OTR Tuesday – Ma Perkins

mp1Of course, we’re all familiar with the concept of the soap opera. It’s a serial, either daily or weekly, that usually dramatizes (often overly so) the lives of a generally small group of people linked to gether in some way. They might live in the same city, work together in a hospital, or even just be members of the same family. The daily soaps especially are known for their rushed production and generally lower production values than night time programming, but they still have an incredible number of followers who will make it “appointment tv” to make sure they don’t miss their “stories”.

(A quick aside: I put the word “stories” in quotes there not to imply anything abput the plots of these shows which can, at times and over the years become quite intricate, but because that’s the phrase my grandmother used to use to describe them, and I’ve heard it used quite often since.)

Of course,like a lot of our entertainment options,the soap operas began on the radio where they were broadcast to provide entertainment to housewives as they went through their day. As a matter of fact,that’s where the phrase “soap opera” comes from as often the shows were accompanied by advertisements for laundry detergents and other household cleaners that the women would use while doing their daily cleaning.

mp2
The cast of Ma Perkins

One of the earliest and longest running soap operas was Ma Perkins, which was broadcast on the NBC network from 1933 to 1949 and on the CBS network from 1942 to 1960.Now you may notice some overlap there, and yes, it’s true. For awhile the show was so popular that from 1942 to 1949 it was carried by both networks. In total, 7,065 episodes were produced.

Ma Perkins was a widow who owned and operated a lumber yard (which she had presumably inherited from her husband in the small town of Rushville Center located somewhere in the south. She was the mother of three children, Evey, Faye, and John. Ma was portrayed through the entire run by Virginia Payne, who was 23 then the show started and never missed a show until it came to a close when she was 50.

However, even regular listeners would not have known the star by name, because even though everyone else would get their name read during the closing credits, the announcer would simply end with “…and Ma Perkins.” As a matter of fact, the only time Payne’s name was mentioned was in the last show when Payne took to the airwaves as herself to make a farewell speech to the audience.

It’s often noted that due to their very nature, daytime soaps tend to drag out their plot-lines often to an excruciating extent. After all, people might not be able to tune in every day, and if viewers miss too much that happens in a particular day or week, they might get so confused they simply tune out. This was especially true for Ma Perkins,where storylines could go on for three or four months without any resolution. At the same time, loyal listeners were rewarded for their tenacity with such over-the-top plots as when Ma exposed a black market baby-smuggling ring or when she gave safe shelter to Soviet political dissidents in her home.

Generally, though, the stories were more low-key, and simply dealt with Ma dealing with the crises that affected her friends and family.

Here’s a selection of episodes:

 

 

Made for TV Monday – Killdozer (1974)

 

kd4Okay, let’s just start out with a little bit of honesty, shall we? When you turn on a movie with the title Killdozer you have to know right up front that you’re in for more than just a little bit of ridiculousness. Well, I’m happy to report that at least on that front, the movie doesn’t disappoint.

That may be the only way it doesn’t, but at least there’s that.

Our story begins in the depths of the cosmos where we follow the trail of a meteor as it crashes down to Earth on a small island somewhere off the African coast. An unknowable amount of time later, a crew of six men are dispatched by the Corporation to prepare the area for the company’s new production base.

Suitably isolated to be the stars in a horror movie – especially once their radio, the only connection they have to the mainland, is destroyed – the six men are already tense, especially since their foreman Kelly (played with a hard edge by veteran actor Clint Walker) is business only. (It is revealed after awhile that he is a recovering alcoholic who is trying desperately to finish the job no matter what in order to retain his position with the company.)

kd5Of course it’s not long before the crew discovers the meteorite and attempts to remove it. Bringing up a bulldozer, Kelly and one of the workers, Mac, (Robert Urich) begin the extraction when the rock suddenly emits an unearthly blue glow – a glow that transfers itself into the ‘dozer. It’s from this point that we know we’re not dealing with an ordinary bulldozer. No, the D-9 has been transformed. Perhaps inhabited. Whatever the reason, it’s now become… a Killdozer!

At the same time that this is happening, the killdozer claims its first victim, as Matt, who was staring straight at the rock when the blue glow happened, is stricken by a mysterious malady and dies soon thereafter. This, of course, escalates the tension between the men, as Kelly shows no emotion, and acts as though he wants to carry on with the job as if nothing has happened.

One thing he does do is to bring the machine back to camp. However, when it sees the men communicating with their home base over the radio, it  assumes control from the man driving it and goes on a rampage, destroying the radio and eventually crushing the driver (who has bailed out) with its blade.

kd2After two deaths, the men are understandably even more on edge, and the tension only ramps up once it becomes apparent that the machine is truly moving on its own and is essentially stalking them.

Despite its essentially silly concept, it’s obvious that everyone involved was doing their best to make this a fairly taut thriller. With its lean running time of 74 minutes (remember, it was produced to run in a 90 minute time slot including commercials) Killdozer has little time to waste on extraneous matter. It’s not hurt in this regard by a mostly punchy script written by famed science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon who also wrote the 1944 novella on which the movie was based.

The cast is studded with movie and TV veterans including not only those mentioned above, but also James Wainwright and Neville Brand, and again, despite the ridiculous premise, they are playing it, for the most part, completely straight, and doing their best to put across a sense of terror and desperation that can only come from being hunted by a slow moving machine that they could pretty easily outrun.

kd6As far as the effects, well, honestly there’s only one that counts, and that’s making the killdozer appear to be driving itself, and that is pulled off effectively. The effects people even, through manipulation of the ‘dozers lights and controls effectively give it the illusion of there being an intelligence working inside the machine.

It’s worth noting that, perhaps if for no other reason than its title, Killdozer has taken on a life beyond its limited TV showings, even receiving an comic book adaptation from Marvel comics, though it should also be noted that the cover of that issue (pictured at the left) is much more dramatic than anything that happens in the movie. Not only does the ‘dozer never talk, but, as noted above, the entire cast is male, meaning there is no woman to be terrorized.

Final thoughts? Lets put it like this – Killdozer turns out, despite its silly title and ridiculous premise, to be a not-too-bad little film. And at 74 minutes, it’s not like you’ll be investing a lot of time into it.

I didn’t find a trailer online, but here’s a short TV spot:

Saturday Double Feature – Midway (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.

mw1News Flash! The Japanese have launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor!

Flashier! The US Navy has launched a valiant attack on Japanese forces seeking to take the island of Midway, in a battle that is hoped will turn the tide of the war in the Pacific!

More Flash! Roland Emmerich has spent $100 million dollars on a two- hour plus movie telling this tale!

Still Flashing! There’s little hope that this film will be any better than the original film about this battle which was just as star-studded, just as long, and apparently just as middle of the road.

Yes, it’s true. For this week’s double feature, I’m going with a pretty obvious pick, but after last week’s nobody-coulda-guessed-it selection, I thought I’d go a little easier on you this week.

So, yeah, back in 1976, director Jack Smight (here’s where I would usually give you some of his other credits that you might recognize, but… yeah…) assembled Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Ed Nelson, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, James Shigeta, Pat Morita, John Fujioka, and Robert Ito in an attempt to bust the block with the story of this largely forgotten battle.

Let’s look at the trailer, shall we?

Throwback Thursday – The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971)

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. 

This post first ran on the Treasure Chest back on April 6, 2010.


Tuesday Terrors – The Incredible 2 Headed Transplant (1971)

2ht1Y’know, in baseball, a double is a good thing. Depending on which side you’re on, a double play can also be a very good thing. Best of all, though, especially for the fans, is a double-header. Unfotunately, I don’t think anyone in today’s flick is going to be trying out for the majors anytime soon. Which means in this case a double header is simply double trouble.

In The Incredible 2 Headed Transplant, Bruce Dern (yes, really, that Bruce Dern) plays a doctor who is obsessed with the concept of transplanting heads. Why? Well, from what yer Ol’ Professor can tell it’s because Dern’s Dr. Girard just swallowed a whole bottle of why-the-hell-not pills. He’s already been kicked out of the hospital he worked at, and has set up a lab in the basement of his house where he’s continuing his experiments with his assistant Igor… umm, I mean Max. This, of course, thrills the doctor’s wife Linda (Pat Priest, who really shouldn’t be so freaked out by all of this after all those years living with the Munsters) to no end, since it explains the stench wafting upstairs that has not only killed all the roaches in the house but also made the bacon smell funny. (Ok, there’s really nothing about cockroaches or bacon in the movie, but really it makes as much sense as anything you will find there.)

2ht2Meanwhile, we also meet Dr. Girard’s caretaker, Andrew Norton and his son Danny. Now Danny is not a small boy, but unfortunately he does have a very small brain. According to his father he was trapped by a mine cave-in when he was a child and his brain was starved for oxygen long enough to leave him in a very retarded state. From the looks of him, nowadays Danny could probably have just pushed the boulders aside, but then…

Anyway, also meanwhile, we meet serial rapist-murderer Manuel “Mama” Cass, who escapes from the mental institution to which he had been confined. Stealing a car, Cass winds up ending his freedom joyride at Dr. Girard’s house. Unfortunately, the doctor is out (well, actually he’s physically down in his lab, but trust me, he’s pretty far out) as is Max, which leaves Linda to confront the madman alone. Finally both the doctor and the caretaker hear her screams and rush to her aid, but Cass kills Andrew and leaves the doctor tied up, making his escape with Linda. When Danny finally comes in, he freaks out at the sight of his dead father, neglecting to release the doctor. Finally Max returns and frees Dr. Girard and they go hunting for the killer and his hostage. Catching up with them, Girard shoots Cass in the back, but doesn’t quite kill him.

Hmm… ok, so now we’ve got a nearly dead serial killer, a practically brain dead hulk of a man-boy, and a doctor who is working on building creatures with two heads. Anyone want to guess where we’re gonna go next?

How about to the trailer?

And now, the Skinny:
Title: The Incredible 2 Headed Transplant
Release Date: 1971
Running Time: 87min
Color
Starring: Bruce Dern, Pat Priest
Directed by: Anthony M. Lanza
Produced by: John Lawrence, Volodymyr Kowal, Nicholas Wowchuk, Alvin L. Fast, Arthur N. Gilbert
Distributed by: American International Pictures

 

Old Time Radio Tuesday – It Pays to Be Ignorant

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.

ignorantI’m thinking that now that we’re all done with the spooky Halloween season we could all use a bit of levity. That’s why this week’s feature show is It Pays to be Ignorant. IPTBI is a sort of parody of all those panel shows such as Quiz Kids and Information Please which allowed their panels to show their erudition. In the case of It Pays…, well, let’s just say that if one of the panelists was asked to use “erudition” in a sentence the answer would probably be something along the lines of “Erudition do that right”. (Spoken as “‘Ere you dishn’ do that right”.)

The show lasted for a total of nine seasons, from 1942 to 1951, though it did change networks three times during that period and had a number of different sponsors.

Hosted by quiz-master Tom Howard, the show featured “a board of experts who are dumber than you are and can prove it” which consisted of Harry McNaughton, Lulu McConnell and George Shelton. Howard and Shelton were both vaudevillians, while McConnell and McNaughton were mostly known for their stints on Broadway in comedy and musical revues.

The basic format of the show was quite simple. It would open with a few jokes, the panelists would be introduced, and then Howard would begin to ask them questions. even though quite often the question would have the correct answer contained within it e.g. “What animal does a blacksmith make horse shoes for?” or “What town in Massachusetts had the Boston Tea Party?”, the panelists would inevitably give an incorrect answer, but would then provide some outrageous rationale for their answer often leading to a minutes-long diversion which often led to insults being hurled at them by the other panelists.

During the last two years of its run, there was also a television version of the show with the same cast. It was also revived on television for a run during the 1973-74 season, that version starred Joe Flynn (Captain Binghamton on McHales Navy) as the quiz-master along with Jo Anne Worley, Billy Baxter and Charles Nelson Reilly as the panelists.

Okay, that’s enough erudition from me. Now let’s all just settle back and get ready to get ignorant.

And here’s a bonus for you – one of the TV episodes:

Made for TV Monday – Earth II (1971)

Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for TV movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?

e21I mentioned in the introductory post that quite often, when a network commissioned a pilot for a new series that they decided not to go ahead with, they would re-purpose the pilot as a TV movie. That’s the case for this week’s show, Earth II.

The story opens with the launch of an Apollo-style rocket which is carrying the first parts of a new space station to be designated Earth II. Though the “Red Chinese” attempt to sabotage the launch, it lifts off successfully, and soon after the President of the United States (Lew Ayres)goes on television to make a quite interesting proposal: he sees the new space station as the salvation not only for the US, but for all mankind. Therefore he wants to make Earth II a sovereign nation with its own laws and its own governing body, open to colonization by anyone from around the world.

He even has a unique way of getting approval from the American people for doing this. Apparently the internet was down that week, so our current system of vote-by-tweet wouldn’t work, so he proposes that as the rocket flies over the US, everyone who is in favor of the plan turn on all of the lights that they would normally have off, and the ship will take pictures of the lights and then computers will compare the luminosity with that of a normal night, and if it’s brighter than usual he will take that as a favorable vote. As it turns out the verdict is 71% in favor, and 29% opposed (one has to assume that the “opposed” areas had turned off lights they would usually had on?). And thank goodness it passed, otherwise we’d have wound up with a very short movie.

e26Cut to an unspecified amount of time later, and Earth II is an established and thriving community with 1,982 citizens and apparently regular shuttle runs bringing both supplies and new colonists. We see one such shuttle arriving, and that is how we are introduced to the Karger family, father Frank (played by Anthony Fransciosa), mother Lisa (Mariette Hartley), and son Matt (Brian Dewey). Frank has long been opposed to the pacifist nature of the colony, feeling that if it truly is going to be the sanctuary that it was built to be it needs to more aggressive and be able to defend itself against any threat.

The truly pacifist nature of the new nation is soon emphasized when the Karger family are held up by customs because of young Matt’s toy gun. This is a kind of cute little scene because it establishes not only the rule that there are no weapons (not even toy ones) allowed on the station, but because when Matt jumps to try to get his gun back he suddenly finds himself floating in air because both of his shoes left the magnetized floor and he is in a zero gravity environment. Fortunately he is quickly distracted by a ball of water which later bursts when they enter a more gravity filled area.

e25Frank soon meets up with the leader of the colony, David Seville (Gary Lockwood, who was, of course, no stranger to space adventures since he was relatively fresh off of his role as Dr. Frank Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey). David, of course, knows how Frank feels about the militarization of the station, and the two have a debate over the topic which is made more immediate by the discovery of a nuclear missile which has been put into orbit by those pesky Chinese only 150 miles from Earth II. To make matters worse, it is aimed at Moscow.

(By the way, this seems to be a good time to point out that although the colony is supposedly open to anyone from anywhere and has even been made a member of the United nations, the only people we actually meet that aren’t Americans are one Russian family. Even the token black person appears to be an African-American as opposed to perhaps being from the actual continent of Africa. There are no East Asians, no Indians, not even anyone white with a foreign accent. Yay for inclusivity!)

Anyway, the presence of the bomb seems to lend credence to Frank’s argument that the station needs to at least be able to defend itself. After a hastily called summit at the UN between representatives of Earth II, China, and Russia not only fails but leads to threats that any interference with the missile will lead to the Chinese immediately blowing it up, David decides that the best thing to do is nothing. part of his reasoning is not only that if they are going to truly change the world and stop the constant aggression and threats between countries they have to lead by example, but also that there are an unknowable number of missiles on earth held by different countries and pointing at each other, and that they can’t interfere with other nations’ sovereignty just because one of them is closer to Earth II than they would like.

e23Of course,Karger is appalled by the decision to do nothing about the missile, so he calls  for a “D&D” over the issue. No, they’re not going to have role-playing game to settle the argument. One of the main laws of the colony is that whenever there is a major issue to be settled, especially when one disagrees with government policy, they can call for a Debate and Decision, wherein the debate is broadcast throughout the entire station, and then everyone of voting age gets to cast their choice. One interesting aspect of this is that as the debate is going on, a computer is apparently analyzing the statement made on each side and flashes up chirons at the bottom of the screen saying things such as “emotional appeal” or “no evidence of this conclusion” or even “argument presented in unbiased terms”. Can we possibly get one of those for the next debate between Presidential candidates?

(Honestly, I suspect if we did have such a machine even attempting such an analysis it would blow all of its circuits within the first 10 minutes or so…)

David loses the D&D even though Frank’s own wife Lisa speaks up against the idea, and a plan is soon formulated to send a mission to attempt to defuse the missile. The colonists, of course, know that every eye will be on them, so they try to be as secretive about it as possible, but eventually something goes wrong, and the Chinese attempt to blow up the missile, but fortunately that doesn’t quite work. in a last ditch attempt to salvage something from the mission, they wind up bringing the missile aboard the space station to decide what to do with it there.

e24Frank, not unexpectedly, wants to use the missile as the beginning of a defense force, making Earth II one of the world’s nuclear powers. David, on the other hand wants to shoot the missile into the sun, destroying it, honoring the peaceful ways already established by those living there. This leads to another D&D, but before all of the testimony can be given…

Well, that seems a good enough place to leave our recap. As I’m sure has become obvious by now, Earth II is not a slam-bang outer space adventure, but rather a thoughtful show more concerned with exploring ideas of right and wrong and pacificism vs militarism than it is firing ray guns at bug-eyed monsters.

It’s definitely true that the pace can at times seem slow. I mentioned 2001 earlier, and it’s obvious that that film, released just three years prior, was a major influence on this one, witth it’s often languorous shots of the exteriors of the ships and shuttles docking etc. except in this case rather then being set against classical music, we are given a score by the omnipresent Lalo Schifrin, known for composing music for movies such as Bullitt and Enter the Dragon, and of course for his iconic theme for Mission Impossible. And honestly, when one considers that they were working on a TV budget with 1971 special effects, these shots hold up pretty well.

And, in the end, Earth II itself hols up pretty well, too. It’s definitely a reflection, in a way, of the time in which it was made, but at the same time, the debate that it’s trying to have, centering around the best way to defend oneself and whether its better to try to live peacefully or aggressively as a nation (and, for that matter, the ramifications of living in a true democracy and how one lives with the results when a vote doesn’t go their way) are ones that we are still seeing, often intensified, even today.

Would Earth II have made it as a series? It’s hard to say. There certainly is a place for this type of intelligent science-fiction, and personally I would love to see more of it, but at the same time,  it’s hard to know if this kind of format could have been sustained in the long run. Still, as a stand alone movie I definitely recommend if you find the idea intriguing, that you check it out. It’s readily available on YouTube, and on DVD from the Warner Archives.

Here’s your trailer: