Monday, February 29, 2016

DVD Spotlight on "The Bold Ones: The New Doctors"

On March 1st, Timeless Media will release a DVD set containing all 45 episodes of The Bold Ones: The New Doctors. Debuting in 1969, The New Doctors ran for four seasons on NBC as part of the rotating umbrella TV series The Bold Ones. Last year, Timeless Media released the other three Bold Ones shows: The Senator starring Hal Halbrook; The Protectors with Leslie Nielsen and Hari Rhodes; and The Lawyers headlined by Burl Ives.

These earlier series featured headline-grabbing stories, strong performances, and well-written teleplays. And yet, none of them can match the consistent high quality of The New Doctors. Ironically, it was the one Bold Ones installment I didn't watch regularly when it was originally broadcast. However, after previewing the DVD set, I can state definitively that Timeless Media has saved the best for last.

E.G. Marshall as Dr. David Craig.
Veteran TV actor E.G. Marshall (The Defenders) stars as Dr. David Craig, a middle-aged neurosurgeon who has established the David Craig Institute of New Medicine. As its name implies, the Institute boasts state-of-the-art medical technology and a staff headlined by physicians exploring the frontiers of medicine. Two of Craig's "stars" are Dr. Ted Stuart (John Saxon), chief of surgery, and Dr. Paul Hunter (David Hartman), who specializes in internal medicine. Stuart can be arrogant and blunt while Hunter exudes warmth and quiet intelligence. They share a common passion for research and a desire to treat their patients with understanding and respect.

John Saxon as Dr. Ted Stuart.
This trio of stars differentiates The New Doctors from other medical series from the 1960s and 1970s, which tended to pair a young good-looking doctor with a curmudgeonly mentor (e.g. Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Medical Center). The New Doctors also separates itself from similar series by highlighting promising medical advances. In the first season episode "What's the Price of a Pair of Eyes," one of Stuart's colleagues experiments with a sensory device that enables certain blind patients to "feel" images. In "And Those Unborn," Dr. Hunter uses pre-natal genetic counseling to determine the health of an unborn baby. And in "Crisis," Dr. Stuart almost loses a hefty grant because he refuses to perform an experimental heart procedure that hasn't been perfected in humans.

The New Doctors also excels at tackling ethical dilemmas. In one of the best first season episodes, "Man Without a Heart," an attorney (Howard Duff) has a heart attack while cross-examining Stuart during a malpractice trial. When the attorney, now a patient, wants to transfer to the Craig Institute for care, Dr. Craig must decide if the risks outweigh the code of his profession. In another episode, Craig convenes an ethics committee to provide advice on how to handle a sensitive issue. This inside look at the politics and ethical challenges of a major hospital make for compelling viewing.

David Hartman as Dr. Paul Hunter.
All three lead actors are at the top of their game. However, the real revelation is David Hartman's marvelous portrayal of Paul Hunter. To be frank, Hartman never impressed me in TV series such as The Virginian or feature films like Disney's The Island at the Top of the World. However, The New Doctors provides him with an ideal role, allowing him to channel his innate amiability and curiosity. Those same traits also served him well in his follow-up TV series Lucas Tanner (1974-75), in which he played a teacher.

John Saxon left The New Doctors prior to its fourth and final season. Robert Waldenwho would later earn three Emmy nominations for Lou Grant, replaced Saxon as the chief of surgery at the Craig Institute for the show's final 15 episodes. Meanwhile, one of Saxon's first post-Bold Ones roles was as a karate champion in the Bruce Lee martial arts classic Enter the Dragon (1973).

Richard Dreyfus as a season 2 guest star.
The New Doctors' guest stars form a "who's who" of of veteran stars and would-be stars of the 1970s, such as: Milton Berle, Ron Howard, Ida Lupino, Gloria Grahame, Lou Gossett, Jr., Donna Mills, Loretta Swit, DeForest Kelly, Dorothy Malone, Jack Klugman, Julie Adams, and Richard Dreyfus. There's even some star power behind the cameras with Jerry Lewis directing the 1970 episode "In Dreams They Run."

The New Doctors was the only Bold Ones series to last for the umbrella show's entire run. During its first year, The New Doctors rotated with The Lawyers and The Protectors. In season 2, The Protectors was replaced by The Senator. The third season reduced the format to just The New Doctors and The Lawyers and, by the fourth year, only The New Doctors remained. The series was co-created by television legend, Steven Bochco, the creative genius who would later develop Hillstreet Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue.

The discs include a disclaimer stating the episodes were "mastered from the best available video sources." Overall, the image quality is good, although the color has understandably faded over the last four decades. The only bonus is a good one: the second part of a cross-over episode of Ironside. Of special note, Raymond Burr was an executive producer for The Bold Ones: The New Doctors.

You can view our unofficial trailer for The Bold Ones: The New Doctors DVD set on the sidebar. If using a mobile device, you can click here.

Timeless Media provided a review copy of this DVD set.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Snack-sized Reviews: "Eye of the Needle" and "Used Cars"

Eye of the Needle (1981). I'm not sure why this well-made suspense picture isn't better known. In many ways, it reminds me of The Day of the Jackal (although it's not quite in that class).

Donald Sutherland stars as Henry Faber, a German spy operating in Great Britain during World War II. Faber learns that an airfield in East Anglia is an elaborate deception to fool the Germans into thinking that an Allied invasion is targeted at a location other than Normandy. For security purposes, Faber needs to personally deliver this vital information to Hitler. However, British Intelligence is closing in around him and he must survive long enough to rendezvous with a U-boat off the coast of Storm Island.

He washes ashore on the isolated island during a raging storm and is found by the Rose family. Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and her husband David, who is mostly confined to a wheelchair, run a sheep farm. David, who once flew airplanes for the RAF, is a bitter man who recoils from the touch of his attractive wife. While David distrusts Faber, Lucy finds herself attracted to the stranger--and the feeling is mutual.

Based on Ken Follett's novel, the first half of Eye of the Needle is a tightly paced thriller in which the ruthless Faber narrowly avoids escape on multiple occasions, leaving innocent victims in his path. The plot takes an intriguing turn when it shifts focus to the relationship between Faber and Lucy. Faber's feelings toward Lucy remain effectively ambiguous all the way through to the climax. Are his actions spurred by sexual gratification alone? Are they driven by years of loneliness created by living a lie? Or has he developed some kind of emotional attachment toward her (I don't think it's love)?

The Isle of Mull.
Donald Sutherland gives one of his best performances and Kate Nelligan, one of my favorite actresses of the 1980s, holds her own. The film also gets a huge boost from Miklos Rosza's lovely score (one of his last) and the stunning scenery. The ficticious Storm Island is "played" by the Isle of Mull. If those haunting seascapes look familiar, then you're probably a fan of Powell and Pressberger's I Know Where I'm Going (1945).

Used Cars (1980). What do Forrest Gump, Snake Plissken, and Laverne & Shirley have in common? If you answered the rowdy cult classic Used Cars, you'd be correct. It was the second film directed by Robert Zemeckis, starred Kurt Russell, and featured Lenny & Squiggy (Michael McKean and David L. Lander) in supporting roles. 

Wanna buy a car from this guy?
Russell plays Rudy Russo, an ultra ambitious used car salesman trying to save $60,000 so he can buy the nomination for a State Senate seat. Rudy will do anything to sell a car! In the hilarious opening montage, we see him rolling back an odometer, fastening a loose bumper with a wad of bubble gum, repairing a tire with "Fix Flat," and spraying "new car scent" into old cars. It's no surprise that the New Deal Car Lot is on probation for consumer fraud. Still, Rudy may be more ethical than Roy L. Fuchs (Jack Warden), who owns the competing Auto Emporium across the street.

Roy has paid off a local politician to learn that a new highway will be coming right through his lot. So, he hatches a scheme to take over the New Deal Car Lot, which, by the way, is owned by his nice-guy twin brother (Warden again, of course). And if it involves causing his brother to have a heart attack, well, that's just business.

Jack Warden as the villain.
If you're looking for subtle high-brow comedy, then avoid Used Cars like one of those car deals that sounds too good to be true. However, if you admire a movie that will do almost anything for a laugh, then you'll probably enjoy this broad farce. For example, when you see a pretty model's dress caught in the trunk of a car during a live commercial, you can guess what's going to happen to that dress. And, yes, that's just what happens. And, while it's a little rude, it is funny.

Kurt Russell and Jack Warden attack their roles with relish and seem to be having a grand time. Still, Gerrit Graham almost steals the film as Russell's fellow huckster and superstitious friend ("Red car is bad luck and trouble"). He and Toby the Beagle have the best scene in Used Cars. Click here to watch it.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Five Best Music Videos of the 1980s

Guest blogger Emily Anderson lists her picks for the five best classic music videos. What are yours?

Michael Jackson with ghoulish friend.
1. Thriller by Michael Jackson. I remember staying up until midnight at 11 years-old, anxiously awaiting my first viewing of Michael Jackson dancing as a zombie. It was well worth it! This video changed the way music videos were perceived. They were no longer just about music, but were seen as art.

2. Take on Me by A-ha. Without this video, I do not believe this song would be mentioned when discussing 1980s music. This is a prime example of video overpowering song. The mixture of animation and live action is so real that there are times when they are seamless.

The clay Gabriel with big hammer.
3. Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel. The early days of music videos consisted of performances. As they advanced, videos told stories. Although neither of these formats, Sledgehammer is fascinating. With a clay Peter Gabriel and dancing chickens, there is little this video does not offer.

4. Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi. There are no gimmicks, flashy dance moves, or animation tricks in this video. It's raw and gritty. The life of top rockers can be rough and the black and white footage adds a nice touch.

The animated Money for Nothing.
5. Money for Nothing by Dire Straits. I wanted my MTV and got it just as this video became popular. At the time, the animation was unique and seemed like a video game instead of a music video. Combined with Dire Straits performing, it had many unsubtle subtleties (like heavy rotation). Complete with singing dog, it is quite amusing.

Honorable Mentions

Story videos: Don't Come Around Here No More by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; Land of Confusion by Genesis; and You Might Think by The Cars.

Performance videos: Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer; Every Breath You Take by The Police; and Walk This Way by Run-DMC.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Shirley Jackson's Chilling "The Lottery"

A crowd gathers for the lottery.
Do you remember Encyclopedia Britannica Films? If you went to school in the U.S. from the 1950s through the 1970s, you never saw a DVD nor probably a videotape. If you were lucky, you might have seen a 16mm film in one of your classes (in my schools, we saw a lot more filmstrips...anyone remember those?). The best 16mm films were the ones produced by Encyclopedia Britannica, especially those that appeared under the "Short-Story Showcase" banner.

As the name suggests, these movies were based on famous short stories, such as Herman Melville's Bartleby and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment. The best--and certainly the most popular in my high school--was a 19-minute adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery (1969).

William Fawcett as Old Man Warner.
The film opens with townsfolk gathering to participate in a lottery. As they chat among themselves, we learn a lot about the lottery. It always take place on the 27th day of the month. It must happen annually because Old Man Warner has participated in it for 77 years. Other town have lotteries; in fact, one of them is thinking of doing away with it. The lottery may have started as some kind of pagan ritual linked to growing crops (Old Man Warner mumbles: "Lottery in June makes the corn ready soon.").

What we don't learn until the climax is the "prize" for winning the lottery. I won't reveal the answer here for those unfamiliar with this film or Shirley Jackson's (The Haunting) 1948 short story. Let's just say The Lottery would have made a fine Twilight Zone episode if it could have cleared the censors.

Encyclopedia Britannica Films' The Lottery was written and directed by Larry Yust, who may be best known for his photographs today (see Yust was a Stanford University graduate with a degree in theater arts. His father worked as an editor for Encyclopedia Briticannica.

Olive Dunbar as Tessie.
His adaptation of Jackson's short story is a virtual textbook on how to make a first-rate low-budget film. The film takes place entirely outside (no expensive interior sets). It's a dialogue-driven drama. And the excellent cast is peppered with veteran supporting stars, such as Olive Dunbar (ten episodes of My Three Sons), William Fawcett (once a theatre professor at Michigan State), and William Benedict (lots of 1970s television guest appearances). There's also one actor that would go on to fame: 20-year-old Ed Begley, Jr.

Over the the years, I've met quite a few people who saw The Lottery in school. They always remember the ending vividly. If you've never seen it, you can view it here on YouTube (the quality improves after the first two minutes). Just keep in mind that for a movie made for school literature classes, it's pretty potent.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Movie-TV Connection Game (February 2016 Edition)

What's the link between Clark and Jack?
Welcome to the newest installment of one of the Cafe's most popular features. 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. Clark Gable and Jack Lemmon.

2. Jeanne Crain and Jean Arthur.

3. Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr.

4. Horror Hotel and Psycho.

5. Imitation of Life (1959) and the film The Godfather.

6. Audie Murphy and Ray Charles.

7. Thunder Road and Big Jake (there are at least two connections, one obvious and the other one kinda fun).

8. Planet of the Apes and Saboteur (an easy one!).

9. Wee Willie Winkie and Imitation of Life (1959).

10. Algiers and The Magnificent Seven.

11. Don Johnson and Kurt Russell.

12. Humphrey Bogart and Rock Hudson.

13. Dirk Bogarde and Steve McQueen.

14. I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Seven Days in May.

15. Steve McQueen and Robert Fuller.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Roy William Neill's "Black Angel"

Mavis is about to be murdered.
It's a shame that Roy William Neill never got to direct an "A" film during his tenure at Universal Pictures in the 1940s. I'd rate him as the studio's best low-budget director. His films typically had atmosphere and visual flair to spare. He is best remembered for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) and for helming eleven of the twelve "modern day" Sherlock Holmes pictures starring Basil Rathbone. His finest film may be the Holmes entry The Scarlet Claw (1944), but his last movie, the film noir Black Angel (1946), showed a visual stylist at the peak of his powers.

The film opens with an elaborate tracking shot up the side of a high-rise into the apartment of singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). Mavis augments her income via blackmail, so it's not surprising when she winds up murdered. The police arrest Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), one of her blackmail victims who had recently ended an affair with Mavis. Despite his pleas of innocence, Kirk is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die.

A smiling Dan Duryea.
His wife Catherine (June Vincent) stands by Kirk throughout his ordeal. She never wavers in her belief that he is innocent. As Kirk awaits his execution, Catherine decides to conduct her own investigation. She enlists the aid of Mavis' ex-husband, Martin Blair (Dan Duryea), who reluctantly agrees to help. Catherine and Martin suspect the involvement of a nightclub owner named Marko (Peter Lorre). To collect more information on the mysterious Marko, Catherine and Martin go to work as a singing act at his club Rio's.

Catherine gets the safe combination from Marko.
The screenplay by Roy Chanslor was loosely adapted from Cornell Woolrich's 1943 novel Black Angel, which Woolrich expanded from an earlier short story called Murder in Wax. Chanslor's script actually adheres closer to the short story, which features a doozy of a twist. Both Chanslor and Woolrich have impressive writing pedigrees. Woolrich's literary works provided the plots for a number of memorable films, such as Rear Window, The Leopard Man, and The Window. Chanslor toiled mostly as a screenwriter of "B" movies, but two of his Western novels were adapted as Johnny Guitar (1954) and Cat Ballou (1965).

I'll avoid any plot spoilers here, but will note that Black Angel sports a clever twist, too. However, it may not come as a surprise for discerning viewers. The film provides a pretty good clue right from the outset. In retrospect, the twist negates a large portion of the movie, a tactic that you may find oft-putting. For me, the payoff was worth it.

Dan Duryea gets to play a sympathetic protagonist for once. He teams well with June Vincent, a good actress who spent most of her career working in television (she guest-starred on Perry Mason five times). Alas, the always enjoyable Peter Lorre has little to do as Marko.

Martin is smitten with Catherine.
Roy William Neill is the reason to see Black Angel. He often packs his scenes with information, such as when Martin and Catherine are dancing at Rio's so they can learn more about Marko. As Catherine watches Marko walking down the stairs, Martin turns his eyes to her--a brief look that lets us know he's falling for her. Neill also uses music creatively, starting with the song playing on the phonograph when Mavis' body is discovered. We later learn this song, "Heartbreak," was written by Martin for his ex-wife. Music comes into play again when Martin uses it as a cue to warn Catherine of impending doom as she breaks into Marko's wall safe.

Sadly, Roy William Neill died of a heart attack at age 59. Black Angel indicates that Universal was perhaps considering him for bigger movies. Instead, this interesting film noir represents his swan song.

Monday, February 8, 2016

MOTW: "Seven in Darkness" and "Men of the Dragon"

Seven in Darkness (1969). The first film broadcast by ABC under its Movie of the Week banner is a well-made suspense adventure bolstered by a nifty premise. All the passengers aboard a chartered airplane are blind; they are traveling to a conference in Seattle. When the plane runs into a strong storm, one of the pilots inquires about passengers. The stewardess replies: "Anyone else being tossed like this, I'd have my hands full. But they just sit's kinda creepy."

Milton Berle and Sean Garrison.
Inevitably, the plane--which has gone off-course--crashes into the mountains. The seven people that live are all blind! Alex (Barry Nelson), the group's de facto leader prior to the crash, reminds the survivors: "We're blind, but we're not helpless." Spurred by the dual threats of more bad weather and a pack of hungry wolves (plus the fact that one of them is pregnant), the group leaves the crash site. They press Mark (Sean Garrison), a Vietnam veteran, into a leadership role. He resists it initially, but realizes it's the best course of action for all concerned. He doesn't notice, though, that this sudden change in leadership doesn't sit well with Alex.

There's a lot going on in Seven in Darkness. When the survivors aren't crossing a treacherous bridge with rotted wood, they're bickering among themselves and fending off wolves. Although the characters slip into stereotypes at times, a veteran cast keeps the film on course. Milton Berle, in a rare dramatic role, gets better as the story progresses and Sean Garrison makes a good stalwart hero with a secret. Garrison is perhaps best remembered for his short-lived TV series Dundee and the Culhane, in which he and John Mills played lawyers on the Western frontier. Other cast members include Arthur O'Connell and a blonde-haired Lesley Ann Warren (who gets to sing).

Director Michael Caffey directs with a sure hand, using sounds and images to remind us of the perils faced by the blind survivors. The whistling winds and the distant howls are particularly effective, as is a shot that shows us (but not the characters) that a railroad track being followed leads to a precipice. Incidently, Caffey is the father of Charlotte Caffey, who played in the all-female rock band The Go-Go's.

Katie Saylor gets ready to rumble.
Men of the Dragon (1974). As the Kung Fu craze reached its peak in the U.S., ABC showed this lively made-for-TV variation on Bruce Lee's hit Enter the Dragon (1973). Jared Martin (Dusty on Dallas) and Katie Saylor star as siblings who return to Hong Kong to save a near-bankrupt martial arts school run by a close friend (Robert Ito) and his father. During a shopping excursion, the sister is kidnapped by a powerful villain who aims to sell her as a slave for $1 million. With the help of a kindly brothel madam, the brother and his friend--both martial arts experts--track sis to an island fortified by the bad guy's minions.

Yes, there's not much to the plot of Men of the Dragon--but it provides an adequate framework for the many fight scenes. David Chow, who served as the "technical adviser" on the Kung Fu TV series, choreographed the kicks and punches. The fights may seem pedestrian compared to Lee and his peers, but they're convincing enough and wisely avoid the over-reliance on slow motion employed in the Kung Fu series.

Wiseman in his better known role.
Men of the Dragon is also notable for two other reasonsFirst, it's refreshing to see a female character on 1970s TV trade punches with the male baddies. Granted, Saylor's big fight scene may be brief, but she remains feisty throughout the film. Second, the villain is portrayed by none other than Joseph Wiseman, best known as the title character in Dr. No. He doesn't have much to do here, but he can make any line sound evil!

Jared Martin, Katie Saylor, and Robert Ito look respectable in the fight scenes. I couldn't confirm that any of them practiced martial arts in real life. Martin, who was Brian De Palma's roommate at Columbia, did appear in the 1987 film Karate Warrior. He and Saylor also starred together in the short-lived 1977 sci fi series The Fantastic Journey. Robert Ito is probably best-remembered as lab assistant Sam Fujiyama on Quincey M.E.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Quentin Durward: The Dying Days of Chivalry

Robert Taylor in the title role.
After Ivanhoe (1952) and Knights of the Round Table (1953), MGM was hoping the casting of Robert Taylor in a third medieval picture would once again generate big profits. Unfortunately, Quentin Durward (1955), which reteamed Taylor and director Richard Thorpe, failed to find an audience. That's puzzling for a movie that boasts colorful scenery, lively swordplay, and an affable cast. It may not be Ivanhoe, but Quentin Durward is an entertaining swashbuckler that deserved a better fate in '55 and should be more fondly remembered today.

Taylor plays the title character, a Scottish knight in 1465 who, by his own admission, was "born perhaps a few minutes too late." Quentin is an honorable, honest, valiant--and also poor--man. Alas, he lives during the "dying days of chivalry" when political intrigue and treachery dominate Europe.

This is not a painting, but one of the real castles used in the film.

Robert Morley as the French king.
His elderly uncle sends Quentin to France to arrange a marriage with the lovely and wealthy Isabelle, Countess of Marcroy. The Duke of Burgundy wants Isabelle (Kay Kendall) to marry Quentin's uncle, but the Countess refuses and seeks the protection of King Louis XI (Robert Morley). The King has his own plans for Isabelle's future and those plans naturally benefit Louis more than Isabelle. Meanwhile, Quentin gains King Louis' confidence and, of course, falls in love with the beautiful countess.

Veteran British actor George Cole.
While the castles and costumes may draw attention, the best swashbucklers rely on likable actors cast in well-written roles (e.g., The Adventures of Robin Hood, Scaramouche). That's good news for Quentin Durward, which provides Taylor with one of his best parts. He hits all the right notes as the valiant knight, but he also finds humor in the character (e.g., Quentin isn't shy about accepting money). Robert Morley softens King Louis' treacherous side by making him a royal rascal. And George Cole steals scenes aplenty as a gypsy who tries to rationalize his good deeds.

Kay Kendall--Grace Kelly was first
offered the part.
While Kay Kendall shows some spunk as Isabelle, the cool beauty lacks the sizzle that Elizabeth Taylor brought to Ivanhoe. That leads to the one significant flaw in Quentin Durward: the lack of a worthy villain. George Sanders was brilliant as the conflicted baddie in Ivanhoe. In his place, Quentin Durward offers a cardboard blackguard played by Duncan Lamont. I think Lamont could have played a worthy adversary, but his role is poorly-written and he's barely in the picture.

Taylor and Lamont do engage in one of my favorite swashbuckler duels. They swing on bell ropes over blazing flames as they lunge toward one another with their weapons. The fight ends too abruptly, but still ranks as one of the most original I've seen. (Click here to watch it on the Cafe's YouTube channel.)

In a 1954 Quentin Durward review, the venerable entertainment industry newspaper Variety wrote: "This lively film version of Walter Scott's Quentin Durward finds knighthood again in bloom with enough dash and costumer derring-do to make fans of swashbucklers happy." That's an accurate summary and, in my book, a pretty good endorsement for watching this forgotten favorite.