Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Celebrate National Classic Movie Day with our Comfort Movie Blogathon!

For the fourth consecutive year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe is celebrating National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year, we're shining the spotlight on those special movies that bring us comfort during those times when we most need it.

Recovering from the flu? Didn't get that dream job? Broke up with the person you thought was your soulmate? Then it's time to watch one of those classic movies that inexplicably makes you feel better! And then write about it for the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon!

If you don't have a blog, you can still participate by listing your favorite classic comfort movie on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or another social media platform on National Classic Movie Day.

And since May 16th is all about our love of classic movies, it's a great day to introduce a friend to the wonderful films from the silents to the 1970s!

Here's the blogathon schedule--be sure to check out all the great entries!

An American in Paris - Popcorn and Flickers
Annie - Realweegiemidget Reviews
The Apartment - A Person in the Dark
The Awful Truth - Outspoken and Freckled
Between the Lines (1977) - Film Fanatic
Buster Keaton Shorts - Classic Film Observations & Obsessions
Casablanca - Sharing a Sip with Dusty
The Court Jester Caftan Woman
Cover Girl - Musings of a Classic Film Addict
How to Marry a Millionaire - Moon in Gemini
I Know Where I'm Going - portraitsbyjenni
It's a Wonderful Life - MovieRob
Lady for a Day - Silver Screen Modes
The Long, Long Trailer - Whimsically Classic
The Magic Christian - Lo! The Humanities
McLintock! - Anybody Got a Match
My Favorite Brunette - Twenty Four Frames

Parrish: Our Choice for the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon

Troy Donahue as Parrish.
A "comfort movie" is like a good friend who is always a welcomed visitor, no matter how long it's been since you seen him or her. It's fun to share familiar characters, plots, and settings and remember how one felt when that movie first became your chum. That's certainly the case with Parrish (1961), which I first saw on TNT in the early 1990s.

I think I inherited an enjoyment of big-screen soaps from my mother. Make no mistake, Parrish is unabashedly a soap, but don't let that sway you from watching this opus about young Parrish McLean (Troy Donahue) and the four women in his life. The first of those is his mother Ellen, who has perhaps kept her son too close in the ten years following her husband's death. That changes when Ellen (Claudette Colbert) takes a job as a chaperone for the daughter of Connecticut tobacco farmer Sala Post (Dean Jagger).

Diane McBain as Alison.
Parrish winds up working for Sala and quickly falls for Lucy (Connie Stevens), one of his fellow crop workers. Lucy has the hots for Parrish, too, but is reluctantly seeing someone else. However, what  really cools their passion is the arrival of Sala's debutante daughter Alison (Diane McBain). She wants three things in life: wealth, fun, and Parrish. 

Meanwhile, Ellen is being wooed by Sala's tobacco rival Judd Raike (Karl Malden). Judd is a ruthless, powerful man, but he genuinely cares for Ellen and, as she admits to her son, Judd's fortune is an attraction, too. While the Raike sons, wimpy Wiley and hateful Edgar, make quick enemies of Parrish, Judd's teenage daughter Paige develops a crush on him. 

Who will Parrish end up with? The passionate Lucy, the sultry Alison, or the sweet Paige? Or none of the above?

Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens.
Parrish is a faithful adaptation of Mildred Savage's 1958 bestseller. According to Diane McBain's autobiography, Warner Bros. originally purchased the film rights for director Joshua Logan (Picnic). Logan wanted Vivien Leigh as Ellen and Clark Gable as Judd. He also screen tested Warren Beatty for the lead role. McBain says that Logan rejected the first draft of the screenplay and he was replaced by Delmer Daves. The latter was coming off A Summer Place, a big hit which shared a lot in common with Parrish (e.g., parents experiencing romance as well as the youths, star Troy Donahue).

I can't imagine a more appropriate cast than the one assembled by Daves. Troy Donahue certainly lacks Beatty's dramatic chops, but he brings sincerity and naivety to the lead role. Colbert (in her final film appearance) and Jagger add a nice touch of class.

Malden looking intense as Judd.
But the film belongs to Karl Malden and the young actresses who play Parrish's loves. Malden is delightfully over-the-top as Raike and makes him the most demanding movie boss this side of Everett Sloane in Patterns. Connie Stevens shines as the vulnerable, free-spirited Lucy, her performance earning her the lead in another Daves-Donahue collaboration Susan Slade (1961). Diane McBain smolders as Alison, although she was subsequently typecast as the bad girl in films like Claudelle Inglish (1961). (Interestingly, McBain claims there was a bit of a rift on the set between the young performers and the older ones.)

Actress Susan Hugueny, who played Paige, met producer Robert Evans (Chinatown) while making Parrish. She was 17 and he was 30, but they were married (though it was short-lived). It was the first of seven marriages for Evans, who once described Hugueny as "so pure I felt guilty kissing her."

Susan Hugueny as Paige.
In addition to the cast, Parrish's other virtues are its colorful outdoor photography (a staple of Daves' latter films) and another fabulous score from frequent Daves' collaborator Max Steiner. The famed composer includes separate themes for each of the four female characters, with my favorite being the lilting melody for Paige.

I saved one of the most fascinating facts about Parrish for last. Hampton Fancher, who played Edgar, was relegated to TV guest star roles for much of his career. In 1982, though, he tried his hand as a screenwriter and adapted Blade Runner. He also penned the story and co-wrote the script for Blade Runner 2049 (2017). As always, should this knowledge net you a large cash prize on Jeopardy!, be sure to show your gratitude to the Cafe.

Click here to check out the rest of the awesome schedule the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon in support of National Classic Movie Day.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Five Best Abbott & Costello Movies

Abbott and Costello as a ghost.
1. The Time of Their Lives - I doubt if many A&C fans would rank this effort over #2 below, especially because Bud and Lou aren't a team in this outing. However, I stand by this choice, as it's their most original comedy with a good story, nice performances...and it's very funny. In a prologue set in 1780, Lou and Majorie Reynolds play American Revolutionary patriots who are mistakenly killed as traitors. Their ghosts are condemned to roam the Kings Point estate until their innocence can be proven. When the estate is restored 166 years later, the two ghosts have an opportunity to uncover the evidence that will free them. Bud gets to play two roles and the first-rate supporting cast include Gale Sondergaard and Binnie Barnes.

Glenn Strange and Costello.
2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein - I adore the wonderfully wacky premise: Count Dracula has recently experienced difficulty with controlling the Frankenstein Monster, so he wants to replace the Monster’s brain. Dr. Sandra Mornay (a female mad scientist—a nice touch) has chosen Costello's brain because of its simplicity. When Lou's character discovers Dracula’s plot, he quips: “I've had this brain for thirty years. It hasn't done me any good!” Packed with many of their best routines, this classic comedy was added the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2001.

3. Hold That Ghost - It used to be that comedians were seemingly required to do a "haunted house" movie. This 1941 classic was actually Bud and Lou's intended follow-up to Buck Privates. It was delayed when another service comedy, In the Navy, was released to theaters first. Hold That Ghost features one of their most famous routines: the moving candle. The plot has the boys inheriting a haunted tavern from a gangster. There's a hidden stash of cash plus a great cast featuring Universal scream queen Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis, Shemp Howard, and the Andrews Sisters. Alas, the producers added some unnecessary songs, but that's the only drawback.

4. The Naughty Nineties - Take Showboat, insert Abbott & Costello, and you've got The Naughty Nineties. Although the duo originated their "Who's on First" routine many years earlier, this version is considered the definitive one. In fact, it runs continuously at the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum and is one of the museum most popular attractions. The Naughty Nineties includes several famous burlesque gags such as the mirror routine and the swapping of glasses (one of which filled with poison). Plus, there's the "Higher/Lower" bit with Costello singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." I recommend you check it on YouTube!

5. Who Done It? -  In this outing, Bud and Lou play soda jerks who aspire to be radio mystery writers. They catch a break when they're given tickets to watch a recording of the popular radio series "Murder at Midnight"--which, of course, ends up resulting in an actual murder. Notable as their first comedy without musical numbers Who Done It? features some of the duo's best routines: Costello trying to make a limburger cheese sandwich; Lou trying to make a call on a payphone; and a gag about volts and watts with wordplay similar to "Who's on First?"(which is referenced twice).

Honorable MentionsThe Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Tarzan in Thailand--or Why Jock Mahoney May Be My Favorite King of the Jungle

Hey TCM, how can you show a Tarzan movie marathon without including at least one of Jock Mahoney's exotic jungle adventures?

I understand that Johnny Weismuller reigns supreme as the favorite Tarzan among classic movie fans. But personally, I prefer Jock Mahoney, whose intelligent, athletic hero is closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs' literary creation. Mahoney's two movies, Tarzan Goes to India (1962) and Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963), are well-made, colorful efforts that transplant our hero from his African home to India and Thailand. I recently watched the latter film for the first time in several decades.

Woody Strode as Khan.
It opens with the emperor of Tarim announcing that the Council of Elders has chosen his successor--and it's not his aggressive brother Gishi Khan (Woody Strode). Khan wants to bring new ideas to the old country and also secure the throne for his teenage son. The Council, though, has chosen a young boy named Kashi who lives in a village far removed from the capital. Kashi must make his vows at a sacred temple, journey to the city, and pass a series of tests before he can become emperor.

A monk has engaged his friend Tarzan to escort Kashi during his perilous trek. However, when the monk is killed, Kashi's guardians question whether Tarzan is who he says he is. Kashi suggests that Tarzan prove his mettle by undergoing tests of wisdom, strength, and skill. (Yes, there are a lot of tests in this movie.) I assume these are the three challenges of the title and they ain't easy! The test of strength requires Tarzan to resist the pull of two buffaloes--going in opposite directions--for five (slow) strokes of a gong.

Do not try this at home!
Having proven that he is indeed Tarzan, our jungle hero escorts Kashi on a trek filled with treachery, a raging fire, and a confrontation with Khan's men. All of that just proves to be the build-up to a climatic duel between Tarzan and Khan--which starts with the duo linked together like Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones.

Mahoney's Tarzan is a different take on the jungle hero. He's a man dedicated to accomplishing his mission, with no time for romance--despite the presence of Kashi's attractive teacher. He doesn't have a chimpanzee chum and he can't call for elephants to come to his rescue. Best of all, this Tarzan speaks in full sentences and relies on his brains as much as his brawn.

It helps, too, that his adversary is a three-dimensional villain. Yes, Khan may be greedy, but there's nothing wrong with wanting to modernize Tarim. The scenes with his son--who has no desire to be a future king--are particularly well-written. Yet, Khan's viciousness is never in doubt as when he orders the death of an innocent man and tries to kill a defenseless boy.

Mahoney as Yancy Deringer.
Jock Mahoney, a former stunt man, may be best known for his TV series Yancy Derringer (though I strongly recommend his "B" Western Joe Dakota, which is reminiscent of Bad Day at Black Rock). Mahoney contracted amoebic dysentary, dengue fever, and other diseases during the filming of Tarzan's Three Challenges in Thailand. He dropped 40 pounds during the movie, but he completed every scene. The experience left him weak for over a year and led to his decision to opt out of future Tarzan pictures.

The supporting cast includes the underrated Woody Strode as Khan and Ricky Der as Kashi. Strode, a former decathlete and professional football player, had a long career as a character actor. He appeared in a previous Tarzan movie (as did Mahoney) and later guest-starred on Ron Ely's Tarzan TV series. As for Der, he co-starred opposite Dennis Weaver in the 1964 sitcom Kentucky Jones.

I think Tarzan's Three Challenges is a superior outing for Burrough's famed protagonist. But don't take just my word for it. In his book, Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture, author David Lemme called it "one of the best Tarzan movies."

Monday, May 7, 2018

Charlie Chan Goes Agatha Christie

Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan.
While Warner Oland is my favorite Charlie Chan, I still enjoy many of Sidney Toler's outings as Earl Derr Biggers' Hawaiian police detective. One of Toler's best entries in the long-running film series is Castle in the Desert.

Like many Chan movies, the setting plays a critical role in the plot. The "castle" in Castle in the Desert turns out be an isolated $20 million mansion in the Mojave Desert with no electricity and no phone. It's owned by Paul Manderley, a wealthy recluse who wears a scarf over half of his face, and his wife Lucy. She is a descendant of the Borgias and, as if that wasn't bad enough, her brother stood trial for murder by poison.

In the film's opening scene, a genealogist named Professor Gleason arrives at the Manderleys' estate. He barely has time to meet his hosts and drink a cocktail before collapsing to the floor--the apparent victim of poison! Shortly thereafter, Charlie Chan receives a typed letter from Mrs. Manderley stating that her life is danger. When Charlie goes to investigate, his No. 2 son Jimmy Chan--who is on leave from military service--follows his "Pop."

Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Young, and Douglas Dumbrille.
Released in 1942, Castle in the Desert shares several similarities with Agatha Christie's classic whodunit And Then There Were None. The most notable is the isolated setting that prevents suspects from leaving. In Christie's novel, the suspects are stranded on an island. In Castle in the Desertsomeone steals the distributor cap from the only automobile--thus stranding everyone at the Manderleys' desert estate. Interestingly, 1974's Ten Little Indians, an adaptation of Christie's novel, changes the novel's setting to the desert (though an Iranian desert instead of the Mojave).

Veteran villain Henry Daniell.
Unlike some of Oland's Chan films, the cast of Castle in the Desert doesn't feature any future stars like Rita Hayworth and Ray Milland. However, it does have villain extraordinaire Henry Daniell as on one of the suspects. But he's too obvious to be the murderer...or is he?

As occasionally happens in older films, there are a couple of lines about Chan's ethnicity that might elicit a groan from modern audiences. For example, when Charlie arrives in the closest town to the Manderleys' castle, someone asks if he is a chop suey salesman. Later, a guest assumes Charlie must be a servant at the house.

The Charlie Chan films aren't for all tastes, but they are among the best of the "B" movies mysteries. The quality gradually declined during Toler's run and the Roland Winters movies are best avoided. Castle in the Desert is an above average Toler outing and chock full of Chan proverbs, with my fave being: "Man without enemies like dog without fleas." Well said, Charlie.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Raquel Welch Skydives and Spies in "Fathom"

Like many males from my generation, I was smitten with Raquel Welch during my teenage years. Yes, I had a poster of her on my bedroom wall (well, technically the back of the door). However, it wasn't the famous one showing her as the world's sexiest cave woman in One Million Years, B.C. Instead, my poster (a gift from my thoughtful sister) featured Raquel in a yellow bikini.

Despite Ms. Welch's early acting challenges, I sought out her movies and suffered through mediocre efforts like The Biggest Bundle of Them All and the Italian-made Shoot Loud, Louder...I Don't Understand. Incidentally, both films were shown on broadcast television in the U.S., which just proves how popular Raquel was during the late 1960s and early 1970s. My favorite of her films during this period was a bit of entertaining fluff called Fathom (1967).

Raquel Welch and Tony Franciosa.
It featured a second-billed Raquel as Fathom Harvill, a skydiver who is recruited by British intelligence (or so she thinks) to help recover a stolen nuclear bomb remote control device (or so she thinks). All Fathom has to do is land in the courtyard of a Spanish villa occupied by a handsome playboy (top-billed Tony Franciosa) and reactivate a listening device on the roof. The plan works to perfection until Fathom finds a dead body in the house and, as film characters often do, picks up the murder weapon.
Raquel skydiving...in front of a bad rear-screen.
She soon finds herself immersed in a plot to obtain what turns out to be a stolen, jewel-encrusted, Chinese artifact called the Fire Dragon. Her biggest challenge, though, is figuring out who to trust. The playboy claims to be a detective trying to recover the artifact for the Chinese government. An eccentric millionaire (Clive Revill) wants to buy the Fire Dragon for his private collection. The British spies eventually admit they aren't spies. And an ultra-cool bartender (Tom Adams), who seems like the most normal of the bunch, tries to kill Fathom with a spear-gun.

Sounds a lot like Charade (1963), doesn't it? Of course, Raquel can't act as well as Audrey Hepburn and, even with blonde hair, Tony Franciosa can't out-suave Cary Grant. Still, Fathom is an agreeable excursion that saves its best scenes--a train sequence followed by an aerial pursuit--for the climax. It certainly won't disappoint Raquel's fans, as her famous figure is showcased in a variety of colorful outfits (most notably a lime bikini). Even the title sequence focuses on her anatomy, presenting Ms. Welch from every possible angle. (I noticed it was designed by Maurice Binder, who gained fame for his James Bond title designs.)

Really, I only have two quibbles with Fathom. The first is the film's irritating, redundant music score, which unnecessarily emphasizes the film's lighthearted tone. My second beef is with Franciosa's character constantly addressing Fathom (see the IMDb for an explanation of her name) as Poppet. After the end credits rolled, I had to look up the definition of "poppet." It's a term of endearment, often used with children.

Wow, who said that Raquel Welch films weren't educational?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Five Awesome TV Series Themes (You May Have Never Heard)

The classic television landscape is filled with great themes from TV shows such as Mission: Impossible, The Avengers, Route 66, and Hawaii Five-O. However, there are a plethora of awesome themes from lesser-known TV series as well. We wanted to highlight five of them today. Best of all, you can click on the videos and listen to these opening themes on the Cafe's YouTube channel without even leaving this page.

1. Coronet Blue - Larry Cohen's short-lived 1967 series was about an amnesiac (Frank Converse) whose only clue to his identity were the words "coronet blue." He spent 13 episodes trying to discover what those words meant. The catchy title song, which reminds me of "Secret Agent Man," was penned by Earl Shuman and two-time Oscar nominee Laurence Rosenthal. Lenny Welch, who provides the vocals, scored a top 5 hit in 1963 with a cover of "Since I Fell for You."

2. The Protectors - Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter (The Forsyte Saga) starred in this 1972-73 British series about a trio of international troubleshooters. The title song "Avenues and Alleyways" was a UK hit for Lou Christie, who sings over the closing credits. I prefer the opening instrumental version.

3. UFO - Composer Barry Gray wrote some great themes for Gerry Anderson's marionette TV series (e.g., Thunderbirds, Stingray). So, it was only natural that Anderson would turn to Gray for his first live-action show in 1970. I love how the snazzy music is perfectly synchronized with the rapid editing.

4. The Loner - Jerry Goldsmith had already received one of his 18 Oscar nominations when he composed the theme to Rod Serling's 1965-66 TV Western. The show starred Lloyd Bridges as a former Union officer roaming the West and dealing with issues such as racial prejudice, redemption, and resignation.

5. Man In a Suitcase - This jazzy theme is probably the least-known on this list, but it was composed by Ron Grainer. He was responsible for memorable title tunes for TV series such as The Prisoner and Doctor Who as well the scores for movies like To Sir, With Love (though he didn't write the title song). Incidentally, the Man In a Suitcase theme was later used for the 1996-2000 British entertainment show TFI Friday.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Movie-TV Connection Game (April 2018)

Welcome film and TV trivia experts! In this game, you will be given a pair or trio of films or performers. Your task is 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. Diana Rigg, Kenneth More, and Deborah Kerr.

2. The TV series Gunsmoke and the film Deliverance.

3. Johnny Depp and Charles Laughton.

4. Robert Wagner and Kevin Costner.

5. The movies Dark of the Sun and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold.

6. The movies Roustabout and The Naked Gun.

7. The movies Airplane! and High Noon.

8. It Happened to Jane and The Mysterious Island (1961).

9. Hayley Mills and Jeremy Irons.

10. The film Night of the Iguana and the TV series Dark Shadows.

11. Gary Cooper and Audie Murphy.

12. Michael York and Errol Flynn.

13. Bob Hope and George Sanders.

14. Lee J. Cobb and Stewart Granger.

15. Alan Ladd and Cliff Robertson (this one's a bit of a stretch).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Earthquake Rumbles and Rattles!

Genevieve Bujold and Charlton Heston.
Rumble...rumble. That's the sound of Earthquake (1974), one of several big budget, all-star disaster movies made in the 1970s. Airport (1970) perfected the formula, but it was The Poseidon Adventure (1972) that inspired a dozen or so imitations (not counting the spoofs The Big Bus and Airplane!). Still, Earthquake had one thing that these other disaster pics didn't have--and that was Sensurround. But before we delve into that thunderous technology, let's take a look at the plot.

Ava Gardner and Loren Greene.
Charlton Heston stars as Stewart Graff, a former football player-turned-engineer who, along with other Los Angeles residents, feels an earth tremor in the film's opening scenes. Stewart is coping with a high-strung wife (Ava Gardner) who fakes suicides, while becoming attracted to a young widow (Genevieve Bujold).

Disaster film vet Kennedy also played
a cop on The Blue Knight TV series.
Meanwhile, street cop George Kennedy is suspended after punching a fellow officer (who deserved it, of course) and a motorcycle daredevil (Richard Roundtree) prepares to perform a stunt worthy of Evel Knieval. And then there's the creepy grocery store employee (Marjoe Gortner) who moonlights as a National Guardsman.

While all these folks shrug off the tremor, a young seismology student (Kip Niven) predicts that the Big One is coming. Little does he know that one of his bosses has already died as a result of a crack in the Earth and that a city employee has mysteriously drowned in an elevator shaft at the dam....

Earthquake, which was co-written by Mario Puzo--yes, the author of The Godfather!--differs in scope from most disaster films. Its tapestry is an entire city, not just a towering inferno or a cruise ship turned upside down. Puzo and co-writer George Fox do a nice job of introducing the characters and then weaving them into a single storyline after the earthquake decimates the city.

The big quake, which constitutes a seven-minute sequence--still looks impressive. Yes, there are some obvious miniature sets in some clips, but one can see why Earthquake earned an Oscar for Best Special Effects. The effects team included acclaimed matte artist Albert Whitlock, who was likely responsible for the eerie closing shot of a crumbling, burning L.A. Earthquake also won an Oscar for Best Sound and that brings us to...
Los Angeles in shambles after the first big quake.
Sensurround, which was the brand name for a sound system that allowed theater audiences to "feel" the rumbles from the earthquake by using low-frequency sound waves. According to Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States, theater owners rented special speakers and an amplifier for $500 a week when showing a Sensurround movie. While the new technology may have contributed to Earthquake's boxoffice clout, it barely survived the 1970s. It was used in a handful of other films such as Midway (1976) and Rollercoaster (1977). However, the introduction of Dolby high-fidelity stereo had attracted far more attention by the end of the decade.

When Earthquake made its broadcast television debut on NBC in 1976, the movie was expanded into a two-night "event." The running time was extended by inserting leftover footage and filming new scenes, including a subplot about an airplane unable to land due to the quake. My recommendation is to steer clear of that inflated edition and stick with the 123-minute version. It may not be great filmmaking, but it's one of the better disaster movies and the cast seems fully engaged.

By the way, that is Victoria Principal (shown on the right) as the the frizzy-haired Rosa, four years before she starred in Dallas. At one time, she and George Kennedy were among those scheduled to star in an Earthquake sequel. Also, although you may not see Walter Matthau's name in the credits, that's him (of course) as the drunk in the bar. He asked to be credited as Walter Matuschanskayasky.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Do You Remember When? (Classic TV Edition)

OK, classic TV fans, do you remember when...

Festus and Marshal Dillon on Gunsmoke.
1. A full season for a TV series like Gunsmoke was comprised of 32 episodes...or more! Today, a show is lucky to get a season order for 24 episodes.

2. Saturday night was filled with quality television series. In 1972, for example, you could watch the following on Saturday evening: Bewitched, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Mission: Impossible.

3. The broadcast networks rolled out their new shows all at the same time as part of "Premiere Week."

The Cardinals--my team--win it all!
4. The World Series was broadcast only during the day. (I had to hide a transistor radio earplug up my sleeve to listen to the '67 series while attending fifth grade.)

5. The Hallmark Hall of Fame was a prestigious TV event that aired 4-5 times a season and starred A-list stars such as George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward, Richard Harris, Peter Ustinov, and Charlton Heston.

6. The CBS Late Movie ran films--most of them never shown before on television--every weekday night at 11:30. To my delight, Friday evolved into "horror movie night" with Hammer classics such as Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Host Tom Jones and guest Cher.
7. Variety shows were all the rage! In the 1968-69 TV season, you could watch variety TV series hosted by (take a deep breath): Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, the Smothers Brothers, Rowan & Martin, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, the King Family, Jonathan Winters, John Davidson, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, and Jackie Gleason. That's not even counting The Hollywood Palace, which featured guest hosts (Bing Crosby was the most frequent one with 31 appearances in seven seasons).

Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner.
8. British TV shows were "imported" as summer replacement series--and some of them became hits! Examples include The Avengers, Secret Agent, Man in a Suitcase, The Champions, and The Prisoner.

9.  The only way to see a movie you missed at a theater was to wait for it to come on broadcast television. If you were lucky, one of the networks would buy the rights and show it as a "World Television Premiere" about two years after the film's theatrical run.

10. Real (as opposed to animated) animals starred in their own television series or had flashy supporting roles. There were dogs (Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, the Littlest Hobo), horses (Mister Ed, Fury, My Friend Flicka), a dolphin (Flipper), a lion (Clarence in Daktari), chimps (Bear, Lancelot), bears (Gentle Ben), birds (Fred on Baretta), an alligator (Elvis on Miami Vice), and a pig (Arnold on Green Acres). And that's just naming a few of the furry famous!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bing Crosby Tends to Dr. Cook's Garden

Bing Crosby as Dr. Leonard Cook.
Leonard Cook is a kindly small-town physician who has delivered most of the residents of Greenfield. Approaching age 70, he still makes house calls, works long hours, and is always willing to help raise funds for the community. There's just one problem: Dr. Cook may be a murderer.

Made in 1971, Dr. Cook's Garden stars Bing Crosby in his final leading role. Sporting gray hair and a beard, Crosby delivers a nuanced performance that's different from anything else he's done.

Even though the film's premise is established in its opening scenes, the actor's sincerity keeps one guessing about whether Dr. Cook could be killing selected patients. His best scene has the good doctor offering plausible, though far-fetched, explanations about why he stores so much poison and places the letter "R" on certain patients' cards ("R means rest or repeat," he insists, when asks if it means "remove").

Frank Converse and Blythe Danner.
Frank Converse co-stars as Jim Tennyson, a young medical intern who returns to Greenfield after a five-year absence. Jim, who lost his parents as a boy, views Leonard Cook as a surrogate father. But the loving reunion starts to slowly sour when Jim notices all the "nice people seem to live to a ripe old age and the mean ones seem to die off." There almost seems to be a correlation with Dr. Cook's garden in which certain plants are removed to provide a healthier environment for the rest. Could that be what Leonard Cook is doing in Greenfield?

Burl Ives and Keir Dullea.
The teleplay for Dr. Cook's Garden was based on a Broadway play of the same title by Ira Levin. The stage version ran for just eight performances in 1967. It starred Burl Ives as Dr. Cook (I imagine he was excellent) and Keir Dullea as Jim. Ira Levin is probably best known for his novels Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, with the latter's idyllic town somewhat reminiscent of Greenfield.

Dr. Cook's Garden appeared on ABC's Movie of the Week during what I consider to be the Golden Age of made-for-TV films. It's a clever, well-acted movie, but don't take my word for it. In Stephen King's Danse Macabre, his 1981 analysis of horror in literature, film, and television, the famed author wrote about Ira Levin's works: "Less known is a modest but chillingly effective made-for-TV movie called Dr. Cook's Garden, starring Bing Crosby in a wonderfully adroit performance."

Well said, Steve.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Lon Chaney, Jr. Places a Call to Dr. Death

Lon Chaney, Jr. reflects on a case.
Inspired by the popular Inner Sanctum radio suspense series, Calling Dr. Death was the first of a six-film series produced by Universal in the 1940s. It's an imaginative mystery with noirish elements that kicks off the franchise in style.

Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as Dr. Mark Steele, a financially successful neurologist trapped in a loveless marriage. Mark blacks out one weekend and awakes in his office to learn that his wife Maria has been brutally murdered. How brutal? The killer beat Maria to death with a blunt instrument and then threw acid in her face.

J. Carrol Naish as the inspector.
Maria's demise allows Mark to pursue a relationship with his loyal nurse Stella (Patricia Morrison). However, his ability to bury the past is obstructed by a dogged detective (J. Carrol Naish) and a persistent fear that he could still be the murderer--even though Maria's lover has been arrested.

There's much to like in Calling Dr. Death, from Naish's weird, obsessed detective to the hypnosis-infused climax. However, what truly sets it apart from other "B" mysteries is the extensive use of voice-overs to convey Mark's thoughts. While I have seen that technique employed effectively in other films, I've never seen it used to such a large degree. It allows the viewer to get to know Mark intimately and, let's be honest, the good doctor should be seeing a psychologist to resolve his own issues.

Patricia Morrison as Stella.
Lon Chaney, Jr. gives an adequate performance as the protagonist, who reminded me at times of Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man movies. With a few exceptions (e.g., Of Mice and Men, Son of Dracula), I've never found Chaney, Jr. to be a compelling actor. However, the dependable Naish has one of his best roles as Inspector Gregg and Patricia Morrison makes Stella more interesting as the film progresses. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as Stella.

Chaney is the only actor to appear all six Inner Sanctum films, which feature no recurring characters. Most of the series' entries are psychological suspense movies with twist endings. Strangely enough, 1948's Inner Sanctum, though also inspired by the radio show, was not part of the Universal series.

Calling Dr. Death is also notable for the debut for the now-famous prologue featuring a floating, warped head inside a crystal ball. Click on the clip below to watch it!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sam Peckinpah's TV Series "The Westerner"

Brian Keith and Spike in The Westerner.
Produced in 1960, The Westerner is a tough, realistic TV Western that befits its creator, Sam Peckinpah. The director  was already a TV veteran, having written and directed episodes of Gunsmoke, Broken Arrow, and The Rifleman in the 1950s. In fact, he is often credited as the creator of The Rifleman, having written the pilot which first appeared on Zane Grey Theater.

The Westerner stars Brian Keith as an illiterate drifter named Dave Blassingame, who travels from town to town with his dog Brown. While not openly affectionate--indeed, Dave criticizes Brown for not helping out on more than one occasion--there is a strong bond between man and dog. They're both independent souls; Dave describes Brown as "being his own dog." Hence, it's not a surprise when Dave turns down a hefty sum of $200 when a dandy tries to buy Brown (the same episode features what may be one of the longest fist fights in broadcast TV history).

Diana Millay and Brian Keith.
The Westerner, though, is not about Dave and Brown. They're the protagonists that keep the plots moving, but Peckinpah is more interested in the people they meet while roaming the frontier. In the first episode, Dave almost dies trying to rescue a young woman from the apparent clutches of a manipulative older man. It's not until the closing scene that Dave learns she really doesn't want to be rescued.

Peckinpah earned his reputation as a director, but he was a good writer, too. He has a hand in many of the scripts with Bruce Geller (creator of Mission: Impossible) also penning several of them. The second episode includes some great examples of the series' first-rate writing, such as this exchange between Dave and a dead man's brothers played by John Anderson and Williams Tracy.

Brother #1:  It must take a lot of stomach to ride into a man's kin and tell them you killed their brother. (To the other brother) Go find the book.

Brother #2 (to Dave): Proud of it, he is.

Dave: Don't point at me as being proud. I don't take no pride in killing.

Brother #1: You ain't sorry.

Dave: You bet I am. I'm sorry if I had to kill him I didn't get there a couple of minutes earlier. I'm sorry he was ever born.

Sadly, NBC cancelled The Westerner after 13 episodes due to low ratings; it was up against Route 66 on CBS and The Flintstones on ABC. I suspect the show may have experienced some challenges with the network's censors, too. Some episodes feature sudden violent outbursts (e.g., a schoolteacher attacked and accidentally killed) that remain potent today.

Peckinpah tried to revive the series in 1963 with an episode of The Dick Powell Theatre called "The Losers." It was a contemporary "Western" and starred Lee Marvin as Dave Blassingame (who still has a dog as a companion).

In 1967, Tom Gries adapted an episode he wrote of The Westerner ("Line Camp") into the motion picture Will Penny. The critically-acclaimed movie starred Charlton Heston as a aging cowboy who befriends a young woman and her son. Heston has often claimed it was his favorite among his film roles.

Spike in Old Yeller.
By the way, if the dog playing Brown in The Westerner looks familiar, then you may recognize the work of canine actor Spike. He is best-known for portraying the title role in Walt Disney's Old Yeller. My favorite of his scenes in The Westerner is when Dave is trying to get Brown to chew the ropes tying his hands--and the canine is too busy sampling leftovers on a dinner table. That sounds like my dogs.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Beyond the Poseidon is Not a Disaster

Following 1978's unmitigated flop The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) offers a little redemption for producer-director Irwin Allen and star Michael Caine. Let's be clear: This belated and unnecessary sequel to 1972's The Poseidon Adventure is not a good film. But it is a watchable film thanks to an interesting cast and the many ways it manages to rehash the first film.

Caine plays Mike Turner, a small-time ship captain with financial difficulties, who loses his cargo in a storm at sea. Turner, first mate Wilbur (Karl Malden), and "passenger" Celeste (Sally Field) get a break when they happen on the capsized Poseidon. Turner plans to board the luxury ocean liner and recover any valuables, which he can then claim as salvage.

Michael Caine, Karl Malden, and Sally Field.
Before he can execute his plan, a larger ship arrives at the site. Its captain, Dr. Stefan Svevo (Telly Savalas), states his mission is to rescue and provide medical services to the remaining survivors. Turner and Svevo both lead parties into the bowels of the Poseidon--which Wilbur dubs a "floating time bomb"--and are quickly trapped inside the sinking ocean liner.

There are few surprises in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. It turns out that Svevo has an ulterior motive which has nothing to do with saving passengers. That leaves Turner to become the reluctant hero as he finds passengers who were apparently left behind at the end of the previous film.

Mark Harmon and Angela Cartwright.
Those survivors include: an overprotective father (Peter Boyle), his daughter (Angela Cartwright), the daughter's burgeoning boyfriend (Mark Harmon), the ship's nurse (Shirley Jones), a blind man (Jack Warden) and his wife (Shirley Knight), a socialite (Veronica Hamel), and a self-proclaimed Texas billionaire (Slim Pickens). Naturally, not all of them will make it to the end of the film!

The original Poseidon Adventure is one of the best disaster movies, thanks largely to Gene Hackman's commanding performance. As much as I like Michael Caine, he doesn't put much effort into his lead role. His opening scenes with Sally Field, which include an overdose of playful banter, are painful. It's not hard to see why actors such as John Wayne, Burt Reynolds, and Clint Eastwood allegedly turned down the part.

Savalas...not as Blofeld.
To her credit, Sally Field eventually rights the ship (no pun intended) as the always-optimistic Celeste. Her best scene is when she volunteers to help Caine just so she can cry out of sight of the other passengers. As for the rest of the cast, it's fun to see Slim Pickens hamming it up as a Texas oil man and to watch a young Mark Harmon paired with Penny Robinson from Lost in Space. And I must admit that Telly Savalas' first appearance, dressed in an all-white uniform, made me think he was reprising his role as Blofeld from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Surprisingly, the special effects--always a highlight in an Irwin Allen production--are somewhat shoddy. There are some embarrassing rear-screen shots at the start of the film. And when Caine and Malden are navigating their tiny ship through a ferocious storm, one gets the feeling that a bunch of grips are just off-screen throwing buckets of water so they splash on the deck.

It's easy to criticize a movie like Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, but by the time Caine and Co. started focusing on how to escape from the ocean liner, I found myself getting involved in their plight. Yes, it rehashed much of the original with folks bickering among themselves as they jump across huge holes in the hallways and climb creaky ladders with flames blazing below them. I expected all of that...along with the stereotypes and the obvious plotting.

That doesn't mean it was any less fun.

Here's a clip from Beyond the Poseidon Adventure courtesy of www.warnerarchive.com. You can view it full-screen on the Cafe's YouTube channel. (You can also stream the entire movie at Warner Archive).

Monday, April 2, 2018

Five Movie Props I'd Like to Own (Volume II)

1. Atticus Finch's Pocket Watch. I pondered opting for the whole box of treasures shown in the opening credits of To Kill a Mockingbird--but that seemed greedy. Plus, I love the scene where Atticus tucks Scount in her bed and she asks to play with his pocket watch. He explains that he will leave the watch to Jem, as it's a father-son tradition, and she will receive her mother's pearls. And if Atticus's watch isn't available, I'll settle for the one that the kids find in the knot hole in the tree (shown on right).

2. James Bond's Walther PPK Pistol. Agent 007 first brandishes his trademark firearm in Dr. No, but it appears in many subsequent films. Some firearms experts claim the gun used in Dr. No is the PP model and not the PPK as identified in the film. I don't know about that. By the way, one of my friends has a space suit that was used in Moonraker. It's not overly impressive up close, proving once again that cinema is all about creating illusions on the silver screen.

3. James Stewart's Camera from Rear Window. My movie prop collection would have to include something from one of my favorite Hitchcock movies. So, why not the camera--and telephoto lens--used by James Stewart's character in Rear Window? The Exakta Varex VX with a Kilfitt Fern-Kilar f/5.6 400mm lens plays an integral part to the plot. Not only does Stewart employ it to spy on his neighbors, but he uses the flash to temporarily blind Raymond Burr during the climax.

4. The Box containing the "Great Whatzit" from Kiss, Me Deadly. Sure, it's just a leather-wrapped box...but it's also one of cinema's most famous movie "MacGuffins." Incidentally, I am not interested in the contents of the box, which apparently consisted of radioactive materials that led to the (literally) explosive ending.

5. A Model of the Submarine Seaview from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I suspect many of you would opt for the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea if interested in a submarine model. However, as a kid, I loved Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, both the 1961 film and subsequent TV series. There were actually several different-sized models built of the Seaview. I'd go for one of the smaller ones due to storage space. I have a photo of one of them, courtesy of a fan letter I wrote to 20th Century Fox when I was 8 years old.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Movie-TV Connection Game (March 2018)

What do Jane and Brigitte have in common?
Spring is in the air! That means, well, it's time for another edition of our most popular game. As always, you will be given a pair or trio of films or performers. Your task is 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. George C. Scott and George Kennedy.

2. The Beverly Hillbillies and Mary Poppins.

3. Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda.

4. Jennifer Lopez and Strother Martin.

5. Dennis Weaver and Clint Eastwood.

6. Peter Boyle and Michael Sarrazin.

7. Joe Namath and Marlon Brando.

8. Sidney Poitier and Sandy Dennis.

9. Clint Eastwood and Adrienne Barbeau.

10. Danny Kaye and John Garfield.

11. Don Knotts and Chevy Chase.

12. Bing Crosby and Cornel Wilde.

13. Walt Disney and Gregory Peck.

14. Montgomery Clift, Richard Chamberlain, and Christopher Reeve.

15. Greta Garbo and Cyd Charisse.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Let's Go to Witch Mountain!

Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards.
Newcomers Tony and his sister Tia don't blend in with the other children at the Pine Woods orphanage. That will happen when you have telepathic, telekinetic, and clairvoyant powers. The two siblings try to hide their extrasensory abilities, although Tony obviously has trouble doing so.

When he and Tia save the mysterious Mr. Deranian from a car accident, the man appears at the orphanage claiming the children are his long-lost niece and nephew. Tony and Tia can't dispute Deranian's story, because they can't remember their early childhood (although Tia has occasional visions of almost drowning).

After providing forged legal documents, Deranian adopts the siblings and moves them into the mansion of his employer, Aristotle Bolt. It quickly becomes evident that Bolt intends to use the children's powers for his own benefit. Meanwhile, Tia discovers a map that may provide the answer to her and Tony's origins.

The paranormal kids and normal Eddie Albert.
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) is one of the best Disney live action films of the 1970s, For the most part, the decade was not kind to the family-friendly film company. It struggled with big-budgeted flops like Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) as well as more reasonably priced pictures (e.g., 1973's One Little Indian) that failed to find an audience. Heck, even Fred MacMurray--once one of Disney's most bankable stars--couldn't make a hit out of Charley and the Angel (1973).

Escape to Witch Mountain benefits from a well-plotted story and a good cast. The former can be attributed to Alexander H. Keys' 1968 science fiction novel. The film's screenplay simplifies Key's book and makes some substantial changes. For example, in the novel, Tia is mute and communicates with Tony only through telepathy. However, the film still retains the central mystery of the children's origin and the mysterious map leading to Witch Mountain.

An adult Kim Richards.
A persuasive cast carries the film nicely, particularly the always reliable Donald Pleasance as Deranian and Eddie Albert as a cynical widower that ends up helping Tia and Tony. Unfortunately, Ray Milland is wasted as the one-note villain. As for the kids, Kim Richards (Tia) comes across as a more natural performer than Ike Eisenmann (Tony). Richards was a busy child actor, having co-starred as Prudence in the 1970-71 TV series Nanny and the Professor. And--before you can ask--yes, she grew up to be the same Kim Richards that gained notoriety on the reality TV series The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Lee and Davis as the baddies.
Despite a solid showing at the box office, Disney waited three years to mount the sequel Return from Witch Mountain (1978). It reunited Richards and Eisenmann as the paranormal youths, but unwisely omitted Eddie Albert. Christopher Lee and Bette Davis (in one of her worst later roles) star as the villains. There's practically no plot with the emphasis being on an increased number of cheap-looking special effects.

In 1982, Disney produced a busted TV pilot called Beyond Witch Mountain, which starred Eddie Albert and featured Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Bolt. In 1995, Disney remade the original as a made-for-TV film with Robert Vaughn as Bolt. This time, the kids were named Danny and Anna and were helped by a young waitress.

Finally, in 2009, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson headlined Race to Witch Mountain, playing a Las Vegas cabbie that befriends two unusual siblings named Sara and Seth. Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann had cameos as, respectively, a waitress and a sheriff.