalize on Georgia's early voting. I'll have the straight dope when I get back.

Bite me, Charlie Brown

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

“The situation calls for strategy.”

Last week, TCM rolled out their latest made-for-cable documentary, Public Enemies: The Golden Age of Gangster Film—and while I had every intention of sitting down and watching it I forgot that I usually make a date with Keith and Rachel at that time, so I passed it up. I knew, of course, that the doc was included in the Warner Brothers Gangsters Collection: Volume 4 box set and that I’d get around to seeing it eventually; yesterday, my friendly neighborhood postal person left it on my doorstep so I’ll probably sit down with it later in the week.

But after the documentary’s showing, the classic movies channel ran some of the “gangster greats”—three films that are also part of the new collection:

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) – The titled medico (played by Edward G. Robinson) is doing research into the criminal mind…and what better way to get hands-on experience than by joining a gang of thugs led by Humphrey Bogart? A lot of people say the bloom is off the rose that is Clitterhouse, but I don’t think I can tire of any movie with Bogie and Eddie G.; plus Claire Trevor adds fine support as the love interest (in the Clitterhouse trailer, they play up the fact that she was co-starring with Robinson in radio’s Big Town at the time), in addition to Allen Jenkins (who gets his mug on the DVD’s cover!), Donald Crisp, John Litel (Surprise! He’s a lawyer in this one), Thurston Hall, ‘Slapsie’ Maxie Rosenbloom and Ward Bond.

Invisible Stripes (1939) – I had forgotten how entertaining this one was (I have a DVD-R copy from the last time I videotaped it but haven’t watched it since): George Raft and Bogart star as a pair of parolees—Bogie goes back to the rackets once sprung but Raft has difficulty adjusting to life on the outside (it’s hard out there for an ex-con)…particularly in the matter of keeping his “kid brudder” (William Holden) from drifting into a life of crime as well. In the intro to this, Robert Osborne mentioned that Raft had no love for Bogie (and you can see it in the film) and that Bogart never did figure out the reason for Raft’s animosity; I think Raft was just an essobee that didn’t get along with anybody, period (the behind-the-scenes fireworks on Manpower [1941] with Eddie G. would seem to bear this out). Lee Patrick, by the way, plays Bogie’s moll—two years before she played Effie to his Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Larceny, Inc. (1942) – Another overlooked treat (and probably the best of the bunch): Robinson, Broderick Crawford (playing one of filmdom’s truly dumb sidekicks) and Edward Brophy are a trio of con artists who buy a leather goods store in order to be able to tunnel into the bank vault next door—but discover to their surprise that their “front” is actually turning a profit. This film, based on the stage play by Laura and S.J. Perelman, can’t completely divorce itself from its stage origins but it’s a fitfully funny farce, and spotlights an engaging and eclectic supporting cast in Jane Wyman, Jack Carson (Jane and Jack are the love interests), Anthony Quinn, Harry Davenport, John Qualen, Barbara Jo (Vera Vague) Allen, Grant Mitchell…and an uncredited Jackie Gleason as a nosy soda jerk. (Oh, and Arthur Q. Bryan is the guy who punches Santa Claus’ lights out.)

My esteemed blogging colleague Rick Brooks at Cultureshark remarks that when Clitterhouse makes its DVD debut you know Warner Home Entertainment “is getting into the second-tier of its gangster pictures now.” But this is not meant to disparage these fine releases (choc-a-bloc with vintage shorts and cartoons as entertaining extra goodies); he further notes “[T}hey could take 5 absolute stinkers from the 30s and 40s, call it ‘Warner Absolute Crap Collection,’ and if they packaged it like these sets, it would still look damn good at Costco.” You got a witness, Brother Rick.

An early Christmas present

I consider myself a fortunate individual in that I have a roof over my head, shoes on my feet, clothes on my back, three squares a day, etc., etc., etc.—but if anyone were to ask what I want for Christmas this year I would request but one small thing.

I want Senator Saxby Chambliss’ ass handed to him next Tuesday.

For those of you who don’t live in the Peach State (or who haven’t been keeping up with the reading), Chambliss is one of two Republican senators from Jaw-Ja; the other being the bland and ineffectual Johnny Isakson. I could describe in a great many words Mr. Chambliss’ character (or lack of) but since I don’t want to start pegging the Cuss-O-Meter I will allow the eloquence of Salon’s Alex Koppleman to suffice: “Chambliss epitomizes all of the worst elements of the smarmy, oleaginous, patriotism-challenging, cultural war-heavy, solution-free, Southern-led national Republican approach to politics and governing. But that shtick is getting stale.”

(“Oleaginous.” I think I like that word better than “sebacious.”)

In 2002, four-time Congressman Chambliss ran against incumbent Max Cleland and won primarily due to a disgusting, despicable ad linking an image of Cleland to that of Osama bin Laden and asserting that Cleland was “soft on defense.” The craven Congressman challenged Cleland's patriotism despite the fact that Max returned from serving his country in the Vietnam War a triple amputee, while Saxby sat that dance out because he had a “bad knee.” (The same knee, I assume, he used to kick Cleland in the balls with his sleazy campaign ad.)

This year, Chambliss faces a tough reelection fight against Democratic challenger Jim Martin who, despite having all the charm of live bait, has kept the Senate race pretty close and there are some who say he might be able to pull off the win. I’m very skeptical of this (though I do plan to vote for Martin) happening due to Georgia's wonky touch-screen machines, but my spirits have been lifted somewhat by a campaign ad funded by, which had success with a similar campaign in 2006 in Senate races against Republican incumbents in Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania and Virginia. (All four lost. They’re also using the ad to target Liddy Dole’s North Carolina seat.) It’s apparently in heavy rotation in the Fort Benning and Fort Stewart areas and having seen it, it’s one of the most effective statements I’ve seen in this election year so far. If such an ad could defeat Chambliss, it would be the sweetest justice of all:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Down came a Blackbird

Originally scheduled for an October 12th showing (and postponed for a proper Paul Newman send-off), TCM premiered The Blackbird (1926) last night—an entertaining silent melodrama from the collaborative team of actor Lon Chaney and Tod Browning. Any chance I get to watch a film involving the contribution of these two cinematic giants is literally like a hot fudge sundae.

Chaney plays two roles in Blackbird: the first being notorious thief Dan Tate (he’s nicknamed “The Blackbird”) and the second his crippled brother, “The Bishop,” who runs a mission in London’s Limehouse district. (It’s revealed fairly early on in the film, however, that both men are one in the same…so it’s not like I’m giving anything away.) Tate falls hard for a music hall performer named Fifi (played by Renee Adorée, Chaney’s co-star in Mr. Wu [1927])—who’s also captured the eye of “West End Bertie” (Owen Moore), another ne’er-do-well in the same business as Dan. Both men compete for Fifi’s attention, but because Bertie acts in a manner that suggests a shade more respectability (his business card reads “Bertram P. Glayde”) Fifi falls for him, and the couple ask “The Bishop” to preside over the whole rice-and-old-shoes affair. Bish—gleaning knowledge that could only have been obtained from his “brother”—tips off the cops about Bertie’s illicit activities and as “Blackbird” frames him for the murder of a Scotland Yard detective; then while hiding Bertie out at his place begins to turn the two lovers against one another. A clever plan in theory, but by the film’s conclusion “The Blackbird” is revealed to be the real murderer…and receives an ironic comeuppance in the bargain.

Lon Chaney—“The Man of a Thousand Faces”—is remembered and revered for the versatility of his movie roles; The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) demonstrate the elaborate makeups he used to vividly bring both the titular protagonists to life. Where I feel Chaney gets short shrift is that he was such a brilliant actor that he really didn’t need the “gimmicks” to demonstrate his talent—you can watch, for example, The Ace of Hearts (1921) and see how amazing he was at conveying a character without having to make him some sort of freak. The one image that has stayed with me after seeing Blackbird is a scene in which Chaney, in character as “The Bishop,” is trying to break up Bertie and Fifi’s romance by informing the would-be bride that Bertie’s a thief; he expects Fifi to reject her fiancé but instead she forgives him, causing a mask of utter rage and disgust to appear on Chaney’s face. When the couple turns back toward him, that mask has been replaced by a beatific smile…even though you know inside he’s about ready to blow a gasket.

TCM followed Blackbird with another Chaney-Browning vehicle, The Unknown (1927), which I left on the background while I worked on a few other things (I’d already seen the film, it’s one of three features on the DVD set The Lon Chaney Collection.) I did, however, stick around to catch Vampyr (1932), the horror classic by Carl Dreyer that has been on my Must-See List for sometime (sadly, I don’t watch as many foreign films as I should). A young man (Julien West, who got the leading role because he offered to finance the film) visiting a strange village begins to see strange sights (particularly shadows that operate independently from live human beings) and ends up involved with a family who’s being besieged by vampires.

It’s considered a masterpiece for its dream-like cinematography (an effect created by “flashing” the film, or exposing it to low light photography before filming) and justly-famous scene in which the protagonist witnesses his own burial (with a P.O.V. from inside his coffin) but the print shown by TCM had quite a few rough patches and the narrative of the movie itself is often disjointed and confusing (no doubt due to the fact that most prints are combined from the French and German versions). (I haven’t seen the Criterion DVD release of Vampyr, which apparently features a brand-new print of the German version that was restored in 1998.) Dreyer himself didn’t particularly fret over the story (based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly) too much, preferring to emphasize the visuals (and that is Vampyr’s successful selling point—I’ve yet to see another film that comes as close to replicating the terrifying nature of nightmares and horrific dreams) which were supervised by Rudolph Mate—who later plied his trade in the U.S. and helmed noir classics like The Dark Past (1948) and D.O.A. (1950).

Grey Market Cinema: Night of the Eagle [aka Burn, Witch, Burn!] (1962)

Professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a rising star at the college which employs him as an instructor; he is well-liked by both faculty and students, and he’s on the fast track to a promotion in his department. So he’s a bit taken aback when he learns that his wife Tanzy (Janet Blair) has been practicing witchcraft on him in order to advance his career—he considers it a bunch of superstitious nonsense, and insists she discard all her “charms” and whatnot. Shortly thereafter, his luck goes sour: he’s nearly hit by a van; a female student (Judith Stott) accuses him of rape; and her jealous boyfriend (Bill Mitchell) points a weapon at him after learning of the girl’s situation. Tanzy, convinced that evil forces are conspiring after Norman, tries to commit suicide so that her husband will be spared of his “curse”—and Norman soon learns that the idea of witchcraft isn’t so irrational after all.

The British title of this 1962 psychological horror film is Night of the Eagle but since the version I purchased (from AC Comics/Smarty Pants Entertainment) is the U.S. version (released by American International Pictures as Burn, Witch, Burn!) I’ll refer to it by its American name from now on. (There is a Region 2 version available at, which has the British titles.) I thought I’d seen this film before; if I had, I’ll confess that it may have been a long time since I didn’t recall a lot of it—which is a good thing, since Burn has quite a few surprises up its sleeve. It’s based on Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife, which was originally filmed in 1944 (Weird Woman) as part of Universal’s Inner Sanctum programmer series starring Lon Chaney, Jr. (I talked about it here), and is usually considered by fans as the best of the bunch. The 1962 remake, however, is the definitive adaptation: just seeing the credit “Screenplay by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont” will reassure you that you’re in for a cracking-good horror film.

Burn, Witch, Burn! is highly reminiscent of another great horror movie, Night of the Demon (1957; the recut U.S. version is known as Curse of the Demon), which has a similar plot in that it asks a rational man of science (played in this instance by Dana Andrews) to accept the belief that witchcraft can and does exist when he finds himself in peril at the hands of an admitted warlock (Niall MacGinnis) out to do him bodily harm. Both films are top-notch, but Demon edges out ahead due to its strong cast (which also includes Peggy Cummins and Liam Redmond) and expert direction (by Jacques Tourneur—I’ve often referred to Demon as “the greatest film Val Lewton never made”).

Burn! and Demon also share a similar plot device in that both of its protagonists are menaced by frightening supernatural creatures: Andrews by a smoke-belching demon in the 1957 film, Wyngarde by a giant eagle in Burn! Demon director Tourneur was forced to use the demon by the film’s producers—he wanted to merely “suggest” the creature, as was the case in many of Lewton’s classic RKO horror films—and while I don’t know if was the same situation for Burn’s Sidney Hayers I kind of wish that he, too, had gone the Lewton route…only because the special effects in Burn! aren’t quite capable of convincingly pulling off the “giant eagle” sequence.

Burn! has a great supporting cast: Margaret Johnson (playing a professor whose physical infirmity masks a rather sinister persona), Kathleen Byron (as a catty faculty wife), Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon, Jessica Dunning, Norman Bird and Reginald Beckwith (who, coincidentally, was in Demon as well). In the U.S. version, the ubiquitous Paul Frees narrates a brief prologue that supposedly will protect the audience from evil spirits and witchcraft (which started me to wonder as to what happened to those poor schmoes who were still at the theatre candy counter while this went on)—proving once again Pete Fitzgerald’s assertion that “Paul Frees is EVERYWHERE!” Three stars.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Politics doesn't make strange bedfellows...marriage does."

Carey Hilliard*

I had watched a promo on TCM announcing the “world premiere” of the 1962 cult oddity The World’s Greatest Sinner earlier this week, but a shout-out must go to Mark Evanier for the last-minute reminder. That having been said, he should also be condemned for leading me towards this colossal turkey; it’s one of the most serious examples of WTF cinema that I’ve come across in a long time.

The main character is Clarence Hilliard (Timothy Carey), an insurance salesman who, egged on by the Devil (personified as a snake and voiced by Paul Frees—and that concludes the “big” names in Sinner’s cast), chucks his comfy nine-to-five and becomes a rockabilly singer/preacher who rechristens himself “God.” He manages to attract a lot of shee…er, followers, and sinister forces convince him to drop the rock ‘n’ roll portion of his act and become a politician—he starts his own faction, “The Eternal Party,” claiming that “We are all gods!” In between all that, he’s engaging in activities like convincing a weak-willed follower to take the easy way out (suicide) and seducing little old ladies and nubile fourteen-year-olds (I’m no prude, but in the scene where Hilliard starts making out with “Grandma” I almost shut the darn thing off). Unfortunately, the Supreme Being who’s copyrighted “God” doesn’t cotton to all this nonsense, and takes Hilliard out in a finale that has to be seen to be believed.

I suppose the movie’s title is in reference to the fact that Clarence Hilliard has the audacity to label himself as “God,” and my take on this is that if he went a less controversial route, like using lowercase letters (“god”) or maybe adding a silent “h” (“Ghod”) this movie would cease to be. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, because to be honest—watching The World’s Greatest Sinner took an hour and twenty minutes of my life that I’ll never get back. I don’t think this is so much actor-writer-director Carey’s fault—in fact, I suspect I wasn’t the individual he had in mind when he finished Sinner:

DEVOTEE: Great job, Tim…this movie is a masterpiece.
CAREY: Well…I have a feeling that Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. won’t care for it—and he won’t be born for another year.

There are a lot of people who like this movie. There’s one reviewer at the IMDb who remarked, “Quite simply, the greatest film I have ever seen in my life.” (He apparently doesn’t get out much.) The promo that TCM ran this week featured Carey’s son Romeo, who states in interview clips that Sinner had quite a few devotees: Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese—who programmed the movie (and my memory maybe a little shaky on this) at a film festival one time as “The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Movie of All Time.” (Marty—we all appreciate you directing our attention to neglected treats like Peeping Tom [1960] and Plein soleil [1960, aka Purple Noon]…but maybe you should have quit while you were ahead.) John Cassavetes, who cast Carey in films like Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), once compared the actor to director Sergei Eisenstein.

Now, Carey had a reputation for being intensely disliked by others in his profession: Kirk Douglas reportedly hated his guts; Richard Widmark is said to have beaten him up while filming The Last Wagon (1956); and Marlon Brando stabbed Carey with a pen during the making of One-Eyed Jacks (1961). So I’m wondering if the praise directed toward Carey’s Sinner might not have been out of fear of what the temperamental actor would do if someone foolishly considered dissing his vanity project. (“Uh…gee, Tim…that was great… [Glancing at watch] Jesus, is that the time? Well, I gotta be motorin’…lot of things to do tomorrow…packing up my stuff and moving somewhere else…getting an unlisted phone number…you know how it is…”)

Many individuals are also drawn to this movie because of “the Frank Zappa factor”: the legendary rock ‘n’ roll musician penned the film’s theme song and composed the music score. (I’ve never been hip on Zappa, but devotees will probably get a kick out of Sinner because of it). One of Sinner’s cinematographers also gained a bit of notoriety: Ray Dennis Steckler, who later helmed The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (1964), Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966) and other TCM Underground mainstays. (The IMDb also notes that Edgar G. Ulmer worked on this film, under the nom de cinema of “Ove H. Sehested.”)

A goodly portion of IMDb commenters have acknowledged that while the supporting cast of Sinner is strictly from hunger, it’s the charismatic Carey that (pardon the pun) carries the day in the lead. Look, I think Carey was one hell of a character actor, putting in outstanding performances in films like Crime Wave (1954), The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957, which is probably his finest moment on screen, as the doomed Private Maurice Ferol) and the little-seen Convicts 4 (1962). I even sat through Finger Man (1955)—with Frank Lovejoy, yet—on the basis of a review I once read by novelist/noir connoisseur Barry Gifford. But while others may watch Sinner and be convinced that Carey’s character has the charm and personality to attract devoted followers to his religious cause, I can’t see any further than "South Dakota Slim" from Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). (“Leave it to ol’ Slim…I’ve got ideas…and they’re all vile, Bubie…”)

As the trade ad above observes of Sinner: “You’ll love it – or – you’ll hate it.” Let me put this as diplomatically as I can: this movie makes Skidoo (1968) look like a masterpiece. (And if memory serves me correct, there’s a “God” in that film, too.)

*I realize Savannahians are probably the only ones who’ll get this joke…but I couldn’t resist.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How could I possibly discount the advice of Andy Griffith?

Blogging will probably be slow the rest of today and part of tomorrow whilst I complete the latest Premier Collection project (which will debut the first of November) in the works from First Generation Radio Archives. In the meantime, I’m using a brain pencil and a piece of brain paper to dope out a couple of posts that I hope to have up soon.

Nevertheless, what follows is something I just had to put up…and a generous doff of the TDOY chapeau goes to the hardest working man in the screenwriting business, Vince Keenan…who still has never watched an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

Thanks, Vince—best giggle I’ve had all week.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Detour: Road under construction has a blurb up about a delay in the release of Infinity Entertainment’s Route 66: The Complete Second Season. The box set, whose street date was originally today, will instead be unleashed on November 4th. (I guess this gives Infinity a little extra time to screw this release up like they did with Season 1. They apparently fixed the problems with the second volume [the bad composition used for widescreen TV’s] when they re-released the set but Bob “Master of His [Public] Domain” Huggins informed me that the prints were still sub-standard.)

Also at TVShows is an article about the Britcom Christmas release I told you about a week or two back—except this is the Canadian version (released by Morningstar) and would appear, judging from the shows listed, not to have as many as the Televista set…plus it’s being released a week after, on November 18th. (The Televista set is also cheaper as well.) As to what the deal is, confusion-wise…your guess is as good as mine.

MGM fans (particularly those who like their movies to sing and dance) might be interested to learn that the Emmy Award-winning 1992 miniseries, When the Lion Roars, is going to be available come January 20, 2009. The three-part documentary was hosted by Patrick “Make it so” Stewart, who I’m sure we all remember from his numerous appearances in those classic films musicals of the 40s, 50s and 60s. (Ah, sarcasm…be my wild mistress.) This sort of thing isn’t particularly my cup of Orange Pekoe but I’m sure other TDOY readers will groove on it.

I ran across this blurb courtesy of my homepage yesterday—a recent auction of mementos from Bob “But I just wanna tell ya…” Hope’s collection netted $601,000 for charity. I’m dying to know what the subject of the handwritten letter (from 1951) to Bing Crosby (which went for $5,000) was about, but I thought Krista at Sunny Side Up! would be tickled about this big ticket item: an autographed photo of Lucille Ball (with teeth blackened out) that was sold for $6.562. “Lucille Ball sold for Marilyn Monroe prices,” observed Darren Julien, the president of the auction company. “Amazing.”

Finally—as I was typing this little potpourri of yesteryear items I was interrupted by a phone call from the good folks at CharredHer, who for some odd reason have been trying to get hold of me the past few days. I decided to go ahead and answer, and a woman asks me if she can speak to a Philip Morris…

A punch line sent by the Gods of Comedy doesn’t present itself too often, so I yelled out that oh-so-memorable phrase: “Call for Philip Mor-aissss…” And the amazing thing is she actually was old enough to understand the joke…

Something tells me I should be getting a royalty check for this...

Font and center

You Are Comic Sans

You are a nothing but a big goofball. You're quite playful and fun!

You're widely known for your zany personality and your vivacious attitude.

To say that you stand out in a crowd would be a definite understatement.

Remember that you are overwhelming at times and that people appreciate you best in small doses.

I'm not certain about this whole font business but I think they got the "goofball" thing right.

(A doff of the TDOY derby to Linda at Yet Another Journal for the suggestion.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Region 2 Cinema: Repulsion (1965)

Carole Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve) is a shy, reserved manicurist who’s concerned about her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux)’s upcoming trip to Italy with the boorish Michael (Ian Hendry), a married man with which Helen is having an affair. You see, unaware to Helen or any of her salon co-workers, Carole is slowly descending into madness—brought about by a longtime history of sexual repression. She finds little comfort holed up in her apartment—cracks begin to appear in walls, she loses track of time, hallucinatory figures attack and have their way with her—and a young man named Colin (John Fraser), sincerely concerned about well being, makes the terrible mistake of looking in on her and getting bludgeoned to death by a candlestick for his trouble. Carole also manages to do away with a lascivious landlord (Patrick Wymark) before Helen and Michael return to find her underneath a bed and in a complete catatonic state. The only answer as to why Carole went insane resides in a family photograph that the camera zooms in at the film’s close, showing a younger and most unhappy Carole as a little girl.

Roman Polanski’s first English language film, released in 1965, still packs a wallop as one of the all-time great psychological terror films. (I figured this being October, with Halloween and all, it would be a good time to revisit the movie.) The best thing about Repulsion is that much of its creepiness emanates from audio sources: Carole, terrified of being alone, hears footsteps in the corridor outside her bedroom and simple everyday sounds like the dripping of a faucet or the ticking of a clock are magnified to almost ear-shattering levels. But the movie doesn’t skimp on visual scares, either—the famous scene in which Carole closes a closet door only to glimpse a mysterious figure in the reflection of a mirror never fails to make me jump.

Deneuve is sensational as the repressed Carole; her voice barely reaches above a whisper and throughout the film she goes through the motions at her job, prompting her co-workers to tell her to stop “day dreaming.” (I’ve always been amused by the fact that Carole works in “cloistered” surroundings—a beauty salon where few men are ever seen—and lives across the street from a convent.) Repulsion wasn’t the first feature Deneuve appeared in, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable in her incredible career. Polanski also excels (in both directing and co-writing the screenplay) here with the film that would kick off a “trilogy” about the horrors of apartment/city dwelling (the other two being Rosemary’s Baby [1968] and La Locataire [1976; aka The Tenant]).

You’re going to find this a bit hard to believe, but the first time I saw Repulsion was on Bravo—at a time when no one cared about what list Kathy Griffin happened to be on or how rich housewives from Atlanta spent their copious free time. A Region 1 DVD has been available since 2005 (which means I’m sort of cheating here, marking this as a Region 2 exclusive when it isn’t) but I haven’t heard too many good things about that version whereas the overseas release is just what the doctor ordered. (Unfortunately, both the single release and the box set The Roman Polanski Collection—which is where my copy of Repulsion is from, along with Nóż w wodzie [1962, aka Knife in the Water] and Cul-de-sac [1966]—have recently been discontinued.) There’s a nice little doc on the making of the film included, as well as a stills gallery and audio commentary from Polanski and Deneuve. You might have to scrounge around for a used copy but you certainly won’t regret the decision.

Well...this is the state that contemplated a "take home your roadkill" law...

I wanted to update a post from last week in which I was curious about the speculation that wild, wonderful West Virginia would turn purple in this election and throw its support towards Senator Barack Obama in the presidential race. Nate Silver has crunched some more numbers at and concludes that we can scratch the Mountain State off the swing state list. According to Nate:

Both Public Policy Polling and Mason-Dixon have new polling out in the state, and they give John McCain leads of 8 and 6 points respectively. It's possible that this is one of those areas where McCain's attacks on Barack Obama are having some resonance. It's also possible that the state was never all that close to begin with, and that the ARG poll from two weeks ago that gave Obama a substantial lead was one of those infamous ARG outliers. By no means is the state totally unwinnable for Obama -- and I'd still like to see what, say, Research 2000 or Rasmussen or SurveyUSA have to say about it -- but in all probability, it is pretty far from the tipping point.

I thought it was a little too good to be true, too. And though I dearly love both the state and its people, if they bought into the whole “Al-Gore-will-take-your-guns-away” horsepuckey they’ve probably swallowed John McCain’s bullshit as well.

Of course, these sorts of situations don’t help a great deal, either.

A journey begins with a single schlep

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Little buddies

Kliph Nesteroff, one of the many sages at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, has unearthed from the dusty YouTube archives a February 5, 1969 episode of The Good Guys, a CBS-TV sitcom which had a short-run from 1968-70. The series focused on the misadventures of Bert Gramus (Herb Edelman) and Rufus Butterworth (Bob Denver); a pair of childhood pals who had gone into business for themselves (Bert owned a diner, Rufus drove a cab) but were always out for opportunities to grab the brass ring of big success. Bert was married to Claudia (Joyce Van Patten), who frequently helped her hubby in the diner…Rufus, on the other hand, was a bachelor.

This outing guest stars Denver’s former Gilligan’s Island compadre Alan Hale, Jr. as “Big” Tom Reardon, a truck driver who frequented Bert’s Place, as he tries to work up the courage to marry his girlfriend Gertie Zybisco (Toni Gilman). (You’ll also recognize a very pre-Alice Vic [billed as Victor] Tayback as her brother, scraggly beard and all.) Big Tom could almost be called a semi-regular since he appeared in two other Guys episodes, as did another Gilligan alumnus, Jim Backus, who showed up on three occasions as Claudia’s father.

When Guys returned for a second season in the fall of 1969, Rufus had jettisoned his taxi business and became Bert’s partner but even in this first season episode he’s already helping out at the diner (his cab activities clearly didn’t keep him too busy, I gather). Generally, I don’t like to judge TV shows on the basis of having seen only one episode but in watching this one it would appear that Guys was a fairly amiable endeavor if not particularly groundbreaking, comedy-wise. (If you’re not satisfied sampling just one episode, this gentleman at has a set of five episodes for sale.)

Anyway, I figured I’d direct a little attention to this rarity (especially to Sam Johnson, who remembers the show a little more clearly than I do) and also be a commercial for Kliph’s site, Classic Television Showbiz, which is choc-a-bloc with vintage TV content. Kliph, despite his dislike for the comedically sublime I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster (which doesn’t make him a bad person…only horribly, horribly wrong), comments over here at TDOY every now and then and I just felt that a shout-out was necessary. (Do you suppose I should tell him that Dickens/Fenster creator Leonard Stern and writer Mel Tolkin also had a hand in The Good Guys? Nah, I’m sure he’ll figure that out eventually…)

Why would a Wal-Mart TV be tuned to Olbermann?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Magnum Opus

Kerry Lauerman at interviews Berkeley Breathed about the upcoming demise of his Sunday comic strip Opus, starring the penguin that was one of the delights of his Pulitzer Prize-winning strip Bloom County (1980-89). Breathed claims that the coarsening of the National Discourse is his motivation behind closing down the strip:

You've said that you're ending "Opus" because you believe "We are about to enter a rather wicked period in our National Discourse," and that it will make keeping the successful tone of the strip impossible. Why do you think that things will get worse -- especially after the acrimony of the past eight years?

We're not a movie. In most aspects, there's no arc to the human story. Only a line heading upward. For nearly everything. In this case, the coarsening of the National Discourse. We aren't returning someday to any sort of golden era of political civility. The line heads heavenward and has been since the Republic started. And with the intersection of two rather dramatic dynamics -- the cable and Web technology allowing All Snark All the Time ... and the political realities of No More Free Lunch in America, it will spike in the coming years like Don Draper's sex life, and I hereby pledge that that's the last pop reference I use.

Look, let’s be honest here—Opus has never been all that damn funny, and I think Breathed has finally come to that conclusion. Bloom County was one of the best comic strips in the history of the medium; a free-wheeling slaughter of sacred cows as seen through the eyes of a bucolic community full of archetypes with which we could all recognize and identify. At the time of its popularity, many compared it to G.B. Trudeau’s Doonesbury—which wasn’t really fair, because Trudeau’s strip was penned with a razor-sharp lancelet as opposed to Breathed’s blunter instrument. The problems with County erupted when several of the characters, chiefly among them Opus and Bill the Cat, took on a popularity of their own and Berke became convinced that a strip based solely on them would surpass County’s success—and this led him to create Outland (1989-95), a WTF, toothless outing that tried to be a paean to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat…only without the humor.

And that’s pretty much been the problem with Opus since it bounced back on the Sunday pages in 2003; Breathed’s continued obsession to copy classic (and better) comic strips (in Opus’ case, Peanuts) falls flat because he refuses to be himself. All he really needs to do is swallow his pride and return to the glory days of Bloom (while cutting back on the Opus and Bill appearances). He tacitly admits this in the interview when he says "Bloom County had five times the edge of the work I do now.”

Breathed also mentions a notorious County strip in 1986 in which a cockroach screams in the last panel “Reagan sucks!” (My own recollection is that it was “Puck,” the penguin mascot from Pat Oliphant’s political cartoons, but perhaps there were two instances of this occurring.) “Nobody blinked -- 1,000 newspapers, quiet as a mouse,” he recollects as he compares it to the outrage he received for this cartoon. I have a TL for Berke: the Savannah News-Press ran the “Reagan sucks” strip but whited out the punch line; when I complained to the editor about this he expressly told me “That kind of language does not belong in a family newspaper.” So let’s adjust that figure to 999.

So while I wish Breathed good luck in his future endeavors, I can’t say I’ll miss Opus too much. The classic, funnier Opus still appears in Bloom County reruns (available at and like so many other things on the blog, is always worth wading through for nostalgia’s sake.

Correction: As Jym Dyer helpfully pointed out, I got the name of Pat Oliphant's cartoon penguin wrong (serves me right for not being more diligent in my research) so I made the necessary adjustment. Thrilling Days of Yesteryear regrets the error.

It's hard out here for a blogger

Friday, October 17, 2008

Seven rooms of gloom

Just learned from my homepage that Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops, has passed on at the age of 72. This makes Abdul “Duke” Fakir the only surviving original member of the popular Motown group, who charted so many hit records during the 1960s and 1970s: I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), Bernadette, Reach Out (I’ll Be There), Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got), etc. He also provided the voice (and pipes) of “Audrey, Jr.” in the 1986 film version of the Broadway stage hit Little Shop of Horrors (which itself was adapted from the 1960 Roger Corman cult classic).

R.I.P., Brother Levi. You will be missed.

You want fries with that?

Pa. man chews through belly-busting, 15-lb. burger

The mountain of beef is the product of Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, about 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Clearfield.

[Brad] Sciullo, 21, of Uniontown, said he was surprised he finished the sandwich Monday. "About three hours into it, things got tough," he said.

When asked what possessed him to eat a burger that big, Sciullo said: "I wanted to see if I could."

The burger included a bun, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, onions, mild banana peppers and a cup each of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and relish, pub owner Dennis Liegey said.

“Because it’s there” was the response of British climber George Mallory when asked why he wanted to ascend Mount Everest. Eating a big honkin’ cheeseburger (dubbed the Beer Barrel Belly Bruiser) is kind of small potatoes (French-fried, of course) in comparison but as a burger connoisseur I doff my cap to Mr. Sciullo. And I’ll offer him a Tums if he wants it.

“Oh, those West Virginia hills/how majestic and how grand…”

Though I currently hang my hat in Athens, GA, I have mentioned on the blog on numerous occasions in the past that West By-God Virginia is my home state, the place of my birth. Yes, that makes me a hillbilly. You can call me one, and I won’t be offended. Trust me—I’ve heard every West Virginia joke ever told and have told a few myself as well.

So I have to say I was pleased to read this over at which discusses the distinct (if remote) possibility that the Mountain State may turn purple this time around and that Senator Barack Obama’s campaign is actually committing some resources to winning the state, even though Mr. Bush won it in the last two elections. West Virginia had a tradition of being a Democratic stronghold—it went for Carter in 1980 and Dukakis in 1988—and according to Obama for America State Director Tom Vogel would have clung to Gore in 2000 only Al ignored the state. (Either Vogel or the author, Sean Quinn, sort of left out the fact that a buttload of coal and timber money from the Southern part of WV went towards funding ads scaring the populace into thinking Gore was going to take away their guns as well—but that’s just nitpicking on my part.)

To be honest, I haven’t completely signed on to West Virginia’s born-again blue status because as a native son, I’m skeptical that a majority of voters in WV could bring themselves to vote for a man with a slightly darker hue to his skin than his opponent. The only poll I’ve seen had Obama at 50 and McCain at 42, which I found immediately suspect; the numbers in the 538 article have McCain winning by 0.1% which seems a bit more accurate to me (although still a little closer than reality).

According to today’s New York Times, Team Obama is making a campaign swing to the Mountain State which will feature either Obama or running mate Senator Joe Biden, with a surge of spending to follow. Here’s the bit in the article that made me laugh out loud:

“West Virginia is real,” said Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe. “We have been watching it for a long time.”

West Virginia is real? Well, that takes an enormous burden off my mind.

Thank God it's the last...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sadness on the nostalgia front

I apologize for the paucity of blog material (I seem to be skating by on publishing comic strips and YouTube videos) but I’m hopefully going to try and have something up by tomorrow…and that’s only because I’ve been invited to sister Kat’s for a steak dinner with the ‘rents. (The ‘rents have just recently returned from a trek to West Des Moines, where they spent quality time visiting my younger sister Debbie and spoiling their granddaughter Rachel rotten.)

I got a call from them this past Saturday evening and I talked to the Peanut fairly briefly—she informed me that she was working on a magazine.

“What kind of magazine is it, and would it be possible for me to get a subscription?” I asked in my best Arlene-Francis-on-What’s-My-Line? voice.

“Well, Uncle Ivan—it’s a Christmas magazine. Kids will be able to look through it and find pages and pages of toys and they can pick what they want for Christmas,” she replies.

So I proceeded to tell her about the good old days when Sears-Roebuck sent a “Wish Book” to customers during the holidays and it, too, had pages of toys that we used to look at and dream about getting for Christmas. She was interested—or at least appeared to be. (Sometimes that kid looks at me like I have no idea what I’m talking about.)

Then I say to her: “Um…Peanut? This wouldn’t be some sort of transparent ruse to communicate to Nana (my mother) and Pop (Dad) what you’re wanting for Christmas…is it?”

Slight pause. “Yes,” she confesses.

That kid has the timing of Jack Benny.

Anyhoo, I was catching up on my blog reading and learned (primarily from Mark Evanier) that we’ve lost actress-comedienne Edie Adams (81), jazz trumpeter-composer Neal Hefti (85, famous for TV’s Batman theme) and game show host Jack Narz (85). It is so devastating to learn of the passings of such incredibly talented people! (By the way, I was completely unaware that Narz and his fellow game show host brethren Tom Kennedy were brothers. You learn something new every day!)

Well, I have to go. I’ve just noticed that Sam Johnson is starting up the feud again. (Reads script) “Sam’s the only person I know who gave nine cents to the March of Dimes…”

Oh, one more thing before I forget…

Go over to this lug’s award-winning blog and wish him a happy birthday. You’ll be a better person for having done so.

Correction: When I first wrote this post, I apparently wasn't paying attention to the fact that two of the individuals listed in the obits are actually alive and well and still among us. I have therefore edited this post to correct what was obviously a major fox paw on my part. Thrilling Days of Yesteryear regrets (in so many ways) the error.

Monday, October 13, 2008

“Find me and stop me…I’m going to do it again…”

I had planned to have a Region 2 Cinema review up today but I was distracted this afternoon by TCM’s scheduling of The Sniper (1952), a noir (which I had not seen) featuring Arthur Franz as a too-tightly-wound loner who embarks on a killing spree of females because…well, let’s just Artie’s a bit “funny in the head.” I unfortunately missed the first ten minutes (mistakenly thinking the movie started at 2:45 instead of 2:30pm) but what I did get to see was a taut little suspenser (directed by HUAC fink Edward Dmytryk) that contains a superb cast and was shot on impressive San Francisco locations (which physically complement Franz’s vertiginous state of mind).

The cops chasing after Franz are Adolphe Menjou (whose character’s last name, believe it or don’t, is “Kafka”)—who does a surprisingly good job as a plainclothes dick, sans moustache—and OTR vet Gerald Mohr (“Get this and get it straight…”), with an assist from Frank “Herbert T. Gillis” Faylen and Richard Kiley as a cop psychiatrist. Dark City Dame Marie Windsor is Franz’s first victim, and if by some off-chance they ever decided to film a biopic on Marie they wouldn’t need to look any further than actress Ileana Douglas for the starring role. I don’t normally like to ruin the endings of movies for those who haven’t seen them but the last shot of this film is quite unsettling; a close-up of Franz sitting on his bed, gun on his lap…and a tear rolling down his cheek. (I thought for a second there someone had chucked some trash out of a car window.) A few other familiar faces also pop up in this movie: TDOY OTR fave John Brown, Dudley Dickerson (he’s got just one line but I was pleased to see he didn’t have to resort to the negative stereotypes he was frequently saddled with in the Columbia comedy shorts), Byron Foulger, Charles Lane (as a barfly!), Jay Novello, Karen Sharpe and Victor Sen Yung.

I will lay some interesting Region 2 news on you; in previously writing about The Best Man (1964), I was unhappy about the film’s availability on DVD but all that will change when Optimum Home Entertainment releases the Henry Fonda-Cliff Robertson political drama to Region 2 next Monday (October 20th). I’ve had to tighten my belt re: DVD purchases as of recent but I’m sort of leaning toward securing a copy of this since I did so enjoy the movie. has it available for £9.74 but has an even better deal and I think they ship it cheaper as well.

“Hi folks—time to call ‘em as we see ‘em…”

Charlie Summers at Nostalgic Rumblings reports the passing of actor/sportscaster Gil Stratton, Jr.. who died this past Saturday at the age of 86. Devastating news to hear, to be sure—particularly in light of the fact that in working on this Radio Spirits project (which I just finished) I heard his unmistakable voice on a Life of Riley broadcast from February 3, 1950 (in which he plays a boyfriend of Babs’ who’s told by Riley to stay away from the house…but manages to sneak in when Riley hires a tutor for his daughter).

Stratton—who even in later years never lost the youthful enthusiasm in his voice—was a fixture on radio in the 1940s and 1950s, appearing regularly on programs like Fibber McGee & Molly, The Halls of Ivy, The Great Gildersleeve, Suspense and My Favorite Husband. He was also a fixture on Life with Luigi (as Luigi’s “partner” in the antique business, Jimmy), My Little Margie (as Freddie, Margie’s good-for-nothing boyfriend) and Those Websters—a situation comedy that replaced That Brewster Boy and starred Stratton as son Billy (with a pre-Gildersleeve Willard Waterman as his pop). Stratton received his first taste of show business at the age of 19 (in the stage production of Best Foot Forward) and also embarked on a movie career that included appearances in Girl Crazy (1943), the Bowery Boys films Hold That Line (1952) and Here Come the Marines (1952) and The Wild One (1953). But his best known movie role is probably that of Clarence Harvey “Cookie” Cook, narrator and sidekick to Bill Holden’s J.J. Sefton in Billy Wilder’s classic Stalag 17 (1953).

Stratton used his experience as a former baseball umpire to secure work as a sportscaster; he was hired by KNXT in 1954 and soon became part of the station’s “Big News” team that included legendary newsman Jerry Dunphy—the inspiration for The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Ted Baxter. Stratton was quite active in the OTR hobby in later years, both as a member of REPS and a frequent guest to the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention—“always quick with a laugh,” as Charlie fondly remembers. Fans and friends are encouraged to leave condolences for Gil’s family—as well as share memories and stories—at Stratton’s website.

R.I.P, Gil. You always called ‘em as you saw ‘em.

Generation Blog

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shady rested

Blogging will probably slow down to a crawl the next couple of days due to some outside work on a Radio Spirits project that needs my immediate attention. I did, however, want to direct you to an announcement at that gives Petticoat Junction fans a heads-up on some bonus materials to be made available on the December 16th release of Petticoat Junction: The Official First Season.

This DVD set will contain all thirty-eight episodes of the bucolic sitcom’s freshman year, and to accompany these wacky shenanigans there will be introductions by Linda Kaye “Betty Jo” Henning and Pat “Bobbie Jo” Woodell, who played “Bobbie Jo” for two seasons before being replaced by the better-known Lori Saunders (whom I had a crush on when I was a rerun-obsessed teenager). There will also be interviews with the two actresses, and a 1990 interview with series creator Paul Henning—plus a photo gallery to complete the extras.

Now, speaking only for myself—bonus materials are nice when you can get them but I don’t wring my hands if they’re not included and I certainly wouldn’t repurchase a disc just because, say, they’ve added four additional hours of footage consisting of blowing things up real good as is the case with some modern movies on DVD. I’m planning on purchasing Junction because the previous MPI release contained only the twenty-or-so episodes that had fallen into the public domain. I will say this, though—the MPI Junction set had bonus material that will be very hard to top; not only did Linda Kaye do intros for all the episodes in the collection but she hosts a great documentary entitled The History of Hooterville, which tells the story of the show along with interviews from Saunders, Frank Cady, Charles Lane, Mike Minor and Gunilla Hutton. Also included on the MPI collection are cast commercials for Ivory Soap and Tide, and footage of Bea Benaderet recreating her Gertrude Gearshift character (from The Jack Benny Show) and her Blanche Morton laugh for Art Linkletter.

Yesterday, the UPS dude delivered The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Second Season to my front door and while I haven’t had a chance to open it up yet there’s a list on the back cover of some of its extras, including Irene Ryan’s screen test, a Henning interview from 1969 and a clip from the Tiffany Network’s 1963 Fall Preview Show, “The Stars’ Address is CBS.” I’ll be certain to have something on the blog as soon as I can sit down with the discs for a closer look.

"Buy me some Peanuts and cracker jack..."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mulberry, R.F.D.

Faithful TDOY follower George Freeman sent me an e-mail earlier today about the DVD release of a Britcom that for many years was a Saturday morning staple on West Virginia Public Television: the 1992-93 series Mulberry, starring Karl Howman as a mysterious gentleman answering to the series' title who befriends an irascible, elderly dowager named Miss Farnaby (Geraldine McEwan of TV's Miss Marple fame) and charms his way into her life as her personal servant…despite the reservations of her hired help, Bert (Tony Selby) and Alice (Lill Roughley). As the series progressed, viewers were made aware that what made Mulberry so secretive was that he was in actuality the Grim Reaper, sent by his father (Death) to collect Farnaby; however, he was able to sweet-talk the old man into giving the woman a three-month extension and in that amount of time attempted to impress upon her the importance of living life to the fullest, despite the objections of loyal Bert and Alice.

Mulberry was created by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde, two successful Britcom scribes who were also responsible for comedy smashes like Please, Sir!, The Fenn Street Gang, The Good Life (aka Good Neighbors), Ever Decreasing Circles and Brush Strokes (which also featured Howman and was likewise a favorite of the programmers at WVPTV). (You might also recognize Larbey’s name from the long-running As Time Goes By, starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer.) I think in the back of my mind I remember reading about Mulberry making its debut on DVD on these shores but more-than-likely shoved it aside because (and this is the part I hate to admit, George) I wasn’t really a big fan of the show. (Unlike my OTR pal Joe Mackey, who loved it.) I’m not saying that Mulberry didn’t have merit (it was a likable if odd sitcom); it just wasn’t my particular cup of Earl Grey. Personally, I liked Brush Strokes a lot more; this Britcom has seen the first series released on Region 2 DVD but appears to be in a holding pattern concerning the remaining series (a total of five in all).

George also passed along to me an amusing blurb from the IMDb that a fan surprised Mulberry star Howman at a football game by asking him if he would autograph the DVD. Howman was apparently so astonished to learn of Mulberry’s DVD status that he asked if he could borrow the fan’s copy to take home and show the wife. (I’m guessing no one approached Howman about doing any commentary on any of the episodes.)

Tony Selby, who played the part of Bert, is a great character actor who’s appeared in more British television dramas and sitcoms than I’ve had hot dinners…but his best-known comedy role (outside of Mulberry) is that of the autocratic Cpl. Percy March in the 1975-78 series Get Some In! The program, a period 50s sitcom that focuses on the misadventures of four RAF recruits putting in their mandatory National Service, was—coincidence of coincidences—also scripted by Larbey and Esmonde, and its first series (complete with Christmas special) will be released via Network DVD on Monday, October 13th. I’m pointing this out because of the Mulberry connections, of course, but also because Get Some In! was the first regular sitcom role for Robert Lindsay, the star of Citizen Smith and My Family. (I watched the most recently available DVD of My Family episodes—from Series 8, I believe—and while I wouldn’t argue that the quality of the show isn’t quite what it once was Lindsay never fails to make me laugh out loud. I’m a lot more charitable toward Family than some of the commenters at the IMDb—the attitudes of some of them would suggest that the show was a blight on the entire Western world.)

I feel his pain...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

American idle

I’ve got a few disclaimers here for the video: the man and woman can’t carry a tune in a bucket and the woman has a mild coughing jag during the song, leaving her duet partner to soldier on alone. Plus there’s a lyric about going to Canada, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the song’s subject because…well, she could see ya right from her front doorstep, ya know?

Nevertheless, of all the song parodies about Governor Gidget I think this is my favorite—its amateurish quality just makes me like it that much more, and some of the lyrics are pretty clever (and a bit naughty, so make sure you don’t play this one at work). (It also doesn’t hurt that it’s sung to the toe-tapping tune of the Plain White T’s Hey There Delilah.) This YouTube version also contains the lyrics onscreen, so it’s like having a Thursday night version of Friday Morning Sing-a-Long. (Sorry about the T-shirt ad in the top right corner, by the way.)


Christmas crackers

Back in November 2006, Network DVD released a 4-disc compilation of Yuletide-themed episodes from the various ITV Britcoms they’ve acquired the distribution rights to entitled Classic ITV Christmas Comedy, and it’s a wonderful collection—giving Britcom fans the opportunity to sample shows that have not yet been given treatment on disc including My Husband and I, Hallelujah! and You’re Only Young Twice. (Of course, many of these episodes have also been culled from comedies already well-known to British audiences: Please, Sir!, On the Buses, Nearest and Dearest, Only When I Laugh, etc.)

Such a set, naturally, was of interest on this side of the pond only to Britcom fanatics (that would be me), but in looking over the new additions on DVD Price Search I’ve discovered that this same set will soon be made available on Region 1 from Televista come November 11th, with the name changed to Classic British Xmas Comedies: Volumes 1 & 2. It’s been marked down considerably (CD Universe has it for pre-order for $17.14), so if anyone out there who enjoys British situation comedy is interested, it’s well worth the investment—with specials by Sid James and Stanley Baxter and installments of Billy Liar, Two’s Company, The Rag Trade and Bless Me, Father—among many others. Hey…you’ve seen Rudolph and Frosty and you know how they turn out—try a little something different for a change this holiday season.

In other DVD news—though with their track record of late I’m not entirely sure why I’m mentioning this—CBS-Paramount is announcing that the second and final season of the cult 60s sci-fi hit The Invaders will be available January 27th, according to I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I’m a big fan of this show, and I’m pleased to see that they’re completing the series run…though to be honest the second season wasn’t quite as good as the inaugural season, particularly when they decided to give Invaders protagonist David Vincent a group of “believers” to help assist him in his cause. I’m still looking forward to this release in any case.

Before I wrap this up, I just wanted to give a shout-out to a couple of new blogs that have been added to the ol’ TDOY blogroll: Sunny Side Up! is written by a rather enthusiastic (the exclamation mark probably gives that away) 21-year-old named Krista who’s a huge fan of 1940s and 1950s Hollywood (I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to find younger people who are classic movie fans in this jaded-MTV age) and particularly Lucille Ball. Kittysmith is the proprietor of Miriams-not-so-well (which I’m sorry to hear, by the way) and another fan of “yesteryear” entertainment (among her favorites: “the late, great Borscht Belt comedians”) as well. Thanks for linking to the blog, ladies, and for allowing me to reciprocate in kind.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where am I…and how did I get in this handbasket?

In 14 Women (2007), director Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary, Pet Sematary II) profiles the nine Democrats (Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow) and five Republicans (Susan Collins, Elizabeth Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snowe) who comprise the contingent of women currently in the United States Senate (the feature was produced in 2006, so Amy Klobuchar and Claire McCaskill are only glimpsed briefly). Narrated by Annette Bening, it’s an interesting look at these exceptional women, and examines their personal lives as much as can be possible in a seventy-nine minute doc.

That, sad to say, is one of the drawbacks of 14 Women: with such a restraint on time, each Senator gets roughly six minutes of screen time—which seems like a cheat particularly when (speaking for myself) I found myself curious to learn more about them. It’s also presented with all the excitement of oatmeal: there are some interesting bits (Feinstein recalls the tragic events involving the murder of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and commissioner Harvey Milk, as she was on the commission at that time; Collins notes that her role model was long-serving Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith) but for the most part Women is perfectly content to function mainly as a civics guide, without any further indication on what makes the participants of this documentary tick. I’d give it two-and-a-half stars.

After Women, I watched No End in Sight (2007)—a documentary that was nominated for an Oscar as Best Documentary Feature but lost to Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), which is playing on HBO this month (I wish CharredHer would have another free weekend so I could see it.) It’s interesting to note that Alex Gibney, director of Dark Side, was the executive producer of Sight (directed by Charles Ferguson)—this is what’s known as “hedging one’s bets”; Gibney also helmed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005).

As for Sight, I’ve watched a goodly portion of documentaries on the Iraq War and I can honestly say it’s one of the most even-handed of the ones I’ve seen. Sight straight-forwardly tells the audience in great detail that—no matter which side of the fence you’re on re: the conflict—the actual war and preparations afterward became a tremendous clusterf**k due to a combination of arrogance and poor planning. Interviews with notables as General Jay Garner, Colonel Paul Hughes and Walter Slocombe paint a horrifyingly vivid picture of an administration that simply didn’t have its act together for the post-war aftermath, and archival footage (mostly of Donald Rumsfeld, who emerges as a clownish buffoon) buttresses this argument—it’s often too painful to watch. The most revealing bit involves a professor (working with the post-war planners) who meets up with a recently graduated student from his class; the student happily informs the prof that she’s been put in charge of mapping out a strategy that will reduce automobile traffic in Baghdad. (It’s amazing what a contribution to the Bush campaign will reap, isn’t it?)

If you haven’t seen No End in Sight, you owe it to yourself to take a glance. I highly recommend this fascinating documentary: four stars.