Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a heart attack today



GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — The staff dietitian at a doctors group is asking the West Michigan Whitecaps to put a warning label on the enormous new hamburger that it's selling this season. Susan Levin of the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sent a letter to the Grand Rapids minor-league team on Tuesday. She's asking that the 4,800-calorie burger be labeled a "dietary disaster" that increases the risk of cancer and heart disease.

The 4-pound, $20 burger features five beef patties, five slices of cheese, nearly a cup of chili and liberal doses of salsa and corn chips — all on an 8-inch bun.
Whitecaps spokesman Mickey Graham said the team hasn't considered labeling the burger, which he says is a gimmick being promoted as a very unhealthy menu item.

My arteries slammed shut just looking at the photo.

R.I.P. Monte Hale

Singing cowboy Hale dies at 89

Monte Hale, a singing cowboy whose tall frame, strong voice and handsome looks led to dozens of film roles in westerns during the 1940s, has died. He was 89.

Hale died Sunday at home in Studio City, Calif., after a lengthy illness, said Yadhira De Leon of the Autry National Centre of the American West.

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Hale picked up the guitar as a teen and was discovered as a player at a war bond rally during the Second World War, according to a press release from the centre.

Recommended for a screen test in Hollywood for Republic Pictures, he hitchhiked from Texas to California. He ended up snagging a part in The Big Bonanza (1944), then signed a seven-year contract with Republic.

Hale starred in almost 20 of his own films, including Home On the Range (1946) with Robert Blake and Out California Way (1946).

After departing the studio, he appeared in other movies, including Giant (1956) with James Dean and The Chase (1966) with Marlon Brando.

He also guest starred on television shows such as Gunsmoke, Honey West and Tales of Wells Fargo.

As for me…I’ll always remember Hale for a bit role in my all-time favorite serial, The Purple Monster Strikes (1945).

R.I.P., Monte. You will be missed. (A tip of the TDOY ten-gallon goes to Bill “Saturday Matinee” Crider, which is where I first saw this notice.)

Where’s the Rest of Me: Dutch and the Dead End Kids

In the beginning, Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell and Bernard Punsly were collectively known as “The Dead End Kids,” due to their success in portraying streetwise juvenile delinquents in the 1937 film Dead End—adapted from the popular stage play by Sidney Kingsley. As the years progressed, the team would be referred to by many other monikers—The Little Tough Guys, The East Side Kids—until they finally reached their zenith at Monogram/Allied Artists from 1946-57, where they made numerous B-picture comedies as The Bowery Boys. The Bowery Boys film series has both its detractors and fans (that would be me), but everyone seems to be in general agreement that the years they spent at Warner Bros.—where they appeared alongside James Cagney and Pat O’Brien in the popular gangster melodrama Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and made five other films co-starring actors like Humphrey Bogart (Crime School [1938]) and John Garfield (They Made Me a Criminal [1939])—found them at the peak of their j.d. powers.

Ronald Reagan had the pleasure (or misfortune, depending on your opinion) of appearing in two of the Dead End Kids’ outings (both of which were shown as part of TCM’s Star of the Month festival this month) beginning with Hell’s Kitchen (1939), an entertaining B-mellerdrammer that is more of a showcase for the young actors than Ronnie—he plays the nephew (and mouthpiece) of racketeer Stanley Ridges, who’s decided to go “legit” and donate his ill-gotten gains to a shelter run by wicked administrator Grant Mitchell. Reagan’s only real purpose in the movie (he’s billed fourth) seems to be as love interest for Margaret Lindsay, a social worker who’s fired from the shelter by Mitchell but rehired by Ridges when she informs him of the heinous conditions under which the boys must endure. Mitchell (who reminds me of Dick Chaney in this film, for reasons I can’t quite pin down) plays the part of the villain with great relish; having the shelter guards regularly beat the kids and instituting methods of punishment like locking them up in “the cold room,” a quaint euphemism for the shelter’s meat freezer. Later in the film, he orders a sickly Bobby Jordan into the “cold room” for a nine-hour stretch—and Jordan emerges both a human Popsicle and dead as a doornail.

Ridges, who plays his role for mostly comedy relief (for some reason, he’s loaded down with malapropisms—something that would later become the bailiwick of Leo Gorcey), starts out using the shelter for his own purposes (namely, a quick ticket to rehabilitation since he’s on probation) but gradually warms up to the little bastards—even allowing them to form their own “government” (with Halop as the “Mayor” and Gorcey as “Chief of Police”) inside the shelter to insure things are running smoothly. He spends a generous portion of his own money in transforming the boys’ home, but is tricked by an old henchman (Fred Tozere) into an exhibition hockey game between the shelter boys and a group of professional “ringers”—who naturally, end up wiping the walls with the Dead Enders. Ridges then starts throwing punches at the former henchie—in front of the judge who sentenced him, clearly a smooth move—thereby setting himself up for a long stay at The Grey Bar Hotel.

Hell’s Kitchen is a fairly entertaining picture, even though I think Ridges’ character is a bit hard to take sometimes, and features an exciting climax in which the Kids decide to institute a little “frontier justice” by trying and convicting Mitchell for Jordan’s death (Mitchell ends up temporarily trapped in a burning barn, and there’s one scene where it’s clearly obvious they didn’t give him a stuntman). It’s a bit mawkish and sentimental at times, but the speechifying is kept to a bare minimum—something that cannot be said to the Reagan/Kids second go-round, The Angels Wash Their Faces (1939). In this film (which the studio retitled to make moviegoers think it was a sequel to the Cagney/O’Brien flick), Reagan has a bit more substantial part and more prominently figures in the events that transpire (in Kitchen he appears to just be along for the ride); he plays Deputy D.A. Patrick “Pat” Remson, a lawyer who sympathizes with the plight of The Dead End Kids when they are hassled by Alfred Martino (Eduardo Ciannelli), a racketeer who successfully manages the conviction of a delinquent youth (Frankie Thomas) for arson and murder (Bobby Jordan gets a reprieve this time—it’s Bernard Punsly who snuffs it). Ann Sheridan is Thomas’ sister, who in between giving the bad guys plenty of sass and wringing her hands over her brother’s fate manages to find time to be Ronnie’s main squeeze.

I liked Faces much better than Kitchen, but the film has a tendency to veer off into a heavier bit of moralizing than most Warner social dramas of the time; Thomas’ buddies want to help their chum (they know it was Ciannelli who was responsible for framing him) out of The Big House and spend a lot of time whining about how the chips are stacked against them and no one will listen to them because they’re just kids, ad infinitum. Reagan convinces them to use their newly-acquired powers (the Dead End Kids have been appointed to certain offices as part of a “student government” deal) as city officials to lean on Ciannelli’s mob (Bernard Nedell, Dick Rich) and extract a confession. If you can overlook the didacticism, the film has some clever touches: my particular favorite is how the gang is able to bring down Ciannelli’s empire but the real mayor (Berton Churchill) manages to wriggle away scot-free (maybe you can beat City Hall…but there’s always that one rat in the building that proves impervious to capture), campaigning for governor to boot.

Frankie Thomas, a popular child actor who later achieved television immortality as the titular Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, is featured prominently in this film as a juvenile delinquent who’s just been released from reform school and dedicated to staying on the straight-and-narrow (he’s the dupe framed on the arson-murder charge). (He would later appear with the Dead Enders in their last Warner epic, On Dress Parade [1939]—the only one of the WB pictures I’ve yet to see.) Thomas was also working for the Warner Bros. B-picture unit in the Nancy Drew movie series alongside star Bonita Granville (as her boyfriend “Ted”), so it’s kind of amusing to see both of them play teenage lovers in this one as well—they’re sort of a wised-up version of Nancy and Ted, having taken a couple of walks around the block. Granville, who plays Leo Gorcey’s kid sister, has an amusing running gag in which she’s constantly being left behind by the other gang members, prompting her to bellow: “Hey! Wait for me!” It continues right down to the closing credits, which are whisked along behind her as she tries to chase down the car the kids are taking to Reagan and Sheridan’s wedding. Say it with me now: “Awwwww…”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sometimes a meme-ory ain’t enough (with apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis)


Well. I’ve been putting this off for most of the day and I guess now’s as good a time as any to respond to the latest meme passed on to me by Craig Zablo at Zablo’s Zone. Here’s the small print:

The Rules
1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog.
3) Write six random things about yourself.
4) Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5) Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6) Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

These are always hard for me because most of the random things about myself have already cropped up in the history of posts here at TDOY. Which means now I have to come up with six new random bits of trivia. Well, here goes:

1) I can eat my entire weight in ice cream…except I get one hell of a headache afterward.

2) When I was in the fourth grade, I had to have an emergency appendicitis – my appendix burst and it was touch-and-go with the resulting peritonitis for a bit.

3) The only kind of pasta I can eat is angel hair, vermicelli or any sort of thin spaghetti. Any other variety produces a gag reflex (yeah, like you needed to hear that one).

4) The furthest I’ve been West in these United States is Texas. I’ve also never traveled outside of the country.

5) My favorite cocktail is a vodka rickey (vodka, lime juice and club soda). Good luck finding a bartender who can make it properly.

6) I have never been married nor have I ever contemplated doing so…and I most definitely won’t be bringing any kids into this world. Grateful individuals need to make certain the checks are made out to Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

As for 4 and 5…well, I’m sorry to have to be what the French call “pooper de partie” but this portion of the meme stops here—I see the ice cream truck pulling up in the drive.

R.I.P. Maurice Jarre

'Dr. Zhivago' composer Maurice Jarre dies at 84

PARIS (AP) — A French musicians guild says Oscar-winning film composer Maurice Jarre has died at the age of 84.

Jarre is best known for writing the haunting song "Lara's Theme" from the film "Doctor Zhivago."

SACEM head Bernard Miyet cites Jarre's family Monday as saying the composer died in his California villa.

Jarre penned dozens of scores for some of Hollywood's most prominent directors.

He won Oscars for his music for "Doctor Zhivago," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Passage to India," and was nominated for an additional six Academy Awards.

Jarre was born in 1924 in Lyon, France, and studied music at the Conservatoire de Paris before starting his career composing scores for theatrical productions. He has lived in the U.S. for decades.

R.I.P., Monsieur Jarre. You will be missed.

“He had to take a rat…and make Thanksgiving dinner out of it…” – Gregory W. Mank, B-movie aficionado

Kino.com is currently running a small overstock sale, and while the pickings are kind of slim (though those of you planning on participating in Flickhead’s Claude Chabrol blogathon in June might want to take a gander at this), I managed to add copies of Fritz Lang’s Spione (1928) and Paul Leni’s The Cat and the Canary (1927; the recently restored Kino version) to the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives. There was a third title that piqued my interest as well: a documentary entitled Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen (2004) which focuses on the life and career of the legendary cult director via film clips and interviews with the likes of show business folk from director Wim Wenders to one-time big-screen Henry Aldrich, Jimmy Lydon (who stars in Ulmer’s Strange Illusion [1945]). The DVD containing Off-Screen also has a companion feature, the 1943 PRC quickie Isle of Forgotten Sins (aka Monsoon), directed by Ulmer hizzownself.

My interest in purchasing this disc stems from the fact that while Ulmer is revered by many film buffs and critics; I’ve honestly never bought into his cult. Granted, Ulmer made some not-too-shabby films; The Black Cat (1934; a very underrated horror film that was the first teaming of horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi), Bluebeard (1944), Ruthless (1948; the poor man’s Citizen Kane) and even guilty pleasure The Naked Dawn (1955)—but his filmmaking career was pockmarked by the fact that his reputation hinged on his talent for surpassing threadbare budgets and non-existent production values to craft personal films that also managed to turn a profit (director John Landis, interviewed alongside colleague Joe Dante, best sums up Edgar G. as a director who “made chicken salad out of chicken shit”). Detour (1945), a mongrel of a film noir supposedly cranked out in six days (though the documentary reveals this to be more legend than truth), has cemented the director’s street cred—but while I don’t dislike the film I think it’s been vastly overrated by its defenders.

Punctuating the commentary in this film is the voice of Ulmer himself, from a series of interviews he granted to Peter Bogdanovich in 1970. (Yes, the director/film historian to whom I’ve often referred as “the Dick Cavett of film directors” [“I once discussed a topic with John Ford, which stemmed from a conversation with Orson but was attributed to Howard Hawks…”] is in this one, so caveat emptor.) Ulmer comes off as a true enigma: he laments having made some of the movies he directed only for the bread (“I really am looking for absolution for all the things I had to do for money's sake”), but in later years champed at the bit to work for one of the big studios for some badly needed funds to pay his debts and medical bills. As the story goes, Ulmer had just finished The Black Cat for Universal when he was allegedly “blackballed” by the big studios, under the orders of Universal’s Carl Laemmle, who learned that Ulmer was making time with Shirley Castle, the wife of Laemmle’s nephew (and B-picture producer) Max Alexander. (Ulmer eventually married Castle—but at apparently a tremendous cost to his career.) Ulmer did a bit of freelancing after that, helming a series of ethnic films (Green Fields, Moon Over Harlem) before ending up at PRC (which stood for Producers Releasing Corporation…but among industry wags was an acronym for “Pretty Rotten Crap”) in the 1940s. One could certainly make a strong case that were it not for the presence of Ulmer at this Poverty Row studio no one would even remember it today.

Off-Screen’s strengths are its penetrating insights from the individuals who participated in the documentary; in addition to those already mentioned we hear from the true King of the B’s, TDOY god Roger Corman, as well as actors who starred in Ulmer’s movies: the late Ann Savage (the memorable Vera in Detour), TDOY fave William Schallert (The Man From Planet X) and John Saxon and Peter “Hollywood Squares” Marshall, who both appeared in Ulmer’s final feature, Sette contro la morte (1964; aka The Cavern). Ulmer’s daughter Arianne shares her personal reminisces, and film historians like Greg Mank, Tom Weaver, Alexander Horvath and Ulmer biographer Noel Isenberg also provide cogent observations; it is Isenberg who notes that many of Ulmer’s claims (he told Bogdanovich he worked on Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari [1920] invented the “dolly shot” for F.W. Murnau’s Der Letzte Mann [1924] and acted both in Mann and Lang’s Metropolis [1927]) have simply been unsubstantiated, to which Bogdanovich replies in true Liberty Valance, “print-the-legend” fashion: “I don’t know what the truth is…all I know is, you know, the work is there…it’s…I…I interviewed the people, they said what they said…if it doesn’t jibe…that’s not my department.” (Thanks for all your efforts to muddy the historical record, Pete…you dick.) Isenberg’s annotations are supplemented by an interesting argument between actors Saxon and Marshall—with Marshall cutting Ulmer a lot of slack and Saxon bluntly pointing out that Edgar G. padded his resume. (I like Saxon’s comments in this documentary, which are truly well-spoken and well-reasoned—particularly his remark: “There were a lot of King of the B’s, you know—there’s a lot of bees in that beehive.”)

As I previously noted, Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen is accompanied by a badly beaten-up print of Isle of Forgotten Sins, a PRC potboiler that fails to measure up despite the presence of some of my favorite character actors: John Carradine, Gale Sondergaard, Sidney Toler and Veda Ann Borg, to name a few. Gale’s a “hostess” who runs the titular nightclub, and she fronts Carradine the scratch so that he and his deep-sea-diving buddy (Frank Fenton) can dig up a hefty cache of gold belonging to villains Toler and Rick Vallin. The highlight of Sins is the truly breathtaking underwater footage, which involves a marionette (you can see the strings) attempting to pick up a trunk filled with gold (dollars to donuts they filmed it with an aquarium). So if you’re expecting this to be one of Ulmer’s famed “triumphing-over-low-budgets-to-make-great-art,” lay in a supply of bottled water and MRE’s…you’ve got a long wait.

Boy, did this bring back memories...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don’t let the rain come down

(WARNING: I am planning to reveal the outcome of the movie discussed in the review below. If you haven’t seen it and are planning to do so, you might want to move along as there’s nothing to see here.)

A young Long Island housewife, Natalie Ravenna (Shirley Knight, in her finest moment onscreen), escapes her stifling existence one morning by leaving her husband and setting out on a personal odyssey driving across America. As the movie progresses, we learn that Natalie is pregnant and that the reason for her flight stems from her belief that she’s not cut out for motherhood—a conviction that is punctuated when she picks up a hitchhiker in former college football player Jimmy “Killer” Kilgannon (James Caan). Killer suffers from brain damage, resulting from an injury sustained in a football game, and the steel plate in his head has left him somewhat of a semi-retarded man-child, unemployed and completely helpless to fend for himself. Though her motherly instincts keep drawing Natalie back to Killer, she simply refuses to have anything to do with her surrogate “child”; it’s only when she meets up with a motorcycle cop (Robert Duvall) for a disastrous one-night stand (that results in Killer’s death) that begins to reassess her motherhood “qualifications.”

The Rain People (1969) is one of the current 150 offerings at the Warner Archive, and I purchased a copy as part of my “initiation” because this tragic and haunting movie (I suppose I don’t have to mention it’s a bit of a downer) has long been one of my favorites—one of those rare Hollywood films that deals sensitively with a real woman and her problems. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (from a short story he penned at UCLA entitled Echoes), People used to be a fixture on the USA Network (along with other 70s sleepers like Taking Off [1971] and Your Three Minutes are Up [1973]) before they became a dumping ground for “original series” and endless repeats of Law & Order: SVU/Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Since that time, I’ve rarely seen the film scheduled anywhere; so it was worth ponying up the Archive's admittedly pricy tariff for a good, clean copy (and letterboxed to boot).

Francis Ford Coppola’s films frequently focus on male characters, with females often relegated to the sidelines (no football pun intended)—which is why People is such a anomaly; a film that concentrates on a woman who’s going through a metamorphosis, contemplating big changes in her life (searching for an extramarital affair, considering aborting her unborn child) at a time when feature films were often reluctant to tackle such subjects. Natalie is a flawed individual, but Coppola is very sympathetic towards her, even when some of the decisions she makes place others in jeopardy. There are so many things to admire in this movie, particularly Coppola’s use of flashbacks—a technique very reminiscent of the flash-forwards utilized by director Richard Lester in Petulia (1968), which also features actress Knight in a pivotal role. Duvall does a superb job in his small but crucial part, having to be both attractive to Knight and then later on, repulsive (his cop turns out to be an abusive widower who mistreats his daughter [Marya Zimmet] and tells Natalie he cared nothing for his first wife—even though the flashbacks contradict this). As for James Caan, whom I’ve always been a big fan, his turn as the gentle giant “Killer” (he seems harmless, but when Natalie is at the mercy of cop Gordon he tosses him around like a rag doll in a vivid fistfight) is truly a sublime performance.

There’s another reason why People has such a nostalgic pull on me; in the film, Killer mentions to Natalie that a prominent college alum (Tom Aldredge) once told him he had a job waiting for the player if her wanted it—this prompts a side trip to Clarksburg, WV, a town that wasn’t necessarily my stomping ground (my grandparents lived in a little hamlet called Spelter just outside the city, though) but I recognized some of the locations…notably the old Skyline Drive-In on Rt. 19, which was south of Clarksburg. (This is not to be confused with the Sunset Drive-In, located between Clarksburg and Shinnston, and is right next door to the famous Ellis Restaurant…which I wrote about here.) This scene filmed at this now-defunct drive-in is one of the most uncomfortable in People; the alum fully intends to make good on his offer to Killer but is rebuffed by his hateful daughter (Laura Crews), who dated the player in college but now wants nothing more to do with a man whose mind and future prospects were destroyed that fateful day on the gridiron.

I stated in an earlier post that The Rain People often gets short shrift from its director, who at times seemed embarrassed to have it on his resume; since then, I’ve been contradicted by the film’s entry on the IMDb, which notes that it’s among the top five of Coppola’s favorites amongst his works. I’m perfectly willing to concede that I’m wrong about this but I wouldn’t mind getting confirmation from a source just to satisfy my insatiable curiosity.

I'm coming to join you, Elizabeth...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

G-Men Never Forget (1948) – Chapter 5: The Dead Man Speaks

OUR STORY SO FAR: Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft), a man of such unquestionable evil he refuses to bus his own tray when dining in cafeterias, is wreaking havoc in a small metropolitan city by means of an insidious insurance protection racket that rivals anything AIG could have possibly dreamed up. (On top of this, Murkland has rewarded him with nice, fat bonuses in the bargain.)

If you’re asking yourself how this fiend has managed to get away with this kind of chicanery under the very noses of the authorities, it’s because that—with the help of Robert “Doc” Benson (Stanley Price), part-time plastic surgeon and notary public—Murkland’s facial features have been transformed so that he’s a dead ringer for Police Commissioner Angus Cameron. (Oh, and I think Phil Gramm is involved in this somehow as well.) Special Agent Ted O’Hara (Clayton Moore) has been assigned to bring down Murkland, but along with his partner, Sergeant Francis Blake (Ramsay Ames), hasn’t quite been able to piece together that Cameron and Murkland are the same guy. (I don’t even want to know what his scores on the FBI examination were.)

In the last chapter, O’Hara had raced to a shipyard run by big bidness tycoon R.J. Cook (Edmund Cobb) to try and stop Cook’s latest construction of a ship because he learned that someone had tampered with the blueprints. For his trouble, he finds himself in the path of a super structure that’s come crashing to the ground…

Foolish mortals! Even the use of stock footage from a previous Dick Tracy Republic serial can’t stop Ted O’Hara, who emerges from the wreckage with nary a scratch! Sadly, not everyone was so lucky—several workmen were hurt, and as O’Hara and Cook speed back into town, they hear this announcement on the car radio:

ANNOUNCER: …and no accurate list of casualties is available…the injured are being rushed to hospitals, including Benson’s Sanitarium—a mental hospital which is not far from the scene of the accident…
(O’Hara shuts the radio off…)
O’HARA: Your superintendent was unconscious when they put him in the ambulance…
COOK: I got word that they’d taken him to Benson’s place…

The scene shifts to Benson’s—which in actuality is Murkland’s hide-out—where an injured individual is being carried in on a stretcher by the ambulance drivers. Murkland is sitting on Benson’s desk, and he tells his cohort not to let any of the new patients see Cameron:

BENSON: He may start yelling
MURKLAND: Tell ‘em he’s one of your violent cases…meantime, I’ll go down and give him a little advice…

Murkland enters the cell that’s become the new home of Commissioner Cameron, and its occupant is none-too-pleased to see his weaselly, reconstructed face:

CAMERON: Oh…so it’s you…I’d hoped that O’Hara had exposed you and the police were here…

Steady, big guy…it’s only the fifth chapter and…well, let’s just say Ted won’t be bringing potato salad to any of the MENSA picnics soon.

MURKLAND: I’m in command of the police…none of your people even suspect I’m not Cameron…
CAMERON: Your plastic surgery trick won’t fool them forever…and I hope to see you hang!
MURKLAND: I doubt if you’ll live that long…I just came to give you a little advice…I’ve got a man posted outside your door and if you make any disturbance whatever I’ll have you beat to a pulp…keep that in mind…

Murkland goes back upstairs to learn that O’Hara and Cook have arrived at the sanitarium, so he tells Benson’s lackey Slater (Jack O’Shea) to station the pulp-beating goon outside Cameron’s door.

MURKLAND (as O’Hara and Cook enter): Hello, O’Hara!
O’HARA: Commissioner…
MURKLAND: Hiya, Mr. Cook! Meet Dr. Benson… (To Benson) Mr. O’Hara, Mr. Cook…
O’HARA: Doctor…
COOK: How are my men, Doctor?
BENSON: Well, doing as nice as can be expected…

Considering I’m evil…EVIL!

BENSON: Most of the cases are shock and concussion…but your superintendent, however, is still in a coma…but you can see some of the others…
O’HARA: We’d like to, Doctor…
BENSON: Good! This way, please…

While Benson is giving O’Hara and Cook the guided tour, we witness the real Cameron in his cell, attempting to jimmy open the door with what appears to be a kitchen utensil. There is a dissolve, and back in Benson’s office, Cook tells O’Hara he plans to stick around to await the status of his superintendent, and O’Hara suggests to “Cameron” that he drop him off at the shipyard to allow him to do some further investigation. The two men leave just as the real Cameron tricks his guard into entering his cell—where he hits the thug from behind and escapes:

BENSON (conversing with Cook in his office): You’re lucky that more of the men weren’t more seriously injured in this accident…
COOK: But it wasn’t an accident, Doctor…Mr. O’Hara is convinced that Vic Murkland…
(Cook is interrupted by the sudden opening of a door, which reveals…Commissioner Cameron!)
CAMERON: Help…I’m Police Commissioner Cameron…these men are holding me… (Slater and several other goons in Benson’s employ quickly surround Cameron and wrestle him to the ground) They’re holding me…against my will… (Cameron is quickly subdued and ushered out of the room, and Benson turns to Cook…)
BENSON: One of our more violent cases…he thinks he’s Commissioner Cameron…
COOK: But he looks like Cameron…
BENSON: Sure, he’s a dead ringer for him…that’s what started his hallucination…I’ve got Napoleon, Caesar and Abraham Lincoln in the back there…would you care to see them?
COOK (still looking dazed): No…another time, Doctor… (Glances at watch) I didn’t realize it was so late…I must get back to my office… (He saunters over to the exit, with Benson closely following) Thanks, Doctor…take good care of my men…

Either Cook is a bigger idiot than O’Hara for swallowing that flimsy excuse…or he realizes that really is Cameron, and high-tailed it out of there before he’s next on the list. Benson seems to believe the latter, and he tells Slater: “Get hold of Duke, quick…”

It is evening, and Cook is seated in his office chair with the lights in the office completely dimmed. He walks over to the window and peers out through the blinds in time to glance a menacing-looking man coming across the street and making tracks toward his building. Then he looks off to the left and spies a second man who proceeds to do the same. Cook looks around nervously, and then goes over to the telephone:

COOK: Hello…is Mr. O’Hara back?
FEMALE VOICE: Oh, Mr. Cook…Mr. O’Hara called in just after you hung up…I gave him your message and he’s on his way there…
COOK: Thanks…

After finishing his conversation, Cook then walks over to his office door and locks it, returns to his desk and pulls out his Dictaphone…two sinister shadows can be scene outside the door…

COOK: Attention, Special Agent O’Hara…this is R.J. Cook speaking… (There is a knock on the door, and Cook begins to speak loudly and rapidly into the machine) It is my belief that Murkland has had his face altered by plastic surgery…and has taken the place of the Police Commissioner…the real commissioner…Cameron… (Sound of glass breaking) is a prisoner at Benson’s… (A shot rings out, mortally wounding Cook) Sanitarium… (He drops the Dictaphone’s receiver and slumps to the floor)

The two men, Graham (Drew Allen) and Hodge (Carey Loftin), enter the office and decide it’s vital to take the Dictaphone record and break it, since its contents have enough evidence “to hang us all.” But not so fast, my fine-feathered thugs—O’Hara and Francis Blake have arrived on the scene just in the nick of time! O’Hara fires a shot at one of them, and that signals that it’s balsa-smashing time! During the melee, one of the goons managed to beat a hasty retreat, but Francis is able to shoot his partner before he puts any holes in Ted:

O’HARA: Nice shooting, Sergeant…
BLAKE: Yes, but the record’s smashed
O’HARA: Maybe not beyond fixing…gather up the pieces while I call the Commissioner…

No, no, no, no! That is the last thing you want to do, you doody head! Sure as you’re born, O’Hara tells the faux Cameron the whole story:

MURKLAND: Did Cook have a chance to talk before he died?
O’HARA: He apparently made a statement on a Dictaphone dictating machine…the record’s broken, but I think I can piece it together…
MURKLAND: Okay…I’ll send over the coroner and a couple of boys from the homicide squad right away…
O’HARA: Very good, Commissioner…

You know, Ted…you can save the taxpayers a little spare change by just handing the damn record to Murkland and let him do a flamenco dance on what’s left…idiot…meanwhile, Francis has gathered up what pieces she was able to find and Ted tells her to go down to the drugstore to pick up some “strong, quick-drying cement…Duffy’s Plastic Cement, if they have it.” (I’ll bet the Duffy’s people were happy to get the plug.) There is a dissolve, as O’Hara is putting the finishing touches on his project, he’s approached by Steele (Robert J. Wilke), one of the boys from the “homicide squad” sent over by Murkland:

STEELE: I’m afraid our fingerprinting won’t do any good, Mr. O’Hara…Graham’s escaped and the other fellow is in the morgue…
O’HARA: If this recording is what I think it is, you’ll nab Murkland without the need for fingerprints…
STEELE: Think you’ll be able to play that thing when you get it finished?
O’HARA: I may have to help it over the rough spots…but I think it will play…

During this conversation, O’Hara and Blake are completely unaware that Steele’s fellow “detective” (John Crawford), is working away on the Dictaphone…planting a little booby-trap for our hero and heroine. His labors complete, O’Hara gets ready to listen to the record (meanwhile, the two phony cops lam out of the room with a phony excuse about having to rush the fingerprints to the office). Because of the record’s battered condition, O’Hara has to constantly start and stop the recording…while inside the Dictaphone a fuse is rapidly burning away, leading to a tremendous explosion…

Next Saturday, Chapter Six: Marked Evidence!

Laughing through the pain (pt 3 in a series)



Friday, March 27, 2009

When men were men and sheep were nervous

TVShowsOnDVD.com has announced an interesting release from Timeless Media Group that will be available May 19th—The Classic TV Western Collection: Stories From the Outlaw Trail, which prides itself on being a compendium of “40 episodes of the finest television westerns on six DVD discs, including many of the top shows and previously unavailable pilots and lost shows, over 23 hours and all.” TVShows’ David Lambert goes on to say: “It appears that this release is a mix of both licensed and public domain episodes, all presented in full frame (some black-and-white, others in color) and with English audio.”

This set has sort of piqued my interest because even though the details are sketchy, the contents of the set are sort of spelled out on the box (to your left): installments of Laramie, Laredo, Tales of Wells Fargo, Wagon Train, Bat Masterson, The High Chaparral, The Rifleman…and a picture of Clayton Moore near the top is a sure bet there’s some Lone Rangers on the set as well. The price for the set is $39.98 SRP, but if it’s discounted enough I can see myself getting a copy for the Wells Fargo and High Chaparral material. The others mentioned suggest that they’re the same P.D. episodes present and accounted for in other collections—with maybe the possible exception of Laramie (could they have put some of the black-and-white shows on this one?). As for Laredo…well, I went ahead and bought all four Season 1/Season 2 collections when Amazon had their sale, so I’m not hurting for Neville Brand, Peter Brown, William Smith or Phil Carey right now.

Tales of Wells Fargo was a big favorite of my Mom’s when she was an adolescent—later on, my father would provoke her into a mild state of pissed-offedness by referring to the show’s star (Dale Robertson) as “Dale Roberts”—also indicating that Mr. R was a tad on the retarded side. (On the same topic, if anyone is interested in purchasing all the seasons of High Chaparral on disc, my pal Rodney is offering them at OldieDVD/Finders Keepers and I can personally vouch for their quality, since he sells nothing but.)

TVShows also has a quick blurb announcing that although there hasn’t been an official date set, CBS DVD-Paramount does have plans for DVD releases of The Lucy Show on their schedule—with Season One scheduled for possibly a late July/early August date (huge emphasis on late July). Since MPI is reportedly going to be instituting their Here’s Lucy releases at about the same time, will it prove too much at once for the red-headed comedienne’s fans?

Potpourri

The UPS guy came by the front door to Rancho Yesteryear this afternoon with the order I placed through the Warner Archive Sunday, so if I get an opportunity later on this evening I will try to put at least one of them on (still trying to decide between The Rain People and The Beast of the City). If the quality of these discs comes anywhere close to their spiffy packaging, I’d say Warner has a winner on its hands.

Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings reports reading an article that TV shows will soon be made available through the Archive—among them Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye. If the price is reasonable on the Maverick episodes I might take a flutter but I bought a fairly serviceable “rootpeg” set sometime ago, which means I’ll have to get one heck of a deal on an Archive collection. Honest to my grandma, though, I’m having difficulty swallowing the notion that Warner Bros. would have difficulty selling season-by-season sets of this classic comedy-western; its cult status and the presence of James Garner would seem to me a ready winner. Maybe they’re concerned about the sales dropping off after season three, when Garner left the show—but then you have the Roger Moore installments…which I’m sure would pique the curiosity of James Bond fans. (Maverick was the only TV show my television-hating father ever watched back in the 1950s.)

I also got the Room 222: Season One set via USPS yesterday, and am happy to report that I paid the pre-order price of $10.99 (plus s&h). So far, this is the bargain of the year. (I danced a jig on the way back from the mailbox.)

By the way, I appreciate the e-mails being sent to me pointing me to various articles on the new Three Stooges movie in the planning stages…but enough is enough. I’ve sort of kept my white-hot-sun anger about this travesty in check for fear of pegging the Cuss-o-Meter…but let me just say as quietly as I can…what the !@#$& is Sean Penn thinking? “Hmm…I’ve just won a second Oscar and have nowhere else to go…let me live out my dream of playing Larry Fine.” Kee-rist, if he’s gonna prostitute himself, why not sign off on Fast Times at Ridgemont High II?

Kudos to Elisson for hitting the big time; a post of his managed to get referenced and noticed on the World News page of The New York Times online. Unfortunately, I’m unable to progress any further than The Chicago Sun-Times, but some of us are just able to achieve greatness rather than be born to it, I suppose.

I also wanted to send a big thank-you to author Ed Gorman, who was most generous in referencing my recent post on Shemp Howard on his new and improved blog…which is most certainly not contaminated with a puny readership. Unfortunately, Ed had about the same success as I did in preaching the Gospel of Shemp…but years from now, the blogosphere will recognize that we were just ahead of our time.

My CharredHer homepage offered up this interesting article on the “rediscovery” of silent movie great Douglas Fairbanks, who’s the subject of a new exhibit at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. Entitled “Douglas Fairbanks: The First King of Hollywood,” it’s up and running and will continue on until April 19th.

Finally, my online chum Pam and I got together for a brief chat last night, the topic of which generated around soft drinks and soda pop. So I thought I’d point you to an interesting link on Gunaxin entitled “A Tribute to Fallen Sodas.” Guaranteed to make you thirsty.

Laughing through the pain (pt 2 in a series)



Thursday, March 26, 2009

R.I.P. Dan Seals

I love Bill Crider like a brother, but I have to stop reading his blog. His latest entry brings the devastating news of the passing of pop-country singer Dan Seals, who died of complications from a long bout with cancer at the age of 61.

With his partner John Ford Coley, Seals—known as “England Dan”—recorded some of pop music’s most memorable duets in the 1970s, including Nights are Forever Without You, We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again, Love is the Answer and their million-selling smash I’d Really Love to See You Tonight. The two men disbanded in 1980, and Seals decided to try his luck in country music, cracking the Top Twenty in 1983 with one of my very favorites of his repertoire, Everybody’s Dream Girl.

When she walks in the room
Everybody gets quiet
You can see hearts start beating inside
And the way that she moves
You just can’t deny it
They all wish that they could hold her
You can see it in their eyes

She’s everybody’s dream girl
Everybody’s dream girl

Everybody’s dream girl

I’ll see you in my dreams tonight

Seals placed his first record into the Top Ten of the country music charts with God Must Be a Cowboy in 1984, and followed that success with fifteen other charters, eleven of which hit the top spot. They included Meet Me in Montana (a duet with Marie Osmond), Bop (also a #42 pop hit), Three Time Loser, I Will Be There, Big Wheels in the Moonlight and his last #1 in 1990, Good Times—a cover of the old Sam Cooke hit.

I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Dan Seals, whose perfect-pitch voice was behind some of my favorite country songs: Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold), My Baby’s Got Good Timing, You Still Move Me…and a song I remember more for the video that the actual tune, They Rage On—in which the touchy topic of interracial romance is approached (a young man is jeered at by his small town “buddies” for dating a girl with a darker hue of skin).

Seals came from an impressive musical background: his older brother, Jimmy, was one-half of another successful 70s pop duo, Seals and Crofts (whose hits included Get Closer and Summer Breeze). He was also related to country singer Johnny Duncan, who during the 1970s recorded several Top Ten and #1 hits, notably Stranger and Thinkin’ of a Rendezvous.

R.I.P., Dan. You’ll never know how much you’ll be missed.

Where’s the Rest of Me: Hellcats of the Navy (1957)

Before I get into what the French would call “la nitty” and “la gritty” I must apologize profusely for not pursuing this Ronald Reagan Blog-a-thon this month as vigorously as I hoped. I had every intention of sitting down with some of Dutch’s finest B-films and making sport of them…but to be honest, I got sort of bored with the whole thing after the Brass Bancroft essay and kept putting it off and putting it off and before I realized it March was coming to an end. I still have a few days to take a peek at a few of the other films TCM spotlighted this month…but I’ll state for the record that the odds of me doing any more write-ups are pretty slim.

Last night, however, I had just started a fire in my living room (I don’t have a fireplace, I just like starting fires) and remembered that Turner Classic Movies had scheduled the only feature starring the future President of the United States and his first lady, Nancy (Davis) Reagan at 11:15pm, 1957’s Hellcats of the Navy. In chatting with “Bobby Osbo,” daughter Patti Davis proffered the opinion that the film goes down a little easier if you invite someone to watch it with you—I think what she was subtly suggesting is that you need a second person on hand to punch you awake because this turkey is tough sledding to sit through. It pretty much features a no-name cast—save for Arthur Franz and Robert Arthur…who looks younger here than he did in Ace in the Hole, and he made that six years before Hellcats—and was produced by Charles H. Schneer, the legendary mogul (who recently passed away in January of this year) who brought us all those great sci-fi flicks with the Ray Harryhausen creations, like It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957). (Nathan Juran, the director of Million Miles and the classic The 7th Voyage of Sinbad [1958], also helmed this one for Schneer as well.) I only wish they had thought to bring in Harryhausen on Hellcats because it might have made the picture a little livelier—I’m not sure what kind of monster he could have created for the film but a 50-foot Jane Wyman wouldn’t have been a bad start.

So here’s the plot: Commander Casey “Case” Abbott (Reagan) is captain of the U.S.S. Starfish, a WW2 submarine that’s on assignment to capture a sample of Japanese mines taking up space in the Sea of Japan and making things a bit difficult for the U.S. to win the war. He sends out a team of frogmen (hey…there’s an angle Ray could have worked on) to collect the mines, and all of them return to the Starfish save a brash ladies’ man named Wes Barton (Harry Lauter) who’s made a rather serious error in judgment by making time with Casey’s gal, a Navy nurse named Helen Blair (Davis). Although Barton is spotted heading back to the ship by Seaman Freddy Warren (Arthur) and Abbott’s executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Don Landon (Franz), Abbott decides to dive—leaving Loverboy in the lurch and at the mercy of an approaching destroyer, resulting in Barton’s demise. (Well, that’ll teach him to keep his paws off the captain’s girl…) This sensitive issue is later broached by Abbott and Landon, who feels that his captain pretty much f****d up:

ABBOTT: Okay. Landon…let’s talk…
LANDON (after a long pause): What I’ve got to say to you can’t be said to a commanding officer…
ABBOTT: Spit it out…you have my permission… (Pause) You haven’t served with me before…you think I enjoy letting men drown?
LANDON (another long pause): No, Captain…but by now I suppose you’ve got yourself convinced that this hurts you more than it did him… (Voice rising) I don’t happen to think you had to let him die!
ABBOTT: Someday, you may have a command of your own…if you want to take a chance, and risk an entire crew, and the ship and the mission for one man…that’ll be your decision to make…this one was mine…
LANGDON: If you had cut your engines…then they might not have found us…
ABBOTT: Maybe not…we’ll never know, will we? But there was no time to figure the odds…I had to rely on experience and instinct…right or wrong, I decided to play it safe with the eighty-five men on this sub…

Those would be the ones not sleeping with his girlfriend.

LANGDON: Tell me… (He produces a picture of Nurse Nancy from Barton’s bunk) What did your instinct tell you about this? In that split second, not knowing right from wrong, did your instinct remind you that Wes Barton might be waltzing your girl around the base?
ABBOTT: I’ve had time to consider my decision…I still think it was right…
LANGDON: If you were wrong…could you admit it? Even to yourself?

You’d get as far as “Mistakes were made” and that would be the end of it, friend.

ABBOTT: If you think I made a personal decision that cost Barton’s life, you have my permission to report it to the squadron commander…
LANGDON: I can’t do anything about it and you know it…I can’t prove a thing…
(Langdon turns his back on Abbott, but stops the Captain as he heads out the door…) About this girl…
ABBOTT: Leave her out of this! You know I gave you permission to speak, Mr. Langdon—so I intend to forget this conversation…

Just like Iran-Contra.

It won’t take an individual watching Hellcats of the Navy very long to pick up on the fact that Reagan’s character is…well, kind of a dick. Here’s how he reacts to people he’s supposed to have a crush on, in this conversation with the future Mrs. R:

HELEN: You knew I was fresh out of a bad marriage when we met…I wanted to be sure this time…so I played it safe…until I knew you were Mr. Right…then you gave me that line about wartime marriages…
ABBOTT: I wanted a wife and kids…not widows and orphans…
HELEN: Sure…and I begin to think you were playing the
South Seas circuit…
ABBOTT: You knew better…
HELEN: How could I know? Did you give me a postdated check? (Pause) So I got sore…what really happened, is that I got scared…unsure…I had to prove to myself that I could still circulate…
ABBOTT: You proved it with Wes Barton

Oooooooh, snap! Anyway, to get back to the riveting plot…Abbott later abandons this “greater good” philosophy to make certain they get the seriously injured Seaman Freddy to a hospital despite putting a mission in jeopardy (hey, he kept away from Nancy—he’s entitled), which really gets on Langdon’s wick. (Later, in a hospital scene, Freddy thanks the Captain in dialogue that boils down to “Thanks for not killing me, sir.”) It’s only when “Case” loses his sub and sixty-five men (by ignoring the crew’s mission objective) that Langdon enjoys a little schadenfreude—but because Captain Casey was able to put together a map that will allow U.S. ships to sail through the harbor off the Sea of Japan without being blowed up real good by the mines the Navy looks the other way. Towards the end, Abbott is attempting to repair part of his new sub when another destroyer approaches and Langdon must make the decision to leave him behind…luck is on Abbott’s side, however—he survives the attack and everybody gets together for the prerequisite happy ending.

When Reagan ran for President in 1980, members of the Democratic Party tried to convince voters that the GOP candidate shouldn’t be taken seriously by renting prints of Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) and staging fundraisers by showing the film. They believed that Joe Voting Booth would be turned off by Ronnie’s campaign, assuming that the “Bonzo” in the title was a character played by the actor…or, once learning what the movie was about would think it undignified for a candidate to have agreed to appear in a movie opposite a chimpanzee. This backfired in a major way; Bonzo is an extraordinary silly film but Reagan demonstrated in the comedy that unique Everyman quality he possessed in addition to a deft comic touch (and that he was also smarter than he looked, having said no to returning to the even stupider sequel, Bonzo Goes to College [1952]). I’ve always believed that if those same audiences had had a gander at Hellcats things might have been a bit different—the character Reagan plays here isn’t particularly likable and demonstrates that phony tough bluff Dutch utilized with America’s adversaries…which usually ended up scaring the absolute shit out of his fellow Americans rather than make any inroads in foreign diplomacy. If anything, a viewing of Hellcats is required only for this mind-boggling WTF romantic conversation between Ronnie and Nancy:

HELEN: What are you going to do after the war, Case?
ABBOTT: I’ve told you a hundred times…
HELEN: I want to hear it once more…
ABBOTT: I’m going into the surplus business…I’m going to buy up all the old mines and sell ‘em to the man in the moon…
HELEN: There’s no water on the moon…
ABBOTT: How do you know so much about the moon?
HELEN: I know a lot about it…I spend all my time looking at it when you’re away…

And…scene!

Ahead of his time...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Houston, I have a problem…

From a recent post by cocktail/film noir enthusiast Vince Keenan:

I have of late – but wherefore I know not – come under attack by Chinese spammers. Thus, comments are now moderated. Don’t let it hold you back.

I haven’t experienced any difficulties with Chinese spammers—I think this has something to do with the fact that I can’t get a goddamned decent bowl of chicken fried rice in this burg without them polluting it with peas and carrots—but Caucasian spammers are another breed entirely. You know the ones I’m referring to, because when I was reading comments on a post at The Shelf, I came across this old familiar tune:

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

When it comes to comments on Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, you’d be positively amazed at how lenient I am—I believe in free speech, and I encourage it at every turn…even if I’ve written something that makes someone so cheesed off they start questioning my parentage. But when some butt munch wants to use my blog to promote something that neither I nor any of the regular visitors are the slightest bit interested in, that’s when I start to get angry, Mr. McGee…and you won’t like me when I’m angry.

So I’m having to do something that I’m not comfortable with, and that is to push the “moderate comments” button on Blogger. Please do not let this discourage you from expressing your opinion on something I’ve written—I enjoy hearing from people and getting their feedback. What I don’t enjoy is some cretin named “resort in the philippines” using my blog for his or her own nefarious purposes like peddling aluminum RV luggage racks or vacation beach homes. It makes Thrilling Days of Yesteryear look cheap and tawdry…and I’m more than capable of doing that on my own, thank you very much. If “resort” has an agenda to promote, s/he can get their own damn blog.

And now that that’s been taken care of, we return now to our regularly scheduled nostalgia in progress.

A bolder one

The RTN affiliate in Atlanta (WSB-DT) has the 1969-73 dramatic anthology series The Bold Ones on its weekday schedule from 3-4pm, and I have to admit that I tune into the program on a fairly regular basis when I don’t have anything scheduled to tape off TCM. In the show’s debut season, viewers were introduced to the three series that rotated each week: The Lawyers, starring Joseph Campanella and James Farentino as brothers/attorneys who had a practice with veteran trial lawyer Burl Ives; The New Doctors, with E.G. Marshall, John Saxon, David Hartman and Robert Walden (who replaced Saxon’s character in the show’s last season) as dedicated medicos working at a combination hospital/research center; and The Protectors, starring Leslie Nielsen and Hari Rhodes as a deputy police chief and district attorney (respectively) reluctantly working together despite differing methods on how to enforce the law. This last segment was the weakest of the three, and was replaced in Bold Ones’ sophomore year with The Senator, an Emmy-winning drama starring Hal Holbrook as an idealistic politician dedicated to the betterment of society. Despite its raking in of Emmys, most viewers were reluctant to buy into what was clearly a fantasy premise (an idealistic politician? Pull the other leg, it’s got bells on it…) and in the third season, only The Lawyers and The New Doctors were featured…until the truncated final season, when only Doctors remained.

So I was kind of surprised when I tuned in an hour or two ago and found RTN showing in The Bold Ones’ time-slot a fairly forgotten crime drama entitled Sarge, which starred George Kennedy as a former homicide detective turned man of the cloth. It premiered in the fall of 1971 on NBC’s Tuesday night schedule at 8:30pm—but its competition (CBS’ Hawaii Five-O) was so formidable that the network moved it back an hour in November and it still got its ass kicked (by Glen Campbell, believe it or don’t). The inspiration for the series came from a TV-movie that had been shown earlier that year entitled The Badge or the Cross, which laid out the “origin” of Kennedy’s character (his wife having been killed, “Sarge” Swanson retires to the priesthood, and several years later discovers her killer at the parish to which he’s been assigned…only to learn that he was gunning for Swanson), and a week before the series’ official premiere there was a special entitled The Priest Killer which allowed Swanson (now christened Father Samuel Cavanaugh) to work alongside Chief of Detectives Robert Ironside (Raymond Burr) in the hunt for a serial killer croaking priests. (Ironside was to be the lead-in for Sarge, so NBC promoted the new series with this team-up that also featured Don Galloway and Don Mitchell in their Ironside roles as Det. Sgt. Ed Brown and Mark Sanger.)

The episode of Sarge that was shown today was one of the installments from the short-lived series’ “homestretch”: “A Bad Case of Monogamy” (11/23/71) stars Monte Markham as an ex-con who’s becoming a pain in the ass to his ex-wife (Arlene Golonka—and you know, now that I’ve found out that Sam Johnson can’t tell the difference between Golonka and Sue Ane Langdon, I don’t feel so bad about the Betsy Blair thing) and her new husband (David Sheiner) because he claims to be a strict Catholic and in the eyes of the Church, he’s still married to her (despite their divorce). Markham’s out to provoke Sheiner into a fist-fight, and Golonka—who only earlier expressed to “Sarge” that she was in fear of her life now that he’s out—isn’t helping much because she’s hooked back up with Markham, insisting “he’s changed.” I’m not quite certain how this constitutes a crime (not that Kennedy’s character could do anything about it in the first place) and I’m definitely flummoxed by the fact that Sheiner never considered getting a protection order to keep Markham from sniffing around—but the conclusion of this story is pretty hard to swallow, even if Sheiner’s character is a real toothache of a man. I don’t like to judge series on the basis of seeing one episode, but I’m starting to understand how this one drew its rations fairly early in its run.

The thing I’m curious about is—did Universal make Sarge part of The Bold Ones’ syndication package in an attempt to “beef up” the number of available episodes? (Bold Ones’ total output numbered eighty-six installments, and I’ve heard that one hundred shows is the ideal number to “strip” these series five days a week, which would allow Sarge to fit like a glove with its fourteen episodes.) It wouldn’t be the first time Universal did this; they took a chainsaw to some hour-long episodes of The Sixth Sense (a supernatural-themed series starring Gary Collins and Catherine Ferrar that had a brief run on ABC in 1972) and presented them along with the Night Gallery episodes they also hacked up into half-hour form; Paramount also burned off episodes of the short-lived Barefoot in the Park sitcom in their Love, American Style package. Perhaps Mike “Mr. Television” Doran or Brent “Child of Television” McKee can answer this one—I’m anxious to know whether or not I guessed correctly.

Green, green grass of home

Despite the resolution made in May 2008 to continue on with the season box sets of Adam-12 (though Universal had to farm out the series to Shout! Factory in order to do so)—and the recent decision to continue with Quincy, M.E. sets, I’ve come to a conclusion that may be even more difficult to accept than TDOY commenters insisting Curly is funnier than Shemp.

I’ve accepted the fact (just the facts, ma’am) that any further releases from Dragnet (1967-70) simply will not be forthcoming. If I’m wrong about this—I’ll only be too happy to be so…and truth be told, I had a brief flirtation with optimism when they put Adam-12 back in circulation. But despite Jack Webb and Harry Morgan’s presence on the Retro Television Network (I’m convinced RTN is the one of the reasons why interest in Adam-12 and Quincy returned), it looks like I’m going to just have to tape these bad boys off RTN and be done with it.

I decided this at the beginning of the week, though I sort of wish I had done it last week because they showed one of my favorite Dragnet installments, “Homicide – DR-22” (01/09/69). A girl is murdered in an apartment house, and while Friday and Gannon are investigating they encounter an inquisitive codger (Burt Mustin) named Calvin Lampe, who begins to make a bit of a pest of himself by insisting on “helping” with the investigation. Gannon dismisses the old fart as a “crime buff” and the contempt that Friday has for the guy is barely concealed—Webb’s character had developed by that time into an impatient, officious sort who had little patience for people who didn’t think like cops. Halfway through the episode, they have cause to take Barnaby Jones down to the station and their captain (Art Ballinger) recognizes Lampe as a retired Chicago police chief…and from that point on, it’s “let the ass-kissing begin!” You’re literally embarrassed for Friday—a minute ago, this joker was a spur under his saddle, but now that he has some street cred it’s “Yes, Chief” and “No, Chief” and “Shall I polish your shoes with the tip of my nose, Chief?” Pathetic…but undeniably funny.

I’ve stated on numerous occasions how much of a Dragnet fan I am on this blog, even though when the series returned in January 1967 for its “revival” it developed a camp quality that sort of tarnishes how exciting and groundbreaking it was when it premiered on radio and later early television. No place was this more evident than in the number of episodes based on the topic of narcotics—Webb’s philosophy that marijuana was a “gateway drug” that led to the harder stuff (well, he was a jazz fan—perhaps he knew something I didn’t) would permeate these installments, and Saturday night I got a glimpse of this when they excerpted a clip from the series in the 1999 documentary Grass—an interesting if irreverent look at the history of marijuana in the U.S. and how our government has been throwing money down a rat hole for too many years now fighting “the war on drugs.” Friday and Gannon are at some community meeting, answering questions from the crowd, when one individual who has clearly never been exposed to the ferocity of one of Webb’s mile-a-minute drug lectures has the temerity to suggest that pot isn’t really all that different from alcohol. Friday, with that ever-present stick up his rear, chides this poor soul with statistics about how the kind of devastation and destruction booze can wreak—dismissing the man’s point with a “Begone! You have no power here!” insouciance. (Unfortunately, our man Joe never addresses the issue that alcohol is legal and firing up a blunt is not—and that attempts to put the smack down on booze were tried many, many years back with precious little success.)

One of the reasons I can’t run for public office is that I experimented with the killer weed back in my younger days (I like how my friend Doghouse Riley puts it: “I smoked my share of reefer in high school, and a couple of other kid's shares as well”) and apart from my wanting a forty pound bag of Oreos and some onion dip it didn’t leave any scarring or permanent damage…so I was pretty entertained by Grass. It features a number of amusing film and television clips (Cab Calloway’s rendition of “Reefer Man” from International House [1933]; a silent western entitled Notch Number One [1924] that I’m going to have to seek out sooner or later; Up in Smoke (1978; “I think we’re parked, man”) and of course the old stand-by, Reefer Madness [1936]), a groovy soundtrack (John Prine’s Illegal Smile, Sly and the Family Stone’s I Want to Take You Higher) and narration (provided for free) by Woody Harrelson…and if that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is. Plus, during the closing credits, one of the funniest lines I’ve seen in a motion picture in quite some time: “No hippies were harmed in the making of this movie.” (I caught this gem on Sundance Channel on Demand, by the way.)