Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon: Let's Go on a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea!

What was the longest-running science fiction TV series of the 1960s? If you answered Star Trek, Lost in Space, or even The Outer Limits, you'd be wrong. That distinction belongs to producer Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which debuted in 1964 and ran for four years.

Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson.
The show's "star" was the Seaview, a futuristic, atomic-powered submarine designed by Admiral Harriman Nelson. Although Nelson essentially lived aboard his super sub, the vessel's commander was the younger Captain Lee Crane. The relationship between these two men--paternal, respectful, and occasionally at conflict--formed the central core of the series throughout its run. It was enhanced by the casting: film veteran Richard Basehart played Nelson while handsome, likable David Hedison was Crane. The two actors became lifelong friends off-screen.

The episodes from Voyage's first season featured a canny mix of suspense, espionage, and science fiction plots. In “Hotline,” the Seaview’s crew has to disarm a nuclear reactor aboard a Soviet satellite that crashed into the ocean. “No Way Out” finds Nelson and Crane trying to provide safe passage for an uncooperative Communist defector. In “The Sky Is Falling,” Nelson tries to negotiate with apparently-friendly aliens (this was the first of many episodes about extraterrestrials).

Captain Crane looks concerned.
It’s a strong season that benefitted from quality guest stars such as Robert Duvall, George Sanders, Carroll O’Connor, Hurd Hatfield, Everett Sloane, and June Lockhart. Additionally, three episodes were penned by notable film and television scribes: Charles Bennett (Foreign Correspondent, Curse of the Demon); John McGreevey (The Waltons); and the amusingly-named Cordwainer Bird--which was a pseudonym for acclaimed science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.

The colorful Flying Sub.
A modest ratings hit, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was renewed for a second season—but one that brought changes. Gruff but lovable Chief Curley Jones was nowhere to be seen, because actor Henry Kulky had died from a heart attack at age 55. Terry Becker joined the cast as Chief Sharkey. The realistic mini-sub was replaced by a spiffy, colorful “flying sub.” And most notably, there was a shift toward more science fiction plots, starting with the first episode. Titled “Jonah and the Whale,” it found Nelson and a female Russian scientist literally inside a gigantic whale after the beast swallows their diving bell. (The elaborate, colorful sets for this episode was the subject of a TV Guide article.)

By the third season, the Seaview had become a popular place for strange creatures to visit. The crew had to battle a werewolf (Admiral Nelson no less!), a mummy, a “heat monster,” some “fossil men,” a deadly cloud, a mean mermaid, “wax men,” and Nazis revived from suspended animation. This monster-of-the-week approach wore thin, although Basehart and Hedison still kept the show watchable. Despite placing #63 in the Nielsen ratings for the season, Voyage was renewed for a fourth and final season.

A dinosaur borrowed from The Lost World.
I've chosen not to dwell much on Irwin Allen’s entertaining theatrical film, 1961’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which served as the basis for the series. However, it warrants a mention for two reasons. First, the budget-minded Allen was always looking to get the most out of existing sets and stock footage. So, the TV series’ season 2 episode “The Sky’s on Fire” ripped off the movie’s plot about the Van Allen radiation belt “catching fire” and threatening to scorch the Earth. Likewise, the season 1 episode “Turn Back the Clock” recycled footage from Allen’s 1960 theatrical film The Lost World—which conveniently starred David Hedison. The dinosaur scenes (actually, they were live lizards on miniature sets) from that movie also cropped up in other episodes.

The movie’s other contribution to the TV series was its special effects wizard L.B. Abbott. The head of 20th Century-Fox’s special effects department from 1957-70, Abbott won Academy Awards for Doctor Doolittle (1967), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Logan’s Run (1976). He also earned three Emmys for his special effects, one for Allen’s Time Tunnel and two for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. They were the only Emmys won by Voyage.

A blueprint of the Seaview.
As a youth, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was my first “favorite TV show.” It also inspired me to write my first fan letter, which yielded a black & white photo of the Seaview and a copy of its blueprint (I wrote about this in an earlier post). I had a model of the Flying Sub and a toy Seaview propelled across my bathtub waters courtesy of a wound-up rubber band. I am not alone in my affection for this show either. You can find all kinds of cool stuff about Voyage at the Irwin Allen News Network and my 2013 interview with David Hedison ranks as one of the Café’s most popular posts.

This post is part of the Classic TV Blog Association’s Summer of MeTV Classic TV Blogathon. Click here to check out the complete blogathon schedule. And don’t forget to set your video recording devices for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which airs weekly on MeTV on Sunday at 1:00 a.m.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

DVD Spotlight: Roger Moore as The Saint

Already tired of summer TV offerings from the major networks? Then, you're in luck because the Timeless Media Group will release all six seasons of Roger Moore's The Saint in a deluxe DVD set on May 26th. If you watched one of the 118 episodes each day, that would kept you busy through the summer!

Author Leslie Charteris introduced Simon Templar in his 1928 novel Meet the Tiger, though he considered the short-story collection Enter the Saint (1930) to be Templar's literary introduction. Sometimes labeled the "Robin Hood of modern crime," Templar traveled the globe to deal with gun-runners, corrupt officials, gangsters, and spies. He collected "fees" from the bad guys, keeping some of the money and returning the rest to its owners or donating it to charity. His nickname, The Saint, was derived from his initials S.T. and his calling card featured a stick figure with a halo. Charteris wrotes dozens of Saint short stories and a handful of novels from 1928 to 1964.

George Sanders played The Saint.
The debonair troubleshooter seemed like an ideal candidate for the silver screen and Hollywood came calling in the late 1930s. Louis Hayward became the first actor to play Simon Templar in The Saint in New York (1938), based on a 1935 novel. It's a respectable "B" picture, though I prefer RKO's follow-up Saint films starring the always suave George Sanders. Sanders starred in five Saint films before departing to play a similar detective called The Falcon in another RKO film series. Additional actors who played The Saint on the big screen include Hugh Sinclair (who was quite good), Jean Marais, and Val Kilmer. On the radio, The Saint was voiced by Vincent Price, Tom Conway (Sanders' brother), Brian Aherne, and others.

Roger Moore as Simon Templar.
However, the man that came to own the role was Roger Moore. Surprisingly, Moore was not the first choice for the lead in the 1960s television series The Saint. British TV mogul Lew Grade, who owned the ITV network, originally wanted Patrick McGoohan to play Simon Templar. However, in Burl Barer's comprehensive book The Saint: A Complete History, producer Robert S. Baker said: "We had a talk with Patrick, but we didn't see eye to eye...He 's a marvelous artist, but we thought he didn't have the right sort of panache for The Saint. He didn't have the humor. We wanted to do the show slightly tongue in cheek, we had to have plenty of humor."

Moore as Beau Maverick.
Despite his youthful looks, Roger Moore was a 35-year-old film and TV veteran when he became The Saint. His best-known previous role was as Beau Maverick in the Western TV series Maverick (he essentially replaced James Garner during the show's final year). Prior to that, he had starred in two other TV series: The Alaskans (playing a character called Silky Harris) and Ivanhoe, based on Walter Scott's novel. Moore slipped into the Simon Templar persona effortlessly. Whereas some actors grow into a role, Moore was seemingly born to play The Saint (although his TV character aligned more closely with Charteris' later books as opposed to the earlier ones featuring a tougher Templar).

The first season of The Saint quickly establishes that Simon Templar is both well-known and independently wealthy. In fact, many episodes start with someone recognizing him as "the famous Simon Templar"--at which time a halo appears above his head and the credits roll. The third episode, "The Careful Terrorist," introduces a gruff sidekick named Hoppy (Percy Herbert)--but Hoppy is never seen again. Instead, Simon solves crimes and helps people in need on his own. This meant that Roger Moore was the only series regular for the show's entire run. The only recurring character of note is Templar's nemesis, Inspector Teal (Ivor Dean), who appears in 24 episodes.

Julie Christie in the episode "Judith."
Since Templar was not strictly a detective, the plots could vary widely. Thus, any given episode might find The Saint uncovering a devious scheme to poison a friend ("The Talented Husband"), dealing with kidnappers ("The Latin Touch"), stealing the plans for an invention ("Judith"), or recovering counterfeit plates ("The Work of Art"). By the mid-1960s, The Saint began to reflect the influence of the James Bond movies and The Avengers. In "The Helpful Pirate", British intelligence sends Simon on a mission. And in one of my favorites, "The House on Dragon's Rock," Simon confronts a mad scientist and his creepy creation in Wales (think Them!). There was even an episode about the Loch Ness Monster—which was a popular “guest star” in many 1960s British TV series (e.g., The Avengers, Stingray).

In the U.S., The Saint originally aired as a syndicated TV series, often showing after the local late news. In 1967, with the spy craze fueled by the 007 films, NBC picked up The Saint as a summer replacement series. Its ratings success led to a regular spot on NBC's midseason schedule. The later Saint episodes were filmed in color and shown in over 60 countries. By then, Moore had expanded his role to unofficial co-producer and occasionally director.

When The Saint ended its run, Lew Grade paired Roger Moore with Tony Curtis in a similar series called The Persuaders. Unfortunately, the two actors never clicked and The Persuaders, which only lasted one season, wasn't very good (though it featured a cool John Barry title theme). Moore, of course, went on to play James Bond--a career move that even eclipsed his success as The Saint.

Simon and his Volvo P1800.
Timeless Media's DVD boxed set is nicely packaged in four separate attractive cases. The image quality is excellent (keep in mind that these shows used stock footage for some exteriors, which looked grainy to start with). Roger Moore, with other members of the cast and crew, provides commentary on several episodes. Speaking of guest stars, the lineup is an impressive one and includes Julie Christie, Samantha Eggar, Donald Sutherland, Anthony Quayle, Jean Marsh, and 007 veterans Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Walter Gotell, Julian Glover, and Lois Maxwell. (Click here to check out our video tribute to The Saint's leading ladies.)

The guest stars, the plots, and Simon's iconic P1800 Volvo coupe (with the "ST 1" license plate) are all excellent reasons to watch The Saint. However, you really need just one--and that's the likable, charismatic Roger Moore.

Timeless Media Group provided a copy of The Saint  DVD set for review.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Summer of MeTV Blogathon is Coming Soon!

On May 25-28, the Classic TV Blog Association will host its third annual blogathon featuring reviews and articles about TV series appearing on MeTV's new summer schedule. From The Brady Bunch to Route 66, you 'll learn fascinating facts and gain new insights about all your MeTV favorites.

What is the Classic TV Blog Association? It's a group comprised of former TV executives, television book authors, and couch potatoes that love sharing their passion for classic television. It's not affiliated with MeTV. The Classic Film & TV Cafe was one of the founding members. Other members (just mention a few) include Christmas TV History, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, It's About TV, How Sweet It WasComfort TV, Made for TV Mayhem, and Silver Scenes.

If you want to participate in the blogathon or see what's on the blogathon schedule, please check out the Classic TV Blog Association website. And which show will we be blogging about at the Cafe? That would be Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The "My Favorite Classic Movie" Blogathon for National Classic Movie Day

Today, we are pleased to host the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in support of first National Classic Movie Day

Last year, a grassroots campaign was started to make Saturday, May 16th, the first National Classic Movie Day. The intent is to celebrate classic films from the silents to the seventies. And what better way to pay homage to classic cinema than write about one's favorite film?

For this blogathon, over 60 film buffs have written posts about their favorite movies--which range from The Abominable Dr. Phibes to You Can't Take It With You. There are silent films (The Big Parade), foreign-language films (La Strada), and many classics from Hollywood's Golden Age.

The complete schedule is below. Please check back frequently as links to the reviews will be added throughout the day. The Cafe wants to thanks all the blogathon participants and wish everyone a happy National Classic Movie Day!

2001: A Space Odyssey - It's About TV
The Abominable Dr. Phibes - bare•bones e-zine
Ace in the Hole - Silver Screenings
The Adventures of Robin Hood - Classic Film & TV Cafe
Anne of a Thousand Days - Journeys in Classic Film
The Apartment - stars and letters
Ball of Fire - Cary Grant Won't Eat You
The Best Years of Our Lives - Another Old Movie Blog
The Big Parade - Critica Retro
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Back to Golden Days
Bringing Up Baby - The Wonderful World of Cinema
Casablanca - Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Chemmeen - Totally Filmi
Citizen Kane - The Stop Button
City Lights - Citizen Screen
The Devil Is a Woman (and others) - Lady Eve's Reel Life
Double Indemnity - Girls Do Film
Employees' Entrance - Immortal Ephemera
Going My Way - ClassicBecky's Brain Food
The Good Fairy - Bunnybun's Classic Movie Blog
The Heiress - Java's Journey
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) - MovieFanFare (Gary Cahall)
The Innocents - I See a Dark Theater
It's a Wonderful Life - Motion Picture Gems
Journey's End - Sister Celluloid
La Strada - 365 Days 365 Classics
Lawrence of Arabia - Movies Silently
Libeled LadyPhyllis Loves Movies
Lili (1953) - Moon in Gemini
The Major and the Minor - portraitsbyjenni
The More the Merrier - The Blonde at the Film
My Man Godfrey - Carole & Co.
On the Waterfront - Criterion Blues
The Palm Beach Story - Movie Movie Blog Blog
The Philadelphia Story - Now Voyaging
Portrait of JennieBrian Camp's Film and Anime Blog
The Private Life of Henry VIII - Cultural Civilian
Rear Window - Pop Culture Reverie
The Red Shoes - Le Mot du Cinephiliaque
Sabrina (1954) - Letters to Old Hollywood
The Shop Around the Corner - Stardust
Singin' in the Rain - The Movie Night Group's Guide to Classic Film
Some Like It Hot - Twenty Four Frames
The Sound of Music - Classic Reel Girl
The Spiral Staircase - In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
Star Wars - Hitless Wonder Movie Blog
Sullivan's Travels - Reel Distracted
Sunset Boulevard - A Person in the Dark
Sunset Boulevard - Silver Screen Modes
Sweet Smell of Success - Defiant Success
The Thing from Another World - Caftan Woman
The Thing from Another World - Aperture Reviews
The Third Man - the film tank
12 Angry Men - Coogs Film Blog
Vertigo - CineMaven
Waterloo Bridge - Vivien Leigh
The Wizard of Oz - Film Fanatic
The Wizard of Oz - Wolffian Classic Movies Digest
The Women - Shadows and Satin
Yankee Doodle Dandy - Old Hollywood Films
You Can't Take It With You - Classic Movie Hub

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

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon: Why I Love "The Adventures of Robin Hood"

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon.

Much has been written about Warner Bros.' 1938 classic swashbuckler, including several posts at this blog. So, in lieu of a traditional film review, I decided to write about why I love The Adventures of Robin Hood. After extensive reflection, it has boiled down to these six reasons:

Rains, Rathbone, and Cooper.
1. A Perfect Cast. With the possible exception of The Wizard of Oz, I can't think of another large-scale film with a stronger cast from top to bottom. Let's start with the four immortal screen stars in the major roles: Can you imagine anyone more suited to play Robin Hood (Errol Flynn), Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone), or Prince John (Claude Rains)? Moving on down the cast, Robin Hood features some of the screen's finest character actors in Hollywood history with Alan Hale (Little John), Eugene Pallette (Friar Tuck), and Una O'Connor (Marian's lady-in-waiting Bess). Even the smallest roles are brought to life skillfully by the likes of Melville Cooper (the buffoonish Sheriff of Nottingham), Patric Knowles (Will Scarlet), Herbert Mundin (Una's lovable suitor), Montagu Love (the appropriately-named Bishop of Black Canons), and Ian Hunter (a noble-looking King Richard).

2. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Score. For much of my youth, I didn't pay attention to a movie's background music unless there was a prominent theme (e.g. Laura). That changed when my sister and I gave my father an album featuring selections from Korngold's greatest scores, including The Adventures of Robin Hood. Korngold's exhilarating music stands nicely on its own, but it's even better as a tailor-made complement to a classic swashbuckler. Ironically, Korngold had doubts for his ability to score an action film, stating that he "had no relation to it." He was oh so wrong!

3. 1930s Technicolor. In his book Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930, Scott Higgins wrote: "The Adventures of Robin Hood is a turning point in Technicolor design. For the first time in a three-color feature, the palette is opened wide and intricately organized. Far from returning to demonstration, Robin Hood's assertive design modulates color to effectively direct attention and underscore drama." Certainly, it's a stunning visual screen experience with the many earth tone colors accented by brilliant reds and greens. With the exception of Powell and Pressburger's brilliant color films, I would argue that the three-strip Technicolor films of the 1930s are unmatched in their graphic splendor.

4. The Outlaw That's Really a Hero. This is a plot that always appealed to me and obviously I'm not alone. In addition to the many versions of the Robin Hood legend, there are numerous other engaging literary and cinematic variations such as The Mark of Zorro, Doctor Syn, and The Green Arrow.

Olivia looking concerned during the
archery tournament.
5. It's in the Genes. My parents, especially my father, were huge Errol Flynn fans. Thus, in the pre-VCR days, it was a family event when any of his movies turned up on television. However, it was a special event when it was The Adventures of Robin Hood. I don't think my father ever named a favorite film, but certainly Robin Hood would have been among the front-runners. I'm a firm believer that one's film-watching experience influences how one remembers a movie. I have nothing but delightful childhood remembrances of sitting with my family in front of the TV and watching Errol romancing Olivia, battling Basil, and--through the magic of cinema--splitting an arrow.

6. Let's form a team! I once devoted a whole post to my love of movies in which the hero forms a team to go battle the bad guys, steal something valuable, or liquidate a witch. I call it the Robin Hood Syndrome because, for me, it originated from watching The Adventures of Robin Hood. I think the appeal has to do with the idea that even the bravest hero needs help and that (to paraphrase Mr. Spock) the strength of the many is stronger than the strength of the one.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Five Best Fritz Lang Films

In listing director Fritz Lang's best films, I struggled with whether to consider his entire career or differentiate between his work in German and American cinema. He was probably the most successful European (non-British) filmmaker to relocate to Hollywood during World War II. In the end, I opted to consider his full filmography--but solely because I didn't want to set a precedent.

Lorre as the killer.
1. M (1931) - A visual and thematic masterpiece, M tells the story of a child murderer sought by both the police and the underworld. Like Hitchcock, Lang cherished multi-layered villains and M doesn't disappoint on that level. Peter Lorre, in a star-making performance, creates a quiet, unassuming, genuinely disturbing killer. Equally interesting are the city's other criminals, who revile Lorre's killer as much as the public; they may commit horrible crimes, but they do not murder children. M also features one of the most chilling murder scenes in cinema history--although Lang shows nothing but a rolling ball that the victim had been playing with--leaving the rest to the viewer's imagination. 

2. Metropolis (1927) - A film that virtually defined science fiction cinema, Metropolis continues to thrill audiences today with its fabulous sets. However, its reputation rests equally on Lang's fully-realized vision of a future ruled by a privileged class. Thea Von Harbou, Lang's then-wife and frequent collaborator deserves some of the credit, too. In his Movie Home Companion, Roger Ebert called Metropolis "one of the great achievements of the silent era, a work so audacious in its vision and so angry in its message that it is, if anything, more powerful today than when it was made."

Marlene Dietrich, Mel Ferrer, and
Arthur Kennedy.
3. Rancho Notorious (1952) - This complex tale of “hate, murder, and revenge” played a key role in the development of the “adult Western” in the 1950s. Like many of Lang's films, Rancho Notorious depicts an honest man who, through the intervention of events beyond his control, becomes morally ambiguous. In his quest for vengeance, Vern (Arthur Kennedy) helps an outlaw escape justice, participates in a bank robbery, and shows a willingness to kill in cold blood. In some Lang films, his protagonists suffer retribution or somehow reestablish their faith in humanity. In Fury (1936) and The Big Heat (1953), the vengeance-minded characters played by Spencer Tracy and Glenn Ford pull back from the brink of a meaningless world. However, Lang wasn't afraid to portray what happens when good men lose their moral compass, as in Scarlet Street and Rancho Notorious.

4. Ministry of Fear (1944) - I'm sure I'll take some heat for including this highly-entertaining film over more celebrated Lang film noirs such as The Big Heat (1953) and Human Desire (1954). However, Ministry of Fear is a tense, atmospheric espionage tale loosely adapted from a Graham Greene novel. There are several brilliant scenes: Ray Milland winning the cake at the village fair; the "blind" man on the train; the bomb in the suitcase; and the rooftop shoot-out. However, the film's strongest element is how Lang conveys the uncertainly and fear felt by Milland's protagonist, who has just been released from an asylum. I've often thought Ministry of Fear would make a fascinating double-feature with Hitchcock's Spellbound, which was released the following year.

Robinson--his face says it all.
5. Scarlet Street (1944) - Its lapse in the public domain has probably made Scarlet Street the most viewed Fritz Lang film--and thats a good thing. In a career filled with fine performances, Edward G. Robinson gives perhaps his best one as Chris Cross, a lonely, meek cashier that falls prey to a femme fatale (Joan Bennett) and her scuzzy boyfriend. They lead him down a dark road filled with deception, larceny, and ultimately murder. However, despite the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code, Chris gets away with murder (but only in a Fritz Lang kind of way). Though it's a textbook film noir, there are elements of dark comedy in Scarlet Street (e.g., Chris achieves artistic fame only when Kitty takes credit for his paintings). It's a complex film that work on several levels and improves with multiple viewings.

Honorable Mentions:  Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (the first of Lang's supervillain series); Spies (think of it as a silent 007 film); the mythic Die Nibelungen (both parts); Fury (the word is "memento"); and Hangmen Also Die! (in which one of the villains squeezes a pimple--a scene not easily forgotten).

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Greatest Stars of the 1950s Poll Is Here!

Last December, we hosted a Greatest Stars of the 1940s poll and had so much fun that we've produced a sequel. Unlike many sequels, we hope this one is as good as the original!

As we've written in this blog before, the 1950s was an intriguing decade for cinema. The biggest stars of the 1940s were still going strong--even as a whole new generation of classic stars emerged. International performers also gained widespread attention, to the extent that Hollywood "imported" some of them (e.g., Sophia Loren).

Once again, we've tried to compile a comprehensive list of the biggest stars for our online ballot. However, it's always possible that we inadvertently omitted a major star. If so, then please use the write-in portion of the ballot to add the missing name(s).

Click on the following link to access your online ballot:

Please remember that you can only vote for a total of 10 stars (you're on the honor system). We will keep the ballot open until May 30th. In advance, we thank you for voting!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Bowery Boys' Oscar Nomination

Leo Gorcey as Slip and Huntz Hall as Sach.
I'm sad to say that the Bowery Boys were never nominated for an Academy Award--not even Leo Gorcey or Huntz Hall individually. That would have certainly made for an entertaining ceremony (imagine Slip bopping Sach with the gold statuette!). However, screenwriters Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman were nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing (Motion Picture Story) for the 1955 Bowery Boys pic High Society.

This was the script voters
meant to nominate.
Their nomination is one of the biggest gaffes in the history of the Oscars. The voters intended to nominate the writer of the Bing Crosby-Grace Kelly-Frank Sinatra musical High Society (1956). That would be John Patrick, who received a nomination earlier in his career for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1947).

Bernds and Ullman contacted the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and graciously acknowledged that they were nominated by mistake. However, the Academy's rules prohibited replacing them with another writer. Therefore, if you look up the 1956 nominees for Best Writing (Motion Picture Story) on the official Oscar website, you'll see this blurb alongside the accidental nomination:

NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL NOMINATION. Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman, the authors of this Bowery Boys quickie, respectfully withdrew their own names and the nomination, aware that voters had probably mistaken their film with a 1956 MGM release with the same title written by John Patrick and starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. (Even so, MGM's High Society would only have been eligible for adapted screenplay.)

The last line of that paragraph shows the magnitude of the error: the 1956 High Society was not an original work. It was based, of course, on Philip Barry's stage play The Philadelphia Story, which was adapted for the screen in 1940.

Frankly, 1956 was an embarrassing year for the Oscars, especially in the Best Writing (Motion Picture Story) category. The winner was a mysterious screenwriter named Robert Rich for The Brave One. Never heard of him? Well, the Oscar website clears up his identity with this note:

NOTE: The name of the writer credited with authorship, Robert Rich, turned out to be an alias. Two decades later, the mystery was officially solved and the Academy statuette went (on May 2, 1975, presented by then Academy president Walter Mirisch) to its rightful owner, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted in 1956 by the industry for political affiliations. Robert Rich (who had nothing to do with the film industry) is a nephew of the King Brothers, producers of the film. They chose his name to be the alias for Dalton Trumbo on the screenplay.

This was the script that
was nominated.
For the record, the Bowery Boys' High Society was one of the last films in the series, but it is also considered to be among their best. The plot has Sach (Huntz Hall) learning that he's the heir to a family fortune--although he and Slip discover a young boy is the rightful recipient.

As for writers Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman, they were never nominated for an Oscar again. Still, Bernds, who also directed, became a favorite among science fiction fans for penning 1950s cult classics World Without End (1956), Return of the Fly (1958), and Queen of Outer Space (1959). He was even interviewed in Tom Weaver's entertaining book Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers.

Bernds teamed frequently with Ullman, with their best known collaboration being the Elvis Presley musical Tickle Me (1965). Still, Ullman is best known as a writer for The Three Stooges. Wouldn't it have been cool if they had shown up to support him at the Oscar ceremony?

Monday, May 4, 2015

MOTW: "Honeymoon With a Stranger" and "Along Came a Spider"

I never missed the Movie of the Week as a teen growing up in the 1970s. After all, each week the announcer reminded us that it was "the world premiere of an original motion picture produced especially for ABC." The Movie of the Week (fondly known as MOTW by its fans) featured entertaining films from all genres. Today, we take a look at two of its best suspense pictures.

Honeymoon With a Stranger (1969). Shortly after Ernesto and Sandra spend their wedding night in his Spanish villa, Sandra (Janet Leigh) reports his disappearance to the local police. When a man claiming to be Ernesto suddenly appears, Sandra claims he's not the man she married. However, his sister, a lifelong friend, and even an old servant from the villa all confirm Ernesto's identity. Is Sandra crazy? Is she the victim of an elaborate deception? Or is something else afoot?

Honeymoon With a Stranger is an appealing puzzler that steadily holds one's interest, though it never reaches the heights of, say, So Long at the Fair or Bunny Lake Is Missing. However, it does provide a doozy of a twist near the climax. And, with one minor exception, it plays fair with the viewer--which is essential for this kind of movie (i.e., at several points in the plot, I questioned the actions of one character--but all is explained later). 

Janet Leigh gives one of her best post-Manchurian Candidate performances. She gets solid support from Rossano Brazzi as a police inspector, Eric Braeden (before The Young and the Restless) as a devious attorney, and horror film favorite Barbara Steele as Ernesto's sister.

The teleplay is based on a French play called Piege Pour un Homme Seul (Trap for a Man Alone), which is typically described as a comedy! Its protagonist is a young man whose wife disappears while the couple is honeymooning in the Alps.

She deserved better roles!
Along Came a Spider (1970). I'll never know why Suzanne Pleshette didn't have a bigger movie career. She seemed to get stuck in a lot of underdeveloped supporting roles in films like The Power and Blackbeard's Ghost (both 1968). When she did get a good part--as in The Birds--she excelled at playing strong-willed women who masked their inner vulnerability.

In  Along Came a Spider, Pleshette portrays Anne Banning, the widow of a research physicist who poses as a student at a Berkeley university. She makes a strong impression on a physics professor (Ed Nelson), who finds her combination of beauty and brains irresistible. As their romance develops, the reason for Anne's deception gradually becomes clear--and that doesn't bode well for her new boyfriend.

In the hands of a filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock, Along Came a Spider could have become a chilling examination of the depths that a person will go to for revenge. Pleshette hints at the complexities of her character, but I think Hitch would have allowed her to delve more deeply into Anne's inner turmoil and the cause and effects of her actions.

But this is a Movie of the Week and not Vertigo, so what we get is a clever suspense film that aims solely to entertain. It succeeds quite well on that level. Indeed, the film's only significant flaw is its length. When a big twist is resolved with 20 minutes remaining, it's indicative that there's still another revelation to follow.

Like Honeymoon With a StrangerAlong Came a Spider was based on a stage play. Leonard Lee wrote Sweet Poison in 1948. Lee was a prolific writer and also penned screenplays, such as the 1953 film noir The Glass Web starring Edward G. Robinson and John Forsythe. Pretty Poison was adapted previously for British television in 1959 on the ITV Play of the Week. That's not a movie of the week...but it's close.