Monday, July 30, 2018

Star Trek: Is Gary Seven a Hero or Villain?

Robert Lansing as Gary Seven.
While on a Federation time travel mission to conduct research about Earth in 1968, the Enterprise crew inadvertently intercepts a transporter beam. Their newest passenger appears to be human and calls himself Gary Seven (Robert Lansing). He claims that he is a human from the current time period, but was sent by the race of another planet to save Earth from destruction. Seven cautions Captain Kirk about delaying his mission and potentially altering history. Mr. Spock states the obvious when he tells Kirk that it's "a most difficult decision."

Teri Garr as Roberta.
While Kirk ponders what to do, Seven and his telepathic cat Isis escape from security and teleport to Manhattan. Seven discovers that his fellow agents on Earth have died in a car accident. Prior to that, they employed a secretary named Roberta Lincoln (Teri Garr), who thought she was working for encyclopedia researchers. Seven gradually reveals that his mission is to sabotage a rocket carrying a nuclear warhead into space. But can he accomplish the mission without his fellow agents and will Kirk and company try to stop him?

"Assignment: Earth" was the last episode of season two of the original Star Trek television series. It was a "backdoor pilot," meaning that it was intended to launch a new TV show starring Lansing and Garr. Kirk and Spock are the only two Star Trek characters with any significant screen time and their involvement in the plot is pretty limited. 

That's understandable since they played no role in the original script for the proposed half-hour Assignment: Earth series. The script reveals a slightly different premise from the Star Trek episode. In it, Seven is a man from the 24th century sent back to Earth to battle a race of shape-shifting aliens called the Omegans. Seven's cover business is a private detective agency. Roberta joins him as his assistant. Isis is one of the aliens and Seven doesn't have a cat. He does have the multi-functional pen, dubbed a "servo," that he uses in Star Trek.

Mr. Spock and Isis.
As a Star Trek episode, "Assignment: Earth" is moderately entertaining. Its biggest strength is Robert Lansing, who makes Seven into a calm, unflappable hero who still wears a suit while climbing around a rocket launch pad. As Roberta, Teri Garr plays the kind of ditzy blonde that would stereotype her in many of her films. It's hard to believe that Roberta is supposed to have a high IQ. She has little to do in the plot and it's hard to imagine her providing anything other than comic relief in a weekly series.

The integration of the original pilot into Star Trek is also a little sloppy. When Seven is thrown into the brig, no one searches his body and finds the servo. That's pretty poor security! Also, rarely has Captain Kirk been so indecisive. The only conflict in the episode is whether Gary Seven is good or bad and it takes Kirk until the final seconds--when a warhead is about to cause World War III--to make his determination.

While I can't imagine Assignment: Earth lasting long as a weekly series (especially in a half-hour format), it has become a popular Star Trek episode. It has spawned a comic book series, novels, action figures, trading cards, and even a short video on YouTube with Roberta doing office work (sort of). If you want to learn more about Assignment: Earth, then check out this website devoted to it.

Victoria Vetri as Isis.
By the way, in the closing scene of Star Trek, Isis transforms herself into a beautiful woman briefly. She is played by Playboy playmate Angela Dorian, who changed her name to Victoria Vetri and starred in Hammer's When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970). She also appeared in Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973), one of Roger Ebert's favorite "B" (no pun intended) movies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Greene Goes Red as Captain Scarlett

He sports a long red cloak, a red vest, a red sash around his waist, and a red plume in his hat. If his name wasn't Carlos Scarlett, then I suspect the villagers would dub him Captain Crimson, the Burgundy Balladeer, or some similar colorful name.

We first meet Captain Scarlett (Richard Greene) when he saves a runaway bride-to-be from bandits. It turns out the bandits aren't so bad after all. Scarlett, who has returned to his home for the first time in years, learns from the local Friar that all is not well. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, mid-tier tyrants moved in to lay claim to the rich lands of France. In fact, the nefarious Count Villiers (Eduardo Noriega) has confiscated Scarlett's estate.

After a short stay in Villiers' dungeon, Scarlett teams up with an outlaw (Nedrick Young) and Villiers' unwilling fiancee (Leonora Amar) to oust the villain and restore the lands to their rightful owners.

A low-budget blend of Robin Hood and Zorro, Captain Scarlett is a lively swashbuckler with some snappy dialogue. When Scarlett inadvertently climbs into Princess Maria's chambers, they have this spirited exchange:

Maria:  What do you want?

Scarlett:  What do you want? What did I want when I climbed in here or what do I want now that I've seen you?

Leonora Amir and Nedrick Young.
Made in Mexico in 1953, Captain Scarlett is notable chiefly for its cast. While Richard Greene may be the most recognizable name, he never won an Oscar...and co-star Nedrick Young did! In addition to acting, Young also wrote screenplays and received Oscar nominations for The Defiant Ones (1958) and Inherit the Wind (1960). He won the Academy Award for the former, although he penned both films under the pseudonym Nathan E. Douglas because he was blacklisted at the time. In 1993, 25 years after Young's death, his widow Elizabeth MacRae successfully petitioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to restore Young's credit for his Oscar.

The Brazilian Venus.
The leading lady in Captain Scarlett, Leonora Amar, only made nine films. Yet, she was popular enough in Mexico to be dubbed the Brazilian Venus. She graced the pages of LIFE magazine in 1951 and, according to the book Beauties of Mexican Cinema, she was touted as "the Esther Williams of Mexican cinema." Captain Scarlett was her only English-language film and it was also her last one. She retired from the screen at age 27.

Richard Greene as Robin Hood.
As for star Richard Greene, his once-promising career stalled after an interruption to serve in the British Army during World War II. By the early 1950s, he was entrenched in "B" movie adventures such as The Desert Hawk, Shadow of the Eagle, Rogue's March, and The Bandits of Corsica. The silver lining is that his ease in playing those kinds of roles led to his casting in the syndicated TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood. Starting in 1955, Greene appeared in 143 half-hour episodes as Robin Hood. When the series wrapped up, he played Robin one last time in Hammer Films' 1960 big-screen adaptation The Sword of Sherwood Forest.

Richard Greene makes a likable hero in Captain Scarlett. And while it's not an undiscovered gem, it's a pleasant swashbuckler with an interesting cast. Plus, it's certain to inspire you to search your wardrobe to find something red to wear.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Movie-TV Connection Game (July 2018)

Connie Stevens and Deborah Kerr.
Come in out of the heat...and play the latest edition of the Cafe's most popular game. As always, you will be given a pair or trio of films or performers and challenged 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. Peter Fonda and Yul Brynner.

2. The Incredible Hulk and Mission: Impossible.

3. Rod Taylor and James Darren.

4. The TV series Little House on the Prairie and the movie The Thing With Two Heads.

5. Gregory Peck and Walt Disney.

6. John Wayne and Jack Lemmon.

7. Greer Garson and Petula Clark.

8.  Anthony Perkins and Rod Taylor.

9. Ward Bond and Sylvester Stallone.

10. Connie Stevens and Deborah Kerr. (This one might be hard!)

11. John Wayne and Fess Parker.

12. Greer Garson and Susan Hampshire.

13. Burt Lancaster and Lloyd Bridges.

14 Judy Garland and Alan Young.

15. Raquel Welch and Jill St. John.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Eagle Has Landed

Michael Caine as Kurt Steiner.
Toward the end of World War II, Hitler commissions a "feasibility study" to determine the plausibility of kidnapping Winston Churchill. Initially, Colonel Max Radl (Robert Duvall) thinks the study is a waste of time. But as he gathers and analyzes intelligence data, Radl slowly realizes that an unlikely series of events has created an ideal opportunity. Churchill has scheduled a weekend retreat along a sparsely-populated English coastline--and an undercover Nazi agent already lives in a nearby village.

Robert Duvall as Colonel Radl.
Radl recruits heavily-decorated war hero Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine) and rascally IRA operative Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland) to lead the mission. It begins smoothly with Devlin infiltrating the village as a new game warden and Steiner's men posing as Polish troops conducting maneuvers. However, the plan collapses when Devlin becomes attracted to a young woman (Jenny Agutter) and one of Steiner's men saves a child from a water mill.

Donald Sutherland as Devlin.
Based on Jack Higgins' best-selling novel, The Eagle Has Landed (1976) is one of several exceptional historical thrillers made in the 1970s and early 1980s. Others include Eye of the Needle (1981) and, my personal favorite, The Day of the Jackal (1973). It's interesting to note that Eagle shares something with each of those films: the rural coasting setting in Eye of the Needle (plus star Donald Sutherland) and the nifty trick of having the audience root for traditional bad guys (The Day of the Jackal).

Yes, while the audience manipulation in The Eagle Has Landed is effective, it's not exactly subtle. When we first meet Michael Caine's German officer, he disobeys orders to try to save a Jewish woman. Later, one of his men sacrifices his life for one of the village children. These aren't the ruthless Germans portrayed in hundreds of other war films. Likewise, Sutherland's British traitor is charming and acts downright chivalrous in regard to Agutter's smitten young woman. It's no wonder that we root for them right to the scene where Caine's character is pointing a gun at Churchill.

Donald Pleasence as Himmler.
While the three leads are in top form, the supporting cast almost steals the film. Donald Pleasence projects eerie calm as the cunning Himmler, while Jean Marsh is coldness personified as the undercover Nazi agent. It's fascinating to watch her face when she realizes her place in village society has come to mean something to her--and now she will lose it all. The only weak performance belongs to Larry Hagman, who overplays his role as a military paper pusher who's too eager for action.

For the record, the events depicted in The Eagle Has Landed are fictional. The plot shares some elements with Graham Greene's story Went the Day Well?, which was filmed in 1942. Eagle author Jack Higgins wrote a sequel in 1991 called The Eagle Has Flown, which also features the character Liam Devlin. In fact, Devlin pops up in several novels by the prolific Higgins.

I first saw The Eagle Has Landed when it was released in the late 1970s. Honestly, that may have been the last time I saw it until it recently popped up on Amazon Prime. The decades have been kind to it; I found myself thoroughly engrossed during its two-hour running time. Speaking of which, there are at least two alternate versions, one running 135 minutes and the other 151 minutes.

The Eagle Has Landed also marked the end of John Sturges' long career as a director. Sturges helmed 44 films, including action classics such as The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963).

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Five Best Coronet Blue Episodes

Series star Frank Converse.
A former Cafe contributor wrote about Larry Cohen's cult TV series Coronet Blue back in 2009. The show's premise is brilliantly simple: a young man awakens in New York Harbor with no memory--except for the two words "coronet blue." Taking the name Michael Alden, he spends the next 13 episodes trying to unravel the meaning of that phrase, which holds the key to his identity.

Made in 1965, Coronet Blue sat on the shelf until CBS decided to "burn it off" in the summer of 1967. The network held the show in such little regard that the final two episodes were never aired. Still, it acquired a cult following over the years (as did the catchy title song, where you can hear on our YouTube Channel). Finally, in 2017, Kino Lorber released the entire series on DVD.

It was grand fun to watch it again and to see a very young Frank Converse as Alden. It inspired the Cafe staff to take this opportunity to list our five favorite episodes. By the way, the DVD set includes an interview with series creator Larry Cohen, in which he explains the ultimate meaning of "Coronet Blue" (you can google the answer, too).

1. The Assassins - Michael answers a mysterious classified ad and meets a couple who claim to be his parents. They welcome him lovingly back into the family--and reintroduce him to his fiancee! But are they his parents? And if not, what do they want with him? This absorbing episode reminds me of a later classic episode from Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner called "The Chimes of Big Ben." Actually, there are a lot of similarities between Coronet Blue and The Prisoner.

Frank Converse and Brian Bedford.
2.  A Dozen Demons - Surviving an assassination attempt on his life, Michael awakens in a monastery in New York City. He's befriended by a young man training to become a monk (series semi-regular Brian Bedford). When the men notice Michael's uncanny resemblance to St. Anthony in a stained glass window, they set out to find the artist. The opening scenes in the monastery are the highlight of this episode, which also features Donald Moffat as a rector. Moffat was one of many fine British actors that appeared on the series, along with Susan Hampshire, Denholm Elliott, and Juliet Mills.

Juliet Mills and Converse.
3.  Man Running - After saving a political figure from an assassination attempt, Michael attempts to reunite him with the daughter he hasn't seen in years. Michael finds the daughter (Juliet Mills), but then his house guest suddenly disappears. Like the best Coronet Blue episodes, this one keeps the viewer guessing as to which characters are good and which are bad. Juliet Mills gives a very appealing performance; it's too bad her film career never equaled that of sister Hayley. Juliet is delightful opposite Jack Lemmon in Billy Wilder's Avanti! (1972).

4.  Tomoyo - Michael recognizes an Asian woman from his past, but she claims to have never met him. Seeking to learn more about her, Michael enrolls in a karate class and quickly makes an enemy with one of the black belt instructors. Appearing long before Kung Fu or even Longstreet, this episode offers an engrossing look into martial arts. This was one of the episodes never shown on CBS.

Susan Hampshire.
5.  A Time to Be Born - The first episode sets up the premise concisely and provides viewers with the most tangible clues into Michael's real identity. We see him pre-amnesia in the opening scene before he's beaten up and tossed into the harbor. After a long hospital recovery, he assumes the name Michael Alden and sets out to discover what happened to him. A potential clue leads him to a young socialite (Susan Hampshire), whose father may hold the key to Michael's identity.

Here's a two-minute scene from the episode with Juliet Mills from the Cafe's YouTube Channel:



Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Doctor: A Tale of Transformation

William Hurt as Dr. Jack McKee.
Jack McKee (William Hurt) is a highly-skilled surgeon with a loving family, an expensive home, and a Mercedes convertible. He jokes with his buddies at the hospital and keep his patients at a distance because “you need to be detached to be a good surgeon.” His bedside manner certainly needs improvement; when a female patient fears her husband will find her surgery scars unattractive, McKee responds flippantly: “You’ll look like a Playboy centerfold and have the staples to prove it.”

But his world gets turned upside down when an irritating itch in his throat turns out to be a malignant laryngeal tumor. Suddenly, the cavalier doctor has been transformed into a patient—and he doesn’t like it. He gets frustrated with the countless forms he’s required to fill out. His appointments are cancelled at the last minute. He’s placed in a semi-private room, not the private one he expected. He is even administered an enema by mistake. Worst of all, none of the hospital staff seem to care that Jack is a surgeon at the hospital. 

Based on Ed Rosenbaum’s book A Taste of My Own Medicine, The Doctor (1991) reunites William Hurt with his Children of a Lesser God director Randa Haines. Like that earlier film, The Doctor offers a thoughtful, introspective story that unfolds slowly, but effectively. 

Elizabeth Perkins as a fellow patient.
Jack McKee gradually learns that the hardest part of being a cancer patient is coping with the uncertainly of one’s future. This feeling of vulnerability is new to a self-centered man who has internalized his emotions. There is no doubt that Jack loves his wife (Christine Lahti), but he ignores her and turns to a fellow cancer patient (Elizabeth Perkins) for support during his treatment. (This breakdown in communication between the married couple leads to a climatic scene that reminded me very much of Children of a Lesser God.)

Christine Lahti and Hurt.
In the lead role, William Hurt evolves effortlessly from confident surgeon to baffled patient to a man with a new outlook on his career and life. His character's journey may seem a little too measured at times (e.g., we don't see the physical impacts of his treatment). Yet, The Doctor is still a powerful tale of how positive change and hope can be forged from a life-threatening disease.

Elizabeth Perkins and Christine Lahti are the standouts in the the supporting cast, though it's fun to see Mandy Patinkin and Adam Arkin play hospital surgeons three years before their TV series Chicago Hope.

The Doctor garnered good reviews and made a decent profit on its initial release. However, unlike Children of a Lesser God, it was forgotten at awards time and faded quickly into obscurity. It's one of those movies, though, that has always stuck with me. So, I was eager to see it again when recently given the opportunity after a 25-year gap. I'm glad to say that it still resonates and may have improved with age.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Five Best Bob Hope Films

John Greco, the classic movie blogger behind the delightful Twenty Four Frames, recently listed his favorite comedies of the 1940s. Not surprisingly, two of Bob Hope's best efforts made the list. That got the Cafe staff thinking about our favorite movies starring Mr. Hope. So, here goes!

Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope.
1. The Ghost Breakers (1941) - This first-rate haunted house comedy benefits from a funny script and a strong cast. It reteams Hope and Paulette Goddard from the similar The Cat and the Canary (1939). Both movies feature spooky settings and were adapted from stage plays. However, while The Cat and the Canary comes off as a bit creaky, The Ghost Breakers holds up nicely. Willie Best, a fine comedian in his own right, has his share of great lines, too, as Hope's valet. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis remade The Ghost Breakers as Scared Stiff in 1953. Both original and remake were directed by George Marshall.

2. Son of Paleface (1952) - This is the rare case where the sequel is better than the original--and that's saying a lot because The Paleface (1948) is pretty funny. Bob plays Junior, an Eastern dandy who heads out West because his father--Paleface Potter--supposedly left behind a fortune in gold. Instead, he finds that Dad pretty much owed money to everyone in town. Jane Russell, Hope's Paleface co-star, plays a saloon owner with a secret identity and Roy Rogers is an undercover government agent with a rifle hidden in his guitar case. This is classic Hope, with lines like: "Why, I'm so mean, I hate myself."

Crosby and Hope.
3. Road to Utopia (1945) - The best Road movie casts Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as a a pair of vaudeville performers who stowaway on a ship to Alaska. Their plan is to cash in on the gold rush, but they end up impersonating a couple of killers named Sperry and McGurk. Naturally, Dorothy Lamour is on hand, as well as a talking fish, a cameo by the Paramount mountain, and Bing playing the adult offspring of Bob and Dorothy. (Yes, this is one road Road movie where Bob got the girl...sort of.)

4. My Favorite Brunette (1947) - I'm a fan of all three of Bob Hope's My Favorite... films. In this outing, he plays a baby photographer with aspirations of becoming a private detective. He explains in voiceover that he knew what it took to become a detective: "Brains, courage, and a gun. And I had the gun." When Dorothy Lamour's exotic client mistakes him for a real private eye, Bob tackles a case involving a kidnapped uncle, mineral rights, and plutonium. Peter Lorre plays a knife-throwing henchman and Lon Chaney, Jr. is a delight as his oafish assistant. I also love the "keyhole camera."

Bob with Madeleine Carroll.
5. My Favorite Blonde (1942) - There were a lot of candidates for this final spot, but you can't go wrong with this comic variation of a Hitchcock espionage film. Bob plays a vaudeville entertainer (with a roller-skating penguin, no less) who encounters a mysterious, beautiful blonde on a train ("Is that your real hair or did you scalp an angel?"). She turns out to be a secret agent who needs Bob's help to elude her pursuers. Bob and Madeleine make a fine duo; it's too bad they didn't make any more movies together. Actually, Ms. Carroll took a five year break from acting after My Favorite Blonde, devoting herself to caring for the wounded and orphans during World War II.

Honorable Mentions:  The Paleface; The Lemon Drop Kid; and Casanova's Big Night.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Alternate TV Series Title Game

Happy Independence Day! Today, we thought it'd be fun to try a new game. We will provide an "alternate title" for a classic TV series and ask you to name the actual show. Most of these are pretty easy. Keep in mind that they're older series (all pre-1989), so #5 isn't Castle! Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. Good luck!

1. Governess and College Teacher.

2. A Large Piece of Artillery.

3. Big Texas City.

4. The Colorful Flower from a Big State.

5. Chess move.

6. Rodent Reconnaissance Team.

7. Dusk Area.

8. Female That Marvels.

9. That Which Requires a Criminal.

10. Military Officer Who is Agreeable and Pleasant.

11. Sweet Toes.

12. Steak Restaurant Franchise (be careful with one!).

13. Intelligent Male Human.

14. Alphabet Letter Military Unit.

15. Now Obsolete Ford Compact Car.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Vengeance of She

Olinka Berova as Carol/Ayesha.
I've been a Hammer Films aficionado since my youth and I've seen almost all its movies. One which eluded me for decades was The Vengeance of She, the 1968 sequel to She (1965). The latter film shows up on television frequently, probably due to Ursula Andress' appearance in the title role. The lesser-known sequel has become an oddity--but one which I recently found on eBay for $4.00.

Olinka Berova stars as Carol, a young woman who may or may not be the reincarnation of Ayesha, the once-immortal queen of a desert civilization. Carol experiences intense headaches, bad dreams, and memory loss. That may explain why she awakes on a French Riviera beach one morning, strips down to her underwear, and swims out to a millionaire's yacht. She can offer no explanation for her actions, but all the males on the boat are in favor of her remaining a passenger. (Well, the captain does make one of those ominous remarks about her bringing bad luck.)

The yacht's owner dies of a heart attack shortly after rescuing Carol from an inexplicable dive into the ocean. That should have been the cue to cut ties with her. Instead, one of the yacht's passengers, psychiatrist Philip Smith offers to accompany Carol on a desert journey to the lost city of Kuma. After some mishaps along the way, she and Philip reach Kuma, where Carol is hailed as its ruler. Things don't fare as well as for Philip, who is imprisoned by a high priest hoping to gain immortality for himself.

The Vengeance of She is an initially promising follow-up to She. The opening scene of Carol walking down a mountain road in a white fur and high heels is certainly unexpected. Ditto for the song over the credits with lyrics like" "Oh, who is She?" The sudden demise of a lecherous trucker and Carol's uncanny silence add to the intrigue. But once the yacht lands in North Africa, it becomes clear that The Vengeance of She is a role-reversal rehash of the original. This time around, Ayesha is being summoned to Kuma while her immortal lover Killikrates awaits her.

Edward Judd as Philip.
While the cast isn't as strong as the one in She (e.g., no Peter Cushing), it makes the most of the mediocre material. Edward Judd, who was excellent in the earlier sci fi classic The Day the Earth the Caught Fire, makes for a serviceable hero. Derek Godfrey is appropriately despicable as the nasty high priest. And, as Killikrates, handsome John Richardson provides the link back to She. I have always found him to be an exceptionally dull leading man, although he gets one of the film's most memorable lines. Speaking of Ayesha, he notes: "She is mine and I have need of her."

As the replacement for Ms. Andress, Olinka Berova certainly looked the part even if her thespian skills were suspect. The Czechoslovakian beauty's real name was Olga Schoberova (I don't know why Hammer thought Olinka was an improvement over Olga). She spent most of her acting career in European films. Her second husband, from 1972-92, was Warner Bros. executive John Calley, who received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award during the 2009 Oscars ceremony.

Actually, Hammer intended for Ursula Andress to star in the sequel, which was originally titled Ayesha--Daughter of She and then later The Return of She. However, Andress' contract expired before production could begin. Susan Denberg, another blonde beauty who later starred in Frankenstein Created Woman, was also considered for the title role.

The Vengeance of She is nowhere near as bad as some critics claim. It ultimately lacks originality, but one can say that about most sequels. It's certainly watchable, though the poster promises a lot more. It features Ms. Berova in a short, skimpy tunic wielding a whip with the tag line: "Kneel before She. The ultimate female who used her beauty to bring kingdoms to their downfall...and men to their knees."

Here's a clip from our YouTube channel showing Ayesha's big entrance: