Classic Television Thursday #034 – The Magician (1973)

mag1The internet is a rabbit hole. We all know that. You start off looking for/at one thing, and before you know it, you’re in a completely different place altogether.

Here’s how one recent trip down the hole went for me:

1) I was looking at recent movie news and noticed that Hulk Hogan said he wanted to be in the upcoming Expendables 4, alongside Sylvester Stallone who gave him his first big movie break as “Thunderlips” (yes, Thunderlips) in Rocky 3. (If you follow DMM on Facebook, you might remember that I posted a clip of them fighting there just a few days ago.)

2) Watching the clip of that fight from the movie reminded me how much I miss the wonderful character actor Ray Walston, who played Rocky’s manager/trainer in the early Rocky movies.

3) Thinking of Walstone immediately made me think of other roles that he had played, such as Uncle Martin in the classic TV show My Favorite Martian.

4) Thinking about that show of course reminded me how much I also miss Walston’s co-star in it, Bill Bixby.

5) Again, thinking of Bixby made me think of other roles that he had been in. Of course, he is probably best known to most people today for his portrayal of David Banner (yes, in the TV show, the character’s name was changed from Bruce to David, and no, I’m not going to go into that right now), in the television version of The Hulk, but he also starred in another TV show that I have fond memories of: The Magician.

Which, finally brings us to today’s post.

For those of you who may not  remember or have ever even heard of the show (meaning, I suspect, most of you out there reading this), in The Magician, Mr. Bixby starred as stage magician/playboy Tony Blake (though as you’ll see in the pilot below, his name was originally Anthony Dorian) who used his skills as an illusionist to help solve mysteries and crimes. Unfortunately, the series ran for only one season on NBC from 1973-1974, and even during that limited run, it seemed like the producers couldn’t really figure out how best to sustain the premise which actually saw a major shift about half-way through when Blake’s base of operations changed form his specially outfitted personal Boeing 737 to the real-life Magic Castle located in L.A.

Oh, and just for the record, though it’s not true of the pilot, during the rest of the show’s run, Bixby actually performed all of the illusions seen on the show himself, without the aid of any camera trickery.

With all of that said, here’s that pilot episode. And you can thank Hulk Hogan for getting to see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Then Things Really Started Blowing Up – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

mm1Let’s get this part out of the way quickly: Yes, somewhere in the past I have watched all three of the earlier Mad Max movies, but I do not consider myself a huge fan of them. They’ve always just kind of been in that crop of movies about which I’ve just kind of felt indifferent. So my decision to go see the latest installment, Mad Max: Fury Road, this past Friday was not one, like some people I know, built on months of anticipation and a feeling of “I can’t wait to watch this!” but more “Well, I’ve got some time this afternoon before I have to do anything else, so why not?”

Which is why I’m rather surprised to be sitting here writing this and telling you not only to go see the movie, but to see it in theaters, on the big screen, and in the highest quality possible – yes, I’m even suggesting you spring extra for the 3D version.

Let’s get this out of the way part 2: I’m inclined to say there is absolutely no plot whatsoever to this movie, but that’s not quite true. There is a plot, or at least a very rudimentary one, but it really doesn’t matter what it is, because it really only exists as a reason for the characters to be going from point A to point B. Actually, Fury Road is, in it’s way quite reminiscent of the road movies of the 70s such as Vanishing Point or even Smokey and the Bandit – odd comparisons, I’ll admit where the entire point of the exercise is to see how far down the road one can get the protagonist either gets caught by pursuing forces or is simply so lost in the mayhem of the road that they can go no further.

mm4“Mayhem.” Yeah, that really is the word to describe what occurs in this movie. Except that we’re not Just talking mayhem. We’re not even talking what some people might call “capital ‘M’ Mayhem. No, we’re actually talking more along the lines of “capital ‘MAY’ capital ‘HEM’ followed by about a half dozen exclamation points. MAYHEM!!!!!!

That’s what this movie is really all about.

mm3Yet despite that fact, this is not a movie that winds up descending into chaos. What do I mean by that? Simple. Though Fury Road is full of all kinds of insane stunts and explosions and car crashes and people killing each other and being killed in more and more violent ways, due to the sure and steady guiding hand of director George Miller and his careful planning and vision – along with some amazing work by editor Margaret Sixel, there are very few times when one is unable to very clearly follow every bit of what is happening on the screen or when the focus is lost and the action simply becomes a blur.

Simply put, Fury Road is truly an action film masterpiece, and that is not a word that I am inclined to use lightly.

mm2There are a few other positive notes that I’d like to point out about the film. Much has – and deservedly so – been made of Charlize Theron‘s role in the movie, and it’s true, she does dominate a lot of what happens onscreen to the point that yes, it can very well be called her movie as much as titular star Tom Hardy. But there are also secondary female characters that in almost any other film of this sort would be included purely as “eye candy” or as “damsels in distress” who exist only to be rescued. and when they are first introduced, that is exactly the role they seem to be intended to take. However it is not long before they prove themselves to be if not perhaps as capable as the main stars, at least integral parts of the ensuing action and just a willing to participate in and do their best to hold their own in everything that is going on around them.

mm5Also, I made note above that this is a movie that has a decidedly old-school feel to it, and a huge part of the reason for that is the incredible number of stunts that are either purely practical and done in camera or that involve very little in the way of CGI. That’s not to say that Miller doesn’t take advantage of every trick and technology advance that is available to him – he certainly does – but there is never that point where one gets the feeling that he is simply saying “let’s show ’em how we can do this now!” or “let’s leave that one to be done in post”. No, this movie is all about getting the shot at the time and that results in a visceral feel to the movie that serves to raise the stakes even further because while watching it one does get the feeling that at any moment someone really could get injured or killed or that the entire production could come crashing down or descend into that state of chaos that I described above.

mm6Which brings me to another positive point about this movie. When I mentioned “raised stakes” above, I didn’t just mean in terms of the stunt work involved, but also with the characters. Fury Road is one of those rare movies where it really feels as though characters that we have come to care about are in danger, and not everyone that one might otherwise expect to is going to make it out the other end of the film alive, and that proves to be true. There are even a couple of deaths that are shocking not just because they occur, but in the way that they take place.

mm7All in all, I have to say that for a movie that I really just went to see on a “why not” whim, I’m surprised at how impressed I was by it, and the enthusiastic support that I find myself giving it. If you are at all an action movie fan, and you want to see a prime example of what can be made when a film maker clearly has his sights set simply on giving his audience what they want and delivering exactly the movie that he wants, then you owe it to yourself to go see Fury Road, because you are not likely to have an opportunity like this again for a long time.

They May Actually Be Somewhere In This Five Minute Short – All Your Favorite Shows (2015)

ayfs1I’ve said it here many times before, and I’ll say it again: short films are not easy. Not only do you have to set up the story that you want to tell and establish your characters, but then you also have to carry that premise through to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. Of course, from a personal perspective it makes it even harder for me to really enjoy a short film that is simply trying to “depict a moment”, rather than actually tell a narrative story, but that’s simply my own bias. Since I am a story-teller, I prefer films that have an actual narrative to share.

As an added obstacle, the short film maker then has to try to do something to really set his film apart in a way that often times those making longer movies don’t. Because so many beginning film makers think of short films as a gateway to bigger things, and especially with the cost of entry into creating your own film being so much lower today than it ever has been in the past, the number of short movies being made today is exponentially larger than ever before.

That’s why I’m always thrilled to run across a short film like All Your Favorite Shows. Created by Ornana Films, this short is a triumph not only of story telling, but especially of editing as during its 5 minute running time it uses clips from roughly 160 movies to move its story along at an extremely wild pace and yet never gets lost, and it really is a showcase of just how much can be done working with so little. I highly recommend giving this one a look, and if you like what you see, you can check out some of their other shorts at Ornana.com.

It’s True, Eli Roth Always Did Want To Be Quentin Tarantino – Here’s One Of His Student Films, Restaurant Dogs (1994)

er1I have to admit I’m not a very big fan of Eli Roth. His films really tend to be more graphically gory than I prefer. Not that I don’t like a bit of gore in my horror films when it’s appropriate, but I tend to prefer when the movie takes a bit of a step back and remembers that its purpose is to entertain rather than to simply – as Ross seems to have a tendency to do – revel in the most realistic portrayal of gore and body torture that it possibly can muster.

Nonetheless, one thing that I always find interesting is to look back and see just what today’s film makers – or really, film makers from any era, but it’s a much easier task today with the proliferation of this kind of thing to be found all over the internet – were doing in their early years.

That’s one reason I found this film from Roth’s film school days so fascinating. Another is the sheer creativity on exhibit, especially considering what must have been an extremely limited budget that he was obviously working with. Of course, again, that’s another thing that usually sets this kind of short film apart. The fact that during these early years these creators didn’t have a lot of money to work with, nor did they have access to the latest technology or effects houses such as ILM to create their effects, so they had to come up with some kind of work around or other way to get their vision to the screen, and since, as the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, I’m always curious to see just what kind of inventiveness they come up with.

Anyway, it’s in that spirit that I thought I’d share with you this video, complete with an introduction by Mr. Roth himself explaining not just the origins of the film, but its rather disastrous reception, of Restaurant Dogs from all the way back in 1994.

(Y’know, in a way I almost feel it’s a shame he ever did get a big budget to work with. There’s actually a lot more thought and inventiveness going on here than in a lot of his full-length efforts. At least that’s my opinion anyway)

Classic Television Thursday #033 – Cinderella (1957)

cin3In 1955, NBC produced their live version of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin which is probably the best known of the television movie musicals from that period, but it is far from the only one. As a matter of fact, there were quite a few musicals which were produced for TV during that period, some of them done live, others shot on tape or film but shown exclusively on television. Examples of this include  Annie Get Your GunAnything Goes, Kiss Me, Kate, and today’s subject, Cinderella.

By 1957, Julie Andrews was beginning to get some recognition on Broadway and had been nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on the stage, but she was years away from really becoming the household name that she would be after starring in 1964’s Mary Poppins and 1965’s The Sound of Music.

That did not stop CBS from signing her to a contract to do some kind of musical production for the network. They then approached Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein to come up with an appropriate vehicle to showcase the talents of Miss Andrews. After casting about a bit for ideas, the duo eventually settled on Cinderella.

cin2Originally airing live at 8pm Eastern Time on March 31, 1957, Cinderella was broadcast live in the Eastern, Central and Mountain time zones both in black and white and in color for those stations that could handle the new technology. The West Coast received a delayed black and white-only broadcast starting at 8pm Pacific time. Beyond the continental United States, it was carried by CBS affiliates in the U.S. territories of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico; in Canada it was broadcast on CBC.

According to reports, the show was watched by 107 million viewers, or over 60% of the US population at the time, making it the most viewed television program in history at the time.

cin1Along with Ms. Andrews, who was nominated for an Emmy Award for the performance, the production also starred Jon Cypher as The Prince, Howard Lindsay as The King, Dorothy Stickney as The Queen, Edith Adams as the Fairy Godmother, Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley as stepsisters Portia and Joy, Ilka Chase as the Stepmother, and Iggie Wolfington as The Steward. The show was directed by Ralph Nelson and choreographed by Jonathan Lucas.

Unfortunately, it appears that the only surviving recording of the production is a black and white kinescope, as it was not recorded on videotape, nor in color. That surviving recording is available on DVD, and in parts on YouTube, so here, for your enjoyment are the first 10 minutes or so of the show, and I highly recommend you seeking out the rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s A Second Peak At Terror – The Newest Trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015)

cp1When it comes to true horror films, there are few that I like better than a good ghost/haunted house movie. Then when you take that and put it in the hands of one of the few directors currently working in the genre who can truly be described as “visionary”, well, you know you’re in for something special.

That much, of course, was obvious as soon as this fall’s Crimson Peak was announced.

Then came the first trailer which showed that yes, del Toro was definitely bringing the atmosphere and tone to the film that he was so obviously capable of.

And now there’s this second trailer which makes me think that as far as this film is concerned October can’t get here soon enough:

Do We Really Need To Go There Again? – Here’s The New Trailer For Vacation (2015)

vac1I recognize that I’m in the minority, having never been a fan of the original Chevy Chase-starring Vacation movies, but I just never found them funny. So I’m really not that interested in / excited for this year’s upcoming remake.

Actually, I think the best thing about those original movies was the poster art.

Nonetheless, knowing that a lot of you probably are looking forward to it, I figured I’d go ahead and share this latest trailer, if for no other reason than to give you a warning of what you’re in for.

And, I guess to give you Chris Hemsworth fans a little treat.

So here you go.

Oh, and I guess I should note for the record that the trailer is NSFW, but considering the movie it’s promoting, I’d think that could have gone without saying.

A Very Bright Noir – Night Moves (1975)

nm1I’ve said it before: Gene Hackman is one of those actors who truly deserve more credit than they are usually given, and whose presence in a movie is usually enough to cause me to at least give it a chance. It’s certainly the sight of his name in the credits that caused me to give 1975’s Night Moves a look, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Fortunately, the film has much more going for it than just Mr. Hackman.

nm2At its heart, Night Moves truly fits into the tradition of the best films noir, despite its outwardly sunny settings of Los Angeles and the Florida Keys. Like the best examples of the genre, there is a certain sense of despair and inevitability to the proceedings that pervade every moment of what occurs onscreen. That’s not to say that the film is somehow gloomy, far from it, but there is definitely the feeling that no matter how hard Hackman’s character, private detective Harry Moseby might try, he simply cannot escape the doom that fate has in store for him, and in actuality he doesn’t really seem to be trying all that hard to escape as to simply accept and perhaps forestall what is coming long enough to perhaps at least save a few of the lives around him.

nm4Director Arthur Penn – also known for 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde and 1970’s Little Big Man shows in this movie just how much he had his finger on the zeitgeist of the time, as the film he has crafted here fits well not only in his own personal oeuvre, but into the atmosphere that was pervading cinema in the mid 70s. Coming out of the Vietnam War, it seemed that everything was unsettled and that there was a sense of displacement, not just for retuning veterans who were struggling to find their place in the world they were retuning to, but in the nation as a whole which was reeling from and dealing with revelations of scandal and corruption that reached even the highest office in the land and left everyone with a feeling of distrust and questioning that made the time right for a film of just this sort.

Special note should also go to a very young Melanie Griffith – she was only 17 at the time the film was shot -who portrays Delilah “Delly” Grastner, whose disappearance from the mother’s home is the catalyst for everything that follows. Though young, Ms. Griffith shines in the role, showing not only the charm that would soon bring her much greater fame, while also not shying away from the racier aspects of the character. Also of note in the movie is James Woods who, though he had been acting in theater and on Broadway for quite a while at this point, was only really beginning his transition to the silver screen.

nm3Earlier I noted that along with this movie fitting into the time that it is set, it also, for me at least, fits into the tradition of the films noir of the late 40s and early 50s, and while I know there are traditionalists who would debate my use of that term as outwardly the movie – since it takes place largely in the daytime, is in color, is not set in the heart of the big city – seems to defy many of the accepted conventions of the genre, my argument for describing it that way comes largely down to the atmosphere and tone of the film. Of course, it really doesn’t matter what tag you wish to put upon it, if you’re looking for good, suspenseful dark detective fiction, well played by its stars and well directed by Mr. Penn, then I think you’ll be well satisfied with this somewhat hidden dark gem.

 

Following Through With The Terror – It Follows (2015)

if1I keep hearing that there is a kind of generational breakdown in the reaction to It Follows. The conventional wisdom appears to be that “the kids” don’t like it very much because they think it’s too slow and doesn’t have enough in the way of jump scares and gore. On the other hand, adults seem to be really liking it, for pretty much exactly the same reasons.

Of course, there are exceptions to this, just as there are to any generalization about who will and who won’t like any particular movie, but I can completely get on board with this one.

That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have its moments of shock. Obviously it has to, otherwise it wouldn’t fit into the horror genre, but the movie doles them out sparingly and appropriately in a way that leads to a very tense and smart climax.

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you’re already familiar with the basic idea that drives the story. A teenage girl has sex with a guy she barely knows who afterwards insists that he has passed to her a supernatural stalker who will implacably follow her until it eventually kills her, and the only way to survive is to pass it on to someone else by having sex with them. Unfortunately, this actually only delays things, because once it has killed the person it has been passed to, the “follower” reverts to stalking the person back down the line. In other words, the danger is always there, and you can never really get rid of it, instead all you can hope for is some respite from the constant dread and looking over your shoulder.

if2For fear of giving away too much, I don’t want to write about any more of the plot, because there are a number of twiststhe film takes that, while perhaps not surprising, are definitely worth not knowing until you’re actually in the theater and watching them play out.

Much like my other favorite recent horror film The Babadook takes its PTSD metaphor and runs with it, It Follows definitely makes the most of its own STD theme and owns it completely. And, while the ending of this film may not have quite the same level of ambiguity of Babdook‘s final scene, I will say that I can understand why there have been a few complaints that the end of the film may not completely satisfy, but it seems, in my opinion at least, much like the former film, completely appropriate to what has come before.

if3Two things that I want to draw special attention to before I close. While this isn’t her first film, Maika Monroe, who plays lead girl Jay Height definitely proves herself capable of carrying this film, turning what could easily have been a simple “scream queen” role into something much deeper. Indeed, the entire cast does an excellent job of interpreting and bringing to life writer and director David Roger Mitchell’s script. Secondly, the score and sound design for this film does an excellent job of underscoring what is going on onscreen at just the right moment, and setting the tone throughout. Yes, this is something you may note that I also mentioned in my recent review of Unfriended. What can I say? Sound editors seem to be having a good year so far.

It also seems like so far 2015 has been a good year for small, smart, subversive horror flicks, and this is a trend that I’m happy to see and hope will continue throughout the year. Yeah, there a a huge number of big-budget blockbusters coming out this year that are going to completely overshadow these smaller movies, but its comforting to know that there are other effective quality films – and not just in the horror genre – that are out right now if one will just take the time to look beyond the huge box-office attention grabbers and give them a try.

Saturday Breakfast Serial 024 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 14: Invisible Terror

dt14Okay, gang, it’s Saturday again, and time for another installment of Saturday Breakfast Serial and our ongoing chapter play, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: 1, 2, 3, 4 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

Ah, Universal. As a studio, they are perhaps best known in popular culture for their iconic early horror films. So much so that the phrase “Universal Monsters” is one that even those who aren’t film history aficionados will generally recognize as referring to the studio’s 1930s and 40s interpretations of characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf-man, etc., but the studio was built on much more than that, and one of those building blocks was their status as an early leader in the field of movie serials. As a matter of fact, Universal actually produced more serials than any of its competitors with an official total of 137, beginning with 1914’s Lucille Love, Girl of Mystery and ending with 1946’s The Mysterious Mr. M, and that number doesn’t include some of the earlier efforts made by those producers who would eventually become a part of the studio proper.

Lucille Love is actually a very interesting example of the lengths to which Universal would go both to produce and promote their films and serials.

ll1During the production of the 15 chapter serial more than 300 tribes people were brought to California from their native Society Islands (Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc.) and were housed on the Universal Studios Ranch. Also, a Chinese village was built at a cost of almost $5,000 and was then only used in the filming of two scenes.

Meanwhile the story of the film was being serialized throughout newspapers across the country, often accompanied by offers of a reward for information regarding the whereabouts of the missing titular adventuress.

Once the serial was released, it was often done so with much fanfare, including full-page color advertisements taken out in local newspapers, and individual theaters were also highly encouraged to arrange their own special promotions in order to draw more people in to see the series.

All of this publicity definitely proved worthwhile to the studio, which saw enormous ticket sales and profits from the series, as it not only had a hugely successful first run, but also was run a second time in many locals, and was even in some places re-run in a one or two chapter per day format for its second run, thus allowing the public to view the entire serial over a one or two week period, and extending the life of the serial far into 1915 and in some cases even 1916, something that was generally unheard of at the time when most serials were not considered to be main attractions, but simply something to encourage movie goers to return to the theater each week to take in the feature film.

So where would Universal go from there? Well, I guess that’s something to take a look at next time. Meanwhile, let’s see what’s in store for our master criminologist in the penultimate chapter of our own serial, shall we?

By the way, once again I should note that we’re nearing the end of this serial, and I’m looking at which one to feature next. I’m definitely open to any nominations or requests, so if you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know about them in the comments here or over on the DMM Facebook page.

Next up: wrapping up Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. with Chapter 15: Retribution, and more Universal serial history.