Monday, May 29, 2023

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Private Eye Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a private eye film and ask you to name it. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. Homicide, My Lollipop.  (An easy one to start!)

2. Don't Pick Iron Outta My Liver.

3. The Keyhole Camera.

4. The Water Wars.

5. Winslow Wong Gets His Kicks.

6. A Boat Going in Circles.

7. Margo and Ira.

8. The Light from the Box.

9. Bree.

10. The Roman P.I.  (Not one of my best!)

11. General Sternwood's Daughter.

12. A Man Called Peckinpaugh.

13. The Cat That Won't Cop Out.

14. It's Not Archer.  (This one may be difficult!)

15. A Lengthy Farewell.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Seven Things to Know About "The Jimmy Stewart Show"

In support of National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we are participating in the Classic Movie Blog Association's Big Stars on the Small Screen blogathon. This blogathon focuses on classic film stars who appeared in TV series, miniseries, variety shows, made-for-TV movies, and even commercials. Check out all the blogathon entries! Our post takes a look at the short-lived 1971-72 TV series The Jimmy Stewart Show.

 James Stewart in Fools' Parade.
1. The year 1971 was a pivotal one in the career of James Stewart. He appeared in Fools' Parade, the last theatrical film in which he'd be the principal star and made his debut in his own weekly TV series. The Jimmy Stewart Show premiered on NBC on September 9, 1971 while Fool's Parade was released the following month. The film received mixed reviews (I'm a my review here), but was a box office disappointment. I suspect the 63-year-old Stewart knew that he was at a career crossroad and when Warner Bros. offered to make him one of TV's highest paid stars, he seized the opportunity.

2. Film director and writer Hal Kanter created The Jimmy Stewart Show. Kanter must have seemed like the perfect choice, having received acclaim for his popular Emmy-nominated TV series Julia (1968-71). Plus, Kanter worked with James Stewart on the theatrical film Dear Brigitte (1963). Indeed, Kanter had tried to lure Stewart to TV in the mid-1960s. The goal was to develop a half-hour family comedy with Stewart playing an anthropology professor who taught at Josiah Kessel College in the quaint California town of Easy Valley. 

3. The original intent was that James Stewart's wife, Gloria, would play his TV spouse. However, according to Marc Eliot in his 2007 book Jimmy Stewart: A Biography, NBC "decided she wasn't good enough an actress to pull it off." After an extensive search, Julie Adams, who co-starred with James Stewart in the 1952 Western classic Bend of the River, was cast as the professor's wife. She was 18 years younger than Stewart.

4. When I interviewed Julie Adams in 2013, she told me: "As I recall, a lot of women read for the role of Martha Howard, the wife of Professor James K. Howard (Stewart). The day I tested for the part with Jimmy, I brought into play my genuine friendship and admiration I had for him as a person. I think that came through on the screen; we had nice chemistry together. After the screen test, he gave me a little nod and as I walked back to my dressing room I thought: "I think I have this part!" I was so thrilled. The show was not a success, and only lasted 24 episodes. But, as I've often said: My idea of heaven was going to work with Jimmy Stewart every day for six months." 

5. Each episode opened and ended with James Stewart speaking directly to viewers. Here's an example: "This week, we have that distinguished actor, Vincent Price, with us. So we called this episode Price Is Right. You know, fair is fair." Each episode ended with Jimmy telling the television audience: “My family and I wish you peace, and love, and laughter.”

Veteran actor John McGiver.
6. In addition to Julie Adams, the other notable cast members were John McGiver, who played Jim Howard's faculty colleague Dr. Luther Quince, and Mary Wickes (who appeared in four episodes). The guest stars included a nice mix of veteran actors and up-and-coming talent: Vincent Price, Cesar Romero, Jack Soo, Kate Jackson, Will Geer, Gloria DeHaven, William Windom, Jackie Coogan, Beulah Bondi, Regis Philbin, M. Emmet Walsh, Nita Talbot, and Pat Buttram. Gloria Stewart may not have gotten to play her husband's wife, but she did appear in the show's first episode "By Way of Introduction."

James Stewart in Hawkins.
7. Despite being sandwiched between Top 20 shows The Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza on Sunday night, The Jimmy Stewart Show was a ratings disappointment. Its cancellation after a single season was not a surprise. Allegedly, James Stewart was relieved as the film schedule was more work than he anticipated. The famed actor wasn't done with television, though. In 1972, he reprised his performance as Elwood P. Dowd in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Harvey. Its cast featured Helen Hayes and his Jimmy Stewart Show co-star John McGiver. The following year, Stewart starred as as homespun lawyer Billy Jim Hawkins, who took on headline-making cases in the 90-minure drama Hawkins. The episodes were rotated with the Shaft TV series and CBS made-for-TV movies so that only eight episodes of Hawkins were aired. You can read our review of Hawkins here.

Monday, May 1, 2023

John Wayne in 3D in Hondo!

John Wayne as Hondo.
With John Wayne's 1953 3D Western Hondo, you actually get two movies in one. The first is an interesting love story between an tough dispatch rider for the U.S. Cavalry and a lonely woman--with a worthless husband--who operates a ranch deep in Apache territory. The second "movie" is a more conventional tale about the Cavalry taking on the Apaches, who have rebelled against their poor treatment at the hands of "white men."

It's the first plot that elevates Hondo from dozens of other Western pictures. James Edward Grant's screenplay, based on a Louis L'Amour story, provides exceptional depth in regard to the two lead characters. Hondo Lane (John Wayne) spent five years with the Apaches and married one of them. He is sympathetic to their plight, but his loyalty still lies with the Cavalry. His only companion is a dog named Sam, whom Hondo expects to be self-proficient. Hondo is content to let people make their own decisions and live with the outcomes.

Geraldine Page as Angie.
That changes, though, when he meets Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page) and her six-year-old son Johnny. Angie is self-proficient, too, although she has fallen behind in running the ranch. She claims that her husband is rounding up some lost calves, but his continued absence make Hondo (and the viewer) wonder if Angie is a widow. It's no surprise that these two hardworking, independent people should become attracted to one another.

Katharine Hepburn was originally slated to portray Angie, but she dropped out as the role grew smaller during script revisions. That opened the door for Geraldine Page, a then-promising stage actress. Page is perfect for the part, displaying Angie's grit but without the hard edge that Hepburn sometimes brought to her characters. Page earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Hondo. As for the teaming of Wayne and Hepburn, that would happen 22 years later with Rooster Cogburn.

Michael Pate as Vittorio.
Hondo also earned Louis L'Amour a nomination for Best Original Story. However, the nomination was withdrawn when L'Amour pointed out his story "The Gift of Cochise" was published a year before Hondo was released. Screenwriter James Edward Grant, who often worked with Wayne, expands the plot effectively. In one of his best scenes, the Apache chief Vittorio (Michael Pate) informs Angie that she must marry so that Johnny will have a worthy father. He then has selected braves "audition" to be her husband by showing off their riding and athletic skills as he provides background information (e.g., number of horses they own, current number of squaws). It's a sincere scene, not a silly one, but it's nonetheless unexpected in a Western of the 1950s.

Although Hondo was filmed was in 3D, it was also released in a "normal" print since the 3D novelty was fading by the time the movie was released. There are a handful of shots of characters throwing or jutting objects at the camera, but it's not Bwana Devil. It's also interesting that Hondo is less than 90 minutes long, but has an intermission at the mid-point (hey, more concession sales!).

Ralph Taeger as TV's Hondo.
John Wayne co-produced Hondo through his company Batjac. In 1967, Batjac developed a Hondo TV series starring Ralph Taeger as the title character. It only lasted 17 episodes, but became a cult show when it started appearing on TNT in the early 1990s. My blogging friend, Hal Horn, is a Hondo authority and has written extensively about the series. Check here to read his fascinating history of the show.

Sam was played by a Lassie relative.
Spoiler Alert. I do have two problems with Hondo and they involve the dog Sam. The first time I saw the scene-stealing rascal, I thought: Please, let's not kill Sam in this movie. When he narrowly escapes during an Apache attack, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then, a few minutes later, there's poor Sam laying dead on the doorstep with a spear sticking out. There was no reason to kill him! It's added nothing to the plot. Aargh! I've seen this happen in too many movies! (Fortunately, Sam was a regular later in the TV series.)

My second problem with Hondo and Sam may be unique to my family. When Angie fixes a nice plate of eggs and bacon for Sam, Hondo won't let her give them to his canine companion. It'll make him soft, he says! I'm glad my dogs can't talk, because they would have been screaming at the TV screen. In our pack, that's just not how we roll--it's tasty treats for all!

Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Burt Lancaster Edition)

 Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a film that starred Burt Lancaster and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!


2. Precipitation.

3. The Bluegrass Man.

4. Flight from Behind Steel Bars. 

5. King of the Press.

6. Red Striped Pants. 

7. The Hotel Beauregard.

8. As the Waves Wash Over.

9. Reflections in the Pools.

10. Kitty and the Swede.

11. Boot Hill...So Cold, So Still.

12. When Lou Met Sally.

13. Get Patroni!

14. Painted Cargo.

15. The Legend of Dardo.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Seven Classic Made-for-TV Movies...that you can watch for free!

In an interview in its February 2023 newsletter CMBA Today, the Classic Movie Blog Association asked me an intriguing question: "If you could program a perfect day of classic movies for TCM, what would be the seven films on your schedule?"

I tried to think of seven movies I'd like to see again as well as share with others. Assuming TCM could get the broadcast rights to these films, I’d opt for a day of classic made-for-TV movies. The 1960s and the 1970s were a “Golden era” for television films and featured stellar writers (e.g., Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Gene Roddenberry) and good actors (e.g., Angie Dickinson, Suzanne Pleshette, Ray Milland, Myrna Loy). I’d limit my seven picks to lesser-known films that appeared on the wonderful ABC Movie of the Week (1969-75).

I've previously reviewed all but one of my movie selections on this blog. Click on a film's title to read the review. One of my Twitter friends, @CED_LD_Guy, uploaded all seven picks to his Rumble channel. Rumble is a free platform, like YouTube, that allows you to view media content online or on your TV by adding the Rumble channel to your streaming device. Click on the "watch" links below to enjoy these fascinating made-for-TV movies. Remember, these are rare films, so the video quality will vary from excellent (The Birdmen) to fair (Dr. Cook's Garden).

Milton Berle and Sean Garrison.
Seven in Darkness
(1969) watch – A plane crashes in the wilderness and only its blind passengers survive. This was the first ABC Movie of the Week and stars Barry Nelson, Dina Merrill, Lesley Ann Warren, Season Garrison, and Milton Berle (in a dramatic role).

Daughter of the Mind (1969) watch – A psychic researcher (Don Murray) investigates when a famous scientist (Ray Milland) claims his dead daughter has been appearing to him. Gene Tierney and Ed Asner co-star.

Suzanne Pleshette.
Along Came a Spider
(1970) watch  – Suzanne Pleshette headlines this twisty thriller about a widow who goes undercover to discover her husband's murderer(s).

How Awful About Allan (1970) watch – A man (Anthony Perkins) suffering from psychosomatic blindness returns home to live with his sister (Julie Harris), but thinks someone is trying to kill him.

Dr. Cook’s Garden (1971) watch – Is there a pattern to the deaths in a small rural town where a kindly physician (Bing Crosby) practices? Frank Converse and Blythe Danner co-star. Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives) and Art Wallace based their screenplay on Levin's short-lived stage play starring Burl Ives.

Richard Basehart as a German officer.
The Birdmen
(1971) watch – During World War II, POW prisoners try to fly to freedom by building a glider. Incredibly, part of the film really happened! The unusual cast features Richard Basehart, Chuck Connors, Doug McClure, Tom Skerritt, and Max Baer, Jr. There's about eight minutes of stock footage at the beginning--but stick with it and you'll be rewarded with a very entertaining adventure.

Assault on the Wayne (1971) watch – Enemy agents plot sabotage aboard a nuclear submarine in this Cold War thriller. The cast features Leonard Nimoy, William Windom, Lloyd Haynes, and Sam Elliott.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Goodnight, My Love: A Made-for-TV Film Noir

The ABC Movie of the Week was unique among made-for-TV movie franchises in that its films spanned a wide variety of genres. It presented family dramas, thrillers, comedies, horror pictures, and even a kung fu movie. One of its most unusual efforts was Peter Hyams' homage to film noirs: Goodnight, My Love. Made in 1972, it's set in post-World War II Los Angeles and stars Richard Boone and Michael Dunn as a pair of gumshoes whose primary concern is the source of their next meal.Embed from Getty Images Richard Boone, Michael Dunn, and Barbara Bain.

Business starts looking up for Francis Hogan (Boone) and Arthur Boyle (Dunn) when the slinky Susan Lakely (Barbara Bain) saunters into their low-rent office. She wants the two private eyes to find her boyfriend, whom she claims has been missing for several days. Hogan is unenthusiastic about the case, but Boyle is hungry so they take the job.

Somehow, the boyfriend's disappearance is linked to a missing briefcase and a shady nightclub owner named Julius Limeway (Victor Buono). Limeway's henchman, Lakely's lies, and a couple of corpses muddle the clues as Hogan and Doyle try to uncover the truth--and get a decent dinner.

Richard Boone, who flashed plenty of charisma as Paladin in Have Gun--Will Travel, is surprisingly low-key as possibly the grumpiest detective in the history of cinema. It works, though, thanks to his castmates who elevate their game. Michael Dunn shines as Boone's witty sidekick, delivering his quips with style--even when he's not on camera. In one scene, when Susan expresses concern about Hogan's safety, the detective reassures her: "I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself." Offscreen, Dunn's sidekick adds: "I'm not so big."

Barbara Bain, who looks fabulous in the 1940s fashions, plays her femme fatale with a knowing wink, but never crosses the line into parody. The same applies to Victor Buono, who is ideally cast as the white suit-wearing villain who would have been played by Sidney Greenstreet once upon a time. Embed from Getty Images

I had the opportunity to interview Barbara Bain in 2019. When I asked her about Goodnight, My Love, she told me:

"I just loved doing that movie with Richard Boone and Michael Dunn. It was interesting to play this woman about whom we find out all kinds of things by the end. She's all 'poor me' in the beginning and not so 'poor me' by the end of it. I received extraordinary compliments about my performance. I spent some time with (director) Peter Hyams in the last year or two and we recalled making the film. Lee Strasberg (the famous acting teacher) said I was just wonderful. I can't even say it. I can't quote somebody else talking about me without being a little embarrassed. But after all these years, it was very nice to hear that from one's master teacher." Embed from Getty Images

For many years, it was hard to find a quality print of Goodnight, My Love. Fortunately, one of my Twitter friends (@CED_LD_Guy) has made it available on Rumble (a free streaming platform like YouTube). Click here to watch it.

Goodnight, My Love may not rank with the best of film noir, but it's an entertaining, well-made homage. It's also a great example of the kind of creative filmmaking that made the ABC Movie of the Week appointment television for those of us who grew it up in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Monday, March 13, 2023

'80s Flashback: Trouble in Little China and Vampires in Santa Carla

Kurt Russell as Jack Burton.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986). This fourth collaboration between Kurt Russell and director John Carpenter is a mildly diverting martial arts fantasy--which has nevertheless attracted a strong cult following. 

Russell stars as Jack Burton, a tough-talking truck driver trying to collect a gambling debt from pal Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). When Wang's fiancée Miao Yin is kidnapped soon after arriving in San Francisco, Jack agrees to help Wang rescue her. It turns out that the green-eyed Miao Yin has been abducted by Lo Pan, a powerful ancient sorcerer. He wants to "marry" the girl so he can regain earthy form and rule the world.

Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law.
Big Trouble in Little China consists mostly of colorful fight scenes and chases as Russell quips one-liners and banters playfully with Kim Cantrell, who plays a crusading lawyer. It's all very tongue-in-cheek and boasts an amusing conceit: Wang is the real hero and Jack is the sidekick.

And yet, despite its good intentions, the film comes across as "B" movie fodder, especially compared to Russell and Carpenter's previous pairings Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982). Perhaps, part of the problem is that Carpenter was the driving force behind those films whereas Big Trouble in Little China was a big studio film already in development before Carpenter came aboard.

There are worse ways to spend 99 minutes. However, if you want to see a Kurt Russell-John Carpenter movie, you're better off watching Escape from New York, The Thing--or even Elvis.

The Lost Boys (1987). As the Emerson family drives past the "Welcome to Santa Carla" sign, a spray-painted message on the backside adds: "Murder capital of the world." An ominous greeting for new residents, no doubt!

Corey Haims and Jason Patric.
Recently divorced, Lucy Emerson has relocated to the coastal community to move in with her elderly father. It will be a new start for Lucy and her teenage sons: the introspective Michael (Jason Patric) and his younger outgoing brother Sam (Corey Haim). 

During a nighttime concert on the crowded, neon-lit boardwalk, Michael makes a connection with an attractive teenage girl named Star (Jami Gertz). She is somehow affiliated with a gang of delinquents led by the charismatic David (Keifer Sutherland). What Michael doesn't know--but soon finds out--is that David and his cronies are vampires!

The Lost Boys is one of the best teen horror films of the 1980s, a smartly-written drama with several strong performances, stylish cinematography, and a sly sense of humor. The film's title is a tip-off that it's a play on James M. Barrie's Peter Pan--only these Lost Boys have to drink the blood of the living to avoid growing up. Like Peter Pan's "gang," these youths need a mother and it turns out that their target is Lucy Emerson (a delightful Dianne Wiest).

A softly menacing Sutherland.
The weak link in the cast is Corey Haim. Certainly, Haim got a lot of mileage out of his likably goofy on-screen persona. It works well enough in The Lost Boys, but it still feels like Haim is trying to too hard. There's a "look at me" quality to his acting that conflicts with the polished performances of his co-stars. Jason Patric commands attention with his brooding attitude while Sutherland can generate chills simply by uttering: "Michael."

The Lost Boys clicked with audiences in 1987, earning almost as much as bigger productions such as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Studio heads flirted with a sequel to be called The Lost Girls. In the end, two low-budget belated sequels--Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008) and Lost Boys: The Thirst (2010)--were released straight to video. Corey Feldman (not Haim) revived his role as a vampire hunter from the original.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Movie Quote Game (Film Noir Edition)

This month, we're focusing on quotes from film noir. We will list a quote from a famous film noir and ask you to name it. Try to answer these questions on your own without resorting to Google searches. As always, please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play.  If you have a response other than the intended one, just be able to defend it.

1. "I get the general idea. She was a tramp from a long line of tramps."

2. "We go together, Annie. I don't know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together."

3. "See how easy it is to hook them? Stock reading. Fits anybody. Never misses. What's youth? Happy one minute, hungry and heart broken the next. Every boy has a dog. Every boy has a beautiful old gray haired mother. Everybody, except maybe me."

4. "An old lady on Main Street last night picked up a shoe. The shoe had a foot in it. We're gonna make you pay for that mess."

5. "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic."

6. "Well, build my gallows high, baby."

7. "Keep on riding me and they're gonna be picking iron out of your liver."

8. "The poor dope. He always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool."

9. "I have to go on making a living so I can die. But even a fancy funeral ain't worth waiting for if I've gotta do business with crumbs like you."

10. "If he were mean or vicious or if he'd bawl me out or something, I'd like him better."

11. "What's the matter? You look like you've been on a hayride with Dracula."

12. "That's life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you."

13. "Oh, well, you're about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs."

14. "I've done a lot of lying in my time. I've lied to men who wear belts. I've lied to men who wear suspenders. But I'd never be so stupid as to lie to a man who wears both belt and suspenders."

15. "Kiss me, Mike. I want you to kiss me. Kiss me. The liar's kiss that says I love you, and means something else."

Monday, February 13, 2023

Life of a Downhill Racer

Redford as David Chappellet.
My favorite sport in the Winter Olympics has been downhill racing ever since I saw Downhill Racer (1969) on network television as a teenager. The high speeds, the sound of the skis whooshing across the snow, and the images of skiers sailing over bumps in the course...what's not to like?

I recently watched Downhill Racer for the first time in several decades and, while its impact has diminished, it still held my interest and the skiing chases (of which they're not enough) were as enthralling as ever.

Hackman as the coach.
Robert Redford plays David Chappellet, an alternate on the U.S. national men's skiing team, who joins the squad when one of its members is injured. Chappellet lacks international experience, but overflows with arrogance and confidence, a combination that creates an immediate rift with his teammates and coach (Gene Hackman). The catch, though, is that Chappellet is a sensational downhill skier and he rises quickly through the ranks to become the U.S. team's best hope for a Winter Olympics gold medal.

The theme here is a universal one: You don't have to be a nice person to become great at something. Indeed, Chappellet isn't an ugly individual and the screenplay tries to justify some of his behavior by showing his awkward relationship with his father. In one scene, his father asks why Chappellet is skiing and his son replies that he wants to be a champion. His father's response: The world is full of champions.

By the same token, Chappellet has little interest in anyone but himself. On a trip home, he has sex with an old girlfriend, but ignores her when she begins talking about her future. Later, he slams on a car's horn when his Swedish girlfriend tells him about Christmas with her family. He is peeved because she didn't spend the holidays with him. He could care less about her family. In the end, the only person that has a true connection with Chappellet is his rival on the U.S. skiing team. They share a passion for downhill racing and the risk-taking that's an integral part of it. They may never be friends, but it's as close as Chappellet may ever get.

Redford sheds his good-guy image to paint a nuanced portrait of his aloof, self-centered protagonist. Gene Hackman is equally good as the team's coach, who has to balance his time between fund-raising, coordinating travel, and keeping the team together.

While director Michael Ritchie could have tightened the story considerably, he excels in other areas. The skiing sequences, which sometimes incorporate a first-person perspective, draw the viewer into the thrills of downhill racing. Ritchie balances those exciting scenes with the bland life that surrounds the races. The hotels all look the same. The team passes time by playing table tennis and giving interviews to people that know little about the sport. The coach gives speeches to raise money and dines with sponsors to get free equipment. It's a seemingly dull existence--except for when the skiers are on the slopes.

Ritchie went on to make two other films that also pulled back the curtain to reveal the inner workings of a political race (The Candidate, again with Redford) and a beauty pageant (Smile). Neither of those movies are as compelling as Downhill Racer, which overcomes its shortcomings to function effectively as a character study and an above-average sports film.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Drama Among the Country Club Set in "Banning"

Wagner as Mike Banning.
Banning (1967) often gets categorized as a golf movie--heck, it was even shown on the Golf Channel at one time. It does involve golfing, particularly during the climax, but the reality is that Banning is the equivalent of a big screen soap opera--and I mean that as a compliment. It's set at a posh Arizona country club whose members include a wily old millionaire, his lonely daughter and conniving son-in-law, a washed-up golf pro, a sultry hussy, and an attractive secretary. These people have settled into their roles at El Presidente until their lives are disrupted by the arrival of Mike Banning (Robert Wagner).

A former professional golfer with a shady past, Banning blackmails club member Jonathan Linus (Guy Stockwell) into hiring him as an assistant golf pro. The good-looking Banning attracts the attentions of Jonathan's ignored wife (Susan Clark) and a wealthy socialite (Jill St. John). However, he has set his sights on Carol Lindquist (Anjanette Comer), the club's secretary who harbors a few secrets of her own. His romantic pursuit of Carol is stifled by the arrival of a mob debt collector. It turns out that Banning owes $20,000 to an old pal whose gambling losses need to paid up or else!

Jill St. John.
If you temper your expectations, Banning is an entertaining lightweight drama that relies heavily on its cast. It's not that it's a particularly well-acted film, but rather its makers chose the right actors for each role. Robert Wagner made a career out of playing the handsome, likable guy with a bit of an edge. Jill St. John always fared best when playing exaggerated characters like Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever. And Susan Clark seemed to specialize in playing strong, intelligent women who were not to be underestimated. Add in a mix of seasoned pros (e.g., Gene Hackman, Howard St. John) and promising young actors (James Farentino) and you've got 102 minutes of fun.

Susan Clark.
Banning was made in the late 1960s when Universal Studios was producing modestly-budgeted films with an eye toward television profits. Many of these pictures were headlined by TV veterans, such as Jack Lord (The Ride to Hangman's Tree), Don Knotts (The Reluctant Astronaut), and Doug McClure (The King's Pirate, a remake of Against All Flags). The studio even made a theatrical film based on its TV sitcom The Munsters (1966's Munster, Go Home!). Thus, it's not surprising that Banning is sometimes misidentified as a made-for-TV movie. (Hey, future spouses Robert Wagner and Jill St. John did star together in a made-for-TV movie that same year: the quirky How I Spent My Summer Vacation).

Make no mistake, though, that Banning was released to theaters--and it's got an Oscar nomination to show for it! Yes, the lovely Quincy Jones-Bob Russell composition "The Eyes of Love" was nominated for Best Original Song (losing to the inferior "Talk to the Animals" from Doctor Doolittle). It's apparent that Banning director Ron Winston knew he had a good song because "The Eyes of Love" is played throughout the movie. Jack Jones and Trini Lopez recorded cover versions of it and Quincy included it on his album You've Got It Bad Girl. However, here's the original version sung by Gil Bernard.

Of course, you could just watch Banning. It was a hard-to-see movie for many years, but fortunately my Twitter pal @CED_LD_Guy has uploaded Banning to his "Your Favorite Movies By Request" Rumble Channel. Rumble is similar to YouTube. To watch the movie, just sign up for a free account, log in, and click on this link.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Futureworld: When Sequels Are Unnecessary

At the end of Michael Crichton's Westworld (1973), the androids at Delos, a high-tech amusement park, went amok and killed dozens of guests. Futureword (1976) picks up two years later. One would have thought that the deaths and injuries to almost 150 customers and staff would have bankrupted the company. But instead, it plans to re-open and convince the public that--after $1.5 billion in safety improvements--Delos is "fail-safe."

Peter Fonda as Chuck.
As part of its public relations strategy, the company has invited influential world leaders and news journalists to experience the new amusement park and participate in behind-the-scenes tours. The guest list includes newspaper reporter Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and TV host Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner). Browning suspects that something is amiss at Delos--especially after a former employee tried to contact him and was subsequently murdered. But what could Delos be hiding?

Given the boxoffice success of the modestly-budgeted Westworld, it was not surprising that a sequel was made. However, by 1975, Michael Crichton and MGM, the original studio, had moved on to other projects and were uninterested in revisiting Delos. Producer Paul Lazaurus III eventually secured financing and a distribution deal through American International Pictures (AIP). Known as a "B" movie studio, AIP wanted to move into the "mainstream" with bigger-budgeted movies and Futureworld fit that profile.

Blythe Danner as "Socks."
Unfortunately, Futureworld lacks the creativity and energy that made Westworld a hit with critics and moviegoers. As the intrepid reporters, Fonda seems to be going through the motions with Danner overcompen-sating by playing her character too broadly. Neither one is remotely convincing.  Also, while it's the script's fault, I grew quickly tired of Fonda calling Danner by the "cute" nickname Socks. As a blue collar Delos technician, Stuart Margolin provides some much needed personality. However, he doesn't appear until an hour into the film's running time and Futureworld has already grown tedious by then.

Perhaps, Futureworld could have been saved with a clever story. I won't provide any plot spoilers here, but will state that it recycles a creaky, overly familiar science fiction premise. By the time the credits roll, you'll likely be thinking: Is that all there is to it? And don't expect a big scene from Yul Brynner, who reprises his Westworld role as The Gunslinger. He appears only in a silly dream fantasy.

Futureworld did turn a small profit, but not enough to warrant additional sequels. However, in 1980, a TV series called Beyond Westworld debuted on CBS. Only three of its five episodes were aired before it was cancelled. The original concept was revived quite successfully, though, when HBO launched its Westworld TV series in 2016.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The Brass Bottle: A Comfort Comedy with a Genie and a Future Jeannie

Burl Ives as a genie in The Brass Bottle.
The 1960s may have been the last decade where the "comfort comedy" reigned supreme at the box office. That may have to do, in large part, with the number of comedic actors working at the time. Veteran stars like Doris Day, Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Bob Hope were still producing family-friendly comedies. There were also younger stars like Jerry Lewis, Dean Jones, and Frankie & Annette. 

Another member of the latter group was Tony Randall, who graduated from supporting player in the Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies to headline his own modest funny films. One of his better efforts was The Brass Bottle (1964), an amusing precursor to television's more successful series I Dream of Jeannie.

Randall plays struggling architect Harold Ventimore, who purchases a large antique brass bottle as a gift for his future father-in-law (Edward Andrews). When he discovers his in-laws have a similar-looking lamp already, Harold keeps the brass bottle for himself. That turns out to be fortuitous (sort of) when a genie named Fakrash (Burl Ives) emerges from the artifact.

Tony Randall as Harold.
Finally released after several thousand years of imprisonment, Fakrash is eager to please his new "master." Things go well initially, especially when the genie intervenes so Harold is awarded a huge contract to design a housing development. However, Fakrash's other efforts aren't as successful: Harold's fiancée (Barbara Eden) and her family walk out of a dinner where Harold's "slaves" serve eye of lamb; Fakrash's stock market  profits attract the attention of the federal government; and a beautiful, scantily-dressed princess arrives in Harold's house just as his fiancée drops by. 

At this point in his career, Tony Randall had mastered the perpetually distressed persona that would make him a TV star as Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. It works well in The Brass Bottle--it's just a shame that the script doesn't take greater advantage of Randall's comedic skills. He essentially plays the straight man to Burl Ives' charming, mischievous genie. On the other hand, Ives has a grand time as Fakrash and is the principal reason to see The Brass Bottle. At times, one wonders if the genie really has Harold's best interests at heart or rather Fakrash is just having fun. When he goes to calm down Harold's agitated father-in-law, Fakrash ends up transforming the man into an ass.

Barbara Eden as Jeannie & in The Brass Bottle.
Barbara Eden has little to do as Harold's fiancée, but her presence in The Brass Bottle led to her most famous role. In her autobiography, Jeannie Out of the Bottle: A Memoir, Barbara Eden wrote: "The movie would prove to be a good-luck charm for me: Sidney Sheldon saw it, it sparked the germ of I Dream of Jeanne, and he remembered my performance in it." The first episode of I Dream of Jeannie debuted on NBC the year following the release of The Brass Bottle.

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Westerns Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a Western film and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. Looking for Debbie.

2. The Amazing Septet.

3. 12 p.m.

4. The Rowdy Gang.

5. Meet Jack Wilson.

6. The Rifle, The Pony, and The Cowboy.

7. Blondie and Tuco.

8. The Ringo Kid.

9. The Big Raft.

10. The Legend of Graham Dorsey.

11. A Man Named Hatton.

12. Waiting for the Train,

13. The Mysterious Doc Frail.

14. The Mobile Iron-Covered Armory Used for Transporting Gold.

15. Bell on My Saddle.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Revisiting John Ford's The Searchers

John Wayne as Ethan.
A few months ago, I hosted a Classic Western Films Tournament on Twitter, in which The Searchers (in a series of close contests) was crowned champion. The outpouring of passionate support for John Ford's 1956 classic inspired me to revisit a movie I hadn't seen in several decades. Not surprisingly, my overall assessment of The Searchers hasn't changed, but I have gained a greater appreciation for a Western that--for me--works better in parts than as a whole.

John Wayne stars as Ethan Edwards, a former Confederate soldier who has returned to his brother Aaron's Texas home three years after the end of the American Civil War. Ethan is vague about a lot of things, especially the newly minted dollars that he gives his brother for room and board. He is also racist toward Indians, as indicated by his wary attitude toward Martin, Aaron's adopted son, who is 1/8 Cherokee.

When a neighbor's bull is killed by a band of Comanches, Ethan and Martin (Jeffrey Hunter) join a Texas Ranger-led party to pursue the Indians. However, the killing of the bull turns out to be a ruse to lure most of the men away from Aaron's ranch. By the time Ethan and Martin return home, the Comanches have killed Aaron and his wife Martha and burned the ranch. Ethan's nieces, teenage Lucy and eight-year-old Debbie, are missing and assumed to have been taken by the Comanches.

Jeffrey Hunter as Martin.
After the funerals, Ethan and Martin join a posse organized to search for Lucy and Debbie. They find the Comanches' camp, but a poorly-planned attack results in the posse being ambushed. Although it fends off the attack, one of the men dies and most of the others return to their homes. However, Ethan, Martin, and Lucy's fiancé Brad press on with their search. Tragedy strikes again when Ethan discovers Lucy's corpse and a grief-stricken Brad rides into a Comanche camp, essentially committing suicide. Yet, even that cannot dissuade Ethan and Martin from their single-minded mission to find Debbie.

The Searchers is many things, but it works best as a character study of Ethan. At the start of the film, he is a man without purpose who has ignored his only family. Since the end of the Civil War, he has apparently wondered aimlessly, fighting in the Franco-Mexican War and perhaps even turning to robbery. He clearly harbors secret feelings for Martha, his brother's wife, stealing glances at her when he comes to visit. He envies Aaron's life despite knowing that he would not be good at it. Still, it's an idealized existence that he feels compelled to pursue and his niece Debbie represents all of that: a loving wife, a family, a home, a legacy. To be sure, Ethan wants to rescue Debbie and Lucy at the beginning. But he is too much of a realist to truly believe that--as the years pass--he and Martin stand a chance of finding Debbie.

The key relationship in The Searchers is the one between Ethan and Martin. The latter represents a mirror to Ethan, allowing the older man to see his darker side. Martin expresses shock when the pragmatic Ethan shoots bad men in cold blood. Martin leaves the woman he loves because he says he's concerned what the racist Ethan might do if he finds Debbie has become a Comanche. It's not just Debbie's safety that concerns him; Martin fears for Ethan's soul. It's a credit to screenwriter Frank S. Nugent that the Ethan-Martin relationship avoids a father-son angle. Rather, Martin slowly earns Ethan's respect--which is not something the older man gives freely--and the two come to rely on one another.

Ford shows Ethan's isolation by framing
him in several scenes.
John Wayne gives one of his best performances as Ethan, capturing the character's loneliness, singlemindedness, and lack of patience with those who disagree with him. Wayne also embraces Ethan's unsavory traits, such as his hatred of Indians and his disregard for human life.

I think I might have liked The Searchers more if the film's structure embraced Ethan's focused pursuit. Unlike Ethan, The Searchers wanders away from its compelling character portrait and introduces a love story for Martin and peppers the plot with typically quirky John Ford characters: Lars Jorgensen, a Swedish immigrant; Samuel Clayton, a Texas Ranger and a traveling preacher; Mose Harper, an eccentric in search of a rocking chair by the fire, and the singing Charlie McCorry.

I'll diverge from the general critical and popular opinions that The Searchers is one of the greatest films ever made. It's an exceptionally well-made movie with some first-rate performances, but it could have benefitted from tighter story-telling and an ending that feels less rushed.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Ranking Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry Movies from Best to Worst

1. Magnum Force (1973) - The best-written Dirty Harry film finds Harry trying to track down vigilantes intent on cleaning up the streets of San Francisco. The screenplay by future directors John Milius and Michael Cimino minimizes subplots and comes the closest to an actual mystery (though the killers' identities quickly become obvious). Hal Holbrook is in top form as Harry's by-the-numbers boss who clashes with Callahan over his violent methods to fight crime. It's also fun to see David Soul (pre-Starsky and Hutch) and Tim Matheson as young police officers. My quibbles are minor: the protracted climax makes this the longest Dirty Harry movie (and it feels it); Harry's poorly-developed relationship with his pretty neighbor adds nothing to the film; and the fate of Harry's partner gets glossed over too quickly.

2.  Dirty Harry (1971) - Star Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel provide a strong introduction to the titular hero as well as a loving postcard to the city of San Francisco. The plot is nothing exceptional: A crazed killer who calls himself Scorpio threatens to kills random people unless the city pays his demand for $100,000. However, Siegel makes superb use of real location such as Kezar Stadium, Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Dolores Park, and North Beach. Perhaps because it's the first Dirty Harry entry, we learn more about Harry's past, such as his wife's death. The film also establishes the formula for the four sequels, including such elements as Harry stopping a crime in progress (often while eating) and a memorable Callahan quote snarled at a criminal, such as: "I know what you're thinking: 'Did he fire six shots or only five?' Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

3.  The Enforcer (1976) - Harry Callahan is none too happy when a female rookie detective inspector, whose previous experience is mostly administrative, gets assigned as his partner. Fortunately, Kate Moore (Tyne Daly) turns out to be tough, resourceful, and persistent--in other words, an ideal sidekick for Harry. The best part of The Enforcer are the scenes between Harry and Kate, who is played to perfection by Daly. Unfortunately, the potent pair are saddled with a silly plot about an alleged terrorist group exhorting money from the city of San Francisco (a premise somewhat similar to Dirty Harry). An over-the-top villain plagues this entry as well as the two that followed.

4.  The Dead Pool (1988) - The final Dirty Harry picture is a lackluster effort about a psycho trying to implicate a horror film director (a pony-tailed Liam Neeson) in a series of murders. Each victim's name appears on the director's submission in a "dead pool," a tasteless game in which players try to predict the deaths of famous people. There are some interesting observations about fame and fanatics, but they're lost in a shoddy screenplay. Poor Patricia Clarkson plays a character who evolves far too quickly from an independent, career-minded woman to Harry's admiring girlfriend. The film's saving graces are a car chase involving a remote-controlled toy car and a brisk running time of just over 90 minutes.

5.  Sudden Impact (1983) - The weakest Dirty Harry entry wastes a good performance by Sondra Locke as a painter systematically murdering the scum responsible for the gang rape of her and her younger sister. It's a potentially intriguing reexamination of the vigilante theme explored in Magnum Force, only this time the motive is revenge. Unfortunately, Sudden Impact spends too much time on another plot in which Harry has to cope with hit men after "causing" their mobster boss's heart attack. It detracts from the main story and pads the film's running to an excruciating 117 minutes. Sudden Impact also features the two worst villains in the series, who are written and portrayed so broadly that they're almost cartoonish. On the plus side, it's nice to see Harry venture outside San Francisco for a few scenes and Clint gets to grit his teeth and growl the most famous of all Dirty Harry quotes: "Go ahead, make my day."

Monday, December 5, 2022

Bud, Lou, and the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

Buck Privates, the 1941 comedy that made stars of Abbott and Costello, doesn't rank among the team's best films (e.g.,  A&C Meet Frankenstein, Hold That Ghost, The Time of Their Lives). Still, that's to be somewhat expected since Bud and Lou aren't even top-billed in the cast. 

Lee Bowman and Jane Frazee.
That honor belongs to Lee Bowman and Alan Curtis, who play new Army recruits vying for the affections of a pretty USO hostess (Jane Frazee). Bowman's rich playboy has a hard time bonding with his fellow soldiers, especially after he ditches a rifle competition to go on a date. It's a superfluous plot that serves to bridge the gaps between Bud and Lou's routines and the Andrews Sisters' musical numbers.

Bud wants to borrow $50.

As for the boys, they play street hucksters who accidentally join the Army, thinking that they're signing up for a raffle in a movie theater. It's easy to see why the duo were the film's breakout stars. With only one other movie to their credit (One Night in the Tropics), they were able to introduce several of their funniest vaudeville routines. Thus, audiences were treated to classic gags like: "You're 40--she's 10," "Give me the $40 and you'll owe me $10," and the craps game. If some of these routines sound familiar, that's because Bud and Lou recycled them in later movies.

Maxene, Patty, and LaVerne Andrews.
The Andrews Sisters were already recording hit songs by 1941. However, their second film appearance in Buck Privates raised their profile significantly. That was mostly due to the debut of one of their signature hits "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." The song earned an Academy Award nomination (losing to "The Last Time I Saw Paris"). Charles Previn's music score also received an Oscar nomination.

Its combination of broad comedy and catchy music turned Buck Privates into one of the biggest box office draws of 1941. Universal Pictures, which was already making Hold That Ghost with Abbott and Costello, put that movie on hold to produce another service comedy. In the Navy reteamed the boys (now top-billed) with the Andrews Sisters--and featured Dick Powell in one of his last singing roles. It turned into box office gold as well and the Andrews Sisters were quickly added to the Hold the Ghost cast.

By 1942, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were the biggest box office stars in America. They remained among the top 10 stars annually throughout the 1940s. Buck Privates is a good introduction to some their best comedy routines, but the pair would make better movies in the coming years.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Doris Day Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a Doris Day film and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. Party Line.

2. I'm Beverly Boyer and I'm a Pig.

3. The Kidnapping of Hank McKenna.

4. Her Secret Love.

5. The Pitcher's Wife.

6. Vip!

7. Two Women and a Trumpet.

8. Evening Wear.

9. Sleep Tite Tonight!

10. Twinkle and Shine (an actual re-release title).

11. The Husband Hunter.

12. The Wonders.

13. The Cosmetic Caper.

14. Ellen & Nick & Bianca & Stephen.

15. I'll Never Stop Loving You.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Caprice: A Bad Day for Doris

The 1960s was an uneven decade for Doris Day, beginning with some of her best films and ending with some of her worst. The former include Lover Come Back, That Touch of Mink, and The Thrill of It All. The worst include Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? and the subject of today's review: Caprice (1967).

Set near the height of the 1960s spy craze, Caprice casts Doris as Patricia Foster, an industrial designer for a cosmetics company sent on a mission to infiltrate another cosmetic company to steal a secret formula for a water-repellent hair spray. At least, that's what the plot initially appears to be. It turns out that Patricia's real name is Felippa Fowler and her goal is to discover who killed her father, an Interpol agent on the trail of a narcotics ring.

Co-star Richard Harris.
Richard Harris is on hand as Christopher White, a suave ladies man who appears to be a double agent working for both cosmetics companies. He spends most of his time, though, wooing and rescuing Patricia.

One suspects that the makers of Caprice were going for a Charade vibe, with Doris Day playing the innocent opposite Richard Harris's handsome rake, whose true intentions are nebulous. The comparison with Charade, though, serves only to highlight that Caprice is a dud in every way. The script seems to have been written on the fly. The on-location filming clashes with the cheesy rear screen close-ups of the stars. Scenes end abruptly, especially a ski chase in which Harris nabs Doris as she sails over a snow-covered cliff. And Doris wears one of the worst wigs of her career. However, its greatest offense may be that it wastes a good supporting cast in Ray Walston, Edward Mulhare, and Lilia Skala.

Michael J. Pollard.
There is one amusing scene in Caprice, which finds Doris's industrial espionage agent following a model and her boyfriend into a movie theater. The film playing is Caprice, only the opening credits now feature Doris singing the title song. As Doris tries to cut a lock of the model's hair, the boyfriend (Michael J. Pollard) assumes that Doris is interested in him. So, he starts flirting with Doris as he makes out with his girl. It's the kind of broad humor that Ms. Day plays well and Pollard is quite amusing.

After reading the screenplay to Caprice, Doris Day stated she did not want to make the movie. She then learned that her then-husband and agent, Martin Melcher, had already signed a contractual obligation on her behalf. Always the professional, Doris Day gives an energetic performance in Caprice, but that can't disguise the fact that it's awful movie. She appeared in three more movies before retiring from the big screen at age 46.