Thursday, April 30, 2015

Seven Obscure TV Shows That I Curiously Remember

Robert Goulet.
Blue Light (1966) – With gadget-laden secret agents dominating the TV landscape, ABC offered an old-style spin on the genre. Robert Goulet starred as David March, an American correspondent supposedly working for the Nazis at the start of World War II. But, hey, Robert Goulet can’t be a bad a guy—so it turns out March is really an uncover agent. Larry Cohen (The Invaders) co-created it.

Q.E.D. (1982) - Quentin E. Deverill was a Harvard University professor who had various adventures (e.g., thwarting a rocket attack on London) in England circa 1912. Sam Waterston (as Deverill) and Julian Glover (as the villainous Dr. Kilkiss) headed a fine cast and the show had plenty of style. Alas, it lasted only six episodes.

Search (1972-73) – I’m not sure I’d want to work for the World Securities Corporation, a private firm that outfitted its “probe agents” with implanted audio devices and tiny telemetry/camera devices. Talk about no privacy! Still, this series recruited Hugh O’Brian, Tony Franciosa, and Doug McClure to play the lead agents on a rotating basis. Burgess Meredith ran the Probe Control Unit with Angel Tompkins. Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits) created this entertaining show (which also featured a catchy theme). The pilot film was called Probe—a better title in my opinion.

Strange Report (1969) – Anthony Quayle starred as Adam Strange, a forensics-minded criminologist, in this British import that aired on NBC. Kaz Garas played his associate Hamlyn (Ham) Gynt. Some of the mysteries were conventional, but others showed some flair—such as the one where a 30-year-old murder was covered up by a World War II bomb explosion.

The Senator (1970-71) – Long before The West Wing, Hal Halbrook played a crusading American senator that battled air pollution, the use of National Guard troops to squelch anti-war protests, and the displacement of Native Americans. This show was part of the umbrella series The Bold Ones, and rotated with The New Doctors and The Lawyers.

The New People (1969-70) – A 45-minute TV series? Yes, networks were more adventurous in the old days! This oddity was about a plane crash on a deserted Pacific island that killed all the adults over 30 years old. That left a bunch of college students to establish a new society in this obvious ode to Lord of the Flies. The show’s creators included Rod Serling (who wrote the pilot) and Aaron Spelling. I don’t recall the series being particularly good, but, hey, it’s one I’ve never forgotten.

Frank Converse.
Coronet Blue (1967) – One of my fellow Café contributors wrote a fine post about this show and offered this concise description: “In the pilot episode, Frank Converse portrays a young man who is attacked aboard a luxury liner and tossed overboard. He is rescued, but with no memory of his past except for the words ‘coronet blue.’ He is taken to a hospital for treatment of his memory loss, where he adopts the name Michael Alden, and sets out to determine the truth about his identity.” I remember enjoying this series, though an episode I watched on YouTube was only so-so. Incidentally, Larry Cohen created this show, too.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dracula's Daughter--The Reluctant Vampire

Gloria Holden as the title character.
An intriguing--not wholly successfully--sequel, Dracula's Daughter (1936) opens with Von Helsing being arrested for the murder of Count Dracula. The investigating Scotland Yard inspector understandably questions Von Helsing's tale of vampirism and recommends he retain a barrister. Instead, the Dutch professor turns to renowned psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), a former pupil.

The Countess stalks her next victim.
Meanwhile, Dracula's corpse is stolen from police headquarters and cremated by his daughter. Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) believes that, with her father's destruction, "the spell is broken." Alas, she soon realizes that she still cannot resist her thirst for blood. A chance encounter with Garth convinces her that the psychiatrist may be able to help her overcome her "addiction." He agrees to treat her--without understanding the nature of her condition. Will Countess Dracula be cured? Will Von Helsing be executed for ridding the world of her evil father?

Good ideas abound in Dracula's Daughter, though the final screenplay by Garrett Fort fails to flesh out most of them out. Part of the problem can be attributed to the script's erratic development. When Universal Pictures first decided to mount a sequel to Dracula (1931), it approached screenwriter John L. Balderston, whose credits included the original, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and The Mummy (1932). Balderston's treatment featured an evil vampiress, the murder of a baby, and a man being devoured by a wolf. Universal rejected it.

The studio then turned to R.C. Sherriff (The Invisible Man, Goodbye Mr. Chips) and Finlay Peter Dunne to develop a new script that resurrected Dracula. Lugosi was even signed to reprise Count Dracula, with the other leads to have been played by a 25-year-old Jane Wyatt and Cesar Romero. Unfortunately, that project was shelved and Garrett Fort, one of the writers on Frankenstein (1931), was assigned to adapt Bram Stoker's short story "Dracula's Guest" (though the screenplay retains nothing from the story except for the presence of a female vampire).

Holden and Otto Kruger.
The introduction of a reluctant "monster" allows Dracula's Daughter to stand out from other 1930s monster films. It was a theme that Universal milked for more lasting success with 1940's The Wolf Man and its sequels, which featured Lon Chaney, Jr. as the unwilling werewolf. There's a distinct difference between the two, of course. Whereas Chaney transformed into a creature with pure animal instincts, Gloria Holden's vampire retains her human emotions at all times. She knows the distinction between right and wrong and constantly struggles to overcome her cravings for blood. She even goes to great lengths to secure Jeffrey Garth's aid.

Countess Zaleska's need for blood provides the film's most notorious scene. Her henchman Sandor (Irving Pichel) picks up a poor young woman from the docks and convinces the girl to pose for his mistress. Playing the part of an artist, the Countess tries to resist her insatiable appetite for blood as the girl exposes her bare shoulders and neck. Ultimately, the vampire gives in to her addiction (though we never see the bite). Based mostly on this scene, some critics have suggested the presence of an underlying lesbian theme in Dracula's Daughter (reinforced perhaps by the Countess's later abduction of Garth's female assistant).

Personally, I think this is an example of critics to trying to add context that just isn't there. Countess Zaleska follows and kills a male victim earlier in the film, so she clearly show no gender preference in her choice of victims. Her abduction of Garth's assistant (Marguerite Churchill) is motivated solely by her desire to get Garth to follow her back to Dracula's castle and join her in eternal life. I do admit that that the aforementioned scene is visually stunning, with the dark-haired Countess cloaked in black while her blonde-haired victim wears white slip.

There's a little bit of Caligari.
Gloria Holden is a commanding presence as the title character. It became her best-known role in a career that never lived up to its promising beginnings (supporting roles in The Life of Emile Zola and Test Pilot). Otto Kruger makes a serviceable hero, reminding me of one of those well-meaning scientists from a 1950s science fiction film. Edward Van Sloan, who character's name changed inexplicably from Van Helsing to Von Helsing, has little screen time. Marguerite Churchill plays her part as Garth's girl Friday mostly for comic relief, which adds nothing to the film. Irving Pichel's Sandor looks like an outcast from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Director Lambert Hillyer was a specialist in the Western genre, known best for helming William S. Hart silent films and "Wild Bill" Elliott "B" pictures. Surprisingly, he instills Dracula's Daughter with a genuinely chilling atmosphere. He also capitalizes on the fact that, unlike the Victorian-set Dracula, his sequel takes place in contemporary times. The (then) modern cars and traditionally foggy streets provide an effective visual contrast to one another.

Dracula's Daughter cost over $278,000, a hefty budget for Universal at the time. It failed to find an audience at the box office and faded into obscurity for several decades. By the 1970s, though, it had been revived by a small group of admirers; it was even shown in a film course I took at Indiana University. While Dracula's Daughter can't compare to the finest horrors of the 1930s, it's an interesting picture that's definitely worth 70 minutes of your time.

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fabulous Films of the 1930s Blogathon. Check out all the great posts by CMBA bloggers by clicking here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Two Classic Shows, Two Unusual Takes on Jack the Ripper

Numerous TV series and films have offered imaginative twists on the mysterious murderer that terrorized the Whitechapel district of London in the late 1880s. Two of my favorite big screen versions are the time travel fantasy Time After Time (1979), which pits H.G. Wells against the Ripper and A Study in Terror (1965), which has Sherlock Holmes facing off against Jack (a premise borrowed by the later Murder By Decree). Two of the most intriguing small-screen Ripper tales appeared as episodes of Thriller and the original Star Trek. Interestingly, Robert Bloch--best known for writing the novel that became Psycho--had a hand in both TV series.

John Williams in Thriller.
The Thriller episode "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" starred John Williams (a Hitchcock semi-regular) as an expert engaged by the Washington, D.C. police to help apprehend a modern day Ripper-like murderer. As the gruesome killings mount, a fantastic theory emerges: Is the murderer actually Jack the Ripper himself, who has used black magic rituals to defy ageing? It’s a clever premise and the big twist at the end works pretty well (even though you’ll guess it). Although Bloch wrote several episodes of Thriller, this teleplay was written was Barré Lyndon and based on a Bloch short story. Published in 1947, the story “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” originally appeared in Weird Tales. It was the first of several literary works in which Robert Bloch incorporated Jack the Ripper.

This episode also features several Hitchcockian connections. First, it was directed by Ray Milland, who played the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. The police inspector in that film? That would be John Williams. Decades earlier, Hitchcock also tackled Jack the Ripper with his 1927 silent film The Lodger, which was adapted from a short story and play by Marie Belloc Lowndes. And, for one final connection, the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” boasts some Ripper overtones with its plot about a strangler running amok in a very foggy London.

John Fiedler in Star Trek.
Star Trek seems like an unlikely destination for Jack the Ripper, which is precisely what makes “Wolf in the Fold” a compelling season two episode. While on shore leave on the planet Argelius II, a bewildered Scotty is  found—bloody knife in hand—standing over the corpse of a nightclub dancer. He has no recollection of what happened, but the evidence is damning and chief administrator Hengist (John Fiedler) seems convinced that Scotty is guilty.

For many years, I listed this as one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I viewed it recently, though, and while still good, it hasn’t aged as well as others. Still, Fiedler is very good (he’s perhaps best remembered as Piglet in Disney Winnie the Pooh movies and TV shows). This time around, Bloch wrote an original teleplay and borrowed the central premise of “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.” There are some nice touches, too, such as the foggy streets on Argelius substituting for London and Kirk’s use of the ship’s computer in revealing the murderer’s identity.

Television continues to sporadically visit the Jack the Ripper murders, with season one of the 2009-2013 British TV series Whitechapel focusing on a copycat  killer.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Movie-TV Connection Game (April 2015)

How are Gary Cooper and Robert Reed
In this edition of the connection game, you will once again 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. Deborah Kerr and Juliet Mills.

2. Alan Hale, Jr. and Charles Laughton.

3. Joel McCrea and Richard Chamberlain.

4. Fredric March and James Stewart.

5. Gary Cooper and Robert Reed.

6. Stewart Granger and Christopher Lee.

7. Richard Basehart and Walter Pidgeon.

8. Glynis Johns and Ann Blyth.

9. Jon Provost and Nigel Bruce.

10. Bela Lugosi and Acquanetta.

11. Elliott Gould and Robert Montgomery.

12. Fredric March and Bill Bixby.

13. Robin Williams and Mary Martin.

14. Peter Lawford and Jim Hutton.

15. Arthur Hill and George Maharis.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Interview with "In the Company of Legends" Authors Joan Kramer and David Heeley

In their new book, In the Company of Legends, Joan Kramer and David Heeley chronicle their experiences while producing documentaries about some of Hollywood’s greatest stars. Beginning with Fred Astaire: Puttin’ on His Top Hat, Kramer and Heeley have profiled iconic performers such as Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, John Garfield, and Errol Flynn. They also produced documentaries celebrating the 80th anniversary of Universal Pictures and the 75th anniversary of Columbia Pictures. Their prestigious work has been recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Directors Guild of America, and the CableACE Awards voters. Joan Kramer and David Heeley recently appeared on TCM, which screened their programs, and were interviewed in Newsweek. Amazingly, they still had time to sit down with the Café for an interview.

Café:  Your first Fred Astaire documentary opened a lot of doors for future productions. What were the keys to getting that first one produced?

Joan Kramer & David Heely:  Persistence and luck. Astaire did not want a show produced about him, and made that clear. Because he was a public figure, we proceeded anyway, not knowing that he controlled the usage of excerpts from his earlier (RKO) films.  Had we known, we likely would have given up the first time he said “No”. This was where it paid to be (partially) ignorant. In the end he gave us his permission “because of your tenacity”.

Café:  Other than securing some very elusive interviews, what were some of the greatest challenges in making your specials?

Kramer & Heeley:  It’s a boring answer, but financing was always the first hurdle to overcome. With that in place, and the interviewees lined up, we had to secure rights to all the materials we needed to illustrate our subject’s career. This was a big challenge in the Astaire shows, because MGM did not want to license any clips that were in their highly successful, and lucrative, series of That’s Entertainment movies. When we came to doing profiles about or with Katharine Hepburn, we used her to twist some arms for us.  Editing was never an easy task, as we were trying to tell a person’s life story in a limited amount of time – sometimes under an hour. Decisions about what to leave out could be excruciatingly difficult.

Café:  You convinced a lot of reluctant celebrities to give interviews. Which one was the most satisfying from that perspective?

Kramer & Heeley:  Persuading Katharine Hepburn to let us do a show about her in 1980--even though she would not appear in it -  was perhaps the most significant “Yes” of all, because that opened the door to many other shows, as well as to a rewarding friendship that lasted many years.

The authors with Robert Osborne on TCM.
Café:  What criteria do you consider when selecting an individual to profile?

Kramer & Heeley:  We were looking first for someone who was a legend in the world of movies, someone from that magical era when all the stars seemed to be just out of reach. The second criterion was that the person had not been profiled before, or if they had, the profile was less than comprehensive. We were lucky that, at the time we were making these shows, there was still a relatively large number of people who filled the bill.

Café:  Just doing the research for the interviews must have been time-consuming. From inception to final cut, how long on average did it take to make one of your documentaries?

Kramer & Heeley:  Research was definitely time consuming, because we knew we had to get everything right. The odds were that these shows would be around for a long time, and could well become the definitive biographies of their subjects. That said, the research period could be immensely satisfying, especially when we were able to dig up long lost material, or something that no-one had ever seen before, or find that established “facts” were not what happened after all.  A year of production was not unusual, though often we had much less than that.

Café:  I know it'd be putting you on the spot to ask which show was your favorite one...but which show was your favorite and why?

Kramer & Heeley:  Ask a parent who is their favorite child. Fred Astaire would never say who was his favorite partner. Hedging when that question is asked is not just to avoid having favorites, it’s because each show was in its own way special. We hope that comes across in the book. Many people choose Katharine Hepburn: All About Me. That is understandable, because it had a unique format (no-one on the show except Hepburn herself) and was the culmination of many years working with her. It’s certainly near the top of the list. But we’d prefer you to make that choice for us.

Café:  Do you have any future projects that you'd like to share with our readers?

Kramer & Heeley:  Making those shows was very satisfying, but also very hard work. They required the sort of energy output on a daily basis for months at a time that neither of us has anymore. We’ve retired from the movie and television production business, but we have enjoyed writing this book. Let’s see how it is received.

This post originated on the Classic Film & TV Cafe. If you are reading it on World Cinema Blog or another site that scraped this content, please go to the legal web site.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

DVD Spotlight: Joe 90

After the dark Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson launched the youth-oriented Joe 90 TV series in 1968. Joe 90 replicates the lifelike puppets, elaborate miniature sets, and--to a lesser extent--the espionage themes from Captain Scarlet. However, the similarities end there, with Joe 90 centering on a nine-year-old lead character--sort of the British answer to Jonny Quest. Like Jonny, Joe's father, Dr. Ian McClaine, is a genius scientist.

Joe in the BIG RAT.
Unlike Jonny, Joe becomes the subject of one of his father's experiments! With Joe sitting inside a device called the Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record and Transfer (BIG RAT), his father transfers his brain patterns to his son. For a limited time, Joe can recall and apply Dad's knowledge (e.g., Joe can answer any physics question). The amount of time that Joe can retain another person's knowledge can be extended with a pair of specially-equipped glasses.

When "Uncle" Sam Loover of the World Intelligence Network (WIN) witnesses this experiment, he immediately sees the potential for using Joe to perform intelligence missions. Dr. McClaine protests initally, but eventually allows Joe to become a WIN agent.

Joe wearing his special glasses.
On the surface, Joe 90 works nicely as an imaginative Jonny Quest variation. However, on closer examination, it presents a very different view of childhood. Joe has no friends his own age, he lives in an isolated house with his father, and he's often placed in harm's way by a trusted family friend. In one episode, a mission requires him to hide inside a box of armaments being hijacked. Sam even issues Joe his own handgun (one designed for his small friends). Joe not only engages in shoot-outs with the bad guys, but he's also willing to use a hand grenade to kill one (we don't see the Mafia-like kingpin die, but it's obvious no one could have survived the explosion). Hey, Jonny Quest never killed anyone!

Angela watching another agent die.
Action set pieces are a staple of the Andersons' Supermarionation productions and Joe 90 does't disappoint in that area. However, the series places a greater emphasis on human relationships (perhaps in response to criticism directed at the action-oriented Captain Scarlet). In the episode "Three's a Crowd," Joe learns that his father's new girlfriend, reporter Angela Davies, is an enemy spy. After Joe confronts her, Angela breaks up with Dr. McClaine, as Joe watches silently from the shadows. From his expression, it's unclear whether Joe feels sad for his father or perhaps relief that the person who came between father and son is no longer a threat.

On 14 April 2015, Timeless Media Group will release a DVD boxed set of all 30 episodes of Joe 90. Bonus features includes a Gerry Anderson interview and two commentaries, one by series director Ken Turner and the other by designer Mike Trim. As with Timeless Media's previous Gerry Anderson releases, the picture quality is excellent. You can view our unofficial trailer for Joe 90 and the other Supermarionation boxed set by clicking here.

Timeless Media Group provided a review copy of Joe 90.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Five Best Jean Renoir Films

My movie blogger friend Richard Finch recently started a Facebook Group on Foreign Film Classics. That inspired me to come up with a "Five List" list for my favorite foreign-language film director.

1. The Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu) - Best described as a "comic tragedy," Jean Renoir’s 1939 masterpiece focuses on three themes: the relationship between and among the frivolous upper-class and their servants; the complex emotions between men and women; and the boundaries and expectations of society (the "rules of the game"). I first saw it in a college film class in the 1970s and it left a lasting impression. Although some contemporary audiences may find parts of it dated, it’s easy to see why critics often rank Rules alongside Citizen Kane as one of the greatest films ever made.

2. A Day in the Country (Partie de campagne) - Renoir began shooting this film in 1936, but bad weather delayed the production to the point that the director abandoned it. Ten years later, his film editor and lover, Marguerite Houllé-Renoir, edited the remaining footage into a 40-minute film. I'm not sure of Jean Renoir's original intentions, but I can't imagine how a longer running time could have improved this lyrical ode to fleeting love. It's probably the closest he came to capturing his father Auguste's Impressionist paintings on celluloid. The simple plot follows a working-class family's outing to the country. While the father and son fish, the mother has a carefree fling and the daughter experiences deeper emotions that will linger through the years. My only regret is that it wasn't shot in color.

3. The Crime of Monsieur Lange - When a ruthless publisher fakes his death and disappears, the company's remaining employees form a cooperative to carry on the business. A meek clerk, Amédée Lange, encounters great success with his Western pulp novels about Arizona Jim. He and the publisher's former mistress also fall in love. Life is wonderful--until then the "dead man" unexpectedly reappears. A deceptively complex film, The Crime of Monsieur Lange was considered controversial at the time because of its politics (the cooperative representing Communistism) and the ending (no spoilers here). However, my fondess for the film owes more to its charm, Renoir's use of the courtyard setting (foreshadowing Rear Window?), and the cinematography (highlighted by a stunning, for the time, camera shot at the climax).

4. French Cancan - Renoir's celebration of show business is rightfully noted for the director's brilliant use of color. The vivid images seem to burst from the screen or, as Francois Truffaut wrote more concisely: "Each shot in French Cancan is a popular poster...with beautiful blacks, marooons, and beiges." As for the story, it follows a music hall impressario named Danglard (Jean Gabin) who creates Moulin Rouge. Danglard uses people to create his vision, particularly the young impressionable women that he molds into stars. He could have been an unsavory character, but veteran actor Gabin applies his extensive charm to the part. He convinces us that Danglard loves the theater above all else and that, in the end, his motives are justified for the sake of art.

A colorful set from French Cancan (1955).
5. La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast) - Film noir had yet to defined in 1938, but Renoir's dark tale of a disturbed railway worker manipulated by a femme fatale into a murder plot certainly meets the genre's criteria. In fact, the source novel by Emile Zola also formed the basis for Fritz Lang's classic 1954 noir Human Desire. Renoir's original stars Simone Simon as Séverine, who is seduced by her godfather, forced by her husband to participate in homicide, and then sleeps with the railway worker (Gabin). It's a tour de force performance for the actress known to American audiences mostly for Cat People. However, it's the film's fatalism that makes La Bête Humaine so haunting.

Honorable Mentions:  Grand Illusion (which ranks #1 or #2 on most Renior lists); Boudu Saved from Drowning (remade in the U.S. as Down and Out in Beverly Hills); and The River.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Longstreet: The Way of the Intercepting Fist

In the 1971 made-for-TV movie Longstreet, James Franciscus played a insurance investigator who lost his wife and sight during an explosion intended to kill him. Determined to find the criminals responsible, Mike Longstreet has to learn first how to live with his blindness. He gets ample support from his assistant Nikki (Martine Beswick), best friend Duke (Bradford Dillman), and Pax, a white German Shepherd that becomes his seeing-eye dog.

Marilyn Mason and Franciscus.
As was often ABC's practice, the movie doubled as a pilot for a prospective TV show. The regular series debuted that fall with Marilyn Mason replacing Martine Beswick and Peter Mark Richman taking over as Duke. Set in New Orleans, the premise had Longstreet investigating various cases, often for the Great Pacific Insurance Company (where Duke worked). Stirling Silliphant created the series, which was loosely inspired by a series of novels by Baynard Kendrick about a blind private detective.

A prolific script writer, Silliphant's best television work was on Route 66, which he co-created with Herbert B. Leonard. Silliphant's teleplays on that show featured some of the elegant (but far from realistic) prose ever written for the small screen. For the most part, Longstreet seems far too straightforward for a Silliphant series, but some episodes were exceptions and the best example is the first one: "The Way of the Intercepting Fist."

James Franciscus and Bruce Lee.
It opens with Longstreet being assaulted in an alleyway by a crooked longshoreman and his cronies. A young Asian man named Li Tsung (Bruce Lee) fends off the attackers with an impressive display of martial arts. Later, Longstreet seeks out Li, an antiques dealer, and asks to become his martial arts student. Initially, Li refuses by saying: "The usefulness of a cup is its emptiness." However, he eventually relents and not only teaches Longstreet how to defend himself, but also about himself. The episode ends with Longstreet confronting and defeating the longshoreman. That act, we're led to believe, will end the villain's influence and lead the police to the businessman behind a large-scale hijacking scheme.

As with many of Silliphant's Route 66 episodes, the plot is secondary to the characters. It affords Lee the opportunity to describe jeet kune do, his "system" of martial arts and philosophy. In 1973's Enter the Dragon, Lee describes it succinctly as "the art of fighting without fighting." Still, it's this episode of Longstreet that includes perhaps Lee's best analogy: "Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, if you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow, or creep or drip or crash. Be water, my friend."

Lee in Marlowe (1969).
If there is much of Bruce Lee in "The Way of the Intercepting Fist," that's no surprise as he worked on the script with Silliphant. The two had becomne friends after Silliphant sought out Lee in the late 1960s to learn martial arts. In fact, it was Silliphant who had Lee hired as fight choreographer and henchman in 1969's Marlowe. (Lee isn't in much of the movie, but has a most memorable encounter with James Garner.)

Lee earned strong reviews for his guest appearance on Longstreet and reprised his role in three more episodes. Yet, despite a likable cast and interesting setting (though the show was not shot on location like Route 66), Longstreet only lasted one season. Television audiences just didn't seem that interested in insurance investigators. (Despite that, George Peppard played one the following year in Banacek, though it only lasted for two seasons totaling 17 episodes.)

Meanwhile, Bruce Lee--who had previously rejected offers to make Asian "kung fu" movies--signed a contract with Raymond Chow to make two films. The first one, The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury), was released the same year as his Longstreet appearances. It became an unexpected worldwide smash and made Bruce Lee an international star.

James Franciscus starred in two subsequent short-lived TV series: Doc Elliot (1973-74) and Hunter (1976-77). Interestingly, he later played a crooked politician in Good Guys Wear Black (1978), one of Chuck Norris' first martial arts films. Franciscus worked steadily in film and television until his death in 1991 at age 57 due to emphysema.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cult Movie Theatre: The Girl in Black Stockings

Let's clarify one point upfront: There is no girl in black stockings in this 1957 low-budget thriller about a serial killer. Instead, you get Anne Bancroft and Mamie Van Doren before they became stars--plus an eclectic supporting cast, some nifty black-and-white photography, and the famous Parry Lodge (more on that later).

Beth screams as she sees the victim.
The opening is the film's highlight: a Hitchcockian sequence in which two would-be lovers, Beth (Bancroft) and David (Lex Barker), discover a mutilated corpse by a lake when David lights a cigarette. The scene is set up perfectly with the couple discussing their relationship in a secluded area not far from an ongoing outdoor dance. You can view the full 2:48 scene on the Cafe's YouTube Channel by clicking here or, depending on your browser, just click the link in our sidebar).

We're soon told that "they don't stop with just one" and, sure enough, other murders follow. There is no shortage of suspects, including Beth (whose apparent vulnerability could easily hide a deranged mind) or David (allegedly a lawyer who got into his car and drove from L.A. until he felt like stopping--in Kanab, Utah).

He hates women!
Then, there's Edmund Parry (Ron Randell), who owns the local lodge with his care-giver sister Julia (Marie Windsor). Parry  can't walk due to psychological paralysis that started when his wife left him 10-12 years earlier. As a result, he hates all women and makes sure everyone knows about it. (Randell's off-the-wall performance has only enhanced the film's cult reputation.)

Indeed, the only character I ruled out as a suspect was the alcoholic Indian trapper that's initially arrested. That's part of the fun of The Girl in Black Stockings. It helps, too, that the possible killers are played by familiar faces such as John Dehner, Stuart Whitman, and Dan Blocker.

A young Anne Bancroft.
Anne Bancroft gives a credible performance in the title role. She would win a Tony the following year for Two for the Seesaw, directed by Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde). She followed that with a Tony for Best Actress for The Miracle Worker in 1960. It proved to be her ticket to film stardom when she repeated her performance as Helen Keller's teacher for the 1962 movie version. That earned Bancroft her only Oscar (though she would later be nominated for The Pumpkin Eater, The Graduate, The Turning Point, and Agnes of God).

Mamie Van Doren.
As for Mamie Van Doren, she has little to do in a small role in The Girl in the Black Stockings. Not surprisingly, though, she is featured prominently on the poster.

William Margulies' crisp black-and-white photography gives this low-budget thriller a nice noirish edge. He had a long Hollywood career as a camera operator and later cinematographer. He worked almost exclusively in television from 1958 to 1974. He earned four Emmy nominations for his cinematography (two of those being for Have Gun--Will Travel).

Finally, we come to the Parry Lodge, the real-life hotel that figures prominently in The Girl in Black Stockings. Brothers Whit, Chauncey, and Gronway Parry opened the lodge in 1931 in Kanab, Utah, to provide housing for film crews and casts shooting in the area. Over the years, numerous movies (mostly Westerns) have been partially filmed near Kanab, to include Western Union, My Friend Flicka, Westward the Women, Duel at Diablo, and even Planet of the Apes. The lodge has different owners today, but is still open to business.

You can even visit the Parry Lodge website. I did--though I admit I was disappointed. It includes a list of movies made in the area...but doesn't mention The Girl in Black Stockings.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Danny Kaye Gets Up in Arms

Danny Kaye's feature-length film debut is a serviceable musical comedy intended as a showcase for its star and radio singing sensation Dinah Shore. In that regard, Up in Arms (1944) works well enough, though Kaye became a more controlled--and more effective--entertainer in later films such as the comedy classic The Court Jester (1955) and perennial favorite White Christmas (1954).

Dinah singing "Now I Know."
Kaye plays Danny Weems, a hypochondriac who works as an elevator operator so he can be near the many physicians working in his building. He fancies himself in love with a nurse named Mary (Constance Dowling), although he'd be better matched with Mary's friend Virgina (Dinah Shore). To complicate matters, it's instant love for Mary when she meets Danny's pal Joe (Dana Andrews). Before these romantic entanglements can be worked out, all four friends wind up in the Army--with Danny accidentally smuggling Mary aboard the ship carrying his unit into action.

In character for the "Theater Lobby"
number written by his wife Sylvia Fine.
Kaye seems determined to carry this flimsy plot by himself if required. He employs physical comedy, uses a wide variety of different voices, and sings nonsensical songs at breakneck speed. Most of his routines are very funny, but he could have benefited from more structure and a better supporting cast. Dana Andrews has little to do and seems out of place. Constance Dowling has one funny scene with Danny. The only other performer to stand out is Dinah Shore, who shows why she was successful enough to get her own radio show, Call to Music, in 1943.

Indeed, Danny and Dinah provide three good reasons to watch Up in Arms: her rendition of the Oscar-nominated ballad "Now I Know"; Danny's appropriately-titled "Theater Lobby Number," which is a musical "summary" of a made-up movie with Kaye playing all the characters; and, best of all, Danny and Dinah combining for "Tess's Torch Song." The last number is a hoot, with Goldwyn Girls sprouting from giant vases in the background and the two stars repeating each other's nonsensical lyrics with perfection. In fact, it's so good that--instead of a closing scene--there's a short reprise of "Tess's Torch Song" just prior to the closing credits.

Danny, Dinah, and Goldwyn Girls in giant vases!

Virgina Mayo.
Speaking of the Goldwyn Girls, one of them is played by Virgina Mayo (in fact, she has a brief speaking part as a WAC named Joanna). While she and Kaye never share a scene together, the two subsequently teamed up for Wonder Man (1945), The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).

Dinah Shore appeared in only a handful of films and never achieved silver screen stardom. That probably didn't bother her much, since she remained a recording star through the 1950s and also achieved success on television. After a career lull during the 1960s, she made a comeback as a popular daytime talk show host in the 1970s.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Classic Film Art from the Cafe's Collection: Lillian Gish

While going through some old files recently, I found a still of Lillian Gish. I used it as the basis for the digitally-created sketch below.