Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Odd Odyssey of "Jack the Giant Killer"

The Cormoran.
Heard the one about the 1962 fantasy adventure that was re-edited into a musical in 1976? If so, then you're familiar with the plight of Jack the Giant Killer, an entertaining--albeit modest--variation on the Sinbad films made by Ray Harryhausen and Charles Schneer. Indeed, its similarities with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is what led to its conversion into a musical. But, before we get to that, let's take a look at the original version of Jack the Giant Killer.

For her birthday, the beautiful Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) receives a large music box from a myterious visiting dignitary--who is actually the evil wizard Pendragon (Torin Thatcher). When she opens the music box, a 12-inch jester emerges and dances until the music stops. The princess is delighted. That night, though, the little jester (who looks downright creepy) grows into a two-horned Cormoran (a Cornish giant) and abducts Princess Elaine.

Jack (Kerwin Matthews) gets knighted.
En route to a waiting ship, the Cormoran--still clutching the screaming princess--rumbles though a small farm owned by a young man called Jack (Kerwin Matthews). Determined to rescue Princess Elaine, the resourceful Jack uses a rope, a mill, and a scythe to kill the Cormoran. Once the princess safely returns to the castle, Jack is hailed as a hero and knighted by the king.

However, still concerned about his daughter's safety, the king asks Jack to escort Elaine to a convent in another kingdom. Love blossoms between Jack and Elaine during their shipboard voyage. However, their happiness is short-lived when Pendragon sends a bunch of ugly, fire-producing witches to kidnap Princess Elaine. It's up to Jack to rescue his love again.

Good princess; bad princess.
Loosely inspired by a Cornish fairy tale (which has nothing to do with a beanstalk), Jack and the Giant Killer borrows liberally from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The Wizard of Oz. Like the 7th Voyage, it features: a quest to rescue a princess; battles with stop-motion animated creatures; an evil wizard; warriors that sprout from teeth; and a helpful magical companion (an imp in a bottle instead of the genie-boy from Sinbad). Jack the Giant Killer also recycles the director (Nathan Juran) and two stars (Matthews and Thatcher) from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. As for The Wizard of Oz, its fans will notice that the evil wizard monitors our heroes with a crystal ball, employs witches that like to burn things ("How about a little fire, Scarecrow?"), and uses an hourglass.

Pendragon's castle.
Despite its derivative nature, Jack the Giant Killer is an appealing picture targeted at kids. It lacks the classy production values of the Sinbad movies and the special effects can't compare to the masterful work of Ray Harryhausen. The Cormorans (a second two-headed one appears near the climax) are impressive, but the other creature models look pretty juvenile, especially the Kraken that emerges from the sea. The actual stop-motion animation is pretty good, which is no surprise since some of it was done by Jim Danforth. Over his career as a special effects wizard, Danforth earned two Oscar nominations; his best work is probably When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1971).

Jack the Giant Killer was produced by Edward Small, who had turned down The 7th Voyage of Sinbad three years earlier. That fact, plus the obvious similarities between the films, led to Columbia Pictures (which distributed Sinbad) to file a copyright infringement suit to prevent the release of Jack the Giant Killer. It was released anyway (some sources claim the suit was filed too late). However, legal concerns popped up again when the film was being considered for a video release in 1976. To avoid a lawsuit, Small retitled the film Jack the Giant Killer: The Musical and redubbed it with songs. Here's a clip featuring the song "We Have Failed," in which Pendragon's henchman explains how the original kidnapping was botched.


Fortunately, the original version of Jack the Giant Killer eventually found its way to release on VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD. Still, it's interesting to ponder other classic films that could be converted into musicals. Casablanca--The Musical, anyone?

Monday, February 25, 2013

What's the Movie? (We describe it...you name it!)

Last December, we posted our first quiz of this type (only it was longer). It turned out to be fun and generated a lot of positive feedback. We like reinforcement at the Cafe! We hope this edition turns out to be equally entertaining. The rules are easy: Name each film below based on our (rather) vague description. Be sure to include the question number with your response. Please don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is one film that is the single, best answer to each description.

1. You can glimpse Philip Marlowe in a mirror.

2. There's a lot of confusion about the location of a pill containing poison.

3. He hid it in the clock!

4. Dog howls when owner is mistakenly murdered.

5. Bond won't talk; villain wants him to die!

6. Bob Hope's kids look like Bing Crosby.

7. Father kills son with a cane; son is grateful.

8. Ex-convict governess cares for pyromaniac.

9. Accused firestarter woos woman at her father's request.

10. President is kidnapped during a game of golf.

11. John Kennedy thwarts Lincoln's assassination.

12. House guest gives kid diamonds in exchange for a few bucks.

13. It's a sled!

14. Man's scheme revealed because he can't spell "memento."

15. Man lives in doll house.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Fabulous Films of the 1940s Blogathon: Let Right Be Done in "The Winslow Boy"

Robert Donat as Sir Robert Morton.
When 12-year-old Ronnie Winslow is expelled from the Royal Naval Academy, his father has but one question: Did Ronnie steal the five-shilling postal order? When his son replies that he did not, Arthur Winslow, a retired upper middle-class bank accountant, sets out to prove his son's innocence.

It's a campaign that will reach the House of Commons and evolve into a passionate debate of fundamental citizen rights. Yet, it will also earn the Winslow family unwanted notoriety, put them on the brink of debt, and cause them to question one another's motives (even the normally restrained Grace Winslow accuses her husband of "pride and self-importance").

Cedric Hardwicke.
This 1948 adaptation of Terence Rattigan's hit 1946 stage play succeeds as enthralling drama and social commentary. In regard to the latter, the film's central issue is whether "a servant of the King" can sue the King. When Arthur Winslow's (Cedric Hardwicke) appeal to the Naval commandant fails, he seeks out famous solicitor Sir Robert Morton (Robert Donat). In one of the film's best scenes, Morton cross-examines Ronnie ruthlessly in the family's home. After getting the lad thoroughly flummoxed, Morton turns away to make an abrupt exit. The family assumes that hope is lost--before Sir Robert quips on his way out the door: "The boy is plainly innocent. I will take the brief."

In order to bring Ronnie's case to trial, Sir Robert must secure approval from the Attorney General through a Petition of Right. When approved, the petition is endorsed with the phrase: "Let right be done." Sir Robert's political maneuvering and inspiring speech in the House of Commons would make for an interesting film alone.

The poster stressed Donat's
billing, of course.
However, Rattigan also focuses on the impact to the family. As the legal bills mount, Arthur Winslow withdraws financial support for his older son at Oxford. Arthur's health deteriorates until his arthritis makes him wheelchair-bound. Catherine Winslow's fiance ends their engagement when his father--who finds the Winslow' notoriety socially unacceptable--threatens to stop his son's allowance. Arthur even considers firing the family maid after 24 years of loyal service.

Through all the stress, Arthur and his suffragette daughter Catherine remain the pillars of the family. Arthur's goal is simply to prove his son's innocence. Catherine, on the other hand, believes that the government has ignored a fundamental human right. Her beliefs align closely with Sir Robert's, whom she first perceives as an egotistical lawyer who views the case as an opportunity to press his own agenda. However, just like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Catherine later learns she has misjudged Sir Robert...and, indeed, their sparring seems to indicate a spark between the two.

Margaret Leighton in a publicity still.
Although the entire cast is impeccable, special recognition must be paid to Hardwicke, Donat, and Margaret Leighton as Catherine. A supporting performer through much of his film career, Hardwicke brings determination and depth to his role as the single-minded father who begins to question what he had done. As for Donat, who doesn't appear until 41 minutes into the film, this may be my favorite of his performances--crisp, energetic, and utterly believable. He and Leighton, whose quiet conviction is the backbone of the story, are a delightful pair and their denouement ends the film on a perfect note.

Terence Rattigan based his play on a real-life incident involving George Archer-Shee, a Royal Navy cadet accused of stealing a postal order in 1910. Archer-Shee's case made headlines, just as in The Winslow Boy, and he was eventually acquitted. His family subsequently sued the Admiralty and finally received compensation in 1911.

Although the 1948 film remains the best-known adaptation, there are at least three other versions: a 1997 BBC "filmed play" with Eric Porter (The Forsyte Saga) as Arthur; a 1989 telefilm with Gordon Jackson (Upstairs Downstairs) as Arthur and Emma Thompson as Catherine; and David Mamet's very good 1991 adaptation starring Nigel Hawthorne (Arthur), Jeremy Northam (Sir Robert), and Rebecca Pidgeon (Catherine).

Click here to check out all the great reviews in the CMBA's Fabulous Films of the 1940s Blogathon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Lee Marvin: Point Blank" - Dwayne Epstein's New Biography of The Merchant of Menace

In Lee Marvin: Point Blank, author Dwayne Epstein puts together a convincing portrait of the enigmatic actor that New York Times film critic Vincent Canby once called "The Master of Menace." Epstein augments Marvin's insightful letters and colorful quotes with anecdotes from family, friends, and especially former wife Betty Ebeling Marvin. The result is a lively biography of a dedicated, hard-drinking actor whose detached, violent "heroes" came alive vividly in films such as The Dirty Dozen, The Killers (1964), and Point Blank.

Born in New York in 1924, Lee Marvin--like his brother Robert--was named after Robert E. Lee. Their mother, Courtenay, was an ancestor of the famous Confederate general. Author Epstein speculates that Lee Marvin suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder as a youth as well as dyslexia. The young Marvin displayed a rebellious nature at home--he and his mother never got along--and in school. Later in life, he boasted of being expelled from fifteen schools.

He eventually played authority figures
in war films like The Dirty Dozen.
For a young man who often defied authority, it's ironic that Marvin not only enlisted in the armed services in 1942, but chose the Marines. However, as Epstein points out, "it was a time of extreme patriotism" following Pearl Harbor; Marvin's brother and father, a World War I veteran,  also enlisted. Undoubtedly, his years as a Marine shaped the rest of Marvin's life. Excerpts from his early letters show a young man at conflict. He proudly discusses his test scores and marksmanship, but also writes "sometimes I wonder what I joined up for." Marvin participated in many bloody battles following his deployment to the Pacific in 1944. When a wound ended his military career in 1945, Marvin "could not shake off the intense feeling he was experiencing: anger, frustration and worst of all, survivor guilt as the war stubbornly wore on."

Following the end of the war, Marvin contemplated working as a forest ranger and car salesman before becoming a plumber's apprentice. However, Marvin's career took a different path when he became involved in a Red Cross benefit called "Ten Nights in a Barroom" in Woodstock, New York, in 1946. That eventually led to a summer stock gig with the Maverick Theater in 1947. Epstein notes that acting provided an "outlet to express his inner demons that had been frustrating him since the war." Marvin used his G.I. bill money to attend the American Theater Wing, which led to small parts. However, he later said that Broadway "was a damn bore...the New York stage is a hustle." When colleague James Doohan (Star Trek's Scotty) recommended Marvin move to the West Coast, Marvin took the advice.

As the no-nonsense hero of M Squad.
In Hollywood, Lee Marvin excelled in movies that featured a "much darker tone...creeping like an uninvited guest into American popular culture." He played villains and tough guys in films such as The Big Heat, Bad Day at Black Rock, A Life in the Balance, Violent Saturday, and The Rack. Despite steady work, stardom eluded him and, at the urging of his trusted agent Meyer Mishkin, Marvin took the lead role in the TV series M Squad. The 1957 documentary-style series featured Marvin as detective Lieutenant Frank Ballinger; it was a minor hit and proved that the actor could handle starring roles. In typical fashion, Marvin downplayed the series, telling the press: "Cops and robbers series sell. You don't make TV shows for fun--you make them for money."

As Epstein skilfully traces Marvin's rise to big-screen stardom in the 1960s, he paints a picture of a man struggling with personal relationships and alcoholism. Toward the end of his 16-year marriage to the former Betty Ebeling, Marvin started a relationship with actress Michelle Triola. Although they broke up in 1970, she sued Marvin in what became a landmark palimony case in the state of California. Marvin, meanwhile, married Pamela Feeley, a former girlfriend from his summer stock days. They remained together until his death in 1986.

With Lee Marvin: Point Blank, author Dwayne Epstein has written an engrossing, well-researched biography of an unlikely Hollywood star. He praises Marvin's best films (The Professionals, Point Blank), but also provides honest assessments of the bad ones (The Klansmen). I don't buy his contention that "the roots of physical aggression were genetically set in place long before (Marvin's) very existence." Indeed, Epstein does a fine job of explaining the events that shaped Marvin's persona on and off the screen--and that's no easy feat. The 303-page book features candid black and white photos, an index, footnotes, an in-depth bibliography, and a list of roles that Marvin turned down (e.g., Patton). It's a must for Lee Marvin fans and is also recommended for any film buffs interested in American cinema in the 1950s-70s.

Independent Publishers Group provided the Cafe with a review copy of this book.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Good Day to Review the "Die Hard" Series

With A Good Day to Die Hard opening in theaters this week, the Cafe takes the opportunity to review what has become one of the most enduring American film series. Frankly, it's hard to believe that the original Die Hard will celebrate its 25th anniversary this July. Here's our take on the first four films:

"Yippee-ki-yay, (you know the rest)!"
1. Die Hard (1988). The first installment remains the best with Bruce Willis finally finding a role that fit his persona. Indeed, this was the film that probably saved his big-screen career after the lukewarm boxoffice returns of Blind Date and Sunset. The tidy plot thrusts NYC detective John McClane-- a resourceful, likable hero--into the middle of an apparent terrorist attack in a near empty L.A. high-rise on Christmas Eve. In film industry slang, this is a "high concept" movie, but also a very smart one. McClane's shaky marriage humanizes our hero, the confined setting is exploited to maximum effect, and Alan Rickman provides a marvelous villain. I love how McClane thinks out loud through much of the film, making the viewer his silent partner. But just to ensure that doesn't grown weary, police officer Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) becomes his unlikely "partner." After watching Die Hard again just recently, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this excellent action film holds up.

McClane gets ejected!
2. Die Hard 2 (1990). Although it was a huge boxoffice success, many moviegoers and critics carped that this first sequel was an unimaginative carbon copy of the original. That's true to some extent: the setting--an airport this time--plays an important role; McClane gets help from an unlikely ally (Marvin, the janitor); and the authorities ignore McClane, forcing him to take down the bad guys on his own. Yet, despite the air of familiarity, Die Hard 2 nimbly navigates from McClane's impromptu investigation to the criminals' scheme to an amusing subplot with McClane's wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) aboard a jet. The action scenes are exceedingly well-staged--the shot of McClane in the ejection seat is perhaps the most iconic one in the series. Personally, I love the airport setting (and often wonder why it's not used in more films). 

Jackson and Willis listen to a riddle.
3. Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995). While the desire to shake up the series is understandable, the third installment is a significant departure--and also my least favorite in the series. One problem is that the script was originally not a Die Hard movie at all. Jonathan Hensleigh wrote a "spec script" called Simon Says that was once considered for the fourth Lethal Weapon movie. Instead, it was revamped into Die Hard With a Vengeance with Willis and Samuel Jackson as an unlikely team forced to take on a riddle-making villain who uses terrorist attacks to mask his real crime. There's a dandy subway station sequence, but this is just another "buddy film" at heart and, as much as I admire Jeremy Irons, his villain is flat and uninteresting. Without his family, McClane comes across as just another independent-minded, big city cop.

An older McClane returns to form.
4. Live Free or Die Hard (2007). After a 12-year gap, McClane returns with a new "partner"--a young computer geek--and a spunky daughter who has issues with her old man. Interestingly, it borrows some elements from Die Hard With a Vengeance, specifically the "buddy film" structure and the villains' use of one crime to facilitate a greater one. Willis and Justin Long work well together (as did Willis and Jackson), but the chief upgrade over the third installment is Timothy Olyphant as the second-best Die Hard baddie. He plays a former government security expert who wants wealth--and to make his former bosses look like idiots. It's also nice to see McClane trying to connect with his daughter again (although putting her in peril at the climax seems unnecessary).

Evaluating each film on its own merits, my ranking from best to worst is: Die Hard; Die Hard 2; Live Free or Die Hard, and Die Hard With a Vengeance. Overall, the Die Hard films hold up well and comprise an entertaining action film series.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Five Best Courtroom Films

I love a good courtroom drama. There’s so much natural tension in a trial…they just seem tailor-made for the cinema. The list below focuses on the best classic films with courtroom centerpieces, so My Cousin Vinny and A Few Good Men (which would probably have made the honorable mention list) are not included.

Stewart as attorney Paul Biegler.
1. Anatomy of a Murder. Otto Preminger’s enthralling courtroom drama requires multiple viewings to be fully appreciated. When I first saw it, I focused on the riveting story, which treats the viewer much like the jury. We listen to testimonies, watch the lawyers try to manipulate our emotions, and struggle to make sense of the evidence. When I saw it a second time, I knew the case’s outcome and was able to concentrate on the splendid performances. James Stewart, Arthur O’Connell, and George C. Scott earned Oscar nominations, but the rest of the cast is also exceptionally strong. In subsequent viewings, I've come to appreciate the film’s well-preserved details, from the small town upper-Michigan atmosphere to Preminger’s brilliant direction (e.g., in one shot, as Scott cross-examines a witness in close-up, Stewart—the defending lawyer—is framed between them in the background).

2. Inherit the Wind. The “Scopes Monkey Trial”—in which a Tennessee teacher was tried for teaching evolution—gets first-class treatment in Stanley Kramer’s gripping adaptation of the stage play. Spencer Tracy and Fredric March are magnificent as fictionalized versions of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. But equally good is the behind-the-scenes look at the trial: the tribulations of family members, the media coverage, and the impact on the town itself.

Henry Fonda, in center, and the other 11.
3. 12 Angry Men. Well, it doesn't take place in a courtroom, but has any film done a better job of getting into the minds of the most important members of a trial? The ensemble cast is nearly flawless, but the film’s premise relies heavily on the dialogue, the believablity of the characters, and the direction. So cheers to screenwriter Reginald Rose and director Sidney Lumet! I chuckle when I read the frequent film critic's complaint that a director didn't “open up” an adaptation of a stage play. 12 Angry Men virtually takes place on one set, but it never fails to excite and entertain.

4. Witness for the Prosecution. For all its cleverness, the most entertaining aspect of Billy Wilder’s adaptation of the Agatha Christie play is its unexpected humor. Much of it is derived from the relationship between the cantankerous Sir Wilfrid (Charles Laughton) and his fastidious nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester). One of their best scenes contains no dialogue and takes places during the heat of the trial. Miss Plimsoll sits in the gallery and watches closely over Sir Wilfrid, looking for any signs of his failing health. Turning to face her, Sir Wilfrid smiles as he takes a sip of “lukewarm cocoa” from a thermos filled by Miss Plimsoll…only the devious barrister has swapped thermoses so that he’s actually drinking brandy.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
5. To Kill a Mockingbird. I know…this isn't a courtroom drama… but Tom Robinson’s case forms the centerpiece of the film and reveals much about Atticus Finch, his children, and the town where they live. Like many other fans of this film, my favorite scene is when Atticus leaves the courtroom to a standing ovation from the gallery. (Its ranking here is solely in the context of courtroom dramas.)

Honorable Mentions: Conduct Unbecoming, Adam’s Rib, Judgment at Nuremberg, Breaker Morante, The Caine Mutiny, Fury, and Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Review of "Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film"

With Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film, author Brian Hannan attempts the daunting task of selecting and justifying Alfred Hitchcock's greatest motion picture.The inherent challenges in this endeavor are obvious: Hitchcock made more than 50 films over six decades, to include many of American cinema's most acclaimed works. How can one anoint a single film above all the others? The second challenge is coming up with a standard definition of "greatest." Most influential? Most enduring? Most representative of his recurring themes?

Author Hannan tackles the first challenge by reducing the number of films in the running for the "greatest" title.  He explains his methodology:

"In arriving at a shortlist, I have had to be ruthless and so I have first of all removed from the equation the early silents because of their technical limitations and also the later films, from Marnie onwards because, although many of the films have fine moments and certain Hitchcock touches, they do not hang so well together. With some regret, I have also omitted the 1940s Hollywood films like Rebecca and Spellbound because of the influence of producer David Selznick on the finished article (it is his name above the title not Hitchcock’s) and also his British films of the 1930s because they lack the moral dimension that was a hallmark of his later films."

While I can't argue with Hannan's six remaining "finalists," his explanation contains some pot holes. Hitchcock's 1930s films are ripe with moral dilemmas: the hero's involvement in the murder of an innocent man in Secret Agent; the heroine shielding an accused murderer in Young and Innocent; and Hitchcock's own decision to explode the bomb in the bus in Sabotage. Likewise, it's hard to dismiss Hitch's 1940s filmography because of Selznick's involvement. Thematically and in terms of overall impact, any discussion of Hitchcock's greatest films must include Shadow of a Doubt and Notorious.

After narrowing the finalists, Hannan devotes a chapter each to: Strangers on a Train; Rear Window; North By NorthwestVertigo; Psycho; and The Birds. To his credit, the author avoids plot summary and focuses on providing an analysis of each film. There are some interesting insights (i.e., in Rear Window, "a full seventeen minutes, spread over several scenes, are silent apart from incidental music playing from different apartments"). However, there has been so much written and discussed about these films that it'd be hard to come up with anything new. 

Hannan waits until his three-page conclusion to state his case for which of the six finalists is Hitch's greatest film. Then, he dismisses Rear Window, Strangers on a Train, and North By Northwest in a single paragraph because "despite lingering undertones, they are not dark enough." When did "darkness" because a criterion for "greatness"? And how can Strangers on a Train not be considered "dark" when it features one of the most disturbing characters in the Hitchcock canon?

I won't reveal Hannan's pick for Hitchcock's greatest film, but admit that it intrigued me--I just wanted more in-depth justification for his selection. While scholars may scoff at the premise of Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film, I have no issue with it. I'm always game for a good discussion, even it requires a great deal of subjectivity--that's part of the fun of being a film buff. However, at a little over 50 pages, Darkness Visible: Hitchcock's Greatest Film kicks off the discussion, but cannot sustain it en route to a fully-supported conclusion.

The Cafe received a review copy of this e-book published by Endeavour Press.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Tribute to ABC's Chord-rippin', Hip-Shakin', Rock 'n' Roll Prime Time Variety Show

 
Groovy letters and an exclamation point!
While many American prime time variety shows occasionally catered to youths, Shindig! was perhaps the first one to focus solely on that audience. ABC introduced the series in September 1964 at the height of the British Invasion. Shindig! lasted less than two seasons, but its influence was both immediate (NBC launched a rival series, Hullabaloo, four months later) and long-lasting (its descendants include late-night variety shows The Midnight Special and In Concert).

Naturally, the roots of American rock 'n'roll variety shows can be traced to Dick Clark's long-running American Bandstand. In fact, a prime-time edition of Bandstand was broadcast briefly in 1957. However, Clark's series wasn't a traditional variety show with performances by multiple acts. Shindig! borrowed its format from variety series like The Ed Sullivan Show, which featured a host that introduced each act.

Host Jimmy O'Neill.
The host of Shindig! was Jimmy O'Neill, a Los Angeles disc jockey who died in January 2013. O'Neill and his then-wife, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, were instrumental to the show's success. (Trivia note: O'Neill was later married to Troy Donahue's sister from 1969-83.) However, the show's look and sound can be attributed to British producer Jack Good. After launching several rock'n'roll TV shows in Great Britain, Good traveled to the U.S. in 1962 to sell the pilot of what eventually became Shindig! 


Aretha Franklin on Shindig!
Largely due to Good's and O'Neill's industry connections, Shindig! featured many of the top artists of the era, to include: The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, James Brown, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Donovan, Little Richard, and Aretha Franklin. The first episode featured a star-studded line-up of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Everly Brothers, and The Byrds. The Who made their U.S. television debut on Shindig! and, yes, even The Beatles appeared--though their segment was shot in Great Britain. Amazingly, most of the performances were broadcast live (in contrast to Bandstand, where singers lip-synced their hits).

Shindig! regular Donna Loren.
Shindig! also boasted a house band called the Shin-diggers (later renamed the Shindogs), the Shindig Dancers, and semi-regulars Bobby Sherman, Donna Loren, and The Righteous Brothers.The dancers included Beach Party veterans Teri Garr and assistant choreographer Toni Basil (who later scored a monster hit with 1982's Mickey). A 1994 Entertainment Weekly article notes that Jack Good was concerned that American girls wouldn't identify with a bevy of beautiful dancers, so he had one wear fake braces and another horn-rimmed glasses.

Teen idol Bobby Sherman was
everywhere in the 1960s!
Despite it star power, Shindig! struggled to find an audience. Its format and time-schedule changes, dictated by ABC, didn't help. After debuting as a half-hour show, it was expanded to an hour, and then later reduced to half-hour shows that aired twice weekly. After producer Good left the show, ABC added older hosts (perhaps imitating the Beach Party films) like Boris Karloff and Hedy Lamarr.

The last episode of Shindig! was broadcast on January 8, 1966. In the early 1990s, Rhino Entertainment released a series of VHS tapes that featured selected musical numbers--but, sadly, not entire episodes. Surely, there's some entertainment company willing to pay proper homage to the groovliest rock'n'roll variety show of the 1960s!


This post is part of the Classic TV Variety Show Blogathon, hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to view a schedule of all the great posts in this blogathon.