Sunday, September 23, 2012

Please Stand By ...

Hi kids ...  Sorry about the lack of postings but I'm sure you all know how life can throw you a curve every now and then.  So now that the summer is over and some of the leaves are already starting to abandon the trees, hopefully things will start to settle down.

So after having to purchase a new vehicle ...

And having to do some unexpected remodeling due to some storm damage (I have a great crew helping with the rebuilding) ...

And after recently having surgery on my hand, I'm typing very slowly (needless to say I was never one to really burn up the keyboard in the first place).  But at least I had some great doctors ...

I should be able to get back to posting about and watching my beloved classic films very soon.  I'm even thinking about maybe starting a "Name That Short" game.

So stay tuned guys and as always ...  Thanks for visiting!!!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Abandon Ship (1957)

Hi Kids, this is my entry for "The Best Hitchcock Films Hitchcock Never Made" blogathon sponsored by Dorian at Tales of the Easily Distracted and Becky at ClassicBecky's Brainfood.

Abandon Ship aka Seven Seas Away/Seven Waves Away stars Tyrone Power, Mai Zetterling, Lloyd Nolan and costars Stephen Boyd, Moira Lister and James Hayter.  It was released by Columbia Pictures, written and directed by Richard Sale, produced by John R. Sloan (and co-produced by an uncredited Tyrone Power), with music by Sir Arthur Bliss.

From the opening credits and a harmonica solo playing a lonely little seafaring tune this film grabs you and just does not let go.  While the credits are still rolling we're shown the setting for the entire film, a vast expanse of open ocean.  Slowly becoming visible through the thick fog we see a derelict World War II mine bobbing up and down in the waves.  The mine drifts closer and closer, slowly, until it's filling the entire screen.  Then an explosion, alarms, chaos, screams, smoke, fire and the final order to abandon ship.  All this and we're less than two minutes into the film.

The narrator informs us that the ship, the "S.S. Crescent Star", was on it's first leg of an around-the-world cruise in the south Atlantic when it exploded and sank in seven minutes with 1,156 souls aboard at the "moment of disaster".  In those seven minutes 1,119 perished.  If you survive you begin to notice there is more wreckage than people,  Then if you are still able you begin to notice two things.  You become aware of the living ... you become aware of the dead.

With the ship unable to launch any lifeboats the captain's shore boat is the only refuge for the desperate survivors of the disaster.  Shocked and injured survivors cling to floating debris as they helplessly wait to be rescued.  A dying captain's final words to his next in command help set the scenario for the remainder of the film -- "Save as many as you can ...".

So the story begins to unfold.  Twenty-seven people in, and clinging to, a boat intended for nine.  Faced with having to make one agonizing, and mostly unpopular, decision after another Alec Holmes (Power) assumes command of the craft and the survivors.  One of the first orders he gives is to allow a dog to stay aboard instead of letting one of the survivors in the sea come aboard.  When someone objects to his decision he matter-of-factly states the reasoning behind his decision -- "We can't eat you."

As Holmes takes inventory of the supplies and the injured, nurse Julie White (Zetterling) tries to attend to those who need immediate attention.  With the boat constantly on the verge of capsizing, and 1,500 miles from the nearest land, Mr. Holmes orders alternating shifts of people to take their turn in the boat and in the sea.  The group is then confronted with even more bad news.  No S.O.S. was ever sent, the equipment was damaged in the explosion and there was not enough time to send a distress call.  The only thing Holmes can do is set a course for the nearest land.

After a conversation with Kelly (Nolan), one of the injured survivors and a ship's officer who's trying to give Mr. Holmes some friendly but very sobering advice, he soon realizes that he may have to do the unthinkable, or more like the unimaginable, and cast some of the survivors adrift in order to give the others a chance to survive.

As tempers begin to flare and ideals, morals, and personalities conflict, Holmes has more than enough problems to deal with. But still, other challenges arise.  Sharks, storms, and just hopelessness in general seem to plague the survivors with every attempt at making any progress towards being rescued.  When one of the survivors, Mr. Cane (Moultrie Kelsall), suggests that the group get to know a little bit about each other to pass the time, Kelly advises Holmes again -- "Don't get to know them too well ...".   Kelly is fully aware, and I think Holmes is too by this point, that the time has come for a very serious command decision to be made.

Glancing down at the ring that was passed down to him by the captain, and surveying the situation confronting him, with two words -- "it's time" -- Holmes gives the command decision (at gunpoint) that no one in their lifetime would think they would ever have to make.  Even to the extreme of separating a child from his parents.  As the castaways disappear in the swells of the rising ocean waves the gradually decreasing number of survivors in the boat prepare for a pending rescue without knowing if it will be hours, days, or weeks away.

Some of the dialogue in the film seems to be dubbed, probably do to production issues.  Most of the scenes were filmed in a large tank and between the wave machines and wind machines it must have been difficult to actually hear the cast speaking their lines.  But the combination of acting talent and the musical score used to punctuate the peak dramatic scenes make this film a roller coaster ride with the suspense and anxiety at some points building to an almost intolerable level.

Add an ending that will leave most viewers shaking their heads in disbelief, Abandon Ship is one of those films that once watched, has such an impact on the viewer that it will never be forgotten.  I have no problem saying that this rates as one of the best films I've ever seen. 

This film is based on the true story of the William Brown which was an American ship that sank in 1841 in which a crew member named Alexander Holmes forced some survivors out of an overcrowded lifeboat.

Similar in theme to Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) this film portrays a much darker and realistic tone.  I know Hitchcock is the "master of suspense".  But as I said this film is relentless in its storytelling from its opening credits to its final thought provoking question.  And it's most definitely not for the faint of heart.  "Why are the wicked always so strong?".

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lost In Space -- Season One, Episodes 16-17, The Keeper -- Original Air Date - January 12th and 19th, 1966

This Lost In Space episode titled The Keeper (the only two-part episode of the series) stars Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, Bill Mumy, Angela Cartwright, and Jonathan Harris.  It's written by Barney Slater, directed by Sobey Martin, and the special guest star for this episode and playing the title character is Michael Rennie.  The series was created and produced by the "master of disaster" Irwin Allen and filmed by 20th Century-Fox Television.

Stranded on a barren alien planet the space family Robinson is working on an irrigation project.  Dr. Smith (Harris), Will (Mumy), and the robot are busy (well, the robot is busy) digging a drainage ditch for the pipe when Dr. Smith is suddenly "summoned" by a mysterious force which leads him away from the others.  As Will runs back to the ship for help, Dr. Smith quickly finds himself trapped in a large cage and we catch our first glimpse of the Keeper (Rennie).

The Keeper is sort of an intergalactic "Noah" who travels around "collecting the creatures of the universe, two of every kind".  What the Robinson's don't know is that the Keeper plans to "collect" two of the "earth creatures" to add to his menagerie.  Major West (Goddard) seems to sense that the visitor is up to no good right from the start because "he looked at them like they were some sort of insect".  Shortly thereafter he propositions Don and Judy (Kristen) in an attempt to get them to leave with him as two of his new "specimens".  Of course they refuse.  The Keeper then, with the help of Dr. Smith, turns his attention to trying to capture Will and Penny (Cartwright).  

Also, leading into part two of the episode, while attempting to steal the Keeper's spaceship, Smith accidentally releases all of the animals from their cages.  So now, not only do the Robinson's have a potential kidnapper to contend with, they're also trapped inside the Jupiter II by all the dangerous creatures that are now loose on the planet.  The Keeper offers to return all the creatures to their cages on one condition -- That the Robinson's handover Will and Penny.

Even with the fairly talented cast of regulars Rennie manages to dominate every scene he's in with his screen presence, mannerisms, and perfect diction.  I haven't seen him in many villain roles but he plays this one very well.  Not many people can pull off being menacing, condescending, and polite all at the same time.  Rennie does it effortlessly.

I also enjoyed watching the unaired pilot episode No Place To Hide which used the same Theremin score composed by Bernard Herrmann that was also used in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), that ironically also starred Michael Rennie.  In No Place To Hide neither the robot nor Dr. Smith were part of the cast.  And the story consisted of a compilation of scenes from episodes one, three, four, and five.  Of course we all know that Dr. Smith was actually working as a saboteur for a clandestine organization, when he was trapped on board the Jupiter II as it lifted off from earth.  And he was a thorn in the side of the space travelers right from the beginning.  The verbal exchanges between Smith and Major West, as well as those between Smith and the robot are priceless. 

Ah, the innocence of youth.  I remember watching Lost In Space as a kid and wishing I could be with those folks on their unbelievable voyage through the galaxy.  I just loved it.  I don't know if I can say that I'm loving it now.  Let's just say I still really, really like it.  Of course as an adult you notice the props and the costumes and the sets look a little (okay, a lot) cheaper than they did back then.  But all the actors do a really nice job as an ensemble, interacting and playing off of each other. 

I noticed a couple of little continuity errors that I never seemed to pick up on before.  About ten minutes into part one the Keeper plants his staff in the ground before walking over to meet the Robinson's. When he turns around to walk back to it, he already has the staff in his left hand. You can just catch a glimpse of it as he's turning to walk away.  Also about a half hour into part two, when the creature in the pit grabs the Keeper by the throat you can briefly see a flash of wire or fishing line used to control the creature's arm and claw.

I pretty much immersed myself in the series again from start to finish after getting a pretty good deal on, and purchasing seasons two and three.  So after blasting off with the crew in the futuristic year of 1997,  traveling around the galaxy, surviving various planetary collisions and explosions, withstanding cataclysmic meteorological conditions, crossing paths with mostly hostile alien lifeforms, and all the while listening to Dr. Smith's incessant moaning and groaning (I would have cast him adrift before the end of the first season, but of course the show wouldn't have been the same) I have come to the conclusion (as I most often do) that season one offers the best selection of episodes.  Again, I don't think it's just the black-and-white vs.color thing (then again maybe it is).  The storylines just got a little too crazy.  For whatever reason the show gradually begins a downhill slide after the first season, until it's tumbling end-over-end totally out of control with far too many "Oh, come on ..." moments for my liking by the end of season three.

It was fun to see all the famous guest stars that turned up on the show.  Some I don't think I was familiar with at the time, but would come to know from my continued television and classic film viewing.  Some of the more famous names besides Rennie included - Warren Oates, John Carradine, Hans Conried, Fritz Feld, Ted Cassidy, Marcel Hillaire, Al Lewis, Sherry Jackson,  and many, many, many others.

So in case anyone was wondering where I've been, now you know.  83 episodes later and just catching up with some long "lost" friends ...  (Yes, I did hear a collective groan)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Night Must Fall (1937)

Night Must Fall is based on the play by Emlyn Williams, directed by Richard Thorpe, produced by Hunt Stromberg, and stars Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Dame May Whitty, Alan Marshal, Merle Tottenham, and Kathleen Harrison, with a brief appearance by E.E. Clive.

The film takes place in the English countryside at the cottage of a somewhat wealthy old woman named Mrs. Bramson (Whitty), an invalid who lives there with her niece Olivia (Russell) who also happens to be employed by the dowager.  For some reason Bramson is cranky and verbally abusive towards Olivia.  So of course Olivia resents the old woman's attitude and feels trapped and bored with her position so she acts less than kindly towards her. 

As the story begins police and some of the townsfolk are executing a search for a missing local woman.  It's a small community so word of the disappearance as well as gossip about the woman travels quickly.

Mrs. Bramson discovers that someone has attempted to hide some pieces of broken china in one of her flowerbeds.  She soon realizes that it was her maid Dora (Tottenham) that was responsible and confronts her about it.  The maid explains that she hasn't been herself since meeting her new boyfriend, who she plans to marry but can't get him to actually commit to a date.  Dora asks Bramson if she could speak to him on her behalf and the old woman acknowledges that she'll " deal with him ".

At this point we meet Danny (Montgomery) or "Babyface" as the girls like to call him.  Much to Olivia's dismay Danny spins a few tales and charms the old woman into giving him a job as her companion, she even allows him live in the cottage.  Olivia immediately becomes suspicious of Danny when the missing woman's body turns up (with the head missing) and Danny moves into the cottage with his luggage, one piece of which is a large hatbox. 

The rest of the film is very suspenseful as Danny waits for an opportunity to gain access to the old woman's safe and steal her money, and Olivia is first repulsed by, then finds herself becoming strangely attracted to the charming rogue.  All the while trying to determine whether he is responsible for, or even capable of committing the recent murder.  Time after time our attention is drawn back to the mysterious hatbox and its possible grisly contents.

Great acting by all the stars makes this a really fun film to watch.  As I'm writing this I'm discovering that I'm a bigger Robert Montgomery fan than I realized.  If I notice his name in the credits of a film, I'll watch it even if it's not one of my favorite genres knowing that he's going to do a great job, he always does.  Montgomery was actually nominated for the Academy Award for "Best Actor" for his performance, and Whitty was nominated for "Best Supporting Actress".  Both actors do an outstanding job, and Russell's gradual transformation from mild-mannered to sizzling is fantastic.
Montgomery is very convincing as the smooth-talking, disturbed, pathological liar Danny and as the story progresses we discover more and more about the character's background.  I felt kind of bad for Olivia as she slowly but surely gets lured out of her shell by Danny's charm and almost poetic ramblings and finds herself drifting away from her boring, rich boyfriend Justin (Marshal) towards Danny even though she's knows how potentially dangerous he is.  She just seems to be totally bored with her life as it is and just craves some excitement. There's a great scene that takes place in the kitchen when the two happen to meet up in the middle of the night. You can feel the chemistry between the two characters and the scene will bring you to the edge of your seat.

Whitty dominates every scene that she's in.  The ending is almost unbearable when she finds herself alone and vulnerable after seemingly having total control over everyone for the majority of the film.  There's also some pretty good dark humor courtesy of the cook (Harrison) that helps to lighten up the mood a bit now and then.  The sets are very nicely designed and very detailed, especially the rooms in the cottage where most of the film takes place.

If you're a Hitchcock fan you'll probably enjoy this film.  There's not much action. but there are extra helpings of tension and suspense to go around.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Dial 1119 (1950)

Dial 1119 is directed by Gerald Mayer, produced by Richard Goldstone and stars Marshall ThompsonVirginia FieldAndrea King, Sam Levene, Leon Ames, and William Conrad.  And keep an eye out for an uncredited Barbara Billingsley who shows up on screen for about a minute as Dorothy,  the newspaper editor's secretary.  Paul Picerni appears briefly as a police interpreter, and Frank Cady has a brief appearance as one of the pedestrians on the street.

The story is straightforward and piques your interest right from the start.  Gunther Wyckoff (played very convincingly by Marshall Thompson) is a troubled young man who escapes from a mental asylum in order to track down and seek revenge on the doctor (Levene) responsible for his being locked up.  He manages to board a bus for Terminal City but begins to attract some unwanted attention due to his odd behavior.

When the bus pulls into a station for a brief rest stop Wyckoff steals the driver's pistol (when the driver leaves the bus unattended with the pistol stuck in the sun visor).  When the driver confronts him about it, he shoots him down in cold blood  and manages to slip away in the confusion.  Wyckoff locates the residence of the psychiatrist responsible for having him committed.  But when he finds he's not at home he becomes increasingly more agitated.   While waiting for the doctor to return the psychopath takes refuge in a bar down the street.  From this vantage point the killer can see the doctor's home and be ready for him when he returns.

The bar itself is a home for quite a cast of characters. There's a barfly (Field) whose just out to drink and have a good time, an older man (Ames) who tries in vane to sweet talk a younger woman (King) into running away with him, a disgruntled newspaper reporter (James Bell), a grumpy bartender (Conrad), and a young man (Keefe Brasselle) who works at the bar who's anxiously awaiting news of the birth of his first child.

When the police broadcast a television bulletin about the killing of the bus driver and a description of the killer, the bartender who was the only one to notice the broadcast unsuccessfully tries to call the police, and the psycho ends up locking the door and holding everyone in the bar hostage.  For the remainder of the film the bar patrons try to reason with the killer.  And the police outside try to negotiate for the hostage's release.

As in any well put together noir film the tension builds and builds as the killer gives the police an ultimatum -- locate and deliver the doctor to the bar within twenty-five minutes or the hostages die.  In the meantime, the crowd gathers outside on the street and the frenzy grows as the local media outlet broadcasts events as they happen trying to capitalize on the situation unfolding before them (reminiscent of Ace In The Hole, 1951).

There are quite a few exchanges between Dr. Farnum and police captain Kiever (Richard Rober) mostly because the captain believes that Wyckoff should have received the death penalty for a previous murder instead of of being institutionalized.  Dr. Farnum finds he must make a tough choice -- keep his distance as ordered by the police chief and let the cops continue to negotiate with the killer, or sacrifice himself and face the the killer in an attempt to free hostages.

Overall I thought this was a pretty good film, especially for one of MGM's first B-movie attempts.  It's not exactly an edge-of-your-seat, nail-biter, but it has some pretty tense moments mostly because of the Wyckoff character's unpredictable nature.  Thompson plays the part very well exuding lots of sweat while remaining disturbingly calm with a noticeable tinge of nervousness below the surface.  The interaction amongst the patrons in the bar, and the exchanges between the hostages and the killer during the standoff help to keep the film moving along.  With a running time of about 75 minutes it's not too tough to sit through.

I enjoyed the portrayal of the broadcasting company's (WKYL?) attempt to cover the story for one of the newest media inventions of the time - the television.  Even the bar has a large flatscreen television ("fourteen-hundred bucks installed, push-button picture control, reflected image, 3x4 foot screen").  That "fourteen-hundred bucks" would probably equal about ten thousand dollars today.

This is a pretty good noir film with an interesting twist at the end.  Great cinematography by Paul Vogel keeps all the visuals crystal clear while still preserving the dark foreboding noir world that so many us of have come to love.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Round Six of Classic Film: Six Degrees of Separation

Sorry about the hold up in the game kids, but I've been experiencing some technical difficulties.

But without any further delay (hopefully) here we go ...

Kim over at 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die started Round Six (or was it Seven) of Classic Film: Six Degrees of Separation.  She chose Gloria Swanson and Catherine Deneuve to be connected in this round.

My buddy Page over at My Love of Old Hollywood chose Gloria Swanson who was in Sadie Thompson (1928) with Lionel Barrymore and then passed the game on to me.

So I'm going to choose Lionel Barrymore who was in You Can't Take It With You (1938) with James Stewart.

And now I'll pass the game on over to Monty at All Good Things who, unlike me, is always paying attention.  Good luck Monty and on with the game.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)

Superman and the Mole-Men stars George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jeff Corey, and Walter Reed.   It was released by Lippert Pictures Inc., produced by Barney A. Sarecky, directed by Lee Sholem, and the screenplay was written by Robert Maxwell.  Superman "fights his never-ending fight against the forces of evil" as he masquerades as Clark Kent "a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper".  And Reeves looks every bit the part of Superman, "the valiant defender of truth, justice, and the American way" as he strikes a  patriotic pose with cape and 48 star flag waving in the breeze behind him as the intro to the feature begins.

The story takes place in the small town of Silsby, population 1430, and "home of the world's deepest oil well".  As reporters Clark Kent (Reeves) and Lois Lane (Coates) arrive the oil workers are actually abandoning the rig after drilling down to a depth of 32,740 feet, about six miles down.  Right away the two reporters smell a story brewing and decide to stick around and see what happens.  Later on that evening two small creatures emerge from the drill shaft from deep in the bowels of the Earth and begin to explore the surrounding area and then make their way into town where they're not exactly welcomed with open arms.  Lois catches a glimpse of the creatures and cuts loose with a scream that would make Fay Wray jealous (well, maybe not jealous, but it was a pretty good scream).

Corrigan (Reed) the foreman of the drilling crew fills Kent in as to why he's discontinuing the operation.  He explains to Clark that soil samples were taken from various depths as the crew was drilling and he happened to notice that the samples emitted an eerie glow and was afraid that if the drilling continued it would put the men in danger.  He said "that at 32,600 feet the drill broke through and seemed to be hanging in mid-air as if they'd gone through the last solid layer of the Earth".  Some microscopic life forms were also found at that depth bringing Kent to the conclusion that "there may be other forms of life down there that are more highly developed".  As the two men leave for town they notice that everything the creatures touched had the same strange glow as the soil samples, making them think that the visitors might be radioactive.

The little creatures visit a young girl and then get scared off by the mother's screams (this was a  pretty good scream too).  This in turn gets the townsfolk stirred up because they think that the little invaders were trying to hurt the girl.  One of the residents Luke Benson (Jeff Corey), a local troublemaker,  takes charge and organizes an armed mob that begin searching the town looking for the intruders.  When one of the creatures is shot, the other escapes after a very long chase around the outskirts of town.  He returns to the drilling area and retreats down the shaft only to return with more of the creatures, who this time bring with them a deadly weapon and are ready to do battle with the lynch mob and the town.  It's up to Superman to take control of the situation, take on the mob, and send the monsters back where they belong.

Like many of the first season episodes this "feature" has a very dark and gritty overtone.  Almost to the point of being geared for a more adult audience than to the younger folks who would have listened to the Superman radio shows and who would have frequented the Superman serials starring Kirk Alyn that were shown in the theaters.  In this feature the Lois Lane character is more of a tough, hardcore news reporter than the dizzy, clumsy female found in the previous versions of Superman.  Here we see that Lane has no problem kicking or throwing a punch or two to try to get herself out of a jam.  Same thing goes for Clark Kent.  Reeves portrays Kent as more of a noirish type hard-as-nails newspaper man than the bumbling and borderline goofball roles of his predecessors.  The Superman character is a little more stern and no-nonsense.  Alyn was kind of tough as "the man of steel" in the 40's (check out my previous post here if you haven't already read it), but I think Reeves has him beat hands down, at least in the earlier episodes of the series.  I hadn't watched this in a while and as it started I was thinking to myself, how could they forget to list Jack Larson in the credits.  Larson of course starred as Jimmy Olsen in the rest of the series but he actually doesn't appear in this feature.

Except for one brief and partially animated flying scene Superman is pretty much grounded except for the quick takeoff and landing sequences.  We don't actually see Superman soaring through the air as we see in the later episodes.  And these takeoff and landing clips seem to utilize wires or a sort of harness to get Reeves into the air and back on the ground instead of the more familiar springboard that sent him flying out of a window or through a doorway.  The wire special effects are pretty good as they allow Superman to rise up into the air leaving a little swirling vortex of papers and dust in his wake.  There is one really well filmed scene (probably some sort of crane shot) from Superman's point of view looking down as he flies over and ahead of the armed mob.  I would have liked to have seen more views from that perspective.

The creature costumes are low budget all the way with the pretty obvious bald-cap headpieces and furry suits with a visible zipper up the back.  One chase scene where one of the creatures is being pursued across the countryside is a little dragged out, but other than that there's some pretty good action and drama.  With a running time of 58 minutes I guess it's kind of a stretch to call this a full length feature.  Later on it was made into a two-part episode titled The Unknown People.

In some of the DVD commentaries Superman: Serial to Cereal author Gary Grossman stated that "The Adventures of Superman television series began with Superman and the Mole-Men, which was originally made to promote the TV show".  DC Comics historian Allan Asherman says that "what writer Robert Maxwell wanted was an extension of the Superman radio show".  And Leonard Maltin mirrored my sentiments exactly.  When I hear the name Superman, the first person I think of is George Reeves.

A great feature that paved the way for a great television series that followed.  But, I'm pretty sure all you kids already knew that ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

7X7 Link Award

I'm not really big on awards and such things, but it's nice to be recognized by folks who read your work. After all, a certain amount of time and effort is involved in putting up a half-way decent blog post. So anyway, I'll continue to do my best and hopefully people will keep stopping by my page.  As for the questions ...

One thing that no one knows about me -- I secretly LOVE Disco music (I guess it's not a secret anymore!)

Most Beautiful Piece --  Beautiful??? I think I'll pass on this one.

Most Helpful Piece --  Helpful???  Pass ...  (why am I getting this award again) LOL

Most Popular Piece --  I think my post on The Thing From Another World had the most page views, probably due to the recently released remake.  Although I didn't know anything about the new film at the time, honest ...

Most Controversial Piece -- I think my Song Of The South post might have been the most controversial. I didn't get any blog postings on it, but I did get quite a few emails after the fact.

Most Underrated Piece --  Hmmmm ...  See "Most Helpful", and "Most Beautiful" ...

Most Pride-Worthy Piece -- Probably my last post on Scarface (1932) because it marked my one year of blogging.

As far as nominating 7 more blogs, I don't think I can single out 7 of the many blogs that I enjoy reading.  So what I want to do is recognize all the admins of the CMBA for all their hard work keeping all of the rest of us in line ...  Congrats kids!!! ...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Scarface (1932)

First of all, I'd like to say that this past week marked the first anniversary of my first blog posting. I'd like to thank everyone who has visited my little corner of the Internet, and also thank everyone for their support, kind words, and comments. It's been a lot of fun and hopefully, like a fine wine, the blog has gotten better with age. I'm looking forward to continuing for as long as I can. So now that I've bored you kids with this long-winded sentimentalism, let's start the next year off with a rousing gangster film.

Scarface stars Paul Muni, George Raft, Boris Karloff, Ann Dvorak, and Karen Morley.  The film was released by United Artists and based on the novel by Armitage Trail.  The film was directed by Howard Hawks, produced by Howard Hughes and the screenplay was written by Ben Hecht.

The overall mood of the film is very dark as it chronicles the violent rise, and eventual fall, of a Capone-like Chicago gangster.  The story begins as gang boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) persuades rival gangster Tony Camonte (Muni) to make a hit on his own boss, Big Louie Costillo (Harry J. Vejar), who he's supposed to be protecting.  Tony is seen only in shadow and silhouette and happily whistling a tune as he calmly walks up to Big Louie and "plugs him" several times.  The scene briefly reminded me of the Peter Lorre character in "M" (1931) who whistles while he stalks his victims.  In return Lovo promises Tony "a piece of the action" and he also becomes Johnny's second in command.  Camonte is cocky and vicious, sometimes humorous, but most of the time a psychotic thug who lives by only one rule -- "Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it".

We're officially introduced to the Camonte character and his sidekick Guino "Little Boy" Rinaldo (Raft) as the police round up suspects in the Costillo murder case.  We see Camonte's total disrespect for the law when he strikes a match on the sergeant's badge to light a cigarette.  He kills and strong arms his way up the criminal ladder even making a play for Lovo's "girlfriend" Poppy (Morley) who's had her eye on Tony as well.  Success has its drawbacks and a rival gangster named Gaffney (Karloff) plans a hit on Camonte to prevent him from taking over any more territory.

 Gaffney's planning to use a new "persuader" to cut Tony down to size -- a submachine gun that fires "three hundred slugs a minute". The gangs exchange hits and the war between the rivals escalates. Tony catches his sister (Dvorak) with his sidekick "Little Boy" which gives the ending of the film a little unexpected twist. I actually viewed the alternate ending for the film and both endings were both pretty good so it's a toss up for me as to which one was better. Let me just say that justice was served, but in two different ways.

This film actually excels at proving the point that I've tried to make on quite a few occasions, that film makers can get their message across without the need of excessive graphic and gratuitous violence and language.  The film is violent but pretty tame compared to today's standards.  Some viewers believe there's some sort of incestuous affair between Tony and his sister Cesca.  I don't really see it that way.  I see it more as an immigrant family's siblings trying to keep each other safe in a new land.  Tony's affection for his sister does seem a little extreme, but I personally don't see anything that hints at incest.

Muni was incredible and really seemed to be enjoying himself, while Dvorak and Morley are both beautiful and great supporting players.  George Raft looks very comfortable in the type of role he would play many more times.  Karloff was pretty good and looked the part, but his voice just didn't seem to fit.  Every time I heard Karloff's voice I thought "horror" not "gangster".  Typecast?  Yeah ...  pretty much.  He was just really good in horror films.  Karloff appeared in Scarface only one year after his role as "The Monster" in Frankenstein (1931).

According to TCM's film oracle Robert Osborne, the film is of course based on the legendary crime boss of the day Al Capone.  When the film started production a couple of Capone's "associates" visited writer Ben Hecht and asked him if he "really thought it was wise to write a script about Capone". Hecht being a newspaper man from Chicago wasn't intimidated by the henchmen and actually convinced them to become consultants.  The creators of the film also had difficulty getting past the censors because of the violence, and the censorship boards thought that the film "glorified gangsters" (when in fact it was supposed to be an anti-gangster film) and they demanded several changes including the alternate ending.  Howard Hughes who had put a lot of his own money into the film ended up releasing it in states where the censors were a little more lenient.   The result -- very long lines at the box office.

Excellent film, don't miss it ...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Outer Limits - Season One, Episode Twenty-Nine - A Feasibility Study - Original Air Date, April 13, 1964

"There is nothing wrong with your television set ..."

I was pretty certain I had seen every original Outer Limits episode, but for some reason this title didn't bring any images to mind.  But I do have to admit that this is one of the creepiest episodes of The Outer Limits that I've seen.  This episode stars Sam Wanamaker, Phyllis Love, Joyce Van Patten and David Opatoshu.  It's produced and written by Joseph Stefano and directed by Byron Haskin, with music by Dominic Frontiere.

The story begins as an alien spaceship enters the Earth's orbit and teleports an entire neighborhood to the alien's home planet "Luminos" in order to conduct an experiment.  The "Luminoids" are seeking new civilizations to serve as slave labor for their planet.  If the experiment is successful, the entire population of the planet is doomed to be enslaved.

Ralph Cashman (Opatoshu) starts his day with a shot of booze and half a pretzel, and it's off to the office (I think it's actually Sunday) to put in a few hours of work.  After stepping outside for the morning paper, his wife Rhea (Van Patten) tells him about a strange mist outside.  What they don't know is that the mysterious mist and the ominous cloud filled sky that blocks out most of the sunlight conceal strange beings from another planet who are observing the humans. 

Ralph notices his neighbor, Dr. Simon Holm (Wanamaker), having some car trouble and offers to give him a ride into town and drop him off at church.  Ralph sends his wife over to check out the engine problem ("She's one of those housewives who can fix anything") and she quickly discovers the reason.  Ralph drops Holm off and drives into the mist but stops when the visibility becomes too bad to continue.  And in true classic sci-fi style, when things start to go wrong, instead of staying in the relative safety of the vehicle he exits the auto and stumbles into the choking cloud to be pursued by the alien creatures.

When Simon changes his mind about going to church and returns to his house and his wife Andrea (Love), they encounter one of the strange beings.  After realizing what's happening the humans gather together in a church to make a final stand against the alien threat.

With special effects similar to those of a low budget sci-fi film (including a spaceship that looks like a salt shaker on steroids), but probably very costly for a television series at that time, the sets and costumes though relatively cheap looking are very effective.  The director's use of lighting and camera angles give the episode a kind of nightmarish quality that sticks with you.

Lots of people try to compare The Outer Limits with The Twilight Zone, and some prefer one over the other.  I sat here for a while and tried to decide which I liked better and it's really a tough call.  I can't really say one series is better than the other.  They both have some remarkable episodes.  The Outer Limits has some stand-out episodes like The Sixth Finger,  I, Robot and The Zanti Misfits.  While The Twilight Zone has classic episodes like The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, The Shelter, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.  And both series have a few episodes that maybe just aren't as fun or entertaining to watch (I'm trying to refrain from using the word bad because I don't think either series has any really bad episodes).  Both have incredible writers and storylines and both have pretty good special effects.  Please feel free to leave some comments and let me know which series you prefer, and the titles of some of your favorite episodes ...

"Feasibility study ended ...  Abduction of human race ? ..."  You'll have to watch and find out.

Control of your viewing device has now been returned to you ...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Dick Van Dyke Show - The Sick Boy and the Sitter - Season One, Episode One - First Aired, October 3, 1961

You can see the chemistry, you can feel it, and it just gets better and better.  The Dick Van Dyke Show is quite possibly one of the best television sitcoms ever ...  Ever !!! ...  And I say this with no qualms or trepidations. 

This episode stars Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Matthews, and Richard Deacon, and was written by Carl Reiner, directed by Sheldon Leonard, with makeup by Lee Greenway (The Andy Griffith Show).  With a lineup like that, how can you go wrong?

The show begins as Ritchie (Matthews) gets sent home from a neighbor's house when one of his little friends comes down with a slight fever.  Laura being the loving mother that she is becomes concerned and decides to call a doctor.  In the meantime, Rob (Van Dyke) is busy at work with Sally (Marie) and Buddy (Amsterdam) trying to come up with an ending to the week's show.

It's a typical day at the office as the trio bounce jokes off one another and Buddy exchanges insults with the show's producer Mel Cooley (Deacon).  The jokes that the staff dismiss as being "not funny" are actually some of the funniest of the episode.  Mel invites the staff to a fancy dinner party at the Alan Brady residence.   Rob accepts the invitation not knowing what's in store for him when he gets home.

When Rob does get home and tells Laura about the party, he finds out that Ritchie is sick and now Rob is torn between his responsibility to his job and being a responsible parent, with Laura trying to emphasize the latter.  The two negotiate a deal, call the girl next door over to babysit, and it's off to Alan Brady's house for the party.  After a while when Rob and Laura attempt to leave the party, Mel gets Rob, Sally, and Buddy to entertain the guests while Alan is tied up with a phone call.  Needless to say Laura is not pleased and just wants to get home to her sick child.

Is it just me, or does everyone else seem to get drawn into the show and forget that they're actually watching a sitcom?  The characters just seem so real and comfortable with each other.  It's not often that you find a show that's has that kind of chemistry right from the first episode.  Usually it takes a few shows for the cast to build up a good head of steam.
  And as far as jokes are concerned, there are lots of them.  They come at you almost as fast as they do in a Marx Brothers film.  While you're busy laughing at one joke a couple more might sneak by you.  I think every episode of every season is worth watching (even The Twizzle, S1, Ep23).

Just about every cast member either had or continued to have a very successful career on stage, in film, or on television.

This is just more great classic TV entertainment.  They really don't make them like this anymore.