Tuesday, April 24, 2012


RICH AND STRANGE (1931) is only Alfred Hitchcock's third talkie and is certainly not what you would expect from the future "master of suspense".  Also known by the ridiculous alternate title "EAST OF SHANGHAI" (which means practically nothing as far as this picture goes), RICH AND STRANGE is something of a cross between a romantic comedy and a social satire.  Fred and Emily Hill are a working-class married couple who are fed up with the boring routine of life.  A rich relative suddenly gifts them an early inheritance so they could travel the world and live it up whoopdeedoo!  The Hills think they've got it made and head off to Paris and a world cruise.  Things start off delightfully as Fred and Emily have a splendid time but slowly the life of the rich begins to put a strain on their marriage.  Fred encounters an exotic Princess aboard ship while Emily finds the all-too-willing shoulder of Commander Gordon.  Soon both spouses are carrying on separate lives with their lovers and on the verge of breaking up.  Then things REALLY start to go haywire!

             RICH AND STRANGE derives it's title from a line from Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST:  "Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea change/into something rich and strange".  Odd as it is to find Hitchcock directing a comedy, this film shows the director's definite flair; the film is joyfully silly when required and also bitingly witty when needed.  And it's a damn sight funnier than that dog "MR. & MRS. SMITH"!  I found myself thoroughly enjoying RICH AND STRANGE to my somewhat surprise.  This is indeed a very early British talkie and this can be seen in many scenes which seem to be shot silently with sound and dialogue dubbed in later.  Also, Hitchcock uses title cards and many other typically "silent film" shots in a deliberate way almost as if to imply this is something of a fable.  The stylistic choices really work here, though.  The film sometimes has an off-kilter feel which mirrors the on-screen characters feeling "somewhat at sea" in more ways than one.  In fact, this is a very stylised picture and shows the creativity Hitchcock would bring to his later, more famous film work.  RICH AND STRANGE also has an unusual and rare co-writing credit by Hitchcock (who co-scripted with his wife Alma) and the film is very likely the director's most autobiographical film.  Hitchcock has said as much in that the film was based on their own honeymoon.  The leading male character name of Fred could very well be short for "Alfred".  The film stars practically unknown Henry Kendall (who would appear in the 1933 "THE SHADOW") and Joan Barry (whose sparse film work includes the uncredited voice for Anny Ondra in Hitchcock's first talkie "BLACKMAIL") and both actors have a wonderful chemistry together.  The viewer is genuinely interested in them after a very short amount of screen time has gone by; they are likeable and relatable.  The Princess is slinkily played by Betty Amman (whom I've only seen in the 1939 "NANCY DREW, REPORTER") and Commander Gordon is played earnestly and imperiously by Percy Marmont (whom Hitch would use again in 1936 for "SECRET AGENT").  One might be tempted to let a non-suspense early Hitchcock pass by without a peek but I would insist this film deserves a viewing.  Hitchcock himself was extremely (and justly) fond of this film.  In his famous series of interviews with Francois Truffaut, the director mused:  "I liked the picture, it should have been more successful". 

Monday, April 23, 2012


  Well, maybe there isn't any adage that says such a thing but, after seeing this movie, I'm coining one.  This is what can only be termed a "tearjerker" or a "weepy" in much the same vein as that "AFFAIR TO REMEMBER" that everyone's always mooning about.  However, ONE WAY PASSAGE isn't as sloppy or as overwrought as the later film.  In fact, ONE WAY PASSAGE is fairly sober and unmelodramatic considering its themes.  Joan (the ravishing Kay Francis ... or the wavishing Kay Fwancis as her nickname usually referred to her lisp) meets Dan (William Powell) when she upsets his Paradise cocktail.  Sparks immediately fly and they begin a shipboard romance as their vessel sails to San Francisco by way of Honolulu.  Joan and Dan seem perfect for each other as their romance heats up.  Sadly, there's a snag.  Well, two snags.  And rather substantial ones.  Dan is a convicted murderer who is being conveyed to prison by policeman Steve (Warren Hymer) to be executed.  And Joan doesn't have an idea.  Of course, Dan's not the only one with a secret.  Joan is dying with a terminal (and unspecified) disease and may kick off at any moment.  Naturally, Dan has no inkling of this either.  So both lovers go through the movie withholding this vital information from the other in order to spare them heartache.  Of course, this only GUARANTEES heartache aplenty.  Also along for the (boat)ride are petty thief Skippy (Frank McHugh) and con woman Barrel House Betty (Aline MacMahon) who is masquerading as a Countess in order to fleece some rich passenger.  Naturally, Betty and Skippy both know Dan and do their best to help him shake Steve the Cop and jump ship; they also aid in the matchmaking department as far as Dan and Joan's romance is concerned.  While we are told in no uncertain terms that Dan is a convicted murderer, no excuses are made by the screenplay (that it was self-defense or he's actually wrongly accused or it was an accident etc.). 

 No, we are simply informed that he is a convicted murderer and that's that; but hey he's charming William Powell so we've gotta love him, right?   And Kay Francis is at the top of her career here in the same year she made TROUBLE IN PARADISE for Ernst Lubitsch.  Frank McHugh and Aline MacMahon are both splendid as lovable rogues and even hard-boiled Warren Hymer (seen in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN) manages to inject some humanity into his cop role as he falls for Betty himself and also begins to sympathize with Dan's plight.  Director Tay Garnett (perhaps best known for his film noir classic THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE) does a fine job helming this brief film (only slightly longer than one hour) and doesn't waste a minute of screen time.  The sparkling screenplay by Wilson Mizner and Joseph Jackson shines like the frequent martini glasses populating the film and the story won an Academy Award for the film.  The Hollywood Production Code hasn't taken effect yet so we get some nicely saucy moments as when Betty manages to steal the bullets from Steve's gun.  When Skippy asks her how she did it, the camera pans over to some of Steve's discarded clothes on Betty's stateroom chair.  Ooo La La!  Also, the film doesn't tack on some lighthearted Hollywood ending; however, the film does end beautifully despite the downbeat nature of a pair of doomed lovers.  ONE WAY PASSAGE is one of those films which has fallen by the wayside over the years but it is thankfully now available from the Warner Archives "made-on-demand" DVD service.  This is one every film fan should seek out.
THE THREE INVESTIGATORS IN THE SECRET OF SKELETON ISLAND is the first in the new series of German-made films adapting the classic "young adult" mystery novels written (mostly) by Robert Arthur.  For those unfamiliar with the "Three Investigators" books, take a look at the link over on the right hand column which takes you to the 3 Investigators site.  Now, for those of us who were absolutely thrilled to hear that the Germans (who oddly love the Three Investigators books with a disproportionate popularity similar to their fascination with Edgar Wallace krimis) got the go-ahead to make a series of live-action 3 Investigators movies, we have also been told in no uncertain terms what a disappointment this first film in the series was particularly.  Oddly, the second film adapts the actual first book in the series:  THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE whereas the first film in the series adapts a later book.  And while TERROR CASTLE has much of the spookiness we 3 Investigators fans love, SKELETON ISLAND has almost none.  This caused an almost inescapable sense of vague disappointment before the movies were actually made.  However, as I always say, I don't just a film for what it's not but for what it is.  And what SKELETON ISLAND is is no classic; however it's nowhere near as bad as the doomsayers spaketh.  In fact, it does a fairly OK job of introducing us to the three investigators themselves:  Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews -- although it does spend hardly any time establishing their junk yard-hidden HQ with its beloved secret tunnels we love so well from the novels.  I also was fairly vocal in the past about a slight miscasting of the young actors playing the boys; particularly Bob Andrews who is nothing like his description in the book.  Having said that, after having seen the three young actors in the movie I can say that they actually did a nice job and I totally "bought" them as the 3 Investigators for the silver screen.  While SKELETON ISLAND is not a book I would've chosen to adapt (ESPECIALLY for the inaugural film in the series), the film itself is an adequate mystery-thriller which, while no great shakes, still manages to be entertaining.  The location footage looks top notch if slightly incongruous.  All in all, SKELETON ISLAND is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  However, the REAL 3 Investigators movie I want to see is STILL not available in this country as yet; lets hope Buena Vista sees fit to finally release it in the States so we can get a look at perhaps a much better filmic representation of the books we hold so close to our hearts.

Friday, April 20, 2012

EVERYTHING IS BETTER WITH A LITTLE FIN FANG FOOM IN IT! Just as it is my contention that every movie is better if it has a monkey in it, I also believe that every movie or TV show or comic book is better if Fin Fang Foom is in it. To that end, we're focusing on our favourite Marvel monster. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the days before the "Marvel Age of Heroes" when the comic book company was mainly doing monster comix, Fin Fang Foom first appeared in Strange Tales # 89 (October 1961) with essentially no back story; he was just assumed to be a dragon from Chinese mythology with a bad attitude and some cute lil boxer shorts. Years later, it was revealed that Fin Fang Foom was actually an alien from Kakaranathara who arrived on Earth with several of his race in ancient China. Fin Fang Foom's buddies plopped him in a catatonic state as a backup plan in case their plans to conquer the world fell through. They did and Fin snoozes until awakened by a Chinese teenager who attempted to use the alien dragon to destroy the Communist Party. Fin Fang Foom would later by snapped up by the Collector for his alien zoo, busted out by the Mole Man and dumped by the Fantastic Four on "Monster Island" with a bunch of other assorted rampaging monsters on the loose. He would also have some fun over the years battling with Iron Man. In celebration of our favourite Kakaranatharan dragon dude, here are some wonderful covers featuring Fin Fang Foom.
And don't miss the video posted below which shows us the untold story of Fin Fang Foom's knock-down, drag-out bout with the Incredible Hulk. Tastiness!

The Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom

Thursday, April 19, 2012

THE VIEWER'S GUIDE TO NIGHT GALLERY SEASON THREE (PART 2). And so we embark on our final trip down the horror-filled halls of the Night Gallery. I should probably take this opportunity to lament another disappointment in Season Three: the loss of the wonderfully creepy theme music for an inferior, frantic brass theme which is frankly annoying. Yet another bad decision which together with other bad choices no doubt contributed to the end of the series. While the final season was not the best, there were some glimmers.
SHE'LL BE COMPANY FOR YOU - This sadly isn't one of those glimmers. A promising enough premise quickly devolves into a rather silly mess. Leonard Nimoy buries his late invalid wife and suddenly feels freedom. However, his wife's best friend Lorraine Gary bitchily badgers him and then gives him her cat Jennet "to keep him company". Nimoy is tormented by the constant ringing of the bell his late wife used to summon him with as well as the roars of leopards. This David Rayfiel teleplay from an Andrea Newman short story doesn't have much going for it which is perhaps why director Gerald Perry Finnerman utilizes such an odd and delirious style of directing the episode. The off-kilterness is interesting for about 5 minutes but then becomes annoying and almost goofy. While Nimoy does an OK acting job, he spends far too much time wandering around the house in a delirium. The script is simply fatally flawed and there's not much that can save it. My rating: 2 skulls.
THE RING WITH THE RED VELVET ROPES - A boxing story starts off as a big negative in my book; however, this one is a pleasant surprise if not an excellent episode. Gary Lockwood (from the STAR TREK pilot) has just become heavyweight champion of the world. He goes into the shower in his locker room but emerges inside a sumptuous mansion owned by the mysterious Blancos (Joan Van Ark and Chuck Connors). It soon becomes clear that the house is in some otherworldly realm and Lockwood will not be able to leave until he boxes Connors. There is a nice whiff of brimstone in this episode linking it to all the other "deal with the Devil" type of stories but this one is a little different since Old Nick is nowhere to be found. A good solid job is done by all in this Robert Malcolm Young script adapted from an Edward D. Hoch story and directed with a sure hand by Jean Szwarc. My rating: 3 skulls.
SOMETHING IN THE WOODWORK - A horror story by R. Chetwynd-Hayes adapted by Rod Serling indicates we're back on the right track horror/supernatural-wise. Lonely, embittered lush Geraldine Page has a handyman break through the locked door of the haunted attic in her new house in order to get to know the ghost who lives up there "behind the walls in the woodwork". As she makes contact with the restless spirit, she hatches a plan to have the ghost frighten her ex-husband Leif Erickson to death so that he won't have her committed. A marvelous performance by Geraldine Page and some interesting direction by Edward M. Abroms make this a superior episode of season three. My rating: 4 skulls.
DEATH ON A BARGE - Time again for a vampire story. First the bad news: the day-for-night photography is laughable -- it's so obviously bright sunlight though we are meant to believe it's night. Ah well. This isn't a first for NIGHT GALLERY. Lesley Anne Warren is the vampire trapped on a barge in the middle of flowing water so she cannot leave -- vampires can't cross running water, remember. Robert Pratt spies her and falls immediately in love with her. Why he wants he I'll never know -- Warren is very beautiful but her character is the most annoying, needy and mercurial woman since I dumped my ex! Not meant to be taken entirely seriously, this is an OK episode nicely directed by Leonard Nimoy from a teleplay by Halsted Welles (based on an Everil Worrell short story). Warren and Pratt are a little melodramatic in the acting department but able assists are given by Brooke Bundy (Nurse Diana Taylor from the "Luke and Laura" days on GENERAL HOSPITAL) and Lou Antonio (from the delightful THE SNOOP SISTERS series). Some problems with the script concerning internal logic and kind of a weak ending knock a skull off it. My rating: 3 skulls
WHISPER - Sally Field is the young wife of Dean Stockwell who finds herself easily taken over by spirits of the dead; they have compelled her to go to an old Southern town and endlessly search for a "summer house". CAT PEOPLE's Kent Smith also appears as a doctor who nicely sums up the time-lost atmosphere of this episode: "Well, this is old country. Your not just back east in these hills . . . you're back years." The atmosphere is as delicate as a soap bubble and whether or not you fall into is depends on the viewer; as well as your tolerance for breaking the fourth wall which Field and Stockwell do repeatedly. A rather abrupt ending also complicates things for the viewer. David Rayfield adapted the short story by Martin Waddell with Jean Szwarc's sympathetic direction. It all just somehow doesn't hang together. My rating: 3 skulls.
THE DOLL OF DEATH - Delving into voodoo for the last time in the Gallery, this penultimate episode directed by John Badham and written by Jack Guss from a short story by Vivian Meik "designed to lift you from the ordinary" finds us in the West Indies where firebrand Susan Strasberg's wedding to rich Barry Atwater is crashed by filthy ruffian Alejandro Rey. The wedding is called off when it is revealed that she Strasberg has been pledged to Rey from a very young age. Not to be thwarted, Atwater procurs a trusty voodoo doll of Rey and puts the "squeeze" on him. Murrau Matheson (the clown in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit") also appears as Dr. Strang. Oddly, the opening on-screen credits flash the names of Strasberg, Rey and Matheson on the screen whereas just seconds earlier during the "flying paintings" sequence the narrator announces the stars as Strasberg, Rey and Atwater as their images appear on the screen. Presumably this is because of Atwater's recent celebrity following his startling appearance as the vampire in the blockbuster TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER the year before. I would hazard a guess that the onscreen credits came first whereas the narrator/onscreen pictures were altered at a fairly late date in order to showcase Atwater's presence. All in all, a quite servicable episode. My rating: 3 skulls.
HATRED UNTO DEATH - An episode about a gorilla isn't the most auspicious way to end a series but this is perhaps the best illustration of what was wrong with NIGHT GALLERY and why it ultimately failed to reach its full potential. Where are the haunted houses? The goblins? The devil worshippers? No, a guy in a gorilla suit brings the series to an end. With all due respect and love to Bob Burns, there is a time and a place for men in gorilla suits and the NIGHT GALLERY is not the place for it. Anthropologists Steve Forrest and Dina Merrill (from my beloved DESK SET) capture a wild gorilla (against her wishes) and give him to Fernando Lamas for experimentation. The gorilla ain't too happy about it. This episode tries my patience. Whoever chose this story to be adapted for the NIGHT GALLERY ought to be strung up from a hook as an exhibit himself! What on earth is this story doing in a supernatural horror series?!?! Halsted Welles wastes his time adapting this Milton Geiger story for Gerald Perry Finnerman to direct. I feel personally embarrassed for everyone involved. Certainly the worst episode of the NIGHT GALLERY, hilariously inept and an ignominious end to the NIGHT GALLERY. My rating: 1 skull.
HOW TO CURE THE COMMON VAMPIRE - The last word sadly is yet another Jack Laird comedy vignette as the final nail in the NIGHT GALLERY's coffin. The producer wrote it and directed it himself (all too obviously). Richard Deacon (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW) and Johnny Brown go to stake a vampire and tell an unfunny joke. The end. My rating: 1 skull.
And so we've reached the final painting hanging in Rod Serling's Night Gallery. But why is this series compared unfavourably with the classic TWILIGHT ZONE. Well, other than the fact that TZ is undeniably some of the highest quality television ever broadcast and consequently almost ANYTHING would suffer in comparison. Rod Serling made no secret of the fact that he felt duped out of total creative control of NIGHT GALLERY and considered the show a failure. It is perhaps Rod's naive assumption that he would be given creative control when no such thing was ever negotiated which resulted in Serling's petulance and possibly not giving his all. For, despite Serling's protestations that he was little more than a "talking head", a great deal of the scripts for NIGHT GALLERY emerged from his pen; so the success or failure of the show can be lain at his doorstep as well as Jack Laird's or anyone else involved. Then there is the quality of the writing; or more pointedly the failure to adapt more traditional and/or classic works of horror fiction. Lord knows there was enough of it about: from Poe and Lovecraft to Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch and who knows how many others. A show called NIGHT GALLERY required a certain type of story: horror. Whereas stories such as Rod Serling's own "Finnegan's Flight" may have just possibly fit into a TWILIGHT ZONE format, they had no place in a show called NIGHT GALLERY. Season three is a prime example of this monumental failure is following the show's format. Leonard Nimoy chasing around a house after a leopard is not spooky or scary. Ghosts and monsters were what was called for. And a healthy dose of classic horror from adaptations of classic tales by H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, R. Chetwynd-Hayes or Fritz Leiber were also highly successful. Sadly the choice of stories never emphasized horror and the supernatural as much as it should have. Of course, this still leaves a place for stories which don't necessarily fit into this category; some of the greatest episodes of NIGHT GALLERY are only tangentially connected to horror or the supernatural i.e. "The Messiah on Mott Street" or "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" which are classic NIGHT GALLERY episodes. The point is that stories like these should only be chosen when they are exceptionally good; when a story not very supernatural was chosen without showing extraordinary qualities . . . that's when NIGHT GALLERY stumbled. So after all is said and done, NIGHT GALLERY is without reservation a worthy watch with plenty of fine episodes from which to choose. I hope that this little handy-dandy viewer's guide will help you avoid the little bombs strewn throughout NIGHT GALLERY's three seasons and steer straight for the jugular. As the master himself would assure you: "Lest you be turned off by the dim light and the somber mean of this place, let me reassure you that there is nobody here but us art lovers."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A VIEWER'S GUIDE TO NIGHT GALLERY SEASON THREE (PART 1). Well, it's only taken them (Universal) 4 years to finally released the third and final season of Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY. Back in 2008, I wrote a "viewer's guide" of thumbnail reviews of the second season (you can read it by clicking here) and now here I am proposing to do the same for the third. One of these days, I need to do a viewer's guide to Season One, dontcha think? Anyway, the third season of NIGHT GALLERY is, of course, something of a letdown; there were not as many high points as in the previous season and the show was cut from an hour to a half hour. Now, this latter problem shouldn't be THAT much of a problem since Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE was only a half hour (not including the single "hour" season which wasn't that successful storywise) so this in itself shouldn't be a fatal flaw. However, there seems to be something less of a spark to season three; possibly Serling himself was becoming totally disheartened and the writing was on the wall that NIGHT GALLERY was not going to see a fourth season. And that's a pity since NIGHT GALLERY, warts and all, was quite an enjoyable trip to the macabre dimension and could've been tops in TV entertainment. Be that as it may, there are some really nice flashes of foetid fear in this final season. As before, I plan to provide little thumbnail reviews of each episode and utilize my skull rating system: 5 skulls being the best of episodes and 1 skull being the dog's dinner! As you may have surmised from this post's title, I will be writing this NIGHT GALLERY viewer's guide in two parts (like last time). So as Rod lights up his cigarette, let's take a stroll through the horrific halls of . . . . the Night Gallery.
THE RETURN OF THE SORCEROR - Things open extremely well with this occult-dripping adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft acolyte Clark Ashton Smith's short story of the devilish black arts. The episode was originally filmed 4th but producer Jack Laird decided to use it for the season opener; some good judgment from Laird (you didn't get that often) since this is one of the best episodes of the entire season. This is a particular favourite of mine not only because it stars the beloved Vincent Price but also because it vividly puts on display that early 70's fascination and popularity of the occult which was everywhere at the time. Tom Wright's wonderful painting of the "horned one" really sets the mood for this episode; drenched in blood-red paint, it obviously gave its look to the episode. There is a lot of red in this one; from the red candles and the deep-red carpets to the actual red lighting which floods most of the sets (with an occasional eerie purple lightbulb for magical contrast). Bill Bixby is the translator summoned to sorceror Vincent Price's sanctum sanctorum in order to translate an early Arabic passage from the Necronomicon which previous translators have refused to do. Price is aided by his gorgeous witch disciple Fern (a beguiling performance by Patricia Sterling) and his deceased father who has come back in the form of a goat; the dinner scene is particularly delightful as Price introduces Bixby to his father the goat (seated at the table) as "The Falling Tower" -- and Bixby goes along with it! Price has also previously murdered his more-powerful mage brother, chopped him into pieces and thrown him in the oak grove! The script is adapted by Halsted Welles and directed by NIGHT GALLERY stalwart Jeanne Szwarc with all the occult atmosphere they could muster and, despite some silliness (unintentional as well as intentional), I'm giving this one high marks simply because it's so goshdarn lovable. My rating: 4 skulls.
THE GIRL WITH THE HUNGRY EYES - Nicely directed by John Badham and adapted by Robert Malcolm Young from a Fritz Leiber short story, this is another rather strong entry. A photographer finds his "perfect model" as a mysterious woman suddenly appears in his studio at the exact moment he needs her for his new account at Munsch Beer. The woman has no name and forbids the shutterbug from ever following her. There is, of course, more to her than meets the eye . . . the . . . hungry eyes. Especially when men start being found in the vicinity dead of . . . what? James Farentino as the photographer quite good while "the grand lady of NIGHT GALLERY" Joanna Pettet is absolutely superb as the mysterious and deadly woman; her performance is particularly strong as she's simultaneously alluring and threatening. John Astin is somewhat out-of-place as beermeister Munsch in a smaller role. The performances and deft direction elevate this episode. My rating: 4 skulls.
RARE OBJECTS - I am definitely no fan of Mickey Rooney but I've got to hand it to him in this episode; he plays an Al Capone-type racketeer who has a contract out on him. Mickey manages to play him unlikeable while still remaining oddly likeable; and he does it without resorting to stereotypical Hollywood gangster acting. It's really one of the few times I can watch him without thinking he's just being Mickey Rooney. Mickey is given the choice of getting bumped off before the week is out or else giving all his money to a strange man who offers him a long-life in ultimate safety. This Rod Serling script is a little thin but it's once again carried by the performances of Rooney and "strange man" Raymond Massey as well as tight direction from Jean Szwarc. My rating: 3 skulls and a bowl of fettucine.
SPECTRE IN TAP-SHOES - Another pretty good episode. Sandra Dee comes home to her spooky old house to find her twin sister has hanged herself in the attic. She is then tormented by the sound of her sister tap-dancing to ragtime piano and leaving her lipstick-smeared cigarette butts and empty apple sauce jars lying about the place. Is the ghost out for retribution or is it trying to warn her of something? The story is by Jack Laird and adapted by Gene Kearney and also stars Dane Clark and Christopher Connelly (BENJI, anyone???) who are barely noticeable in their performances. The show really belongs to Dee who is also surprisingly effective as the woman scared of her own shadow and approaching catatonic stupor alternating with hints of ghostly possession. This one reminds me a little bit of WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? for some reason. Another thin script which is saved by Sandra Dee's performance and the tight direction of Jean Szwarc. My rating: 3 skulls.
YOU CAN COME UP NOW, MRS. MILLIKAN - This Rod Serling-script adapted from a short story by J. Wesley Rosenquist is just marking time. With a "shock ending" which is evident almost from the start, there's not much going on despite rather surprisingly good acting from Ozzie & Harriet Nelson and yet another superb set. Ozzie is the inventor who can never seem to do anything right; from his perpetual motion machine which only ran for 12 seconds to his alchemy experiment which failed to turn a rock into gold. Somehow he and his wife then think that his serum to bring the dead back to life will work as well. How'd they arrive at that conclusion? Who knows but it doesn't really matter in this weak entry directed from nothing by John Badham. My rating: 1 skull.
SMILE, PLEASE - The first of Jack Laird's unfunny "comedy blackouts" which the producer was so fond of and nobody else was. This minute-long vignette features Cesare Danova inviting a pre-Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner to photograph an actual vampire. Guess what happens. You will almost immediately. Abysmal. My rating: 1 skull (only because I can't pick zero skulls).
THE OTHER WAY OUT - A step up from the previous episode (what WOULDN'T be) finds Ross Martin receiving a blackmail letter accusing him of murder -- and threatening exposure if he doesn't bring $10,ooo to a deserted old house. But what he finds there is much more lethal than he bargained for. Burl Ives also stars in this rather good if unremarkable entry written and directed by Gene Kearney from a story by Kurt Van Elting. Again the performances and direction save it. My rating: 3 skulls.
FRIGHT NIGHT - Probably one of the best-remembered of season three's programmes if for no other reason than that spectacular Tom Wright painting! Stuart Whitman and Barbara Anderson are quite good as a couple who inherit yet another spooky old house which is shunned by the local townsfolk. No one will approach it other than housekeeper Ellen Corby (of THE WALTONS) who has worked for deceased uncle Zachariah (BATMAN's Alan Napier) for 20 years. There is a mysterious trunk in the attic which must not be moved or opened until "someone calls for it". Sadly, the trunk has a habit of "moving about" and causing all sorts of terrifying antics. Blacklisted actor Jeff Corey shows once again on NIGHT GALLERY what a talented director he is on this superior third season episode. Robert Malcolm Young adapts another story by Kurt Van Elting. My rating: 4 skulls.
FINNEGAN'S FLIGHT - This episode features an example of the least successful aspects of Rod Serling's writing. Set in the uninspiring location of a maximum security prison (not really what NIGHT GALLERY fans are looking for), this script finds Serling going to the same old well once too many. Burgess Meredith is a life term prisoner who can only escape by allowing fellow inmate Cameron Mitchell to hypnotize him. Burgess is incredibly suggestible and whatever he believes is happening to him actually happens to his body i.e. when he is told a dixie cup of cold water is actually boiling, Burgess blisters his fingers on it. There is really nothing here for director Gene Kearney to work with as the concept is not particularly engaging or original. Barry Sullivan (yay for PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES) and Kenneth Tobey (monster fighter extraordinaire from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD et. al.) can't save this turkey either. My rating: 1 skull.
And here endeth part one of "The Viewer's Guide to Night Gallery Season Three". As you can see, it's not all bad news. There are some bright spots and some dull spots but, for the most part, worthwhile viewing. Please join us again for part two as we ring down the curtain on Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Thy dawn, O Master of the world, thy dawn; The hour the lilies open on the lawn, The hour the grey wings pass beyond the mountains, The hour of silence, when we hear the fountains, The hour that dreams are brighter and winds colder, The hour that young love wakes on a white shoulder, O Master of the world, the Persian Dawn. That hour, O Master, shall be bright for thee: Thy merchants chase the morning down the sea, The braves who fight thy war unsheathe the sabre, The slaves who work thy mines are lashed to labour, For thee the waggons of the world are drawn-- The ebony of night, the red of dawn!"
-- James Elroy Flecker
"The Story of Hassan of Bagdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand"

Thursday, April 05, 2012

HALLOWEEN IS ONLY HALF A YEAR AWAY! We're six months from October on the other side of the year so that means there's only half a year left. So to get you all in the Halloween spirit (like there's any other KIND of spirit on this blog) here's a wonderful video down below made by Jason over at the legendary Scar Stuff blog which he made to the music of the classic HALLOWEEN song by Kay Lande and Wade Denning. Enjoy, my lil pumpkins.

"Halloween" by Kay Lande and Wade Denning - iPhone/Hipstamatic Stop Motion

Sunday, April 01, 2012

COMFORT TELEVISION. As I pop in a dvd of YES, MINISTER to relax after a hard night's work, it occurred to me that there are certain British comedy series which occupy a warm place in my heart. The reason for this is certainly one of timing: after cutting my comedy teeth on MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS and THE BENNY HILL SHOW in the 70s, my local PBS station began airing what they called "britcoms" in the early 80s. These were on Sunday nights so I could watch them and get in a good mood before school the next morning. They were shown in a block of two on a rotating basis; when they would run through an entire series they would replace it with another and round and round. Usually the first show was GOOD NEIGHBORS (the American name for THE GOOD LIFE); this show was usually never replaced with another but would start over at the beginning when it reached the end. THE GOOD LIFE of course starred Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington and concerned the adventures of Tom and Barbara Good as they dropped out of the rat race and made a go of self-sufficiency. The second half hour (on Channel 12) was rotate between entire runs of BUTTERFLIES (starring Wendy Craig and Geoffrey Palmer), TO THE MANOR BORN (starring Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles) and THE FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN starring Leonard Rossiter. There were other shows sandwiched in now and then but these two were rerun the most. BUTTERFLIES found Wendy Craig playing a bored housewife going through something of a mid-life crisis and toying with the possibility of a romantic affair. TO THE MANOR BORN finds Penelope Keith a newly widowed wife of the local lord of the manor who is forced to vacate her sprawling estate when it is purchased by a rich businessman. THE FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN found Leonard Rossiter having something more than a mid-life crisis when he drops out of his job and comes slightly unhinged.
Around this same time in the very early 80s, a new channel called "The Entertainment Channel" came on basic cable. After a short time, the channel changed its name to "The Arts & Entertainment Channel" and it's been A&E ever since! When it first came on the air it was a very different animal than it is now. It showed many British programmes and introduced me to several which would also join the pantheon of comfort television and I would come to regard them as old friends. TWO'S COMPANY starred Elaine Stritch as an American mystery writer in London who hires a very British butler played by Donald Sinden. Then there was the long-running perennial LAST OF THE SUMMER WINE which found three pensioners getting into mischief. SOLO starred Felicity Kendal as a woman who has just turned thirty and . . . wait for it . . . has something of a early mid-life crisis (there seems to be a theme here). OPEN ALL HOURS starred Ronnie Barker (half of the Two Ronnies comedy team) as the proprietor of a small shop forever vexed by the world in general as well as our Granville (David Jason). RISING DAMP starred Leonard Rossiter this time as an horrific landlord of a shabby boarding house. Then of course there was YES, MINISTER which starred another GOOD LIFE alum Paul Eddington as newly-elected Minister Jim Hacker who tries to steer his way through the labyrinth of political life despite the "help" of Nigel Hawthorne's Sir Humphrey. Some more edgy but nevertheless fondly held programmes were NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS which also aired occasionally on my PBS station Channel 12 and THE YOUNG ONES which bizarrely aired on MTV in the mid-80's and became a cult late-night favourite. NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS was a sketch comedy programme taking the loose form of a news telecast and starred Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys-Jones and Pamela Stephenson. THE YOUNG ONES of course was the anarchic adventures of some horrendous college students played by Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Christopher Ryan and Alexei Sayle. Probably the last example of my "comfort television" britcoms came fairly late in the game; it wasn't until 1990 that PBS Channel 12 started running ARE YOU BEING SERVED? which surprised everyone by becoming a smash hit and probably the most watched British comedy show on American PBS! Of course, we all know the show concerned the daily antics of the staff of Grace Bros. department store featuring Trevor Bannister, Mollie Sugden, John Inman, Wendy Richards and Frank Thornton. There are certainly other shows which I've just as much fondness for but have slipped my mind for the moment. Suffice it to say that the shows I've mentioned were watched countless times by me, over and over, until the became as familiar and comforting as old friends. And to this day, whenever I want that peculiar feeling of warm recognition and just hanging out with a cherished old friend, I will pop these shows into the dvd player and rocket back in time when I was still in high school and Blondie was at the top of the charts. These shows give me the same cozy feeling as if snuggling up in a warm blanket with a cup of hot cocoa. Or should that rather be tea?!?