Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Ten Posts of 2015

As 2015 comes to an end, we thought we'd list the most viewed of our 115 posts at the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Yes, we realize that posts published at the start of the year will likely have more views. But that won't stop us...we love year-end lists!

We included only posts that were originally published during 2015. If we had not, The Five Best "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" Episodes would have crushed the competition. We also omitted any posts in which we hosted or promoted blogathons. Otherwise, the My Favorite Movie Blogathon, in support of National Classic Movie Day, would have grabbed the top spot. To build a little suspense, we'll start at No. 10 and work our way to No. 1.

But before we get started, we want to thank each of you who visited this blog this year and send some extra love to those who took the time to leave comments.

10. For Halloween, we listed our picks for The 25 Greatest Horror Films, which sparked some lively discussions across the Cafe's social media platforms.

9. Ron Harper gave a fabulous interview at the Western Film Fair and Nostalgia Convention in Winston-Salem, NC. He discussed his TV series Garrison's Gorillas and Planet of the Apes, the challenges of working with George Burns, and being an understudy for Paul Newman on Broadway.

8. Agatha Christie fans were delighted about our interview with Hugh Fraser, who played Captain Hastings in the Hercule Poirot TV series with David Suchet. The British actor also discussed his new thriller novel Harm.

Yes, that's Hitch on Mount Rushmore.
7. In The Mount Rushmore of Film Directors, we listed the four American directors we'd place on a monument dedicated to American film directors. Then, we asked three other bloggers to do the same (Lady Eve's Reel Life, Classic Movie Hub, and Immortal Ephemera).

6. We interviewed former Disney star Michael McGreevey at the Williamsburg Film Festival, where he discussed working with Kurt Russell, Burt Reynolds, and Robert Mitchum and writing for the TV series Fame.

5. In Who Is Nina Van Pallandt?, we profiled the former folk singer who became a Baroness and later an actress in films such as The Long Goodbye.

4. We also interviewed Lana Wood at the Williamsburg Film Festival. She discussed The SeachersDiamonds Are Forever, and the Peyton Place TV series.

Kathy Garver as Cissy.
3. Kathy Garver, best known as Cissy on Family Affair, gave a fascinating interview at the Western Film Fair and Nostalgia Convention. Earlier this year, she finished writing her autobiography Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair of Life in Hollywood.

2. The Five Ellery Queen TV Series Episodes proved that Jim Hutton's 1975-76 television series is still fondly remembered by its fans.

1. Our review of the DVD Danny Kaye - Legends, which features six episodes from The Danny Kaye Show TV series, finished at the top. It just goes to show that Danny Kaye remains a highly popular entertainer 28 years after his death.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Claudine Longet and the Death of Spider Sabich

Claudine Longet on The Bold Ones.
I recently watched a 1969 episode of The Bold Ones: The Lawyers called "The Rockford Riddle." It guest starred Claudine Longet as a woman accused of murdering her husband's mistress. Anyone who remembers the French actress/ singer will recognize the irony immediately. Eight years after this episode, she would be tried in a Colorado courtroom for reckless manslaughter in the death of her lover Vladimir "Spider" Sabich.

Claudine Longet was born in Paris in 1942 and became a dancer at age 17. The demure beauty was trying to make it in Vegas when she caught the eye of entertainer Andy Williams. She was almost 20 and he was 34 when they married in 1961.

Williams was already an established star, having scored several top ten hits and a chart-topper with 1957's "Butterfly." He launched his long-running NBC TV series The Andy Williams Show in 1962 and Claudine made frequent appearances alongside her husband. Her voice, often described as girlish and breathy, was certainly distinctive, but she failed to score a hit single in the U.S. Her highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100 was "Love Is Blue" in 1968, which peaked at #71. Her albums fared better, with the self-titled Claudine reaching #11 and selling over 500,000 copies.

Andy Williams and Claudine Longet.
She also branched out into acting and made guest appearances on TV series such as Hogan's Heroes, Run for Your Life, The Rat Patrol, and The Name of the Game. Her most successful theatrical film was Blake Edward's silly, but funny The Party (1968), which paired her effectively with Peter Sellers.

Offscreen, she and Andy Williams had three children and became close friends with Robert and Ethel Kennedy. They appeared to be a blissful couple, but the marriage fell apart in the late 1960s. They separated in 1969 and divorced six years later.

Longet with Spider Sabich.
By 1976, Claudine Longet had moved in with her boyfriend, American skier Spider Sabich, in Aspen, Colorado. The grandson of Croatian immigrants, Sabich finished fifth in the slalom in the 1968 Olympics. After a moderately-successful career on the World Cup circuit, he turned professional after the 1970 season. Good-looking and charismatic, the popular Sabich won several professional championships and made a good living off endorsement deals. He and Longet met at a celebrity-pro benefit in 1972.

On March 21, 1976, Sabich died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Various sources have different accounts about what happened on that afternoon. Most claim that Longet said Sabich's .22 caliber handgun accidentally discharged while he was showing her how it worked. After a police investigation, Longet was arrested and charged with reckless manslaughter (which carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison). She hired L.A. attorney Charles Weedman and Aspen lawyer Ron Austin.

The trial drew national attention.
Andy Williams supported his former spouse throughout her four-day trial. Evidence, to include a diary and blood and urine tests, were ruled inadmissible (police confiscated the diary without a warrant). After less than four hours of deliberation, the jury found Claudine Longet guilty of criminal negligence. The judge sentenced her to a $250 fine and 30 days in county jail, which did not have to be served consecutively. Sabich's family later filed a lawsuit against Longet, but it was settled out of court. According to some sources, the settlement contained a proviso that she could not write a book about Sabich.

Longet and her co-defense attorney Austin married in 1985 and currently live in Aspen. She will turn 74 in January.

Although Claudine Longet has kept a low profile over the years, she has remained a fixture in pop culture. Mick Jagger wrote a controversial song about her called (appropriately) "Claudine." It was pulled from the Rolling Stones 1980 album  Emotional Rescue, but later appeared on a deluxe version of Some Girls. And in 1975, Saturday Night Live did a skit abut a skiing competition called the Claudine Longet Invitational, in which the skiers were "accidentally" shot by Longet. After receiving a cease-and-desist order, SNL producer Lorne Michaels issued a formal apology on the show the following week.

For more information on Claudine Longet's trial, you may want to seek out True Crimes: Celebrity Murder Stories by Ryan White and the article "Claudine Longet: Aspen Femme Fatale," which was published in a May 2013 issue of the British edition of GQ magazine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Snack-sized Film Reviews: "Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick" and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy"

Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952). This Paramount Pictures musical was a last attempt to turn popular singer Dinah Shore into a movie star. She had appeared previously in films with Danny Kaye (Up in Arms) and Randolph Scott (Belle of the Yukon). This one pairs her with Alan Young, who was then being groomed for film stardom. Young plays Aaron Slick, a smarter-than-he-looks farmer in love with his neighbor Josie (Shore). His inability to express his feelings leaves an opening for traveling actor Bill Merridew (Robert Merrill), who is actually a con artist. Merridew and his "sister" (Adele Jergens) buy Josie's farm, thinking it's rich with oil. Josie uses the money to move to Chicago, leaving a heartbroken Aaron behind. The first half of Aaron Slick is a pleasant small-town musical with some lively songs by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (the best being "Saturday Night in Punkin Creek"). However, the second half deflates when Josie heads to the big city and Shore and Young aren't on the screen together. The end result is a musical that's agreeable enough, but also quickly forgotten. Dinah Shore and Alan Young both achieved their biggest successes on television. She hosted a successful variety series from 1956-63 and two popular talk shows from 1970-80. Alan Young, of course, gained fame as Wilbur Post on Mister Ed (1961-66). Livingston and Evans wrote the famous title song to that sitcom. (In the clip below, Dinah and Alan duet on the opening number "Chores." If your browser doesn't support embedded YouTube links, then click here to view the video.)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). The comedy duo's last film for Universal Studios returned to one of their most successful formulas: teaming them with a classic monster. This outing is nowhere near as good as A&C Meet Frankenstein (1948) nor even A&C Meet the Invisible Man (1951). However, it's better than its reputation and includes some genuinely funny (if recycled) routines. The thin plot has Abbott accused of murdering an archaeologist who was searching for the tomb of Klaris, the guardian of a hidden royal treasure. When the boys find a medallion that contains the location of the treasure, they are pursued by greedy villains as well as those want to protect the tomb at all costs. The three best scenes borrow liberally from previous A&C films: Lou has to cope with a moving corpse; confusion reigns when two fake mummies and one real one clash; and Bud and Lou each try to slip the other one the dangerous medallion. The last scene is the film's highlight with Lou eating the medallion on his hamburger and later undergoing a fluoroscope examination. Following Meet the Mummy, Bud and Lou made one final film together, Dance With Me, Henry (1956), which was released by United Artists. It tried for a slightly more serious tone, casting Lou as an amusement park owner who cares for two orphans. Costello followed it with a solo outing called The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959) before he died of a heart attack at age 52 later that year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Christmas Cruise on "The Love Boat"

The Love Boat crew.
By 1982, The Love Boat was sailing smoothly through its sixth season. The series still ranked in the Top Ten and its first season cast remained intact. If its feel-good formula was wearing thin, viewers didn't seem to mind nor did the guest stars--a canny mix of TV veterans, promising newcomers, and stars from Hollywood's Golden Era. The holiday episode, "The Christmas Presence," can be best described as a prototypical outing that's predictable, mildly amusing, and somehow endearing.

The episode interweaves four stories. Cruise director Julie (Lauren Tewes) and purser Gopher (Fred Grandy) fear the wrath of Captain Stubing (Gaven MacLeod) when they botch decorating the ship's Christmas tree. Con men Keenan Wynn and Henry Gibson plan to smuggle gold into the U.S. by using nuns and orphans. A young married couple (Donny Osmond and Maureen McCormick) clash over her desire to continue working as a nurse instead of staying at home and having kids. Finally, Mickey Rooney is on hand as a genial old gentleman named Mr. Dominicus, who plays an angelic part in each of the stories.

Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten.
The highlight is the opportunity to see 64-year-old Teresa Wright as Sister Regina. Thirty-nine years earlier, this charming actress seemed poised for a long big screen career after appearing as Charlie in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943). However, a contract dispute with Samuel Goldwyn in the late 1940s damaged her career. She worked mostly in television after the mid-1950s, where she went on to earn three Emmy nominations.

Donny and Maureen.
"The Christmas Presence" also provides a once-in-a-lifetime pairing of two former two teen stars: Donny and Maureen. Both were veteran Love Boat guest stars. The bearded Donny appeared in an earlier 1980 episode, while Maureen did five guest stints aboard the Pacific Princess. Alas, it's easy to see why neither of them parlayed their teen fame into long-lasting acting careers. That said, they have both remained in the limelight which is more than many former youth stars can claim (although some were content to lead normal lives).

I've always had a soft spot for The Love Boat. The actors project a genuine warmth and make us believe in the crew's camaraderie. The writing may only be adequate, but at least the brevity of the individual stories keeps each episode moving along briskly. And finally, there's the cruise ship setting, which may hold the greatest appeal for me. Yes, most episodes were shot on a sound stage with fake-looking backdrops, but, hey, that never bothered Hitchcock. I just like the concept of a plot beginning and ending with a journey, whether it's a lady vanishing on a train or two old flames rediscovering love on the Pacific Princess (surely, one of the most oft-used Love Boat plots).

I enjoyed revisiting The Love Boat even if "The Christmas Presence" isn't a stellar episode. I'm always glad to see the series pop up on television (thanks MeTV). I find it odd that one of the biggest TV series of the late 1970s and early 1980s has never been fully released on DVD. Surprisingly, only the first two seasons are available. You would have thought that Gopher...I mean, Fred Grandy...could have added the release of the complete Love Boat DVD collection to a federal bill when he was serving in the House of Representatives!

This review is part of the Very Merry MeTV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to see the full schedule of posts.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Five Best Burt Lancaster Performances

The shadows enhance the film's dark tones.
1. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - Surprisingly, Burt Lancaster didn't garner rave reviews nor earn any awards for what I consider his finest performance. In this first-rate adaptation of Clifford Odets' play, he stars as J.J. Hunsecker, an influential, immoral newspaper columnist who enjoys the power he holds over people. It would have been easy to portray Hunsecker as a two-dimensional villain. But Burt digs deep into this unlikable egotist and finds reasons for his actions. They may not be good reasons, but he makes Hunsecker one of the most memorable characters of the 1950s cinema.

2. Seven Days in May (1964) - John Frankenheimer's potent political thriller features Lancaster as as General James Mattoon Scott, a strong, charismatic leader who is convinced that a nuclear threat is the only way to hold the Soviet Union in check. The role is a tough one that requires the actor to convince us that Scott believes his actions are driven by patriotism--not his own out-sized ego. The beauty of Lancaster's performance is that he finds that "sweet spot." Like Kirk Douglas, who plays a Scott admirer, we cannot condone the General's treasonous actions. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that Scott is a far more engaged leader than the President prior to the attempted coup.

Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster.
3. From Here to Eternity (1953) - This classic is an obvious choice, but it's also a mandatory one. Lancaster is sensational as a disciplined sergeant who falls for his commanding officer's neglected wife (Deborah Kerr). Their scene on the beach is justly famous, but its impact can be largely attributed to the build-up conveyed convincingly by two exceptional performers in their prime. As with other Lancaster movies, his fellow cast members may have won the acting awards, but Burt anchored the film with his raw intensity.

4. The Rainmaker (1956) - I expect to receive some flack for selecting this one over more celebrated performances in Separate Tables and Elmer Gantry. Personally, I think that Lancaster overplays those roles (which were perhaps overwritten to start with). He may be loud and obnoxious as traveling con man Bill Starbuck...but he creates magic with Katharine Hepburn. She was Oscar nominated and it's a fine performance, but I think Kate's success as spinster Lizzie Curry would be diminished if she was acting opposite anyone but Burt as Starbuck. It's a role that fits him like a glove.

Burt and Ava had chemistry!
5. The Killers (1946) - I was tempted to go out on a limb and place The Kentuckian here, since it provides Burt with one of his most different roles (e.g., a likable, honest--but not very bright--pioneer father). However, in the end, I opted for the role that made him a star: The Swede in Robert Siodmak's classic film noir The Killers. One of my favorite scenes is when The Swede meets Kitty (Ava Gardner) and becomes instantly transfixed--it's like there's no one else in the world for the ex-fighter. Burt Lancaster's ferocity dominated many of his later films, but his performance in The Killers proves that he could flourish in an excellent ensemble cast.

Honorable mentions: The Kentuckian, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Crimson Pirate, Brute Force, The Swimmer, and Run Silent, Run Deep.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Paramount Vault: "Appointment with Death" and "My Six Loves"

I suspect that many of you have already discovered the Paramount Vault channel on YouTube. It's a great way to watch full-length movies for free on your computer, tablet, or TV (assuming your set can connect to the Internet). There are dozens of movies available (including 32 categorized as "classic") and the image quality is very good. Granted, Amazon Prime members will recognize many of the available titles in the Paramount Vault, but there are also exclusive films. I recently watched an Agatha Christie mystery and a Debbie Reynolds comedy.

Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth.
Appointment with Death (1988). Peter Ustinov's sixth and final appearance as Hercule Poirot lacks the high production values and all-star casts of earlier big screen Agatha Christie adaptations. Actually, it followed Ustinov's three made-for-TV Poirot movies, the last one being 1986's Dead Man's Folly. Still, Appointment with Death boasts a handful of familiar stars (e.g., Lauren Bacall, Piper Laurie) and on-location shooting in Israel gives the film a glossy look.

In the opening scene, widow Emily Boynton (Laurie) destroys her husband's most recent will which divided his fortune between his children and their stepmother. With control of the family finances, she takes the family on a trip to Israel. Along the way, they encounter another wealthy widow (Lauren Bacall), her secretary (Hayley Mills), and a physician (Jenny Seagrove). They are also joined unexpectedly by the family's lawyer (David Soul), who knows about the real will. During an outing to an excavation, Emily dies from what appears to be heart failure--but you and I know it's murder!

Sweet Jenny Seagrove as a suspect?
Appointment with Death employs one of Agatha Christie's favorite plot devices: a character misinterprets what she sees or hears. (For another use of this same device, watch any adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery with Miss Marple.) Still, for those unfamiliar with Dame Agatha's literary works, the identity of the culprit may come as a surprise.

Overall, Appointment with Death is a passable Poirot mystery--assuming that you don't watch it expecting to see another Death on the Nile or Evil Under the Sun (my personal fave of Ustinov's films).

The poster focuses on the star.
My Six Loves (1963). After collapsing from exhaustion, Broadway star Janice Courtney (Debbie Reynolds) retreats to her small-town Connecticut home for some rest and relaxation. That doesn't last long--especially after Janice discovers six abandoned children living on her property. Fortunately, the handsome local pastor (Cliff Robertson) is willing to help Janice with the unruly kids.

Cliff and a blonde Debbie.
From this plot summary, I am sure you can surmise the rest of My Six Loves and you would be right about everything. It is indeed a formula comedy from start to finish. There's a youth who has to learn how to trust adults again. There's the adorable youngest child. There the cute song ("It's a Darn Good Thing") that Debbie sings to the youngsters. And there's even the cynical friend on hand (Eileen Heckert) to try to keep things from becoming too treacly.

I have friends that adore My Six Loves. Most of them are Debbie Reynolds fans, but I also suspect that this is a "comfort movie" for other viewers. There's nothing wrong with that--sometimes, it's just reassuring to watch a 1960s formula comedy set in that nostalgic world that only exists in our imaginations.

So, while My Six Loves may not be my cup of tea, you may want drink the whole pot. Just be careful about adding more sugar...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Five Best Portrayals of Dr. Watson

It's never easy to play the part of the trusted sidekick. So today, we show our appreciation for one of the most famous sidekicks in English literature: Sherlock Holme's associate, confident, and biographer Dr. John H. Watson. Below are our five picks for the best portrayals of Dr. Watson in film and television.

David Burke.
1. David Burke - His intelligent, analytical Watson appeared opposite Jeremy Brett's Baker Street sleuth in 13 episodes of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes TV series in the 1980s. This Watson often demonstrated his own powers of deduction--and was clearly pleased when Holmes confirmed his conclusions (and equally disappointed when that didn't occur). He also had an eye for the ladies, though his attentions were subtle and always gentlemanly. Burke's Watson may not have been Holmes' equal partner, but he was a highly valued associate worthy of Holmes' trust and reliance. It's a shame that Burke left the series to resume his stage career, but the actor wanted to spend more time with his family.

Andre Morell.
2. Andre Morell - Alas, Morell only portrayed John Watson once, alongside Peter Cushing's Holmes in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Following in the footsteps of Nigel Bruce, Morell presented a very different Watson--an articulate man of action with a bright mind. Due to Conan Doyle's plotting in Hound, Watson occupied much of the screen time and Morell carried the load effortlessly. Interestingly, Morell's wife, the delightful Joan Greenwood, appeared in the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore parody version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1978.

Nigel Bruce.
3. Nigel Bruce - While this interpretation has little to do with the literary Dr. Watson, I've always enjoyed it very much. Nigel Bruce makes Watson a bumbler and provides the films' de facto comedy relief, but he's a charming, sincere character. It's essentially a variation on the same character that Bruce played in many films. Still, he and Rathbone made a marvelous pair--though one wonders why Holmes kept this Watson around.

Edward Hardwicke.
4. Edward Hardwicke - When David Burke left the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes TV series, he suggested that Edward Hardwicke (Cedric's son) replace him as Watson. Only two years Burke's senior, Hardwicke's Watson seemed much older in the role. He appeared less tolerant of Holmes' excesses, but also showed greater concern for his friend. In the episode "The Final Problem," we see the disappointment on Watson's face when he learns that Holmes confided only in his brother Mycroft after his apparent death at Reichenbach Falls. More than any other Holmes and Watson, this pair come across as genuine friends (which Brett and Hardwicke became in real life).

James Mason.
5. James Mason - There was some stiff competition for the final spot on our list and I seriously considered Donald Houston from A Study in Terror and Ben Kingsley as a very different Watson in the amusing Without a Clue. In the end, I opted for James Mason's steadfast Watson who appeared opposite Christopher Plummer's flamboyant Holmes in Murder By Decree. Mason was a spry 70 when he appeared as Watson. He imbued the role with a quiet intelligence and dignity.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Movie-TV Connection Game (December Edition)

What do Warner Oland and Michael Landon have in common?
Welcome to our latest edition! 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. Ben Gazzara and Christopher George.

2. Lesley Warren and Lynda Day George.

3. Van Johnson and James Stewart (going for a difficult connection).

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Wild Bunch.

5. Warner Oland and Michael Landon.

6. The TV series Mission: Impossible and the film Muscle Beach Party.

7. The Thing from Another World and It Conquered the World.

8. Gone With the Wind and Duel in the Sun.

9. Raquel Welch and Victor Mature.

10. Hud, Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Seven Days in May.

11. Mia Farrow and Jane Wyman.

12. Anjelica Huston and Joan Fontaine.

13. The TV series Milton the Monster and David Hedison (this one is a stretch!).

14. Edgar Buchanan and Eugene Pallette.

15. My Fair Lady and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Best Movies You May Have Never Seen (Dec 2015)

Recommended and reviewed by Lady Eve's Reel Life

German filmmaker Max Ophuls.
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Max Ophuls, the legendary German-born director most well-known for the films he made in France-- La Ronde (1950), Le Plaisir (1952), The Earrings of Madame de… (1953), and Lola Montès (1955)--also directed four films in America during the post-war era. The jewel among these, and a film equal to his best French work, is Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948).

A romantic drama based on a novella by Stefan Zweig, Letter From an Unknown Woman charts the course of an ill-starred love affair. Such a narrative may seem sheer melodrama, but this film is a genuinely transporting experience. Credit this to Ophuls’ famed mastery of the mobile camera (moving here with the grace of a Viennese waltz) and staging, a polished script by Howard Koch (Casablanca) and strong lead performances by Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan.

Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan.
Letter From an Unknown Woman opens in elegant turn-of-the-century Vienna during the wee hours of a wet night. A well-dressed man (Jourdan) steps down from a carriage and, saying goodnight to his companions, jokes about the duel at dawn to which he has been challenged. Entering his well-appointed flat alone he tells his manservant that he will be departing again very shortly, "Honor is a luxury only gentlemen can afford," he remarks. The mute servant indicates a letter awaiting him and he opens the envelope and begins to read as he makes preparations to flee:

"By the time you read this letter, I may be dead," it says. The voice of a woman, the letter writer, begins to speak the words she has written, “I have so much to tell you and, perhaps, so little time…” As the man intently reads on, her tale unfolds in flashback.

The woman, Lisa Berndle (Fontaine), recalls how, as a girl, she became enthralled with up-and-coming concert pianist Stefan Brand, the recipient of her letter. Though the suave virtuoso had been completely unaware of her, Lisa privately harbored a deeply held fantasy that their destinies were entwined. And they are, but not in the way she imagined; the brief encounters they do share exact an incredible cost.

Lisa’s letter has come as a surprise and a shock to Stefan and he only finishes reading it as the dawn is breaking.

As the film circles from present to past to present again, it appears that both Lisa and Stefan have been the victims of their own misspent passions; she risking everything for an unattainable ideal, and he wasting himself on a string of shallow affairs. John, Stefan's mute valet, perhaps mirroring the director’s own viewpoint, observes the all-too-human folly around him and serves as a silent, compassionate witness.

Recommended and reviewed by Richard Finch, co-founder of the Foreign Film Classics Facebook Group 

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Paulette Goddard.
The Young in Heart (1938). This Selznick production is a charming comedy about the Carletons, a family of con artists exiled from the French Riviera by the authorities. On the train to London, they are befriended by a gullible and lonely rich old lady named Miss Fortune (!) who has no living relatives, and they quickly concoct a plan to fleece her. She essentially adopts this family of scoundrels, who then set to work subtly persuading her to leave them her money in her will.

Roland Young as "Sahib."
To make themselves more credible, when they reach London they temporarily assume the appearance of conventionality and even get jobs. The more fond they grow of Miss Fortune, the more they unexpectedly find their new lives of respectability growing on them, and she becomes a sort of moral fairy godmother, granting the family not riches but ethics. The movie, released the same year as You Can't Take It with You, is in a sense a Capra comedy turned on its head, with a family of eccentrics finding happiness by forgoing their nonconformist ways and becoming conventional.

The Flying Wombat.
The Carletons are expertly played by Roland Young as the father, a blustering former actor who pretends to be a British colonel retired from colonial India and is called Sahib by his family; Billie Burke as the dithering, scatter-brained mother; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as the son; and winsome Janet Gaynor as the sweet-natured and intelligent daughter. The stage actress Minnie Dupree plays the childlike Miss Fortune, and lovely Paulette Goddard is Fairbanks's love interest. The movie also includes an incredible futuristic automobile called a Flying Wombat (actually a 1938 Phantom Corsair) that at several points plays an important part in the film. The typically high Selznick production values (including an elaborately staged train wreck), appealing cast, and plot that balances the roguery of the Carletons with the guilelessness of Miss Fortune, and humor with sentiment, results in one of the more unusual comedies of the 1930's and a very entertaining viewing experience.

Monday, November 30, 2015

DVD Spotlight on "The Bold Ones: The Lawyers"

Good news for classic TV fans! On December 1st, Timeless Media continues its DVD releases of the social dramas that aired under the umbrella TV series The Bold Ones (1968-73). The Lawyers stars Burl Ives as a crafty attorney working with two junior associates played by Joseph Campanella and James Farentino. The DVD boxed set includes two made-for-TV movies and 27 episodes that aired in a one-hour time slot. Earlier this year, Timeless Media offered boxed sets of two other Bold Ones TV series: The Senator (with Hal Holbrook) and The Protectors (starring Leslie Nielsen and Hari Rhodes).

Guy Stockwell and James Farentino.
The highlight of The Lawyers DVD collection may be the 1968 TV-movie The Sound of Anger. Often listed as a pilot, it's actually a "one off" telefilm starring Lynda Day George and David Macklin as young lovers accused of murdering George's wealthy father. Macklin's sister enlists brothers Brad and Nick Darrell (Guy Stockwell and Farentino) as defense attorneys. Ives plays sly local lawyer Walter Nichols, who agrees to defend Lynda Day George. Initially, there is a lack of trust among the attorneys...until the brothers learn to value Nichols' understanding of Citrus County politics.

Allegedly based on a true Orange County murder case, the script was co-written by Roy Huggins, the man behind such TV classics as Maverick and The Fugitive. Huggins and co-writer Dick Nelson pull off not one, but two two nifty and very satisfying twists. Director Michael Ritchie edits the film flashily, which is occasionally distracting and sometimes very clever. Ritchie went on to become a successful big screen director, helming critically acclaimed films (Downhill Racer, Smile) and mainstream hits (The Bad News Bears).

Lynda Day George,
Although the three male leads all acquit themselves nicely, the revelation here is Lynda Day George's performance. The former model, and widow of actor Christopher George, was a busy television actress in the 1960s and 1970s. She eventually joined the cast of Mission: Impossible as a regular in 1971. The Sound of Anger features what may be her finest performance as a defendant who may be a loving innocent daughter--or a cold-blooded, manipulating killer.

Hal Halbrook prior to The Senator.
The DVD set's second telefilm, The Whole World Is Watching (1969), clearly serves as the pilot film for The Lawyers TV series. Joseph Campanella replaces Guy Stockwell as Farentino's brother (now called Brian Darrell). Walter Nichols (who almost seems to be a different character) and the Darrell brothers have started a practice together in San Francisco. The plot centers around a student protester who allows himself to be arrested for murder in order to "teach the Establishment a lesson." Hal Holbrook has a small but key role as a university chancellor-- a performance that earned him an Emmy nomination (and also no doubt led to his casting in the pilot for The Senator). Although not as gripping as The Sound of Anger, this series pilot focuses on the kind of legal and social issues that would serve the resulting TV series well.

Joseph Campanella.
The one-hour episodes of The Lawyers sometimes eschewed the courtroom, as in "A Game of Chance," which finds Brian Darrell going undercover to clear his brother of drug charges. The best episodes, though, are those that focus on the ethics of the legal profession. For example, in "The People Against Ortega," Brian faces potential disbarment at the episode's conclusion for misleading the judge in his efforts to win acquittal for his client.

The Lawyers debuted as one of The Bold Ones rotating series in September 1969. Originally, it aired alongside The New Doctors and The Protectors. In 1970, The Protectors was replaced by The Senator, which only lasted one year despite much critical acclaim. For its third season, The Bold Ones consisted of The Lawyers and The New Doctors. That proved to be the closing argument for The Lawyers, which was cancelled after 27 episodes over three seasons. (The New Doctors continued for a short fourth season.) During its run, The Lawyers won Emmys for direction (Alexander Singer) and music (Pete Rugolo).

Burl Ives as Walter Nichols.
Following The Lawyers, James Farentino immediately started another rotating TV series, Cool Million, which was part of the short-lived NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie. Joseph Campanella carved out a highly successful career guest-starring in television series such as One Day at a Time, The Colbys, and Beauty and the Beast. Burl Ives made several appearances on another Roy Huggins TV series, Alias Smith and Jones, but reduced his roles before retiring from film and TV in 1988.

Timeless Media's The Bold Ones: The Lawyers boxed set contains eight discs. There are no bonus features, but visual quality is good for a 1970s television show. One can only hope that a release of The Bold Ones: The New Doctors is in the wings.

Timeless Media provided a copy of this DVD set for review.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Classic Film and TV Fan (2015 Edition)

For the past six years, the Cafe's staff has provided a list of recommended gifts for your favorite classic film and/or TV fan. It's one of our most popular features. This year's choices run the gamut from classic musicals to Bogey as Marlowe to a sci fi TV series with marionettes.

Best of Warner Bros. 20 Films Collection: Musicals. I usually steer clear of the mega boxed sets because DVD quality is often sacrificed for quantity. However, this set was released by a major studio and each disc contains only one movie. Warners has done a great job in compiling classic musicals from its early days (The Jazz Singer) through the Busby Berkeley years (42nd Street) and the colorful 1950s (Singin' in the Rain, Seven Brides) and 1960s (The Music Man). Even the choices from the 1980s are engaging, tune-filled romps like Victor/Victoria and Little Shop of Horrors. While the list price is $99, you can find this mammoth set at discounts of 60%--that $2 a movie and that ain't bad.

The puppet "star" was inspired
by James Garner.
Stingray: The Complete Series - 50th Anniversary Collection. The young and the young-at-heart will enjoy Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's fanciful 1964-65 British sci fi series about a futuristic submarine called Stingray. The characters are all "played" by marionettes, with the action taking place on some of the most incredible miniature sets you will ever see. Plus, for adults, there's even a love triangle between the sub commander (Troy Tempest), his boss's daughter (Atlanta Shore), and a mute young woman from an undersea civilization (Marina). The five-DVD boxed set includes all 39 half-hour episodes, plus an interview with Gerry Anderson, a making-of featurette, and audio commentaries on several episodes.

TCM Greatest Classic Films: Murder Mysteries. The TCM Greatest Classic Films and Greatest Classic Legends are value-priced DVD sets that typically contain four movies featuring a common theme or star. The movies in this particular set have a pretty weak connection--they're all murder mysteries! However, this collection contains three legitimate classics and one underrated feature by a great director. The iconic films are: The Maltese FalconThe Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Big Sleep. The fourth feature, Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder may not be in the same class, but every time I watch it, I always seem to end up pleasantly surprised.

Dorothy L. Sayers Mysteries: Harriet Vane Collection. The title of this three-DVD set is a little misleading, as it's actually comprised of a trio of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Made in 1987, this series starred Edward Petherbridge as Ms. Sayers' British gentleman detective and Harriet Walter as his love interest Harriet Vane. Being a big fan of Ian Carmichael's earlier Lord Peter Wimsey TV series, I approached this one with trepidation. However, Petherbridge is an excellent Lord Peter and he and Harriet Walter generate plenty of romantic sparks when they're not solving murders (or proving her innocence).

Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters Collection. This four-movie set include one bona fide classic--Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein--and three funny follow-ups in which Bud & Lou confront the Invisible Man, the Mummy, and Mr. Hyde. Even the weakest film in the set, A&C Meet the Mummy, features a hilarious routine in which Bud and Lou try to slip one another a dangerous medallion...and Lou winds up eating it in his hamburger.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rocky: The Underdog That Won an Oscar

Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky.
The Rocky saga continues on November 25th with the release of Creed. This latest installment in Sylvester Stallone's long-running series about a blue-collar boxer is a reboot. This time, Rocky Balboa takes a backseat in a story that focuses on Apollo Creed's son Adonis.

Creed is the first film in the series since Rocky Balboa in 2006. That year, I watched all six of the Rocky pics and was struck by the enduring popularity of the character. The credit belongs to Sylvester Stallone, whose talents as a filmmaker and actor have certainly been questioned. For every good movie he’s made (e.g., Cliffhanger), there are two or three humdrum ones (e.g., The Specialist, Judge Dredd, and Oscar). Heck, maybe the good-to-bad ratio is even higher. But Stallone’s poor career choices don’t negate the fact that the original Rocky is a remarkably entertaining and—yes—even inspirational tale of an underdog that beats all odds.

The deceptively simple plot has Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a flamboyant heavyweight boxing champion whose popularity is waning, generating publicity by giving an unknown fighter a shot at the title. Stallone, who wrote a draft of the Rocky script in three days, derived his premise from the real-life boxing bout between heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and unknown challenger Chuck Wepner. Expected to suffer a quick defeat, Wepner went 15 rounds with Ali before losing in a technical knockout.

Adrian looked more glamorous in
later Rocky films.
In Stallone’s script, the champ Creed picks Rocky Balboa, a local Philadelphia fighter nicknamed The Italian Stallion. A has-been with a mediocre won-loss record, Rocky makes ends meet by collecting money for a loan shark. But from the moment that he accepts the challenge, Rocky’s life—and the lives of those around him—begins to change. He finds love with Adrian (Talia Shire, a wonderfully nuanced performance), the shy girl who works at the neighborhood pet store. He convinces Mickey (Burgess Meredith), the grizzled owner of a second-rate gym, that maybe they can both make something of their lives. He lifts the spirits of an entire neighborhood, as they watch him running through the streets daily as he trains for the big fight.

Rocky’s transition from “nobody” (how he defined himself) to “somebody” becomes complete at the climax of the now-famous training montage. It starts with an out-of-breath Rocky struggling to run up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But by the time it’s complete, a jubilant Rocky races up the steps to the strains of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” and, upon reaching the top, raises his arms in triumph. It’s certainly one of the most indelible images in 1970s cinema.

Still, despite the film’s strong performances (Stallone, Shire, Meredith, and Burt Young all received Oscar nominations), Rocky was considered a long shot for the Academy Award in 1976. Amazingly, despite stiff competition from the likes of Taxi Driver and Network, Rocky beat the odds and stunned everyone with its Oscar win—thus cementing its place in film history.

Meredith has one of the best scenes.
The rest of the story is a familiar one: Rocky propelled Stallone to superstar status and inspired five direct sequels. In Rocky II (1979), we get the Creed-Balboa rematch while Adrian gives birth to their son. Rocky III (1982), the best of the sequels, finds Rocky becoming complacent while a new ruthless challenger (Mr. T as Clubber Lang) fights his way into contention. Rocky IV (1985), the weakest series entry, pits Rocky against a Russian steroid-enhanced fighting machine. Rocky’s climatic speech, a ridiculous slice of glasnost, has to be heard to be believed. Still, the film was a bona fide hit whereas Rocky V (1990) tanked at the boxoffice.

Despite many flaws, the fifth installment at least tried for something different—it ends with a brawl in the street, not the ring. That brings us to Rocky Balboa, which was intended at the time to be the last film in the series. Perhaps, it tries too hard to tie up all the loose ends and provide a fitting bookend to the first Rocky. And yet, this quiet film manages to capture the grittiness and heart of the original. It’s a fitting tribute to a character that endured for over three decades and brought joy to millions of movie-goers.

It will be interesting to see whether Creed can reignite interest in Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. I just hope that Stallone doesn't regret not ending his film series on a high note--as he did with Rocky Balboa.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Seven Things to Know About Sydney Greenstreet

1. Sydney Greenstreet did not appear in a movie until he was 62. His film debut was pretty memorable, though—he played Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon.

2. Despite a number of popular supporting performances (e.g., Casablanca, Christmas in Connecticut, Devotion), etc., he received only one Oscar nomination. That was for The Maltese Falcon and he lost in the Best Supporting Actor category in 1941 to Donald Crisp (How Green Was My Valley). It was a strong field that year, with the other nominees being James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), Walter Brennan (Sergeant York), and Charles Coburn (The Devil and Miss Jones).

3. Greenstreet’s screen career consisted of just 23 films made between 1941 and 1949. Warner Bros. paired him with his Maltese Falcon co-star Peter Lorre nine times.

With Peter Lorre in Three Strangers.
4. Peter Lorre said of Sydney Greenstreet: “He was not only one of the nicest men and gentlemen I’ve ever known, I think he was one of the truly great, great actors of our time.” According to the biography The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen Youngkin, Lorre referred to Greenstreet as “the old man,” while Greenstreet called Lorre “Puck.”

5. Tennessee Williams dedicated his 1946 one-act play The Last of the Solid Gold Watches to Sydney Greenstreet. Williams conceived the role of an “old-time traveling salesman” with Greenstreet in mind for the lead (Vincent Price played the part in 1947 at a small theatre in Los Angeles.)

6. Greenstreet provided the voice of Rex Stout’s portly sleuth Nero Wolfe in a half-hour 1950-51 NBC radio program (you can easily find episodes on the Internet). Fans of Stout’s books often criticize the series for taking too many liberties (e.g., Wolfe rarely mentions his orchids and, though reclusive, he's willing to leave his beloved brownstone on occasion).

Sydney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.
7. Sydney Greenstreet, who battled kidney disease and diabetes, died in 1954 at age 74. Despite a brief acting career, he created a pantheon of memorable characters. My favorite may still be Kasper Gutman, so I leave you with this quote from The Maltese Falcon (imagine it delivered by Mr. Greenstreet—as only he could): “I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon.”

This post is part of the What a Character! blogathon co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen. It was delayed from last week and now technically starts on November 21st. Click here for the full schedule.