Monday, April 30, 2018

Five Awesome TV Series Themes (You May Have Never Heard)

The classic television landscape is filled with great themes from TV shows such as Mission: Impossible, The Avengers, Route 66, and Hawaii Five-O. However, there are a plethora of awesome themes from lesser-known TV series as well. We wanted to highlight five of them today. Best of all, you can click on the videos and listen to these opening themes on the Cafe's YouTube channel without even leaving this page.

1. Coronet Blue - Larry Cohen's short-lived 1967 series was about an amnesiac (Frank Converse) whose only clue to his identity were the words "coronet blue." He spent 13 episodes trying to discover what those words meant. The catchy title song, which reminds me of "Secret Agent Man," was penned by Earl Shuman and two-time Oscar nominee Laurence Rosenthal. Lenny Welch, who provides the vocals, scored a top 5 hit in 1963 with a cover of "Since I Fell for You."

2. The Protectors - Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter (The Forsyte Saga) starred in this 1972-73 British series about a trio of international troubleshooters. The title song "Avenues and Alleyways" was a UK hit for Lou Christie, who sings over the closing credits. I prefer the opening instrumental version.

3. UFO - Composer Barry Gray wrote some great themes for Gerry Anderson's marionette TV series (e.g., Thunderbirds, Stingray). So, it was only natural that Anderson would turn to Gray for his first live-action show in 1970. I love how the snazzy music is perfectly synchronized with the rapid editing.

4. The Loner - Jerry Goldsmith had already received one of his 18 Oscar nominations when he composed the theme to Rod Serling's 1965-66 TV Western. The show starred Lloyd Bridges as a former Union officer roaming the West and dealing with issues such as racial prejudice, redemption, and resignation.

5. Man In a Suitcase - This jazzy theme is probably the least-known on this list, but it was composed by Ron Grainer. He was responsible for memorable title tunes for TV series such as The Prisoner and Doctor Who as well the scores for movies like To Sir, With Love (though he didn't write the title song). Incidentally, the Man In a Suitcase theme was later used for the 1996-2000 British entertainment show TFI Friday.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Movie-TV Connection Game (April 2018)

Welcome film and TV trivia experts! In this game, 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. Diana Rigg, Kenneth More, and Deborah Kerr.

2. The TV series Gunsmoke and the film Deliverance.

3. Johnny Depp and Charles Laughton.

4. Robert Wagner and Kevin Costner.

5. The movies Dark of the Sun and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold.

6. The movies Roustabout and The Naked Gun.

7. The movies Airplane! and High Noon.

8. It Happened to Jane and The Mysterious Island (1961).

9. Hayley Mills and Jeremy Irons.

10. The film Night of the Iguana and the TV series Dark Shadows.

11. Gary Cooper and Audie Murphy.

12. Michael York and Errol Flynn.

13. Bob Hope and George Sanders.

14. Lee J. Cobb and Stewart Granger.

15. Alan Ladd and Cliff Robertson (this one's a bit of a stretch).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Earthquake Rumbles and Rattles!

Genevieve Bujold and Charlton Heston.
Rumble...rumble. That's the sound of Earthquake (1974), one of several big budget, all-star disaster movies made in the 1970s. Airport (1970) perfected the formula, but it was The Poseidon Adventure (1972) that inspired a dozen or so imitations (not counting the spoofs The Big Bus and Airplane!). Still, Earthquake had one thing that these other disaster pics didn't have--and that was Sensurround. But before we delve into that thunderous technology, let's take a look at the plot.

Ava Gardner and Loren Greene.
Charlton Heston stars as Stewart Graff, a former football player-turned-engineer who, along with other Los Angeles residents, feels an earth tremor in the film's opening scenes. Stewart is coping with a high-strung wife (Ava Gardner) who fakes suicides, while becoming attracted to a young widow (Genevieve Bujold).

Disaster film vet Kennedy also played
a cop on The Blue Knight TV series.
Meanwhile, street cop George Kennedy is suspended after punching a fellow officer (who deserved it, of course) and a motorcycle daredevil (Richard Roundtree) prepares to perform a stunt worthy of Evel Knieval. And then there's the creepy grocery store employee (Marjoe Gortner) who moonlights as a National Guardsman.

While all these folks shrug off the tremor, a young seismology student (Kip Niven) predicts that the Big One is coming. Little does he know that one of his bosses has already died as a result of a crack in the Earth and that a city employee has mysteriously drowned in an elevator shaft at the dam....

Earthquake, which was co-written by Mario Puzo--yes, the author of The Godfather!--differs in scope from most disaster films. Its tapestry is an entire city, not just a towering inferno or a cruise ship turned upside down. Puzo and co-writer George Fox do a nice job of introducing the characters and then weaving them into a single storyline after the earthquake decimates the city.

The big quake, which constitutes a seven-minute sequence--still looks impressive. Yes, there are some obvious miniature sets in some clips, but one can see why Earthquake earned an Oscar for Best Special Effects. The effects team included acclaimed matte artist Albert Whitlock, who was likely responsible for the eerie closing shot of a crumbling, burning L.A. Earthquake also won an Oscar for Best Sound and that brings us to...
Los Angeles in shambles after the first big quake.
Sensurround, which was the brand name for a sound system that allowed theater audiences to "feel" the rumbles from the earthquake by using low-frequency sound waves. According to Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States, theater owners rented special speakers and an amplifier for $500 a week when showing a Sensurround movie. While the new technology may have contributed to Earthquake's boxoffice clout, it barely survived the 1970s. It was used in a handful of other films such as Midway (1976) and Rollercoaster (1977). However, the introduction of Dolby high-fidelity stereo had attracted far more attention by the end of the decade.

When Earthquake made its broadcast television debut on NBC in 1976, the movie was expanded into a two-night "event." The running time was extended by inserting leftover footage and filming new scenes, including a subplot about an airplane unable to land due to the quake. My recommendation is to steer clear of that inflated edition and stick with the 123-minute version. It may not be great filmmaking, but it's one of the better disaster movies and the cast seems fully engaged.

By the way, that is Victoria Principal (shown on the right) as the the frizzy-haired Rosa, four years before she starred in Dallas. At one time, she and George Kennedy were among those scheduled to star in an Earthquake sequel. Also, although you may not see Walter Matthau's name in the credits, that's him (of course) as the drunk in the bar. He asked to be credited as Walter Matuschanskayasky.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Do You Remember When? (Classic TV Edition)

OK, classic TV fans, do you remember when...

Festus and Marshal Dillon on Gunsmoke.
1. A full season for a TV series like Gunsmoke was comprised of 32 episodes...or more! Today, a show is lucky to get a season order for 24 episodes.

2. Saturday night was filled with quality television series. In 1972, for example, you could watch the following on Saturday evening: Bewitched, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Mission: Impossible.

3. The broadcast networks rolled out their new shows all at the same time as part of "Premiere Week."

The Cardinals--my team--win it all!
4. The World Series was broadcast only during the day. (I had to hide a transistor radio earplug up my sleeve to listen to the '67 series while attending fifth grade.)

5. The Hallmark Hall of Fame was a prestigious TV event that aired 4-5 times a season and starred A-list stars such as George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward, Richard Harris, Peter Ustinov, and Charlton Heston.

6. The CBS Late Movie ran films--most of them never shown before on television--every weekday night at 11:30. To my delight, Friday evolved into "horror movie night" with Hammer classics such as Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Host Tom Jones and guest Cher.
7. Variety shows were all the rage! In the 1968-69 TV season, you could watch variety TV series hosted by (take a deep breath): Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, the Smothers Brothers, Rowan & Martin, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, the King Family, Jonathan Winters, John Davidson, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, and Jackie Gleason. That's not even counting The Hollywood Palace, which featured guest hosts (Bing Crosby was the most frequent one with 31 appearances in seven seasons).

Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner.
8. British TV shows were "imported" as summer replacement series--and some of them became hits! Examples include The Avengers, Secret Agent, Man in a Suitcase, The Champions, and The Prisoner.

9.  The only way to see a movie you missed at a theater was to wait for it to come on broadcast television. If you were lucky, one of the networks would buy the rights and show it as a "World Television Premiere" about two years after the film's theatrical run.

10. Real (as opposed to animated) animals starred in their own television series or had flashy supporting roles. There were dogs (Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, the Littlest Hobo), horses (Mister Ed, Fury, My Friend Flicka), a dolphin (Flipper), a lion (Clarence in Daktari), chimps (Bear, Lancelot), bears (Gentle Ben), birds (Fred on Baretta), an alligator (Elvis on Miami Vice), and a pig (Arnold on Green Acres). And that's just naming a few of the furry famous!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bing Crosby Tends to Dr. Cook's Garden

Bing Crosby as Dr. Leonard Cook.
Leonard Cook is a kindly small-town physician who has delivered most of the residents of Greenfield. Approaching age 70, he still makes house calls, works long hours, and is always willing to help raise funds for the community. There's just one problem: Dr. Cook may be a murderer.

Made in 1971, Dr. Cook's Garden stars Bing Crosby in his final leading role. Sporting gray hair and a beard, Crosby delivers a nuanced performance that's different from anything else he's done.

Even though the film's premise is established in its opening scenes, the actor's sincerity keeps one guessing about whether Dr. Cook could be killing selected patients. His best scene has the good doctor offering plausible, though far-fetched, explanations about why he stores so much poison and places the letter "R" on certain patients' cards ("R means rest or repeat," he insists, when asks if it means "remove").

Frank Converse and Blythe Danner.
Frank Converse co-stars as Jim Tennyson, a young medical intern who returns to Greenfield after a five-year absence. Jim, who lost his parents as a boy, views Leonard Cook as a surrogate father. But the loving reunion starts to slowly sour when Jim notices all the "nice people seem to live to a ripe old age and the mean ones seem to die off." There almost seems to be a correlation with Dr. Cook's garden in which certain plants are removed to provide a healthier environment for the rest. Could that be what Leonard Cook is doing in Greenfield?

Burl Ives and Keir Dullea.
The teleplay for Dr. Cook's Garden was based on a Broadway play of the same title by Ira Levin. The stage version ran for just eight performances in 1967. It starred Burl Ives as Dr. Cook (I imagine he was excellent) and Keir Dullea as Jim. Ira Levin is probably best known for his novels Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, with the latter's idyllic town somewhat reminiscent of Greenfield.

Dr. Cook's Garden appeared on ABC's Movie of the Week during what I consider to be the Golden Age of made-for-TV films. It's a clever, well-acted movie, but don't take my word for it. In Stephen King's Danse Macabre, his 1981 analysis of horror in literature, film, and television, the famed author wrote about Ira Levin's works: "Less known is a modest but chillingly effective made-for-TV movie called Dr. Cook's Garden, starring Bing Crosby in a wonderfully adroit performance."

Well said, Steve.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Lon Chaney, Jr. Places a Call to Dr. Death

Lon Chaney, Jr. reflects on a case.
Inspired by the popular Inner Sanctum radio suspense series, Calling Dr. Death was the first of a six-film series produced by Universal in the 1940s. It's an imaginative mystery with noirish elements that kicks off the franchise in style.

Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as Dr. Mark Steele, a financially successful neurologist trapped in a loveless marriage. Mark blacks out one weekend and awakes in his office to learn that his wife Maria has been brutally murdered. How brutal? The killer beat Maria to death with a blunt instrument and then threw acid in her face.

J. Carrol Naish as the inspector.
Maria's demise allows Mark to pursue a relationship with his loyal nurse Stella (Patricia Morrison). However, his ability to bury the past is obstructed by a dogged detective (J. Carrol Naish) and a persistent fear that he could still be the murderer--even though Maria's lover has been arrested.

There's much to like in Calling Dr. Death, from Naish's weird, obsessed detective to the hypnosis-infused climax. However, what truly sets it apart from other "B" mysteries is the extensive use of voice-overs to convey Mark's thoughts. While I have seen that technique employed effectively in other films, I've never seen it used to such a large degree. It allows the viewer to get to know Mark intimately and, let's be honest, the good doctor should be seeing a psychologist to resolve his own issues.

Patricia Morrison as Stella.
Lon Chaney, Jr. gives an adequate performance as the protagonist, who reminded me at times of Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man movies. With a few exceptions (e.g., Of Mice and Men, Son of Dracula), I've never found Chaney, Jr. to be a compelling actor. However, the dependable Naish has one of his best roles as Inspector Gregg and Patricia Morrison makes Stella more interesting as the film progresses. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as Stella.

Chaney is the only actor to appear all six Inner Sanctum films, which feature no recurring characters. Most of the series' entries are psychological suspense movies with twist endings. Strangely enough, 1948's Inner Sanctum, though also inspired by the radio show, was not part of the Universal series.

Calling Dr. Death is also notable for the debut for the now-famous prologue featuring a floating, warped head inside a crystal ball. Click on the clip below to watch it!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sam Peckinpah's TV Series "The Westerner"

Brian Keith and Spike in The Westerner.
Produced in 1960, The Westerner is a tough, realistic TV Western that befits its creator, Sam Peckinpah. The director  was already a TV veteran, having written and directed episodes of Gunsmoke, Broken Arrow, and The Rifleman in the 1950s. In fact, he is often credited as the creator of The Rifleman, having written the pilot which first appeared on Zane Grey Theater.

The Westerner stars Brian Keith as an illiterate drifter named Dave Blassingame, who travels from town to town with his dog Brown. While not openly affectionate--indeed, Dave criticizes Brown for not helping out on more than one occasion--there is a strong bond between man and dog. They're both independent souls; Dave describes Brown as "being his own dog." Hence, it's not a surprise when Dave turns down a hefty sum of $200 when a dandy tries to buy Brown (the same episode features what may be one of the longest fist fights in broadcast TV history).

Diana Millay and Brian Keith.
The Westerner, though, is not about Dave and Brown. They're the protagonists that keep the plots moving, but Peckinpah is more interested in the people they meet while roaming the frontier. In the first episode, Dave almost dies trying to rescue a young woman from the apparent clutches of a manipulative older man. It's not until the closing scene that Dave learns she really doesn't want to be rescued.

Peckinpah earned his reputation as a director, but he was a good writer, too. He has a hand in many of the scripts with Bruce Geller (creator of Mission: Impossible) also penning several of them. The second episode includes some great examples of the series' first-rate writing, such as this exchange between Dave and a dead man's brothers played by John Anderson and Williams Tracy.

Brother #1:  It must take a lot of stomach to ride into a man's kin and tell them you killed their brother. (To the other brother) Go find the book.

Brother #2 (to Dave): Proud of it, he is.

Dave: Don't point at me as being proud. I don't take no pride in killing.

Brother #1: You ain't sorry.

Dave: You bet I am. I'm sorry if I had to kill him I didn't get there a couple of minutes earlier. I'm sorry he was ever born.

Sadly, NBC cancelled The Westerner after 13 episodes due to low ratings; it was up against Route 66 on CBS and The Flintstones on ABC. I suspect the show may have experienced some challenges with the network's censors, too. Some episodes feature sudden violent outbursts (e.g., a schoolteacher attacked and accidentally killed) that remain potent today.

Peckinpah tried to revive the series in 1963 with an episode of The Dick Powell Theatre called "The Losers." It was a contemporary "Western" and starred Lee Marvin as Dave Blassingame (who still has a dog as a companion).

In 1967, Tom Gries adapted an episode he wrote of The Westerner ("Line Camp") into the motion picture Will Penny. The critically-acclaimed movie starred Charlton Heston as a aging cowboy who befriends a young woman and her son. Heston has often claimed it was his favorite among his film roles.

Spike in Old Yeller.
By the way, if the dog playing Brown in The Westerner looks familiar, then you may recognize the work of canine actor Spike. He is best-known for portraying the title role in Walt Disney's Old Yeller. My favorite of his scenes in The Westerner is when Dave is trying to get Brown to chew the ropes tying his hands--and the canine is too busy sampling leftovers on a dinner table. That sounds like my dogs.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Beyond the Poseidon is Not a Disaster

Following 1978's unmitigated flop The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) offers a little redemption for producer-director Irwin Allen and star Michael Caine. Let's be clear: This belated and unnecessary sequel to 1972's The Poseidon Adventure is not a good film. But it is a watchable film thanks to an interesting cast and the many ways it manages to rehash the first film.

Caine plays Mike Turner, a small-time ship captain with financial difficulties, who loses his cargo in a storm at sea. Turner, first mate Wilbur (Karl Malden), and "passenger" Celeste (Sally Field) get a break when they happen on the capsized Poseidon. Turner plans to board the luxury ocean liner and recover any valuables, which he can then claim as salvage.

Michael Caine, Karl Malden, and Sally Field.
Before he can execute his plan, a larger ship arrives at the site. Its captain, Dr. Stefan Svevo (Telly Savalas), states his mission is to rescue and provide medical services to the remaining survivors. Turner and Svevo both lead parties into the bowels of the Poseidon--which Wilbur dubs a "floating time bomb"--and are quickly trapped inside the sinking ocean liner.

There are few surprises in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. It turns out that Svevo has an ulterior motive which has nothing to do with saving passengers. That leaves Turner to become the reluctant hero as he finds passengers who were apparently left behind at the end of the previous film.

Mark Harmon and Angela Cartwright.
Those survivors include: an overprotective father (Peter Boyle), his daughter (Angela Cartwright), the daughter's burgeoning boyfriend (Mark Harmon), the ship's nurse (Shirley Jones), a blind man (Jack Warden) and his wife (Shirley Knight), a socialite (Veronica Hamel), and a self-proclaimed Texas billionaire (Slim Pickens). Naturally, not all of them will make it to the end of the film!

The original Poseidon Adventure is one of the best disaster movies, thanks largely to Gene Hackman's commanding performance. As much as I like Michael Caine, he doesn't put much effort into his lead role. His opening scenes with Sally Field, which include an overdose of playful banter, are painful. It's not hard to see why actors such as John Wayne, Burt Reynolds, and Clint Eastwood allegedly turned down the part.

Savalas...not as Blofeld.
To her credit, Sally Field eventually rights the ship (no pun intended) as the always-optimistic Celeste. Her best scene is when she volunteers to help Caine just so she can cry out of sight of the other passengers. As for the rest of the cast, it's fun to see Slim Pickens hamming it up as a Texas oil man and to watch a young Mark Harmon paired with Penny Robinson from Lost in Space. And I must admit that Telly Savalas' first appearance, dressed in an all-white uniform, made me think he was reprising his role as Blofeld from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Surprisingly, the special effects--always a highlight in an Irwin Allen production--are somewhat shoddy. There are some embarrassing rear-screen shots at the start of the film. And when Caine and Malden are navigating their tiny ship through a ferocious storm, one gets the feeling that a bunch of grips are just off-screen throwing buckets of water so they splash on the deck.

It's easy to criticize a movie like Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, but by the time Caine and Co. started focusing on how to escape from the ocean liner, I found myself getting involved in their plight. Yes, it rehashed much of the original with folks bickering among themselves as they jump across huge holes in the hallways and climb creaky ladders with flames blazing below them. I expected all of that...along with the stereotypes and the obvious plotting.

That doesn't mean it was any less fun.

Here's a clip from Beyond the Poseidon Adventure courtesy of You can view it full-screen on the Cafe's YouTube channel. (You can also stream the entire movie at Warner Archive).

Monday, April 2, 2018

Five Movie Props I'd Like to Own (Volume II)

1. Atticus Finch's Pocket Watch. I pondered opting for the whole box of treasures shown in the opening credits of To Kill a Mockingbird--but that seemed greedy. Plus, I love the scene where Atticus tucks Scount in her bed and she asks to play with his pocket watch. He explains that he will leave the watch to Jem, as it's a father-son tradition, and she will receive her mother's pearls. And if Atticus's watch isn't available, I'll settle for the one that the kids find in the knot hole in the tree (shown on right).

2. James Bond's Walther PPK Pistol. Agent 007 first brandishes his trademark firearm in Dr. No, but it appears in many subsequent films. Some firearms experts claim the gun used in Dr. No is the PP model and not the PPK as identified in the film. I don't know about that. By the way, one of my friends has a space suit that was used in Moonraker. It's not overly impressive up close, proving once again that cinema is all about creating illusions on the silver screen.

3. James Stewart's Camera from Rear Window. My movie prop collection would have to include something from one of my favorite Hitchcock movies. So, why not the camera--and telephoto lens--used by James Stewart's character in Rear Window? The Exakta Varex VX with a Kilfitt Fern-Kilar f/5.6 400mm lens plays an integral part to the plot. Not only does Stewart employ it to spy on his neighbors, but he uses the flash to temporarily blind Raymond Burr during the climax.

4. The Box containing the "Great Whatzit" from Kiss, Me Deadly. Sure, it's just a leather-wrapped box...but it's also one of cinema's most famous movie "MacGuffins." Incidentally, I am not interested in the contents of the box, which apparently consisted of radioactive materials that led to the (literally) explosive ending.

5. A Model of the Submarine Seaview from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. I suspect many of you would opt for the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea if interested in a submarine model. However, as a kid, I loved Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, both the 1961 film and subsequent TV series. There were actually several different-sized models built of the Seaview. I'd go for one of the smaller ones due to storage space. I have a photo of one of them, courtesy of a fan letter I wrote to 20th Century Fox when I was 8 years old.