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Archive for May, 2018

With friend and colleague Broadway Bob at White House

by Sam Juliano

The second annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival is one week away, and Jamie Uhler, the project’s founder will again be launching the noble enterprise.  A day-by-day schedule has been sent out to the participating writers, who will follow the guidelines that defined last year’s festival.  The AFOFF will pre-empt the Greatest Television Series Countdown Part 2 for the second time, but that show will resume after the ten day tribute to our late beloved mentor has concluded.  Speaking of the television countdown kudos to all the writers, who again have risen to the challenge with superlative essays, and a special tip of the cap to the indomitable television scholar Adam Ferenz, who has brought quality and prolific attendance to a project I feel I have personally let down.  Brian Wilson, Pierre de Plume, Brandie Ashe, Stephen Mullen, John Greco, Dennis Polifroni, Robert Hornak, Lucille Juliano, Jon Warner, Patricia Perry, Benjamin Hufbauer and Samuel Juliano IV have all brought magisterial work to make the project fly.

I served as a chaperon for the annual Washington D.C. 8th Grade Field trip for the sixth consecutive year from Wednesday through Friday and though this was a rain-soaked affair we had a fabulous time walking many miles taking in the usual attractions and memorials. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

This series, based on the book and film of the same name, concerned the travails of a group of law students at an Ivy-League school, as they labored to prove themselves in their chosen profession, and to please the officious professor Kingsfield, played by John Houseman, who reprised his Oscar-winning role from the film. Starting out on CBS, the series ran for one season there, during the 1978-79 season, roughly covering the same material as the book and film, but with a slight emphasis on the lives of the characters, outside the classroom. When the series was picked up by Showtime, four years later, it became even more of an ensemble and balanced the stories between classroom and private concerns. The content was only slightly riskier than that, by then, starting to be found on network series in such programs as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. The series would end in 1986.

This is a series that even for when it arrived, was highly unusually. Always laconic, the series had rhythms seldom seen on American broadcast television. It also had a cast that was not traditionally “handsome” or “pretty” though nothing as extreme as what would be seen in much later programs like Homicide: Life on the Street. It was this lack of convention that made it a difficult series to pin down. Somewhat of a high concept, the series had a defined end-graduation from school. This was also a series which managed to cast both for and against type, unafraid to show people who you could believe might become lawyers, from the unconventional James Hart, who passes for the series lead, to the slightly schlubby Bell, who ends up one of Hart’s better friends.

Yet, the series never shirked from showing how school life impacted the students. The anxiety, the boredom, the ways sex and substances filled the hours between courses and occasionally fueled activities in and out of the classroom. Never prurient, nor prudish, the series was remarkably matter of fact in its approach to all things. It also followed a remarkably consistent path for its characters, from eager students, to “battle” tested new attorneys, ready to defend or prosecute. Sadly, the series Showtime run was long unavailable, and even now, only the first three seasons are on dvd. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The characters on Green Acres are distinctly cartoonish.  Each was amplified, stretched, exaggerated and subject to slapstick punishment at any moment.  The element of surprise was sometimes delightfully original, though of course like all shows re-runs demanded a different sense of appreciation.    Green Acres showcased contractions like the Heney Egg-Layin’ Inducing Machine, bringing to mind the Wile E. Coyote Acme catalog.  The characters’ voices were as diverse as Mel Blanc’s repetoire, and the background scenery was tongue-in-cheek, a parody recalling Fred and Wilma Flinstone’s home in Bedrock.

The real charm in Green Acres for many were the supporting characters.  Some might opine it is the chemistry between Oliver and Lisa, on par with George and Gracie, albeit with a bit more sophisticated stupidity.  The townspeople were probably even more absurdly animated than Oliver and Lisa and were played straight.  As to the imaginative and colorful sets, the show was a breath of fresh air at a time when Dick Van Dyke and Gomez Addams were grey.  The pacing was also on par with cartoon speed, and coming as it did from the studio that produced Mister Ed.

The Green Acres years were 1965-1971 located at Stage 5 at general Service, where 170 half-hour episodes were put on film.  They were shot on 35mm film with a single camera, no videotape, no live audience, and because of Eva Gabor’s incidence it was a closed set much of the time.  Filing was also out of sequence.  The initial peak into the world of Oliver Wendell Douglas came by way of a narrated prologue, with host John Daly acting as newscaster, providing a formal introduction to the premise.  This was of course preceded by the opening sequence and theme song.  Cleveland Emory rightly called the series a hybrid of The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, two other shows with added laugh tracks.  Of course Green Acres was never made to be taken seriously.

 

more to come.

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1964/1970/1977/1985/1991/1998/2005 715m) DVD1/2

Aka: 7 Up, 7 Plus 7, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up

Give me the child for seven years and I shall show you the man

p Michael Apted, Derek Granger, Margaret Bottomley, Steve Morrison, Ruth Pitt, Clair Lewis, Bill Jones, Stephen Lambert d Paul Almond, Michael Apted narrated by Derek Cooper, Wilfrid Thomas, Michael Apted,

Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Simon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk, Tony Walker, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon,

The beginnings were humble, a programme in the weekly TV current affairs show World in Action which wanted to take a look at the executives and shop stewards of the year 2000 by looking at a group of seven year olds. They were taken from a vast range of backgrounds, from highly upper class prep schools to urban primary schools in London and Liverpool, and even to a one room school in the Yorkshire Dales. There was only meant to be one film, but through Michael Apted it became a life’s commitment for both him and his subjects. Every seven years Apted would take a few months out to catch up with them, and filming those who agreed to be filmed.

There is a strange irony that lay at the heart of the show. In looking ahead to the people of 2000, what 7 Up actually did was point the way to the reality TV obsessions of the new millennium. Here was reality TV before the term was invented, and there’s no doubt that for the subjects it has been a double edge sword, priceless as a record, a testimony, a family album on film for posterity, but agonising in its invasions of privacy and in dredging up events in their pasts they would perhaps like to draw a line under. Apted’s intentions are undeniably honourable and he must be commended for his incredible desire to see his baby through, taking time off from his movie career to return to his Granada home every seven years, but one senses a change, a shift in focus of the series in the recent updates. It was once a political notion to see what advantages an upper-class upbringing and education afforded some children. Though the class system remains, the surety of people’s futures does not, and thus the series has, to these eyes, become more interesting as a study of people, of individual concerns, frailties and aspirations, and coming to see whether they realize them or fall short. It even at times changes Apted, and he’s forced to come to terms with the fact that he may not be presenting these people as they are, but as he wants to see them. What we thus get is an enterprise as much uplifting as it is dispiriting, and in coming to realize perhaps the very futility and transience of life itself. As one of our protagonists observes, they just want to know they’ve “left some sort of print, rather than just live out my life.”

One was reminded of Tim’s final words to camera in The Office; “life isn’t about endings, is it? It’s a series of moments…if you turn the camera off, it’s not an ending is it? I’m still here. My life is not over. Come back here in ten years. See how I’m doing then.” That in essence is exactly what 7 Up did. All the names listed above as ‘cast’ members deserve our plaudits, and yet it’s one everyone remembers. Just as in tapestry novels or plays adapted for TV, there’s always one who falls on hard times, and Up’s Charles Stringham, Sebastian Flyte, call him what you will, is Neil Hughes. His descent to homelessness and depression was literally heartbreaking. So imagine my surprise when, only yesterday, I sat down on a train to Blackpool and found Neil diagonally opposite. I didn’t bother him; he’d doubtless had people staring and thinking “aren’t you?…” all his adult life. He looked fidgety, melancholy, fingering in his pocket for a half-eaten Mars bar, taking only one bite before replacing it. I got up to get off ten minutes later without saying a word, but as I passed him, while he was looking out of the window and not even noticing I was even there, I thought to myself “you’re an inspiration.” You can keep your directors and stars on the red carpet, none of them would be travelling standard class. I’d seen a real hero, and that was more than enough for me. TV has never been the same since 7 Up.

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2001 701m) DVD1/2

We few, we happy few…

p Mary Richards, Erik Bork, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg d Mikael Salomon, David Leland, Richard Loncraine, Phil Alden Robinson, David Frankel, Tom Hanks, Tony To, David Nutter w E.Max Frye, Tom Hanks, Graham Yost, Bruce C.McKenna, Erik Jendresen, Erik Bork book Stephen E.Ambrose ph Remi Adefarasin, Joel J.Ransom ed Oral Norrie Ottey, Billy Fox, John Richards, Frances Parker m Michael Kamen art Anthony Pratt cos Anna Sheppard spc Joss Williams, Angus Bickerton, Mat Beck

Damian Lewis (Maj.Richard D.Winters), Ron Livingston (Capt.Lewis Nixon), Kirk Acevado (SSgt.Joseph Toye), Donnie Wahlberg (2nd Lt.C.Carwood Lipton), Matthew Settle (Capt.Ronald Spiers), Rick Warden (1st Lt.Harry Welsh). Frank John Hughes (Ssgt.William ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere), David Schwimmer (Capt.Herbert Sobel), Michael Cudlitz (Sgt.Denver Bull Randleman), Marc Warren (Pvt.Albert Blithe), Colin Hanks (2nd Lt.Henry Jones), Dale Dye (Col.Robert Sink), Scott Grimes (TSgt Donald Malarkey), Dexter Fletcher (SSgt John Martin), Rick Gomez (Sgt.George Luz), Nolan Hemmings (Sgt.Charles ‘Chuck’ Grant), James McAvoy (Pvt.James Miller), Simon Pegg (1st Sgt.William Evans), Tom Hanks (British officer),

The Shakespearean title reference to this magnificent series could hardly be better chosen. Three years after the release of his over-praised Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg produced this epic adaptation of Stephen Ambrose’s best-selling true story. The tale of Easy Company, in the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, from their days training in late 1943, through Normandy, Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, the invasion of Germany, the liberation of the death camps and the final infiltration of Berchtesgarten.

On one hand the series is undoubtedly a conventional one, and memories of many films and series gone by flood back to the memory. A simple tale of one company of soldiers through the last eighteen months of the war and the following twelve, is told over ten episodes detailing different events during the conflict, and detailing how various men died or were affected by what they saw. However, the fact that everything we see actually happened – a feeling grasped from the first moment with each episode being begun with talk from the real-life veterans – gives it its own sense of not just gravitas but immediacy. To be perfectly honest, Saving Private Ryan is a total embarrassment in comparison, a strictly routine film that trivializes everything it touches.

Just take the individual factors that contributed to the series’ success; the use of such talented directors as Richard (Richard III) Loncraine and Phil Alden (Field of Dreams) Robinson; the magnificent career-best score from the late Michael Kamen (who even managed to perfectly incorporate several popular and classical themes, none more so than a sublime use of Purcell during the liberation of the death camp in episode 9), as inspirational as so many similar themes are saccharine; magnificent designs from unsung master Anthony Pratt (many of them recreated on 1,100-plus acres of an airfield in Hertfordshire). Not to mention the cast, heroes to a man; Fletcher, Wahlberg, Settle, Gomez, Acevado, Cudlitz, Grimes and Hughes were all merely perfect, Livingston never better than as Lewis Nixon, and superb cameos from a very un-Friends Schwimmer and the ever-excellent Warren. At its heart, though, as he was heart of the company, is Lewis, as the loyal, heroic Dick Winters, exhibiting the same sort of integral integrity that once was the realm of Gary Cooper, and like many Englishmen in the cast, never betraying his Anglo-origins. Yet this is not about heroes, and not about nationalism, for in many ways the series itself, and the men who form its core set of characters, are encapsulated in the farewell speech delivered by a German general to his surrendered troops. Yet the last word is saved for one of the real-life veterans who recounts on how he was asked by his grandson whether he was a hero in the war and he replied “no…but I served in a company of heroes.” No-one who saw Band of Brothers would ever argue.

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gun

By Stephen Mullen

Gunsmoke was the first and last – the first (or almost the first) western for grownups on TV; and very nearly the last western of any kind of TV. Lasting 20 years will do that – you’re first, you outlast your peers, and sometimes your entire genre. When it came on TV, it led to a flood of similar shows – The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, many others – that shared its grown up approach the western, and its artistic values, and serving, as it did, as a launching ground for many significant actors and directors. It stayed on TV all those years because it was a very fine show – begun as a serious show, and taken seriously, with quality writing, a fantastic cast, solid production values, and consistently fine craft. They brought in first rate guest stars, they brought in first rate directors, they gave them first rate scripts – 635 episodes worth (though I suppose not all 635 were first rate; I can point you to some stinkers) – it changed through the years, but it was always watchable.

I watched it, of course, when I was a kid, both the reruns and the new ones. I didn’t care if it had been on forever; I didn’t really know it had been on that long until people started talking about it. I never saw any of the black and white shows until a long time after – they weren’t the ones in reruns. It didn’t matter. It was probably my favorite show when I was a kid, maybe right up to the time it went off the air, maybe beyond. (And not just the show: I read the books too – over and over, in fact; I liked Gunsmoke.) I liked all westerns – Gunsmoke and Bonanza and Big Valley, especially – but even then, I could tell Gunsmoke had an edge on them. I could tell it was more serious – it had action and excitement, good guys and bad guys, but it had characters too, who had depth, and breadth. More than that, maybe (since Bonanza and Big Valley were also strong on character), it had stories that were deeper and smarter than those other shows. I couldn’t have described the difference then, and barely can now, but it’s there – maybe it had something to do with the stakes – on Gunsmoke things seemed to matter a bit more.

It was designed that way. It was created for radio, and conceived as a hard-boiled western, explicitly reminiscent of Raymond Chandler (inspired by the Philip Marlowe radio show, in fact) – you can hear it in the early shows. Robbery, murder, lynch mobs, venal newspapermen gloating about circulation and Doc Adams angling for more autopsies, Matt accused of having an affair, and an innocent little boy who turns out to be the killer, and William Conrad as Dillon narrating and ruminating (in the best Raymond Chandler style) about how awful human beings really are. And that’s just the first episode! (Here it is, on YouTube: “Billy the Kid”). The darkness didn’t entirely carry over to the TV version, a couple years later – but there’s plenty of it there. The first show has Matt soliloquizing on Boot Hill about the “Gomorrah of the Plains”, keeps a good dose of his bitterness and sarcasm, and his strong sense of isolation (walking away alone as he does), in a story with a cold blooded killer, who just wants to be left alone. (You can see it here: “Matt Gets It”, complete with John Wayne telling the audience that this show was going to last a while.) Chandler’s influence is still there – Matt loses a gun fight in that first show, and when he recovers, has to go back to try again – that’s pretty much standard procedure for a Hammett or Chandler character. And Matt has to outsmart the gunslinger – another bit you see in those classic detective stories. Marlowe would be proud.

As the show evolved, some of that fell away. Even on the radio, the characters had softened – Doc Adams, say, is a pretty nasty piece of work in those early shows. The ensemble, the relationships among the characters became more important, and anchored the show through those 20 years – but it still maintained the grown up approach. The material is dark, full of violence and cruelty, but its maturity is also in the complexity of the characters, both good guys and bad guys. Heroes fail – they can be selfish and unpleasant like the doctor sometimes, physically damaged like Chester, morally compromised like Miss Kitty might be. And the villains are seldom simplistic – they have reasons for what they do; they can be charming, some can be plaintive. If someone starts threatening bar girls, you can bet he lost a daughter or granddaughter somewhere along the line. Many episodes work in multiple foils for Matt Dillon, putting him between a couple hard bitten killers, or a couple aggrieved families – everyone with their reasons. And in those early shows, he fails as often as not – at least, fails to stop other people from massacring each other, or ends up killing people he tried very hard not to have to kill. He’s there to keep the peace, but there isn’t a lot of peace to keep.

This aspect is more pronounced in the early years – by the end, Matt and his friends were pretty well ascended to godhood, the villains tended to be a bit more simplistic, and the guest stars were usually a bit more obviously on the good or evil side. But it never went away completely. It evolved out of the noirish style of the early shows, into something else, though something still rooted in adult problems and complex behavior. The evolotution is reflected in Matt himself – the angry, brooding, tarnished hero of the radio show and early TV gave way to a stoic, strong hero, one who passes through the mire without being soiled. That’s not criticism – it’s just different, more Gary Cooper, less Bogie, if that makes sense. That element took over pretty quickly, I suppose – looking at James Arness, you couldn’t quite picture him as anything other than a strong silent type – if he had stayed bitter and cracked, he would have been terrifying – John Wayne in The Searchers, maybe, something more disturbing than any villain could be. This change didn’t hurt the show – it made Matt into a central hub for the rest of the show to revolve around. It made the dynamics of the cast, the strengths of the guest stars, and the stories themselves shine, with Dillon as anchor, and often as a kind of light that illuminates the nature of others.

doc

Gunsmoke lasted a long time, surviving many changes to the technology and form of television. It moved from radio to TV, first as a half hour show, later as an hour. In the mid-60s, it switched to color. It changed through the years, but generally maintained its quality – though it’s hard to miss how much better it was earlier. That’s something I learned late – the color shows were the ones in syndication, in the early 70s, and onward – that’s what I saw when I was 10, what I watched now and then through the 80s and 90s – it’s what I knew. They were fine shows – they made me think I had good taste when I was 10… But then I saw the black and white episodes. They were a revelation. The half hour shows are superb – tight, efficient little morality plays that never really preach, great looking, with sharp, memorable characters, and even then, a cool mix of action, drama, comedy. They were great shows – but I think the show really blossomed with the hour long format.

They had room. Even now, watching the half hour shows, they can go by a bit too quickly – they don’t get the chance to linger and develop – and it’s the lingering and development that made Gunsmoke so good. The hour long episodes have everything: well developed stories, with characters who have time to evolve in the course of the show, to work out multiple relationships. It feels as though every black and white hour long show I remember was some kind of trip – maybe those shows were aired more often; maybe they’re the ones I remember best. But there are good reasons why journeys are a staple of story telling (and most definitely of westerns) – a chance to put a number of characters in a situation and let it stew. Those shows end up being some of the best hour long shows ever made for TV.

haggens

The black and white episodes have another advantage – they look fantastic. The sets, costumes, props are all very well chosen – and in the black and white episodes,they look right. They look beat up, shabbier, dirtier; cabins and houses and street and fields look like hard places to live – they look real. The color shows lost some of this. Color, I suspect, shows up how clean the sets and clothes are; even artfully mistreated props, like Festus’ costumes, look a bit too artfully messed up. Did they get more conventional later? does black and white indicate grime and wear better? Maybe. But part of it, I think, is that the later shows fell out of step with western movies. The early Gunsmokes were contemporary with films like Anthony Mann’s westerns, Budd Boetticher’s, mature films by Hawks and Ford, classics like Shane and High Noon. TV couldn’t match the production values of top of the line films – but they could match their look. (And low budget westerns thrived in those days as well – filmmakers knew how to make westerns look good no matter what the budget.) But western films evolved between 1955 and 1970, evolved as much as any genre did. Content restrictions disappeared – you could show far more, and what seemed dark on TV in 1955 looked old fashioned next to The Wild Bunch or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Films brought in outside influences – Japanese films; European films. The style became more extreme; the look became grittier, grimier. Gunsmoke in the 70s didn’t look at all like contemporary westerns (at least not the best of them.) It’s a jarring effect: it makes everything, in the later shows, look clean, antiseptic, in ways the older ones never dd. By 1975, it was the last western on TV, maybe not that bad a show, but somehow it felt old, rote, even compared to what you expected to see in a western. And so it went, and that was that.

But it had a magnificent run. It set off a run of serious western shows; it has had an influence beyond. Matt Dillon is an icon – but so are others, particularly Doc. (I offer Star Trek’s Bones as evidence; heck – I could offer Brad Dourif, on Deadwood, riffing on Doc, maybe more the early radio Doc, but still.) The cast and characters of the show were, in fact, fantastic. Arness, Stone, Blake and both Dennis Weaver and Ken Curtis – great actors playing fascinating characters, that the writers seemed to understand. Coming off writing about Get Smart, a show that gave in to ratings desperation at the end, do you know how refreshing it is to see a male and female lead not ever get together? At least not marry (though Matt seemed to know where her room was located in the early shows…) – how many long running shows were able to keep that discipline? The main cast is matched by the guests, often as not – what a pleasure it is to watch someone like Warren Oates or Bruce Dern come in and chew up the scenery. Now – this was common enough practice in those days – a good many of those serious westerns did the same thing – brought on special guests; gave up and coming directors the chance to work. But they did it well on Gunsmoke.

saloon

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 © 2018 by James Clark

 As we begin to touch upon the films of Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), we have to bring to the mix our recent encounters with the puzzles of Kelly Reichardt as struck by that dark horse, Abbas Kiarostami. The worst step we could take here would be to situate the work at hand (and all the others by him) as one more mid-twentieth century filmic testimony that the foundations of world history cannot effectively support modern sensibility. Major experts of that persuasion—Robert Bresson (1901-1999), Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007), Federico Fellini (1920-1993) and Jacques Demy (1931-1990)—portray diverse investigators coming upon dead ends, their endeavors amounting to stark confusion. Amongst the artists persevering with this matter at that time, dramatic bite and charm loom large. Bergman, it seems to me, finds that those focuses waylay discoveries which need to be entered upon. There is no doubt that whereas those 60’s renegades cited (and others not cited, in being only half-committed) were, to a man, experts of modes of cool, Bergman’s deliveries undercut that blithe wit, that optical chic, seeming to define skeptical contemporality.

One of the factors drawing me to begin this series with Through a Glass Darkly (1961)—the title being drawn from a biblical passage and thus further suspect in the eyes of the hasty cool—was its undertow of off-season Baltic Sea astringent sensuousness, quietly exploding the last-minute-buy fabulousness supposedly compromising any roster of self-assertive talking heads. (The marginalization of Lucy, the dog, in Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy [2008] and Lucy, the dog, in her Old Joy [2006] looks to what has been out there quite a while in the offerings of Bergman.) Much can be said about the staginess of Through a Glass Darkly, and the helmsman’s being as absorbed by stage theatre as by film work. But I think the case can be made that what at first blush seems ponderous is in fact a course of phenomena light as a feather and bidding to steal our heart away.

Whereas Reichardt’s River of Grass (1994) and Night Moves (2013) get around to an antithesis clashing with the derangement of the protagonists rather late in the proceedings, our film today leads with the better half, characteristically inflected. We have a pan-shot aerial-view of the sea in heavy mist, giving on to silvery, rolling waves which appear to be undergoing some form of coagulation. The progress of the flight culminates in shimmering waters and wafting white clouds. (The black and white format conspires in placing in relief the kinetic and resolved aspects.) Our first glimpse of the four protagonists follows that atmospheric proposal, in a most unusual way. The aerial perspective has come closer to the surface, enough to reveal the four of them wading ashore in a simulation of the evolution of Homo Sapiens, recalling the airward club in Space Odyssey. The happy patter of their beach vacation offers a sharp contrast to the pristine outset—a way of recognizing that human sentience tends to squander its comprehensive dimension. The four landward bathers present a holiday tone, one of the three men remarking that whatever strikes Karin’s fancy should be satisfied. Although the protocol slips from there, to (with a boat trip in the offing and chilly Swedish weather, “If Hemingway can do it, so can we…”), the point to absorb is that this is a family gathering very able to keep on the sunny side. There will be darkness soon—though the date and latitude afford a midnight sun—but not the kind of terminal collapse dominating the dialogue. Karin’s self-adoring husband, Martin, whom we will soon learn to be a self-important physician, and whom, while berating her father, David, a well-known novelist losing whatever magic he once commanded, proudly declares, “Fortunately, I’m not very complex,” characteristically underestimates the cocktail of destruction he and his friends represent. It is he who has concluded and acted by having her go through a stint of electric shock therapy—along the hysterical lines of his diagnosis of David (“You are a craven coward”)—that Karin’s malaise means schizophrenia and a future of helplessness, leading her, in the film’s first passages, to demonstrate her inconvenient equilibrium and joie de vivre. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

It would be difficult to fathom any baby boomer male identifying any television property seen with more regularity in the 60’s than the re-runs of The Adventures of Superman, which never left the air in those impressionable years, and for most was the superhero property that predated all the rest.  While arguably eclipsed in overall popularity by the mid-60’s camp classic Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward, there are many genre fans who preferred the way the crime dominated show played it straight and the never ending fascination for the lead actor George Reeve, whose controversial death at age 45 in 1959 has been the subject of continued theories and even a feature length film.  Even during Superman’s re-runs, many of us were as intrigued by the real life actor than we were by the two characters he so compellingly portrayed, one with the big S on his chest and the emblematic cape and the other a be-speckled, mild-mannered reporter, whose transformation was accomplished in minimalist terms that defied rational.  As kids we thought, heck if Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen never caught on why should we question the fantasy we wanted so much to believe.  And for the most ardent fans of the series, the first of the Reeves to play one of the most famous of all television and movie characters was the one remembered most fondly, the one who set the bar for all others, every bit as irreplaceable as Johnny Weissmuller, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in their most famous roles.

Still there were other players who help to forge the dramatic chemistry that made the series fly as high as its famed character when crisscrossing Metropolis to rescue those in peril.  As Clark Kent, Reeves was reserved to a fault, always absorbing taunts from gruff Daily Planet Editor Perry White, but always seemingly in the right place at the right time and able to wiggle out of every pickle, if often by seconds.  The smiling Kent seemed to derive plenty of satisfaction from knowing a secret nobody else does. Lois Lane had a crush on him, though her own character was played by two women who approached the role differently.  The spunky Phyllis Coates is no-nonsense and often tries her hand on beating back the bad guys.  She is basically humorless, but her replacement Noel Neill brought the missing ingredient with a great deal of warmth factored in.  As cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, Jack Larson’s naivete is campy and provides the show with some of its humorous elements. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The currently-running Greatest Television series countdown will break one more time on May 28th to accommodate the second annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival, which will run a little over a week, though some latecomers may alter the plans ever so slightly.  The awesome banner leading the site now was created by Jamie Uhler, and it remain until the end of the AFOFF in June.  At that point the television countdown will resume until its conclusion in mid-July.  There will be no further projects in 2018, meaning our great writers Jim Clark, J.D. Lafrance and Jared Dec will be basically running the show, with Yours Truly contributing here and there with some film reviews and the planned 2018 Caldecott children’s book run.  Further podcasts from Dec and Trevor Nigg may also materialize.

I will be heading down to Washington D.C. this week for the seventh consecutive year as a chaperone for the eight grade class trip, along with my close friend and teaching colleague Broadway Bob Eagleson and six other adults.  The trip runs from Wednesday morning till late Friday night and involves miles and miles of walking while visiting many memorials and landmarks around the capital. (more…)

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by Lucille Juliano

1313 Mockingbird Lane.  The address of one of the most funny “outside the box” families of 60s sitcoms.   A product of Universal Studios, the show was masterfully filmed in black and white to be modeled after the old monster movies.  The Munsters on the surface appears to be a “fish out of water” story where the family sees themselves as your average American family while the community at large has a completely different perspective on things.  In fact, that is precisely where much of the humor stems from.

But, The Munsters is much more than that.  Its writer/developers, Norm Lieberman and Ed Haas put the show’s characters into various situations that were absolutely hysterical and the physical comedy was outrageous.  Along with its talented team of writers, the casting for the show was phenomenal. Fred Gwynne (Herman) and Al Lewis (Grandpa) were a brilliant comedic team that have been likened to Laurel and Hardy and/or Abbott and Costello.  Yvonne DeCarlo as Lily was the shows center and kept the family grounded. It has been said that these three actors were irreplaceable and that the show never would have existed without them. The show’s set, a gothic Victorian house, to Grandpa’s lab to the Munster Koach were one home run after the other.

The Munsters were a different kind of family and that includes the family pets!  

(These descriptions were taken from “The Munsters – a trip down Mockingbird Lane” by Stephen Cox)

Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) — 150 years old, size 26C shoe, 7’ 3”,

steel bolts in neck, green complexion, flat head, ears don’t match, lantern jaw, lightning bolt on forehead, built in Germany by Dr. Frankenstein.

Works in a mortuary – Gateman, Goodbury, and Graves.

(more…)

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