Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jack Nicholson Directs Goin' South

Henry Lloyd Moon--a second-rate outlaw with a third-rate gang--learns the hard way that it doesn't pay to tease a posse. After crossing the border to Mexico, Moon stops to laugh at the pursuing posse. The sheriff pauses for a few minutes, then rides across the river and arrests Moon. Following his delivery to the jail in Longhorn, Moon is sentenced to hang.

Mary Steenburgen.
However, on the way to the gallows, he finds out about an usual local ordinance. Any single woman can save a condemned man by marrying him. Moon becomes ecstatic when an elderly woman proposes marriage--but, unfortunately, she dies before they can be hitched. With the noose around his neck, he is saved a second time when the attractive Julia Tate "claims" him. She makes it clear that the marriage is strictly a business proposition because she needs help on her farm. However, since the two characters are played by Mary Steenburgen and Jack Nicholson, it's pretty obvious how the plot will unfold.

Made in 1978, the story behind the making of Goin' South is more interesting than the film itself. Elliott Gould and Candice Bergen were originally cast as the leads, with Mike Nichols attached as director. That production never came to fruition and the script sat on the shelf. Meanwhile, Jack Nicholson was developing Moontrap, an adaptation of Don Berry's 1971 novel about a former mountain man's adventures in the Oregon Territory in 1850. Nicholson wanted to direct Moontrap, but not star in it. He eventually relented and agreed to take a supporting role in the hope of getting the film made. Yet, despite his efforts, Nicholson could never bring Moontrap to the screen.

Christopher Lloyd and John Belushi.
When the opportunity to direct Goin' South came along, Nicholson took it. With the exception of newcomer Steenburgen, Nicholson surrounded himself with cronies: co-writer John Herman Shaner; production designer Toby Carr Rafelson (director Bob Rafelson's ex-wife); producer Harry Gittes (who worked with Nicholson on Drive, He Said); One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest co-stars Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito; and Nicholson's frequent co-star Luana Anders. There are even more familiar faces in the rest of the supporting cast, to include: Veronica Cartwright (Alien, The Birds); John Belushi (playing a Mexican deputy); Richard Bradford (Man in a Suitcase); Anne Ramsey (who would later team with DeVito in Throw Mama from the Train); and Ed Begley, Jr.

Steenburgen and Nicholson.
In a recent interview with the Café, Cartwright described working with Nicholson the director: "Jack is just nuts. He’s great. It’s like one big giant party." Surprisingly, that approach doesn't show up on the screen; the first hour of Goin' South is a pleasant romantic comedy effectively played by Steenburgen and Nicholson. However, once their characters' love for one another is established, the film loses momentum and lumbers to its conclusion. In Dennis McDougal's biography of Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times, the author notes Nicholson's disappointment that critics and viewers ignored that Moon's gang were social miscasts. He quotes Nicholson: "(They were) all members of Quantrill's Raiders, the original guerrilla warfare unit in America. And what do you do with these people once they're home?"

Jack Nicholson followed up Goin' South by starring in The Shining. Kubrick's film prevented Nicholson from doing Melvin and Howard. However, he lent a copy of the script to Mary Steenburgen while making Goin' South. She later won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Melvin and Howard.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Veronica Cartwright Talks with the Café about Hitchcock, Alien, and the Beaver

With a resume that includes Leave It to Beaver, The Birds, Alien, and The X Files, Veronica Cartwright has fashioned a lengthy, impressive acting career showcasing her versatility. She made her film debut at age 9 as Robert Wagner’s sister in 1958’s In Love and War. Ms Cartwright may have been the busiest child actor of the 1960s. On the big screen, she co-starred in The Children’s Hour, The Birds, and Spencer’s Mountain. On television, she appeared on four episodes of Leave It to Beaver (three times as Violet Rutherford) and she played Jemima Boone, Fess Parker’s daughter, on Daniel Boone. She also guest-starred in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Route 66, and other classic TV series. Unlike many child actors, she made an easy transition to adult roles, giving memorable performances in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien, The Right Stuff, and The Witches of Eastwick. Ms. Cartwright was nominated for an Emmy for Best Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for three consecutive years (twice for The X Files and once for ER). Earlier in her career, she won a regional Emmy for Best Actress in a Television Movie for Tell Me Not in Mournful Numbers. She is still in high demand in both movies and television, having recently appeared in Revenge, Grey’s Anatomy, and the Lifetime movie Non-Stop.

Café:  As a young actor, you appeared in films directed by William Wyler (The Children's Hour) and Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds). How did these great directors from Hollywood's Golden Age approach working with their actors?

With Tippi Hedren in The Birds.
Veronica Cartwright:  William Wyler had a very unconventional approach, especially working with children. I was auditioning for the role Mary and he shot off a gun to see my reaction. I ended up getting the part of Rosalie. There were some very emotional scenes and he would have me do them and really get there and then he would start shooting it. Alfred Hitchcock was always lovely. He just told us what he wanted and he always treated me like a colleague. He saw me in The Children’s Hour and then requested to meet me. I went to his bungalow on the Universal Studios lot and he told me his favorite wine cellar was in Bristol, which is where I was born, and then proceeded to tell me the names of wines. At 12 years old, I didn't need that information, but I wish I could remember the names now. He also told me how to cook a steak, which I would need to know when I got married, and I have since tried and it works. He was a riot and he just sat and talked to me. He just made me feel comfortable and I could ask him any questions I wanted about the production, the fake birds, etc.

Café:  You appeared in three of the most intense (and famous) scenes in The Birds: the attack at the school; the birthday party; and the birds swooping down the chimney. Which was the most demanding for you as an actress and why?

VC:  I didn't like those birds swooping down from the chimney. There were thousands of them. We were in a bubble and they would just swoop down and go to fly up and then realize there was nowhere to go. Then, they just dropped. That one was the most challenging because it was so confining.

Veronica as Violet Rutherford.
Café:  Having also appeared on other family sitcoms, such as Family Affair and My Three Sons, why do you think Leave It to Beaver has maintained its enduring popularity? And what was it like to play Violet Rutherford as an adult in 1985 on The New Leave It to Beaver?

VC:  I think just everybody could identify with the Beaver and his older brother. It was a clean, family show. I gave Beaver his first kiss at 9 years old. In the 1985 version, they intercut it with the kissing episode. In the movie, Violet poses as a real estate woman who has a side business of being a dominatrix. It was very funny.

Café:  Daniel Boone fans have long wondered why Jemima Boone, Daniel’s daughter, didn’t appear in any episodes after the second season. Was that the producers’ decisions (perhaps to trim costs) or did you want to pursue other acting opportunities?

VC:  I got to a certain point and they were giving me opportunities to be more of a romantic lead and have more mature story lines with such actors as Fabian. The actress playing my mother didn't care for that, so she wouldn't sign her contract if they brought me back. She felt that it aged her.

Café:  How did you come to be cast as Lambert in Alien?

Veronica as Lambert in Alien.
VC:  I auditioned for the character of Ripley and then I happened to be going to Europe, so I checked with my agent to see if the part had been cast yet. I thought being British it could be to my advantage for them to see me again, so I auditioned when I got to London. I got cast and I thought I got cast as Ripley. It wasn’t until I was contacted by wardrobe to be fitted for my space suit that I found out I was Lambert. She ultimately turned out to be the only sensible one.

Café:  Alien and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are two very different science fiction films. While both generate plenty of suspense, Alien depends, in large part, on a monster created by special effects. The most frightening aspect of Body Snatchers is its theme. Which kind of movie presents the biggest challenge to an actress? And which do you think is more terrifying?

VC:  Actually, there was no CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery). The Alien was a man from the Masai tribe who was over seven feet tall. They built the suit to fit him. He could only move very slowly and took mime lessons and tai chi. In a sense, Body Snatchers is more psychological. The scary thing about Body Snatchers was the aspect of living in a grey area and not feeling love or hate. There was always the prospect that if you fell asleep you could wake up and be a zombie. Alien was more like a Hitchcock film where your mind was doing more of the scaring because you would just see glimpses as an audience member until the Alien stepped out. They were both equally challenging for different reasons. I guess Alien was more terrifying because of the monster, but then again the other one is a creepy concept to think of.

As Cassandra Spenderwith Fox Mulder
in the background.
Café:  On several episodes of The X Files, you played Cassandra Spender, an alien abductee who was the ex-wife of The Cigarette Smoking Man and mother of Agent Jeffrey Spender. How would you describe your X Files experiences?

VC:  Well, the first two episodes were shot in Canada. My character is wheelchair bound and we discover she has a chip in the back of her neck like Scully. I had been abducted and by the end of the second episode I was abducted again. When I came back I was now able to walk. My take on what happened was that since I knew so much about the aliens, I had become one of them. It was really fun. Chris Carter directed one of my episodes.

Veronica in Goin' South, directed by
Jack Nicholson.
Café:  You’ve worked with a number of famous directors: Hitchcock, Wyler, Ridley Scott, Philip Kaufman, and even Jack Nicholson. Who is your favorite director and why?

VC:  They are all great for their own reasons. I've done three movies with Phil. He knows you’ve done your homework and he trusts you to make a well rounded character. Jack is just nuts. He’s great. It’s like one big giant party. Ridley has a terrific eye for detail. And I already talked about my experiences with Hitchcock and Wyler.

Café:  You and your sister Angela appeared together in a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“The Swartz-Metteaklume Method”) and you were a guest star on Make Room for Daddy. Were there ever any plans to make a movie starring the Cartwright sisters? (Perhaps a science fiction film for fans of Alien and Lost in Space?)

VC:  Well, at one point, Angela and I decided to get together with Tony Dow and a bunch of other actors like Billy Mumy, Billy Grey, Johnny Crawford and several others to make a space movie, but it never got off the ground.

Café:  Are you working on any projects now that you’d like to share with your fans?

VC:  Yes!  I’m on Resurrection, the ABC show, at 10 P.M. on Sundays starting March 9th. My character’s name is Helen Edgerton. Also, I am in the motion picture The Town that Dreaded Sundown. It is a remake of the 1976 movie of the same name and will be released by Sony in September.

You can learn more about Veronica Cartwright at her web site: You can also follow her on Twitter at

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Seven Things to Know about The Midnight Special

1. The pilot episode for The Midnight Special, hosted by John Denver, was broadcast on NBC in August 1972. Its theme was to encourage eighteen-year-olds in the U.S. to register so they could vote in the upcoming presidential election. The 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, had been ratified just a year earlier. That first show's guest performers included Harry Chapin, Linda Ronstadt, The Isley Brothers, Mama Cass, Argent, and Helen Reddy (who would later serve as host for a year--the only time the show had a permanent host).

2. Wolfman Jack was The Midnight Special's announcer from the beginning and was the only "regular" during its eight-year run. Born Robert Weston Smith, the deep-voiced disc jockey first gained fame in the early 1960s at a 250kw clear-channel radio station near the Mexican border. He was already a popular syndicated deejay in the U.S. when he appeared in George Lucas' nostalgic American Graffiti (1973).

3. The Midnight Special, which debuted in its regular Saturday 1:00 A.M. time slot in February 1973, was the first late-night series to follow The Tonight Show. Tom Snyder's talk show Tomorrow debuted later that year and filled the same time slot on Tuesday through Friday.

Tina Turner rockin' out on The Midnight Special.
4. It seems as though every notable musical act of the 1970s appeared on The Midnight Special at some point. The impressive list of performers included ABBA, Lynn Anderson, The Bee Gees, David Bowie, James Brown, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Kiss, Gordon Lightfoot, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, Paul McCartney, Olivia Newton-John, Diana Ross, Sly & the Family Stone, the Rolling Stones, and Tina Turner (with and without Ike).

5. Donna Summer was the most frequent performer, logging nine appearances from 1976-1981--during the disco era, of course. Indeed, at the height of disco, The Midnight Special set was redesigned to look like a disco club.

6. The Midnight Special eventually expanded its guest star line-up to include comedians, such as: Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, Andy Kaufman, Jimmie Walker, David Brenner, Monty Python, and Bill Cosby.

7. NBC cancelled The Midnight Special in 1981. Part of the reason was that it wanted to lure back programming executive Dick Ebersol to revive a flagging Saturday Night Live. Ebersol, who was instrumental in SNL's original success, had left NBC in 1980 to pursue other ventures, which included producing The Midnight Special. To free Ebersol from The Midnight Special, NBC--which had been mulling cancellation anyway--just terminated its pioneer late-night show.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, and Peter Ustinov (Oh my!)

In the 1980s, CBS broadcast several contemporary adaptations of Agatha Christie novels for U.S. television. Peter Ustinov, who first played Hercule Poirot in the theatrical Evil Under the Sun (1982), reprised his portrayal in three made-for-TV films starting with 1985's Thirteen for Dinner. Helen Hayes debuted as Miss Jane Marple in CBS's A Caribbean Mystery in 1983 and appeared in the follow-up Murder With Mirrors (1985). Hayes was also in a third Christie film, the earlier Murder Is Easy, but she didn't play Miss Marple.

Helen Hayes as Jane Marple.
A Caribbean Mystery finds Miss Marple (Helen Hayes) vacationing for health reasons at the tropical Golden Palm Hotel, a long way from her beloved St. Mary Mead. The first hotel guest to befriend her is Major Palgrave (Maurice Evans), a would-be writer who recounts the true story of a wife murderer. He is about to show Miss Marple a photo of the killer when he's distracted by the sight of one of the other guests. That night, the Major dies in bed, the apparent victim of mixing alcohol and high blood pressure medicine. But, as Miss Marple suspects, the Major is a victim of foul play--and he's not the only victim.

Major Palgrave (Maurice Evans) spots
the murderer.
Although it's fun to watch Miss Marple in a very different setting, A Caribbean Mystery is not one of Agatha Christie's best works. There's a minor plot twist that may surprise some viewers, but Christie fans will instantly recognize one of the author's favorite plot devices. Sue Grafton, prior to writing her bestselling Kinsey Milhone novels (e.g., A Is For Alibi), penned the screenplay with her husband Steven Humphrey. They set up the mystery well and establish the characters quickly, which is no small feat. Christie's novels contain no shortage of suspects and it can be challenging to differentiate between them in a movie with a running time of 100 minutes or less.

The biggest problem with A Caribbean Mystery is Helen Hayes. Although she is likable, as always, her character bears little resemblance to Jane Marple. She doesn't even try to muster a British accent. It's almost as if Hayes is reprising her sleuth from her 1973-74 TV series, The Snoop Sisters, with Mildred Natwick.

In contrast, Peter Ustinov makes a fine Hercule Poirot in Thirteen at Dinner. I know that most Christie purists prefer David Suchet and quibble that Ustinov plays some of Poirot's quirks for comedy. I love Suchet, too, but I also appreciate Ustinov's portrayal of the Belgium detective (as previously discussed at the Cafe).  Plus, in Thirteen at Dinner, you get the best of both worlds: one of Ustinov's co-stars is David Inspector Japp.

The film opens with Lady Jane Edgware (Faye Dunaway), an actress, seeking Poirot's help with obtaining a divorce. Surprisingly, Poirot agrees--only to discover that Lord Edgware has no qualms about splitting from his wife. The divorce becomes moot, though, when Lord Edgware is found murdered in his study--and all the suspects have solid alibis.

Faye Dunaway as Lady Edgware.
The main problem with this adaptation of Christie's 1933 Lord Edgware Dies is that a key casting choice gives away the ingenious nature of the crime much too early. I won't say more at the risk of spoiling the plot. A secondary issue is the decision to update the novel from the 1930s to the 1980s. Hearing characters utter expressions like "dude" in a Christie mystery just doesn't seem right. And Lee Horsley's action movie star, played broadly for comedic effort, decreases the menace in a film that should reflect at least a modest tone of danger. Finally, it's also jarring to see Poirot looking at a model's posterior and remarking" "Not bad." Yes, Hercule admired ladies, but always in a respectful fashion.

David Suchet as Inspector Japp.
Weaknesses aside, Thirteen At Dinner benefits from location filming in England, a clever mystery, and the presence of Ustinov and Suchet. The latter, without his mustache and sporting an English accent, may be unrecognizable to fans of his Poirot series. He and Ustinov work well together and it's also fun to see a young Bill Nighy as one of the suspects.

Still, Ustinov's next Poirot appearance, 1986's Dead Man's Folly, is a significant improvement. And if you want to see a better version of Lord Edgware Dies, then I recommend you seek out the 2000 adaptation with Suchet. It make take some liberties with the novel, too, but it's the better of the two films.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Doctor in the House: Reviews of All Seven Films

Richard Gordon's semi-autobiographical Doctor novels provided the basis for this seven film series that started with 1954's Doctor in the House. The films were immensely popular in Great Britain and spawned several TV series, the best-known being the 1969-70 Doctor in the House (with some episodes written by Monty Python members John Cleese and Graham Chapman). All seven films were produced by Betty E. Box and directed by Ralph Thomas. Dirk Bogarde starred in four of them, while James Robertson Justice appeared in every film. Below are capsule reviews of each movie:

Simon (Dirk Bogarde) goes on a date.
Doctor in the House (1954) - This introductory film focuses on the exploits of four medical students at St. Swithin's Hospital in London. Amid the pursuit of nurses and various pranks, they spend a little time actually studying medicine. The most promising of the four is Simon Sparrow (Bogarde), who becomes romantically involved with a young nurse (Muriel Pavlow). The bane of each student at St. Swithin's is Sir Lancelot Spratt (Justice) the loud, quick-tempered--but very respected--chief of surgery. With Kenneth More also getting significant screen time, Doctor in the House is an ensemble piece composed of short episodes. While there are some amusing scenes, others fall flat and the end result is a mixed bag. Still, it's obvious that Bogarde is a star in the making.

Bardot and Bogarde.
Doctor at Sea (1955) - To avoid the amorous advances of his landlord's daughter, Simon Sparrow (Bogarde) signs onto a cargo ship as its medical officer. He fits right in with the other officers, who are all highly interested in the opposite sex--except for the gruff Captain Hogg (James Robertson Justice). Hogg is a nautical version of Sir Lancelot and that's not a bad thing, especially since it provides Justice with a larger role. The amusing voyage gets better when the ship takes aboard two passengers played by Brenda de Banzie (Hobson's Choice) and Brigitte Bardot. The former is a perfect foil for Justice while the latter--who has never looked lovelier--pairs up nice with Bogarde. It's one of the best films in the series.

Shirley Eaton and Bogarde.
Doctor at Large (1957) - The third film ignores Doctor at Sea, serving as a direct sequel to Doctor in the House. In addition to Bogarde and Justice, Muriel Pavlow and Donald Sinden reprise their roles from the first film (Shirley Eaton also returns from the first film, but in a different role). When Simon is passed over for a surgeon position at St. Swithin's, he expands his experience by taking jobs with a country doctor, a physician who specializes in wealthy clientele, and a penny-pinching doctor with an unchaste wife. This entry starts slowly, but builds to a pleasant conclusion that implies a happily-ever-after for Simon. My only complaint is that Sir Lancelot is limited to a few brief appearances.

Leslie Phillips and Michael Craig.
Doctor in Love (1960) - The first entry without Dirk Bogarde introduces Leslie Phillips as Dr. Tony Burke and Michael Craig as Dr. Richard Hare (as in Burke and Hare, the murderers who provided corpses to an Edinburgh physician). Tony flirts with practically every female in sight while Richard moons over a nurse who apparently jilted him for another guy. His mood picks up considerably, though, when he meets an attractive female physician. Meanwhile, Sir Lancelot barks at everyone in sight--except his wife. In the film's funniest scene, he walks into a strip club thinking it's a medical conference. Doctor in Love is a modestly amusing outing, but Bogarde is missed and there's still not enough of Lancelot Spratt.

James Robertson Justice as Sir
Lancelot Spratt.
Doctor in Distress (1963) - The best of the Doctor movies finds both Simon and Sir Lancelot coping with love troubles. Simon gets involved with a model (Samantha Eggar) who wants to become a film star. Meanwhile, Sir Lancelot, after claiming himself immune to the opposite sex, falls for a physical therapist while recovering from a slipped disk. Much of the humor is derived from Sir Lancelot's attempts to: lose weight; ensure that his beloved isn't seeing another man; and propose marriage. James Robertson Justice has his most screen time to date and that's a very good thing. One minor distraction is that this entry ignores events from the previous films. For example, Spratt was married in Doctor in Love and Simon had proposed marriage to Joy in Doctor at Large. Also, sadly, this was the last of Dirk Bogarde's appearances in the series.

Justice makes this entry watchable.
Doctor in Clover (aka Carnaby, M.D.) (1966) - Leslie Phillips returns to the series as a different character--in name only, since his chief activity is still ogling the female hospital staff. Sir Lancelot picks up Gaston Grimsdyke (Phillips) after the latter departs from his job as a prison physician. It's never clear why Sir Lancelot wants the unimpressive Grimsdyke working at St. Swithin's. The plot (which is even more episodic than usual) focuses principally on Grimsdyke's efforts to look and act younger to woo a pretty physical therapist. Phillips is a talented comedian and Justice's Dr. Spratt is always a joy. However, Dirk Bogarde is sorely missed in this weak outing. There's no one to ground the comedic antics, so Doctor in Clover evolves quickly to a broad, mildly amusing farce.

Leslie Phillips and friend.
Doctor in Trouble (1970) - The final film in the series has Leslie Phillips (as Tony Burke this time) sneaking aboard an ocean liner to propose to his would-be girlfriend. Naturally, the ship leaves port with Tony aboard and much of the film's hijinks revolve around him trying to avoid being caught as a stowaway. James Robertson Justice has a brief cameo in one of the opening scenes. Tony's adversary is played by Robert Morley as the ship's captain--who happens to be Sir Lancelot's brother. The comedy is a little cruder this time out (though tame by today's standards). Despite some laughs, it's the weakest of the Doctor entries. Still, it's fun to spot some familiar faces in the supporting cast, such as: Monty Python member Graham Chapman as a gay fashion photographer; Yutte Stensgaard (Hammer's Lust for a Vampire) as one of the models; and Pink Panther series semi-regular Graham Stark as a steward (reminding me very much of Peter Sellers).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Shirley Eaton Talks with the Café about James Bond, Mickey Spillane, and Her New Book

Think of Goldfinger and the first image that comes to mind is Shirley Eaton--covered in gold paint. If the stunning, talented British actress had appeared in no other films, she would still be famous today. However, prior to her appearance in Goldfinger, Ms. Eaton had established an impressive acting career. In the 1950s, she appeared in two of the Doctor films with Dirk Bogarde and James Robertson Justice. She was the female lead in Carry On, Sergeant, the first of the long-running comedy series, and appeared in two sequels. In the 1960s, she starred in musicals (Life Is a Circus), adventure films (Rhino!), comedies (Eight on the Lam with Bob Hope), and mysteries (Ten Little Indians, my favorite version of Agatha Christie's novel). She retired from acting in 1969 to raise her family. That hasn't kept Ms. Eaton from becoming a sculptor and photographer, penning an autobiography (1999's Golden Girl), publishing a book on poetry, and appearing at film conventions.

Café:  How did you come to be cast as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger?

Shirley Eaton: I had made twenty-one films before Goldfinger and the producers just called my agent to have an interview with me, asking me if I minded being naked and painted gold, to which I replied, with a smile: "Fine, if it is done tastefully."

Café:  You co-starred with Sean Connery in Goldfinger and with Roger Moore on The Saint TV series. How well did you get along with them? And, in your opinion, which was the better Bond?

Shirley Eaton & Sean Connery in Goldfinger.
SE:  Sean was very easy to get on with. He will always be the favourite Bond with older and devoted Ian Fleming fans, so that includes me. Roger made his Bond so different, with more twinkle in his eyes and perhaps we could say a lighter touch than Sean, but millions of fans love him too as I do. He directed one of The Saint episodes I was in and was very understanding "being an actor" and he was a very good director.We have been close family friends ever since The Saint series.

Café:  What do you think of the latest James Bond films with Daniel Craig?

SE:  Daniel Craig is a very good actor and the recent Bond films are great action movies. Inevitably, as time has moved on and fast editing seems a must in most films now, something is lost in essence from the early Bond movies in my opinion.

With Mickey Spillane in The Girl Hunters.
Café:  You starred in The Girl Hunters with Mickey Spillane, who played tough private eye Mike Hammer--his own literary creation--and wrote the screenplay. What was it like acting opposite the film's screenwriter?

SE: I loved working with Mickey Spillane even though he was a better writer than actor. He was a fascinating man, down to earth one minute then away with his imagination the next. His life outside writing was full of adventure and especially courage in the last World War, a man of many talents, he and I made a good combination in the film and he was no mean actor after all!!!

Café:  You appeared in multiple Carry On and Doctor films. Both of these film series were huge favorites with British movie-goers for decades. What was the secret to their enduring popularity?

SE:  Their post card humour, which the English love--not to mention an army of talented actors!

The villainous Su-Muru.
Café:  You made a great (dark-haired) villain in The Million Eyes of Su-Muru and its sequel Rio 70 (aka The Girl from Rio) produced by Harry Alan Towers. Was there any discussion of continuing that film series, as Towers did with the five Christopher Lee Fu Manchu films?

SE:  I had retired by then and wanted to live a normal life again. After I finished The Million Eyes of Su-Muru and The Girl from Rio and was coming home in the plane was when I made the decision to quit. I hated being away from my baby Jason and his brother Grant! However, I did enjoy being the wicked lady Su-muru in two rather bad films, which I had not had the chance to be before. I do believe they have become cult films now :)

(Courtesy of Shirley Eaton)
Café:  After you retired from acting in 1969 to raise your family, were there any roles that tempted you to return to the screen? If so, what were they?

SE:  Absolutely not. I was enjoying life to the fullest just being Shirley Mother and a wife.

Café:  How did you become interested in photography and sculpture? And what can you tell us about your upcoming art/autobiography book Under My Skin?

(Courtesy of Shirley Eaton)
SE:  I went to art school in London for over two years pretty soon after I stopped acting and took painting and sculpture classes. I have always been an extremely creative person and I like artistic challenges, hence you will see in my new book. It is an up-to-date autobiography mostly in a picture form: the first part covering my career and life then and now, with another section on my art then and now, too.

"Sophisticated Me" (courtesy of Shirley Eaton).

You can learn more about Shirley Eaton by visiting her web site

Friday, February 7, 2014

Classic Films About Librarians

It’s been difficult for movie librarians to move away from their stereotyped image as shy, conservative bookworms. Despite their star power, Greer Garson (Adventure), June Allyson (Good News), Shirley Jones (The Music Man), and Barbara Eden (The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao) did little to alter the stereotyping. 

In contrast, Bette Davis portrayed a fiery librarian fired for her refusal to censor a book on communism in 1956’s Storm Center. Jewish college dropout-turned-librarian Richard Benjamin ignored social conventions in his pursuit of country club heiress Ali MacGraw in the film version of Philip Roth’s frank bestseller Goodbye, Columbus (1969).  

Robards in Something Wicked.
Meek librarian Jason Robards, Jr., turned out to be the only person in town with enough courage and will power to confront the mysterious Mr. Dark in Ray Bradbury’s chilling, turn-of-the-century fantasy Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). In the 1974 oddity Mr. Sycamore, Robards played a mailman with a crush on librarian Jean Simmons and a bizarre desire to become a tree. (Note: The focus in this post is on classic films, which excludes recent movies like The Librarian telefilms with Noah Wylie.)

Scandal Street (1938)
Adventure (1945)
Good News (1947)
Katie Did It (1951)
Storm Center (1956)
Desk Set (aka His Other Woman) (1957)
The Music Man (1962)
Only Two Can Play (1962)
The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)
Goodbye, Columbus (1969)
Mr. Sycamore (1974)
Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Off Beat (1986)

Reprinted with the authors' permission from the Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Red Skelton: The Lost Episodes on DVD

Red Skelton, the clown prince of classic television, dominated U.S. airwaves for 20 years. In fact, when CBS cancelled the The Red Skelton Hour in 1970--after its 19th season--Red's show still ranked in the Top Ten in the Nielsen ratings. CBS's decision was driven by its desire to attract younger, more urban viewers (for the same reason, it canceled The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and other hits). Red promptly moved over to NBC for his 20th season, but his revamped show never found an audience and thus ended an amazing run for his variety series.

Red Skelton's diehard fans probably already own Red Skelton: The Collector Edition, an 18-disc DVD set containing 63 shows that was released by Timeless Media in 2010. However, for classic TV fans interested in a sampling of some of Red's best sketches, Timeless Media will release Red Skelton: The Lost Episodes on February 11th.

Red, as Deadeye, with Terry Moore.
This new set consists of 16 episodes culled from seasons 8 through 11 when the show was a half-hour long. There are also two "extras" from the 1960-61 season which featured guest hosts for several episodes while Skelton was recuperating from back surgery. Jackie Gleason and Arthur Godfrey banter back and forth in the first of these extras, while the second one contains snippets of an episode hosted by Danny Thomas.

San Fernando teaches Fabian how
to perform like Fabian.
The 16 Skelton episodes feature all of Red's best-known characters: Freddie the Freeloader; Sheriff Deadeye; country bumpkin Clem Kadiddlehopper; con man San Fernando Red; and bespectacled husband George Appleby. Red's guest star line-up includes Eve Arden, Marilyn Maxwell, Charles Ruggles,Gordon & Sheila MacRae, Vivian Vance, Sebastian Cabot, Fabian, and Amanda Blake. As with many classic TV shows, you can also spot future stars who were then unknowns, such as George Kennedy, Jamie Farr, and Jack Albertson.

My favorites of the 16 episodes were "San Fernando and the Phony Fabians" and "Mr. K. Goes to College." In the former, San Fernando Red plays an agent who makes a fortune by sending "phony Fabians" to countries who have never seen the pop singing idol (e.g., New Zealand, Peru, Japan). He supplies each impersonator with a "Fabian kit," consisting of a record player and a Fabian record ("You supply the body, we supply the voice"). San Fernando's con works well until the real Fabian shows up.

Clem mailed himself to college
to save money.
In "Mr. K. Goes to College," Clem Kadiddlehopper enrolls in Kadiddlehopper College, which was founded by one of his ancestors. Unfortunately, after meeting the not-so-bright Clem, the dean realizes that the college's chances of winning a $5 million academic grant are in peril. This sketch provides Red with an opportunity to display his natural talent for physical comedy, whether nailing his thumb to the wall ("Now, I have six nails on this hand") or pushing a peanut with his nose. And, of course, all the episodes feature such Skelton trademarks as laughing at his own jokes or delivering a funny impromptu line when guests flub their dialogue or a prop fails to work.

All of the footage is in black and white (some of Red's earlier and later shows were shot in color). The image quality is good, considering that some episodes are almost 55 years old. If you own a previous Red Skelton Show collection, I recommend that you check the titles on The Lost Episodes DVD set to minimize overlap.

The bottom line is that, at a list price of $14.93, Red Skelton: The Lost Episodes will appeal to Red's fans who can't afford the more expensive Collector Edition. Other classic TV fans should welcome an opportunity to watch one of the medium's true pioneers of comedy.

Timeless Media provided the Cafe with a review copy of this DVD set.

Monday, February 3, 2014

We Describe the Movie...You Name It!

This is our 7th edition of our most popular quiz. The rules are easy: Name each film below based on our vague description. Be sure to include the question number with your response. Please don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is one film that is the single best answer to each description.

1. All the suspects are guilty in this "moving" mystery.

2. Two biographical films about this classic-era star were made in the same year with the same title.

3. A librarian fights censorship in the 1950s.

4. There's a mutiny en route to Skull Island.

5. The star of this film is a formal coat.

6. Cowboy has a bell on his saddle...which plays an important role in the climax.

7. Baseball pitcher rubs his catcher's hair--but it's not for luck.

8. Woman gives away gold to save the man she loves.

9. A dog has the better-known animal part in it, but there's a tarantula, too, in at least one of the adaptations.

10. It's about a black sheep. Literally.

11. The title lyrics call it a lonely train and implies that the sound of its wheels are like a sad sigh.

12. A portrait of a man and his best friend causes family discord.

13. A pair of glasses and a lighter. Those are the only clues for this movie.

14. A man on a train tries to avoid receiving a piece of paper.

15. As it turns out, he hated his wife (who is dead).