Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Phantoms of the Opera

Claude Rains as the Phantom.
Just eleven years after Lon Chaney thrilled audiences in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Universal was planning a remake. However, it wasn’t until 1941 that the production got the green light for a Technicolor extravaganza. Studio executives wanted Deanna Durbin as the female star and considered Charles Laughton as the Phantom. In the end, those parts went to 18-year-old Susanna Foster (a virtual unknown) and the inimitable Claude Rains.

The screenwriters jettisoned the plots of both Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel and Chaney’s classic. The new plot cast Rains as Erique Claudin, a violinist in the Paris Opera’s orchestra. When a health condition with his left hand impairs his playing, he is dismissed from the orchestra after 20 years. He has no savings, for he has used all his money to secretly pay for voice lessons for a promising soprano named Christine (Foster). He hopes to improve his finances through the publication of a concerto.

Susanna Foster as Christine.
However, due to a most unfortunate misunderstanding, he believes the publication house has stolen his work and, in a fit of rage, he murders one of its employees. In the process, another worker flings a pan of acid in his face. Screaming in agony, Claudin runs into the dark streets and finds refuge in the catacombs underneath the opera house. He eventually adopts the persona of the Phantom and dedicates himself to ensuring that Christine becomes the opera house’s newest star.

For a studio known for its thriftiness, Universal went all in on Phantom of the Opera and the visual treats are plentiful. It's no wonder that Phantom won Oscars for its color cinematography and set decoration. The elaborate opera house set used in Chaney's film was refurbished and still looks impressive. The famous chandelier, though, is not the same one from the earlier film (that one was destroyed). This time around, the chandelier was dropped with a wire to prevent it from crashing onto the floor. Then, it was painstakingly disassembled to look like it was smashed.
The Paris Opera House set and chandelier.
Claude Rains insisted that his face not be totally scarred and that the mask only partially cover his feature. The latter decision works well, since it allows Rains to at least act with his mouth when playing the Phantom. (And yes, Rains was good enough an actor to convey emotion with his mouth alone.)

Yet, while Rains gives his usual first-rate performance and Phantom impresses from a technical standpoint, it lacks verve. It's more of a musical than a horror film and the opera set pieces drag down the pace even at 93 minutes. The other problem is that the Phantom is really a nice guy that becomes an outcast through unusual circumstances. The audience sympathizes with Claudin--we're never afraid of him.

Nevertheless, The Phantom of the Opera was a big boxoffice hit and Universal announced a sequel within weeks of its release. It was to reteam Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, and Nelson Eddy. Unfortunately, the stars' schedules couldn't be aligned and so Universal paired Foster with Boris Karloff in The Climax (1944), another horror picture with an opera setting.

Herbert Lom as the Phantom.
In 1962, Hammer Films, having successfully revived Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein, and the Mummy, decided to mount its own version of The Phantom of the Opera. According to producer-writer Anthony Hinds, Cary Grant was briefly interested in starring it (though there are various stories about which role). In lieu of Hammer favorites Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, the studio settled on Herbert Lom as the title character.

The Hammer version follows the same basic plot as the 1943 film, but with some notable differences. The Phantom's origin is revealed in flashback late in the movie so the story unfolds like a mystery. The Phantom has a silent assistant who does his bidding, which includes murdering an innocent stagehand and a rat catcher. And, best of all, there is also a true villain in the guise of a lecherous, greedy opera impresario played with gusto by Michael Gough.

Michael Gough and Heather Sears.
The Hammer remake also dispenses with the famous scene in which Christine snatches the Phantom's mask. Instead, with the chandelier about to fall and crush Christine, the Phantom rips off his mask and swings on a rope from a balcony to push his protege out of the way.

Speaking of the mask, it completely covers Lom's face, except for one eye. It's a credit to the actor that he's able to create a memorable character essentially with his voice. Indeed, Lom is quite effective and gets strong support from Heather Sears as Christine (her singing voice was dubbed).

Although not as opulent as Universal's 1943 version, this Phantom may be the better of the two movies. At least, it strives to be a horror film and does not let the music take over the proceedings. It was nonetheless a boxoffice disappointment. When it appeared on U.S. television several years later, Universal (not Hammer) shot additional footage so it was long enough to run in a two-hour time slot.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Children of the Damned

Clive Powell as Paul.
Children of the Damned (1964) is not a sequel to the 1960 science fiction classic Village of the Damned, but rather a rethinking. That's a good thing for the most part, as I'm not sure where a sequel could have gone. The second film takes the original's themes and extrapolates them to a global scale.

The subject once again is a group of super-intelligent children who appear to threaten the existence of the human race. Whereas Village of the Damned explored this theme in a social microcosm (a small English village), Children takes place in London and focuses on a group of super-children from various countries. Ian Hendry and Alan Badel played a pair of scientists who "discover" Paul, a British youngster who becomes the children's leader when six of them band together in a deserted church.

Alan Badel and Ian Hendry.
Initially, Hendry and Badel's characters work together to protect the gifted children from those who would use them for nefarious purposes. But Badel eventually concludes that the world is not ready for such intelligent beings and the unpleasant reality is that they must be destroyed. Hendry, though, remains optimistic that a compromise can be reached and the children's true purpose uncovered.

I'm not sure why screenwriter John Briley (Gandhi) goes out of his way not to reference the events in Village of the Damned. It could be the hint that alien forces had something to do with the unexplained pregnancies in the first film. In Children, the implication is that the youngsters are simply humans who have somehow skipped ahead several generations. Of course, that still doesn't explain how the children were conceived without fathers.

Like The Day the Earth Stood Still, religious references dominate the film. The children have no human fathers, they eventually "live" in a church, and one of them is apparently resurrected from the dead. In the film's climax, Paul reveals that the children are there to save mankind by dying. These elements enrich the film, though one wishes that they would have been explored more fully. (There are rumors of a slightly longer ending that provides more clarity.)

Barbara Ferris with children in the background.
Children of the Damned is a better film than I remembered and it holds interest throughout. However, it's missing the emotional power of Village of the Damned and ultimately remains a footnote to one of the 1960s best science fiction movies.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Movie-TV Connection Game (October 2018)

What do these actors have in common?
As you enjoy the brisk days of October, you can still pull out your phone or tablet and play the Cafe's most popular game. 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. Robert Mitchum and Robert Montgomery.

2. Claudette Colbert and Richard Long.

3. Tony Randall and Elton John.

4. Paul Newman and Rob Lowe.

5. Rock Hudson and Dick York.

6. Cary Grant and Dennis O'Keefe.

7. Charles Laughton and Kirk Douglas.

8. Shelley Winters and Fred Astaire.

9. David Hedison and Sean Connery.

10. The Good Earth and The Beginning of the End (1957).

11. Charles Laughton and Lou Costello. (It's not Captain Kidd!)

12. The Shop Around the Corner and Dear Brigitte. 

13. Anatomy of a Murder and the quiz show To Tell the Truth.

14. Kenneth More and Burt Reynolds.

15. William Conrad and Thayer David.

Monday, October 22, 2018

What's My Line?

One of the summer's most pleasant--and surprising--viewing experiences was the 1955 season of the long-running CBS quiz show What's My Line? My wife and I discovered this classic TV series on Amazon Prime and we were hooked after the third episode.

The premise is simple: Four panelists try to guess the occupation of a contestant by asking yes-no questions. The contestant earns $5 for every "no" answer and can make a maximum of $50 by stumping the panel after ten negative responses. The third contestant of the evening is a celebrity, which requires the panelists to wear blindfolds (and the guest to disguise his or her voice). If time permits, the show ends with a fourth contestant.

Part of the show's entertainment value is watching the panelists trying to guess unusual occupations like alligator breeder, human cannonball, wiretapper, and professional toe dancer. Then, there are the really unusual occupations such as the man who sells eyeglasses for chickens, the elderly woman who dives 90 feet into a a flaming pool, and the lady who burns money for the Federal Reserve.

Francis, Daly, Cerf, and Kilgallen.
Still, none of this would work if not for the panelists and the moderator. The regular panel consists of entertainment columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, comedian Fred Allen, TV personality Arlene Francis, and publisher Bennett Cerf. The best players are Dorothy and Bennett, although Arlene comes through on some tough occupations. Fred Allen, on the other hand, looks lost in most episodes and sometimes ask questions which his colleagues have already posed. Still, he often generates unintentional laughs from the studio audience, such as when he asked the maternity clothes model if men might wear the clothes in question.

My favorite is Dorothy Kilgallen, whose intelligence and wit are matched by her competitiveness. I knew very little about her prior to watching What's My Line. She began her column "The Voice of Broadway" in 1938 and it was carried in over 140 newspapers at one time. She and Frank Sinatra had a long-running feud after she published an unflattering series of articles called "The Real Frank Sinatra." 

Dorothy Kilgallen.
Kilgallen didn't always write about the entertainment business. She covered the Sam Sheppard murder trial in 1954 and is credited with helping secure a new trial for him. A friend of John F. Kennedy's, Kilgallen was investigating his death when she was found dead in her apartment in 1964. The official report was that she died from an overdose of prescription sleeping pills and alcohol. However, there are some, such as biographer Mark Shaw (The Reporter Who Knew Too Much), who claim her death may have been staged.

John Charles Daly.
The other "star" of What's My Line is moderator John Charles Daly. Smart and funny, Daly interprets panelists' questions and confers with the contestants to keep the game fair. Daly was a respected journalist before becoming a game show host. He is credited as being the first news correspondent to report on the Pearl Harbor attack (you can listen to that on YouTube) as well as FDR's death. He won an Emmy for Best News Reporter as well as a Peabody Award and Golden Globe. He comes across as immensely likable--I think he's the best game show host I've ever seen (sorry, Pat and Alex!).

The original version of What's My Line ran from 1950 to 1967. There were also revivals and syndicated versions. The original show's panel included Kilgallen (until her death), Cerf, and Francis. The fourth member changed several times. Plus, there were guest panelists when the regulars took time off, such as Johnny Carson, a befuddled Wally Cox, and Betty White.

Esther Williams confers with Daly.
The celebrity contestants in the Amazon Prime episodes include David Niven, Esther Williams, Tony Curtis, Marge and Gower Champion, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Rosemary Clooney.

If you don't have Amazon Prime, you can still watch a bunch of episodes for free on YouTube. Of course, I don't know if they include the vintage commercials for Remington Rand shavers and Stopette deodorant. I do know that Stopette lotion deodorant is soothing and when you use it: "Poof! There goes perspiration!"

Thursday, October 18, 2018

George C. Scott Unravels the Mystery of "The Changeling"

George C. Scott as John Russell.
When we recently asked our Twitter followers to name their favorite scary movie, several responded with an unexpected choice: The Changeling (1980). Since October evenings are a fine time for ghost stories, we took an opportunity to watch this atmospheric tale about buried secrets and restless souls (which we found on YouTube).

George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a composer whose world has been shattered by the accidental deaths of his wife and young daughter. Russell accept a position to teach music at his alma mater in Seattle, where he rents a large historic home. The house has been vacant for twelve years (which is never a good sign in a horror movie).

A house of secrets, nestled in the woods.
Almost immediately, John begins to hear unusual pounding sounds and fleeting whispers. But it's the sudden shattering of a fourth floor window that leads him to a closet that conceals a shuttered door. Behind the door is a staircase to a small child's room, where John finds a manuscript from 1909 and a still-functioning music box. The music box's melody is the same as John's latest composition.

Like all good ghost movies, The Changeling is essentially a mystery in which John tries to learn the identity of the house's resident spirit and what it wants. The former question is answered in the film's finest scene: a seance in which the medium (well played by Roberta Maxwell) asks questions in an emotionless voice while madly scribbling the ghost's answers on paper.

Trish Van Devere.
Much of the film's effectiveness is derived by its atmospheric settings: the isolated snowy highway where John loses his family; the rainy NYC streets and his empty apartment; and, of course, the haunted estate and its muted-green woods. The house itself is almost a character, with director Peter Medak embracing the long staircase, the overly spacious chambers, and the dark, dreary child's room. Medak employs frequent high-angle shots to give the impression of a child hiding on the stairs, watching and listening to the adults below.

George C. Scott, looking older than his 53 years, is quietly effective as the "detective" that unravels the house's mystery and, in doing so, digs himself out of his own depression. I love that the script pairs John with an attractive history society volunteer (played by Trish Van Devere, aka Mrs. Scott), but never muddies the story with a romance. That would have detracted from the central stories of an ultimate deception and coping with grief.

Henry Treat Rogers house in Denver.
Russell Hunter, who wrote the screen story for The Changeling, claims the plot was inspired by his real-life experiences while living in the Henry Treat Rogers house in Denver in the 1960s. In a 1980 article in Denver Magazine, Russell writes about unusual sounds, a stairway leading to the house's third floor where he found a child’s trunk, and a seance. While others have debunked parts of Hunter's tale, it still makes for a memorable backstory.

When Martin Scorsese named his picks for the 11 Scariest Movies of All Time, The Changeling came in at No. 6. Personally, I wouldn't rank it in my Top 25--I just didn't find it all that scary. Still, it's a well-directed, well-acted film that unravels effectively as it reveals what the title really means (hint: it's not a supernatural creature). And The Changeling turned out to be a perfect choice for an October evening as we count down to Halloween.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Seven Things to Know About Neil Simon

1. In a 1979 interview in Playboy, Neil Simon noted: "There are two million interesting people in New York and only seventy-eight in Los Angeles."

2. Simon and Stephen Sondheim once considered collaborating on a musical version of The Front Page. Simon wrote in his memoir The Play Goes On: "The one thing you look for in a musical is why people actually sing songs, a piece of advice that Stephen Sondheim had given me years earlier when I suggested that he and I do a musical version of The Front Page...'(It's) a great play, said Stephen, but why do they sing?' I looked him right in the eye and said, 'I haven't the slightest idea--except that you write such incredible songs.' 'Not without good reason,' said Stephen wisely, and instead of writing with him, I decided to enjoy just listening to everything he wrote without me getting in his way."

3. One of Neil Simon's least successful plays was The Gingerbread Lady (1970), which starred Maureen Stapleton as an alcoholic actress. Although Stapleton won a Tony for Best Actress, the play's original run was just over five months. Ten years later, Simon adapted it for the screen as Only When I Laugh, which earned Oscar nominations for his then-wife Marsha Mason (Best Actress), James Coco (Best Supporting Actor), and Joan Hackett (Best Supporting Actress).

4. Of his first play Come Blow Your Horn, Simon recalled: "(It) took the equivalent of the combined hours, months, and years I put in writing The Red Buttons Show, the Sgt. Bilko Show, Caesar's Hour, and finally The Garry Moore Show, a weekly variety program on CBS which featured a bright new and dazzingly funny comedienne, Carol Burnett. I would come in at eight o'clock in the morning and work on my play for two hours, typing on Garry Moore's stationery, before tackling the Carol Burnett sketches at ten o'clock. Not only was Garry unknowingly subsidizing me while I worked for him, but he eventually became one of the first investors in Come Blow Your Horn, so he eventually got the money back for the typing paper I "borrowed" from him, and then some."

5. Neil Simon was married five times. He met his first wife, Joan Baim, when she was a children's counselor at a Poconos resort; Simon and his brother contributed to weekly revue shows at the same resort. Joan died in 1973 following a long battle with cancer. Simon met his second wife, actress Marsha Mason, when she auditioned for his play The Good Doctor in 1973. They divorced ten years later, but remained friends. His third and fourth marriages were to actress-model Diane Lander, who was 24 years younger than him. Knowing Simon's propensity to write about his own life, one of the conditions of their pre-nuptial agreement was that Neil not write about her or her daughter during her lifetime. Neil married Elaine Joyce in 1999; they were together until his recent death.

6. Simon's brother Danny, who was eight years older, brought Neil (whose nickname was Doc) into show business. Danny also inspired one of Neil's most successful plays when he divorced his wife and moved into an apartment with another divorced man. Recognize the premise of The Odd Couple?

7. Neil Simon has won three Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize (Lost in Yonkers), and the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He earned four Oscar nominations for Best Writing (The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl, and California Suite. He also received four Emmy nominations (two for Caesar's Hour and one each for TV adaptations of Broadway Bound and Laughter on the 23rd Floor).

This post is part of The Neil Simon Blogathon hosted by Caftan Woman and Wide Screen World.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Blacula Is "One Strange Dude"

William Marshall as Blacula.
Based on Count Dracula's reputation alone, I question the rationale in seeking his support to abolish slavery. But that's what Prince Mamuwadle and his wife Luva attempt in the prologue of 1972's Blacula. Not surprisingly, the Count comments that "slavery has merit" and offers to buy Luva. Mamuwadle becomes incensed and, following a scuffle with Dracula's henchman, he becomes the famous vampire's latest victim.

Dracula locks Mamuwalde in a coffin, curses him to thirst for blood forever, and dubs him the Black Dracula--or Blacula. He then seals the room with the coffin, forcing Luva to watch over her husband until the "flesh rots off her bones."

Vonetta McGee as Tina.
More than a century later, a couple of antique buyers purchase all the furniture in Castle Dracula and ship it to California. Once there, one of them unlocks Blacula's casket, unleashing the vampire on contemporary Los Angeles. Blacula barely has to time to claim his first two victims before he spots Tina, who--as you have guessed--appears to be the reincarnation of Luva.

Blacula was one of several contemporary-set vampire films produced following the surprise success of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970). Even Hammer Films abandoned its Gothic chic to make Dracula A.D. 1972. Yet, Blacula stands out among these modern vampire tales because it was the first notable blaxploitation horror movie. Its detractors claim that Blacula offered nothing new other than trying to appeal to an African American audience (more on that later). But even if that were true, one cannot ignore its historical significance in inspiring other 1970s blackploitation fright films such as Abby, Blackenstein, Ruby, and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde.

Marshall looking more refined.
Although most of Blacula is pretty predictable, it takes a different approach with its protagonist. Blacula is an intelligent gentleman, who has enough style to pull off wearing a cape in the early 1970s (though no one comments that his clothes could use a cleaning). It helps that the vampire is portrayed by 6' 4" William Marshall, who earned great acclaim for his stage portrayal of Othello in the early 1960s. With his deep voice and air of sophistication, it's no wonder that Tina (Vonetta McGee) becomes attracted to the handsome vampire...even as a friend notes Blacula is "one strange dude."

Blacula is at heart a love story and, befittingly, it ends with a sacrifice worthy of Shakespeare. Of course, along the way, there's a lot of killing and a nifty fight in a warehouse in which the good guys fling oil lamps at a horde of vampires like molotov cocktails. (Be sure to note that the lamps are not lit...even though they burst into flames.)

The films' sucess spawned a hastily-made sequel Scream Blacula Scream starring Marshall and Pam Grier. When my sister and I went to see it at the theater, we were asked to leave after one of the projectors broke. We didn't have to worry about a refund because my sister was an employee of the theater chain. Still, I've never seen this sequel--which I will rectify this month. Starz has both Blacula films available on demand.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Hardy Boys, Disney, and Pieces of Eight

Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine.
I was probably too old to fully appreciate The Mickey Mouse Club by the time it was syndicated in my home town. Honestly, I don't think the Mouseketeers' musical numbers would have appealed to me at any age. And, in regard to the cartoons, I'm a Warner Bros. kind of guy. The serials, though, were another matter. Even the girl-centric Annette held my interest...because I'm an Annette Funicello fan. And then there were the Hardy Boys, which brings us to today's review.

Edward Stratemeyer created teenage amateur detectives Joe and Frank Hardy in 1927. The boys lived in the small coastal town of Bayport with their parents. Their interest in solving mysteries was apparently inherited from their father, Fenton, who worked as a detective.

For the initial books, Stratemeyer and his daughters Edith and Harriet wrote the plot outlines. The juvenile novels would then be completed by ghostwriters, who all used the name Franklin W. Dixon. Grosset & Dunlap published a total of 58 Hardy Boys mysteries between 1927 and 1979. These are considered the original novels, though the characters continued to appear in dozen of books after that (which featured changes in format, style, and settings).

Frank, father Fenton, and Joe.
The Hardy Boys mysteries were still immensely popular in 1956 when Walt Disney produced The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, a 19-episode serial for The Mickey Mouse Club. It was loosely based on the first Hardy Boys book, The Tower Treasure (1929). Each installment of the serial was about 12 minutes long. For this adaptation, Frank and Joe were made younger and their mother was replaced by Aunt Gertrude. Their father worked in "the city," which accounted for his absence during most of the episodes.

The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure opens with Iola, Joe's "girlfriend", spilling her purse after bumping into a new boy in town named Perry. That same day, someone steals Iola's purse. Joe recovers it and nothing appears to be missing. Perry turns out to be on parole (of sorts) from a reform school and is working for Old Man Applegate. He also lives in a shack on Applegate's estate.

Sarah Selby as Aunt Gertrude.
When some tools go missing, a plumber, who is doing work for Applegate, suggests that Perry is a thief. That night, Joe and Frank search Perry's room and find the missing tools. The police arrest Perry--but not before he asks for Joe's help and gives him a gold doubloon found on Applegate's estate. Later, Mr. Applegate recounts to Joe and Frank the story of how his "treasure" was stolen ten years earlier. Could someone be searching for the missing treasure...and trying to frame Perry? Or is the treasure just a figment of an elderly gentleman's imagination?

The central premise of The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure is a promising one--hey, what kid wouldn't want to find a box of gold doubloons and pieces of eight? And the solution to the mystery, when it's finally revealed, turns out to be worthy of Agatha Christie. However, at three-and-half hours in total length, the serial is awfully leisurely at times. There are a few episodes in which nothing much seems to happen.

Still, the cast is energetic and enthusiastic, with Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine leading the way as Joe and Frank Hardy. Kirk would become one of Disney's most reliable stars after appearing in Old Yeller the following year. Considine was already a teen star, having appeared as Spin in the Spin and Marty serials on The Mickey Mouse Club. The original Spin and Marty serial was so successful that it spawned two sequels. Considine went on, of course, to play Mike Douglas on My Three Sons from 1960-65.

Carole Ann Campbell.
My favorite cast member, though, was Carole Ann Campbell, who played Iola. The incredibility sweet Campbell had only seven acting credits during her career. She played Lillian Roth as a child in the movie biography I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) with Susan Hayward. Campbell recorded some songs on Kangaroo Records, but never pursued an acting career after a couple of TV guest star stints in the 1960s.

The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Mystery of the Ghost Farm. It reunited Kirk, Considine, and Campbell, but was shorter (14 episodes) and not as popular as the first Hardy Boys serial. It has never been released on DVD.

By the way, the opening credits to The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure feature an awesome pirate song warbled by Thurl Ravenscroft (the one-time voice of Tony the Tiger). The film footage was borrowed from Disney's own Treasure Island (1950).

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Our YouTube Channel Reaches a Milestone

This past week, we uploaded the 100th video to our YouTube channel, which was established in October 2014. Today, we have over 2,600 subscribers (thank you!) and our videos have been viewed over 1.4 million times. (By the way, click on the titles to view any of the videos mentioned below.)

Ava Gardner as Venus.
What can you find on the Classic Film & TV Cafe YouTube Channel? Well, there are lots of clips from classic movies such as: Ronald Colman as a quiz show contestant in Champagne for Caesar, Ava Gardner as a statue come to life in One Touch of Venus, Michael Caine as a reluctant spy in Funeral in Berlin, and Danny Kaye trying to box in The Kid from Brooklyn.

We've also had a grand time posting scenes from intriguing lesser-know films. So, you can see Mel Torme as a gunfighter in Walk Like a Dragon, Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland in the engrossing courtroom drama Libel, and Glynis Johns diving 80 feet a into a "lake of flames" in Encore.

Lloyd Bridges in The Loner.
What about classic television? It's well represented with memorable scenes such as: Martin Milner and Lee Marvin slugging it out on Route 66, Jack Klugman as a DA on The Defenders, and Lloyd Bridges in Rod Serling's Western series The Loner.

The Cafe staff has created some original content, too, with a mix of quizzes, original trailers, photo tributes to stars like Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, video reviews, and even a snippet from our audio interview with Hammer actress Veronica Carlson.

What are our most popular videos? Well, if you count the percentage of "like" vs. "dislike"--and require a minimum of 30 "likes"--the most popular are a clip from Hammer's The Mummy and a tribute to Roger Moore's leading ladies on The Saint TV series. If you measure popularity by the number of comments left by videos, then the most popular are The Slipper and the Rose, Horror of Dracula, and My Bodyguard.

The most common measurement of popularity, though, is the number of times a video has been viewed. So, we'll close this post with scenes from our Top Five videos and the number of times each has been viewed (just click on the image to watch these scenes without leaving the Cafe):

The Slipper and the Rose (633,262 views)

Cary Grant and Sophia Loren in Houseboat (136,182 views)

Horror of Dracula (104,406)

Danny Kaye and Angela Lansbury in The Court Jester (62,740)

Petula Clark and Peter O'Toole in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (56,388)

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Longest Yard: "It's just a game."

I'm sure many critics would opt for Deliverance, but I'd rate Burt Reynolds' performance in The Longest Yard as his best. That opinion was just confirmed when I watched that 1974 football-in-prison film for probably the fifth time. It still holds up remarkably well despite running just over two hours and with a climatic game that takes up an amazing 42 minutes of the running time.

Burt plays Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a washed-up pro football quarterback wasting away his life and living off a wealthy lady who has no interest in his mind. When he suddenly decides to rebel, she tries to stop him--only to be slapped and thrown to the floor (a scene that still shocks in its unexpected violence). He steals an expensive sports car, eludes the cops in a high-speed chase, and dumps the car in a river. When confronted by two police officers, he makes jokes at their expense and ends up in a fight. It's no surprise that he winds up in the Citrus State Prison for 2-5 years (18 months with good behavior).

A mean Eddie Albert.
Warden Rudolph Hazen (Eddie Albert) wants Crewe to help coach his semi-pro football team, consisting of prison guards, to a national title. For his own safety. Crewe declines. However, he makes a deal with Hazen later by agreeing to assemble a team comprised of prisoners as a "warm up" for the prison guards. Along the way, the self-centered, cocky Crewe learns a lot about his fellow inmates and, of course, even more about himself.

As some of you may know, I'm a sucker for a "let's form a team" plot and The Longest Yard doesn't disappoint on that front as Crewe and newfound friend Caretaker (James Hampton) try to form a ragtag football team. Most of their recruits just want to inflict some reciprocal pain on the cruel prison guards. But for others, it's an opportunity to regain self-respect or even recapture some sports glory from the past. Initially, Crewe considers it "just a game," but it becomes much more--especially after an inmate is viciously murdered.

Burt Reynolds displays plenty of his megawatt bad boy charm in The Longest Yard, but there's an edge here, a toughness, that's missing from later performances. He seems fully committed to his role, which is best captured in the prison scene where his trademark 1970s mustache is shaved off by a sneering guard.

It's hard to imagine a better supporting cast for a film like this. Eddie Albert puts aside his good guy image to play the unpleasant warden. Bernadette Peters has two brief, but delightful scenes, as an amorous secretary with Bride of Frankenstein hair. James Hampton, known for playing bugler Dobbs on F Troop, gives a career-best performance as Caretaker, a crafty sort who can smuggle anything into the prison. And 7' 2" Richard Kiel (Jaws in two Bond films) is hilarious as a surprisingly sensitive thug and gets one of the film's best remembered lines (though we won't reprint the colorful language here).

Bernadette Peters and hair.
There are plenty of former real-life pro football stars, too, to include: Mike Henry, Joe Kapp, Ray Nitschke, Pervis Atkins, Ernie Wheelwright, and Sonny Sixkiller. Henry, who played Tarzan in three 1960s pictures, would co-star with Reynolds again in the first two Smokey and the Bandit movies (and in the third one without Burt).

Sometimes crude and violent, The Longest Yard may not appeal to all viewers, but it's a well-crafted gritty sports film peppered with humor. It reminded me how good Burt Reynolds could be when he made the effort. It also made me realize that Robert Aldrich must have been one of the underappreciated directors of the 1950s through 1970s. His filmography includes such classics as Kiss Me Deadly, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Dirty Dozen, and The Flight of the Phoenix.