Tuesday, September 01, 2015

SEPTEMBER WITH THE SUPER-HEROES

AH, SEPTOBER HAS DAWNED ON US -- CRISP AND CLEAN  --  AND WE ALL KNOW JUST WHAT THAT WILL MEAN.  Yep, it's time once again for those wonderful pages from the 1970s calendars by DC and Marvel.

Firstly we have the Mighty Thor and his hoary host of Asgard from the Mighty Marvel calendar of 1975 drawn, it looks like to me, by Jack "King" Kirby and Joe Sinnott.



Secondly, from 1976 in DC's calendar we have Dick Giordano's portrait of Black Canary, Mary Marvel, Supergirl, Lois Lane and Hawkgirl.


Thirdly, also from 1976 but this time from Marvel's Bicentennial calendar we have. . . well just a cool bunch of heroes (Daredevil, Black Widow, Dr. Strange, Son of Satan, Power Man, Ghost Rider and Shang-Chi) as drawn by Sal Buscema.  It's looks real "Defendersy" but represents no official membership I'm aware of.



Fourfully from DC's 1977 monumental calendar we have The Flash trying to rescue his wife Iris from the clutches of Gorilla Grodd as drawn by Irv Novick.



Fifthly, DC's 1978 calendar has a Freedom Fighters battle scene most likely drawn by Don Heck.

  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE OMEGA FACTOR: NEW AUDIO ADVENTURES!

I HAVE TO ADMIT I'M ABSOLUTELY THRILLED & GOBSMACKED TO FIND OUT THAT A FAVOURITE BRITISH SUPERNATURAL TV SERIES IS RETURNING VIA AUDIO TO BIG FINISH PRODUCTIONS!  

Probably around the year 1980 or 1981, I first saw "THE OMEGA FACTOR" on PBS and loved it.  The first episode particularly was a knockout punch!  Jack Gerson wrote this 10 part occult BBC series starring James Hazeldine and Louise Jameson (DOCTOR WHO's noble savage Leela) which, owing mostly to the influence of blue-nosed harridan Mary Whitehouse, never lived to see a second series.  "THE OMEGA FACTOR" concerned skeptical journalist Tom Crane (Hazeldine) who wrote a series of articles about the occult.  Tom's non-belief was soon shaken by the emergence of his own latent psychic powers in the wake of some nasty personal attacks by an Aleister Crowley-type evil magician who belonged to the mystical group called Omega.  Crane's budding psychic powers bring him to the attention of a branch of the British government called Department 7 which specializes in research in the occult and psychic phenomenon as well as training those who demonstrate psychic ability.  Teamed with Dept. 7's Dr. Anne Reynolds (Jameson), Crane joins the department in investigating occult phenomena years before anyone ever heard of THE X-FILES.  This fairly popular TV series was torpedoed, as I said, by moralistic screeching from un-elected busybody Mrs. Whitehouse who, especially after watching an episode involving a girl possessed by a demon, proclaimed the show "evil"; the BBC disappointingly let the show lapse into oblivion.

However, now that superb purveyor of DOCTOR WHO audio adventures Big Finish Productions has resurrected "THE OMEGA FACTOR" from the grave and just released the first in what I hope will be a series of new audio adventures.  While both star Hazeldine and writer Gerson are no longer with us, Louise Jameson returns as Dr. Anne Reynolds - now in charge of Department 7 - with John Dorney playing the late Tom Crane's estranged son Adam in dramas set in the present day. From everything I've read and heard, I'm excited to give this a listen.  And hopefully, in a little while, you can check back on this space for me reactions after hearing the episodes.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, August 01, 2015

AUGUST WITH THE SUPER-HEROES

NOW. . .AUGUST.  Two anniversaries celebrated this month as well as, today, a very Happy Birthday Mama! 

We begin with this wonderful selection from Marvel's 1975 calendar featuring a bevy of super-villains

DC's Bicentennial calendar provides a portrait of Billy Batson turning into Captain Marvel by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.

The immortal Wally Wood provides this action shot of the Justice Society of America tackling Solomon Grundy from DC's 1977 calendar. 

DC's 1978 calendar featured an odd match-up with Black Lightning fighting the Flash's foe Heat Wave portrayed by Rich Buckler and Vince Colletta

Marvel's 1976 Bicentennial calendar finds the Fantastic Four helping George Washington cross the Delaware.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946)

After making the classic film noir PHANTOM LADY, director Robert Siodmak helmed THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE for RKO and what a little gem of a film it is!
A master of film noir, Siodmak tackles gothic horror in a film project originally spearheaded by David O. Selznick before he sold the property to RKO. From the very first moment of the film when we see the familiar RKO radio tower, the mood is set masterfully; superlative composer Roy Webb's brassy fanfare lasts only a few seconds when it suddenly dissolves into the evocative sound of wind and rain which then is overlain by eerie theremin as the title card appears on the screen.
The film title appears over a high camera shot looking down upon the eponymous spiral staircase and the top of Dorothy McGuire's head as she tentatively steps onto the top step and descends into the film itself. The film takes place sometime at the beginning of the 20th century as the first scene features a showing of a silent movie in the Village Hotel with Helen (Dorothy McGuire) in the audience. Upstairs, a woman with a lame foot is dressing to go out and, as she moves away from her clothes closet, the camera (brilliantly piloted by Nicholas Musuraca) lingers at the closet as we see the clothes stir and a crazed-looking eye peer out from the darkness.
 
The lame woman is quickly murdered by the hidden killer and a hue and cry is raised.
Helen, who has been mute since a childhood trauma, is urged to hurry home to the Warren mansion where she works as a servant because this is the third murder of a woman with a disability and/or disfigurement recently. While on her way home, the new local doctor in town Dr. Parry (Val Lewton vet Kent Smith) picks Helen up in his carriage. The Doc is sweet on Helen and the feeling is mutual. Dr. Parry is called away for a medical emergency and Helen has to walk the rest of the way home. By the time she nears the Warren mansion (which is further on the outskirts of town than the Addam's Family place), night has fallen. A little under 12 minutes into the film, the promise of the opening credits is fulfilled as the gorgeous cinematography and lighting provides a shot of McGuire in the windy night approaching the gloomy old mansion along a wrought-iron fence as the wind gusts and the autumn leaves swirl around her.
Apprehensively, in a "whistle past the graveyard" attitude, McGuire clacks a branch along the fence posts and enters the spooky grounds of the Warren house. A crash of thunder heralds the sudden downpour as Helen runs the lengthy approach to the house simultaneously searching her purse for the key. The fluid camera follows her as we pass a foreground tree and realize that there is a man in shadow hiding behind it watching her.

Helen drops the key in the mud as the man (who is the serial killer with the same crazed eye close-up) begins to approach her.
More lightning and thunder crashes as the theremin reappears on the soundtrack. The killer begins to lunge towards her as Helen finally finds the key in a mud puddle and races towards the house -- momentarily thwarting the killer's intentions.

I go into this amount of detail of basically only the first 10 minutes of the film in order to somehow convey the beautifully evoked gothic atmosphere which Siodmak and Musuraca conjure to perfection. For truthfully, there's not much mystery here as to the identity of the killer so the greatest pleasure I think derives from the absolutely superlative cinematography and direction and the uniformly excellent performances of the cast. The beautiful exterior shot (looks like a glass painting to me, probably) as well as the interior of the Warren mansion (credited to veteran art director Albert S. D'Agostino and Jack Okey) are sumptuously Victorian and creepy with extreme noirish chiaroscuro lighting; the same as can be found in Siodmak's noirs like the aforementioned PHANTOM LADY as well as all the RKO films Musuraca lensed for Val Lewton's horror productions as well as my vote for the first film noir: STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR. The inside of the Warren house is all gaslight and candles! REBECCA and JANE EYRE will immediately come to mind.
Inside we have a gothically-disfunctional family with cranky Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore) confined to her bed with her sons Professor Albert Warren (a somewhat somnambulant George Brent) and his black sheep step-brother Steven (Gordon Oliver). Also inhabiting the gloomy old pile are Albert's live-in secretary Blanche (Rhonda Fleming), the servant couple Mr. & Mrs. Oates (Rhys Williams & the wonderful Elsa Lanchester), a battleaxe of a nurse (Hitchcock veteran Sara Allgood) and the charming bulldog Carlton.
While the interior of the Warren place is all, as I've said, Victorian-looking, it strikes me as slightly odd that the actual spiral staircase of the title is extremely plain-looking: bare banisters and bare steps that look to be made of plain wood or even metal. Actually, with the conical walls surrounding the spiral staircase (also bare and plain) interspersed with windows showing the storm outside, the spiral staircase looks more like it's from the set of a lighthouse. Of course, anything to do with lighthouses is OK with me and the spiral staircase is usually only lit by a candle being carried by a person walking on it so it still looks great.
But I wonder if budget-conscious RKO reused some lighthouse set for this. The film is chock-full of superb Siodmakian film noir set pieces. One example is a scene where someone ventures into the dark cellar (by the light of a single candle, of course) and encounters the killer who, with a single sweep of a hand, extinguishes the candle and backs the victim into niche in the wall. The victim is lit cowering there by the candle until it is extinguished and the niche is then plunged into darkness while the walls on either side of it still are lit presumably by moonlight coming in from a window. The killer strangles the victim backed into the niche which is in total darkness; all we see are the victim's outstretched hands emerging from either side of the inky-black niche as the killer strangles the poor soul. Expertly done.
There are one or two patented "dream sequences" which were so popular in mid-40's suspense/films noir i.e. Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND or the classic MURDER, MY SWEET. These are from the killer's POV and in one disturbing example shows Helen as the killer sees her: with no mouth at all. All the cast perform very well indeed (with the possible exception of George Brent who appear almost zombie-like but that actually works for his character) with the character turns of Elsa Lanchester and Sara Allgood particularly good. The real shining light here, though, is Dorothy McGuire who is the heart and soul of the film and, with no dialogue, provides a vivid, human performance as the mute Helen with particularly expressive eyes.
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is, as I've said already, a little gem which would be wonderful to watch on a dark and stormy afternoon or in the dark of night with all your lights turned out!

Monday, July 06, 2015

JULY WITH THE SUPER-HEROES

MORE THAN HALF THE YEAR GONE ALREADY?  Well, here's the latest installment of our look back at those classic Marvel and DC Comics calendars of the 70s. 

First it's a visit to 1975 again with Captain America and the Falcon provided by the legendary John Romita.

Next our patriotic Justice League of America is rendered by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano from DC Comics' 1976 calendar.

And speaking of patriotic, Marvel naturally chose to depict Captain America for their July 1976 calendar page.  And it's John Romita again providing this iconic portrait.

Next Joe Kubert provides a masterful depiction of Hawkman and Hawkgirl battling the Gentleman Ghost from DC's monumental 1977 calendar.

And finally this rather odd battle scene by Curt Swan and Dan Adkins finds Superman and Supergirl matching wits against Brainiac and Sinestro in this 1978 calendar entry from DC Comics.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

SUPERMARKET SHELF OF THE LOST

HAVING LIVED FOR SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS HAS IT'S DRAWBACKS.  That is, I found that over the years the yummiest of yummy foods have managed to go extinct.  Foods like I grew up eating and took for granted suddenly disappeared from supermarket shelves -- never to return.  The number one lost tummy treasure has got to be Nabisco's Doo Dads Snack Mix.  
From the 1960s until the (probably) early 1990s, Doo Dads reigned supreme until the inferior upstart Chex Mix seemed to bully it off the shelves and into gastronomic oblivion.  The cult of Doo Dads exists all over the internet with people trying to replicate home-made versions as well as endlessly petitioning Nabisco to bring back this delectable snack.

Once thought to be lost was my childhood favourite Black Jack gum:  chewing gum that tasted like black licorice. 
However, this is still being made (albeit only at certain times of the year) and I've grabbed it in the Cracker Barrel restaurant store.  Black Jack gum was originally made by a company called Adams who also made Clove gum and Teaberry gum (which I think are also still available at certain times of the year).  I also remember Adams made a Chocolate gum and a Strawberry gum.  Adams had it going on! 

I decided to post a little gallery of lost food favourites below this post.  Sadly, there doesn't appear to be any commercials for Doo Dads but there are for other lost favourites including my first job:  Rustler Steak House! 
 
There was delicious, crisp Aspen Soda:  an apple-flavored soda which was delicious. 
There was Marathon candy bar:  a long, long, long candy bar of caramel covered with chocolate that was twisted like an infinity symbol.  You know it occurs to me that actor Patrick Wayne (John Wayne's son) seems to be the curse of death to my favourite old food items; he appeared in TV commercials and print ads for both Aspen Soda AND Marathon candy bars (as you'll see in the videos posted below). 
There was Soup Starter:  a canister of flavourings and pasta which you could add your own fresh meat and vegetables to in order to make a quick pot of soup.  It actually tasted really good. 
And there was Tuna Twist: another box of flavourings and such that you added to your tuna fish and mayo when making a tuna fish sandwich; it jazzed up the taste of the tuna sandwich and also stretched it further. 
Then there was Koogle:  a spread very like today's Nutella which came in flavours like chocolate, banana and yes, peanut butter as well.  


So enjoy the retro-commercials gallery I've provided below this post for these lost but never forgotten food favourites from my childhood.     

Koogle peanut butter spread - 1970's?


Rustler (Commercial, 1979)


Soup Starter 1978 TV commercial


VINTAGE 1974 MARATHON CANDY BAR WITH ROGER C. CARMEL & PATRICK WAYNE (JO...


Tuna Twist ad, 1976


Aspen Apple-Flavored Soft Drink Commercial 2 ~ 1980