Thursday, December 14, 2017

Playing The Pajama Game

John Raitt & Doris Day.
New superintendent Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) has his hands full at the Sleeptite pajama factory. The company's disgruntled employees want a 7½ cents raise and the company's stingy owner isn't about to give in. Sid's life becomes even more complicated when he meets Babe Williams (Doris Day), the head of the union's grievance committee.

Sparks fly between the two, even though Babe tries to feign a lack of interest in Sid (while the other female employees gush about him). However, it's not long before loves blossoms. But can a company executive and a labor leader find middle ground on the road to marital bliss?

This 1957 adaptation of the Tony Award-winning 1954 stage musical features some good songs, energetic dancing, and a rare opportunity to see famed Broadway choreographer Carol Haney in a featured role. However, it's also one of those movies where the parts never gel into a cohesive whole.

Part of the problem can be attributed to the producers' decision to trim a stage musical running over two hours to a 101-minute film. The result plays like a highlight reel with one musical number leading to another with little exposition. For example, Sid and Babe exchange a little dialogue, duet on some songs, and--presto!--they're in love. A little more story development would have done wonders.

Likewise, two of the film's most famous musical numbers--"Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway"--don't seem integrated into the plot. Its easier to justify the latter because at least it's a song about a nightclub where a scene takes place. But "Steam Heat" is presented as part of the entertainment at a union event that seems irrelevant to the rest of the movie.

Haney, in the middle, for "Steam Heat."
That's not to say that "Steam Heat" isn't a fabulous musical number, because it's a showstopper featuring the incredible choreography of Bob Fosse and Haney's precision dancing. Haney, like much of the cast, appeared in the original stage production. She first met Fosse when the two danced together in the 1953 film version of Kiss Me, Kate (click here to watch their brief, but impressive routine on YouTube). Although Carol Haney won a Tony Award for The Pajama Game, she preferred to work behind the scenes. She later received three Tony nominations as a choreographer. Her only other major film role was in Gene Kelly's Invitation to the Dance (1956).

The Pajama Game was also John Raitt's only significant film appearance. Though his strong baritone voice serves him well, his on-screen acting is wooden and he and Doris Day exhibit little chemistry. Still, he continued to have great success on the stage and as a recording artist. And, yes, he is the father of singer Bonnie Raitt.

Doris Day was cast in the lead to provide the film with some star power. At one time, Frank Sinatra was attached to play the male lead with Janis Paige reprising her performance as Babe from the Broadway show. When Sinatra dropped out, John Raitt got the part and the female lead shifted to Doris.

Carol Haney.
By the way, Carol Haney's understudy in the Broadway play was a young Shirley MacLaine. When Haney injured her ankle, MacLaine replaced her for several performances--and was subsequently signed to a movie contract. Still, I'm glad she wasn't in the film version. The Pajama Game may not be a great musical film, but it's an opportunity to see Ms. Haney dance and I quite enjoyed that.

Monday, December 11, 2017

George Gently: The Complete Collection

Searching for that perfect gift for the mystery fan in your family? Then look no farther than Acorn TV's boxed set of the superb British detective series George Gently. This show, which concluded earlier this year, consists of twenty-five 90-minute episodes that were broadcast over the last ten years. Yes, it's a stretch to write about it on a classic TV blog, but this is one series that will be a classic--plus its convincing 1960s setting will evoke plenty of nostalgia.

Martin Shaw as George Gently.
Martin Shaw stars as the title character, a veteran detective chief inspector for London's Metropolitan Police circa 1964. A highly-principled man, George Gently has been fighting corrupt senior colleagues--and his actions may have been responsible for his wife Isabella's recent death. When a snitch provides a lead to locating Bella's killer, George postpones his retirement to investigate a murder case in Northumberland.

He is paired with a young, ambitious detective sergeant named John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby). Bacchus knows the locale and its residents, but he's also a copper willing to bend the rules in the line of duty. Yet, Gently recognizes promise in Bacchus, which leads the senior detective to postpone his retirement, transfer to Northumberland, and nix Bacchus' planned reassignment to London. Gently informs his new partner in no uncertain terms at the end of the first episode: "I've told you, Sergeant Bacchus, I'm chopping you down. You're staying here. With me."

Lee Ingleby as John Bacchus.
It's the constantly-evolving relationship between Gently and Bacchus that elevates George Gently above dozens of other British crime shows. The duo ultimately become loyal to one another and form a sort of father-son relationship. But Bacchus struggles to live up to George's expectations, especially when the older detective serves as the younger one's moral compass. The relationship becomes even more complex when a female police constable, Rachel Coles (Lisa McGrillis), joins the team in season six. Her open admiration and deep respect for Gently immediately puts her at odds with Bacchus.

Lisa McGrillis as Rachel Coles.
Don't go thinking that George Gently is all character study, though. The mysteries are tightly constructed and often integrated into the 1960s backdrop. The Cold War, riots, a holiday camp, and the pop music scene provide the background for some of the best episodes. As the series progresses, it moves from 1964 through the rest of the decade, with the final two episodes taking place in 1970.

Author Alan Hunter introduced George Gently in his 1955 novel Gently Does It. He wrote a total of 46 George Gently mysteries with the last one being published in 1999. In the books, there is no John Bacchus, Gently is single, and he lives in Norfolk.

The boxed set of George Gently includes numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, and photos. The best bonus item is a booklet describing key historical events in Great Britain for the years covered by the series. The booklet also contains brief text interviews with Martin Shaw, Lee Ingleby, Lisa McGrillis, and producer Jake Lushington.

Key historical events in 1964--as described in the bonus booklet.

When asked to describe George Gently in one sentence, Lushington states: "I would say that it's a challenging and entertaining detective drama that gives you a realistic snapshot of the 1960s, rather than a rose-tinted memory." I would add that it's marvelously acted, especially by Martin Shaw, and is a worthy edition to any mystery lover's video collection.

Acorn TV provided a review copy of George Gently: The Complete Collection. It retails for $149.99, but you should be able to find it for much less, especially during the holiday season.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Irwin Allen's City Beneath the Sea

Stuart Whitman as Admiral Matthews.
Shortly before The Poseidon Adventure revived his big screen career, producer Irwin Allen made this 1971 made-for-TV film about an underwater city called Pacifica. Set in 2053, it opens with the U.S. President (Richard Basehart) ordering former admiral Michael Matthews (Stuart Whitman) back to the submerged city to oversee the transport of the nation's gold from Fort Knox to Pacifica. Matthews' return is met with open hostility. Everyone blames him for the death of his friend Bill Holmes, especially Bill's bitter widow Lia (Rosemary Forsyth).

Rosemary Forsyth as Lia.
There's little time to cope with such emotions, though, as Matthews learns about a "planetoid" that's heading directly for Pacifica. Unknown to Matthews, his brother Brett (Robert Wagner) has been plotting to steal the nation's gold bullion as well as its supply of H-128, a valuable, radioactive source of highly-efficient energy. Brett sees the impending planetoid disaster as a perfect opportunity to adjust and implement his scheme.

The Flying Sub from Voyage.
Intended as the pilot for a new TV series, City Beneath the Sea borrows liberally from other Irwin Allen projects. The aircraft that Whitman and Robert Colbert use in the opening scenes is the Flying Sub from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Much of the equipment was recycled from Voyage and Lost in Space. Star Colbert was a regular on Allen's Time Tunnel TV series, as was supporting actor Whit Bissell and "special guest star" James Darren. In addition in Basehart, look quickly and you'll spot Bob Dowdell, who played Lieutenant Commander Chip Morton on Voyage.

Robert Wagner as the bad brother.
I'm not sure if City Beneath the Sea could have sustained itself as a weekly series, but the telefilm moves crisply and features plenty of action. Though Star Trek veteran John Meredyth Lucas wrote the screenplay, there's not a lot of depth to the characters. The most promising is Aguila (Burr DeBenning), a scientist with both gills and lungs. DeBenning later appeared as an underwater-breathing man again--though this time a villain--in Man From Atlantis.

Four-time Oscar winner L.B. Abbott supervised the spotty special effects. His work was no doubt hampered by the modest budget, but still good enough to earn the film a theatrical release in Great Britain.

City Beneath the Sea was Irwin Allen's second attempt to launch a TV series about an underwater city. He made a ten-minute clip in 1967 starring Glenn Corbett, Francine York, Lloyd Bochner, and a young James Brolin as Wild Bill Tyler. You can watch it on YouTube.


Here's a clip from City Beneath the Sea. You can view it full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. You can also stream the entire movie at warnerarchive.com.



Sunday, December 3, 2017

Seven Obscure Movies That I Curiously Remember (Vol. 4)

1. The Sword and the Dragon (1956) - When I was a wee lad, I pestered my Dad until he took me to this movie because... well..it had a dragon in it. Alas, the dragon doesn't appear until the climax, so hopefully I didn't drive my family nuts. Many years later, I learned this was actually a Russian film called Ilya Muromets, which Roger Corman purchased and re-edited for U.S. release in 1960. Dell even published a comic book tie-in and I had a copy.

2. Eegah! (1962) - Probably the worst caveman movie ever made, Eegah! stars Richard Kiel (Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) as the title character. A young woman named Roxy discovers him in a California desert and the caveman falls in love (sort of). Arch Hall, Sr. produced, directed, and acted in it. His son Arch Hall, Jr. portrays Roxy's boyfriend. The Halls made several bad flicks in the 1960s, but you gotta love their colorful titles such as Wild Guitar, The Nasty Rabbit, The Corpse Grinders, and, of course, Eegah!

Sean Flynn on the set.
3. Son of Captain Blood (1962) - Sean Flynn, Errol's only son, made a handful of European movies in the 1960s before deciding that acting wasn't for him. The handsome, younger Flynn's best-known film is this sequel to his father's Captain Blood (1935)A Spanish-Italian co-production, The Son of Captain Blood also starred Ann Todd in the Olivia de Havilland role. Sean Flynn later became a photo journalist who is believed to have been killed in Cambodia in 1970. My father was a huge Errol Flynn fan, so my family saw this one when it played (appropriately enough) at the Robin Hood Drive-in in Winston-Salem, NC.

4. Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970) - A young man (Gene Wilder) makes a living in Dublin by scooping up horse dung and selling it as garden fertilizer. He becomes smitten with an American student played by Margot Kidder. This offbeat Irish comedy was made before Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein made Wilder a star. I rather enjoyed Quackser Fortune when I saw it on The CBS Late Movie--back when you never knew what might pop up on that venue.

McCallum as Sol Madrid.
5. Sol Madrid (1968) - At the height of their Man From U.N.C.L.E. fame, both David McCallum and Robert Vaughn tried to establish themselves as big screen leading men. In Sol Madrid, McCallum played an undercover narcotics agents in Mexico mixed up with organized crime and heroin. At least, it featured a pretty good cast with Stella Stevens, Telly Savalas, Ricardo Montalban, and Rip Torn.

6. The Venetian Affair (1967) - This was Robert Vaughn's post-U.N.C.L.E. effort. Unlike McCallum, Vaughn had flirted with stardom in earlier supporting roles like The Young Philadelphians (1959) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). Of course, that didn't make The Venetian Affair--his attempt at a serious spy film--any better. I saw this one at a theater with my parents when I was 11. I didn't understand it. I'm not sure I would now, though I have become an Elke Sommer fan over the years.

7. The Maze (1953) - A man (Richard Carlson) suddenly breaks off his engagement and moves into his uncle's creepy castle in the Scottish Highlands. A huge maze and a big frog (well, maybe frog-like creature is a more accurate description) are featured in this 3D cult pic directed by famed set designer William Cameron Menzies. When my wife and I ran a nonprofit film society in the 1980s, we showed The Maze in 3D. We had to turn the 3D glasses upside-down to see the three-dimensional effect. Go figure!