Monday, February 27, 2017

Logan's Run: What Lies Beyond the Dome

In the distant future, civilization's survivors live inside a huge dome controlled by a computer. When the city's inhabitants reach the age of 30, they are "renewed" by participating in a ritual called the Carousel. Dressed in white robes and masks, they are literally lifted off the ground and disappear in a flash of bright light as the younger residents cheer their approval.

As you may have guessed, "renewal" is actually death and the implication is that the computer has implemented this process to avoid overpopulation. Most of the residents live in blissful ignorance, but there are those that seek to escape to a place known only as Sanctuary. These "runners" are tracked down and eliminated by a police force known as the Sand Men.

Michael York as Logan 5.
The computer directs a Sand Man called Logan 5 to locate and destroy Sanctuary by becoming a runner. Logan (Michael York), a naturally curious young man, enlists the aid of Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter). The two share a mutual attraction, though Jessica can't fathom how Logan can kill his fellow humans. Still, she helps him escape from the dome into the outside world. Unknown to them,  Francis 7--a fellow Sand Man and Logan's best friend--is in hot pursuit.

The first half of Logan's Run is an absorbing portrait of a futuristic society. We learn that the young people have a "life clock" embedded in their hands that changes color as they approach the age of renewal. Except for the Sand Men, the dome's inhabitants don't appear to work. They party at night, whether at a risque nightclub or by tapping into a virtual database to see who is interested in casual sex. Most of them wear red and green pastel uniforms (again, except for the Sand Men who wear black and gray). And, of course the highlight of their existence is the Carousel.

Jessica and Logan outside the dome.
The film takes a hard turn when it leaves all that behind to focus on Logan and Jessica's odyssey outside the dome. There are some interesting Ozian overtones, such as the realization of what "home" is. However, there are simply too many scenes of Logan and Jessica wandering through the forests or among the ruins of the past. Peter Ustinov pops up unexpectedly along the journey to lend some meaning to the proceedings and Francis (Richard Jordan) finally catches up with his quarries. However, by then, Logan's Run has lost all momentum and can't recapture it with an overly optimistic ending.

The Capitol building in the future.
Logan's Run earned Academy Award nominations for its cinematography, art direction, and special effects. It only won in the latter category, but that was notable in that it was the fourth Oscar for L.B. Abbott, 20th Century-Fox's long-time resident special effects wizard. In addition to working his magic for films such as The Poseidon Adventure and Fantastic Voyage, he also supervised the special effects on television classics like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. His work on Logan's Run is a mixed bag, though, with some of the miniature sets looking like...well, miniature sets.

Logan's Run performed well at the boxoffice and inspired a short-lived 1977-78 TV series with Gregory Harrison as Logan and Heather Menzies-Urich as Jessica. The film's success also resulted in renewed interest in the 1967 novel. Co-author William F. Nolan even wrote a 1977 sequel called Logan's World.

By the way, Logan's Run is also notable for featuring a brief fight between the stars of Call the Midwife and Charlie's Angels. Yes, that'd be Jenny Agutter and Farrah Fawcett. Apparently, their fight scene got intense enough for director Michael Anderson to shorten it to prevent unwarranted hair pulling.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Son of Dracula: "Don't say that word. We don't like it."

Yes, Alucard spelled backward is....
Universal's best 1940s fright film was a rare collaboration between brothers Robert and Curt Siodmak. Robert, who directed, injects his noir sensibilities into the horror genre. He makes Son of Dracula a visually and thematically dark picture with a downbeat ending, Despite its fanciful bat transformations and swirling fog, it often feels more like a traditional film noir. Curt, who wrote the story, introduces a female protagonist who initially appears to be a victim--but is later revealed to be the film's femme fatale.

Robert Paige and Louise Albritton.
It opens in conventional fashion with the European vampire Count Alucard arriving at the Caldwell family's Louisiana plantation. Katherine Caldwell (Louise Albritton) brushes off her current suitor in favor of the mysterious stranger. Meanwhile, Alucard wastes no time in disposing of Katherine's wealthy father. The twist here is that Louise knows Alucard is a vampire (and presumably her father's murderer) and she still marries him. I'll skip the rest of the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but let's just say that Katherine ranks as one of film noir's baddest bad girls.

Albritton standing behind Chaney.
Given its backstory, it's amazing that Son of Dracula turned out to be a first-rate horror film. Originally called Destiny, producer George Waggner left the project due to delays with filming The Phantom of the Opera. Alan Curtis, who was originally cast as Katherine's wussy boyfriend, injured his knee and was replaced by Robert Paige. Curt Siodmak was fired due to what he called "sibling rivalry" with his older brother and only received an "original story" credit (although some of the dialogue sounds like he wrote it). And lastly, Lon Chaney, Jr. was cast--or rather miscast--as Alucard.

Don't get me wrong about Lon Chaney, Jr. He tries hard in the title role and he doesn't hurt the film. It's just that Son of Dracula could have been better with a more gentlemanly menace (perhaps fellow "B" actor Tom Conway). Of course, the film's true star is Louise Albritton and her performance easily carries the plot. She delivers one of my favorite horror movie lines when Paige's character starts to call her a vampire: "Don't say that word. We don't like it."

Robert Siodmak enhances the film with some stunning visuals. The most famous is when Katherine awaits as Alucard's coffin rises to the surface of a swamp. Mist emerges from the coffin and transforms into Alucard. He then stands on top of the coffin, floating toward Katherine, like some kind of vampire royalty. There's an eerie, dream-like quality to the scene that lingers long after the film is over.

Certainly, Son of Dracula has its flaws--the most serious one being wasting the talents of Universal's resident scream queen Evelyn Ankers. The always likable Ankers has a small, thankless role as Katherine's sister. Also, knowing Katherine's ultimate goal, I was initially perplexed as to why she married Alucard. I later surmised it was part of an arrangement between the two, though screenwriter Eric Taylor could have clarified that point with minimal effort.

Universal made other entertaining horror films in the 1940s, such as the wacky monster rallies House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. But Son of Dracula remains the studio's best serious terror tale and stands as a testament to the talents of the Siodmak brothers. Another film they worked on together was the 1930 German comedy-drama People on Sunday. Its crew also included Edgar Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Movie of the Week Blogathon is Here!

The Classic Film & TV Cafe is proud to host the first annual Movie of the Week Blogathon, celebrating made-for-TV movies broadcast between the mid-1960s and 1989.

This era is widely considered to be the "Golden Age" of telefilms and included a number of now-classic movies such as DuelBrian's SongMy Sweet CharlieThe Night StalkerTrilogy of Terror, Gargoyles, and Love Among the Ruins (starring Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier).

Many of them were originally shown on ABC as part of the fondly-remembered Movie of the Week, but NBC and CBS also featured their own evenings of made-for-TV movies. In fact, NBC broadcast what is generally considered to be the first telefilm in 1964: See How They Run. It was a thriller, starring John Forsythe, about three orphans being pursued by hired killers.

Love Among the Ruins.
For this blogathon, some of the finest film and TV bloggers on the Internet have posted reviews of memorable made-for-TV movies. We invite you to check out all of them. And when you're done, you can watch many of these films for free on YouTube, though the quality varies (of course). Click here to view a YouTube playlist with over 50 made-for-TV movies.

Here's the blogathon schedule:

Death Takes a Holiday (1971) - Silver Screen Modes
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) - John V's Eclectic Avenue
Escape (1971) - Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things
Gargoyles (1972) - in so many words...
Gidget Grows Up (1969) - Michael's TV Tray
The Gift of Love (1983) - Christmas TV History
Haunts of the Very Rich/Scream of the Wolf - Classic Film & TV Cafe
Home for the Holidays (1972) - Twenty Four Frames
Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973) - Lo, The Humanities!
Love Among the Ruins - Old Hollywood Films
The Love War (1970) - Silver Screenings
The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler - Once Upon a Screen
Pray for the Wildcats (1974) - Movie Movie Blog Blog
Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole (1972) - Caftan Woman
Shadow on the Land (1968) - Captain Video
Sole Survivor (1970) - Apocalypse Later
Strange Homecoming (1974) - Made for TV Mayhem
Thirteen at Dinner (1985) - British TV Detectives
The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan (1979)- Reelweegiemidget Reviews
Where Have All the People Gone? (1974) - Phantom Empires
Who Is the Black Dahlia? (1975) - Film Noir Archive
The 3,000 Mile Chase (1977) - Cantrell's Writing

Cloris Leachman Channels Garfield; Peter Graves Arm Wrestles Clint Walker

This post of part of the Cafe's Movie of the Week Blogathon. Please check out the other awesome reviews by visiting the blogathon schedule.

The hotel at the Portals of Eden.
Haunts of the Very Rich (1972). The opening scene introduces seven people who are en route to a paradise resort known as the Portals of Eden. The guests consists of: a bitter businessman (Ed Asner); a philanderer (Lloyd Bridges); a timid woman (Cloris Leachman); newlyweds (Donna Mills and Tony Bill); a priest who has lost his faith (Robert Reed); and a housewife recovering from a nervous breakdown (Anne Francis). When these seven people reach their destination, they are greeted by their host Mr. Seacrist (dressed in a white suit like Mr. Roarke). For a moment, I wondered if I was watching an early pilot of Fantasy Island.

Moses Gunn as the mysterious host.
However, things turn peculiar when the guests learn that there are no other vacationers and the staff understands but doesn't speak English. Mr. Seacrist (Moses Gunn) explains away these oddities--they are the first guests of a new season and a non-English speaking staff "works better that way." Still, when a tropical storm cuts off all communication with civilization, the Portals of Eden becomes downright ominous.

If you're familiar with Leslie Howard and John Garfield movies, then you've probably recognized this plot by now. Still, Haunts of the Very Rich keeps its big revelation in check for most of its 73-minute running time. It falters, though, near the end with a rambling speech by the otherwise fine Robert Reed and an esoteric jaunt through the woods by Bridges and Leachman.

Cloris Leachman and Lloyd Bridges.
As made-for-TV movies go, it's a strong cast with Bridges and Leachman the standouts as an unlikely duo who find love in the oddest of places. Leachman's character is the first to realize what has happened and the actress excels at slowly, hesitantly coming to grips with the reality of the situation.

Haunts of the Very Rich doesn't rank in the upper echelon of the ABC Movies of the Week, but it's worthy of 73 minutes of your time and you can watch it for free on YouTube.

Peter Graves as a former hunter.
Scream of the Wolf (1974). It's never good to get out of your car on an isolated road on a foggy night, so it's no surprise when something brutally kills a Los Angeles businessman. The sheriff of a nearby seaside community enlists the aid of writer John Wetherby (Peter Graves), a former big game hunter. They find wolf-like tracks around the corpse, but here's what's weird: the tracks change from a four-legged to a two-legged creature and then disappear!

When there's a second killing within a two-mile radius, John goes to see his old friend--and hunter extraordinaire--Byron Douglas (Clint Walker). Byron is an eccentric who specializes in making dramatic statements like: "Once an animal starts killing humans, it never stops" and "A good hunter is never sure of anything except that his prey will do the unexpected." Byron shows open disdain for John, whom he thinks has become weak ("You're only alive when you're in mortal danger").

Clint Walker arm wrestles Peter Graves.
The film's highlight is when Byron agrees to help hunt the animal if John, who once lasted seven minutes in an arm wrestling contest, can last just one minute this time. Peter Graves and Clint Walker in an arm wrestling contest? It just doesn't get much better than that, people!

Scream of the Wolf has an impressive pedigree with a script by Richard Matheson and Dan Curtis in the director's chair. The two were responsible for such enjoyable made-for-TV horror films such as The Night Strangler (1973) and the classic Trilogy of Terror (1975). Alas, Scream of the Wolf is not one of their better efforts.

Clint's impressive sideburns.
Yet, it does provide Clint Walker with one of his best roles. The success of his Cheyenne TV series typecast Walker as an understanding hero for most of his career (a notable exception was his convict in The Dirty Dozen). Scream of the Wolf provides him with a bizarre character and Walker has a grand time threatening wussies, spouting philosophy, and, of course, arm wrestling.

Plus, Clint sports some of the coolest triangular sideburns this side of Pythagoras. You can check them out because Scream of the Wolf is also available on YouTube.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Classic TV Themes Quiz #2 (American edition!)

We received such positive feedback about last month's Classic British TV Themes Quiz that we're back with a second edition. This time, though, the themes are from American television shows of the 1960s and 1970s. That should make this quiz a little easier!

As before, we'll play a snippet of an opening or closing theme and ask you to to name the show. There are ten themes, so it won't take long to play.

Just click on the video below to get started. Please leave a comment to let us know how you did--but don't list the answers. Good luck!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dead End Drive-in: "It's not so bad in here"

The Star Drive-in is a dead end!
Prior to today, it had been almost 30 years since I last saw Dead End Drive-in, an Australian exploitation film made in the wake of the original Max Max trilogy. To my delight, my wife gave me a DVD of the film as a present (one more reason why she's awesome). Still, I was concerned that my memories of Dead End Drive-in would fail to live up to reality. I am happy to report that it's as good--perhaps even better--than I remembered.

The story takes place in 1990, a bleak future in which "inflation, shortages, and unemployment" have sparked crime waves across the globe. The streets of Sydney are patrolled by ineffective police that ignore the local gangs (called "car boys"). Jimmy (Ned Manning), who drives a van for Big Bob's Pies, takes it all in stride. One night, he borrows his brother's '56 Chevy convertible and takes his girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry) to the Star Drive-in--where admission is $10 for adults and $3.50 for the unemployed. While Jimmy and Carmen are making out, the Chevy's two rear tires are stolen.

Ned Manning as Jimmy (aka Crabs).
Jimmy jumps out of the car to see two cops loading his tires into their vehicle. When the crime is reported, Thompson (Peter Whitford), the drive-in's manager, says he can do nothing about it until the morning. When daylight arrives, Jimmy discovers that most of the drive-in's patrons are still there. They have no way of leaving either. The parking lot's fence is electrified, the gate is locked, and, of course, no one has a working vehicle. Thompson gives a book of vouchers to Jimmy and Carmen, explaining that it can be redeemed for food. It seems that once you enter the Star Drive-in, you can't leave until the "government" decides what to do with you!

Natalie McCurry as Carmen.
The irony is that no one except Jimmy wants to leave. The other 191 "prisoners" eat at the diner, play games, and watch movies at night. The reality is that, for some of them, the drive-in offers a better life than the one they had on the "outside." Even Carmen quickly grows to accept her situation, telling Jimmy: "It's not so bad in here. You'll come round to it."

But Jimmy does not. He is the sole individualist in a conformist society. While the young folks engage in frivolous activities, Jimmy tries to stay in shape, keep the Chevy's engine tuned, and subtly pumps the drive-in manager for information.

I don't mean to imply that Dead End Drive-in is a heavy-handed parable. It is, at heart, a drive-in exploitation film complete with a rock song soundtrack and a climatic chase sequence. Speaking of the songs, you probably won't recognize any of the Aussie performers, but several contribute catchy tunes. The best is the high-energy closing song "Playing With Fire" by Lisa Edwards (who had one top 5 hit in her native country). You can visit our YouTube channel to hear it and watch our original music video.
This impressive stunt cost $75,000!

Whitford as the drive-in manager.
The young cast provides a lot of energy, too, especially Manning and McCurry as the two leads (the latter deserved a few more scenes). The only performer I recognized from other roles was Peter Whitford. The veteran Aussie actor first caught my attention in Baz Luhrmann's delightful Strictly Ballroom (1992). He later appeared as the Stage Manager in Moulin Rouge! (2001).

Incidentally, if you're wondering about the movies playing at the Star Drive-in, two of them were earlier works by director Brian Trenchard-Smith (including the Jimmy Wang Yu action pic The Man from Hong Kong) and the third is Race for the Yankee Zephyr, which was directed by actor David Hemmings.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Seven Things to Know About Lloyd Bridges

1. Although Lloyd Bridges first appeared in films in 1936, he didn't make a major impact until High Noon in 1952. He played a key supporting role as deputy Harvey Pell, who refuses to stand with Gary Cooper's heroic lawman against the Miller Gang. He resigns because the recently-married Coop won't support him as the new marshal.

2. Bridges fared better on television, especially after delivering a riveting performance in "Tragedy in a Temporary Town" on The Alcoa Hour. Sidney Lumet directed this 1956 live drama about a community seeking "justice" against a Puerto Rican worker accused of assaulting a teenage girl. During his climatic speech on mob violence, Bridges became so emotionally invested in his role that he ad-libbed a four-letter word--marking one of the first uses of profanity on broadcast television. His performance earned him the first of two Emmy nominations (the other was for a guest star appearance on Seinfeld).

3. Lloyd Bridges' career was briefly derailed in the early 1950s when he was blacklisted for his earlier involvement with the Actors Lab, a theater group with alleged Communist Party ties. He quickly cleared his name with the FBI.

Strapping on his gear in Sea Hunt.
4. He shot to TV fame playing scuba diver Mike Nelson in the half-hour 1958-61 series Sea Hunt. Ironically, though he was an avid swimmer, Bridges had never scuba dived and had to learn how for the show. By the way, all three major TV networks passed on Sea Hunt, so Ivan Tors syndicated it--and turned it into a major hit.

5. Bridges appeared in numerous subsequent TV series, to include: The Lloyd Bridges Show, a 1962-63 anthology series; Rod Serling's offbeat Western The Loner (1965-66); San Francisco International Airport (1970-71); Joe Forrester (1975-76), in which he played a street cop; and Harts of the West with son Beau Bridges (1993-94). According to several Star Trek books, he turned down the role of Captain James T. Kirk.

6. Lloyd acted opposite his sons Beau and Jeff on several occasions. Both sons guest starred on Sea Hunt, The Lloyd Bridges Show, and The Loner. Lloyd appeared uncredited in Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), which starred Jeff Bridges in the title role. Lloyd also had a daughter. Lucinda, during his 60-year marriage to wife Dorothy. A fourth child, Garrett, died of sudden infant death syndrome.

Looking unhinged in Airplane II.
7. Lloyd Bridges' acting career got an unexpected boost when he appeared as a scary, glue-sniffing airport tower supervisor in the wacky comedy Airplane!. He subsequently appeared in other big screen comedies such as Airplane II: The Sequel, both of the Hot Shots! movies, and Jane Austen's Mafia (his final film, which was released after his death in 1998). My favorite of his later roles, though, has him playing Ted Danson's life-loving father in the warm comedy-drama Cousins (1989).

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Case of the Color "Perry Mason" Episode

One of the Christmas gifts in our house last year was a DVD set called The Perry Mason 50th Anniversary Edition. The collection includes several episodes, the Perry Mason Returns TV movie, and a lot of interesting bonus content. But its most intriguing feature was the TV series' only episode filmed in color.

"The Case of the Twice Told Twist" aired on February 27, 1966 during the ninth and final season of Perry Mason. CBS executives were mulling whether to renew the series and wanted to see what a color episode would look like. By the mid 1960s, the cost of color photography had decreased significantly and it was becoming standard practice to film in color.

Victor Buono as the villain.
The episode selected was a contemporary variation of Oliver Twist written by series veteran Ernest Frankel. Guest star Victor Buono plays the Fagin-like Ben Huggins, leader of a gang comprised of teenage boys who strip cars of their parts which Huggins then sells in Mexico. Perry gets involved when his convertible becomes one of the gangs' targets and a youth named Lennie (Kevin O'Neal) is caught by the police.

The district attorney's office wants Perry to press charges against Lennie. However, Perry believes the teen can be rehabilitated. Two murders later, though, Perry finds himself defending Lennie of a much more serious charge: homicide.

"The Case of the Twice Told Twist" doesn't rank with the best Perry Mason outings. It'd be more interesting to let the audience discover the Oliver Twist theme on its own. Instead, Perry compares Huggins to Fagin and one of the characters is named Bill Sikes.

Beverly Powers.
The episode does feature an interesting guest cast. Victor Buono, who had appeared in three earlier episodes of Perry Mason, would make his first appearance as King Tut on Batman just two months later. Kevin O'Neal is the younger brother of Ryan O'Neal. Kevin appeared in several of his brother's movies and was a regular on the No Time for Sergeants TV series (1964-65). Finally, one of the strippers at Femmes a Go Go is played by Beverly Powers. Also known as Miss Beverly Hills, she was a real-life stripper and later actress. When she retired from acting, she became a minister in Maui.

Barbara Hale and William Hopper.
As for the color photography, it looks amazingly crisp after all these years. While it doesn't add anything to Perry Mason, it's still fun for the show's fans to learn, for example, that the familiar courtroom walls are gray.

If you're a fan of the show, I heartily recommend The Perry Mason 50th Anniversary Edition DVD set for the bonus features alone. They include screen tests of both William Hopper and Raymond Burr playing Perry (as well as Burr playing Hamilton Burger). There's an episode of a charades-like quiz called Stump the Stars with Burr, Hopper, Barbara Hale, and William Talman. And there's a potent anti-smoking public service announcement by Talman, which was filmed while he was dying from lung cancer at age 53. According to his family, Talman was the first actor in Hollywood to appear in an anti-smoking campaign.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ventriloquists in Classic Movies

Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night.
The difficulties inherent in injecting a distinct personality into a wooden dummy have caused identity problems for a number of movie ventriloquists. In the most chilling story in the classic anthology Dead of Night (1945), ventriloquist Michael Redgrave went insane after becoming convinced that his foul-mouthed dummy Hugo was looking for a new partner. Anthony Hopkins gave a tour-de-force performance in 1978’s Magic as another mentally-unstable ventriloquist taking murderous advice from a dummy with an apparent mind of its own. Another dummy named Hugo (an obvious reference to Dead of Night) really did have a soul in the underrated 1964 fantasy Devil Doll. Bryant Halliday starred as Hugo’s “partner,” a ventriloquist who has transferred the soul of his assistant into his dummy.

Charlie with Edgar Bergen.
Aside from horror films, the most famous film ventriloquist remains Edgar Bergen. He enjoyed a prosperous career during the late 1930s accompanied by dummies Charlie McCarthy or Mortimer Snerd in comedies like A Letter of Introduction (1938), Charlie McCarthy, Detective, (1939) and the W.C. Fields vehicle You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939). He earned a special Academy Award in 1937 for his creation of Charlie McCarthy.

Danny Kaye in Knock on Wood.
Major stars who have played ventriloquists include Erich von Stroheim in The Great Gabbo (1929), Danny Kaye in Knock on Wood (1954), and Lon Chaney in both the silent and talkie versions of The Unholy Three (1925 and 1930). In 1984’s Broadway Danny Rose, theater agent Woody Allen had a hard time finding employment for a stuttering ventriloquist.

Although it was a TV episode on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, I feel compelled to mention "The Glass Eye." This haunting tale about a lonely woman and a ventriloquist starred Jessica Tandy and Tom Conway. It's highly recommended!

Here's a representative sample of classic movies that featured ventriloquists:

The Unholy Three (1925)
The Great Gabbo (1929)
A Letter of Introduction (1938)
The Unholy Three (1930)
You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939)
Charlie McCarthy, Detective (1939)
Dead of Night (1945)
Knock on Wood (1954)
Stop!  Look!  And Laugh! (1960)
Hypnosis (aka Dummy of Death) (1963)
Devil Doll (1964)
Magic (1978)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
When a Stranger Calls Back (1993 TVM)

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