Saturday Double Feature: Knives Out (2019) and…

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

ko1Ever since I saw his first feature, Brick, I have been a fan of Rian Johnson. For those who may not be familiar with that flick, it’s a pretty great neo-noir set in a high school, that not only hets the trappings of the genre right, but also the atmosphere of desperation and inevitability that, for me, is a hallmark of a good noir.

That’s why I’m truly looking forward to seeing what he does this week when he returns to his mystery roots with Knives Out. All you have to do is look back at some of my previous posts to see how much of a fan I am of the “old dark house” style mystery – you know the kind I mean, where all the suspects are stuck for one reason or another in one setting and it’s up to the detective (sometimes a professional, sometimes an amateur, often just one of the guests) to put all the pieces together and solve the crime before it’s too late and everyone else (or they themself) winds up dead.

As always, there are a few ways to go when looking for a pairing for this double feature. We could go back to the beginning, and the movie which gave the genre it’s name:

We could go the Agatha Christie route:

Or, we could always go with the most popular comedy version

If it fit within the “rules”, I probably would have gone with this one

But instead, I decided to go with an earlier comedy version. 1976’s Murder by Death, written by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore is a parody not only of the old dark house style, but also of the various detective tropes that had sprung up over the years.

ko2The movie features Truman Capote in the host role as Lionel Twain, who has invited five of the world’s greatest detectives and their relatives/assistants to his mansion for an evening of “dinner and a murder”. The detectives include Peter Falk as Sam Diamond, a take-off of the hard-boiled detective (the name is just a bit too point-on, but hey… honestly, this ain;t what you’d call a…. ummm… subtle film), Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles, (the Agatha Christie Miss Marples stand-in), James Coco as Christie;s Hercule Poirot… I mean as Milo Perrier, David Niven and Maggie Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston, the Nick and Nora Charles (from the Thin Man series) knockoffs, and…

Yeah, here’s where we get to the problematic part. The fifth detective is Sidney Wang, who is based on Earl Del Biggers’ Charlie Chan. As you’ll see in the trailer, Wang is portrayed by Peter Sellers in full yellow-face and of course full pigeon English, and there’s just no getting around it. It is a terrific send-up of the character type, (one would expect nothing less from an actor as talented as Sellers), but at the same time, it’s definitely a product of its time, and I certainly understand that it will be a deal-breaker for some.

If it’s not, however, then I do highly recommend Murder by Death. It’s not the best of its kind, (look above to see the two that I think are), and some of the laughs may not land if you’re not familiar with the characters being parodied, but it is entertaining, and at just over 90 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Here’s your trailer:

Done With the Turkey? Good. Guess What It’s Time For?

Ah, the “holiday season”… here we are, the day after Thanksgiving, so of course it’s time to turn our thoughts to Christmas.

For a lot of people, Christmas means Christmas Specials. You know the ones I mean, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, etc., but there’s also another kind of Christmas Special, and those are the ones I want to take a look at today. Whether a show is a sit-com, a drama,or even science-fiction, chances are that sooner or later they’re going to make some sort of “special Christmas episode”.

Actually, i think we’re going to do this in two parts. Today, we’re going to focus on the more “classic” TV shows. Then sometime next week we’ll take a look at some of the more recent and perhaps some of the odder of these shows.

 

 

Happy Throwback Thanksgiving! – Thanksgiving With Jack

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Here’s a special Thanksgiving edition of Throwback Thursday, And I hope that all of you, whether traveling or at home with your family or wherever the day might find you, are safe and happy.


Old Time Radio Thursdays – #020: Jack Benny Celebrates Thanksgiving

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Last week we started our Thanksgiving celebration with a sampler from various shows as they celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, and we’ll pick that back up next week, but I thought this week we’d actually take a look at how one long-running comedy show featured the holiday throughout the years.

The Jack Benny Program has long been one of my favorite Old Time Radio comedy shows, and obviously, considering how long the show ran, I am not alone in that feeling. Since the setup of the show was that it basically chronicled the stars lives as they went through them, it was only natural that each year there would be a show featuring how the gang celebrated the holidays. So, here’s a look at how they did that over time.

Next week? Even more Old Time Radio shows to be thankful for.

Until next time, Happy Listening!

Old Time Radio Tuesday – Talking Turkey Day

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

(Just a quick aside – it occurs to me I may soon have to change that introduction to not only explain what I mean by “Old Time Radio”, but even what the concept of radio itself is. Now that everyone gets their music from streaming services and the like, does anyone even listen to the radio anymore? Ah, but that’s a post for another day.)

Well, we’re just over a couple of weeks out from Thanksgiving, so that seems like a good time to take a look back at how some of the great radio shows of the past celebrated the holiday. Which means, lucky you, no long-winded history lesson from me today, just a selection of shows that hopefully you won’t think are turkeys.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

 

Made -for-TV Monday – The Norliss Tapes (1973)

(In the interest of full disclosure, what follows is a re-worked version of a post that originally appeared here in 2015. I would usually reserve this kind of thing for Throwback Thursday, but the post I’d originally planned for today just didn’t quite work out. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be back next week with an all-new TV-Movie – well, the post will be all-new, the movie will be some 30-40 years old – for you.)

nt5Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Dan Curtis and especially of his TV series Dark Shadows and The Night Stalker. As a matter of fact, a few years back I wrote extensively about the latter, covering not only  the original Made-for-TV movie and it’s follow-up The Night Strangler, but also an episode-by-episode recap of the  TV series that sprang from them. Of course, those shows were far from the only ones that the prolific Curtis produced for television, and that brings us to the subject of today’s post.

So here’s what apparently happened: when it was announced that  that Curtis wasn’t going to be involved in ABC’s Night Stalker series, he was courted by NBC to create a slightly different show for them Thus The Norliss Tapes was born. As was typical at the time, he created a made for TV movie which would run an hour and a half and serve as an undeclared pilot for the series.

nt4To call The Norlisss Tapes a rip-off of The Night Stalker is a bit unfair (can you really rip yourself off?), but there are certainly similarities between the two. Instead of being an investigative reporter like Stalker‘s Carl Kolchack, Tapes‘ protagonist David Norliss (played by Roy Thinnes, at the time probably best known for his role in The Invaders) is a book writer researching – and along the way debunking -the supernatural. They both show an inclination for recording/narrating their adventures on audiotape. They both run afoul of disbelieving lawmen, etc. etc. The biggest difference between the two is that whereas The Night Stalker had a more lighthearted – at times almost comedic – sense to it, Norliss plays the horror straightforward, definitely going for the chills.

I guess you could call it Stalker‘s more serious cousin.

nt3Anyway, just to touch a bit on the plot, the movie opens with a telephone call between Norliss and his publisher during which the titular character begs him for a meeting. When Norliss doesn’t show, the publisher becomes worried, and when it becomes obvious that he has disappeared, he decides to investigate. Upon arriving at Norliss’s house, he finds a series of tapes, supposedly containing the narration of the book, and he decides to listen to them in order to try to find out what might have happened to the missing writer.

All of this, of course, is merely set-up to get us into the actual story.

nt2The always lovely Angie Dickinson plays a woman who awakens to find her home being invaded by a figure who appears to be her dead husband. He has already killed her dog, and begins to come after her. Fortunately she’s able to grab a shotgun, and in a very explosive P.O.V. shot shoots him at point blank range. However when the police get there, the only thing they find is the dead dog. Not only is there no other body, there isn’t even any other blood.

Norliss is called in to help investigate the mysterious goings-on, and it of course turns out that the dead husband is actually a… well, it’s kind of unclear what he is. Though he mostly looks and acts like a vampire, and the victim of his bodies are drained of blood, he doesn’t seem to be drinking it, instead, he’s mixing it into clay that he’s using to make a statue of the demon Zardoth who is temporarily inhabiting his body, but wants to use the statue as his new earthly body.

nt1In the end, it’s pretty easy to see why NBC wound up taking a pass on making this into an ongoing series. Thinnes’s Norliss really doesn’t display any of the charm or personality of Darren McGavin’s Kolchack, and the show in general just seems flat compared to a lot of Curtis’s other offerings. As a one-off it’s okay, but mostly forgettable, (which may be why it’s mostly forgotten today) and with The Niight Stalker already on the air and covering what would likely be most of the same ground that Norliss would pursue – let’s be honest, there’s only so much that can be done with a monster of the week show, though it would have had the advantage of the overarching “What’s actually happened to David?” subplot – it seems like it wouldn’t be long before the show simply ran out of tapes and ran aground.

Still, if you’re a fan of The Night Stalker and/or Dan Curtis it’s certainly worth checking out, which you can do below. (And just for the record, the entire movie is currently available on YouTube.)

Saturday Double Feature – Ford v Ferrari (2019) and…

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

ff1When I first heard the title Ford v Ferrari, I have to admit I had no idea at all what the movie was about. Probably some kind of Fast and Furious rip-off was my first thought.

As it turns out, the movie is about the rivalry between Henry Ford II, Lee Iacoca, and Enzo Ferrari. It seems that in 1963, Ford tried to buy Ferrari, a move which might have happened, except that Ferrari didn’t want to let go of his Formula 1 racing team, which held complete domination of the sport at the time.

Enraged by the rejection, Ford became determined to build a car which would knock Ferrari out of the top spot, and he hired Caroll Shelby and Ken Miles to design the car. I’ll let you guess how the movie progresses from there, but it all ends with a big showdown at the 24 hours of LeMans race in 1966.

So what older movie would provide a good double feature with FvF? Well, the obvious choice would be 1971’s Le Mans starring Steve McQueen as a driver in the ’71 version of the race depicted in FvF, however, as a friend pointed out while we were discussing it, that might be just a little too obvious. For the record, though, I highly recommend seeing LeMans if you haven’t. Hey, it’s Steve McQueen in a car flick… can you really go wrong with that?

Okay, so with that one out of the running, where do you go? Well, if there’s one thing I know to be true in this life it’s that you can never go wrong turning to the late, great James Garner.

gp1With John Frankenheimer in the director’s chair shooting in 70mm Super Panavision, 1966’s Grand Prix may not be the best racing movie ever made, but no one can deny that it is full of stars and spectacle. The cast includes Eve Maries Saint, Brian Bedford, Yves Montaud, Jessica Walter, Antonio Sabato, and Toshiro Mifune, along with cameos from real-life race drivers such as Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, and Jack Brabham. It also features footage that was shot during actual races on the F1 circuit.

Grand Prix had a unique road to the screen as Frankenheimer was able to leverage his connections to various real-life drivers to get permission to shoot at the races even though it meant disrupting many of the drivers’ usual schedules and training days. he even went so far as to stop production after shooting at Monte Carlo, cut together a 30 minute prodution reel which was shown to Ferrari management, and they were so impressed that they subsequently allowed him to even shoot on their production floor and helped  him gain even more access to the races and drivers.

Frankenheimer has stated (and I’m paraphrasing here) that there were really two ways he could go with the movie, focusing either on the more technical aspects of the racing or playing up the behind-the-scenes almost soap-opera aspects of life on the circuit, and he eventually decided to go the latter route. Whether that was the right choice I think really depends upon the viewer and what they want from this type of movie.

The plot of the film basically follows four main drivers through an entire season of the Formula One season, focusing not only on them, but also on the people such  as their wives and lovers and team members as they risk life and limb in these races. Thos focus does not, however take away from the stunning race footage that Frankenheimer and his cinematographer, Lionel Lindon, were able to capture, as you’ll see in the trailer.

And speaking of the trailer, here it is now. Enjoy! And then go check out the whole thing,