Monday, June 24, 2019

Seven Things to Know About Andy Griffith

Andy in No Time for Sergeants.
1. Andy Griffith's first major success was a comic monologue called "What It Was, Was Football," in which a country preacher accidentally attends an American football game--having never seen one--and tries to describe it. It became a regional hit and was picked up for national distribution by Capitol Records. The single reached No. 9 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. Andy is credited as Deacon Andy Griffith on the single's label; the "B" side is his countrified version of Romeo and Juliet.

2. In 1955, he appeared in "No Time for Sergeants," a one-hour episode of The U.S. Steel Hour adapted by Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby) from Mac Hyman's novel. Levin expanded his teleplay into a stage success that also starred Griffith, who received a Tony nomination. The Broadway cast also included Don Knotts! When Warner Bros. decided to turn No Time for Sergeants into a film, Griffith and Knotts retained their roles.

The serious side in A Face in the Crowd.
3. To convince Elia Kazan that he was the right actor to play Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd (1957), Griffith did an impersonation of Oral Roberts conducting a healing. Kazan hired him the next day.

4. Andy Griffith first appeared as Andy Taylor, sheriff of Mayberry, in an episode of The Danny Thomas Show that aired in the show's seventh season in 1960. It was titled "Danny Meets Andy Griffith" and served as a "backdoor pilot" for The Andy Griffith Show. Andy's new show debuted later that year. During its first season, Andy portrayed a variation of his country bumpkin from No Time for Sergeants. That changed in the second season when he became the straight man and other Mayberry characters, such as Don Knott's Barney's Fife, provided the comedy.

5. After leaving Mayberry behind, Andy Griffith tried several times to launch a new TV series as a serious small town sheriff. His first attempt was Winter Kill, a 1970 ABC Movie of the Week which cast Andy as Sheriff Sam McNeill. The plot concerned a sniper killing the residents of a small resort town. It doubled as a pilot for TV series. Although it didn't result in a regular show, Andy did play a different sheriff of a small resort town in the 1975 TV series Adams of Eagle Lake. It only lasted two episodes. In 1977, he played Abel Marsh, the police chief of another small town, in two telefilms: The Girl in the Empty Grave and Deadly Game. If the character's name sounds familiar, that's because James Garner played Abel Marsh in the 1972 theatrical film They Only Kill Their Masters.

With Rob Reiner in Headmaster.
6. It's easy to forget that Andy's post-Mayberry career included two other short-lived TV series. In Headmaster (1970), he played the head of a private school in California. It lasted for 14 episodes on CBS. In January 1971, its time slot was taken by The New Andy Griffith Show, in which Andy starred as a big city guy who moved his family to small town to become its mayor. Lee Meriwether portrayed his wife. It lasted just ten episodes. Of course, as we all know, he eventually found great television success again with Matlock (1986-95).

7. In a 2018 interview, Karen Knotts, Don's daughter, spoke about Andy Griffith: "He was very friendly to me; he was like an uncle. He had different sides. You could see that sometimes he would be intense and other times very, very warm and endearing. One thing I will tell you, and one thing that is different from what has been written in books, was that Andy was never jealous of my dad. He was his biggest fan and mentor. Everything later he was in, he wanted to get my dad in, too. He was in my dad’s corner."

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Movie-TV Connection Game (June 2019)

Ronald Colman and Elke Sommer.
Never played before? Here are the rules:  You will be given a pair or trio of films or performers and will be required to 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.  The Satan Bug and Homicidal.

2.  Shirley Eaton and Christopher Lee (other than James Bond).

3.  Patrick O'Neal and Vincent Price.

4.  Dean Jones and Lon Chaney, Jr.

5.  The Day of the Triffids and Thunder Rock.

6.  Cary Grant and Tom Hanks.

7.  Debbie Reynolds and Robert Wagner.

8.  Raquel Welch and Kathryn Grant (aka Mrs. Bing Crosby).

9.  Where Eagles Dare and the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

10. Warren Beatty and Robin Williams.

11. Ronald Colman and Peter Finch.

12. Ronald Colman and Elke Sommer.

13.  Riding High and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

14.  Ray Danton and James Coburn.

15.  Cuban Rebel Girls and The Big Boodle (an easy one!).

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Quatermass 2 (Enemy from Space)

While returning to his observatory in rural England, physicist Bernard Quatermass narrowly avoids a car accident. The other vehicle stops and a delirious man emerges...with an unusual wound on his face. His wife claims he was burned by a falling piece of stone. After assisting the couple, Quatermass arrives at his science complex.

His staff is anxious to tell him about weird meteor-like objects falling throughout the countryside. Quatermass is in no mood to listen to anyone. He's deeply bitter after learning that his moon colony project has been unfunded. The next day, Quatermass connects the two incidents involving the falling rocks and decides to investigate with a colleague.

Discovering the dome city.
The duo discover that a nearby village has disappeared. In its place, they find a city of metallic domes that looks mighty similar to Quatermass's moon colony model. The landscape is also littered with the unusual rocks. When Quatermass's colleague picks one up, he suffers a facial burn. Within seconds, security personnel in gas masks appear and take away the injured man amid Quatermass's feeble protests.

It's difficult to describe the plot to Quatermass 2 (aka Enemy from Space), the superior 1957 sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment (1955). As Quatermass probes deeper into mysterious activities at the dome city, he uncovers a tangled conspiracy that involves members of the British government. (I love that government officials explain that the facility will end world hunger by manufacturing synthetic food--when its real mission threatens to end mankind's existence.)

Like the first Quatermass film and the later Quatermass and the Pit (1967), Quatermass 2 was based on a TV serial written by the brilliant Nigel Kneale. The TV version consisted of six 30-minute episodes, which provided more time to explore Kneale's central theme of an "invisible" enemy indistinguishable from the human race. (Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Quatermass 2 is considered by some critics to be a Cold War metaphor.)

A lingering image....
If the screenplay, penned by Kneale and director Val Guest, rushes the plot, Guest compensates by including some marvelous visuals. The Shell Haven Refinery in Essex was used as the setting for the mysterious plant. With its cold metallic structures, it provides a chilling, bleak backdrop to the action. And one scene, in which a dying man staggers down a metal staircase covered in a burning, black goo...let's just say it's a genuinely disturbing image that lingers long after the movie is over.

The miscast Donlevy.
The only thing preventing Quatermass 2 from taking its place among the best sci fi films of the 1950s is its star. Brian Donlevy, who played the lead in The Quatermass Xperiment reprises the role--and he reminded me of one of those emotionless pod people in Body Snatchers. He recites dialogue like a robot and never convinces the audience--not for a nanosecond--that he is a rocket scientist. In contrast, Quatermass and the Pit is the best Quatermass movie largely because of Andrew Keir's performance in the lead role (well, it also features a highly imaginative plot that mixes sci fi and horror).

Hammer horror fans will instantly recognize the music in the opening scene. It's a variation of James Bernard's Horror of Dracula score (which was reused in several other Hammer pictures).

This post is part of the 2nd Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Cinema Catharsis and and Reelweegiemidget Reviews. Please check out the full blogathon schedule by searching for #HammerAmicusBlogathon on Twitter.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Capricorn One: Peter Hyams' Conspiracy Thriller

Moments before the launch of a manned mission to Mars, Capricorn One's three astronauts are secretly pulled from the rocket. Hidden from view, they are whisked away to a remote desert facility. As the empty rocket blasts off, the project director explains to the bewildered astronauts that he learned of a critical fault in their life support systems three weeks earlier.

The Capricorn One studio set.
With Congress already concerned about the Mars program's $24 billion price tag, certain individuals feared that a rocket launch cancellation could mean the end of federal funding. They made the decision to fake the mission. A recording of an earlier simulation would give the illusion that the astronauts were still on-board the rocket. However, it would be necessary for the three men to "act out" certain scenes, such as the Mars landing. That would be accomplished in a TV studio complete  with a Mars set and a replica of the landing module.

James Brolin's astronaut learns the truth.
When the astronauts refuse to go along with the massive deception, the project director expresses concern about the safety of their families: "There are people out there--forces out there--with a lot to lose." In other words, the three astronauts do not have a choice.

Made in 1977, Capricorn One is an entertaining thriller inspired by moon landing conspiracy theories. Writer-director Peter Hyams' central premise is that most people believe real-life events viewed through the lens of the news media. Therefore, if you could manipulate that media, then you could deceive the world. Hyams provides just enough detail to make his story work, such as the ingenious plan to send the space capsule off-course as it lands back on earth--thereby providing enough time to insert the astronauts into the capsule before the recovery team's arrival.

Elliott Gould trying to control his car.
Hyams propels the plot by cutting back-and-forth between the astronauts and a news reporter (Elliott Gould) who learns that something isn't right about the Mars mission. The latter storyline implies that the shadowy people behind the deception have limitless power and will stop at nothing--even murder. That leads to the film's two best scenes:  a nerve-racking sequence in which Gould can't stop his car as it speeds through crowded metropolitan streets and an aerial chase between a crop-dusting biplane and two military helicopters. (Parts of the car scene were later recycled in the TV series The Fall Guy.)

Capricorn One is what Hollywood moguls now call a high-concept film. As such, it doesn't require big stars and so the cast features actors like Gould (who worked with Hyams earlier in the comedy Busting), Hal Holbrook (the project leader), James Brolin (who heads the astronauts' team), Brenda Vaccaro (Brolin's wife), and O.J. Simpson (another astronaut). With the exception of Simpson, they all do solid work, which is all the script requires. It's worth noting that the cast includes both of Barbra Streisand's husbands: She was married to Gould from 1963-71 and has been married to Brolin since 1998.

The real star of Capricorn One is writer-director Hyams, who takes an outrageous premise and makes you believe--if only for a moment--that it could happen. Incidentally, in regard to the cast, Hyams said in a 2014 interview in Empire: "O.J. Simpson was in it, and Robert Blake was in Busting. I’ve said many times: some people have AFI Lifetime Achievement awards; some people have multiple Oscars; my bit of trivia is that I’ve made films with two leading men who were subsequently tried for the first degree murder of their wives."

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

#5FaveSciFiFilms - Your 5 Favorite Science Fiction Films Tweetathon

What are your five favorite science fiction films?

That's the topic for our first tweetathon, which is sort of a blogathon for Twitter. If you would like to participate, just go to Twitter and send a tweet with your five film picks and the hashtag #5FaveSciFiFilms.

If you'll include our Twitter name @classic_film, we'll share your selections with over 13,000 other movie fans.

Of course, you don't need a Twitter account to participate. You can also join the fun by listing your picks on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media platform. Or, you can just leave a comment below with your five favorite science fictions films.

To get this event jump-started, here are our #5FaveSciFiFilms:

1. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
2. Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth) (1967)
3. The Andromeda Strain (1971)
4. The Power (1968)
5. The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Inspector Morse: The Remorseful Day

John Thaw as Morse.
This review contains spoilers!

When it debuted on the PBS anthology series Mystery! in 1987, Inspector Morse offered something different for American audiences: a grumpy, cynical detective who investigated homicides in contemporary Oxford, England. Morse was only the second "present-day" detective featured on Mystery! (preceded only by Dalgleish). Based on Colin Dexter's novels, the British-made Inspector Morse TV series consisted of 33 episodes produced between 1987 and 2000.

Morse (John Thaw) is a highly-intelligent, middle-aged bachelor who shares few interests with his colleagues. While they're passionate about soccer, he prefers opera, literature, crossword puzzles, and zipping around in his red Jaguar Mark 2. Granted, he does like his beer...but only the good stuff. Morse isn't above flirting with the opposite sex (including suspects), but he doesn't have much luck with enduring relationships.

Kevin Whately as Lewis.
His partner, Detective Sergeant Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately), is his antithesis--public school-educated, a family man, and interested in sports. (In one episode, Morse has Lewis go undercover as a cricket team player.) Yet, while they share few common interests, the duo respect and remain loyal to each other--even when Morse belittles Lewis for not knowing the name of a Wagner opera.

The series' last episode The Remorseful Day (2000) finds Morse on the verge of retirement as he copes with ulcers and an ailing heart. Lewis has graduated from "Inspector School" and is awaiting a vacancy so he can be promoted. Chief Superintendent Strange assigns Lewis to tail a recently-paroled burglar who may know something about an unsolved murder case from the previous year.

Morse, who turns out to have a personal interest in the case, starts his own investigation--much to Lewis's dismay. However, the two detectives team up when the former burglar and a taxi driver, also connected to the murder, are found dead.

Lewis and Morse watching birds.
The Remorseful Day is a typically complex Morse mystery, but it also has grander ambitions. It serves as the final curtain call for a memorable TV detective. It's apparent early in the episode that Morse is ill-prepared for retirement. He tries his hand at bird-watching only to discover that Lewis knows more about the featured creatures than he does. (That said, his limited ornithological knowledge helps solve the murder case!)

Morse doesn't realize the identity of the killer until moments before he crumples to the ground from a heart attack. By the time Lewis arrests the murderer at the airport, Morse is already dead. His final words are not spoken to his partner, but to his sometime-nemesis Superintendent Strange: "Thank Lewis for me."

Morse and his beloved Jaguar.
Inspector Morse doesn't rank among my favorite British detective shows. Actually, I much prefer the spin-offs Inspector Lewis and Endeavor. But it was an influential series with superb performances from John Thaw and Kevin Whately. The former's nuanced acting subtly reveals a romantic buried behind Morse's grumpy, bitter façade. His relationship with Lewis is what makes the show work. Morse may criticize Lewis for his lack of culture, but the two detectives bring out the best in each other.

The Remorseful Day is a fitting goodbye--and one made with the show's fans in mind. Author Colin Dexter, who made cameos in almost all the episodes, can be glimpsed as a wheelchair-bound tourist. Barrington Pheloung, who composed the memorable music (also used for Endeavor), appears as a church choir conductor.

Here's the bird-watching scene referenced earlier, courtesy of the Cafe's YouTube channel: