Sunday, August 31, 2008

After All

You've probably seen this since TV Shows on DVD linked to it, but the New York Times reports that the last three seasons of Mary Tyler Moore will be coming out on DVD, thanks to the recent plug by Oprah.

I think daytime TV clearly has an effect on which non-current shows get released; shows where the cast frequently reunites on these shows. The semi-frequent Happy Days cast reunions probably have helped that show get up to its fourth season on DVD even though the first season didn't sell all that well.

Now the question is whether Fox will release the Mary Tyler Moore spinoffs after they finish with the parent show. Probably not, which may be just as well; there'll be no Oprah plug to help get those back on the schedule.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm Up To Here With All This Bring-Down!

Following up my highlight reel from The Swarm, I've compiled a highlight reel from the worst movie of the '60s, The Oscar, focusing mostly on the overacting, the insane dialogue, plus one of the worst stunt doublings ever (Ernest Borgnine being replaced by someone who doesn't look anything like him just so he can fall over a desk). The sad thing about the film is that the producer-writer-director team, Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse, had a decent reputation before Oscar; they hadn't done anything great, but they'd made some interesting independent films like the dialogueless The Thief with Ray Milland, and they created the Mike Connors TV show Tightrope. This film, though, pretty much ended their careers.

In a way, The Oscar demonstrates that the difference between a good line and a terrible line doesn't have a whole lot to do with the screenwriter. Harlan Ellison's dialogue is pretty overbaked and ridiculous, and the rewrites seem if anything to have toned down his weird metaphors and syntax (in comments on another blog, he complained that Greene and Rouse changed "I need you like an extra set of elbows" to the more traditional "I need you like a hole in the head"). But there are lots of good movies that have dialogue like that. When the movie is good, the dialogue becomes classic. If Sweet Smell of Success had been poorly made, Clifford Odets' dialogue would be mocked to this day; because it's good -- and that includes, of course, that the actors make this dialogue sound as natural as it can possibly sound -- the dialogue is famous in a good way. But when the movie is The Oscar and the writer is Harlan Ellison, you get this:

Speaking of Ellison, it's not in this compilation, but one line in The Oscar is lifted from an episode he wrote for, of all things, Burke's Law. "No one changes anyone else, they merely open the doors," Milton Berle says to Eleanor Parker, which is exactly what Gene Barry said to the murderer-of-the-week on Ellison's first episode of Burke's Law. But that episode had a better script.

What makes The Oscar the most absurd Hollywood a clef film ever made -- and boy, is that ever saying something -- is that its concept is basically this: Hollywood is a perfect, wonderful place where most people are great and honorable, and mean, selfish people just don't fit in. The studio boss (Joseph Cotten) is a fine, upstanding man whose only fault is that he sometimes hires actors he doesn't like to appease his employees. The agent (Milton Berle) is shocked when Boyd wants him to engage in hardball negotiation tactics and take advantage of legal loopholes in the contract. The Oscar is the symbol of the nobility of the people who vote for it; "The Oscars mean a lot to us," Cotten explains; "we don't like to see them tarnished." And sure enough, the ending shows all the non-Boyd characters applauding for the fact that Boyd didn't win the Oscar: in Hollywood, we're meant to see, bad people never prosper. This movie is like that Simpsons episode where the sweet, innocent Hollywood film crew is preyed upon by the cynical small-town people; except that that was a joke, and this is serious. Or thinks it is.

WKRP Episode: "Hoodlum Rock"

By request, here's the other season 1 episode that is usually only seen in a cut syndicated version: the fourth episode produced and the fourth to air, "Hoodlum Rock," written by Hugh Wilson, where the station sponsors a concert by the band Scum of the Earth. The (bland) music of the band is provided by the group Detective, and one of Detective's members, actor/musician Michael Des Barres, appears as "Dog" (real name, Sir Charles Weatherbee).

The premiere of WKRP was accompanied by a Wall Street Journal article that examined the show as a test case of how a promising show makes it from pitch to pilot to air, and this was the episode that the reporter was on the set to watch. The article explained that this episode was going nowhere for most of the week of rehearsals. Finally Hugh Wilson and co. realized that the problem with doing an episode about punk rock is that "punk rock is already a put-on"; the punk rockers weren't funny because it was impossible to parody punk rock. So the actors' wardrobe was changed to tasteful suits, and they were "instructed to speak with Etonian accents," and the joke of the episode became that they were insane, destructive punk rockers with impeccably upper-class appearance and manners. This finally made the episode work, and the taping went well. The article also noted that Wilson was very unsure about the pie gag that closes the first scene, lamenting "the whole damn show's a sight gag." Ironically, given Wilson's discomfort with slapstick comedy, the most successful project he ever did was the first Police Academy (he had nothing to do with the sequels).

Act 1:

Act 2:

On a semi-related note, I recently looked at some episodes of "The New WKRP in Cincinnati" for the first time in a while, and I realized that one of the reasons "The New WKRP" didn't work was that it essentially used this and some of the other early episodes (like "Turkeys Away") as a template for the whole series: every other episode of the "New WKRP" was about the station getting involved in a promotion that goes wrong. The original series abandoned that kind of story pretty early, precisely because they'd exhausted the possibilities of it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nip It In the Budd

This has been mentioned a lot on other sites, but why can't I do it too? So: prodded by Martin Scorsese, Sony/Columbia is finally releasing their Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott Westerns, with special features contributed by Scorsese and some of his Boetticher-loving pals like Taylor Hackford and Clint Eastwood.

The Boetticher cult -- a very well-deserved cult following, I might add -- was a little slower to develop than some of the other auteur cults; when I first got interested in old films, you heard about him, but not as much as some other makers of Westerns like Ford and Anthony Mann. Partly because he was most associated with Randolph Scott, who was not as legendary as John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart or Clint Eastwood. Also, I think, because his films occupy a middle ground between the old-fashioned Western and the "revisionist" Western that questions the assumptions of the genre; in the late '50s, revisionist Westerns were becoming more common, but Boetticher and Scott's films really aren't like that. They're improved versions of the old B Western formula where the stoic hero rides in, defeats the bad guys, does his duty and rides out. They pared down that type of Western to its essentials and raised them to the level of myth.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Monroe Clone # 2a

Thanks to Thad for sending me a copy of one of the few Frank Tashlin films I hadn't seen (at least not all the way through), The Lieutenant Wore Skirts starring Tom Ewell and Sheree North. It's a pan-and-scan copy, and it's not anywhere near as good as The Girl Can't Help It or Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, but it's an interesting movie, not so much for Tashlin or cartoon buffs -- it's one of his less cartoony movies, all told -- but for being representative of the kind of stuff Fox was doing in the mid-'50s and its search for a new Marilyn Monroe.

Sheree North was a good-looking, talented dancer who'd made a big splash doing a jazzy dance in the Broadway musical Hazel Flagg and the movie version (where the title character was re-cast as Jerry Lewis) Living It Up. When Marilyn Monroe turned down the movie How To Be Very, Very Popular, Fox signed North to be in the film, with a view to making North into their "backup" Monroe -- a buxom blonde who could do the films that the unreliable Monroe couldn't or wouldn't do. North considered herself a dancer, not an actress -- Popular was her first big non-dancing part, and she thought she was terrible in it -- and she said later that it was against her better judgment that her agent persuaded her to do another film for Fox. This was The Lieutenant Wore Skirts. North, of course, did not work out as the next Monroe; she had no star quality and always looked rather short on film, even though she was only an inch shorter than Monroe. But she was talented, and by the time her Fox contract had expired, she had become a very good, solid character actress, and would remain so until her death in 2005. (You remember her as Kramer's mother on Seinfeld among others.)

Anyway, The Lieutenant Wore Skirts was produced by Buddy Adler, who was just about to be promoted to take over from Darryl Zanuck as head of production at Fox. Adler was most famous as the producer of From Here To Eternity, and when he moved to Fox, he embarked on a strange mix of projects: half the movies he produced were big soapy stories like Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, Anastasia and South Pacific, and the other half were odd ducks like Sam Fuller's House of Bamboo, the bizarre Jane Russell flop The Revolt of Mamie Stover, and Monroe's highly successful serio-comedy Bus Stop. But most of the movies he produced were very successful at the box office, which is presumably why he got the job to take over from Zanuck; he was not popular in that job, but I actually think he did some interesting things, making Fox's CinemaScope productions a little sexier, funnier and harder-edged than they'd been under Zanuck. And one of the things he did to facilitate that was sign Frank Tashlin for Fox.

Adler knew Tashlin from when they'd been working at Columbia in the late '40s and early '50s; he signed Tashlin, produced Skirts and set up Tashlin's next two projects for the studio, The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Sheree North was originally going to be in The Girl Can't Help It, but Adler and Tashlin jointly decided, rightly, that Jayne Mansfield would make a far better Monroe clone, and Adler bought the rights to the Rock Hunter play just to get Mansfield under contract.) Tashlin told Peter Bogdanovich that Adler gave him complete freedom on Rock Hunter. If you're wondering why the quality of Tashlin's live-action movies went downhill so quickly in the '60s, part of the reason may be traced to Adler's sudden death in early 1960; without his biggest supporter at Fox, Tashlin was left with only one producer who liked to work with him, and that was of course Jerry Lewis. His post-Adler career was a long succession of projects that stalled in development, plus the occasional Lewis project.

Skirts stars Ewell as a TV writer (cue many of Tashlin's usual bitter jokes about the evils of TV) and WWII hero whose air force reserve unit calls him up. His wife, North, also used to be in the Service during the Korean war, so she decides to re-enlist to be near her husband. Except he flunks his physical due to a psychosomatic knee problem, meaning that he has to stay behind while she is sent for a two-year stretch in Hawaii. Fearing that North will be tempted into infidelity in a military base where there are "forty men for every woman," Ewell goes to Hawaii after her, and winds up tricking her into letting him stay in her quarters; as the only civilian husband on the base, the army wives ask him to be a fourth for their bridge game, and so on; then he tries to get her discharged by Gaslighting her into thinking she's crazy. It's pretty much halfway between Tashlin's early romantic comedies and the cynical style of his Mansfield comedies, which is the problem with it: because the sex role-reversal story is told with such a cynical edge, it becomes more mean-spirited than funny. That's an accusation that can be leveled at a lot of Tashlin's live-action comedies; I don't agree with it a lot of the time (Susan Slept Here and Artists and Models have some heart mixed in with the laughs, and even The Girl Can't Help It makes you genuinely like the characters), but it's definitely true here.

Still, you can watch it and tick off the Tashlin trademarks: you've got the boob jokes -- North tries to put on a uniform and finds she can't quite get it around her chest -- and you've got the scene where the wife dumps food on her husband, which is a direct self-plagiarism from The First Time. You've got the double entendres that the censors, even the more lax censors of the mid-'50s, really must have been asleep at the wheel to let through, especially this line when Ewell sees North in a sexy negligee:

"Why, Lieutenant. This is the first time I've felt like saluting you."

Then there's the opening sequence, which in just one minute features slightly arch narration (by North), Hollywood insider jokes, nasty jokes about television, and, of course, an entirely gratuitous leg shot -- which, even panned-and-scanned, gives an idea of what Tish Tash thought CinemaScope was good for. (Update: found a letterboxed version)

But the main point of the movie is to try and test out North as a possible Monroe substitute, and the weird thing about it is that neither she nor the director seem to be trying at all. Although the film is Ewell's follow-up to The Seven Year Itch, the only Monroe substitute in the picture is not North, who basically just plays the sweet-but-sexy young wife, but, of all people, Rita Moreno, whose scenes are a direct, directly acknowledged parody of Seven Year Itch. ("I didn't see that movie," Ewell remarks.) Moreno's scene is the weirdest and best in the movie because it's completely absurd: she's talking like Monroe, acting like Monroe, but she isn't changing her appearance at all, except for wearing the most obvious padded bra ever seen. The sight of a totally un-Monroe-ish woman trying to be Monroe makes for the best joke in the film, and one that would be carried over into Girl Can't Help It and Rock Hunter: in the '50s, every woman is under pressure to act like Marilyn Monroe, who is herself doing an act. The movie comes to life in this scene, which it doesn't in any of North's scenes, because while she's very attractive and clearly has a lot of potential as an actress (though not as a star), neither she nor Tashlin nor Buddy Adler seem to have any real interest in trying to make her the next Monroe. It was a non-starter.

I'll try to upload the Moreno scene later, but this page has screen captures

One more item in what is a very long post on a very flawed movie (but between my ongoing attempt to study Tashlin's work, my fascination with the Adler era at Fox, and the whole Monroe-clone issue, there's a lot to talk about): Sylvia Lewis, who plays the sexy burlesque dancer in the film -- and had been one of Jane Russell's backup dancers in Son of Paleface -- has this to say on her official site:

Frank Tashlin was a joy to work for. He was good natured, patient, very positive and encouraging to be around. He made it easy to try things and he laughed out loud when he thought something funny. He used to embarrass me a little by asking me to walk away from him. He'd say, "look at that... there goes the greatest walk any woman ever had..." Some men saying that would have been insulting, but coming from Frank, it was cute. He was a big jovial teddy bear.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mike Maltese Speaks in 1960

Here's an article I found a while back on; it was originally printed by the New York Herald-Tribune in 1960, and re-printed by a few local papers. By this time Michael Maltese was working at Hanna-Barbera, and the article provides a reminder that H-B's corner-cutting was seen as something of a blessing at the time; while the people who worked on their shows would of course have preferred to have more time and money (and in Maltese's case, not to burn through all available story ideas in one season), H-B provided an outlet for slick professional cartoon-making at a time when everybody knew theatrical cartoons were on the way out.

And when Maltese talks about the influence of silent films on his work, he really seems to light up. Notice also that the author doesn't even mention -- unless it was cut out of this reprinted version -- Maltese's association with Warner Brothers. It wasn't considered as important a credit in 1960 as it would be 10 years later when those cartoons had become TV legends.


Cartoonist Makes Transition From Movies To Television

By John Crosby

Mike Maltese is a cartoonist who started in animation in Hollywood about 20 years ago. He's never heard of Feiffer and probably never heard of Low or Mauldin either. He's a West Coast boy who can mimic almost any voice he's ever heard, can actually make a line drawing of himself by sheer will power and native acting talent and is now a very successful cartoonist for television.

He draws three frames simultaneously for his cartoon strip Quick Draw McGraw which my kids rarely miss. This is a kiddie strip but it's satiric and adult enough to make me laugh. Quick Draw McGraw is also fairly significant in that it is typical of cartoons that are drawn entirely for television. Most of the cartoons on television originally were drawn years and years ago for theater audiences which, of course, are largely comprised of adults.

Maltese explains: "The reason so many cartoonists are now working for television is that that is where the money is from. Movie exhibitors couldn't afford to pay enough for cartoons because of the double feature and all. But working for theatrical cartoons I worked much less. I wrote eight cartoon features a year. Since I've been working for television, I've done in seven months about eight years' worth of stories. This medium eats the stuff up."

According to Maltese, animated cartoons began originally as picturized nursery rhymes for the movie houses. When they came on, the adults would excuse themselves and go out for a smoke. In order to keep the adults in their seats, the cartoonists started doing their own stories including satire, which would be over the kids' heads without losing them.

"I've been in the cartoon business for 25 years and I've been in every department. Animated cartoons arrived with Walt Disney and they've come a long way since that. Until recently the only cartoons on television were old ones done for the movie theaters. I used to watch some I had done about 15 years ago. Hanna and Barbera, the outfit I'm with, were the first to come out with products which have all the crispness and technical finess you'd find in theatrical cartoons despite the handicap of supplying so much more than theater use.

"In filling the schedule, they were forced to work out a technique of animation that would be faster, actually faster than that used in theatrical cartoons. In TV animation we have to do about 300 feet of animation a week, as opposed to about 25 feet for theatrical cartoons. Some are a little jerky but, on the whole, they're expert jobs.

"The gags that Red Skelton throws away, we would never throw away. We're footage misers. As a boy I was a great fan of the silent pictures. In 1913 I saw Chaplin and I came alive." It still shows in his work. "I went home and I made up as Chaplin. There isn't a film of his I haven't seen over and over. He showed me how close humor is to tragedy. And the original Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, with its chases and its humor, depended very much on the sort of action and pace cartoons have now. I'm going to draw Quick Draw as Zorro one day."

Many of the cartoons in Maltese's cartoons sound like the voices of stars. Baba Looie sounds like an exaggerated Desi Arnaz, Yogi Bear like an overblown Art Carney. It's easier for Maltese to do it this way than to originate a new voice for each character.

"In the cartoon business," says Maltese, "no one can take the credit for the finished product. One hand washes the other. The beautiful part of animated cartoons is that, even though we may all hate each other, everyone is working for the same thing. You can't tell where one animator leaves off and the other begins. No, I don't mind the anonymity. We animators are a sort of exclusive club and none of us would want to do anything else."

Then he sighs and adds: "Except -- I might have been a comedian in pictures."

(Update: Turns out that this was already transcribed at GAC forums a while back. If I'd known that I could have saved myself the work of transcribing it, but on the other hand, it's fun to transcribe old articles, so everybody wins.)

WKRP Episode: "Changes"

Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen have a new book out, "Tim and Tom", about their years as America's first and only black-white comedy team. So here's the WKRP episode that was sort of a reunion for them, since Dreesen is one of the guest stars. He doesn't have much of a part, and he and Reid only get one moment where they get to really do anything funny together (the bit where they fire questions at each other and then sit down in unison), but it's good to see them together again, if only briefly.

This episode, which I've always liked, is basically just another variation on the old TV theme of "just be yourself," but done in a slightly off-kilter way that's typical of the writer, Peter Torokvei. His sense of humor is always a little bent, and that manifests itself in a lot of the jokes in this episode, whether it's Les speculating on why Russian women look like men, Herb's new suit turning him into a Reagan Republican, or the offhand revelation that there's an alternate-universe, race-reversed version of WKRP somewhere out there.

Music: "Magnolia" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; "Real Situation" by Bob Marley; a song by Peabo Bryson; and one more song (?) playing in the record library (the only time we ever see this room in the whole series).

Cold Opening and Act 1:

Act 2:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Miss Novak

TCM recently devoted a day to the films of Kim Novak, and Stanley Fish wrote this New York Times piece called "Giving Kim Novak Her Due" (with a lot of enthusiastic reader comments).

You can see why Novak continues to fascinate a lot of people. Everybody in the '50s was trying to develop overdeveloped bombshells to compete with Marilyn Monroe -- even Fox was trying, and they already had Monroe -- and Novak was the most manufactured of these new stars, someone who hadn't even had a speaking part before Columbia signed her and decided to turn her into an instant sex goddess. (The buildup for Novak in Pushover was huge; rarely has so much publicity been devoted to a fairly small noir.) Even Jayne Mansfield had been a success on Broadway before she came to Hollywood; Novak was entirely a creation of Harry Cohn. Yet her own discomfort with the sex-kitten image was always visible; unlike the other Marilyn Monroe knockoffs, and unlike Monroe herself, she wasn't doing much to sell the image, and instead seemed to be working against it. And because she wound up getting loaned out to Paramount for Vertigo, where her part eerily mirrors her own life and her transformation into a synthetic, artificial sex symbol at the hands of a powerful man (coincidentally, since the part wasn't intended for her), it makes the fascination even greater; her most famous movie happens to be the one that almost seems like it's about her.

That said, I always found the idea of Novak more fascinating than the actual onscreen Novak. Too often I watch a movie with her and find myself wishing that someone else were playing the part; Bell, Book and Candle needs a charming light comedienne (the original playwas written for Lili Palmer and Rex Harrison), and instead Novak weighs it down with her dour attitude; Kiss Me, Stupid proves that Novak couldn't play a parody of Marilyn Monroe -- since that's what the character is, like most of Billy Wilder's post-Some Like It Hot characters -- any more than she could be Monroe.

I think the director who worked best with her was George Sidney, who had a great eye for beautiful women and was able to get some energy out of her. But even in Pal Joey, she's still overshadowed by Rita Hayworth.

Here's Novak in Sidney's over-the-top but fun Jeanne Eagels.

Interestingly, when the James Wong Howe, who photographed Picnic, was asked about Novak, he said that she was beautiful "from the waist up. Below, she was very hippy." Having read that, I'll have to go back and check whether or not directors/cinematographers actually tried to photograph her with that idea in mind. (Obviously that wouldn't say anything bad about her; many if not most movie actors are photograph to emphasize their strong points and de-emphasize their less strong points. That's what the glamour factory's all about, making it seem like people have no flaws.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Great Movie Musical Numbers of the '60s?

Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity is probably my favorite movie musical of the '60s, which doesn't say a lot for the '60s. The movie has a lot of problems: Shirley MacLaine is merely a good dancer instead of the really spectacular dancer the lead role requires (though in fairness I don't know which established movie star would have been better, and Gwen Verdon just wasn't a big enough movie name to do the film), Fosse never settles on a consistent tone for the movie version, most of the characters are unlikable and the ending -- either version -- is terrible. (The original ending of the stage version is in keeping with the whole show, a whimsical, fairy-tale take on what is admittedly a dark and depressing story. That ending wouldn't have worked for the movie, but Fosse never came up with one that worked; actually, I think the "happy" ending he rejected is better than the one he wound up using, but neither one really plays.) What it has that most other '60s movie musicals don't have is a handful of really superb numbers. Not functional numbers that move the thing along; not numbers where you're supposed to be impressed at how much money they cost; and not numbers that come off as filmed stage plays (which is how a lot of good '60s musicals, like The Music Man, come off to me).

They're numbers that do what a great movie musical number must do: blow you away with the combined impact of music, choreography, performance and camerawork. Even though they're similar to the way they were done onstage, Fosse makes them cinematic, not so much with the flashy cutting and temporal tricks, but the more old-fashioned virtues of putting the camera in the right place and staging the numbers with the camera in mind. A great cinematic moment in the "Rhythm of Life" number, below, comes near the end at about 3:53 when Sammy Davis Jr. dances Shirley MacLaine across the Panavision frame; Davis runs out of frame, and then he and his two buddies pop up again from below the frame. That's staging a musical number with the boundaries of the frame in mind -- and that's genuinely cinematic because the staging is based on the fact that we can't see anything outside of the frame, instead of just seeing the frame as a way of zeroing in on bits of a stage picture. The best number in the film, "The Rich Man's Frug," is the same way.

By contrast, most movie musicals of the '60s, even the good ones, had numbers that didn't really stand out as brilliant self-contained conceptions where all the elements come together, like the best numbers of Fred Astaire, or the Trolley Song, or the "Isn't It Romantic?" sequence from Love Me Tonight (those last two aren't dance numbers; a great musical number doesn't have to have dancing). They're nice approximations of the stage versions, or they're big bloated overdone monsters like the Hello, Dolly! numbers, or they're numbers that do their job in moving the story along and don't -- and aren't meant to -- stop the show, like most of the numbers in The Sound of Music.

As I said, this applies even to the good or great movie musicals of the '60s. Oliver! is a very fine, cinematic musical, and a very good candidate for best musical of the '60s (it deserved the Oscar, in my opinion) but the numbers strike me more as very good versions of the typical '60s movie musical number: big, splashy numbers that depend more on size and scope than on the actual choreography or concept of the number -- they're much better than the numbers in Hello, Dolly!, but they're of the same type.

Whereas a small number, quickly-shot, can be a knockout moment if the director, choreographer and performers all share a really interesting, coherent concept for the number and execute it well. Take the "My Rival" number from Viva Las Vegas. That number shouldn't be anything and, by the standards of the big musicals of the time, it isn't anything; it's a not-great song and the number is confined to one room. But George Sidney, the director, shot the whole thing in one take, worked in precisely-timed and funny gags related to the fact that Ann-Margret is making lunch while doing the song, and came up with a number that is a little gem in the great tradition of '30s, '40s and '50s musicals -- and not at all in the tradition of big bloated '60s musicals.

What are some '60s movie musical numbers that work that way for you -- not necessarily the biggest, or the most expensive, or the ones that reveal plot and character the most efficiently, but just numbers that are truly effective, coherent, cinematic numbers that make you feel that you just have to rewind and watch that again?

Here are some others that come to mind for me:. Several of these numbers involve Ann-Margret, and that's not a coincidence; of all the '60s stars she's the one who was best suited to the old-school musical numbers favored by the old-school director George Sidney, and she was almost completely unsuited to the big-budget high-class '60s musical. (She was considered for the second lead of Mrs. Molloy in Hello, Dolly!, but she didn't get the part; there are persistent rumors that Barbra Streisand didn't want a second lead who might overshadow her. But A-M wouldn't have been right for such a bland part anyway.) She was basically a '40s musical star in the wrong era.

- "A Lot of Livin' To Do" from Bye Bye Birdie, which may be the single best number in any '60s movie musical; it's tasteless and garish, from a tasteless and garish movie, but everything, choreography, lighting, performance, composition and color, is working brilliantly and working toward the same goal. Also the opening and closing title song; just A-M and a wind machine and a treadmill, and that's all you need for a good number.

- "Cool" and "America" from West Side Story (two of the ones Jerome Robbins actually got to work on before he was fired).

- "C'mon Everybody," also from Viva Las Vegas, and you could also make a case for "What'd I Say" even though the choreography looks like it was done at the last minute (which it was).

Even though it's not well-directed at all, I might add "Mr Booze" from Robin and the Seven Hoods, the last of Bing Crosby's long line of "clowning around" numbers, where he actually manages to make the Rat Pack funny (they usually weren't when they did numbers like these). A fun '50s throwback, and much more fun than anything in the average '60s musical.

I love Les Demoiselles De Rochefort and I would really like to choose something from it... but the choreography just wasn't that good, and while many of the numbers are adorable, most of them feel like that last bit of brilliant execution is missing.

How Can You Laugh When You Know I'm Down?

I'm not going to be posting all the episodes from WKRP season 1, since those are on Hulu -- albeit in the butchered version -- and apart from the difficulty of posting them, it's more iffy to material that's already online in an official version. ("A Date With Jennifer" is an exception because the online version is missing so many scenes, apart from musical ones.) But I do want to at least re-introduce some of the musical material that is missing from those Hulu episodes. So from the season 1 episode "Preacher" -- the third episode produced, but for some reason held over and aired after the regular season was over -- here is the original opening, where Johnny Fever plays "I'm Down" by the Beatles. I believe this was the only time in the first or second season that the Beatles were used; they were really expensive even with the reduced licensing costs for taped shows. On the DVD/Hulu version this song is replaced with a generic instrumental, leaving you with the question of why they're pausing for 30 seconds to let us listen to nothing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Jon Burlingame provides a full, detailed explanation of why CBS/Paramount replaced the music of The Fugitive in the most recent DVD set.

The short version, and this is a problem that occurs with many, many DVD sets, is that CBS/Paramount didn't have anyone who was intimately familiar with these music cues, and didn't go outside to consult with the people who do know who wrote which cue.

But here's the rub: No matter how complicated this may have seemed to the executives at CBS/Paramount, the action they took – ruining one of the all-time classic TV dramas – was unnecessary. There are experts in Los Angeles who are intimately familiar with this music, among them music editor Ken Wilhoit, who performed all that detective work in the first place. And he's not the only one.

These people can instantly spot a Herrmann cue versus a Goldsmith cue, and could, with a few weeks and a little effort, correctly identify every piece of music in the second season of The Fugitive. And those very few Capitol cues in dispute could easily be removed and replaced by generic music, salvaging the vast majority of original score for fans to enjoy.

This happens a lot, doesn't it? Studios frequently release shows with episodes out of order, cut versions included by mistake, music replaced that wouldn't actually cost the studio anything -- mistakes that die-hard fans of these shows could spot instantly.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

WKRP Episode: "A Date With Jennifer"

I can't guarantee that this one will stay up for long; episodes from the first season are really hard to upload (which is why it's uploaded on three different sites). But this was the episode that was probably the most brutally butchered on the DVD and on hulu, because not only was all the music gone, but a syndicated version was used that cut four whole minutes of content from the 25-minute episode.
Thanks to a fellow collector for sending me the episode as it aired on CBS.

This episode is most famous for the "Hot Blooded" scene, which Hugh Wilson came up with after hearing "Hot Blooded" on the radio and demonstrating Les's pantomime routine to his staff. It was also the first episode produced with the new "bullpen" set, signalling the show's move (after it came back from hiatus) to a pure ensemble comedy. (This is the first episode that doesn't even try to pretend that Andy is the central character.) Based on the bullpen set, director Asaad Kelada and the actors came up with the famous "walls" gag, which Kelada credited with making the set work, since it gave every character something to do or react to when he came into the room. It was also the first episode written by Richard Sanders (Les) and his writing partner, Michael Fairman.

Cold opening (music: "Shakedown Street" by the Grateful Dead)

Act 1

Act 2


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Original Chewbacca Defense

When I wrote about Nicholas Ray's Party Girl a while back, I forgot to mention what I think is the best scene in this uneven but entertaining movie: where Robert Taylor, playing a crippled mob lawyer (who later has a miracle operation and develops a conscience, not necessarily in that order) gets an obviously guilty client acquitted by delivering the most obfuscatory, manipulative closing address ever: urging the jury to stick it to the media, handing out press reports that predict a guilty verdict, exaggerating his limp, producing an old pocket watch and claiming his father gave it to him. It kind of sums up the whole movie: sort of noir-ish, but sillier and in glossy color and CinemaScope.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Sheriff, Mongo's Back!"

Ivan Shreve has a great post about character actor and writer George Furth, who died at the age of 75. (And I'm not just saying it's a great post because Ivan says nice things about me in it.)

His most famous credit as a writer was of course the musical Company, which he didn't intend as a musical at all; he wrote it as a bunch of unconnected playlets about marriage, at a time when there were a number of successful short-play collections running on Broadway. (Neil Simon had done Plaza Suite with George C. Scott playing the lead in three different short plays, while Robert Anderson had done You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running, four short plays in one evening.) Instead it became the guinea pig for producer-director Hal Prince's big experiment, an attempt to do a musical with no linear storyline, basically an evening-length version of the story-breaking bits from earlier Prince musicals like Cabaret. Furth linked together some of the unrelated playlets with a lead character, the committment-phobic Robert (this explains why Robert doesn't actually do a whole lot in the show; he's mostly watching sketches that weren't supposed to involve him in the first place), Stephen Sondheim wrote songs that commented on the themes of the evening instead of directly telling the story in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition, and choreographer Michael Bennett did some of his best work (this and Follies were the last time that Prince or Sondheim would ever give a choreographer a chance to really express his personality, and their later Bennett-free musicals cut dancing to a minimum).

The result was a rallying cry for people who wanted the musical to "grow up," but perhaps more importantly, the result was an actual money-making hit, one of the few Prince/Sondheim shows to make a profit. Furth was brought back for the last Prince/Sondheim show, the rather dismal Merrily We Roll Along (yes, it has some good songs, but some not-so-good ones too, and nothing else in the show worked), but Company, with its famously cryptic dialogue -- lines like "A person like Bob doesn't have the good things, but he doesn't have the bad things, but he doesn't have the good things" -- is his biggest claim to fame as a writer.

Lobo! Lobo! Bring Back (Not Sheriff) Lobo!

I did not realize that Kids' WB very nearly did an animated series based on DC's Lobo character, but according to John McCann, who wrote the pilot and was set to produce, production was already starting on the series before the WB called it off at the last minute. (This would have been a spinoff from the Superman two-parter, with Brad Garrett as the voice of a more Saturday-morning-friendly version of the character.)

Jamie Kellner, head of the WB at the time, had a theory that kids only wanted to watch shows about other kids. Which may actually have been right, considering the kids' shows that were the most popular at the time, but it probably made it really hard to get a show off the ground, or to keep a show going after it started. (Batman Beyond, created in response to Kellner's request for a younger-skewing Batman series, had a very strong first season and looked like it might become a real cultural phenomenon -- there was even talk of a live-action feature version -- but the second season, with a ton of unfocused, kid-oriented episodes and some useless younger-skewing characters added at the behest of the network, kind of stopped that show in its tracks. In my opinion anyway.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Always Credit My Enemy, Whatever He May Be, With Equal Intelligence

In honor of the 30th anniversary of the worst movie of the '70s if not ever, Irwin Allen's The Swarm, I put together a sampler of some of the highlights from the film that literally redefined the term "disaster movie." I've left out some of my favorite pieces of bad dialogue (like Ben Johnson saying "I am a retired master mechanic") and bad special effects (a nuclear power plant exploding due to a bee attack), but at least it gives an idea of what this movie is all about.

Update: A personal reminiscence of the film by one of the extra kids who got stung to death by bees. ("Director Irwin Allen (a Big Wig at the time) screamed constantly at the cast. I was scared shitless of the old guy.")

Update 2: Somebody else made a highlight reel from The Swarm, with a particular focus on Michael Caine's constant yelling. ("Take any children you see with you!")

Friday, August 08, 2008

Archie, Year One

Did anybody else succumb to temptation and look at the first issue of the Archie: the Freshman Year miniseries? I did, and I enjoyed it.

In a way, it's pointless to treat Archie characters as characters with continuity, a history, and the other things we associate with "serious" comic book characters; these characters were always meant to function in short stories that had no connection to one another, and to be teenagers forever. But it's still fun to see someone try to create a history for the characters we grew up with, and connect everything together, and that's basically what Bill Galvan and Batton Lash appear to be doing here. The idea is not only that these characters are in the process of developing into their "final" versions, but that all the versions of Archie fit into the same world, so there are references to the Little Archie world (and the fact that Mr. Weatherbee used to be at Little Archie's school and has apparently somehow transferred to high school just in time to meet Archie again), but even the spinoff series like Pureheart the Powerful and The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. Anyone who grew up reading all those stories can't help but smile at the obvious affection this comic has for the Archie "world."

This Blog Is Fun For the Whole Family

I wonder: if I were to write a post consisting of curse words repeated over and over again, a la that South Park "shit" episode, would my pathetically low cussing score go up immediately?

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou - Free Dating Site

(Via Brent by way of Bill and Ivan.)

WKRP Episode: "Jennifer Moves"

The second episode of season 3 was written by series creator Hugh Wilson; Jennifer buys a new $125,000 home -- expensive at the time -- in a suburb where she encounters every horrible thing associated with suburban life: a philandering husband; his alcoholic wife (in a matching outfit) on the lookout for potential rivals; city-council corruption; and lots of male pattern baldness. Meanwhile Herb tries to move a piano, Bailey circulates petitions against nuclear power, and Les thinks the house is haunted.

This is a rather weird episode, an appropriate kick-off to a very good but rather weird season (where the show's tone changed radically with every episode, and many of the humor became a little offbeat at times). From Les literally trying to stab Herb to some of the stuff that happens in Jennifer's new neighborhood, it's fun but in a bleak way, like some of Wilson's stranger episodes of Frank's Place and The Famous Teddy Z.

The only music in the episode is one line that Bailey sings at the beginning of the show.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Grudge Match: Granny vs. Mammy Two-Shoes

You thought that cartoon humans could just stand by for years and watch animals beat up on each other and not be affected by all that brutality? You thought wrong. Granny (Tweety and Sylvester) and Mammy Two-Shoes (Tom and Jerry) have witnessed so much senseless violence that they've become senselessly violent themselves, and since they're bored with just hitting a cat with an umbrella and/or rolling pin, they decide to fight with each other. Who wins this battle of cartoon ladies?

The advantages for Mammy: she's probably younger (for obvious reasons it's hard to tell), generally angrier, and she appears to be quite a bit smarter than the dotty Granny. But Granny has displayed more physical prowess, like hiding in a birdcage or surviving an explosion by a nitro-filled cat.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"An Occasional Man"

Not having anything else to post about, I spent the better part of an hour (okay, maybe not the better part) looking unsuccessfully for "An Occasional Man" from the movie The Girl Rush. The original version, I mean, performed in the movie by Gloria DeHaven. It's not anywhere, unfortunately. I guess this movie -- Rosalind Russell's consolation prize in 1955 for not getting to do a film version of her musical Wonderful Town (Paramount stepped in and offered her an original film musical instead, and this bomb was the result) -- is so obscure that nobody has posted a single clip from it anywhere.

A shame, because while the movie has the desperation typical of mid-'50s musicals (the product of a genre whose popularity had collapsed without warning), "An Occasional Man" is one of my favorite songs from this era of musicals, and I don't really remember how it was done in the movie. It's certainly right for Gloria DeHaven's voice, though. The song is by the team of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, though I don't know which one was the lead writer on it. (Martin and Blane were both composer-lyricists, and their working relationship was similar to Lennon and McCartney: they took joint credit, but they tended to polish each other's songs rather than actually writing music and lyrics together. For example, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is almost entirely Martin's, while I think "Buckle Down Winsocki" was primarily Blane.)

It is an unusual song because it's sort of a subversive twist on the familiar subgenre of songs about lazy island paradises. Most songs like that are about how great it will be for a man to go down to said paradise where the girls are willing and wear nothing except a smile; Harold Arlen had had a hit song the year before, "Two Ladies In De Shade of De Banana Tree," that was exactly like that. But "An Occasional Man" is about an island paradise from the point of view of a woman who treats men as just another fun thing to enjoy on the island, like papayas and peaches. It's a song about anonymous, willing men, a paradise where a woman can just relax and enjoy sex with cute sailors without taking it seriously; it's a "girl in every port" song where the girl is in control. In that sense it's almost ahead of its time. And like a lot of Martin-Blane songs, it's funny, sexy and just a little campy (but not too much so).

The song had a few recordings, but nothing very big. Martin's friend Judy Holliday put it on her "Trouble is a Man" album (I guess that suggests that it's probably Martin's song) . The recording below (with pointless accompanying video) is by Anita O'Day; the Wikipedia entry says that Peggy Lee recorded the song, but she never did, even though it would have been perfect for her.

Friday, August 01, 2008

WKRP Episode: "The Airplane Show"

This is the first episode of season 3, and the background of it is strangely relevant now with the ongoing Screen Actors' Guild negotiations. The start of the 1980-1 television season was delayed by a SAG strike, and that ruined plans for WKRP to do an episode on location in Cincinnati. But because Richard Sanders and Michael Fairman were the writers of this episode, they received a special waiver from SAG allowing them to act in their own material. (I guess it's similar to the rule that comedians can write some of their own material during a writers' strike.) So they changed their story so they would be the only actors going on location, with Sanders as Les and Fairman as an insane biplane pilot whom Les hires when the station won't give him a helicopter. They shot their scenes in and around Cincinnati with stunt pilot Harold Johnson piloting the plane, and then after the strike, the rest of the cast shot their scenes in the radio station (without an audience). You'll notice that by the end of the story they basically run out of plane footage and have to resort to cheating by dubbing in a lot of ADR dialogue over the same footage.

The episode has a bunch of music, with three songs in particular standing out: the song in the scene with Johnny, Venus and Bailey in the booth is "Whip It" by Devo (WKRP would include more New Wave songs starting with this season); Johnny is playing "Master Blaster" by Stevie Wonder when Les calls him in Act 2, and most memorably, "Had Enough" by the Who accompanies Les and Buddy taking off to carry out Buddy's plan to blackmail the town into holding a Veteran's Day celebration.

Also, in a nice bit of continuity, Les makes a reference to the pilot episode, where Andy promised to get Les a helicopter.

Act 1:

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Act 2: