Friday, March 25, 2016

TV Show Favoirites

This is my entry to A Shroud of Thought's Favourite TV Show Blogathon.

The late 70's presented some of the most memorable shows in sitcom history for a young adult growing up in the 70's.  Two of these were the classic ensemble cast show of Taxi and WKRP in Cincinnati

Taxi: Jim: A Space Odyssey [Orignal airdate: Sept. 25, 1979]

Important Characters in this Episode:

Rev. Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd)
Louie DePalma (Danny DeVito)
Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch)
Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner)
(the rest of the cast did appear in this episode, but were mostly there in support of the main story.)

(This episode ranked #63 in the 1997 edition of TV Guide/Nick at Nite's 100 Greatest TV Episodes.  The list includes dramas and comedies.)

The gang goes to the local bar/restaurant to celebrate after Tony (Tony Danza) wins a fight.  They encounter Rev. Jim, (played by Christopher Lloyd, who had previously appeared as the character in an episode in the first season).  Jim is a spaced out dope fiend who is only barely aware of reality.  If you are familiar with some of the characters that Christopher Lloyd has essayed over the years, you will see bits and pieces of Jim in them.

Lloyd got his start in film by playing one of the patients in the psychiatric hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  He continued that trend on many occasions: cast as the "not entirely there" Doc Brown in Back to the Future, playing an obsessive/compulsive patient in The Dream Team, and as the titular character in The Pagemaster.

Before Jim's addition to the already ensemble cast, the show was doing well, but many people, myself included, came to the show because of the nutty antics of Jim.   On several occasions his wackiness was the center of the story of the episode.  This one has Jim reintroduced from an episode in season 1.  The gang, egged on by Elaine and Alex, decide to get Jim a job as a cab driver.  The hard part will be getting Louie, the cantankerous boss of the cab company to agree.

Louie initially refuses, in his own inimitable way.  "Get rid of him, Nardo.  He's a flake."  But a surreptitiously dropped drug in his coffee cup.  This makes Louie very mellow, and he serenades the garage with his rendition of "Moonlight Bay" and then climbs up on the hood of a cab to sleep it off, shortly after agreeing to let Jim come to work at the cab company, because "everybody works on Moonlight Bay."

The ultimate test of the greatness comes at the end of the episode, where Jim and the gang go to help Jim take his driver's test to get his hack license.  Rather than go into detail, I present you with this scene in it's entirety:

Jim would go on, as I said, to be a regular cast member of the show, essaying many great performances.   Check out some others, at least the season one episode "Paper Marriage" which introduced us to the Rev. Jim.

WKRP in Cincinnati: Turkey's Away! [Original airdate: October 30, 1978]

Important Characters in this Episode:

Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump)
Les Nessman (Richard Sanders)
Andy Travis (Gary Sandy)
Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner)
Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman)
(the rest of the cast did appear in this episode, but were mostly in support of the major story line)

(This episode ranked #40 in the previously mentioned listing.)

Mr. Carlson, the eternally befuddled manager of the radio station WKRP, is, in this episode trying desperately to prove his usefulness and stroke his own power trip ego.  Jennifer (Loni Anderson) , the secretary will only let him have one paltry piece of mail, claiming that the rest does not need his attention.  He also converses with Herb and Les, both of which are put off guard by his exuberant interest in their ongoing jobs.

He moves on to look in on Johnny, as he is the on-air DJ at the time. (Speaking of another character who is not entirely "all there"...) Here's an interesting note:  When the show was on the air, the music was genuine real songs by real artists, but when it went to DVD, for some reason the DVD version contains a different track in many of the scenes. Not entirely sure why that is.   This one always gets to me because this scene is shorter on the DVD.  And I'll explain.  Carlson wanders in looks about and leaves on the DVD.  But in the original airing, Johnny is playing the track "Dogs" from the Pink Floyd Animals LP.  Carlson asks Johnny "Do I hear dogs barking?"  To which Johnny responds "I do."

Everyone ends up approaching Andy since he is the one sane head in the group, complaining of Carlson's interference.  Andy tries to be the mediator telling them that whatever Carlson is planning it's for the good of the station.

Carlson gets into high gear by creating a promotion plan that he will only reveal some of the details to Les and Herb.  Andy, as programming director is left out in the dark.  As is Johnny and the rest of the staff.  But you can feel the exuberance that Mr. Carlson has for his pet project.  The show really takes off with Les Nessman giving a live man on the street  report.

The plan, as it unfolds, is to drop live turkeys from a helicopter.  Of course, this being a comedy, things don't go exactly as planned...  Once again, I present the last 5 minutes of the show which always has me rolling on the floor.

This is a special exclusive for the blogathon.  I hope to get a movie review on this weekend too, but don't count on it kiddies.  Old man winter snuck up on me and hit me in the back of the head with a bowling ball.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Frank" and Friends

Frankenstein's monster is proof that a good man just can't be kept down.  Or a bad man can't be kept dead.

The name of Frankenstein brings out the worst in people in the ancient village where the original mad scientist did his dirty work.  (And, just for clarity, the name of the doctor is Frankenstein.  His monster, although usually referred to as "Frankenstein" should be called "Frankenstein's Monster")  There is a series of sequences in the first few movies that follows an identifiable timeline.  The original doctor Heinrich "Henry" Frankenstein, as played by Colin Clive in the first two Frankenstein movies (Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein) was the creator of the monster that plagued the countryside throughout the Universal sequels.

A side note:  If you thought, like I did, the doctor's name was supposed to be "Victor Frankenstein", it was, in the original novel, but in the movies made by Universal, for some reason, they changed it to Henry, and then in a subsequent movie, Son of Frankenstein, it was revealed that his actual name was Heinrich.  You'd have to ask the writers why they made the change, but a subsidiary character in the original movie was named Victor, just not the doctor.

I won't go into the references that were made when Mel Brook's movie Young Frankenstein was made in the first two (that's for a later post if and when I get to it).  There is in this movie a new character, Ygor, who is not a hunchback, as in the Brooks movie, but has a disfigurement nonetheless. Also the gendarme so hilariously played by Kenneth Mars was drawn from a similar character here, Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), played with very subdued humor compared to the Mars character.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), the son of Henry, arrives in the town of Frankenstein to take over the family castle.  He brings with him his wife Elsa (Josephine Hutchinson) and his son, Peter (Donnie Dunnagan).  He does not get a very welcome reception from the villagers, who believe he will only continue the evil experiments his father started.  They are also sure that Henry's monster still lives, though it supposedly died.  The source of this rumor is the fact that several villagers have died recently under mysterious circumstances.

Rathbone w/ Donnegan and the nursemaid.

Still living in the castle is Frankenstein père's assistant, Ygor (Bela Lugosi).  Ygor was convicted of crimes and hung, but survived the execution.  But as a result of the failed hanging, he has a deformed neck.  Wolf finds the body of the monster in his family crypt and, at Ygor's behest, decides to try to revive the monster.  But Ygor has ulterior motives.  See, all of the mysterious deaths in the village were, indeed, commited by the monster, but all of the deaths were members of the jury that convicted Ygor.  Ygor had been using the monster to get revenge on the village and the jury.

Rathbone w/ Karloff and Lugosi

Wolf has only one real ally in the village, Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), who had previously encountered the monster and had his armed torn off.  The Inspector goes through life with an artificial arm now.  He tries to warn Wolf that the villagers want him gone and protect the doctor, but he is also suspicious that the doctor knows where the monster is and his hiding him.

Rathbone w/Atwill

Wolf, for his part, does not know of the monster's and Ygor's complicity in the deaths of the villagers until too late.  When he confronts Ygor, Ygor is of course not entirely receptive to the doctor's pleas.

Son of Frankenstein is the third in the sequence of the Frankenstein oeuvre, and while not on par with Bride of Frankenstein is still a serviceable entry into the genre.  Basil Rathbone, is in my opinion, the only down side to the movie, probably due to the fact that I am so used to his staid, unemotional portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, that the emotional outbursts from Wolf just seem a bit too bizarre.

Son of Frankenstein  was the last appearance of Boris Karloff in the monster makeup, although he would go on to appear in House of Frankenstein as a mad doctor, and in Frankenstein 1970, a cheapo knock-off from the 50's as the titular Doctor.  It was not the end of his career when he stopped putting on the monster makeup, though.  He had a prolific career afterwards.

Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Lon Chaney, Jr makes his appearance as the Frankenstein monster in this sequel to Son of Frankenstein.  Although Chaney would go on to appear in other Universal monster movies, it would be as Larry Talbot, aka The Wolf Man. This was his only role as the titular monster, and a good thing too, because Chaney just did not essay a good Frankenstein monster.

The beginning of the movie finds the townspeople still ranting over the curs they feel that the Frankenstein family has brought on the town.  They are given permission by the mayor of the town to fully destroy the castle.  Ygor (Bela Lugosi), who apparently has inherited the nine lives of a cat, is back and living in the castle.  While the townspeople go block demolishing on the castle, Ygor finds the monster, who also apparently cannot be killed, and revives him.

Chaney and Lugosi

The two go off in search of Ludwig von Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke), the other son of Henry.  It is discovered that lightning makes the monster stronger, so the idea is to entice Ludwig, who is a doctor of brain surgery to heal the monster's brain.  At first Ludwig refuses, but is eventually blackmailed by Ygor into agreeing.

Ralph Bellamy, a frequent character actor (as well as one of the two rich brothers in the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd comedy Trading Places) appears as the town prosecutor, Erik, who is also the boyfriend of Ludwig's daughter, Elsa (Evelyn Ankers).  (Apparently the writers ran out of decent names, because you will note it is the same name as the wife of Wolf from the previous movie.)  Erik calls on Ludwig, as a brain specialist, to examine the monster after it is captured, but things go awry and the monster escapes.

Bellamy, Hardwicke, Chaney and Atwill

Eventually Ludwig is convinced to transplant the brain of his associate Dr. Kettering (Barton Yarborough), whom the monster had previously killed.  Dr. Bohmer (Lionel Atwill), Ludwig's other associate, has other ideas though, with a plant to give the monster the brain of Ygor, with Ygor's willing complicity.

The Ghost of Frankenstein marks a decline in the production values of the series.  While the three previous movies (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein) could be considered "A" pictures, The Ghost of Frankenstein was the beginning of it's "B" picture phase, and it shows.  Of the Universal Monsters movies I have seen thus far, this one is definitely the lowest ranked one.  But I would still take it over any of the knockoffs that came out in the 50's and 60's.

Well, that's the view from the back seat this week. So long, kiddies and drive safely.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Wearing of the Green

March 17.  St Patrick's Day.  A day in which everyone is Irish.  We all drink green beer, (or green Kool-aid if you are a tee-totaller).  And everyone puts on something green, to avoid being pinched (Do they still do that?).  Green is the color of the day for St. Patrick's Day, so in honor of the day I'm going to pay tribute to the ultimate wearer of the green.



(Well, if you were expecting a serious answer, you are in the wrong blog.)

Unfortunately I'm very busy today, but I do have a smattering of great movie posters to get you in the mood for this "green" day.

A few from the classic original:

 And some from the sequels:

Some cheesy knock-offs:

And of course, the ultimate, playing him for laughs:

Come back over the weekend kiddies for a double feature that will curl your toes, but in the meantime Happy St. Franken...I mean St. Patrick's Day!


Friday, March 11, 2016

Love in Old Hollywood

This is my entry to the Marathon Stars Blogathon, sponsored by the blog doyennes of The Wonderful World of Cinema and In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

The love story of the ages.  Humphrey Bogart met Lauren Bacall on the set of To Have and Have Not.  Although the chemistry was not immediate, it did grab hold and held on for dear life.  Bogie was married at the time to Mayo Methot, but they had a tumultuous marriage, in part due to Mayo's alcoholism.  The two lovebirds carried on their relationship in secret for a while, but it is hard to keep a secret for long, especially in Hollywood.

Not long after filming wrapped on To Have and to Have Not, Bogie moved out of his house and asked Mayo for a divorce, and on May 21, 1945, Bogie maried Bacall in a small ceremony.  It was the "beginning of a beautiful friendship" (to steal a line from a different movie).  The two only made four movies together, but their relationship off screen comes in fairly loudly on the screen.  You can see it chiefly in their eyes when they look at each other.

To Have and To Have Not (1944)

There's a story here.  I'm not quite sure what the story is.  According to a featurette, Howard Hawks bet Ernest Hemingway he could make a film out of even the worst of Hemingway's stories, and this is the one he picked.  It makes for an interesting war time romance, but what was done here was done better with Casablanca.  The most interesting part of this movie is watching the ongoing relationship between Bogie and Bacall blossom from the romance story that develops between "Slim" (Bacall) and "Steve"(Bogart).

In essence, the story is that Harry Morgan (his real name.  Why Marie chooses to call him "Steve" is never really explained) is a fishing guide for hire on the island of Martinique during WWII.  This takes place just after the surrender of France to the Germans and the Vichy government is in charge.  Morgan and his pal Eddie (Walter Brennan) are approached by resistance fighters to ferry cargo (people) but he refuses.  Due to some other intrigue which removes his current cash-on-hand, however, he decides to go ahead and do it, for the money.

The Vichy government, headed by a very smarmy fat Capitain Renaud (Dan Seymour) is suspicious, and thinks that Morgan and his cronies have hidden the resistance fighters (which they have) but the Vichy is kept in the dark through subterfuge.  The movie itself is worth a view, but as you will see, my opinion is it is not one of the better ones, for pure plot.

The Big Sleep (1946)

In the film version of the classic Raymond Chandler Phillip Marlowe novel, Bogie plays Marlowe and Bacall plays one of the two daughters of his client, General Sternwood.  Marlowe is investigating some dirty secrets in which the General's other daughter, Carmen, is involved.  There are so many twists and turns in this movie it's hard to keep track of who killed who and why.  Carmen (played by Martha Vickers) is a vapid, flirty girl who seems to try to come on to every man who enters her range of vision.

Bacall, as Carmen's sister, Vivian is a bit more in tune with the real world, but she is as spoiled as Carmen.  She is, however, a much stronger female character and knows what she wants, and, with the exception of Marlowe, how to get it.  She is initially cold to Marlowe, but warms up to him over the course of the film.

Carmen is mixed up with a pornography racket.  This is only hinted at in the film.  You have to take clues where they come.  But the book went into more detail.  The Hays Code prevented many aspects of the book from being filmed, the most disappointing being the chance to see Martha Vickers in the raw (hey it was right there in the book....)

Everybody but Vivian seems to have had a hand in the murder of one or another of the characters in this movie.  My suggestion is to watch both the original version and then the theatrically released version, both of which were available on the DVD copy I watched.  The chemistry between Bogie and Bacall was emphasized more in the theatrical release at the behest of Jack Warner and Bacall's manager.  So you can expect less of Bacall in the first version, but the story line is a lot clearer in it.

Dark Passage (1947)

This is the strangest of the bunch.  For one thing, the first part of the movie is only shown as if from Bogie's eyes. This first person camera viewpoint had been explored earlier by Robert Montgomery with Lady in the Lake.  It is somewhat jarring if you've never experienced it before, and in this case, the chemistry between Bogie and Bacall is there, but only through his eyes looking at her.

Bogie plays an escaped convict, Vincent, who was convicted of having murdered his wife.  While on the lam, he is conveniently picked up by Irene (Bacall)  who just "happened" to be in the area.  There is some hints that her intuition told her to be in that area at that time, since she could not have known of his escape attempt in advance.  There are many coincidences that crop up in this movie, too many to be taken credibly, if you ask me.

For instance, one of Irene's friends is Madge (Agnes Moorehead) who was instrumental in the trial that sent Vincent to prison in the first place.  Then, later, a guy who picks up Vincent after his prison escape, just happens to be a former convict from the same prison who tries to blackmail Vincent, and in the same boat, Irene, whom he seems to know has come into a lot of money.

This is a serviceable film noir, but of the four would have to rank last on my list of Bogie/Bacall pairings.  It's not quite as good as To Have and to Have Not, and a far cry from either Key Largo or The Big Sleep.

Key Largo (1948) 

Key Largo was adapted from a stage play, and  brought to the screen by John Huston.  This is by far the best of the four Bogie/Bacall films.  In it Bogie is Frank McCloud, a veteran of the war and former combat mate of Nora Temple's (Bacall) husband.  He has stopped off at the hotel owned by the mate's father (played by Lionel Barrymore), to see the land and visit with the family.

Also at the hotel are a bunch of unfriendly guys who, as it turns out, are gang members with Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) as their leader.  Claire Trevor (who won an Oscar for her performance in this film) is the alcoholic girlfriend of Rocco.  The gang is holed up waiting for the right time to sail to Cuba, planning to take over the rackets in the near future in the U.S.

Plans are thwarted when a hurricane blows in.  Claustrophobic to say the least is this part of the movie where everyone is getting on everyone else's nerves.  Robinson is his usual great self as the gangster headmaster, and the chemistry between Bogie and Bacall virtually sizzles as the movie gets going.  Hang on to the very end to watch how Bogie tries to get the upper hand on Rocco and his four henchmen.

In terms of movie enjoyment the four rate this way:
1. Key Largo
2. The Big Sleep
3. To Have and to Have Not
4. Dark Passage

On the other hand if you just want to see how well Bogie and Bacall work together in the romance dept.  I rank them as follows:

1. To Have and to Have Not
2. Key Largo
3. The Big Sleep
4. Dark Passage

Well that about does it for this time.  Hope you enjoyed the show.

Friday, March 4, 2016

"As you wish.": A Look at The Princess Bride from Book to Film

Note: Later this year (early April) Now Voyaging is sponsoring a book to movie blogathon.  I have already entered that one with a separate title.  But in the spirit of that blogathon, I present this little gem.

William Goldman published the novel The Princess Bride in 1973.  Some of the facts behind it: It was originally published as a supposedly abridged "good parts" version of an original novel by "S. Morgenstern".  ("S. Morgenstern" is a fictional person.  Goldman was the actual writer.)  Goldman writes the prologue to the book telling a story of having heard his father read this book to him as a boy, and buying a hard-to-find out of print copy of the S. Morgenstern classic for his son.

His wife, a child psychologist, pressures him not to berate the boy when the son does not respond enthusiastically to the book as he did.  When he gets a hold of the book and reads it, he finds it is not exactly the same book as the one his father read to him.  Sure, the story is there, but there is a lot of political intrigue and mumbo-jumbo that his father had left out.

Goldman decides to edit the book and bring it out as "the good parts version", editing out all the mumbo-jumbo and just printing the fantasy/adventure/love story in the middle of the book.  Occasionally during the story, Goldman interjects with some commentary on the parts he is leaving out, as well as some reminisces of how he, as a boy, responded to certain scenes and interrupted his father as his father read them.

There are several things to note in the book.  For one, the author Goldman has no son.  (He does have daughters).  For another, his wife is not really a child psychologist.  And, obviously since he is truly the author, it is a fiction that his father read this to him as a child.  Hence even the prologue is a part of the fiction of the novel.

A note on the book itself.  If you have seen the movie, but not read the book, you will almost surely believe the book is a novelization of the script for the movie.  Undoubtedly both are almost exactly the same.  But the truth is, as noted earlier, the original novel was published in 1973, and the movie was released in 1987.  William Goldman, a fantastic scriptwriter in his own right (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men both of which won Oscars, and numerous others) wrote the screenplay for this from his own book, proving he has an excellent ear for dialogue.

If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend that you do. 

The Princess Bride (1987)

The movie opens and is framed by a scene in modern-day in which a boy (Fred Savage)  is home sick.  His grandfather (Peter Falk) comes by to visit and reads to him the book The Princess Bride , which had been read to him as a little boy, and he had read to the boy's father when the father was a boy.  What it's about, says the grandfather is "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..."

The transition from the book to movie includes several instances where the boy interrupts his grandfather in the reading of the story (and thus the action of the story part of the movie).  Also frequently during the actual action of the film is a voice over that serves to remind us the story is being read aloud, rather than it being an event playing out before us. This helps to endear the grandfather and the boy to the audience, or at least it did to me.

The story part introduces Buttercup (Robin Wright), who is initially a flighty, spoiled girl who enjoys harassing the farm boy who helps out on her daddy's farm.  Eventually she grows to realize that the farm boy, whose name is Westley (Cary Elwes), loves her, and she loves him.

He decides to go to the country across the sea to earn enough money to marry her.  But she receives word that he was killed by an attack of the "Dread Pirate Roberts".  She states that she "will never love again".  But some time later, the prince of the country,Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), who is privileged and spoiled rotten (and egotistical and ruthless and...but I'm getting ahead of myself) decides that Buttercup is the woman he wants to marry.  She agrees even though she tells him she can never love him.

Shortly after the engagement, Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of cutthroats; Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Inigo (Mandy Patinkin) and Fezzik (Andre the Giant).  

As they try to make their way to the frontier of the neighboring country of Guilder, they are pursued by a mysterious Man in Black.  In succession the Man in Black defeats the three in separate encounters, beginning with Inigo, who is an accomplished swordsman (in an excellent sword fight on the Cliffs of Insanity, which is as great for the fact that both actors did the actual stunts, as it is for the fantastic repartee during the fight, courtesy of William Goldman).

The Man in Black then encounters Fezzik, whom he defeats, surprisingly, in a wrestling match.  In a final battle of wits, the Man in Black defeats Vizzini (which ends up with the death of Vizzini), and takes Buttercup as his own prisoner.  Meanwhile, the Prince, and his right hand man, Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) are pursuing the original kidnappers, but find that they have each been defeated, so they turn to their new prey.  

When they are about to ride up to capture them, the Man in Black reveals to Buttercup that he is Westley.  She, of course, is overjoyed that her love is still alive, and they disappear into the Fire Swamp to hide from the Prince.  But after many adventures in the swamp, they come out to the other side only to find the Prince waiting for them.  He tells Buttercup that he will take Westley to his shp, but after she leaves, has him taken prisoner instead.

The truth of the subterfuge comes out.  Prince Humperdinck did not really want to marry Buttercup for love.  Instead he intended to have her kidnappers, whom it turns out he hired, to kill her on the Guilder frontier, so he could frame Guilder for it and go to war with them.  And he still intends to find a way to kill her and frame Guilder for it.  (see what I meant about ruthless...?)

Buttercup discovers that Humperdinck lied to her about releasing Westley (although not that he is a prisoner in the dungeon of the castle) and tells him off.  Humperdinck loses his temper and rushes to the dungeon where he kills Westley in a rage.  Meanwhile, Fezzik and Inigo, the two surviving kidnappers discover much of the plot, and that Count Rugen is the six-fingered man Inigo has spent his whole life seeking for revenge for the death of his father.  They figure the Man in Black is their best hope for figuring out how to storm the castle, but they find him dead.  They take him to Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) who, along with his wife Valerie (Carol Kane) provide some of the funniest moments of the movie.  (Oh, and they manage to revive Westley, who was  only "mostly dead"...)

Will Westley and the gang rescue the princess?  Will Inigo get his revenge on Count Rugen?  Watch the movie and find out.  

Rob Reiner, the director, made this project his life-long goal.  He wanted it to be his first project, but several obstacles postponed it.  For some great insight on the behind the scenes you should look for As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes.  This book includes some great stuff about the sword fight training both he and Patinkin had to endure.  (Remember I said earlier, they both did the stunts?)

Well, that's it for this time from the back seat.  Hope you enjoyed it.  Until next time, drive safely.