Monday, March 18, 2019

Seven Things to Know About Constance Towers

1. Constance Towers' first lead role was opposite John Wayne and William Holden in John Ford's 1959 Civil War Western The Horse Soldiers. She was 26 years old. Towers followed it up with another John Ford film: Sergeant Rutledge (1960).

2. Her most famous movies, though, are two Samuel Fuller productions released in the mid-1960s. In Shock Corridor (1963), she plays the stripper girlfriend of a journalist who fakes insanity in order to gain access to three murder witnesses in an asylum. In my opinion, her best performance was in Fuller's next film, The Naked Kiss (1964), in which she plays a prostitute trying to lead a normal life working as a nurse in a children's hospital ward. The New York Times called it "a wild little movie"--and I can't argue.

3. Constance Towers was also a busy guest star on popular television series such as The Outer Limits, The Rockford Files, and Hawaii Five-O. She was a favorite on Perry Mason, in which she appeared five times.

4. She was also a stage performer and starred as Anna opposite Yul Brynner in the 1977-78 revival of The King and I. Towers also played the titular role in Anya, a 1965 musical with Lillian Gish. The play was a fictionalized account of Anastasia.
Yul Brynner and Constance Towers.

With husband John Gavin.
5. She has a son and a daughter from her 1959-1966 marriage to businessman Eugene McGrath (who was actress Terry Moore's ex-husband). In 1974, Towers married actor John Gavin (Psycho, Spartacus); she was 41 and he was 46. They remained together until his death in 2018. During their marriage, Gavin was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico by President Reagan. He served in that capacity from 1981-86.

6. Constance Towers has appeared in four daytime dramas on American television: Capitol, Sunset Beach, General Hospital and The Young and the Restless (one episode only). On General Hospital, she took over the role of the villainous Helena Cassadine, which was originated by Elizabeth Taylor in 1981. Towers played the part on a recurring basis from 1997 to 2017. Supposedly, Helena Cassadine is dead now--but, hey, she's been dead before and it turned out she was alive!

7. Constance Towers devotes much of her time to charitable causes these days. However, she has not retired from acting. In 2016, she appeared in Hulu's time travel miniseries 11.23.63 and in 2018, she starred in the Hallmark Channel's family drama The Storyteller.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ray Harryhausen's 7th Voyage of Sinbad

The cyclops on Colossa.
"Nothing quite like its contents had been seen on the screen before."

That's special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen's assessment of his own 1958 fantasy adventure The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The usually modest Harryhausen knew what he was talking about --7th Voyage shines the spotlight on his incredible stop-motion animation. And for the first time in his feature film career, it was all displayed in glorious color and with a splendid music score to match, courtesy of Bernard Herrmann.

Princess Parisa and Sinbad.
The film opens with Sinbad transporting Princess Parisa to Bagdad (sic) where he plans to marry her and seal an alliance between their countries. Along the way, Sinbad (Kerwin Matthews) and crew land on an island where they encounter a magician who has stolen a magic lamp from a cyclops. They help the magician, Sokurah, escape, but he loses the lamp in the process.

Once they reach Bagdad, Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) tries to convince Sinbad to return to the island of Colossa to retrieve the lamp. Sinbad refuses--at least until Princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant) is mysteriously reduced to doll size. Sokurah claims he can restore the Princess to her normal height, but his potion requires the egg shell from a Roc...meaning that Sinbad needs to transport the magician back to Colossa. Once there, they encounter cyclopes (that's plural), a two-headed Roc, a fire-breathing dragon, and--most famously--a sword-wielding skeleton.
A cyclops and the dragon battle on the beach.
The credits for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad tout that it was filmed in Dynamation. The term was coined by producer Charles H. Schneer to describe Harryhausen's painstaking process of combining live action with his stop-motion animated creatures. At the risk of simplifying the process, it consisted of filming the actors alone and then projecting that footage one frame at a time as Harryhausen animated his creatures in front of it. Obviously, the actors' movements had to be precise, which makes Sinbad's swordfight with a skeleton the film's highlight.

Sinbad against the skeleton.
In an interview (included as a DVD extra in some boxed sets), Kerwin Matthews describes the complicated "choreography" of the duel. He and Italian Olympic fencing master Enzo Musumeci-Greco rehearsed the sequence until Matthews knew it by heart. Then, Matthews had to replicate it with precision and by memory without Musumeci-Greco. In post-production, Harryhausen animated the skeleton opponent. Matthews didn't see the finished sequence until he watched the film at a theatre in France the following year. It truly is an incredible sequence and Herrmann's music, which is synchronized with each physical movement, is the perfect complement.

Torin Thatcher as the magician.
Of course, a film with nothing but great special effects would grow tiresome eventually. Thus, it's fortunate that The 7th Voyage of Sinbad benefits from enthusiastic performances. Matthews makes an appropriately dashing hero (though maybe not the brightest...Sinbad doesn't seem to suspect Sokurah of shrinking the Princess). Torin Thatcher makes a delightfully evil villain and Kathryn Grant--the future Mrs. Bing Crosby--is charming as the plucky princess, whose resolve saves Sinbad from being a cyclops snack.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad isn't Ray's Harryhausen's most jaw-dropping fantasy adventure. That honor belongs to the excellent Jason and the Argonauts (1963), in which the hero battles an army of skeletons. However, it's a colorful, exciting fantasy adventure with enough visual marvels to make you feel the wonderment of childhood again.

Monday, March 11, 2019

5 Favorite Films of the 1950s Blogathon for National Classic Movie Day

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we will be hosting the 5 Favorite Films of the 1950s Blogathon. Per its title, the goal is for each participant to list his or her five favorite films of the 1950s and explain why they deserve such an honor!

The 1950s is a decade filled with outstanding movies in a wide array of genres: epics (Ben-Hur), science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Westerns (3:10 to Yuma), colorful musicals (Singin' in the Rain), intimate dramas (Marty), and laugh-out-loud comedies (The Court Jester).

It featured masterpieces from the world's greatest directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Ingmar Bergman, William Wyler, Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Elia Kazan, Federico Fellini, and others.

To participate in the 5 Favorite Films of the 1950s Blogathon, just leave the name of your blog and its web address in the comments below. You can also send that information to: Click here to read our blogathon guidelines.

If you don't have a blog and still want to participate, you can list your five favorite 1950s films on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media on National Classic Movie Day on May 16th.

Hope you can join us! We will list the participants below. Be sure you to check back periodically to see who will be posting.

Another Old Movie Blog
Caftan Woman
Classic Film & TV Cafe
Critica Retro
The Dream Book Blog
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
Once Upon a Screen
Reelweegiemidget Reviews
Shadows and Satin
Silver Screenings
Taking Up Room
Twenty Four Frames
Various Ramblings of a Nostalgic Italian

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Chamber of Horrors: The Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn!

Important! Please click on the video below to watch William Conrad's brief warning about the film we are reviewing:

Made in 1966, Chamber of Horrors is not a William Castle film, though it certainly could have been made by the Master of Movie Gimmicks. Instead, Chamber of Horrors was originally intended as the pilot movie for an ABC TV series called House of Wax. The network rejected the series, allegedly because the movie was deemed too intense. Its running time was subsequently expanded to feature-length and Chamber of Horrors was released to movie theaters. As a youth, it was easy to convince my dad to let me see it since the cast included Patrice Wymore, Errol Flynn's last wife, and my father was a Flynn fan.

Cesare Danova as Tony Draco.
Set in Baltimore at the turn of the century, the opening scene is a wedding ceremony in which the bride is a blonde-haired corpse and the groom is pointing a gun at the officiating reverend. By the time the police arrive, the killer--a mad man called Jason Cravette--has escaped. The murderer's wealthy aunt engages Anthony Draco (Cesare Danova) and Harold Blount (Wilfred Hyde-White) to find Cravette. Draco and Blount, who operate a wax museum featuring "history's most notorious murderers," moonlight as criminologists and have solved a "dozen of the most baffling cases."

With the help of their diminutive assistant Pepe, they track down Cravette (Patrick O'Neal) in a brothel where he "marries" the same blonde prostitute every night. The police arrest Cravette, who is tried and sentenced to hanging. However, en route to his fate, he stages a miraculous escape by jumping off the train crossing a bridge. (I'll omit the details here since it's the film's best scene, but let's just say that it marks the first appearance of the Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn). The authorities believe Cravette is dead--but he survives and begins to plot his revenge.

Patrick O'Neal as Cravette.
Given what must have been a modest budget, Chamber of Horrors emerges as a delightfully atmospheric chiller with a perfectly-cast villain. Channeling Vincent Price, suave Patrick O'Neal gleefully immerses himself into the part of the mad murderer. For much of the movie, he sports a mustache and beard that makes him look like Mr. Price. The film's creepiest scene (which isn't even preceded by the Fear Flasher) features O'Neal positioning an uncomfortable prostitute in the same pose as his first victim--whom he strangled with her own hair. (Interestingly, I recently watched O'Neal play another insane killer in a season four episode of Route 66.)

Laura Devon as Marie.
As the headlining sleuths, the dapper Danova and the always reliable Hyde-White make an effective duo. The standouts in the supporting cast are Jeanette Nolan as a cigar-smoking socialite, Marie Windsor as a brothel madam eager to be rid of Cravette, and lovely Laura Devon as a streetwalker who unwittingly assists Cravette with his revenge. There are other familiar faces, too, such as a young pre-M*A*S*H Wayne Rogers and, in a quick cameo, Tony Curtis.

As I watched Chamber of Horrors, I couldn't help but be reminded of Dark Intruder, which was released the preceding year. It was also set at the turn of the century, except in San Francisco, and starred Leslie Nielsen as another dapper amateur detective with a dwarf assistant. And like Chamber of HorrorsDark Intruder was also a busted TV pilot that was released theatrically. A key difference between the two films is that Dark Intruder dealt with the supernatural while Chamber of Horrors opted for more realistic chills.

Despite the presence of the "Four Supreme Fright Points," there is nothing gory nor particularly frightening in Chamber of Horrors. What you get instead is a colorful, well-crafted thriller with a tongue-in-cheek approach and a witty script. I love the little touches like the bar maid wiping the beer foam mustache from her face or when a pretty hooker describes her job as an artists' model and Cravette quips: "Oh, you're a tramp."

And, of course, you get the Fear Flasher and the Horror Horn! Really, who could ask for more?

Allied Vaughn Entertainment provided a review copy of this DVD (which also includes Christopher Lee in The Brides of Fu Manchu). You can purchase it from retailers such as MovieZyng.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Interview with Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation Trustee John Walsh

Skeleton from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
All this month at the Classic Film & TV Cafe, we will be paying tribute to the genius of special effects master Ray Harryhausen. We thought the best place to start was with the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, which Ray established in 1986 to archive, preserve, and restore his extensive collection. John Walsh, who serves on the Board of Trustees, recently agreed to participate in an exclusive interview.

Café:  How did you come to know Ray Harryhausen?

Ray Harryhausen and friend
from Clash of the Titans.
John Walsh:  By the late 1980s, I had become a student at the London Film School and was looking for a subject for my first documentary film. I thumbed through a copy of the British Telecom phone book and found a listing for an "R. Harryhausen" at Ilchester Place in West London. Did I dare give him a call? What would I say? This was to be my first pitch and I didn't even know it. As this was the time before mobile phones and the prices of calls were dictated by the time of day and the duration of the call, I had to check with my parents for permission before dialing. Once I had clearance, the call commenced. Ray answered the phone, and I explained what I wanted to do: Make a fifteen minute sixteen-millimetre documentary about his work and techniques. He invited me to his house and I was stunned to meet many of the creatures that had populated Ray's films and my imagination. A few months later, I was showing the final film to both the film school and to audiences at the newly opened Greenwich Cinema. Ray came along and was interviewed on stage by sci fi writer and broadcaster Richard Hollis. Before Ray died, I had the film scanned in high definition and fully restored. My documentary, which was narrated by Tom Baker, is now part of the Foundation’s archive and is shown at public speaking events we hold throughout the world.

Café:  When was the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation established and what are its goals?

Trog from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.
John Walsh:  If you think you know all the films and have seen the creature collection at museums and know the full story, then think again. We have over 50,000 items in the collection, making it the largest of its kind outside of the Disney Studios. Ray set up the Foundation in 1986 and he intended that future generations should enjoy his work and also learn about the craft of filmmaking. I am delighted that audiences want to visit the artifacts on display, but what many fans of Ray's work perhaps do not know is that for every film that made it to the cinema screen, there were two or three from the same period that didn't.

Café:  Who else is on the Board of Trustees with you?

John Walsh:  Ray's daughter Vanessa and the family lawyer Simon Mackintosh make up the small, but efficient, board of trustees. Our solitary, but hard working, member of staff is Connor Heaney, our Collections Manager.

Café:  What are the Foundation’s plans for #Harryhausen100, a celebration of Ray’s centenary in 2020?

John Walsh:  There will be a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland, along with screenings and some major announcements to come later in the year.

A storyboard from Mysterious Island (1961).
Café:  Of the 50,000+ objects in Ray Harryhausen’s collection, what are some of your favorites?

The Kraken from Clash
of the Titans.
John Walsh:  I am fascinated by all the creatures that are, in themselves, real movie stars: The Kraken, Medusa, and the Seven-Headed Hydra. The big stars are the ones that get the attention and the visitor numbers at the exhibitions. Perhaps the ones that I have become fonder of are those smaller intricate figures that sometimes get overlooked. The tiny human creatures that fall into the clutches of Ray's beautiful creatures are being restored. Ray only worked with one person during these delicate and precise conservations, Alan Friswell. Alan’s work has been on display around the world this year. Despite the age of the collection, we are keen for fans to see the characters from the films as they remembered them from their childhoods. Thanks to professional photographer Andy Johnson, we have an extensive catalogue of photography of each piece as a record of their various states of decay. This will inform those who work on the collection in the future.

Café:  Has there been any discussion of building a Ray Harryhausen museum to display his collection?

John Walsh:  I have talked for many years about the possibility of a Harryhausen Museum. The road to this is one paved with a significant cash investment. Last year, I announced a new deal with Morningside Productions to revive the unmade follow-up (although not a direct sequel) to Clash of the Titans entitled Force of the Trojans. We have materials from the archive which show what Ray would have created and a screenplay, which acts as a blueprint for a new screenplay I have started to write. It would take a successful film such as this to create the capital needed for a permanent Harryhausen home. I am both hopeful and confident this can be achieved.

Café:  We’re going to put you on the spot with the next two questions. First, what is your favorite Harryhausen movie and why?

John Walsh:  For me, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is the best use of the technique with a thrilling story. The use of lighting, as well as music, played a significant role in creating an atmospheric black magic approach. Technically, this has some of the best live action and model integration. The film stock used worked well and does not betray the secrets of the technique of interacting live actors with the animations.
The six-armed statue in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.
Café:  What is your favorite stop-motion creature created by Ray Harryhausen?

The Homunculus in Golden Voyage.
John Walsh:  The rebirth of the Homunculus in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is one of my all-time favourite sequences. The delicate animation and interaction with Tom Baker still make this a magical sequence.

Café:  Are there any upcoming Harryhausen-related events that you’d like to share with our readers?

John Walsh:  In September of this year Titan Books will release Harryhausen: The Lost Movies, which I have spent the last two years writing. It has been a fascinating journey into the vast Harryhausen archive. In the last few years with Ray, I asked him why he hadn't recorded commentaries for most of his films. His reply was surprising and blunt. He hadn't been asked. I set about to remedy this and we made digital audio and video recordings of his commentaries in the lounge of his house. This was more comfortable than a sterile sound booth in a post-production house, and as a filmmaker, I knew that the more comfortable a subject can be the more likely we were to get a few gold nuggets from his recollections. We decided to work backwards from Clash of the Titans. We even had some special guests sit in with us, such as director John Landis, who would always take the time to visit with Ray any time he was in London. Sadly, when we got to Ray's first solo film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, he fell ill and died.  Despite his advancing years--Ray was in his early 90s by then--he thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and remembered many details that did not appear in any publications. Audio extract from these can be heard in our award-nominated podcast series, The Ray Harryhausen Podcast on both Soundcloud and iTunes. Surprisingly, up until these last few years, Ray didn't have a presence at ComicCon. I have spoken at both London and last year's San Diego ComicCon. This was filmed and cut together by Connor Heaney and can be viewed on Vimeo.
Ray Harryhausen, John Walsh, and John Landis in 2012.
For more information on The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, you can check out its website or follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Stream Classic Movies and TV for Free on Hoopla

Did you know that you may be able to stream movies and TV shows for free--and legally--from your local library?

Many libraries now offer a streaming video service as one of the perks for their patrons. My public library offers Hoopla, which not only allows patrons to "check out" films and TV show episodes, but also audio books, music, ebooks, and comics. There's only one catch:  There is a limit to the number of items you can check out per month, though it varies widely by library. For example, with my local library, the limit is five. And each episode of a TV series counts as one item. So, if your plan is to watch the original Poldark miniseries, it's going to take a few months.

Burl Ives in So Dear to My Heart.
Still, that's a minor inconvenience given the video content available on Hoopla. If you're a Walt Disney fan, it's like hitting the goldmine! There are dozens of Disney classics from the 1940s through the 1970s. In addition to the expected titles, there are hard-to-see films like So Dear to My Heart (1949), The Sword and the Rose (1953), Toby Tyler (1960), and Emil and the Detectives (1964).

If you prefer non-Disney classics, there are plenty of other choices such as:  Becket, Camelot, Dial M for Murder, Guys and Dolls, Suddenly, Ball of Fire and its remake A Song Is Born, They Might Be Giants, Nothing Sacred, Love Affair (Irene Dunne), The Pride of the Yankees, The Blue Angel (Marlene Dietrich), My Favorite Brunette, Fanny (Leslie Caron), and Raffles (David Niven). There are even a handful of silent films, including some Buster Keaton shorts and John Barrymore as Sherlock Holmes.

Mary Tyler Moore & Dick Van Dyke.
If you favor classic TV series, you can watch The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Doris Day Show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Route 66, Peter Gunn, Shirley Temple's Storybook, and others. (However, keep in mind that each episode counts toward your monthly limit.)

Naturally, there are more recent movies and TV shows if you prefer to watch Into the Woods or The Dressmaker or Mr. Holmes. The most recent movie I could find was Gotti (2018), which recently earned Razzies for Worst Film and Worst Actor (John Travolta).

Gary Cooper & Barbara Stanwyck
in Ball of Fire.
Hoopla features one of the better search engines for browsing movie and TV show categories (e.g., Disney, drama, family-friendly, art house, Asian cinema) or searching for a specific title. You can create a watch list using a "favorite" button. Once you borrow a title, you're told the latest "turn in date." If you don't turn it in automatically by that date, Hoopla does it for you. Finally, there's also a handy "History" feature that keeps track of everything you watched (though you can hide selected titles if desired).

You can view content on your Android or iOS mobile devices, on your desktop, or on your favorite streaming platform (I prefer my beloved Roku).

And--best of all--you just need a library card! So, why don't you Hoopla a classic movie or TV show sometime soon?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Snubbed By the Oscars Awards...The Results Are In!

Earlier this month, the Cafe's staff selected twenty performers snubbed by the Oscars and placed them in categories based on one of their most famous performances. We then asked classic film fans to vote in an online poll to select the winners of our first-ever Snubbed By the Oscars Awards!

We'd like to thank everyone who took the time to complete their ballots. To our surprise, we reached the maximum number of votes allowed by our (free) survey software in less than two weeks. Our accountants tell us we can't provide the voting percentages for each performer in each category. However, we will state that Best Supporting Actor was by far the most competitive category.

Without further discussion, here are the winners:

Robert Mitchum showing "love."
Best Actor
Richard Burton, Becket
Kirk Douglas, Ace in the Hole
Cary Grant, Notorious
Robert Mitchum, Night of the Hunter
Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia

Best Actress
Greta Garbo, Ninotchka
Deborah Kerr, The Innocents
Marilyn Monroe, Some Like It Hot
Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity
Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven

Lansbury as cinema's worst mother.
Best Supporting Actress
Margaret Hamilton, The Wizard of Oz
Elsa Lanchester, Witness for the Prosecution
Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons 
Thelma Ritter, Rear Window

Best Supporting Actor
Sydney Greenstreet, The Maltese Falcon
Vincent Price, Laura
Edward G. Robinson, Double Indemnity
Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove
Eli Wallach, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Thursday, February 21, 2019

In Search of the Castaways...and an Escaped Tiger!

Hayley Mills, her castmates, and some spotty special effects.
If asked to name the three biggest boxoffice hits of 1962, would one of your responses be In Search of the Castaways? Yet, it ranked right behind Lawrence of Arabia and The Longest Day with U.S. moviegoers. That's not surprising when you consider Hayley Mills was at the peak of her stardom and the Disney studio was a well-oiled machine cranking out hit after hit.

Set in the late 19th century, Castaways features Hayley as Mary Grant, an adventurous teenager who sets out with her young brother and a French professor to find her shipwrecked father and his mates. The professor believes he knows the father's location based on a note found in a bottle inside a dead shark. The ever-charming Mary convinces her father's employer, a shipping magnate, to finance the search. Of course, it helps that the gentleman has a son who takes an immediate interest in Mary.

Maurice Chevalier with Hayley.
The quintet's search takes them from England to South America to Australia and New Zealand. Along the way, they cope with an earthquake, a giant condor, a flood, a hungry jaguar, cannibals, an avalanche, an erupting volcano, and George Sanders as a villain. Whew! It's an action-packed 98 minutes, to say the least.

Like Disney's earlier classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Castaways was based on a Jules Verne novel, albeit a less famous one. In tone, though, this family adventure shares more with Disney's Swiss Family Robinson (1960), which starred Hayley's father John. 

Don't set your sights too high and you'll likely enjoy In Search of the Castaways. Despite the many dangers encountered during the expedition, there's never any doubt that Hayley and Co. will always emerge unscathed and the climatic reunion is a given. An added bonus is the presence of screen veterans like Maurice Chevalier, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and a scene-stealing Wilfrid Brambell as a prisoner plotting an escape from the cannibals. Brambell later starred in the British TV comedy Steptoe and Son, which inspired the U.S. series Sanford and Son.

The poster looks a little scary....
Released two years later, Walt Disney's A Tiger Walks did not experience the boxoffice success of Castaways. In many ways, it is a superior film, though it has faded into obscurity (fortunately,  it pops up on YouTube from time to time).

It's a surprisingly engrossing story of a tiger that escapes from its cage when a circus truck stops in a small town for a tire repair. One of the big cat's handlers, who has mistreated the animal, tries to track it down--and ends up mauled to death by the frightened tiger. 

Despite the efforts of the local sheriff (Brian Keith), politicians and journalists try to exploit the tiger for their own means. Even the sheriff's daughter gets unwittingly involved when she makes a plea for the animal's life during an on-location TV appearance. Her involvement leads to a nation-wide campaign fueled by school children to "Save the Tiger."

Pamela Franklin and Kevin Corcoran.
It may seem odd to compare a Disney film to Billy Wilder's cynical Ace in the Hole (1951), but both pictures focus on the theme of journalistic exploitation. And A Tiger Walks sneaks in some dark humor, too, such as when hotel keeper Una Merkel keeps raising her room rates as more and more people flock into the small town in search of a news angle.

The cast is uniformly fine with Keith, Vera Miles, and Pamela Franklin (The Nanny) as the family at the center of the incident. It was the last film appearance for Sabu, who plays a kind-hearted tiger trainer.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Movie-TV Connection Game (February 2019)

Carroll Baker and Carol Lynley.
Never played before? Here are the rules:  You will be given a pair or trio of films or performers and will be required to to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. Vincent Price and Will Smith.

2. Bela Lugosi and Anne Bancroft.

3. Michael Gough and Jessica Lange.

4. The Men from Shiloh TV series and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

5. Rita Hayworth and Bruce Lee.

6. Shirley Jones and Katharine Hepburn.

7. Ronald Colman and Doug McClure.

8. Dick Gautier and Richard Greene.

9. Richard Burton and Jean Simmons (other than The Robe).

10. William Powell and William Conrad.

11. Richard Conte and Kris Kristofferson.

12. The movie Duel and the TV series Twilight Zone.

13. Clint Walker, Doris Day, and Errol Flynn.

14. Bob Hope, David Niven, and Vincent Price.

15. Carol Lynley and Carroll Baker.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Is "The Court Jester" the Best Classic Movie Comedy?

I recently watched The Court Jester (1955) for perhaps the tenth time--and laughed just as much as the first time. I realize comedy is very subjective as some folks prefer broad laughs and others opt for dark humor. But I'm hard pressed to think of a classic film comedy that's as nearly perfect as The Court Jester.

For the uninitiated, it's a medieval tale in which the Black Fox (a sort of Robin Hood) plots to restore the rightful heir to the throne: a royal baby with a purple pimpernel birthmark on his posterior. Danny Kaye plays Hawkins, a minor member of the Black Fox's gang, who is given the mission of smuggling the baby into the palace and getting the key to a secret passageway to the Black Fox. Of course, Hawkins is not entrusted with this mission alone; he is accompanied by Jean (Glynis Johns), one of the Black Fox's senior officers.

En route to the palace, Hawkins and Jean encounter the new royal jester Giacomo ("King of jesters and jester of kings"). Learning that no one in the king's court has ever seen Giacomo, they hatch a quick scheme that has Hawkins assuming the identity of the jester.

Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone: "Get it? Got it. Good!"
They don't know, of course, that the villainous Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone) has hired Giacomo to assassinate three of the king's advisors. Nor could they anticipate that Princess Gwendolyn's lady-in-waiting, Griselda, has promised that a handsome stranger will rescue the princess from an undesirable marriage. To ensure that Hawkins/Giacomo meets the princess's expectations, Griselda (Mildred Natwick) hypnotizes him into thinking he's the medieval version of Rudolph Valentino.

Cecil Parker and Angela Lansbury.
Written and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, The Court Jester is a textbook example of how to tailor a film to fit its star's skills. Danny Kaye's physicality, quick delivery of dialogue, and exaggerated facial expressions are masterfully exploited in at least five classic comic routines. The most famous, of course, is the "Chalice from the Palace", but almost equally as funny are: Hawkins portraying an old man who is hard of hearing; the romancing of Princess Gwendolyn as Hawkins snaps in and out of his hypnotic trance; Hawkins' "get it, got it, good" exchanges with Ravenhurst, and the climatic sword fight. Simply put, it's the best part ever for the multi-talented Kaye.

Glynis Johns as Jean.
When I think of movies in which every role is ideally cast, three films come to mind: The Wizard of Oz, The Adventures of Robin Hood...and The Court Jester. It should come as no surprise that marvelous actors such as Lansbury, Rathbone, Natwick, and Johns possess impeccable comic timing. But it's also apparent that care was put into casting even the smaller parts. Cecil Parker is a delight as the king whose principal focus is on selecting wenches for a feast. Even Robert Middleton, who played his share of villains, generates laughs as Sir Griswold as he tries to remember which goblet contains the pellet with the poison.

Danny Kaye and Mildred Natwick.
Naturally, even the best comedians can falter without a funny script, so it's fortunate that The Court Jester was written (and directed) by Frank and Panama. Their greatest accomplishment is with how they incorporate the aforementioned laugh-out-loud gags into a carefully crafted spoof of costume adventures such as Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. The two writers, who met while students at the University of Chicago, worked together for three decades and penned the scripts for films such as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, The Road to Utopia (the finest Road picture), and White Christmas (Danny Kaye's second-best film).

It's not all perfect. The opening musical number, while clever and lively, goes on too long. (Still, it serves the purpose of introducing Hawkins' acrobatic friends, which become important later.) Once Hawkins assumes the guise of Giacomo, The Court Jester rolls along at a frolicking pace. From that point on, it may produce the most laughs per minute of any comedy (only A Shot in the Dark comes close). And I must say that my wife and I have never shown The Court Jester to anyone who didn't have a grand time.

So is it the best classic movie comedy? I honestly can't think of a better one, so I'll say yes! Get it? Got it. Good!

This review is part of the Adoring Angela Lansbury Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews.

Below is the scene where a hypnotized Hawkins is sent to woo Princess Gwendolyn. It's the fourth most-watched clip (out of over 100) on the Cafe's YouTube channel.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Interview with Jerry Mathers: Working with Hitch, Playing the Beaver, and How Bob Hope Saved His Life

Young Jerry Mathers.
Born on June 2, 1948 in Sioux City, Iowa, Jerry Mathers' acting career began at the age of two when he appeared in a Pet Condensed Milk commercial with Ed Wynn on The Colgate Comedy Hour. He graduated to film roles later in the 1950s, acting alongside Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, and Alan Ladd. He achieved lasting fame in 1957 when he was cast as young Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver. The classic sitcom's original run was for six years and 234 episodes. Today, it's still shown twice daily on MeTV and throughout the world. In 1982, Jerry Mathers reunited with most of the original cast for a highly-rated reunion movie called Still the Beaver. Its success led to a popular revival TV series known as Still the Beaver and later The New Leave It to Beaver. Jerry Mathers has also appeared as a guest star on numerous TV series, such as My Three Sons, The Love Boat, and Diagnosis: Murder. He made his Broadway debut in 2007 as Wilbur Turnblad in the Tony-winning musical Hairspray at the Neil Simon Theater. Diagnosed with Type II diabetes in the mid-1990s, Jerry Mathers has appeared before the Congressional Caucus on Diabetes and has spoken at numerous events about the importance of early diagnosis, diet and exercise, and the proper treatment for diabetes.

Café:  You were six-years-old when you appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry (1955). What are some of your memories of working with Hitchcock?

Jerry Mathers with Shirley MacLaine.
Jerry Mathers:  I had worked as an actor since I was two years old, so this wasn't like it was my first part. I just found Alfred Hitchcock to be a very, very nice person. As I grew older as an actor, I found out that a lot of people found him to be very intimidating. I had a great time with him. I used to sit on his lap and run over lines with him. We went to Stowe, Vermont, to film The Trouble With Harry, so it's a little bit different when you're on location with the film crew. The local people in the area would make lunch for the whole crew and I remember the ladies used to make us blueberry muffins. Each woman would have three or four dozen muffins and Mr. Hitchcock, who was a gourmet, would go up and down the aisle and make his picks. And those were always the best ones because he really knew how to choose them. I got to know him a little better, though I was still a child, when he was doing Alfred Hitchcock Presents because that was filmed on some of the sets from Leave It to Beaver. Some people have said that a particular set looks just like the Beaver entry hall or library. I'd see him on the lots because he'd come in and do some of the intros and outros for his TV series

Café:  What do you remember about working with Bob Hope as the young Bryan Lincoln Foy in The Seven Little Foys (1955)?

Jerry Mathers:  I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Bob Hope. In The Seven Little Foys, there was a true-life scene in which there was a fire in a vaudevillian theater and Eddie Foy saved a lot of people's lives. In those days, they didn't have fire prevention systems and sprinklers. The vaudevillians used candles to light the stage. When they caught on fire, which wasn't often, people would get trampled on trying to get out. When we went to do that scene, I was at the side of a stage sitting in this catwalk and Bob Hope knew that I was up there. When he saw that they put too much gasoline on the curtain, he knew that I was in danger. Everyone else panicked and ran out like they were supposed to, but Bob Hope noticed that I could't get out. He threw a blanket over himself and ran through the flames and got me out. So, he actually saved my life.

Café:  You and Barbara Billingsley were the only cast members retained from the original Leave It to Beaver pilot. What led to the roles of Ward Cleaver (played by Max Showalter) and Wally (Paul Sullivan) being recast?

Beaver and the original Wally.
Jerry Mathers:  I know that the boy that was to play Wally had a growth spurt. When they brought him back several months later, he had gotten really big--and really looked like a big brother. He was almost as tall as Hugh Beaumont, who was 6' 1". Tony Dow hadn't really worked as an actor. He was an AAU diver training for the Olympics. He had been in a pilot for another series called Johnny Wild Life because of his swimming and diving abilities. It was kind of a take-off on Tarzan. His mother took him on the second interview for Leave It to Beaver and he got the part of Wally. The producers were looking for someone very athletic and that was definitely Tony Dow. As for the part of Ward, the producers did several screenings. They'd bring in people from the outside as well as people working in other shows on the lot. They'd administer a questionnaire asking how you liked each character. For some reason, they decided to replace both of the actors who played Wally and Ward in the pilot.

Café: Didn’t your mother play a part in Hugh Beaumont getting the role of your TV father?

Jerry Mathers and his mother Marilyn.
Jerry Mathers:  My mother Marilyn is 91 and she is amazing. She has always been and continues to be so supportive of my career. Yes, she did play a big part in Hugh Beaumont getting the role of Ward. I worked with Hugh before Leave it to Beaver when we filmed a promotional commercial for Rose Hills Memorial Park. My mom liked Hugh very much and told him at that time the producers of a television series that I had just been hired for, Leave it to Beaver, were looking to cast the father. She thought Hugh would be perfect for the part and encouraged him to audition. And as they say, the rest is history! What many people don't know is that Hugh Beaumont wasn't really an actor, he was a Methodist minister. Before Leave It to Beaver, his most famous role was as private detective Michael Shayne in a series of "B" movies that played before feature-length films. Michael Shayne was a very mean character. To get people to talk, he would pound them against a wall. He was a very aggressive private detective. That wasn't really what Hugh Beaumont's personality was. So when he got to Leave It to Beaver and would take Beaver into the library or den and tell Beaver that he shouldn't have done something--that was much more Hugh Beaumont reverting to the preacher that he really was.

Café: How would you describe a typical day on the set of Leave It to Beaver?

Jerry Mathers:  It was 39 weeks a year and we'd go out after that for a few weeks of promoting and meeting with advertisers in New York and Chicago. We'd come back for a short vacation and then start filming the new season. We did that for six years and 234 shows. A typical week started on Monday. We'd go in and read the script. For the first few years when I wasn't that good a reader, they would have someone read my lines and I'd listen to them. It was a very good time and everyone was very nice.

Café: I know this is a difficult question since there were over 200 episodes of Leave It to Beaver, but what are your two or three favorite episodes?

Beaver in the giant soup bowl.
Jerry Mathers:  I like the one where I climb up into the soup bowl. That was fun. They actually built a billboard on the backlot of Universal. So for the outdoor shots, I was up there for about half a day. I got to miss a lot of school for that one. Of course, I had to make it up the next week by doing more hours. The show was just a grand adventure with a lot of adults around and we just had a really good time. After I'd do my schoolwork, I'd work on models that kids were building at the time. We'd play catch during lunch. It was just always a fun place to be every day.

Café: My wife and I loved Beaver’s friendship with Gus, the fireman. Burt Mustin, who played Gus, appeared in 14 episodes. Why do you think his friendship with Beaver resonates so strongly?

Jerry Mathers:  What many people don't know is that Burt Mustin's acting career actually started at the age of 67 after film director William Wyler cast him in the 1951 film Detective Story. Burt spent most of his early working years as an insurance salesman and he also had a degree in Engineering. As for Gus, I think he's kind of like a grandfather figure or the wise old man. He may be right or may be wrong--the kind of a sage that a lot of people wish they had. I had several of them on the set. Hugh Beaumont was a Methodist minister. A lot of people say he was such a good father figure. He was used to doing things like that.

Café: After Leave It to Beaver (1957-63) ended, did you stay in contact with any of the actors who played Beaver’s friends?

Richard Correll and Jerry Mathers.
Jerry Mathers:  Richard Correll, who played Beaver's school friend Richard Rickover, and I are lifelong friends and often see each other at family gatherings. Rich is a very accomplished television director and producer and has directed over 700 shows. I would see some of the others sometimes, but not as often as when we were doing the show. A lot of people don't realize that Los Angeles is very, very spread out. I couldn't drive at the time, so when Leave It to Beaver ended, we all went back to our homes. When we were teenagers, we all became close friends. Richard was friends with Harold Lloyd, the great silent film star. He had a daughter and we'd go over there and he would show us movies. It was a really good time for me. I had a wonderful childhood.

Café: The New Leave It to Beaver (1983-89) had a very successful run with 102 episodes. How would you compare it to the original Leave It to Beaver?

Jerry Mathers.
Jerry Mathers: It was really fun to be able to go back and see people like Barbara Billingsley. Sadly, Hugh Beaumont had passed. We hired several people who were in the original show and even the crew, who were still in the business. It was interesting to accept the role of the father in the show in place of Hugh Beaumont. Those were very big shoes to fill and try to play the same part. But it was interesting to move from the part of the boy to the part of the father.

Café: Since you were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the mid-1990s, you have been actively involved in diabetes awareness and education. What kind of information do you share with people living with diabetes?

Jerry Mathers:  I try to share with them that it's something a lot of people have. There's Type 1, which you're born with. Type 2 is the kind I had and I had it because I was overweight. At the time, I had invested in several businesses, one of which did catering so that I put on a lot of weight. That contributed to my diabetes. I was lucky enough to catch it early and when I took off the weight, I was prediabetic. I never had to take insulin. But I'm prediabetic for life so I always have to watch my weight.

Café:  You stay pretty busy! Do you have any other upcoming events you’d like to share with our readers?

Jerry Mathers:   I do a lot of personal appearances all over the country. You can go to my web page, which is and that's the best way to see what I'll be doing. And you can also check my Facebook page: The Jerry Mathers. That's the best way to find out if I'm going to be in your area.

In addition to his web site and Facebook page, you can also follow Jerry Mathers on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

George C. Scott Is the Flim-Flam Man

George C. Scott and Michael Sarrazin.
George C. Scott had a pretty impressive career in the 1960s with Dr. Strangelove, The Hustler, and The List of Adrian Messenger. If you stretch things a bit, you could also count Patton in 1970 and Anatomy of a Murder in 1959. Lost amid these excellent films, though, is one of his finest performances: his portrayal of Mordecai Jones in The Flim-Flam Man (1967).

Army deserter Curley Treadaway (Michael Sarrazin) first encounters the elderly con artist when Mordecai is hurled from a moving train in the rural South. The two men become unlikely partners with Curley serving as the shill for Mordecai's various con games. While Curley has ethical misgivings, his new partner ensures him that he only takes advantage of greedy people.

That's not entirely true, as shown when they "borrow" a red convertible from a nice family whose attractive daughter Bonnie Lee (Sue Lyon) catches Curley's eye. During a police pursuit, the car is destroyed--along with much of a small Carolina town. Curley sneaks back to apologize to Bonnie Lee and discovers they share a mutual attraction. He continues his secret romance with Bonnie Lee while working scams with Mordecai--but she wants Curley to turn himself into the police.

What I haven't mentioned is that George C. Scott was 40 when he played the elderly, gray-haired con artist. It could have easily become a gimmick, but Scott's performance is so masterful that one quickly forgets the age difference between actor and character. His make-up is adequate (though Mordecai's gray hair never moves), but it's Scott's voice and physical gestures that allow him to transform into an old man.

He owns the character, balancing Mordecai's enthusiasm over successfully pulling off a con with his paternal friendship with Curley. He boasts of holding the degree M.B.S., C.S., D.D. in one scene (that's for "Master of Back-Stabbing, Cork-Screwing and Dirty-Dealing"). Then, in another, he reflects, with a tinge of remorse, about how he became bitter toward the human race.

Michael Sarrazin and Sue Lyon.
Michael Sarrazin, in his feature film debut, is appealing as the naive Curley. The rest of the cast is peppered with marvelous veteran character actors, such as: Harry Morgan (the sheriff), Jack Albertson (Bonnie Lee's father), Alice Ghostley (her mother), Albert Salmi (the deputy), and Strother Martin and Slim Pickens as two greedy victims of Mordecai's cons.

Filmed in eastern Kentucky, The Flim-Flam Man is the rare Hollywood film that captures the atmosphere of rural Southern towns and backroads. It's all there on the screen from the signs on the barns to the fields of corn, the trains, the moonshiner's still in the woods, and a small town A&P.

Curley and Mordecai swindle Slim Pickens' tobacco farmer.
I'm not sure why The Flim-Flam Man is little more than a footnote in George C. Scott's filmography. It's well directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empires Strikes Back) and features another perfect Jerry Goldsmith score. Most importantly, it's a great opportunity to see one of the best actors of his generation at the peak of his acting prowess. Scott made some pretty humdrum movies later in his career--but this one is among his best.