Saturday Breakfast Serial 009 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 9: Blazing Fury

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Thanks to the Christmas holiday, things have been pretty quiet here on the blog, (especially since I decided to just let the whole Sony/Interview thing play out on it’s own and not get embroiled in it here) and that will likely continue until after the first of the year.

However, I didn’t want you guys who have been faithfully following the hunt for the Crimson Ghost to miss out on this week’s adventure, so without further ado, here’s chapter 9:


Next time: Chapter 10 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Trap That Failed” and we’ll get back to more history of the movie serials then, too.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 008 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 8: The Slave Collar

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Since today’s episode is largely devoted to catching up those who came in late, it seems like this might be a good time to take a break from our ongoing look at the history of serials in general, and focus instead upon The Crimson Ghost itself.

Republic Pictures was established in 1935 when the founder and president of the film processing laboratory Consolidated Film Industries, Herbert J. Yates, pressured six of the smaller “Poverty Row” movie companies which all owed him substantial amounts of money (the companies were Monogram Pictures, Mascot Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Majestic Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures) to consolidate under his leadership and the Republic banner. Mascot Pictures had been making serials since the 1920s, and had establiished a name for itself doing so, so it seemed only natural that Republic would allow them to continue in that vein. Beginning with 1936’s Darkest Africa and concluding with King of the Carnival in 1955, a total of 66 serials were produced by Republic.

Production on The Crimson Ghost began on March 28, 1946, and concluded on April 24th. Obviously, these serials were designed to be quick shoots! The budget was set at $137,912, but it’s actual final cost was $161,174, marking it as Republic’s most expensive serial of the year.

the crimson-ghost-1946The Crimson Ghost was produced by Ronald Davidson, written by Albert DeMond, Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, and Sol Shor and was directed by Fred C. Brannon and William Witney.

Since the main mystery of the serial is the identity of the Crimson Ghost himself, the ghost was actually played onscreen not by one of the featured actors, but by stuntman Bud Geary. The studio also took the somewhat extra-ordinary step of using a number of different actors to supply the voice, but interestingly, they never used the voice of the actor who, when it came time for the villain’s final unmasking, was revealed to be the face of the ghost. (And no, I’m not going to reveal who that is here, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

The serial seems to have been a hit in its day, and went on to be condensed into a 100 minute TV film in 1966 (the original running time for the 12 chapters was a total of 187 minutes. It was also condensed into a six-episode television serial in the early 60s with each episode basically combining two of the serial’s episodes so they could run in a 30 minute time slot.

Okay, enough talking about it, let’s get on with this week’s episode:

Next time: Chapter 9 of The Crimson Ghost: “Blazing Fury” and more serial history.

Classic Television Thursday #016 – A Classic Christmas Roundup

santaWe did it for Halloween, we did it for Thanksgiving, so there’s no reason not to do it for Christmas, too. Here’s a roundup of classic television specials and special episodes to help you get into the holiday spirit.

(BTW, I should go ahead and note that since Christmas actually falls on Thursday this year, there won’t be a Classic TV posting next week, but assuming I can find enough New Years episodes, I will be posting a roundup for that holiday too to help you ring in 2015 in the right way.)

Let’s start by seeing what the Nelson Family is up to for Christmas, shall we?

Here’s Andy with an even more home-spun Christmas story

Or maybe you’d prefer to head home with the Clampetts for the holidays

I suppose we should take a little time out for a word from our sponsor now, shouldn’t we?

Of course, it wasn’t just the comedies that recognized the holiday. Here’s a Holmesian take:

Dragnet shows us that crime never takes a holiday

And no matter what the time of year, you didn’t want to cross the Racket Squad

Time for another break, this one featuring John Wayne urging people to buy Christmas seals

Of course, we can’t leave the musicians out of the mix

Maybe you’d rather spend Christmas with Dolly

Or Johnny and his family

This doesn’t quite qualify as a television special, but when I ran across it, I knew it was so special that I had to include it. Here’s the description from YouTube: Produced by the USO for the US troops overseas, this must-see concert film features over 50 celebrities from stage, screen and TV in an evening of music and comedy. These stars include Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Lena Horne, George Burns, Jimmy Stewart, Milton Berle, Danny Kaye, Jane Russell, Gregory Peck, Kim Novak, Shirley Maclaine and many, many more.

And finally, I’ve shared it before because it really is an all time classic and in my book one of the funniest sit-com episodes ever made, so lets go Christmas shopping with Jack Benny

Merry Christmas, all!



Top 250 Tuesday – Changing And Evolving

Just a quick note today about Top 250 Tuesday:

sandsWith the approaching of the New Year and the recent passing of my 50th birthday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog, where it is now, and where I want it to go, and that has particularly focused on this feature. When I began it, I had two ideas in mind. The first was that I wanted to work my way through the Sight and Sound 250 Greatest Movies of All Time list in order to expose myself – and through writing about what I was watching, you, my readers – to what were considered some truly great movies. In that way I knew that I would be expanding my horizons and seeing a lot of movies and discovering different directors, actors, and even genres that I would not usually take on, and along the way catch up on a lot of movies on my “I really should watch that” list and also have an excuse to revisit some old favorites. At the same time, by setting out the goal of watching and writing about one movie a week, I would be making myself post at least something each week and ensuring that I made it through the list in a relatively timely manner.

Well, as has become increasingly obvious I haven’t exactly been following through on that last part.

There have been a couple of reasons for that, most of them having to do with time restraints, but also having to do with the format itself. Tuesday – or actually Monday as I try to write these at least a day ahead of time so that I can make sure that they get posted early in the day on Tuesday – it turns out, is not always the best day for me to try to do a lot of long-form writing. A big part of that is because I like to spend as much of the weekend with my teenage daughter as I can, and also Monday tends to be a very long day because of the way my current work schedule has been shaping up recently.

On the other hand, I’ve found the one-post-per-week format to be somewhat restrictive at times. As evidenced by the recent three part post that I wrote about Ozu’s Early Spring, there are simply some movies that deserve more time and thought devoted to them than others. There have been other times when I have wanted to write more about a particular film, but because I try not to let the individual posts here get too long I’ve simply left out topics that I would have liked to explore, or cut short sections that I would have liked to delve deeper into.

And then there are those cases where, because I would wind up watching a film over the weekend I really don’t feel that I’ve had the proper amount of time to “digest” it before the deadline comes to write about it. Or sometimes the reverse is true: I’ll watch something on, oh, Wednesday and really not want to wait until the next Tuesday rolls around to post about it.

So what does all of this mean? Well, two things, really. First, I won’t be making any more Top 250 posts between now and the New Year. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be watching and writing about these movies – I’m actually going to be clearing up a bit of a backlog of “musings” that I’ve started but haven’t quite finished yet for whatever reason. But I won’t actually be putting them up until after the 1st.

Second, when the feature does come back, it won’t be under the “Top 250 Tuesday” banner. Instead I’ll probably just go with a “Sight and Sound Top 250” headline. I really think that way I’ll be able to tackle it more in the manner I want to.

So, long story short, the feature isn’t going away -not by a long shot, because I really am having too much fun exploring these movies and doing these write-ups – it’s just going to be changing a bit. Nor is that the only change you’ll see over the next few weeks, but I’ll have more on that later.

In the meantime, I just want to say to all of you thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting this little blog of mine. It really means a lot.


The Evolving Television Seasons – Here’s A Handy List of When Shows Will Be Returning After The Winter Break

TVSignOffY’know, we’ve seen the trend toward an at least semi-official “winter break”for television shows developing and evolving for a while now, but it seems to have really taken on shape this year. In a way it really reminds me of the antediluvian years when I was growing up and we only had the major networks to choose from and no DVRs – or even VCRs – we could use to catch programs that we missed, and certainly before video on demand or Netflix or other internet services that put virtually whatever you want to watch at your fingertips. Instead, the choice was to watch a particular show when it was on or miss it. It was that simple.

Yeah, times were tough.

One thing we did have going for us, though was that television airings were basically broken into two “seasons” . The first was the fall season, which would bring all of the new shows and new episodes of shows, which would then run – unless they were cancelled and replaced – for generally 22-24 episodes, dependably, every week, except for certain times when they might be pre-empted for a holiday special or something like that.

tv-guide-fall-previewThen would come the summer or re-run season, when the networks would, as the nick-name implies, re-run the shows that had run throughout the fall and winter. This, of course, had benefits for both the network and the viewer. The networks benefited because they didn’t have to develop and pay for new shows to fill those time slots, and the viewers benefited because we had had a chance to finally watch those shows that we had passed on the first time around.

Anyway, obviously nowadays when viewers do have the opportunity and ability to pretty much watch what they want when they want, that kind of scheduling won’t work. Viewers today want something new all the time, and aside from shows that appear in syndicated strips (i.e. “Friends” or “Two and a Half Men” that run in the evening after the local news or whenever on various local channels) the re-running of shows – especially in such a formalized manner has largely become a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, for awhile, that led to a certain amount of chaos and confusion, as the networks (and now I’m including not only the “majors”, but also those basic cable channels and even pay-cable networks such as HBO that provide original programming) scrambled to figure out how to deal with this new demand.

tvWhich brings us to the trend I mentioned at the top – the winter or mid-season break. As I said, it seems like this trend has been developing over the past few years, but this year especially it seems to have taken on a real shape. What we seem to be seeing is shows running for a half-season in the fall – airing generally 12 or 13 episodes through the end of November or first of December, then returning to the air with more new shows in January or February, with either re-runs or replacement shows running during the holiday season.

Of course, the biggest problem with this is knowing when a particular show will be returning. Fortunately, The Hollywood Reporter has compiled and put out a handy guide to just exactly when returning and new shows are expected to premiere, and you can find it here.

No it’s not as much fun as those old TV Guide preview issues that would be incredibly thick and provide pictures and descriptions of what to expect from the new and returning shows, but it does do the job of giving you a chance to anticipate and make sure you don’t miss any episodes of your favorite shows.

Or, of course, you can just wait for them to show up on your DVR, since you, like I have set it up to automatically record the new shows anyway. But what’s the fun in that?

No Fly Zone – Peter Pan Live (2014)

pan1I suppose I might as well add my voice to those sharing their opinions on NBC’s live broadcast last week of Peter Pan. One of the reasons that I’ve held off or a few days is that I wanted to give myself a little time to think about it, and to see if I could figure out just exactly why, although I did enjoy it, I found it at the same time to be somewhat unsatisfying, and I think I finally have.

It wasn’t the performances. Allison Williams did well enough in the title role. She certainly sounded good and looked good, though at no point was I ever convinced that I was looking at an actual boy instead of a very pretty young lady with quite a cute haircut who at times, because of the design of her costume seemed to be feeling the need to do her best to further hide her cleavage by the way she held her hands, and Christopher Walken did his Christopher Walken thing, bringing his typical odd phrasing to both his lines and his songs, though I’ll admit I was kind of concerned at times that he wasn’t going to make it through certain scenes and noted that the producers gave him every opportunity to find a place to sit down that they could. (Oh, and by the way, was I the only one who felt that Walken’s makeup made him look more like Dr. Fu Manchu than Captain Hook?)

Peter Pan Live! - Season 2014It wasn’t the fact that most of the lost “boys” appeared to be somewhere around thirty years old and some of them looked as though they could have benefited from shaving a little bit closer to show time.

It wasn’t the clearly visible wires which were used for the flying effects and which most of the cast seemed at times to be having struggles with which made the “flying” look mostly like just what it was – people being lifted from one place and set down in another without any real acting on their part to present any kind of illusion of grace or that they were moving on their own power. (Again, this wasn’t helped by the costume design in certain places where the wires were so awkwardly strung that it appeared that for instance it appeared that the two Darling brothers might have their pajamas ripped from their backs at any moment.)

Peter Pan Live! - Season 2014It wasn’t the set design which, though it had certain moments of brilliance such as the way that the moment when the cast flew through the Darling childrens’ bedroom window and we saw the streets of London below, for the most part simply seemed designed to call attetion to itself and led to more awkward moments than special ones like that.

It wasn’t the technical gaffs such as the obvious camera shadows and the fact that due to the lighting in the scene just before Wendy manages to reattach his shadow to Peter we see Miss Williams casting very obvious shadows on the walls and floor.

pan4It wasn’t the fact that in making the choice of not (as is traditionally done) casting the same actor as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook a lot of the emotional resonance of the show was lost.

It wasn’t the abundance of commercial breaks, some of which came at very awkward places in the story and interrupted the flow of things that were taking place in the show.

It wasn’t the obvious insertion of CGI effects such as the one for the fairy dust which led to a very obvious and far-from-seamless camera cut the first time it was used (when Peter throws it on Wendy in the Darling bedroom).

pan5No, it wasn’t any of those things. Nor was it any of the other things which I could mention (other odd casting choices, changes made both to the book and the songs, some of the political correctness updating, and other quibbles, some very minor, some less so). Actually what I should say is that it wasn’t any of those things in particular. Instead it was the cumulative effect of all of them.

To put it simply, I never felt transported either into the storyline or to an actual place called Neverland.

pan6Instead it seemed like the production was almost purely designed to call attention to itself rather than actually draw the viewer into the story and allow us to be carried away by it. One complaint that is often heard about movies and theater is that something, be it something in the film itself or the stage production or something outside what is being presented (say for instance someone’s cell phone going off or some other disturbance) is that of being “pulled out of the story”. In this case, there was never any cause to worry about that, because I was never really in it to start with.

pan7Instead I noticed, both while watching it and afterwards, that most of the time I and the people I was watching it with were commenting on all of the above things, discussing the technical and other aspects of the show rather than being absorbed into it and watching it for the pure enjoyment of following the story.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times where attention spans are supposedly much shorter (a “fact” I would readily dispute considering the length of some of the more popular movies recently). Maybe it’s the fact that very few people in television production today have any experience with how to put on a live show, and that lack f technical know-how showed through at every opportunity. Maybe it’s that this production was designed to be an event rather than actual entertainment. Maybe it was… well, as I said, I don’t really know. All I do know is that although I did enjoy watching it at the time, I doubt that I’ll ever feel the need to again, which I think is kind of a shame, and the fact that from what I’ve heard the ratings actually fell off quite a bit during the broadcast certainly won’t encourage the networks to try experiments like this nor advertisers to support them which again is a shame, because unlike it’s title character, Peter Pan Live just never really got a chance to fly.

Playing Can Be A Hell Of A Lot Of Fun – Why Don’t You Play In Hell (2013)

play2If you imagine a Quentin Tarantino movie yanked through the kind of Chinese film-making filter that gave us some of the more off-kilter Shaw Brothers movies then add on a layer of Godfather-wannabe Japanese Yakuza film stylings, toss some Three Stooges slapstick on top and finally drench the entire thing with a lot of mostly CGI blood, you might come somewhere close to Sion Sono‘s Why Don’t You Play In Hell?

But you’d still only be close.

If you read the above and think “Sounds like kind of a hot mess of a movie”, then I have to admit that yeah, it is. But it’s also quite a fun mess.

I could probably spend as long trying to outline the plot of the film to you as it takes to watch it, and even then I’d probably be doing both you and the movie a disservice, because the plot here is certainly not wholly irrelevant, but definitely secondary to the tone of the thing which -beyond what I wrote in the opening paragraph – I suspect is impossible to convey through writing. This is one of those movies akin to Hausu or The Room that really has to be experienced rather than described, and preferably experienced in a theater full of people who are there ready to simply go along for the ride and have a good time, and like those two movies, I predict that WDYPIH is going to have quite the afterlife on the midnight movie circuit.

play1At least I hope I’m right on that, because it’s certainly a film that deserves a chance to be found by a core audience of cult-movie followers rather than to simply wind up on a few shelves and be largely forgotten in the long run.

For those of you still sitting there reading this instead of simply rushing to your nearest arthouse cinema – if you’re lucky enough to have one like the Belcourt Theater here in Nashville where the film is getting a weekend-long run – to see it for yourself and asking “Okay, but really, what’s it about?’, I’ll give you Drafthouse Film’s official plot synopsis:

There’s a war going on, but that won’t stop the inexperienced but eager wannabe film crew The F@ck Bombers from following their dreams of making the ultimate action epic. Ten years ago, yakuza mid-boss Ikegami led an assault against rival don Muto. Now, on the eve of his revenge, all Muto wants to do is complete his masterpiece, a feature film with his daughter in the starring role, before his wife is released from prison. And The F@ck Bombers are standing by with the chance of a lifetime: to film a real, live yakuza battle to the death…on 35mm!

play3Okay, yeah, sure, as a straightforward plot description that fits the bill as well as anything, and tells you just enough going in that you may not get lost as to what is going on, but it does absolutely nothing to convey either the tone of the flick or the sensory assault of the images that it brings to the screen.

It doesn’t mention the spectacular slide that an eight-year-old makes through a blood-flooded (seriously, the blood here appears to be somewhere around a couple of inches deep) living room into a kitchen filled with mostly dead yakuza (don’t worry, she’s not traumatized by this slide, and it’s later revealed that she goes on to entertain the only mobster left living in the kitchen with a cute little dance accompanied by the singing of the jingle for the tooothpaste commercial she has made.

play4It doesn’t mention the possibly Exorcist-green-pea-soup-inspired vomit torrent that reveals a message from the movie gods.

It doesn’t mention the psychedelic cocaine-induced vision which transforms the mob boss’s daughter’s slicing and dicing of multiple foes into a rainbow of color amidst a field of flowers.

(Nor, for that matter, does it mention her subsequent decimation of ten mobsters who have surrounded her with one balletic swoosh of her sword.)

play5It doesn’t mention… well, let’s just say there’s an awful lot of images that it doesn’t mention and that I won’t either, because they really should be left as surprises for the viewer.

Nor does it mention another aspect of this film that is central to it, and that keeps all of the outre imagery from being purely weirdness for weirdness’ sake.

It doesn’t mention that in the end, this is a movie about love.

Yeah, you read that right… at its core this movie is a love story. Love, passion, and the way that they can turn to obsession, are really what drives everything else in this movie.

play7It’s love for her husband and child that drives Muto’s wife to spend ten years in prison when she easily could have escaped. It’s love that motivates the gang boss to pull out all the stops to complete his film in the ten days that remain before his wife is released. It’s a passion for film making that keeps the F@ck Brothers together for ten years and ultimately drives them to team up with the gang bosses to get their film made. Its his obsession with Muto’s daughter Mitsuko that causes the rival gang boss to agree to participate in Muto’s movie.

play6And it’s an obvious love for cinema that has driven Sion Sono himself to make this film in the first place.

No, Why Don’t You Play In Hell? is not a film for everyone. As a matter of fact, if you’re the kind of person who really only wants to see the latest multiplex blockbuster or chick flick or even low-key indy film, I’d advise you to simply stay away and not waste your time or money because you’re probably not going to like this film. If, on the other hand, you’re of the more adventurous sort who wants something different, who has, yes, a love for the strange and more out-there fare that usually has to be sought out and comes along every so often, then I predict that you, too will find the fun that’s to be had from a little playtime in hell.


Saturday Breakfast Serial 007 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 7: Electrocution

cg1Welcome back! It’s Saturday morning again which means it’s time for the next chapter of our ongoing serial The Crimson Ghost and more movie serial history. (Previous Chapters: 1  2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

It’s funny sometimes how we as Americans can be so eager to and expert at exporting our pop culture characters to other countries, and yet can still be so insular and resistant to exploring what those countries might have to offer us along the same lines. Case in point: Fantomas.

Created in 1911 by French writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Fantomas is one of the most popular characters in the history of French crime fiction, yet is almost completely unknown here in the U.S. He is a thief and a serial killer, and is always on the run from, and always manages to outsmart, his police couterpart Juve. He is a master of disguise, very rarely showing his true face, and he often appears in the guise of the person he has just killed, taking on their full persona and living their lives for quite a long period of time.  Fantomas appears in a series of 43 novels spanning the years from 1911 to 1963 – most of them written as pulp novels similar to later creations such as Doc Savage or The Shadow – which were released monthly during the years 1911-1913. Over the years, there have been many different Fantomas films and television shows, the most recent being a series of four 90-minute television episodes produced in 1980 and starring Helmut Berger. There’s even supposedly a new movie currently in production which is to be directed by Christophe Gans.

fant1And yet, despite the fact that he is the type of anti-hero that could prove quite popular with U.S. audiences, the character is almost completely unknown in America, except among silent or foreign film enthusiasts.

So how does all of this fit in with our ongoing look at the history of serials? The answer to that is quite easy, actually, as the character’s first film appearance was in a series of five serial films which were released in France during the years 1913-1914. These films, each running somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half in length, represent a sort of transition between the stand-alone film serials we have recently explored and the more traditional cliffhanger type serial that we traditionally associate with the term. For example, while the first film tells what could be considered a stand-alone story, ending with Fantomas making a dramatic escape from police custody and Juve swearing to track him down at any cost, the second one has a more dramatic ending, with Fantomas blowing up the a manor house with Juve and Jérôme Fandor (who is a journalist and basically Watson to Juve’s Holmes) trapped inside and the audience left wondering if and how the pair survived. Each film also begins with a recap of what has gone before, thus again distinguishing itself from those film series in which each movie could be watched in whatever order the viewer came across them.

fant2In all, the serial is quite entertaining (I should note that it is available for viewing in its entirety on Netflix with the first episode here), and it is largely considered a silent classic for good reason.

One final note before we move on to today’s chapter of The Crimson Ghost: I should mention that there was a 20 episode American Fantomas serial made in 1920 and directed by Edward Sedgwick which might have brought the character some recognition in this country, however none of the episodes have survived, and it is unfortunately now considered completely lost.

Okay, I suppose it’s time once again to move on from the past and return to the present – well, the “present” of 1946 anyway – and see what happens in Chapter 7 of The Crimson Ghost.

Next time: Chapter 8 of The Crimson Ghost: “The Slave Collar” and more serial history.

Classic Television Thursday #015 – The Thin Man: Robot Client (1958)

thin1It’s the same theory as that behind Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: Chocolate and Peanut Butter are great separately, so why not put them together and have two great things in one?

Here, though, we’re not talking about chocolate and peanut butter, we’re talking about detectives and science fiction.

One of the true classic detective film series is the Thin Man series, a set of six movies based on the characters Nick and Nora Charles who were originally created in 1934 by crime fiction writer Dashiell Hammett for his novel The Thin Man. Nick and Nora are a married couple who booze and banter their way through a mystery they are brought into when the daughter of a friend of retired detective Nick calls upon them to find her missing father who is the prime suspect in a murder.  Though Hammett never wrote any follow-up stories featuring the characters, the film version of the novel, which was also released in 1934 by MGM, proved so popular  – largely based on the chemistry between stars Myrna Loy and William Powell – that sequels were inevitable, and followed quickly.

thin2The last Thin Man film, Song of the Thin Man, was released in 1947, and surprisingly, it wasn’t until about ten years later that the franchise became a TV show.

The television series starred Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as Nick and Nora, and though they never quite found the same level of charm as Powell and Loy, the series is still quite entertaining.

Okay, so that’s the detective part, but where does the science fiction come in? With one of my all-time favorite sf movies.

thin5A digression: When I was a kid, sf on television was kind of a big thing, and one of my favorite shows was Lost in Space. Why? Two reasons: Dr. Smith, and The Robot. Yeah, I know, since then the show’s been imitated and parodied so much that it’s hard to take seriously, and really it was never meant to be anyway, but back then, it was just the thing to spark a pre-teen boy’s imagination. (Oh, just as a by-the-way, the television Lost in Space was actually based on a comic book titled Space Family Robinson published by Gold Key beginning in 1962, three years before the TV show made its debut. One important difference, however was that the early issues of the comic – the ones published before the television show came along – didn’t feature those two crucial characters mentioned above. But then again, neither did the original unsold TV pilot. Of course, they all took their original inspiration from Johann David Wyss’s 1812 novel Swiss Family Robonson, but now I really am digressing.)

thin6Anyway, you can imagine my surprised delight one day to see the classic 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet, which featured a Robot named Robby who distinctly resembled and was the obvious predecessor, in design at least, to LIS‘s Robot B9. (Actually, both of them were designed by Robert Kinoshita.) I’ll be honest, the first time I saw the movie – I can’t even remember when that was, though Wikipedia mentions a 1972 re-release as part of a “kiddie matinee” package, which certainly seems like appropriate timing – much of the plot went way over my head, but that really didn’t matter. The film was absolutely visually stunning, it had a really out-there soundtrack, and, most importantly, that robot. Obviously, I was hooked, and, as I mentioned above, to this day it remains one of my all-time favorites, and if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend that you do, asap.

All of which leads us, finally, to today’s classic TV episode. After his appearance in Forbidden Planet, one might think that Robby would simply be retired, and either have his parts recycled for some other use, or perhaps be put on display somewhere, but that was not the case.

thin4Instead, Robby – whether as the same character or a different one – went on to appear on screens again quite a few times. The first time was in another science fiction film, The Invisible Boy. As a matter of fact, The Invisible Boy can actually be seen as a sort-of sequel to Forbiidden Planet, as Robby is actually playing the same character as the robot in Planet, who has been drawn back in time to the “present” of the film. The film has even been included on recent releases of Forbidden Planet on DVD and Blu-ray, thus pretty well cementing its place as at least a semi-official follow-up.

thin3After this, Robby (you’ll have to excuse me, btw, if I continue to speak of the robot as an actor instead of merely a character, but at least in the mind of my child-within, that’s what he is – and IMDB seems to agree, as that is the way they list him,  too) went on to play in a number of television shows, sometimes in slightly altered form, but always distinctly Robby. As a matter of fact, IMDB lists him as having 24 actor credits, among them such diverse shows as The Twilight Zone (he actually appeared in three separate episodes of that series), Dobie Gillis, The Monkees, The Addams Family, and even, yes, Lost In Space, where he once showed up to fight with the resident robot of that series.

His first television appearance, however, was – you guessed it, the episode of The Thin Man that is today’s feature. So why would a robot need to enlist the aid of a pair of private detectives? well, I’m certainly not going to give that away here, or at least not in writing. To find out the answer, you’ll have to actually watch the episode, which I’ve embedded below. Have fun!



Top 250 Tuesday – #001 Vertigo (1958)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #001 on the list,  Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

*** SPOILER WARNING! Yes, this movie is more than 50 years old, but I know there are still a lot of people out there who have never seen it, and at the same time, there’s no way to talk about some of the points I want to hit without giving away some of the twists and plot details that really should be a surprise for the first time viewer, so I’m going to go ahead and throw up the old spoiler flag just in case. Proceed, therefore, at your own risk. END WARNING***

vert2That’s right, it’s elephant in the room time as today we take a look at what the list names the #1 all-time best movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Vertigo.

As was widely reported when the 2012 version of the list came out, Vertigo replaced Orson Well’s Citizen Kane, which had held the top spot for decades prior, thereby bumping Kane to number 2.

There are likely a number of reasons this occurred, including, one would suspect, a number of the respondents simply wanting to “shake things up a bit” or “do something different”, and therefore voting for this film over the perennial Kane. In truth, though, the reasoning doesn’t really matter. Hitchcock’s film now owns the top spot.

But does it deserve it?

Well, I’ll begin by saying this: personally, Vertigo is not my favorite Hitchcock movie. That spot belongs to Rear Window. As a matter of fact, that particular movie has become my go-to answer whenever anyone asks me what my favorite all-time movie is. But, of course, there’s a difference between “favorite” movies and those one perceives as “the best”. There are a number of movies that I can objectively state are better films than Rear Window, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like them more or that I even have to like them at all. And in all honesty, when I say that Rear Window is my all time favorite movie, that’s really simply a way of providing an answer that doesn’t require a lot of thought to an all too simplistic question, and can be used to either curtail or open up further discussion depending upon my mood and that of the questioner.

vert7Anyway, this is supposed to be about Vertigo, not Rear Window, so I suppose I should turn my focus to that.

One of the first things that I absolutely have to give credit to Hitchcock for in this movie is the fact that, much like in Psycho, he manages to keep the true protagonist of the movie (if there even is one) hidden for a very large part of this film. As a matter of fact, in a lot of ways, he manages to spend m0st of the movie getting us to root for one of the most obsessive and villainous characters in cinematic history, because let’s be honest, in his obsession with another man’s wife and his compulsion to remake Judy Barton into Madeline after the latter’s death, James Stewart‘s character of John “Scottie” Ferguson is certainly no hero, even though he may at first be presented that way to the audience.

vert4When it comes to it, “Obsession” might even be a better title for this film than “Vertigo”, because it’s Scottie’s obsession with Madeline that allows him to be set up as the unwitting witness to her “suicide”, and then later also leads to Judy’s own death. Even if he weren’t suffering from acrophobia and the accompanying vertigo, an honest assessment shows that John is not, to put it lightly, the most mentally fit character.

Even early on, after he has, he thinks, saved Madeline from drowning, he shows absolutely no compunction or shame in taking the unconscious Madeline back to his apartment and completely stripping this woman who he already has clearly become enamored of simply because of her beauty of all of her clothes before tucking her into his bed. Yes, he gives her the excuse of not wanting to take her back home to have to explain things to her husband, but even that, with Stewart’s delivery of the lines, seems rather flimsy and more of a rationalization for his actions.

vert6Which is not to say that Judy is a paragon of virtue, either. Yes, she may spend the latter part of the movie in the inescapable clutches of a man who will never love her for who she actually is, but rather for who he wants to (re-)make her into, thus garnering the audience’s sympathy and, as noted above, becoming the sort-of protagonist of the film, but let’s not forget that until Madeline’s death (in which she was a quite willing participant), she was perfectly happy in carrying out exactly the same charade, and never backs down from continuing with it, even though she has, by that point, purportedly completely fallen in love with Ferguson.

vert8It could even be argued that there is no clear-cut protagonist in the movie at all. Gavin Elster, the conniving ship builder who conceives and executes the entire plan to murder his wife and make it seem like suicide certainly doesn’t count as one, and since we never even actually meet the real Madeline Elster, well…

Even Barbara Bel Geddes’s seemingly too-sweet-for-words Midge becomes so swept up in her jealousy over the attention that “Johnnie” is paying to Madeline/Judy, that she allows it to overcome her and, with the painting that she makes as a “joke”, she shows her own obsession and takes herself out of the action at a time when she really could provide him with some needed help and perspective.

vert5Hmm… it almost seems as though the only truly heroic figure in the entire movie may be the police officer who, at the very beginning of the movie, gives his life trying to save Scottie’s.

Moving away from the actual plot of the movie, one does have to admit that Hitchcock’s technical ability as a director is firmly on display here. Much has been made of the since-become-cliche “Vertigo effect”  created with a “dolly-out/zoom-in” method which involves the camera physically moving away from a subject whilst simultaneously zooming in. Or vice versa. The effect can actually be created either way.

Then there is the “special sequence” which is used to depict the disorientation of Scottie’s dream, which is definitely a breathtaking experience, especially on the big screen.

vert8And, of course, there are the bravura performances of both Stewart and Kim Novak (who does, for the most part, manage to create in the viewer the belief for a time that Judy and Madeline are two separate characters quite well), but really that comes as no surprise, since Hitch both before and after this film proved himself a virtuoso at pulling from and capturing with his camera exactly the performance that he desires, no matter the cost.

Still, despite all of this, Vertigo commits one of the cardinal sins that in my mind disqualifies it from thee top spot not only of all films, but even when only set against Hitchcock’s other films.

It drags.

vert9Yes, the film does have its great moments, and it does have its exemplary scenes and shots, but the problem is that they are just that – moments, scenes, shots. Overall, however, this is a 128 minute film which doesn’t, as many great movies do, hide its length or feel shorter than its actual running time, but instead lets the viewer feel almost every minutes that passes, and not in a good way. There comes a point where, perhaps because there is no real character to root for, because there is no hero to cheer on, because we, as an audience get the idea that Scottie’s obsession with Maddy has gone to far, that we simply want the film to move on, to get to the climax, and it takes far too long to do that, which is unfortunate, because it does allow the viewer’s mind to wander and that is something that Hitchcock rarely can be said to do.

So, in the end, we have to go back to the question I asked at the beginning: Does Vertigo really deserve the #1 spot in a list of the “Greatest Movies of All Time”? My answer has to be no. Yes, it unquestionably belongs on the list, there’s no denying that, but as number one, I have to say it’s out of place.

Then again, I can’t say that I’d put Citizen Kane there, either.

Here’s the trailer: