Thursday, April 30, 2009

“Forward…into the past!”

(Second FST reference this week—Mama, don’t stop me now!)

As you may have noticed by scrolling downward and glancing slightly over to the right, I have now become one of the many, many, many, many individuals (this sounds a lot funnier if I say it in a George Gaynes–like voice) who have succumbed to joining Facebook. The first individual to greet me with open arms (and light kidneys) was my good friend Vince Keenan, whose reaction was “Ivan! You’re just getting here? Welcome aboard!”

“You know me,” I managed to stammer, “always the Luddite.”

I gotta admit, though—this Facebook operation is a pretty nice set-up. When you register, it gives you a big honkin’ list of all the individuals you’ve swapped e-mails with in order for you to be able to start with a database of friends—most of my esteemed blogging colleagues were present and accounted for, as well as some surprises…notably sisters Kat and Debbie. True story: I have a MySpace account and when I learned that Kat did also, I asked her to let me know what it was so I could add her as a friend. She refused. (It’s a sad state of affairs when your own family won’t acknowledge your presence.) If she gives me the Facebook snub, then I’m really going to give her some grief. I’ll go over and tease her dogs, for starters. (“I got food for ya…NO I DON’T!”)

As I am finishing this post, I’m getting more back-pats and welcomes than I ever did at MySpace—Bill Crider, Rick “Don’t Call Me Sparky” Brooks, Federal Operator 99 at Allure (who was also kind enough to wrap up director Douglas Sirk as a gift), Matt Hinrichs, Thad K., Toby O’Brien, Tom Sutpen (who, in MySpace’s defense, was also a chum there) and Cliff Weimer. I’ve also joined the Ravenswood High School Class of 1981 group (me alma mater) and I’m hoping to hear from some of those folks (well, the ones that are still talking to me anyway). It’s nice to be part of the family.

Update: Just soon after I posted this, I got a thumbs-up welcome from Jim Leeds and...this is the hardest to believe...sister Debbie, who greeted me with: "Wow, Iv! You're on Facebook? I would compliment you for being totally hip but all of us 30+ people (no comments, please) have sort of ruined the coolness factor by now."

She might still get a birthday gift in July...I'll have to mull this one over. For the time being, however, she'd better stay off my lawn.

Life lessons #31

Was that an artery I just heard slamming shut?

I was miraculously up at the crack of ice this morning (as my friend Maureen is wont to say) and found this post over at Blog d’Elisson entitled “Gastronomic Grotesquerie.” In it, Steve delineates the difference between calorie-crammed foods that deliver on their promise to be decadently tasty…and those which are just clearly created to generate a “WTF?” response.

No sooner do I leave Steve’s domain when I run across this photo, courtesy of DMOTIV8:

I don’t know which category this falls under…but I do know that the late Sam Johnson would have given his stamp of approval.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Today my world slipped away

I’ve just received some devastating news from my CharredHer homepage—country legend Vern Gosdin has died at the age of 74 from the effects of a stroke he suffered a few weeks ago in Nashville, TN.

A good many people who are unfamiliar with country music—including those who wouldn’t listen to it if you placed a gun beside their temples—are probably asking right now: “Vern who?” But to country fans, he was known simply as “The Voice.” (Not to be confused with the major domo of a company that preserves radio’s past for the future, I hasten to add.) During his nearly thirty-five-year career in music, Gosdin was a consistent country hit-maker with number-one charters like I Can Tell By the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight), Set ‘Em Up Joe and I’m Still Crazy.

Born in Woodland, Alabama on August 5, 1934, Vern caught the music bug early on and by 1961 had teamed up with brother Rex as The Gosdin Brothers (he had also been a member of The Golden State Boys and The Hillmen)—scoring a top 40 country hit in 1967 with Hangin’ On. The business got a bit lean after that only hit, and Gosdin retired from performing, moving to Atlanta and operating a glass company…but he just wasn’t able to get the music out of his blood, and in 1976 Elektra Records released a cover of Hangin’ On that peaked at #16 on the Billboard Country Charts (with exquisite harmony vocals from the equally legendary Emmylou Harris). Harris joined Vern on another song, Yesterday’s Gone, that became his first Top Ten smash and the hits soon followed, including Til’ the End and a version of the Association’s Never My Love—both of which hit the Top Ten and both of which featured country singer Janie Fricke backing him on harmony vocals.

It was at this point in Gosdin’s career that one can help but think of the adjective “resilient.” He left Elektra to sign with independent label Ovation (a company that had success with country acts; their biggest was father-daughter team The Kendalls) in 1981 but after a few chart hits (including the Top Ten Dream of Me) the company went bankrupt and Vern found himself at A&M, where his hit streak continued with the title of this post. He then signed up with Compleat Records in 1983, where the hits just kept on coming: If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right), I Wonder Where We’d Be Tonight, Way Down Deep. The following year, Compleat released an album called There is a Season which the L.A. Times chose as Best Country Album of the Year—and included Dance and the Top Ten hits Slow Burning Memory and What Would Your Memories Do. Compleat Records then went bankrupt in 1987.

Gosdin finally found a home at Columbia the following year, where his album Chiseled in Stone not only went gold but the title track earned Gosdin a CMA award for Song of the Year in 1989. It was at this time that I actually got to meet Vern, who was promoting the album at a Wal-Mart in Savannah and a friend of my mother’s (both of whom were big fans of The Voice) gave me the heads-up that he was going to be there. When I entered the store, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the long line of sales clerks—many of whom I’m pretty sure had never heard of the man—waiting to have their pictures taken with him. I purchased a CD and cassette (for Mom’s friend) of Stone and asked him to autograph it, which he did. We made a little small talk (I was trying desperately not to gush in his presence); I asked him how Savannah was treating him and he enthusiastically responded that he’d honestly never met a nicer or more hospitable crowd. It was only a few moments, but I was very impressed by Vern’s utter lack of pretense—he was happy to be able to hang out with his fans, and was just an incredibly down-to-earth person.

From 1984 to 1986, I worked at a teensy, weensy 1000-watt radio station in Savannah, GA that started out with a news-talk format but switched to country in April 1985 (on April Fools’ Day, of all days—we had one hell of a time explaining to our many listener that it was not a joke) and I remember our oldies library had a record by Gosdin that had reached the top twenty back in 1977, Mother Country Music. Unfortunately, we also had a program director to which the words “country music” were a complete anathema; he wanted us to play more of the soulless pap that they often try to pass off as country at the time. (I won’t mention any names, but the initials of the first name are “Kenny” and the initials of the last name “Rogers.”) He would go completely ape-shit when I played Vern’s record and one day broke the 45 so I couldn’t play it any more. (I had the last laugh, though; I had Gosdin’s Greatest Hits LP and continued to play when I wanted to hear it…which, as luck would have it, was quite often.)

R.I.P. Vern. Thanks for helping me stick it to The Man…because you will be sorely missed.


Today My World Slipped Away - Vern Gosdin

“Oh…you mean NANCY!”

TCM scheduled a trio of films this past Sunday night that were all on my must-see list for a variety of reasons, but their rationale for showing the movies was that they all featured actress Nancy Carroll, a popular actress who began her career in silents around 1927 (save for a small part in Riders of the Purple Sage, made in 1918) and smoothly made the transition to talkies thanks to her extensive musical background on stage. Truth be told, I’d only seen one of her films before the unspooling of the three films Sunday—1935’s Atlantic Adventure…and I watched that one only to catch silent comedy legend Harry Langdon in one of his better sound roles (as photographer-sidekick to newspaper man Lloyd Nolan). So now I have four Carroll films tucked under my belt—just don’t go thinking I’m an expert or something.

Broken Lullaby (1932) – Okay, I have something to confess but I don’t want everybody stampeding to the comments section all at the same time to tell me that I’m obviously insane. I’m not all that big a fan of Ernst Lubitsch. I don’t dislike him, you understand—and I respect his invaluable contributions to cinema—but apart from a few movies (notably The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg [1927], “The Clerk” segment from If I Had a Million [1932], Design for Living [1933], Heaven Can Wait [1943] and my all-time favorite, To Be or Not to Be [1942]) I’m pretty much indifferent. Developing a stronger appreciation for Lubitsch is a work in progress, and I rectified this with watching the rarely scheduled Lullaby, which stars Phillips Holmes as an ex-French soldier so wracked with guilt over killing a German soldier (Tom Douglas) in WWI that he makes a pilgrimage to the soldier’s home town to make peace with his family (Carroll is the soldier’s fiancée, Lionel Barrymore his pop and Louise Carter his ma). Holmes loses his nerve at the last minute and tells the family a lie that the two men were good friends in France—they, in turn, take him into their home and treat him like an ersatz son despite the cluck-clucking from the townspeople. In the end, Carroll learns the truth about Holmes but decides to shield it from Barrymore and Carter, and everything comes out in the wash.

Despite some performances that are a tad overwrought, I liked Lullaby—particularly for Lubitsch’s trademark “touches” that include an amusing sequence in which Carroll and Holmes are taking a stroll downtown and all they can hear in the background are the ringing of bells from every shop because the proprietors are a bit nosey and keep opening their doors to hear their conversation. Barrymore is exceptionally good, and has a nice moment in which he confronts his “friends” at the local tavern and admonishes them (and himself) for never seeming to get the point that while they’re sending their sons off to war and toasting their good fortune…those same sons eventually end up dead…or badly scarred and wounded should they return. Emma Dunn, Tully Marshall, Lucien Littlefield and ZaSu Pitts are also in the cast, and though TCM’s print showed a little wear-and-tear (it had the familiar “A MCA-TV Release” titles) any opportunity to see a rarity like this is well worth it.

The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933) – Paul Lukas is a cuckolded husband who’s finally had it with unfaithful wife Gloria Stuart (she’s been dallying with Walter Pidgeon, who looks incredibly young here) and kills in her cold blood. His attorney, Frank Morgan, decides that his defense will address the fact that Lukas was acting in a diminished capacity when he busted a cap in Stuart’s ass, brought on by the stress of Stuart’s infidelity. (Yeah, like that would work in real life.) But as Morgan delves deeper and deeper into the case, he can’t avoid the comparisons between Lukas’ predicament and his own home life—particularly when it appears that his wife (Carroll) is two-timing him as well.

Director James Whale put this one together (shooting on sets left over from Frankenstein [1931]) and while it’s worth a look for the curious it really doesn’t deliver on its promise. The performances carry the day: Morgan is aces in a straight role as the lawyer, Lukas has toned down his Bela Lugosi impression some and it’s a shame that Stuart departs the film so soon (Bobby Osbo compares her exit to that of Janet Leigh’s in Psycho, which is a fairly apt description) because she is sensationally tarty in her small role. Of the three Carroll films, this is the one that showcases her talent best; she strikes a nice balance between naughty adulteress and devoted wife. (Charley Grapewin is also in this film as Morgan’s clerk, and he’s practically unrecognizable.) Whale liked this material so much he recycled it five years later for Wives Under Suspicion (1938) with professional sleazeball Warren William as the lawyer hubby and Gail Patrick as the wife (and Morgan’s brother Ralph in the cast). Bobby also mentioned that Charles Laughton and Claudette Colbert were originally slated for the leads (now that’s a picture I would have liked to see) and received a rare standing ovation from yours truly when he asked why modern day filmmakers don’t make more movies with the breadth and economy of Kiss instead of stretching them out to two-and-a-half hours.

There Goes My Heart (1938) – This was Nancy Carroll’s cinematic swan song; she saw the handwriting on the wall that the big roles weren’t as forthcoming as they were in the past (Heart is a perfect example; her part is that of snooty roommate to Patsy Kelly) and went back to stage work (and did a lot of early television later on). The story here really focuses on heiress Virginia Bruce, who’s tired of having to bow and scrape to her fuddy-duddy grandpa (Claude Gillingwater) and jumps yacht to start her own life in New York City. She makes fast friends with Patsy (an absolute delight here) and gets a job at her grandfather’s department store; meanwhile, irascible editor Eugene Pallette (also a gem) has ordered ace reporter Fredric March to track down Bruce’s whereabouts and get a banner headline story—which Freddy does, except he falls head over heels in love with Ginny as an unforeseen consequence.

This was the first Hal Roach Studios film to be released by United Artists and while one certainly can’t overlook how derivative it is (it’s part-It Happened One Night and part-Nothing Sacred) it’s still an entertaining screwball comedy with some sprightly gags, jokes and pratfalls (March and Bruce’s antics on ice are hysterical, as is Kelly’s grappling with a reducing machine). The cast is also a big plus—in addition to those I’ve named, you’ll also find Alan Mowbray (as Patsy’s would-be-chiropractor boyfriend), Arthur Lake (this is the second film I’ve seen in which Lake is not playing Dagwood Bumstead), Irving Bacon, Robert Armstrong, Marjorie Main (uncredited)…and a funny cameo at the end from a silent comedian that I previously mentioned at the start of this post. It’s based on an original story by Ed Sullivan (I guess you could call it a really big shew) and directed by comedy veteran Norman Z. McLeod (Monkey Business [1931], It’s a Gift [1934], Road to Rio [1947], The Paleface [1948], etc.)

I'll bet he's reading Beetle Bailey...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sittin’ on the dock of the (e)bay and other points of interest

I’ll come clean and admit it—I had a post prepared for yesterday but listing the items in my latest eBay auction took a hell of a lot longer than I had anticipated…and by the time I finished, I was ready to call it a day. So I’m offering this up as a means of getting back into the habit of regular posting.

Before I start, I’d like to take the quick opportunity to point classic movie comedy fans toward a pair of posts composed by my blogging compadres that I thought were really first-rate. First, “Uncle” Sam Wilson at Mondo 70: A Wild World of Cinema offers a unique take on one of Harold Lloyd’s sound comedies (I’m not sure if this post of mine inspired his review, but I’ll go ahead and greedily take the credit anyway), The Cat’s-Paw (1934). Sam’s perspective on the unjustly neglected film is enough to want to make me take a second look at Paw (which I may do if I can free up some time this weekend), and though I still believe it can’t quite measure up to Movie Crazy (1932) or The Milky Way (1936) I’d recommend it for those fans who haven’t gotten around to taking a peek to it.

Anthony Balducci wrote an interesting essay on another subject discussed previously here at TDOY: the never-ending Shemp vs. Curly debate. He reviews the newest Three Stooges two-reeler collection and has heady praise for its high Shempster content—and while I will readily admit that I am a tad biased on the subject it’s definitely a must-read.

I also want to thank Yair Solan for the encouraging words he left here on my mini-review of Kelly the Second (1936); he argues that the conventional wisdom of comedian Charley Chase not being able to “carry” a feature film is stuff-and-nonsense—something that I always suspected was the case, but an individual’s opinion like Yair’s carries quite a bit of weight, particularly when Mr. S. is the go-to guy on all things Chase at his website, The World of Charley Chase. I went ahead and added a link to it at the right and I’d encourage anyone with a casual interest in the career of one of film comedy’s most talented practitioners check it out as soon as possible. (An encouraging bit of news that I gleaned from Yair’s site is that Becoming Charley Chase—a four-disc DVD set that was all set to be released in January of this year by All-Day Entertainment until the economy went into the crapper—has been rescued by VCI, who has re-scheduled it for a summer release. Ain’t that a darb?)

Having got all the shameless self-promotion out of the way, leave us take a look at some classic television DVD releases headed your way very, very soon:

Father Knows Best: Season 3 – This release has been in the pipeline for quite some time now (June 9) but TVShowsOnDVD.com has a heads-up that this set will not only contain thirty-seven episodes from the beloved family sitcom’s third season, but a pair of episodes from the short-lived comedy-drama starring Robert Young, Window on Main Street (1961-62; the episodes are “A Doctor Comes to Town” [10/16/61] and “The Chambermaid” [date unknown]). But wait, there’s more: purchasers of the set will also receive a bonus of three of Father’s radio episodes—including the audition show of December 20, 1948 (“Betty’s Engagement”). If you’ve never had the opportunity to listen to the radio version of Father, you’re in for a real treat—the kids on the show are smarmy brats (honestly, you’ll want to strangle all three of them) and Young is hardly the kind and all-knowing patriarch played on the tube. This Season 3 set is being put out by the good people at Shout! Factory, so you know you’re investing in a good thing…maybe (I just remembered the Room 222 release, which gave me second thoughts).

Petticoat Junction: The Official Second Season – TVShowsOnDVD.com also reports that the second season of the bucolic sitcom starring Bea Benaderet and Edgar Buchanan will be headed down the tracks for a July 7th release, containing all thirty-six episodes of the series’ sophomore year on five discs. I don’t know whether I’ve told this story previously but I had a rather—well, I don’t want to call it unpleasant but I suppose I have no other choice—experience with a seller at ioffer.com from whom I purchased what she advertised was the “complete series run” of Junction…and an inventory of the purchase revealed that one episode was missing (“Kate and the Manpower Problem”) and five episodes had no sound tracks (“Billie Jo’s First Job,” “Kate Bradley, Volunteer,” “Hooterville Crime Wave,” “For the Birds” and “The Shady Rest Hotel Corporation”). When I called her attention to this, she apologized and sent me a replacement disc containing the missing soundtrack shows…and the soundtracks were still missing. I get the occasional e-mail every now and then from a faithful TDOY follower asking if a certain series can be found in “rootpeg” form and while I’m always happy to give them the available skinny I cannot stress the concept of “caveat emptor” too strongly—many dealers collect this stuff like baseball cards and OTR on mp3’s and so very few of them take the time to make certain all the episodes are there and intact. (So even though I’ve had cross words for CBS DVD-Paramount in the past, I’m grateful that they’re going with another Junction release.)

Zane Grey Theatre: The Complete First Season – VCI has had this release in the pipeline for quite some time now, but have made it official—the first season of this top-rated Western anthology (hosted by and frequently starring Dick Powell) will finally hit the streets on June 9th. From an e-mail sent to me by VCI:

VCI is proud to announce a special DVD release of one of the greatest western anthologies of all time. Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre. The complete first season has been digitally remastered and restored. This is one DVD every collector should have.

Wonderful tales of the Old West laden with history and adventure are presented in Dick Powell's
Zane Grey Theatre, a half-hour western anthology TV series that debuted on CBS, October 5, 1956 and ran for 5 whole seasons. Dick Powell served as the host for the entire series and also starred as various characters in 15 episodes. The series was originally based on the short stories and novels of western author Zane Grey, but as the series continued, new material was included. Aaron Spelling, who later became a legend in Hollywood, wrote twenty Zane Grey episodes.

I’ve never seen this series, so suffice it to say I’m looking forward to grabbing a copy when it comes out (assuming I’ll have the necessary scratch with which to make said grab). VCI’s forays into classic television—including their Burke’s Law and Honey West releases—have been a real revelation, with extras like classic commercials added and well-written liner notes from the likes of Clifford “Laughing Gravy” Weimer (who made the Honey West collection come alive).

The Lucy Show: The Official First Season – We all knew it was a matter of time before this was released to DVD—I just want to say that I’m really looking forward to grabbing this one too (see previous paragraph on why this may be a bit of a setback) when it comes out July 21st. The box art for this release has already gotten my vote as one of the best this year, and the extras (interviews with Lucie Arnaz and Jimmy Garrett, original cast commercials, network promos, etc.) alone are enough to trigger the old saliva glands. As I have stated on a number of occasions, I equate The Lucy Show with tap water—I can’t imagine a time it wasn’t on in the afternoons courtesy of our CBS affiliate, WCHS in Charleston, WV and with the exception of the public domain shows (a nice collection of which was released by Mill Creek some time ago) I’m willing to wager I haven’t seen a lot of these reruns in close to 20-25 years. (Just one question: why is CBS-Paramount calling the Lucy Show, Petticoat Junction and Beverly Hillbillies releases “official”? Is it due to the public domain thing?)

Life lessons #30

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thank you for being a friend

Although my CharredHer homepage finally got its act together and included a nice obituary/tribute to the late Bea Arthur (well worth a read) I first learned of her passing at the age of 86 from Bill Crider, who must subscribe to some death notice service—rarely does a celebrity appointment with the Grim Reaper escape his attention. Arthur’s death is particularly saddening for someone who vegetated in front of a TV set most of his life (that would be me, in case you were curious) because although she received a good many kudos for her stage work (including a Tony Award for her supporting performance as Vera Charles in the Broadway musical Mame) TV is probably the medium for which many know her best, with her Emmy-award winning titular role in Maude and her later success as Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak in the hit sitcom The Golden Girls (for which she also copped a pair of Emmys).

Too often words like “television pioneer” are tossed around to describe boob tube celebrities who have gone on to their rich reward, but I think in Bea Arthur’s case the description more than applies. Her role as Maude Finlay—first in appearances on All in the Family, and then as the first successful Family spin-off—was a breath of fresh air on the glass furnace, as the character of Maude was inarguably TV’s first feminist. In a tribute to Arthur over at Salon.com, writer Rebecca Traister muses:

But it's also important to remember that before "Dollhouse," before "Sex and the City," there was "Maude." The "All in the Family" spin-off, which ran from 1972 to 1978, starred Arthur as Maude Findlay, the Democratic-voting, women's liberation-supporting, four times married cousin of Edith Bunker. The program, created by television visionary Norman Lear, made the news early in its run for featuring prime time's first abortion, in a two-part episode that aired two months before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the country.

Traister also points out that Bea’s follow-up success, The Golden Girls, was also a groundbreaking series, “remarkable to think, given how young, glossy and pneumatic network television has become, that less than 20 years ago, the airwaves were given over to four older women who talked about sex and ex-husbands and ate cheesecake”:

Many others have observed that "The Golden Girls" was "Sex and the City" before "Sex and the City," or alternately that the "Sex and the City" ladies were only a few decades away from drinks on the lanai themselves. The show was one of the most female-friendly and respectful looks at the experience of aging while female ever broadcast on national airwaves, simply by showing women -- living, talking, having sex, making friends, cracking wise, living full lives together with energy and engagement. And if you happen to catch one of the reruns that still air, chances are good you'll laugh your ass off.

And as long as there exist such channels as Lifetime and Hallmark, there’ll never be a shortage of reruns—thus sayeth the Lord.

Arthur starred in a third television series that was based on the classic Britcom Fawlty Towers, Amanda’s—and while many have argued (and rightly so) that duplicating the success of John Cleese and Connie Booth’s masterful creation was a fool’s errand I’ve always believed that the Arthur version had some potential. The problem with the American version is that Arthur’s character had no one to hold her in check (her wimpy nephew Marty, played by Fred McCarren, certainly fell short of the task) in the league of Prunella Scales (who played Basil Fawlty’s wife Sybil). But the more I think about it, it would have been impossible to find anyone capable of such a job, simply because the formidable Arthur was an unstoppable force of nature (the producers of Maude always tried to sell the audience that husband Walter [Bill Macy] ultimately ruled the roost in that household, something even Ripley wouldn’t believe [“God’ll get you for that, Walter…”].)

Movie wise, Arthur appeared in but a handful of films—the most notable being an adaptation of Mame (1974), which allowed her to reprise her Vera Charles role, and History of the World: Part I (1981), which gave her a funny cameo as an unemployment office clerk talking to Mel Brooks’ stand-up philosopher (“Oh, a bullshit artist…did you bullshit last week? Did you try to bullshit last week?”) Bea’s best movie showcase was Lovers and Other Strangers (1970); with her portrayal of distraught Italian matriarch Bea Vecchio (married to Richard “So what’s the story?” Castellano) who goes into apoplexy upon learning that her son (Joseph Hindy) is contemplating divorcing his wife (Diane Keaton). Written by Joseph Bologna and Renée Taylor (based on their stage play) and directed by My Friend Irma/Life With Luigi creator Cy Howard, it’s a neglected little gem that’s worth a look-see—with a cast that also includes Gig Young, Bonnie Bedelia, Cloris Leachman, Anne Jackson, Anne Meara, Harry Guardino and Bob Dishy.

R.I.P. Ms. Arthur. You will be missed terribly.

The Half-Assed Gourmand #6

If you’re curious as to why I continue to keep dragging my feet on this G-Men Never Forget (1948) project it’s because I was sort of out of commission yesterday, thanks to the good people at McDonald’s. Here’s the poop (and I apologize for the atrocious pun in advance):

Mom and I left my house a little after ten a.m. yesterday to run some errands: I had to go by the bank, she had a few things to get at Publix (I needed some milk and O.J., so I went with her) and her favorite liquor store in Athens (a recent influx of “company” to sister Kat’s domicile kind of cleaned out the cabinet, as it were). On the way back, Mom suggests that we take our respective groceries back to our respective cribs and then treat ourselves to lunch under the Golden Arches.

Mom ordered a Big Mac Value Meal and I ordered a pair of double cheeseburgers with a small fries (for which she traded her large fries once we got situated at the table). I guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach because I finished one-and-one-half of the burgers and left a pile of spuds on my plate—but hey, I ate what I wanted so I was cool with that. I got another refill of orange soda (I don’t know why McDonald’s orange soda is so tasty—maybe because it’s not a carbonated brand like Fanta or Sunkist but just good ol’ Hi-C) and she dropped me off at Rancho Yesteryear when we were done.

I was sitting in front of the tube trying to work up the energy to watch another chapter of G-Men when I became aware of an ominous rumbling in my stomach area…and because I’d rather not get too graphic let’s just say that my lunch ended up arguing with my alimentary canal—so much so that they were forced to duke it out in the vicinity of my bathroom. So that kind of put the kibosh on any serial watching.

Meanwhile, my father stops by my place after a not-so-prestigious day of flea marketing and we have a bit of a chat in the meantime. Dad has one of those old Ford panel vans that he tools around in, so much so that on the rare occasions when I’m riding shotgun I find myself humming the theme to Sanford and Son. He keeps it parked over at my place because the facilities at Kat’s are rather limited, and since he had nixed the idea of going out to the flea market again on Sunday (today) he asks me to call the house and ask Mom to come over so he can get a lift home.

I do this, and I think Mom shot over here in record time—only to throw open the front door, leap over my living room couch and make tracks for the bathroom. It did not take a rocket scientist to realize that she was suffering from the same effects of our McDonald’s feast as I was.

I called her later to apologize for suggesting we eat there, but she assured me that it wasn’t my fault—she had a feeling something like that was going to happen the second she tucked into that Big Mac. She even mentioned at lunch that this was her “Big Mac for the year”…and if experience is any teacher, she means it. So I apologize for keeping you in suspenders re: G-Men—I’ll try to continue it next Saturday. In the meantime, see if you can explain to me why it was necessary for these people to link to the blog

Why horror movies need an audience

Friday, April 24, 2009

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

Fans of Turner Classic Movies are no doubt aware of the fact that the contents of the channel usually start at the top of the hour or at the :30 mark—and also at the quarter hours (:15 and :45). So when a movie finishes early, they fill up the remaining time with promos, trailers, etc.—and if you’ve been really good, they’ll sneak in a travelogue or Pete Smith/Robert Benchley/Joe McDoakes short. They’ve scheduled a few two-reelers this weekend that you might want to be on the lookout for:

Paree, Paree (1934) – One of Bob Hope’s Vitaphone shorts that takes the stage musical 50 Million Frenchmen (with music by Cole Porter) and squeezes it to fit the time frame of twenty minutes. Not one of Hope’s best two-reelers, but the music’s hard to beat: the comedian sings You Do Something to Me and You’ve Got That Thing, accompanied by the dancing of Dorothy Stone. (April 25, starts approximately at 9:32am following Road to Bali.)

So You Want to Be in Pictures (1947) – Funny Joe McDoakes (but seriously—is there any other kind?) short that allows star George O’Hanlon to play both Joe and his real self in a tale that finds our hero appearing in a small role in a WWI film…and predictably making a mess of things. Jack Carson fans will get a kick out of his cameo in this one. (April 26, starts approximately at 3:42pm following Tea for Two.)

Three Chumps Ahead (1934) – TCM’s trotted this one out before, so in case you missed it the first time now’s your chance to experience the magic of Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly. (April 26, starts approximately at 5:35pm following The Three Faces of Eve.)

You’re Telling Me (1932) – A rare opportunity to catch one of the shorts in Hal Roach’s “The Boy Friends” series, which featured former Our Gangers Mickey Daniels and Mary Kornman along with W.C. Fields fave Grady Sutton. Future director Gordon Douglas has an acting role in this funny outing that features a visit with Gordon’s family (the father is played by the one-of-a-kind Billy Gilbert). (April 26, starts approximately at 7:39pm following The Night of the Hunter.)

(P.S. I “liberated” the One Reel Wonders photo from Raquelle at Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog. I hope she doesn’t mind.)

Well, I'll be a dirty bird

He made it do what it did, baby…

If you’ve been keeping up with the comment sections, you’ve probably learned from faustina that my esteemed blogging colleague and very good friend Sam Johnson has shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 42. (The details surrounding his demise are sketchy at best; his brother Anthony discovered Sam in his apartment today and the family will apparently have an obit up at The Savannah-Morning Snooze within the next day or so. I will look for it online and keep you posted.)

Sam and I first became acquainted when he stumbled onto my blog as a result of a search of Savannah-based blogs, and it didn’t take long for the two of us to discover that we had a good many things in common: old movies, classic TV, old-time radio, etc. (He also made me a charter member of the League of Savannah Bloggers…even though its membership resembled more of a platoon.) Sam was the type of guy that a friend of mine once described as “never met a stranger”—and as such, I made other friends through Sam that included Phil Schweier, Pandora Zowada and the irrepressible HouseT.

He had a tendency to look at things from a slightly askew angle—many of the subjects he wrote about included bizarre recipes involving bacon and vigorous defenses of his beloved hometown of Savannah. I freely admit that sometimes I would needle him about his unabashed love for the city oft-described as “the pretty lady with the dirty face” by posting dissenting comments…and he would come right back at me with the fury of a woman scorned. (I never knew for certain if he knew I was just winding him up…for the record, Sam, it was all in fun.)

Since starting Thrilling Days of Yesteryear back in November 2003, I’ve been afforded a marvelous opportunity to correspond with a number of truly good people…but it’s a rare occasion that allows me to meet many of my friends in the blogosphere face-to-face—chiefly because I don’t drive. I’ve been fortunate to have spent some time with Mr. Debonair himself—Elisson—which in a small way doesn’t really count because…well, he’s on a first name basis with everybody. Sam was the only other individual that I met and gret greeted—we broke bread together three years ago at the Ruby Tuesday’s in the Savannah Mall which I discussed in this particularly memorable post.

More often than not, Sam would usually drop in at my former place of employment (the fabulous LaQuinta Inn on Abercorn) to tumultuous applause not heard since Happy Days or Laverne & Shirley was on the air. If I was able to get away from my duties (honestly, some of the customers were convinced we were running some sort of a hotel or something) we’d have a bit of a chinwag; most of the time, however, our conversations would be conducted by phone or online (sort of a Jack Benny-Fred Allen feud between his and my blogs).

The last time I spoke with him was two weeks ago; he had called me up to see what was shaking and I told him that other than suffering from a mild case of writer’s block everything was peachy. We discussed at length the nature of public domain TV shows (as always, I told him Bob “Master of His [Public] Domain” Huggins was the go-to guy on that), his future plans (he had just thrown up his hands in disgust and quit his radio job because it was no longer fun for him)…and what I teased was his unhealthy obsession about writing about his ex-wife—even though she did reach into his chest cavity and remove his still-beating heart in front of him like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). We also chatted about getting together at a future date to work on a dream project of his: an online database devoted to Saturday morning television (we just never could seem to get our schedules to mesh on this one).

To the individual who never failed to amuse me with stuff like Talk Like a Goth Girl Day, Sam-a-Palooza and the merits of Jerry Lewis’ film career—R.I.P., paisan. You have no idea how much I’ll miss you.

Update: Sam's obituary can be found online here, along with a guestbook for those who have something to say.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Queen of the Hillbillies

TCM’s running a tribute to Funny Ladies in primetime this week, and one of the more interesting offerings was trotted out last night, the 1944 Columbia B-comedy/musical Louisiana Hayride (1944—not to be confused with the popular country music radio show of the same name, btw) starring (as one IMDb wag has dubbed her, “The Jenny Lind of the Ozarks”) Judy Canova. I did a write-up on Judy’s radio show eons ago and it’s always nice to catch one of her old films or TV appearances since the radio broadcasts I’ve collected are packed away somewhere in a box in my father’s storage shed (or as we like to refer to it, “no man’s land”). (Back in the late 80s, Savannah’s WTGS used to run a “late, late show” package that consisted largely of old Republic films…and that’s where my introduction to Judy Canova began, with viewings of Oklahoma Annie [1952], The WAC from Walla Walla [1952], Carolina Cannonball [1955] and Lay That Rifle Down [1955]).)

One thing you need to keep in mind when you’re watching a Canova flick is that the comedy material is frequently as corny as Kansas in August, so if you’re expecting something along the lines of Noel Coward perhaps you’d be better off looking elsewhere in the stacks. (An example of the humor in Hayride: Judy remarks that if a certain individual “don’t quit drinkin’ they’re gonna have to take out a liquor license to bury ‘em.”) Hayride is certainly no exception to this rule, but because the film was a product of Columbia it’s a bit better than, say, the usual Judy vehicles from Republic (a studio for which she generated a mega-tonnage of cash). Judy is Judy Crocker, a hillbilly gal whose good nature and utter lack of guile allows her to be suckered by two con men, J. Huntington McMasters (TDOY fave Richard Lane) and Canada Brown (George McKay—the poor man’s William Frawley), into coughing up the necessary scratch to finance a feature film the two hucksters are promoting—ostensibly with Judy as the lead. McMasters and Brown find themselves at the mercy of a wannabe director named Gordon Pearson (future director-producer Ross Hunter) who’s fallen for our heroine and is looking out for her best interests; Pearson, in turn, hires a novice screenwriter named Montague Price…a part that allows the audience to see Lloyd Bridges demonstrating his comic chops. (There’s an amusing exchange between Lloyd and the two con men when he’s first introduced to them: asked if he’s written a lot of motion pictures he replies, “No…but I’ve seen some.” “I’ve been out with a lot of chorus girls but I can’t dance,” McKay snaps back.)

Hayride allows Canova to warble five songs (including the politically incorrect Shortnin’ Bread), one of which is the old standard Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey and the way this number is staged is kind of amusing. Judy can’t remember which studio that Lane and McKay are affiliated with so she has a cab driver take her around to the various independent studios (of which, let’s just say, there are a lot) until she arrives at one that’s waiting for a female singer to arrive and record a number for an actress (an unbilled Christine McIntyre) to lip-synch to in a western. What tickled me about this is that McIntyre, an ingénue who had a lengthy career in both two-reelers and B-westerns, was no slouch as a vocalist—as anyone who’s seen the Three Stooges shorts Micro-Phonies (1945) or Squareheads of the Round Table (1948) will readily attest. That was one of the main pleasures I got in watching Hayride, seeing a lot of players from the Columbia shorts and serials including Minerva Urecal (as Judy’s ma), Matt Willis (Judy’s shotgun-totin’ bro), Ernie Adams, Lane Chandler, Fred Graham, Russell Hicks, Bud Jamison (as a doorman), Eddie Kane, Jack Rice, Gene Roth and (though she’s not credited at the IMDb entry for Hayride), Symona Boniface.

I experienced a couple of moments of déjà vu while watching this entertaining programmer last night—the main one being that the plot seemed awfully familiar, and I thought for a brief moment that I had seen it before. As it turns out, Judy’s 1940 Republic romp Scatterbrain features a similar premise (Judy is mistaken for an actress and is whisked out to Hollywood) and though I haven’t seen that movie I did listen to an adaptation of it via an Old Gold Comedy Theater radio broadcast (dated April 29, 1945 and hosted by Harold Lloyd) a few years back. (It’s possible that I may have seen Scatterbrain in that syndicated Republic films package I mentioned earlier, but I honestly can’t recall.) The other instance was an amusing gag that occurs at the start of the film: Judy’s just purchased a sort of rooming house/kozy kabin franchise for her Uncle Lem (Andy Clyde look-a-like Walter Baldwin) and Aunt Hepzibah (Jessie Arnold), and as she’s getting ready to get on the train to return home to her mom and brother, her conversation with her aunt and uncle keeps getting interrupted by a polite gentleman who first asks where the water cooler is located…and then continues to inquire if he can get another glass of water.

Finally Judy asks him: “Say…are you drinkin’ all that water?” “Oh, no, mum…I didn’t want to bother anybody but…my cabin’s on fire…” is the man’s reply. It’s a gag older than the hills and then some, and its best showcase is in the 1949 Abbott & Costello comedy Africa Screams, with the incomparable Joe Besser delivering the punch line (“Ooooooh, my tent’s on FIRE!”) The director of Louisiana Hayride, Charles Barton, also helmed Screams and I’ll bet dollars to donuts he brought that little chestnut along for the ride.

Riders on the (gathering) storm

Life lessons #29

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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

Because George Burns lived to the ripe ol’ age of 100, he was afforded the opportunity to appear solo in the many films he made after the death of wife Gracie Allen in 1964—including his Oscar-winning turn in The Sunshine Boys (1975), Oh, God! (1977), Just You and Me, Kid (1979) and Going in Style (1979). By contrast, Gracie appeared in only three films without her straight-man husband: The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939), Mr. and Mrs. North (1942) and Two Girls and a Sailor (1944; in which she performs her classic “Concerto for Index Finger”).

TCM is going to show Mr. and Mrs. North at 3:30am EDT on what is technically early Wednesday morning, so you might want to rev up the recorders in order to capture this oddity. It’s based on the series of popular short stories (published in The New Yorker) and novel (The Norths Meet Murder) by Richard and Francis Lockridge (and the play by Owen Davis), which later became a long-running radio mystery series (“mystery liberally sprinkled with laughs,” as CBS used to promote it) and early TV offering as well. I haven’t seen the film myself, but it’s one I’ve been actively seeking out for a while now; I saw Gracie’s Murder Case a while back and enjoyed the hell of it, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will be enjoyable as well.

Speaking of TiVo alerts, I was bowled over by the breathtaking quality of the Ruggles of Red Gap showing last night on TCM; the practically pristine print made the viewing experience ever so much nicer. I also got a kick out of seeing Kelly the Second (which had been on my must-see list for ages), an entertaining movie that I thought really captured the wonderfulness of the Hal Roach two-reelers…and it saddened me when I stopped to think how Roach wasted the talents of star comedian Charley Chase (who stole the show in Kelly, particularly when he and star Patsy Kelly cut loose with a fiery Irish jig) by letting him go instead of making a more concerted effort to fashion feature films for him. (Chase’s 1936 short Neighborhood House was originally previewed as a feature, but the audience reaction was tepid, prompting it to be re-edited in two-reel form. While I shouldn’t blame Roach for this, Chase’s supporting performance in the Laurel & Hardy classic Sons of the Desert [1933] demonstrates that Chase certainly had something to offer in a feature film.) My only nitpick with Kelly is that Pert Kelton didn’t have a lot to do—a shame, really, because I’ve seen her in a few early features and she could really be first-rate if she had the right material (check out Bed of Roses [1933] sometime and see what I mean). Leonard Maltin observed in The Great Movie Comedians that Chase was originally considered for the comic relief in the Fred Astaire musical A Damsel in Distress (1937)—but that deal fell through, and which sort of brings this back to George & Gracie, I guess.

Life lessons #28

Monday, April 20, 2009

I’m a baaaaaad boy…

Shortly before April 6, 2009, I awoke and sat straight up in my bed here at Rancho Yesteryear because I remembered that I neglected to “program” the daily comic strips I post here on the blog (I usually do about a week’s worth in advance). Unfortunately, the siren known as Laziness began singing her sweet, seductive song and I rolled over, telling myself all the while that I’d just get up before 8:30 and do it in the morning.

As you can see, this is the first post I’ve written since the sixth, so I guess we can all agree that didn’t quite go off as planned. I have found that part of blog maintenance is writing something everyday. If I let a day or two go by—well, then it’s pretty much hopeless by then. Getting back into regular blogging usually takes either a major miracle or concerned individuals e-mailing or leaving comments asking what undisclosed location I’m currently partying in.

I’d like to honestly say that I got a lot quite a bit accomplished during my sabbatical—but since the key word here is honestly I can assure you that the only thing that resulted from my blogging holiday was me reveling in my bone laziness. I had a couple of outside projects to work on (both of which didn’t need a computer) and right now I’m in the process of throwing a few things up on eBay so that I can pay the bills this month (I hope to have this completed by this evening, 11pm EDT). I just wanted to apologize for not putting out a “Gone Fishin’” sign (as suggested by Scott C. at World O’Crap) and in addition to Scott thank Jim Leeds (Jim’s Journeys), Ray (Flickhead), Vince Keenan and faithful TDOY readers Dan and Mike for checking up on me.

Update: I didn't notice until 4 this afternoon that I posted this darn thing twice (I was having some problems last night, and didn't see the duplication) and when I eliminated the duplicate I ended up deleting Harry Hauser's comment in the process. Therefore, I did a little nip n'tuck and added his two cents to the commentary below.

Give it up for the bear!

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

Today is the 120th anniversary of the birth of the great silent comedian Harold Lloyd, and TCM has devoted a good part of the day to showcasing many of his features…though for a great silent comic they appear to have dug into more of Lloyd’s sound films than the silent classics. I heartily recommend Girl Shy (1924; 7:15am) and For Heaven’s Sake (1926; 8:45am); Shy has one of the very best climactic chases in the history of silent comedy (though Harold’s stuttering character may be a bit off-putting to some) and Heaven’s is in the same ball park, with a wrap-up film historian Leonard Maltin once remarked exceeded that of the famous vehicle pursuit in The French Connection (1971).

Of the sound offerings, Movie Crazy (1932; 11:30am) is probably Lloyd’s best talkie…though you might also want to catch The Milky Way (1936; 3:00pm) as well, a comedy directed by Leo McCarey that stars Harold as a milkman-turned-boxer (it was remade in 1946 with Danny Kaye as The Kid From Brooklyn). But the gem you’re going to want to set your recorders for comes on at 6:15 pm; a rare showing of Harold Lloyd’s Funny Side of Life (1963). Funny Side was a follow-up to a successful compilation of clips from Lloyd’s film career released a year earlier entitled Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy (1962; it precedes Funny Side at 4:30 pm) but it didn’t do as well at the box office as the first film and was subsequently withdrawn for a good many years, making it most difficult to see.

TCM also has a pair of rarities to showcase after Funny Side: Kelly the Second (1936) was an effort by producer to launch Patsy Kelly into feature films as a fiery fight promoter who attempts to make truck driver Guinn “Big Boy” Williams a champeen fighter. Patsy had much better luck in movies as a supporting player or comic relief, but this breezy little comedy does give her a chance to shine on her own…and includes an appearance by two-reel comedy star Charley Chase, not to mention Pert Kelton (who also appears alongside Kelly in the 1936 two-reeler Pan Handlers), Ed Brophy and ‘Slapsie’ Maxie Rosenbloom. Afterward, one of the best comedies in the history of cinema unspools at 9:15pm: Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), starring the peerless Charles Laughton as a veddy British butler “won” in a poker game by roughneck Charlie Ruggles (yes, I know it’s a bit of a stretch…but Ruggles pulls it off with amazing ease). Charlie is joined by his frequent on-screen partner Mary Boland, along with ZaSu Pitts and Roland Young. Eat, drink and be merry at this wealth of comedy treasures today!

Monday, April 6, 2009

“Bloody poorer, that’s a fact!”

Yesterday was one of those days where I just didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I had a post rolling around in the spacious area between my ears…but instead, I decided to zone out in front of the TV with reruns (Wagon Train, Run For Your Life) and an Sundance On Demand showing of Auto Focus (2002), Paul Schrader’s somewhat chilling take on the flesh-crawling sexaholic/comedic actor Bob Crane (marvelously played by Greg Kinnear).

But I also received in the mail last week In Sickness and In Health: Series 3—another half-a-dozen installments of the BBC sitcom spin-off to Till Death Us Do Part, created by Johnny Speight and starring Warren Mitchell as old-age pensioner and unrepentant bigot Alf Garnett. As always, there are some real mirth-making episodes contained on the DVD, particularly in the fourth episode where Alf’s former Eastbourne neighbor Min Reed (Patricia Hayes) and her dotty sister Gwyneth (Irene Handl) make a return visit. This time they convince Alf to hold a séance in the house he shares with Mrs. Hollingbery (Carmel McSharry), with some rib-tickling results. Sadly, this would be the last appearance from Hayes and Handl; Handl (a British comedy institution best remembered for playing the title role in the long-running For the Love of Ada) would pass away that same year (1987), her last television role being that of an old-age pensioner in a sitcom entitled Never Say Die…which co-starred Arthur English, Alf’s drinking buddy on Health.

Una Stubbs, who made several appearances on Health reprising her Till Death role as Rita, Alf’s daughter, doesn’t make any visits in this series…but oddly enough, figures in a subplot in several episodes in which the audience learns that she’s divorced her husband Michael (played by Anthony Booth on Till Death) and has now shacked up with a doctor. While Alf is pleased to be finally rid of “that randy scouse git,” Rita’s new lifestyle doesn’t exactly have him kicking his heels in glee. About the closest the audience gets to “seeing” Rita is in the first episode, in which a woman’s legs can be detected underneath those of a man’s (the doctor and his girlfriend are having a bit o’slap and tickle in his examination room).

Winston (Eamonn Walker) manages to talk Alf into letting him move into his spare room in this series (the one Rita usually stays in on her visits), paying him rent underneath the table, which allows the series a few more opportunities to mine laughs out of this Odd Couple-type relationship. Unfortunately, the third series would see Winston’s departure (never explaining why the character moves on) which was quite a setback, since the relationship between the racist Alf and gay Winston was one of the funniest attributes of the show. Walker would go on to appear in a number of U.K. television dramas but on this side of the pond he’s best remembered as the incarcerated American Muslim leader Kareem Said on HBO’s Oz (1997-2003).

The funniest outing in this series of Health go-rounds is episode five, which finds Alf and his buddy Arthur at a pensioners’ tea dance. The installment starts off on a melancholy note, as Arthur wistfully reminisces about a sexual experience he once had with a woman who’s at the dance (played by Pamela Cundell, who Britcom fans might remember as Mrs. Fox in the classic Dad’s Army). Arthur then asks Alf if he’s planning to trip the light fantastic while they are there and when Alf starts to brag about how great a dancer he was back in Wapping he gets an opportunity to prove his stuff:

If the tall man with the Charles Ferrell-like moustache looks familiar, it’s because he’s one of the Lord High Priests of British Comedy…Spike Milligan hizzownself. Later on, he has another run-in with Alf:

Working with Speight must have seemed like old home week for Milligan; he was the star of Speight’s post-Till Death sitcom, 1969’s Curry and Chips—in which he played a blue-collar laborer named Kevin O’Grady who, because he claimed to have an Irish mother and a Pakistani father, was dubbed “Paki-Paddy” by his fellow workers. Milligan revived this character on an episode of Till Death (in 1974) and also appeared in an earlier episode in 1972 (“Holiday in Bournemouth”).

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t have any more clips from this episode, which in its second half features Alf in an embarrassing situation: having agreed to wash Mrs. Hollingbery’s windows (in exchange for her cooking him a meat pudding) he finds himself stuck sitting on the ledge (the window has closed down on his thighs and Winston, Arthur, et al. are unable to budge it) with the predicted complications (“I have to go to the lavvy!” Alf wails.) Winston manages to get a van to park near the house, and getting on top, slides a board under Alf’s buttocks with the intention of prying him loose from the window. As you’ve guessed, the driver is once again Milligan, who’ll have no part in assisting Alf and drives off, leaving Winston stranded on top. Alf, in the meantime, slides down the plank and seemingly onto the concrete below…but providence arrives in the form of a passing brewery truck, which allows Alf to land gently among its cargo. From the window, Mrs. Hollingbery shakes her head and shouts: “I always said you was lucky!” Alf cackles as the truck continues on and tells her: “Don’t wait up for me!”

“Uncle Carl Laemmle/has a very large faemmle…” – Ogden Nash

In Friday’s Warner Archives post, I mentioned that Universal’s occasional foray into releasing a lot of their library titles consisted of re-releasing previous titles with new packaging—but a quick glance this morning at the new releases added to DVD Price Search’s engine indicates that I spoke a bit out of turn. Three films will be introduced to disc come July 7th (similar to their earlier releases like The Major and the Minor, The Heiress, Midnight, etc.): The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) and Lonely are the Brave (1962). Brave’s the only title of interest to me here, and since I already own a Region 2 version there’s not much for me to be excited about—still, I wanted to be able to give Universal a fair hearing. (Of course, they haven’t completely seen the light—the week before they’ll be releasing Do the Right Thing: 20th Anniversary Edition, so the more things change the more they remain insane.)

In other DVD news, TDOY correspondent Bob “Master of His (Public) Domain” Huggins reports that there are a few nuggets to be panned over at Oldies.com. The Adventures of Superman, Complete Seasons 3 & 4, Kung Fu: Season 3 and Wonder Woman: Season 2 can be had for 11.98 each, and The Best of the Price is Right and The Best of Password are selling for $6.95 a pop. Get ‘em while you can, TV fans…I have a feeling they’re going to run out of the Superman sets soon.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

G-Men Never Forget – Chapter 6: Marked Evidence

OUR STORY SO FAR: Look, you pretty much know the drill if you’ve been keeping up with the reading…and if you have been keeping with the reading, may the Good Lord take a likin’ to ya. Vic Murkland (Roy Barcroft), habitual scofflaw, has busted out of the jernt and with the help of some nip and tuck has become a dead ringer for Police Commissioner Angus Cameron…whom he is currently holding prisoner at the “sanitarium” of Robert “Doc” Benson (Stanley Price), a medico of questionable qualifications and the frequent dissenter in those “four out of five doctors” surveys. The two representatives of the law attempting to capture Murkland are Special Agent Ted O’Hara (Clayton Moore), who looks out of place without a mask, Indian and white horse, and Sergeant Francis Blake (Ramsay Ames) who…just looks out of place.

There was quite a bit of excitement in last week’s chapter: R.L. Cook (Edmund Cobb), big bidness tycoon and philanthropist (he’s the individual behind the Little Cook Urban Achievers) stumbled onto to Murkland’s masquerade as Cameron and, because we have another eight chapters to go, neglected to impart this information to O’Hara until it got dark—making it much easier for Murkland’s to silence him. He recorded this revelatory information on a Dictaphone record, but during a donnybrook between O’Hara/Blake and Murkland’s men it was scuffed up a tad. O’Hara is painstakingly trying to restore the recording and listen to Cook’s dying words…not knowing that an agent of Murkland’s has planted a booby trap in the machine…

I don’t know about you, but I was sort of rooting for the bomb in the last chapter—simply because O’Hara still hasn’t caught on that the man he believes to be Commissioner Cameron is in actuality his nemesis, Vic Murkland…and if he hasn’t figured it out by now, this serial needs to be put out of its misery. There was a glimmer of hope…but this turns to despair when Chapter 6 gets underway—O’Hara and Blake witness smoke belching out of the Dictaphone machine, and duck behind a stuffed easy chair to avoid getting hit with the subsequent shrapnel. (Missed it by that much.)

O’HARA (standing amidst the wreckage): Sure wish we could have found out what was on that record…well, Sarge…I have a hunch there’s a leak in the Commissioner’s office…
BLAKE: Come to think of it—I’ve never seen those two characters in our fingerprint department, either…

Now she tells him. Well, let’s leave our two clueless super cops and mosey on over to kindly old Doc Benson’s sanitarium (“If we don’t put back all your parts during surgery—the operation is on us!”)

MURKLAND: What’s the difference—even if Cook is dead, Cook Enterprises is still in business and still our pigeon…we’ve got nothing to worry about except O’Hara…

Trust me on this one, big guy…O’Hara is the last of your worries…he’s such a doofus.

GRAHAM: Want me to bump him off?
MURKLAND: No—what’s the matter, you crazy or something? (After a pause) I got a better idea…we’ll make O’Hara do just exactly what I want…
BENSON: That I gotta see…that I gotta see…
MURKLAND: You will… (To Graham) Get over there and write me a note…
(Duke sets down at a desk, ready to comply with Murkland’s commands…)
GRAHAM: Okay, shoot…who’s it go to?
MURKLAND (dictating): Ted O’Hara…”Willing to make a deal...spill all I know about the Murkland set-up…they’ve double-crossed me…I promise to turn state’s evidence if you’ll give me a break…if interested, come alone to 223 Front Street…Room 25…tomorrow afternoon…two o’clock…signed…Duke Graham…”
GRAHAM: Duke Graham? That’s me!

He’s a bright boy, that Dukie…very bright. Murkland tells him to stop worrying and sign the note, and the scene dissolves to the outside of a building marked “223,” followed by a close-up of Duke (Drew Allen) attaching a roscoe to his left leg with a rubber band. (What does he need a gun for if he’s not supposed to shoot…oh, there I go asking dumb questions again…) There is a knock at the door, and Duke walks over to answer it. It’s our hero, who gives Graham a fast frisk to see if he’s armed (this doesn’t include his left leg area, where he would find Graham’s piece rather easily) and then begins a spot-check of the room:

GRAHAM: What’s the matter, O’Hara? Don’t you trust me?
O’HARA: No, I don’t… (Finishes checking a locked door) Let’s get down to cases…what’s on your mind?
GRAHAM: Sit down…sit down, O’Hara…just what I said in the note…I’m willing to turn state’s evidence in return for a…immu…immuni…
O’HARA: Immunity?
GRAHAM: Yeah! That’s it!
O’HARA: You know I can’t make any promises…I’ll do what I can with the District Attorney…

That’s Mr. District Attorney to you, sir…you know, champion of the people! Defender of truth! Guardian of our fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

O’HARA: Besides…we’ll run you down eventually, Duke…nobody ever made crime pay off…

I have a list in my pocket of several former Wall Street CEO's that is going to make you look so silly, Theodore.

GRAHAM: Okay, O’Hara…you’re a square guy…besides, I got a beef against Murkland…and I’d do a little time to see him get his…
(As Duke utters this statement, a panel opens up from one of the doors and a man [Ken Terrell] can be seen pointing a camera in their direction…)
O’HARA: Start talking…

Graham asks O’Hara if he remembers “the Smith kidnap case,” which, since it happened outside the parameters of this serial is of little interest to us—its only purpose is to allow Duke to hand O’Hara the payoff money and…well, you see where this is going. Camera Guy is going to capture a Kodak moment, one that looks as if O’Hara is accepting a big honkin’ bribe. Graham explains that because the cash was marked (the “marked evidence” of the chapter title) he couldn’t spend it, and is deciding out of the goodness of his itty bitty criminal heart to turn it over to O’Hara.

O’HARA: Couldn’t spend it, so you decided to sell out Murkland…is that right?
GRAHAM: I got a beef, ain’t I?
O’HARA: All right, Duke…on your feet…you’re taking me to where I can find Murkland…
GRAHAM: All right, Joe…that’s enough…

Joe, of course, is the hidden photographer asking O’Hara to say “cheese”—and Duke, whipping out his hidden gat, has our hero right where he wants him.

GRAHAM: You’re in pictures, now…evidence of you taking a bribe…and it’s going right to the Times as soon as it’s developed—unless…
O’HARA: Unless what?
GRAHAM: Unless you’re only pretending to be trying to run us down while really taking orders from Murkland…
O’HARA (looking around): Well, uh…I’ll need time to think it over, Duke…
GRAHAM: I’ll give you time… (Glancing at his watch) One minute…gimme your camera, Joe…

One minute is more than enough time for Ted only because Republic serial henchmen are easily distracted, and he soon flips Joe the Cameraman over a table and onto Duke as another installment of “Fun with Balsa Wood” commences. In the subsequent dust-up, Joe snuffs it from a stray bullet fired from the gun that Graham and O’Hara are wrestling for control over, and Duke is able to wipe the walls with the flabby O’Hara—allowing him to take the camera and run like a Dristan-treated nose. A not-at-all groggy Ted gets to his feet, adjusts his fedora and grabs his pistola while glancing out the window to witness Graham’s hasty retreat. Unbeknownst to Dukie, he’s got a radiator leak that’s going to allow O’Hara to follow him easily, and the special agent motions for a car driven by Francis Blake to pull up alongside him:

BLAKE: Were you right?
O’HARA: It was a trap, all right…I had a hard time making Duke think he knocked me out… (Smiling) I see you did your part…
BLAKE: I put the caseline in the radiator and opened the petcock like you said…it’ll be easy to follow his trail…
O’HARA: Better start now…take it easy…we don’t want Duke to know he’s being followed

What follows is a montage of driving scenes showing an oblivious Duke tooling along, unaware that he’s being tailed by O’Hara and Blake until our two shining examples of clean living and eight hours of sleep each night arrive at what appears to be an abandoned house, with Graham’s car parked outside. Ted instructs Francis to get in contact with the cops, and he cautiously makes his way toward the domicile. He is forced to hide when our old pal Trent (David Sharpe) pulls up on a motorcycle and knocks on the front door, asking to be let in. Told by Duke to cool his jets for a second, O’Hara quickly grabs him from behind and spirits him to where he’s hiding, knocks him out and dons the motorcycle apparel Trent was wearing.

Inside the house, Duke and another goon of auld acquaintance, Parker (Tom Steele), are developing the camera negative containing the incriminating photo of O’Hara happily pocketing the bribe money. Duke goes to let Trent in and unknowingly invites his nemesis into the house:

GRAHAM: You know, boys…we’ve got O’Hara right where we want him…
O’HARA (snapping on the lights): You sure have…hand me the film…

Duke introduces O’Hara to the business end of some crockery, the lights are dimmed and the whole shootin’ match begins! Well, only for a little bit…O’Hara quickly runs out of ammo (don’t worry, little buckaroo…those things happen to guys all the time), so his stuntman crashes through one of the house’s windows in front and O’Hara saddles up on Trent’s motorcycle…while Duke and Trent follow close behind in their Merry Oldsmobile.

The scene shifts to the highway you’ve seen in dozens of movies and serials, with O’Hara trying to shake off his pursuers and an eager Duke firing away like ammunition was ten cents a box. He manages to shoot out one of O’Hara’s tires, causing the motorcycle and WHEEEEEEEE…off the cliff it goes, with a great shot of Ted and cycle plunging right smack dab into the camera lens…

Next Saturday, Chapter Seven: Hot Cargo!