Tuesday, December 30, 2014

From the DVR: The Reluctant Dragon (1941)


The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ has recently entered into a partnership with the Walt Disney Studios to showcase rarities from “the Disney vault” several times a year in the coming months…and TCM premiered this new collaboration this past December 21 with airings of live-action Disney classics like Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955) and Third Man on the Mountain (1959).  There was also plenty of Disney animation on hand; three classic cartoon shorts—Santa’s Workshop (1932), On Ice (1935) and Chip an' Dale (1947)—were showcased beginning at the eight o’clock hour…though I stupidly forgot that in DVR-ing them, I needed to do it manually as opposed to conforming to the way they programmed with U-Verse.  I didn’t get the entirety of Workshop—which was no big deal, since I had seen the cartoon on a number of occasions.  Back when Los Parentes Yesteryear and I were residing in Savannah, part of our arrangement in being held hostage to Bombast Comcast was that I had access to a free Disney cartoon weekly as part of their internet service…and so one Christmas, I showed Workshop to a younger niece Rachel, who demanded to see it again and again…and again.

I also grabbed Tee Cee Em’s showing of the October 27, 1954 premiere telecast of Disneyland, which honestly has to be one of the most amazing commercial ventures in the history of broadcasting.  In a nutshell, Walt asked the American Broadcasting Company for funds to complete his famed theme park in Anaheim, CA…and in return, he provided them with a monster TV show hit.  (I’ve also chuckled at the irony that Disney now owns ABC—talk about your Faustian bargains.)  As you can guess from the title of the first installment—“The Disneyland Story”—it’s essentially an ad for the park that eventually opened its doors in July of 1955.  But it’s undeniably entertaining television: there are appearances from Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre (promoting 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea); Fess Parker singing The Ballad of Davy Crockett, the Mickey-Donald-Goofy cartoon Lonesome Ghosts (1937) and a lot more.

What I really wanted to catch (and eventually did so with the help of the DVR) was The Reluctant Dragon (1941), Disney’s first combination live-action/animation feature film (though you could also make a strong case that 1940’s Fantasia can lay claim to that throne).  I remember taping the film from the halcyon days of The Disney Channel but for some odd reason never got around to watching it (even though I had seen the actual Dragon featurette during my days of working at Ballbuster Blockbuster Video).  It’s been released on DVD and Blu-ray a few times in the past, but you know how Disney home video releases operate—it’s either offered as exclusives or for a limited time only (you snooze, you lose).  (I joined the Disney Movie Club about a year ago, ostensibly to pick up DVDs that I could show my nephew Davis…but since he’s moved on to the PNW, I only rarely get an opportunity to trot out the animated classics.  I offered to unspool Peter Pan for him the last time he was here, but Kat asked me not to go out of my way.  Since I personally love the Disney animated feature films, this is really no big loss.)

The Reluctant Dragon (1941) was a project designed to showcase the Disney Studios’ state-of-the-art facilities in Burbank (built thanks to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), allowing humorist Robert Benchley to tour the jernt when Mrs. Benchley (Nana Bryant) decrees that he suggest to Walt adapting Kenneth Grahame’s book of the same name.  Bob visits many areas of the Mouse Factory: the camera room (here is where the film changes to breathtakingly lush Technicolor after being presented in monochrome for the first 20 minutes), the Foley (sound effects) department, the ink-and-paint department, etc. and meets many of Disney’s real and non-real employees.  For example, Frances “Jungle Girl” Gifford plays a studio artist (named Doris), Frank Faylen leads the studio orchestra, and in the sequence where Benchley tours the storyboard section, one of the men (Al) putting together the “Baby Weems” cartoon is Alan Ladd.  The real people who were toiling at the studio at the time (and who have parts in the film) include vocal talent Florence Gill (as Clara Cluck) and Clarence Nash (the voice of Donald Duck), as well as Ward Kimball, Fred Moore, Wolfgang Reitherman and Norm Ferguson.

Though more than a few actors were hired to play Disney employees (since a good many of them were on strike), this actor here actually worked at the studio as an animator at one time (on Fantasia and Bambi).  That's Mister John Dehner in his feature film debut.

The animated part of the film includes the Reluctant Dragon featurette, as well as Baby Weems (which I first saw on a repeat of The Mickey Mouse Club in the 1970s) and the Goofy cartoon How to Ride a Horse (eventually released as a single short in 1950).  The viewer also gets glimpses of Bambi (then in production) and a “Casey, Jr.” sequence from Dumbo (1941), though it was eventually shortened in the final film.  Dragon was released in 1941 for a number of reasons, chiefly to recoup some of the losses Disney sustained as a result of World War II (the company surrendered a lot of their foreign market money due to the war) and also the financial failure of Fantasia (1940).  The war also meant that the materials the studio needed to produce their animated features would soon be in short supply (this is why sharp-eyed viewers will spot maquettes of characters from Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, both of which were postponed until after WW2).  If that wasn’t bad enough, ol’ Walt was having to deal with the infamous animators’ strike at the time of Dragon’s release (which is kind of ironic, considering the movie portrays the company as a Utopian, harmonic place in which to work).  The movie, rushed into production to make Disney a bit more solvent, cost $600,000 to make…and only raked in $400,000 at the box office.

I was predisposed to like Reluctant Dragon mostly because of my fondness for Robert Benchley, who really provides most of the incentive to sit down with the film.  Still, I came away from the movie slightly disappointed as some who saw it during its original release; the studio wouldn’t really master mixing live-action and animation until The Three Caballeros (1945), and as the pizza de resistance, the Dragon featurette itself is kind of bland and boring.  (I also wish there had been more of Disney himself in the film; his participation is pretty short and sweet, greeting Benchley as if he just finished eighteen holes on the course.)  But there’s a lot of good stuff to be found in Dragon: Leonard Maltin, who co-hosted the TCM presentation with Ben Mankiewicz, has challenged the Baby Weems segment as one of the studio’s best (its limited animation predates that of the later UPA output) and I have to admit I enjoyed it, too.

Tee Cee Em’s next “Treasures from the Disney Vault” is scheduled for March 15 in 2015: included on the schedule are airings of Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959; 8pm)—one of Disney’s finest live-action features—and The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966; 3:15am)…but I’m most excited about The Three Caballeros, another Disneyland episode (“The Story of the Animated Drawing”) and the 2008 documentary Walt & El Grupo.  Stay tuned on the blog for more Disney classics in Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s award-winning feature “Adventures in Blu-ray”!*

*Okay…technically this is a lie.  The Blu-ray reviews have not won any awards.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas swag and other items


Unless I’m struck by an inspiration bolt from the blue within the next few days, this looks like it’ll be the last post here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear in 2014.  I won’t lie to you—I was disappointed with my output on the blog this year, and the fact that there were 162 posts to last year’s 174 is proof that my intentions to work on TDOY a lot harder fell short of my personal goals.  I suppose I could offer up the defense that my other outside assignments (my latest “Where’s That Been?” entry is currently up at ClassicFlix) compete for my time…but who am I kidding?  Most of the time, my inactivity is due to just pure dagnasty laziness.

The lethargy and the holidays contributed to why I didn’t cobble together an edition of Serial Saturdays yesterday and why there won’t be a Doris Day(s) tomorrow.  We had an exceptionally grand Christmas; my sister Debbie, her husband Craige and my niece Rachel visited for the occasion and they presented me with enough Amazon gift card largesse to be able to purchase a Blu-ray player for our main TV in the living room (we’ve not been able to watch DVDs since I moved the DVD recorder back to my boudoir—and I don’t have the right cordage to hook my spare DVD player up, since it’s an older model).  The Double K’s sent me the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD set pictured at the beginning of this post and this replica of a major award…


…and my nephew Davis (seen here opening up the Lego Treehouse I sent him) gifted me with an Elvis ornament which plays I’ll Be Home for Christmas very loudly when you press a button so I’ve only pressed it once.  Mi madre got me a copy of Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life and a Darden Restaurant gift card…which, coupled with the Red Lobster gift card she received from sister Debbie—and some Olive Garden cards she already had on hand—means that we’ll be taking my Dad to Longhorn for twenty-pound butt steaks (with lobster chasers) on his birthday in February.

Also, too: there were mimosas.  Many mimosas.

I learned during my sister’s visit that she has been furthering my niece’s classic movie education: Debbie took Rach to see Gone with the Wind (1939) on its 75th anniversary showing in December and Rach thought it quite good.  (Well, she’s young.)  Rachel was also inducted into my mother’s adoration for The Lone Ranger; she watched with “Nana” some of the reruns on FETV and pronounced them tres awesome.  FETV ran the first three LR “origin” episodes Friday, but Rach didn’t get to see those—I told her I’d send them on to her because I had them on DVD.  “Of course you do,” she cracked, followed by a rimshot.  (I also gave her a copy of the Radio Spirits collection Six Gun Hero that I wrote the liner notes for a while back, so that she could experience the radio Ranger and also brag on her uncle a bit.)


Los Parentes Yesteryear and I watched a Lone Ranger repeat Friday night that I have to tell you about: the title is “Sawtelle Saga’s End,” which originally aired on March 24, 1955.  You have two outlaw brothers, Peter (Peter Hanson) and Benjamin (Robert Foulk), who are responsible for a perplexing series of payroll robberies in and around the town of Sandstone—the only reason why they’ve not robbed the Sandstone Wells Fargo office is because Sandstone is their home base of operations, and they don’t want the heat of being under investigation.  They return to their hideout—the Sawtelle Ranch—where we learn that they’re merely the henchman of the real brains of the outfit…


“Aunt” Maggie Sawtelle, played by none other than Frances Bavier.  When I caught sight of her I shouted “I knew it!”—because I have posited during many a previous write-up on Mayberry Mondays that Beatrice “Aunt Bee” Taylor was twisted and evil, yet with nothing truly substantial to back up my assertions.  Aunt Maggie has instructed her nephews (they’re redopted, by the way) in a life of crime and is getting ready to pull out of Sandstone…but she directs “her boys” to rob the Wells Fargo office before they skedaddle.  Andy Griffith Show fans will really get a kick out of this episode: Bavier’s kindly persona is mostly an act to stave off any suspicions of her true identity as a criminal mastermind (“Why don’t you wash your neck now and again,” she scowls at Peter.  “My, but you’re an untidy boy.”)

The Sawtelle boys carry out her instructions but Benjamin is wounded by the Ranger in their getaway…and though he’s tossed into the pokey, he’s not talking.  After chatting with—I swear I’m not making this up—Sheriff Taylor (William Forrest), the Lone Ranger and Tonto head out to Aunt Maggie’s to see if she has the skinny on what’s become of Ben’s accomplice.  (The Ranger says to Maggie “We’re friends of Sheriff Taylor’s” as means of introduction, much to my amusement.)  Maggie plays the innocent old lady in attempt to fool the two men—but though the Lone Ranger may have been born at night, it wasn’t last night; he saw quite plainly Peter’s horse outside on the way in.  So Maggie whips up a lie: yes, Peter was here but he left—she had no idea those boys were in such trouble!

LR still isn’t buying it—Peter left his saddle behind on the outside horse—but by that time, Maggie’s got him and Tonto locked in a shed and she orders Peter to grab a kerosene lamp for the purposes of making that shed burn, baby, burn.  (A prospect that she, by the way, enjoys with unbridled glee—you can understand what Andy Griffith meant when he subtly suggested Bavier could be a real rhymes-with-witch at times.)  Our heroes escape via the roof (they chop an exit with an axe) and tackle Peter; while the Ranger gives the bandit a proper pummeling, Tonto has to deal with Maggie kicking his shins.  He then says to the Ranger in a line that had us all in hysterics: “Next time me take easy job—fight man, you fight woman.”

No, this is not a lost episode of TAGS in which Barney accidentally locks Aunt Bee in one of the holding cells.  Bee is going to the real slammer, where she'll no doubt make a fellow cellmate her bitch.
All in all, 2014 was a swell year—and I’m hoping 2015 is a most worthy sequel.  Special thanks to my BBFF for the hilarious card (and swell DVD present of Gunsmoke’s seventh season) as well as to Doc Quatermass, Kim, Rodney, the Kelleys, Laura, Brandie and Martin for the wonderful Christmas sentiments as well.  From all of us (the ‘rents and me) at Rancho Yesteryear—Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Doris Day(s) #39: “A Two-Family Christmas” (12/22/69, prod. no #0416)


Welcome to the First Annual Doris Day(s) Christmas Special!  With the Widder Martin and her family (Philip Brown, Tod Starke)!  Curmudgeonly old Buck Webb (Denver Pyle)!  Myrna Gibbons (Rose Marie)! Michael Nicholson (McLean Stevenson)!  Ron Harvey (Paul Smith)!  The World of Sid and Marty Krofft!  And Paul Lynde as Santa Claus!  (Okay…I may be fibbing about those last two…)


Because it’s the holiday season, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is presenting this episode of The Doris Day Show out of sequence (and 45 years after its first telecast, too)…and you can probably tell that right off by the fact that Doris is sporting a new coif in this Christmas-themed episode, something that she starts in the earlier outing “Doris the Model” (11/17/69), which I haven’t yet covered on the blog.  (Believe you me—when I do, it will set the record for shortest Doris Day(s) write-up, since it’s mostly an extended fashion show with Doris posing in various outfits.  It’s really boring.)  Act One of “A Two-Family Christmas” finds Doris and Myrna in the offices of Today’s World (The NOW Magazine) decorating in anticipation for the big Christmas blow-out held every year.  Doris coaches her pal in the art of straightening the star for the top of the Christmas tree perfectly, and when they’re done they drag the ladder across the lobby…where they meet up with Myrna’s boss, Ron Harvey, who’s carrying a punch bowl the size of Rhode Island.


RON: Make way, ladies…make way…
MYRNA: Oh—there goes Candlestick Park…
DORIS: That is the biggest bowl I have ever seen!
RON (setting it down on a table): You see before you the Christmas wassail bowl…and in exactly an hour and fifteen minutes it will be brimming to the top with Ron Harvey’s special Christmas punch… (As he tosses in oranges) Which spells the difference between the ordinary Christmas party and “let’s-not-go-home-till-New-Year’s”…
DORIS: You mean we’re going to drink all that?
MYRNA: No, we don’t drink out of it—we bathe in it…

“You’d be surprised how quickly it disappears,” continues Ron.  “Finger lickin’ good…that is, if you can still find your fingers after the first dip.”  Well, that certainly sounds sanitary.  The trio’s punchy banter (sorry about that) is interrupted by our old pal Dave the Lackey (David Manzy), who informs Doris that they need more Christmas decorations.  This is Manzy’s second and final appearance on the program (his first was “A Frog Called Harold,” in which his role was a bit more substantial)—and again, he’s not to be confused with the Dave the Lackey from last week’s “The Woman Hater,” in which he was played by Johnnie Collins III.  Doris heads into her office and Myrna follows.

DORIS: Boy, this is going to be a swinging party…

Far out.

MYRNA: Well, I don’t know how we’re going to top last year
DORIS: We can have drag races in the elevators!
MYRNA: That’s what we did last year!

The phone in Doris’ office rings, and it’s Laird Buckley Webb on the other end.  They exchange Christmas pleasantries, and Doris asks about the state of her rugrats.

BUCK: They’re snoopin’ around the house tryin’ to figure out where we hid the Christmas presents…that’s what they’re doin’…hey, listen—the reason I called…I got to wonderin’…what’s the gang up there gonna do for Christmas…? You know—Mr. Harvey and Mr. Nicholson and Myrna?
DORIS: Gee, I don’t know…it’s been so hectic around here nobody’s even talked about it…I imagine they have, you know, plans…
BUCK: Well, uh…you sure?
DORIS: No…we didn’t discuss it, but…
BUCK: Well, I was thinkin’…uh…bein’ as how they’re all single they might enjoy comin’ out here and havin’ a real old-fashioned family Christmas with us…

“Hey—wouldn’t that have been fun!” gushes Doris.  Oh, yeah—there’s nothing single people enjoy more than to be reminded of the decisions they’ve made in life that have left them lonely during the holidays with no company but a house crammed with cats.  Doris has a sad because it’s probably too late to extend the invitation, but Buck counters that “there’s no harm in askin’.”

DORIS: Well, I’ll ask—but I wish you would have thought of it sooner
BUCK: Listen, I didn’t see this turkey sooner—we’ve got twenty-two pounds of turkey out here, and if we don’t get somebody to help us eat it we’re going to have turkey hash all next week…maybe into next month…

Doris promises Buck she’ll do what she can, and sends him off with her familiar “Toodle-oo!”  Myrna then emerges from Doris’ closet carrying two bags of decorations.

DORIS: Hey, Myrn…do you have any plans for Christmas?
MYRNA: Are you kidding?  You know me—I’ve always got something cooking…
DORIS: Something big, huh?
MYRNA: Yeah…six-feet-two to be exact…

I didn’t know cats could grow so big…unless it’s that damn tiger from a previous Doris Day(s) outing.

MYRNA: …I heard he’s a dreamy ski instructor at Squaw Valley…so I made reservations…
DORIS: Squaw Valley!
MYRNA: Yeah, I figured if I work my balls out right, I could become one of his squaws

I’m not sure what Myrna means by “work my balls out right”…and upon further reflection, I’ve decided I’m not all that curious to find out.  Doris explains the reason why she’s so nosy is that she was going to invite her BFF out to Webb Estates for Yuletide gaiety and merriment.  Myrna says thanks but no thanks.

Doris’ boss, Michael “Nick” Nicholson makes his way through the offices, stopping long enough to stare at Ron’s punch preparations (“Bigger than last year,” brags his associate editor) and registering mild disapproval.  He’s also not too receptive to Myrna’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Nicholson!”  Calling Doris into his office, we soon find out why Nick is acting like someone took a dump in his figgy pudding.

DORIS: Doesn’t the office look festive?
NICK: Mm-hmm…
DORIS (admiring a decoration hanging from the ceiling): I love this…everybody’s so excited about the party—they can’t wait for it to start…
NICK: Except me…I can’t wait for it to be over

Fa-la-la-la-la…la-la-la-la!  Okay, it’s not really fair to criticize Nicholson’s pessimistic attitude toward the office Christmas bash.  He explains: “I don’t know what it is about an office party, but it always gets out of hand!”  (It wouldn’t be an office party otherwise, would it?)

DORIS: Well…they’re just filled with the holiday spirit…
NICK: Yeah, well, I’ve got the holiday spirit, too, Doris…but I mean we really get it around here when everybody dips…when everybody dips into Ron Harvey’s special spirits…and then before you know it, the whole thing…the whole thing is a shambles…all of our quiet little secretaries turn into a bunch of Raquel Welches

Is this party reserved for Today’s World staff, or can anyone show up uninvited?

NICK: And Myrna…Myrna gets up and does a twenty-minute imitation of Jimmy Durante…
DORIS: You’re kidding!
NICK: No!
DORIS: Hey—I’ll bet she’s good!

She should be—she’s had enough practice!  Fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show know that Rose Marie, as Sally Rogers, imitates the Schnozzola in the classic Yuletide installment “The Alan Brady Show Presents” (12/18/63)—which is one of several boob tube celebrations of Christmas discussed in an uproariously funny article by my Cultureshark pal Rick Brooks at ClassicFlix (the Father Knows Best stuff had me on the floor).  R.M. even fearlessly imitated Durante on a December 24, 1948 broadcast of his own radio program (co-starring Alan Young and Durante regulars Florence Halop, Candy Candido, Alan Reed, Arthur Q. Bryan and Ruby Dandridge), available on Radio Spirits’ CD collection Christmas Radio Classics.  (Jimmy has a hilarious reaction to Rho’s impression: “How do you like that—I’ve been transcribed to a more convenient body!”)

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the shamelessly brazen plugs out of the way—Nicholson continues to disparage his employees’ antics from Christmas celebrations past.  “And then Ron Harvey will corner me and tell me what I did wrong all year.  And you know something?  For the next week, nobody can look anybody else in the eye.”  But Nicholson has a plan—he’s appointing Doris hallway monitor because she’s so good and kind and has new hair.  Tell me that job isn’t going to suck egg nog.

DORIS: Oh, Mr. Nicholson…you’re asking me to be the office party pooper…I mean, I can’t tell people how many drinks they should have…
NICK: Doris…I am not asking you to be a chaperone…nor do I want to sound like Ebenezer Scrooge…I’m just asking you if you’ll help me make this a nice Christmas party…

Doris reluctantly agrees, then it’s her turn to ask a favor—she inquires of Nicholson as to what his Christmas plans are, and he brags that he’s getting away to Seoul Palm Springs for a little R&R.  “That’s good for you,” affirms his secretary, “you really need a rest.  I’ll catch you next Christmas.”

Doris still hasn’t asked Ron how he plans to make merry over the holidays, so she returns to the scene of the party preparations to find him pouring a liquor store’s worth of booze into that gi-normous punch bowl.


DORIS: How much are you putting in there?
RON: Oh, this is just the base… (Chuckling) From here I build
DORIS: Mr. Harvey…don’t you think you’re overdoing it?
RON: I may have overdone the nutmeg

Ron is asked about Christmas, and he, too, has plans—Acapulco!  “Golden beaches covered with golden girls,” he muses while continuing to pour.  Why he’s envisioning Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty on white silver sands goes unexplained, but this means he will be unable to attend Webb-a-Palooza, touched as he is by the offer.  Because Doris asked Ron if she might be the first to sample his concoction, he offers her a generous ladleful…providing this facial reaction, which may be the funniest in the show’s history:


Smooooooooooth!  With a dissolve, we find the Today’s World employees furiously frugging to hip music as Doris and Myrna watch from the sidelines.  “I think you better take it a little easy with that stuff,” scolds Doris as Myrn drains a cup of punch.

“Ohhhh I can handle it—it’s just punch,” Myrna replies, giving her bud a playful shoulder nudge.  “I think I’ll go take another dip in that beautiful pool.”  Cheese and crackers—run for the hills, men!  Myrna is tipsy and frisky!  (She’s fripsy!)  As Myrna samples some more Old Harvey, the manufacturer makes his way over for a little boss-to-secretary chat.

RON: My…beautiful…secretary…
MYRNA: Oh, boy—this punch is stronger than I thought
RON: Myrn old girl…I know that I’ve been hard on you all year…I mean, always needling you with making you work overtime…snapping at you when you misspell a word—at which, incidentally, was quite often…but this is the Christmas season…and it’s a time for love…and understanding…I want you to know that…well, maybe sometimes I appear like an ogre…but…deep down inside…I’m a wonderful, loving human being…who appreciates you…right now I want to show you my appreciation… (He puts down his glass and gives her a tender kiss)
MYRNA (after a pause): Boy, you’ll do anything to get out of giving me a Christmas present, won’t you?

Ron protests his assistant’s sarcasm.  “On my desk is a beautifully wrapped gift from me to you,” he explains.  “Really?” Myrna asks in earnest.

“It’s a dictionary to teach you how to spell,” is his snarky reply.  Ha!  Ya burnt, Myrna!  And speaking of words, the intoxicated Harvey has “a few choice ones” for the man who continues to employ him despite apparently being told off at the Christmas party each year.


Doris is on the case, though!  She quickly intercepts Ron and scolds him for not asking her to dance, so they do a turn on the floor (both looking as if some joker arranged to have fire ants dumped into their undergarments).  Their mating dance is interrupted by a dweeby-looking chap (James B. Douglas) answering to “Mr. Singer”—who, in a following bit of dialogue, reveals himself to be the office payroll clerk (he starts macking on Doris big time).  Douglas had roles in MASH (1970) and The Changeling (1980), and appeared a few times on the Showtime series Soul Food as Principal Gordon.


While Doris is trapped with Singer, Ron takes the time to unload on Nick—calling him “stodgy” and “old-fashioned” in his management of the NOW magazine.  Doris manages to fob Singer off on the horny Myrna, and breaks up Nick and Ron’s confab by reminding Nick he promised her a dance.  As Doris and Boss trip the light fantastic, Ron staggers over and asks if he can cut in; Nicholson reluctantly agrees, and Ron takes him out on the floor for a twirl.  (Yes, I did laugh at this—but only because Curly used to do that to Moe in a lot of the Stooges shorts.  “My father died dancin’…on the end of a rope.”) 


Then it’s time for Myrna’s Durante impression (“Stop da music—stop da music!”), which is quite good (she warbles a few bars of Jimmy’s signature You Gotta Start Off Each Day With a Song) until she starts insulting the staff.  “You should see my boss Ron Harvey,” she brays.  “He’s got such a big nose—he should have, he gets it in everybody’s business!”  (Physician…heal thyself!)

There’s a dissolve, and Nick walks among the party attendees with a smile on his face—presumably it hasn’t been such an obnoxious affair after all.  Doris is getting ready to motor because kids, and Nick thanks her for keeping the employees in line.  “I just wanted to tell you this is turning out to be the best office party we ever had,” he informs her.

NICK: You sure came through—what all did you do, anyway?
DORIS: Well, I watered down the punch…
NICK: I thought it tasted a little flat
DORIS (laughing): And then I got Myrna with Mr. Singer…
NICK: Mm-hmm…
DORIS: …and then I introduced Mr. Harvey to that new research assistant, you know…so that automatically quieted things down…

Doris wishes Nick a Merry Christmas in Palm Springs, and he returns the sentiment with a friendly peck on the cheek.  As Doris makes her way out of the Today’s World shindig, she passes Myrna slow dancing with her new squeeze (“Hey, Dor—he’s kind of cute!”) and presses the button for the elevator.  As the doors slide open, we find Ron snogging with the new research assistant (“Just rehearsing for Acapulco”).  (Boy, is she gonna get a surprise in nine months!)  End of Act One.

“A Two-Family Christmas”…Part the Second.  Back from commercial, we find Doris putting the young’uns to bed—soon, Billy and Toby will have dreams in which sugar plums and Gouda wedges dance in their heads.  Downstairs, Gran’pa Buck is filling stockings with apples and nuts and other baked goodies.

BUCK: Listen—I think we better wait for about a half-hour before we put those presents under the tree…let ‘em get to sleep good…
DORIS: Okay… (After a pause) Can’t wait to see Billy’s face when he sees the slot cars…he is going to flip out
BUCK: Listen—did you notice ‘em at dinnertime?  They were helpin’ with the dishes…
DORIS: They do it all the time now…you know…
BUCK: Oh, yeah…but tonight they put a little somethin’ extra in…they’re not gonna blow any chances for those presents…

I may have misjudged those kids—they’re smarter than I thought.  Doris laughs, and then asks: “Can you imagine Christmas without them?”  (You will in two more seasons, Miss Que Sera Sera.)  All snarkiness aside, I do like Buck’s answer: “They are Christmas.”  (Amen, brother.)

BUCK: As far as…well, I was kind of hopin’ your friends would come over and join us…
DORIS: Yeah…they would have loved it…but they made big plans…
BUCK: Tell me something…do you kind of wish you were going to all them fancy places?

Doris assures her father that Acapulco and Palm Springs and Squaw Valley can’t compare to what she’s got…but as I said before, things will be different when Season Four gets underway.  Then Toby appears at the top of the stairs, because he’s been doing some thinking—and that can’t be good.

TOBY: Well, Santa Claus is going to come down the chimney, isn’t he?
BUCK: Well…yeah…
TOBY: Don’t you think you better put out the fire?
DORIS: We will, honey…
BUCK: Yeah…see…he’s not due here until after midnight and…uh…uh…uh…he likes a nice warm house to come into…

Jeebus, Buck—is that the best you got?  Billy soon joins his brother on the stairs, reasoning that “if Toby gets to stay up, I get to stay up, too—I’m older.”  Doris is just about to exercise her parental veto when the family hears a group of carolers outside singing God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.  “Who could it be?” Doris wonders.


The four of them head outside to find Nick, Ron and Myrna caroling.  (They’re not really caroling—they’re probably spiffed from the Christmas party.)  We know that Rose Marie is no slouch when it comes to singing, but both McLean Stevenson and Paul Smith do a passable job in joining in.  The three of them decided to accept Doris’ invitation after all!  (I’ll bet the Denny’s was closed.)

DORIS: What happened to your plans?
MYRNA: Well…after the office party broke up, why…we got to thinking that…Christmas was for family and friends…not…strangers in Squaw Valley…
DORIS: Yeah…but what about six-feet-two, eyes of blue?
MYRNA: Well…my kind of luck, he’d probably wind up being four-foot-three

Nick explains that a trip to Palm Springs just “didn’t seem very Christmassy,” (Doris: “It’s just too hot—that’s all!”) and Ron’s jaunt to Acapulco was scotched along similar lines.  “Why should I go all the way to Acapulco just to make a bunch of women happy?” he asks.  “Let ‘em suffer!”  Excellent proclamation, Sir Muffin of Stud.

Because they have company, Billy is able to wheedle a bit more stay-up time from his ma (score!) and as they are invited to make themselves to home, the office trio refuse any grub but will not decline Buck’s offer of a “hot toddy.”  (Miserable drunks.)

DORIS: Oh, this is great!
RON: Well…the truth is…I kind of miss a family Christmas…
MYRNA: Me, too…
NICK: Well—let’s face it, Doris…Christmas is family and…uh…none of us have any family out here…
DORIS: Well, you have now

With a dissolve, we find Ron and Myrna looking through a photo album with Billy…who points out a picture of him when he was four years old.  “Hey—you’re a handsome devil, aren’t you…heh heh?” comments Myrna.  “Do you ski?”  Doris brings in some goodies (leftovers from dinner, perhaps?) and I chuckled at Lord Nelson’s attempt to grab a few nibbles.  True story: we owned a dachshund one time who, one Christmas, helped himself to about half a box of Reese’s miniature peanut butter cups from sister Kat’s room while we were out of the house for some family function.  The look on the dog’s face when we confronted him with this vile deed is tattooed into my brain: “You…you don’t think I did this, do you?”

NICK: Hey, that’s a cute picture…the one on the bearskin rug…which one of the boys was that, Buck—Toby or Billy?
BUCK: No!  That’s Doris!
(They all laugh)
RON: Hey, you got any more of those?  I’d like one for my desk
DORIS: I’ll bring it in Monday…

Silent derp...holy derp.


Toby walks over to the family piano—which, up until this time, I was not aware it was a player piano—and starts up Silent Night, which the family and friends all join in singing until the fade out.


The coda on this one is kind of amusing…and also a bit freaky.  We see Toby and Billy having fun with Bill’s slot car set…and then the camera pulls back to reveal that it’s actually Nick and Ron futzing with it, as the boys whine about getting a turn.  (Chalk up that bit of directorial inspiration to none other than OTR vet Larry Dobkin, helming the first of two Doris Day Show episodes in the director’s chair.)  Ron is whining, too; he wants to switch from his blue car to Nick’s red car.


RON: This time I want the red car…
NICK: There’s nothing wrong with the blue car…
RON: Well, if there’s nothing wrong with the blue car how come I can’t have the red car?
NICK: Because I’m the boss…

Dor brings out hot chocolate “for whoever wants it,” and as Buck pulls roasted chestnuts out of the fire (Myrna: “I always thought that was the lyrics for the song—I never thought people actually did that!”) for family and guests, Doris turns to the camera and “breaks the fourth wall”:


Well…this is our Christmas…and as you can see, it’s been a very special one…so from all of us here…to all of you there…we wish you happiness and peace…and much, much love…good night…Merry Christmas…

I don’t have to tell you I was kind of freaked out by this the first time I watched it…only because you never saw that sort of thing on Mayberry R.F.D.  (“I’m not really an inept fix-it man…I just play one on this here show!”)

I hope you all enjoyed our temporary Doris Day(s) detour to spotlight an episode that focuses on the spirit of the holiday season.  I know I poke a lot of merciless fun at Dor and Company (and many times rightfully so), but I don’t disagree with this episode’s premise that family is all a part of Christmas.  Fortunately, Los Parentes Yesteryear and myself will get to spend some quality kin time with my sister Debbie and her husband and daughter starting tomorrow…so that might explain things if it gets a little slow on the blog in the interim.  Next time, we’ll return to our regular Doris Day(s) rotation with an amusing little playlet entitled “The Chocolate Bar War.”  (Seriously, this one has a good laugh or two, and appearances from OTR vets like Amzie Strickland and Howard Culver.)  Please make a sticky-note to join me, and in case I don’t shout at you in the meantime: Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Black Widow (1947) – Chapter 8: False Information


Last week on The Black Widow (1947), novelist-criminologist Steve Colt (Bruce Edwards) was about to use his phenomenally underwhelming sleuthing powers to reveal the true identity of the titular villainess, whom we know and worship as evil fortuneteller Madame Sombra (Carol Forman).  With the help of irksome gal reporter Joyce Winters (Virginia Lindley), Colt was studying a set of fingerprints found on a handbag that belonged to renowned (and now most sincerely dead) physicist Dr. Ann Curry (Virginia Carroll).  Moments from their breakthrough, our heroes got a visit from Sombra’s head henchie Nick Ward (Anthony Warde) and his lackey Hodges (Dale van Sickel)—who is surely up for recognition at the next Henchman’s Convention for his amazing leap out of a second story window (in which he risked serious injury) to stop Colt from catching up to Ward.  In the melee that followed, Colt was rendered unconscious and was about to be runned over by Ward…


…but he escaped in the nick of time.  (Or should that be Nick of time, in keeping with Ward’s first name?)

A frustrated Steve then visits the laboratory of Professor Henry Weston (Sam Flint), an inventor whose rocket motor and “sinetrone” have attracted the attention of the U.S. Government…but who apparently are unable to provide him with top-flight security, owing to severe budget cutbacks from the 1940s version of the Tea Party.

STEVE: …when Ward destroyed the fingerprints and got away with Dr. Curry’s handbag, he left us with no further clue to the Black Widow Gang…all we know is that the leader is definitely a foreigner…presumably an Asiatic…and certainly a woman…
WESTON: An ingenious woman…as deadly as the name implies…

“When I stop to think of it…I’ve been looking for such an exotic companion all my life—perhaps I should reconsider turning over my work to the government?”

WESTON: …the government wants me to continue my work on the sinetrone and rocket motor…
STEVE: But not in your laboratory, Mr. Weston…
WESTON: Because of security?
STEVE: That’s right…the Black Widow wants your motor and sinetrone, and she’ll try to get them as soon as she can…
WESTON: Can you suggest a place?
STEVE: Yes, a good one…and you can stay there until your work’s completed…after all, Weston—the Black Widow can’t move against you if she can’t find you…

We take you now to Sombra’s hideout, where she is in conference with Ward and her other associate-in-evil, Dr. Z.V. Jaffa (I. Stanford Jolley).

SOMBRA: Have you located Weston yet?
WARD: No luck…he’s completely disappeared!

“What’s worse, he didn’t even have the common courtesy to leave a forwarding address!”

WARD: There’s been no trace of him anywhere in the past three days—his laboratory’s closed up tighter than a drum…can’t see how Weston got by the men…
SOMBRA: Are your men watching Colt?
WARD: Yes…
SOMBRA: He must be forced to lead us to Weston…
JAFFA: But how, Madame?


Oh, foolish Jaffa—Madame Sombra sees all…knows all!  She starts to outline her nefarious scheme, which leads to a dissolve and the front of The Daily Clarion building.  Ward watches Joyce get into her car, and as our plucky journalmalist puts her key into the starter and switches on the ignition, a plume of gas fumes begins to spew forth…making Joycie very sleepy.  Ward then slides her unconscious body over to the passenger side and drives off…


Joyce awakens to find herself bound and gagged to a chair located inside a strange apartment.  In the next room, Ward plays poker with another thug named Jack, which marks ace stuntman Tom Steele’s second appearance in Widow.  Joyce finds it remarkably easy to free herself from her bonds—yet she doesn’t realize that this has been a faux kidnapping, and Ward relies on his experience in summer stock to convince her that the gang have captured Weston with a phony phone call from the next room.

WARD: Hello?  This is Ward…you found Weston?  Where?  Sure…right away!  What about the girl?  Okay…I’ll take care of her after I’ve worked Weston over…yeah…goodbye… (He hangs up the phone; to Jack) They’ve found Weston so we don’t have to make the girl talk…now you watch her while I get some of the men and grab Weston!  (He gives Jack a big wink)

Armed with this “false information,” Joyce escapes out the apartment window and subsequently returns to the Clarion, where her relaying of what she knows falls deaf upon the jerkwad ears of her boyfriend Steve.

JOYCE: …I heard Ward say they found Weston, and then Ward left…and I slipped out the window and got away… (No reaction from Steve) Well, aren’t you going to do something?  Ward might kill him!
STEVE: Aw, calm down—you know, you’re liable to blow a fuse!
JOYCE: Calm down?  With Weston’s life in danger—and if you don’t do something quick the Black Widow will get the rocket…
STEVE (interrupting): Now, wait a minute…if you could only think as fast as you can talk

“That’s it—we are so breaking up!”

JOYCE: Listen, Steve Colt—I’ve heard about enough
STEVE: Now don’t get excited…suppose you listen to me for a change?

“Submit to my superior maleness, you mouthy wench!”  Another dissolve finds Ward outside the Clarion, waiting in his car.  He observes Steve tearing out of the building and hurriedly getting into his car, so he decides to follow.  Note the name of the business in the background:


No doubt a reference to actor John Merton, who appeared in such Republic serials as Drums of Fu Manchu (1940), Zorro’s Black Whip (1944) and Radar Patrol vs. Spy King (1949).  A rather prolonged chase sequence follows, with Ward taking care not to be noticed that he’s tailing Our Man Colt.  The two of them wind up in the middle of B.F.E., amidst those same rocks you’ve seen in countless Republic serials and B-westerns.  Before he gets out of his car, we observe Colt monkeying around with some sort of device that he conceals in the glove compartment of his car.  Eventually, a self-satisfied Steve gets the drop on his nemesis when Ward starts trailing him through the rocks on foot:


STEVE: I didn’t fall for that phony escape, Ward…besides—I knew no one could find Weston…now I’m going to take you to the police and you’re going to tell us who the Black Widow is and where she is…
WARD: Pretty sure of yourself—eh, Colt?
STEVE: No…but I happen to hold the whip hand…

“Only there’s a gun in it…not a whip.”  Steve marches Ward back to his car…but he either accidentally or purposely (I suspect it’s the latter) stumbles on a rock…and that gives Ward an opening to slug Steve and start running for Steve’s ride.  Colt gets to his feet and starts firing his pistola at the fleeing henchman…but that goon is gone as a goon can get.  Steve’s salvation comes in the form of his on-again-off-again girlfriend, who drives up to him in her car.

STEVE (rubbing his chin): That Ward packs a mean wallop
JOYCE: It was your idea…
STEVE: That fast backhand wasn’t…move over…

“I’m not going to tell you this again—I’m the man, I do the driving.”  Joyce notices that there’s a device similar to the one Steve placed in the other car and asks her man what it is—and he’s only too happy to oblige.  “It’s a receiver that picks up an oscillation tone signal,” he explains condescendingly.  Switching it on, Joyce squeals “It works!”

“Naturally!” he brags.  “And the oscillator I planted in that other car will lead us to wherever Ward drives…and it’s my guess it’ll be to the Black Widow…”  Don’t let him get away again, Joycie.

Ward pulls up alongside a warehouse…because we haven’t had a really good warehouse knock-down-drag-out in this serial so far.  Inside, Sombra—wearing dark glasses so she will not be recognized—issues instructions to another one of her nameless minions; both of them are surrounded by barrels conspicuously marked “linseed oil.”

SOMBRA: Make sure there are a few barrels of linseed oil and paint mixed in with the others in case someone wants to inspect the contents…
MINION: Yes, Madame Sombra…
SOMBRA: We have to have this rocket fuel ready to ship tomorrow…
WARD (entering the warehouse): Colt didn’t fall for the gag…he tried to grab me…

“He was all handsy, I swear!”  Outside the building, Steve and Joyce have arrived.

STEVE: You wait here…there might be trouble…
JOYCE: And miss a story?  Not this girl!
STEVE: I guess there’s no use arguing with you…


And with that, he whips out a pair of handcuffs and secures Joyce to the steering wheel.  Kinky!  Back inside…

WARD: …and so, I grabbed his car…and left him there to hike back to town…
SOMBRA: And we still don’t know where Weston’s hiding!
STEVE: And what’s more—you won’t!

It’s Hero Steve, entering the warehouse with his gun drawn.  “Move over and face the wall,” he barks as he grabs a length of rope.  “You, too,” he orders Sombra when she’s a little too slow to follow in Ward and Minion’s footsteps.


“Mr. Colt would not shoot a woman,” purrs Sombra.  (Yeah, but handcuffing them to steering wheels is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)  Sombra kicks at one of the legs at a nearby desk…


…and a trap door opens, temporarily disorienting Colt and allowing Ward & Minion to rush over and disarm him.  They pull him out of the opening, and Sombra hisses: “I regret it is necessary to kill you, Mr. Colt.”  Don’t sweat it, your Diabolicalness—he was starting to wear out his welcome anyway.


Once again, Joyce will have to come to Steve’s rescue because Sombra has ordered him to face the wall.  Trouble is, Joyce is having to lug the steering wheel with her (she’s still handcuffed to it, and this did make me laugh long and hard) but it comes in handy during the ensuing fistfight because she’s able to use it to ward off a blow from a chair Sombra wields during the donnybrook.  Joyce also socks Ward with it when she first enters the warehouse, causing him to miss Steve with his gun…but blowing a hole into one of the barrels of “linseed oil”…


For most of the fight, it’s Steve vs. Minion…though Ward manages to throw in a few good punches as well.  A lamp on the desk falls to the floor and ignites the rocket fuel that’s quickly soaking the warehouse floor…


As for Sombra, she knocks Joyce down into the trap door opening, where our heroine lays unconscious with her steering wheel.  Sombra beats a hasty retreat…followed by Ward…and then…