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.