Wednesday, September 30, 2009

William Friedkin's Sorcerer Warrants a Second Look

Remakes face the inevitable fate of being compared to the original version--even when they're not a remake, but rather another interpretation of an existing novel, play, or factual incident. Therefore, it is unfortunate for William Friedkin that Henri-Georges Clouzot adapted the novel The Wages of Fear into a 1952 international film success and almost-instant classic. Sorcerer can't stack up to Clouzot's masterpiece, but it deserves a second look. Once Friedkin overcomes a disjointed first half, he transforms his film into an astounding rollercoaster ride where death stands in plain sight around every corner and across every bridge.

The film can be divided into two parts. The first half traces how three men--a French business executive, a terrorist, and an insignificant gangster--wind up down on their luck in a squalid Latin American town. Desperate for money, they agree to drive two trucks, each loaded with three boxes of nitroglycerin-leaking dynamite, over 200 miles of jungle, bumpy roads, sharp ravines, and temporary bridges. An oil company needs the explosives to "blow out" a raging oil fire. The men need the $40,000, of course.

The second half of the film focuses on the gripping, tension-filled journey--the highlight being the crossing of a dilapidated swinging bridge during a savage storm. Friedkin brilliantly combines visual and aural elements to create a chaotic mixture of howling winds, booming thunder, creaking timbers, and slashing torrents of rain. The trucks look like bizarre wingless dragons, with their grills for teeth, hood vents for nostrils, and headlights for eyes. However, in terms of visual power, nothing can match the mesmerizing image of Roy Scheider's truck tilted at an uncanny 45-degree angle as it inches across the crumbling bridge.

The film's only American star, Scheider, plays a man with no meaning in his life. He wants the money--to the point that he gets excited about his share increasing if the other drivers die on a swinging bridge. But the money really means nothing, for Scheider's character has nowhere to go and no one who cares about him. He already is dead emotionally, so his eventual destiny is just a formality.

With its downbeat tone and unlikable characters, Sorcerer looks as if it was made in the late 1960s or early 1970s when films like Easy Rider dominated the theaters. It's easy to see why it did not appeal to the same moviegoers who made Star Wars the biggest hit of 1977. It was pronounced dead on arrival on its original release as critics labeled it a disappointing remake. But it has since found a second life with movie buffs who admire Friedkin's virtuosic direction of the explosive truck trek and are drawn to his existential approach to the tale.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Mod Squad (1968-1973)

The classic TV show The Mod Squad (1968-1973) was one of the "grooviest" shows ever. It is about three teenagers from different backgrounds who had been in trouble with the law. Now they help others by solving crimes with the help of the Lieutenant (Tige Andrews). Out of all the Aaron Spelling shows that he ever produced this was one of my favorites. The concept of this show was to deal with social issues as it did crime in the streets. Pete, Linc and Julie were the kids of their generation. They wore some of the grooviest fashions ever from that period along with the styling of the Afro. Cochran drove an old green "woody" side-paneled station wagon that became a lasting symbol of the show, along with cool bell-bottoms! The show was a top ten hit when it ran on ABC from 1968-1973. The executive producers were Danny Thomas (of Make Room for Daddy fame),and Sheldon Leonard (who was also producing I Spy and Andy Griffith at the time). Cast: Michael Cole,Peggy Lipton, Clarence Williams III.
The guest stars who appear on the show were making their mark during its run with stars like Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Pryor, Michael Douglas,and Karen Black.

Later Peggy Lipton, played Norma the waitress in another classic - Twin Peaks - was nominated for an Emmy for her role as Julie, and won a Golden Globe in 1970 for her portrayal of the character.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaSOUGd814k
1st episode "The Teeth of the Barracuda" with HARRISON FORD.

Making the Leap from Small Screen to Big Screen

Television has long provided both a training ground for would-be film stars and a second life for former film stars. The road from little screen to big screen has been travelled successfully by the likes of Steve McQueen (Wanted: Dead or Alive) and Clint Eastwood (Rawhide). Other TV performers have achieved spotty silver screen success (e.g., Chevy Chase)… and then there were those who never should have given up a good television gig (e.g., David Caruso in NYPD Blue, Hugh O’Brien in Wyatt Earp). Below are three actors who left hit series, at the height of their popularity, to take a crack at movie stardom.
By 1963, George Maharis had played the cool, likable Buz Murdock for almost three seasons on Route 66. During that time, he had earned an Emmy nomination for playing Buz, scored a Top 25 hit record with “Teach Me Tonight,” and was generally regarded as a TV heartthrob. He left Route 66 in the middle of the third season, stating that the constant traveling was causing health problems (the series was shot on location throughout the U.S). The producers claimed it was just an excuse to try his hand at movie stardom. Whatever the reason, it was moot—Maharis’s film career never took off. The Satan Bug, despite being an entertaining thriller about a germ warfare and global blackmail, was a flop. Quick, Before It Melts (1964), The Happening (1967), and other efforts tanked, too. By 1970, Maharis was back as a TV series regular in the short-lived detective series The Most Deadly Game.

James Garner was so popular as easygoing Bret Maverick in the 1957-62 Maverick TV series that he starred in films while concurrently acting in his hit show. Admittedly, Darby’s Rangers (1959) and Cash McCall (1960) weren’t huge successes (though the latter is a fun flick). Still, Garner had greased the proverbial skids by the time he left Maverick in 1960 after a contract dispute with Warner Bros. He quickly racked up impressive performances in The Children’s Hour, The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily, Support Your Local Sheriff, and many others. NBC lured Garner back to television in 1971 for Nichols, which was basically a reworking of Support Your Local Sheriff. When the show flopped, NBC decided it was because of the offbeat lead character, so the original Nichols was killed off and Garner then played his twin. That didn’t work either and the show was cancelled after a year. Garner rebounded nicely, returning to television three years later as private eye Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files, which ran for six years and earned Garner an Emmy. Post-Rockford, Garner returned to the screen in some of his biggest hits, Victor/Victoria and Murphy’s Romance. Few stars have floated back & forth between the small and big screen so effortlessly.

Pernell Roberts had it made in the early 1960s. As Adam Cartwright, he was arguably the most popular star on TV’s powerhouse Western family drama Bonanza…but Roberts was unhappy. He famously argued that Adam, the eldest Cartwright son and an architect, wouldn’t call his father “Pa”. At the height of his popularity, Roberts left Bonanza in 1966 to focus on the stage, music (he had recorded an album in 1962), and theatrical films. He starred in the famously panned stage musical Gone With the Wind (originally titled Scarlett) with Lesley Ann Warren. He made a couple of forgettable, low-budget foreign films (e.g., Four Rode Out). Mostly, he stayed busy by guest starring on a number of TV series such as Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, Mission: Impossible, and Ironside. Finally, in 1979, he found success again as the title character in the belated M*A*S*H spinoff Trapper John, M.D.

OK, Café patrons, what other TV stars tried to make the leap from TV to film—either successfully or unsuccessfully?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fathers Day...or...Who's Your (favorite) Daddy?

Our new poll takes a look at five accomplished actors in five classic father roles. Which one is your favorite? The nominees are:

Leon Ames as Alonzo Smith in "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944)...Ames was well known for playing fathers and fatherly figures, though he also had his share of serious roles during his career. His portrayal of successful attorney Smith in one of the ultimate classic family films is timeless. Smith tended to bluster and blow hard, but also had an endearing tender side. The sole breadwinner for his wife, five children and his own father, Smith chose with his heart when faced with deciding between a major career move and his family's happiness. Ames as Smith was an ideal "Turn of the Century" dad.

Claude Rains as Adam Lemp in "Four Daughters" (1938)...TCM's "Star of the Month" for September excelled in every kind of character role. Rains played Adam Lemp in this popular film and its two sequels (Four Wives and Four Mothers). A widower, Lemp was a brilliant master-musician who took in boarders to help meet ends for himself and his four gifted and beautiful daughters. He was the rock in a close-knit family that weathered much melodrama. Rains as Lemp was a noble Depression era dad.

James Stewart as Roger Hobbs in "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" (1962)...Stewart played dads many times and Hobbs is one of his standouts. Mr. Hobbs and family embark on a seaside vacation during which everything goes wrong. Hobbs tries his best to deal with every disaster, but becomes increasingly perplexed and frazzled as the vacation progressively unravels. Stewart as Hobbs was an archetypal early 60's dad--it was the "New Frontier" and he was getting pressure on all sides.

Spencer Tracy as Stanley Banks in "Father of the Bride" (1950)...Tracy portrayed a vast array of characters in his career, and this is arguably his best dad role. The film is told from the viewpoint of Banks, a prosperous businessman about to lose his adored daughter to wedded bliss. Sometimes annoyed and often befuddled, Banks manages to muddle through each step leading to his daughter's wedding. Tracy played Banks again in a sequel the following year, Father's Little Dividend. Tracy as Banks was a classic dad of the affluent Post-war 1950's.

Clifton Webb as Frank Gilbreth, Sr. in "Cheaper by the Dozen" (1950)...Webb played villains, eccentrics and various scrupulous types in his career. As Gilbreth, Webb portrayed an early 20th Century pioneer in motion study who tries to apply principles of scientific management to raising 12 children. The film ends with Gilbreth's sudden death and a sequel, Belles on Their Toes, followed minus his character. Webb as Gilbreth was a sometimes-curmudgeonly but oddly charming "Machine Age" dad.

To cast your vote, click on your favorite actor/character in the poll located in the green sidebar to the right.

Moby Dick, Ahab and I

From the first line -- "Call me Ishmael" -- to the last -- "I only am escaped, alone, to tell thee" -- Moby Dick haunted my imagination and my dreams.  Warner Brothers' 1956 production, directed by John Huston, with screenplay by Huston and Ray Bradbury, captures the soul of Herman Melville's 1851 novel about obsession and the demigod-complex that feeds it.  There are some differences between the movie and the book, but nothing that damages Melville's vision.  The poetically supernatural writing of Bradbury is evident in the screenplay and only adds to the power of the story.

Gregory Peck portrays Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, a surprising choice to many, including Peck himself.  John Huston's father, Walter, was the first choice to play Ahab, but died before the movie was made.  Peck was 40 years old at the time, younger than Melville's Ahab, but the marvelous makeup and costuming transformed the handsome, debonair Peck into the unforgiving, scarred Ahab.  Peck's acting reveals Ahab's scarred soul and rage against God and nature perfectly.  The cast includes a very young Richard Basehart as Ishmael, a wanderer who signs onto the Pequod with his south sea island friend, Queequeg (Friedrich von Ledebur).  The wonderful Leo Genn is the stalwart Starbuck, first mate, with Harry Andrews and Seamus Kelly as 2nd and 3rd mates Stubb and Flask.  Most famous of the supporting cast is Orson Welles, who appears a the unrelenting New Bedford minister, Father Mapple.  His cameo role preaching a thunderous sermon to the outgoing whalers is a powerful performance.

From the beginning, we see that even to his crewmen, Ahab is a god-like figure.  In answer to Ishmael's question about what Ahab is like, mate Stubb says simply "Ahab's Ahab", mirroring the Bible in which God describes himself to Moses -- "I am that I am."  Biblical references abound in Moby Dick.  The ragged man on the wharf who speaks to Ishmael as he goes to the ship calls himself Elijah, prophecying --

"A day will come at sea when you smell land where there be no land, and on that day Ahab will go to his grave, but he will rise again and beckon, and all save one shall follow."  This is one of Bradbury's contributions to the novel, in which Elijah only says something bad will happen.

Ahab's plan for this whaling voyage is not to hunt whales for their oil, but to hunt vengeance upon the white whale, Moby Dick, who took off his leg in an earlier encounter.  Ahab challenges the heavens in his quest, is obsessed with revenge and will take no refusal from anyone in his cause.  He wins the admiration and loyalty of the crew with his hypnotic speech and promises, convincing them with his own unrelenting leadership -- "You be the cogs that fit my wheel, the gunpowder that takes my torch."  Through storms and doldum, Ahab chases Moby Dick -- "I'll follow him around the Horn and around the Norway maelstrom and around perdition's flames before I give him up."

Starbuck is Ahab's conscience, endeavoring always to turn his captain away from his impious desire for vengeance, to no avail.  As Starbuck sees the men come under Ahab's spell, he is horrified -- "Where is the crew of the Pequod?  I see not one man I know among 30.  They are gloves, Ahab fills them, Ahab moves them. 


Moby Dick is so much more than a story of whaling in the early 1800's.  It is a portrait of obsession, vengeance, excitement and tragedy.  I have never forgotten the beautiful language, stirring music by Philip Sainton, and incredible ending of this great movie.

So go down to the sea, stand on the ship with Ahab and experience something very special. 

Brett Cullen - He Once Was "Lost", But Now He's Found


You may not know the name, but Brett Cullen is someone you've seen many times on television considering he has made more than 100 guest appearances over the past 20 years. When you see him you probably remark on his rugged good looks. At 6 feet two with dark blonde hair and blue eyes he certainly makes a favorable impression. His career can be divided into the following categories: one-shot guest appearances, multi-episode guest appearances, regular cast member, and lead actor in a drama series. His filmography also includes quite a few movies made for television and theatrical release. The man is everywhere! And we are glad about that. In 1980 he took over the lead role from Brian Kerwin in the western family series The Chisholms and has been working nonstop ever since.

A closer examination of his body of work reveals a versatile actor with an admirable list of credits in film and television over the past two decades. In 1984 he was chosen to play Bob Cleary in the megahit miniseries The Thorn Birds, portraying his character from age 16 to 60 over three episodes. From 1986 to 1988 he appeared as Dan Fixx in the top-rated primetime soap opera Falcon Crest. His character was a truck driver who rolled into town one day claiming that he was the rightful heir to the Falcon Crest fortune. This led to numerous confrontations with Jane Wyman's matriarch, Angela Channing, and he more than held his own in these scenes with the Academy award-winning actress. After leaving Falcon Crest he signed on as Marshal Sam Cain in the youth oriented western The Young Riders appearing in 24 episodes during the first season, 1989 to 1990. Over the next eight years he worked continually in film and television, portraying a diverse group of characters in Diagnosis: Murder, Matlock, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, The Outer Limits, Ally McBeal, Suddenly Susan, and The Incredible Hulk. Film appearances during this time included Wyatt Earp(although he ended up on the cutting room floor), Apollo 13, and Something to Talk About. And roles in more than 10 made for television movies provided a full work schedule until 1998.

In 1998 the fledgling broadcast network UPN aired a series entitled Legacy, a family oriented show about a widowed father and his children who own a horse farm in the bluegrass of Kentucky in 1881. Brett Cullen played the lead role of Ned Logan, with a talented group of young actors and actresses supporting him as his family. Although it received critical acclaim, viewership was poor and the series was canceled after 18 episodes. Fans ran a campaign to save the show, but to no avail. Brett was very frustrated by its failure, especially since he had placed so much of himself into the creation of the character Ned Logan and had implicit faith in the quality and appeal of the series.

A new chapter in Brett's career began with the advent of the 21st century; he started making multi-episode guest appearances. Although he continued to appear in films such as The Replacements, Ghost Rider, and National Security, and became a stalwart of made for television movies, his multiple episode story arcs in a variety of series had noticeably increased. They included the West Wing, Friday Night Lights, Ugly Betty, Lost, and Damages.

"Damages" .... Wayne Sutry / ... (6 episodes, 2009)
- Look What He Dug Up This Time (2009) TV episode .... Wayne Sutry
- You Got Your Prom Date Pregnant (2009) TV episode .... Wayne Sutry
- Hey! Mr. Pibb! (2009) TV episode .... Wayne Sutry
- I Knew Your Pig (2009) TV episode .... Wayne Sutry
- Burn It, Shred It, I Don't Care. (2009) TV episode .... Wayne Sutry
(1 more)

"Lost" .... Goodwin Stanhope (4 episodes, 2005-2008)

- The Other Woman (2008) TV episode .... Goodwin Stanhope
- One of Us (2007) TV episode .... Goodwin Stanhope
- A Tale of Two Cities (2006) TV episode .... Goodwin Stanhope
- The Other 48 Days (2005) TV episode .... Goodwin Stanhope

"Friday Night Lights" .... Walt Riggins (4 episodes, 2007)
- I Think We Should Have Sex (2007) TV episode .... Walt Riggins
- Black Eyes and Broken Hearts (2007) TV episode (credit only) .... Walt Riggins
- Blinders (2007) TV episode (credit only) .... Walt Riggins
- Upping the Ante (2007) TV episode .... Walt Riggins

"Ugly Betty" .... Ted LeBeau (3 episodes, 2006-2007)
- Sofia's Choice (2007) TV episode .... Ted LeBea

Fake Plastic Snow (2006) TV episode .... Ted LeBeau
- After Hours (2006) TV episode .... Ted LeBeau

"The West Wing" .... Governor Ray Sullivan R-WV (5 episodes, 2005-2006)
- The Cold (2006) TV episode .... Governor Ray Sullivan R-WV
- Running Mates (2006) TV episode .... Governor Ray Sullivan R-WV
- Message of the Week (2005) TV episode .... Governor Ray Sullivan R-WV

- Things Fall Apart (2005) TV episode .... Governor Ray Sullivan R-WV
- In God We Trust (2005) TV episode .... Governor Ray Sullivan R-WV

And like the Energizer Bunny, he still keeps going, one project following another, keeping his fans happy to have him around, even if he has been "flying under the radar".

Photos courtesy of brettcullen.com

Triva Time Part Four

It's time to bend some more minds this week. Here are the questions. Are you ready?
#1. Name the Rock Group that was on both The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Patty Duke Show. What was the group's name on The Dick Van Dyke Show?

#2. Henry Mancini did the theme songs for three shows in the 70s and two in the 80's . Name all the shows.

#3. Before Mike Post became a composer, he was in what famous Rock Group?

#4. What was the first show that Mike Post scored?

#5. What was the name of the orginal American Bandstand theme and who did it?  Hint: Not Barry M.

#6. Before Mike Post was a member of the rock group, he played guitar on what mid 60s classic hit?

#7.  Brain Buster, Part One. What former member of the rock group The Champs, famous for the hit song "Tequila," had a TV show? Who was the co-star and on what network?

#8. Brain Buster, Part Two. Two other former members had a big music career. Name them?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959)

THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS (1959) is one of the first TV shows about the lives of teenagers. I watched this show with my mother along with Jack Lalanne...I loved how Dobie talked to the camera.

Dwayne Hickman starred as Dobie Gillis, a daydreamer with a lust for life and beautiful girls. Bob Denver, played his best friend, beatnik Maynard G. Krebs. My first crush...(SIGH) Warren Beatty was on the first few episodes, playing rich kid Milton Armitage.* Dobie's parents Herbert and Winnie Gillis were played by Frank Faylen (It's A Wonderful Life) and Florida Friebus. Friebus went on to play Mrs. Bakerman, one of the patients on (The Bob Newhart Show). Tuesday Weld played Thalia Menninger, the gold-digging girl. Weld quit after the first season to do movies, returning occasionally in later seasons. Sheila James (previously seen on Broadside), played Zelda Gilroy, the girl who was always wrinkling her nose at him. James was more serious about her education than she was about pursuing an acting career, studying law (graduating first in her class at Harvard Law School) running for the California State Senate.

During the run of the series, Dobie and gang started out in High School, then drafted into the army (briefly), then off to college where they had the same teacher in high school--played by William Schallert. After Dobie ended, Schallert went on to be the dad for three years on (The Patty Duke Show.)

In September, 1963, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis left the air after a four years. Bob Denver went on to be Gilligan for three seasons - then starred in ('The Good Guys).

Dwayne Hickman went on to co-star in the Academy Award winning film Cat Ballou, and some entertaining ''teen/beach movies'' of the 60s (Ski Party, How To Stuff A Wild Bikini), then went on to a career as a program exec for CBS during the 1980s.

Click here to view "The Fist Fighter," my favorite DOBIE GILLIS episode with Warren Beatty.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Chalk Garden: A Tale About Secrets and the Passing of Judgment

Hayley Mills and Deborah Kerr in The Chalk Garden (1964).
The Chalk Garden and Whistle Down the Wind probably rank as two of Hayley Mills' lesser-known films, especially to American audiences who associate her with Disney fare. Yet, Mills' loyal fans consider these films, along with the immensely popular Pollyanna, to be the best showcases for her underrated dramatic talents. On its own merits, The Chalk Garden is a haunting tale about secrets and the passing of judgment on people, often without charity.

John Mills and Deborah Kerr.
Arthur Ibbetson's photography sweeps the audience past water and cliffs into Belle Fountain. It is a lovely but cold mansion that rarely reverberates with warm laughter. The residents of this house include a dowager, Mrs. St. Maugham (Dame Edith Evans), her out-of-control teenage granddaughter Laurel (Mills), and their manservant Maitland (John Mills).

Hayley Mills as Laurel.
Enter Deborah Kerr as Madrigal, who is hired as governess without a reference because she knows something about gardening. Mrs. St. Maugham makes it clear that “Laurel is mine” because her daughter, Olivia, threw away breeding for a passing infatuation. She poisons Laurel's mind against her own mother, causing Madrigal to note that “flowers need nourishment ... your soil can't give them what it doesn't have.” To which the grandmother replies: “Then you give them what they need. You're in charge of my garden.” Madrigal answers: “Am I? I wasn't sure. I'll do my best...to help you with your garden and the child. Their problems are similar.”

Laurel spying on her new governess.
Madrigal herself is “wonderfully odd.” She is quiet and very observational. Laurel realizes that Madrigal is a mystery woman who paces her room at night “like a caged animal,” has only new possessions, doesn't have a picture of a loved one in her room, and receives no letters or phone calls. Laurel discusses these concerns with her grandmother and Maitland as she begins her work to rid herself of another in a long line of caregivers. But even Laurel isn’t prepared for what she learns about Madrigal.

Ronald Neame's tight direction keeps this intriguing story moving quickly as viewer focus shifts from Laurel to Madrigal. He hides the stage play origins extremely well until the climactic confrontations, where the close quarters actually increase the intensity of the revelations.

Dame Edith Evans.
Although Mills accounts for The Chalk Garden's following, her fellow performers steal their share of the spotlight, especially Dame Edith Evans and Deborah Kerr. Evans earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination as Laurel's grandmother. Interestingly, Kerr played a questionably disturbed governess three years earlier in The Innocents, a film version of Henry James' haunting novel The Turn of the Screw. In The Chalk Garden, her charge is a young girl unafraid of possession from ghosts, but with a disturbing need to lie and a fear of expressing honest emotions.

It's an ideal role for Mills, allowing her to combine brattiness with vulnerability and unrepressed anger with youthful innocence. The allure for Mills' fans is obvious, since it provides a welcome change-of-pace from the standard Disney heroine roles (e.g., In Search of the Castaways, The Moonspinners) that stifled her adult career.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chris George and The Rat Patrol

One of the most iconic images on television in the late 1960s was of a jeep flying over the top of a sand dune and--thump!--landing on the ground. Why was that so memorable? Well, there was a guy standing on the back of the jeep holding onto a machine gun! This eye-catching opening let viewers know that The Rat Patrol was going to be anything but boring. At a scant 30 minutes per episode, this World War II action drama never lets up.

The premise wasn't exactly believable. It followed a squad of four Allied soldiers (two per jeep) who conducted raids aimed at disrupting Rommel and the Germans during their operations in the Sahara. The four leads could be identified easily because they all wore different hats: Sergeant Sam Troy (Chris George) donned an Australian bush hat; Sergeant Jack Moffitt (Gary Raymond), the British member of the squad, wore a beret; Private Mark Hitchcock (Lawrence Casey) favored a Civil War cap; and Private Tully Pettigrew (Justin Tarr) usually wore a helmet.

My favorite was Chris George...and it wasn't just because he was incredibly handsome. The first year of the show was filmed in Spain and, during one of the stunts, a jeep fell over on Chris. I read about the incident in the newspaper, which mentioned the name of the hospital. I tracked down the address and wrote my first fan letter. He sent a great photo, signed in blue ballpoint (no stamped signature for Chris) and it hangs on a wall in my home to this day.

My favorite episode is from Season One and is called "The B Negative Raid." Moffitt is seriously wounded and has a rare blood type. Troy needs to find a donor. The only one he can find with the rare blood type is in bad guy Hauptmann Dietrich's desert headquarters and the guy just happens to be an American deserter. (The deserter dies in the end protecting Troy and Moffitt, so he redeems himself...just so you know what happened.)

When The Rat Patrol was over, I still followed Chris George’s career, whether he was low-budget flicks like The Day of the Animals or featured in a supporting role in a John Wayne film like El Dorado (he and the Duke were friends). Chris and his wife, Lynda Day George, also appeared regularly in made-for-TV films. Sadly, Chris George died of a heart attack in 1983 at the age of 52.

The other members of The Rat Patrol had modest careers after the show ended its two-year run in 1968. However, Hans Gudegast, who played the show's heavy, changed his name to Eric Braeden and became of one daytime television's highest-paid actors on The Young and the Restless.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Your Toes

I don’t like baseball, but I love movies about baseball. You see all the good parts without the long, boring stretches. The same may be true for many people regarding ballet. Even if you would not spend an evening at the ballet, there are three movies about ballet that I believe are movie-making at its best.


The Red Shoes (1948) is probably the most famous of ballet-themed movies. Starring prima ballerina Moira Shearer, it is a story of conflict, love and tragedy. The Hans Christian Anderson tale about a girl who covets a pair of red shoes, only to find that they will never stop dancing, is mirrored in the story of ballerina Vicky Page (Shearer). Her love of dance and fascination with Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), the ballet impresario who is a thinly disguised version of real-life ballet producer Diaghilev, collides with her wish for normal love and life with composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). This conflict is portrayed on a melodramatic and epic scale.

This film is rich in color, incredible music by Brian Easdale, and the genius of writer-producer-directors Powell and Pressburger (also famous for their film Black Narcissus). The Ballet of the Red Shoes, starring and choreographed by ballet master Robert Helpmann is a marvel of impressionistic artistry. The great Leonide Massine created the role of the demonic shoemaker. Both give performances that rival the sinister Walbrook, the emotive Goring and the ethereal Shearer.




In 1977, director Herbert Ross filmed The Turning Point, starring Anne Bancroft, Shirley Maclaine, the great Mikhail Baryshnikov and young ballerina Leslie Browne. Alternating between the often idealized world of ballet and the everyday world of marriage and family, the film revolves around the relationship between aging prima ballerina Emma (Bancroft) and former ballerina turned wife and mother Deedee (Maclaine). The complex relationship between the two women see-saws from love to anger, from jealousy to need. Their turmoil comes to a head in a fight you will not soon forget. Meanwhile, Baryshnikov and Browne strike up their own star-crossed love affair. Basically a study of people and relationships, the film is filled with incredible dancing to some of ballet’s most famous and beautiful scores. In all respects, The Turning Point is a tour de force.


Herbert Ross turned to ballet again with 1980’s Nijinsky. George de la Pena plays and dances the doomed Vaslav Nijinsky, premiere dancer of the Ballet Russe in the early 20th Century. Alan Bates is wonderfully effete as Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballet Russe and Nijinsky’s lover. Leslie Browne appears again as a naïve lovestruck girl who eventually marries Nijinsky. This marriage causes an irreparable rift between Diaghilev and Nijinsky, ending Nijinsky’s career with the Ballet Russe. De la Pena dances three of Nijinsky’s most famous performances, Spectre de la Rose, Scheherazade and Afternoon of a Faun, all presented with splendid artistry and authenticity. It is with Afternoon of a Faun that Nijinsky performs an indecent act on stage, and his eventual descent into madness begins. Although not an actor per se, de la Pena does an admirable job bringing to disturbing life the hysterical nature of Nijinsky, as well as his downward spiral at a very young age into the semi-comatose state in which he spent the remainder of his life.

So, if you don’t like baseball but enjoy baseball movies, take a chance on these three wonderful films. You will never forget them.

T.H.E. Cat's Meow!

In the 1960s, Friday night was the place for “cool” television shows. At one time or another during their broadcast runs, you could find The Twilight Zone, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Avengers o Friday nights. One of my favorites of those cool Friday series was T.H.E. Cat, a half-hour action series starring Robert Loggia as a retired cat burglar who worked as a bodyguard. It debuted in the fall of 1966 and only lasted a single season. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing for Loggia, who went on to have a long film career in movies like Big and Prizzi’s Honor and earn an Oscar nomination for Jagged Edge.

Still, T.H.E. Cat was an entertaining series that should have lasted longer. If you’re wondering about the title, well, some episodes would open with a scene ending with Loggia’s character stating his full name: Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat (his initials are T.H.E., of course!). That would lead into an animated title sequence where a black cat turns into a shadowy man as Lalo Schifrin’s catchy jazz theme played (Schifrin also composed memorable TV themes for Mission: ImpossibleMannix, and others).

When not providing protective services for a client, Cat hung out at the Casa del Gato (House of the Cat), a nightclub not unlike the one frequented by Craig Stevens in Peter Gunn. Cat’s crony Pepe (Robert Carricart) ran the nightclub; R.G. Armstrong played Cat’s police detective friend/nemesis Captain McAllister.

What I remember best about the show is the Cat himself, who would don an all-black outfit when on assignment. He carried a knife up his sleeve (the “cat’s claw”) and could throw it with deadly accuracy. He also used a grappling hook to scale buildings and tightrope walk from one structure to another when required (Cat had also performed in a circus…before becoming a cat burglar). Just to show that TV is educational, this is the show that taught me what a grappling hook was!

Unlike many less entertaining shows, I’ve never seen T.H.E. Cat pop up on local stations or even nostalgic TV cable channels. Maybe one day, it will be released on DVD. I never thought I’d see The Champions or The Protectors again, but found both in a “Spy TV” boxed set this summer. So, I’m holding out hope for one cool Cat.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Coronet Blue -- Where You From and What You Done?

If you were a tween or a teenager during the summer of 1967 you may have become enthralled with the short-lived replacement television series "Coronet Blue", which ran on CBS from May 29, 1967 to September 4, 1967. After airing 11 of 13 episodes originally scheduled, the show was abruptly canceled by CBS without divulging the secret that was at the core of the plot. It was many years before this mystery was resolved.

In 1965 CBS ordered 22 episodes of the series for its 1965 -- 66 fall schedule. During that time James Aubrey was fired as president of CBS and those who replaced him took the opportunity to put their own stamp on the network, and in the schedule shuffling that followed "Coronet Blue" was left without a timeslot. However, filming began on the series in the spring of 1965 and by the end of July 13 episodes were ready for broadcast. The producers hoped that CBS would insert "Coronet Blue" into its 1966 -- 67 schedule, instead of using it as a midseason replacement in January 1966; but "Coronet Blue" wouldn't appear on national television until the summer of 1967, two years after filming had been completed.

In the pilot episode, Frank Converse portrays a young man who is attacked aboard a luxury liner and tossed overboard. He is rescued, but with no memory of his past except for the words, "coronet blue". He is taken to a hospital for treatment of his memory loss, where he adopts the name Michael Alden, and sets out to determine the truth about his identity. In each episode Michael travels around the country searching for clues to his past, interacting with different people and becoming involved in their various personal crises. The show's debut on May 29, 1967 was greeted by mostly negative reviews, although to the surprise of producers and critics alike it became popular with viewers. Nevertheless the last show ran on September 4, 1967 without any sort of conclusion. It had been preempted several times and only 11 of 13 episodes were aired.

Fans irked by the abrupt ending without resolution clamored for new episodes that would solve the mystery of Michael's identity. But even if CBS had wanted to resurrect the series, it couldn't; Frank Converse had accepted the lead role in ABC's NYPD.

In subsequent interviews given by series creator Larry Cohen and star Frank Converse it was learned that the words " coronet blue" had no meaning whatsoever. But the speculation about Michael's real identity continued until 2003. In an article in the New York Times about Larry Cohen, critic Elvis Mitchell revealed that Michael was in fact a Russian agent who had been sent to the United States to participate in espionage operations. When it was learned that he had decided to defect to America he became the target of assassins.

In spite of being trashed by critics, the series somehow touched a chord in many younger viewers, and today "Coronet Blue" has attained somewhat of a cult status. Those viewers, now in their 50s, most vividly remember its theme song performed by Lenny Welch.

Trivia Time Part 3

Well, now that I've given Rick a pass till the end of October, I can "bend" as many minds as I like (evil laugh). Are you Ready?

#1.The classic TV shows Highway Patrol, Mike Hammer, and Sea Hunt all have something in common. What is it? That they're in black and white is not it.

#2. What was Broderick Crawford's name and radio call sign on Highway Patrol?

#3. Before The Name of the Game. Tony Franciosa was in a half hour show. What was it called, Who was his co-star, and on what network?

#4. What famous director started off by doing Wanted Dead or Alive and The Rifleman shows?

#5. Brain Buster. On the end titles of Sea Hunt, you see a boat just leaving a pier. The pier was the private one of Marine Land of the Pacific in as, we locals call, it PV (Palos Verdes, CA). It's gone now. But in the 60's, it was uesd on what classic TV show and feature film?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cafe du Cinema Society: What sounds good for October?

I, for one, had a blast discussing Point Blank with everyone who participated. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing all the different viewpoints on that film. So what sounds good for next month?

There are numerous possibilities, including: The Paradine Case (one of the least popular Hitchcock films, but has it been judged fairly?); Jean Renoir's La Bete Humaine (aka The Human Beast, which was remade in the U.S. as Human Desire); Diabolique (a classic French mystery); the social drama I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang with Paul Muni; The Miracle Worker; a couple of Marx Brothers movies; some Val Lewton chillers; and much more. So, please submit your nominations below this post!

A Tribute to the Busiest Actor in the 1960s


For our Underrated Actor of the Week honors, Paul2 selected Whit Bissell, who was the busiest actor in Hollywood for over a quarter of a century. Starting with his 1940 debut as a palace guard in Errol Flynn’s The Sea Hawk, Bissell appeared in almost 300 roles in film and television until he retired from the screen in 1984. His acting prime spanned from 1955 to 1980, during which he appeared just in about every TV series that aired. He guest starred on Wagon Train five times, Perry Mason and The Rifleman four times, and was in three episodes each of The Virginian, Have Gun—Will Travel, and Hawaiian Eye. And, amazingly, he played a different character in each episode of those series.

It wasn’t that Whit Bissell was a great actor—his gift was being able to play any role convincingly. He could portray the kindly white-haired physician, the authoritative Army general, the menacing alien, the comforting father, the politician, or the undertaker (as he did in the opening scene in The Magnificent Seven).

He didn’t get many leading roles, though he played Professor Frankenstein in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957). It was a juicy role that provided his most famous line of dialogue, directed toward his teenaged monstrous creation: “Speak. I know you have a civil tongue in your head, because I sewed it back myself!”

In the 1950s, he endeared himself to science fiction and horror fans with supporting performances in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Monster on the Campus, and Creature from the Black Lagoon. He received belated recognition when he received a life career award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1994.

His only regular gig was on the 1967-68 ABC sci fi series Time Tunnel, in which he played General Haywood Kirk. It was a thankless role (time travelers James Darren and Robert Colbert had all the fun), but Whit played it with his usual professionalism.

Off camera, Whit Bissell was actively involved in both the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He died in 1996 at the age of 86.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thunder Birds (1942)

Thunder Birds (1942) This film was made to boost civilian morale at the time when World War II was still much in doubt. Directed by William A. Wellman, who was himself a member of the U.S. Air Service and a World War one fighter pilot. Gene Tierney (Kay), who is absolutely beautiful, added playfulness and maturity to the role she played. This is a "war movie" that never sees a battlefield but centers on the training of enlisted men. British John Sutton is sent to America to be trained to fly for the RAF but he has to try and over come his acrophobia. His instructor Steve is supportive and proves to be a great friend when others want him out. Their friendship becomes shaky when Sutton falls for the local girl Kay that Steve has long been dating. The film love triangle is so effective that you do not notice the real message of the film. My favorite scene in the movie is when Steve buzzes an old elevated water tank in the desert in which Kay Saunders is swimming. His plane causes her robe to blow away. Showing off, Steve flies inverted over the tank and drops her his flying coveralls then lands on a nearby dirt road. She seems miffed at him for reasons in their romantic past as much as his fly by...but responds to his passionate kiss.
Cast: Gene Tierney, Preston Foster, John Sutton.

Delicious!

A relative of mine is food editor for a metropolitan daily and its online counterpart. Not long ago he wrote a column about food-themed movies, a way of combining two of his great loves, I'll bet. What he wrote inspired me to think about some of the films I've enjoyed with food in a lead or supporting role.

Big Night (1996), the story of two brothers struggling to keep their Italian restaurant afloat in the 1950's (the dinner scene will make your mouth water)...My Dinner With Andre (1981), a philosophical talkfest between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory that takes place one evening as they dine, course by course, in a fine restaurant.

One I haven't seen since its release but remember fondly is the mystery romp Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978) in which chefs are being murdered in the manner of their most famous dish. This doesn't bode well for Jacqueline Bisset's character (pictured with Jean-Pierre Cassel), a famed pastry chef whose specialty is a "bombe."

Going back a ways, there's Diamond Jim (1935) starring Edward Arnold as Diamond Jim Brady. The man's appetite and size were legedary: he apparently could eat enough for 10 in one sitting. In the film, though not in life, Brady eats himself to death.

Internationally, I like the poetic Mexican film Like Water for Chocolate (1992), in which a woman's forbidden passion infuses her cooking...and, from Japan, Tampopo (1985) - the first "Japanese Noodle Western." Central to the plot is mastering the art of the perfect noodle bowl, but several related food-themed vignettes feature food and people of all kinds.

On the "happy homemaker" front there's Christmas in Connecticut (1945) a romantic comedy/holiday classic. Barbara Stanwyck portrays a Martha Stewart-like writer for a women's magazine who actually hasn't a clue about the homemaking arts but is falling for a Navy man whose dream is to partake of her home-cooked meals. Heartburn (1986) stars Meryl Streep as a NY food writer/gourmet cook married to a DC columnist who's unfaithful. A classic scene takes place when the couple goes to dinner at the home of friends and, during the course of the meal the wife, having recently found out that the husband is seeing the other woman again, picks up the homemade key lime pie she brought and pushes it into his face.

If you've got some food-theme films to share, please do.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cafe du Cinema Society Discusses: John Boorman's Point Blank (1967)

Welcome to our first Cafe du Cinema discussion group! We'll select a film each month that's showing on TCM, give everyone about a week to watch it, and then share our views on the movie in this forum. This month, we picked John Boorman's Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson, which TCM broadcast last Saturday, 12 September 09. I'm going to omit a plot synopsis because I assume all discussion participants have seen the movie. My goal is just to get the discussion started.

The first time I saw this film (several years ago), I felt it was a stylish, violent revenge film--but nothing more. It's only on subsequent viewings that I began to realize there was more than meets the eye. So, let me start our discussion with this question: Are the events of the film actually taking place or are they the fragmented thoughts of a dying Walker (Marvin)?

During the credits, we see an apparently dying Walker (who was shot at point blank range) muttering on the cell floor: "A dream...a dream."  After a montage of scattered flashbacks, he staggers into the ocean and then appears years later, displaying no evidence of a near-fatal wound. How did Walker recover? How did he get off Alcatraz? Near the end of the film, when Walker and Chris (Dickinson) are waiting for Brewster, Chris is wearing an orange dress. The next morning, she is wearing the same dress, only now it's white. A bizarre continuity goof or the shifting "realism" of a dream?

At one point in the film, Chris asks Walker: "Why don't you lie down and die?" Could it be that's what Walking is doing in the cell at Alcatraz?

OK, it's time for your views and your insight. If you have a different interpretation, let's hear it. And if you want to delve into another part of the film, that's cool, too. The goal is to have an active discussion...and fun.

Trivia Time Part Deux Bonus

I love "bending" Rick29's mind with trivia questions. So Rick, just for you, a bonus question ! Get it and I'll give you a pass on all of next months questions. OK?

This actor did an Outer Limits episode before he became a huge star in the mid 60's. No, Rick, you don't have to name it. What you have to do is name him, and the mid 70's short lived show he did for Leslie Stevens. Bonus points for the number of shows. I'll give you a huge hint. He was one of a handful that did both The original Outer Limits and the revival. and is on a current hit TV show (dead giveaway). The answer will be with the others Sunday night.

In Defense of Hitch's The Birds (and the birds)

My blog One Fan's List of the Best Hitchcock Films has generated a lot of comments both here and when originally posted in the CFU. I'd like to think it's because people like me (shades of Sally Field), but, alas, the blog's popularity is strictly due to Mr. Hitchcock's many fans. Reader comments often focus on the fact that I relegated Notorious to honorable mention, while ranking Marnie and The Birds among the top four spots. I've devoted a blog to Marnie...and now The Birds gets its time in the spotlight.

I first saw The Birds on NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies with my sister in the late 1960s. I remember liking it well enough, though the film just seemed to end with no satisfactory resolution. Over the next two decades, I may have watched The Birds three or four times. But I never developed an affection for it until the early 1990s when, on a whim, I decided to view it again while my wife was out-of-town.

For the first time, I realized that the film functions on two levels for me. It is, of course, a well-done thriller about unexplained bird attacks in a small California seaside community. But it’s also a well-acted 1960s drama about three women and their relationships with the bland, but likable, Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). Mitch’s mother (wonderfully played by Jessica Tandy) fears losing her son to another woman—not because of jealousy, but because she can’t stand the thought of being abandoned. Young socialite Melanie Daniels (Hedren) views Mitch as a stable love interest, something she needs as she strives to live a more meaningful life. And Annie Hayworth (Pleshette) is the spinster schoolteacher, willing to waste her life to be near Mitch after failing to pry him from his mother.

In the midst of this soap-like plot, Hitchcock injects a series of escalating bird attacks, ranging from a gull that nips Melanie to a explosive strike at a gas station. His direction of these sequences is flawless, as evidenced by two textbook examples of creating suspense. Early in the film, there’s a cute scene in which Melanie (in a boat) races Mitch (in a car) to the other side of the bay. Hitchcock waits patiently until the viewer is involved in the race, then a gull suddenly swoops down to bite Melanie. This abrupt assault results in a sense of uneasiness that permeates the rest of the film.

Knowing that the viewer will now be prepared for more surprise attacks, Hitchcock shifts his strategy with a classic scene outside the schoolhouse. As Melanie waits for Annie and listens to the children singing, the viewer sees a flock of birds filling up the playground bars behind her. Melanie is oblivious to the impending danger until she catches sight of a single bird in flight and watches as it joins the others. It’s a brilliant example of the visual power of cinema.

Now, let's talk about the birds. Are they truly villains? I think not. Miss Bundy, the ornithologist, states in the restaurant after the attack on the children: "Birds are not aggressive creatures...it is mankind that insists in making it difficult for life to exist on this planet." I'm not suggesting that The Birds is an eco-horror film like John Frankenheimer's Prophecy (which I think is pretty entertaining, by the way). Rather, the scene with Miss Bundy is intended to soften our perception of the birds as terrifying creatures.

And why is that? Because Hitchcock doesn't want us to focus too much on the birds. The movie is about the Mitch-Melanie-Mitch's mother triangle. The birds are just catalysts. I still know people who hate the ending. If it frustrates you, think of the film as a drama in which all the conflicts between characters have been resolved. In that sense, The Birds ends when it should.

I realize that Notorious fans can argue the complexities of that Hitchcock classic just as well. But the purpose of this blog is not to explain why Notorious didn't make my top 10 (and, yes, I need to see it again). Rather, my goal is to point out that The Birds is more than just a suspense film and its ability to function effectively on two different levels (thriller and relationship drama) is why I love it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Ballad of Josie

My favorite Peter Graves film is when he played the love interest in one of Doris Day's last movies,
THE BALLAD OF JOSIE (1967), a western/comedy. The film starts out when Josie's abusive/drunk husband is killed by falling down a flight of stairs. After his death, Josie Minick (Doris Day) decides to create a better life for herself and young son Luther (Teddy Quinn). Owning a small parcel of land on the outskirts of town, and not eager to fall into another submissive relationship. She sets her mind to raise sheep and comes under the wrath of neighbors who are all cow farmers. She also organizes the towns women to demonstrate against women's suffrage. Josie will need all her smarts and courage to achieve her dream and not start an all out Range War. I thought it was entertaining and gave her a different role than her previous "spy", "mystery" or ''romantic comedy'' .
Other co-stars include George Kennedy, Audrey Christie and Andy Devine.

Who is the tall dark stranger there? Maverick is the name.

Maverick remains one of the classic TV westerns that emerged from the genre's heyday, from the mid 50s to the mid 60s. It followed the success of Cheyenne, Warner Bros. first Western to appear on television courtesy of ABC. At that time ABC was a fledgling network that needed to bolster its roster against Sunday night favorites The Steve Allen Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. It asked Warner Bros. to provide them with a series that would help increase their ratings. Cheyenne debuted in 1955 as one of three rotating dramas on Warner Bros. Presents, appearing every three weeks along with television versions of Casablanca and Kings Row. Cheyenne quickly became a favorite and set the stage for several more Warner Bros. created westerns including Bronco Lane, Sugarfoot, The Lawman, and Colt 45. For the most part these were traditionally structured westerns with recognizable good guys and bad guys with the hero always triumphant in the end. Maverick started out in the same vein when it debuted in 1957, but creator turned producer Roy Huggins had other ideas and instituted the novel changes that transformed Maverick into a landmark television show.

Maverick had been designed as a one star show, but due to its six-day filming schedule and with James Garner as the only actor, not enough episodes were being produced to fill ABC's need. The decision was made to create a brother for Brett Maverick, Bart Maverick, played by Jack Kelly. Kelly joined the series in the eighth episode. The prevailing concept was that Bart's character was to be written as if it were Brett's character and writers were told to think of Brett even when they were writing about Bart. The only difference was in the acting style of both men. Indeed, only one script was written specifically for Kelly. Kelly's character had to dress exactly like Brett, with the same colors, clothing and style. The costumes worn by the Maverick brothers were more reminiscent of the dark sinister outfits assosciated with villains.

One of the major twists developed by Huggins was to insert an element of comedy and satire into the series and presenting Brett and Bart as rather self-serving card sharks roaming from riverboat to saloon looking for an easy way to make money and avoiding serious consequences at all costs. They were not the fastest guns in the West and their confrontations usually ended in a victorious fist fight. Each week's episode featured either Brett or Bart and a few times they appeared together. There were several recurrent guest stars including Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Dandy Jim Buckley and Diane Brewster as Samantha Crawford, a shady lady who gave the Maverick brothers a run for their money.

Along with other writers Huggins fashioned scripts that included spoofs of Bonanza and Gunsmoke. The Gunsmoke episode was entitled Gun Shy and featured a hick Marshall named Mort Dooley. An hysterical sendup of Bonanza had the Maverick brothers involved with Joe Wheelwright and his three sons Moose, Henry, and Small Paul. In an episode titled Hadley's Hunters all of the actors from Warner Bros. other westerns appeared as their characters, with Edd "Kookie" Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip cast as a blacksmith.

In 1960 James Garner left the show over a contract dispute and Warner Bros. brought in Roger Moore to play cousin Beau Maverick. Moore left the series complaining about the lack of quality in the scripts he was receiving. That led Warner Bros. to bring in a third Maverick relative Brent Maverick played by Robert Colbert, who lasted only one season. That left Jack Kelly appearing in 13 original episodes alternating with reruns of episodes featuring Garner until the series was canceled in 1962.

Maverick is still considered an iconic western. It was full of fun and spoofery and represented a successful attempt to imbue the traditional Western with comedic elements.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I should have invited him...

I was scrolling down the sidebar and came to the section regarding books about television . The first entry was A Complete Directory of Prime Time Network and Cable Television Shows, and the author was displayed only by last name Brooks. It took a couple of seconds for a lightbulb to go off in my head but I suddenly shouted into my voice recognition microphone, " Stop scrolling!" The name Brooks had caught my eye. This has got to be Tim Brooks. OMG!! Here's the story.

From 1980 to 1981 I worked at a well-known television syndication company in Los Angeles. I worked in the publicity department and one day I received a call from Tim Brooks, who told me that he was trying to gather information for a book he was putting together on the history of television series from 1946 to the present, which at that time was 1980 or 1981. I was more than happy to talk with him and spent quite a long time providing him with information. At the end of the conversation he very cordially thanked me and told me I was the only person he had called who was willing to give him the time to help him with his research.

Jump forward to a dessert party I was giving one weekend where I had made all the cakes and pies from scratch. There were about 20 to 25 people milling about our apartment when the phone rang. I answered it and the caller identified himself as Tim Brooks and asked if I remembered him. Of course I did and I was happy to hear from him. He said that he was in town and would like to take me to dinner that night in appreciation of the help I'd given him. I said that I would love to but unfortunately I was having a party and wouldn't be able to accept his invitation. What I should have said was " Why don't you come on over to my party? I'll give you directions." But I didn't. Honestly I didn't think he'd be interested in mingling with a group of strangers. I never heard from him again.

After realizing who he was, I immediately googled him and went on his website. There is a link to an acknowledgment page with a list of names of "Those who have contributed over the years, in large ways and small." I scrolled down and there it was, my name, misspelled, but it was me. I was thrilled that he'd included me in this group of contributors, but there was still that tinge of regret that I hadn't invited him to my home and missed the opportunity to meet him.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Steven Hill -- Impossible to Work With

Rick's new poll on your favorite Mission Impossible character got me thinking of the actor who played the leader of the group in this show's first season, Steven Hill, who portrayed Dan Briggs. Steven Hill is probably best remembered for his role as Adam Schiff in the first 10 seasons of Law and Order. Events surrounding Hill's hiring and firing from Mission Impossible included religious issues, ego trips, a studio sale, Lucille Ball, and a ladder.

Steven Hill is an actor who shot himself in the foot and derailed what could have been a major career. He was a founding member of Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio and was considered by many to be the finest actor of his generation, which included fellow founding members of the Actors Studio, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. But his tendency to believe that his interpretation of a role could not be improved upon, led to many disruptive arguments with writers and directors; he was even dubbed "the Director killer". Despite his reputation he landed a role in the Broadway hit "Mister Roberts" and later appeared as Sigmund Freud in the 1961 play "A Far Country". It was during the run of this play that Hill made a decision that would determine the course of his career. "You are a Jew", a line delivered in the play by Kim Stanley awoke in Hill a need to reevaluate the tenets of Judaism and eventually he adopted an Orthodox Jewish way of life. Bruce Geller the producer of Mission Impossible was so determined to have Hill portray Dan Briggs that he agreed to Hill's demand that he didn't have to work on the Sabbath, from sunset Friday evening to sunset Saturday evening. This meant that Hill could leave the set at sunset even if he was in the middle of a scene. Production costs began to increase because of the necessary changes required to adjust to Hill's absence. The production team wanted him ousted, but faced Geller's objections. And Geller had the approval of Lucille Ball head of the production company, Desilu. But Geller's tolerance had its limits. During the filming of a scene which required Hill to climb a ladder, he stated adamantly that he would not do so and proceeded to walk off the set. At first he was suspended, but when he came back to the show his role had been diminished to just three scenes. In the meantime Gulf+Western bought Desilu and Lucille Ball no longer had a say in Hill's future. As Hill became increasingly difficult to work with Geller's patience ran out. The plan was to replace Hill and his character Dan Briggs with Peter Graves as Jim Phelps. Hill didn't know about this decision until he read it in one of the Hollywood trade papers.

After the Mission Impossible debacle, Hill gave up acting and retreated to a Jewish community in upstate New York. He didn't act again for 10 years.

A New Poll That's an Impossible Mission

Last week, the Cafe asked readers to vote on their favorite character from 1939's The Wizard of Oz and the Scarecrow danced away with an easy win by garnering 35% of the votes. We think this week's poll poses a tougher question:  Who was the most valuable member of the Impossible Mission Force on TV's Mission: Impossible? Ladies and gentlemen, here are your candidates--
   
Jim Phelps (Peter Graves). He was the team leader, he picked who participated in each mission, and he planned each one. And, by the way, he played an active role in the missions himself!
Rollin Hand (Martin Landau). A magician and, more importantly, a master of disguises, Rollin could transform himself in a military dictator, an elderly man, a woman...just about anyone. He was often so good that you couldn't tell him apart from the guest stars!  (OK, sometimes the guest stars played Rollin playing the guest star, but he was still really good.)
 
Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain). Her portfolio listed her job as fashion model, but this beauty certainly had brains, too...playing scientists, politcians, and femme fatales. Plus, she was tough--maybe tougher than the guys--as evidenced by an episode in which she was captured and underwent grueling torture.
  
   
Barney Collier (Greg Morris). Need a gadget...any kind of gadget? Barney can make it and install it. How many times does Jim ask: "Can you do it, Barney?"  To which Barney replies calmly: "I just need a little time, Jim."
Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus). Sure, it's easy to dismiss Willy as the "muscle." Yet, there are missions that would have failed without him. In the pilot episode, he carried two suitcases--each filled with a man--into a vault. Let's see Jim, Rollin, or Barney do that!

I realize that I've omitted some characters, but I focused on the classic Seasons 2 and 3 cast due to space requirements. To cast your vote, click on your favorite character in the poll located in the green sidebar to the right.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"And then she walked in out of the moonlight, smiling..."

Jane Greer is undoubtedly best remembered for her splendid portrayal of the sexy femme fatale Kathie Moffat in Jacques Tourneur's film noir classic, Out of the Past (1947). But this classy dame, a stunning beauty with a perpetually cocked eyebrow, was a topnotch actress, holding her own against the likes of Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger in the '52 version of The Prisoner of Zenda, Gary Cooper in You're in the Navy Now (1951), and James Cagney in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). If you haven't seen it, I would recommend 1949's The Big Steal, a fun action romp in which Ms. Greer re-teams with her Out of the Past co-star, Robert Mitchum. Later in her career, the actress starred in an Out of the Past remake, Against All Odds, playing Rachel Ward's mother (Ward herself playing Greer's character from the original) and had a small part in David Lynch's cult TV series, Twin Peaks, as the mother of Norma (the owner of the diner). The Cafe salutes this talented lady!

Trivia Time Part One - The Answers

Ok, It's time for the first set of answers. How did you do?
#1. Jimi Hendrix and there is concert footage to prove it.
#2. Trackdown, a Western on CBS.
#3. Secert Agent.
#4. The Smith Family is the correct answer for Henry Fonda . It was on ABC and Ron Howard played one of his kids. For James Stewart, I was looking for The Jimmy Stewart Show on NBC and Julia Adams, best known as Kay in The Creature From The Black Lagoon played his wife. Rick, I'll give you extra bonus points for Hawkins on CBS. Very good.

I Left My Heart...Five San Francisco Favorites


I love San Francisco, I admit it. I've lived in the Bay Area for more than 30 years and don't plan to ever leave...so, for this, my premiere Cafe blog, I've picked five of my favorite films set in San Francisco and will briefly discuss each. My primary criterion in selecting these five was that each be set here. Quality was also taken into account. Each of these is a classic with a solid director, cast and script...and most are Oscar-nominated films. This time around I picked films primarily set in the city itself, not the surrounding area; Shadow of a Doubt was set in Santa Rosa and American Graffiti was filmed, in part, in San Rafael, but I focused on the city, the town Salvador Dali once referred to as "the jewel of American cities"....

1. Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock's dark, mesmerizing masterpiece has been called a valentine to the city, and it's my favorite of any film set in, shot in or that even mentions San Francisco. I could probably write more than anyone would ever want to read on the subject of why Vertigo is irresistible to me and how gloriously I feel it portrays SF in the late 1950's. But...to be brief and to the point, this is one of those rare films that pulls me entirely into its magnetic field and sweeps me along to its devastating conclusion: Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) gazing, vacant and in shock, down upon the body of his idealized dead love...a love he's just lost for the second time. To quote Martin Scorsese, Vertigo is "like being drawn into a very, very beautiful, comfortable almost nightmarish obsession." As for its depiction of San Francisco, Vertigo shows the city off to its very best advantage...a stunning city to begin with, Hitchcock renders it flawlessly with his extensive Technicolor/VistaVision location shots: cityscapes, landmarks (the Golden Gate Bridge, the Mission Dolores, Nob Hill, Coit Tower) and street scenes. Hitchcock also does a meticulous job of recreating some classic local interiors: Ernies Restaurant, Ransohoff's dept. store, Podesta Baldocchi's florist shop.

2. The Maltese Falcon (1941) This is the first film directed by John Huston...on top of being Huston's remarkable debut (which he adapted from Dashiell Hammett's novel), it boasts an inspired cast (Greenstreet and Lorre's first of many pairings), an intriguing noir mood (it's been called the first major work of film noir), is tight and taut and delivers the goods, as Sam Spade might've remarked. Many years ago I took the "Dashiell Hammett Tour" of San Francisco (led by Don Herron who continues to conduct tours). I don't remember that much about it now other than our stop at one of Spade's haunts, John's Grille on Ellis St. (a steak/seafood joint in business since 1908 and visited by many a celebrity), and our pause at Burritt Alley, near the corner of Bush and Stockton, where a plaque proclaims: "On approximately this spot, Miles Archer, partner of Sam Spade, was done in by Brigid O'Shaughnessy." The Maltese Falcon was mostly shot at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank with some stock footage of SF, but it conveys a strong sense of San Francisco in the late 30's/early 40's...it's also one of Humphrey Bogart's early star turns which leads nicely to...

3. Play it Again, Sam (1972) Adapted from his Broadway hit and starring Woody Allen but directed by Herb Ross, the film also stars Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts and Jerry Lacy as an imaginary "Bogart". This is a Woody Allen classic that hasn't been getting it's due lately. It's an outrageously funny take on bouncing back from rejection and re-entering the "dating pool," circa the early 70's. It also happens to include a great panorama of Bay Area locales that reflect the city and the general scene at the time. Allen's character, Allan Felix, a film critic/classic film buff, lives in North Beach and makes his way around the city and area in pursuit of romance - as far north as Sausalito, Stinson Beach and Bolinas. He tries desperately and hilariously (often on Bogart's advice) to connect with women after being unceremoniously dumped by his wife. TCM viewers and other classic film fans will appreciate the amusing homage to Casablanca and many references to classic film.

4. Days of Wine and Roses (1962) An Oscar winner for Henry Mancini's original song and nominated for four others, this film addressed a difficult subject for the time: alcoholism. Directed by Blake Edwards, Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick portray a young couple on the brink of what could be an exciting life together, he's a PR dynamo, she's beautiful and sweet, they adore each other...and their swank, modern apt. features a panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But their life takes a dark turn. All in all, the beauty of San Francisco seems a perfect backdrop and metaphor for the couple's lost dreams.

5. I Remember Mama (1948) Directed by George Stevens and starring the sublime Irene Dunne, this is a sentimental favorite of mine. But first, will someone please explain why Irene Dunne never won an Oscar?!? This film was nominated for five, including Dunne's fifth and final nomination for Best Actress. Set in San Francisco around 1910, it's the story of the trials and triumphs of a family of Norwegian immigrants who have settled in the Cow Hollow district (today an upscale neighborhood, but around that time...well...cows). It's a warm family drama with Dunne as the very practical yet caring matriarch. I especially enjoy the exterior scenes that depict San Francisco 100 years ago.

Those are my five. I may have more to say about some of them and other aspects of Bay Area films, but that's it for now. Look forward to comments about these and other films set in San Francisco.