Friday, April 28, 2006
ZIEGFELD FOLLIES - GREATEST PRODUCTION SINCE THE BIRTH OF MOTION PICTURES! Well, not quite but that's what it said on the poster up there. And say, ain't that Lucy got GAMS!!! Just watched the DVD of "Ziegfeld Follies" in the new MGM musical 5 DVD box set. Yeah, well it IS still April and it IS still American Songbook month. I wasn't planning on buying the box set BUT since I WAS interested in getting two of the DVDs that were in it (at $20 a pop, mind you) and the 5 DVD box set was on sale for 49.99 (minus my employee discount) I thought what the hey I might as well spend $10 more and get all 5 -- even though I'd never seen 3 of 'em. Anyway, one of the DVDs included is an all-time favourite: Three Little Words -- but I'll get to that some other time. (The other 3 DVDs include It's Always Fair Weather, Summer Stock and Till the Clouds Roll By and I haven't seen them yet!) Now, on to Ziegfeld Follies. It was good. It's very early technicolor MGM musical and you can tell. And it's deliberately old-fashioned (even when it was made); harking back to the early 20th century musical stage revues of Florenz Ziegfeld (here played once again by William Powell). The movie opens up in showbiz heaven where dead old Ziegfeld wants the chance to put on one more Follies. With all that 40's Hollywood talent running around down there, who can blame him. The whole film then becomes sort of a fantasy of what Ziggy would've done at the time (had he still been sucking breath). Incidentally, Ziegfeld's widow was Billie Burke: the "Good Witch" of The Wizard of Oz. The film itself is plotless; only a series of musical numbers and comedy sketches. Having seen quite a few musicals where you wish the threadbare plot was dispensed with, I can definitely sympathize. The flick took YEARS to make...literally. The first talk started around 1939 and the film itself was made in 1944 but not released until 1946! Why? Well, there were scads of scenes which were planned (and sometimes shot) only to be cut when the preview showing ran to 3 hours. It was made for $3 million (1940's dollars) and, even tho it featured a list of stars as long as your arm, the studio feared a monumental flop (in fact, Fred Astaire wondered if it would ever be released). Well, it was and it was a smash; raking in $5 million. The movie does seem to have been something of a behemoth: multiple directors helmed different scenes when the original director bailed due to production holdups, Judy Garland had no less than 12 different numbers she was supposed to have done before settling on the "Great Lady Interviewed" scene (which in turn had originally been meant for Greer Garson). Separate scenes were axed featuring Jimmy Durante, Nancy Walker, Gloria DeHaven and June Allyson -- even Fred Astaire himself had a scene cut. There was even a scene dropped featuring Judy Garland and Katharine Hepburn (be still my heart) on a gondola! The shocking, criminal part is that the scenes which were actually shot were tossed and no longer exist. God, what a great feast it would have been restoring all these scenes to DVD; where the hell's my time machine?!?!?! I will admit the songs were a bit of a disappointment; there aren't really any great standards we're all familiar with. In fact, the "Beauty" song that closes the film causes Kathryn Grayson to storm into the head office refusing to do such a lousy song. A voice behind her said, "I wrote it". Grayson turned to find producer (and former songwriter) Arthur Freed standing there. Well, she ended up singing it but she bopped Freed with the script and said "Well, shame on you!" However, Kay Thompson's musical arrangements are top notch (and is that Kay Thompson in the pink feathers singing that she's man-hungry? If it ain't, I don't know who it is but she's a hoot!) The comedy sketches (with the exception of Fanny Brice's scene and Red Skelton's classic "Guzzler's Gin") are also a bit of a disappointment (verging on trying your patience). They're worth watching once, I suppose, but subsequent viewings will require judicious application of your remote control's skip button. The best sequences in the film are Esther Williams' underwater ballet (always been a sucker for that dame), Fanny Brice's comedy sketch "Sweepstakes Ticket) with Hume Cronyn & William (Fred Mertz) Frawley, a vampish musical number with women in pink feathers or black cat suits (featuring Lucille Ball wielding a WHIP!) and Lena Horne's "Love" number (probably the best singing moment in the film). Judy Garland's "Great Lady Has an Interview" is hysterically funny as well as being a great musical number. Plus there's the added bonus of the first screen teaming of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dancing together. That brings me to another disappointment -- all Fred Astaire's dance scenes (except the one with Gene Kelly) pair him with the forgettable Lucille Bremer (WHO? I hear you say. Exactly my point. And the relatively unknown Cyd Charisse was right there in the same picture with him, too! Oh well). And the previously mentioned "Beauty" number which closes the film is saved by the typical MGM spectacle. Kathryn Grayson is one of those warbly, operatic sopranos that get on my last nerves (think Jeanette McDonald or Deanna Durbin) but the chorus girls swamped in mountains of soap suds really saves it. What a bizarre, insane and truly spectacular way to end the movie (and it almost ended the lives of the dancers as well who couldn't breath under all those bubbles)! Cyd Charisse almost broke her neck trying to descend the studio-long MGM stairway up on point in soppy ballet shoes and not being able to see thru all the Lux! "Ziegfeld Follies" is one of those fantastically over-the-top MGM musicals from the early days which still remains pretty entertaining; it's a multi-tiered layer cake with a WHOLE LOTTA frosting. And all those chorus girls!!! Flo woulda been proud! Click here to view trailer!
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
THANKS FOR THE IDEA, PAX. I'M STEALING IT!!!
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What Should You Be For Halloween?Enjoy.
IT'S FINALLY LEGAL!!! The year: 1985. The place: Rustler Steak House (remember those?!?!). A 19-year old me is quietly working on the front line (behind the front counter for you non-Rustler alumni). Just then, somebody rolls a cart full of clean dishes up to the area where I'm working. It's this new kid we just hired; even younger than me. He's only been here for about a week or so. I don't even know his name and he certainly has never met me either. Two strangers in aprons and blue-checkered shirts. I continue working, not taking any notice of him (because I'm a shy bastard) and this kid proceeds to stack the clean dishes on the shelf. Finishing his task, this new kid turns his cart around to leave. Suddenly, he turns back towards me and says, without a prelude of any kind: "Do you know that Alucard spelled backwards spells Dracula?" Now, I've never spoken to this guy in my life and here he is blurting out this incredibly random statement. He doesn't know who the hell I am and there's no reason in the world for him to say this to me. "Yes," I reply, somewhat non-plussed, "I did know that." (What a snappy comeback!!! Our kid can REALLY think on his feet!) The guy then nods and wheels his cart away. That's it. The end of conversation. This is a true story. I swear to God! He just turns and walks away without another word or explanation of any kind. Needless to say, I was fuckin' puzzled (that's me looking fuckin' puzzled on the right)! Not at the fact that this stranger made such a vague, random statement (which most people would contemplate calling the authorities over to see if they were missing a mental patient). However, I love horror movies and had just taped "Dracula A.D. 1972) off the TV; said Hammer horror film features a character named Johnny Alucard!!! (That's him pictured below getting the "cold shoulder" from Christopher Lee). Now what made this strange kid say this particular sentence to me out of the blue??? It can only be called fate or destiny or whatever new age term is fashionable these days. All I can say is: my first thought was "Here is one strange pup and I've got to get to know this guy better!" And I did. And to this day, 21 years later (I suppose that means our friendship is finally turning LEGAL!!!), I still consider this guy my best friend. The daffy dope! He has seen me thru my ups and downs (quite a few downs in the last decade) and has always been there for me. He's supported me when I was in the depths and has made my life more incredibly fun and enjoyable than it ever would have been if he hadn't made that stupid-ass random statement to me all those years ago. Hail Cheeks, the doddy extraordinaire!!! Now I don't know if everybody gets such a good friend in life but I hope so. Because there's really nothing better in the world.
THE SUNDAY EVENING ANTI-STUFFED SHIRT & FLYING TRAPEZE CLUB. On Sunday nights, a group of friends gather to plot the overthrow of the known universe (also to watch movies and have snacks). I am proud and frankly thankful to find myself included in this illustrious group. They include among them 3 Oscar winners, 2 Pulitzer Prizes for literature, a Nobel Peace Prize, 5 Tony Awards, 12 Purple Hearts and 6 Hasty Puddings. Only those members who secretly meet every Sunday night at their secret mountain headquarters can call themselves "The Sunday Evening Anti-Stuffed Shirt & Flying Trapeze Club (a reference stolen from the 1938 Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant film "Holiday"). I would like to take this opportunity to introduce them and let them know that I think they're really keen. First we have my OLDER brother Ern -- good lookin' cuss, ain't he? He's always been there for me and offered me much-needed support when a woman done me wrong (I feel the start of a country/western song coming on). Next we have Pax -- what a distinguished-lookin' gent! This is one guy who will NEVER lose his horizons! And then, there's the shining light of our little group -- Ms. Henrietta Hudson (of the Coney Island Hudsons) -- we will ALWAYS have Paris!!! Hugs to you, my dear! Next we come to the group's action hero -- Miss Jenny Penny (here pictured at her wedding reception). I'll bet you THAT waiter will never serve red wine with fish again! Last but not least is our very own Troll Joey -- seen here at yet ANOTHER magazine shoot! He'll grind your bones to make his bread and STILL you'll love him!!! Last (and certainly least) is yours truly (seen below) -- who treasures the friendship of all these great people and just wanted to take a moment to let them know. Thanks for putting up with me all these years. It might also be appropriate at this point to mention one member of the club who has gone AWOL for much too long -- the well-known (and fantasized about) Finkmaster Flash (seen below at left). We miss you, you stupid hippy freak! You don't even phone, you don't even write. . . . . . . . . . .
Friday, April 21, 2006
A BELATED FAREWELL TO DARREN McGAVIN. The actor who had enough charm to light up a major city died on February 25, 2006. It was always my intention to make mention of it but I haven't managed to do it until now. It's probably because I don't really know what to say. Anyone who has seen Darren McGavin in ANYTHING knows how great he was. What could I possibly add that isn't crystal clear when seeing him up there on the screen? He will perhaps forever be known as Carl Kolchak; and that's not too bad an epitaph. The original Night Stalker was the highest rated TV movie up to that time. Sure, the story and premise were great but the lion's share of the credit has to go to McGavin. Especially when you watch the TV Series which followed (which I've done about 3 times since it was released on DVD last year). The reason for the show's watchability is not really the scripts (which quickly devolved into what was called at the time "the monster of the week"). The reason the show can be watched and re-watched rests on the shoulders of Darren McGavin; he's so damn likeable, charming, funny, fresh and surprising in his acting that the viewer is sorry to see the end credits. We want more. That's probably the greatest testament I can give to Darren McGavin: he always left us wanting more. Very few actors can make that claim. He was, of course, priceless as the father in "A Christmas Story", as Murphy Brown's father and in his small role in David Lean's "Summertime" starring my all-time fave Katharine Hepburn. He was even fantastic in an unsold 1961 TV pilot for a show called "Witchcraft" hosted by Franchot Tone and based on the horror stories of William B. Seabrook (which can be found on Alpha Video's DVD "Lights Out and Other Supernatural Tales). He's the same old Darren McGavin; the episode almost plays like Kolchak: The Early Years! I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that Darren McGavin had talent, personality, charm and inventiveness. Those are precious commodoties these days. And it goes without saying that there will never be another Darren McGavin. We'll miss you, sir.
THE GREAT TOY ROBBERY -- I would literally kill to get this on DVD. It's all of six minutes long! This is a cartoon made by the National Film Board of Canada in 1963. Now, that was before my time but every year at Christmas time they showed this film in my elementary school. It's the story of a trio of Wild Wild Western robbers who stick up Santa Claus and steal his bag of toys. Here our desperadoes can be seen having some fun playing with their ill booten gotty ...... er, make that their ill gotten booty. Santa seeks the help of a goody two shoes cowboy who has some trouble stopping his horse (Whoa, horsey!!! Oh, come on now, whoooooaaaaaa!). This is one of those inexplicable, cherished childhood holiday memories for me and, although I did manage to videotape it off the TV sometime in the early 80's, I've never seen it since. HOWEVER. . .click here and you can actually watch a video clip from the cartoon. If anyone out there ever sees this cartoon on DVD, you'll be my hero!!!
GO BROKE WITH ME PART 2: MY BROKER SAYS HE'S BROKER THAN ME!!! Hey wait, I neglected to go back to the 50's with you. There are a couple more DVD's which I've enjoyed recently that emerged from the decade of poodle skirts and fallout shelters! We all know the atom is our friend. At least that's what we were told in the 50's when most of the short films on the DVD "Atomic Age Classics Vol. 3: A-Bombs, Fallout & Nuclear War" were released. This laugh-a-minute collection of public service films is in the "Sex & Hygene" and "Driving Safety" films we all snoozed thru in school. "Atomic Age Classics" features such flicks as "Living With the Atom" (hosted by none other than Irwin A. Moon from the Moody Institute of Science) which informs us that atomic theory makes us all good Americans. A medical self-help film called "Radioactive Fallout and Shelter" tries to make us believe that fallout is nothing more than a "minor nuisance" and our government what to do about beating that pesky fallout problem. Another animated cartoon called "Fallout: When and How To Protect Yourself" is a Civil Defense film which actually tells you that, if you are unfortunate enough to be covered with fallout, just brush it off and wash your hands. You'll be fine, kids! The next two DVD's are actual films that were shown in schoolrooms (I can attest to that; I remember one of them). These 2 DVD's contain 4 animated films including "Hemo the Magnificent" (the one I saw in grade school) about the circulatory system, "Unchained Goddess" (about the weather), "Our Mr. Sun" (about guess who) and "The Strange Case of the Cosmic Rays". All 4 were made by Frank Capra (!); that's right. . . .the famous director of "It's A Wonderful Life", "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and many other classic films. 3 out of the 4 also feature famous sci-fi 50's leading man Richard Carlson (from "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "It Came From Outer Space" among many others). "Our Mr. Sun" replaces Carlson with Eddie "Green Acres" Albert. All 4 feature our typical 50's scientist Dr. Frank Baxter (who actually appeared in the prologue of Universal's 50's monster movie "The Mole People" -- that's him over there holding the bongos!!!) teamed with a writer (Carlson/Albert) who refer to a "Magic Screen" upon which appear the animated Hemo, Mr. Sun or whomever else we're learning about today, class. The scientist and writer are live action while the magic screen features cartoon animation (with the exception of actual marionnettes of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky used in the "Cosmic Rays" story). Also featured are the voices of famed cartoon voice actor June Foray and Lionel Barrymore as Father Time. These films are quintessential 50's homages to science as our saviour (with a token nod to God so the bible belt wouldn't be too offended). Science will save us all, children so march forward into those broad, sunlit uplands (Hi Winston!). If you have yourself a nice 50's sci-fi movie night with screenings of "This Island Earth", "Invaders From Mars", "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "It Came From Outer Space" (Are you listening Ern & Pax?!?!?!?), these flicks would make a perfect short subject or intermission feature while we're all going out to the lobby (Ern & Pax's kitchen, more likely) to scarf up some of that Twinkie Tiramisu!
GO BROKE WITH ME!!! When you're like me and have absolutely no life (and you obviously are or else you wouldn't be trolling around on blogs), there ain't much reason to get outta bed except to drop some cash on new DVD's. And then you've got a perfect excuse to stay in bed and watch 'em. Well, here are some recent DVDs I've been enjoying . . .as well as some upcoming releases that make my heart go pitter-patt! Of course, there's the ever classic "Die Mommie Die!" (Thanks, Ms. Hen!) which is the only DVD in here that DOESN'T make me puke! It's for me, for me FOR MEEEEEEEE!!!! Then there's the recent release of Liza Minnelli's 1972 Emmy-winning TV concert "Liza With A Z"; a fave LP from my childhood. All right, it's time to get more macho in here or people will talk. (Hi Pax!) Of course, nothing could be more macho that James Tiberius Kirk (Hi Shat!) and I've recently quite enjoyed the new Star Trek Time Travel Fan Collective box set which gathers together time travel episodes not only from the original Star Trek series but also The Next Generation, Deep Space 9 and Voyager. Now, I'm not a Trekkie (I'm a Trekker) but I thought they were generally pretty good. I had only seen 2 of the Next Generation episodes and none of the other series so it was a new experience for me; and an entertaining one. Speaking of science fiction, for those poor schmucks among you who didn't see the new 2005 Doctor Who series a year ago (Hi Little Brother Ern!), the complete season will be released on DVD in the States on July 4th. It's airing now on the Sci-Fi channel but (I hate to break it to you) it's been sliced and diced for commercial TV and I can't stand all those pauses for our sponsor. Thank God I've had the DVDs direct from Britain since last year. However, another Dr. Who release coming up on June 6 is the long-awaited release of Tom Baker's storyline "Genesis of the Daleks". More British science fiction from the 70's can be found on "The Omega Factor" box set (released May 2nd) which also features Louise (Dr. Who's Leela) Jameson in a series about a battle of psychic powers between good and evil. I remember this from way back when (PBS briefly aired it in the early 80's). There's not much in the way of cool horror releases these days but one of the best is the recent DVD release of Showtime's Masters of Horror episode "Dreams in the Witch House". Stuart Gordon splendidly adapts yet another H.P. Lovecraft tale and the result is fantastic. Sadly, John Carpenter's episode "Cigarette Burns", also released, is not quite up to this standard; let's call it an interesting failure, shall we? But a major DVD box set in the horror field is Full Moon Video's "Subspecies" box set featuring that vampire of vampires Radu in all 4 Subspecies movies (plus the Anne Rice "inspired" Vampire Journals flick). Radu and the Subspecies movies are the best things Full Moon ever put out (which admittedly ain't saying much but it's meant as a recommendation). Click here for the movie trailer. Anders Hove as Radu and Denise Duff as his vampirized apprentice kick arse! (Hi Ma!) Anyway, it's back to the 70's for one of the early TV mini-series I watched as a kid: "Backstairs at the White House" which chronicles the true (but Hollywoodized) story of a mother and daughter who served on the housekeeping staff of the White House starting with the Taft administration all the way thru the Eisenhower years. Great American history TV movie-style! Quite outta left field comes Julia Child (Hi Miss Jenny Penny. . .I STILL love that Julia Child story about the boiling water) and the second French Chef DVD with the recipes and the bloopers. The first DVD set was great and I'm looking forward to getting the second. So...until Alton Brown's DVD's get A LOT cheaper... And finally, last but not least, is the upcoming April 25th release of one of my favourite musicals of all-time: "Three Little Words" starring Fred Astaire and Red Skelton as real-life songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (creators of such classic songs as "Who's Sorry Now", "Nevertheless", "Thinking of You", "I Wanna Be Loved By You" and. . .ahem. . ."Hooray for Captain Spaulding"). I've been waiting years for this to come out on DVD and I'm holding my breath till it's in my hot little hands. Click here to watch the movie trailer! So there you have it. You'll love yourself if you go get all these DVD's now. If not, at least you know what I already have when it's time to choose my birthday present. Thanks for suffering...er....I mean listening.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
THE DEFENDERS -- STILL ONLY 25 cents!!! While I'm still using Rip Hunter's time machine to travel back to last month, I wanted to mention one of my favourite 70's superhero groups: Marvel Comics' Defenders. That's right. The oddball collection of Marvel superheroes who were, in the words of Dr. Strange himself (in Defenders #14) "...a loosely-knit band of independent adventurers". Unlike their sister group The Avengers, the Defenders had no solid membership; heroes wandered in and out at their own whims. The thing I loved most about the Defenders was how utterly 70's they were; the team consisted mainly of Marvel's more offbeat characters like Valkyre (a sort-of female Thor), Nighthawk (a former villain from the Squadron Sinister who gained super-strength at night) and Hellcat (a former 60's romance comic heroine turned Catwoman clone) teaming up with heavyweight (but still offbeat) characters like the Sub-Mariner, The Hulk and Dr. Strange. My absolute favourite era for the Defenders was circa 1974-1976 when the title was written by the iconoclastically subversive Steve Gerber (who was launching the amazing Howard the Duck series around the same time) and drawn (mostly) by the solid Sal Buscema. Gerber's warped sensibilites reached their apex on "Howard the Duck" but his delirious writing on The Defenders came pretty close. Favourite villains of the time include the sparkly "Nebulon" (who was in fact a Chthulu-like monster in disguise) and the Headmen. Stunningly bizarre events happened routinely: the bad guys shrunk Washington D.C., brainwashed the population into becoming Bozos (literally wearing clown masks!) and succeeded in removing Nighthawk's brain (seriously. . .Nighthawk's body was seen walking around carrying his brain sloshing around in a bowl!!!!!). This is good stuff, folks! Who could resist it? Other terrific characters who fought with the Defenders included Power Man and The Son of Satan! (The only thing that could've made it perfect would have been if Morbius the Living Vampire had joined but I guess he was busy with The Legion of Monsters at the time). There was just something about these mid-70's Steve Gerber stories that are gloriously unhinged. Gerber's "Howard the Duck" and "The Defenders" deserve to be rediscovered. These stories remain one of the fondest memories from my 70's childhood. There's just a style and feeling I get from re-reading them which transports me right back to my grandparents' porch on a hot summer night. Long live the Defenders!!!